From Shoegazing to Sunsets: A Music Retrospective 87-97

I’ll keep this short because there is a lot to read below, should you choose to do so, maybe it will keep you busy a while and intellectualize you? Regardless. It’s easy to forgot albums of the past even though this doesn’t mean they are always forgettable. Another case is the overhype, you’ve heard about the damn album so many times (often from people you don’t like) and you’ve decided to just skip it. Well I’m here to bring a FEW (this is by no means a complete list) albums out of that old dusty mind and give them a fresh listen. I figured the best time span to start with is the first ten years of my life, 87-97. Hopefully a 98-2008 thread will soon follow, though I cant promise a thing. Enjoy.

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1987:

Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation
What better way to begin a list than with THE indie rock album, considered by many to be one of the better albums of all time and basically responsible for independent rock in from the late eighties onward. No Daydream Nation, no indie rock. This album was inducted into the library of congress, one of the only modern albums to be granted such an honor, and it was the last one enshrined. For good reason. First know this: SY basically invented loud soft dynamics. Their early stuff is borderline noise, and at times this album is too. The idea is this album is a collective unit, a (god forbid) ALBUM. Listen to the album all the way through. The dynamics of this album are incredible, soft—quiet, noise—melody, down to earth lyrics—spacey lyrics. This album has so much to offer, it may take some time to break through its tough outer shell, but I’d suggest trying.

The Pixies – Come On Pilgrim
This Ep/mini album is most significant because it symbolizes the arrival of one of the most important/influential little bands of the next 5 years. The Pixies are mere babies on this album, but their classic low-fi, post punk, whatever the hell style is there. Black Francis’ lyrics are borderline nonsensical at times, but that won’t change. This Ep is the sound of a band figuring itself out.

1988:

The Pixies – Surfer Rosa
This is the second of like four albums in four years, they were machines, and it ended up breaking them in the end, and rightfully so. It only took a year for The Pixies to come into their own, and they did it in a big way. Surfer Rosa is one of those album that was pretty important and impressive at the time but it’s full potential wouldn’t be realized until two years later when a certain long blond haired lefty guitarist by the name of Kurt Cobain decided that this album was what he wanted to be. Surfer Rosa is probably the most well regarded of their albums, but not my personal favorite. If you are familiar with Nirvana then this album should sound mildly familiar. On this album The Pixies change speed, tempo, dynamic and vocal style throughout each song, something Kurt Cobain emulated in his ‘later’ albums. The finished product is a bunch of songs that are all over the place in a good way, but are connected, though you’re not sure how.
Songs to check out: Bone Machine, River Euphrates, Where Is My Mind?

1989:

The Pixies – Doolittle
My personal favorite Pixies album, this album is Surfer Rosa +1 for me. This album sounds the most mature of all their albums. It sounds like a band, not a group of people with instruments. Black Francis was at his songwriting prime during this album. The lyrical content is great to sing along to and the riffs are catchy but not poppy. The album begins very strong with Debaser, a great song and ended more melodic and quietly with Gouge Away, another great song. In between these bookends is everything else. Monkey Gone To Heaven has some of my favorite lyrics of any song, sung only as Black Francis can, “if man is five, and the devil is six, then god is seven!” And No. 13 Baby ends with a 2 minute instrumental that peaks with some amazing guitar, I could listen to those final two minutes forever. If you’re a Modest Mouse fan listen to this album, especially Debaser and Monkey… because god does Isaac Brock sound like Black Francis.
Songs to check out: Debaser, Hey, Monkey Gone To Heaven, No. 13 Baby.

Nirvana – Bleach
This album is often forgotten because Nirvana’s follow ups were not only major label releases, but they were great, but Bleach is good in its own right. It is NOISY, and I mean noisy. Very post-punk esque. Some songs are borderline unlistenable, but the ones that are good are great. About A Girl is an awesome song as is Blew, Floyd the Barber, Scoff and Love Buzz. I’d consider the album top heavy, but if nothing else it meant Nirvana was here.

1990:

Sonic Youth – Goo
One of the big three Sonic Youth albums, and they are all in succession. Goo is the follow up to the indie giant Daydream Nation. Granted this is a tough act to follow, and no one denies that. There are a fair amount of folk who believe Goo is SY’s pinnacle. Goo is similar to Daydream Nation, but very different. The songs are shorter, quicker, condensed, whether this is a good or bad thing you judge. There is still you classic SY rocking and you classic SY noise, but hey, love it or leave it. A good solid album and Thurston Moore just keeps right on writing amazing lyrics.
Songs to check out: Kool Thing, Dirty Boots

The Pixies – Bossanova
The Pixies last strong album in my mind. It was becoming obvious by this point that the band was fighting a bit. During the tour for this album the band almost kicked out bassist Kim Deal. The songwriting was slightly more split between her and Black, but not much. This album has its share of good songs but isn’t as strong as Doolittle. This is the last Pixies release to make it on my list.
Songs to check out: The Happening, Velouria.

1991:

Nirvana – Nevermind
Nevermind, seriously, I can’t believe I’m doing this. Who doesn’t know this album, or at least know of it. The naked baby swimming album as its probably more commonly referred to as. But have you ever listened to it? Chances are you’ve heard three of the songs on the radio because the radio apparently forgot Nirvana had more songs than Smells Like Teen Spirit and Lithium. Nevermind was Cobain’s emulation of The Pixies – Surfer Rosa, and god did he top it. This album features the best of EVERYTHING involved with Nirvana except maybe a couple songs. Every song on this album is strong. It’s like Bleach…only neutralized. It’s a lot catchier, and the lyrics are sometimes bizarre or disturbing but they work perfectly. Cobain was a great lyricist and this album is the best example of it, with Come As You Are being my personal lyrical peak. I have no idea what Cobain was actually thinking during the writing of this album, but some speculate that this is basically the beginning of the end for him. I’d say being born was the beginning of the end for him, but that’s me. This album showcases his best guitar playing, and some of the best drumming Grohl spastically threw out during his stint with Nirvana. Basically this album isn’t overrated, it’s underrated. It’s everything people think it is and more, easily one of the best albums of all time. Cobain seize dynamics by the balls and show it whose boss. The songs are often soft-loud-soft—loud—loud-soft. But never Bleach loud, never ridiculous, always controlled chaos, and always amazing. Listen to this album now.
Songs to check out: Drain You, Something In The Way, Come As You Are

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Who the hell is My Bloody Valentine anyway. Just some dudes and a chick with guitars and an extremely unique vision. Music doesn’t sound like this often, and anything that does pales in comparison to the masterwork that is Loveless. This album is one of the best examples of an album as a collective unit that I have ever heard. Each song feeds off the previous and bleeds into the next. The guitar work is stellar, original, haunting and something that everyone from Blonde Redhead and The Dandy Warhols to Radiohead would try to resurrect for the next 15 years. The best way to describe Loveless……is….I guess it’s like falling into a Salvador Dali painting. You are just in an alternate universe where everything is off kilter, not as it seems. This album has so many layers, its ridiculous. Ten listens in a row wouldn’t have you scratching the surface of this baby.
Listen to this album right before or after you listen to Nevermind, they are of equal importance.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands
Another stumper? In a similar vein to My Bloody Valentine, they are two of the main bands in the genre called Shoegazing, which is perfectly fitting for this bizarre surrealistic approach to music. Fans of the Chain tend to gravitate towards their first album, Psychocandy (1985), which is not only too old for this list but also not as good as Darklands. Psychocandy sounds like the same song over and over, and sometimes its good, sometimes its just….forced. Darklands is much smoother and plays a lot easier. Its an easy and enjoyable listen and its not too far out there. This album is a great example of their style so if you dig, give there other stuff a listen.

Sebadoh – III
Lou Barlow was the bass player for Dinosaur Jr. Then D. Jr released Bug and Lou Barlow was not the bass player any longer. The first song of III, The Freed Pig, is basically about Barlow’s feelings towards D. Jr and his role in the band. I personally feel it was Dinosaur Jr’s loss considering I think Barlow is a great songwriter. This is a great album, a bit noisy without a purpose at parts though. It doesn’t flow as well as 1994’s Bakesale, but hey, its good in its own right. This album was a giant step for the low-fi genre and deserves a listen for sure.
Songs to check out: The Freed Pig, Violent Execution.

1992:

Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted
Good lord, the birth of Christ is not equal to the holiness of this album. While not my favorite album by my favorite band, there is almost no album more near and dear if only for beginning ‘a brand new era’ At times S&E is just noisy for no dern reason, except that Stephen Malkmus could really just give a fuck. Pavement is the ultimate slacker band with detuning to make playing easier, nonsensical at times silly lyrics and a style all their own. No one is like Pavement, and no one can be. This song features some of SM’s strongest songwriting. Songs like Zurich Is Stained and Here will cut to your emotional core and songs like Trigger Cut, Perfume V and In the Mouth a Desert will have you rocking the fuck out. Granted there are a couple skipable tracks, but the album has 14 songs, 12-14 isn’t a bad ratio, especially for your first album. Listen to this album, its just flat out good.

1993:

Nirvana – In Utero
All good things must come to an end. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” is the first sentence that comes to mind with this album. Neil Young wrote those famous words and Kurt Cobain famously quoted him in his suicide note, and boy Cobain has done anything but fade away. This is Nirvana’s final studio album, and it is almost as good a Nevermind. By this time Cobain was becoming disillusioned with the whole idea of making music for other people. In Utero was supposed to be a break in a new direction for the band. Three things resonate with me about this album. The first is that Cobain stressed how different this album was, and how it would test their fan base weeding out the bandwagon bitches, but it sounds virtually the same as Nevermind, or at least like the next logical step for the band that created Nevermind. The second and most interesting this is that after the album was finished Nirvana sent it to their label (Geffen) for a pre-release listen so they could determine how best to market it (I always thought, ‘from the band that brought you Nevermind’ would be a good place to start). After their listen through of the album, they called Nirvana, and claimed that the album was, and I quote, “Unlistenable.” Listen to the album, and you will understand why that statement makes no sense at all. This album is great and is different from Nevermind in all the right ways. The third and final thing that resonated with me is the last song on this album, All Apologies, one of the better songs ever written in my opinion. Nuf’ said.

1994:

Nirvana – Unplugged
After Cobain was found dead above his garage in April of 94, this album/dvd set was released that fall. This album contains some of Nirvanas best material and is probably their most accessible album. They cover a fair amount of songs, all well and they play through all of the lesser known songs in their catalog, on purpose, except for Come As You Are. The versions of these songs are all great and this set is a fan favorite and a fitting tribute.

Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
And here we are at least. If you ignore this list, heed this one album. CR/CR is the best album on this list. I don’t even know what to say about this album its so unbelievably good. SM’s best songwriting as a collective whole and awesome dynamics throughout. It’s an interesting album and it will hold your attention throughout. The last song on the album, Fillmore Jive, might be the best ending song I’ve ever heard.

Weezer – Blue Album
Remember when Weezer didn’t suck? I don’t. I was too young in 1994 to pay attention to Weezer. While Weezer is everything but a complete joke to me now this album stands the test of time. The Blue Album is one of the better punk rock – pop punk records there is. Weezer is somehow extremely catchy and depressing at the same time, its awesome. The Sweater Song, Say It Ain’t So, The World Has Turned… and Only In Dreams are all depressing as hell, but great songs. Give it a listen, then stop and forget Weezer ever made another album.

Sebadoh – Bakesale
A much more solid album than III, Bakesale is a good and easy listen. It’s cathy but interesting. A few of the songs do sound a bit the same, but not in a Jack Johnson, fucking die, sort of way. This and III I think are pretty much quintessential for the low-fi indie kid. Any kid who don’t know these is a poser.

1995:

Pavement – Wowee Zowee
The most hated album upon its release, and one of the most well revered when looked back on. Wowee Zowee is a classic, it pulls in some Crooked Rain session throwaways and makes them better (Grounded, Pueblo). This album is very solid as well. It opens and close just right and has a good mixture of off kilter lyrical play and gnarly guitar. Sm showcases his skillz a bit on this album. 18 tracks long, this album has something to offer most people.
Songs to check out: Grounded, At&t, Pueblo, We Dance, Father To A Sister of Thought

The Dandy Warhols – Dandy’s Rule Ok?
The arrival of the Dandy Warhols. What could be better? Their 2001 release Thirteen Talkes from Urban Bohemia, but hey, what are you gonna do, that’s after 97. The Dandys are an important band that not enough people know about. Their albums are all interesting and all over the place. I find sometimes I’m to tired to listen to their stuff. Im perpetually amazed that 4 people are able to make all the sounds coming out of my speakers. Lead singer/songwriter Countney Taylor-Taylor is a weird dude, but his lyrics rule and his guitar lines are either smooth as hell or jagged and mean. This album shows a band in search of itself, similar to the Pixies – Come on Pilgrim. This is a much better release though.

Elliott Smith – Elliott Smith
And the emergence of one other indie hotshot, Elliott Smith. His self titled debut begins with one of the most depressing songs Ive ever heard, and it’s the song that plays while Luke Wilson’s character slits his wrists in The Royal Tenebaumns, and man is it fitting. Needle in the Hay is the name of that sonng, and Smith’s use of metaphor throughout the song is amazing. This album is a B at best, but it’s the emergence of the indie king, for a few years at least.

1996:

Modest Mouse – This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About
Modest Mouse – Interstate 8

I’m just going to lump these two together because they are by the same artist in the same year. Interstate 8 is listed as an EP but it has 11 tracks and runs for 55 minutes. That ain’t an EP, and that’s fine with me. I think Interstate 8 is the better of the two, but both are fairly strong for such early releases. Brock sounds a lot like Black Francis at times, but otherwise MM had clearly developed its own style from the very beginning. Between Brock’s AWFUL lisp, his obsession with the whammy bar and bending notes and the bands low-fi sound they were destined for great things. Neither of these albums is a good as the 2000 compilation release: Building Nothing Out Of Something, which contains b-sides and a bunch of tracks off Interstate 8. These albums are clearly more than the sum of their parts. Brock lisps away about his awful life and his experiences with being dirt poor and they are not only believable, but entirely true and completely heartfelt.
Songs to check out: Interstate 8, All Nite Diner, Broke, Talking Shit About A Pretty Sunset

1997:

Pavement – Brighten The Corners
Pavement’s weakest release in my eyes, but that doesn’t say anything. Its like saying 9.9 is worse than 10. Brighten… signaled a shift in sound for Pavement. They began to sound like they’d been playing together for 10 years, and like they were looking to move in a smoother, quieter direction, slip underneath the radar. While Brighten… is arguably the weakest, it has some strong songs. The albums closer, Fin, is one of my favorite Pavement songs, the guitar solo at the end of that song is the definition of face-melter. Shady Lane, Type Slowly, and Starlings of the Slipstream are all slower, more melodic songs, but they are comparable to a good dream. Blue Hawaiian is a sexy little ditty that flows by so quickly you’ll wonder where it went. All in all a decent album, but not as good as its incumbent or predecessors.

The Dandy Warhols – …The Dandy Warhols Come Down
The second Dandy’s album is in the same vein as Urban Bohemia a few years down the road. Songs like Not if you Were the Last Junkie on Earth, and Good Morning are both witty and catchy. More than anything this album serves as a dipstick into their catalog, you dig? Keep going, I’d skip Welcome To The Monkey House though.

Elliott Smith – Either/Or
In only his second album Elliott Smith had written one of the strongest albums in recent memory. The lyrics on this album are heartbreaking and probably some of the most real lyrics Ive ever heard. Every song of this album is great. It stands well when you pull any one track off but shines so brightly when they are all present. This album is a pure must listen. One of the best indie rock albums ever.

Radiohead – Ok Computer
Maintstream, I know. By this time in their career Radiohead had pretty much become the Beatles of the modern era. Radiohead was only beginning to take music by the balls and stretch it to the limits. Ok Computer though, may be hard to top. While the only truly weak Radiohead release is their first release (1993’s Pablo Honey), Ok Computer in the best of the best. This album flat out rocks, and rocks hard. Johnny Greenwoods guitar playing has never been this good, Thom Yorkes lyrics so chillingly beautiful the drums so clean and tight, bass so full and every fucking other good thing there is. The album breaks you in slowly with a slower song, and then just progresses into rocking your face off. Airbag starts the album off and The Tourist takes you away. This is probably the best major label album of the 90’s and by probably I mean absolutely.

Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West
Another step towards the future for Modest Mouse, another strong early album. Its amazing to me that Isaac Brock has written so many songs on similar subjects and they are still fucking amazing. These early Modest Mouse releases are often lost in their newer more popular albums. Those albums are great too, maybe better, but there is a sense of raw?-whatever it is, in these early albums that is irreplaceable. Early Modest Mouse I find is hard to top in the sadly real department.

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If you read that all, bless you soul, and comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

-Peace-

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4 thoughts on “From Shoegazing to Sunsets: A Music Retrospective 87-97

  1. disagree with “brighten the corners”. it’s definitely the strongest album from pavement. alone the last song “fin” with the most disturbingly moving guitar solo in the nineties secures their place in the history of rock. the album is the very definition of creativity.

  2. Timmy, I must disagree, respectfully of course. I think Brighten the Corners is Pavement’s weakest album lyrically, structurally and musically. Thats not too say its not great, because I still think its great, just not as great as the others. It reminds me of a sequel in a trilogy, just one of those bridges between two great albums. Fin is a freakin amazing song, and maybe my favorite guitar moment in Pavement history.

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