Early Cocktails, Outdoor Showers
It's summertime! It's really, reeeally summertime. I accept it, I welcome it, I embrace it.
When the days get hot and sultry, the music's gotta follow suit...
My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult~ Hit and Run Holiday
Thrill Kill Kult's sex-drugs-and-Satan take on sleazy excess has all the kitsch value of a John Waters flick. I used to cue up "Glamour Is a Rocky Road" during my dj sets whenever I thought the crowd needed a life, I mean, a lift. Also love the blissed-out instrumental outro piece, "The Last Ride Out" and the rest of this disc, for that matter. Most people consider TKK to be an industrial band but I just can't imagine someone like the dour, black-clad Trent Reznor going anywhere near the '50's B-movie beach party vibe of this record with a ten-foot pole. That's why it's so refreshing.
Underworld~ Second Toughest in the Infants
I always used to play this when I got home from the clubs in the summer of 1997, while the sun crawled up out of the East River. To me it's the perfect soundtrack for that particular occasion. It's also a massive slab of stupefyingly masterful techno. Sweltering, delirious dance music. I heart Underworld!
Lemme guess -- you've never heard of this! I love spreading the word about great records nobody knows about. Singer/songwriter Denzil's one and only album, Pub, is filled with completely engaging, lager-drenched ruminations on stale romances, fatherhood, aging and DRINKING — all imbued with a decidedly wry, English sensibility. The sad/funny tales are packed with poignant honesty, squalid working-class details, and a darkly self-effacing sense of humor. Yet another excellent album and artist that were nearly completely overlooked.
I have to credit the late Carol Schutzbank, a lovely and fantastic lady I knew while I was still living in PA, for turning me onto this record and several others on this list. She was a music journalist (and major music fan) who wrote for alot of different Philadelphia-area publications in the 90's, including the now defunct B-Side magazine. To make a few extra bucks, she would occasionally have friends over to her apartment and sell many of the promo CDs and cassettes that would accumulate there, for $2 or $3 apiece. I only went to Carol's place once (with my friend Frank Phobia), in the early summer of 1994; but I walked away with quite a few wonderful musical discoveries and cheap deals, to boot. She died way, way too young in 1995.
Pantera~ Far Beyond Driven
Carol sold this one to me, as well. The riffs and playing on this record are ridiculously over the top. Not as essential as Vulgar Display of Power (which is, ahem, one of the BADDEST heavy metal albums ever!) but scorching stuff anyway, just hissing and burbling with Dimebag Darrell's liquid, molten guitar riffing.
Southern Culture on the Skids~ Ditch Diggin'
Hah! I remember Carol telling me I had to check this band out, so I dutifully bought the cassette from her for two dollars. If you don't know anything about SCOTS, maybe the songtitles will give you a sense of what they're about: "Too Much Pork (For Just One Fork)," "Mudbuggy," "Put Your Teeth (Up On The Windowsill)," "Chicken Shit Farmer"...yep, gloriously tongue-in-cheek, white-trash rockity roll. Recommended for woozy, pitch-black nights on the back porch.
Sonic Youth~ Dirty and Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star
I'm not exactly a huge Sonic Youth fan but I've always LOVED the Dirty album. I know Daydream Nation is the one all the critics drool over but I'd rather listen to the smoldering, beautiful Dirty any day. Its follow-up, the windily-titled Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star, doesn't get talked about much as far as I know but I think it's got a certain haunting beauty. Plus, it's the cassette I bought from Carol so I'll hang onto it.
Madonna~ Immaculate Collection
This here's a desert island disc, yes indeedy. I bought this in the brutal summer of '97 as part of one of those mail-order CD club deals (along with, if I correctly recall, Sublime, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar, among others). "La Isla Bonita" is medicinal, like a magarita.
Shudder To Think~ Get Your Goat
I thought (and still think) that Shudder's major label debut, Pony Express Record, is a bloody flat-out masterpiece, so I've bought some of the other records in the band's catalog. Sadly, nothing's quite like Pony. But that doesn't mean the other records aren't good. All the ones I've heard are very good, in fact; they're all just really different from each other.
Get Your Goat, Shudder's last record for Ian McKaye's Dischord label, is a snapshot of the band's quirky early years; the inscrutable lyrics and obtuse, arty rhythms that characterize Pony are here, but they're wrapped in much more subdued sonics, almost completely lacking the metallic bombast that would grace Shudder's later recordings. And, heck, I can listen to Craig Wedren sing the phone book.
Underrated band and album. This band stood out as the real deal among all the annoying ska/crossover bands of the mid-to-late 90's. Great songs delivered with inspired, raw performances; there's a certain squalid, steamy quality to this album. The singer/guitarist died right around the time this record was released. What a shame.
The Waterboys~ Dream Harder
I bought this at a used CD joint in 1994, driven by a vague recollection of a Waterboys song called "The Whole of the Moon" that had made an impression on me at some earlier point in time. This record didn't have "Whole of the Moon" on it, and, as I would find out later, it didn't even have the original Waterboys on it (I believe some of them went off to form World Party?). But despite all that I really like Dream Harder -- many of the tunes, like "The New Life" and "Glastonbury Song" are stridently uplifting; plus, I guess I'm just nostalgic for summer of 1994.
Bad Brains~ ROIR cassette
Inhuman, messianic punk rock that is hot, hot, blazing HOT with life-affirming anger, hope and PMA. That's Positive Mental Attitude. A good thing to hang on to.
AC/DC~ Let There Be Rock and Highway to Hell
Let There Be Rock is just so grimy and noisy, loud, sweaty and filthy. AC/DC were basically punks, weren't they? What an exhilarating record. The band practically jump through the speakers at you.
Highway to Hell was the last 'DC record with Bon Scott and it was probably their best. When I was 13 and I had just discovered rock and roll, I bought a very used cassette of Highway to Hell from a dodgy older kid in my neighborhood -- he was one of those sketchy burn-out types who had a bad adolescent pseudo-moustache and probably sold drugs. Hah, I wonder where he is now? I can't even remember his name, but it may have been Bob. Anyway he sold me a cassette of Highway to Hell and it ruled my summer. I lost the cassette somewhere along the way but I'm happy to say that the cd remaster sounds much better anyway. All hail AC/DC and god bless Bon Scott!
Various Artists~ Saturday Night Fever Original Soundtrack
I bought this in the wicked, unforgiving, hell-hot, rotten garbage-reeking New York Summer of '97 and luxuriated in the cooling genius of the Bee Gees. Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" is as achingly beautiful as pop music gets.
Quicksand~ Slip and Manic Compression
Quicksand's first album RULES! There are so damn many hair-raising moments on Slip, the band must have run out of them. I bought the follow-up, Manic Compression, on vinyl when it came out in summer of 1995 and to my ears it just didn't have the same magic. It sounds great and the style is basically the same, but I don't know, it doesn't move me nearly as much. Still enjoyable to put on once in a blue moon, though. Nostalgia, etc.
Japan~ mix cd
I used to know this girl Nia who made me a great Japan compilation in summer of '02. What a great, ahead-of-their time band they were. Duran Duran stole their sound and visuals, lock stock and barrel, from Japan. Believe it.
Jesus and Mary Chain~ Munki
JAMC delivered their last album with little fanfare in 1998 and everyone said "well, it's no Psychocandy..." but the truth is Munki is a really solid Mary Chain record. It's got a little of everything the band had done up til that point: the vitriol, the noise, the subdued acoustic-based numbers, the druggy psychedelic bits, the baggy beats, even a Hope Sandoval cameo. It is in fact a perfect career summation. I heartily recommend Munki, even as an introduction to the band. Who wants another Psychocandy, anyway? One is enough.
Daft Punk~ Homework
This album changed my life and to this day there is nothing else that makes me feel the same way. It breaks my heart that Daft Punk haven't made another album of this quality.
Stevie Wonder~ Songs in the Key of Life
I think this was another BMG cd club selection from the summer of '97. I remember being obsessed with "Sir Duke" that summer and learning the whole instrumental section on the guitar. I'll bet a million musicians have done that. It's just so much fun to play. Stevie Wonder is a deity.
Here's another one to file in the "betcha never heard a' this one before" drawer. What a cool little record this is. In 1997 I was playing guitar for a singer/songwriter from Montreal and our drummer was a great guy -- great drummer, too -- named Gonzalo Martinez (where are you, Gonzo?! I hope you're still playing your ass off!). Anyhoo, Gonzo was in this other band called Lincoln, whose record was put out by London Records that summer.
I bought a copy of Lincoln to support Gonzalo, but I wound up loving the album anyway. How to describe it? I suppose you could say it's got a bit of a They Might Be Giants influence; it's brainy, a little geeky and very eclectic -- there's a alt-pop, a dash of country-rock and a splash of synth-pop -- but not at all derivative of any genre. The lyrics are exceptionally quirky, sometimes very personal, sometimes ludicrously light. Lead vocalist/songwriter/bandleader Christopher Temple has a voice oddly reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant, of all people.
I saw Lincoln play at Brownies later that year and they were really good. Guitar player was top-shelf. Unfortunately, they broke up in '98.
Morphine~ Like Swimming
My good friend Marty from back home in PA used to send me care packages back in my early days in New York and one of them included a copy of Morphine's Like Swimming (Megadeth's Cryptic Writings was on the other side!). Lots of great tunes on this record: "Early to Bed," "French Fries With Pepper," "Wishing Well." What a cool, one-of-a-kind band Morphine were. Hot, slow, whiskey drinking music. Rest in peace, Mark Sandman.
Fleetwood Mac~ Rumours
Bought this on vinyl in summer '97 somewhere on MacDougal Street. I figured I oughta have it. I'm sorry, kids, but you can't mess with this. Rumours is a masterpiece.
Cracker~ Kerosene Hat
Wow, here's one I haven't heard in aeons. I think I got rid of the cd shortly after moving to NYC but thinking about it now makes me wanna go buy it again. This record was ubiquitous in 1994, remember? "Low" and "Get Off This" were all over MTV, or at least 120 Minutes. Other favorites include "Sweet Potato" and "Let's Go for a Ride." Not quite as rednecky as Southern Culture on the Skids, but close enough.
Alien Sex Fiend~ Here Cum Germs
Bizarro, cartoonish electro goth. Adorable! I bought this on vinyl somewhere on St. Mark's Place years ago. This charmingly simplistic and amateurish piece of LSD-addled, basement-dwelling death-rock goofiness has its moments but most of the ideas are pretty unfocused and undeveloped; the "songs" usually consist of primitive drum loops, samples, some stray guitars, found-sound atmospherics, and Nik Fiend's silly rants and chants. Still, it's good antisocial music to annoy your parents and neighbors with.
Primal Scream~ Screamedelica
I have no idea what the rave scene was like in early-90's-era Manchester, England, but Screamedelica seems to be as accurate a souvenir of that time and place as anything, by most accounts. I enjoy this album when the time's right but in my opinion, XTRMNTR pisses all over it. Then again, that's like comparing apples and bananas, isn't it? Primal Scream, what a great band.
Prince~ Around the World in a Day
What a happy, summery piece of virtuoso pop genius this is. Prince, another deity. I bought this in summer of '99. "Around the World in a Day," "Raspberry Beret," "Tamborine" and, one of my most favoritest songs ever, "Pop Life," are untouchable!! Part of the soundtrack to my first summer in Williamsburg.
The Cars~ Panorama
It's easy to forget how arty and weird The Cars were. Alot of casual listeners probably consider them a light new wave band but their bread and butter was brainy, post-Roxy Music art-pop with bizarre, impressionistic lyrics. Panorama is perhaps their oddest album. I love the lesser-celebrated albums in a band's catalog. "Touch and Go," "Gimme Some Slack," "You Wear Those Eyes" -- such curious, idiosyncratic pop music! And to think, The Cars were one of the top sellers of their time.
DJ Shadow~ Endtroducing...
I taped a copy of Keeta's copy of this while I was sleeping on his floor for six weeks in the summer of 1998. Beautiful, unsettling, sometimes terrifying cut-and-paste sonic mosaics by the brilliant DJ Shadow, who worked on Kool Keith's twisted magnum opus Doctor Octagon, Octogonocologist.
I know, it's hard to believe Moby was once cool but he was. Play is a tremendous album that was ruined by its author's decision to whore all of its songs out to television commercials. Not just a great album, but a really great summer album. This, along with the Chemical Brothers' awesome Surrender, Eminem's first album and the Lo-Fi Allstars, kept me safe and dry above the waters of depression in the long, hot summer of 1999. Too bad all those songs are spoiled now; I can't even listen to Play anymore.
Queen~ Sheer Heart Attack
Sheer Heart Attack was Queen's third album and the second one they made in the year 1974. Considering the scale of Queen's productions, that's pretty unbelievably amazing and it makes you wonder how today's bands have the nerve to keep their fans waiting four years only to come out at the end with some tepid piece of product.
Getting off the subject here. Sheer Heart Attack is often called Queen's heaviest album, and that's probably correct. Its first song, "Brighton Rock," features a blistering, unaccompanied guitar solo in its midsection that has probably sent many a guitar player running to the woodshed. Scary. It's also got the lacerating "Flick of the Wrist" and the storming "Stone Cold Crazy," which Metallica would cover a decade and a half later. Heavy indeed.
But it also features a sublime slice of ornate pop music perfection called "Killer Queen," two painfully gorgeous piano ballads, "Lily of the Valley" and "Dear Friends," a breathlessly spot-on ragtime romp, "Bring Back that Leroy Brown," and the Caribbean-tinged gem "Misfire." Queen could do ANYTHING.
One Dove~ Morning Dove White
Looking back, One Dove's sole album, released in 1993, could be viewed as a major influence on trip hop; all the ingredients are there: a soulful chanteuse (Dot Allison), moody dub soundscapes fused with dance and funk beats, a production job courtesy of Andrew Weatherall (who lent his skills to the aforementioned Screamedelica).
Sadly, most people never heard about this record and it remains a buried and forgotten treasure. Go find a copy and enjoy. Perfect for stifling, torrid nights.
One of the best heavy rock acts of the 1990's, along with Helmet, White Zombie and Pantera. This record is positively vicious; it sizzles like macadam in mid-August.
I've got alot of Pills stuff, thanks to Sheena, who pipelined me a ton of great, free music while working at TVT records. Pills are a relatively little-known (stateside, anyway) French dance act, masterminded by one Anthony Sandor, who has successfully exploited the common thread that connects punk rock, dub-reggae, and techno. Decidedly more raw and noisy than the pristine funk of fellow Frenchmen like Daft Punk and Cassius, who update the feel-good vibes of disco, Pills' gritty old-school house beats (complete with vintage synthetic handclaps and sirens) and crunchy analogue synth riffs are a logical extension of punk.
Various Artists~ Run Lola Run Original Soundtrack
Appropriately, the music from Run Lola Run is frenetic, fast-paced techno — which serves as the driving force behind the film's adrenalized action sequences. About half the pieces were composed by the director himself (Tom Tykwer). Pills contribute a track as well. I haven't listened to this in ages, but it was in heavy rotation during the summer of '99, when I was busy assembling P*S*K.
Wu Tang Clan~ Enter the Wu-Tang
I love hip hop that sounds like it's right from the street. I hate the overblown, glossy productions all fluffed up with r&b harmonies. Bleeach. Give me this foul, ugly, lo-fi shit any day! What a scary, funny, messed-up album this is, straight from the fetid waste dumps of Staten Island.
One of my favorite bands you've never heard of. I saw Eleven open for Soundgarden in summer of '94 and was floored. I quickly got my hands on a copy of their then-current, self-titled second album and fell in love. The guitars were loud and fuzzy, but the musical sophistication of this band -- not only compositional prowess but sheer chops —- stood well above the fray in the slacker 90's.
Led by the husband/wife duo of Alain Johannes (guitars and lead vocals) and Natasha Shneider (keyboards and lead vocals), Eleven's primary calling card is a pair of extraordinary voices, both of which are capable of growling, raw intensity and soulful understatement.
If Johanssens's formidable and totally distinctive six-string skills — which employ a supersaturated, slippery legato and rich chord voicings — are impressive, his wife's instrumental duties — which include not only providing the lush textural and chordal keyboard parts with her right hand, but also all of the basslines with her left, may be even more amazing. Meanwhile, no-nonsense skinsman (and former Red Hot Chili Pepper) Jack Irons lays his grooves right in the pocket, adding a foursquare rock swagger to the proceedings.
This album rocks hard, stadium-style, but is intercut with enough dynamic and tonal variety to make it a riveting start-to-finish listen. Eleven's music is also injected with loads of tasty exotic influences that make for endless unpredictable melodic twists and turns. I can't say enough about this album or this band. I've got all their records but this one's still my fave.
About ten years ago (almost exactly, in fact), just after I moved to NYC, I was walking in the West Village with my friend Jen Murphy and we ran into Johannes and Natasha in the street. They were so cool! They stopped to chat for awhile and I told them what a big fan I was of the band. They were in town with Soundgarden, who were taping a Saturday Night Live performance that night. Incidentally, Johannes and Natasha are also the duo responsible for producing and playing most of the instruments on Chris Cornell's solo album, and they were in the touring version of Queens of the Stone Age last year. Such talented people.
Other Eleven records I recommend: Avantgardedog and last year's Howling Book.
(Too many albums to talk about! To be continued...)