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Wednesday, Dec 12, 2012
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of these indie rock stalwarts out of Boise, Idaho. To commemorate the occasion, PopMatters presents this ranking of their albums, from worst to best.

The Pacific Northwest has been home to more than its fair share of iconic musicians — Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Kurt Cobain, and Elliott Smith all spent their formative years in this rain-soaked corner of the world. But for my generation, those who came of age in the years shortly after grunge’s demise, there is no band that better exemplifies the Northwest sound than Boise, Idaho’s Built to Spill.

The band has seen many incarnations, from its beginnings as a loosely conceived solo-project for founder/songwriter Doug Martsch, to its current line-up of drummer Scott Plouf, bassist Brett Nelson, and guitarists Jim Roth and Brett Netson, which has earned a reputation as one of the most dynamic and inventive live rock bands in recent memory. As a guitarist, Martsch belongs to the same school of outre virtuosity as Dinosaur Jr.’s J.Mascis and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, although he balances his more experimental tendencies with a heavy dose of classic rock sensibility. But it is his unique approach to melody and songcraft that have exerted such a considerable influence over the music of the Pacific Northwest. And while a few of Martsch’s most ardent admirers, such as Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, have gone on to achieve greater levels of commercial success, Built to Spill maintains a core of deeply devoted fans to this day.

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Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012
With the last of three Green Day LPs due out this year arriving next week, Sound Affects takes a look back and ranks the long-lived California punk trio's previous studio efforts.

God, how the time flies. Sometime between getting into a mudfight with a crowd of rowdy Gen X-ers at Woodstock 1994 and unleashing three albums in quick succession this year, Green Day became an institution. In its two-decade career, the punk trio has moved from the indie label ranks to rock radio playlists and Grammy Award ballots, in the process assembling a robust discography that should be the envy of any long-running rock band, under- or overground. Still, not every full-length endeavor has been fruitful for the group. For every blockbuster or fan-favorite, there are the uneven experiments and the holding patterns that linger around in the back of your CD collection, seldom heard save for a few choice tracks.

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Wednesday, Nov 28, 2012
As preparation for Scott Walker's first studio album since 2006, we review the essential tracks from his long, strange career.

Most great artists have occasional disputes with their muses as they negotiate the realities of popular appeal. Few of these struggles equal those of longtime American expatriate Scott Walker, whose oeuvre is effectively a series of ultimatums, breakups, and passionate embraces with a stubborn inspiration that, over the course of more than half a century, has become increasingly determined to keep him on the fringes. Despite his early work garnering a devoted UK fanbase, when it comes to fame in his native United States, he’s probably lesser known than the conservative Wisconsin governor with whom he regrettably shares a name.

On December 3rd, 4AD will release Bish Bosch, Walker’s 14th solo album and his first since 2006. This leaves an uncharacteristically tiny gap in the timeline of his most recent album releases, with 2006’s The Drift and 1995’s Tilt each taking about a decade to brew. Walker wasn’t always so deliberate, though, and his catalog is perhaps the strangest and least consistent in all of pop (if the term even loosely applies to his late-period work). There’s room for transcendent artfulness and unbearable pap, heartbreaking pop ballads and discordant avant-garde compositions, and it covers that range from definitive to stunningly ill-fitting.

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Wednesday, Nov 21, 2012
Fans should reasonably expect very little, if any, new Nine Inch Nails output in the near or distant future. Which means now is as good a time as any to get a little retrospective when it comes to trying to figure out Trent Reznor's best work within the NIN framework.

No longer am I sure what the future holds for Nine Inch Nails. I still remember the day I snuck out of the house to buy The Downward Spiral like it was yesterday (I was 12 and forbidden to purchase that album). But the truth is, that breakout effort is almost 20 years old, and Nine Inch Nails aren’t really around these days. The last time I heard Trent Reznor mentioned on any consistent basis was last year when he accepted the Oscar for Best Score in regards to his work on The Social Network.

Us fans should reasonably expect very little, if any, NIN output in the near or distant future. Which means now is as good a time as any to get a little retrospective when it comes to trying to figure out Trent Reznor’s finest work within the NIN framework. I gave this list a lot of thought, and relistened to everything from Pretty Hate Machine to The Slip, as well as all the soundtrack tunes, remixes, and rarities in-between. These 20 track are the best Nine Inch Nails songs released, in my humble opinion. I hope we get more NIN in the future, but if not, then I suppose it’s OK to start looking backwards and not forwards. Until then, we have Tapeworm and Zach de la Rocha projects to look forward to, right?

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Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012
Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral is one of the most grueling albums of the '90s and represents a creative high and personal low that Trent Reznor has never matched. In Manic Street Preachers' The Holy Bible, however, the album has a dark twin which matches its irresistible horror blow for blow.

Almost 20 years on, nothing in Trent Reznor’s illustrious discography has matched the bleak unity of purpose achieved on Nine Inch Nails’ tortured 1994 breakthrough The Downward Spiral. Significantly influenced by Reznor’s struggles with drugs, alcohol and grief, the album was an uncompromising document of mental collapse, a concept record which gathered industrial rock, techno and lashings of real pain into a story of a broken man driven to eventual suicide. Long since rehabilitated, married to new bandmate Mariqueen Maandig and in possession of an Oscar for his part in the score to The Social Network, today Reznor finds himself in a very different place. His recent project How to Destroy Angels just released a new EP, Omen, the sequel to a self-titled debut which met with a fairly muted response due to its similarly to NIN. His main project, by contrast, has been essentially offline since 2009, and Reznor shows few signs of wanting to scratch again at the wound opened by The Downward Spiral.

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