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Top 100 Albums (100-91)

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Top 100 Albums (100-91)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

‘Not another Top 100 albums list,’ we hear you cry. Well, yes it is. But we hope that this one will be different from the rest. Granted, there are some albums here that you will have seen on many lists before but we’ve also opted for some obscurities as well with the aim of bringing some different music for you to seek out.

First, let us explain our ground rules. We are an indie and alternative music website so while Pet Sounds and Revolver are among our favourites you won’t find them here on this list. We’ve gone for mainly independent label artists but those on the majors with an independent and alternative slant are also included. We’ve gone for one album per artist, which has been tough for us. We have set no timeline as well, which has meant we have been able to plunder our record collections, our Classic Albums section as well as our recent reviews to bring you music from the 60s through to the last few years.

Everyone has their own list, but this is ours based on our love of alternative and independent music over the years. We will be releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. Hope you enjoy this first instalment. The rest of the Top 100 can be found here.

100. Half man Half Biscuit – Back in the DHSS


John Peel favourites, Half Man Half Biscuit, famously missed a TV recording to go to a Tranmere Rovers game and later in their career took a lengthy break to go back on the dole. This lack of professionalism didn’t stop this, their debut album, from being the best selling independent record of 1986. They are one of the few bands who have managed to do comic songs and make them work. Songs about 1970s TV stars, children’s television and The Velvet Underground make this album a pretty unique experience.

99. Penguin Cafe Orchestra – Broadcasting From Home

Classically trained multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes, who tragically died of cancer in 1997, left behind one of the most diverse legacies in music. He added Burundi drumming to Adam and The Ants, the strings for Sid Vicious’ My Way and some wonderful albums with his experimental-folk-classical  band The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. There were five PCO studio albums but Broadcasting From Home from 1984 is the pick of the bunch, especially as it features the, often used by movie producers and advertisers, track Music For a Found Harmonium. Simon’s son Arthur has since revived the PCO, which continues to tour. More details here.

98. Neko Case – Blacklisted

Neko Case - Blacklisted

Part-time New Pornographer Neko Case has been producing great music on her own terms for several years, and Blacklisted is a high water mark. Backed by members of Calexico, The Sadies and Giant Sand she combines the smokey allure of a bar room singer with the old-time country vibe of Patsy Cline. The songs are dark and beautiful and Case sings them with power and style.

97. The Monks – Black Monk Time

Formed in the mid 1960s in Germany by a group of former American GIs The Monks were punks before their time, experimented in feedback and even  had haircuts of actual monks.  Recorded in 1966 in the early hours of the morning during a hectic performing schedule Black Monk Time was their only album and offers a mid 60s slice of one of the greatest punk pioneer acts. For a full review of the 2009 re-release of Black Monk Time click here.

96. The dB’s – Repercussion


The dB’s are the forgotten men of the 1980s jangle pop scene, their albums received a lot of attention from the critics, but little interest from the buying public. Lead by songwriters Peter Holsapple (who would later work with REM) and Chris Stamey (who would leave the band after this release) The dB’s understood how to write quirky melodic songs as well as any of their contemporaries.  The songs are just as catchy as their debut album, but the production is better and the instrumentation more interesting. Put simply, this is a great pop album and it deserved a much bigger audience.

95. Tar Babies – No Contest

This 1980s act from Wisconson started life as a hardcore punk outfit before drifting more into funk. Here on this little known 1988 album No Contest, released on the legendary SST label,  they blend the two perfectly. Quite simply its a great punk album and an even better funk album.

94. Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird started out playing a twisted variant on swing jazz with his band Bowl of Fire. By 2005, when this album was released, most of the jazz stylings had been dropped in place of a left-field take on folk, pop and alternative rock & roll. Live Bird plays several instruments at once and his musical virtuosity and deadpan vocals are a delight on this album.  His lyrics are oblique and the song structures are as impressive as anything you’ll hear. Few artists have managed to pull off an album this ambitious, and Bird does it with ease.

93. The Walkmen – You & Me


This 2008 album from Brooklyn band The Walkmen  is among our most recent entries and topped our Albums of 2008 list.  ‘In the New Year’ is a highlight, but the album’s true quality is its consistency throughout. Almost mariachi in places, punk in others, Velvet Underground at times all held together with lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s fierce vocals. Last year’s excellent album Lisbon took the style and mood of You & Me further, but for us You & Me is the better of the two. It’s a tough choice though. Our tip, buy both.

92. No Means No – Wrong

No Means No - Wrong

No Means No’s brand of jazz-hardcore is like nothing else on the varied Alternative Tentacles label. The Wright brothers, along with guitarist Andy Kerr, are more skillful players than your average hardcore punks. Opener ‘It’s Catching Up’ sets the scene, charging in at 100 miles an hour of raucous abuse, and the pace deviates and varies dizzily from there on in. The bass and drums are heavy and the guitars loud throughout, it is intelligent music but never stops being a lot of fun.

91. The Dukes of Stratosphear – Psonic Psunspot

This is the second album by XTC’s mid 1980s pyschedelic alter ego band The Dukes of Stratosphear. It coincided with XTC stopping touring and shows a band throwing themselves into studio work. With producer John Leckie on board each track is a loving, beautiful recreation of the 1960s music they love. Small Faces, Pink Floyd and the Beach Boys are just some of the influences on this remarkable album. The Stone Roses were reportedly so impressed with it they hired Leckie to produce their self titled debut. Read our full Classic Albums review of Psonic Psunspot here.

by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers.

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Top 100 Albums (90-81)

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Top 100 Albums (90-81)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

Everyone has their own Top 100 Albums list, but this is ours based on our love of alternative and independent music over the years. There are some albums here that you will have seen on many lists before but we’ve also opted for some obscurities with the aim of highlighting some different music for you to seek out.

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday.  Here’s the first instalment (100-91) We hope you enjoy this second instalment. Also, for  more great albums visit our  Classic Albums section

90. Pere Ubu – The Modern Dance

Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance

Pere Ubu were one of oddest punk bands to come out of the scene in late 70s America. Lead by the caterwauling vocals of Oliver Hardy lookalike David Thomas they made a noise unlike anyone else. The rhythms were tight, the guitars fierce and the songs absurd and poignant at once. They have released a dozen excellent records through a long career, but their debut is still the best of the bunch. They manage to set a standard for punk, art rock and avant-pop in one fell swoop. From the fierce yet catchy assault of ‘Non-Alignment Pact’ to the more challenging ‘Humor Me’ this is a groundbreaking and fascinating record.

89. Darren Hayman – Pramtown

Ex-Hefner frontman Darren Hayman is one of the UK’s best folk artists, although as he points out on his Facebook site “everybody else would say indie”. This first part in a trilogy about Essex, which topped our Albums of 2009  list, focuses on Harlow. The town provides an excellent backdrop for his  stories about love on Essex commuter trains and those living in its sterile new town estates.  The follow up Essex Arms, which focuses on the county’s rural life, is wonderful as well, but as the first in the trilogy this will always have a special place in our hearts.

88.  New Pornographers – Twin Cinema

The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

Carl (AC) Newman is the best songwriter you’ve never heard of. With his band, the New Pornographers, he has released a string of power pop classics that have delighted the critics but evaded the public consciousness. Twin Cinema followed two brilliant albums but managed to raise the bar in terms of quality alternative guitar pop. Aided by Neko Case (who is the best guitar pop singer since Debbie Harry), Destroyer’s Dan Bejar (who contributes a downbeat counterpoint to Newman’s sweeter melodies) and an ensemble of superb musicians the quality stays high from start to finish. There isn’t a bad song on the album but the coupling of ‘We Are The Fables’ and ‘Sing Me Spanish Techno’ takes some beating.

87. Howe Gelb – Sno Angel Like You

In 2006 Giant Sand frontman Howe Gelb travelled to Canada, teamed up with Arcade Fire drummer  Jeremy Gara and the Voices of Praise gospel choir and made this breathtaking album. Blending gospel with Gelb’s more traditional bar room Arizona tunes was a masterstroke as Voices of Praise’s vocals drift in and out, even taking the listener by surprise at times. Great tunes, great vocals and one of the best mixes of genres in our list.

86. Thin White Rope – Sack Full Of Silver

Thin White Rope - Sack Full of Silver

How Thin White Rope didn’t end up being an alternative household name like Nick Cave or The Flaming Lips is one of the mysteries of modern music. Lead by the fierce vocals of Guy Kyser they produced a desert rock sound that fitted with the mood of Green on Red or Giant Sand, but was altogether darker and more psychedelic. Sack Full of Silver, their fourth album, was their most coherent and fully realised set of songs. The album sounds like it was recorded lost on the road in a desert, and the feeling of loss and desperation make it a challenging listen. This is tempered but a beauty to the music and a sense of hope. ‘Triangle’ is the centrepiece of the album and one of the great lost songs of the 1990s, sad, weird and beautiful all at once.

85. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion


This 2009 album catapulted Animal Collective into the big time, giving their oddball take on electronic music a whole bunch of new fans and  mainstream credibility for the first time. It is a  success  that is well deserved as tracks such as ‘My Girls’ and ‘Summertime Clothes’ emerge as wonderful alternate reality pop hits. Warm and melodic amid the bleeps and swirling loops this album is part Flaming Lips, part Beach Boys, part Ibiza club and is another example of how well genres can be merged.

84.  Super Furry Animals  – Guerilla

Super Furry Animals  - Guerilla

Super Furry Animals came along at the tail end of Britpop but their distinctly Welsh mix of psychedelia, 60s pop and dance music had little in common with their contemporaries. Guerrilla is an eclectic mix of all their influences which manages, against the odds, to sound like a cohesive album. The trio of singles, ‘Do Or Die’, ‘Fire In My Heart’ and (best of all) ‘Northern Lites’ are as good as anything that hit the charts in the late 1990s. The fact that this album has another 10 top quality songs shows how strong a record it is.

83. That Petrol Emotion Manic Pop thrill


Formed in 1984 and including former Undertones brothers Damien and John O Neil, Northern Ireland’s That Petrol Emotion were one of the most exciting bands to emerge from the UK alternative music scene at the time.  It took a couple of years for this their debut album to be released but it was worth the wait. Pop savvy song writing, matched with inventive guitar playing and lead singer Steve Mack’s energy made this a stunning debut. Highlights include the single ‘It’s a Good Thing’ and centrepiece track ‘Lifeblood’.

82. Beulah – When Your Heartstrings Break

Beulah - When Your Heartstrings Break

Beulah are part of Elephant 6 collective (read more about that here), but they stand apart from the other bands by demonstrating a talent for simple classic pop. The first song I heard from this their sophomore album was the brilliant ‘Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand’ and I was blown away by what I heard. A slow dreamy intro moves into fuzzy guitars, before a Dexy’s style horn section ties everything together. The rest of the album is just as good and manages to achieve the feat of sounding completely new and classic all at once.

81. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Hearts of Oak


US punk/indie rock outfit Ted Leo and the Pharmacists have released six studio albums since 1999 but Hearts of Oak from 2003 remains  their best, most consistent album. There’s some great singles on this, such as ‘Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone’, but it’s the power and passion of Leo’s writing and vocals as well as the mix of reggae, ska, politics and punk across the  tracks that make this such a stunning listen.

by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

Top 100 (100-91)Top 100 (80-71)

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Top 100 Albums (80 – 71)

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Top 100 Albums (80 – 71)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Dorian

Everyone has their own Top 100 Albums list, but this is ours based on our love of alternative and independent music over the years. There are some albums here that you will have seen on many lists before but we’ve also opted for some obscurities with the aim of highlighting some different music for you to seek out.

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. We hope you enjoy this third instalment. Here’s our previous instalments (90 -81 , 100-91).  See you next week for 70-61.

Also, for  more great albums visit our  Classic Albums section

80. Midlake – Trials Of Van Occupanther


No this is not from the 1970s, but this 2006 release from American folk rock act Midlake is as near as you will get to that era of flares as it beautifully recreates the classic American rock production of Fleetwood Mac and Crosby Stills and Nash.  The effect is that tracks such as Roscoe and Bandits already sound like 30 year old masterpieces. Lyrically the influences go even further back, evoking images of the old west, log cabins, woods and pioneering. This is powerful decade skipping stuff with some sumptuous melodies. Midlake didn’t quite reach the same heights with their follow up album, The Courage of Others, proving just how special this album is.

79. Josh Rouse – Under Cold Blue Stars

Under Cold Blue Stars

Josh Rouse initially came to our attention through his collaboration with Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner on the Chester EP. One trip to see him play in a small room above a Brighton pub and we were hooked. His first five albums are all essential listens, but Under Cold Blue Stars remains our favourite and should have been the album that broke him from a cult act to bigger things. The album looks at some of the darker areas of a relationship, focusing on a mid-western 1950s couple, but softens the blow with some of the sweeter, more tender moments. It is a beautifully warm album, excellently produced by Roger Mountenot, that demonstrated what an ambitious songwriter Rouse had become. On top of this it features some great pop tunes, especially ‘Nothing Gives Me Pleasure’ and ‘Feeling No Pain’ which demonstrate that his influences lie just as much in UK acts of the 1980s (especially The Cure and The Smiths) as the traditional American acts he had become associated with.

78. Mclusky – Do Dallas


Mclusky from Cardiff were among the angriest  and funniest bands around during their short career straddling the millennium.   With  Steve Albini as producer their relentless energy and humour never sounded better as on their 2002 second album Do Dallas.  Has there ever been a better opening song title as ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’? The music industry itself was a popular target of the band especially on standouts such as ‘To Hell With Good Intentions’,  ‘Collagen Rock’  and ‘Fuck this band’.  They split in 2005 and singer Andy “Falco” Falkous and drummer Jack Egglestone currently plough a slightly more serious furrow with Future Of The Left.

77. Cat Power  – You Are Free

You Are Free

Cat Power’s hushed fragile, yet powerful voice would reach a bigger audience on The Greatest in 2006 but this 2003 release is the best example of her songwriting, whilst retaining some of the edginess of her earlier recordings. Cat Power (real name Chan Marshal) plays most of what we hear here but a diverse group of musicians including Warren Ellis, Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder contribute to some of the tracks. The sparse piano lead ‘I Don’t Blame You’ sets the tone for the album but fuller sounding songs such as ‘He War’ mean that it never sounds one paced or lacking in variation. It isn’t always an easy listen, break-ups and child abuse are some of the lyrical matter, but it is certainly an enriching experience and Marshal’s voice is one of the loveliest things on record.

76. Pylon – Gyrate


“We’re not the best rock ‘n’ roll band in America,” Pylon deserve that accolade, said REM drummer Bill Berry in 1987. Formed in REM’s hometown of Athens Georgia in 1979 they were helped along the way by another of that college town’s bands The B-52s to create frenetic, danceable new wave music that was wholly unique. Singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s raw and emotional vocals, backed with a sparse Gang of Four influenced rhythm section is expertly captured on this their debut album, with highlights including opener ‘Volume’ and final track ‘Stop It’. All bands should aspire to be this original. Berry certainly knew what he was talking about.

75. Field Music – Measure

Measure

Field Music’s Measure has the distinction of being the most modern album in our top 100, it was also the number 1 album in our 2010 round-up. Field Music, brothers Peter and David Brewis, recorded Measure after a hiatus where they focused on solo projects as The Week That Was and School Of Language. In an age where most people consume songs track by track it is a brave move to release a double album, but the quality of songs is so good here that it demands to be listened to in its entirety. The vocal harmonies are great, the playing typically tight and the variety of songs styles greater than anything they had released before. Read our full review here.

74. Kings Of Convenience – Quiet Is The New Loud


If a revolution for those that like subtle melodies, beautiful guitar playing and melancholy lyrics were likely then Norwegian duo of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe would be leading the charge. The title of their album itself is a statement of quiet revolutionary intent for all the poetic and moody waifs of the world and the album delivers a stunning array of understated and downright lovely indie folk tracks. Their Scandinavian background echoes through each track with highlights including ‘Winning a battle, losing the war’ and a stripped back cover of A-Ha’s’ Manhattan Skyline.’ This album received mixed reviews when it came out in 2001, but over time has been rightly seen by many as up there with the best naval gazing folksters, earning them justifiable comparisons with Simon & Garfunkle and Belle & Sebastian.

73.  The Dead Milkmen – Beelzebubba

Beelzebubba

A band called The Dead Milkmen is unlikely to attract a mainstream audience, and an album containing songs called ‘My Many Smells’ and ‘Life Is Shit’ is not an easy sell. However, if you are looking for snotty punk with a sense of humour then you can’t go far wrong with this album. ‘Punk Rock Girl’ is the album’s standout moment, and their one MTV hit, but there is plenty more to entertain here including songs about rednecks, James Brown and a vengeful Ringo Starr buying a rifle to get back at John and Paul for overdubbing his drums (sample lyric “Hey Paul, you asshole… Dub this!”). The band sound bad tempered and angry and the music is fast and furious, great fun throughout. You probably don’t need many Dead Milkmen albums in your collection, but you need one and this is the pick of the bunch.

72. Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Searching For The Young Soul Rebels

Perfectionist Kevin Rowland built up and smashed down incarnations of his band Dexy’s Midnight Runners seemingly at will during the 1980s. But it’s this 1980 debut from the band’s first incarnation as a soul band with a punk heart that is our pick. Littered with stomping singles such as ‘Geno’  this album is also home to some contemporary soul classics penned by the band, such as ‘I’m Just Looking’ . The album was reissued to mark its 30th anniversary last year including a welcome set of extras of singles, B sides and radio sessions of this first and best Dexy’s line up.

71. Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The  Sea

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea has become a staple of ‘best album’ lists in recent years, which is strange considering what an odd record it is. The combination of stream-of-consciousness lyrics, over-wrought vocals and erratic instrumental arrangements is like nothing else, and all the better for that. Lead by former Olivia Tremor Control member Jeff Mangum and produced by Apples In Stereo front-man Robert Schneider Neutral Milk Hotel were the most esoteric act in the Elephant 6 roster. There is some of the psychedelic 60s garage sound, ‘Holland 1945′, but also aggressive folk and songs built around acoustic guitar and horns that sound like nothing else. From the twisted pop of ‘The King Of Carrot Flowers, Pt.1′ through to the Dylanesque folk of ‘Two headed Boy, Pt.2′ it is a surprising and unique album that never disappoints.

by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

Top 100 (90-81)Top 100 (100-91)

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Top 100 Albums (70 – 61)

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Top 100 Albums (70 – 61)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Dorian

Everyone has their own Top 100 Albums list, but this is ours based on our love of alternative and independent music over the years. There are some albums here that you will have seen on many lists before but we’ve also opted for some obscurities with the aim of highlighting some different music for you to seek out.

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. We hope you enjoy this fourth instalment. Here’s our previous instalments (80 – 7190 -81 , 100-91).  See you next week for 60-51.

Also, for  more great albums visit our  Classic Albums section

70. Smog – Knock Knock

Smog - Knock Knock

Bill Callahan, AKA Smog, has been releasing melancholic dead pan songs since 1992.  Knock Knock, his seventh album, added instrumental texture and a new sense of optimism to the Smog palette, it even included a bona fide pop single in the shape of ‘Cold Blooded Old Times’. The move towards more uptempo numbers is only part of the story, the quite introspective side is still in evidence, and the children’s choir on ‘Hit The Ground Running’ is a surprising touch. Knock Knock sits pretty much smack in the middle of the Smog discography and is the best place to start.

69. Billy Bragg – Talking With The Tax Man About Poetry


The cover bares the self deprecating message about this being Bragg’s  “difficult third album.” The reality is that it may just be his best. Expanding the musicianship markedly compared to earlier work the songs retain Bragg’s passionate, political and emotional lyrics but musically this is a far broader album. From standout single ‘Levi Stubbs Tears’, to the folk blues influenced ‘Train Train’, the jaunty ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’, the gorgeous horn section on ‘The Marriage’ to the traditional ‘There Is A Power in a Union’, this 1986 album  is packed with fine tracks from one of the UK’s most accomplished folk artists.

68. Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup

Stereolab

Stereolab’s take on art-pop, synth-pop and 60s lounge music made them popular with other bands and critics alike, but never lead to a mainstream breakthrough. Their music can seem cold and clinical, their experimental side often overshadowing the quality of the songs. Emperor Tomato Ketchup is the album where all their elements came together perfectly. Opening number ‘Metronomic Underground’ exemplifies why this album works so well, the bleeps, squelches and monotonous repetition offset my smooth organic sounding bass, guitar and organ. This is followed by ‘Cybele’s Reverie’ Anglo-French art pop softened with Sean O’Hagan’s lush string arrangements and mid-way through the album they drop ‘The Noise of Carpet’, a perfect fuzzy guitar pop single. Their most varied and satisfying release.

67. Portishead – Dummy

Portishead - Dummy

Back in 1994 this debut by Bristol band Portishead was just about everywhere. Massive in the US, massive in the UK, its mix of trip hop, experimental rock and jazz made it a staple album of rich, poor, young and old alike.  Through its standouts such as ‘Sour Times’ and ‘Numb’ it perfectly encapsulates a sense of doom within the UK at the time. It was a time when the economy was still reeling from Black Wednesday and the greyest PM of all time John Major was in charge.  We can’t listen to this without thinking of an ’80s rich stock broker contemplating the millions he’s lost from his balcony in 1994 and dreading the nightmare to come.  This was rightly seen as a critical success as well at the time, winning the 1995 Mercury Music Prize. Their self titled follow up failed to replicate this stunning debut and it was not until 2008 with the release of Third that they would reach such dizzy heights of industrial melancholy again.

66. Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen

Prefab Sprout - Steve McQueen

Paddy McAloon is a songwriter on a par with anyone that came out of the 1980s and Steve McQueen (renamed Two Wheels Good for its US release) is as good as any romantic pop record to come out of the era. ‘When Love Breaks Down’ gave the band their first big hit, and it is a special record, but it is just one of many classic pop gems on the album. ‘Faron Young’, ‘Appetite’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Goodbye Lucille #1′ and pretty much anything from the record could be picked for a “Best of the 80s” compilation. It is a sophisticated record, McAloon was aiming to be Cole Porter as much as Paul McCartney, but it is an accessible and fun record as well. Thomas Dolby’s excellent production does firmly date it in the mid 1980s, but that is no bad thing, it stands as a pretty perfect artifact of that era.

65. The Wedding Present – Bizarro

The Wedding Present - Bizarro

When The Wedding Present signed to RCA in 1989, two years after their stunning debut George Best, there were accusations in the music press that they had sold out. What was ignored by some critics was that their contract ensured they retained control over single releases and producer. Their RCA debut, a mini-album in Ukranian, and this, their second album proper, prove their major label owners were true to their word, allowing the band’s independent zeal and credibility to grow. While retaining George Best’s trademark fast paced guitars and the melancholy lyrics of frontman David Gedge the tracks on Bizarro are somehow bolder and bigger, with singles like ‘Brassneck’ signaling a career peak for a band that continue to produce fine music to this day.

64. Hefner – We Love The City

Hefner - We Love The City

Darren Hayman is a firm favourite here at Neon Filler and our love for his songs started in the late 19990s when he was the front man of Hefner. Hefner wisely called it a day after just four albums, not because they weren’t still producing good music, but because it means that they stand as a rare example of an act that never released a bad album. We Love The City just about shades the top spot thanks to having the usual range of witty, soul searching melodic tracks and having two classic singles in the mix as well. ‘Good Fruit’ and ‘The Greedy Ugly People’ are as good as anything that came out of British indie pop in the era, genuinely stirring and touching. The whole album has a great feel to it and the instrumentation feels fuller and clearer than on their earlier albums. The expanded 2009 edition added b-sides, alternate versions and session tracks and is well worth seeking out.

63.  Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts Of The Great Highway

Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts Of The Great Highway

This 2003 debut  features some of former Red House Painter Mark Kozelek’s best work under the Sun Kil Moon name.  Here Kozelek uses the music as much as lyrics to tell the stories of a variety of tragic characters, most notably boxers . The Neil Young-esque guitar on ‘ Salvador Sanchez’ perfectly matches the story of boxer Sanchez, who died in a car accident aged just 25. Another of boxing’s great tragic figures ‘Duk-Koo Kim’, who died following a fight, gets a whopping 14 minute track to himself. The time floats by though. Other highlights include the beautifully layered guitar instrumental ‘Si, paloma’.

62. They Might Be Giants – Lincoln

They Might Be Giants - Lincoln

New York performance art pop duo They Might Be Giants will probably always be known in this country as a novelty act due to the hit success of ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’. Anyone prepared to delve deeper will find much to love on any of their first three albums released between 1986 and 1990. Lincoln, the second LP, is the best of all finding the perfect balance between their quirkier side and their ability to write great catchy pop records. Read more on this excellent album in our Classic Albums section here.

61. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures

Martin Hannett, who produced 1979’s Unknown Pleasure, was the fifth member of Joy division in all but name. On this debut by the Salford band he stripped back the energy of their live shows to create space and atmosphere. It was a risky move that left bassist Peter Hook gobsmacked at the time. But it was a risk worth taking with tracks such as ‘Shadowplay’ and’ She’s Lost Control’ transformed through Hannett’s cleaner, stripped back sound.  One of the best debut albums of all time with even Hook  now conceding that Hannett “did a good job on it.”

by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

Top 100 (80 – 71), Top 100 (90-81)Top 100 (100-91)

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Top 100 Albums (60-51)

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Top 100 Albums (60-51)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

We are approaching the half way point  as we compile our Top 100 indie and alternative albums of all time. There are some albums here you will have seen on similar lists before. But we’ve also opted for some obscurities with the aim of highlighting some different music for you to seek out.

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. We hope you enjoy this fourth instalment. Here’s our previous instalments ( 70-61 , 80 – 7190 -81 , 100-91).  See you next week for 50-41.

Also, for  more great albums visit our  Classic Albums section

60.Modest mouse  – Good news for people who love bad news

Modest Mouse were already one of the more successful US alternative acts around during the early 2000s. With the release of this 2004 album their popularity went through the roof. Thanks to singles like ‘Float On’ and ‘Ocean Breathes Salty’ the album became Platinum selling and gave the band a Grammy nomination. While achieving mainstream success the album also retained the band’s edge and showcases a range of styles to appease the casual listener and hardcore Modest Mouse fan alike. The slow banjo strum of ‘Berkowski’, the beautiful ‘Blame it on the Tetons’ and the frenetic ‘Satin in a Coffin’  are removed enough from the mass appeal of  the killer riff of ‘Float On’ to earn this a justified place in our Top 100 list.

59. Apples in Stereo – The Discovery of a World Inside The Moone

Robert Schneider’s The Apples In Stereo are the best place to start when listening to the Elephant 6 and The Discovery Of A World Inside The Moone is their finest hour. From horn blasting opener ‘Go!’ to the acoustic whimsy of ‘The Afternoon’ it never puts a foot wrong. The album manages to be a great retro homage without ever falling into the trap of being a pointless exercise in nostalgia. Vocal harmony, hand claps and a genius command of melody runs throughout the album. Classic pop, psyche, garage and even white funk (‘The Bird That You Can’t See’) make for a really enjoyable set.

58. Dag Nasty  – Can I Say

Along with Fugazi  Dag Nasty emerged form the ashes of DC punk outfit Minor Threat. While Minor Threat’s lead singer Ian Mackaye took a more experimental approach to music with Fugazi, Dag Nasty took a simpler but no less effective route. While sticking to short songs about everyday  teenage frustrations, of friendships and politics the  focus was on melody, with singer Dave Smalley’s vocals perfectly matching former Minor Threat guitarist Brian Baker’s wondrous technique of picking chords on this their debut album. From the title track through to ‘Thin Line’ and ‘Values Here’ to this day the excitement level hasn’t dropped, with the songs sounding as fresh and relevant now as when we first heard them years ago as teenagers when it was released in  1986. Wig Out At Denkos, the follow up album with vocalist Peter Cortner, who is now in The Gerunds, is also well worth checking out. To read our full review of Can I Say visit here.

57. Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel – Nail

Jim Thirwell (AKA Clint Ruin) has been releasing single syllable four letter titled albums under the varied Foetus banner for 30 years. The best of these as Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel in the mid-1980s. An early exponent of the “industrial” sound he produced albums that had a much more varied sonic sound-scape than many of his contemporaries. Built around metallic percussion and tape loops Nail includes a wide and varied set of instrumental sounds from classical orchestration, fierce guitars, big band jazz, twang guitar and old style rock ‘n’ roll underneath Thirwell’s guttural snarling. The album has an impact and is clearly trying to shock (murder, including the Manson family massacre, features prominently) but it features some fantastic music; ‘Descent Into The Inferno’ and ‘The Throne Of Agony’ belie their titles by being great pop tunes and full of catchy hooks.

56.Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

The story behind this debut album from Justin Vernon recording as Bon Iver is one of the most compelling in our list. After splitting from his band DeYarmond Edison and his girlfriend he holed up in a cabin in the woods for three months with his guitar and some  songs of loss and love he had built up over the years. The end result was this hauntingly beautiful collection. As remote as his isolated cabin the songs are sparse but make full use of a full band feel and even a horn section when necessary. Tracks such as ‘Skinny Love’ and ‘re:Stacks’ stand up on their own, but it as part of this unique project, which made our Top Albums of 2008 list,  that they really come alive.

55. Fatima Mansions – Viva Dead Ponies

Viva Dead Ponies was the second album by former Microdisney singer Cathal Coughlan and stands as his greatest music achievement. Uncompromising, aggressive, abrasive and acerbic yet sugar coated with sweet melodies and pretty synth pop flourishes. Read more about this album in our Classic Albums section.

54. Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque

There are so many good albums from Scottish band Teenage Fanclub to choose from. We could have picked excellent debut Catholic Education, 1993’s Grand Prix or 1994’s Thirteen. But we’ve plumped for third album Bandwagonesque as our choice. More accessible than Catholic Education and coming after the disastrously bad The King, the sound was crisper, full of Big Star style guitar riffs and some fine melodies. It signalled a band with renewed strength from classy singles like ‘What You Do To Me’ to the  melancholy ‘December’.

53. Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade

Zen Arcade represented a real shift in the hardcore punk landscape on its release in 1984. The first two Hüsker Dü albums were all about short, sharp, noisy, fast blasts, with not a big need for melody. This is a 23 song concept album with a  range of styles and approaches, a kind of indie punk White Album. The punk aesthetic is there, the production is thin and much of the music is loud and brutal; the who record was recorded and mixed in 85 hours and most of the songs captured in a single take. Amongst this are acoustic numbers, piano driven instrumentals and experimental sounds-capes, totally at odds with what their audience would have been expecting. The thing that makes this record really great is the quality of the songwriting, from both the bands singers Grant Hart and Bob Mould. Mould supplies ‘Something I Learned Today’, ‘Broken Heart, Broken Home’ and ‘Chartered Trips’. Hart matches this with ‘Never Talking To You Again’, ‘Pink Turns To Blue’ and ‘Somewhere”. These are all great catchy hardcore punk pop tunes and make this a record that is ambitious and enjoyable.

52. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Orange

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in their 1990s prime were one of the best live acts around. Like Jerry Lee Lewis mixed with The Cramps their dirty take on rock ‘n’ roll could have come from the devil himself. The fury and energy of their live shows were impossible to truly capture on CD, but this 1994 album by the band was probably as close as they got.  From the first sensational disco stringed intro of ‘Bellbottoms’ onwards this is an album meant to be played loud. From ‘Dang’ to ‘Flavor’ to ‘Blues X Man’ there’s no let up with Spencer like a filthy southern preacher bellowing ‘blooooozze explosion’ at every opportunity. It also heralded a more experimental period for the band, with the 2010 reissue featuring some interesting remixes blending rap, soul and dance music with the best rock ‘n’ roll since the 1950s.

51.Television – Marquee Moon

‘Marquee Moon’ is a near perfect debut album from a band who would go on to release just one more album before taking a 14 year break. If it had been the only thing they released they would still be seen as an important part of the New York punk and new wave scene, it is too good an artifact of that time. The guitar interplay between singer Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd is brilliant, sparse when it needs to be, and is copied heavily to this day. This tight, stripped down musical approach is paired with a set of songs that never put a foot wrong. ‘Venus’ and ‘Prove It’ are highlights, but the album centers on the  title track, a song that never wears out its welcome for any of the 10 minutes and 47 seconds running time.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Top 100 Albums (50-41)

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Top 100 Albums (50-41)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

There are some albums here you will have seen on similar lists before. But we’ve also opted for some obscurities with the aim of highlighting some different music for you to seek out.

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. We hope you enjoy this fifth instalment. The rest of the Top 100 can be found here.

50. Built To Spill – Keep it like a secret

Signing for a major label proved no bad thing for  Built to Spill. With some extra cash behind them this US band were clearly able to spend a lot of time getting their beautiful sprawling  guitar arrangements just right. On this 1999 album, which was their second for Warner Brothers, everything came together perfectly. Quality sprawling guitar sounds from frontman Doug Martsch coming at you from each speaker, brilliant hooks and all still with an alternative and independent edge, despite having the major label machine behind them. ‘Sidewalk’ is our standout on this collection of tight-as-you-like tracks as is the prog-rock-esque ‘Time Trap’. Other highlights are  ‘Carry the Zero’ and ‘Center of the Universe’, which were released as EPs.

49. The Kinks – Are The Village Green Preservation Society

This has proved to be the most contentious inclusion in our chart so far. The Kinks were a huge pop music success, one of the biggest acts of the 1960s, so what place do they have in an indie/alternative music chart? The hugely nostalgic Village Green Preservation Society sank like a stone on release in 1968 and didn’t spawn any hit singles. In contrast to this it has been a hugely influential album for alternative acts in the last 20 years. Album standout ‘Big Sky’ has been covered by Yo La Tengo as well as The Blue Aeroplanes, but the influence of the album goes further than that. It set the blueprint for a certain kind of Britishness that can be heard in albums by Madness, XTC, The Jam and Blur. Musically it is as inventive as anything that Ray Davies has produced through his career and the brilliant set of songs explains why this is the album of choice for Kink’s fans today.

48. The Fall – Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall


Picking an album by The Fall, out of the 27 released so far, was another tough choice in compiling our list. 1990’s Extricate has a special place in our hearts, as do more recent releases like  2010’s Your Future Our Clutter. But we’ve decided to narrow it down an era where we  first discovered them. An era in the mid 1980s, when thanks to the inclusion of leader Mark E Smith’s pop savvy wife Brix on guitar and production from John Leckie, they began achieving rare commercial and mainstream success. Ladies and gentleman we are proud to present 1984’s The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall. While the original vinyl version, with tracks such as the wonderful and bit frightening Lay of the Land, is great on its own the cassette and CD versions expanded the album further.  The inclusion of singles such as No Bulbs and C.R.E.E.P in these formats fit seamlessly among the album tracks and make this a great introduction to the band.

47. Calexico – Feast of Wire

Calexico were formed by the rhythm section from Howe Gelb’s Giant Sand and have produced a set of excellent albums mixing dusty border country with Mariachi sounds. Feast of Wire shows them upping the ante and has seen them described as the Tex-Mex Radiohead. There aren’t many similarities in the sound, but they do show a similar level of ambition and a desire to try out new sounds on the album. Waltz, country, jazz, electronica and, on ‘Not Even Stevie Nicks’, MOR pop all get an outing on the album and Morricone is clearly an influence on the arrangements. Despite the wealth of ideas and sounds it holds together perfectly as an album and stands as a high point in Calexico’s recording career.

46. Pretenders – Pretenders


After producing the Pretenders’ first single ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ in 1979 Nick Lowe decided against working with them again. He thought the new wave UK band fronted by American Chrissie Hynde, “wasn’t going anywhere”. Chris Thomas took over production duties for the band’s self titled debut and Lowe was proved woefully wrong as it achieved a Top 10 in the US Billboard charts and number one in the UK in 1980. Its success and inclusion in this list is not just because of great singles like ‘Brass in Pocket’, but also for its  ability to embrace a range of styles while sticking firmly to the band’s punk and new wave influences. From the reggae ‘Private Life’, to the hooky ‘The Wait’ through to the soulful ‘Lovers of Today’, this stunning debut’s variety is breathtaking.

45. The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen

The Afghan Whigs time on the Sub Pop label and their penchant for R&B covers left them with the tag of being the early 90s token soul-grunge act. This label fails to take account of what an excellent rock and roll band they were, especially on their third album Gentlemen. Greg Dulli’s snarling vocals and dark lyrics fit perfectly with his bands punchy playing and the surprisingly ungrungey  production which Dulli handled himself. The album spawned three excellent singles ‘Gentelmen’, ‘Debonair’ and ‘What Jail Is Like’ all deserved to bring the band to a bigger audience but they and the album sold in modest numbers. In amongst the loud guitars and bluster is the beautifully sung (by Macy Mays) ‘My Curse’ which is the album’s standout track.

44.  Fugazi – Repeater


This first full length album from Fugazi shows the Washington DC band continue their mission to shelve their hardcore punk origins and search for new musical directions. Still with a punk heart through the vocals of singers ex Minor Threat frontman Ian Mackaye and former Rites of Spring member Guy Piciotto, the heartbeat of the band was the jazz rhythms of bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty, who combined expertly with Mackaye’s dampened guitar style. On Repeater Piciotto gained a greater influence on the music as the band experimented more with guitar feedback.  Repeater remains the best full album by the band. Tracks like ‘Merchandise’ and ‘Turnover’ are among the immediate highlights, but the subtlety of styles on tracks like ‘Brendan #1′ show a band at their peak enjoying breaking down the traditional barriers of straight edge and hardcore punk. Repeater sold in its hundreds of thousands, but the band resolutely shunned major label interest, carried on playing in small venues and stuck with Mackaye’s Dischord label throughout.

43. The Auteurs – New Wave

The Auteurs were closely linked with Suede and the emerging Brit-pop scene when New Wave was released in 1993. Anyone who has read lead Auteur Luke Haines’ hilarious memoirs ‘Bad Vibes’ will know that he was too arrogant, mean spirited and unstable to play the game and become the star that he believed he should be. New Wave was nominated for the Mercury prize and was one of the best records released that year. Haines was right about one thing, he is a superb songwriter and the album is brilliant track after brilliant track. ‘Show Girl’, ‘Don’t Trust The Stars’, ‘Starstruck’, ‘How Could I Be Wrong’ and ‘Idiot Brother’ are all examples of great melody and interesting insightful lyric writing. Haines would record several other great albums, but his first effort stands as the best.

42. Pulp – His n Hers


Pulp spent most of the ’80s in obscurity, gradually building up critical acclaim but never quite achieving success. With the release of their fourth album His ‘n’ Hers in 1994 that all changed. This is one of the great breakthrough albums of all time as tracks such as ‘Lipgloss’ and ‘Joyriders’  brought them to a huge mainstream audience and the band started to emerge as the key act  of the Britpop explosion. By their next album Different Class, with singles such as ‘Common People, Pulp’s popularity had gone stratospheric. But it is here on His ‘n’ Hers where for us they were at their peak. This is both musically and lyrically through the bittersweet and at times downright funny storytelling of frontman Jarvis Cocker. This is especially the case with our standout track on this album ‘Babies’.

41. Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted

Recorded by two Californian Fall fans Stephen Malkmus and Scott ‘Spiral Stairs’ Kannberg (with the help of anarchic drummer/engineer Gary Young) Slanted and Enchanted was the debut album by a band that would come to be one of the most important American acts of the 1990s. It is a lo-fi album, scratchy abrasive and hissy, but a collection of great songs sits behind the static. With songs like ‘Summer Babe’, ‘Trigger Cut’ and ‘Here’ (an oft covered classic) it demonstrated the quirky pop skills that would become a feature of their albums, but it also retained the esoteric charms of their early singles.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Top 100 Albums (40-31)

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Top 100 Albums (40-31)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

We are entering the home straight and edging ever nearer the Top 10 best indie and alternative albums of all time.

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. We hope you enjoy this sixth instalment. The rest of the Top 100 can be found here.

40. Dismemberment Plan – Emergency & I

Pitchfork’s 9.6/10 score followed by the words “if you consider yourself a fan of groundbreaking pop, go out and buy this album right now. Now. Get up. Go,”  perfectly sum up the brilliance of 1999’s Emergency & I. The third album by this Washington DC band is packed full of creativity. As  another of the city’s key bands Fugazi did a decade earlier Dismemberment Plan took punk and pulled and stretched it this way and that.  Songs about growing up, about finding work and love in the city are strewn across the album but it’s the  song construction that is perhaps the most intriguing aspect. Across each track there’s a sense of chaos in the verse that eventually explode into the tightest bunch of anthemic choruses you will ever hear. As Pitchfork said in 1999, what are you waiting for, get out and buy this.

39. Devo – Freedom of Choice

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After their punky debut and scatter-shot second album Freedom of Choice showed Devo creating an album with a cohesive feel and a strong band identity. The guitars are still evident (especially on the genius pop opener ‘Girl U Want’) but this is the album where they became a predominantly synth based act. The thumping drums and pulsing synth bass-lines propel the album along at pace and add order behind Mark Mothersbaugh’s vocals and the effects heavy lead lines. Devo are a much more literate band than people give them credit and the lyrical themes of the human experience of life and relationships run through the album. ‘Whip It’, their best known song and biggest hit, looks at the relationship side and the title track explores people’s reluctance to exploit the freedom that modern life has gifted us. Devo are a band whose image and style has served to distract from their qualities as musicians and songwriters, if you want proof that there is more to them than radiation suits and flowerpot hats (or, to give them their correct name ‘Energy Domes’) then give this album a listen.

38.  Blur – Park Life


“For me, Parklife is like a loosely linked concept album..it’s the travels of the mystical lager-eater, seeing what’s going on in the world and commenting on it,” says Blur frontman Damon Albarn of the band’s third  and best album. We almost see what he means. The album does indeed feel like a journey through London, meeting its characters and experiencing their moods, from the synth pop hits of ‘Girls and Boys’ to the whirly gig instrumental ‘The Debt Collector’ through to the soulful ‘To The End.’ Nearly 20  years on it remains one of the finest English pop albums ever released, to be ranked alongside some of the best work of those that influenced them, most notably The Kinks and XTC.

37. Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend

Singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet was following a similar path to Teenage Fanclub in 1991 with his power-pop release Girlfriend, very much influenced by the jangle-pop of The Beatles, The Byrds and Big Star. Backed by an all-star band that featured (among others) Television’s Richard Lloyd and Lloyd Cole on guitar it is an album that is classic and timeless all at once. The melodies on the album are classic pop and work brilliantly against his slightly grizzled vocals, ‘I’ve Been Waiting’, ‘Looking At The Sun’ and ‘I Wanted To Tell You’ all stand out as instant classics. It is also very much a guitar album and he isn’t afraid to let the band rock when it suits, such as on the opener ‘Divine Intervention’ and ‘Evangeline’. It was a big hit for Sweet, despite having been dropped from his major contract prior to its release, and led to a string of successful albums in the 1990s. The 2006 release is worth seeking out for a host of bonus tracks and demo versions.

36. The Strokes – Is This It


Sometimes keeping it simple can be the most effective policy in music. The Strokes did this superbly on their stunning 2001 debut Is This It. Like a dirty punk Velvet Underground this is track after track of hook laden, simple guitar rock. It reinvigorated a genre of indie rock that was looking for a new set of faces and The Strokes were certainly that. With singer Julian Casablancas they were the personification of cool, street smart young punks belting out raw tunes all at around the perfect pop three minute mark. Since then they have failed to capture that sense of youth and energy, with even their comeback album Angles receiving lukewarm reviews. While ‘Last Nite’ is a particular highlight of Is This It, this is exactly the kind of album you can bask in from start to finish, marvelling at how effortless it all sounds.

35.  Felt – Forever Breathes The Lonely Word

When Lawrence Hayward (known only as Lawrence) formed Felt he announced  they would release 10 albums, 10 singles and spilt-up after 10 years, and that is exactly what they did. Their 6th and best album, Forever Breathes the Lonely Word, showcases a perfect indie-pop sound, a sound that epitomises the C86 era (although Felt weren’t featured on that particular compilation). You can hear the influence of the band on artists as varied as Belle and Sebastian, The Manic Street Preachers and The Tyde, and their sound is captured perfectly on the 8 songs here.The music is catchy pop perfection, and Lawrence’s vocals and lyrical themes are interesting enough to make it something just a little bit special. Any album that includes a song titled ‘All The People That I Like Are Those that Are Dead’ demands just over 30 minutes of your time surely?

34. Radiohead – The Bends


Back in 1995 when Radiohead were just starting out on their road to stadium pomposity they produced this gem of an album. It came almost out of nowhere for this at the time barely passable indie rock act, who had previously only mustered one half decent single in ‘Creep’.  Clearly they’d been storing up their best stuff for The Bends. From start to finish it is packed with some of the most epic tracks in indie rock as the band revelled in discarding the grunge influence on previous album Pablo Honey and finding their own sound. It is no surprise that John Leckie, who so far is this list’s most prolific producer, was at the helm. He deserves high praise for The Bends, which features highlights including ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ and ‘High and Dry’. The Bends impact on the band also cannot be underestimated. It gave them the focus to produce OK Computer, which is widely regarded as their masterpiece, and propel them to their current position as one of the UK’s biggest rock acts.

33. Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One

By the time they released I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One in 1997 Yo la Tengo were firmly established as a trio with James McNew’s bass supporting the guitar/vocals of Ira Kaplan and the drums/vocals of Georgia Hubley. Yo La Tengo are the quintessential geeks indie rock band and it might surprise new listeners to hear what a varied and playful record this is. The dreamy instrumental opener ‘Return To Hot Chicken’ is followed by the funky ‘Moby Octopad’ before moving to the Sonic Youth meets shoegaze feedback and squalling guitars of the ‘Sugarcube’. The album features the usual selection of cover versions with the Beach Boys ‘Little Honda’ being a particular success. McNew throws in the acoustic gem ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, nicely breaking up the album at the mid-way point. It is an album of so many high points that it is hard to pick a favourite track, so I’m going to sit on the fence and pick two. The organ lead ‘Autumn Sweater’ is dreamy, melodic and evocative, ‘Center of Gravity’ is a lovely piece of kitsch bossa-pop with some great vocal interplay between Georgia and Ira. This album is an example of just how inventive, fun and exciting American indie rock can be.

32. Primal Scream  – Screamadelica


So many  indie bands, from The Soup Dragons to That Petrol Emotion, attempted to embrace dance music and the emerging acid house scene during the early 1990s. But while most failed Primal Scream’s Screamadelica was a shining example of success. With DJ Andrew Weatherall behind the desk for much of the album Bobby Gillespie’s Scottish indie rockers were transformed. ‘Loaded’ and ‘Come Together’ are among the most successful dance music influenced singles, but the album has so much more than simply merging acid house with indie rock. 1960s Psychedelia, gospel and blues are among other striking influences. Among our  favourite tracks is the band’s excellent version of The 13th Floor Elevators ‘Slip Inside This House’. The album deservedly won the 1992 Mercury Music Prize and brought success for the band that has continued to this day despite numerous line up changes.  Screamadelica was re-released in 2011 with a whole bunch of extras that are worth checking out.

31. Giant Sand – The Love Songs

The Love Songs was Giant sands 3rd album and stands as a high watermark for Howe Gelb’s oft-changing desert rock band. The band was made up of Green On Red’s Chris Cacavas on keyboards, future Calexico member John Convertino on drums and former Go-Go (and Gelb’s then wife) Paula Jean Brown on bass. Matched to Gelb’s dischordant guitar and husky vocals they produce a great sound that is constantly walking an attractive fine line between order and chaos. Listeners more used to Gelb’s recent output may be surprised by how rocky and catchy the songs are here. The bar room jazz elements are present but the guitar work wouldn’t be out of place on a J Mascis record. ‘Wearing The Robes of Bible Black’ (a world away from the version featured on ‘Sno Angel Like You) kicks things off perfectly and the songs thunder along nicely right up until the closing track, a wistful take on Lieber and Stoller’s ‘Is That All There Is’. An essential record for anyone who wants to hear how good country rock can sound.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Top 100 Albums (30-21)

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Top 100 Albums (30-21)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. Hope you enjoy this latest instalment. The rest of the Top 100 can be found here.

30. Sonic Youth – Sister

Most critics site Daydream Nation as the best Sonic Youth album but Sister is just as good and marks the point where the band made the shift from being a cult act to being alt-rock superstars. ‘Scizophrenia’ opens the album in dour claustrophobic style and perfectly sets the mood. Second track ‘Catholic Block’ is full throttle thumping drums and full-on guitar riffing. One of the real strengths of the album is the way that it moves between slow, noisy, catchy, formless and rocky with such natural ease. This is the sound of a great band at the height of their powers and represents the best set of songs that they’ve (as yet) put on record. Sonic Youth are such a part of the alternative rock furniture now that it is sometimes easy to forget how influential and significant they were, listening to Sister is a perfect way to remember.

29.  Cotton Mather – Kon Tiki


Austin, Texas, band Cotton Mather sounded like Squeeze, wrote songs like The Beatles and in front-man Robert Harrison had a lead singer who sounded like John Lennon. It’s little wonder the bulk of their critical acclaim came from the UK. Kon Tiki, from 1997, is our pick of their albums. You’d never know it was largely recorded on a four track as it takes in lush psychedelic rock, Beatles-esque harmonies and some of the best power pop of the day. Among our favourite tracks are ‘Vegetable Row’, ‘Spin My Wheels’ and ‘My Before and After’. So what became of the band that the NME once said was the best “guitar pop band since Supergrass” and Noel Gallagher invited to tour with Oasis in 1998? After failing to convert their critical success into commercial appeal they drifted apart and finally split in 2003. Thankfully Harrison continues to write and record with Future Clouds and Radar. Like Cotton Mather  his new band has achieved similar critical success, but has so far failed to garner the commercial appeal Harrison’s talents so richly deserve.

28. Lambchop – Nixon

Nashville country-soul ensemble Lambchop had released six albums over a six year period when Nixon came out in 2000, but it was the first album that sold well enough (and got enough attention) to justify main-man Kurt Wagner giving up his day job. Through the albums ten tracks we are treated to Wagner’s best songwriting, lyrics that make sense but sound oblique all at once and a unique ear for melody.The instrumental arrangements and the playing are superb throughout with strings and horns supplementing the standard country rock instrumentation. The slightly odd production style and the use of atmospheric noise and textures also lift the album above standard alt-country fare. ‘Up With People’ is the best known song on the album, and it is a brilliant slice of pop perfection that builds beautifully and is genuinely uplifting. The other songs may be quieter in the most part, but they are subtle and brooding and brilliant.

27. Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables


California punks Dead Kennedys weren’t just great musicians with a message, they were funny too.   With his tongue firmly in his punk cheek charismatic lead singer Jello Biafra sets out to expose injustice and hypocrisy wherever he saw it on this the band’s 1980 debut. Whether it was the increasingly right wing policies in California (California Uber Alles) or US foreign police in Asia (Holiday in Cambodia) political song writing has rarely sounded better.  They even find time to power out a storming version of the Elvis hit ‘Viva Las Vegas’.

26. Camper Van Beethoven – Key Lime Pie

To some people this would seem an odd choice to pick from the Camper Van Beethoven discography; it is their most conventional album, and doesn’t feature founding member Jonathan Segal. However, it marks the greatest point of evolution in the bands songs and is their most satisfying album. With four albums behind them the band is a remarkably slick unit (especially considering their slacker origins) and David Lowery has never sounded more confident a vocalist than he does here. The songwriting is consistently strong, a set of vignettes showcasing a very literary, amusing and frequently touching lyrical style. ‘Sweethearts’ and ‘All Her Favorite Fruit’ stand up as among the best songs of their career and a cover of Status Quo’s ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’ was a surprise MTV hit. Read more about Camper Van Beethoven here.

25. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America


Listening to this 2006 album from The Hold Steady is exhausting stuff as the self proclaimed Number one bar band in America, lead by wordy lead singer Craig Finn, take you on their travels through gigs and parties across America. It’s a world of drugs and booze, some sadness, some madness and a whole bunch of  interesting characters on an album that deservedly brought them to mainstream attention.  From the killer opening guitar riff on ‘Stuck Between Stations’ through to final tracks ‘Chillout Tent’ and ‘Southtown Girls’ this is a fine example of how a band can really relate to the listener; it’s as if they are enjoying the album with you.  For us this remains their best album, especially now as multi-instrumentalist and cheesy keyboard supremo Franz Nicolay has sadly left the band.

24. Julian Cope – Peggy Suicide

Julian Cope deserves better than to be remembered as a drug-addled crazy, sat atop a microphone stand spouting on about standing stones. He is one of pop music’s true eccentrics and his legend is fueled by his own stories and his musical retreat from popular songwriting. However, it would be a real shame to forget what a fantastic songwriter and performer he is, and Peggy Suicide is the best realised album in his back catalogue. Following on from his over-polished late 80s albums and the eccentric  Skellington and Droolian it serves up a double album of tracks that combine the best of both eras. The 18 tracks flow perfectly from one to the next, managing to cover a breadth of musical ground without losing a coherent feel. Cope is in superb voice, his voice a much stronger instrument than he has been given credit for, and his band play the songs with a real verve. It is hard to pick out highlights from such a consistent set, but anyone who can hear ‘Beautiful Love’ and not feel happier for it must be in a pretty bad place.

23. The Sundays -Reading Writing Arithmetic


One of the most striking aspects of this 1990 debut from English band The Sundays is its simplicity. Just simple bass and drums allowing Harriet Wheeler’s wondrous vocals and the guitar work of her future husband David Gavurin to shine. You can almost tell they are a couple even on here as the vocals and guitars blend perfectly. This is guitar based indie pop music as it should be played and features some fine, typically English lyrics too. “England my country the home of the free…such miserable weather,” is among our favourites. The album’s singles ‘Here’s Where the Story Ends’  and ‘Can’t Be Sure’ are among many highlights, but as with many of the albums in our Top 100 it is as a complete product that make this a stand out slice of indie pop. The band went on to further success with their next two albums Blind and Static and Silence but decided to call it a day in 1997. Wheeler and Gavurin, as far as we know did not continue in the music business. A sad loss.

22. The Pixies – Doolittle

The Pixies stand as one of the most important bands of the late 1980s, their sound helping to define the alternative music scene through the early 1990s. Doolittle is an album where everything just works perfectly, adding a pop perfection to the abrasive sonic elements that they had already displayed on their previous album Surfer Rosa. It kicks off with ‘Debaser’ which, along with the timeless pop of ‘Here Comes Your Man’, would be the soundtrack to many an indie disco for years to come. The album showcases just how many styles of music that lead singer Black Francis and co. were comfortable with, and it never becomes predictable or formulaic. ‘Dead’ is all evil sounds and erratic guitar, ‘Hey’ is the closest thing that the band released to a standard love song, and lyrically it strays far from any romantic formula. ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ may well be the best single of the band’s career, and shows what an interesting lyricist Black had become. Two albums later it was all over (until the inevitable reunion), but in 1989 this remarkable album was the sound of a band at the peak of their powers.

21. New Order – Power Corruption Lies


1981’s Movement may have been New Order’s first album, but it wasn’t until 1983 with the release of the single Blue Monday and their second album Power Corruption Lies that they successfully stepped out of the shadow of Joy Division. With Power Corruption Lies there were still nods to the downbeat electronic direction that Joy Division was heading in before the death of enigmatic front man Ian Curtis and they became New Order.  ‘We All Stand’ and ‘586’ certainly follow this path. But the bulk of the album is upbeat and pop savvy, showing the dance influences that would shape the band’s music for much of the decade to come. ‘Age of Consent’ and ‘The Village’ are among the most beautiful guitar and synth pop tracks you will ever hear and among our highlights on this great introduction to the Manchester band.

by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Top 100 Albums (20-11)

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Top 100 Albums (20-11)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. Hope you enjoy this latest instalment. The rest of the Top 100 can be found here.

20. The Flaming Lips – Soft Bulletin


Soft Bulletin from 1999 marked a change of direction for The Flaming Lips from their experimental  earlier albums to a more conventional  rock sound. Although  coming after Zaireeka, their four disc album to be played on four separate stereo systems simultaneously, arguably anything would have seemed conventional. ‘Race for the Prize’ and ‘Waiting for Superman’ are among many highlights on their ninth album Soft Bulletin, but perhaps our standout is ‘The Spark That Bled’, a perfect example of how the band managed to merge their sentimental charm with a psychedelic edge. This commercial direction for the band was to continue for the next two albums, with great effect on album number 10 Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. By their 11th album At War with the Mystics this focus on pop music seemed a little tired and they made a welcome return to  their experimental roots with the sprawling 2009 double album Embryonic.

19. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

On his first solo outing after splitting Whiskeytown Ryan Adams recorded a surprisingly honest and sensitive album considering his alt-country bad boy reputation. The album is a homage to the good and bad side of relationships, moving between celebratory and despairing over 15 brilliant tracks. After an opening conversation about Morrissey albums it kicks into the rollicking country-blues of ‘To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)’ before settling into a quieter acoustic feel for the remainder of the album (excepting the Stonesy ‘Shakedown On 9th Street’). Backed by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch (two of the best players in rootsy Americana) the playing is never less than excellent and the singing (including duets with Emmylou Harris) is top notch throughout. Great singing and playing coupled with the best set of songs in Adam’s, never less than interesting, career add up to a great album.

18. Belle and Sebastian  – The Boy With The Arab Strap


For us aged, fey indie-kids at Neon Filler picking the best Belle and Sebastian is a tough call. Sometimes 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister is our favourite, other times Dear Catostrophe Waitress whets our appetitie. But after having a good trawl though their back catalogue in recent weeks the one we keep coming back to is their third album, 1998’s The Boy With the Arab Strap. The production is pitch  perfect allowing the subtle instrumentation to work around lead singer Stuart Murdoch’s stories. There’s some great tunes as well. Among our highlights are the title track, ‘It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career’ and ‘Dirty Dream Number Two’. Guitarist Steve Jackson’s turn on lead vocals on  ‘Seymour Stein’ is another highlight on this much loved album by this much loved band.

17. American Music Club – Mercury

American Music Club - Mercury

Most critics name the previous American Music Club, Everclear, as the bands finest hour but we think that Mercury just pips it as the band’s true masterpiece. Mark Eitzel paints a pretty bleak picture lyrically on many of the songs here but his soaring vocals, lush instrumentation and warm production soften the blow. It is the most varied album of the bands career mixing slow paced ballads (‘I’ve Been A Mess’), indie pop (‘Keep Me Around’) and loose noise (‘Challengers’). Guitarist Vudi sounds like he is fighting the urge to let rip at all times, but it is this forced restraint that adds tension to the quieter songs. The album contains the bands greatest and best known song ‘Johnny Mathis’ Feet’, a deserving entry into the great American songbook. Eitzel is a confusing and oblique character, but anyone who writes a song with the title ‘What Godzilla Said to God When His Name Wasn’t Found in the Book of Life’ deserves our attention.

16. The Mountain Goats – Sunset Tree


The Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle is a master story teller. On latest album All Eternals Deck the focus was on other’s lives, including Judy Garland and even Charles Bronson. But on 2005’s The Sunset Tree Darnielle looks to his own life with dramatic effect as he recalls his teenage years in an abusive home. Across the album these deeply personal tales chart his escape into a world of video games, music, drink, drugs and storytelling away from the grim reality of his homelife and his drunken step father. It’s harrowing stuff, but never depressing. The tracks from ‘Dance Music’ to ‘This Year’ are about survival and are full of hope.  Final track ‘Pale Green Things’ provides a  fitting conclusion with Darnielle recalling his step father’s death and remembering a rare nice day out at the race track. For more about The Mountain Goats read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

15. Sparklehorse – Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot

The late Mark Linkous released four albums as Sparklehorse in his too-short life and Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot was a dazzling and mesmerising debut. Played largely by Linkous alone (with a handful of musicians including David Lowery in support) it is an eclectic, sad and beautiful collection. Despite moving between the soft elegance of songs like ‘Homecoming Queen’ to the catchy alt-rock like ‘Someday I Will Treat You Good’ and the dischord of ‘Tears On Fresh Fruit’ it always sounds cohesive and natural. Linkous came from a traditional folk background and moved into alternative rock music, the album suceeds in bringing these styles seemlessly together. This works perfectly on the banjo lead ‘Cow’ with the memorable refrain “Pretty girl, milkin’ a cow, oh yeah”.

14. REM  – Murmur


Back in 1982  executives at record label IRS were keen to send their recent signing REM on the road to rock stardom. Only problem was that the band were having none of their methods. Shunning the label’s choice of producer Stephen Hague and pressure to incorporate guitar solos and synthesisers into their music, they instead wanted to create a timeless feel. With producer Mitch Easter, who had worked with the band on their first EP Chronic Town, on board the band managed to get free rein to turn the tracks they’d been touring for a year or so into the album they wanted. From start to finish this is packed with great tracks with first single ‘Radio Free Europe’, ‘Talk About The Passion’ and ‘Catapult’ among many highlights. Musically it’s a mix of The Byrds, particularly through Peter Buck’s guitar style, and Pylon, the eccentric new wave band from their home town of Athens, Georgia. REM’s approach was proved right in the end. Wthin a few months of its release they were well on their way to superstardom, supporting The Police at Shea Stadium and producing a fine run of commercially and critically acclaimed albums throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

13. Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings And Food

Talking heads - More songs about buildings & food

Picking the best Talking Heads album is tough, most of their albums (including either of their live albums) could claim a place in this chart. One of the most important American acts of the 1970s and 80s they mixed soul and funk influences into their jittery new wave sound. More Songs About Music And Food takes a measured step forward from their 1977 debut and embraces David Byrne’s interest in the people and landscape of middle-America. Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth provide a tight simple backing to the wired frontman and neat guitar interplay with Jerry Harrison adds texture to the bands sound. The album contains few of the band’s best known songs, only their cover of Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’ was a hit, but it is their most rounded collection. ‘Found A Job’ stands out in particular, with a great instrumental outro, and is as good a song as you’ll find by any of New York new wave acts.

12.Blondie – Parallel Lines


Has there ever been a better female fronted band than Blondie? In our ears and minds the answer is a clear ‘no’. Take Blondie’s third album, 1978’s  Parellel Lines for example. It boasted a ker-ching making six singles among its 12 tracks. What’s more  the album tracks that didn’t make it on to 7” were pretty fine  too. Blending rock, new wave, and even disco on ‘Heart of Glass’, the tracks echo the sixties at times, such as on ‘Sunday Girl’. Under producer Mike Chapman  it was musically inventive too, with the guitar work of King Crimson’s  Robert Fripp  on ‘Fade Away and Radiate’ still capable of sending shivers down our spines to this day.

11. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead

As the album opener ‘The Queen Is Dead’ kicks in with punchy bass and drums you are immediately aware you are listening to something pretty special, and equally aware that Morrisssey was wrong to dismiss the role of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce in the band. The Smiths were one of the most important bands of the 1980s and it is difficult to overstate tyhe fanatcism of their fanbase at the time. Morrissey is a fascinating figure and, like him or not, their has never been another singer like him and his lyrics are witty and erradite here. Jonny Marr shines on the album and the arrangements are uniformly excellent throughout, it is also a little surprising how subtle and restrained his playing in. Only ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ showcases his signature jangle and it isn’t until the end of ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ that he lets rip (and then only for a short burst). ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ is the highest peak on an album of peaks and deserves a place on every best of the 80s collection.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Top 100 Albums (The Top 10)

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Top 100 Albums (The Top 10)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

So here it is. After two months of releasing this list in stages we’ve finally arrived at our Top 10 indie and alternative albums. Hope you enjoy this final instalment. Feel free to browse through the rest of the top 100 here and leave a comment about some of your favourites.

10. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses


This debut by The Stone Roses is an old fashioned album, full of 1960s influences. This is perhaps unsurprising given it was produced by John Leckie, whose previous efforts include two albums by XTC’s psychedelic alter egos Dukes of Stratosphear. Yet in 1989 when it was released it sounded like the most exciting and different album for years.  Decades on and it’s lost none of its energy and is arguably the best album to emerge from the so called ‘baggy’ scene of late 1980s Manchester. Highlights include the indie-dancebility of final track ‘I Am The Resurrection’, ‘Waterfall ‘and its backwards companion piece ‘Don’t Stop’, and ‘She Bangs the Drum’. In an interview with Quietus Leckie, who is the most name checked producer in our Top 100, explains that the album’s success was down to the band’s confidence and open minded approach to making music. “They seemed to have had experience, they were very well rehearsed and they wanted to try lots of things. But they weren’t frightened,” says Leckie.

9. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

After an underwhelming debut with 1995’s AM Jeff Tweedy’s post-Uncle Tupelo band have released a string of brilliant records from 1996’s Being There through to 2009’s Wilco (The Album). Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the album that demonstrates all that is good about America’s best rock n roll band. Recorded with a line-up that featured the late Jay Bennett, the multi-instrumentalist who would leave the band prior to the albums release (tensions during the recording are brilliantly documented in Sam Jones’ film ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’). The album earned the band the tag of the alt-country Radiohead due to the more experimental production techniques and sounds used by producer Jim O’Rourke. The albums reputation as being challenging is more down to the record labels reaction (and refusal to release it) than it is to the songs themselves. ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ has a weird feel and an erratic beat and ‘Radio Cure’ has an uncomfortable starkness but most of the record is very accessible and features some of the bands best realised songs. ‘Kamera’, ‘War On War’, ‘I’m The Man That Loves You’ and ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ are all great catchy tunes that sit comfortably with the more cerebral tracks.

8. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand

Bee Thousand, originally released in 1994, represented a turning point for Robert Pollard’s Guided By Voices. It was intended as the band’s swansong due to the lack of attention and money their previous five albums had garnered. The album was recorded in various basements, rather than the studio, and was primarily the work of Pollard and Tobin Sprout (with various members of the “classic line-up” pitching in). The songs were recorded in just a few takes on to simple 4-track equipment and the rough and ready sound is one of the album’s charms. Guided By Voices albums from this time are an acquired taste, with half formed song snippets sitting alongside  rough diamond pop classics like ‘I Am A Scientist’ and ‘Echos Myron’. However, this is all part of the magic formula that makes Bee Thousand so special. There are no songwriters out there like Robert Pollard, no bands like Guided By Voices and no albums like Bee Thousand – this is a pretty special record.

7. The B-52s- The B-52s


Two years after performing their first gig at a Valentine’s Day party in 1977 in their hometown of Georgia, Athens, the B-52s self titled debut hit the stores. It was a sleeper hit in 1979 reaching 59 in the US Billboard 200 but has since been widely recognised as one of the best alternative albums of all time. Blending new wave, punk, 1950’s sci-fi kitsch and Duane Eddy style guitar playing the tracks have a strange timeless feel. Above all they are fun. There’s some silly stuff like ‘Rock Lobster’, but tracks like ‘Hero Worship’ and ‘Dance This Mess Around’ are serious, emotional stuff and showcase the powerful vocal talents of singer Cindy Wilson. For more about The B-52s read our Top Ten Artists That Changed Our Lives feature here.

6. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise

Sufjan Stevens probably regrets his claim that he would release an album for every American state, a feat that would be difficult to achieve and probably not an enjoyable or ultimately successful task. Illinois is his second and, thus far, last in the series. Nobody likes a show-off but it is hard to resent Steven’s ability to play every instrument under the sun when he produces music as wonderful as this in the process. The album covers a sprawling 22 eccentrically titled tracks ranging from the soft and sombre (‘Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois’) to the exuberant and celebratory (‘Come on! Feel the Illinoise!: Pt. 1: The World’s Columbian Exposition’). The album tells an expansive story about the people, places and history of the state and listening to the album is like being taken on an exciting road trip. The brilliant ‘Chicago’ has been used on many a soundtrack, but for me the desert island pick from the album is ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ a song so sad and beautifully played that it made it to number 1 in our Top 10 Tearjerkers chart.

5. Lemonheads – Shame About Ray



Shame About Ray from 1992 is a masterclass in making two to three minute pop songs. Across its tight-as-you-like 12 tracks (bumped to 13 on reissues to include their excellent cover of ‘Mrs Robinson’) each is perfect indie pop. An album you can listen to from start to finish can be rare thing, but an album with 12 (13) potential singles that still retains an alternative edge is worthy of a Top Ten place in anyone’s indie and alternative books. The title track is an undoubted highlight, but each has its own merit, from the hooky ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’ to the cover of ‘Frank Mills’, from the film and stage play Hair. We’ve been listening to this a lot in preparing for this list and are staggered each time at the energy and consistency of  this fifth album from the band

4. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes

When Gordon Gano, Victor DeLorenzo and Brian Ritchie took their busking trio intro the studio to record their debut album it is unlikely that they could have realised what an iconic record they were producing. Their acoustic blend of Lou Reed, the Modern Lovers and punk crackles with youthful angst and pent up anger over the tens songs here. ‘Blister In The Sun’ must be the most shamelessly ripped off tune in advertising and bursts the album into life, and ‘Add It Up’ stands as an indie disco classic due to the stark dropping of the f-bomb early on in the track. The album has more subtle moments and album closer ‘Good Feeling’ is sad, simple and honest. The band would release more good songs throughout their career but they could never quite match up to a debut as perfect as this one. The 20th anniversary reissue is a lovely package with demos, early singles and a live concert on the second disc.

3. XTC – Drums and Wires


Following the departure of keyboardist Barry Andrews in 1978 XTC opted for guitarist and fellow Swindon resident Dave Gregory to replace him. It turned into the making of the band, transforming XTC from a quirky, tight new wave outfit to a bonafide great English rock and pop act. Drums and Wires from 1979 was the first album to feature Gregory and his 1960s influenced electric guitar style as well as a new bigger drums sound, hence the title. It also gave the band far greater chart prominence through singles such as ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ , while losing none of their creativity.  Tracks such as ‘Complicated Game’ and Roads Girdle the Globe’ are among the most inventive you will hear in this Top 100. Amazing what a band can achieve with some drums and a bunch of wires. For more about XTC read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

2. Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

Stephin Merritt originally conceived this album as being 100 Love Songs before scaling back the idea out of practicality as well as adopting the rather appropriately more salacious number of tracks. Released as triple album, each disc containing 23 songs, it was an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Each track deals with a different aspect of love and relationships and the album covers a wide range of styles from piano ballads to synth-pop to jazz to noise and beyond. Merritt’s wry gay new Yorker personality could overwhelm you over so many tracks and he wisely uses a team of vocalists (two male, two female) to record a selection of the songs. This adds depth to the record but also a more universal feel; relationships are kept unclear so that as a listener you can’t tell if the protagonist is singing to another man or woman. The result is that songs like the sprightly ‘I Need A New Heart’, the downbeat ‘I Don’t Believe In The Sun’ or the vicious ‘Yeah, Oh Yeah’ can speak to anyone.

1.The Clash  – London Calling


Tommy Tomkins excellent book on London Calling sums up the album perfectly as being about ” roots, with a sense of place.” For the band the roots were not just in London, but across the globe, especially through singer Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simenon’s love of Caribbean and US culture. The range of styles on London Calling from punk to rock to blues to reggae showed The Clash to be arguably the most mature and musical act to emerge from the UK punk scene. This double album has gone on to receive widespread critical acclaim and we are delighted to add our voices to that. From the pounding bass line of the title track, heartfelt lyrics of ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ and pop savvyness of ‘Train in Vain’ London Calling still thrills us decades after its 1979 release. Read our full review of London Calling here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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