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Thursday, Jun 21, 2012
For three decades, punk's not-so-secret weapon -- pioneering women -- have shaped the sonic template and bristling attitude of underground music's teeming core.

Picking and honing down a Top Ten list is never easy, especially when grappling with previously under-documented subjects like women in punk. Though women co-pioneered the genre, forming the indelible face and sound of the underground singing for the likes of the Bags, the Avengers, X-Ray Sex, Blondie, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, majority-female bands have often slipped beneath the radar of many critics, pollsters, and everyday fans. My plan here wasn’t to list a definitive “must-have” compendium of records to seize and sell but to foster discussions about key, even breathtaking bands armed with desire and dedication.


Parameters do shape the choices. Some bands seem overly obscure (Neo Boys, Dishrags, Pink Section), a touch too mainstream (Go-Go’s, Donnas, Hole, and Pandoras), glam or hard rock (Runaways, L7), or disco and dance-oriented (the Gossip, currently with eight million YouTube watchers). Those bands, I argue, are superlative, despite not appearing on the list.


Other inclusions might have stirred accusations of nepotism; for instance, half of the Mydolls—art-core Texans that have conjured poetic and stylized underground music since 1978—play in a band with me. So, I decided not to cross that line.  Furthermore, I attempted to reconcile a cross-section of genres, which may not satisfy all readers. The annoyed ones should scribble their own lists, or even better, jump-start bands and fanzines to keep the Do-It-Yourself ethos alive and well.


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Thursday, Jun 14, 2012
The Smashing Pumpkins have always exhibited grandiose ambitions, from their album concepts to their song titles. To commemorate the release of their new record Oceania -- the latest installment in their Teargarden by Kaleidyscope song cycle -- Sound Affects counts down the alt-rockers' ten best six-minute-plus tracks.

During the reign of alternative rock in the 1990s, Chicago’s Smashing Pumpkins were anomalous in their embrace of melodrama and grandiose ambition. While hipper contemporaries were recording their slacker manifestos with Steve Albini or onto a cassette tape, the Pumpkins would layer armies of guitar tracks onto a single song and release albums that neared the upper limit of what could fit onto a CD’s runtime. Having grown up on widescreen classic rock staples like Pink Floyd and Queen, Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan was predisposed to framing his canny songcraft and cathartic lyrics in outsized statements, which ensured that concept albums, titles like “Behold! The Night-Mare”, and tracks that regularly extended beyond the three-minute single format would be well-trod territory over the ensemble’s two-decade career.


Corgan is at it again with his 44-track Teargarden by Kaleidyscope song cycle project (it says a lot about a group’s character when concepts like “44-track song cycle project” seem par for the course). So far, the centerpiece of that undertaking is Oceania, the Pumpkins’ forthcoming album and its first since its comeback LP Zeitgeist way back in 2007. In anticipation of the release of the Pumpkins’ latest opus on June 19, Sound Affects honors the group’s outsized tendencies by counting down its top songs that exceed the six-minute mark. By their nature, such brazen exercises constantly risk turning out as muse-stroking pretension. Yeah, when Corgan overreaches himself—consider the boring “Glass and the Ghost Children” (9:56) and the godawful “United States (9:52)—the music becomes a ponderous, unending slog. But when he nails it as he does on these offerings, he goes quite a ways towards reminding listeners that few other rockers in the last 20 years possessed of such bombastic and unapologetic creative visions have shifted as many millions of records to the introspective bedroom dreamers of the world as the Pumpkins have.


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Thursday, Jun 7, 2012
Beloved by musicians and originally shunned by critics, Rush continues to win fans and even detractors well into their fourth decade of making music. With the Canadian trio's new album Clockwork Angels due for release in just a few days, Sound Affects counts down the ensemble's top ten songs.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, Rush was lumped into the “beloved by musicians, hated by critics” category of rock. As a band, Rush even helped supply an argument against music critics in general. When a band is hated by people, who in general, have not produced any music themselves while many people who actually make music swear by them; whose side holds more weight and credibility?


But in the last decade, Rush’s credibility increased considerably amongst critics. One possible reason is the embrace of progressive rock and conceptual albums by such critically-adored bands like the Decemberists and Titus Andronicus. Another reason could be pop culture’s full embrace of the band, which can be found in a typical episode of Family Guy or as a centerpiece of the hit movie I Love You, Man. Even in the late ‘90s, Stephen Malkmus treated Rush’s lead singer with kid gloves by simply wondering why Geddy Lee’s voice was so high in “Stereo”, but mercilessly doing a hit job on the Smashing Pumpkins in “Range Life”.


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Thursday, May 31, 2012
To celebrate four decades of Mike Watts' musical journeyman jaunts, and his indelible and inchoate style and storytelling, PopMatters sheds light on ten zenith tracks by the underground rock hero.

Few people in underground music retain the unvarnished status, proclivity for chance and change, and ductile dedication to musically honesty that Mike Watt does. His relationship to comrade D. Boon extends back to 1973, when the Californians formed the Bright Orange Band, then re-grouped as the Reactionaries, then settled in as the Minutemen by 1980. Considered uber poet-cum-punks armed with endless San Pedro slang, their music deftly fused dollops of Creedence Clearwater and Blue Oyster Cult with Pop Group and Wire. Their catalog alone is seminal and titanic, a working-class tome that impressed writers from Richard Meltzer to Mikal Gilmore and Michael Azerrad.


When D. Boon died in 1986, Watt briefly contributed songs to Sonic Youth for Evol and soon planted his feet in fIREHOSE, featuring Midwest exile Ed from Ohio (Crawford) as singer but retaining floppy-haired Minutemen drummer George Hurley as backbeat captain. From the trio’s days on Greg Ginn’s (Black Flag) iconic label SST to its foray on Columbia, fIREHOSE’s sound transformed from loose-knit Americana jazz-punk to big rock ’n’ roll blends, shaped by producers like J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.


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Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Individually, they've each amassed a musical legacy worthy of several daily spins. Yet according to radio, these terrific musicians are only worth one -- or on the outside chance, two -- songs each. As a result, they've become pigeonholed, and these 10 tracks have become (almost) insufferable.

As Elvis Costello was wont to opine, radio seems to be solidly in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anesthetize the way that you feel. Clearly, they are cutting up the catalog of many meaningful bands, reducing their import to a few selected songs. Granted, once you’ve traveled beyond the basics of many musical groups, their oeuvre seems less and less solid. On the other hand, many musicians are lucky if only one song out of their catalog makes it onto the air. As a result, several significant contributors to the medium’s cultural dynamic are left listed as ersatz one hit wonders—that is, a single overplayed track eventually represents everything they stand for. In that regard, here are our picks for 10 tunes that have become a pariah for their particular artists. Each act represented has dozens of definitive moments to remember them by. Radio, on the other hand, only recognizes these cuts.


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