Top 100 Albums (30-21)

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