A compendium of AWESOME!!!
Ok, that may have been a little much. . . But some good stuff, for sure. . .
Love Tractor — Themes From Venus (1989)
Oh, Love Tractor, you are so deliciously jangly! This is a later one with more of a focus on vocal tracks, but it starts off with the surf 'n jangle pop monster 'I Broke My Saw', so everything is ok. There is a bit more of a rocked up punch to the production, but for 1989 standards, this was super artsy. The instrumentals are all on par with the band's early material and it's just awesome to hear something like the magically melancholy 'Hey Mess' morph into the layered jangly good time instrumental 'Nova Express.' Found this one on a whim, but I'm really glad to have added it to my collection. Hidden gem, for sure.
Waxing Poetics — Hermitage (1986)
A total obscurity from the backburner of the college rock stovetop (not to mention, the Roadrunner Records catalogue). I only glanced at the back cover of this because I didn't know what it was. Finding that I recognized two rather significant names (Mitch Easter, and more importantly, Mike Mills), I was intrigued. Sure glad I took a blind chance on it, because I found a pretty good little jangle album. It does have a bit of a power pop influence to it, and overall, reminds me very much of early R.E.M. Highlights for me are the moody 'Friday's Child', the Ocean Blue-ish 'This Parade' and the very R.E.M.-esque title track. Great stuff for jangle fans; shame it's pretty much an obscurity.
Brian Eno — Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974)
Try to be weird and poppy at the same time, end up sounding like this album. This is a re-acquisition, of sorts. God, he was ahead of the curve. 'Third Uncle' still sounds contemporary. It's supposed to be a concept album, but I've never actually sat down and figured it out. The lyrics are jut too trippy, honestly. In a good way, but sheesh. I'm not figuring that wacky shit out. I mean, what can you say about this album? If the song is totally calm and catchy, the lyrics are completely bizarre ('Put a Straw Under Baby' and 'Burning Airlines Give You So Much More' for instance), but then there's songs where things are just plain weird and out of place ('Third Uncle' and 'China My China'), going off into these noisy, atonal tangents that predict any number of post-punk sub-genres (confusingly, a good three years before such a thing was even possible!!!??!!!?!). Through it all, there's a strange sense of melody going on that is just fantastic. The title track points towards his ambient future, and overall, it's hard to imagine he could get even better.
Brian Eno — Ambient 4: On Land (1982)
Eno's late 70's and early 80's ambient albums are works of sheer mastery. So good, in fact, that people who otherwise don't like a good ambient segue respect the hell out of them, if they don't flat out like them. I have been more and more open to the annals of ambient music these past few years and, I have to say, after years of disregarding Eno's non-pop albums and ambient stuff in general, I've really come to admire his work the most. It has a resonance —dare I say, a soul?— to it that I have yet to find with most other works in the genre. This one starts off with one of his best songs ever on 'Lizard Point.' A shorter piece, it characterizes this album, as it has a clear main theme that is not only discernible, it's actually kind of catchy. The album builds and builds until the second to last track ('A Clearing') and it's clear that this is very emotional music for its creator. He has better ambient albums, but not many.
The Horrors — Skying (2011)
This album has already been addressed. It is a very nice double vinyl edition, with a gatefold cover, full color inner sleeves, heavy 180 gram records and a digital download redemption. I expect nothing less from the folks over at XL.
Shelleyan Orphan — Helleborine (1987)
Completing my collection of the early Shelleyan Orphan stuff. It strikes me as "Baroque Pop" in the best sort of way. They have that string and woodwind accompaniment, but with an acoustic strummy guitar base that just appeals to me. It's like post-punk folk. This is their first album, and probably their most produced one, oddly. Although it contains arguably their best song ever with the seven minute album closing epic 'Melody of Birth.' Side two of the album is definitely the overall stronger one, but it's hard to call the album anything but a pure success, with other highlights like 'One Hundred Hands' and 'Jeremiah.' Fantastic stuff from a sadly forgotten band.
Aztec Camera — Still on Fire EP (1984)
Hard to see that spine on the scan above, but this is the 12" I picked up. I'm the last person that can claim objectivity when it comes to Roddy Frame, as to me, the guy practically invented my favorite brand of rock music, so take that as you will. This one contains the fantastic single from Knife, along with two live tracks that I previously had on an American ten inch EP, along with live versions of two High Land Hard Rain classics, 'Walk Out to Winter' and an absolutely stunning 'The Boy Wonders.' Sure, I'm rating it on the strength of two (new to me) live renditions of songs that I've known for years, but hey, when you're a whore, you're a whore for all of it. Hard to believe a band that sounded that good and that passionate got so. . . well, shit on. This is the sort of thing I collect vinyl for. Now I just need to track down that extended nine minute 12" mix of 'Walk Out to Winter.' And those Love-era b-sides. Oh yeah!
Cocteau Twins/Harold Budd — The Moon and the Melodies (1986)
It's good — really good. But, besides the straight ambient songs, the proper songs are really no new revelation for the band. Still, when you're hot, you're hot. And it should come as no surprise that amongst the proper songs, 'Sea, Swallow Me' and 'She Will Destroy You' are pretty much in the top tier of Cocteaus material. The ambient tracks are really, really good. But, they do sacrifice the cohesiveness of the album. It would have been nice to follow Bowie and Eno's precedent and do all the pop songs on one side and all the ambient stuff on the other. But, no points taken away for them trying something different. I want to say I've heard this album in passing before (shoutout to Chris Hubbell when he was in one of his mellow moods, perhaps?). I've neglected this post-Treasure Cocteaus material for too long.
The Soft Boys — Underwater Moonlight (1980)
I've told myself I would buy this album without ever having heard a single note of it if I ever saw it, quite literally, for years. Well, that day finally came and I made good on my promise to myself. It's been said that the Soft Boys were the very first jangle band, and after hearing this, I can't properly agree with that, but I definitely understand that they were important as hell to the scene. It's a bit more new wave all around in its philosophy. But definitely has moments of 12-string jangle that are completely out of place for 1980 (and yet, the Feelies released Crazy Rhythms the same year — just sayin'). I'd actually place this one very much in with Paisley Underground crowd from the west of the US. It has absolutely nothing to do with that scene, but does its sound not fit right in? The title track here is a totally awesome Byrds-revival jangler that must have sounded completely wrong in 1980. But, oh so right. Robyn Hitchcock went on to more notoriety after the band, but it has never held my interest much. This stuff is like jangle pop filtered through an odd druggy stream of conscious early 80's haze. Gotta love it. Quintessential stuff for me.
Travis — Good Feeling (1997)
The first track is 'All I Want to Do is Rock' and indeed, amongst the overdriven guitars and gutty vocals from Fran Healy, this is the band's most Brit-poppy album. The tunes are there, but hearing it now for the first time in retrospect, it is very dated. Much of what made the band so great from The Man Who onwards is not really present (or, at least, not very apparent). Most of the songs have big guitars up front and semi-whiney vocals. The reggae rock of the title track hints at the songcraft that the band had up its sleeve, while 'Tied to the 90's is a surprisingly lucid realization of the band's own mortality. The second half leans on ballads heavily and that's where the hints of the greatness that was to come shone through. Still though, easily the band's worst album, even though it does hint at where they would go.
Travis — Ode to J. Smith (2008)
Within the first three tracks ('Chinese Blues', 'J. Smith' and 'Something Anything'), it's a pure and complete contrast (in a good way) with Good Feeling. These three songs rock out more than anything the band had done since that first album, but they are more polished, more layered and just all around more well-thought out than anything on Good Feeling. Granted, for the first third of this album, the band's guitars sound more ferocious than they have in a decade, but their songcraft is as good as ever. So, when things evolve back into their now-stock jangle sound on 'Quite Free', it sounds natural and fluid. I do prefer the calmer second half of the album, but you have to really marvel at how good Travis has become at what they do. With this album, they have become what Coldplay wishes they were: a pop band that actually plays challenging riffs and meaningful changes. They are this generation's interpretation of Crowded House.
Keith Murray — Enigma (1996)
Another mostly Erick Sermon-produced mid-90's gem. I did have this one on cassette in high school (for car listening, of course), so I guess this is a re-acquisition. God, the beats on this album are just. . . wow. I never would have arrived at this at the time, but when I started making beats in late '98, I was subconsciously trying to make beats like on this album. Jesus, 'The Rhyme'? Do you know how many of my beats sound like that? That song is so good, I didn't even realize I was copying it. Keith is on some complete and pure nonsense on the mic the entire time. It's like the beats are these bass-heavy, vibed out mellow masterpieces (think G-funk, but with better drums) and Keith is saying stuff like, "Fuck you, comin' from the 'Fuck you' man" the entire time. So, yeah. But, good beats are worth their weight in gold and this album still sounds great. The last two proper tracks are surprisingly lucid, humble as they may be as attempts at poignancy. 'To My Mans' has a beat that should make any MC jealous while 'World be Free' is an unnecessarily aggressively meditation on the awesomeness of travel that only a hiphop album could pull off. An early Jay Dee production on the masterful Bill Evans-sampling 'The Rhyme' remix closes things out and I have a really hard time not loving this album, even after all this time.
Cocteau Twins — Milk + Kisses (1996)
As a first step taken to dive into that later Cocteaus material that I felt I was neglecting, I saw this album used on the shelf and went for it. I know some versions of these songs from the Lullabies to Violaine set from a few years ago. But, mostly, I was marveling at how good the Twins still sounded so late in their career. Nothing changed really, besides nuances in production, and they're still able to sound undeniably like themselves. 'Half-Gifts' totally rips off 'Suzanne' and still manages to sound great. 'Seekers Who are Lovers' is the sort of vintage Cocteaus song that must have sounded like it was from another planet in 1996. I wish they would reunite, honestly.
More shortly on the way. . .