Thirty Years On: Additional 1988 Albums

In going through this project, I came upon a few extra albums where I’d assigned the wrong release date, or titles that I missed due to space.  Here’s a quick 1988-So-Far addendum of further releases that are well worth mentioning.

Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man, released 2 February. My first experience with this man, interestingly enough, was a punch line from an episode of The Young Ones. Regardless, over the years I went out and bought some used copies of his albums and realized that he really was an amazing songwriter. This album does sound a bit dated, even for the time of its release, but it contains quite a few of his best known songs.

Butthole Surfers, Hairway to Steven, released 29 February. I’d been familiar with this band thanks to their classic “Sweat Loaf” (you know, the “Satan! Satan! Satan!” song). One of those bands that was just so weird and noisy that you either loved them or hated them. WAMH loved the hell out of this band.

The Mekons, So Good It Hurts, released ?? March. I’d hear “Ghosts of American Astronauts” on WMDK and WAMH quite often in the spring of 1988, and the Mekons were always considered one of those ‘must have in your collection’ bands. I finally added them decades later and now I understand why.

Monty Python, The Final Rip-Off, released 22 March. Given that MTV had brought the Pythons to their main programming a year or so previous (and that by 1988 it had become part of the late Sunday night line-up alongside The Young Ones/The Comic Strip and 120 Minutes), a quick and obvious cash-in album was needed. All your favorite silly sketches, all in one place!

The Primitives, Lovely, released 22 March. An absolute classic of a power-pop album and a massive favorite of fans and critics alike. I nearly wore out my copy of this album! “Crash” got heavy airplay on all the college stations, 120 Minutes, and still gets played on 80s stations to this day. Highly recommended.

Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, released 19 April. Rap didn’t get too much play on the stations I listened to at the time, but I was well aware of it, thanks to MTV and a few of my friends who got into it. PE and NWA were the two bands you followed if you wanted to go past the silly or party-oriented hip-hop and start checking out the more serious stuff. I was always impressed by PE’s sound production and how confrontational and intelligent their lryics were.

The Dead Milkmen, Beelzebubba, released ?? May. The 80s had a great wave of goofy and nerdy punk bands that wrote ridiculous yet catchy (and often quotable) tunes, and the Milkmen were probably the most successful at the time, thanks to “Punk Rock Girl” and “Bitchin’ Camaro”.

Ramones, Mania, release 31 May. Quite a few bands decided to release a greatest hits compilation in 1988, and this one’s perfect for your collection…it pretty much contains every hit and deep track you know (and some you don’t) up to that time, released as a double album.

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I’m sure I’ve still missed a few, but I think this fills in quite a few entries that I missed the first time around!

Twenty Years On: June 1998

Summer in New England can be annoying.  It’s not just hot, hovering up in the 80s and 90s (and occasionally higher), but it’s also humid and uncomfortable.  All you want to do is stay inside, especially if the place has AC, and kick around until it’s time to go back outside again.  And your car would be so stupidly hot and unbearable being out in the sun all day that you’d sit there for a good few minutes with all the windows open and the AC on full blast to cool it off.

Granted, in the summer of 1998, this was also the perfect time for me to head down to the basement at night after work for my writing sessions!  [This was well before random bear sightings in my parents’ neighborhood started happening, so I’d have the cellar door open wide until after dark to let the cool breeze in.  This, by the way, is why two bats were able to sneak their way in, thus blessing my writing nook with the name The Belfry thereafter.]

It seems that June 1998 was also a quiet one in terms of releases…a few big names here and there, but the best albums weren’t due for another couple of months.  This is quite normal for the release schedule — the kids are spending more on movies and other outside events rather than on music.  The really good stuff is still a few months away.

So!  Without further ado…

The Smashing Pumpkins, Adore, released 2 June. After two stellar early 90s records and a decent-but-bloated double album — not to mention the firing of their drummer soon after — it seemed this band was heading down a dark and not altogether positive road. This one’s a hard listen for various reasons, but it also contains quite a few fantastic tracks, so it evens out.

The X-Files OST, released 2 June. The cult favorite TV show released its first movie as summer fare. It holds up as a self-contained story, but it also inserts itself into the show’s obsessively detailed mythology as well. This is more of a ‘songs inspired by the movie’ album than a true soundtrack (considering the [movie name]: The Album title was in vogue around this time), but it’s an amazing collection of great tracks from Filter, X, Ween, Foo Fighters, The Cure, Noel Gallagher, and more. Well worth picking up.

The Jesus & Mary Chain, Munki, released 9 June. The noise-pop band releases what would end up being their last album until last year’s Damage & Joy. It’s a bit overlong with single filler, but it’s still a great album.

Komeda, What Makes It Go?, released 9 June. The quirky Swedish band’s second album was anchored by a ridiculously catchy single (see above) and though they only remained in cult status, they’d eventually provide an equally catchy track for the Powerpuff Girls cartoon a few years later.

The Egg, Travelator, released 15 June. Predating similar-sounding Hot Chip by just a few years, this semi-electronic band from the UK is one of those bands that never quite achieved huge success, but nonetheless have a strong and loyal following. Their work was mostly released as imports here in the US, but they’re definitely worth checking out.

The Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Dirty Boogie, released 23 June. The ex-Stray Cats frontman helped kickstart (or at least energize) the swing revival movement in the late 90s, and his album was also the biggest seller in that scene. I remember moving a hell of a lot of copies of this album during my HMV days!

Mansun, “Legacy” single, released 29 June. The teaser first single from their upcoming Six album, this well-loved Britpop band took their sound into curious and unexpected directions, even more so than before. Little did we fans know just how weird (but in a good way!) that album would end up being…

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Up Next: July 1998!

Thirty Years On: June 1988

June 1988:  Junior year is over and done, and after a week or so of relaxing and forgetting about all the frustration and whatnot of school, it’s into Summer Job territory.  I don’t exactly remember which job I had at the time (I’m thinking the supermarket job, if I’m not mistaken), but I know I still had the radio station position on the weekends, and I’d stick with that one at least until the end of senior year.  I’d meet up with Nate and Chris for an occasional Flying Bohemians session, and the various members of our circle of friends would sometimes go on roadtrips down to Amherst and Northampton.  I’d stay up late listening to music, reading, writing, and practicing my bass and guitar playing.  It was a summer of creativity, and one of keeping in touch with friends before they left in a few months.

There weren’t too many exciting releases for this month for my collection, so I ended up spending a lot of time listening to my own collection, or listening to WRSI or WMDK. I also focused a bit more on making more compilations, inspiring Chris to start making them as well.

Compilation: Cimmerian Music, created early June. The third of the three original new mixtapes, this one worked the best. Essentially a sixty-minute tape filled with quiet, moody college rock to be listened to at 1AM when everyone else has gone to bed, this one featured many bands you’d expect: The Cure, Felt, Love and Rockets, and the Sisters of Mercy. Added fun was Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver”, an oldie but goodie from my childhood that I’d been using as a ‘theme song’ for a story I was writing at the time.

Compilation: Under the Ivy: Unavailable B-Sides, created early June. I started this one soon after the above mix as part of my next wave, and it was inspired by the cassette version of The Cure’s Standing on a Beach from 1986. It’s all single b-sides that were sitting around in my collection that I happened to enjoy, though the mix does get thin near the end. I would make a second version of this title twelve years later in the summer of 2000.

Compilation: Remix I, created early June. This one didn’t hold up well at all over the years (literally — I’d used a crappy low-budget blank tape for this one), and also suffers the same as the above, with too many questionable track choices. I think it was with this one that I realized that maybe trying to make a themed mixtape wasn’t working at all, and that a true mix with varied sounds and styles would work better. I’d return to that idea a few months later, with much better results.

Voice of the Beehive, Let It Bee, released ?? June. Poppy and quirky with just a hint of folk and country thrown in (they kind of reminded me of a lot of bands from the Athens GA scene, but with a flashier presence). This one’s great fun, with a lot of catchy riffs and sassy lyrics. I got to see them live later on in the year at UMass Amherst with a few friends!

Big Audio Dynamite, Tighten Up Vol 88, released ?? June. Mick Jones’ third outing with his post-Clash band was probably their most accessible and groove-oriented, and was a critical and fan favorite. 120 Minutes had “Just Play Music” on heavy rotation for pretty much the rest of the year!

Bongwater, Double Bummer, released 7 June. I wouldn’t hear this for another few months when WAMH came back on the air, but when it did, quite a few DJs loved it. Alternately weird, funny, psychedelic, and fantastic.  I still remember being surprised when I found out its lead singer, Ann Magnuson, was also a well-established Hollywood actress.

The Style Council, Confessions of a Pop Group, released 20 June. Paul Weller’s post-Jam band was one that you either loved or loathed, depending on how much of a rabid fan of The Jam that you were.  During this particular summer they released a moody jazz album that made quite a few fans scratch their heads, but in retrospect it’s actually quite a lovely record.

Information Society, Information Society, released 21 June. Nerdy synth-pop laden with Star Trek samples and incredibly catchy melodies. They’re primarily known for their debut single (above), but the entire album is excellent. [This was yet another ‘borrowed’ album from the radio station, though I believe Chris got his mitts on it before I could! I dubbed it from him over the summer but bought my own copy on cassette a few months later.]

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Next Up: July 1988!

And for a little while, I was falling in love

Magnet recently posted the news that the original four members of A Flock of Seagulls will be releasing Ascension later this month, an album containing semi-symphonic reworkings of their classic early-80s songs. I like what I’ve heard so far, so I’m curious about how the rest of it will sound.

It also got me thinking about the ‘Science Fiction in Music’ panel that I ran at BayCon the other weekend. My idea was to focus mostly on the 90s forward, but I had to at least mention that the 80s were quite full of similar recordings by New Wave and electronic bands such as Duran Duran, ELO, Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby, and so on.

I was 11 when A Flock of Seagulls’ debut album came out, and I loved the quirkiness of it, that it was so different from the classic rock I’d been listening to for years before.  It was one of the many albums I repeatedly borrowed from our local library.  It sounded amazingly fresh and adventurous.  Sure, it might sound a bit aged now, but considering that synthesizers were usually confined to prog rock virtuosos at the time, this was something brand new. Newer, cheaper keyboards and synths were just coming to the market and new bands — a lot of them based in the UK or Europe — grabbed them fast.

It was timed perfectly with the rise of MTV as a major force in the music industry. “I Ran” became a staple on the channel, even despite its ridiculously low-budget effects (turntable platform, lots of shiny plastic, and a few full-length mirrors) and bizarre hairdos and fashion. It was completely unlike the bro-rock universe of Loverboy, REO Speedwagon and 38 Special, and nowhere near the heavy sounds of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple or Whitesnake.  But it was catchy as hell!  The band also managed to snag a late-night position at MTV’s New Year’s Eve party at the end of 1982. The audience was probably a little too plastered and/or high to be paying much attention, but as a young kid, I thought it was the coolest thing.

Not bad for a concept album about an alien abduction.

Postscript: Mind you, this was a full four years before I ‘discovered’ college radio in spring 1986. During the first year or so of that listening era, I also discovered that a lot of the quirky New Wave stuff that MTV played in those early years was in fact part of this alternative universe by way of being part of the post-punk umbrella. I did a LOT of catching up during that time, digging for those albums and singles, including more albums from this band.

 

Recent Purchases, May Edition – Part II

More great tunage from last month for your perusal! A few unexpected releases and a few long-awaited ones this time out…

James Bay, Electric Light, released 18 May. James’ follow-up to his excellent debut goes in quite a few unexpected directions. While it does contain some of his fantastic guitar work and classic pop ballads, it also experiments with loud guitar crunch and twitchy semi-electronic tracks as well.

Beach Slang, Everything Matters But No One Is Listening (Quiet Slang), released 18 May. Taking on the pseudonym ‘Quiet Slang’ for an album of unplugged versions of previous album tracks, they pull the project off amazingly well, giving the songs even more emotion than the originals.

Brad Mehldau Trio, Seymour Reads the Constitution!, released 18 May. One of my favorite jazz musicians from the past couple of decades releases a fantastic record with his trio. Extra points for doing not one but two unexpected covers — The Beach Boys’ “Friends” and Paul McCartney’s “Great Day”!

Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel, released 18 May. Courtney once again blesses us with dopey-jangly guitar rock counterpointed by razor-sharp lyrics. Not often you can get away with a goofy-sounding melody whose chorus is “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them.”

Failure, Your Body Will Be EP, released 24 May. The second EP of Failure’s new project continues with more of their classic melodic dissonance and guitar crunch drive. Very curious to see where this project is going and how all the EPs will sound linked together as the final album.

Jonathan Davis, Black Labyrinth, released 25 May. The new solo album by Korn’s lead singer is a surprisingly strong and solid one. It kind of reminds me musically of early VAST — less alt-metal and more alt-rock musically, but just as dark.

Halo Maud, Je Suis Une Île, released 25 May. A recent discovery (thank you, AllMusic), her music feels alternately like an acoustic Stereolab minus the keyboards and dreampoppy similar to Beach House. She alternates between French and English — most often within the same song — and it’s a lovely album to listen to.

Snow Patrol, Wildness, released 25 May. Gary Lightbody and Co finally return after an extended absence with an excellent album that sounds more like their earliest albums than their poppier later ones. It’s a deeply personal and downbeat album, but it’s amazing and well worth the wait.

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Next Up: June releases!

Recent Music Purchases, May Edition, Part I

Another month comes to an end! The last few weeks have been quite busy on all fronts here, but all the new tunage kept me energized and entertained. Lots of good stuff this time around! Here’s what we have for the first half of the month. Enjoy!

Frank Turner, Be More Kind, released 4 May. As I’d said on Twitter, Frank Turner is the new troubadour you didn’t know you needed. This time out he’s not as folky, trying out a few pop tracks and ballads instead, and he pulls them off well. [Also: the above video is probably the best use of message appropriation I’ve seen in quiet some time. Heh.]

Belly, Dove, released 4 May. Tanya Donelly and Co return for an excellent, more adventurous third album. It sounds less like the more pop-oriented Star or the rocking King, and more like, say, Throwing Muses’ Hunkpapa, with a focus on angular yet catchy melodies. Unexpected but amazing.

Pinkshinyultrablast, Miserable Miracles, released 4 May. One of my favorite new discoveries, this Russian shoegaze band hits all my bingo points: heavy reverb, walls of guitars, dreamy vocals, and songs that just sort of skitter around the upper atmosphere. So much fun to listen to!

Beach House, 7, released 11 May. This band seems to have grown out of its Cocteau Twins comparisons and into its own special blend of dreampop. I should be listening to this one during my writing sessions more often.

Loreena McKennitt, Lost Souls, released 11 May. An unexpected but quite welcome (and very relaxing) album from a fabulous folk artist. She’s still putting out amazing albums.

Simian Mobile Disco, Murmurations, released 11 May. SMD’s new album seems to be more laid back and pensive than their previous output, but I’m not complaining, because it still sounds awesome.

Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, released 11 May. After the hangover-themed AM, the band’s new one is hard to pin down, other than it has something to do with science fiction…maybe? I’ve decided it’s a song cycle about the front desk clerk at said hotel, having a long dark night of the soul during one of his overnight shifts. It’s weird (to say the least), but it’s a *good* kind of weird.

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Up Next: More May releases!

Science Fiction in Music

This coming weekend at BayCon I’ll be moderating a panel called ‘The Next Generations of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Music’. I thought it was high time to talk a little bit about how SF/F has influenced music over the last couple of decades, not just aurally but visually. I’ve been talking with my co-panelists the last few days on this and I’m sure we’ll have quite a bit to talk about!

You can check out more about the con at my other blog, especially this post right here.

Meanwhile, here’s a few examples of bands, songs, albums, and styles we’ll be talking about.