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Thread: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

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    The Encyclopedia bmack86's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Unwound was a band from Tumwater, Washington who played Post-Hardcore music, essentially the stuff you normally associate with Fugazi and Jawbox and Drive Like Jehu and that Cloud Nothings would like to sound like now. They were the first band to release music on Kill Rock Stars, the label that, throughout the 90s and early 00s was primarily associated with them and their sister band, Sleater-Kinney. They started as a loud, aggressive, discordant act, developed this style into an art, and then, in 1998, made enough money and developed enough credibility with their label to build their own studio. For the next three years they worked on their masterpiece, which, for a change, actually turned out to be one. Of course, they broke up soon after it came out.

    They were a fiercely independent band, playing guitars in alternate tunings, touring almost exclusively venues that were all-ages, and creating lyrics and artwork that referenced rebellious (frequently communist and futurist) thinkers. They were great. Learn about them.

    1. Fake Train (1993) - B



    Dragnalus is a monster of a way to introduce a first album: it’s explosively loud, angry and intense. Welcome to the land of Unwound. While the band had been together since 1991 and recorded one album before this (see below for more!), Fake Train was their first release. The reductive line that critics used for years to describe Unwound was Sonic Youth meets Fugazi, and on this album that is an incredibly apt description. They use Fugazi’s punk-speckled blasts of instrumental precision and pepper it with Sonic Youth-y guitar ambience and instrumental passages. Ignored in this grouping, however, is the fact that Unwound were contemporaries of Fugazi, rather than another rip-off group, and even on their early work they show their own unique style. While much of the album grinds, screeches and blasts its way through ferocious cuts, songs like Star Spangled Hell allow for winding instrumental breakdowns that show the band had a grasp on beauty. The biggest complaint I have is that this one is a bit samey: by the end most of the songs have blurred into a ferocious whole rather than differentiating themselves. Regardless, a high-octane and thrilling debut.

    2. New Plastic Ideas (1994) – B+



    Much like Fake Train, New Plastic Ideas sprints right out of the gate. Both Entirely Different Matters and What Was Sound are hard, loud, fast rockers. This time they owe more of a debt to Jawbox circa For Your Special Sweetheart, with driving guitars and rhythms set to screamed vocals that nod to melody without ever actually getting there. It wouldn’t be fair to call anything on this album catchy or poppy in a general sense, but there is more a sense of dynamics on this one than Fake Train, and they sound MUCH more in control of their fury and craft, creating songs that do more than just bleed into one another. Envelope and [BI]Hexenzsene[/I], for example, have verses that are sung rather than screamed. And then there’s Abstraktions, a 7+ minute instrumental that shows they’ve delved into Slint and early post-rock and can pull off a similar sound with ease. The back half, with the exception of All Souls Day, incorporates this influence into their larger sound. All Souls Day, on the other hand, is the highlight of the album, a near-melodic grinder that, at the end, locks into a single note pulse for nearly a minute before exploding to an end. Pound for pound, New Plastic Ideas is just below Repetition as the highlight of their early career, but it nevertheless is a bracingly great post-hardcore record from one of the best bands of the genre.

    3. The Future of What (1995) – C



    They go for ugly here, and they go for it hard. New Energy starts the album with a driving grind, setting the stage for the relative fury that would follow. Unfortunately, the grind tends to envelop most of the steps they had taken on New Plastic Ideas and obscures even the nuance that existed on Fake Train. Like that album, the songs bleed into each other due to a lack of change, but here it becomes more of a drain. Swan, the obligatory long song, drones on for 8 plodding minutes without much to show for it. After the developments of New Plastic Ideas, this can be viewed as nothing other than a disappointment. While it’s not bad, that doesn’t mean it’s good. (Note: there are quite a few Unwound fans who will insist this is a great album, so maybe I’m missing something. But, to me it is their least varied, least developed album outside of the first recording. Segue!)

    4. Unwound (1995) – C-



    Although not released until 1995, this was their first recording. The only release to feature Brandt Sardeno on drums rather than Sara Lund (he came back to play second guitar on the final album), it is the one to most clearly show their debt to Fugazi. Justin Trosper sings like a brutalized Guy Picciotto and his guitar parts are meatier and less jazz-influenced here than on anything they recorded afterward. A few songs (Understand and Forget and You Bite My Tongue) stand out due to more jaunty rhythms but otherwise the bulk of the release is a bit same-y, with the grind and scream of The Future of What overtaking the atmosphere. A blueprint, but not a terribly essential one.

    5. Repetition (1996) – A



    And oh, how different. Every previous release immediately started with a grinding guitar and pummeling drums: here, there’s electronic interference into guitars that chime, drums that almost swing and a near-funky bassline. Sure, Trosper screams his ass off a minute into Message Received, but the sound here is fuller, cleaner and just BETTER. Repetition tends to be the go-to early Unwound album for a very simple reason: it has the best songwriting and playing of their early career. Corpse Pose musically anticipates At The Drive-In’s best work, with a guitar line that blends post-hardcore guitar lines with blasts of pure, controlled noise over the suddenly-masterful rhythm section. And Trosper never screams, instead intoning the lyrics in a deadly monotone and reaching a strained near-falsetto for the bridge. It’s fantastic. Where before the grind and noise was an end unto itself, here they use these approaches as textural elements to build fuller songs, incorporating more nuanced guitars and vocals. However, the real stars of the show are Sara Lund and Vern Rumsey, who have developed into a precise, meaty and powerful rhythm section, which frees Trosper’s guitar up to more adventuresome approaches. He plays less here than on any previous album, and the space does their music wonders. Space is a good word for Sensible, where they create an honest-to-god good dub song that doesn’t sound out of place with the rest of the record. Go To Dallas And Take A Left, the penultimate track, veers from their prior instrumentals in that is a fairly successful attempt at free jazz/rock, with Lund’s drums propelling the band as Trosper and producer Steve Fisk battle on guitar and keys. A bleating sax jumps into the maelstrom at the end just to add to the fun. For Your Entertainment is the ideal closer, their most melodic track thus far, and one that builds to a big, almost-prog-like finale. A huge achievement.

    6. Challenge For A Civilized Society (1998) – B+



    Here, Unwound takes the progress from Repetition and applies it both to their older style and to new formats. Data opens the album like something that would have fit in on New Plastic Ideas, angular and grinding, but with the new-found space and rhythmic intensity that the band perfected on Repetition. Towards the end, however, the song dives head first into melody and pretty yet discordant guitar lines. Sonata For Loudspeakers is, far and away, their most successful and fully realized instrumental. They develop it from a quiet head to a thick, horn-filled climax as if they were a jazz band, circa ragtime. Not an era I would ever have expected to reference in regard to a post-punk band, but they exude the combination of joy and anxiety that pervades the best of that genre. Following the track with No Tech!, a short, angular yet tuneful rock track that would have fit on a Sleater-Kinney album is just perfect. The only problem I have with Sonata is that, two tracks later, they honestly create something more worthy of the name. Side Effects of Being Tired starts as a rock song then evolves into echoed, effects laden guitars, a propulsive bass-and-drum combo, and a plethora of other effects that create a noise symphony. They keep the work in control the whole time, even as it rages into discordant noises and electronic free-for –all. It’s a highly impressive piece. The last tracks reach for, and achieve a level of quiet beauty that early Unwound could never have thought to achieve. The only thing that holds this album backs is an early trio of songs that don’t reach to the same height-everything between Data and Sonata is good, but far too reductive and old-sounding to complement the strong growth shown on the rest of the album. Still a highly enjoyable listen and a step towards maturity for the band.

    7. A Single History (1999) – B



    In case you didn’t gather from the name, this is a singles collection. While not complete, it gathers a majority of the singles that Unwound released during their career, arranged in an order that makes sense musically rather than chronologically. This makes a certain degree of sense, as, while the band progressed greatly from their initial formation in 1991 to the date of the last single on this comp, 1997 (Mile Me Deaf/The Light At the End of the Tunnel Is A Train,) they maintained a unity of vision amongst their work. It also shows that Unwound was a very strong singles band, as many of the songs are highlights of their career even if they would not have fit in on the albums from their respective release dates. Opener Mile Me Deaf sounds like a progression of the melodic material on Repetition, with solid singing and a great beat. After that, they retreat to a series of more noisy, grinding tracks that would nevertheless have improved the thin, discordant The Future of What. MKUltra, in particular, shows a level of restraint they never approached on that album, and would have been a highly welcome breather track. Seen Not Heard, from the Repetition era, revs with a single-minded intensity while retaining the relative melodic developments from that album. That said, there are just as many duds here as there are hits. The early material (Caterpillar, Miserific Condition, Stumbling Block, and Crab Nebula) from 1991 suffers from a lack of development relative to later work. It’s also sorely missing Lund’s deft drumming. Said Serial may have the most annoying keyboard sound ever, and it just never develops into something worth listening to. That they follow it with Census, a short dub jazz instrumental that rivals their best work, is perverse and genius. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Plight is a cover of a Minutemen track, possibly the best band that’s ever existed-instant respect for the fact that they do it great justice.

    And then there’s The Light At the End of the Tunnel is A Train, the longest song in their whole catalog. While it doesn’t actually close out the album (that is left to one of the lackluster 1991 tracks) it might as well have. It starts with a calm ambient opening before delving into electronic manipulations the drums and guitars from All Souls Day. They quiet down before ramping back into another Unwound sample, this time the drums and guitars and effects from No Tech!, with a really ridiculous answering message track from a dude describing a horrible-sounding aerobic workout music. It's a great, expansive track, totally unlike anything else Unwound did and completley worth listening to at least once. I wish I could bump the grade up for the inclusion of this track, but about half the album is faceless post-hardcore grinding that they did better elsewhere, while the rest trumps some of their best work. A mixed bag, as with pretty much all singles compilations, but worth hearing.

    8. Leaves Turn Inside You (2001) – Grade: A+



    There is nothing in Unwound’s catalog (really, in the KRS catalog or much in the post-punk/post-hardcore catalog) that will prepare you for this album. After years of matching abrasion with moments of sheer beauty, Unwound took the time to carefully craft a song cycle that truly shines, radiating craft, precision and gorgeous, developed textures. Right from the start, this album declares that it will be neither an easy listen nor a traditional punk offering, opening with individual organ tones that combine into a drone that lasts for near on two minutes (Fun fact: Brandt Sardeno, their original drummer, is playing the organ, the first sound you hear on the album.) As the actual song section of We Invent You takes hold, it becomes immediately apparent that the band is stepping out from its previous attack of vicious tones. In its place is an austere, nearly catchy vocal drone that swims in and out of the guitar tones. The band is completely together and the song is an ocean of tones. Look A Ghost follows with chiming, quickly arpeggiated guitar tones that fight with the syncopated vocals and Lund’s shifting drums to create a rhythmic beast of a track. While a track like this one would have, on previous releases, burst into grating guitars and pummeling drums, here they reach a point where the song has a near-Beatles instrumental tone, chiming with light drums and a bouncy bass. In the middle of a dark, post-hardcore track. Suffice to say, Unwound have grown up.

    While the majority of the album finds them stretching their craft in as many ways as it can go, incorporating strings, synths and whatever else they can find, they also perfect the styles they’d worked with previously. December or Scarlette may nominally have fit in on past albums, but there is such a depth to the tone of the guitars, such a respect for space, and such a huge leap in Trosper’s vocal delivery that these songs are heads and tails above what they’d done before (Scarlette is the only song with Trosper screeching like he used to.) The middle section continually approaches and expands the post-hardcore tropes (angular guitars, driving rhythms, melodic basslines) into fully-formed expressions that nobody else in the genre ever truly approached. That they also reincorporate the shoegaze (One Lick Less), post-rock (Terminus) and free jazz/musique concrete (Summer Freeze) influences from prior records only elevates the whole album.

    At 74 minutes, it is a daunting experience. However, there were few other punk bands working at this level: only Fugazi was able to come up with something similarly melodic, dense and affecting in the Argument. It’s fitting that, for both bands, these albums were their swan songs. They operate both as their definitive statements and the furthest stretches of their artistic reaches. The Argument is one of the more important albums in my development. I heard it first of all Fugazi albums, bought it completely without any outside influence and have adored it for ten years. That I prefer Leaves Turn Inside You should be a testament to the incredible work that Unwound achieved with this album. It deserves every bit of praise I have given it: an A+ is nothing but recognition that, by the end of their career, Unwound had achieved perfection. That it is prohibitively expensive as a physical product now is ludicrous. Despite the fact that I own a vinyl copy, I have petitioned Kill Rock Stars for years to repress this classic, to no avail.
    I feel conflicted suggesting this as the ideal starting point for Unwound. It is, without a doubt, the highlight of their career, their most accessible and successful recording, a highlight of any genre you wish to include them in, and one of the most impressive albums of the 2000s. However, to listen to this first will forever spoil the rest of the fantastically enjoyable Unwound catalog. They worked towards such a phenomenal success, and perhaps you should too.

    Edit: I reviewed every release bar A Single History based on its vinyl release.
    Last edited by bmack86; 01-23-2013 at 01:11 AM.
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    Remember Hitler? I don't but here we are again .. cr****

  2. #2252
    Member FEELS's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Hell yeah! I've always wanted to listen to them. The Leaves Turn Inside You write-up is beautiful

    9/25 Titus Andronicus @ The Glass House
    10/17 Ariel Pink & Black Lips @ Pappy & Harriets

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    old school stuporfly's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Finishing up my take on Blur's discography today, I hope. Will be including compilations and live albums.
    Quote Originally Posted by garspaceman View Post
    well hello my fancy pants.

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    The Encyclopedia bmack86's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Dinosaur Jr. will be in here within a day or two.
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    Remember Hitler? I don't but here we are again .. cr****

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    old school theklein25's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Pretty Lights? What's the shortest but best ep/album to get a general idea?

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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Wrong thread for that. There's one where someone asks about an artist and someone else recommends an album.
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    Rover canexplain's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Just cuz ..........cr****

    Have Another Hit Of Colorado Sunshine

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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Fancy some reading material? Take a gander at ... Guided by Voices.

    I grew up near Dayton, OH, in the 1980's, which means I had the good fortune to grow up with Guided by Voices. Their first albums were released when I was in high school, and I discovered them at the time I was discovering all the other music that was formative to me: R.E.M., The Replacements, Elvis Costello, Pixies, Hüsker Dü, etc., etc. The bonus was that these guys were virtually living right around the corner, and once I was in college I frequently got to see them in crappy bars and clubs throughout the early 90’s. They always had something of a mystique, with singer/songwriter and lone constant member Robert Pollard gaining notoriety around Dayton as a 4th-grade teacher by day, a hard-drinking frontman by night, and one of the most prolific songwriters of his generation. I still feel kinda possessive of these guys, and it's been fun watching their recent reunion. What follows are the band's main albums, which doesn't include the plethora of singles, EP's, and compilations that have also been released over the years.

    Devil Between My Toes (1987)

    Guided by Voices have never been long-winded. Even on their debut, all but one song is wrapped up in less than three minutes. But this alone is the one characteristic that latter-day GBV listeners might recognize on their debut. It is, in most other respects, a fairly conventional late 80’s college rock album, hewn from the same material as R.E.M.’s Document and The Replacements’ Let it Be. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Opener “Old Battery” jangles merrily, as does “Cyclops” two songs later, only over a martial drumbeat this time. Elsewhere, songs like “Dog’s Out” find Pollard embracing his love of (and penchant for) 70’s-style power pop. Interestingly, the centerpiece of the album is the five-minute “A Portrait Destroyed by Fire,” sort of a free-form meander, complete with menacing bassline and call-and-response vocals that remind me of no one as much as Mission of Burma. Throw in a few random instrumentals and you’ve got an odd, schizophrenic debut from a band whose talent is apparent but who hadn’t quite figured out what they wanted to be. Grade: B-

    Sandbox (1987)

    Pollard and Co. still flirt with conventionality on their second album in a year. Several of the songs are concentrated bursts of energy: “Lips of Steel” and “A Visit to the Creep Doctor” careen out of control in a hail of serrated guitars, over and done in three minutes total. But, as with their debut, a good number of them are slower tempo variations on late 80’s jingle-jangle: “Get to Know the Ropes” and “Can’t Stop,” fr’instance, wouldn’t sound out of place on R.E.M.’s 1986 album Lifes Rich Pageant. Despite the fact that the band didn’t resemble itself yet, there are still hints of what was to come. Some songs are mere sketches (“Trap Soul Door” clocks in at an epic 1:13), while others (“The Drinking Jim Crow”) dip a toe into the lyrical surrealism Pollard would get so good at. And then there’s closer “Adverse Wind,” the kind of quasi-anthem the band would patent on later albums. They weren’t there yet, but a template was forming. Grade: B

    Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia (1989)

    The genesis of the GBV we now know can be traced in a straight line to their third album. The songs – even the short ones – are more fully formed, and opener “The Future Is in Eggs” is their first stone-cold classic. “The Great Blake Street Canoe Race” is even better, harmony vocals floating on top of the guitars with a jarring tempo shift in the closing seconds. Despite the frankly astonishing evolution in Pollard’s songwriting and sense of melody, there are still some songs that come out of left field, not least of which is “Earful o’ Wax.” At first it hearkens back to the R.E.M.isms of the first two albums, but halfway through we suddenly get some weird underwater vocals and then the whole thing outros on a blistering (and heretofore unheard of) guitar solo. The whole album is pretty remarkable, but to really appreciate it you have to be able to place it in the context of their other work. Taken on its own terms you’ll likely think, “Oh. Another cool GBV record.” But listened to after their first two albums and it’s clear that Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia is modern GBV’s Year Zero. Grade: A-

    Same Place the Fly Got Smashed (1990)

    Correction: Year Zero is actually probably a combination of the songcraft of Album Three with the shitty recording quality of Album Four. Fly Got Smashed opens with Pollard howling incoherently over tuneless guitar that sounds like it was recorded in a public restroom, and this defiantly anti-spit-and-polish stance returns throughout the album (“Drinker’s Peace,” a quiet acoustic number, and “Club Molluska,” a virtual carbon copy of opener “Airshow ‘88”). I always thought the whole “lo-fi” thing that GBV spearheaded was always the least interesting aspect about them, and this album does a good job of illustrating why. The songs that see a little more polish are absolutely the best here. “Order for the New Slave Trade” and “Pendulum” are power pop gems, and neither of them subscribe to the less-is-more aesthetic that sort of became the band’s selling point for a while. This schizophrenia – which worked on their first couple albums and which they would perfect later – just doesn’t click here. Late in the album we get the near-perfect “Blatant Doom Trip,” but it’s hamstrung by the song previous: “Starboy,” a meandering little sketch that adds nothing to the album. After the success of Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia, this one seems like a step in the wrong direction. Grade: C

    Propeller (1992)

    From the first bars of “Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox,” all is forgiven. We get charging, roughhouse guitars; a Pollard melody that seems instantly familiar in the way that all classic melodies do; and, at the three-minute mark, a clever little segue into what amounts to a completely different song. If this is what the unsatisfying Fly Got Smashed was building up to, I’m cool with that. What really sets Propeller apart from its predecessor, however, is the fact that while there’s a handful of seriously classic songs here (the opener, the Beatle-esque 1-2 punch of “Quality of Armor” and “Metal Mothers”), it’s the experiments that really pay off. “Particular Damaged,” with its stuttering guitars and distorted vocals, has the potential to be another tuneless letdown, but this time there’s a melody to anchor it, and it’s all the better for it. “14 Cheerleader Coldfront” works in a similar way, its tinny vocals and wiry acoustic guitar sounding like it was beamed from some distant planet to be captured on a crappy transistor radio. The standout, though, is “Exit Flagger,” two minutes of power chords, crashing cymbals, and one of Pollard’s best-ever choruses. The best thing, though, is that it turns out this excellent record was only a harbinger of things to come. Grade: A-

    Vampire on Titus (1993)

    While Propeller is certainly a good album, it’s with Vampire on Titus that GBV truly began one of the strongest runs of any 90’s band. Even though they went all-in with the scuzzy low-fi sound, each and every song here is a winner. By this time Pollard had figured out how to turn even the barest of sketches into finely-honed melody-delivery systems, so even something like the 56-second “World of Fun” sticks with the listener. But for many of the songs it’s all crunchy, roiling guitars and hummable melodies. And this works even when you can’t make out the lyrics, as on “Sot,” where Pollard sounds like he’s singing from the bottom a well. In other places, though, we catch glimpses of the polished pop songs the band would explore in a few years, like opener “Wished I Was a Giant” and “Unstable Journey,” both mini-power pop masterpieces. And while Pollard often gets all the credit for the band’s success, it’s guitarist Tobin Sprout who co-wrote two of the album’s best (and gentlest) songs, “Gleemer (The Deeds of Fertile Jim)” and “Wondering Boy Poet.” There’s no standout here, a la “Exit Flagger” from Propeller, but this is absolutely the band’s strongest collection of songs to date. Grade: A

    Bee Thousand (1994)

    My feelings for this album are all mixed up in personal experience. As I mentioned at the top, I knew GBV from the band’s early days, and I watched them grow. This is the album I knew they had in them, and for all these reasons it’s tough to review objectively. It’s a classic in its own right, but it also speaks strongly to me of a particular time and place. Even taking that admitted bias into account, it’s still a monster of an album, twenty tracks that zip by in under forty minutes, each one fairly bursting with melody and inventiveness. It’s the focus that’s most impressive, sub-two-minute songs like “Hardcore UFO’s” and “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows” being pared back to razor-sharp bursts of melody. And while, yeah, the low-fi fuzz and grot is still present, it’s not as obtrusive as on earlier records, allowing Pollard’s voice (an underrated instrument) to shine through on songs like the howling, minimalist “Hot Freaks” and the delicate “Awful Bliss.” The added clarity also reveals more of the surrealism and absurdity in Pollard’s lyrics … for better or worse. I mean, I can appreciate the nonsense of a lyric like “Jimmy was a fly/Got sucked in by an actor/And wrapped in a cocoon/And skin-tight buffoonery/Now here's the plan…” (from “Ester’s Day”), but no one’s going to mistake Pollard for Nick Cave. In the end, however, it all comes back to those power pop melodies. “Echos Myron,” “Queen of Cans and Jars,” and the triumphant “I Am a Scientist” – Bee Thousand is forty minutes of nonstop hooks, and it’s the first unqualified masterpiece in the band’s catalog. Grade: A+

    Alien Lanes (1995)

    Alien Lanes is Bee Thousand on steroids: 28 songs, none topping three minutes, most under two, and all of them featuring melodies that bore strain into your brain. Pollard issues a rare mission statement in opener “A Salty Salute,” exhorting listeners to “C’mon, c’mon, the club is open.” And from there the rest of the album whistles by in an exhilarating rush, a master class in 20th Century rock and roll. All their musical styles are here: thrumming, menacing rock (“Watch Me Jumpstart,” “Striped White Jets”), Lennon/MCartney-style pop songcraft (“As We Go Up, We Go Down,” “Closer You Are”), power pop (“Motor Away,” “Little Whirl”), folk (“The Ugly Vision”), and surreal excursions into “What the fuck was that?!” that are just as much a band trademark as their lo-fi recording techniques (“Big Chief Chinese Restaurant,” “Gold Hick”). The argument has been made that Pollard needs better quality control, that the sheer volume of his work means that some of it is necessarily underdeveloped. I suppose that’s true. But listen to Alien Lanes and just consider how many truly killer melodies are on this album. Most bands would kill to have one good song. Here we get, oh, at least 25. The fact that some of them are under two minutes in length seems a small price to pay for such riches. Grade: A

    Under the Bushes Under the Stars (1996)

    By this point the band had pushed their less-is-more aesthetic about as far as it could take them without becoming parody. So, rather than reinvent the wheel or embark on an experimental jazz-funk odyssey, they tried the revolutionary technique of developing their songs past the sketch stage. Et voila – their third classic album in a row. “Man Called Aerodynamics” comes barreling out of the gate, a juggernaut that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The high point (for me, at least) comes early in the slow-building “Cut Out Witch.” The song starts hesitantly, tentatively-strummed guitar rapidly picking up speed before exploding into a euphoric chorus. It’s a song like this that’s indicative of the band’s sorta-kinda new approach. The experimentation exists in service of developing the song, rather than just being noodly for noodly’s sake as on some of their earliest albums. This approach yields positive results throughout the album, from the Kim Deal-produced “The Official Ironmen Rally Song” (one of their best pure pop moments to date) to “No Sky,” which starts as a gentle acoustic ballad before turning itself over to Pollard howling, “Could you keep a secret from me?” over ominous guitar. This isn’t to say the band has entirely left the past behind. The center of the album is a gorgeous power pop triptych – “Lords of Overstock,” “Your Name Is Wild,” “Ghosts of a Different Dream” – that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on Propeller or Vampire on Titus, and “Big Boring Wedding” is a late-in-the-album winner with the simple (and simply catchy) chorus, “Pass the word/the chicks are back!” It’s worth mentioning, too, despite my emphasis on power pop (feel free to take a drink each time I use that term), that by this point the band had become equally adept at acoustic ballads. On this album we get songs like “Bright Paper Werewolves” and “Acorns & Orioles,” beautiful little numbers that prove the band isn’t all about loud and catchy (although we get plenty of that, too). If I’ve written more about this album than I have about their one inarguable classic, it’s because I actually think this one is, in some ways, more important. Bee Thousand is just a dynamite collection of songs; Under the Bushes Under the Stars is a dynamite collection of songs where the band really figured out what they were capable of. So of course Pollard’s next step was to break up the band. Grade: A+

    Tonics and Twisted Chasers (1996)

    But first this odd little throwback, originally released only on vinyl to fanclub members. In an apparent attempt to pretend the last five albums never happened, Tonics and Twisted Chasers at first appears to be nothing as much as a sequel to Same Place the Fly Got Smashed. We’re back to lots of one-minute-long song fragments and lo-fi scuzz, without much of the invention and polish the last few albums have trained us to expect. That’s not to imply this is a total loss. GBV at their ramshackle best is still pretty damn good, and fully-formed songs like the spiky “Key Losers” and off-kilter pop of “Unbaited Vicar of Scorched Earth” mesh well with left-field excursions like the droning guitars and distorted vocals of “Reptilian Beauty Secrets,” or “Wingtip Repair”’s barroom piano. The danger of increased expectations, I s’pose, is that it renders albums like this one – solid but unremarkable – as somehow (and unfairly) worse than they are. Grade: C+

    Mag Earwhig! (1997)

    Pollard split with songwriting partner Tobin Sprout after Under the Bushes Under the Stars and fired the rest of the group, hiring the Cleveland-based Cobra Verde as his backing band. This album therefore became a pivotal moment for Pollard because for the first time he had sole songwriting credit on all but two songs: “I Am a Tree,” written by Cobra Verde’s Doug Gillard and “Are You Faster?,” a remnant from the Tobin Sprout-era band. Pollard continues to straddle the line between the fully-formed guitar pop songs that have increasingly yielded the best results and the oddball experimental doodles that obviously still fascinate him. And, to their credit, his new backing band seems up to the task. “Sad if I Lost It” roils and churns impressively, and Gillard’s euphoric “I Am a Tree” would, in a perfect world, be stadium-bound. “Bulldog Skin” is another Pollard winner, one of those songs where you don’t have any idea what he’s singing about, but the guitars are so insistent and the chorus so catchy that it doesn’t even matter. But I have to admit to growing a little weary of the attention-deficit-disorder-nature of the tracklist. For every “I Am Produced” – one sublime minute of hushed acoustic guitar and delicate vocals – we have a couple songs like the thirty-three-second-long “Hollow Cheek” which isn’t substantial enough to do much more than interrupt the album’s flow. And it’s a shame, because some of the tunes here are as good as ever. “Now to War” might be the most beautiful of the band’s acoustic numbers, and both “Portable Men’s Society” and the propulsive “Jane of the Waking Universe” benefit immensely from the overall tightness of Pollard’s new musicians. Even considering the sloppiness of GBV’s early albums, this is honestly the first time it seems like Pollard needs a better editor, which doesn’t speak well of his decision to sack his old bandmates. Grade: B-

    Do the Collapse (1999)

    I know I’m out of step with GBV die-hards on this one because it’s all clean and shiny and produced by Ric Ocasek, but I kinda love the sound of Pollard making a clear grab for pop greatness. At first it seems like a rousing success. “Teenage FBI” has one of those insistent Pollard choruses floating atop some fairly cheeseball (but still charming) keyboards, and “Zoo Pie”’s grungy guitar and distorted vocals are pushed along by clattering drums. Two songs later, “Hold on Hope” is a power ballad that shoulda been a contender, building through the verses to a soaring chorus. After that, though, the whole thing sort of collapses like someone kicked the back of its knee. The problem seems to be that as Ocasek polished the band’s sound he also sanded off the rough edges that gave the band its personality. “Dragons Awake!” probably would have been one of those perfect little acoustic numbers so abundant on earlier albums; here it’s saturated with strings and schmaltz. And elsewhere too many of the songs settle into a chugging, midtempo rut that’s pleasant but not particularly memorable. There are still high points – “Surgical Focus” sports a euphoric chorus every bit as razor-sharp as its title implies, and “Liquid Indian” slithers in on a vertiginous guitar line that sounds like a new weapon in GBV’s armory – but in general the album just doesn’t work. Grade: C+

    Isolation Drills (2001)

    And bam! All is forgiven. Isolation Drills succeeds in every way that Do the Collapse fell flat. It’s the GBV formula polished to a high sheen, the band’s idiosyncrasies honed to perfection. Even if the album only contained the ebullient “Glad Girls” (for my money, the best of GBV condensed into four glorious minutes) it would still be worth a listen. The good news is the rest of the album is no slouch either. The opening trio of “Fair Touching,” “Skills Like This,” and “Chasing Heather Crazy” is probably the strongest opening to any of the band's albums since Bee Thousand – each one roughly three exhilarating minutes of power pop splendor. Eh, I’ll actually go ahead and say it. This is their best album since Bee Thousand, and at its heights Isolation Drills actually – whisper it – surpasses it. Pollard’s songwriting has finally reached harmonic convergence with Cobra Verde’s instrumental backing: from the swirling guitars of the anthemic “Twilight Campfighter” to the joyous “Run Wild” to the chiming, ringing “The Brides Have Hit Glass,” virtually every song here is a winner, a serious master class in how you do this kind of thing. Hell, there’s even time for a throwback to old-school GBV in the 56-second oddity “Frostman.” This is arguably the high point of the band’s career, and probably the best entry point for a novice listener. Grade: A+

    Universal Truths and Cycles (2002)

    Opening with the racing, 35-second “Wire Greyhounds” and seguing into the boozy intro to “Skin Parade” (complete with clinking glasses in the background), Universal Truths and Cycles seems at first like a step backward into the band’s oddball beginnings. But give it a minute (or, okay, roughly 45 seconds). The band kicks in with a pulsing backbeat, and “Skin Parade” turns into a bona fide stomper. And that tension between familiarity and keeping it fresh is what’s at stake here. This album – their 14th, if you’ve lost count – sounds like the work of a band not sure what to do next. There are some half-hearted attempts at pushing the envelope – keening vocals and a fiddly guitar solo on love song “Cheyenne,” a string section on “Pretty Bombs,” stuttering buzzsaw guitars and a circular piano melody on “Back to the Lake,” and a carpet-bomb guitar attack on “Everywhere With Helicopter” – but in most places Pollard sounds a little tired. A power pop number like “Christian Animation Torch Carriers” (or “Storm Vibrations”) is very nice, but it’s also very GBV-by-numbers. Similarly, “The Weeping Bogeyman” or “Factory of Raw Essentials” could be just about any minimalist acoustic number from Bee Thousand or Alien Lanes. It feels a little churlish to expect a band to do more than just write really great pop songs, especially a band like GBV that A) had been churning out really great pop songs for fifteen years by this point, and B) has never been afraid of trying new things. But this is as unsatisfying an album as Do the Collapse. There are too many good songs here to say the album doesn’t entirely work – I haven’t even talked about the title track, which is a nifty thing built on jangly guitars and a surprisingly funky bassline – but the band seems to be back in the same sort of identity crisis mode they were in round about Same Place the Fly Got Smashed. Do they rest on their laurels or keep trying new things? If it’s the latter, what’s left to do? Grade: B-

    Earthquake Glue (2003)

    Maybe Pollard & Co. felt the slight stagnation in their last album, because Earthquake Glue certainly begins assertively. “My Kind of Soldier” barrels out of the gate unfurling chiming guitars in brightly-colored streamers. They briefly dial things back for the quiet acoustics of “My Son, My Secretary, and My Country,” and charge them right back up with the throbbing and oddly funky “I’ll Replace You With Machines.” GBV haven’t reinvented the wheel on this album, but in answer to my above question, they clearly haven’t expended their creativity yet. It’s most obvious on songs that hew close to their previous formula but manage to sidestep overt repetition. “Beat Your Wings” is an excellent example. It doesn’t exactly give us anything new: revved-up guitars, propulsive drums, a catchy chorus. But halfway through the song, guitarist Nate Farley floats some cloudbursts of distortion over the top of things, and that relatively minor touch casts an interesting shadow over the proceedings. “Mix up the Satellite” goes one step further, setting Pollard’s wistful vocal against a wall of shimmering keyboards. It’s a trick so good they try it again on the very next song, “The Main Street Wizards,” and against all odds it works again. The effect of these new touches is that now the more straightforward Guided by Voices Songs™ seem like something of a revelation. Where a song like “Dirty Water” might have been just another “song with guitars” on the last album, here it comes swaggering in like an old friend. This is the first GBV album to sound truly different since Do the Collapse. And this time it works. Grade: A

    Half Smiles of the Decomposed (2004)

    The last album before Pollard would shelve the band for eight years is not only a worthy extension of Earthquake Glue’s considerable successes, it also works as a summary of everything the band has accomplished in the last 17 years. Songs like “Everybody Thinks I’m a Raincloud” are polished to a fine power pop gloss, but there are also interesting detours like “Sleep Over Jack,” which finds Pollard howling over a serpentine bassline, pummeling drums, and what sounds like – perish the thought – a flute. The album doesn’t scale the same heights as latter-day successes like Isolation Drills or Earthquake Glue, but what really sets this album apart – and again, this is an extension of the last album – is that the experiments are finally developed to the point where they seem like real songs instead of being either Pollard’s dashed-off fancies (as they seemed on Universal Truths) or inflated but empty fragments (as they seemed on Do the Collapse). In addition to “Sleep Over Jack,” we also have songs like “Sons of Apollo,” which starts off with simple tribal drumming and spare guitar before exploding into widescreen Technicolor at the two-minute mark. But by and large Half Smiles finds the band making the case for its legacy, and in that regard it’s wall to wall melodies. “Girls of Wild Strawberries,” “Asphyxiated Circle,” and “(S)mothering and Coaching” are all top-shelf Pollard. And then there’s album closer “Huffman Prairie Flying Field”: three minutes of soaring melody over chiming guitars. As a supposed exit, this was quite a note to go out on. Grade: A-

    Let’s Go Eat the Factory (2012)

    I’ve always been a stick in the mud when it comes to reunions, preferring bands to release new material even if it’s not very good (like The Verve) rather than just play the hits ad nauseam (like Pixies or Rage Against the Machine). Robert Pollard apparently heard me when he decided to reform the “classic” Bee Thousand-era lineup (welcome back, Tobin Sprout!) and said, “Well, hell. Let’s go ahead and release three albums in a year.” Let’s Go Eat the Factory is the first to see the light of day, and it was worth the wait. Opening with a drone of feedback, shards of guitar, and Pollard’s distorted vocals, the song eventually surges off its leash, and it’s like the break never happened. Perhaps appropriately, Factory seems like an attempt to revisit the style of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, because for the first time in a while we have more fully-formed songs sharing space with barely minute-long doodles (as on the aimless, distortion-heavy “The Head”). But there’s also a lot of classic Pollard/Sprout songwriting here, whether it be the lovely acoustic “Doughnut for a Snowman,” Pollard’s menacing, brass-laced “Imperial Racehorsing,” or the buzzing, galloping “Waves.” One thing that’s obvious is how the band members grew in the time off. Tobin Sprout’s “Spiderfighter” (surly, supercharged guitars eventually giving way to a delicate piano figure) is more ambitious than anything he wrote in the 80’s or 90’s and it never would have found a place on GBV’s earlier records, but it sounds perfectly at home here. As good as most of the album is, though, it wouldn’t be the classic GBV lineup without some filler. I’m pretty sure we don’t need “The Big Hat and Toy Show” (two minutes of tuneless meandering) or the abstract goof “The Things That Never Need.” Still, it’s a strong return that’s better than it has any right to be. Grade: B+

    Class Clown Spots a UFO (2012)

    Released five months after the last album, Class Clown saunters in on the roaring guitar of “He Rises! Our Union Bellboy,” confidently reminding us that not only is GBV still here, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, this album is even more of a throwback to the 90’s albums, with a decrease in song length and an increase in the number of songs that appear to be little more than works in progress. The fully-developed songs are as sharp and polished as you’d expect, especially the sprightly title track (all that’s missing are jaunty hand claps and some ba-ba-ba’s on the chorus), the rapidfire (is that a drum machine?) “Keep it in Motion,” and the catchiest song on the album, the wiry closer “No Transmission.” The short sketches, on the other hand, run the gamut from the wistful (and really quite beautiful) “Chain to the Moon” to the completely superfluous “Fighter Pilot.” It probably speaks well of the album, though, that there are actually some shorter songs here that I’d love to hear expanded into something longer. “Blue Babbleships Bay” (1:18) comes across like a great lost Who song, and “Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head” has all the trappings of one of the band’s best slices of power pop, but at only 47 seconds it doesn’t really reach its potential. Something else stands out about this second comeback album: the band’s way with an acoustic number. I first wrote about this way back in Under the Bushes Under the Stars, and that proficiency really returns here. Aside from the already-mentioned “Chain to the Moon,” we also have quiet, reflective moments like “All of This Will Go,” “Be Impeccable,” and “Lost in Spaces,” gentle songs anchored by little more than a quiet guitar. This is an album that sees the band moving from strength to strength, and it’s becoming clear that the reunion invigorated everyone involved. Grade: A-

    The Bears for Lunch (2012)

    The third album of the reunion (for now – there’s a fourth due this spring) shows no signs of letting up, but that doesn’t mean it’s an unqualified success. We’ve got four-to-the-floor power pop rockers (opener “King Arthur the Red,” the roaring “Finger Gang”), successful experiments (“Smoggy Boy”), dopey experiments that probably should’ve been left off the album (“Have a Jug”), and delicate acoustic numbers (“Waking up the Stars”). In short, it’s a GBV album. And maybe that’s why this one feels unsatisfying in comparison to the other two reunion albums. Sixty songs in less than twelve months, presumably written at roughly the same time. There isn’t quite enough to distinguish this one from the other two, even if Pollard and Sprout still have a knack for writing the kind of melodies most musicians would kill for. This isn’t to diminish the pleasure of quality songs like “Skin to Skin Combat” or “She Lives in an Airport.” They’re both seriously great, and I feel like an idiot saying, “Stop writing so many amazing songs.” But there’s something workmanlike and perfunctory to the current pace; I think I would have been more satisfied with a single album that culled the twenty best songs from their current sessions than three albums that resulted in one that seems really, really pedestrian and unsatisfying. Because I hope if I’ve shown anything here, it’s that across their career Guided by Voices have been anything but unsatisfying. Grade: B

    Where to go next if you like Guided by Voices? Well, Pollard has certainly given you enough choices. He's released 20ish solo albums under his own name, and he's also got several other side projects going, among them Boston Spaceships, The Takeovers, Lifeguards, and Circus Devils. Like I said at the top, prolific, pretty much to the point where it's impossible to keep up with him. But man: the guy can write a song.
    Last edited by roberto73; 03-29-2013 at 02:16 AM. Reason: general cleanup
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    Peaceful Oasis TomAz's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    wow.

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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    yeah, seriously good stuff! thank you

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    Loveable Curmudgeon TallGuyCM's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Holy shit!

    8/05 - Wilco - Greek (?)
    8/06 - Tame Impala - Hollywood Forever
    8/13 - Alabama Shakes - Greek (?)
    8/14-16 - Berserktown - Observatory
    8/19 - The Jesus and Mary Chain - Fonda (?)


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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    A lesson I learned: there's a finite number of ways to describe power pop.
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Big thanks. That's a catalog I've never really delved far into, but that I'm intrigued by.
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Bryan, if I were going to dabble with a five-album sampler, I'd first check out that amazing four album sequence from the 90's: Vampire on Titus, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars. Then skip forward a few years to Isolation Drills. That'll give you a pretty good idea of not just what they can do, but how their sound evolved. From there you can move backward and forward if you're still interested.
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Quote Originally Posted by bmack86 View Post
    Unwound was a band from Tumwater, Washington who played Post-Hardcore music, essentially the stuff you normally associate with Fugazi and Jawbox and Drive Like Jehu and that Cloud Nothings would like to sound like now. They were the first band to release music on Kill Rock Stars, the label that, throughout the 90s and early 00s was primarily associated with them and their sister band, Sleater-Kinney. They started as a loud, aggressive, discordant act, developed this style into an art, and then, in 1998, made enough money and developed enough credibility with their label to build their own studio. For the next three years they worked on their masterpiece, which, for a change, actually turned out to be one. Of course, they broke up soon after it came out.

    They were a fiercely independent band, playing guitars in alternate tunings, touring almost exclusively venues that were all-ages, and creating lyrics and artwork that referenced rebellious (frequently communist and futurist) thinkers. They were great. Learn about them.

    1. Fake Train (1993) - B



    Dragnalus is a monster of a way to introduce a first album: it’s explosively loud, angry and intense. Welcome to the land of Unwound. While the band had been together since 1991 and recorded one album before this (see below for more!), Fake Train was their first release. The reductive line that critics used for years to describe Unwound was Sonic Youth meets Fugazi, and on this album that is an incredibly apt description. They use Fugazi’s punk-speckled blasts of instrumental precision and pepper it with Sonic Youth-y guitar ambience and instrumental passages. Ignored in this grouping, however, is the fact that Unwound were contemporaries of Fugazi, rather than another rip-off group, and even on their early work they show their own unique style. While much of the album grinds, screeches and blasts its way through ferocious cuts, songs like Star Spangled Hell allow for winding instrumental breakdowns that show the band had a grasp on beauty. The biggest complaint I have is that this one is a bit samey: by the end most of the songs have blurred into a ferocious whole rather than differentiating themselves. Regardless, a high-octane and thrilling debut.

    2. New Plastic Ideas (1994) – B+



    Much like Fake Train, New Plastic Ideas sprints right out of the gate. Both Entirely Different Matters and What Was Sound are hard, loud, fast rockers. This time they owe more of a debt to Jawbox circa For Your Special Sweetheart, with driving guitars and rhythms set to screamed vocals that nod to melody without ever actually getting there. It wouldn’t be fair to call anything on this album catchy or poppy in a general sense, but there is more a sense of dynamics on this one than Fake Train, and they sound MUCH more in control of their fury and craft, creating songs that do more than just bleed into one another. Envelope and [BI]Hexenzsene[/I], for example, have verses that are sung rather than screamed. And then there’s Abstraktions, a 7+ minute instrumental that shows they’ve delved into Slint and early post-rock and can pull off a similar sound with ease. The back half, with the exception of All Souls Day, incorporates this influence into their larger sound. All Souls Day, on the other hand, is the highlight of the album, a near-melodic grinder that, at the end, locks into a single note pulse for nearly a minute before exploding to an end. Pound for pound, New Plastic Ideas is just below Repetition as the highlight of their early career, but it nevertheless is a bracingly great post-hardcore record from one of the best bands of the genre.

    3. The Future of What (1995) – C



    They go for ugly here, and they go for it hard. New Energy starts the album with a driving grind, setting the stage for the relative fury that would follow. Unfortunately, the grind tends to envelop most of the steps they had taken on New Plastic Ideas and obscures even the nuance that existed on Fake Train. Like that album, the songs bleed into each other due to a lack of change, but here it becomes more of a drain. Swan, the obligatory long song, drones on for 8 plodding minutes without much to show for it. After the developments of New Plastic Ideas, this can be viewed as nothing other than a disappointment. While it’s not bad, that doesn’t mean it’s good. (Note: there are quite a few Unwound fans who will insist this is a great album, so maybe I’m missing something. But, to me it is their least varied, least developed album outside of the first recording. Segue!)

    4. Unwound (1995) – C-



    Although not released until 1995, this was their first recording. The only release to feature Brandt Sardeno on drums rather than Sara Lund (he came back to play second guitar on the final album), it is the one to most clearly show their debt to Fugazi. Justin Trosper sings like a brutalized Guy Picciotto and his guitar parts are meatier and less jazz-influenced here than on anything they recorded afterward. A few songs (Understand and Forget and You Bite My Tongue) stand out due to more jaunty rhythms but otherwise the bulk of the release is a bit same-y, with the grind and scream of The Future of What overtaking the atmosphere. A blueprint, but not a terribly essential one.

    5. Repetition (1996) – A



    And oh, how different. Every previous release immediately started with a grinding guitar and pummeling drums: here, there’s electronic interference into guitars that chime, drums that almost swing and a near-funky bassline. Sure, Trosper screams his ass off a minute into Message Received, but the sound here is fuller, cleaner and just BETTER. Repetition tends to be the go-to early Unwound album for a very simple reason: it has the best songwriting and playing of their early career. Corpse Pose musically anticipates At The Drive-In’s best work, with a guitar line that blends post-hardcore guitar lines with blasts of pure, controlled noise over the suddenly-masterful rhythm section. And Trosper never screams, instead intoning the lyrics in a deadly monotone and reaching a strained near-falsetto for the bridge. It’s fantastic. Where before the grind and noise was an end unto itself, here they use these approaches as textural elements to build fuller songs, incorporating more nuanced guitars and vocals. However, the real stars of the show are Sara Lund and Vern Rumsey, who have developed into a precise, meaty and powerful rhythm section, which frees Trosper’s guitar up to more adventuresome approaches. He plays less here than on any previous album, and the space does their music wonders. Space is a good word for Sensible, where they create an honest-to-god good dub song that doesn’t sound out of place with the rest of the record. Go To Dallas And Take A Left, the penultimate track, veers from their prior instrumentals in that is a fairly successful attempt at free jazz/rock, with Lund’s drums propelling the band as Trosper and producer Steve Fisk battle on guitar and keys. A bleating sax jumps into the maelstrom at the end just to add to the fun. For Your Entertainment is the ideal closer, their most melodic track thus far, and one that builds to a big, almost-prog-like finale. A huge achievement.

    6. Challenge For A Civilized Society (1998) – B+



    Here, Unwound takes the progress from Repetition and applies it both to their older style and to new formats. Data opens the album like something that would have fit in on New Plastic Ideas, angular and grinding, but with the new-found space and rhythmic intensity that the band perfected on Repetition. Towards the end, however, the song dives head first into melody and pretty yet discordant guitar lines. Sonata For Loudspeakers is, far and away, their most successful and fully realized instrumental. They develop it from a quiet head to a thick, horn-filled climax as if they were a jazz band, circa ragtime. Not an era I would ever have expected to reference in regard to a post-punk band, but they exude the combination of joy and anxiety that pervades the best of that genre. Following the track with No Tech!, a short, angular yet tuneful rock track that would have fit on a Sleater-Kinney album is just perfect. The only problem I have with Sonata is that, two tracks later, they honestly create something more worthy of the name. Side Effects of Being Tired starts as a rock song then evolves into echoed, effects laden guitars, a propulsive bass-and-drum combo, and a plethora of other effects that create a noise symphony. They keep the work in control the whole time, even as it rages into discordant noises and electronic free-for –all. It’s a highly impressive piece. The last tracks reach for, and achieve a level of quiet beauty that early Unwound could never have thought to achieve. The only thing that holds this album backs is an early trio of songs that don’t reach to the same height-everything between Data and Sonata is good, but far too reductive and old-sounding to complement the strong growth shown on the rest of the album. Still a highly enjoyable listen and a step towards maturity for the band.

    7. A Single History (1999) – B



    In case you didn’t gather from the name, this is a singles collection. While not complete, it gathers a majority of the singles that Unwound released during their career, arranged in an order that makes sense musically rather than chronologically. This makes a certain degree of sense, as, while the band progressed greatly from their initial formation in 1991 to the date of the last single on this comp, 1997 (Mile Me Deaf/The Light At the End of the Tunnel Is A Train,) they maintained a unity of vision amongst their work. It also shows that Unwound was a very strong singles band, as many of the songs are highlights of their career even if they would not have fit in on the albums from their respective release dates. Opener Mile Me Deaf sounds like a progression of the melodic material on Repetition, with solid singing and a great beat. After that, they retreat to a series of more noisy, grinding tracks that would nevertheless have improved the thin, discordant The Future of What. MKUltra, in particular, shows a level of restraint they never approached on that album, and would have been a highly welcome breather track. Seen Not Heard, from the Repetition era, revs with a single-minded intensity while retaining the relative melodic developments from that album. That said, there are just as many duds here as there are hits. The early material (Caterpillar, Miserific Condition, Stumbling Block, and Crab Nebula) from 1991 suffers from a lack of development relative to later work. It’s also sorely missing Lund’s deft drumming. Said Serial may have the most annoying keyboard sound ever, and it just never develops into something worth listening to. That they follow it with Census, a short dub jazz instrumental that rivals their best work, is perverse and genius. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Plight is a cover of a Minutemen track, possibly the best band that’s ever existed-instant respect for the fact that they do it great justice.

    And then there’s The Light At the End of the Tunnel is A Train, the longest song in their whole catalog. While it doesn’t actually close out the album (that is left to one of the lackluster 1991 tracks) it might as well have. It starts with a calm ambient opening before delving into electronic manipulations the drums and guitars from All Souls Day. They quiet down before ramping back into another Unwound sample, this time the drums and guitars and effects from No Tech!, with a really ridiculous answering message track from a dude describing a horrible-sounding aerobic workout music. It's a great, expansive track, totally unlike anything else Unwound did and completley worth listening to at least once. I wish I could bump the grade up for the inclusion of this track, but about half the album is faceless post-hardcore grinding that they did better elsewhere, while the rest trumps some of their best work. A mixed bag, as with pretty much all singles compilations, but worth hearing.

    8. Leaves Turn Inside You (2001) – Grade: A+



    There is nothing in Unwound’s catalog (really, in the KRS catalog or much in the post-punk/post-hardcore catalog) that will prepare you for this album. After years of matching abrasion with moments of sheer beauty, Unwound took the time to carefully craft a song cycle that truly shines, radiating craft, precision and gorgeous, developed textures. Right from the start, this album declares that it will be neither an easy listen nor a traditional punk offering, opening with individual organ tones that combine into a drone that lasts for near on two minutes (Fun fact: Brandt Sardeno, their original drummer, is playing the organ, the first sound you hear on the album.) As the actual song section of We Invent You takes hold, it becomes immediately apparent that the band is stepping out from its previous attack of vicious tones. In its place is an austere, nearly catchy vocal drone that swims in and out of the guitar tones. The band is completely together and the song is an ocean of tones. Look A Ghost follows with chiming, quickly arpeggiated guitar tones that fight with the syncopated vocals and Lund’s shifting drums to create a rhythmic beast of a track. While a track like this one would have, on previous releases, burst into grating guitars and pummeling drums, here they reach a point where the song has a near-Beatles instrumental tone, chiming with light drums and a bouncy bass. In the middle of a dark, post-hardcore track. Suffice to say, Unwound have grown up.

    While the majority of the album finds them stretching their craft in as many ways as it can go, incorporating strings, synths and whatever else they can find, they also perfect the styles they’d worked with previously. December or Scarlette may nominally have fit in on past albums, but there is such a depth to the tone of the guitars, such a respect for space, and such a huge leap in Trosper’s vocal delivery that these songs are heads and tails above what they’d done before (Scarlette is the only song with Trosper screeching like he used to.) The middle section continually approaches and expands the post-hardcore tropes (angular guitars, driving rhythms, melodic basslines) into fully-formed expressions that nobody else in the genre ever truly approached. That they also reincorporate the shoegaze (One Lick Less), post-rock (Terminus) and free jazz/musique concrete (Summer Freeze) influences from prior records only elevates the whole album.

    At 74 minutes, it is a daunting experience. However, there were few other punk bands working at this level: only Fugazi was able to come up with something similarly melodic, dense and affecting in the Argument. It’s fitting that, for both bands, these albums were their swan songs. They operate both as their definitive statements and the furthest stretches of their artistic reaches. The Argument is one of the more important albums in my development. I heard it first of all Fugazi albums, bought it completely without any outside influence and have adored it for ten years. That I prefer Leaves Turn Inside You should be a testament to the incredible work that Unwound achieved with this album. It deserves every bit of praise I have given it: an A+ is nothing but recognition that, by the end of their career, Unwound had achieved perfection. That it is prohibitively expensive as a physical product now is ludicrous. Despite the fact that I own a vinyl copy, I have petitioned Kill Rock Stars for years to repress this classic, to no avail.
    I feel conflicted suggesting this as the ideal starting point for Unwound. It is, without a doubt, the highlight of their career, their most accessible and successful recording, a highlight of any genre you wish to include them in, and one of the most impressive albums of the 2000s. However, to listen to this first will forever spoil the rest of the fantastically enjoyable Unwound catalog. They worked towards such a phenomenal success, and perhaps you should too.

    Edit: I reviewed every release bar A Single History based on its vinyl release.
    Just really started listening to these guys. Wow.. one of my new favorites that's for sure.

    P.S. I just realized that one of my favorite skateboarding videos of all time uses Valentine Card off Fake Train in it. I used to watch the video just to listen to that song a lot (before I knew how to download music) when I was a kid. Oh man, nostalgia
    Last edited by FEELS; 10-11-2013 at 06:34 AM.

    9/25 Titus Andronicus @ The Glass House
    10/17 Ariel Pink & Black Lips @ Pappy & Harriets

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    Member swiftmaggot's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    This could be the best thread on the board.
    Quote Originally Posted by SubBass49 View Post
    Listen to Ron if you don't want to listen to me. Or will you call his experience into question as well? He's probably one of the most (if not THE most) respected members of this board.

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    Loveable Curmudgeon TallGuyCM's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Could be?
    8/05 - Wilco - Greek (?)
    8/06 - Tame Impala - Hollywood Forever
    8/13 - Alabama Shakes - Greek (?)
    8/14-16 - Berserktown - Observatory
    8/19 - The Jesus and Mary Chain - Fonda (?)


    Quote Originally Posted by LtLoisEinhorn View Post
    Once Morrissey realizes he's on a poster/lineup with an act called 'Horse Meat Disco' he will Cancel.
    last.fm, if you care

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  18. #2268
    Member swiftmaggot's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    You are right, this is the best thread on the board. Although we could use some updated reviews
    Quote Originally Posted by SubBass49 View Post
    Listen to Ron if you don't want to listen to me. Or will you call his experience into question as well? He's probably one of the most (if not THE most) respected members of this board.

  19. #2269

    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    How has no one done Outkast?

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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Someone should... (not me) and give praise to the oft-ignored Southernplayalisticadillacmusik.

    9/25 Titus Andronicus @ The Glass House
    10/17 Ariel Pink & Black Lips @ Pappy & Harriets

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    Member Baby Sandwich's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Quote Originally Posted by bmack86 View Post
    Dinosaur Jr. will be in here within a day or two.
    What happened?

  22. #2272
    Coachella Junkie SoulDischarge's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Well, Pitchfork just did at least.
    Quote Originally Posted by guedita View Post
    Thanks for giving us the opportunity to not give a fuck again.

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    The Encyclopedia bmack86's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Quote Originally Posted by Baby Sandwich View Post
    What happened?
    I honestly forgot. I have one album to finish. Thanks for bumping this guys, I'll finish that up and toss it in.
    Quote Originally Posted by canexplain View Post
    Remember Hitler? I don't but here we are again .. cr****

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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Dinosaur Jr.

    1. Dinosaur (1985) – Grade: B-



    At this point they were called Dinosaur, and they were three stoner kids who played in basements and were still coming out of the hardcore scene. Bulbs of Passion sounds like it wants to break into a hardcore yell until you get the first suggestion of what will make Dinosaur great and so different from their peers: a searing, loud guitar solo that bridges into a catchy third verse. It makes no sense in the context of the song, but J. Mascis’ utter conviction almost sells it. That defines this album as a whole: most of the songs aren’t overly memorable, are poorly recorded, and yet J., Lou Barlow (bass) and Murph (drums) have enough drive to keep them from completely failing (except Pointless, which really lives up to its name.) There are a few classics on here too: Forget the Swan sounds like a Wipers tune, full of angsty vocals, ringing post-punky guitars and thick bass before getting folky in the chorus. It shouldn’t go together, but it does. Mountain Man is a near-metal track and one of most incredible things to hear them do live, letting J. really let loose with the shredding. The best track, and the one that most sounds like the Dinosaur Jr. we know and love, is Repulsion, a searing punk Neil Young track with J.’s laconic vocals and loosely strummed guitar being driven by a thick Barlow bassline. It kicks so much ass, and is one of the songs from this album they still play frequently. It’s a sloppily recorded, sloppily written, sloppily played album that has some charm and a few great songs, and suggests that they might have been onto something.

    2. You’re Living All Over Me (1987) – Grade: A+



    Even the best stuff on the first album could never have prepared people for the quantum leap in playing, singing, songwriting, production and pretty much everything on this one. Little Fury Things starts with a crackling guitar and some banshee screams, suggesting that they might be on the same trip, but 30 seconds in the vocal melody kicks in, and it’s a different band completely. The guitar is still full of fuzz, but it’s toned back enough to really hear the little technical fills and subtle rhythmic ticks J. throws in there. And he sings like Neil Young on opiates, all slurred nasal vocals and beautiful melodies. At the end of the track the guitar becomes a rocket taking off: the whole effect is breathtaking and a complete 180 from the amateur sound just a year prior. Whereas on the previous album they were mashing up as many genres as they could, frequently within songs, here they’ve come up with their own genius hybrid: Crazy Horse fuzz and solos on top of 80s underground punk/rock songs with a laconic singer and a gift for melody (also known as Alternative rock.) This album is frequently recognized as their opus: I don’t agree with that, but it is possibly their most consistently powerful collection of songs. Every track is a highlight, from Kracked’s scorching raygun guitar solo to the pummeling riffs and chiming bridge of Sludgefeast (bonus points for the absolutely furious outro riff and solo,) from The Lung’s fuzz-folk and warm, sun-setting guitar solo to Raisans yearning chorus. This also featured the first appearance of Lou Barlow’s lo-fi, cut and paste folk sound with Poledo, the final track. At first just tinny acoustic guitar and furious, warbly off key singing, it sounds nothing like anything else on the album and presaged Barlow’s soon-to-be-birthed Sebadoh, an outlet for all the songs that J. refused to put on Dinosaur albums. Halfway through it switches to a cut and paste collage of found sounds that close it out. Some people hate it, but it is so full of earnestness and charm that I can’t help but fall for it every time.

    3. Bug (1988) – Grade: A+



    Freak Scene is, no way around it, the definitive Dinosaur Jr. song: short, a fuzzed out jangly riff, a searing guitar solo, great lyrics that sound like they mean nothing but actually have considerable weight behind them, it’s pretty much a perfect track. It’s a testament to the band’s power at this point that they lead off their third album with it. I said most people recognize You’re Living All Over Me as their opus, but I find Bug to be a more enjoyable listen overall. There’s more melody, noise, raging solos, and Freak Scene. Where they created their signature sound on You’re Living All Over Me, they perfect it on Bug (and side note: between YLAOM and this one, they were sued by a 60s group named Dinosaur, and in the laziest name change ever added Jr. I think it fits more perfectly.) No Bones has the catchy, jangly sound of Little Fury Things, only it closes with a painfully loud noise solo. Released post-Nevermind, They Always Come would have been a radio hit, a bright guitar pop song with tons of fuzz and awesome drumming from Murph. Let It Ride and The Pond Song are just great minor key rock songs with fantastic vocals and guitars. The original closer, Don’t, is a brutal listen: J. made Lou sing it during their last recording session together, which was filled with animosity. It’s a long dirge of a song with just one lyric screamed over and over: “Why don’t you like me?” J.’s cynical and twisted sense of humor rings through it loud and clear. While it may not be as consistent as YLAOM, and it doesn’t have something like Poledo, it’s a great listen and one of the best things ever to come out of underground rock. This set them up for a major label bidding war and the expectation that they would be the band to take underground alternative rock into the mainstream. As history has proven, that didn’t exactly happen, but they showed that they had the skill.

    4. Green Mind (1991) – Grade: B+



    There was a big shake-up prior to this album: Lou Barlow was silently fired (J. told him that he was folding the band, then they went on tour in Australia without him.) Murph only plays on three tracks, and everything else is J. all the time. In addition, they took the leap to a major label. All this suggests that this should be a wildly different sounding album, but it reads instead like the logical procession from Bug. The Wagon is one of the all-time Dino Jr. greats, a fast tempo guitar shredder with a great vocal melody. Puke + Cry and I Live For the Look sound like they could have come from the Bug sessions, if it weren’t for the lack of Barlow’s distinctive low-end bass growl. However, other songs find J. mellowing out, slowing the tempos and letting hints of country-rock flow into to the sound. Blowing It and Thumb do a great job of capturing this transition while retaining the classic Dino shred. Overall, Barlow is definitely missed, as the bass never sounds as powerful and the drums don’t punch as hard as when Murph was playing. Their absence only hurts the album a bit though, as its full of strong material. Side note: grab the remastered edition, which includes J. covering Hot Burrito #2 by the Flying Burrito Brothers in hilariously slacker fashion. Worth tracking down and the best of the major label work.

    5. Whatever’s Cool With Me (1991) – A-



    Not a full album, this one’s a super-extended single for the track Whatever’s Cool With Me. At eight songs, it’s nearly album length as it stands, and the material here is great, continuing the more professional sound from Green Mind and applying it to songs that could have fit comfortably on any of the previous three releases. The title track is a booming Crazy Horse-style rocker, with screaming guitar solos and a laconic melody. There’s a looseness to that and the other tracks that was somewhat lacking on Green Mind, reaching back to the sloppy urgency of You’re Living All Over Me. An acoustic cover of Quicksand by David Bowie finds J. at his most tuneful and focused vocally, and he really nails the song. The two live tracks (Thumb from Green Mind and Keep the Glove, a Bug B-Side) that end the EP are decently recorded but superfluous, the only real flaws on an otherwise excellent release.

    6. Where You Been (1993) - B



    On this one Murph shows back up and J. hires a bass player, so they’re a real band again. This benefits some of the songs, whereas others just sound like an extension of the J.-focused Green Mind at its calmest. The best track is Start Chopping, a song that got a fair amount of radio play and deserved to be a hit. It showcases J. at his most shred-worthy and has an endlessly catchy chorus. On the flip side is Not The Same, an overly tame and boring song with some really horrible falsetto from J.: it’s the worst thing they’d put to record thus far, and a troubling sign for things to come. Other than that absolute dud though, the rest of the material veers from pretty good to excellent. The other highlights are Get Me and Go Home, two fantastic rockers that can stand with their best. A spotty album, but the highs are high and Start Chopping is worth the price of admission on its own.

    7. Without A Sound (1994) – C-



    Feel The Pain starts the album off right with a jangled verse and charging choruses. It was a hit for the band, reaching number 4 on the charts, and it should have signaled the answer of Dinosaur Jr.’s early promise. Second single and second song I Don’t Think So suggested another strong collection of well-written rock songs, but things drop off after that. There isn’t anything “bad” on here, but the memorable melodies, explosive guitar solos and freewheeling feeling of past releases are largely toned back in favor of a midsection full of midtempo boredom. The calm nature of Where You Been permeates these tracks and renders most of them forgettable. Cherry pick this album for the singles, Yeah Right (a decent rocker,) and Seemed Like the Thing To Do (a decent calm track reminiscent of The Rain Song by Led Zeppelin) and pass over pretty much everything else.

    8. Hand It Over (1997) - F



    I’ve listened to this three times and I can’t remember a single song. Again, there isn’t anything bad, but unlike Without A Sound, there isn’t anything good either. Just completely unmemorable guitar rock. J. stopped using the Dinosaur Jr. name after this album (it and the one prior were effectively solo recordings as it stood) and this would have been a sad way to see the group end, all quiet and bland.

    9. Beyond (2007) - A



    Dino surprised everyone by reuniting in 2005 with the original lineup of J., Lou and Murph. They played a bunch of well-received shows and then, unlike so many reunion acts, hopped right into the studio to record a new album. Even more surprising, they recorded a great album and one that effortlessly picked up where they’d left off with Bug. The guitar squall that introduces first track Almost Ready, would have fit perfectly on the catchy-yet-noisy first half of Bug, and the solo is as free and joyous as J. has been in nearly two decades. Barlow and Murph seem to inspire Mascis to write his best material, and Barlow’s thick, distorted bass frees J. to really stretch on his solos. Calmer songs regain the spark that had been so lacking on past albums, as Crumble is a highlight of ringing guitars and lamentful vocals. Unlike previous albums, Barlow’s contributions gel with the general sound, although Back To Your Heart reminds me of a lost Foo Fighters classic. They returned with all the fire of their early career and quite a bit more restraint, technical prowess and camaraderie, and in the process made one of their best albums.

    10. Farm (2009) – A+



    I loved Beyond, but even the most optimistic of fans expected it to be a fluke. I even saw them tour those songs, saw how incredible they were live, but I didn’t expect they could keep that songwriting spark alive through another album. Lo and behold, they dropped Farm. Unlike Beyond, it doesn’t nod to prior releases, instead finding J. and Lou incorporating the slacker sound and huge guitar anthems into a more wistful and folk/country-ish vibe that fits the added years they’ve got on them. This sounds like a record made by middle-aged men who know they’re older and aren’t ashamed to grapple with how that age has changed and mellowed them and driven them to different paths than they’d ever even considered in their earlier years. What comes to the fore is a huge batch of songs. I know it’s not a popular opinion whatsoever, but I’d argue that this is the single best group of songs that Dinosaur Jr. ever put together under a single album. There’s the peak in I Don’t Wanna Go There, the truly epic guitar jam, but there’s also the searing pop-guitar jams of Pieces, I want You to Know and Over It. Both of Lou’s contributions (Your Weather and Imagination Blind) blend perfectly into J.’s more wistful and searching songs. They’ve never sounded so much like a functioning unit or a real BAND, and the music completely expresses this coherence. Drive through a rural area on a sunny day in autumn or winter with this on and you’ll get it. My favorite Dinosaur Jr. release, without a doubt.

    11. I Bet On Sky (2012) – B



    After Farm they could have just continued to milk the overdriven-folk sound they perfected there, but instead J. decided they needed to take a step towards more experimentation. He added extra instrumentation and fucked around more in the studio, creating stuff that doesn’t sound “live,” and made an album more in line with the post-Barlow releases. Nothing on here is bad, and there are tons of good moments, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a drop off after two shockingly great releases from a band that should, by all measures, be well past its prime. Still, what reunion act has released an album this good three releases into their second wind?
    Quote Originally Posted by canexplain View Post
    Remember Hitler? I don't but here we are again .. cr****

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    Member FEELS's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Fuck yes Brian!!

    9/25 Titus Andronicus @ The Glass House
    10/17 Ariel Pink & Black Lips @ Pappy & Harriets

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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Bryan, I was reading your Black Flag review and some how realized I missed the reference to the 1982 demos and am just now listening to it, and holy crap, it is fucking fantastic.

    If I could work in some alternate-universe Black Flag albums, here would be my ranking:
    1. 9-song Keith Morris-only album (aka the first 9 songs of Everything Went Black)
    2. 1982 Demos
    3. An album consisting of all other pre-Damaged officially relased songs (basically a variation on the First Four Years)
    4. Damaged
    5. Everything Else
    Hunting has been part of our society since the first Europeans came over and shot buffalo and Native Americans and whatnot.
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    I go through this thread once a year. Though I've had it for a few years, I've recently been trying to put more of a dent in listening to albums from this book.



    This thread accompanies that project of mine pretty nicely.

    Tom, I have Grievous Angel by Gram Parsons all cued up and ready to go next time I get a chance to listen to music. I've only listened to 270 albums from the edition that I have. Which, for the math majors, is roughly 27%. I have a lot of work to do, but it's giving me motivation to discover and re-discover a lot of fantastic albums.
    Quote Originally Posted by RandyInHeaven View Post
    Devin - how does it feel to know that there are still more women in the world that would fuck me at this very moment than would fuck you?

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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Quote Originally Posted by york707 View Post
    Bryan, I was reading your Black Flag review and some how realized I missed the reference to the 1982 demos and am just now listening to it, and holy crap, it is fucking fantastic.

    If I could work in some alternate-universe Black Flag albums, here would be my ranking:
    1. 9-song Keith Morris-only album (aka the first 9 songs of Everything Went Black)
    2. 1982 Demos
    3. An album consisting of all other pre-Damaged officially relased songs (basically a variation on the First Four Years)
    4. Damaged
    5. Everything Else
    That 1982 recording is incredible, but it pisses me off so badly, knowing that My War, which I think is a pretty killer record, could have pretty much destroyed everything else in their catalog if it weren't for the stupid ban on recording due to their label lawsuit. I'd love to have an official recording of that lineup doing the best of the 1984 material.
    Quote Originally Posted by canexplain View Post
    Remember Hitler? I don't but here we are again .. cr****

  29. #2279

    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    So am I correct in seeing that no one has done TV on the Radio? If so, I may be able to push through my laziness to get one done in the near future.

  30. #2280
    The Encyclopedia bmack86's Avatar
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    Default Re: A young'uns guide to purusing extensive artist discographies

    Do it. Even if they've been done and you missed it (I don't think so) we're at the point where second sets of reviews are good as they're different opinions on big catalogs. I'm certain most people on the board wouldn't agree with my estimation of latter-day Black Flag, but it's not my fault they have shitty ears.
    Quote Originally Posted by canexplain View Post
    Remember Hitler? I don't but here we are again .. cr****

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