Favorite Albums: Green

REM’s first release for their freshly-inked deal with Warner Bros Records, having moved on from their indie years with IRS, usually gets passed over due to the albums surrounding it: 1987’s Document features two of their biggest commercial hits, “The One I Love” and “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)”, and 1991’s Out of Time features “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People”. What does 1988’s Green have, though? It’s a bit disjointed (on purpose), it’s a shift away from their classic pastoral folk sound (on purpose), and even its lyrics are less obscure and more understandable (again, on purpose). But it’s a hell of a fine album with some absolutely stunning and gorgeous tunes from start to finish.

REM has always worn their politics on their sleeves (this particular album contains a recurring theme of environmentalism), and in the release of Green was actually timed to coincide with the 1988 Presidential election with a brilliant promo postcard sent to record stores and radio stations:

While the ’88 election may not have finished the way they’d hoped, that didn’t stop them from continuing to use their voice for progressive reasons. Though this particular album may not be as overtly political as some of their previous releases, it certainly did bring issues to light by revising how they wrote their music. Singer Michael Stipe had requested the band “not write any more REM-type songs” in order to change their style.

As was becoming habit, the album kicks off with a lively, upbeat pop song, literally called “Pop Song ’89”, welcoming the listener to tune in and have a bit of fun. The video for the single (released in May 1989 and directed by Stipe himself) is goofy fun, featuring four topless dancers — including himself. When MTV asked to censor the video for airplay, he cheekily responded by providing an edit with black bars on all four bodies.

It’s quickly followed by another uptempo rocker, “Get Up”, which seems to actually be about asking someone to get up and out of bed. [Wikipedia states that in the late 90s, Stipe told an audience that this is indeed the case and was about bassist Mike Mills, who had been oversleeping during the sessions.] It became the fourth single from the album, and while it didn’t dent the charts, the video did start the career of one CalArts student named Eric Darnell, who went on to be a successful director of several CGI-animated movies like Antz and Madagascar.

Next up is a change of pace, hinting both at their earlier folk sound and later mandolin-heavy sound, with “You Are the Everything”. It’s a simple love song, but it’s a gorgeous one, and one that I’m pretty sure I used on a mix-tape to my then-girlfriend some months later.

Returning to the upbeat pop sound, they return with the fun and goofy “Stand”, right up there with “Can’t Get There from Here” as proof that the band definitely has a sense of humor. It’s such a chipper song that it’s hard to take seriously — even Stipe cracks himself up at the end of the video. This would be the second single from the record, and still gets airplay to this day.

It’s followed up, however, by a one-two punch of darker, more somber songs to finish up the first side of the record, with “World Leader Pretend” and “The Wrong Child” — both songs that at first listen seem to be about other people, but in actuality are about the narrator. One focuses on the inner turmoil of breaking down self-imposed barriers, while the other focuses on the outer turmoil of social acceptance. Both are about the strength needed to change and accept the self despite its physical and emotional obstacles.

Side Two kicks off with one of my favorite REM songs and the most overtly political song off the album, “Orange Crush”, and the album’s first single. It’s powerful and relentless in its energy, even during the breakdown halfway through. It has a deliberately mixed message, seeming to be pro-military while consistently reminding us of its horrors (the title refers to Agent Orange, used as herbicidal warfare in Vietnam).

It’s followed up by another song that uses this deceptive messaging to great effect: the positive and upbeat “Turn You Inside-Out” may sound like a fun rocker of a track, but its lyrics barely contain its bile. Its message seems to be “I could make your life really fucking miserable right now, but I’m going to be the better man instead.” During a stop on their subsequent tour, Stipe would dedicate this song to Exxon, whose Valdez oil tanker had struck the Alaskan coastline and spilled thousands of gallons of oil.

The record comes to a close with three deep tracks that have their own special charm, starting with “Hairshirt”, with its tender message of remaining human in the most adverse of situations. [This seems to be about Stipe’s methods of dealing with fame and privacy; he would later have a conversation with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke about this very thing, inspiring Yorke to write “How to Disappear Completely”.]

It’s followed up with “I Remember California”, a surprisingly post-apocalyptic tale of a west coast decimated by rising oceans and climate change. It’s haunting in that it’s not so much about the destruction (or even the destructive powers), but the sadness about What Used to Be, through the eyes of someone who can no longer return.

The record ends on an unexpectedly high and positive note with an upbeat untitled song (officially called “Untitled Eleventh Track” on some discographies) where, at the end of the day, despite its struggles and frustrations, we are all here for each other. [It’s been said that drummer Bill Berry thought the drum pattern for this song was so stupid he refused to play it; guitarist Peter Buck fills in instead.] The song does seem a bit like an afterthought or an epilogue, but it does help bookend the album quite nicely.

I remember listening to this record a hell of a lot during my senior year in high school. I also remember quoting many of its lyrics on the blackboard in my first period Humanities class (a friend and I often wrote a ‘quote for the day’ before class started, and the teacher didn’t seem to mind at all). I would see them on tour in early April 1989, with Indigo Girls opening up — thus introducing me to yet another fantastic and long-loved band. The album has always stayed with me over the years as their most accessible and enjoyable from start to finish. It pretty much cemented my love for the band. It’s not their most popular, but for me it’s their most solid and most adventurous work.

Favorite Albums: Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’

It was summer of 1991 and I was living in a rented top floor dorm room on Beacon Street facing out over the Charles and the Esplanade. I was working in the drafty basement of the Emerson College library during the day and staying up way too late at night, trying to figure out far to many screwy things in my life.

My musical tastes could have gone either way, really. Most of my friends were digging the guitar-heavy sound coming from Seattle, but I found myself veering more towards the music that was coming from across the Altantic: Britpop and shoegaze. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the swampy, heavy rock of Soundgarden and Nirvana and all those other bands (I may not have gotten along with my freshman year roommate at all, but he did introduce me to some fine Pacific Northwest bands)…I just found myself drawn more towards the, shall we say, more positive sounds coming from the UK. I was a huge fan of Jesus Jones, EMF, Inspiral Carpets, The La’s, Lush, and all the rest of them.

Primal Scream’s “Loaded” was already all over the place since the single dropped way back in February of 1990, with its ‘Hey Jude’ chord progression and Stones-y grooviness, not to mention the great opening salvo, a quotable sample from The Wild Angels. It was a blissed-out remix of “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” from their 1989 self-titled second album and it caught on like gangbusters on both sides of the pond. I couldn’t go a day without WFNX playing it and raving about it.

By September I’d moved in to an off-campus apartment with my friend Lissa and scraping by with the library job, but somehow I was able to save up to buy a few albums here and there when I wasn’t furiously dubbing other peoples’ collections. There was a ton of great UK music coming out at the time and I wanted as much as I could get.

I remember first hearing Screamadelica at the basement Strawberries in Harvard Square over in Cambridge. It was one of the first times I spent an extended time in a record store for the sole purpose of listening to an entire album, it was that phenomenal. Primal Scream had been a semi-psychedelic indie band for a few years by then, but for this album they’d shifted in the direction of house and techno. The mix of the two genres worked perfectly for the MDMA-soaked rave scene blossoming in the UK.

“Movin’ On Up” is a wonderful opening track for the album, stating its case with a celebratory gospel chorus. It’s a simple ‘all you need is love’ song full of positive vibes, but it does its job perfectly. We’re going on a trip, and it’s going to be amazing.

It’s followed up by a beat-heavy headtrip cover of Roky Erickson’s “Slip Inside This House” originally from 1990’s Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye tribute album. This also sets the tone for the rest of the album, with the tracks bouncing between fun and funky guitar-centric songs and extended techno beats.

A few tracks later I’d be blown away by one of the most gorgeous, head-trippy tracks I’d ever heard and still one of my all-time favorite songs of that era, “Higher than the Sun”. It perfectly captures the sound of 1960s psychedelic rock and intertwines it seamlessly with the LSD-laden dreamlike feel of rave.

The first side of the US cassette ends with a unique mix of another fun uplifting track, “Come Together” (which samples, of all things, Sex, Lies and Videotape!). [The UK version of this track is a different longer mix.] It’s a bookend track similar to “Movin’ On Up” both in its positive mood and message, and finishes off Side One on a pleasing, celebratory note.

Side Two opens up with the now-popular “Loaded”, and the rest of the album starts veering towards the after-party comedown, with slowly drifting tracks like “Damaged” before returning with an extended experimental retake of “Higher than the Sun”. It all ends with the quiet contemplation of “Shine Like Stars”.

Screamadelica is a record for partying and after-partying, but it’s also a record for sitting down and listening, and that’s one of the main reasons I gravitated towards it. Andrew Weatherall’s amazing co-production work on it makes it pleasurable whether you’re grooving to it on a crowded dance floor or kicking back on your bed with headphones on.

I highly recommend getting this record into your collection if you don’t have it already. [The 2011 twentieth anniversary version provides a great extended review of this album, including numerous mixes, remixes and b-sides.]

Thirty Years On: Spring 1989

Hello and welcome to another episode of Thirty Years On! At this point in time I’m winding down the remaining weeks of my high school years…all the term papers handed in and graded, all final exams about to be taken, and future plans made. I’ve gone to an open house at Emerson College, which I’ll be attending that September. The biggest change at this time is that I’m going out with a lovely girl introduced to me by a mutual friend, which changes my emotional outlook considerably at the time. [Decades after our split, we’re still friends and talk online occasionally, by the way.] I’m focusing more on my poetry and lyrics than my novels, and in hindsight I realize that helped me get out of that creative rut.

I graduate in early May. My old friends from the year before have just come home from college temporarily and take me out for a celebratory dinner. I’m thrilled to spend more time with them again. I’m prepping myself for a new life in a new city. Now all I have to do is survive a few more months in my hometown. The waiting drives me absolutely bonkers, and there’s also the fact that I’ll have a newly-minted relationship turning into a long-distance one pretty soon. It’ll be a hell of a tough balance.

The Cure, “Lullaby” single, released in the UK on 4 April 1989. After waiting nearly a year for new music from one of my all-time favorite bands at the time, I was utterly blown away by their new sound. It wasn’t the upbeat alternarock of their last few albums, that was for sure. I’d first heard it on 120 Minutes and then on WAMH and I was hooked. I picked this twelve-inch up at Main Street Music down in Northampton (roadtrip with Chris, natch). I especially enjoyed the bizarre throwaway b-side “Babble” with its crying-baby samples and “shut up shut up” lyrics.

Xymox, Twist of Shadows, released 10 April 1989. I’d been a fan of this band since hearing their fantastic “Muscoviet Mosquito” on the 4AD compilation Lonely Is an Eyesore. By this time they’d moved away from their colder goth sound and embraced a more snythpoppy mood that fit them quite well. This is an excellent album that combines rich moods and dance beats without sounding soulless. Highly recommended; they just released an expanded remaster of this earlier this year!

Pixies, Doolittle, released 17 April 1989. There was always cause for celebration for a new Pixies record in Massachusetts, especially out yonder in the Pioneer Valley, and this one fast became a favorite of pretty much everyone. While less ear-splitting than Surfer Rosa, it still provided quite a few memorable tracks that would become fan favorites for years to come.

The Cure, “Fascination Street” single, released in the US on 18 April 1989. The lead-off single for this side of the pond was a much stronger — and angrier — track that held a power I hadn’t heard from the band probably since their Pornography album. If their upcoming record was going to be as damn good as their two singles, then it was gong to be pretty friggin’ amazing.

Wire, It’s Beginning to and Back Again, released May 1989. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this particular record, on the other hand. Wire had been a huge favorite of mine the year previous, but instead of a new album with new and intriguing music, they’d gone in a slightly different direction; this was a record borne out of sound experimentation and live recording. Half the tracks were reinterpretations of songs from their last two albums and singles, with maybe one or two new songs added. (And the second new single, “In Vivo”, only available on cd. Because of this I never got around to hearing it for another year or so.) In retrospect it is an interesting record, but it’s not exactly a must-have unless you’re a dedicated fan.

The Cure, Disintegration, released 2 May 1989. “This music has been mixed to be played loud so TURN IT UP.” So says the liner notes on the Cure’s eighth and by far most popular and most-loved record. And turn it up I did, when I bought it on cassette the week it came out. From the glorious crash and downpour of synth strings on the opener “Plainsong” to the sad goodbye of a slightly out of tune melodica on the closer “Untitled”, it is so aurally immersive it’s almost impossible not to be drawn in by its beauty. It’s a completely perfect album on so many levels.

Bob Mould, Workbook, released 2 May 1989. Almost completely obscured by the above, Mould’s debut solo album, recorded after (and in some ways in response to) his acrimonious split from Husker Du, is a gorgeous masterpiece itself. He’d wanted to record an album that was the antithesis of the noisy punk he’d been known for, to prove he could write solid songs that were more melodic and acoustic. It as a smashing success for both critics and fans, paving the way for a successful long term career.

The Godfathers, More Songs About Love and Hate, released 9 May 1989. These British punkers followed up their brilliant Birth School Work Death with a record that leaned less on their psych-rock origins and more on their other influences, including Johnny Cash. There’s a fun raucousness on this record and doesn’t take itself entirely seriously sometimes, but it’s a solid album.

Tin Machine, Tin Machine, released 23 May 1989. This record divided Bowie fans something fierce when it came out. Some (like myself) thought it was an excellent about-face from the sterile pop-rock he’d been attempting for most of the 80s; some thought he was an old man past his prime trying to be relevant by playing hard rock out of his league; some had no idea what to make of it and ignored it completely. It’s full of anger, humor, and relentless power, and Bowie pulled it off brilliantly.

Public Image Ltd, 9, released 30 May 1989. This was a slow burner for me; while it had the groove and melody of 1987’s Happy? (which was a big favorite of mine), it also felt a little bit like a retread of that album, only with slightly longer songs and not nearly as much humor. Over the years I’ve come to enjoy it, however. It still feels a little overlong, but it’s still solid.

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Of course, now that I’ve revived the “___Years On” series, I’m half tempted to do some more reviews of previous years, especially the 1985-1987 era when post-punk started to sneak its way into the US mainstream, little by little, paving the way for the classic alternative rock albums and singles we all know and love.

Not to mention that I’m half-tempted to revive the Walk in Silence book project, which I’d put on the back burner quite some time ago.

We shall see…

Twenty Years On: Spring 1999

Time to catch up on the 20YO series again! This time out we have a whole slew of fine records that became my favorite records of that year. Many of them were played heavily during writing sessions in the Belfry, but many of them were also getting play in my car as I expanded my weekend pleasure drives and long commutes. I was still feeling that nudge of discomfort coming from various angles (mean boss, low funds, frustration with my writing projects), but at the same time I felt stronger and more confident than I’d ever felt that entire decade.

Porcupine Tree, Stupid Dream, released 6 April 1999. I didn’t discover PT until their next album (2000’s Lightbulb Sun) but I immediately checked this album out once I did, and it became one of my favorite mid-catalog records of theirs. Steven Wilson (you may know him now as the producer behind all those 5.1 remixes of classic albums getting released lately) and the rest of the band really found their niche with this record, easing back on the extended jamming and leaning towards more concise melodies. Highly recommended, whether you’re a prog fan or not.

Ben & Jason, Hello, released 9 April 1999. Ben Parker and Jason Hazeley were a UK duo that wrote and sang absolutely gorgeous indie folk but avoided the sometimes saccharine twee of most other bands in that genre. They only put out three records and a handful of singles but they were one of my all-time favorite finds at the time. Definitely worth searching for if you can find them.

Electronic, Twisted Tenderness, released 17 April 1999. The third and last album from Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s side project, this is a fantastic album and in my opinion the best and tightest of them. It got a delayed and ignored release here in the States, which is too bad, because there are some really strong singles on this one. And quite possibly my all-time favorite version of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”, featuring some of the best Marr guitar work I’ve ever heard.

Ultrasound, Everything Picture, release 17 April 1999. Another import find that quickly became one of my favorite records at the time. It might be a bloated overlong mess but it’s a hell of a lot of Britpop/psych-rock fun and I still give it a spin every now and again.

Lamb, Fear of Fours, released 17 May 1999. Lamb is a fascinating electronic band in that they’re more about exploring and experimenting with soundscapes than they are about being played in a club, and I’ve always loved their records. This one’s fascinating in that it’s an experiment in unconventional time signatures, with very few tracks actually being in 4/4 time. (Track 4 is even untitled, and features nothing except a seven-second single bleating synth sound.)

Moby, Play, released 17 May 1999. Say what you will about his bouts of sort-of-creepy weirdness in his latest memoir, Play remains an excellent record and worthy of its accolades. It’s clever, inventive, and a wonderful listen.

Travis, The Man Who, released 24 May 1999. This record broke them in the States (where it was released a few months later). It’s less noisy than their debut record but it’s a lot more introspective, and truly shows just how great they are as songwriters. Every single track on this record is wonderful, even the hidden tracks! [This is the record they were touring on when I met the foursome after a show in Boston; they were all lovely people and I’m glad they made it as big as they did.]

Smash Mouth, Astro Lounge, released 8 June 1999. Yeah, I know, I could easily have used the “All Star” meme here, but I didn’t, because the rest of this album is actually pretty damn great! It’s a fun listen — it’s tighter and perhaps a bit poppier and more commercial, but that works to their advantage here.

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Coming up soon: Thirty Years On, in which I briefly talk about The Best Album Ever! 🙂

Recent Releases, Spring 2019

OH HEY It’s been ages since I’ve posted something here, hasn’t it? I suppose I should catch up! Time to provide you with a list of some of my favorite new releases from mid-March to the present!

American Football, American Football (LP3), released 22 March. This is definitely a band to have in your collection. It’s laid-back post-rock, only more melodic and jazzy. And they do write beautiful melodies.

UNKLE, The Road Pt 2: Lost Highway, released 29 March. Surprisingly more upbeat and introspective than The Road Pt 1, but still a moody epic from James Lavelle. Big props for getting Tom Smith (the lead singer of Editors) to sing one of the album’s best tracks.

Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, released 29 March. This is such a hard album to pin down, because it’s so freaking weird. It’s not goofy-weird like, say, Flaming Lips. More like I think there might be something wrong with you weird. And it’s also dead clever — sound effects and vocal stutters whiz by unexpectedly, the lyrics often hide a wicked sense of humor, and the production is just fantastic.

PUP, Morbid Stuff, released 5 April. Goofy pop-punk with dark undertones, it’s a fun romp even when they’re singing about shitty things.

Fontaines DC, Dogrel, released 12 April. Old-fashioned working-class punk from Dublin, this band’s a favorite of KEXP, who got me completely hooked on them.

New Age Healers, “Hang On” single, released 15 April. I’m really digging this band, partly because they channel the Stone Roses so damn well! Great tunes and lovely dreamlike sound. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this band.

Lamb, The Secret of Letting Go, released 26 April. Still amazing after all these years, this band never fails to capture the perfect mood in their music. Still one of my favorite bands to listen to during writing sessions!

Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride, released 3 May. This record completely surprised me by how damn good it is! They seem to have eased back considerably on their trademark quirkiness and focused more on the not-quite-retro semi-acoustic sound reminiscent of their first record. For a double-album, it’s solid from start to finish.

HAELOS, Any Random Kindness, released 10 May. Why did it take me so damn long to get into this band? I mean seriously: moody lyrics, atmospheric production, dreamlike melodies…this is 100% in my wheelhouse! This one has been getting extremely heavy play here in Spare Oom, and it’s not going away any time soon.

Charly Bliss, Young Enough, released 10 May. This band could easily have fallen into the sophomore slump, but they pulled through and recorded an even more solid record than their debut! Great bouncy punk fun.

The National, I Am Easy to Find, released 17 May. Always slightly strange, always moody and meandering, but never a dull moment from this band. It’s brighter than their previous record and a wonderful listen.

The Head and the Heart, Living Mirage, released 17 May. This band has evolved in so many different ways you can’t really file them in with the other alt-folk bands anymore, but they’ve definitely hit their stride with this new record.

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Well! I seem to have gone against my own better judgement and previous complaining about writing schedules by deciding that maybe working off the whiteboard isn’t all that bad a thing after all. The more I thought about it, the more I really enjoyed talking about both new and old music here at Walk in Silence, so hopefully starting this month I’ll be back on a twice-a-week schedule again. We shall see…!

Favorite Albums: Duncan Sheik

Just before i started my job at HMV in late 1996, a new record popped up that hit the airwaves of both alternative rock and pop stations; even though it was primarily filtered down to Adult Alternative for its easy and melodic sound, the songwriting was so unexpectedly tight and adventurous that it got picked up everywhere. It was not the bombast of Collective Soul’s self-titled record, or the earnestness of Live’s Throwing Copper; it was simply a lovely album to listen to.

But that lightness is betrayed by darker, gloomier lyrics. James Hunter of Rolling Stone likened Sheik’s music to Talk Talk and The Smiths, perhaps for that reason: the musicianship is top notch from start to finish, the melodies are wonderfully creative but not overly complex, and the songs definitely get stuck in your head.

If you’ve only heard “Barely Breathing”, I suggest you check out the rest of the album — it’s definitely worth it.

Bonus Track: A year and a half later he popped up on the Great Expectations soundtrack from early 1998 with another fabulous track, “Wishful Thinking”, which got a lot of airplay at the time.

His later albums unfortunately did not get the attention they should have — partly due to changing tastes and partly due to the late 90s industry shake-ups — but they too are well worth looking for. He’s also kept busy since the mid-00s by writing and scoring music for multiple stage plays and musicals, his best known being Spring Awakening.

Twenty Years On: Spring 1999

I’d have to say 1999 was kind of a weird time for me, as it had some smashing highs and some really frustrating lows for me. While I still loved my record store job at HMV, things had changed there, and not necessarily for the better. The new manager and I often butted heads, and I also found my shifts often being pushed to weird hours to cover someone else’s plans. I’d gotten frustrated with the fact that my sci-fi novel (The Phoenix Effect) was getting no bites from publishers and its sequel was soon to be aborted when I instead chose to completely rewrite the whole damn thing.

Radio was also getting more frustrating to listen to, the more melodic sounds of 90s alt-rock getting replaced by what I’d call ‘meathead alt-metal’, with the drop-tuning and growling (and sometimes unfortunate white-boy-rapping) of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Marilyn Manson. I started listening to less radio and more of my own collection, which of course had already grown considerably in the last couple of years. On the plus side there, I’d discover a lot more imports and obscurities that became some of my favorite records of the time.

The Supernaturals, A Tune a Day, released 8 February 1999. I was pretty heavy into the imports at this time. I would read the British music mags religiously, checking out the news and reviews and following up accordingly, ordering a copy or two for the store. A lot of it was hit or miss, and most of the time I’d be ordering a copy simply for my own collection. The Supernaturals are one band that got some minor reviews in Mojo and elsewhere but kind of vanished soon after. I really dug the alternapop of this record, though.

Annie Christian, Twilight, released 8 February 1999. The same goes with Annie Christian…they were part of a newer British wave of guitar groups that wrote some really nifty tunes that unfortunately got ignored by pretty much everyone.

Tin Star, The Thrill Kisser, released 9 February 1999. Now THIS record is groovy and quirky as hell and more people need to know about it. The “Head” single got some minor airplay on the alt-rock stations, and every now and again I’m pleasantly surprised when it resurfaces. This record got a hell of a lot of play during my writing sessions. Well worth searching for and checking out.

Lit, A Place in the Sun, released 23 February 1999. These guys could easily be filed away in that same meathead alt-metal gang, considering their biggest hit is about being an alcoholic loser…but they do it in style with catchy riffs and fun tunes. Bonus points for providing a nude cameo of Blink-182 (following up their “What’s My Age Again” streak) in their video for “Zip-Lock”, another radio favorite.

Jimmy Eat World, Clarity, released 23 February 1999. Before the enormous success of 2001’s Bleed American, this band was a favorite of the emo crowd, and “Lucky Denver Mint” was a minor hit on a lot of alt-rock stations. Their early records are definitely worth checking out as well.

Badly Drawn Boy, It Came from the Ground EP, released 1 March 1999. This one remains one of my favorite import finds from the HMV years, and it’s one of BDB’s best songs, and really should have gotten a hell of a lot more attention than it did. I always play this one loud because it’s just that awesome.

3 Colours Red, Revolt, released 2 March 1999. Yet another fantastic alt-rock album criminally obscured by alt-metal radio and record distributor shenanigans of the day. “Beautiful Day” is a gorgeous tune that has the epic quality of Bends-era Radiohead. Had this come out a few years earlier or later, it may have been a much bigger hit.

Blur, 13, released 15 March 1999. Blur, on the other hand, was the Britpop band that survived the late 90s fallout of their scene by way of changing up their sound considerably. Their 1997 self-titled record introduced a much heavier and more experimental sound, while this record exposed their more emotional (and emotionally fraught) side.

Various Artists, The Matrix OST, released 30 March 1999. Say what you will about the trilogy, the first movie definitely changed the entire game of American science fiction movies by being fiercely original, relentlessly creative, refusing to rely on tired tropes, and introducing some of the best jaw-dropping special effects ever made up to that point. And it had one hell of a great soundtrack that just had to be played as loud as possible.

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The last year and a half of my HMV tenure may have been fraught with irritations and stress, but it also provided me with a ton of excellent music that would keep me busy and entertained. This was the peak era of my weekend road trips to comic stores, book stores and Boston, and it was also an extremely creative time for me as well, even if my current project was about to be completely restarted from scratch. My social life was nil, but that was the least of my worries, as I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, and I was actually getting paid enough to be able to afford it to some extent. I’d dug myself out of an extremely deep depressive funk, and despite managerial frustration, I refused to fall back into that trap again.

Thirty Years On: Spring 1989

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve been thinking of whether or not to follow up on this series. It’s hard to follow up on what I personally consider one of the best years for alternative rock in the 80s in terms of musicianship, quality, consistency and creativity. On a more personal note, it’s also hard to follow up having a positive and stellar year when nearly your entire circle of friends has left for greener college pastures. Regardless, I did my damnedest to remain as positive as I could; I still had the other friends in my year and younger.

In retrospect this makes me sound rather shallow, and I suppose it does in a way. My connection to the just-graduated gang had been a deep and close one that I hadn’t had previously, and I suppose their moving on affected me more than I’d expected. I suddenly found myself going from ‘part of the gang’ to flying solo (or almost solo), and it took me a long time to get used to that.

Regardless, I still had college radio and 120 Minutes to fall back on. Plus, I was on the final circuit towards the end of my high school career, and it was time for me to find myself and shine somehow.

The Darling Buds, Pop Said…, released January 1989. If there’s anything I noticed about 1989, is that it seemed to have a more pop sheen to it. Not in the ridiculous plastic way that permeated the mid-80s pop scene, but in a fun, free-for-all way. This was thanks to multiple scenes in the UK kicking off the party culture that soon became known as Britpop. The Buds, coming from South Wales, brought in a sparkly indie-pop sound that caught the ears of many a fan.

Love and Rockets, “Motorcycle”/”I Feel Speed” single, released 3 January 1989. Meanwhile, the trio once known for its dreamy psychedelic indie rock over the last four years suddenly changed pace and delivered a growling punch of raucous surf rock about singer Daniel Ash’s love of motorcycles. The b-side “I Feel Speed” is a gorgeous dreamlike interpretation of the song done almost entirely on David J’s bass.

Throwing Muses, Hunkpapa, released 23 January 1989. The last album featuring bassist Leslie Langston, this outing was much more pop-oriented than their previous records, providing a college radio favorite with “Dizzy”.

New Order, Technique, released 30 January 1989. While not as brilliant as Low Life or Brotherhood, it’s nonetheless a solid album featuring some of their best hybrid sound of synth and guitar. It’s also quite melodic compared to some of their earlier records.

Morrissey, “The Last of the Famous International Playboys” single, released 31 January 1989. An absurd yet catchy ode to the Reggie and Ronnie Kray, London’s most famous (and infamous) mobsters of current history. It was the first of numerous non-album songs Morrissey would drop over the course of the next decade. Also a song and video that surprised many: it features three other ex-Smiths (Andy Rourke on bass, Mike Joyce on drums, and tour guitarist Craig Gannon), briefly firing up rumors of a sort-of Smiths reunion.

The Replacements, Don’t Tell a Soul, released 7 February 1989. Paul Westerberg and Co followed up 1987’s fantastic Pleased to Meet Me with an album that sounds like maybe they sobered up a titch and started writing more solidly and melodically. They’re older and perhaps a bit wiser at this point.

Fine Young Cannibals, The Raw and the Cooked, released 20 February 1989. The trio’s second (and so far final) album was a big hit across the board, both on pop and modern rock charts, thanks to its lead-off single “She Drives Me Crazy”. It also had quite a memorable video (choreographed and directed by Phillippe DecouflĂ©, whose only other music video was the equally memorable “True Faith” for New Order).

XTC, Oranges and Lemons, released 27 February 1989. Perhaps partly inspired by their side project The Dukes of Stratosphear, whose records were a straight-up 60s psychedelic rock pastiche, this record blended those psych tendencies with lovely pastoral sounds and catchy pop tunes.

Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls, released 28 February 1989. Their second album (and first for a major label) was a stellar folk-rock record that gained them a huge following, and major airplay on both college and commercial stations with their hit “Closer to Fine.” It’s an amazing album from start to finish and a must for anyone’s collection.

Robyn Hitchcock, Queen Elvis, released March 1989. His follow-up to the fan favorite Globe of Frogs — and named after one of his songs that would appear on 1990’s solo record Eye — is full of beautiful and introspective songs, yet still peppered with his trademark eclectic wit. It’s my personal favorite of his 80s output.

De La Soul, Three Feet High and Rising, released 3 March 1989. Goofy, fun, and relentlessly creative, it’s a blast to listen to with its positivity and humor. Thirty years later and they’re still going strong with new records and high-profile appearances, including Gorillaz’s ace track “Feel Good Inc.”

Depeche Mode, 101, released 11 March 1989. Their first live album is a two-record sprawl of their biggest recorded at the Pasadena Rose Bowl (the 101st and last show on a their Music for the Masses Tour with Erasure and Wire). While the songs may not be all that different from their studio versions, they deliver a great show nonetheless.

The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses, released 13 March 1989. Meanwhile, the long-simmering sound of Manchester — brought to the fore previously by The Smiths and New Order, among numerous others — finally exploded internationally with a guitar-heavy rock dance beat that blew everyone away and inspired and influenced so many others for years to come and laid the ground for the classic 90s Britpop sound.

Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Dress for Excess, released 31 March 1989 (US). Okay, so perhaps this record didn’t inspire or influence anyone at all, but it’s still a fun album. It’s not as blissfully chaotic as 1986’s Flaunt It, but in the process they sound so much more professional, perhaps a bit more serious as a band. Lead single “Success” was a deliberate plan in that direction, hiring hit UK producers Stock Aitken Waterman to make their sound as slick as possible. Bonus points for writing and recording an absolutely gorgeous album closer in the form of the dystopian ballad “Is This the Future?”, still one of my all-time favorite tracks of theirs.

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More to come soon!

Walk in Silence Returns…

…finally! My hiatus is over and I’ve decided to return to the fold with my continued obsession with all things music. In the end it wasn’t all that hard a decision, as I’d come to miss blogging about my latest listening habits. I like sharing the new (and old!) things I find on the intertubes and elsewhere. The one thing I’d wanted to ease back on, however, was the amount of content I was forcing myself to come up with on a weekly basis. Two entries a week isn’t all that bad for me, but two entries a week for each blog was definitely exhausting, especially near the end there!

So what did I do during the hiatus? I mean, aside from checking out new releases and revisiting older catalogs? I had a good long think about what I wanted to do with my blogs here. I eventually decided that I really did want to return to what I’d been posting for the last few years, though I felt it was time for me to scale it back a bit to give myself more time for other projects I wanted to work on. SO! What does this mean, anyway? Well, this means that I am back from here on in, but I’ll only be posting once a week on Mondays. Why Monday? Basically because that’ll give me time to give Friday’s new releases a good repeated listen over the weekend, when I have more time to write them out.

That said…let me catch you up on some of the tunage I’ve been listening to since January!

Toro Y Moi, Outer Peace, released 18 January. “Freelance” is one of those tunes that gets stuck in your head for DAYS, which isn’t really all that bad a thing, considering that it’s funky as hell and reminds me of all the best Daft Punk songs. The rest of the album is just as fun.

Weezer, Weezer (the teal album), released 24 January. Okay, so this was essentially a silly throwaway album of 80s covers, but they managed to pull it off! Taken at face value, these are solid interpretations that are faithful to the originals without a hint of irony. These are songs they (and I) grew up with, so why the hell not, right?

Skunk Anansie, 25Live@25, released 25 January. One of my favorite 90s bands that never got their due here in the States, they released a 2-cd collection of a recent 25th anniversary tour and it’s a solid selection of their entire catalog and well worth checking out. And Skin is a freaking amazing vocalist.

Boy Harsher, Careful, released 1 February. One of numerous songs and bands I’ve discovered through KEXP online in the last six months, I fell in love with this album purely because it reminds me of that late-80s darkwave sound I loved so much. Specifically, they reminded me so much of Clan of Xymox (especially the Twist of Shadows album) that I went and downloaded it on the strength of one song.

The Specials, Encore, released 1 February. The Specials have been here and there over the years, but this particular album sees the return of singer Terry Hall, who hadn’t been with them for ages. The new record returns to their classic Two-Tone sound as well. Well worth checking out.

White Lies, Five, released 1 February. I’d almost forgotten about this band (I have an album of theirs from quite a few years back) but thanks to AllMusic’s suggestion, I’m glad I checked out the record because it’s fantastic. Similar to Boy Harsher it’s got that late 80s darkwave sound, though with a more melodic sound similar to Camouflage.

Mercury Rev, Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited, released 8 February. I did not expect to love this album as much as I do, as I don’t know too many Bobbie Gentry songs other than ‘Ode to Billie Joe’. This is definitely an album recorded for a serious music fan, by same; it’s the band handing you Bobbie Gentry’s music and saying ‘you HAVE to listen to this, it’s amazing.’

Beck’s cover of “Tarantula” from Music Inspired by the film Roma, released 8 February. It’s really a cover of a cover; he’s doing the This Mortal Coil interpretation of the Colourbox track. It’s extremely close to that version, but he makes it his own by brightening the reverb and using a choir. This could easily fit on his Morning Phase album.

Bis, Slight Disconnects, released 15 February. YAY! New Bis album!! Poppy, bouncy and punky, and a hell of a lot of fun. They still sound like a cartoon after all these years, and that’s exactly what makes them so great.

Big Wreck “Locomotive” single, released 22 February. I’ve loved this band since “The Oaf” way back in 1997, and they’re still a great hard rock band with hints of blues, country and maybe even a bit of that jam-prog sound as well. Glad to hear them still going strong.

Chasms, The Mirage, released 22 February. Oh, this one is TOTALLY my wheelhouse. It’s full of shoegazey echo and slides easily between 80s darkwave (there we go again), Love and Rockets’ early psychedelic sound, and the gorgeousness of Slowdive. A lovely album to listen to, especially during my writing sessions.

Hozier, Wasteland, Baby!, released 1 March. I was never the biggest fan, but his new album has totally sold me on him. I didn’t expect it to be so dark and haunting yet so beautiful and moving.

Foals, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Part 1, released 8 March. Yet another band taking the route of releasing multiple shorter albums or EPs over the course of an extended time, but I do so love those because they’re often more cohesive and stronger. This is a darker album for them (which is saying something) but it’s also a stronger and more melodic one for them as well.

The Cinematic Orchestra, To Believe, released 15 March. My favorite find from last Friday, this is a fascinating record that kind of reminds me of my favorite Unkle albums; dark and brooding yet beautiful in their own way. Definitely on my writing session playlist already.

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…so yeah, it’s good to be back here on the internets. See you next Monday!

Best of 2018

Whew! This took a lot longer to compile than I thought. As I’d said previously, it was a banner year for great music and it was tough to narrow it all down to my favorite top fifteen albums and songs! This time I went with the albums and songs that (I believe) I not only listened to the most, but the ones I kept coming back to time and again because they were just that enjoyable. Many of them were also part of my writing session heavy rotation.

I’ve also added my silly side lists of releases that may not have hit the top spots but certain got notice in other ways.

TOP 15 ALBUMS
15. The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl
14. Eric Bachmann, No Recover
13. The Beatles, The Beatles (Super Deluxe Edition)
12. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Wrong Creatures
11. Wye Oak, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs
10. Metric, Art of Doubt
9. Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
8. Shame, Songs of Praise
7. Failure, In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing from Your Mind
6. The Neighbourhood, The Neighbourhood / Hard to Imagine the Neighbourhood Ever Changing
5. Lucy Dacus, Historian
4. Snow Patrol, Wildness
3. Johnny Marr, Call the Comet
2. GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star
1. Bob Moses, Battle Lines

TOP 15 SONGS
15. The Damned, “Standing On the Edge of Tomorrow”
14. Arctic Monkeys, “Four Out of Five”
13. Parquet Courts, “Wide Awake”
12. The Decemberists, “Severed”
11. Sylvan Esso, “Parad (W/M)E”
10. Johnny Marr, “Hi Hello”
9. Death Cab for Cutie, “Gold Rush”
8. Local H, “Innocents (Edited for Television)”
7. GoGo Penguin, “Raven”
6. Lucy Dacus, “Addictions”
5. K/DA & Madison Beer & (G)I-DLE, “Pop/Stars”
4. tUnE-yArDs, “Heart Attack”
3. Lucius, “Woman”
2. Bob Moses, “Heaven Only Knows”
1. Snow Patrol, “Life On Earth”

BEST NON-ALBUM SINGLES AND EPS
Sylvan Esso, “Parad(W/M)E”
Failure, In the Future EP
Failure, Your Body Will Be EP
Failure, The Furthest Thing EP
Local H, “Innocents (Edited for Television)”
Various Artists, Universal Love – Wedding Songs Reimagined EP
Prince, “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Childish Gambino, “This Is America”
Weezer, “Africa” / “Rosanna”
Matt Nathanson, Pyromattia EP
Dave Grohl, Play EP
Live, Local 717 EP
Nothing But Thieves, What Did You Think When You Made Me This Way? EP
boygenius, boygenius EP
K/DA & Madison Beer & (G)I-DLE, “Pop/Stars”
Mutemath, Voice in the Silence EP

BEST ALBUMS TO BLAST WITH HEADPHONES
Shame, Songs of Praise
Preoccupations, New Material
Pinkshinyultrablast, Miserable Miracles
Soft Science, Maps
Cloud Nothings, Last Building Standing

BEST RETURN AFTER A LONG HIATUS
The Breeders, All Nerve
Tracey Thorn, Record
Andrew WK, You’re Not Alone
Jesus Jones, Passages
Belly, Dove
Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
The Get Up Kids, Kicker EP
The English Beat, Here We Go Love
Dubstar, One
Robyn, Honey
Dead Can Dance, Dionysus
The Good, the Bad & the Queen, Merrie Land
Art Brut, Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!

BEST ACOUSTIC/REWORKINGS ALBUM
Lucius, Nudes
The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart
Beach Slang, Everything Matters But No One Is Listening (Quiet Slang)
Alt-J, Reduxer
St Vincent, MassEducation

BEST BOX SETS AND REISSUES
Wire, Nine Sevens
Bow Wow Wow, Your Box Set Pet: The Complete Recordings 1980-1984
Black Box Recorder, Life Is Unfair
The Cure, Mixed Up (Deluxe Edition)
Guns n’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction (Super Deluxe Edition)
Public Image Ltd, The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs from the Heart)
Various Artists, C89
Prince, Anthology: 1995-2010
Various Artists, Live Aid
Phil Collins, Plays Well with Others
John Lennon, Imagine (The Ultimate Collection)
Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine (20th Anniversary Edition)
The Beatles, The Beatles (Super Deluxe Edition)

…and that’s it! Hope everyone has a wonderful, fun-filled and rockin’ 2019!

END NOTE! I’ll be taking a bit of time off from blogging, starting in January, for personal reasons. I’m not sure how long this hiatus will last, but I’m not going to be making any scheduled posts for a while. I will try to post here every now and again, though I most likely won’t have them on any strict schedule. As always, thank you for following, and I hope 2019 treats you well!

See ya on the flip side!