Lou Reed was a notorious asshole. I mean, music writers all have legendary tales about trying to interview Lou Reed. Most of these stories end up with Lou storming off or insulting said writer to the point the writer leaves. He was a cantankerous bastard. But his being an asshole to music writers was seriously just part of his charm. Sort of.
The idea that electronic music is a recent invention of celebrity DJs or as an off-shoot of hip hop is false. Electronic music pre-dates the second world war, and thrived in post-war Europe, where artists like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer created the blueprint of modern avant-garde music. It’s no accident countries like France, Germany, and the Netherlands are where electronic dance music thrives to this day.
This is not to say other countries have not produced fantastic electronic music. The Avalanches are from Australia, a country better known for new wave pop acts and post punk political diatribes set to hard edge rock music. The lack of musical understanding leads one to believe the Avalanches are an anomaly, but if you look at an artist like Cut Copy , you know that the scene in Australia is compelling and influential in the best possible way. The Avalanches have only released one proper album ( the EPs, mixtapes, and singles discography are quite extensive). That album is the exquisite example of plunderphonics and modern dance ambience. Along with Air and Daft Punk, the Avalanches created the blueprint for samples in dance music for the new millennia.
There are albums that evoke such a time and place that you tend to forget them. It’s a shame that happens, as music is eternal and if you love something you should listen to it, regardless of the shame factor (hello, NKOTB). Dummy is so linked in my head to 1995 that I put it on a shelf for about a decade.
The benefit of children, specifically music nerd children like mine, is that they force you to revisit things. Much of this list has been me revisiting things as I lecture my children on the history of popular music. What, I’m sure it will help them somewhere along the line.
Portishead came up because of Lana del Ray. I do not hate Lana del Ray, unlike many of my hipster snob counterparts. Yes, her SNL performance defined the word excruciating, but her album work is very moody and specific, and the alto jazz tones of her voice are pleasant in a world of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry bubbly garbage. del Ray forced me back into searching for those jazzy tones in dance music, so bands like Mazzy Star and Portishead made their way back into the rotation. It was then that I remembered that Dummy was one of my favourite albums of the mid-90s. I was not a happy person, (Was? Am? I’m not even sure what happy feels like, so I’m not really the best judge of my own emotions.) My anxiety riddled brain flocks to miserablists. Beth Gibbons’ voice is the most devastatingly sad one in music history. She doesn’t even have to try, she just is so weepy sounding it’s amazing to me that Portishead doesn’t figure more into pop culture death references.
… the enigmatic post-rock instrumental of Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor for their 2012 masterpiece ( and my twentieth favourite album of 2012) Alleluia! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
I have championed it since it was shortlisted. They’re not an easy band- twenty-minute noisy instrumentals that mix freestyle jazz and Can (the band) wonk is a tough sell to the masses. But honestly, it’s still heavily played at my house, and I am loving it as much today as I did when it was released late last year.
We have come back to the man himself. Coltrane.
The Violent Femmes are another early 1980s band who seemed destined for greatness, and their die-hard fans would claim they succeeded. I, however, felt they would struggle greatly on subsequent records to match their first’s sense of humour and lyrical honestly. The Violent Femmes are a great band, but nothing they have ever done has ever topped “Add It Up” or “Blister in the Sun”. It should tell you just how tough it is to top those two songs in particular that a band as talented as the Femmes, and a songwriter as gifted as Gordon Gano, can’t even come close.
Gano famously wrote the songs of the Femmes début in high school, and thematically it shows- lots of references to masturbation and general teenage horniness litter the album. Matched with the nasally vocals Gano provides, it’s a slice of teenage angst. Rarely has a teenage boy’s brain been this much fun to listen to. Gano never takes himself too seriously, and matched with the minimalism of the music, including a ferociously talented rhythm section, it forms the basis of one of the great début records, and one of the greatest of cult classics.