Spare Oom Playlist, September 2021 Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABBA Returns!

If you haven’t heard already, last week’s huge music news was that everyone’s favorite Swedish pop group from the 70s and 80s has reunited! Not only with one but two new songs, with a new album coming in early November!

So let’s take a quick listen to the two new songs that are already getting airplay and millions of YouTube plays:

“I Still Have Faith in You” is an absolutely lovely ballad that, no lie, actually made me think, Wow, this could be a great solo centerpiece for a jukebox musica– oh. OH. Right. [It took me a moment to remember Bjorn and Benny pretty much instigated the modern stage musical style in the first place with Chess! Heh.] [ANYWAY.] This is my favorite of the two, as it really sets the tone of not only “hey, we’re back!” but “it’s been so long, can we still do this”. And they pull it off PERFECTLY. From the quiet and plaintive beginning to the determined finale with its breathtaking layered vocals, this song is absolutely flawless. And it’s definitely going to be used for stage auditions, no doubt.

The video for this one’s interesting in that it starts off as a chronological montage of the band members from their childhoods to starting the band to their worldwide success. We’re treated to wonderful (and lovingly remastered) footage of backstage preparations, meeting fans, recording in the studio, and even snippets of some of their iconic music videos. And right about 3:30 in, the song breaks down to a quiet solo refrain (“do I have it in me?”), as we see footage of the foursome once again heading towards the stage…only to see what is a stellar use of amazing computer-enhanced imagery, with the foursome on a new stage, singing this new song while appearing as themselves at their commercial peak. This hints at what will be a special London show, where they’ll be performing songs old and new while being motion-captured as their younger selves. It’s extremely joyful and reverent, especially as we realize the song isn’t just about the band themselves but their own fans.

And the other new song, “Don’t Shut Me Down”:

Okay, just in case you’d forgotten this is the ABBA we all know and love, we’re treated to a nice little musical prologue that sets the scene…only to hit us broadside with a piano glissando and a groovy mid-tempo disco beat right out of “Dancing Queen.” This one is proving to be the radio hit due to its more classical pop format, and also that it really does sound like a song from Arrival or The Album. It’s super catchy and danceable and lyrically clever without being a pastiche, further proving just how strong Benny and Bjorn’s songwriting chops truly are.

If these two songs are any indication of what the new album Voyage will sound like, sign me up because I’m already a fan. Well, I’ve been an ABBA fan since I was a kid, having constantly borrowed the albums from my older sister who was an even bigger fan back in the day. [For the record, my favorite album of theirs is Arrival and song is “SOS”. That song just has the most amazing chord progression.] I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Letting It Be

So this year’s Super Deluxe Beatles Reissue box set will be their final released album, Let It Be. It’s one of the most written-about, bootlegged and debated projects of their entire career, and that’s a hell of a lot for a project that lasted less than a month.

For years I only knew about the Beatles discography in a chronological order, and even though I knew this project took place before the recording and release of Abbey Road, there was a sense of finality to this record that was hard to miss. It wasn’t until I did the Blogging the Beatles series a few years back that I really took the event chronology seriously and revised my thoughts about the record.

I first saw the film back in the early 80s over my cousin’s house when it was on The Movie Channel, and like Yellow Submarine, I’d recorded it onto cassette so I could listen to it again at a later time. I’d bought the record at the local department store not that long before so I knew the songs. By the mid-80s I knew about the numerous bootlegs that had come from those sessions, thanks to Charles Reinhart’s You Can’t Do That!: Beatles Bootlegs and Novelty Records 1963-80, which I’d bought around the same time.

But what about the whole Get Back/Let It Be project, anyway? Is it really as bad as John Lennon made it out to be in his 1971 bile-fueled Rolling Stone interviews (“[Phil Spector] was given the shittiest load of badly-recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something of it”)? Well, in all honesty, I think it was an interesting project that could have been a lot better and helped turn the corner in their career as a band…if they and those around them had given the band a decent hiatus. And I’m not talking a few weeks off, I’m talking maybe a few years, like most bands do nowadays between records. Give them time to be people. Do a solo record or two. Learn how to be human again instead of an icon. Sure, it was a different time and a different place and expectations were absurdly high. They’d just finished recording and releasing The Beatles just a few months earlier just after their India trip, along with the release of the Yellow Submarine movie, and by all accounts they should have taken that overdue vacation.

And yet, only months later they were back together, kicking out all sorts of ideas to top themselves once more. A return to touring? Their semi-live performances of “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” for their proto-music videos had inspired Paul and John more than they’d expected. But Ringo was already starting his film career, working with Peter Sellers in The Magic Christian (thus their hanging out at Twickenham), and George wasn’t keen on being shifted around all over the place like a few years earlier. Eventually they decided to have themselves filmed to perhaps be used as a television special.

The recordings from the Twickenham Studios are loose and meandering due to the soundtrack being recorded on a Nagra tape deck instead of a professional studio one and left running all day long. They were only there for two weeks, but most of the bootlegged material seems to stem from that time. Some of it is well-known: the “Commonwealth”/”Enoch Powell”/”No Pakistanis” riff that morphed into “Get Back”, the countless oldies covers they played to pass the time, and of course That Argument between Paul and George. Thanks to the Let It Be movie, we’re kind of led to believe it was a tense and angry time, though to be honest that tension rarely shows in the music itself, and Peter Jackson’s upcoming miniseries promises to show there were a lot of happy times as well.

Unhappy with the chilly and cavernous film studio, they took a week off, met with each other at George’s house to talk out some personal issues, and headed to their newly-complete Apple Studios on Savile Row. These recordings comprise the tighter, more complete songs that made the final album, as well as the famous rooftop performance that took place on the next-to-last day of the project.

The Super Deluxe box, which drops October 15, has been a source of a lot of debate between music blogs, Beatle podcasters, and even fans. For a project that had a ridiculous amount of source material, the box set remains conservative: A 2020 remix/remaster done by Giles Martin, the first producing attempt by Glyn Johns (he did two), an EP of related non-album remixes for completeness, and two cds of sessions and outtakes. Some feel they should have provided so much more, considering.

My take? I think it’s just the right size. I haven’t heard every single Nagra/Apple recording out there, but I’ve heard enough to know that, like the previous special editions, there’s a point where some of it really is not worth the effort. Never-completed songs that last less than thirty seconds, loosely played covers, and a lot more talking than you think. I mean, if you’re really hankering for that uber-completeness, look for the insanely involved A/B Road, an 83-cd bootleg from Purple Chick that features nearly a hundred hours of recordings.

Perhaps John wasn’t too far off when he called it “badly recorded shit”, but perhaps it was actually because so much of it essentially a weeks-long jam session with very little aim or reason to it. The Beatles were insanely creative and productive when they put their minds to it, but they (especially John) could be insanely lazy and dithering when they weren’t in the mood, especially by that point in their career. And they really were desperate to take a long overdue break by then.

Listening to the original 1970 album now, it still feels like it has a bit of finality to it, but a positive finality, of wanting to end on a high note, even if they had to dig through the source tapes to find it. While Abbey Road was the proper send-off on a high-quality, high-moment note, Let It Be was the final relaxed exhalation.

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!