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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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Tuesday, Jul 23, 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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Friday, Jul 12, 2013
Ten years have passed since the death of Warren Zevon, undoubtedly the most underrated of the great American songwriters. With his acerbic, graceful, and macabre wit still lingering long after his death, PopMatters looks back on his most lasting lyrical contributions.

From as early as his teenage years, it was plain that Warren Zevon was never going to be an ordinary person, or at the very least an ordinary writer. In the oral biography compiled by his first wife Crystal, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, it is written that upon hearing the death of John F. Kennedy being announced over the loudspeakers at his high school, Zevon turned to his friend Danny McFarland, who recalls his macabre candor:


…Warren took his right hand and stretched it behind his back; at the same time he looked over his right shoulder and said in his best JFK accent, “Jackie, I’ve got this real bad pain in my head.”


His tumultuously productive career as a songwriter only further demonstrates his unmitigated interest in the dark side of life, whether it be the Hyatt House S&M of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” or the Uzi atop the ballerina shoes on the back of the sleeve art to his third LP, Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. At the end of his career—both before and following being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a terminal form of lung cancer—he put out albums with titles including Life’ll Kill Ya and My Ride’s Here. It wasn’t just that Zevon was spitting in Death’s face—he pulled up a barstool next to the hooded reaper, ordered whiskeys for the both of them, and challenged him to a conversation. If Zevon’s lyrics are any indication, he greeted Death as an old friend, one who knew all of his stories long before the scythe bore down.


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