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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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Built To Spill – There Is No Enemy

Posted on 20 September 2010 by Joe

After a fantastic run of critical successes in the 1990s, Idaho indie-rockers Built to Spill’s most recent two albums Ancient Melodies of the Future(2001)  and You in Reverse (2006) fell flat in comparison.

The momentum built up with their debut Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1993) through to their move to a major label Warner Bros and the albums Perfect From Now On (1997) and Keep It Like A Secret (1999), appeared to have come to an end. Questions were being asked. Had Built to Spill peaked?

Thankfully that slide has been well and truly halted by their excellent seventh album There Is No Enemy.

On the face of it the sound is similar to Ancient Melodies of the Future and You in Reverse. The multi-layers of guitars, the quirky chords, the vocals from founder Doug Matsch that stay on the right side of indie-whining, are still there.  But with There Is No Enemy there is a warmth that Ancient Melodies of the Future and You in Reverse lacked. There Is No Enemy is somehow less abrasive, the guitars are still layered, but more lush.

From first track ‘Aisle 13’ through to seventh track ‘Pat’ There Is No Enemy is near perfect. ‘Aisle 13’ offers guitar layer after guitar layer, from wailing solo to chugging power chord. Second track ‘Hindsight’ takes the temp down a notch and the guitars become increasingly lush, almost twinkly.

Third track ‘Nowhere Lullaby’ changes tact again, far slower, with tremelo guitar perfectly matching lead singer and founder Doug Matsch’s vocals. It’s more like Flaming Lips than Built To Spill. ‘Good Ol Boredom’, a standout track among these standout tracks comes next. At 6min 31secs its among the longest, but you still don’t want it to end with its George Harrison-esque guitar throughout. Uplifting stuff.

Sixth track ‘Life’s a Dream’ is another solid song and among the slowest. On the next track ‘Oh Yeah’ the Dinosaur Jr style influence comes to the fore, with screaming solos, before seventh track ‘Pat’, a classic power pop number harking back to their earlier days.

It is unfortunate that things get a bit flabby on the three tracks to follow, ‘Done’, ‘Planting Seeds’ and ‘Things Fall Apart’. All are fairly unremarkable, lacking the hooks and riffs of the first half of the album, a bit like Ancient Melodies of the Future and You In Reverse. Final track ‘Tomorrow,’ makes amends though. Mind you, it takes a good two of its 7mins 40 secs to get going, but once it does it’s a beauty.

There Is No Enemy marks a very welcome return to form for a band whose indie rock-istocracy crown had begun to wobble. It is also a fine introduction to Built To Spill for those unfamiliar with them and will definitely please those that loved 1990s albums such as Keep It Like A Secret.

8.5/10

by Joe Lepper, Oct 2009

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