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