Why an Arctic Monkeys top ten list? Part of the motivation came from the recent release of their fifth record, AM. Already a huge fan of the Arctics, I got on a kick and decided to really sink my teeth into their newly augmented body of work. But it’s a body of work that’s made all the more noteworthy by the fact that it exists at all. As I mention in one entry below, Arctic Monkeys easily could’ve been swallowed up by the feverish, messiahs-of-British-rock hype that greeted their debut in 2006. Just ask Pete Doherty and the Libertines about the burden of great expectations. Lifestyle excess is obviously one pitfall to overcome. But even absent that, there’s still the enormous task of consistently delivering the goods and doing so in a way that doesn’t just rehash previous efforts. Creative growth is key. On this count, Arctic Monkeys have been a huge success. From dynamic post-punk to brawny stoner-rock to jangly California pop to moonlit glam, their five albums have displayed impressive range. It’s the main reason why they occupy the enviable spot they do in the music world. They have both mainstream and indie appeal and they move units and satisfy critics. They’re a young band but one with proven staying power. There’s simply a lot to admire about Arctic Monkeys.
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Lou Barlow knows better than most what goes into a successful comeback. A member of Dinosaur Jr. through their ‘80s prime—up until J Mascis famously kicked him out in 1989—Barlow rejoined the group for their unlikely 2005 rebirth. Eight years and three strong Dinosaur albums later, Barlow now hopes to repeat the feat with his other revered ‘80s/‘90s band, Sebadoh, which this week releases its first new studio album since 1999.
Sebadoh began in the mid-‘80s as an outlet for Barlow’s home recordings away from Dinosaur Jr., with help from early collaborator Eric Gaffney. The duo’s output—heard on 1989’s The Freed Man and 1990’s Weed Forestin—was a collage of sound experiments, throwaway jokes, and rough folk and pop songs that set the stage for numerous “lo-fi” musicians who followed. Jason Loewenstein joined Sebadoh in 1989, creating the three-person line-up of what many fans consider the band’s “classic” era. Barlow, Gaffney, and Loewenstein would swap instruments and take turns on the mic, Barlow providing a tuneful sensitivity while the others brought a volatile noise/punk streak. The mix made for some of the era’s most memorably chaotic recordings, most notably III (1991)—arguably Sebadoh’s masterpiece—and Bubble & Scrape (1993).
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.
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.
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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