Thirty Years On: 1991, Part I

The other day KEXP was celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of albums that had come out on 24 September 1991, particularly four albums that have become important classics of the alt-rock genre: Nirvana’s Nevermind, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, Pixies’ Trompe Le Monde, and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

But there was SO much more than just hearing “Under the Bridge” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on extremely heavy rotation, as the modern ’80s, 90s and beyond’ iHeart playlists will lead you to believe. This wasn’t just the year punk “broke” (which even then I thought was a questionable boast), nor was it the year MTV decided that their 120 Minutes playlist would suddenly also be their regular daytime rotation. It was a year filled will burgeoning Britpop, electronica, college-rock inspired pop, and everything in between. And weirdly enough a ton of it had an extremely positive edge to it. As young Gen-Xers finally given the stage, we’d just entered the first year of the last decade of the last century of the current millennium. When the clock ticked over to 2000 (yes, yes, I know…stfu, no pedants allowed on WIS), we thought and hoped everything shitty and broken in our lives to date would have been fixed by then. We were hoping beyond hope that several painful years of destructive Thatcherism and Reaganism and the Gulf War Live On TV would wilt away and we’d finally get our own and make things better. [It of course didn’t exactly work out that way despite our best efforts, but for a while I’d like to think we had a good thing going.] And our music definitely mirrored that, especially in the early nineties.

Let’s see, where was I in 1991? In college! Finishing up my sophomore year at Emerson with a new circle of friends, getting ever so slightly better grades, still holding onto a shaky long-term/long-distance relationship and already planning not to return back to my hometown for another summer. I was going to stick around in Beantown one way or another. I was consistently broke af and I probably wasn’t in the most stable of emotional places at the time, mind you, but I was bound and determined to get out of that particular rut one way or another. I signed up to work the summer at the college library and rented out a huge dorm room from Fisher College down the block. By the time junior year started, I moved in with a friend on Beacon Street and stayed there until August of 1992.

So kick back, kids, this one’s gonna be a long one! [I should probably create a Spotify playlist as well, come to think of it…]

The Judybats, Native Son, released 16 January 1991. Perky, quirky and catchy as hell. This was always a fun band to hear on WFNX, back before they leaned so heavily on grunge later that year. This is a very early 90s sound that was everywhere then: kind of inspired by REM’s poppier side, lighthearted and extremely melodic.

Pop Will Eat Itself, The Pop Will Eat Itself Cure for Sanity, released 22 January 1991. The Poppies pull back considerably on their noisy ‘grebo’ sound this time out and entertain us with club grooves. The samples are still there, but they’re more intertwined in the melodies rather than just blasting out of nowhere.

Jesus Jones, Doubt, released 29 January 1991. “Right Here Right Now” might be played to death and is most definitely a product of its time, but Doubt really is a fantastic banger of a record from start to finish. It’s relentlessly groovy and beat-heavy and translates well both on the radio and on the dance floor. It also sounds amazing in headphones, considering they were masters at highly creative sampling and sound production.

Material Issue, International Pop Overthrow, release 5 February 1991. Another classic album of its time that takes a page from the Replacements with its mix of jangly and wobbly pop and punk. This could have easily been released a good few years earlier or a decade later and fit in nicely with other current sounds.

Throwing Muses, The Real Ramona, released 18 February 1991. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Muses. They could slide between awkward and hard-to-grasp tunes and gorgeously pop melodies — sometimes within the same song — and they were also sort-of local, which was always a plus for me. [Boston’s music scene in the 80s and 90s was flipping AMAZING and I really should give it its own blog entry soon.] “Counting Backwards” remains one of my favorites of theirs.

The Charlatans UK, Over Rising EP, released 25 February 1991. After their lovely, psychedelic debut album Some Friendly, the Charlatans chose to prove that they weren’t just a flash in the pan Madchester group. This EP might capture some more of that signature sound, but it also hints at a darker and heavier sound they’d capture the next year on their sophomore album.

The KLF, The White Room, released 4 March 1991. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “3AM Eternal” somewhere on someone’s radio, in the club or in the car. The duo’s musical and political shenanigans never really translated to the US, but this song and album did make a significant dent in the psyche of kids just entering their 20s. Its production is freakishly trebly — the bloop-bleeps, synth stings and PP Arnold’s blistering vocals are all pushed into the red — but that’s how the clubs loved it.

Too Much Joy, Cereal Killers, released 12 March 1991. The TMJ boys were firmly entrenched in that ‘goofy punk’ style that had been a staple of college radio for most of the 80s, but thanks to a major label deal with Giant, for a few years they were able to sneak onto alt-rock radio with some super catchy and fun tunes like “Crush Story.” Later that summer I was able to see them live at the Hatch Shell!

REM, Out of Time, released 12 March 1991. After a super-long tour supporting 1988’s Green — their first major-label record — they followed up with an extremely glossy album that on one hand turned off more than a few IRS-era fans but on the other hand shot them straight into the stratosphere, all without a tour to promote it. Somehow a gloomy mid-tempo song with a strange southernism as its title ended up becoming their hugest hit to date…and still gets radio play to this day.

The Godfathers, Unreal World, released 12 March 1991. The last album of theirs to be released by Sony in the US, this album may not have gotten much airplay or promotion, but it was one of my favorites of that year and it got a ton of play on my Walkman. It’s not as angry as Birth School Work Death or as Johnny-Cash-bluesy as More Songs About Love and Hate; instead it leans more towards garage band psychedelia (including a powerful and badass cover of The Creation’s “How Does It Feel to Feel”) and it’s strong from start to finish.

Slint, Spiderland, released 27 March 1991. Considered one of the first important albums of the post-rock genre, this record was a hell of a headscratcher for some of us that had never heard this type of sound before, but those of us hanging out in the record stores and building up our college radio station’s library, it quickly became a staple. I used to play “Good Morning, Captain” some days during my WECB run because it was just so weird yet amazing.

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More to come soon!

Favorite Albums: Think Tree, ‘eight/thirteen’

I never really got along with my freshman year roommate in college for various reasons and we rarely had anything in common except certain tastes in music. We both leaned heavily towards college radio and things alternative. He was quite a bit more into the indie scene than I was — he went to all the shows whereas I was just fine sitting alone on my bed with the headphones on listening to it — but occasionally our paths crossed and we introduced each other to different bands.

Think Tree was one of his favorites that he foisted upon me pretty early on, and I loved them immediately. They were a local Boston band that defied any easy description; they seemed to embrace the same gloomy semi-industrial sound of Nine Inch Nails (but without the apocalyptic nihilism), the off-kilter humor and weirdness of Butthole Surfers (but without all the body-horror jokes) and maybe even a bit of the musical ubernerdiness of Wire (but without getting too arty about it).

“Hire a Bird” was their first official single, dropped at the tail end of 1989, and it was a huge favorite of the college radio stations, as well as both WBCN and WFNX, who had always gone out of their way to champion any local band with pride. It’s definitely a weird song but it’s catchy as hell. Singer Peter Moore delivers his vocals with an affected hillbilly grampaw lisp (something he’d do for most of their first album and live sets), over a bed of Will Ragano’s acoustic guitar, Jeff Beigert’s popping percussion, and the samples and synths of Paul Lanctot and Krishna Venkatesh. The resulting din is so off-kilter yet weaves around itself so perfectly that it works. And surprisingly, the song is a highly poetic sermon about the dangers of environmental disaster, with a semi-hopeful ‘at least we’re trying to fix it all’ chorus. The final sample that ends the song, lifted from the football game scene in Robert Altman’s MASH and taken completely out of context to underscore the song’s theme (‘we are our own enemy’), was the icing on the cake.

It took nearly a full year for the band to finish off and release their first album eight/thirteen, but it was highly anticipated by the local fans and stations. Record delays are always a dangerous thing, because when they are finally released, the scene that the record would easily fit into often no longer exists in that form. There are so many excellent albums out there that never quite reach their full potential due to fans having moved onto the next sound or scene. [This, alas, would happen to Think Tree themselves when they spent nearly two years between this and their second album Like the Idea, which is great on its own yet failed to find interest in a scene now obsessed with grunge and Britpop.]

The songs of eight/thirteen feature the best of their live set of 1988-90, hitting all their heights and highlighting their car-crash style. Sometimes it’s serious and gloomy, other times it’s funny and poppy, sometimes it’s both at once. Songs like “The Lovers” are goth dance, while songs like “Memory Protect” hint at the sample-heavy clang of Einsturzende Neubauten or Test Dept.

I got to see Think Tree a few times live during my college years, and I firmly believe that was their best platform, as they put on a raucous, hilarious, and completely bonkers show every single time. You never knew what was going to happen, or what the hell Moore was going to sing or chant about next (he had a brilliant ability to riff a wild fire-and-brimstone sermon like a demented Elmer Gantry, especially on songs like live favorite “The Word”). They would sing about prehistoric monsters (‘Iguanodon’), strong women of the wild west (1992 single ‘Rattlesnake’) and the strangeness of religions (‘Holy Cow’, another live favorite with its wonderful chorus “you worship the thing that goes moo!”) and whatever else they could think of and make it sound both freakish and fun at the same time. It was like watching a band that would have fit perfectly on The Adventures of Billy and Mandy. Album closer “The Moon” (formerly the b-side to the “Hire a Bird” single) is a perfect example of this.

Moore has recently dropped a few Bandcamp releases from the band over the years, with two live rarities albums in 2020 and a demos-and-b-sides rarities album this year (fittingly, all of them dropped on August 13). eight/thirteen is still available for streaming and downloading elsewhere, though Like the Idea is still a bit harder to get due to it having been released on Caroline Records. Most of their songs are available on YouTube, alongside a few interesting rarities like a Dutch TV appearance. Moore would continue his musical career (and his musical oddness) under the name Count Zero and even popped up as a bandmate for Blue Man Group! This album does remain quite the oddity but it’s still one of my favorites from my college years.

Spare Oom Playlist, August 2021 Edition

Taking a break from my mixtape posting shenanigans to bring you a bunch of the tasty new goodness I’ve been listening to over the previous month.

Ty Segall, Harmonizer, released 2 August. Ty is a fascinating musician that pulls off being weird and poppy at the same time. This was an unannounced surprise release recorded during the pandemic, so it’s definitely a bit more muted than his previous records, but just as entertaining.

BLACKPINK, THE ALBUM [JP Version], released 3 August. I don’t follow too many K-Pop bands but this is one I do, and their tunes are all full of sugary fun. This is a Japanese-language version of their 2020 debut.

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass: 50th Anniversary Edition, released 6 August. George’s third solo (and first commercial) album remains one of my top favorite post-breakup albums by the Fabs. This has been getting some sniffy reviews by some of the music blogs, but I have to respectfully disagree with them; the original had been drenched and drowned in that Phil Spector chamber sound and really dated the tracks, and I find the new 2020 Giles Martin mixes to sound infinitely better. They sound so much clearer and brighter now!

Jungle, Loving in Stereo, released 13 August. The band’s third outing is just as funky and groovy as ever. They’ve always kind of reminded me of Daft Punk by way of the Brothers Johnson, and that’s certainly a good thing.

Angel Olsen, Aisles EP, released 20 August. Olsen surprises everyone by lightening her usually rough exterior with a wild left turn into 80s nostalgia, covering five new wave classics. This could have easily been a terrible career idea, but she pulls it of wonderfully with creativity and humor.

The Joy Formidable, Into the Blue, released 20 August. The band continues their noise fest with a strong and solid record that’s been getting some decent play here in Spare Oom over the last week!

Halsey, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, released 27 August. This one intrigued me as she’s teamed up with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who’ve been putting out amazing (and often creepy) soundtrack scores together over the last decade or so. Halsey’s soft vocal delivery works perfectly playing off the twitchy Reznor/Ross electronics.

Supergrass, In It for the Money: Deluxe Expanded Edition, released 27 August. Yes, I will always look for a reason to post That Video With Supergrass On Pogo Sticks. I love this record because of its experimentation; they still maintain the punky goofiness of 1995’s I Should Coco but they’re already leaning towards the UK psych rock of their 1999 self-titled album.

CHVRCHES, Screen Violence, released 27 August. A welcome return after an extended hiatus, their latest further explores their darker and stronger sounds and comes up with some amazing aural landscapes. Well worth checking out.

Toad the Wet Sprocket, Starting Now, released 27 August. So wild that this dropped thirty years to the day since their breakthrough album Fear, which got a ton of play on my stereo and Walkman during my college years! They’ve returned with a lovely record and even managed to get none other than Michael McDonald on one of the tracks!

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As I’ve mentioned quite often in the past, September is considered the start of Q4 in the music biz so I’m expecting some super awesome records to come out within the next couple of months. See you soon!

Spare Oom Playlist, July 2021 Edition

OH HEY it’s that time again! Lots of great new tunage came out last month, and here’s some of my favorites!

Inhaler, It Won’t Always Be Like This, released 9 July. The debut from this Dublin band — yes, the lead singer is Bono’s son Elijah — is filled with upbeat alt-rock tunes that remind me of Embrace and later-era Manic Street Preachers.

Tkay Maidza, Last Year Was Weird, Vol 3, released 9 July. Tkay’s music is not quite hip-hop, not quite rap, not quite anything you can easily label, really, but it’s good weird fun in the veins of Tricky and Missy Elliott. [Go check out her great cover of Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” as well!]

The Goon Sax, Mirror II, released 9 July. What is it with Australian indie bands nowadays? They’re all breaking at once and I’m loving each and every one I hear! This band veers more towards the semi-quiet tones of The XX rather than the Go-Betweens jangle of, say, Quivers, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

Snoh Aalegra, Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies, released 9 July. Groovy, laid back soul grooves and lovely melodies. Thanks to KEXP for bringing my attention her way, as this is one hell of a fine album worth multiple listens.

Yves Tumor, The Asympoptic World EP, released 16 July. Sean Bowie is one seriously eclectic musician, and his records lean somewhere between alt-rock, electronic, and experimental, and yet he manages to lay down some seriously great and memorable tracks.

Ora the Molecule, Human Safari, released 23 July. A very quirky indie band that reminds me of Warpaint’s echoey production and murky 80s college rock, which of course means I was automatically drawn to it, heh.

Piroshka, Love Drips and Gathers, released 23 July. Miki Berenyi (ex-Lush) and KJ ‘Moose’ McKillop arrive with their second album and it’s even dreamier and spookier than the previous record.

Guardian Singles, Guardian Singles, released 30 July. AllMusic.com described this band (oh hey, another Aussie group!) as deeply inspired by early 80s American underground, with hints of Mission of Burma via its ferocity and angularity. No surprise that I was ALL OVER IT in a heartbeat! They definitely have that tense Burma post-punkiness, maybe with a bit of Ride’s shoegaze melodicism added. It’s a short record, but it’s an amazing one! Definitely one of my top picks of the month.

Yola, Stand for Myself, released 30 July. Another soul-inflected record that reminds me a lot of that mid-90s wave of singers like Dionne Farris and Tasmin Archer, and it’s fantastic. “Stand for Myself” is one hell of a fine earworm and will definitely be on my year-end list.

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Whew! I actually had to pare this down, as there were a TON of great records that came out last month! These were just the ones getting heavy airplay here in Spare Oom. Hope you enjoy them!

Twenty Years On: 2001, Part V

It took a bit of time for life to get back to some semblance of normalcy after September, and for me it was getting back into the groove of writing and continuing my comic and music purchases. I shied away from most of the political commentary and conversation that floated around at the time. If anything, it made me even more determined to keep up with what had long been my true career as a writer.

Starsailor, Love Is Here, released 8 October 2001. Named after a Tim Buckley album (they even borrowed the same font for their logo!), Starsailor is similar to Elbow in that they have their own unique sound and mood that might not stand out upon first listen, but their songs definitely stay in your head.

Lamb, What Sound, released 8 October 2001. Where 1999’s Fear of Fours was an exercise in odd time signatures and emotional tension, its follow-up was a lovely, calm respite filled with some of my favorite Lamb tracks ever. This was on heavy rotation in the Belfry as it served as a perfect soundtrack for what I wanted to achieve with A Division of Souls.

Death Cab for Cutie, The Photo Album, released 8 October 2001. This Seattle band had been around for a good number of years and hiding in plain sight, but this was the album that gained them the most national attention at the time. Their popularity would only grow exponentially with each release.

Sloan, Pretty Together, released 16 October 2001. Canada’s Other Great Band doesn’t always get the love it so justly deserves, but those (like me) who love them have been fans for a LONG time. This is probably one of my favorite mid-career albums from them.

Pulp, We Love Life, released 22 October 2001. This band’s last album comes almost twenty (!!) years after they started, but they went out on a supreme high note. Every track on here rocks, and contains some of Jarvis Cocker’s best lyric work. Bonus points for the video for single “Bad Cover Version” which is a hilarious watch!

Lovage, Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By, released 6 November 2001. One of Dan the Automator’s weirder side projects (as if 1999’s Handsome Boy Modeling School wasn’t weird enough) featuring Faith No More’s Mike Patton and Elysian Fields’ Jennifer Charles on vocals. It’s trip-hop meets film noir meets b-movie drama and it’s a hell of a fun listen.

Andrew WK, I Get Wet, released 13 November 2001. It all started here, with one hell of an attention-grabbing album cover (the iconic AWK with a bloody nose) and songs that rock your ass off so hard that you’re not quite sure if he’s being serious or taking the piss. And he’s still partying hard twenty years later!

Various Artists, Not Another Teen Movie soundtrack, released 14 December 2001. The late 90s/early 00s wave of teen movies covered everything from sex comedies (American Pie) to bro-filled sports films (Varsity Blues) to weekend parties (Can’t Hardly Wait) to horror movie pastiches (the Scream series). A lot of them were terrible, but that didn’t always mean they weren’t fun to watch. Most of the time, however, the soundtracks were often the best part. This particular one is filled with then-current bands covering 80s songs you’d have found in John Hughes films.

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I went into 2002 determined to make it as positive as I could. Not so much because of then current events, but because for the first time in years I was in a good place and could pull it off. I dedicated all my free time to writing, to the point where I was writing every single day, including weekends, on a major project I had a lot of faith in. I had good friends and the ability to keep in constant touch with them. And 2002 was indeed a stellar year personally as well as with the music that I loved.

Twenty Years On: 2001, Part IV

It’s hard to talk about 2001 without bringing up the events of that second Tuesday of September, but even then I wasn’t about to let that disrupt my life. I would still head down to my writing nook and nail that word count. I would still do my weekly comic and cd run. There was a lot to process, and life in the US would definitely shift in a direction I felt wasn’t the smartest or safest one, but I kept going. And as always, music helped me get through that.

System of a Down, Toxicity, released 4 September 2001. Another summer record, all the local alt-rock stations played “Chop Suey!” “Toxicity” and “Aerials” heavily. SoaD could be badass but they could also be hysterically funny, sometimes within the span of a single song.

They Might Be Giants, Mink Car, released 11 September 2001. TMBG has long been a favorite of mine, but their 90s output after Apollo 18 always felt a little lackluster to me. Fun, but not quite up to the level I’d hoped. This record, on the other hand, was a great shift in their sound — they felt a hell of a lot more self-confident and freewheeling here and sounded like they were having fun again.

Ben Folds, Rockin’ the Suburbs, released 11 September 2001. Folds’ first official solo record (not including 1998’s Fear of Pop) finds him continuing down the road of smart and funny pop songs and beautifully heartfelt ballads…plus the title song which would become my Live Journal title a few years later. Folds is still the only musician I know who has ever played with the San Francisco Symphony and managed to get the entire hall audience to scream “fuuuuuuck!” multiple times.

P.O.D., Satellite, released 11 September 2001. I’d known about this band for a few years from my HMV job, but this was the record that broke them into the mainstream. It’s a widescreen-sounding album which works to their benefit — “Alive” and “Youth of the Nation” sound spacious yet so full of life and power. It’s a solid hard rock album and still one of my favorites of that year.

Curve, Gift, released 18 September 2001. Curve didn’t release too many albums, but each one was brilliant with its sonic abrasiveness, dreamlike melodies and Toni Halliday’s amazing vocal delivery. They were like Garbage’s older, often-ignored sibling that had a much cooler music collection and less inclination to hold back on their creative endeavors. This was another Belfry soundtrack with heavy airplay.

Bis, Return to Central, released 18 September 2001. This Glaswegian trio had formerly been known for its punk-twee ‘teen-c power’ cuteness (and the closing credits theme for The Powerpuff Girls) but eventually morphed into a dance-ready groove machine, and the evolution worked shockingly well. I absolutely loved this record — it’s one of those with a handful of great singles and deep cuts, and “What You’re Afraid Of”, “Protection”, and “Two Million” sound great as standalone tracks — but it also sounds wonderful as a whole. Highly recommended.

Days of the New, Days of the New III, released 25 September 2001. Travis Meeks was pretty much the sole member of this band by then (the original lineup having quit in frustration and formed Tantric), and while this isn’t nearly as grungy as the first album or expansive as the second, it’s just as melodic and fascinating.

Sense Field, Tonight and Forever, released 25 September 2001. I got into this band quite late but their records have always been fun to listen to. Not quite emo, not quite alternative rock, but full of great songwriting and memorable tunes. Another Belfry soundtrack!

The Verve Pipe, Underneath, released 25 September 2001. Two records on from their ridiculously popular Villains and Brian Vander Ark was still writing amazing records, even if the band’s labels didn’t give a shit. This is a wonderful record full of some of BVA’s best love songs.

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More to come!

Twenty Years On: 2001, Part III

Summer 2001 stretches on, with hot days and cool evenings. I’d started picking up a guitar again after ignoring it for far too long — I hadn’t written any new music in years, and it felt right to get back into that. Went to my first science fiction convention, Readercon 13, getting the feel of cons and what they offered for fans and writers. Saw a lot of movies as well. Really leaning hard on finding new inspirations and influences for my creativity.

The Chameleons UK, released 2 July 2001. Like Love Tractor, this British rock band resurfaced out of nowhere with a stellar comeback featuring their signature dreamlike post-rock sound. This one got a lot of play during the cool summer evenings down in the Belfry.

Tricky, Blowback, released 2 July 2001. This isn’t everyone’s favorite Tricky record — Tricky himself isn’t the biggest fan, having recorded it “for the money ’cause I was broke” — and it’s not nearly as experimental or weird as his usual records, but despite that it contains a lot of great tunes. “Evolution Revolution Love” is definitely an earworm and features Live’s Ed Kowalczyk (he would return the favor by popping up on their V album a few months later on “Simple Creed”).

L’arc~en~Ciel, “Spirit Dreams Inside” from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within soundtrack, released 3 July 2001. I actually loved this movie, despite its flaws! (I’m still of the mindset that gamers familiar with the FF universe had much higher expectations than I did, which led to its panning.) This was also the first L’arc~en~Ciel song I’d ever heard, and instantly became a huge fan of the highly regarded Japanese rock band.

Ivy, Long Distance, released 10 July 2001. I loved the late 90s/early 00s chillwave movement! It wasn’t just about laid back electronica or lazy dance beats, it was also the sound of relaxing alt-rock grooves like this band. Just the perfect thing to listen to while staying up far too late at night on the weekend working on my novel.

Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American, released 24 July 2001. The happiest emo band ever, this was such a brilliant, fun and energetic album you couldn’t help but love all every track and blast them at top volume. You still hear “The Middle” and “Sweetness” on the radio to this day.

New Order, Get Ready, released 27 August 2001. Their first record in eight (!!) years following 1993’s Republic, this was definitely a welcome return. It felt like they’d finally shed a bit of their Ibiza hedonism from the last couple of records (and countless remix singles) and got back to the gritty four piece.

Explosions in the Sky, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, released 27 August 2001. Alongside Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai, I’d caught up with the post-rock movement and fell in love with its soundscape experimentalism — I mean, what better music to listen to while writing a science fiction trilogy? This was the one that started it for me, and I’ve been a fan of the style ever since.

Puddle of Mudd, Come Clean, released 28 August 2001. Say what you will about this band and its ties to Limp Bizkit (Fred Durst helped them secure a major label deal and rebuild the band), this was a surprisingly tight and extremely melodic record with some amazing songs on it! “Blurry” is still one of my favorite 2001 tracks.

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More to come!

Twenty Years On: 2001, Part II

Easing into Q2 of 2001 here, I had my Wednesday errand down to a science: log out of work at 3pm, head down Route 116 from Sunderland to Hadley to pick up my comics at Hampshire Mall, then drive into the center of Amherst, park at the central common, and walk over to Newbury Comics (which was across from the Town Hall at the time), where I’d buy that week’s new releases and maybe a box of Pocky and some blank tapes for mixtape purposes. It was my way of relaxing after a long day of moving boxes.

We had a relatively tight team at YC. A good portion of us were smokers at the time and would head out to the back picnic table near the rear truck drivers’ entrance — this was before all the smoking bans went into effect, so as long as we weren’t directly in front of the door, no one seemed to mind. Bruce and I used to hang out there chatting about music and other things while WHMP played over the loudspeaker above the door. The job itself was hard work, but at the time we all enjoyed it, especially since we were now in a HUGE shipping department three times the size of the one we’d been at previously.

Plunderphonics, 69 Plunderphonics 96, released 3 April 2001. I think this predated the mashup craze by a year or so, if I’m not mistaken. It initially intrigued me because it’s on Seeland, Negativland’s label, so it had to be weird and experimental in a really fun way. John Oswald’s aural experiments aren’t for everyone, but they’re often clever and sometimes hilarious. This particular track is twenty-four versions of Richard Strauss’ opening to “Also Sprach Zarathustra” played at once and turning into a slurry mess that, ironically, sounds like the Ligeti piece played during the headtrip light show near the end of 2001.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, BRMC, released 3 April 2001. Bluesy, shoegazey, and just amazing. I’d been intrigued considering the lead singer was the son of Michael Been (the lead singer of The Call, an 80s band I loved). It’s an album that should be played loud.

Skindive, Skindive, released 3 April 2001. I mentioned this band a few posts ago. It’s a pity they disappeared as quickly as they arrived, because they were fantastic! They captured the ferocity of Curve and the sexiness of Garbage, and even had a bit of the musical nerdiness of Failure. I still pull this one out and give it a spin now and again.

Stereophonics, Just Enough Education to Perform, released 17 April 2001. A band that has more of a following in the UK than here, this is a super moody but wonderful album that took them in a much darker and louder direction. “Mr. Writer” is such a great eff-you to their music critics that like the sound of their own voice more than the music they reviewed.

Elbow, Asleep in the Back, released 7 May 2001. An auspicious beginning for a band that would consistently release brilliant and beautiful music over the next two decades. Their debut is a quiet and meandering affair compared to later albums but no less amazing. They remain an “I will buy anything they release” band for me!

Tool, Lateralus, 15 May 2001. “Schism” was the bassline of the summer, felt like. I’d hear this on the hard rock stations, MTV, the alt.rock stations, and even on the college stations. I heard the song everywhere. They’re a band that tend to have a lifetime between releases, but this was well worth the wait.

Stabbing Westward, Stabbing Westward, released 22 May 2001. A 90s band I’d always enjoyed. They had that NIN blizzard of sound and anger to their music just like a lot of alt.metal bands, but they pulled it off with consistently amazing tracks. This album got a lot of play in the Belfry during my writing sessions! Also one of the loudest bands I’d ever seen live.

Radiohead, Amnesiac, released 4 June 2001. The second, moodier and creepier half of Radiohead’s strange foray into experimentalism, this one doesn’t quite stand up as well as Kid A does for me, but it does have its great moments.

The Cult, Beyond Good and Evil, released 22 June 2001. I’d always been a fan of this band but never quite got around to acquiring their albums for ages. I finally started with this one when it came out, and I was not let down. It’s HEAVY AF and loud as hell, and I love it. This one also made it through multiple plays during Belfry writing sessions!

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More to come!

Twenty Years On: 2001, Part I

It’s summer of 2001, and my team and I are breaking in the new shipping lanes at Yankee Candle’s newly minted shipping warehouse. I’ve been with the team maybe six months or so, having switched from second shift late in 2000. I was still getting used to not being at HMV anymore, having changed my music store alliance to Newbury Comics in Amherst. I was getting paid better (and finally getting out of debt). And most importantly, I was down in the Belfry writing A Division of Souls almost every night.

All told, 2001 was a year of transition for me. I’d gotten serious about the writing (and the writing schedule), and a lot of personal changes were taking place. New friends, new outlook. Feeling much more positive than I’d been just a few years previous. And I immersed myself in a lot of different music that I hadn’t tried before.

Low, Things We Lost in the Fire, released 22 January 2001. I’d been familiar with Low for a couple of years — an HMV coworker introduced me to them — but this was the first album of theirs I’d picked up. I wasn’t quite used to the extreme quietness of this band, but they’ve become a favorite of mine over the years.

Rainer Maria, A Better Version of Me, released 22 January 2001. I’d started listening to WAMH 89.3 again as their playlist had once again resonated with me. (Or was it because they’d toned down the Pavement-esque indie rock that never really gelled with me?) I used to hear “The Seven Sisters” almost every afternoon on the drive home, so this was picked up during one of my many Newbury runs.

Crooked Fingers, Bring On the Snakes, released 20 February 2001. Same with “The Rotting Strip” — the afternoon DJ would play this partly because he loved how much it sounded like Neil Diamond singing Bruce Springsteen songs. It’s a slowish record, but it sounds great!

Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Piratespace, 20 February 2001. I think I had to special order this one from Newbury, if I recall. I was greatly amused that my beloved Sputniks had decided to resurface with new music, especially since their original 80s iteration saw themselves as futurists. It’s got its goofy moments — no big surprise — but it’s also got some solid and surprisingly mature tracks.

Duncan Sheik, Phantom Moon, released 27 February 2001. This is indeed a lovely album, and probably my second favorite of his, just past his 1996 debut. I used to throw this one on during the summer when the heat of the day was giving way to the cool of the evening.

Snow Patrol, When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up, released 5 March 2001. A few years before they broke with multiple hit singles and featuring on Grey’s Anatomy and numerous other TV shows, this Glaswegian band had a few funky, offkilter pop albums worth checking out. Gary Lightbody’s vocal delivery was much softer at this point, but his lyrics were just as wonderful.

Love Tractor, The Sky at Night, released 6 March 2001. This Athens GA band had dropped off the map quite some time ago, so I was quite happy when they decided to drop a new album! They were always more about sculpting sounds than writing pop songs, and this record’s no different. And they’re currently alive and well on Twitter and soon to be touring!

Kristin Hersh, Sunny Border Blue, released 12 March 2001. This record’s a bit more laid back than her usual solo and Throwing Muses records, but I love its bluesiness, especially this track, which ended up on multiple mixtapes over the year.

Our Lady Peace, Spiritual Machines, released (US) 13 March 2001. This is definitely a weird album even for them — it’s somewhat of a concept album based on Ray Kurtzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines — but it’s got some of their best and most tense songs they’ve done. I’ve always been a fan of the band and I admit this one’s my favorite of theirs. And I’ve just learned that their next album will be a direct sequel to this one!

Gorillaz, Gorillaz, released 26 March 2001. Hard to believe it’s been twenty years since this animated band has graced us with its presence — and that Damon Albarn and company continue to drop great memorable tunes and hilarious videos! Even more so that they’ve become so popular despite their inherent weirdness!

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More to come!

One and done

Just listening to a few albums by bands that dropped one album and then…who knows what happened? But they’re great albums!

TKTTSM, TKTTSM, released 16 October 2012

Shaï nO Shaï, Human Condition, released 26 August 1997

LHOOQ, LHOOQ, released 3 August 1998

Skindive, Skindive, released 3 April 2001

…and of course one of my all-time favorites:

The La’s, The La’s, released 1 October 1990