Whenever big releases start to slow down, I always like to put together an album recommendation list so records I’ve managed to find can reach a wider audience and get the attention that I think they deserve. Another reason I create these lists is so that people can be exposed to certain kinds of music that they’ve never heard of. Popular music these days is such a crowded field that, counterintuitively, it is useful for a single individual to go out and report on what there is to find. But enough about me, let’s get to the albums I have found to fill these summer days.
“Bee Thousand” by Guided by Voices (Scat Records, 1994)
Guided by Voices (henceforth, GBV) is one of America’s most prolific indie rock outfits, and their almost ridiculously extensive discography makes getting into their music a challenge to the uninitiated. Thankfully, I’m here to tell you that not only is Bee Thousand the perfect place to start if you want to familiarize yourself with this band, it’s also a roaringly good album at the same time. GBV’s lo-fi, highly clipped song structures combined with lead singer Robert Pollard’s poetic, imagery laden lyrics makes for a tightly wound yet meandering indie romp. At the same time, the album still has enough space for such pop rock approximations as “Gold Star For Robot Boy” and “I Am a Scientist.”
“Either/Or” by Elliott Smith (Kill Rock Stars, 1997)
Artists who die young under mysterious circumstances will typically be lionized as geniuses and have their entire existence superimposed onto the cultural zeitgeist. This is one of the reasons why Elliott Smith’s continued obscurity baffles me. Another reason is the sheer artistic genius of “Either/Or.” This record is without a doubt Smith’s greatest work, exhibiting his trademark whispery singing style and highly evocative songwriting, with standout tracks like “Speed Trials,” “2:45” and “Ballad of Big Nothing.”
“Violent Femmes”by Violent Femmes (Slash Records, 1983)
There are few better songs for a hot summer day than “Blister in the Sun,” the opening track from the Violent Femmes’ beloved debut. This is one of the few records to credibly lay claim to the label of “folk punk,” a biting acoustic set demonstrating that one doesn’t necessarily need amplifiers to rock out. Heck, if you use them the way the Violent Femmes do, a xylophone will do just fine. The Violent Femmes never would reach the same heights as this record, but all things considered, they don’t need to.
“Diesel and Dust” by Midnight Oil (Columbia Records, 1987)
Speaking of songs perfect for hot summer days, this album’s opening track, “Beds are Burning,” is another great one for hot weather, concerning as it does colonialism and missile testing. But for our purposes, it’s a rip-roaring jam with blasting drums and heavy horns, and the rest of the album is just as great. Midnight Oil is another group that languishes in pointless obscurity likely due to the band’s Australian origins and the fact that great swaths of music history have been buried underneath later, decade-defining acts. Midnight Oil should have been huge in the United States, and this heavy slab of alternative rock is definitive proof.
So here we have four records to keep your ears satiated until major releases pick back up again. If my choices were informed by anything this time around, it was by the fact that I’ve been on something of an indie kick as of late. I tend to have these momentous, highly specific phases of musical interest, and that turns out to be extremely useful when putting these lists together. It certainly keeps my listening experience interesting, and all I hope is that it does the same for you.