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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2013
Manic Street Preachers are in the midst of promoting their 11th LP Rewind the Film. To celebrate, PopMatters explores the top 20 of a special fan poll of the most popular Manics songs.

The imminent release of their eleventh album Rewind the Film and its accompanying shows and interviews appears to have brought Manic Street Preachers back into the limelight – but really, they have never left. Unlike the bulk of the British rock bands that came of age in the 1990s, the Welsh firebrands have never disappeared nor broken up and reformed for lucrative reunion tours. Their persistence has seen them survive the loss of troubled lyricist Richey Edwards, become one of the UK’s biggest bands in the mid- to late-‘90s, and celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their incendiary debut Generation Terrorists last year.


The passage of time has seen the Manics morph gradually from divisive upstarts to elder statesmen of British rock still maintaining a devoted fanbase. In the run-up to the release of Rewind the Film, fan Ian Lipthorpe took to Twitter to reach out to his fellow devotees, first asking them to submit a ranked list of their 50 favourite Manics songs, and later compiling the 60-plus responses into a master list that threw up some surprising entries. For this special List This, PopMatters explores the top 20 Manic Street Preachers recordings, as voted by fans.


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Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013
Despite all the criticism and perhaps unworthy purple praise, there remains virtually a whole movement people ignore outside of its pink, hazy zenith.

It’s hard to say where it began or where it broke, but from the vague period of the late-1980s to the mid-‘90s, the amount of lush, noisy, alternative rock being produced was staggering. What rock criticism dubbed shoegaze, after the earlier quasi-contemptuous ‘scene that celebrates itself’, is these days viewed primarily as the movement that gave us My Bloody Valentine’s seminal and frankly perfect record Loveless (1991), though it’s not even half the story. Mainly (though by no means exclusively) between the UK and USA, an antidote to grunge was quietly bubbling away, at times noisier, more emotional and innovative than anything to come out of its more celebrated ‘90s musical movement cohort. By the same token, the sheer amount of overdriven, pedal-affected guitar rock being pumped out certainly lead to its decline—there was only so far most bands working in those parameters could go, which at least partly explains why so many British shoegazing acts turns Britpopwards by the mid-‘90s. Loveless’ influence is partly to blame, too, for the sheer power and beauty of the record was so astounding that the countless influenced legions ended up sounding derivative and flat compared to the original, and the first wave.


Despite all the criticism and perhaps unworthy purple praise, there remains virtually a whole movement people ignore outside of its pink, hazy zenith. Below, PopMatters presents 10 essential, non-Loveless shoegaze albums.


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Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013
It's hard to think of any current band that's gotten as much mileage out of non-album releases as Belle and Sebastian has.

In a review of The Third Eye Centre, Belle and Sebastian’s latest collection of non-album odds’n'ends, I write, “It’s hard to think of any current band that’s gotten as much mileage out of non-album releases as Belle and Sebastian has. Right when the Glasgow pop collective was starting out, its streak of winning EPs helped to define the band almost as much its full-lengths, taking an all-killer-no-filler approach to them.” While most bands tend to clear out whatever vaults they have for EPs, b-sides, and compilation tracks, Belle and Sebastian have tended to treat such projects with the same loving care and attention they devote to their LPs. If anything, some of Belle and Sebastian’s most compelling and developed material has shown up on EPs, singles, and other unlikely places, whether it’s adventurous detours like 1997’s Lazy Line Painter Jane and 2004’s Books or first steps in the directions they move into later on, like with the lite-symphonic mode of a pair of 2001 efforts, “Jonathan David” and “I’m Waking Up to Us”.


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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013
by Mike Noren and Arnold Pan
Debunking the popular opinion that all Superchunk songs sound the same, PopMatters picks a dozen essential tracks from the Chapel Hill band's catalog that proves there's a lot more variety and craft to it than it's given credit for.

Back in the early ‘90s, it would’ve been hard to imagine Superchunk still going strong almost 25 years later, much less elder statesmen to a few generations of indie rockers influenced by the Chapel Hill quartet. The brattiest band on the college rock scene, early-era Superchunk brashly called out bad bosses, less committed peers, and significant others, hardly the makings of a group that’s now almost avuncular in showing the youngsters how its done by leading by example. And you would’ve thought Superchunk’s revved-up, all-out punk-pop made ‘em a prime candidate for breaking down, burning out, or falling out, which could’ve happened a few times, most notably when the romantic relationship between founders Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance ended around the time of 1994’s Foolish and the extended hiatus between 2001’s Here’s to Shutting Up and 2010’s Majesty Shredding.


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Wednesday, Jul 24, 2013
by Mike Noren
The 2002 release All Hail West Texas marked a turning point for the Mountain Goats, as John Darnielle went from underground home recording cult hero to wider acclaim. With this week's reissue of All Hail West Texas, we review essential tracks from the Mountain Goats' back catalog.

In a broad overview of John Darnielle’s 20-plus years heading the Mountain Goats, you might look at 2002’s All Hail West Texas as a pivotal halfway point. Darnielle began recording as the Mountain Goats in the early 1990s, putting poems to tape over a battered acoustic guitar. He had collaborators—from early bandmate Rachel Ware to the mysterious Bright Mountain Choir—but the Mountain Goats’ early work centered on Darnielle and his words. He sang about troubled characters and unhealthy relationships in settings across the globe and throughout history. He would belt out his stories, sometimes bitterly humorous, and linger on moments and details until it all overwhelmed him. The sparse instrumentation and rough home recording only added to the urgency. It’s difficult to imagine early Mountain Goats albums like Zopilote Machine (1994) and Sweden (1995) without the static and tape grind.


All Hail West Texas—reissued this week in expanded form by Merge—was one of the best albums of Darnielle’s “homemade” era, and also the last. Just months later in 2002, the Mountain Goats released the follow-up Tallahassee, on which they displayed a newly cleaned-up sound and a wider array of instruments. The band’s lineup expanded to include Peter Hughes on bass and, later, Jon Wurster (of Superchunk) on drums. Additional musicians chipped in frequently over the albums that followed. The shift from the homemade racket to a more conventional studio presentation may have caught longtime fans off guard, but it helped take Darnielle’s songs to different place and to a broader audience. Albums like The Sunset Tree (2005), The Life of the World to Come (2009), and Transcendental Youth (2012) have pianos, strings, and horn sections that would’ve been hard to imagine in 1994—but they also feature some of Darnielle’s finest songwriting.


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