Faltering start and angel harmonies, that has to be Iceland’s finest: last time I saw a train, this time my nose bleeds. Sigur Rós kind of started off slowly, debuting three years after being founded with Von (1997, Hope). A real good beginning came with the break-through second album two years later, opening some doors for them, like releasing an album containing eight untitled tracks sung in a made-up language. Takk… became their fourth album, blending the previous two and featuring three vigorous singles.
New York indie quartet that originally started as (singer/keyboardplayer) Ed Droste’s solo project. Not seeing himself develop any further as a singer-songwriter, he transformed Grizzly Bear into a classic rock line-up on the second album: Yellow House (2006). They quickly developed their characteristic sound, injecting vocal harmonies based folk rock with a little bit of psychedelia by using some unorthodox electronic instruments. No wonder they were signaled by Radiohead, for whom they (just like Sigur Rós) opened a couple of shows during the summer of 2008. After this tour they started to record this third album, named after an uninhabited island and becoming a great success, this being one of the strongest tracks on it.
Sleazy sixties garage guitars in the intro, but the computerized rhythm of the drums transports us twenty years ahead: Echo & the Bunnymen. It was one of the two bands that rose from the remnants of A Shallow Madness, following a dispute between members Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch. Cope transformed ASM into The Teardrop Explodes and McCulloch formed Echo & the Bunnymen (1978) with a guitarist, bass player and drum computer. However, by the time this debut (produced by professional wacko Bill Drummond and The Teardrop Explodes’ David Balfe) was recorded the band was already joined by drummer Pete de Freitas.
Most famous opening and title track from the album on which The Beatles left their youth behind them by retrieving from their pop comfort zone and starting to incorporate influences from other artists and genres: the solid bridge towards Rubber Soul. The up-tempo song was initially meant to become a sober ballad written by a truly depressive John Lennon and in this way it can be viewed as a first minor step towards his later expressive work.
We prolong our stay at the penthouse of rock’s treasure chamber with Dylan’s 17th album. 1975 brought along the release of Blood on the Tracks as well as The Basement Tapes and the start of Dylan’s famous ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’-tour. Just before the start of this tour, Dylan had finished the recordings of Desire (featuring most of the supporting musicians on that tour) and released it in between of the two legs of the tour. One of those musicians was ex-Byrd Roger McGuinn, who had brought Dylan into contact with Jacques Levy, a psychologist, theatre director and… Dylan’s songwriting partner on Desire. ‘Isis’ was their first collaboration: a story about a man who leaves the mysterious Isis, goes treasure hunting, returns without loot and on top of that has to bury his deceased travelling-companion, completely in The Band’s ‘The Weight’-style.
Live recording from the song that originally appeared on the band’s fifth studio album Speaking in Tongues (1983), that was supported by the famous ‘Stop Making Sense’-tour. Speaking in Tongues ultimately succeeded Talking Heads’ 1980 masterpiece Remain in Light after a three years hiatus. During this period, Frantz and Weymouth kept recording with the Tom Tom Club while Brian Eno went his own way. No reunion possible in the future.
Second track on Mitchell’s magnum opus, with only Joni herself on vocals and piano. As can be induced from some lyrics on the album, some songs were written by Mitchell during a vacation around Europe she had after breaking up with Westcoast partner Graham Nash. Back in California, she was dumped by another usual suspect, James Taylor, after which Blue was recorded. Taylor even plays guitar on some of the tracks, just like Stephen Stills of course.
Another blue cover, with Metallica’s first attempt to make a power ballad, featuring an opening riff that would later inspire a lot of emo-shit that lacked Metallica’s hard core. The song itself would have inspired a lot of suicides, as Ulrich and Hetfield would have been obsessed by death at the time of recording. Whether some stolen gear and getting kicked out by your manager after drinking all his liquor is a legitimate reason for suicide or not, it still remains my favorite Metallica album.
Another Swamp, from Tool’s debut album this time. It must have been difficult for an album with such unorthodox song structures to compete with the booming grunge wave at that time but luckily K-Mart and Wal-Mart came to the rescue with the creation of some controversy about a couple of sleeve pictures. Noteworthy anecdote from the support tour: when Tool found out they had to play at a venue owned by Scientology’s Ron Hubbard, MJ Keenan ‘spent most of the show baa-ing like a sheep at the audience’. Gotta love them.
Instrumental from a very sweet album full of pieces of candy. Band that went a long way from the harder alternative rock in the eighties and early nineties to the ultimate pop sound on this ninth album. Not to mention its predecessor you had to play simultaneously on four separate stereo systems…
Although sounding like the Bakersfield sound with a small touch of Elvis Costello, it’s a real Texan singing here. Steve Earle spent his youth following his idol Townes Van Zandt throughout the Lone Star State and seemed to remain dubious about whether to stay there or move to Nashville, Tennessee for the rest of his life. This hesitation was translated into his music as being a mix of pure country and a rather raw Springsteenesk sound (Earle was in fact the working man people thought Springsteen was: having a daytime job and playing music at night). 1986 finally brought Earle his break-through with this debut album, recorded in Nashville and delivering two country hits (title track and this song). Later Earle received a Grammy for his anti-Iraq war album The Revolution Starts Now, with the title track being used for a TV commercial of… General Motors.
Same era, same country, totally different planet. Founded in 1981 after Thurston Moore joined his later wife Kim Gordon’s band, quickly accompanied by guitarist Lee Ranaldo. Like often, the position of the drummer would remain unstable for a few years, on the noisy and experimental debut album Confusion Is Sex (1983, moderate success in Europe) as well as the dark and gloomy Bad Moon Rising (1985). Not coincidentally, they are finally recognized in their home country with their third album EVOL (1986), after Steve Shelley had become the unchallenged drummer and Sonic Youth definitely opts for alternative rock with a melodic touch. This fourth album, which I consider not a highlight, was recorded during EVOL’s supporting tour. However, everything (even the introduction of a loose concept) pointed to the fact that the band was working his way towards another peak, which was released the next year.
Beta Band, Broken Social Scene? It’s the instrumental closing track of Sufjan Stevens’ most notorious album, in contrast with the works of his mentioned indie-colleagues containing a serious dose of pop and baroque. Illinois is full of affluent pop arrangements, shaping the musical background for lots of places, people and historic events that took place in that state, and all composed with instruments played by the prodigy himself. Already on his debut album (A Sun Came, 2000), he brings together 14 instruments. After giving electronic influences a try on his second album, he starts his so-called ‘Fifty States Project’, an ambitious idea that (just like Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley-plan) quickly goes through the shredder. Instead, after Michigan (2003) and Illinois, Stevens accepts an even greater challenge by trying to appreciate Christmas. Can’t call him a coward.
Third single from the album after ‘Woodstock’ (Mitchell) and ‘Teach Your Children’ (Nash), another super soft song from Nash written when he lived with Joni Mitchell in LA’s Laurel Canyon. Contrary to the other album tracks, which were rerecorded numerous times until the four excellences considered them good enough to release them (this way easily lifting the total studio recording time over 500 hours), this song was written in about an hour according to Nash.
Another couple of flawless harmonies, in the version that closes side A on this record. The album is often called the most ‘intellectual’ one from the duo, and the sober, nerdy album cover is completely in line with that idea. Paul Simon was struck by a writer’s block after the release of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966), but came back with this half concept-album, depicting the course of life from childhood till old age on side A. It became a musical triumph especially for Simon, who, thanks to outdated contract terms (the label paid for the sessions, assuming that a folk duo will never cost that much) chose to push all limits. Completely in CSNY-style, Simon brought the recordings to perfection, not shying away from spending 50 studio hours on a barely two minutes lasting song. Still, because of the two different sides, the album sounds a little incoherent: why not use both sides for the concept? Did the label want ‘Mrs. Robinson’ to be on it to earn back the high production costs?
Third song from the excellent fourth album, with a Celtic touch due to the mystical intro (folky Plant with mandolin). It will always remain the only Led Zeppelin song featuring a guest vocalist, Sandy Denny from Fairport Convention, in duet with Robert Plant. Led Zeppelin didn’t end up coincidentally with her, as she was considered an authority in the field of traditional British folk back then. The fact that Led Zep moved from London to a Victorian cottage in East Hampshire for the recordings of this record, will without any doubt have to do something with this revived interest in traditional folk.
Characterizing bells and piano-intro, followed by a howling scream of the master himself: this is the real Springsteen. Just like Led Zeppelin on Headley Grange and Bob Dylan in the basement of Big Pink, Springsteen withdrew to a farm in New Jersey after the success of Born to Run and the lingering conflict with his former manager Mike Appel. That’s why it lasted three years before Springsteen came up with the successor of his big break-through album, which was considerably less bombastic (as reflected by the sober album cover). Most of the material from the sessions by the way didn’t end up on the album, but was lent out to other artists or released on The River (1980). Luckily this third track was not rejected, as it remains one of his unrivalled classics.
Of course The Beatles also withdrew to distant places now and then, like in 1968: it was down in Rishikesh, India where most of the material for the White Album was written. Just like Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends, this album meant the beginning of the end for them. The unlimited studio time in London took away all the pressure to play together and the constant discontentedness with each other’s songs led to the point of Ringo leaving the band. In that point of view, it may not be surprising that the four of them are only heard on 16 of the total of 30 tracks. This song is obviously one from McCartney (‘Gideon’s Bible’…), about a triangular relationship that seems to stem directly from the Deadwood script.
A guy that was later imitated by numerous less authentic and less talented songwriters. Also a guy that liked to withdrew himself, as Drake locked himself in his sober house in London after the poor reviews of his previous album, Bryter Layter (1970). This album became as sober as the environment it was written in, without backing band and with only Drake himself on vocals and acoustic guitar. Despite the legends that rose afterwards, Drake would have been very proud of the album, which was nevertheless followed by his suicide two years later, at the age of 26.
Contagious Scottish vocals from indie rockers The Twilight Sad, consisting of the trio Graham (responsible for the accent), MacFarlane (walls of sound, also producer of the album) and Devine. This is the opening track of their debut album, that was (contrary to some work mentioned above) recorded in only three days. Cheers.
One of the finest things that came from London the past few years, being a great debut album full of neo-psychedelia and irresistible rhythms. This is one of those catchy tunes, think of a natty kind of early Animal Collective with a thrilling outro full of vocal harmonies. And as the quest for continuity remains the greatest fetish down here: drummer and producer David Maclean is the brother of John Maclean, sampler of The Beta Band.
More arty stuff from London, with Roxy Music’s second album (feat. Bryan Ferry’s then girlfriend Amanda Lear on the front cover) , released after the self-epynomous debut and the successful single ‘Virginia Plain’. At that point, Phil Manzanera was meanwhile promoted from roadie to the band’s most skilful musician, the spot of bass player had become an everlasting interim vacancy and Brian Eno was at the point of leaving the band. It’s the track that kind of stands out on the album, being a spoken declaration of love to an inflatable doll, while it musically reminds of Talking Heads meets David Bowie. After Ferry is in control for the first three minutes, Manzanera is allowed to go on an instrumental razzle before Eno concludes the song with an ode to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.
Like stated earlier here and by many others elsewhere: a modern classic. Based around life companions Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, this Montreal band was gradually created in the beginning of this century after many temporary members and as many (on stage) fights. Funeral points to the many deaths within Butler’s and Chassagne’s families while the album was created, although it didn’t result in a very dark sounding album. This song turned into a large venue hymn after several famous performances, by the band itself as well as other happenings. Not a personal favorite, although I like the ‘Mr. Blue Sky’- transition.
Sixteen minutes jam from Neil and his jamming friends, reuniting on this album after almost ten years. I think of it as a great album, on which Young doesn’t give a shit about the musical conventions in the world surrounding him, and freely travels back 40 years in time, to the world he wasn’t capable of changing back then.
The same amount of brutal power, but a little more to the point, originally from the band’s second studio album. Lemmy founded the band already in 1975, after having left Hawkind, but the classic line-up with Fast Eddie and Philthy Animal arised one year later. The self-epynomous debut album followed in 1977, supported by the ‘Beyond the Threshold of Pain’ tour. 1979 brought Motörhead’s second album Overkill, including this song that became one of the band’s famous live anthems. The wonderful name of that supporting tour?
The tensions between Cobain and MTV during the Unplugged performance were already cited last time, and this song also has his own story within this context. It was the second single (along with ‘All Apologies’) from Nirvana’s third and last studio album and this time Nirvana wanted it to play at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. However, MTV insisted on replacing it by ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, leading to a refusal by the band to play at all. In the end (money, pressure, business, grubbiness), the argument was resolved by Nirvana agreeing to replace it by ‘Lithium’. However, Cobain gave MTV the creeps by starting to play ‘Rape Me’ before ultimately switching over to ‘Lithium’. Great track, good album.
A fan of their early work, especially that great second album. This third album as a whole certainly can’t top that level, but contains some of their best tracks. It must be a tough job to bring this drawn out music live, and that’s exactly where this song is about.
Predecessor of last week’s shuffled album and like I said earlier: a band that tries something new now and then, and sometimes that results in a fail. Or was this album just the essential step in ultimately ending up with the genius of Circuital? Whatever, this album in fact doesn’t contain more than a bunch of mistakes, a trio of solid songs and the sole reason that keeps the record in your collection: Part 2 of the shuffled song.
One of those typical power trio tracks on Hendrix’ debut (along with ‘May This Be Love’), inspired by Eric Clapton’s Cream and with a prominent role for drummer Mitch Mitchell. Blues rocker Hendrix injected his play with the booming psychedelic rock, supported himself with a steady bass player and drummer like his Yardbirds heroes Clapton, Beck and Page and defined the new genre of hard rock.
Well, this also was some kind of a power trio, although in a totally other way. Keith Emerson eventually became one of the most famous keys wizards in the history of rock music and originally played in The Nice, Greg Lake sang and played the bass in King Crimson and Carl Palmer came from the less known group Atomic Rooster to play the drums. This was their fourth album, after the self-epynomous debut, their most famous album Tarkus and Trilogy. With their own record label and recording studio (an abandoned cinema), they were ready to push all limits on this records, resulting in prog in its most extreme form. By the way: Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell was originally approached by Emerson and Lake to join them, after which Cream’s manager recommended Carl Palmer. Oh, and Lemmy? He once was a roadie for Emerson’s former band The Nice.
If I’m in the mood for a catchy tune and a solid riff, Chicago’s finest will comply. Originating from the remnants of idiosyncratic country rockers Uncle Tupelo, Wilco’s sound gradually changed since their 1995 debut, particularly from their third album Summerteeth (1999), using devices that’ll cause an heart attack to the average country veteran. That evolution continued on this fourth album, for example on this track that has all the Wilco ingredients: opening riff, soft vocals from Tweedy that are carried by a catchy melody and elaborate outro with horn section and backing vocals. Funny: the album was rejected by the record label, Wilco was bought out with all the rights to the album and it became the bands’ most successful record ever.
Another band that grew on the scorched and fertile soil of another break-up, as Californian QOSTA was founded (1996) after singer Josh Homme’s previous band Kyuss broke up. The riffs contain more storm and thunder than those of Wilco, but this track (being the only single) already indicated that QOSTA’s sound would later rather diverge towards Wilco than Kyuss. Not a surprise of course, as Carlo Von Sexron himself stated that rock should be ‘sweet enough for the girls’. With all the experience from Kyuss in their pocket, they delivered a very strong debut album, the first and last from the Kings of the Stone Age, lopsided or not.
One of rock history’s most prominent live performances, with Dave Grohl on drums, who would later become a Vulture with the Homme mentioned above. The true highlight however was of course the argument between Cobain and MTV’s producers afterwards, as Cobain refused to play another encore as he could never improve from this point on. The rock star that doesn’t compromise, where are they today? The record of course turned into loads of platina, but I guess the record label was not very surprised by that.
Closing track on side A of one of Kraftwerk’s best albums, with the wonderful original German title ‘Schaufensterpuppen’. Last time I dealt with Computer World (1981), this is the first part of the golden pair (together with The Man Machine (1978)) that was released some years before with one of the most interesting (cause very weird) album sleeves ever. While punk pretended minimalism, Kraftwerk excelled at it, combining it with elegant melodies that envy the classically educated musician. Did I just write three sentences about Kraftwerk without mentioning their visionary lyrics? “We are standing here, exposing ourselves. We are showroom dummies. We go into a club, and there we start to dance. We are showroom dummies.”
That cross-pollination between Westcoast bands didn’t stop after the seventies might be clear. Second album by A Perfect Circle (obviously featuring Tool’s Maynard James Keenan on vocals), whose recordings were interrupted by the departure of guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen to Queens of the Stone Age. However, the album was way more successful than their debut (perhaps because they really had to create something from scratch now), reaching gold two months after its release. Concept album? Well, there’s a lot about addictions on it.
Small step to the man whose most famous song was covered by A Perfect Circle on their third album eMOTIVe, together with another ten political cover songs. This one stems of course from Lennon’s introspection album after The Beatles break-up (8 months before the release), fueled with screams. The world may not have many years, but then again, you’re not to blame. You’re just a human, a victim of the insane.
Debut album from Montreal band Islands, which might be called indie given that it was recorded in the drummer’s bedroom. Shows that not everything that came from Canada in that era was sublime, and the quality of this album doesn’t incite me to listen to their other work, write something about it or do anything whatsoever.
Opening track from the second (and praised) album of this Scottish band. It contains some recognizable samples from other songs, with that of the Belgian Wallace Collection’s ‘Daydream’ in this track being the best example. It’s perhaps because of this that it was picked as the first single from the album, but was replaced by ‘Broke’ after it became clear that another single by another band (that used the same sample) was released simultaneously. The Beta Band released their third album Heroes to Zeros in 2004, whereupon the band appositely fell apart.
Circuital was My Morning Jacket‘s last album to date, a strong one that shows the bands’ maturity and sense of nostalgia. This track is in fact a tribute to music and especially its role in a human being’s adolescence with backing vocals from the one and only Black Metal Girls. The band still performs live now and then, and a new album will be released in May this year, looking forward to it.
Great instrumental opener of side two on one of Bowie’s best albums, his twelfth and the centre of his Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno. Hold tight for a last example of continuity in rock history for this week: ‘V-2 Schneider’ was named after Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider, after Kraftwerk had mentioned Bowie earlier in 1977 on their track… ‘Trans-Europe Express’.
Closing chapter from the third book of Portland’s finest storytellers, an epilogue from singer Colin Meloy, only supported by the acoustic guitar. Although their sound may sometimes revoke a kind of lamenting feel (Meloy is a big Morrissey fan and the album was recorded in a church, go figure), they cleverly avoid a lethal blend with little personal stories. Instead, it matches perfectly with picaresque (satirical prose, apparently) stuff like this.
No problem of course for good old Lenny to follow up such an acoustic ballad. It’s acoustic guitar and great vocals again, only briefly supported by a backing vocal during the chorus. One of the many Cohen songs covered by Westcoast nightingale Judy Collins and also my favorite song from his debut album with one of the best (although very sober) sung choruses ever. Very curious how the album would have sounded if Cohen would have had the upper hand over producer John Simon when finishing the album.
Live recording (including introduction, always adding some value if not reenacted afterwards) from Grace Slick’s family ensemble, recorded (obviously) before and released after Airplane‘s success. Together with Conspicious Only in it’s Absence a great pair of live albums, from the famous San Francisco Matrix Club.
Same era, same region, this tremendous Doors song with cracking organ riff. I’ve had a serious Doors year thanks to the many times their songs popped up in the shuffle, each time inciting me to play the complete albums. This one contains that raw, pure Doors sound from the debut album, which isn’t that strange as the songs of both records were written during the same period of time. Some kind of Amnesiac of its own era.
Pass me the peace pipe once more, as we keep hanging around underneath the Californian sun. Another great switch by the shuffle, as the lead vocals don’t differ much from Morrison’s in the previous song. The stories of Buffalo Springfield’s origins are meanwhile almost as legendary as those about ‘successor’ CSNY, but we’ll concentrate on the role of those famous stages of that time. We discussed The Matrix Club before, and Buffalo Springfield’s first performance took place in Hollywood’s The Troubadour. A tour with The Byrds followed, after which Springfield became a regular at that third big club: The Wisky A Go Go. The disputes within the band were as similar as to CSNY’s ones and this (second) album even resembles Déjà-Vu as a collection of individual contributions of each band member. The joint tour de force of guitars and vocals in the end of this Stephen Stills song is very impressive, on an album on which the complete Westcoast elite is present, ranging from Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Jack Nitsche and … David Crosby.
The piano intro is followed by sound effects that after two minutes inject this song with a serious load of stereo, a true gift for your headphones. A debut album from a post rock band can’t become much better than this.
Unlike many other bands, Interpol didn’t just repeat the sound of their debut album, but didn’t improve it much either. Solid though, and they’d better stopped right here, as this closing track already lasts a little too long, just like the entire album and the band’s complete oeuvre.
The Elephant 6 was mentioned last time when talking about Of Montreal, and here we got its pioneers, founded by Will Hart, Bill Doss and Jeff Mangum. Mangum already left the band before the release of the first album (Dusk at Cubist Castle (1996)) to concentrate on Neutral Milk Hotel and the entire project basically stopped after this second and final album. This is in fact the complete anthithesis of the solid selling predictability of Interpol’s Antics: delicious Beatles-Beach Boys pop alternated with long, experimental audio-collages and brief intermezzos with a length that make the average GBV-fan become a little jealous.
A last return to 1967 with this Memphis based band, but clearly rather an echo from the past than a glance into the future, as the artificial sound of rain and thunderstorm are rather touching after the sound effects in previous tracks. Closing track from an album that was released semi-obliged after the succesfull single ‘The Letter’, with Alex Chilton (who would later front Big Star) on lead vocals.
Strong track, again dominated by several sound effects, that (combined with the shrilling guitar, the driving drums and the threatening voice of Cave) perfectly succeed to absorb you into the song. Cave’s temporary return to rawness after the baroque gospeltriumph on Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus.