Alternative and Indie

The Magnetic Fields “69 Love Songs” (1999)

Before I bought this three disc set, I had downloaded some tracks from the collection and included them on various playlists. As a result, I had different favorites over time, falling in love with various tracks as they embedded themselves into my psyche. When I finally heard all the songs together I was blown away at the uniqueness of all these tracks. There’s a lot here that works well together – simple instrumentation (some acoustic, some electro), alternating vocalists, dry humour, classic pop songwriting – Merritt is definitely one of the stellar songwriting voices of his generation. There’s just the right amount of cheese here too, not too much but just enough to at least deflate things when they become too serious. Some favourites include “When My Boy Walks Down The Street”, “Reno Dakota”, “Washington DC” and “Zebra”. Merritt should really turn these songs into some sort of musical because love is well..universal, and rightfully should be celebrated with song and dance. We see the theme of love here revealed, warts and all, with all its betrayals, bliss, rejection, infatuation, etc. This certainly isn’t Julio Iglesias territory, although it would be nice to hear the famous Latin Lover croon his way through “How Fucking Romantic.” –Neal

The Smiths “The Smiths” (1984)

If Smiths fans had a propensity for violence, I would’ve been beaten up quite a bit in middle school. You see, I was eleven and quite liked Bon Jovi – might as well get that skeleton out of the closet now. The most I got from the older Smiths fans at school (and ooh they ever were soo cool) were dirty looks or eye rolls. Well, whatever…I don’t like Bon Jovi anymore (don’t hate ’em either, they seem like nice chaps), and do consider myself a Smiths fan, but it wasn’t really anything to do with my school experiences. Enter Morrissey and Marr. The latter’s distinct guitar style is what blew me away first. He comes across as a kind of post punk Roger McGuinn. I guess I realized that one didn’t have to be a “shredder” like Eddie Van Halen to stand out as a good guitarist. Then the Moz…well, not many have managed to duplicate that croon of his have they? I remember the Smoking Popes didn’t sound anything like the Smiths, but their singer had the dry tuneless croon down pat. I find the Moz’s singing on this debut strangely attractive, even funny – especially on “Miserable Lie” on which he eventually gives up singing altogether and just kind of hoots. But everything here is instantly memorable, especially the smash hits on the latter half of the album. –Neal

Sonic Youth “Daydream Nation” (1988)

“Record collectors shouldn’t be in bands!” This is what Joe Carducci said when the other guys at SST records wanted to sign Sonic Youth in the mid eighties, And I can’t fully disagree with the statement. Sonic has spent their career as artsy NYC hipsters riding any and every genre of music that they may or may not have business making, as long as it’s “cool”. In the early days, it was mostly a band trying to balance with one foot in punk while holding on to their no wave and high art credibility. By the early nineties, they were consciously dumbing down to cash in on grunge riffs. But at some point between the two, they managed to create one of the best rock albums of all time, the massive double LP, Daydream Nation. It’s focused drive and sprawling experimentation come off so impressively natural. Somehow they balance a sort of psychedelic rock approach to slightly punk fueled pop songs with very DEAD C like noise drone outs that miraculously blend into a seamless late eighties indie record. Even the usually free flowing poetic vocals are at their least offensive. In fact most of the lyrics are amazing. It’s the band at their peak of maturity. The space inside each song seems to grow with each listen as well, which leads to what seems like endless repeated listenings. Sadly, the 4th side trails off into some annoying territory, but there’s so much to chew on already, and for the first three sides, nothing to skip. The sound suggests high art without the pretension overshadowing the human feel of the songs. Even Carducci later admitted that they were a good band in this period. That’s what I think impresses me the most about Sonic Youth; every instinct tells me that this band need’s to get real yet I always come back to them, and in Daydream’s case, rarely leave. –Alex

Morrissey “Viva Hate” (1988)

In the land ye fishey and chips, there would come about a band that would rocketh the stray teenagers of the middle class. They would defeat the masses of hair metal and 80s b-boys, but would ultimately be destroyed by time. There would be a man to rise out of the fire who would make an album better than half of said band’s. We would then call him Moz because that sounds cool and agree that he hasn’t been the same since (although You are the Quarry was a hell of a comback….ye olde You are the Quarry, I mean). Sexy British asshole male divas of the world unite. Only one, eh? –Allistair

Prefab Sprout “Steve McQueen” (1985)

Saying Steve McQueen is easy listening, is like saying Twin Peaks was a soap opera. At first glance both statements seem true, yet both works have a way of distorting such unattractive mediums so much that it becomes something so different that could never be replicated again. Now Steven McQueen doesn’t have scary synths or a lady carrying logs narrating, so I’m going to kill that comparison now. Song by song, I have heard very few albums that measure up as well as Prefab Sprout’s crowning achievement. Listening over and over (sometimes five times in a row), I just start picking out individual moments in a song that add so much more charm and mystery to the bigger picture. Paddy McAloon has one of the best vocals in music, and just had the essence of someone you want to follow or know about simply through the power of his performance. Every song on here comes so close to the line between heartbreak and recovery, that they all capture the essence of both and never fail to move me. It’s something truly special and one of the greatest albums ever. Like at the end of The Great Escape when Steven McQueen is out running the germans on his motorcycle. He sadly flips out and ends up where he began, back in the camp. He didn’t succeed but he’s happy. Why? Because he’s Steve McQueen and that’s a bad mother fucker. –Allistair

Mudhoney “Superfuzz Bigmuff” (1990)

Superfuzz Bigmuff plus Early Singles was my introduction into Mudhoney and the perfect place to start for newcomers. The great thing about this compilation is that it appeals to fans of all kinds of genres, not just grunge. Verifying the date of when this original EP was released we already know that it was before the whole grunge vogue. It even dates back before the explosion by a little band called…shit – sometimes forget the name, but they infiltrated the mainstream and changed music forever. So, if you have a problem with the “grunge” label and other typecasts no need to fret because Mudhoney is straight up garage rock with a grime quality added on to it. I can hear many influences that various bands drew together from this band. Hell, the opening track “Touch Me I’m Sick” is the absolute grunge anthem, in my opinion. It draws more from the “grungy muck” distinguishing the glorified sound that electrified the planet in the early 90’s as opposed to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” have-on-loan resonance of the Pixies “slow-fast” format. There is no denying the fact why one song was bigger than the other. Mudhoney was more interested in the raw sound of the Stooges and the debris of it all. Often the songs are just repeat uncomplicated lyrics with effortless playing, but there was a reason why these guys are so appropriately labeled the igniters of a revolution. Mark Arms feral scream was so concentrated that it was only rivaled by that of a Mr. Cobain. These guys had the gravy, while so many others were lingering, trying to play catch-up. Everybody I know gets hooked on this band as soon as they hear this album. –Jason

Hüsker Dü ”Candy Apple Grey” (1986)

A far cry from the ealier fuzzed-out-high-electric sound they created on past works, but the extremely catchy melodies are what makes Candy Apple Grey truly soar. I didn’t know how to take it at first. My first exposure was New Day Rising and that, of course, is what made me fall in love with them, so I was a little taken’ aback with the melancholy subject matter. Nevertheless, this has become my favorite Husker album by a long shot. There’s no filler, just 10 top-notch songs that I never get tired of hearing. The set perfectly displays how far these guys have progressed from album to album and the fact that it was their major label debut paints the notion of a band that reached their full potential and achieved every ambition they set out to accomplish. Candy Apple Grey is hands down one of the most perfect albums I have ever heard. –Jason

Chameleons “Strange Times” (1986)

How can you not think The Chameleons are the most underrated band of all time, once you get this far into their catalogue? The guitars single handedly inspired U2 and Interpol, the lyrics were approaching topics unconventional and honest, and the albums were just so complete and original. From the sorrow of losing a close friend to the excitement/desperation of losing your virginity, Strange Times carried a weird variety of topics and themes that carried feelings of joy and sadness. With no mention in Rolling Stones top 500 albums list, no mention in Pitchfork’s 80s list, a recent reunion that went unnoticed, there is no second chance for the mainstream to get a glimpse into the genius of The Chameleons. It will forever be remained as that band with the awesome sleeves that your uncle has in his collection. Probably some derivative post-punk shit, nothing important. –Allistair

My Bloody Valentine “Isn’t Anything” (1988)

My Bloody Valentine spent a few years wasting time in paisley limbo before growing a massive pair and reinventing psychedelic music as well as a new language for the electric guitar. Isn’t anything is their first full length representation of this, and in my opinion, their greatest achievement as a band. Jesus and Marychain and Spacemen 3 may have peaked before this, as critics love to point out, but who really gives a shit? The Marychain and Spacemen are the dictionary definition of posers, who in the process of riding on America’s musical history for cool points, happened to luck out and make some good music. But there’s nothing original there, no real emotion. Isn’t Anything, on the other hand, is just a total swirling cacophony of electric sounds and emotions; sometimes bending, sometimes stacked on top of each other,sometimes crashing. You realize that this is truly what it feels like to be an opened up human being. It’s the feeling that you’re feeling everything at once and bordering on insanity except that the one connecting point is, no matter what emotions are consuming your senses, they will be extreme. Love, loss, change, it’s all here in it’s purest form, the abstract form. And what’s truely impressive is that the music doesn’t sound dated at all yet it’s blatently psychedellic. The drums and bass border on hardcore via Dinosaur Jr’s mammoth-like approach, while the guitars and vocals, both provided by the heavenly duo of Kevin Sheilds and Belinda Butcher, flow over and consume the sound in a way that the ocean might look lazy but ultimately it couldn’t give a fuck about you and could wipe you out in a second if you were in the way of it’s power. Just throw this on, and make sure it’s at a somewhat loud enough volume. –Alex

Mission of Burma “Vs.” (1982)

A densely visceral piece of post-punk that manages to evoke a whole spectrum of moods with limited means, I would say this is as important as early Sonic Youth and Husker Du but better than both; as challenging as any of the most difficult work of Wire or Pere Ubu, but less pretentious; as abrasive as the UK’s industrial scene, but a whole lot more fun; hypnotic, like Krautrock, but never usable for ambience; and as meat ‘n’ potatoes as the Ramones. No one quite sounds like this group, who serve up a very noisy piece of rawk that anticipates both grindcore (but slower) and shoegaze (but rougher). Empty genre-bending this ain’t, however. I’ll say it’s one of the half-dozen or so best guitar records of the 80s, especially because, without it, Daydream Nation (one of its only peers in the underground) probably wouldn’t exist. –Will

The Replacements “Don’t Tell a Soul” (1989)

As a band who’ve historically been placed among the top dogs of the punk herd, it’s predictable that fans of The Replacements earlier material hate this break from the pack solely on principal. But taken away from those preconceptions, Don’t Tell a Soul is a is blatantly commercial, adult-rock winner that continues to highlight Westerberg’s talents as an excellent songwriter. The collapsing band turn in engaging, effortlessly heartbroken melodies on songs like “Back to Back,” “Asking Me Lies,” and the almost contemporary country-flavored “Achin’ to Be,” while “I’ll Be You” and “Talent Show” are hooky as hell. Only “I Won’t” flops as an unnecessary attempt to get rowdy and, yeah, sound like the “old” Replacements. Selling out rarely sounds this good. –Ben

Weezer “Weezer” (1994)

The great tunes here deal with sex (as great songs usually do), such as “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Only in Dreams.” The epic “Say it Ain’t So” is one of the best songs of the decade, period. The band doesn’t waste time noodling around and every track sounds punchy and vital. Another positive are the smart lyrics. Not smart because they try to be clever – quite the opposite, actually. Every word rings true, which is quite a feat considering they aren’t masked by slick wordplay or attempts at poetic garbage. Cuomo writes pop songs as perfect as Oasis thinks theirs are. Somehow, the band filters them through the type of sun-drenched garage sensibility that is usually reserved for SoCal bands only. Finally, Weezer never overreaches or missteps, making this a thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish. –Lucus