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).

1990: "She Comes in the Fall", Inspiral Carpets

From Kiwi pop to Britpop, which was largely synonymous with the "Madchester" scene by the dawn of the 90s. Almost singularly an outgrowth of the sounds coming out of Manchester's infamous Haçienda Club - founded by Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson, both overseers of Factory Records, the label from which many of the Haçienda bands originated - the Madchester sound was a mix of traditional, guitar based pop combined with dance music elements. On paper that sounds a lot like what New Order (Factory/Haçienda alumni in their own right) were doing in the early 80s, but for the most part few Madchester bands used drum machines or boat loads of synth effects, instead utilizing traditional percussion to produce frantic, big beats as well as old school organs and analog keyboards in more of a 60s throwback fashion.

Like the Flying Nun bands of New Zealand, many of the Madchester bands had been releasing singles for several years before getting around to producing a proper album. Inspiral Carpets not only fit that mold, but they'd actually been gigging for several years before they even put out a single. Formed in 1983 in more of a punk rock vein, the first recorded evidence of the band's existence was a 1987 flexi-disc, followed the next year by the Planecrash EP. 1989 saw a wealth of singles, leading up to the new decade's Life album. A brilliant all around effort defying genre conventions, the timeless hooks and broad influences preempt the album from ever sounding like a product of its era. "This Is How It Feels" is an equally stellar song and worth checking out, but for the purposes of this blog the only studio clip found on Youtube had the embedding disabled. Still, you should go look for it, but only after you've absorbed and digested every single archival entry on White Knuckle Mustache Rides first.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Flying Nun: "Heavenly Pop Hits" documentary

There are several other Flying Nun bands who put out noteworthy releases in 1990 that I'm unable to find streaming media for, so while I put together a few Youtube videos of my own and circle back to the New Zealand scene later on down the line, here's an excellent, full length documentary on this influential kiwi label.

1990: "Uncoffined", The Terminals

One of the least characteristic Flying Nun bands, the Terminals were much darker and acid rock influenced, their vision of "pop" being somewhat more dissonant and obtuse. 1990 also saw the first Terminals album, Uncoffined, but unlike several of the previous Flying Nun groups who were still new to the album format at the turn of the decade, the Terminals were not a longstanding singles band, having only previously released one EP in 1988.

Uncoffined would be their final release for Flying Nun. They would go on to release several more albums for different labels before breaking up sometime after 1995's Little Things. A reunion record, Last Days of the Sun, was issued in 2007, but the band's current status is unknown.

1990: "Angry Martyr", Able Tasmans

Able Tasmans, named after Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who discovered the island of New Zealand, were another band that reveled in Flying Nun's production style and art pop aesthetic, though they brought more of a folksy jangle to the table... as witnessed on 1990's "Angry Martyr". The Tasmans would release several more albums of slightly diminishing returns before breaking up in 1996.

1990: "Log", Tall Dwarfs

Chris Knox' Tall Dwarfs (sic) were pioneers of the lo fi movement but still retained the pop enthusiasm that characterized their Flying Nun label mates. Many of their songs eschew percussion in favor of "found" sounds and non-traditional instrumentation, as "Log" epitomizes. 1990's Weeville was the first proper Tall Dwarfs album but, again, like many other Flying Nun bands they had released a wealth of singles throughout the prior decade.

1990: "Diamond Shine", The Clean

The Clean were the second band to record for NZ's Flying Nun (the first being the otherwise undistinguished Pin Group) and the label's first breakout hit, "Tally Ho" reaching #19 on the NZ pop charts in 1981. By 1990 the Clean had been around long enough to have broken up for several years, and Vehicle would be their first reunion album (the band have continued unabated ever since). Primarily a singles group in their early years, the Clean - even more so than most of their label mates - would remain an obscurity outside of New Zealand until prominent indie rock bands of the 90s (Pavement, Yo La Tengo, etc) began acknowledging them as an influence.

1990: "Heavenly Pop Hit", The Chills

Anchored by Flying Nun, one of the premier post-punk record labels of the 80s, the New Zealand indie pop scene flourished in the cities of Christchurch and Dunedin from the label's founding in 1981 up through the present. Nearly every NZ band of note recorded for Flying Nun at one point or another - their only real competition at the time being Propeller Records - and, though most of these bands would remain largely unknown to US audiences during that first decade, in hindsight the region was cultivating some of the most innovative, artistically successful neo-pop of the age (a loose international corollary would be Scotland's Postcard Records, another indie label whose bands mined a cohesive yet individualistic aesthetic).

The Chills were not the first group to record for Flying Nun - relatively speaking they were somewhat of a late arrival on the scene - but by 1990 they'd built up a large enough audience to jump ship to a major label for their third album, Submarine Bells (strictly speaking, it's their second actual album, Kaleidoscope Bells being a roundup of early singles). Fortunately the Chills suffered very little of the usual hurdles and misunderstandings that often befall major label signings, crafting what many consider to be the greatest effort of their career. "Heavenly Pop Hit", in particular, is one of their most beloved tunes for good reason.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

1990: "Murder Rap", Above the Law

Now we come to a group that I sincerely believe to be one of the all time great first wave gangsta rap ensembles, and possibly the most underrated of the 90s. First of all, there is a very good case to be made that the G-funk sound made famous by Dr. Dre's The Chronic had already had the seed planted two years earlier with ATL's debut, Livin' Like Hustlers. Dre was assistant producer (with ATL's Cold 187um) and the album was issued on fellow N.W.A. alum Eazy E's Ruthless Records, so there is always the question of which producer had the most influence over the album's sound. Either way, even assuming Dre was the real mastermind this record nonetheless marks a stripped down, funk laden departure from his work with N.W.A., retaining the heavy beats but otherwise holding the samples to just one or two per track, and occasionally having live musicians recreate elements of a sample's instrumentation.

But regardless of whether ATL influenced a single other rapper or producer, the consistency and energy of their work is worth repeat dips to the well. Cold 187um's calm, steely delivery was fairly unique with his laid back style and penchant for rhyming words during any part of a line - beginning, middle or end:
When I sit down and write and recite for the mic I hold
Make sure my beats are loud, and bold, and Cold
187, that is my name, makin it simple and plain
Here to rearrange and change
The things that I didn't do in the past
Don't be surprised when you got a shotgun up your ass

None of ATL's trio of rappers - Cold 187um, KMG or Go Mack - were particularly gifted wordsmiths, but each had a gift for entertaining, crowd pleasing tales from the hood. Lyrically they weren't pioneers, but they immersed themselves in the gangsta narrative of the time and chewed the fuck out of the scenery with sincere enthusiasm. Livin' Like Hustlers would not turn out to be their greatest album - primarily because side two, where all the pimp tracks were concentrated, didn't quite live up to the brilliance of the gangsta tracks on side one - but it was a hell of a start.

1990: "Burn Baby Burn", 2 Black 2 Strong MMG

"So just hand me a flag from the fascists / and watch while I burn that motherfucker to ashes". Nearly impossible to imagine this song coming out in 2010, though I'm sure the sentiment still simmers in many corners of the ghetto. Not much known about this band, so not a lot to tell, but according to All Music Guide the Burn Baby Burn EP had to go through an alternate manufacturer, as the label's go-to pressing plant refused the order on the basis of the incendiary album cover. Otherwise the group put out a full length album the next year, Doin' Hard Time on Planet Earth, before the scattered members faded into obscurity. We'll be revisiting that album when the blog gets to 1991.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

1990: "Mind of a Lunatic", Geto Boys

In startling contrast to the lighthearted wordplay of Brand Nubian and A Tribe Called Quest is "Mind of a Lunatic" from the Geto Boys, to this day possibly the most fucked up set of hip hop lyrics ever recorded. Most of 1990's Geto Boys was simply a major label remix/repackage of the previous year's indie release Grip It On That Other Level, but I'm willing to cheat to shoehorn it in here because goddamn, it doesn't get much more bloodcurdling than this.

After an extremely terse musical introduction, Bushwick Bill kicks things off impatiently with an audibly gleeful romp through one of his favorite rape fantasies:
She begged me not to kill her, I gave her a rose
Then slit her throat, and watched her shake till her eyes closed
Had sex with the corpse before I left her
And drew my name on the wall like helter skelter

Scarface also has female problems of a sort, namely a run in with the cops after he's killed his girlfriend for getting strung out on coke (or it may be her mother who suffers his wrath, it's sort of unclear, but granny definitely gets offed when she tries to run interference). Rather than submit to arrest and whatever consequences that might entail, the erstwhile Brad Jordan decides to go out like Butch and Sundance instead:
No sheriff's gonna take me on a road
Dark as fuck, and let his pistols explode
Fuck that, cause I ain'ts to die
So I reloaded my uzi and fired up another fry
It got me crazy as fuck
A ragin psychotic full of that angel's dust

Willie Dee (frankly always the weakest rapper in the Geto Boys, and that includes his later replacement Big Mike) has no specific bloodthirsty tale to impart, but does articulate his misanthropic nature quite nicely:
November 1st 1966
A damn fool was born with the mind of a lunatic
I shoulda been killed
My sister fucked around and let me live

Who writes shit like this these muthafuckin' days? They just don't make 'em like they used to.

1990: "All for One", Brand Nubian

Another socially conscious hip hop ensemble debuting on record in 1990, Brand Nubian was not affiliated with the Native Tongues Posse - despite also being from NY - but if anything were much more Afrocentric than their Tongues peers. "All for One", built around a trio of James Brown samples, is more of a braggadocio rap than a politically motivated exegesis, but it demonstrates Grand Puba, Sadat X and crew capable of cutting loose and creating party jams as well as social consciousness tracks. It's also amusing to note just how carefree and non-threatening hip hop could be at the dawn of the 90s.

1990: "If the Papes Come", A Tribe Called Quest

Anchored by a bass heavy sample of Lou Donaldson's classic "Pot Belly", this early b-side from A Tribe Called Quest is as illustrative of the group's influential dabbling in jazz as anything that made the debut, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. The sample would go on the following year to be utilized prominently in tracks by Compton's Most Wanted ("Driveby Miss Daisy") and Ice Cube ("Horny Lil Devil") and even later a wealth of other hip hop cuts (including Dr. Dre's "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" off his immortal The Chronic LP).

A late addition to the Native Tongues Posse - whose De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers already had records in the stores by 1990 - ATCQ were arguably the first hip hop group to invest heavily in jazz as a source of breakbeats. In comparison, Gang Starr beat Tribe to putting out an album in 1989, but that first record, No More Mr. Nice Guy, is largely built on traditional funk/r&b beats and is not particularly representative of their later, more popular core sound. ATCQ was pretty much knocking shit out of the park from day one.

"If the Papes Come" - again, a b-side off of the "Can I Kick It?" single and not originally an album cut - is most commonly found these days off 1999's The Anthology; but that first album, which sported "Bonita Applebaum" and "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" in addition to "Can I Kick It?", is a bona fide classic in its own right, and well worth hearing from start to finish.

BONUS: "Pot Belly" by Lou Donaldson

1990: "Doe", The Breeders

Kim Deal's lack of contributions may have made Bossanova a one dimensional Pixies record, but Pod proved Deal could beat Black Francis at his own game. Recruiting Tanya Donnelly from the Throwing Muses seemed like a masterstroke on paper, but in the end Donnelly's co-writing credits were limited to a single song, so from an artistic standpoint the Breeders were Kim Deal's baby from the start... a fact that undoubtedly fed into the Pixies' early demise as the last couple Pixies albums would essentially become Frank Black solo projects anyway.

So in the end, instead of another certified Pixies masterpiece we got two alumni records that were merely excellent. Btw, I have no fucking idea what's going on in this video, but the only other studio version that popped up on Youtube had terrible sound, so I decided to risk the "wtf?" factor to bring you better tuneage.

1990: "Is She Weird", Pixies

Pound for Pound Bossanova may not have been the smorgasbord of innovation and catchy tunes as the previous year's Doolittle, but songs like "Velouria" and "Havalina" proved that "Black Francis" aka Frank Black could still pen a jittery, melodic ditty when he wanted to (Kim Deal, while still a member of the Pixies, had started funneling her songwriting efforts into the Breeders, so all of Bossanova's 14 tracks - save a cover of the Surftones' "Cecilia Ann" - bear Black's authorship).

"Is She Weird" is a prime example of Black's outsider imagery and surrealist lyrics, observing "your heart is ripshit / your mouth is everywhere / I'm lying in it". It's best not to think too deeply on such matters.

1990: "In the Summer", The Fastbacks

A timely seasonal ditty from the vastly underrated Fastbacks. One of the earliest Seattle indie rock bands, the 'backs formed in 1979, recording sporadically throughout the 80s, going through one revolving door lineup after another, before settling into a prolific groove for the duration of the 90s. The band broke up in 2001 with singer/bassist Kim Warnick leaving to co-found Visqueen. Guitarist Kurt Bloch has primarily focused on production work since the group's demise.

1990: "Doesn't Anyone Believe", The Sidewinders

Tucson's Sidewinders never quite figured out whether they wanted to keep the fading jangle pop thing going, ply their trade in MOR-ready frat rock or emulate late period Replacements (choices which are not necessarily incompatible, mind you). "Doesn't Anyone Believe" finds them going the former route to decent if not stellar effect. Shortly afterward the band would find itself in a protracted lawsuit with a group that went by Sidewinder (note the singular) and would eventually change their own name to the Sand Rubies.

Really more than anything this song/band represents a sort of transition between the "college rock" of the 80s and a lot of the post-grunge, acoustic-heavy alternative bands of the mid-90s (ie. Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows, hell, even Better Than Ezra to an extent).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

1990: "Shove", L7

Not that Courtney Love and Kat Bjelland were the only formerly interrelated band members attempting to establish themselves with a similar sound. Jennifer Finch had also played with Love and Bjelland in Sugar Baby Doll. As it turns out, L7 were first to make it to record with 1988's L7, but at this point it's nearly impossible to unravel which of these women was most instrumental in defining the sandblasted, grunge punk sound all three bands would become associated with, or to what extent the evolution was a group effort.

"Shove" was the lead off single from 1990's Smell the Magic

1990: "Swamp Pussy", Babes in Toyland

In fairness to Courtney Love, she and Kat Bjelland played together in several unrecorded bands before going their separate ways to form Hole and Babes in Toyland, respectively, but though both women argued incessantly over whom originally came up with the tattered baby doll look and throat shredding punk sound both bands early became known for, it seems that the majority of their mutual bandmates side with Bjelland on this issue. Either way, it's hard to argue that Love wasn't the first to cash in her underground credentials.

1990: "Retard Girl", Hole

1990 also marked the debut, non-album single from Hole. Listeners only familiar with "Doll Parts" and "Malibu" may be surprised at the heavy, almost noise rock quality of this early offering, but before we go giving Courtney Love too much credit our next entry will show where a huge chunk of her "influence" came from. This is still a pretty strong debut, any way you slice it, though.

1990: "Not a Lot to Save", Gruntruck

A sadly forgotten grunge band as (potentially) mainstream as Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, Gruntruck sported a couple of Skin Yard castoffs (Ben McMillan - vocals, guitar; Scott McCullum - drums) and guitarist Tom Niemayer of local splatterpunks The Accused. Gruntruck came front loaded with a shitload of promise, opening for the likes of Pantera and AiC before signing a long term deal with metal heavyweight Roadrunner Records, but success never panned out for the band, and after starting off the 1990s with a pair of well produced albums, the band spent the middle part of the decade battling to get out of their fruitless contract with Roadrunner.

In 1996, Gruntruck finally became free again and released one last three song EP through an indie label, but in the ensuing years their momentum had been lost, their second wave grunge sound had become antiquated, and the band amicably went their separate ways. Frontman Ben McMillan died in 2008, most likely dooming this once mighty group's legacy to a grunge footnote. Too bad.

1990: "Black Glove", The Fluid

C/Z may (or may not) have gotten to grunge first, but Sub Pop was quicker to break out of the Pac NW market, signing Denver act The Fluid - as grunge as any motherfuckers outside of Seattle - to a deal in time to release their 1988 record, Clear Black Paper. Since I'm starting this blog at 1990 there's a lot of early grunge shit being overlooked, but this song from 1990's Glue EP shows The Fluid was still kicking strong several releases into their career.

1990: "Loser", Tad

Speaking of Tad, a pretty worthy follow up to Skin Yard. Tad - named after frontman Tad Doyle but intended to be separately considered as a band name - could retrospectively be written off as a too-sloppy-for-primetime sister band to the Melvins, but these early recordings were largely of their time: heavy on the treble and bass with as much of the mid-range scooped out as possible, this was largely an attempt to embrace 70s metal while still roughly adhering to punk's aesthetic values (an ethos Black Flag's My War and subsequent recordings went a long way toward fostering)

1990: "Ritual Room", Skin Yard

As if to emphasize the extent to which the metallic, Stooges-meet-Sabbath vibe dominated the Pac NW scene prior to Nirvana's mainstream breakthrough, consider Skin Yard. One of the oldest Seattle bands peddling what would later be called grunge, Skin Yard formed in 1985 and by 1986 had already released their first album on C/Z Records (the label that issued the seminal proto-grunge comp Deep Six in March of 1986 and arguably the first full blown grunge label period).

Apologies in advance for the shoddy recording quality of this clip, but Skin Yard just never got enough love to warrant preservation of their performances, apparently. I wanted this song in particular since it has that perfect mix of Mudhoney's screeching vocal mannerisms and Tad's bottom heavy Sabbath worship.

After releasing 1990's Fist Sized Chunks - from which "Ritual Room" is taken - Skin Yard stuck around until 1993, releasing two more poor selling records before finally conceding to lack of interest in the shadows of their peers.

1990: "Real Thing", Alice in Chains

People who think that Nirvana's Nevermind came along in Sept. 1991 and single handedly vanquished the hitherto indestructible hair metal scene often forget one important thing: bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden had already established themselves as staples on heavy metal radio and Headbanger's Ball more than a year prior to that.

In fact, looking back from the vantage point of someone who was immersed in metal to the exclusion of all else at the time, bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden largely fit in with an amorphous clump of disparate, "artsy" metal that was becoming prominent in the late 80s... Faith No More, Primus, Warrior Soul, King's X, etc. Admittedly, there was little mainstream buzz around the word "grunge" or a Seattle scene until post-Nevermind, but whether or not hair metal was still a healthy concern in its own right by late 1991 is a subject I hope to tackle in more depth later.

Facelift is less focused than subsequent Alice in Chains efforts but already demonstrates a consistent flair for songwriting. A listen to their early demos, which finds the band flailing between their polished, hair metal roots and the moodier angst of their Columbia Records stint, offers a pretty solid education into the different musical directions they struggled through at the time.

"Real Thing" - coincidentally also the title of Faith No More's breakthrough album - was one of the more uncharacteristic songs on Facelift, which by default makes it one of the strangest entries in the entire AiC catalog. An apocalyptic death-blues number, what it lacks in innovation lyrically it more than demonstrates in guitarist Jerry Cantrell's flair with a riff... probably AiC's biggest ace in the hole this early in their career.

1990: "Bone China", Mother Love Bone

Grunge seems like as good a place as any to start the dawn of the 90s. It's funny: we look back now and see grunge as a fairly cohesive sound (due in large part to a lot of grunge-influenced bands that later sprung up, consolidating hard rock radio into a post-grunge landscape that narrowed it all down to the heavier Seattle groups like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden; see Bush, Sponge, Stone Temple Pilots, etc). But at the time the Pacific Northwest was hardly in agreement on what "grunge" should sound like (or even that there should be such an umbrella term at all). The common denominator was that it was once again OK to be into metal as well as punk... but the format and the proportions with which that alchemy was sought varied wildly from one group to another.

Perhaps the most traditional of all the bands retroactively described as capital-g Grunge were Mother Love Bone. The band had already outgrown any overt hair metal leanings before making it to record, but their solution wasn't so much a punked up hybrid of Sabbath and Black Flag as a modernized, contemporary updating of the bombastic 70s arena rock sound (a musical vein Janes Addiction had been mining on their own terms further south). This was a far cry from Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament's prior band, Green River, but following MLB frontman Andrew Wood's heroin overdose in March 1990, the duo would go on to form Pearl Jam, itself a successful marriage of dirty punk squalor and soaring arena rock.

Time to get this fucker started...

This blog has had a long gestation period, to say the least. I've been meaning to start a music site focusing on new releases for over a year now (and yes, in all that time this was still the best title I came up with). The problem is I was - and still am - locked into this long term project that necessarily saps all my free time if I'm ever to make any headway on it.

My goal is to systematically go through year by year and listen to every album I can get my hands on, whether I have to beg, borrow or... before you say "steal" you'd be surprised what can turn up in a decent public library, especially one with a stagnant backlog of vinyl sitting around (so "plausible deniability" and all that, if you must). I won't bore you with my methodology but the fact that it took me over two years to finish the 80s should give you some idea of my no-bullshit comprehensiveness.

Recently I finished the 80s, and I figured since I'll probably never get around to otherwise starting this blog if I wait until I catch up to the present day - and can thus start devoting the majority of my time to new releases again - it seemed like a good idea to go ahead and kick this off now, sort of a running commentary on my music education from 1990 forward. When we eventually reach 2011, 2012, whatever the hell year it is when I reach that contemporaneous singularity, it'll be strictly new shit from that point forward. In the meantime I hope everyone enjoys the ride, but if you don't... fuck it, this blog would have been dead air for the next year or so anyway.