Category Archives: TunesDay

TunesWeek: ’90s video and Spike Jonze

Part 4 in a series.

It sometimes seemed like MTV in the 1990s was little more than a video résumé for one Adam Spiegel, aka Spike Jonze. He seemed to be the guy directing all the damned videos, and some of the era’s most inventive concepts were his. Here’s a sample.

Up first, let’s watch some television. Like, that time when Weezer guest starred on Happy Days.

After that there’s a new cop show on. It’s called “Sabotage.”

There was nothing especially earth-shattering about The Breeders’ “Cannonball,” but damn was it a big hit, and I suspect a large part of the reason emerged from the way Jonze captured the likeable quirkiness of the Deal sisters.

You know the look that video had in the ’90s? Jonze, perhaps more than anyone, is responsible. “Hang On,” by the tragically underappreciated Teenage Fanclub, illustrates the point.

Then there was “If I Only Had a Brain” from MC 900ft Jesus. Clever, clever. The thing about Jonze was that if he did your video, you were just about guaranteed play on MTV.

If I’ve never mentioned it before, I freakin’ loved Elastica. Jonze’s campy, futuristic Ghostbusters take on “Car Song” was a perfect vehicle (if you will) for Justine Frischmann’s deadpan style.

The video for REM’s “Crush with Eyeliner featured some more of that “’90s look” thing I was talking about.

Let’s close it out with “Da Funk” by Daft Punk, which appears high on most Best Video of the 1990s lists, and for good reason. Jonze had a sense for urban atomization, and if you’ve ever felt lost in a new place, you’re probably going to feel some empathy for the protagonist.

TunesWeek: the artistic side of ’90s video

Part 3 in a series.

Our first couple of installments in the series where characterized by rage, I suppose. So today let’s step away from the anger and look at videos of a more artistic bent.

First up, the video I’ve always sort of regarded as the best ever: “Dirt,” by Death in Vegas. Avant gardiste to its core, and very much in step with the non-linear mode of the era, this short, directed by Andrea Giacobbe, assaulted us with image and discontinuity.

I had heard about “Dirt,” but had never been able to catch it (and this was pre-YouTube, of course, so some effort was required – either you were watching when it came on or you set the VCR and fast forwarded through 90 minutes of tape, kind of like a hunter opening a trap and hoping there’s something inside). It was a Sunday night, around 11, and I had been working all day at my computer. I shut everything down and prepared to go to bed. Something stopped me as I hit the lights, though. Hmmm, I thought. I flipped on MTV and there it was, just beginning. If I believed in fate, I’d be a little weirded out. But I don’t, so I’m grateful for the coincidence.

Our second offering today is artistically the antithesis of “Dirt” in a lot of ways. Whereas “Dirt” was imagistic and non-linear to the nth degree, Blues Traveler’s “Runaround” (directed by Ken Fox) was built around a more conventional narrative mode of storytelling and an incredibly clever riff on The Wizard of Oz. If you want to know what the band thought of the music industry, pay attention, and if I’m Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, I’m probably not flattered by the portrayal of the lead singer in the lip-synching band in front of the curtain.

Finally, Orbital’s “The Box,” which I have been known to use in classes when discussing cyberculture. The video, directed by Luke Losey and starring Tilda Swinton, “won a silver sphere for the best short film at the San Francisco Film Festival and got nominated for the best video award at the 1997 Brit Awards. It also closed the Edinburgh Film Festival and opened the London Film Festival.” Swinton, portraying an anachronistic ingenue, stop-motions through an accelerating city landscape trying to fathom the pace and decay of contemporary urban life, and I think most viewers come away empathizing with her bewilderment.

TunesWeek: ’90s video goes political

Part 2 in a series.

The Reagan/Thatcher years were marked by an utterly bizarre shiny/happy pastel sheen spread liberally across a decidedly apocalyptic doom. Listen to songs like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Forever Young” and “It’s a Mistake” (and watch the videos). The aesthetic seemed to be “we’re all going to die in a nuclear holocaust, of course, but at least we can be alternately romantically beautiful or positively chipper about it.” But at the end of the decade Reagan’s charisma gave way to the cynical years of Bush the Elder. The happy buzz gave way to a mean drunk, and then the hangover set in.

By the early ’90s, the tone of the political landscape had darkened considerably, and a growing anger was mirrored in our music and the videos that accompanied it. Here are some of our favorite examples.

We’ll start with Ministry and their love song to the Bush years, “NWO.”

Meanwhile, Bad Religion turned its attention to the xenophobic, hateful Christianity fueling America’s lurch to the right. (Directed by Gore Verbinski.)

They were dealing the the rise of the right across the pond, too, and Pop Will Eat Itself attacked this new fascism head on in “Ich Bin Ein Auslander.” Few political rants manage to capture the essence of the problem quite as keenly as this track did. I’ve included the lyrics below so you can follow along.

Listen to the victim, abused by the system
The basis is racist, you know that we must face this.
“It can’t happen here”. Oh yeah?
“Take a look around at the cities and the towns.”

See them hunting, creeping, sneaking
Breeding fear and loathing with the lies they’re speaking
The knife, the gun, broken bottle, petrol bomb
There is no future when the past soon come.

And when they come to ethnically cleanse me
Will you speak out? Will you defend me?
Or laugh through a glass eye as they rape our lives
Trampled underfoot by the right on the rise

[s]”You owe us…”….Ich Bin Ein Auslander (x4)
(“You owe us everything”)… Ich Bin Ein Auslander
Welcome to a state where the politics of hate
Shout loud in the crowd “Watch them beat us all down”
There’s a rising tide in the rivers of blood
But if the answer isn’t violence, neither is your silence

If they come to ethnically cleanse me
Will you speak out? Will you defend me?
Freedom of expression doesn’t make it alright
Trampled underfoot by the rise of the right


Ich Bin Ein Auslander. (x12)

ArtsWeek: Dr. Sammy’s desert island list

You’ve probably heard the old challenge:

You’re stranded on a desert island and you can only have X albums to listen to for the rest of your life. What would you choose?

I’ve probably heard this one a hundred times and have thought about it informally for maybe 30 years. But I’ve never actually sat down and tried to tackle it head on. Until today. And let me tell you, damn, this question is an absolute bitch. My friends know just what a wide range of music I listen to, and the idea that I’d never again get to explore new releases and emerging bands and interesting evolutions in style and genre is painful to think about.

But hey, it’s just an intellectual and aesthetic exercise, right? So here goes: if I’m going to be stranded on a desert island, here are the 25 CDs I want to have with me. (A note: some of you are saying “hey, it’s 10 albums, not 25!” Shut up. I tried getting the list down to 10 and nearly gave myself an aneurysm. Besides, if this hypothetical desert island has electricity or enough batteries to keep my iPod spinning, it has enough room for 15 more CDs.)

1: Jeffrey Dean Foster – Million Star Hotel
I’ve been saying for years that JDF’s 2005 masterpiece is one of the greatest albums I have ever heard and I mean it. It’s intelligent, soulful, beautifully crafted, and the songwriting is timeless. I cannot honestly tell you how many times I have listened to MSH in the last several years, but it’s easily in the hundreds. I simply never tire of it, and when we’re talking about 25 albums to last you the rest of your life, this is an extremely important criterion.

2: Space Team Electra – The Vortex Flower
STE is probably the best band I ever heard that never “made it.” That this CD didn’t go octuple platinum and get played to death on radio is as pointed an indictment as I have against the American music industry. Lyrically and sonically The Vortex Flower is as rich and complex as any CD I own. There is a depth here that never stops rewarding repeated listens. (If you let me take 50 records STE’s Intergalactic Torch Song is probably coming along, too.

3: Peter Gabriel – 3
I can only use words like “rich,” “layered,” and “complex” so many times in a piece like this without sounding like I only know three words, but if you have 25 albums to last you the rest of your life, they need to be, they must be, albums that have a “thickness” about them. They need a depth that, as I say about STE above, keeps you coming back. If you ears and your mind gets it all in one take, you’re going to get bored in a hurry. This is why I have always loved PG’s third solo release. “Games Without Frontiers” is as bottomless a song as I have ever heard and the rest of the disc isn’t far behind.

4: The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta
One of my three favorite bands of all time – the only question here is which CD to bring? Love the first one. Love Synchroncity. Love Regatta de Blanc and almost picked it. But there’s a vibe, a darkness and texture about ZM that I think carries the day. One of my favorite moments from all the live shows I ever saw was The Police doing “Shadows in the Rain,” and I’d like to have a reminder of that on the island.

5: Fiction 8 – Forever, Neverafter
I was really torn here. I like pretty much everything my buddy Michael Smith has done (and am anxiously waiting to hear the new one, which I hope will be out this year). I especially like Chaotica. I wound up going with Forever, Neverafter for what may seem an odd reason. I’ve been lucky enough to co-write tracks on it and Project Phoenix, the two most recent releases. And if I choose a disc that I’m represented on, then I’m periodically reminded in a tangible fashion of the friendship and the joy of collaboration. I picked this one instead of Project Phoenix because I have two songs on it instead of the one (“Hegemony”) on PP. Two reminders instead of one.

6: Queen – A Night at the Opera
The idea of being trapped anywhere for the rest of my life without something by my first great favorite band is unthinkable. I could have gone with pretty much any of their first eight studio discs and been fine, but ANatO was the one that caused me to fall in love with the band, so let’s go with it.

7: U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
My favorite band of all time. I’d be happy with anything up through Achtung, Baby, honestly, but this is the one I have always regarded as their finest moment. Being able to hit play and hear “A Sort of Homecoming” or “Pride” or “Bad” would make being stranded a little more tolerable.

8: The Birthday Massacre – Violet
If I’m trapped on an island alone, I’m occasionally going to need to bang my head a little. TBM has been one of my favorite bands in recent years, and Violet is perhaps where they’re at their best in stacking the power on top of the pretty on top of the atmosphere.

9: Don Dixon – Romeo at Julliard or Most of the Girls Like to Dance…
Okay, I’m hedging here. I’m definitely taking something from Dixon, who in addition to being one of my favorite artists ever is also a good friend, and I’d like to be reminded of what a great guy he is when I’m sitting around on the island. For right now, I’m going with Romeo, which has my first favorite

DD song, “Your Sister Told Me.” But I reserve the right to change my mind as I’m dashing out the door to catch my doomed flight (or boat? – not really sure how I landed on this damned island, to be honest).

10: Van Morrison – Hymns to the Silence
This isn’t Van’s best CD, although it is perhaps his most underrated. And it has always been my favorite. There is history here, lots of history, and yes, there’s a woman involved. Perhaps the woman I should have been with all along. I know myself well enough to know that if I’m faced with an eternity alone I’m going to think a lot about my life, and I’m going to spend a lot of time playing “what if?” games with myself. What else are you going to do on a freakin’ desert island? Given this certainty, I’d like to have the soundtrack for one of the most important moments of my life handy. (Disc 2, Track 6 – my heart breaks every time….)

11: Sam Cooke – The Man and His Music
Really, any good greatest hits collection works here. Not only is Sam simply remarkable period, but when I hear his music I hear echoes of the world my parents grew up in, I think. It’s like there’s a connection in the songs to the young father and mother that honestly, I never really knew.

12: Roxy Music – Avalon
The greatest seduction record ever made. It would be nice to remember times when I was with a woman.

13: The Samples – The Last Drag
When I moved to Colorado in 1993 to get my PhD, there were three big bands in Boulder: The Reejers, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, and The Samples. I loved them all, but resonated most strongly with The Samples. They were archetypally Boulder in so many ways, and the 1990s cultural gestalt of the place for a grad student making his way through the greatest challenge of his life is just about impossible to explain. The bottom line is that my mind was the sharpest it has ever been, and even though there were plenty of down moments – the kind that seem to attend our lives when we’re blasting through the curves in the dark with the throttle wide open – I was as alive as I have ever been. I was working toward something. There was a future. When I hear The Last Drag I’m back there, and it’s wonderful being reminded of how vibrant and full of possibility life can be. (One caveat, though. Can I replace “Playground”? For some reason, they decided to let their junkie keyboardist write a song, and it’s kind of their version of the time The Police let Andy Summers put “Mother” on Synchronicity. Either I need to burn a copy of the disc without this track or, if it’s okay, can I substitute the wonderful cover of “Amazing Grace” from Sean Kelly’s solo disc?)

14: The Lost Patrol – Dark Matter or Lonesome Sky
Another one of those can’t make up my damned mind moments. The whole TLP sound is so lush and textured, so haunting and beautiful, that I know I’m taking something. Lonesome Sky is my favorite moment from the Danielle Stauss years and as much as I seem to love everything the band does, I think 2010’s Dark Matter is my favorite from the contemporary Mollie Israel era. I’m going to put them both on the table by the door and let my gut instinct pick one at the last second as I rush out to meet my doom.

15: The Blueflowers – In Line with the Broken Hearted
The Blueflowers have a sound that’s similar to The Lost Patrol – layered, twangy, moody, dark. It’s a sound you can come back to time and time again, and I know from experience that I can listen to it a dozen times in a row without it getting old.

16: Rick Springfield – Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet or Venus in Overdrive
More waffling, I know. When packing for the rest of your life, you have to think about the importance of a range of styles and sounds, and we all know that I’m a bad Power Pop junkie. Success is my favorite of the early Springfield records – lots of great, hooky, toe-tapping butt-dancing white-boy overbite music that I think might be good for my sanity if I’m trapped on a desert island. Venus is an equally catchy and engaging moment from Rick’s recent career. A little more miles on the tread, a little more world-wise and weary. Right now I’m leaning toward Success because I had fun in the ’80s and I’d like to maybe relive that a little, but I might change my mind at the last minute.

17: Catherine Wheel – Chrome
I can’t imagine this hypothetical island without something from the Shoegazer era – the gods know I love me some wall of dissonance noise pop and CW is one of my favorite bands ever. I thought about maybe Ferment (come on, “Black Metallic,” right?) and maybe even Adam & Eve, but in the end I feel like Chrome is the most solidly packed and consistently excellent from end to end.

18: Jets Overhead – Bridges
I keep arguing that JO may be one of the three or four best bands of this generation, and as much as I like their more recent output, nothing they’ve done has ever quite insinuated itself as deeply into my skin as Bridges, which is sort of a richly textured update on mid-’60s California psychedelia sifted through foggy modern-day PNW indie.

19: Adam Schmitt – World So Bright
More Power Pop, and this is a guy that most readers have almost certainly never heard of. Back in the ’90s he jacked out two of the best guitar pop CDs I’ve ever heard – this one (1991) and Illiterature (1993). Remarkable songcraft, a depth of sound that bears up under repeated listens, and a self-possessed intelligence that often came at you from unexpected directions. I could listen to this disc daily for the rest of my life.

20: Marillion – Misplaced Childhood
Not only was Marillion writing achingly beautiful tunes back in the 1980s, but Fish was penning lyrics that actually stood on their own as poetry. I don’t say that about many lyricists. The truth is I could take Clutching at Straws or any of several solo Fish records and be just fine.

21: Johnny Clegg – Shadow Man
You know how they say “dance like nobody’s looking”? Well, this is as great as dance like nobody’s looking albums get. I discovered it in a record store in Ames, Iowa back in the late ’80s. We were looking for new music for the club where I was a DJ, and as I riffled through the bins I realized I was sort of dancing in place. I stopped, listened, then walked to the front of the store to find out who they were playing. “Johnny Clegg & Savuka,” the guy said. “I’ll take two copies,” I replied. One for the club, one for me.

22: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Born to Run
I could also make a case for The River, but if I’m stranded on a desert island, I’m probably going to occasionally have need of sheer grandeur.

23: Led Zeppelin – 4
There’s no real sentimental reason for this one. It’s just one of the greatest hard rock albums in history and my favorite Zep moment.

24: The Killers – Battle Born
I like The Killers for a lot of reasons, and if I’m off to a deserted island for the rest of my life, I’d like to take along my favorite CD from the last year that I got to hear new music.

25: Raison d’Etre – Enthralled by the Wind of Loneliness
I go to sleep with music playing. There have been a lot of artists that have serenaded me to sleep through the years – Andreas Vollenweider, Mike Oldfield, Lycia, The Lost Patrol, Love Spirals Downward, Delerium, Van Morrison, Enya and Enigma are a few that come to mind. My preferred genre these days is Dark Ambient, and this disc, which sounds like it was recorded by melancholy angels in a haunted medieval cathedral ruin, is the most wonderful of them all. I list this one last, because it’s the one that I’ll be playing at the end of the day. But it is perhaps the most important – if I could only take one album to my desert island, this would be the one.

A final note: You may notice that I have included a number of artists who I know personally – Jeff Foster, Don Dixon, Space Team, The Blueflowers, The Lost Patrol, Fiction 8 (plus I had dinner with Fish once) – and this is worth commenting on. I’m fortunate to know a lot of talented people, and I care a lot about these relationships. I care about all my relationships, and I don’t toss the word “friend” around casually. The conceit here is that I’m trapped on a desert island. I’m alone and one presumes it’s going to stay that way. If I can not only listen to music that I love, but in doing so be reminded of someone I know and respect, that counts for a lot.

After 22 years, My Bloody Valentine is back: geniuses or the most overrated band ever?

I had this little Facebook exchange yesterday with Tony Hamera, guitarist and songsmith for one of my favorite bands, The Blueflowers.

Tony Hamera MBV – I don’t think there is a more overrated band in the annals of music history…..

Sam Smith Even if they were overrated, what happens to the last 20 years of music without their influence? They’re tremendously important.

Tony Hamera Sam, I’m not sure what would have happened the last 20 years…I did concede they were highly influential, I just don’t know what relevant bands of the last 20 years have been influenced by them. I was merely commentating on the reaction to their latest release.

Sam Smith I think MBV resides in an interesting category: highly influential bands that probably weren’t nearly as good in their own rights as were the bands they inspired. There’s no questioning their importance in laying the groundwork for a generation of shoegazers. My collection is overrun by bands that owe their souls to what MBV (and Cocteau Twins and J&MC and Ride and Catherine Wheel and Verve) did in the early ’90s. Honestly, I don’t listen to MBV that much because I think their artistic progeny have surpassed them.

The subject, of course, is My Bloody Valentine, the seminal British Shoegazer band from way back in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

…My Bloody Valentine redefined what noise meant within the context of pop songwriting. Led by guitarist Kevin Shields, the group released several EPs in the mid-’80s before recording the era-defining Isn’t Anything in 1988, a record that merged lilting, ethereal melodies of the Cocteau Twins with crushingly loud, shimmering distortion. Though My Bloody Valentine rejected rock & roll conventions, they didn’t subscribe to the precious tendencies of anti-rock art-pop bands. Instead, they rode crashing waves of white noise to unpredictable conclusions, particularly since their noise wasn’t paralyzing like the typical avant-garde noise rock band: it was translucent, glimmering, and beautiful. Shields was a perfectionist, especially when it came to recording, as much of My Bloody Valentine’s sound was conceived within the studio itself. Nevertheless, the band was known as a formidable live act, even though they rarely moved, or even looked at the audience, while they were on-stage. Their notorious lack of movement was branded “shoegazing” by the British music press, and soon there were legions of other shoegazers — Ride, Lush, the Boo Radleys, Chapterhouse, Slowdive — that, along with the rolling dance-influenced Madchester scene, dominated British indie rock of the late ’80s and early ’90s. As shoegazing reached its peak in 1991, My Bloody Valentine released Loveless, which broke new sonic ground and was hailed as a masterpiece. Though the band was poised for a popular breakthrough, it disappeared into the studio and didn’t emerge over the next five years, leaving behind a legacy that proved profoundly influential in the direction of ’90s alternative rock.

As it turned out, Loveless was the last we heard of MBV. Until a few days ago, when they released m b v, their first new CD in 22 years. The  immediate response was perhaps predictable: the mad dash of fans crashed the Web site.

My Bloody Valentine: The m b v Reviews Are In

Critical response to the disc, which Shields says includes material from a planned mid-’90s album that was never finished, some earlier demo work and some new tracks, has been mostly positive.

  • The Chicago Tribune‘s Greg Kot gives it 2.5 stars out of four: “With expectations equally stratospheric for m b v after a two-decade wait, it’s difficult to imagine how My Bloody Valentine could possibly have measured up. Instead, Shields and his bandmates have made a transitional album, one that nods to the band’s storied peak but winds up heading in a new direction.”
  • Alexis Petridis of The Guardian seems to like it: “The songs on m b v, however, are more melodically complex, intriguing and often pleasing than anything he has written before. The tunes and chord progressions keep slipping their moorings and heading down unexpected paths. There’s occasionally something oddly jazzy about m b v, as evidenced by the shifting time signature of only tomorrow, which leaves the song sounding as if gasping for breath; and the song is this and yes boldly strips away all Shields’s trademark sonic mayhem, leaving behind only Butcher’s voice and an organ playing a strange and gorgeous chord sequence.”
  • Jason Heller at AV Club is at once confused and enthralled, which is probably about right for anything from MBV: “It’s tough to tell what Shields was shooting for with m b v, let alone if he came close to hitting it. How far back do the basics of these recordings stretch? Is the album an attempt to re-create what a 1993 follow-up to Loveless might have sounded like? Or is it a clean-slated attempt to open a fresh chapter in the band’s existence? Conscious or not, the loose ends from Loveless are impossible to ignore, but neither are they easy to condemn. Loveless’ main drawback was the fact that, for 22 years, it stood as a monument to thwarted promise, a teaser of what might have come if only Shields and crew had gotten their shit together. Finally, they have. And regardless of whether it’s an echo of the past or a bridge to the future, MBV stands as something potentially timeless—and immediately breathtaking.”
  • Several SPIN reviewers get together and are…well, SPIN reviewers. Their average score is a 7.25 our of 10, with plenty of sevens and eights.

One of the Most Influential Bands in History?

Tony’s “overrated” challenge is an interesting one. As I make clear in my response, MBV aren’t my favorite from that era – there are plenty of DreamPop and Shoegaze bands (original and latter-day) that I like better. At the same time, love ’em or hate ’em, there’s simply no way to deny how incredibly important My Bloody Valentine was. Have a look at the “Followers” list noted at AllMusic. Here are just a few of the bands that derive their sound, either directly or indirectly, from MBV:

  • Ride
  • Sigur Rós
  • Swervedriver
  • The Boo Radleys
  • The Verve
  • Catherine Wheel
  • Chapterhouse
  • Cranes
  • Curve
  • Garbage
  • Mazzy Star
  • Mogwai
  • Smashing Pumpkins
  • Spiritualized
  • The Chemical Brothers
  • The Dandy Warhols
  • Velocity Girl
  • Asobi Seksu
  • Fields
  • Japandroids
  • M83
  • Primal Scream
  • School of Seven Bells
  • Starflyer 59
  • The Apples in Stereo
  • The Black Angels
  • The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
  • The Raveonettes
  • The Sundays
  • Atlas Sound
  • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
  • Boards of Canada
  • Explosions in the Sky
  • Peter Bjorn and John
  • Silversun Pickups
  • The Stratford 4

As I say, that’s just a few. For instance, you’d also add to this list one of the best bands I ever encountered (although they never broke through into the sort of fame they deserved), Space Team Electra. Let’s sift back through the past few years of my Best Of series for even more (in addition to the ones on the list above):

  • Tamaryn
  • Dum Dum Girls
  • Dotsun Moon
  • Washed Out
  • Able Archer
  • The Horrors
  • Ladytron
  • The Scottish Enlightenment
  • Rabbit Velvet
  • The Black Ryder
  • Tame Impala
  • Hoopherphonic
  • Blonde Redhead
  • LoveLikeFire
  • MiniPop
  • We Start Fires
  • …and, oh yeah, Radiohead

Conversations like this always bring me back around to criteria. When we say somebody is the best, what do we mean? What is “great”? When we say “underrated” or “overrated,” what precisely are we trying to communicate? As I have said many times, arguments over who’s best at a given thing are usually arguments over criteria in disguise.

Some years ago I took a whack at the criteria that I think are important in evaluating any given artist. Note item #3:

Influence. Great art begets great art. The greatest albums/CDs are ones which influence and inspire other musicians to greatness, and as such their import extends well past the direct impact they have on audiences. So when many brilliant recording artists point to a common influence, a greatest albums list would do well to include that influence.

There you go. Now, there are plenty of other criteria to be considered, but on this one, it’s clear that MBV scores major points.

The Student Has Surpassed the Master

Still, I suggest above that some influential bands are ultimately surpassed by those they inspire, and I think that’s likely the case for My Bloody Valentine. Let’s look at those lists above again and ask ourselves how the actual MBV catalog stacks up against some of their followers.

  • The Verve: Who knows what might have happened had their momentum not been kneecapped by litigation on the part of The Rolling Stones’ attorneys?
  • Catherine Wheel: Arguably the most underappreciated band in rock history.
  • Curve: Inventive, ground-breaking – they took the MBV ball and ran with it.
  • Garbage: The (mostly) American answer to Curve.
  • Smashing Pumpkins: One of the greatest bands of the grunge era, and the 2012 release was their best since 1995.
  • Spiritualized: Never my favorite, but unquestionably one of the most important players in the Ambient Rock movement.
  • M83: Have you heard the last two CDs?
  • The Apples in Stereo: One of the most important and influential low-fi indie pop bands in the last generation.
  • The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Perhaps the best of the current wave of noisy indie-pop bands.
  • The Raveonettes: Pound for pound, one of the best bands in the world over their last four releases.
  • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: They owe more to Jesus & Mary Chain than MBV, but the MBV influence has been an undeniable force in establishing BRMC as one of the best bands alive.

Say you buy my argument that MBV wasn’t as great for their own music as they were for their influence, hypothetically (not that I expect people to buy this without a fight, but let’s play along for a moment). Are their other bands of which we might say the same thing? Are their other sacred cows I might gore here?

Joy Division: Back in the mid-1990s I’d never have believed for a second that in the future, JD would emerge as one of the biggest influences on the Indie/Nu-Wave movement of the early 21st century. But here we are, and the list of Joy Division devotées is as long as your arm. Interpol. Editors. The Killers. TV on the Radio. Bloc Party. The Rapture. The Bravery. The Futureheads. The Horrors. She Wants Revenge. The Mary Onettes.

And frankly, I’m just not that into JD. They had their moments, but I thought New Order, which emerged from the ashes after Ian Curtis offed himself, were a better band.

The Doors: Sweet hell, has there ever been more ado about nothing? The tunes were pedestrian, the musicianship was nothing special, and Jim Morrison was a poet like I’m a world class extreme skier. If you think the Lizard King was profound, you need to step away from the horse tranquilizers.

Velvet Underground: Maybe one of the five most influential bands in history. In addition to everything else, they were a key touchpoint for both Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine. Much respect. But how often do I listen to them? Like, never. I much prefer Lou Reed’s solo work.

Bauhaus: There’s a crowd of people with pitchforks and torches gathering outside my apartment right now, but the truth is that the idea of Bauhaus was a lot more interesting than the music of Bauhaus. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and the cover of “Ziggy Stardust” and several albums worth of filler. Peter Murphy’s first four solo releases were far more interesting (especially Deep) and I can probably say the same for the first three Love & Rockets albums.

So there. A bit of heresy to spice up your day. Are there others you can think of?

Meanwhile, you can sample m b v here.

Image Credits: ThisIsFakeDIY, rcrdlbl, golyr

Who are the greatest role players in rock history?

In sports they’re called “role players.” They’re the working class guys who play defense, dive for loose balls, get under the opponent’s skin, fight it out in the trenches. They’re not stars and they don’t make the big bucks or have lucrative endorsements or land supermodel wives. But without them you don’t win, period.

Music has role players, too. We tend to spend all our time talking about the charismatic lead singers and incendiary lead guitarists, but all the great bands also feature guys who stand off to the side, outside the limelight, and don’t really do anything except make the whole enterprise click. They seem not to be there for the fame or the glory so much as they are just because they love the music. Frequently you find them in the rhythm section, although not always, and when you look at the history of great bands all of a sudden being less great, you often don’t notice who isn’t there anymore.

I can’t imagine cranking out anything like a definitive 100 Greatest Anonymous Rock Role Players in History list, but I can certainly suggest a few worth considering. Read more

Great music of 2012: the (slightly past) halfway check-in, part 2

Let’s see, who else are we loving so far in 2012? Ah, here’s one.

Ryan ShawReal Love – I’ve been a fan of Shaw’s since … well, since I first heard him maybe three years ago. Gods, what a voice. I have argued that had he come along in the mid-1960s we’d now be remembering him favorably alongside the likes of Otis, Jackie, Wilson and Sam. That is not hype – the man is just that good. His previous release had the feel of a collection of singles, but Real Love plays like an actual album. Here he is live, riffing on the man, Sam Cooke, whom he clearly reveres as much as I do.

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TunesDay ALERT: Jeffrey Dean Foster at CD Baby – the best $10 you’ll spend this week

I just tripped over this at Jeffrey Dean Foster’s FB page:

Until August 3rd CDBaby is selling JDF’s Million Star Hotel and The Pinetops’ Above Ground and Vertical for only $5.00 each for the digital download. Plus they are not taking any percentage of the sale. So get them while they are cheap and help out the artist.

If you don’t have these CDs, this offer is just next to stealing. Million Star Hotel is, in my view, one of the great albums of our generation even though most of you have never heard of it. I know, I know – if you’ve never heard of JDF, how can such a grandiose pronouncement possibly be true? It’s just hyperbole, right? Read more

TunesDay: Ryan Shaw is in the house

The new Ryan Shaw CD dropped today and I’m giddy as a schoolgirl at her first sock hop. Shaw has one of the absolute best pure voices in the entire neo-Soul genre – maybe the best. It’s like listening to Otis or Marvin or Wilson Pickett or, in more recent days, the criminally underappreciated Malford Milligan.

Still on my first listen, but in the meantime how about I share the wonderfulness with the S&R community?  Here’s “Karina.”

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TunesDay Special: a fond goodbye to Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs, the legendary master of the bluegrass banjo, is dead at 88.  It was just a few days ago that I was writing about the music that I grew up with, and rest assured, Flatt & Scruggs were welcome in the Smith household. There’s honestly not a lot I can say that I feel is worthy of the man’s genius – not on short notice, anyway – so I’ll keep it simple and let the music do the talking. Let’s start with the song that he was most famous for.

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Dr. Sammy’s Best CDs of 2011, pt 4: the CD of the Year

Previously: I hope you took a few minutes to explore the outstanding recipients of this year’s Gold and Platinum LP awards. Honorable Mentions, too.

I don’t think many readers will find much controversy in the assertion that things have been hard over the past few years, and 2010 and 2011 were especially hellish in my neck of the woods. So it’s no surprise to find artists focusing on the difficulties they see (and often live themselves). It’s rare, though, to find someone who’s singing about the bad times with as much depth and empathy as we find in Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s Here We Rest, my 2011 CD of the Year. Read more

Final verdict on The Sing-Off season 3: A thing not worth doing is not worth doing well (and the bad things that happen when you hand your show over to record label A&R idiots)

The Sing-Off was a bit of a disappointment this year.

Last season was the show’s high water mark to date, with four or five legitimate A-level contenders and two acts – Committed (the winner) and Street Corner Symphony (runner-up) – that stand head and shoulders above everybody else in the show’s three seasons to date. (And please, click those links to see what I’m talking about.) Season 2 just shimmered, from the first note to the last, with depth and resonance and nuance and soul. It was a show that, week in and week out, was a must-see and a joy to listen to (especially if you were DVRing and could ffwd through Nick Lachey and Nicole Scherzinger).

This season, though, something was different, and I didn’t really detect it until we’d gotten the first few bands out of the way. Read more

TunesDay: What the hell is going on in Boulder?

When I first moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1993 there were three big local bands: Big Head Todd & the Monsters, The Samples and The Reejers. BHTM were and still are an outstanding blues/rock band. The Samples were an alt act that reminded me at times of The Police and at other times of Johnny Clegg & Savuka (although both comparisons are misleading – Sean Kelly’s voice had a sort of Stingish quality about it and the Savuka reference is mainly about Jeep MacNichol’s drumming). The Reejers were a hard, noisy industrial-edged grunge act, I guess you’d say. All three of these were, in my view, outstanding bands, and they represented a broad diversity of sound. I was in heaven.

But then Boulder went 100% hippie on us and has since been defined by bands like Leftover Salmon, The String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band.  Read more

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