Monday, December 27, 2010

1990: "Memories Remain", Obituary

Hailing from the same South Florida backwater swamp as influences and label mates Death, Obituary nicked a lot from Death early on: John Tardy's guttural vocals a near dead ringer for Chuck Schuldiner's distinctive howl, the musical focus on an atmosphere of dread as much as uptempo brutality also a hallmark of Death circa 1990, etc. But at this point Cannibal Corpse and the Florida bands were all the death metal that most Americans had heard, and Obituary more than made up in quality what they lacked in originality. Over the long haul, though, the lack of brutality on top of an unwillingness to progress would eventually find the band falling out of step with the cutting edge of death metal, leading to a prolonged break up beginning in the late 90s.

1990: "Lunatic of God's Creation", Deicide

Another early entry in the Florida death metal canon, Deicide was a fan favorite right out of the gate, both for their uncompromising brutality as well as frontman Glen Benton's revival of hardcore Satanism in the metal genre, a theme which had long since fallen out of favor in late 80s thrash (Slayer's South of Heaven being one of the last high profile metal albums to feature unapologetic pro-Satan tropes, which in 1988 had already begun to make the album sound dated).

Deicide, according to a Blabbermouth news item (which I won't bother to link to since the item itself doesn't cite a direct source), is allegedly listed by Nielsen SoundScan as the second biggest selling death metal album of all time; in fact, it may very well be the genre's top seller, as its release predated the SoundScan era, whereas the official #1 - Morbid Angel's 1993 album Covenant - did not... so we can expect that Covenant's sales figures are pretty well accounted for, whereas a pretty significant chunk of early sales for Deicide are not.

At any rate the album is a veritable "greatest hits" of death metal classics, with nearly all of its songs remaining fan faves today. Hell, this album was so popular at the time that Roadrunner would release the original demos of these tracks three years later as Amon, Feasting the Beast. I could have chosen just about any of these cuts as representative of the Deicide ethos, but opening track "Lunatic of God's Creation" says it all about as well as anything else could.

1990: "A Skull Full of Maggots", Cannibal Corpse

One of the first bands to take the baton from the vastly influential Death album Scream Bloody Gore and run with it, Cannibal Corpse formed in 1988 in the barren frigidity of Buffalo, NY... the polar opposite of the swampy biosphere Death's members were culling for inspiration. Cannibal Corpse, led by frontman Chris Barnes, would take the gory lyrics of Death to new extremes, making that disgusting imagery their stock in trade. Aside from later replacing Barnes with George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher, CC have for the most part continued mining the same gore-laden brutality with little variation in the two decades since, making them one of the premier torchbearers for old school death metal.

Eaten Back to Life was the band's debut, and though it was considered an instant classic at the time, it's been handed down in history as one of the lesser Corpse albums. Even as early as 2000, when the group's first live album was released, "A Skull Full of Maggots" was the only song off of Eaten Back to Life that still regularly made its way into the set list.

1990: "Defensive Personalities", Death

Back from a long hiatus, the holidays have wrung all the wholesome, life affirming essence out of me. What better way to get back into the swing of things, then, than with a series of entries on the burgeoning death metal movement at the turn of the 90s?

Probably seems kind of lame/obvious starting off with the actual band Death, but unsurprisingly the Chuck Schuldiner-led ensemble was one of the seminal acts in creating the death metal template as an extreme spin off of thrash. The genre itself was inadvertently christened in 1985 by Bay Area band Possessed, on a song by the same name off of their Seven Churches album, but at the time Possessed were seen less as a pioneering new influence and more of a traditional, sloppy thrash group a la contemporary Celtic Frost and early Venom. Like many pioneers, Possessed would have to wait until their field was a little more crowded before fans retroactively began to realize that they were on to something new, instead of just peddling a particularly virulent strain of thrash.

Death was the band that served notice that a new form of metal was here to stay. 1987's Scream Bloody Gore set the bar immediately for those who wished to consider themselves on the cutting edge of extremity, the stomach churning lyrics, guttural vocals and darker, more sinister riffs establishing a prototype for all death metal bands to come (a fact not lost on burgeoning thrash bands in Florida, which would become geographically to death metal as the Bay Area was to thrash).

By 1990, however, Schuldiner was on album number three, and had already lightened up the pace somewhat in favor of more technical musicianship. Spiritual Healing largely retreated back toward thrash, save for the guttural vocals - Schuldiner could sing no other way - and wasn't particularly well received at the time. In hindsight, it's an essential stepping stone in the evolution that would lead to the band's late period masterpieces Symbolic and The Sound of Perserverance. Schuldiner himself would eventually downplay his role in the rise of death metal, proclaiming "I don’t think I should take credit for this death metal stuff. I’m just a guy from a band, and I think Death is a metal band".

Nonetheless, though he would never again write an album with the visceral brutality of Scream Bloody Gore, Schuldiner retained sufficient respect and a large enough fanbase that Spiritual Healing and - in particular - later efforts would make him an influential figure in the technical death metal movement, which would peak in popularity in the mid-to-late 90s.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

1990: "Staring at the Sun", Ultra Vivid Scene

Sounding for all the world like a British band too dedicated to the melodic hook to fully embrace shoegaze, Ultra Vivid Scene were actually an American band whose singer sported a slight, faux-English accent peeking gently through the gauzy vocals. Their rise coincided with the genesis and early gestation of shoegaze, but aside from a tangential affinity for the breezier aspects of dream pop, Ultra Vivid Scene pretty much made their own way.

None too coincidentally given their sound, UVS broke through in the UK first with their self titled debut in 1989, notching several chart hits there and focusing their touring almost exclusively overseas. When Joy 1967-1990 - an obvious allusion to their penchant for classic Britpop melodies - emerged in 1990, the trend reversed, with no further hits forthcoming in the UK, but literally every single from that point on placing (at least modestly) in the US Modern Rock chart.

Apparently that wasn't enough. After a final album two years later, Ultra Vivid Scene disbanded, singer / guitarist Kurt Ralske going on to do production work for several years before eventually becoming a well respected visual artist. The rest of the band... who knows?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

1990: "Let Love Speak Up Itself", The Beautiful South

When the Housemartins broke up in 1988, Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway quickly regrouped as the soulful alternative quintet the Beautiful South. Picking up more or less where the Housemartins left off, but ratcheting up the R&B / 60s pop influences, both Heaton and Hemingway would share vocal duties with a revolving door procession of female vocalists. As is typical of most bands that are distinctly English, the Beautiful South didn't make much noise in the US, but back home they were a reasonably successful top 40 group.

1990's Choke LP gave the group their first - and so far only - #1 hit in the UK with "A Little Time". My own American ears prefers "Let Love Speak Up Itself", which was the final single released off the album and fared a less significant #51 even in Great Britain, but that just goes to show how much tastes can change from one side of the pond to the other.

Monday, November 8, 2010

1990: "Don Henley Must Die", Mojo Nixon

Surprisingly this live rendition is the only version of "Don Henley Must Die" that Youtube currently boasts, and the recording quality is juuuuuuuuuuuust good enough that I'm willing to settle for it rather than slapping together my own out of static images and beer-fueled motivation.

Mojo Nixon, along with partner Skid Roper, managed to milk his brand of college humor and redneck roots rock for a number of entertaining albums starting in the mid-80s, but by 1990's Roper-less Otis things had largely taken a turn for the stale and obligatory. "Don Henley Must Die" is one of the few cuts from that album worth hearing, frankly, but it's also one of Mojo Nixon's most beloved so it's worth salvaging.

Legend has it that Mojo was playing the Hole in the Wall across from the University of Texas one night when Don Henley unexpectedly emerged from the crowd and joined Nixon on stage for a rousing version of Henley's namesake ditty. No word, however, on whether Debbie Gibson ever actually spawned Nixon's illegitimate mutant seed. That one I'm treating as a rumor.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

1990: "Obscurity Knocks", The Trash Can Sinatras

The Trash Can Sinatras hailed from Scotland and, having been together for a solid three years by the time 1990 rolled around, were understandably a bit more mired in jangly new wave while most of their British peers were off exploring folksier idioms, or indulging in the trendy Madchester / acid house crossover that was all the rage at the time. Their penchant for sing-song pop melodies ties them closely to their hometown Postcard Records sound - a label that only turned out around a dozen singles at the turn of the 80s but were very influential - but the Sinatras have a much more accessible, mainstream sound than their Postcard brethren. Their hooks are not necessarily over-the-top infectious, but the articulate, poetic lyrics need repeat listens to sink in anyway. Except for breaking up during most of the late 90s the Trash Can Sinatras have been an ongoing concern since Cake, their debut album, came out shortly on the heels of the "Obscurity Knocks" single in 1990.

[NOTE: you'll see it spelled both Trash Can Sinatras and Trashcan Sinatras; on the Cake sleeve it bears the grammar that I've given here, but albums released in the 2000s have the truncated version. Because the band themselves currently prefer two words over three, many fans refer to even the older material as Trashcan Sinatras]

Monday, November 1, 2010

1990: "Celebrate", An Emotional Fish

Contemporaries of A House, An Emotional Fish also hailed from Dublin but followed neither in the path of U2 - throughout the 80s a prevailing influence on Irish alternative rock - nor the burgeoning neo-folk strains of indie rock other of their countrymen were dabbling in. Listening to "Celebrate", in fact, one hears an almost stubborn adherence to the tropes of 80s English new wave. The critics raved, nonetheless, as the songwriting was compelling in spite of all lack of trendiness, but the public had heard enough by this point, and An Emotional Fish would take another three years to pump out a follow up album (to much less acclaim this time) before packing it in after their third effort in 1994 (that third album being such an afterthought it wasn't released in the US until 1996).

1990: "The Patron Saint of Mediocrity", A House

With a number of modern folk-based indie rock bands from the UK making waves - ie. Frightened Rabbit, The Frames - it's worth revisiting A House, a Dublin band that, starting in the late 80s, willfully eschewed the ringing chords of countrymen U2 in favor of a trad "return to zero"... not trad in the sense of the Pogues, necessarily, but rather a defiantly nationalist mix of rock and folk music a la the type that provided the springboard for the singer-songwriter movement in 60s America, except in the vein of traditional British folk idioms rather than the protest songs of Woody Guthrie or the bluesier roots music of Leadbelly. Never charting during their lifespan (even in the UK), A House have nonetheless become somewhat of a cult classic over the years - particularly in their homeland - though no reunions have been forthcoming since their 1997 breakup, and frontman Dave Couse has released only three solo albums over the years, almost universally to indifference from all but the most hardcore A House fans.

Monday, October 25, 2010

1990: "My Little Problem", The Replacements

I already had to break out the Windows Movie Maker on account of not being able to find a single Youtube video of the Silos, so I figured I'd kill two birds and get around to that homebrewed Replacements video like I earlier promised. It's still astounding to me that "My Little Problem" hasn't been handed down as one of the six or eight best Paul Westerberg songs ever, but considering it heralds from the hands down worst of the non-punk Replacements records perhaps it's no surprise (ie. Sorry Ma Forgot to Take Out the Trash is worse but that's like comparing Meat Puppets to Huevos).

Originally intended as Westerberg's solo debut, All Shook Down has a smattering of the Replacements here and there functioning as session musicians, but rarely in the same place. "My Little Problem" was buried toward the end of the track sequencing but, again, I don't see how anyone can listen to the full album and not cherry pick this song as its brightest moment. A duet with Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano, whose fierce singing makes the likes of Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett both look like shoegazers by comparison, "Problem" rides a clean, driving riff hearkening back to mid-80s LA (no, not hair band LA, LA LA). A fitting end to the Replacements legacy, even if the rest of the album did its best to sandbag that effort.

SPOTLIGHT: Decline of Hair Metal pre-"Nevermind"

There's a common narrative that has long since spilled over from academic / journalist circles into public discourse: in 1991, hair metal bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Winger, etc still ruled over the kingdom of pop music, their reign unchallenged and seemingly bulletproof until Nirvana came along in September of that year and banished the hairspray and Spandex brigade to the hinterlands, never to be heard from again.

Well, I'm not here to argue the idea that Nevermind changed the popular music landscape - that it certainly did - but there is a decided bit of myth making to the other end of the argument that it's high time was exposed, that being the idea that hair metal was still in a sanguine state at the time. On the contrary, as we'll see below, hair metal peaked around 1987-88 and by two years later was already a shadow of its former self.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

1990: "F*!#in' Up", Neil Young & Crazy Horse

The alt-country movement (I've always been disappointed that "insurgent country" didn't stick) was nothing if not a reevaluation of 70s country rock filtered through punk's ragged energy and insistent authenticity, and on those terms you'd think someone like Neil Young would have made a stellar figurehead: literate yet vocally lower class, willfully defiant of prepackaged record label bullshit, immersed in fat-of-the-land, rural Americana though unafraid of offering a fringe dweller's revisionist take on it... Young seemed custom built to carry this grassroots subgenre on his back.

Except Neil Young has never been a "movement" kind of guy, and as bands like Uncle Tupelo, the Silos, Blood Oranges, Freakwater, etc were pioneering an indie take on American roots music at the dawn of the 90s, Young just so happened to be in the midst of a hard rocking renaissance after spending most of the 80s sans Crazy Horse, his longtime backing band. So, like it or not, Neil Young was about to be nominated the unofficial godfather of the nascent grunge scene instead, a genre which had been around for a few years by that point but - in 1990 - was only just sloughing off the shackling hardcore and noise rock influences, and thus finally coalescing into a sustainable form of rock & roll.

Young would go on to collaborate on a decidedly non-commercial album with Pearl Jam (which is arguably the pivot that set the latter band off on their "difficult" phase) and be name checked in Kurt Cobain's suicide note, a nod that Young himself would return with "Sleeps With Angels", his ode to grunge's fallen godhead.

In 1990, however, Young was concentrating on recapturing the old magic after basically sucking for the majority of the 80s. That year's Ragged Glory was only the second album Young had recorded with Crazy Horse since 1981, and that had little to do with any falling out or creative differences, it was just that Neil was off experimenting during the Reagan Era with different styles that were not Crazy Horse's forte... or Neil's either, for that matter (contrast the split with Crazy Horse with, say, Tom Petty's solo Full Moon Fever from the year prior, which by all accounts should have been a fucking Heartbreakers album).

1987's Life - Young's most recent collaboration with Crazy Horse at the time - may not have been an embarrassment but it was hardly loved by anyone either. Since then, however, he'd made a pretty compelling comeback bid with the bluesy This Note's For You (which actually featured several unbilled Crazy Horse members as session musicians) and 1989's Freedom. The latter in particular is generally regarded as square one in Young's late period reemergence as an artistic force, and featured his first significant "hit" in years, "Keep On Rocking in the Free World".

"F*!#in' Up" not only has a set of lyrics that would do his Seattle acolytes proud, but the central guitar riff has a filthy insistence to it as if it were custom built for a band like Pearl Jam to cover in their live act... which they have, along with "Keep On Rocking in the Free World", time and time again. The fact that Eddie Vedder's crew choose these particular Neil Young songs to pay tribute to is no accident... they were contemporary with the members of Pearl Jam' beginning their music careers and, as such, were no doubt tremendously influential. As with anyone of Neil Young's proficiency, the man has continued to have his peaks and valleys artistically over the ensuing two decades; but then, so has Pearl Jam, the last of the true grunge bands, and they're not exactly shitting out three albums every two years either.

1990: "Shady Grove", Blood Oranges

Another early entry in the alt-country sweepstakes, Blood Oranges were a band that had their hearts in the right places but were maybe a bit too polished and loyal to the dying roots rock scene. Never remotely popular in their time, even today the Oranges are rarely mentioned outside of Americana crate digging circles. Still a fine band in their own right, but if you've already done Uncle Tupelo to death and want more stripped down alt country of similar authenticity, you're better off ditching the slick veneers of the Silos and Blood Oranges and going with either the Jayhawks or Freakwater, neither of which had albums out in 1990 to fit in with present coverage. They both beat Uncle Tupelo to vinyl, though.

1990: "Commodore Peter", The Silos

While No Depression is generally regarded as the first real Americana album, there were a number of earlier progenitors that would retroactively need to be slapped with the alt-country tag after the fact, one of the more notable being the Silos. However, you can listen to a lot of these early Americana acts like the Silos and hear instantly why Uncle Tupelo are considered so trail blazing while few of their contemporaries are. It's not that the Silos or groups like them are necessarily generic or uninspired, it's that you can still distinctly hear the relics of the hugely popular roots rock movement that peaked and crashed only a few years prior in the mid-80s, usually to the point that the roots rock elements are predominant, and any stab at the folk or country blues traditions is almost incidental.

So the genius of Uncle Tupelo had as much to do with taking 40 grit sandpaper to the era's polished production values as it did their choice in material. It's well within imaginable realms to ponder Jeff Tweedy singing a song like "Commodore Peter", but what separates his band from one like the Silos is that the latter still hew closely to the rootsy jangle pop sound of the 80s, while you couldn't really see Uncle Tupelo fucking with arpeggiated chords. To Tweedy and Jay Farrar the Silos probably sounded a lot closer to REM than anything Uncle Tupelo was going for.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: "No Depression", Uncle Tupelo

The importance of Uncle Tupelo is impossible to overstate. Did they invent what they became known for? Oh, sweet love of God, no. The mixing of punk rock swagger with traditional country and rural folk elements had become common enough (particularly in the LA music scene) that the term "cowpunk" was already common parlance by the mid-80s. And, especially early on, there were definitely cornerstones of the Tupelo sound that owed nearly everything to the by then stale cowpunk scene:

"Before I Break"

But in our haste to reach for antecedents let's not undersell the more exploratory side of the band's legacy, which came when they turned the volume down and got introspective. At that point they tended to jettison punk rock altogether and became something more akin to Neil Young acolytes:

"Life Worth Livin'"

Eventually Uncle Tupelo - Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy and drummer Mike Heidorn - would outgrow these formative influences and forge something unique, something elemental, out of that decidedly un-chic foundation, but when No Depression was unleashed on the public in 1990 the trio was still in full on deconstruction mode, stripping cowpunk and Neil Young's patented proto-grunge down to the frame, dowsing it with half full cans of mismatched primer and taking it for a fast ride down the country lanes of Southwestern Illinois. It was that alchemy which would prove prophetic and vastly influential.

"Whiskey Bottle"

Lastly, it would be remiss not to mention that the title cut from Uncle Tupelo's debut, itself a cover of an old Carter Family song, became the moniker of the magazine No Depression, a bi-monthly publication first appearing in 1995 that arguably did more to define the nascent musical genre "Americana", as well as consolidate it into an actual "scene", than any other band or entity on the planet.

"No Depression"

Monday, October 18, 2010

1990: "Independence Day", Vic Chesnutt

One of the key artists bridging the gap between the jangle pop / post-punk scene of the 80s in Athens, GA and the later country-rock / Americana predominance in that same city, Vic Chesnutt established himself as an articulate outsider early on. Produced by fellow Athens alum Michael Stipe, Little constituted a low key bid at folky Americana the same year Uncle Tupelo was taking credit for establishing the sub-genre across the country in Illinois. Few of his contemporaries could match Chesnutt for sheer literacy, but a reedy voice and insistence on hewing close to acoustic roots music found the man a footnote next to his more "rockist" Americana peers. On Christmas Day, 2009, Chesnutt succumbed to an overdose of muscle relaxants, prescription drugs having been a mainstay of his entire adult life after a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down at the age of 18.

1990: "Ghost Highway", Mazzy Star

When Opal splintered in the midst of a tour for their 1987 opus Happy Nightmare Baby, guitarist David Roback replaced vocalist Kendra Smith with Hope Sandoval and briefly continued the Opal brand, penning a handful of new songs for a second Opal full length to be titled Ghost Highway. By 1989 he had renamed the band Mazzy Star and the following year that band debuted with She Hangs Brightly. Building on his Paisley Underground roots by incorporating various Americana elements - blues, folk, country - into the Paisley bouillabaisse of psychedelia, dream pop and 60s rock, Mazzy Star took a few years before finding their feet with the hit 1994 single, "Fade Into You" (itself charting only a year or so after its parent album dropped), but in retrospect She Hangs Brightly is hardly a furtive creative effort. The song "Ghost Highway" sounds driven and self assured while setting the template for the band's metamorphosis from the Paisley overtones of Opal into the rootsier strains of Mazzy Star.

BONUS: Opal playing "Ghost Highway" live in 1988.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

1990: "Kaleidoscope" / "Eleanor Everything", The Boo Radleys

Ostensibly an element of the shoegaze genre at the dawn of their career, the Boo Radleys took several years and a number of albums before shedding the schizophrenia of their influences and settling into a focused yet diverse sound.

"Kaleidoscope" reveals the band struggling somewhat clumsily with the washed out psychedelia of shoegaze, furtive attempts at melody not entirely jibing with the sonic density required of the genre:

"Eleanor Everything" is a much better representation of the Britpop influences which would eventually dominate the band's repertoire, beginning with 1993's brashly titled Giant Steps:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

1990: "Seeing Things", The Black Crowes

You already know the hits... to death, probably. Released in January 1990, Shake Your Moneymaker was one of the first monster albums of the new decade. No fewer than four of the album's ten songs have established themselves as quintessential hard rock classics, and twenty years later it's hard to find a bar jukebox in the U.S. that doesn't play "She Talks to Angels" every 10 or 15 songs.

"Seeing Things" was also a minor single (one of the few for which no music video was made) but is largely unfamiliar to the casual Crowes fan. It's fairly formulaic by the band's standards, and the gospel overtones invite open comparison to the superior "She Talks to Angels", but it's a catchy enough cut that, had it been released on one of their later albums when hit songs were in short supply, it likely would have been handed down as one of their more popular tunes. As it is, "Seeing Things" sits proudly perched atop the second tier of Crowes material.

1990: "Fly Me Courageous", Drivin' N' Cryin'

There were any number of bands toiling away making sloppy, inaccessible roots rock throughout the 80s, and by the dawn of the new decade - with metal-tinged arena rock all the rage - many of those who had failed to gain recognition on their own terms decided to give the more commercial route a shot instead of just packing it in altogether.

As one might expect, most of these bands made a mockery out of themselves and quickly faded into the obscurity they seemed destined for all along. One of the more promising success stories was Kevn Kinney's Drivin' N' Cryin'. The band hailed from Atlanta, GA, just a stone's throw from the 80s college rock hotbed of Athens. By 1990, northern Georgia wasn't quite the A&R recon zone that it used to be, and - likely emboldened by the mainstream success of fellow Atlantans the Black Crowes - Kinney and cohorts hooked up with producer Geoff Workman and refashioned their scuzzy southern rock into a slick AOR formula.

The results were a rare home run in the "sell out" sweepstakes: Fly Me Courageous became a brief crossover hit when the album dropped on Jan. 8, 1991, almost a full year to the day after the Black Crowes debuted with their own Shake Your Moneymaker [the "Fly Me Courageous" single was serviced to radio a few weeks before the album proper came out, which is why it makes the cut for 1990]. Unfortunately for the band, the increasingly slick, vapid strains of hair metal and AOR were rapidly turning listeners off in droves, and by the time Smoke was released two years later it seemed largely anachronistic in what by then was the heyday of grunge.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

1990: "I Know Your Little Secret", The Afghan Whigs

The first band signed to Sub Pop outside the Pacific Northwest, Greg Dulli's Afghan Whigs leveraged their Midwestern roots and Replacements influences into a swelling nest egg of indie rock cred, surfacing at the dawn of the 90s with their Sub Pop debut (and second album overall), Up In It. These days, the record is probably name checked more often than listened to (much like the early, punk driven Lemonheads efforts) but it's an important touchstone in the band's artistic development nonetheless. Though not quite shedding their sloppy punk roots altogether - see "Retard" and "Amphetamines and Coffee" - Up In It represented the Whigs' first real stab at actual songwriting, and it didn't hurt that this upstart band from Cincinnati manifested a loose sonic solidarity with the coalescing grunge movement.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

1990: "Everso", The Telescopes

The Telescopes first appeared on a split single with Loop in 1988, but within the next two years they'd dabbled in every corner of the neo-psych / dream pop / shoegaze triangle. This flitting from sound to sound, influence to influence may have harmed their chances of ever becoming mainstream, but it made for some pretty thrilling music at the time. Much of the early 'scopes material was mired down in muddy production and tossed off performances, but that all changed when the band were signed to Creation in early 1990. Emerging in December of that year, "Everso" marked their second single for the label, but it would be another two years before they released another full length album. That record, commonly known as Untitled or just The Telescopes, would be the group's last until a 2002 reunion.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

1990: "Arc Lite (Sonar)", Loop

More dissonant and metallic than Spacemen 3 (the band they would most frequently suffer comparisons to), Loop was nearing the end of its short run in 1990. The heavier drone and minimalist riff patterns on the band's final album, A Gilded Eternity, were a harbinger of things to come: Loop mainman Robert Hampson would serve a one year tour of duty in industrial titans Godflesh (playing on / touring for the Pure album) before starting Main with Loop bandmate Scott Dawson. Main merged the dense riffs of Hampson's previous bands with a menacing bouillabaisse of electronic styles and remains Hampson's longest running project to date, though the moniker has been officially retired since 2006. Hampson has since been releasing new music under his own name, while Dawson seemingly dropped out of the music scene.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

1990: "Lord Plentiful Reflects", The Bevis Frond

After banging out a succession of fan-club quality releases in his own bedroom, Nick Salomon finally got serious about his starter kit band, The Bevis Frond, rounded up a proper drummer, and got both their asses into a legitimate studio for the first "professional" Bevis Frond record, 1990's Any Gas Faster. Whereas most of the earlier 4 track Frond releases consist of long winded jamming, Any Gas Faster was notable for its more disciplined, accessible material.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

1990: "Exploding in Your Mind", Sun Dial

Psychedelia was hardly unfashionable at the turn of the 90s, particularly in Great Britain. In terms of anachronistic, spaced out jam sessions with few modern influences, there was most notably Nick Salomon and his one man band, The Bevis Frond, but following closely in those same footsteps was Gary Ramon's Sun Dial project. Like Salomon, Ramon also released a relentless procession of small run, microlabel albums, of which 1990's Other Way Out was the first. Chock full of long form guitar freakouts, "Explosions in Your Mind" is one of the more straightforward cuts.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

1990: "Cave-In", Codeine

Alright, done now with vacation and vacation-related activities (itinerary planning, building up of alcohol tolerance, etc) so it's time to turn once again to my sixth or seventh great love, this blog. I'll try to knock out at least one or two entries a day from here on out... at least until my next vacation.

Today we pay blog service to the New York band Codeine, a group commonly described as leaders and innovators in the nearly synonymous orbits of the "slowcore" and "sadcore" scenes [ed. note: even though I'm completely on board with breaking things down into genre neologisms - can't fucking stand when musicians say "we just play good old rock & roll, maaaaan!" - there are fewer more annoying trends than the one which says, "hey, wouldn't it be clever to take something non-violent and repressed, rob the term 'hardcore' of its testosterone-laden suffix and, with it, conjure up new terminology which renders the twee badass? And keep on doing it over and over again for at least twenty years?" Nonetheless, in spite of my grave misgivings I am duty bound to report any parlance that has survived the test of time as nomenclature of choice].

Codeine's sound was glacially slow, and often dense in the manner of the shoegaze bands, but other than that there were none of the psych or Britpop leanings of their overseas counterparts. In fact, theirs was a more freeform avant garde haze that doesn't translate well to genre tropes at all. Hear, then, the music:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

1990: "Objection Overruled", Exodus

Gonna wrap up the current slate of metal coverage with the last of the thrash heavyweights to release an album in 1990, Exodus. Much like Testament, Exodus had less than 18 months to simultaneously tour in support of a mid-career masterpiece - in this case Fabulous Disaster - and also pen / record a follow up... the better to underwrite yet another tour for.

Of all the thrash albums we've discussed so far, Impact is Imminent is unequivocably the most lackluster. One might be forgiven for thinking otherwise while watching the video for barnstormer "Objection Overruled", but a quick listen to the rest of the CD proves that the band pretty much shot their wad with that lone song. One further single, "The Lunatic Parade", was released to an even more tepid response before the label gave up on supporting the record altogether. Capitol Records gave them one more chance with 1992's Force of Habit - frankly an underrated and pretty convincing comeback - before public indifference and declining record sales led to the band breaking up for several years.

1990: "Souls of Black", Testament

It's really not until you start getting to the second tier thrash bands of 1990 that the wear and tear starts to become apparent. Suicidal may have had a career year, but the rest of their not-ready-for-primetime brethren weren't faring so well. Testament was never a household name, but the previous year's Practice What You Preach found no fewer than three music videos gracing late night MTV, and the enhanced visibility garnered them a support slot on 1990's legendary Clash of the Titans tour with Slayer, Megadeth and (who else?) Suicidal Tendencies. The so called "Big Four" of thrash included Metallica and Anthrax in addition to Slayer and Megadeth, but the Clash of the Titans lineup made a pretty good case that if things were expanded to a "Big Six", ST and Testament would fill the vacant slots.

Though the band were still technically touring on the back of Practice What You Preach when the tour began, most considered the hasty follow up, Souls of Black, to be somewhat of a letdown. In hindsight it's a fine album, well executed and cleanly produced, but the lack of prep time obviously curtailed the band's ability to craft hooks with the same consistency they'd been used to.

And really that's the recurring theme of this beginning of the end for thrash: there wasn't a decline in popularity at this point - if anything 1990-1992 was a peak era for interest in thrash metal - but that popularity often resulted in rushed production schedules and a forced demand for quick product. The end result was a flurry of diminishing returns over the next few years which resulted in die hard fans tuning out, favoring instead the new trump card in extremity that the death metal bands were offering.

It should also be noted, however, that later in 1989 the influential late night MTV program "Headbanger's Ball" was cut from three hours to two; the heavier, less commercial bands were largely relegated to that third and final hour, so when it was 86'ed that left room for only a token handful of thrash videos per night... and it wasn't like true metal (as opposed to glam) was getting airplay outside the confines of "Headbanger's Ball". In an era when a lot of headbangers were farm belt kids who relied on MTV to sample new metal, that would turn out to be a fateful decision.

1990: "You Can't Bring Me Down", Suicidal Tendencies

An important precursor(*) to later emo tropes in the metal genre, Suicidal Tendencies had been preaching to disaffected youth since their self titled debut - in more of a hardcore punk vein - in 1983, but by 1990 thrash had long since become the dominant strain in their crossover sound. Probably more than any other thrash band signed to a major label at the time, 1990's Lights... Camera... Revolution would mark the career apex of Suicidal Tendencies, a confluence of the swelling fan base the band had been building up over the years and a peak in media attention and airplay [1992's Art of Rebellion would achieve a higher Billboard placing than any previous album, but fan response to singles - save perhaps "Asleep at the Wheel" - was fairly tepid and the record was quickly forgotten by all but diehard fans].

To say that 1994's Suicidal for Life was poorly received would be an understatement. Considering the first four proper songs all had the word "fuck" in the title, it's no wonder that critics and aging fans alike considered the album juvenile and one dimensional. Suicidal Tendencies were dropped from Sony/Columbia afterward and have been self-releasing their own records to a dwindling core of die hard fans ever since. In all fairness, singer Mike Muir's recurring back problems have at times made tours few and far between, which has no doubt contributed to the band falling off the casual fan's radar.

(*) "Alone" from this same album would have made a better case for ST as an emo influence in the later genres of nu metal and metalcore, but in all honesty I have a harder time processing the self absorbed alienation in those types of tunes these days than I did when I was 16... so I stuck with one of their more inflammatory numbers, "You Can't Bring Me Down", even if the knee jerk defiance in this song isn't much more mature. Either way, the band were pretty gifted at incorporating compelling melody into their material, and Rocky George was always one of the more interesting lead guitar players in the genre.

1990: "Belly of the Beast", Anthrax

Like Slayer, Anthrax was also attempting to rebound from a divisive album, but in their case it wasn't so much that State of Euphoria had divided fans as it was that fans almost universally considered it a mediocre follow up to their career peak, Among the Living. Unlike Slayer, however, Anthrax didn't change much, instead just taking a little more time to solidify compelling material and eschewing the occasional tongue-in-cheek lyrics of old in favor of more consistently addressing social ills this time out.

There are people who never really became big Anthrax fans until the John Bush era, but for those who are able to appreciate both lineups many would single out 1990's Persistence of Time as being either equal to or a close second with Among the Living as the peak of the band's artistic legacy. Anyway, to this day controversy reigns over who was the better singer, the embers no doubt being perpetually stoked by the revolving door at that position over the past 5+ years. John Bush has undoubtedly the better range, but it could be argued that Anthrax wrote the lion's share of their best material around Joey Belladonna's higher pitch.

1990: "War Ensemble", Slayer

Two years prior, Slayer had divided fans by following up their groundbreaking speed metal masterpiece Reign in Blood with a much slower, Sabbath-worshiping doom effort: South of Heaven. And so in 1990, they sought to bridge the gap between the old fans and the new by offering a little bit of both on that year's Seasons in the Abyss.

Titling the album after Rimbaud's Une Saison en Enfer, the common thread was that - much like the previous album - the members of Slayer had begun turning away from theological horrors and focusing on the hell right here on Earth, a lyrical conceit that continues to this day. Topics vary, but the most common themes are war, the corrupting influence of religion, and examinations into the minds of serial killers.

The track below, "War Ensemble", was the first cut on the album, and was obviously intended to reassure the older fans that they could still bring the thrash at a blistering pace when they wanted to. But elsewhere the cracks were filled in with more melodic, mid tempo songs, like the title cut "Seasons in the Abyss", which is catchy enough to be considered "radio friendly" if it weren't for the gore-intense lyrics. Bridging the gap, the classic "Dead Skin Mask" returns them to the languid pacing and atonal, ringing chords of South of Heaven. Altogether, Seasons in the Abyss is probably the most well-rounded of all the Slayer albums, though it's arguably only the 2nd or 3rd best.

1990: "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due", Megadeth

1990 was a pivotal year for heavy metal. Thrash had already peaked, and was in the process of transitioning to death metal, but you wouldn't necessarily know it from the career peaks enjoyed by Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax and Suicidal Tendencies.

Megadeth's Rust in Peace is frequently recognized as the best metal album of 1990, and few would argue that Dave Mustaine & co. ("& co." being, of course, whatever hired hands are currently in the band) have managed to scale these heights in the 20 years since. It's interesting to note that, whereas Metallica later went through a long period of treacly counseling before emerging with the colossally misguided St. Anger, in 1990 Dave Mustaine had only recently finished a twelve step program of his own; yet Rust in Peace would emerge as the band's most focused, grounded album.

Dave Mustaine has always had a more conventional sense of thrash than his former bandmates in Metallica, so Rust isn't exactly a left field art rock opus, it doesn't dabble in prog metal, and hell, the lyrics aren't even personal enough to qualify as cathartic... basically what we have here is a relentless riff fest fueled by paranoid politics and conspiracy theory lyrics. New arrival Marty Friedman is widely considered the best of all the "hired gun" lead guitarists Mustaine has acquired over the years - to the point where many feel his departure in 1999 was the final straw for Megadeth's artistic integrity - and for good reason: Friedman's solos are some of the best ever heard in the metal genre, and it's obvious that the new competition has Mustaine feeling reinvigorated.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

1990: "Help Me Please", Sonic Boom

Pete Kember was one of two primary members of the neo-psych band Spacemen 3 in the mid-to-late 80s before going solo at the turn of the decade. He recorded one album, Spectrum, under the moniker Sonic Boom before changing the band name itself to Spectrum. Kember has since divided his time between Spectrum and another ongoing project dubbed Experimental Audio Research (E.A.R.) as well as more recently trying his hand at production duties, including the new MGMT album, Congratulations.

"Help Me Please" marries existential drone with lyrics straight out of a Hank Williams outtake, in the process inadvertently creating a left field chillout classic.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

1990: "Supernaut", 1000 Homo DJs

Interesting story on this one: sometime around 1988, following the release of their The Land of Rape and Honey album, Ministry mainman Al Jourgensen found himself with a handful of outtakes and set about brainstorming ways to get them distributed. Details are sketchy on why he chose to try to build a whole new project around them instead of using them as b-sides, but long story short Trent Reznor found himself involved a year or so prior to the release of Nine Inch Nails' debut, Pretty Hate Machine.

It seems Reznor only stuck around long enough to record vocals for a proposed cover of Black Sabbath's "Supernaut", but for whatever reason - did I mention details are sketchy? - the tapes languished on the shelves until Reznor had made a name for himself with NIN, at which point he decided he didn't want his vocals being used after all.

Debate continues to this day whose vocals made it to the eventual 1000 Homo DJs EP, but the party line is that Al Jourgensen recut the vocals in a similar vein to Reznor's and released the record as per Reznor's wishes. An authorized version with Reznor's vocals was eventually released on the Wax Trax label's 10th anniversary box set, Black Box, in 1994, but some have argued that even the original bears a heavily distorted Reznor vocal rather than a recut Jourgensen one.

Whatever, they sound similar, which makes choosing one version over the other pretty fucking pointless. It's also a lot more upbeat and dance-worthy than the usual Ministry / NIN fare, so the EP as a whole is worth checking into, though it's often overpriced considering its brevity.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

1990: "Cradle of Love", Billy Idol

If you need an explanation of why this is one of the all time greatest music videos, you're probably too jaded by veritable reams of online fisting videos (yes, pus intended) to get the point.

"Cradle of Love" was released on both Idol's fourth studio album, Charmed Life, and also the soundtrack to the heavily promoted bomb, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. It was also by far Idol's last major hit, a sort of sex kitten video oasis in a desert of indifference that stretched back to Idol's prior outing, the frankly underrated Whiplash Smile, an oasis that would turn immediately back to endless sand on his next single... a dubious cover of "L.A. Woman".

Billy would go on to stake his claim to retro hipster credentials with a notable cameo in Adam Sandler's 1998 box office hit The Wedding Singer and, years later, an anarchic appearance on MTV's Viva La Bam, but otherwise even a reunion with guitarist Steve Stevens in 2005 generated little interest outside the nostalgia circuit.

Monday, August 9, 2010

1990: "Corner Store", Jonathan Richman

While we're being all retro... "Corner Store" was originally recorded in a more upbeat rendition on Jonathan Richman's 1986 album It's Time For, but I think this more stripped down Americana version from 1990's Jonathan Goes Country serves the humorous yet wistful lyrics better.

1990: "Texas Eyes", Guana Batz

When the Guana Batz hit the English psychobilly scene in 1982, the Cramps and the Meteors were about the only other bands of note thinking along the same lines. That situation would change dramatically in the ensuing years, but the Guana Batz always hewed a little closer to traditional rockabilly themes and never became completely unhinged the way the Cramps preferred it.

1990: "Drunk Daddy", Cherry Poppin' Daddies

Years later, they would be eclipsed by newer swing revival bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, but if anyone got there first it was Eugene, Oregon's Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Formed in 1989, the Daddies emerged out of the much more popular ska tradition, but though they did in fact dabble in both ska and swing (and any other genre that would support the liberal use of saxophone), even on their 1990 debut, Ferociously Stoned, swing music dominated.

1990: "King of Love", Dave Edmunds

Dave Edmunds may not have been an incendiary soloist but there was nothing about his rhythm work that ever disappointed. And he could still rip off a few quality leads in a rockabilly vein when he needed to.

1990: "As the Years Go Passing By", Gary Moore

More guitar hero swellness, from a guy who admittedly didn't always not suck. I mean, shit, look at that photo:

1990: "Moanjam", King's X

Hush, child, we'll get to Martika's sophomore album (no slump in sight, natch) by and by. But first, anytime King's X stop singing about Jesus or being pussy whipped it's time to sit up and take notice. Especially when they uncharacteristically go into 60s jam band mode in the middle of it.

1990: "Pocahontas Was Her Name", Thee Headcoats

Speaking of one Billy Childish:

1990: "Half Man Half Boy", Thee Hypnotics

Not everything Thee Hypnotics did reveled in 60s garage rock filth to this extent, but twenty years later "Half Man Half Boy" is still one of the greatest neo-garage tunes to not have the name Billy Childish associated with it.

1990: "Nancy Boy Cocaine Whore Blues", Cows

If ever there were a genre that made either introduction or explanation pointless, enter noise rock:

1990: "Whitlam Square", Died Pretty

Died Pretty were another long standing Aussie band that began in the mid-80s and have never broken up, but their relatively conventional roots rock sound never really distinguished the band from countless others plying the same trade a quarter century ago, so to this day they remain a pleasant diversion and nothing more, certainly mix tape worthy but you definitely wouldn't want to queue up multiple full length albums back-to-back or anything.

1990: "Cool Fire", Beasts of Bourbon

Man, at this point I'm actually much further ahead on the listening curve then I am in actually posting worthy singles, so apologies in advance if these next few are fairly sparse on the background material. While playing catch up I'll try to limit myself to stuff that maybe didn't warrant a novel's worth of explanatory captioning to begin with.

This first one is by Beasts of Bourbon, one of the many 80s bands from Australia still keeping the faith. For those of you unfamiliar with any Oz bands aside from INXS and AC/DC, the 80s in Australia was largely dominated by the twin strains of garage rock and an obsession with rural Americana, the latter usually twisted into some sort of gothic folk in the vein of Nick Cave. BoB pretty much dabbled in both of these things.

1990: ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: "Violator", Depeche Mode

You can hate Depeche Mode altogether if you're just determined to do so, but if you hold the band in even the slightest regard - and you're not just trying to score hipster points by being contrary - you surely recognize their 1990 effort Violator as the peak of the band's artistic talents.

Such was the wealth of goodness surrounding this album's release and the attendant b-sides that we can afford to completely ignore the actual singles altogether. So in no particular order of greatness:

"Blue Dress"

"Waiting for the Night"


I didn't even know there was a promo video made for this song until just now, but I don't think I'm cheating by not considering this a "hit" single. Watch it now before WB swoops in with their caped attorneys and snuffs this clip for good, at which point I'll naturally have to replace it with one of those bullshit camera phone live vids.


"Dangerous" is one of the catchier and most well known of DM's b-sides, but frankly I have no problem with it not making the cut on the album. Whereas Violator was largely a step into new, artsier territory for the band, "Dangerous" sounded pretty retro by comparison.

DM may have been getting largely away from dance beats on their albums, but the singles often found them immersing themselves in the latest club sounds, which in 1990 meant full on techno.

"Kaleid [remix]"

1990: "Merry Go Round (live)", The Replacements [Paul Westerberg]

OK, if we go any further with industrial at this point I'm going to have to listened to Consolidated's empty sloganeering over skeletal, half assed beats, and I don't think I'm up for that this early in the week so let's opt for something with a little more warmth / charm, shall we?

I take it the Replacements need no introduction. At least I fucking hope not, since 1990's All Shook Down was their very last album, and easily their spottiest artistically, at least since they got over that early hardcore period that most fans try to pretend doesn't exist. Nonetheless, a handful of nuggets abound this late in the game, and frankly you'd better get used to inconsistency before you try to navigate Paul Westerberg's solo career.

I really wanted to do "My Little Problem" but couldn't find a Youtube clip and I'm publishing remote today, so maybe I'll make my own and circle back to the 'Mats in the future. Speaking of Westerberg, you're going to have to settle for a solo rendition of my alternate choice, "Merry Go Round", since Warner Brothers have a monopoly on the official video for the song and naturally that means the embedding is disabled. Bastard sons of a thousand whores!

1990: "Danger", X Marks the Pedwalk

Coming in at the harder, more abrasive end of the EBM sound a la Skinny Puppy, X Marks the Pedwalk lifted their seemingly nonsensical moniker from a Fritz Leiber story, which is about as far as we looked into it since WKMR are not SF fans (besides, they're German, what more do you need to know?). XMTP were the first signing to then new Zoth Ommog Records, which arguably was the greatest and most influential of the industrial labels in the 1990s, despite not surviving that decade. One could also make the case for Metropolis Records, but Cleopatra can kiss our low rent asses.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

1990: "Money Is Not Our God", Killing Joke

Rebounding hard after a couple of uncharacteristically abysmal albums, Killing Joke hit it out of the park with Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions. "Money Is Not Our God" was probably the most political and anthemic song they would release until 1996's "Democracy". "Is your answer yes or no to these painful truths?"

1990: "Liebeslied", KMFDM

Naive was KMFDM's fourth album and their breakthrough. It was a late victim in the Sample Wars, having been taken off the market three years after release due to a belated copyright claim over the use of Carl Orff's "Oh Fortuna" in the song "Liebeslied". The album would eventually be completely overhauled and remixed - not just the offending "Liebeslied" - and re-released in 1994 as Naive/Hell to Go. In 2006, the album was reissued again with both the original + remixed version of all the extant tracks with the exception of "Liebeslied", which was included sans "Oh Fortuna" sample. Well, fuck that, here's the 1990 out-of-print original intact.

1990: "Get Down Make Love", Nine Inch Nails

Alright, Brits have gotten enough love recently. Time to move on to some industrial.

Nine Inch Nails didn't release an album in 1990 but the singles culled from Pretty Hate Machine were just tapering off, Sin being the last and historically the least successful. So I'm reaching to include this, as it's a mere b-side to the Sin CD single, but when Trent Reznor decides to cover Queen it's worth a look.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

1990: SPOTLIGHT - Ride

For the most part, the objective here on WKMR is to cherry pick either the best or equally good but less well known tracks from a band's annual efforts in mixtape fashion... typically it's considered bad form and uncreative to stack a bunch of back-to-back songs from a band on a mixtape - even more so if they're from the same album or year - but in certain rare cases a band may be so prolific in a given era that they warrant a spotlight of their own.

Since we're trailing off on the first wave of shoegaze material from 1990, this seems an opportune time to inaugurate the Spotlight feature with the most prolific of those bands at the turn of the decade: Ride.

Like Swervedriver, Ride were from Oxford as well, sporting a neo-psych take on layered Britpop that differentiated them from the rest of their peers. They debuted in January 1990 with a self titled EP from which the following pair of songs is culled:

Both Ride and the subsequent Play EPs were repackaged for the US market as the Smile compilation. "Like a Daydream" is taken from the latter EP.

The following were present on all versions of Ride's debut long player, Nowhere. The 60's-style harmonies are noticeably offset by a decidedly post punk melodic sensibility.

And finally, these two were initially released on the Fall EP, which came out in September 1990, one month before the Nowhere album, and the entire Fall EP was appended to the CD release of the debut album. "Dreams Burn Down" in particular simultaneously looks back at the aching dream pop of Cocteau Twins while also anticipating the weighty ballast of 00s post-metal, as exemplified by Isis and many other bands on the Hydra Head roster.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

1990: "Son of Mustang Ford", Swervedriver

Probably the band that brought the Dinosaur Jr influences to the forefront in the shoegaze scene, Swervedriver's debut EP at times even seems to anticipate the more commercial strains of grunge a couple of years later. "Son of Mustang Ford" certainly sounds more like a band from Boston or the Pacific Northwest than they do one from Oxford, England. But really if there was one thing shoegaze and grunge had in common, it was that both represented disparate groups of bands united only by geography and an exploratory enthusiasm for distortion pedals.

1990: "Avalyn 2", Slowdive

Emerging from the same Reading scene that produced Chapterhouse, Slowdive were their own animal, the songs more of a dense, atmospheric husk than the deconstructed pop song favored by many of their shoegaze counterparts. One can hear the influence on later post-metal bands like Isis and Jesu on songs such as "Avalyn 2". The Slowdive EP was the original demo that got the band signed to Creation - the "other" label that fought 4AD for dominance of the shoegaze scene during this period - and was more of a precursor to the slew of canonical studio recordings the band would begin churning out in 1991.

1990: "Half Life", Pale Saints

The Pale Saints were another shoegaze band signed to 4AD Records, home of Lush and the forefathers of the shoegaze movement, Cocteau Twins. The Saints' ethereal vocals were achieved less through layers of special effects and more through singer Ian Masters' wispy, paper thin croon. The band's Paisley Underground influences were reflected in a cover of Opal's "Fell From the Sun" off their 1990 debut long player, The Comforts of Madness. This song is the title track off an EP of non-album tracks released that same year.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

1990: "Sweetness and Light", Lush

Of all the shoegaze bands, Lush probably came the closest to representing the perfect blend of the genre's two most direct influences, My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins. In keeping with the British custom of the times, Lush produced several EPs and singles beginning in 1989 - the Sweetness and Light EP being their third release - before finally releasing a full length album in 1992. They later broke up in early 1998 after drummer Chris Acland committed suicide.

1990: "Falling Down", Chapterhouse

Here's another one that initially appeared on an EP prior to making the track list for a later full length. Chapterhouse were a short lived yet influential shoegaze band out of Reading. Recording only two LPs and a clutch of singles and EPs, 1990 began a brief four year span of material before the band called it a day. Chapterhouse have reformed a few times in the last couple of years for festivals and brief tours, but there has been no word of a new studio album.

Monday, July 26, 2010

1990: "Soon", My Bloody Valentine

Sorry for the lengthy delay between posts. Computer crapped out and it took me a minute to get my files transferred from the old desktop to the new laptop. Not that anyone is reading this anyway so disclaimers are kind of irrelevant at this point.

Figured a logical place to follow up my Madchester mini-fest was to take a closer look at the emerging Shoegaze scene, one that - while not as regionally based - was still largely a UK phenomenon. The descriptor "shoegaze" itself would later go on to be loosely ascribed to a lot of the grunge and American alternative bands who chose ostensible onstage shyness as a sort of visual aesthetic, but initially with the British groups it had a more functional purpose: these bands drenched their music in such thick, relentless washes of guitar effects that it required constant diligence on their stompboxes.

One could name all sorts of precursors to the shoegaze sound, from the Velvet Underground to their ancestors the Jesus and Mary Chain, from the wistful, opaque dream pop of the Cocteau Twins to the suffocating sheets of guitar feedback utilized by Dinosaur Jr.; but there's really only one band that deserves credit for kickstarting the shoegaze scene, and that is My Bloody Valentine. Emerging from Dublin in the mid-80s, MBV began releasing a steady stream of EPs and singles beginning in 1985. The fact that an album wasn't to be seen until late 1988 was indicative of the band's struggle to find an identity, flitting fitfully between goth, neo-psychedelia and the then-popular C86 sound before ditching original singer Dave Conroy and moving into more of a dense pop direction with 1987's Strawberry Wine EP.

Signing to major label Creation in 1988, that year's Isn't Anything full length established MBV immediately as a force to be reckoned with. Most of the bands coming out of the UK - and especially Dublin, home of U2 - were still employing either cavernous, ringing chords or jangly, punk folk acoustic strumming atop earnest lyrics of personal or political strife... Isn't Anything was the antithesis of that, a thick soup of guitar feedback and distant, ethereal vocals espousing narcotic daydreams that could barely be made out beneath the din.

The year 1990 found the band not only scene veterans by that point, but it was also the tipping point where they had far more work behind them than they had left in the tanks for the future. All in all, 1990 was a relatively quite year for My Bloody Valentine, sort of a calm before the storm in advance of their masterpiece and final album, Loveless, as well as a slew of farewell singles the following year. The Glider EP would be the only thing released by the band in 1990. "Soon" would later be ported over intact to the Loveless album, so it may seem like I'm cheating a bit including it here, but there will be plenty else to cover when we get to 1991... and, besides, it DID appear here first.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

1990: "One Love", Stone Roses

If there was one band that could rival Happy Mondays for dominance on the Madchester front, it was the Stone Roses. Like the Mondays, the Roses' longevity stretched back to a 1985 single, making them equal opportunity scene vets by 1990. But whereas the Happy Mondays had a fairly good run before fizzling out, the Stone Roses only ever got around to recording two albums, and five years apart at that. "One Love" was a non-album single (there were many of those, which is why there have literally been 3-4x more Stone Roses compilations released than studio albums), and a fairly successful one at that, reaching #4 on the UK singles chart and even hitting a fairly respectable #9 on the Alternative chart in the largely Britpop-indifferent US.

1990: "Crescendo", James

James is frequently lumped in with the Madchester crowd due to geographical proximity more than anything, but truthfully there was little on the band's first two albums that even settled down into a focused aesthetic at all, let alone the Madchester sound specifically. That focus started to coalesce substantially on 1990's Gold Mother (issued in the US as a self titled album), but there were still few overt dance or acid influences... the closest James got to the Madchester sound was the strident, epic pop of "Crescendo".

1990: "The Only One I Know", The Charlatans

A relative latecomer to the Madchester scene, 1990 marked the first recorded appearance of the Charlatans in any form. Adding elements of dream pop into their 60s psych-influenced sound, their debut, Some Friendly, was masterfully produced by Chris Nagle, bringing out the melody of the songwriting while providing a propulsive backbeat and wrapping the vocals in a sort of aural gauze. "The Only One I Know" was rewarded with a #9 placement in the UK singles chart.

1990: "Kinky Afro", Happy Mondays

It's not hyperbole to refer to the Happy Mondays as the most heralded band to come out of the Madchester scene. They were also one of the oldest, 1990's Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyache being their third album, with singles stretching all the way back to 1985. Much of the band's notoriety stemmed from volatile singer Shaun Ryder's drug fueled antics, but as those are well documented in the must see film 24 Hour Party People I'll leave it to your Netflix queue to fill you in on those details.

"Step On" has been handed down over the years as the most famous song from this album, but covering the obvious is not how WKMR rolls. Besides, "Kinky Afro" matched the #5 British chart placement of its album mate at the time, even if it is slightly less well known in 2010, unless you're a Madchester/Britpop scholar (which you fucking well should be).