…in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.
Every time I hear some blowhard talk about how these children are too young to understand — be it gender, race, sexuality, or any other bugbear that scares the bejeezus out of conservatives these days — it always reminds me just how many movies out there have been made about those same children understanding just fine and it’s the closed-minded adults who aren’t listening or paying attention.
It makes me think of Over the Edge, that 1979 film with a super young Matt Dillon, about a small nowhere town where there’s nothing to do, the cops don’t trust the kids, and the parents refuse to understand why they’re acting the way they are.
It makes me think of Times Square, a 1980 film about two teenage runaways from opposite sides of NYC and how they’re both cast off, ignored and expected to conform.
It reminds me of Pump Up the Volume — a 1990 film with a whole lot of parallels to Over the Edge about, you guessed it, bored teens in a small town full of adults who won’t listen to them.
It reminds me of Permanent Record, a 1988 film about a teen’s suicide, his friends’ reactions, and the adults’ reticence about talking with them about it.
And of course, it reminds me of The Breakfast Club, the classic teen flick about kids figuring themselves out because the adults in charge are certainly doing a shit-ass job helping them.
They all have a similar theme: the kids might not be totally alright, but they’re trying as hard as they fucking can to make it through with minimal damage…all while dealing with Adults With The Best Of Intentions who obviously aren’t listening or paying attention.
I always think of those films (and soundtracks) when I see state leaders threatening to shut down any mention of the word ‘gay’, or passing laws essentially outlawing treatment for trans teens, or any other bullshit they’re on this week. It reminds me of being a teen and discovering nonconformity for the first time. It reminds me of not being able to truly be myself for fear of reprisal from adults or other teens.
And it reminds me of growing up as a teen, looking for answers but also knowing that the adults are going to give me what they think I need to hear, which might hurt more than help.
For a year that was chock full of great and often influential albums, it kind of…ended with a thud. Granted, new and important albums were rarely ever released that late in Q4 (as I’ve mentioned many times), so it’s kind of expected. If I recall, the fall semester ended on perhaps not a high note but at least a better one than previous. I headed home for the Christmas break, not entirely happy that my grades still weren’t that great, and not being able to hang out with my high school gang all that much — everyone was home with family and we’d only be able to meet up maybe once or twice in the weeks we were in the same place. Instead of doing any New Year’s Eve partying, I chose to stick at home listening to the end of year countdown on WMDK. I didn’t even have a year-end mixtape this time out.
What was my mood then? I seem to remember being irritable. In retrospect, I’m sure it was set off by multiple things: being stuck at home in the small town again, out of touch with both my college friends and the Misfits gang, hardly any money in my pocket, and quite possibly some rocky moments going on with my relationship with T. There was definitely a sense of I don’t know what I want, but I know I don’t want THIS that I had no answer for.
Well, at least it was a new year coming up.
The Neighborhoods, Hoodwinked, released 1 December 1990. A classic local band known for being sort of like Boston’s answer to The Replacements, their boozy guitar driven rockers were always favorites with the locals. The title song got significant airplay on pretty much all the Boston rock stations.
Echo & the Bunnymen, Reverberation, released 1 December 1990. After longtime vocalist Ian McCulloch left the band to start a solo career, the rest of the band soldiered on with a new singer. Alas, the new sound fell flat with the loyal fanbase and the bored critics. That’s not to say it’s a bad album per se…they just updated their sound to fit the groovy Britpop sound a bit and there’s some great singles here worth listening to.
Danielle Dax, Blast the Human Flower, released 8 December 1990. Dax’s last album to date also came and went, her longtime fans being frustrated by its glossy sheen and insertion of dance beats on some of its songs. It just wasn’t…weird enough, I guess? Although her cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” (perhaps riding Candy Flip’s coattails) is worth the price. She’d pretty much disappear from the music scene after this record.
Soho, Goddess, released 8 December 1990. Known for that song that samples “How Soon Is Now” (with the blessing of Johnny Marr at that), this British dance-soul duo may not have translated well on American shores, but “Hippychick” certainly got stuck in everyone’s head for a few months there.
Enigma, MCMXC AD, released 10 December 1990. You could possibly pinpoint the start of the 90s’ emergence of new-agey world-music-as-pop with this one album. The big single “Sadeness” mixes Gregorian chants with dance beats and soothing synths, kicking off so many other bands, produces and DJ collectives putting out similar grooves.
Think Tree, eight/thirteen, released 30 December 1990. After nearly a year after dropping the weird yet exciting “Hire a Bird” single, this strange Boston quintet dropped a mini-album of some of their best songs they’d honed live. It sold incredibly well locally, even despite the long wait. Alas it would take them considerably longer to record and release a follow-up and by that time, their local fame had passed.
Looking back at 1990, that year, like most beginnings of decades, was one of transition. I remember my history teacher, Reverend Coffee, telling us that important changes in history usually don’t take place at its start but actually a few years in. I thought this was kind of an interesting way to look at it: after all, calendar time is just an arbitrary number to keep things somewhat in order, right? So maybe it wasn’t 1990 that was going to be a huge change, but maybe in the next year or so. Maybe we’d get past this sense of ‘waiting for things to be over with’ and start something new.
At least that’s what I was hoping for when I returned back to college in January. Fingers crossed.
It’s coming up to the end of the year and the end of the semester, and I think it’s safe to say that I was probably in a reasonably good mood at this point. I say ‘reasonably’ because I knew I’d started wondering if I’d made the right decision in going to the college I did. I was still struggling with homework — I wouldn’t realize until much, much later that I had undiagnosed focus issues since probably 7th grade — and I was just wishing I could finish up this whole education game already. I’d already made some terrible 8mm film experiments that showed that I had interesting ideas and absolutely zero experience. At the same time, however, I started thinking that maybe those interesting ideas was where my creative strengths lie. I also took some radio classes that gave me some interesting ideas as well.
In the meantime, there was still a magnificent wave of great music coming out and I was certainly spending all my money on it.
The House of Love, A Spy in the House of Love, released 1 November 1990. Yet another album with the band’s name in the title (both named after the Anais Nin novel), this time collecting several b-sides and rarities. ‘Marble’, an obscure b-side, ended up getting significant airplay and an official promo video.
Pass the Avocados, Please (Being a Compilation of Manchester, Hip Hop and Other Atrocities) mixtape, created by C Tatro, November 1990. After foisting several mixtapes on my high school friend who was now in his junior year at UMass, he sent me this one in return. It’s a curious mix of tunes that we both loved, heavy on the Madchester with a dash of deep cuts. By the summer of 1991, I’d be responding with my own ‘Avocado’ mix.
The Trashcan Sinatras, Cake, released 5 November 1990. This Scottish band came and went in the US rather quickly, but while they were here, this particular album was a favorite of both music journalists and fans. Light and jangly and full of humor, this album is a joyful listen and I really need to play it more often!
The Beautiful South, Choke, released 13 November 1990. When the Housemartins broke up in 1988, two of its members went on to form this band and have a strong and vibrant career playing lighthearted, cheeky music with a string of British hits to their name.
Lush, Gala, released 13 November 1990. The first official ‘album’ by Lush is actually a compilation of their EPs and singles to date. “De-Luxe” was rereleased to promote it, and this album became a favorite for both critics and fans alike.
Madonna, The Immaculate Collection, released 13 November 1990. It took Madonna a surprisingly long time to release a greatest hits mix, and as was typical of her career, it wasn’t just a collection of her hit singles. Several of the songs were mixed into QSound, an attempt at giving the songs an aural 3-D quality. Two new songs were also added, including the trip-hop inspired “Justify My Love”.
The Sisters of Mercy, Vision Thing, released 13 November 1990. The last new Sisters of Mercy album to date (Andrew Eldritch still tours at this time), This one feels rather glossy compared to the gloomy First and Last and Always or the damp and echoey Floodland, but it fit the changing moods of industrial and goth. It’s definitely of its time.
The Cure, Mixed Up, released 20 November 1990. While us fans were all waiting for a new Cure album (it wouldn’t come for another two years), the band followed up the mega-selling Disintegration with a…remix album? Sure, why not? It’s a wild ride, partly a collection of already-released 12-inch extended remixes and partly an experiment with handing the tapes to producers to turn into something new. And somehow it works!
Buffalo Tom, Birdbrain, released 20 November 1990. This was such a huge hit in the Boston area that you heard it everywhere: on WFNX, WBCN, college stations…I think even hard-rock station WAAF played them for a while! It’s a great album, full of punky, folky songs written by fantastic songwriters.
Happy Mondays, Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, released 27 November 1990. While the Mondays’ previous albums could be scattershot and a mix between a coked-out jam session and an aural car crash, this album saw them break through internationally with tight grooves, smart lyrics, sort-of-on-key singing, and an album chock full of excellent songs. The big hit “Step On” — another Kongos cover they’d kept for themselves — put them on the indie rock map and remains their most popular track.
Coming towards the end of the year, I started thinking about the various things that had changed in my life to date. I’d remembered entering 1990 thinking how wild it was to be entering the last decade of the last century of the last millennium, but I ended the year thinking maybe a little more close to home: writing new songs and getting better on my bass (and borrowing Jon A’s guitar now and again); approaching my creative writing in different ways; learning to rein in my rampant emotions and thoughts into something a bit more coherent and controllable; and maybe even thinking about who I thought I was versus who I actually wanted to be. It was around this time that I’d finally decided that maybe being the overly moody bastard wasn’t going to work for me for that much longer.
Spring is awash with plenty of great new records worth checking out!
Hatchie, Giving the World Away, released 22 April. The long awaited follow up to 2019’s amazing Keepsake expands on the band’s perky dreampop, creating even more lush soundscapes and memorable tunes.
Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One [25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition], released 22 April. YLT had always been an indie favorite but a curiosity that never got its due until this eighth album that dropped in early 1997, and this one’s considered their best of their 90s era. It even spawned a minor radio hit with “Autumn Sweater”.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Omnium Gatherum, released 22 April. This band took me a few releases to appreciate…and of course thanks to KEXP for sharing their best songs and simulcasting a live show! They’ve always been a bit of a weirdo psych-prog band and this record is no different, but they manage to avoid the musical navelgazing and druggy weirdness to achieve a perfect level of enjoyable quirkiness.
Bowling for Soup, Pop Drunk Snot Bread, released 22 April. BfS continues their run of goofball punk with hilarious lyrics and catchy pop-punk melodies, including a hilarious single about wanting to be a gorgeous film star.
Fontaines DC, Skinty Fia, released 22 April. This Irish band continues to fascinate with their moody post-punk, this time inserting a lot more local color and culture. It’s not as dark as their previous album A Hero’s Death but it’s certainly a lot more dense.
Skylar Grey, Skylar Grey, released 28 April. Known more as a backup singer and songwriter with others such as Rihanna, Diddy, Macklemore, Alicia Keys and others, Grey has occasionally dropped a solo record that slides somewhere outside the pop norm and embraces her darker moods.
Toro y Moi, MAHAL, releaseed 29 April. Chaz Bundick has been putting out excellent chillwave albums for over a decade now, and this one continues his string of great records that are simultaneously relaxing and groovy.
Royksopp, Profound Mysteries, released 29 April. This one’s my favorite of the month — they’ve always been a bit of a laid back electronic band, incorporating meandering melodies that feel more like Air than Daft Punk, and this one’s full of them. It’s a lovely-sounding record and has already gotten significant play during my writing sessions!
Let’s Eat Grandma, Two Ribbons, released 29 April. This band has been around for a bit but I’d never gotten around to checking them out, and now I’m wondering what took me so long! I’m always a big fan of the recent waves of synth-pop, especially albums that fit my writing moods, and this band fits perfectly.
A lot of new releases popped out last month, enough where’ I’m gonna need to split it into two parts! And not only are there a number of new bands I’m really digging, there are a few classic ones that I didn’t expect!
EMF, Go Go Sapiens, released 1 April. I’ll be honest, I did not see this one coming! They may not be as funky and sample-rific as they once were (and to be honest, they’d already shed that by the time Stigma came out in 1992), but this is a pleasant surprise and and really enjoyable album.
The Clockworks, The Clockworks EP, released 1 April. It may only be a four-song EP, but I’ll take anything from one of my favorite finds of last year. They’ve definitely got that Interpol-esque post-punk sound down perfectly and I can’t wait to hear more!
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love, released 1 April. These guys have been around since the early 80s and it was only a matter of time before they moved a bit away from their patented punk-funk sound. It’s long, it’s a bit meandering, and a lot of it sounds quite mellow, but it’s still quite enjoyable.
Orville Peck, Bronco, released 8 April. The masked singer of unknown origins (although the prevailing rumor is that it’s drummer Daniel Pitout of the band Nü Sensae) releases his second album of spot-on old-school country crooning and it’s absolutely fantastic.
Son Lux, Everything Everywhere All at Once soundtrack, released 8 April. This quirky band was the perfect choice to do the score for the bonkers-yet-brilliant Michelle Yeoh/Ke Huy Quan movie that everyone’s talking about. And yes, the movie really is that brilliant.
Jack White, Fear of the Dawn, released 8 April. White’s solo releases have never failed to capture my attention and impress me with its catchy tunes. I’m really digging this one.
Oceanator, Nothing’s Ever Fine, released 8 April. Super fun boppy guitar punk that kind of reminds me of the bouncier side of Throwing Muses and Breeders. Go check out her stuff on Bandcamp, it’s worth a listen!
Wet Leg, Wet Leg, released 8 April. Slightly weird and a bit off, but full of super catchy melodies and humor. Definitely worth checking out.
Sault, Air, released 15 April. Not only did this mysterious collective drop an album with almost zero pre-release promotion — other than an “oh hey, check it out” tweet — but they dropped a…symphonic album? It’s definitely not the soul/rap/r&b hybrid their fans were used to. But it’s still amazing.
Sorry about that. Yesterday was my last of six days in a row of eight-hour midshift workdays and I’m taking today off to regain some of that energy and brain function. I’ll return soon with my April playlist, and then return to the Boston Years saga!