Really unassuming batch of greatness this go 'round. . .
Cocteau Twins — Blue Bell Knoll (1988)
Nothing special at all for the Cocteaus, but solid as hell regardless. By this point, the Cocteaus had become very influential, so I can understand the backlash of them doing an album that sounds exactly like them three years previous. And yet, nobody else managed to do it as well. Just listen to the dreamy fantastigasm™ on songs like 'Cico Buff' (this would have been a standout on any of their previous albums, too). The title track is dark and dreamy, while the last two tracks ('A Kissed Out Red Floatboat' and 'Ella Megalast Burls Forever') point the way towards Heaven or Las Vegas. I understand how somebody could overlook this album, but I don't understand how you could not count it among the band's peak material after hearing it. I think I might also like it so much simply because of the unfamiliarity of the material, as most of this album has not been compiled elsewhere. Top stuff from a band in top form.
Cocteau Twins — Victorialand (1986)
Very dreamy, even for this band. Most of the songs are awash with acoustic guitars, tons of delay (seemingly more than usual) and minimal percussion. The very first track ('Lazy Calm' — a perfect title) wins me over instantly. It's arguably the most Cocteau-ish song the band ever did. It's very calm, even for them and sits right next to the Moon and the Melodies very nicely. I actually really like that the band is mostly digging into calmer, less percussive territory here. I hesitate to call it the closest thing to a straight acoustic album that they ever did, but there you have it. It lends itself much better to Durutti Column comparisons than it does My Bloody Valentine. If nothing else, the relative sparseness of the material highlights Robin Guthrie more than usual and he's definitely playing in a 'more bang for your buck' mode here as he just hits these chord patterns over and over and just lets them float. Like a mofo'ing boss, I'd say. Play this for anyone who thinks that the Cocteaus didn't have diversity on their side. And I will say this again: 'Lazy Calm' is just absolute magic. One of their best songs, I reckon.
Brian Eno — Another Green World (1975)
'Tis a replacement copy. Let it be known, here and now, that I did give a (very) positive review to something that Phil Collins was involved with. Although I would imagine that ol'Phil had very little to do with the songcraft on these here selections and was only brought in to lend his drumming to the party, there you have it. For anyone wanting to know why Brian Eno is so revered, don't even play them this entire album —because it is most definitely a slow burning grower of an experience— just play them the song 'Sombre Reptiles.' That is, in essence, what Brian Eno has contributed to modern music. Just a few simple chords. But arranged in a loping, thoughtful way that makes two minutes and some change seem like the greatest piece of ambient music you've ever heard. Melodically lyrical and completely thoughtful, it is Eno's masterpiece. I could listen to it on repeat for hours. The rest of the album is darn fine, as well. Not quite as willfully weird as Taking Tiger Mountain —it's a bit calmer overall, with the entirety of side two having no drums whatsoever— it's still got that artsy quality to it, but mixed with Eno's ambient philosophies, making it a completely appealing, and convincing, mix of ambient soundscapes and pop sensibilities. He released better material as a collaborative contributor to other things after this, but he never released anything better under his own name. Defying time and trends, it is purely magnificent; and absolutely a classic album.
The Zincs — Black Pompadour (2007)
Saw these guys open for the Sea and Cake in San Francisco on the Everybody tour. At the time, I knew little of what to make if their esoteric jangle sound, but I actually really liked their set and thought they deserved to be playing higher on the bill. Definitely should have played after the Robbers on High Street — who were actually terrible, honestly, as their between song banter actually included a narrative from the singer about a waitress who "hilariously" misheard the band name as "Robbers on Ice Cream' — how hilariously pretentious to actually recollect before an audience of onlookers, you fake Macy Gray idiot (seriously, the skinny fucker sounded like Macy Gray. God, I wanted to punch him). Much in contrast to the Zincs' between song banter (the one comment I remember, besides song title introductions from Jim Elkington, was, "We drove down from Portland yesterday — that's really far! I loved it though!" — and then launched into a tune from Dimmer). I remember wanting to buy the band's albums right then and there (I was working on a budget at the merch stand), but, over the years, I've admittedly just forgotten. I have fond memories of the band playing 'The Mogul's Wives' and being pretty darned impressed as far as seeing a bunch of guys I had never heard of before recreating these wonderful Television-style dual jangle interplay guitars while Jim did this funny little dance while he was playing. The band honestly didn't seem to care that there was maybe fifty people paying attention. This album kicks butt. It's like the more jangly Sea and Cake material (appropriate, as it was recorded by John McEntire at his own SOMA studio; and helped out on various instruments), but with a bit of weary midwestern twang and seriously weird lyrics. Think Wilco, but more fun. It all makes very little sense when you consider that Jim Elkington is British and had only been living in America for a few years at this point. Really unique music and just a shame that they didn't get some notoriety off this material (in one of the bitchiest of bitch moves they've ever done —and probably a contributing factor as to why the album didn't get more notice— Pitchfork gave the album a mediocre score amidst one of the most worthless reviews I've ever read — case in point of the website trying to outcool their subject matter by pointlessly one-upping it). Freakin' lovely music, man. Smart — but not smarty pants. And just awesome how it straddles 'pop' and 'art' so seamlessly.
The Zincs — Dimmer. (2005)
One of the most complete jangle albums of the last decade, honestly. I'm sorry I waited so long. I distinctly remember three songs that the Zincs played when they opened for Sea and Cake off this album: 'Moment is Now!' (because they opened with it), 'Passengers' (because Jim Elkington played harmonica) and 'Beautiful Lawyers' (because it was so reminiscent of the Sea and Cake's jangly perfection). Things build and build in a very pleasantly jangly tone for the bulk of the album until they hit the ballad 'Sunday Night' and it just feels like one of those Neil Young-esque, late night, moment of clarity occurrences that pop up every so often with good music scholars. Overall, I have listened to this album several times over the past few days and I have to say that the band, as played to me on that spring night several years ago, is just as captivating on record as I remember they were in person. Again: I'm sorry I waited so long. I've really missed out.
Mojave 3 — Ask Me Tomorrow (1996)
I received Puzzles Like You as a promo when I worked at Tower Records and I remember being really excited to be properly introduced what is essentially Slowdive v.2. I hated it. For years ever since, I've written off the band as "shitty Slowdive with twang." A friend recently introduced me to a version of 'Bluebird of Happiness' that made me re-think things. I know I've heard this album in passing before, but I just can't say where. And sure, going in after Pygmalion (and its subsequent deluxe edition), it's just not as good. But, leave all that baggage at the door and this is a darn fine little whispery dreamy folk rock album. Reminds me a lot of Neil Young's Harvest Moon, in fact (add some reverb and you're there). Think Mazzy Star, but less "trippy man" (not that being "trippy man" isn't good). Hearing it from where I am now, 'Love Songs on the Radio' is a downright classic in my book. The boozy twang of 'Tomorrow's Taken' is as comforting as the most relatable of classic country, but with a fantastically surreal vibe to it that only former-shoegazers could pull off. Overall, it's Neil Young for dream pop fans. No wonder I like it. Again, I'm sorry I waited so long.