It’s the end of the month, so it’s time to feature What I’m Currently Listening To once again! More good stuff from bands old and new — this year is definitely turning out to be a great one, just as I’d hoped!
Letting Up Despite Great Faults, IV, released 4 March. This band returns from its hiatus with more fun jangly, shoegazey indie pop that feels so relaxing and joyful. This is definitely a record that’ll show up on my writing session playlist!
Stereophonics, Oochya!, released 4 March. This Welsh band is still going strong after twenty-plus years with moody and melodic tunes that don’t quite fit into just one style.
Nilüfer Yanya, Painless, released 4 March. I discovered this singer on KEXP and I am totally in love with this record, especially the single “Stabilise”. One of my favorite records of the year so far.
Bob Moses, The Silence in Between, released 4 March. These guys come back with yet another great indie-synth hybrid record that I know I will constantly replay. So many great songs on this one!
(G)I-DLE, I Never Die, released 14 March. This K-Pop band returns with a full album of tunes that don’t always rely on their regular dance-pop style, even sliding into snarky rock such as on “Tomboy”.
Stabbing Westward, Chasing Ghosts, released 18 March. After an extremely long break, Christopher Hall resurrects his band and it truly sounds like he picked up where he left off, with their signature gothy alt-metal aural attack. Well worth the wait.
Charli XCX, Crash, released 18 March. Smooth synthy dance-pop similar to Robyn, full of catchy tracks including the single “New Shapes”.
The Clockworks, “Endgame” single, released 18 March. NEW CLOCKWORKS WOOOO! And they’re coming out with an EP on April first!!! My favorite new band!
Pinch Points, Process, released 18 March. Another one of those ‘never heard of them, let’s give them a listen’ bands that’s totally in my wheelhouse: twitchy angular punk that sounds like they’ve been listening to X’s Los Angeles. Good stuff.
PLOSIVS, PLOSIVS, released 18 March. Another favorite of the year, REALLY digging this record. I recently described them as a sort of bouncier, punkier Interpol, with really interesting melodies. “Broken Eyes” is a huge favorite of mine at the moment. Also, my favorite band name of the moment!
Bauhaus, “Drink the New Wine” single, released 25 March. The original goth foursome return with a new Exquisite Corpse-style song, each member providing their own segment with only a drum loop tying them together. (Just like their b-side “1-2-3-4”, actually.)
Placebo, Never Let Me Go, released 25 March. This band may have mellowed a little over the years, but their songs are still strong and vibrant.
Sevdaliza, Raving Dahlia EP, released 25 March. Following up from 2020’s delightfully odd yet catchy Shabrang is an EP further expanding on the singer’s electro dance grooves and disturbing visions.
Wallows, Tell Me That It’s Over, released 25 March. Fun SoCal low-energy indie pop similar to Cayucas.
Next Up: April promises to be full of stellar new releases as well from the Chili Peppers, Jack White, Lucius, Fontaines DC, Wet Leg, Hatchie and more!
I finished off my freshman year slightly bruised and battered but not entirely out of the game just yet. Let’s just say that I was just glad that it was over and done and I could move on. Thinking over what had gone on that year — dealing with a long-distance relationship, me and my roommate figuring out our boundaries (and a third roommate who’d come in during second semester that had pretty much been the one to keep us separate), and carving out new friendships with people not from my hometown for the first time…it wasn’t all bad, but it did leave its mark.
Billy Idol, Charmed Life, released 1 May 1990. Idol had shifted from meathead UK punk to greasy pinup to peroxided crooner (and a major motorcycle accident, if I recall) in the span of one decade, that by 1990 he’d embraced that tightly-polished sound everyone else had by then. But this album has quite a few really great radio-friendly tracks such as the ballad “Prodigal Son” and a wild cover of The Doors’ “LA Woman”.
Wire, Manscape, released 1 May 1990. The last album to feature the original quartet before drummer Robert Grey left (he wouldn’t return until their 2000 reunion tour), this one comes across as a little stilted and overproduced — it’s a little too glossy and takes away from their trademark quirkiness — but it’s got some really great and memorable deep cuts such as the fan favorite “Torch It!”, AOR radio track “Morning Bell” and the amazing ten-minute album closer “You Hung Your Lights in the Trees/A Craftsman’s Touch”.
Fuzzbox, “Your Loss, My Gain” single, released 1 May 1990. One last single from the original Fuzzbox lineup before splitting, it’s a poppy track that’s not quite as club-oriented as those on 1989’s Big Bang but just as infectious.
O-Positive, toyboatToyBoAtTOYBOAT, released 2 May 1990. This Boston band was a huge favorite of both WFNX and WBCN, and did manage to get some airplay on numerous other AOR stations as well with their minor hit “Imagine That”. This is a really fun album that’s worth checking out. They were part of a run of Beantown bands signed to major labels (mostly Epic/Sony, and many produced by Ed Stasium) that didn’t last there long, but shone brightly while they were there.
Something Happens, Stuck Together with God’s Glue, released 14 May 1990. A one-hit wonder with the oddly titled “Hello Hello Hello Hello Hello (Petrol)”, they fit in easily with the Adult Alternative sounds such as Toad the Wet Sprocket, but it was such a fun song that it got major airplay during the summer on WFNX. The whole album is just as catchy and enjoyable.
The Charlatans UK, “The Only One I Know” single, released 14 May 1990. Everyone’s favorite Britpop band not from Manchester (they’re from the West Midlands) dropped this single with a groovy beat, swirly Farfisa organ, and dreamy vocals and kickstarted an incredible career that lasts to this day. (Lead singer Tim Burgess also currently runs “listening party” events with other bands on his Twitter account that you should definitely check out.)
Katydids, Katydids, released 18 May 1990. Another alternative subgenre of the early 90s that often got passed over or ignored was the alternafolky AOR sounds of bands like Katydids. They weren’t out to prove anything other than to write lovely and relaxing melodies.
Revenge, One True Passion, released 25 May 1990. Peter Hook’s side project away from New Order may not have ventured all that far away from NO’s then-recent techno dance sound, but he was able to retain his own rock-dance hybrid on his own terms, creating an album that’s less about the sequencers and more about the melodies.
The Breeders, Pod, released 28 May 1990. Initially a side project with Pixies’ Kim Deal and Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly, this first album set the course for Deal’s solo career (along with her twin sister Kelley) for years to come with its weird blend of deconstructiive tension and tender melody. This record isn’t nearly as cohesive as their next, the multi-selling Last Splash, but it’s just as intriguing.
Concrete Blonde, Bloodletting, released 29 May 1990. Their third album brought them a vastly wider audience with the single “Joey” (a track that’s half Social Distortion drunken ballad and half late-80s-era Heart pop song), but the album as a whole is one of the best of their entire career. The gothy “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” rocks and the lovely “Caroline” delivers the heartbreak, and it closes with a chillingly gorgeous cover of Andy Prieboy’s “Tomorrow, Wendy”. Highly recommended.
Ultra Vivid Scene, Joy: 1967-1990, released 29 May 1990. Kurt Ralske’s second album was more about the poppier side of UVS, toning down the spacey drone and turning up the jangly melodies. “Special One” is a duet with Kim Deal that got him significant airplay on alternative radio. (There’s also a b-side deep cut from that single, “Kind of a Drag“, that heavily samples Led Zeppelin and is one of my favorite UVS tracks.)
I moved back home at the end of the month, settling in for another summer at the DPW. It wasn’t what I wanted exactly, but it was my only option at the time. Besides, I’d already decided this was going to be the last time I’d do so. My plan for next summer was to save up enough money to find a place to live in the city, where I’d be happier and have more options open to me. And more to the point, make it a point that I’d stay in Boston, even after I graduated.
In the meantime, I would let this one last hurrah in my small hometown slide by with minimal fuss. Save up some money, see my girlfriend more often, think about new writing projects to work on, practice the bass and guitar more, and hang out with the Vanishing Misfit gang when they came back to town at the end of the season. Time to take it a bit easy for a few months before heading back into the fray.
I think by this time I’d kind of gotten my head around college life — at least the Emersonian version of it, at any rate. It wasn’t exactly what I’d been hoping for, but that was because I was attending a private college that focused on mass communications instead of a sprawling university like a lot of my Vanishing Misfit friends. But I loved the fact that I was living in a (sort of) Big City for the first time, having (sort of) escaped from the small town I’d known my entire life. I still had a long way to go, but I was going in the right direction.
In retrospect, I know that what I’d needed to do was make a hard disconnect from that small town of mine to truly figure out who I was, what I wanted to be, and and what I needed to do to get there. My best intentions were to follow my creative plans and dreams, but I couldn’t quite do that when I was splitting myself into two: one, the small town kid with a small town girlfriend and a penchant for being stuck in the past, and two, the wide-eyed and naive kid looking into the future as a writer and a musician. I had a long way to go and I felt so constantly and woefully behind everyone else’s progress.
That Petrol Emotion, Chemicrazy, released 1 April 1990. I’d seen this band at UMass with a few friends (I’d bought a tee-shirt at that show, which I’d totally worn out) and really liked their stuff. Their fourth album definitely has that early-90s production sheen (very clean and crisp and sounds great on CD) but it still contains their quirky groovy beats.
My Bloody Valentine, Glider EP, released 1 April 1990. A good year and a half before their groundbreaking (and budget-breaking) album Loveless, they squeaked out this EP that features what would become their most popular style: heady drone mixed with a danceable beat and a warped wall of sound. Shoegaze meets rave. The track “Soon” is one of their biggest successes.
The Sundays, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, released 4 April 1990. This album with its straight-ahead jangly alterapop could have easily fit into any college radio show circa 1988, so when it dropped it sounded a bit retro, but nonetheless it became a huge hit on modern rock radio stations like WFNX. It’s a lovely springtime record to relax to.
Trip Shakespeare, Across the Universe, released 6 April 1990. A few years before Semisonic made it big (and well before Dan Wilson became the hit songwriter he is today), there was this band — just as poppy and earwormy as any of Wilson’s other projects, with a small but incredibly loyal following.
Suzanne Vega, Days of Open Hand, released 6 April 1990. Three years after her success with Solitude Standing, Vega returned with a spectacular record full of wonderful folk-rock gems with a moodier edge. This remains my favorite Vega album as it features so many of my favorite songs of hers!
Jill Sobule, Things Here Are Different, released 17 April 1990. Five years before her surprise hit with “I Kissed a Girl”, Sobule rode the alternafolk circuit with intelligent and well-crafted songs and gained herself a considerable collegiate following. There are quite a few great songs on this record that are worth checking out.
Inspiral Carpets, Life, released 23 April 1990. These Mancunians crashed through the gate with a stellar and strong debut album that achieved considerable success in the UK and even had a small fanbase here in the States. “Commercial Rain”, found only on the US version of the album, became a radio hit on modern rock radio.
Morrissey, “November Spawned a Monster” single, 23 April 1990. Probably the darkest and weirdest of his spate of non-album singles, it’s not my favorite song of his, but the b-side “He Knows I’d Love to See Him” is one of my favorites of the era.
World Party, Goodbye Jumbo, released 24 April 1990. Karl Wallinger’s second album after the success of 1987’s Private Revolution had high expectations, but he certainly surpassed them with ease, continuing to write his own brand of not-quite-Beatlesque rockers with clever lyrics and hummable melodies.
By the end of April, I figured I was going to need to figure out what I was going to do that summer. I certainly hadn’t planned to stay in the city as I hadn’t saved any money and didn’t know anyone who was looking for a roommate, so it was back to the small town for me. It wasn’t what I wanted (even though it meant spending much more time with the hometown girlfriend), but it was something, at least. I started making plans by contacting the town public works again — another summer season with the DPW — and looked forward to my sophomore year, which I’d hoped would be a hell of a lot more positive and productive and with a new roommate that I knew I’d get along with.
All I needed to do was finish this one last month of freshman year.
This is about when I really started being consistently broke. Money I’d made from the media center job that went into my checking account went right back out again whenever I went record shopping. The problem was that there were at least six record stores within walking distance of my dorm that I could visit: Nuggets and Planet in Kenmore Square, Tower Records, Looney Tunes on Boylston, and Newbury Comics and Mystery Train on Newbury.
A dangerous thing, indeed.
If I wasn’t going to get along with my roommate or any of the cooler-than-thou indie hipsters here — and there were a lot of them — I suppose I’d better just embrace my own level of alternativeness. I didn’t quite fit in on either end…not hip enough for the hipster crowd, and not normal enough for the normals. So it was like senior year in high school all over again, really. Become the friendly oddball to everyone. Just be myself and let them deal with the inconsistencies, yeah? And it worked out reasonably well.
Yo La Tengo and Daniel Johnston, “Speeding Motorcycle” single, released 1 March 1990. Johnston was a delightful oddball musician with a childlike voice, and a favorite of the indie crowd in the 80s with his wonderfully naive yet flawless DIY ethic of recording music on cassette at home and handing them out to friends and fans. During an in-studio performance on WFMU by indie band Yo La Tengo, Johnston joined in for a live-via-phone rendition of his song “Speeding Motorcycle.” It somehow caught on, got released as a single, and got played on college radio all over the place, reaching Boston and getting played heavily on MIT’s WMBR that spring.
Jesus Jones, “Real Real Real” single, released 1 March 1990. Just before the band dropped what would become their longest-lasting and biggest hit, Jesus Jones dropped this poppy single that would become their sound for their second album Doubt. The rough edges found on Liquidizer might have been smoothed over a bit, but they never lost their bite.
The Chills, Submarine Bells, released 1 March 1990. Nothing like a super catchy song about writing super catchy songs to guarantee radio play, yes? Martin Phillips’ lyrics always had that keen sense of comedic irony, and this album puts it front and center. It’s also a slight change of sound, the band now given a sleek production that makes their songs shine.
Inspiral Carpets, “This Is How It Feels” single, released 1 March 1990. The Carpets’ single — a song about the ennui of living on the back end of Thatcher’s frequently jobless England and the inability to do much about it — became a huge UK hit and paved the way for their debut album Life, which would drop in a few months’ time.
Robyn Hitchcock, Eye, released 12 March 1990. After the success of 1989’s Queen Elvis with his band the Egyptians, Hitchcock returned with a solo acoustic record full of lovely balladry and quiet introspection, temporarily putting his off-kilter humor on the backburner for the time being.
Renegade Soundwave, Soundclash, released 12 March 1990. “Biting My Nails” is one of those songs you have to play LOUD AF, which is of course what I did whenever it came on the radio. RS was one of those indie-dance hybrid bands from the UK that never quite hit the charts here in the States, but this track remains a favorite of the era, and one of mine as well.
Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, White Dirt, released 12 March 1990. This Athens GA duo was a critic favorite but a relative obscurity (even despite cheers by REM’s Michael Stipe). Their lowdown cowpunk noise could fit in easily with similar bands like Meat Puppets.
The Lightning Seeds, Cloudcuckooland, released 16 March 1990. Ian Broudie, more known at the time as a producer and songwriter favored by many musicians, brought his irresistible sunshine pop into the forefront with the super cheerful “Pure”, which would be his calling card for years to come.
Lloyd Cole, Lloyd Cole, released 16 March 1990. After the breakup of the Commotions in 1989, Cole released his self-titled debut which became a critic favorite. The quirky and clever lyricism of his previous band might have left to be replaced by maturity and moodiness, but it only proved that he could write a damn fine song. The single “Downtown” got a feature in the otherwise forgettable Rob Lowe-James Spader movie Bad Influence.
Depeche Mode, Violator, released 19 March 1990. DM’s crowning achievement was an instant success with both fans and critics and is still considered their best album of all. Martin Gore is on top of his songwriting game here. The industrial samples aren’t center stage this time, but instead cleverly layered and integrated into the songs to make them even more complex. The band could only go higher from here on in.
Sinéad O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, released 20 March 1990. O’Connor’s long-awaited second album can sometimes be a tough listen — there’s a lot more heartbreak and heartache here than on her previous album — but it’s her most accomplished. It also contains her biggest hit, the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U”.
Urban Dance Squad, Mental Floss for the Globe, released 23 March 1990. Laid back sun-drenched grooves and hard-crunch punk-funk hit you broadside on this debut album by UDS, featuring far too many catchy vibes that’ll keep you moving the entire time. It’s a super fun album that you should definitely have in your collection.
Social Distortion, Social Distortion, released 27 March 1990. This LA punk band that owes a lifelong debt to Johnny Cash was never the biggest draw in their hometown, and the few previous albums and singles they had came out on several different labels, until major label Epic signed them. The sad ‘I’m a fuck-up and I’m sorry’ punk balladry of “Ball and Chain” was so quintessentially Cash that it caught on with the indie crowds immediately, and became a radio hit, starting a long and successful career for them. [I knew they’d hit the big time when, a month or so later, I heard five or six kids down the hall from me singing along to it. Heh.]
I know somewhere along the line here, I started seeing shows in and around town. I saw The The at the Orpheum for their Mind Bomb tour. I also went to a few all-ages shows on Landsdowne Street just outside Fenway Park, which back then was the main college nightclub scene with multiple stages. (Many had a number of names, depending on the era: Spit, Axis, Avalon, and Citi, for starters. I’ve forgotten which ones were which at this point.) I got to see a number of big names cheap and just before Nirvana came and blew alt-rock out of the water and brought the genre to larger stages. I didn’t go often (again, due to being broke most of the time), but when I did it was a super fun time.
Coming Up Next: Sliding towards spring and thinking of summer plans!
When most people think of music in the early 90s, usually they either mention the slow rise and dominance of the Grunge scene, or they think of the popularity of Britpop with the UK and American anglophiles. What’s often forgotten is that there was a brief time where straight-ahead alternative rock — the kind one often links with radio friendly bands like Collective Soul and so on — started making its presence known as well. It wasn’t as harsh or as emotional as Grunge and not as freewheeling as Britpop, but it was still full of strong melody and musicianship. [These bands, sadly, would be the first to feel the pain of losing label support and the goalposts of success shifting quickly out of their reach.] Still, it amazes me how positive most of this stuff sounded at the time. Perhaps it was the hope of a new decade, or the influence of uplifting pop, but either way, it brought about many new and exciting sounds.
Tribe, Here at the Home EP, released 1 February 1990. Tribe is one of my all-time favorite Boston bands, because they were such amazing songwriters. They embraced that autumnal post-punk sound — a collegiate pop, in a way — and always put on a great show. This EP was a local release that got the attention of Warner/Slash Records, who released two further albums from them before their breakup.
King Missile, Mystical Shit, released 1 February 1990. John S Hall is that guy down the hall in your dorm that was quiet and unassuming yet a little bit…odd. His music was simple and often repetitive, but it was the lyrics you had to listen to, because they were often hilarious (and not safe at all for work). A few years before his unexpected radio hit with “Detachable Penis”, he came out with a wonderful ode to the Son of God that became a college radio favorite.
The House of Love, The House of Love, released 1 February 1990. Not to be confused with their 1988 album of the same name (different album altogether), this one helped bring them into the conscience of US modern rock radio with hits “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” and “The Beatles and the Stones”.
Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence” single, released 5 February 1990. A follow-up to their preview single “Personal Jesus”, this became a worldwide hit and remains one of their most famous songs ever. Hearing this for the first time, I remember thinking that they’d not just written a song better than any one of the tracks on 1987’s Music for the Masses, they’d just dropped their best song ever. [I also remember that my hipster roommate hated this song because it was popular.]
Midnight OIl, Blue Sky Mining, released 9 February 1990. The Aussie band’s follow-up to the mega-popular Diesel & Dust didn’t quite hit the same heights, but that really was never their intention in the first place.
The Fall, Extricate, released 19 February 1990. The Fall’s studio follow-up to I Am Kurious Oranj took them in an unexpected direction: catchy, radio-friendly pop. Mark E Smith might still have been growling about the frustrations and crankiness of British life, but there was a groove to it now, and it made songs like the super catchy “Telephone Thing” memorable.
Primal Scream, Loaded EP, released 19 February 1990. A year before the phenomenal and universally beloved Screamadelica album, the band dropped an odd EP featuring a song that was really just a hazy dub remix by Andrew Weatherall of their single “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have”. Tack a Peter Fonda movie sample at the beginning, and you have a ridiculously popular Britpop anthem that gets airplay to this day.
The Beloved, Happiness, released 20 February 1990. This electronic dance band had been around for quite some time in the UK, originally as a new-wave band, and you can still hear evidence of their origins on this relentlessly positive, groove-laden album. It’s one of my favorite albums of this period and you should definitely give it a listen.
Del Amitri, Waking Hours, released 20 February 1990. Quite a few years before their Beatlesque “Roll to Me” became their popular radio hit, this band was a favorite of AOR and Adult Alternative stations with their slightly-countrified-blues rock. “Kiss This Thing Goodbye” became their first big hit and got quite a lot of airplay in the early 90s.
The Church, Gold Afternoon Fix, released 22 February 1990. Even this band sounded rather chipper this time around, having dialed back the moodiness and heavy reverb a bit. This album definitely has that early 90s crisp production sound, which in fact worked in their favor, helping the single “Metropolis” get considerable airplay.
Lush, Mad Love EP, released 26 February 1990. This second EP brought out the band’s best qualities — the jangly guitars and off-center melodies — and made them shine even brighter, leading their label 4AD into a new chapter of dreamlike noise rock.
Listen in Silence III: The Singles mixtape, made 28 February 1990. My first mixtape of the 90s might look like it was basically WFNX’s playlist of the same era, and you’d be right. As much as I loved college radio, Boston College’s WZBC was just a bit too leftfield most of the time and my own college’s FM station a little too committed to ticking all the genre boxes. ‘FNX was my go-to station on my stereo, on my Walkman, and even on the radio at the library Media Center. There are a few quirks and deep cuts here, however, most of them either recent used record store purchases or favorite album tracks. Not one of my favorite mixtapes, but it did its job at the time.
So. Despite withering grades and annoying roommates and distant girlfriends, I was in a much better place by the time spring semester rolled around. I realized that the worst I could do is fall into yet another moody spiral. It was about this time that I’d started a new composition book for my lyrics and poetry, and being a bit less restrictive about it. A lot of the writing from this time came out in shards, sometimes a few lines and sometimes a full piece. The style had changed a bit from my gloomy Cure-influence phase into something just a little bit more worldly. I still felt terrible half the time, but I’d figured out a few workarounds by then.
Next Up: High weirdness and the birth of several alt-pop hits!
Don’t mind me, I’ve recently been hired part-time at a shop up the street and this week has been full of filling out forms, doing orientation work and all the fun stuff that goes along with starting a new job. It’s been almost exactly two years since I left the Former Day Job and *mumbletymumble* years since I last started a completely new one with all the aforementioned forms, orientation and fun stuff, so this week has been a combination of deja vu and curious excitement at getting paid again.
After a somewhat disastrous first semester at Emerson, I came back from Christmas break with a clearer mind and a better idea of what I needed to do to avoid repeating the same mistakes. I reconnected with the new friends I’d made near the end of the first semester and started hanging out with them more, realizing I had a hell of a lot more in common with them than I did with my roommate, who I pretty much avoided and ignored from there on in. I may have been a bit let down that I didn’t connect with them on a musical and intellectual level like I had with the Vanishing Misfits gang, but really — who was I fooling, anyway? Try as I might to hide it, I was a blue-collar dweeb that had no further plans to attempt nonconformist hipness. Better to be myself than try to fit in, yeah? [To date, I am still in contact with two of those friends from then, and the only two from my college years that I still speak with. As for everyone else I’d meet those five years I was there…? For a college that focuses on mass media, I’ve somehow found it ironically impossible to locate any of them on today’s social media.]
I was still broke most of the time and could barely pay our phone bill whenever I wanted to talk with my long-distance girlfriend, yet somehow I did manage to find the pocket change to buy the occasional cassette at Tower Records up the street (or used at Nuggets in Kenmore!) as well as stock up on blanks to record tunes off the radio. I may have still been in a bit of a grumpy mood, but things were looking up. During this second semester I’d finally get my radio show: the 12AM to 3AM shift on WECB AM, and who the hell knew if anyone actually listened, but it was experience!
Peter Murphy, Deep, released 1 January 1990. Murphy’s third album dusts off a lot of the post-punk of his first album and the darkness of his second, leaving an extremely bright sheen. But it was also his breakthrough, with single “Cut You Up” hitting all the major radio stations and even getting airplay on daytime MTV. In my opinion it’s his most commercial, but also his most cohesive record, and it’s a joyful listen.
Inspiral Carpets, Cool As **** EP, released 1 January 1990. Another Mancunian band shuffles out of the club scene and onto American alternative radio, this one leaning heavily on a sixties garage band vibe complete with Farfisa organ. Not as sleek and groovy as The Charlatans UK, but just as danceable and fun.
The Telescopes, To Kill a Slow Girl Walking EP, released 1 January 1990. This British band took the burgeoning noise-rock sound that was gaining a following in the UK and went in all sorts of weird places with it, becoming one of the most loved yet least heard bands of the decade. Each release went in unexpected directions, so one never knew if they’d have a blissed-out groovy dance song, a J&MC-like wall of feedback or some spaced out jam.
John Wesley Harding, Here Comes the Groom, released 5 January 1990. Wesley Stace, under his JWH stage name, burst onto the scene in late 1989 with a few singles and an EP (which featured a quirky acoustic rendition of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”, which got some airplay). His early songwriting was smart, funny, and intelligent and damn catchy, gaining a considerable fanbase in Boston. I’d see him play live twice, both times for free, while I lived in the city. He still records now and again, and is currently an author of four books. His 2014 novel Wonderkid was an inspiration for my own novel Meet the Lidwells.
Big Audio Dynamite, “Free” single, 5 January 1990. As the original BAD lineup began to splinter, Mick Jones recorded and released a final single for the soundtrack of the Keifer Sutherland/Dennis Hopper film Flashback. The movie itself got mixed reviews, but the song did get airplay on WFNX at the time.
They Might Be Giants, Flood, released 5 January 1990. TMBG’s third album literally bursts onto the scene with a bright and sunshiney opening theme (“Theme from Flood”, natch) before haphazardly switching to yet another fantastic earworm they’re known for, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”. Like 1988’s Lincoln, this album does feel a bit overlong and straining in places, but it also contains some of their absolute classics, including the ridiculous “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”, the goofy “Particle Man” and more.
Various Artists, Super Hits of the 70’s: Have a Nice Day, Volumes 1 – 5, released 5 January 1990. And just like that, listening to cheesy AM classic radio is hip again. This series, which would stretch to a staggering twenty-five volumes, made it hip to hear those same songs you thought were corny and cringey just a few years previous. A few years later, Quentin Tarantino would take a page from this and insert 70s hits into his breakthrough movie Reservoir Dogs.
The The, “Jealous of Youth” single, released 19 January 1990. Before it showed up on the Solitude mini-LP in 1994, this outtake from the Mind Bomb album sessions had a standalone single release that couldn’t have come at a better time. Matt Johnson’s desperation to recapture a youth that’s not so much out of his grasp but perhaps already tainted by the pain of adulthood is stark, painful, and an absolute stunner. A perfect song for a Gen-Xer entering the last decade of the century.
The Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker, released 24 January 1990. The Crowes were always bluesy and gospely and they wore their influences for everyone to see. They did sound a bit 80s in their production but that didn’t stop them from becoming wildly popular for nearly the entire decade, always churning out great songs.
Next up: The year moves on, Britpop starts encroaching on US alternative radio, and something about the coolness of a certain deity.
As promised, here’s the latter half of what I’ve been listening to for February releases. A lot of old school — both literal and implied — hit my radar in just a few weeks, and it’s all I can do to keep up! Heh. Seriously, there’s a lot here worth checking out. Enjoy!
White Lies, As I Try Not to Fall Apart, released 18 February. This band reminds me of those glossy 80s synth bands that slid between glossy goth and epic production — not necessarily a bad thing if you can pull it off with excellent songwriting and catchy tunes. Really enjoying their new one a lot.
Sea Power, Everything Was Beautiful, released 18 February. Formerly known as British Sea Power — they dropped the ‘British’ last year for personal and political reasons — this band has always released strong and intelligent records that always seem to fly under most people’s radars.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, Life On Earth, released 18 February. Alynda Segarra’s ongoing project as HftRR has played around with all sorts of alternative rock subgenres, and her latest seems to wedge itself somewhere between PJ Harvey and Angel Olsen, featuring tense pop tunes that are super catchy and memorable.
Various Artists, Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono, released 18 February. A tribute album curated by Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, this album will make you think twice about Ono’s musicianship. Several bands take Ono’s songs from her career and give them new life and charm.
Beach House, Once Twice Melody, released 18 February. I can safely say this is my favorite album of the year so far! While most of it has already been released as EPs over the last few months, the full eighteen-track project holds together amazingly well, refreshing and redefining dream pop genre.
Midnight Oil, Resist, released 18 February. The politically astute Australian band returned in 2020 with a wonderful mini-album, and the latest full-length is even better. After several years they still sound amazing, and they’ve never given up pushing and fighting for what’s right in this world. I highly recommend this one.
Gang of Youths, angel in realtime, released 25 February. This Sydney band is a bit like Japandroids in my head — not always noisy, but definitely always up-tempo and positive in their sound.
ADULT., Becoming Undone, released 25 February. I’ve always loved that Belgian/Austrian EBM sound of the 80s even though I’d never been able to find most of those records, but ADULT. has managed to bring that sound back, perfectly emulating that harsh, twitchy industrial beat. Weird as hell but also a hell of a lot of fun.
Deserta, Every Moment, Everything You Need, released 25 February. Another dreampop band and one whose first album was one of my year-end favorites a few years back. Their follow-up is just as gorgeous and already a go-to for my writing sessions.
Johnny Marr, Fever Dreams Pts 1-4, released 25 February. Like Beach House’s new record, Marr dropped half of this new album in EP form over the last few months. As always, he’s one of the best guitarists out there and can still write a damn fine song.
Tears for Fears, The Tipping Point, released 25 February. Returning for their first new album since 2004 and after nearly a decade touring, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith are back with a lovely gem of a record that’s very reminiscent of their latter discography.
From what I can tell, March will be just as full of great new albums…can’t wait!
For a month that’s nearly always been quiet and unassuming in terms of new releases, February 2022 came out of the gate kicking and screaming with so many titles that I have to split this up into two posts and leave a few out! Hope you enjoy!
Lucy Dacus, “Kissing Lessons” single, released 2 February. Dacus slips out a new non-album single when no one’s looking (and perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day) and it still becomes a fan favorite.
Black Country, New Road, Ants from Up There, released 4 February. I’m still not quite sure how to describe this UK Midlands band other than that their quirky songs veer between chamber pop, angular post-punk and small town oddness, and that they’re a lot of fun to listen to.
Bastille, Give Me the Future, released 4 February. Bastille continues to write catchy and radio-friendly alternapop, but similar to Coldplay’s last few albums they’ve injected a considerable level of experimentation to their songwriting. The result is that they’re not always hit songs but their creativeness keeps you interested and intrigued.
Mitski, Laurel Hell, released 4 February. An indie rock fave at this point. Her latest record continues her focus on the personal, this time on change and transformation, with songs recorded at the height of the pandemic.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples, Summer at Land’s End, released 4 February. My favorite extremely-local band released their latest (and possibly last under that name?) album of moody and meandering ‘fog pop’ (as one-man RPP member Glenn Donaldson himself calls it) and it’s another collection of lovely Felt-like tunes.
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Cold As Weiss, released 11 February. This groovy jazz trio is always a trip to listen to, never wavering from their laid-back melodic funkiness. A simple melody like “Pull Your Pants Up” gets stuck in your head for days.
Eddie Vedder, Earthling, released 11 February. This has to be one of the most cheerful records I’ve heard from Vedder, whose solo and Pearl Jam records tend to lean on the more serious side of things. It’s full of bright and uplifting melodies and a really fun listen.
Andy Bell, Flicker, released 11 February. The Ride guitarist and vocalist gathers a number of unfinished songs he’s had in his cupboards over the years (some dating back to the 1990s!) and it’s a long and sprawling but ultimately fascinating record. There are some shoegazey Ride-like tracks on it, but there are also some janky alt-rock songs that sound like they were influenced by his years in Oasis.
Frank Turner, FTHC, released 11 February. Those expecting Turner to provide us with another album of spiky and often humorous troubadour alt-folk songs will be surprised by the level of raucous power in this record — after all, the title stands for Frank Turner HardCore. It’s a noisy dust-up of an album, but this doesn’t take away from Turner’s smart lyrics and songwriting at all.
Spoon, Lucifer on the Sofa, released 11 February. Spoon returns with an album featuring songs very similar to Kill the Moonlight (released way back in 2002) produced to sound tight and spiky. It’s the sound of a band having held back for too long and feeling the need to exert all that extra energy.
Alt-J, The Dream, released 11 February. This band, as always, never fails to amaze and confuse in equal measure. This new record starts not with calm melodies or even a hit song…but what sounds like a soda pop commercial. It’s kind of hard to figure out where where the band is going at first until you realize that’s the whole point of this record — it’s a fever dream of anxieties, distractions and oddly linked themes. It’s an album that’s meant to feel disjointed and tense, even when its melodies remain lovely and even heartbreaking at times.