1. Wilco – I’m the Man Who Loves You (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, 2002)
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.
2. Queens of the Stone Age – If Only (Queens of the Stone Age, 1998)
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.
3.Nirvana – Where Did You Sleep Last Night (MTV Unplugged in New York, 1994)
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.
4. Kraftwerk – Showroom Dummies (Trans-Europe Express, 1977)
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.”
5. A Perfect Circle – The Noose (Thirteenth Step, 2003)
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.
6. John Lennon – Isolation (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, 1970)
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.
7. Islands – Humans (Return to the Sea, 2006)
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.
8. The Beta Band – Squares (Hot Shots II, 2001)
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.
9. My Morning Jacket – Holdin’ On to Black Metal (Circuital, 2011)
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.
10. David Bowie – V-2 Schneider (“Heroes”, 1977)
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’.
1. The Decemberists – Of Angels and Angles (Picaresque, 2005)
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.
2. Leonard Cohen – Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967)
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.
3. The Great Society – That’s How It is (How It Was, 1968)
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.
4. The Doors – Unhappy Girl (Strange Days, 1967)
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.
5. Buffalo Springfield – Hung Upside Down (Buffalo Springfield, 1967)
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.
6. Mogwai – With Portfolio (Mogwai Young Team, 1997)
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.
7. Interpol – A Time To Be So Small (Antics, 2004)
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.
8. The Olivia Tremor Control – Grass Canons (Black Foliage: Animation Music, 1999)
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.
9. Box Tops – I Pray for Rain (The Letter/Neon Rainbow, 1967)
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.
10. Grinderman – Electric Alice (Grinderman, 2007)
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.