FIVE ROCK ALBUMS…
That Inspired Big-Name Acts You Probably Don’t Own, But Totally Should
A Blessay by Michael Stahl
Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts
Released: 1998 Genre: Punk/Hardcore/Emo/Screamo
Influenced: At The Drive-In/The Mars Volta, Isis, Thursday, Panic! At The Disco
From the moment this album begins with a sound byte declaration of “They told me the classics never go out of style, but they do, they do. Somehow baby, I never thought that we’d do too,” privileged listeners become immediately cognizant of an impending assault of creativity comparable to few other sources. Now over 13 years old and the extreme polar opposite of “dated,” this work of Swedish hardcore rockers sounds as fresh and edgy as ever, thankfully rendering that intro’s self-fulfilling prophecy unfounded. Pit Shape against any punk album since and many would have a fit trying to comprehend how it has gone so unnoticed in the mainstream and calculating an assumed release date would prove equally as trying. As the United States continues to toil in rocky, murky economic waters, the opening lyric “I’ve got a bone to pick with capitalism / And a few to break” could give the Occupy movement a potential rallying cry. From “Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull,” the newly-hooked travel through some radio station signals (interludes that were totally jacked by Panic! At The Disco on their work A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out) to land on “Liberation Frequency,” a track about the band’s desire to hear more envelope-pushing music dominate the airwaves, vocally highlighted by: “We don’t just want air time / We want all the time / All of the time.” After the eardrum clapping “The Deadly Rhythm” (with jazz ensemble intro), the more catchy “Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine,” and the acid jazz break “Bruitish Pome #5,” the album’s cornerstone track “New Noise” begins to unfold with marching band drums building upon a repetitive guitar sequence. After a slowed-down house music sidestep, vocalist Dennis Lyxzen returns to yelp: “Can I scream?,” hoping that the louder he offers the option to listen to more challenging works of art, the more people will heed the call. Some of the most incredible audio engineering exists midway through this LP when, as “New Noise” comes to a prolonged, screeching close, a live speech about capitalism actually being “organized crime” is blended in as a skit/intro to “Refused Party Program,” creating the illusion that the previous song was being performed on stage all along. More calls for revolution are announced in “Protest Song ’68,” a plea for people to revert back to the proactive mindset of the 1960s. By the time one gets to the tour de force “Tannhauser / Derive,” exhaustion may have settled in, but the Celtic violin startup will redux the hype that has been similarly insisted upon by Dropkick Murphys in their more recent and popular classic “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” Front-to-back, The Shape of Punk to Come is a must-own and appears to only have grown in terms of relevance and importance.
The Buzzcocks – Singles: Going Steady
Released: 1977-1979 Genre: Punk
Influenced: Nirvana, The Strokes, Hüsker Dü
Formed in the mid-70s, The Buzzcocks were part of the initial wave of British punk along with better-known acts Joy Division and The Sex Pistols. Likely the more (relatively) unassuming of that triumvirate of bands, The Buzzcocks are often overlooked, but this collection of their initial singles and corresponding B-sides proves that to be most unjust. “Orgasm Addict” gets things kick-started by delivering a traditional, straightforward, wry punk anthem about, yes, jacking off, followed by Pete Shelley’s call for romance in “What Do I Get?” Featuring harmonies that harken back to early Beach Boys and Beatles records, “I Don’t Mind” and “Love You More” aim to please the pop kids. “Ever Fallen in Love?,” the band’s best-known song, has their thumb prints all over it, but is about the oft encountered conundrum of badly wanting to be with the wrong person, so it has found itself covered by the likes of Robert Plant, Elton John, David Gilmour, and many others. Subtle dynamics persist throughout Singles and are perhaps best exhibited on “Harmony in My Head,” where Steve Diggle takes over singing and songwriting duties to include nifty little guitar riffs that depart from the typical power chord barrage. Humor is evoked in the titles “Noise Annoys,” a catchy tune about teens wanting to listen to loud music, despite their parents’ objectionable cries, “Oh Shit!,” and the elongated “Why Can’t I Touch It?,” while jealousy-laced complaints construct “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” all delivered with that unquestionably necessary punk attitude that inspired Kurt Cobain to buy their ski cap and, like, write music.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion! – Orange
Released: 1994 Genre: Blues/Rock
Influenced: The White Stripes, The Black Keys
Name a genre of music and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion! have found themselves toying with it at some point in their songbook, but on their distinct opus Orange, the focus is blues/rock that just happens to be on crystal meth. The album’s opener “Bellbottoms” begins with their signature pounding kick and bass and obnoxiously cheap-sounding fuzzy electric guitar, with a string arrangement thrown in for good measure. After a brief instrumental intro, an echo-heavy Spencer thanks his imaginary crowd for showing up and explains that he’s going to tell them about “the fabulous, most groovy bellbottoms.” If Tourette’s syndrome had a soundtrack, “Bellbottoms” would be it. A slightly more down-home blues feel is granted to “Ditch” with the chaos quickly being ratcheted up again in “Dang.” “Very Rare” offers an instrumental reprieve as Spencer coolly layers his guitar tracks over straightforward blues drums and bass with an organ making an appearance as well. The self-congratulatory “Sweat” is one of the album’s major highlights and “Cowboy,” naturally, goes the country route with the vocalist employing a southern twang. The album’s somehow endearing title track has a completely indecipherable theme, ironically making way for the most digestible song, “Brenda,” who Spencer explains has “got to have the money” for him, though how much and for what is unclear. It doesn’t get much heavier than “Dissect” and “Blues X Man” is all about his love-making ability and subsequent recovery time that can apparently be interrupted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Undoubtedly, “Full Grown” shows up next on the track list because it outlines the body specifications needed for a woman to endure such a Spencer sexual encounter, while “Flavor” and “Greyhound” round out the 13 songs of explosive chaos needed for the band to live up to their name. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion! are not nearly as palatable as anything Black Keys, but if the mood is right, they are certainly a much more exciting listen.
Radiohead – The Bends
Released: 1995 Genre: Alternative Rock
Influenced: Coldplay, et al.
Granted: Radiohead is a world-renowned super group, but their second effort The Bends is often looked upon as the album in between the one that had “Creep” and their universe-altering OK Computer. In the U.S., it has achieved platinum status, but that took quite a while, and all of their subsequent albums have reached significantly higher on the charts than the 88th slot, which was all that The Bends could muster. With Coldplay’s singer Chris Martin telling anybody who will listen that they’ve ripped Radiohead off countless times on their way to cataclysmic record sales, The Bends becomes more valuable because this is likely the one Radiohead album that Coldplay is most reminiscent of. As a precursor to the futuristic sound of OK Computer, “Planet Telex” opens The Bends with ghostly, wavy sound effects and an echoing keyboard on top of a sweet Phil Selway drum beat. The electric guitar kicks in quickly (I don’t think there was one of those on Kid A), with Thom Yorke’s voice of gold not far behind, explaining, “You can force it but it will not come / You can taste it but it will not form,” as if to prophetically suggest that their commercial success from Pablo Honey wasn’t guaranteed this time around. The album’s title track follows with a catchy-by-Radiohead-standards hook of “My baby’s got the bends, oh no / We don’t have any real friends, no, no, no.” The soothing singles “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees” show up back-to-back, which some scientists say are 49 times better than anything Coldplay has put out, and have held up incredibly well. The alt-rock kicks back in with “Bones,” and after a brief acoustic-based departure in “(Nice Dream),” “Just” and “My Iron Lung” provide the album’s balls. The closer is one of the band’s greatest, most haunting songs (and music videos) about a person facing their impending death: “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” Now go help The Bends continue its delayed sales success and find out why it’s had significant critical acclaim all along.
Far – Water and Solutions
Released: 1998 Genre: Rock/Alternative Rock/Post Hardcore/Emo
Influenced: Thursday, Coheed and Cambria, Blink 182, Funeral For A Friend
Featuring the incomparable Jonah Matranga on vocals, Far’s best album is one that is exceptionably listenable because it has since been done and redone many times over by other acts. Like The Shape of Punk to Come, newcomers to Water and Solutions will be shocked at its late 90s release date and the album’s opener “Bury White” immediately validates that claim. Heavy guitars and hardcore drumbeats fuse to create Far’s miraculously traditional yet somehow contemporary sound. Associate those elements with universally appealing lyrics, like “We find another way / We dream up stupid shit / To while away our days / There’s time for everything / We’re always searching for what’s wrong,” and a classic emerges that just slipped off the proverbial boat to commercial success. Matranga’s voice juggles between raw and soothing throughout, settling on the latter in “Really Here,” but shifting back the other way with hints of distortion on the title track. The band’s most recognizable tune, the singable “Mother Mary,” which has been covered by Thursday and others, is about accepting the inevitable death of a mother: “Like Elvis, like everyone / We all die, we all live on in photos / And paperbacks, if we’re lucky / We’re coming back.” Post breakup bitterness is the topic of “I Like It” and the action doesn’t stop with a driving bass line in Matranga’s tribute to aesthetic beauty and a man’s relentless sexual desire in “Wear It So Well.” “Man Overboard” is another great track that shows off the band’s usual coy, but brutal dynamics. In a quick paced 40-minute runtime, Water and Solutions is an album that defines the phrase “before its time” and needs to be treated as such with downloads and listens that will be sure to impress unknowing friends.
Beginning to make his rounds on Internet blogs, Michael Stahl is on a mission to alter your perception of stuff. Be it the world of entertainment, sports, culture, or society as a whole, read him only with an open mind, or harm yourself trying. Check out his film and television “counter-criticism” blog Walter Peck Was Just Doing His Job. With whatever energy you have left, consume his interviews for IntellectualTimes.com, STAHLing for Time. He has marked his territory on MindBombed.com and now is proud to leave an imprint upon Sugar-N-Thunder.com.