Twenty Years On: January 2002

Welcome to another series of Twenty Years On, in which I go through a year’s worth of favorite songs, singles and albums that were favorites then and are still favorites now. So where was I at this point back in 2002?

I was most likely down in my parent’s basement — yes, even in the dead of winter, unless it was too cold — working hard on writing A Division of Souls, which I would finish later in the year. By this time I had my daily schedule down to an artform: I’d leave my job at Yankee Candle sometime around 2pm (my shift started at 6am); on Wednesdays I’d drive over to the Amherst/Hadley area and do my comic book and CD runs, and get home in time to watch Tenchi Muyo! on Cartoon Network before dinnertime. After dinner I’d head down to the Belfry (though I don’t think it earned that name until much later in the year) and spend a couple of hours writing and listening to my new cd purchases.

This was an important time in my life in terms of writing, as I’d finally reached a level of quality I was happy with, and that I was hitting at least a thousand words a night. I was also writing consistently, nearly every single day without fail, even weekends. I loved the project I was working on — one that I would plan out during slow times at work to make the actual prose writing flow much faster — and I considered it some of my best work to date.

As for music, I really had no idea what the year would bring me. The previous year did have its share of great records, but it didn’t completely spellbind me. My year-end mixtape felt a bit forced and meandering. But I kept an open mind, armed with my copies of ICE Newsletter and CMJ magazines. January ended up being a pretty good release month considering it was usually a wasteland of small indie releases and leftovers.

bis, Fact 2002 EP, released January 2002. A four-track EP of cover songs original from Factory Records, it’s more of a curio than a collector’s item, but it takes the label’s early dance tracks and makes them even dancier and bloopier. (This is now available on the 2014 deluxe reissue of their Return to Central album.)

Osymyso, “Intro-Inspection”, released January 2002. Mash-ups had been around for a good couple of years by this point, but while most of them had been relegated to white label limited releases and played in the clubs, by the early 2000s they were being uploaded and shared online for everyone to hear and add to their own mp3 collection. This particular track subverts the usual mash-up by mixing the first few bars of a staggering 103 songs in a brisk and mind-blowing twelve minutes. It’s supremely clever and all kinds of fun.

Various Artists, I Am Sam soundtrack, released 8 January 2002. While the Sean Penn film was not a success, the soundtrack, which features all covers of Beatles songs (Penn’s character is a fan) is an intriguing collection featuring bands and musicians such as Rufus Wainwright, Michael Penn, The Vines, Ben Folds, Sarah McLachlan and more.

Concrete Blonde, Group Therapy, released 15 January 2002. After a seven-year breakup, the original Napolitano-Mankey-Rushakoff trio reunited to release a laid back and boozy album recorded in just ten days. It’s not as punk-infused as their earlier records, but it’s just as strong.

Nine Inch Nails, And All That Could Have Been/Still, released 22 January 2002. A half live, half studio album produced during the tour for 1999’s The Fragile album. Like most of his 90s records, it’s a bit of a tough listen given how raw and chilling most of his songs were at the time, but it’s also a really interesting collection, especially with the Still portion of ‘reconstructed’ versions of many of his best-known songs.

Sneaker Pimps, Bloodsport, released 22 January 2002. The third SP record kind of came and went before anyone noticed (and for the most part was ignored by the US, considering their second record, 1999’s Splinter, didn’t even get released there), but it’s actually a really solid record. They’ve already moved on from their echoey trip-hop sound of 1996’s Becoming X (and dropped former singer Kelli Ali) and become more trippy alternative. They would break up in the next year with lead singer Chris Corner starting IAMX, but in late 2021 they surprised everyone (including me!) by releasing a new album entitled Squaring the Circle.

Violet Indiana, Casino, released 22 January 2002. This was a short-lived but lovely-sounding duo featuring Robin Guthrie (ex-Cocteau Twins) and Siobhan de Maré (ex-Mono, the UK one that did “Life in Mono”), and their brief output of only a few albums and singles provided a lovely backdrop of chanteuse-like balladry and dreamlike pop.

Cornelius, Point, released in the US on 22 January 2002. I know I’ve posted this video many times in the past, and mentioned this record as well, and it’s one of my favorites of this era. This was the Japanese musician’s fourth record but his second readily available in the US, and it’s a wonderful record brimming over with wonderful creativity. It’s an album you should listen to with headphones to get the full stereo experience. This was the first 2002 CD that I had on constant rotation during my Belfry writing sessions.

The Anniversary, Your Majesty, released 22 January 2002. Another example of getting into a band just as they release their last record? Perhaps so, but this was a great indie rock record that reminds me of The New Pornographers. A bit odd but extremely melodic and fun.

Various Artists, The Mothman Prophecies soundtrack, released 25 January 2002. Say what you will, I really enjoyed the spooky Richard Gere monster-conspiracy flick, and unsettling tomandandy score is quite an interesting listen. Low provides the end-credits track “Half Light” that fits the movie’s creepiness perfectly. [tomandandy even borrowed their track “Not That Kind of Girl” from 2001’s Things We Lost in the Fire for a recurring theme.]

Chemical Brothers, Come With Us, released 28 January 2002. I don’t think this band has ever quite topped the success of 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole, but that doesn’t really matter when your output is so consistent and consistently creative and clever. This record felt more like a kicking-back, groove-in-your-own-head sort of album and it’s enjoyable from start to finish.

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Next up on TYO: February 2002!

Best of 2021

Nation of Language, A Way Forward

Every now and again we have a year with a lot of great albums, some immediate personal favorites…but for some reason, little of it resonates to the extent that they’re going to be all-time favorites I’d be listening for years to come. That’s not to say that they’re bad albums, or even forgetful ones! It could be due to Just How Life Has Been As Of Late (after all, this pandemic thing is still putting the kibosh on a lot of uplifting celebration), or it could be a personal thing (my mind has been focusing on numerous things other than my ever-expanding musical tastes).

I spent more time this year listening to KEXP streaming online than actually listening to any of the music I might have acquired during the past year. In a way it felt like those high school days of yore when I went through a spell of listening to WAMH on a daily basis and only listening to albums at night (except that my nights these days are watching TV with A in the living room). And just like that era, I’m (hopefully) making some personal changes to my life in the new year that might necessitate me not listening to John In the Morning every weekday. [Unlike those high school days of yore, KEXP archives their shows for a few days so I should be able to listen in at a later time.]

Next year is a ‘2’ year, which means that I’m expecting some mind-bogglingly stellar albums that will become all-time favorites. I know, I know…it’s only a pet theory of mine, but it hasn’t steered me wrong yet. There have been hints of it in the preview singles being dropped over the last couple of months, and the few new release news bites that have slipped out. Whatever comes, I’m looking forward to it!

That said, here is my list of favorite albums, songs, and other releases in 2021. These are in no particular order this time, other than that my top favorites are in boldface. I highly suggest checking them all out, as they’re all great and worth a listen or five!

TOP ALBUMS
Roosevelt, Polydans
Nation of Language, A Way Forward
Grandbrothers, All the Unknown
Flock of Dimes, Head of Roses
Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg
Hooverphonic, Hidden Stories
Wolf Alice, Blue Weekend
Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee
Quivers, Golden Doubt
CHVRCHES, Screen Violence
Sleigh Bells, Texis
Low, HEY WHAT
Film School, We Weren’t Here
Coldplay, Music of the Spheres
Elbow, Flying Dream 1
Failure, Wild Type Droid
Miss Gritt, Impostor EP
The Beatles, Let It Be [Super Deluxe]
Snoh Aalegra, Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies
Foo Fighters, Medicine at Midnight

TOP SINGLES
Imagine Dragons feat. JID, “Enemy”
The Clockworks, “Throw It All Away”
Miss Grit, “Blonde”
Sleigh Bells, “Locust Laced”
Nation of Language, “Across That Fine Line”
Roosevelt, “Echoes”
Teenage Sequence, “All This Art”
Ambar Lucid, “Space Cowgirl”
CHVRCHES, “Cry Little Sister”
Girlfriends and Boyfriends, “Your Touch”
Dry Cleaning, “Scratchcard Lanyard”
Seatbelts, “TANK! [Flix Mix]”
Wet Leg, “Chaise Longue”
Jose Gonzalez, “El Invento”
Flock of Dimes, “Price of Blue”
Yola, “Stand for Myself”
Parquet Courts, “Walking at a Downtown Pace”
Jack White, “Taking Me Back”
Yard Act, “Dark Days”
Breeze, “Come Around”

…and more Best-Ofs…

Box Sets, Compilations, Reissues and Remasters
The Beatles, Let It Be [Super Deluxe]
George Harrison, All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition
John Lennon, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (Ultimate Collection)
Various Artists, Bills & Aches & Blues (40 Years of 4AD)
Various Artists, Caught Beneath the Landslide: The Other Side of Britpop and the 90s
Supergrass, In It for the Money [Deluxe Expanded Edition]
POD, Satellite [Expanded Edition]
Death Cab for Cutie, The Photo Album [Deluxe Edition]
Radiohead, KID A MNESIA
Seatbelts, Cowboy Bebop (Soundtrack from the Netflix Series)
David Bowie, Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001)
U2, Achtung Baby [30th Anniversary Edition]

EPs and Singles
Ambar Lucid, Get Lost in the Music EP
Miss Grit, Impostor EP
Thom Yorke, “Creep [Very 2021 RMX]”
Wet Leg, “Chaise Longue”
Working Men’s Club, “X”
Bowling for Soup, “Growing Old Sucks (But Everybody’s Doing It)”
Teenage Sequence, “All This Art”
Imagine Dragons feat. JID, “Enemy””
Big Wreck, Big Wreck 7.1 EP
The Clockworks, “Throw It All Away”

Keepin’ It Local (Bands from My Hood)
The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Uncommon Weather
Chime School, Chime School
The Umbrellas, The Umbrellas
Cindy, 1:2

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…and that’s it for Walk in Silence for 2021! I’ll be taking the first week of January off just to enjoy the remainder of the holiday season and prep myself for the plans I have for the new year. Here’s to hoping everyone’s 2022 is stellar!

Spare Oom Playlist, November 2021 Edition, Part II

Finishing up with last month’s great tunage, where it goes in all sorts of interesting directions!

Matt Nathanson, Achtung Matty, released 18 November. Pop singer and local goofball (you should really follow his Instagram, it’s quite fun) covers his number one favorite album ever to celebrate its thirty-year anniversary, and it’s a surprisingly enjoyable ride.

Adele, 30, released 19 November. Adele returns with what is essentially a post-breakup/post-divorce record that’s not so much full of sorrow as it is full of I am so sick of this bullsh*t rage, and you can’t help but cheer her on for coming out on top.

Big Wreck, Big Wreck 7.1 EP, released 19 November. I’ve loved this band ever since their 1997 debut, and their latest is just as loud and powerful and bluesy as ever. They’ve never put out a bad record, and this one is just as great as the rest of them.

Seatbelts, Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, 19 November. Whatever you feel about the Netflix remake, you can’t glide past the fact that its soundtrack is ABSOLUTELY FLIPPING AMAZING because it’s Yoko Kanno and Seatbelts, just like the original. There’s a whole lot of new score here and you really need to give it a listen.

Elbow, Flying Dream 1, released 19 November. One of my longtime favorite bands returns with a lovely and somber record that mirrors the delicate movements we’ve all had to make during this multi-year pandemic.

Radwimps, FOREVER DAZE, released 23 November. You may remember these guys from the last two Makoto Shinkai movies, Your Name and Weathering with You. Their new record is a lot of good fun, full of cheerful powerpop and lovely balladry.

David Bowie, Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001), released 26 November. The latest in the major Bowie reissue box set project, this one covers his most intriguing and mature albums that led him to classy (Black Tie White Noise) to weirdo conceptual (Outside) to techno (Earthling, one of my top favorites of his) to adult alternative (‘hours…’), with multiple discs of b-sides, remixes, soundtrack songs, and the unreleased 2001 project Toy, in which he updates some of his earliest songs.

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Coming soon: a December overview, and of course my mixtape/best-of lists!

Spare Oom Playlist, November 2021 Edition, Part I

November was usually the last month in which we get an exciting array of new releases that finally quiet down come Thanksgiving, leaving December to provide us with greatest hits mixes, box sets, and untried bands provided a chance to break through. At least that’s how it’s usually been pre-COVID, anyway. Still, last month’s drops were strong and exciting, so let’s take a peek, shall we?

Porcupine Tree, “Harridan” single, released 1 November. New Porcupine Tree single??? NEW PORCUPINE TREE SINGLE!!!! AND A NEW ALBUM in 2022!! *eight-minute squee*

Nation of Language, A Way Forward, released 5 November. I mentioned this one in a previous entry and yeah, it’s still one of my favorites of the year. It’s an amazing record.

They Might Be Giants, BOOK, released 5 November. This band has been working for years and there’s no sign of the Two Johns stopping anytime soon. Their full-band sound fits them well this time out!

Chime School, Chime School, released 5 November. Bandcamp recently posted a great article about San Francisco’s lo-fi music scene, and Chime School is one of the fun bands featured, with their sweet jangly pop that really does owe a lot to the C86 sound.

The Verve Pipe, Threads, released 5 November. TVP are still going strong, and Brian Vander Ark’s songwriting is still stellar. (Go follow his Patreon, his posts are a lot of fun and he’s a really nice guy.)

Snail Mail, Valentine, released 5 November. Super melodic alternative tunage that goes in some really interesting directions.

Silk Sonic, An Evening with Silk Sonic, released 12 November. Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak bring the smoove with this 70s soul groove pastiche.

IDLES, Crawler, released 12 November. Surprisingly not as confrontational this time out, but just as twitchy, even during their quieter moments. It’s definitely a bit stranger than their previous records, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

Aesop Rock x Blockhead, Garbology, released 12 November. Rock’s signature creative-weirdo delivery is such that you just want to sit there and listen just to see where the hell he goes next with his lyrics.

Dave Gahan & Soulsavers, Imposter, released 12 November. The Depeche Mode singer’s latest solo release, his third with Soulsavers, is a fascinating cover album this time out, full of unexpected songs from Cat Power, Neil Young, Mark Lanegan, PJ Harvey and more.

Robin Guthrie, Pearldiving, released 12 November. The ex-Cocteau Twin continues his solo career with some absolutely lovely guitar instrumentalism.

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Coming soon: more November releases!

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part I)

I’ve spoken about this band many times before and I’m sure I’ll do it again, but ELO remains one of my favorite bands from my childhood that Wasn’t The Beatles (well, almost not the Beatles, anyway…heh). And while its singer Jeff Lynne celebrates the band’s 50th anniversary with multiple Apple and Spotify playlists, it’s interesting to see how this band evolved over its long career. And since it is a long career, it’s gonna take a few posts to check it all out!

The idea of ELO was actually not Lynne’s but of singer Roy Wood, who at the time was the leader of The Move. He’d been the one to come up with the idea of mixing strings and classical elements with the rock format, and Lynne was more than delighted to join in on this project. As it happened, Wood only remained for the band’s self-titled 1971 debut (renamed ‘No Answer’ in the US due to a communication misunderstanding) and the mood seems very proggy here, but you can already hear the seeds of Lynne’s ‘Beatlesque’ pop style of songwriting.

Their second album, simply entitled Electric Light Orchestra II and released in 1973 after a significant lineup change, suffered from similar prog meanderings, though it did score a surprise hit with a rocking cover of “Roll Over Beethoven”, featuring a clever insertion of the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Album three, On the Third Day (also from 1973), showed they were almost there. The extended prog ideas were slowly phased out to focus more on tighter and shorter melodies (but not without a few fun forays into classical, including an interesting take on Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”). The single “Showdown”, added to the US editions of the album, ended up breaking them towards a wider mainstream audience.

Now album four, 1974’s Eldorado, was where they really hit their stride. An odd yet extremely entertaining concept album about a daydreamer with an eye-catching cover still from The Wizard of Oz, it features their next big single, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” which became a rock and pop radio staple. I distinctly remember hearing this on the local AM pop station as a kid. [Also worth checking out is one of my favorite ELO deep cuts, “Mister Kingdom”, which ended up being the song I used as Krozarr’s theme in In My Blue World.]

They followed it up one year later with Face the Music in 1975, and by this time Lynne and the band had perfected their odd hybrid and started having numerous hit singles and radio hits through the rest of the decade.

In 1976 they dropped A New World Record, which sounded even more Beatlesque than anything else they’d done previously. Gorgeous ballads like “Telephone Line” hinted at McCartney’s best on Abbey Road, “Livin’ Thing” hinted at the complex experimentation of Sgt Pepper, and the silly yet fun “Rockaria!” harkened back to the hard-rocking covers of Beatles for Sale.

And then, in 1977, they dropped their double album opus, Out of the Blue, which many still consider to be their crowning achievement. It featured several hit singles, it was a multi-platinum seller, and it even features a weather-themed four-song concerto! There are so many famous and well-loved songs on this one that if you had to buy only one ELO record, this would definitely be the one. [This was one of two of their albums that influenced and inspired my novel In My Blue World. The title of the novel itself comes from the single and opening track “Turn to Stone”.]

And of course, the massive hit single and fan favorite “Mr. Blue Sky” was used to absolutely hilarious effect as the opening credits for 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.

They’d bring the seventies to a close with a bright and shimmery album called Discovery in 1979. It was by far their most commercial sounding record, with the strings mostly sliding into the background and the danceable rock melodies coming to the fore, including radio favorites “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Shine a Little Love”. Interestingly, the band created promotional videos for every single track on the album, which are available on YouTube.

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So what would the 80s bring this band…? More hits, a killer half-soundtrack to a lemon of a movie, a cult-classic concept album about time travel, and eventually dissolution. But Lynne didn’t necessarily stop there, nor did he drop off the face of the earth! Stay tuned!

Favorite Albums: Nation of Language, ‘A Way Forward’

Yeah, I know…it’s not often I label a brand spankin’ new album a favorite, but I’m willing to make exceptions. Interpol’s Turn On the Bright Lights, Failure’s Fantastic Planet, Beck’s Morning Phase, and so on…they’re the records where every single song captures my attention in that whoa what am I hearing?? sort of way.

Nation of Language is a Brooklyn trio that has been getting some serious airplay on KEXP and I’m sure is capturing the attention of Spotify listeners as well. Their influence is obvious: early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (we’re talking way before “If You Leave” here). They capture OMD’s fragile synth melodies and moods perfectly while bring their own spirit into the mix. Their debut album Introduction, Presence came out in May of last year, and they’ve just dropped their new one, A Way Forward, earlier this month.

Every track on this album is well worth checking out, as are their low-budget yet enjoyable videos!

Spare Oom Playlist, October 2021 Edition, Part II

Here’s the second half of October’s playlist as promised! Only two all-caps names this time, heh. Have fun and enjoy!

FINNEAS, Optimist, released 15 October. Billie Eilish’s brother comes out from behind the instruments and laptops and releases his own solo album. Like Billie, he’s a super-soft singer, but it works with the ballads and ponderings he’s featured here. As I’d hoped, his songwriting is just like on his sister’s album: the closer you listen to it, the more creative it is.

Deerhoof, Actually, You Can, released 22 October. They’re definitely your classic weirdo alt-rock band on par with Liars and Animal Collective that aren’t always easy on the ears, yet somehow you can’t stop listening to them. You never quite know where the songs are going to go next.

Clinic, Fantasy Island, released 22 October. This is another odd band, this time with one foot firmly entrenched in a Silver Apples-like motorik synthesizer sound. They’re definitely a ‘critic fave’ sort of band that never gets airplay, but they’re worth checking out.

Black Marble, Fast Idol, released 22 October. They’re part of the current wave of synth bands recapturing that UK synthpop sound (think super early OMD, well before their hit song), and they’re so much fun to listen to, especially for a GenXer like me. It’s like listening to college radio again!

Duran Duran, Future Past, released 22 October. This album is definitely a change from their previous record, 2015’s Paper Gods, in that they’ve moved slightly away from the dance grooves and headed towards inventive rock territory — sort of like 1988’s Big Thing in a way, come to think of it. It’s got some truly odd moments but it’s a a super fascinating listen.

La Luz, La Luz, released 22 October. Quirky lofi-ish indie pop that hints at garagey surf rock with maybe even a pinch of Stereolab. Bouncy, light fun.

RUFUS DU SOL, Surrender, released 22 October. I do loves me some epic-sounding moody electronica, especially for writing sessions! This is a relatively new band find for me, and I’m quite digging this record.

Parquet Courts, Sympathy for Life, released 22 October. This is another one of those weirdo bands I didn’t think I’d get into, but they keep coming out with great alt-rock gems that get stuck in my brain for hours at a time. They never really take themselves all that seriously, which makes their songs even more fun!

The The, The Comeback Special, released 29 October. Matt Johnson surprised everyone a while back by staging a comeback tour (including a stop in San Francisco, which I was able to catch!) in addition to releasing several of his Radio Cineola projects and soundtracks for his brother’s films. This record is pretty much a single entire show from start to finish, and it just shows how many amazing songs he’s written over the last several decades.

Billy Bragg, The Million Things That Never Happened, released 29 October. Still going strong since the 80s, he still writes the great troubador folk songs (now in the form of catchy alternapop these days) that are intelligent, catchy, and quite often amusing. And it sounds like he’s not going to quit any time soon.

Tori Amos, Ocean to Ocean, released 29 October. Another great songwriter releases a quiet and moody lockdown album inspired in part by her Cornwall surroundings and also the US Capitol riots.

Geese, Projector, released 29 October. This NYC band sounds like they dug deep in their local inspirations, as they definitely have that arch No-Wave sound similar to Television. There’s a hint of grooviness, a hint of jam-band meandering, and college radio moodiness on this record that really makes this band fascinating.

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Whew! That was a lot for the last half of October, and it looks like November’s going to have an overflow of great records as well! Not going to complain, of course…

Spare Oom Playlist, October 2021 Edition, Part I

It’s been one hell of a busy October musicwise here in Spare Oom. Not only did we have the long-awaited return of Outside Lands, but there was all sorts of great music that dropped, and this is only the first half of it!

POND, 9, released 1 October. I jumped in on this one unheard essentially due to having heard about them and reading rave reviews, and I wasn’t let down. It’s got that early 00s alt-dance-rock thing going with a bit of post-punk skitteriness to it as well. A really fun listen!

Brandi Carlile, In These Silent Days, released 1 October. I’ve been meaning to listen to more of Brandi’s stuff because she’s a musician that all the critics love but nobody (apart from KEXP) ever seems to play her stuff. And this is an absolutely lovely album worth checking out.

JOHN, Nocturnal Manoeuvres, released 8 October. Also known as JOHN (TIMESTWO), this is yet another band I found thanks to KEXP during one of their music festival broadcasts a few years back. Loud and growly (and indeed played by two guys named John), they’re up there with Idles as a band that’s really fun to listen to loud.

BADBADNOTGOOD, Talk Memory, released 8 October. Yet another capitalized band name! You may know them as the band behind the super-groovy remix of Future Islands’ “Seasons” a few years back, their new record is a fun album of funky and poppy jazz.

Johnny Marr, Fever Dreams Pt 1 EP, released 15 October. Marr drops the first of multiple EPs that will create a full album that’ll be released later in 2022. This particular EP sounds a lot like his work with Bernard Sumner in Electronic.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Georgia Blue, released 15 October. During the November Presidential election last year, Isbell tweeted that if Biden won the state of Georgia, he’d record a full album of songs from bands from that state. Biden won, and Isbell made good on it, releasing an absolutely amazing record of songs from REM, Cat Power, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Indigo Girls, The Black Crowes, and more. Highly recommended!

The Beatles, Let It Be Super Deluxe, released 15 October. This had to have been the toughest Beatles album for Giles Martin to work on, considering its source material and its history as a solid but admittedly spotty-sounding record. Still, he manages to improve on the Spectorized flourishes (dialing back the schmaltz a bit and making it less muddy) and even include the original Glyn Johns attempt when it was still known as Get Back. He did a fine job and of course we’re going to get Disney+ just so I can watch the Peter Jackson documentary!

Coldplay, Music of the Spheres, released 15 October. Their 2019 album Everyday Life was a huge favorite of mine and a very dark and inventive record for them, so I was expecting they’d follow their usual pattern of following it up with a radio-friendly poppy album. I didn’t quite expect…a space-themed concept album? It’s definitely a bit odd and weird in places, but it actually expands on the experimentation of Everyday Life, and that’s definitely a plus in my book.

ONETWOTHREE, ONETWOTHREE, released 15 October. This was one of those records I checked out purely because of the AllMusic review. It’s a fascinating record featuring three female bassists from three separate Swiss post-punk bands (Klaudia Schifferle from Kleenex/LiLiPUT, Madlaina Peer from Noknows and Sara Schaer from TNT/Souldawn) and it certainly sounds like a record that came out in 1981 and loved by college radio deejays. It’s a really fun listen.

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More to come!

Spare Oom Playlist, September 2021 Edition

After all that fun with 1991, it’s time to return back to the present! Here’s some tunage that’s been on my radar since last month.

Radiohead, “If You Say the Word” single, released 3 September. One of the unreleased tracks for the upcoming KID A MNESIAC set due in November. To be honest I kind of like this one better than some of the tracks that made it to the two releases, but I’m not complaining.

Motorists, Surrounded, released 3 September. Kind of nerdy and goofy in that mid-90s slacker sort of way, but super enjoyable! They remind me a bit of Parquet Courts with their wonky-clunky melodies and Television-like vocal delivery.

Amyl & the Sniffers, Comfort to Me, released 10 September. Definitely in that Courtney Barnett pothead-punk type of sound but I love that they completely embrace that style and run with it. Props for having a great name that would make the 70s punk scene proud.

Andrew WK, God Is Partying, released 10 September. Andrew fully embraces…death metal? Didn’t see that coming at all, but hey, I rarely expect anything less than something bizarre and possibly somewhat destructive whenever he’s involved. It’s definitely a weird album even by his standards, but he pulls it off!

Low, HEY WHAT, released 10 September. Following up from their previous record, they once again add overmodulated distortion to their classic slowcore sound. It does take some getting used to, but it does work well with their style.

Saint Etienne, I’ve Been Trying to Tell You, released 10 September. It’s wild that I’ve been a fan since 1992’s Foxbase Alpha, and they’ve gone through so many different song styles between then and now, and yet they still come up with something new. This particular record leans heavily on meandering mostly-instrumental electronica that’s both relaxing and intriguing.

Sneaker Pimps, Squaring the Circle, released 10 September. This was definitely a “wait–when did they release this???” album that very nearly escaped my notice until I happened to hear KEXP playing one of its tracks one morning. This one may not have the 90’s triphop or the 00’s twitchiness of previous albums, but it’s just as dark and unsettling.

Sleigh Bells, Texis, released 10 September. I do loves me some Sleigh Bells, because they’re such a fun band to listen to with the volume pumped up! Guitar crunch so processed it’s crackling, perky vocals hiding darker images, and super catchy melodies.

José González, Local Valley, released 17 September. “El Invento” is such a lovely acoustic track that it completely sold me on checking out the rest of José’s album, and it most definitely delivers. He’s an amazing guitarist and a wonderful songwriter. Highly recommended!!

Public Service Broadcasting, Bright Magic, released 24 September. This time out PSB turns towards retro-disco and classical, and the end result is surprisingly entertaining and fascinating. It almost sounds like they’ve channeled Air on this album, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.

Film School, We Weren’t Here, released 24 September. This is a band I never quite get around to collecting and I’m not sure why. They’re a California shoegaze band heavily leaning towards early Ride; sometimes dreamy and light and other times loud and powerful, but always interesting.

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This was definitely a laid-back start to a fourth quarter, but then again, a lot of music this past year and a half has definitely been recorded piecemeal at separate home studios, incomplete due to temporary studio closures, and any other Covid-related reason. But I’m also starting to see a lot of releases — many singles and EPs at that — where things are slowly but surely returning to normal for musicians. Either way, glad to hear it all!

Thirty Years On: 1991, Part V

It really is mindblowing to see just how many amazing records dropped in 1991…so many that either changed the face of rock or just made such a huge impact that they remain important albums to this day. And unlike most fourth-quarter releases, they didn’t just peter out into greatest hits and box sets (although there were many, just like always). We were served amazing records all the way until the very last day of the year!

While I lived off-campus and I still had a habit of sticking around at home, that didn’t mean I was that much of an introvert. I continued to hang out with a number of my friends from the latter half of sophomore year, most of whom were now living up the street at the dormitory on Arlington. After an exceedingly frustrating and confidence-shattering conversation with my student advisor (who, when I said I needed more hands-on filmmaking experience instead of just this continuing sludge of theory and history classes, said “well maybe you should have signed up for art school instead”), I decided that maybe filmmaking wasn’t my strength, but writing certainly was, and proceeded to fill the rest of my mass comm points with script classes. Best education decision I ever made, as that’s pretty much where I decided that writing would become a long-game career for me. And in the meantime, my radio was firmly stuck on 101.7 (WFNX) where I’d be constantly on the lookout for new releases.

So! Off we go with the last of 1991’s amazing run!

Chapterhouse, Mesmerise EP, released 1 October 1991. Just a few brief months after their amazing debut album, they squeaked out a four-track EP of great tunes including the lovely laid-back “Mesmerise”.

Lush, Black Spring EP, released 7 October 1991. After a number of mini-albums and a few singles, Lush returned late in the year with this EP as a teaser for their upcoming 1992 album Spooky. “Nothing Natural” is one of those great songs that really shows the band’s strengths, and yes, I do love that jangly breakdown near the end.

Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, released 8 October 1991. I actually new of them from my freshman year roommate, but this was the record that first pushed them into the large spotlight, their second for major label A&M. They’d grown beyond the sludgy psychedelia of their early records and embraced a much harder metal sound. A lot of my college friends loved this record.

Erasure, Chorus, released 14 October 1991. This band just continues to be so much fun after all these years. “Chorus” got a lot of heavy rotation on my walkman, as did “Love to Hate You” from the same record. I loved that this wasn’t just a full-on dance record but a super smart one as well, in a year that had a lot of, well, terrible dance singles.

The Shamen, En-Tact, released 22 October 1991. This was the album a few of my friends used to listen to before they headed over to Landsdowne Street for club night. The band had gone full-on rave act by this time (though still hanging onto their psych-rock origins) and “Move Any Mountain” was a staple both at the clubs and on the radio. It blows my mind how many big-name producers are on this one: William Orbit, Paul Oakenfold, Steve Osbourne, Evil Eddie Richards, Irresistible Force, and Beatmasters, just to name a few.

Wir, The First Letter, released 22 October 1991. With their shift to samplers and drum machines, longtime Wire drummer Robert Grey left the band, and taking the “e” with him. This record tends to be widely ignored even by the band, but it’s one of my favorites of theirs. They retain their signature ‘angular’ sound with twitchy tracks like “Stop!” and “A Bargain at 3 and 20 Yeah!” but they also veer into heady electronica territory with the midtempo “So and Slow It Grows”, “Footsi-Footsi” (my favorite track) and “No Cows On the Ice”. I’ll still play this record every now and again.

Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend, released 22 October 1991. After two albums favored by critics but completely ignored by so many others, Sweet hit the big time with a bright and jangly album that dispensed with the quiet moodiness and went full-on guitar rock (thanks to Robert Quine and Television’s Richard Lloyd). Catchy as hell and unrestrained, this is an amazing and super fun record to have in your collection.

Del The Funky Homosapien, I Wish My Brother George Was Here, released 22 October 1991. This was another record my friends would listen to, simply because Del’s mixes were just so odd yet enjoyable. “Mistadobalina” was one of those easy crossover hits that would get play not just on the pop stations in Boston, but the rock stations picked it up too.

My Bloody Valentine, Loveless, released 4 November 1991. The record that nearly bankrupted its label, and the record that lay the groundwork for noise rock, modern shoegaze, and pretty much every other similar alt-rock subgenre. I remember my first reaction to this record was “I have no friggin’ idea what I’m listening to, but damn…” It just went in so many unexpected directions where it should not have worked at all, and yet it did. It really was that groundbreaking.

U2, Achtung Baby, released 19 November 1991. I didn’t know of anyone who didn’t own this record on day one. Pretty much everyone I knew was a U2 fan to some degree, and after the amazing Joshua Tree and the not-so-amazing Rattle and Hum, no one was sure what to expect. And it is a great album! Only one or two filler songs near the end, but for the most part this a solid record that set them off in a totally different direction and to even higher popularity. Moving past their folk and punk origins and influences and fully embracing the future was certainly a winning move.

Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque, released 19 November 1991. The album known as the one Spin magazine voted as the best of the year over Nevermind, it’s very much one of those indie-stoner type of records that bands like Pavement would perfect just a few years later.

Talk Talk, Laughing Stock, released 19 November 1991. This UK band bowed out with such a strange yet stunning record that sounded nothing like their first few. It’s less a pop record than it is a jazz record, meandering and swirling and never quite picking up steam, but that’s its beauty: it’s a record so out of place it created its own.

Various Artists, I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, released 26 November 1991. Cohen has always been one of those amazing songwriters that’s either been lauded or been the butt of jokes (see The Young Ones), but he’s written so many superb folk and pop songs that are still covered today. This particular mix is of note due to its several alt-rock covers, and the amazing thing is that each band owns the song. “I Can’t Forget” sounds like the Pixies wrote it. “First We Take Manhattan” sounds like REM wrote it. That’s how influential Cohen could be.

Various Artists, Until the End of the World soundtrack, released 10 December 1991. I will always suggest this record to anyone looking for interesting soundtracks to listen to, and I will also suggest they watch the movie as well, as it is still one of my all-time favorites. (And yes, I have indeed sat through the Criterion 5-hour version.) Wim Wenders asked bands to write songs they thought they’d be writing in 1999, when the movie takes place, and each song works perfectly.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Where’d You Go? EP, released 12 December 1991. This single dropped a few months before their second album More Noise and Other Disturbances, but “Where’d You Go?” hit the Boston airwaves and became one of their signature songs years before “The Impression That I Get”. This particular EP is well worth looking for partly for the lead song, but also for its hilarious Aerosmith, Van Halen and Metallica covers as well! The Bosstones were another local band that everyone loved, and pretty much every college kid went to see once or twice. And they’re still going strong!

Live, Mental Jewelry, released 31 December 1991. Sneaking onto the airwaves on the last day of the year, Ed Kowalczyk and his school friends released a sometimes overly earnest (and sometimes preachy) but amazingly strong album that set them on a long career of great rock tunes. We’d see them reemerge a few years later with the even stronger worldwide smash Throwing Copper.

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…WHEW. Yeah, that was a hell of a year, wasn’t it? I mean, most years just have maybe about a dozen or so bangers or groundbreaking records that stand the test of time, but 1991 really did have a bumper crop of albums that completely changed the face and sound of rock, didn’t it? Alternative rock may have been making major chart inroads by at least 1986 or 1987, and by 1989 we were seeing even more breakthroughs. If anything, I think 1991 wasn’t when the genre ‘broke’ but when the dregs of the outdated and increasingly embarrassing 80s rock styles finally faded away into the background and cleared the way for the 90s to fully embrace it with a clear conscience.

Would there be other years as groundbreaking as this? Certainly! They seem to pop up every five to six years: once a few years into a new decade and another coming close to the end, lining up quite nicely with the bigger changes going on in the world. This is why I always talk about my “2-8” music theory (great records always drop in or close to years ending in 2 and 8). But 1991 will always be seen as alternative rock’s initial break from semi-obscurity into chart and radio success.