WIS Presents: The Boston Years XVI

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.

WIS Presents: The Boston Years XV

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.

WIS Presents: The Boston Years XII

Summer was winding down, and I’d come to the conclusion that maybe my problem was that I was trying to hold onto something — or maybe several somethings — that were no longer there. It wasn’t just my social life, either. I had to grow up and be more serious about my school work. I had to be consistent with my creative endeavors. And maybe that connection I had with my home town needed to be — well, maybe not severed, but at least loosened considerably. It was time to wrap things up and move on. Chris would host his second ‘fiasco’ party at his grandfather’s cabin on Packard Pond, this time with several of his college friends. I’d meet up with T once or twice more. And then it was time to go.

Jellyfish, Bellybutton, released 7 August 1990. Bay Area drummer/songwriter Andy Sturmer and keyboardist Roger Manning conceived a band that leaned heavily on 70s classic rock and XTC power-pop and added guitarist Jason Falkner and Roger’s brother Chris on drums to create one of the year’s most enjoyable and bubblegummiest albums. It’s a wonderful record from start to finish and highly recommended. [Music trivia: Roger Manning would end up working with Beck, Falkner became a respected solo artist, and Sturmer wrote pop gems for Puffy AmiYumi among others!]

The Heart Throbs, Cleopatra Grip, released 7 August 1990. Shoegaze meets dreampop in this echoey, meandering record that may not have contained huge hits, but it was certainly a lovely album to listen to on a warm weekend afternoon in late summer.

Extreme, Extreme II Pornograffitti, released 7 August 1990. A Boston band that did actually make it into the big time, this straight-ahead commercial rock band wore its heart on its sleeve for its ballads (such as the classic “More Than Words” from this album), rocked their audiences with party anthems like “Get the Funk Out” and even snagged me with a great acoustic sing-along with the single and album closer “Hole Hearted”. This ended up being their only hit album, but they’re still around and still going strong.

Deee-Lite, World Clique, released 7 August 1990. I totally wasn’t into the club scene at the time, but you could not escape the de-lovely fun of “Groove Is In the Heart” which got itself plastered all over creation, from alternative rock stations to pop stations to Top 40 stations and beyond. The entire album is a goofy and fun trip.

Pump Up the Volume soundtrack, released 8 August 1990. The Christian Slater film may not have been the biggest summer hit — it’s your classic “the adults don’t understand the kids” rebellion film on par with the ’79 cult hit Over the Edge, complete with amazing soundtrack — but it certainly lit a fire under me at the time with its themes of nonconformity, refusal to give in, and yes, even alternative radio. This was my go-to soundtrack for many months afterwards, and also got me to start investigating the discography of Leonard Cohen, whose songs play a significant part.

9 Ways to Sunday, 9 Ways to Sunday, released 13 August 1990. This obscure band, like Katydids, only got some minor airplay on Adult Alternative stations before vanishing completely, but there’s some really great deep cuts on this one. I’ve always loved the single “Come Tell Me Now”, which ended up on a few of my mixtapes.

Pixies, Bossanova, released 13 August 1990. I remember being at the DPW reading the Boston Herald when news dropped that this album was coming, and I bought it the week it came out. This is my favorite early-era Pixies record, and most of my favorite tracks of theirs are from this one. It’s their most accessible and cohesive album.

Living Colour, Time’s Up, released 20 August 1990. LC had to work hard to top their initial debut, 1988’s incredible Vivid, but instead of being bigger and better, they took a side-step and got funkier and jazzier. The blasting hard rock is still there — the jammy single “Type” and the bluesy single “Love Rears Its Ugly Head” for starters — are just as strong as the first album.

Mixtape, Untitled II, created 20 August 1990. This remains one of my favorite mixtapes I’ve made. It was made on the week off between leaving the town public works job and heading back to Boston (a choice I made on purpose as a mental buffer) and was played frequently while relaxing in my room, playing Solitaire and just letting the days go by. Most of the songs were from recent used record store purchases, WMDK’s playlist, and deep cuts of older albums and singles I’d gotten into. (There’s also a Flying Bohemians track on there that I’m extremely proud of.) It’s one of my best in terms of flow and mood.

Bob Mould, Black Sheets of Rain, released 21 August 1990. Mould’s second solo album saw him return to the harder, angrier sound he’d been known for, and though that may have turned off a few new fans, it’s a solid album that’s worth checking out.

Alice in Chains, Facelift, released 21 August 1990. AIC’s debut was a bona fide hit across the board and paved the way for even more bands from the Pacific Northwest to introduce the grunge sound to the world.

Anthrax, Persistence of Time, released 21 August 1990. This thrash-metal band had its own fan base for years, but in 1990 they took a quirky post-punk-meets-jazz track by Joe Jackson (yes, the “Steppin’ Out” guy) and turned it into a badass headbanger that gained them an even bigger following. Even Jackson himself began playing the song live at Anthrax speed because of it.

Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual, released 21 August 1990. This record had both its fans and detractors, as it’s not as post-punk moody and gritty as Nothing’s Shocking; it’s a lot more experimental and maybe a little unhinged in places, and isn’t quite as cohesive. Still, it’s got some of their best tracks as well, including their goofy hit single “Been Caught Stealing”.

Cocteau Twins, “Iceblink Luck” single, released 28 August 1990. This band had long been known for their slow, dreamlike, reverb-drenched sound, but a new decade brought them a much brighter and perkier sound, starting with this surprise hit single.

Angelo Badalamenti, Soundtrack from Twin Peaks, released 31 August 1990. The soundtrack to David Lynch’s weird-yet-intriguing television show dropped just weeks before its second season started (and we still didn’t know who’d killed Laura Palmer yet), and its dreamy spookiness is some of Badalamenti’s best and most memorable work.

*

I’d return to Boston at the start of September with the plan of taking life a bit more seriously than I did the previous year. I had a new roommate I knew I’d get along with, new friends to hang out with, and a healthier outlook on my personal and creative life. I’d finally be taking film production classes (after several history and theory prerequisites), and seeing if I could create visually what I was seeing in my head with my writing. It may or may not work, but I’d finally have the chance to find out.

In retrospect, I think this was about the time that I probably should have ended things with T to spare us both the heartache and the long-distance frustrations (and the budget-busting phone bills). The both of us knew we had to move on one way or another, and I think we were both starting to move in separate directions. I can definitely see in a lot of my poetry and lyrics of the time that while I was mentally and emotionally in a healthier place, I wasn’t yet out of the woods, and that was primarily due to my refusal to let go of those last few threads keeping me connected to my hometown and my past. It is what it is, though…we’d soon have our mini-breakups, our missed chances and reconciliations for a few years more. And we’re still friends to this day, so at least we can both cherish that.

WIS Presents: The Boston Years VIII

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.

WIS Presents: The Boston Years VII

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.

SinĂ©ad 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!

WIS Presents: The Boston Years II

One month into my college years and of course I was already thinking, what the fuck have I gotten myself into? It was a perfect storm of harsh truths and brutal realizations: I clearly was not programmed for academia, or at least never properly trained for it (or, as I would figure out much later in life, unaware that I could find mental and emotional workarounds that would help me make it all work). People similar to my closest friends in high school (aka the Vanishing Misfits) were nowhere to be found in this school full of budding actors, writers and filmmakers already imagining themselves the next maverick auteur. Any creativity I tried to bring to the table was met with side-eyes and wincingly seen as hardly original. [And see, this is precisely why I eye-roll like mad whenever I see the latest theoretical discourse and debate on Twitter. Because I’ve already witnessed enough of this kind of self-aggrandizing horseshit for one lifetime, thank you very much.]

I can definitely see what direction I was heading in with the poems and lyrics I was writing at the time…I’d gone past the Cure-like gothic doom and straight into the unfiltered fuck-you of punk at that point. My other mistake here was that I’d used my long-distance relationship as an anchor to keep me sane. I always treated T with love and kindness, but damn I am so surprised she never slapped me upside the head and told me to grow the fuck up.

ANYWAY. I had a lot of shit to contend with, a lot of life lessons to catch up on, and a spiral of self-triggered depression to slide into. I always did my best to keep my head above water and found whatever distractions I could to keep me from getting any worse. And thankfully, the music was there to help.

Jesus Jones, Liquidizer, released 1 October 1989. No one really knew what to make of this band’s wild mix of industrial, dance and hard rock at first, other than it was noisy and you could dance to it. Most everyone’s familiar with “Right Here Right Now” but there’s so much more to this band than what you expect. Their first album is much more twitchy and aggressive but also a really fun listen.

Galaxie 500, On Fire, released 1 October 1989. Well before Dean Wareham started Luna, he was one third of this proto-quietcore band out of the Boston area that became the favorite of all the local college radio stations. Their spin was that their music often took on a hazy, almost psychedelic feel.

The Jesus + Mary Chain, Automatic, released 9 October 1989. Their third album (fourth if you count the b’s-and-rarities Barbed Wire Kisses from 1988) took them in an altogether different direction, seriously toning down the feedback and ramping up the beats. They kept the volume, though, and it ended up making this album a huge hit.

Lush, Scar EP, released 9 October 1989. It all started here for this band, a six-track record that took the time-honored 4AD sound and vision (dreamy melodies, heavy on the reverb, 23 Envelope cover, natch) and ramped up the volume. This was a label changing from its chamber-pop high and into a new sonic landscape. I remember hearing “Scarlet” on WZBC (Boston College’s station) for the first time and being completely blown away by it…I headed to Tower Records the very next day and bought the cassette!

The Blue Nile, Hats, released 16 October 1989. I remember my first shift at WECB, Emerson’s AM station (with the reach of just our dorms at the time), “The Downtown Lights” was one of the tunes on the rotation I had to play, and I absolutely fell in love with it. The band are kind of a peculiar mix of 80s adult pop sheen, smooth jazz and new wavey synthpop, but they pull it off wonderfully.

Erasure, Wild!, released 16 October 1989. Their follow-up to The Innocents was far more club-oriented and while it may not have been as memorable as some of their previous albums, it’s certainly enjoyable. Early in 1990 I saw this band for the first time at the Orpheum in downtown Boston and they put on an absolutely ridiculous and super fun show that I still think about from time to time!

Kate Bush, The Sensual World, released 17 October 1989. I was late in getting into her music (I didn’t own anything of hers until her hits collection The Whole Story) but I did get this one soon after it was released. It kind of reminds me of U2’s Unforgettable Fire in that I feel a sort of self-contained warmth when I listen to it. It’s a mature and low-key record that’s got some fantastic songs on it.

The Smithereens, 11, released 18 October 1989. The Jersey band’s third record (its name and album cover hinting at Ocean’s Eleven) is just as powerful and energetic as their previous — and they’re still downtuning their guitars a half-step here — but so many of these songs are just begging to be cranked up. [And if the lyrics to “A Girl Like You” sound familiar, it’s because the song was originally written for the John Cusack movie Say Anything but not used as it pretty much gave the entire plot away!]

Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, released 20 October 1989. If there’s one album that bridges the gap between my life in the late 80s and what was to come in the early 90s, it’s this one. An album so full of spite, pain, depression and desperation that distilled what I was feeling at the time, all wrapped up in one record. And when they came to town in November to play on Landsdowne Street just outside Kenmore Square, I was there in the mosh pit, pissed off and needing to bleed it all out of my system. I would often return to this one album whenever I knew I was veering towards the darker side of my moods. And believe me, I returned to it a lot for a few years there.

Men Without Hats, The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century, released 30 October 1989. After the surprising popularity if 1987’s Pop Goes the World and its title track, the Hats followed up with another AOR-level popfest that might not exactly be chartworthy but goes in some really interesting and unexpected directions, including the pro-feminist anti-abuse single “Hey Men” and a fascinating cover of ABBA’s “SOS”.

The Psychedelic Furs, Book of Days, released 30 October 1989. The Furs closed out their stellar 80s run with a heavy, murky record full of tension and discomfort, but it features some of my favorite later-era songs of theirs as well, including the above. [TW: the video has a lot of strobe effects.]

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More to come soon!

WIS Presents: The Boston Years I

I’ve been putting this off for years, and I think it’s high time: let’s take an extended look at the music that I listened to in my five years while living in Boston, from September 1989 to August 1995. That’s five years’ worth of music, so this one’s going to take quite a lot of time. Which is fine, because I’ve been wanting to revisit a lot of these!

Some of these albums will have good memories tied to them. Some of them won’t. Some of them will just be background soundtracks while others will have deep personal meaning. It was five rollercoaster years of good and bad, and I think it’s high time I made peace with them.

I started Emerson College in the fall of 1989, living on the third floor (room 306) of Charlesgate, the tall former hotel that sits on the corner of Beacon and Charlesgate East, just a few blocks east of Kenmore Square. This was back when the school’s campus — such as it was — was situated at the other end of Back Bay, at the intersection of Beacon and Berkeley. I’d take the school shuttle from one end to the other most days, but walking the length (just under a mile) wasn’t so bad either.

Mind you, I was going in with good intentions that may have been extremely rose-colored and innocently hopeful, and it didn’t quite turn out the way I’d expected. I was hoping for a cool roomie with excellent tastes in college rock and ended up with a somewhat rude hipster that merely tolerated me. I was trying to maintain a pre-internet long-distance relationship that I too often became overdependent on. My so-so grades remained so-so (most likely a mix of ADD-like distraction, depression and not really knowing how to study properly), and I was perpetually broke.

On the plus side? I’d brought my bass with me and practiced on that thing like no tomorrow. I used some of my spare time writing outtakes and comic strips. And I could easily head home for the weekend just by jumping on the train at North Station. That’s the one thing I remember the most during those years: those trips home to clear my brain and reset my mood, and coming back on Sunday evening refreshed for another round.

Love and Rockets, Love and Rockets, released 4 September 1989. Their fourth album was a distinct change from their previous three, veering away from the dreamlike acoustics and hippie psychedelia and heading straight for noisy post-punk of the Jesus & Mary Chain variety. While the teaser single “So Alive” — the first L&R single to hit the American charts and kickstarting an alternative renaissance just a few years before grunge took over — was a pure pop song, the rest of the album went from the anger of “**** (Jungle Law)” to the boisterous groove of “Motorcycle” and back. It’s an odd album, but it’s definitely a good one.

Camper Van Beethoven, Key Lime Pie, released 5 September 1989. This was kinda sorta CVB’s swan song for the 80s, as lead singer David Lowery headed off to form the very successful Cracker. (They didn’t really brake up so much as go on hiatus, sneaking out a few songs here and there on the interim.) This was also another good example of a well-loved indie band vanishing just as its popularity was rising and had joined a semi-major label (Virgin).

Soundgarden, Louder Than Love, released 5 September 1989. Well before Superunknown and even Badmotorfinger, these PNW guys were making their way through their original sludge-metal sound and heading from indie label SST to major A&M Records. It was definitely not in my wheelhouse at the time — I was still deeply immersed in the slightly less angry post-punk/college rock soundscape — but after giving it a few listens courtesy of my freshman year college roommate, it grew on me.

Big Audio Dynamite, Megatop Phoenix, released 5 September 1989. This can kind of be considered the last album of the first BAD phase, before the 1990 band member shuffling, and on its own it’s a stellar achievement. While it’s not as experimental as their previous records, every song is a banger and it remains one of my favorites.

Julee Cruise, Floating Into the Night, released 12 September 1989. It is fascinating how this project stemmed from David Lynch’s inability to snag the rights to This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren” for his movie Blue Velvet. A few years and a theme song for a truly weird TV show later, Cruise debuted with this absolutely glorious album of extreme delicateness. And “Falling” really is a lovely song, even after all these years.

Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule, 19 September 1989. Lenny’s first album was a huge hit on WFNX, its title track getting immediate heavy rotation. I was drawn to this album because it refused to be pigeonholed into one specific genre — it could fit just as easily on alternative radio as it could on pop and R&B stations — and his songcraft was absolutely stellar from the first song.

The Sugarcubes, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!, released 20 September 1989. Their sophomore follow-up to the career-defining Life’s Too Good suffered a little by being overly long and containing a few filler tunes, but in retrospect it really is a good album despite that.

The Mighty Lemon Drops, Laughter, released 20 September 1989. The follow-up to the band’s fantastic World Without End sounds more polished and mature, and contains some absolutely lovely tracks, including their biggest hit “Where Do We Go from Heaven” which has been described as their take on The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”.

Tears for Fears, The Seeds of Love, released 25 September 1989. Their third album, coming four years after their smash Songs from the Big Chair, led them in some new directions: psychedelic pop, and soul. “Sowing the Seeds of Love” borrows heavily from The Beatles, while the moving “Woman in Chains” is a stunning single that became one of their most popular later hits.

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That’s quite a month to start off my college years, yeah? I remember I bought most of these up the street in Kenmore Square, either at Nuggets (back when they were in a musty basement) or at Planet Records just up the block. Suffice it to say, I knew that living right down the street from a shopping district that would certainly take all my money and then some was going to be a dangerous thing. Did that stop me, though…? Heh.

Stay tuned, maybe we might even make it to the end of 1989…?