Days of the Lords: 1976-1997

Weekend Update: Saturday Afternoon Project

Born in ’81, I was just a few years too young for some of the best music of the 80s. This afternoon I dedicated some time to rectifying that issue.

I collected all of the genre-defining albums of the era from RateYourMusic.com and assembled a 175-hour playlist titled Days of the Lords: 1976-1997 comprising 55 artists from the period’s most prominent genres:

  • Ethereal Wave
  • New Wave
  • Dream Pop
  • Gothic Rock
  • Shoegaze
  • Post-Punk
  • Jangle Pop
  • & Noise Pop

All the major players are here.  Neoclassical darkwave and goth rock mainstays like The Cure, The Church, The Cult, Joy Division, The Smiths, Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins.  Plus post-punk artists like The Chameleons, Cabaret Voltaire, Chrome, Einstürzende Neubauten, Jesus & Mary Chain, Swervedriver, and Fad Gadget.

All the shoegaze giants made the list, from My Bloody Valentine to Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, Soda Stereo, The Boo Radleys, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Belly, and The Catherine Wheel.  I’ve really done my best to assemble all of the artistst discographies that defined their generation’s sound from 1976-1997.

Here’s a preview of the completed list in action.  I’ve got a lot of listening to do!

Days of the Lords

Some Albums Hit You Like a Ton of Bricks – Others Wait Til You’re Ready

This morning I decided to revisit an album I’d honestly neglected when I’d first picked it up 15 years ago.  Slowdive’s Souvlaki is heralded as the quiet answer to My Bloody Valentine’s epically-loud shoegaze masterpiece, Loveless.  Released in 1993, it has remained to this day one of the definitive albums of its decade.

Slowdive - Souvlaki

The opening track, “Allison” is widely-acclaimed as the strongest selection of the album.  Straight away it sets the pace for the dreamy majesty that is to come.  The next two tracks – “Machine Gun” and “40 Days” begin with a sharp attack and relentless guitars and both tracks dissipate elegantly over powerfully-long 16-second fade outs, creating a wonderful sonic-staging of a band performing in the void of outer space.

Still, this isn’t a perfect album.  “Sing” is an attempt at a more freeform, atmospheric piece, but while Nick Chaplin’s bass maintains a simple, melodic structure, the rest of the band appears to disregard it.  The resulting instrumentation seems out-of-focus, and whether intentional or not, the lack of a tonal center takes away from the music.  “Here She Comes” had similar potential, but ends abruptly after only 2 minutes.  Neil Halstead closes the track speaking the title into silence, and you’re really left wishing there was more.

But other tracks like “Slowdive Space Station” return to the strength of the album’s start.  The song features a wash of heavily-reverberating guitar drones and indecipherable vocals that would make Elizabeth Fraser proud.  Rachel Goswell’s speech echoes from a distant star system and by the end of the piece the guitars have slowly decayed into beautiful noise reminding the listener why Souvlaki is one of the essential albums of the shoegaze/dream genre.

Slowdive

The remainder of the album is similarly trademark of the shoegaze scene.  All of the elements are there –  from the backmasked drums on “Melon Yellow” to the infinitely-sustained tones and delicate melodies of “Some Velvet Morning.”  This is a quintessential dream record.

And that’s one of the things I love most about music.  It doesn’t judge its listener for shelving an album for over a decade without ever giving it a fair chance. It simply waits there quietly to be rediscovered, knowing you’ll fall in love with it when you’re ready for its beauty.

Published in: on June 6, 2015 at 12:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Hearkening Back to 4AD

This evening I found myself feeling emotionally and intellectually nostalgic for 1984-1994 ethereal wave / jangle-pop / neo-psychedelia / slowcore / art punk music which I’d only superficially explored in my college days.

This was music I emotionally-associate with the new-found independence and freedom (before the crushing reality of student loan debt sank in.)

As I’m never one to take on a task lightly, I charged full-speed to RYM, building custom charts of heroin-inspired jangle-pop and dreamy drone music of the late eighties and early nineties.

I consider these years sacred, before the industry latched on to the budding “alternative” rock scene and everything went to hell. These are the years before grunge hit full-swing, before megastars like Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, and Gavin Rossdale were featured every three songs on every commercial radio station in the US.

The free-form college rock scene was instead dominated by unlikely and reclusive rockers like J Spaceman and Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins.

Now armed with a roster of essential recordings, I’ll begin compiling the necessary albums for what will fill many evenings with the music from artists such as:

Spacemen 3
Spiritualized
Belly
Cocteau Twins
Curve
Galaxy 500
The Jesus & Mary Chain
Lush
Medicine
My Bloody Valentine
Sisters of Mercy
Slowdive
Sparklehorse
Suicide
The Church
Throwing Muses

…and a score of other essential artists of the dreamy early-alternative and pre-grunge scene.

I also count among these artists American Analog Set for their whisper-core indie music which came after the heyday of the shoegaze genre.

Spacemen 3 so adequately summarized the entire scene – “Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To.”

spiritualized_3

Truckloads of New Music

About two years ago, I picked up nearly one hundred albums worth of dj sets and live material from a few of my favorite artists over the course of the fall.  During the next few years, I cooled my downloading jets and took some time to absorb the material.  Then about a week ago when I had grown tired of the same old thing, I began to investigate the music I had missed.

Around 2007 I was primarily listening to ambient, dream pop, slowcore/sadcore and indie folk music.  After four years, I was worried that each of these genres had nearly disappeared.  It seemed that they had been replaced by innumerable post rock bands and a hundred groups that sound like Arcade Fire.  (Sorry people, I just can’t get into mindie pop.)

Still, I knew that ambient music could not be dead – in 2010 The Black Dog had released the highly acclaimed Music For Real Airports.  It was a contemporary answer to Brian Eno’s genre defining 1978 masterpiece, Music For Airports.  The Black Dog’s album was built from over 200 hours of field recordings, and it was my favorite LP of 2010.  353 copies were pressed, and I got #16.

Music for Real Airports
Low’s Drums and Guns LP from 2007 sustained my faith that slowcore was alive and well but it wasn’t until I visited the Chairkicker website last night that I was struck with the incredible news that April 12th is the release date for Low’s new album, titled C’Mon.  It was recorded in the same church as 2002’s Trust album, so I’m expecting great things.

The 39 second album trailer for C’Mon

Also in 2010, Robert Plant covered two of my favorite Low tracks on his Band of Joy LP.  Both were well-crafted performances and do great justice to the originals.  They’re worth looking up.

I compiled a list of the top 120 artists I was interested in but hadn’t fully explored.  Goldmund, Hammock, Hannu, Helios, Mum and Mus were all in my top 10.  (If you enjoy any of these artists please drop me a line!)  I will listen to each of them in the coming weeks.

I then spent the next 7 days pouring over music blogs to find out what else I missed during this transitional period.  Thanks to the wonder of metadata I found twenty new artists to explore and learned of a micro-genre I had missed in my previous travels.

The first gem I found was a Swedish band called Air France.  They haven’t released a proper album but they have two beefy EPs of catchy chillout tunes that quickly caught my attention.

Here’s a track from their No Way Down EP titled, “Collapsing at your Doorstep.”

Insound laughably described their music as “beach foam pop.”  I found a beautifully sarcastic reply to this statement from the Neogaf forums…

“Let this be a lesson to you, inventing empty terms to describe simple musical styles makes you sound stupid, or ever worse, like a British music journalist.”

Air France appears to be too innocent and not nearly self-conscious enough to fall into the subgenre category I hinted at above – chillwave aka glo-fi.

Chillwave is nothing new, it was the so-called talk of the blogosphere in 2009.  The term was originally coined by Carles of Hipster Runoff and was used interchangably with the term glo-fi or even hypnagogic pop.  Poster bands would include Toro Y Moi, Million Young, Blackbird Blackbird, Memoryhouse, Weird Tapes, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Small Black and Delorean.

If you’ve ever listened to Panda Bear’s Person Pitch or Ariel Pink then you’ve heard the beginnings of the socially shunned sub-genre.

Toro Y Moi – Still Sound

To oversimplify the formula – record ambient psychedelic loops with some needlessly heavy effects and 80s synths, channel it all through a handheld tape recorder and stick a picture of a seagull flying on your album cover.  Perform at SXSW and you’re all set.

As cheesy as it sounds I still like what I’ve found so far.  There’s no shortage of bands offering their EPs for free or next-to-free and Soundcloud is loaded with chillwave mixes.  Even better is the latest incarnation of chillwave – blisscore.  Tanlines, Lemonade and Delorean are great examples.

But who knows… depending on how amazing this new Low album is, I may just tune out for another couple of years.

If you’re feeling particularly bitter and cynical about the whole concept, head over to flavorwire.com and read “How to Start a Chillwave band.”