Ok before we begin, here's some writings of mine if you're interested. Firstly my fawning over the new Mars Volta album, and a review of Sufjan's gig last January and of Rivers Cuomo of Weezer's demo collective ...and break.
Once Upon A Time i could have honestly said "hey have you heard of this lil' band called Interpol?" and once i played a cover of 'Yellow' in a band just a few years shy of Coldplay's domination of the world. At risk of sounding arrogant, selfish or worst of all over-hyped - i've always wanted to be the person who champions great new music, or at least the guy with great taste.
And as inevitably as great bands find their audience and become huge (hey you should check these guys, lil' Montreal band called The Arcade Fire), there will be much great music that whatever reason just doesn't get there.
My latest list will focus on the bands, albums and music that has slipped under the radar.
TOP 10 ALBUMS YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
as usual a few quid pro quos before the list begins.
- i realise that the title is presumptious and that some of you WILL have heard of these selections before. After all, my readership is made up of my friends, but before you grill me or show me up respect that "Obscure Bands That You May Or May Not Have Had Foisted Upon You In One Of My CD Compilations" just isn't as catchy
- This isn't some attempt to get indie street cred in citing rare EP's or willfully obscure music (although that isn't to say that some of this stuff won't be difficult to track down), but these are artists and music that i think is genuinely worth the time and effort it takes in locating them. They deserve better attention.
- as usual, where available i'll provide clips so you can hear what i'm writing about and thanks in advance to the websites that provide links, and if you want it taken down just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
10. V.A.S.T. - V.A.S.T. (1998)
There was a time, circa the late 90's, when V.A.S.T. were touted as the next big thing. Years of record label battles, tired writing and yes, even some attempt at recreating past glories meant that V.A.S.T. - which early on was really a moniker for multi-instrumentalist Jon Crosby - fell by the wayside. They are still around and comfortably releasing music through their website, but back in 1998 their self-titled debut was something special.
Although you wouldn't know it from some of the bad marketing, promo stickers at the time featured a quote from Lars Ulrich (drummer for Metallica): "it's like Enya crossed with The Prodigy" and i have to admit that "Dirty Hole" now sounds like Moby's evil brother, but there's no denying the coolness in sampling monks chanting and gregorian choirs mixed with industrial rock. It shouldn't work (Prodigy and Enya!?) but it does. This album has its quieter, and undeniably beatuiful, moments too such as the Cello-led ballad "Flames" and one of my favourite love songs of all time: the album closer "You."
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: You ever watched Angel, your name is M. Millikan or J. Davies
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you want a more organic Nine Inch Nails, you like your brooding goth rock to be heartfelt
some videos here
9. GAY DAD - TRANSMISSION (2001)
There aren't many rock journos who would put their money where there mouth is, Cliff Jones did. The former journalist for music rags The Face and Mojo magazine formed the riddick-ulously named Gay Dad back in 1994 working towards the band's debut of 1999, then had the chutzpah to announce the band's split on the eve of their second album, 2001's Transmission.
While it's the debut, Leisure Noise, that gets all the press i feel its their second album that does things better, a bizarre place where Britpop and American grunge meet under agreeable circumstances.
The yearning moments sounded like Smashing Pumpkins, while the krautrock of "Nightclub" and Suede-alike "Dinosaur" meant that they fitted snugly alongside the fallout of the 90's UK scene.
It may be harsh, but it's little surprise that Cliff Jones hasn't been heard from again, last heard he was working on a solo album and "a few projects" but that was nearly seven years ago. Still i'd still take the time to check out anything new he might have up his sleeve, and still make the time to listen to his old band's work.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: You were a writer for Mojo or The Face, you googled strange band names
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: if you like strange music to match the strange name, you like Britpop and Grunge equally
listen here and check out their myspace
8. GLOBAL COMMUNICATION - 76:14 (1994)
I picked this up at the CD stall at my old high school's annual fair one year and have since used its ambient charms as way of getting to sleep. In fact i can honestly say i can only really recall the first half of the album because it's always managed to lull me into a deep snooze, so potent is it's effect.
The title of the album, and subsequently each track, is named after its length. Hinting at the straightfoward ambience of the album, soothing synths and warm beats mixed into a hypnotic groove. Best exhibited by second track "14:31" that takes the ticking of a clock as its beat and builds a heady swath of colours and sounds upon it.
The fact that its been re-released a number of times in the 15 years since its inception goes to show how much the music has remained relevant, it doesn't ever really sound dated.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you bought it from that same CD stall, you stumbled upon any of the re-releases
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you like a soundtrack to your bedtime, you enjoy the elite of ambient electronica
Some clips here
7. CAVE-IN - ANTENNA (2003)
I can't remember how i discovered Cave-In but the fact that they were handpicked to tour in support of Foo Fighters and Muse not long after this album was released ensures they were on my musical wavelength.
"Antenna" was their first album for new label RCA and considering their hardcore roots at Alt-Metal label Hyrda Head Records, its no surprise that their fourth album was a more polished affair, even mixed by Rich Costey (soon becoming ubiquitous thanks to his duties with Muse, Mars Volta and other bands i love).
What we have is straight up rock with a creative bent, "Inspire" unwittingly takes the "squealing little piggy" riff from Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" and creates an entirely different sounding beast while "Joy Opposites" and "Penny Racer" were radio-ready rockers.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: You lived in America and were a follower of the Alt-Metal scene
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: the above sentence makes you skeptical, You like any of the bands Rich Costey has mixed (Muse, Bloc Party, Mars Volta, Interpol, Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World... the man's a god)
Some mp3s here: Inspire, Joy Opposites,Lost In The Air
6. LIFT TO EXPERIENCE - THE TEXAS-JERUSALEM CROSSROADS (2001)
If record sales were based on sheer weirdness, Lift To Experience would be high on the charts. Their one and only release is a two disc concept album about a Texas band who are requested by God to fulfill a prophecy concerning a Noah-like apocalypse, in return they become the biggest band in the world.
The reality however, is much harsher, despite raving cult acclaim the band have disintegrated leaving behind only this most unique and beautiful of albums.
A fitting epitaph, and the best description of their music, comes from their record label page: "Lift To Experience couldn’t be making music anywhere but Denton, Texas. But, like all the best rock’n’roll, their sound is both steeped in their immediate surroundings, their everyday lives, and utterly out of time."
Only a three-piece they craft huge swells of guitar and vocal harmonies reminiscent of Jeff Buckley. Like Buckley too, their music isn't soaking with religious sentiment yet contains a spiritual edge.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you read any rave reviews comparing them to My Bloody Valentine, Nick Cave and yes... Jeff Buckley
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you think Christianity is a widely-accepted mythology, not a religion, or if you like concept albums that AREN'T about aliens or fantasy.
mp3s ahoy: Just As Was Told, Falling From Cloud 9
5. PILATE - CAUGHT BY THE WINDOW (2005)
Andy first introduced me to these guys, and the first thing that strikes you about Canadian group Pilate is their singer, Todd Clark. I've always had a theory that the best singers are not necessarily the most technical, but the most emotive. Clark however manages to stride both categories, managing booth cooing falsetto (see "Collide") and ravaged anger (on "Fall Down").
Their sound is made up of the usual rock band components, guitar, bass, drums and the occasional piano, and they manage to evoke (while not strictly sound like) Coldplay and Damien Rice. Possibly because their music and lyrics are engaging without shortchanging their musical enjoyability.
Their second album was a much angrier, chaotic affair; and strangely due to legal concerns they had to change the title from "Sell Control For Life's Speed" to "Into The West." Not only that but also their band name to Pilot Speed, which along with the new artwork makes them look like a Creed/Nickelback band. But be fooled not, their first album (and to a lesser extent their second) is a beautiful thing... something about a rose by any other name?
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: your mates with Hallam, you caught them as 'Pilot Speed' on The OC
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you admire incredibly soulful emotive frontmen, you're the kind of person that sings along as loud as you can in your car
mp3s Here: Into Your Hideout, Mercy
4. PROP - SMALL CRAFT, ROUGH SEA (2001)
Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes. Don't recognise the names? I'll give you a clue, they toured with The Dissociatives. Still stumped? Ok, they're better known as The Presets... but did you know that before that they were a keyboard and marimba player respectively in this breakthrough album. Small world eh?
Leaning into jazz and electronica but with melodies very much derived from xylophones vibraphone and the aforementioned marimba, Prop don't really sound like anyone else and quite a few leagues away from what was to become The Presets brand of dance-party music.
Measured, without vocals, progressive. It's a real shame that the Sydney five piece (Jeremy Barnett, Dave Symes and Jared Underwood make up the rest of the ensemble) never made another album. There was an okayish remix album featuring some cool acts such as Stereolab, Paul Mac and yes... even The Presets. But i can't help but think what Prop could have been, at least they left behind a near perfect album of cool instrumental music.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you've lapped up everything Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes have done, you're a vibraphone maniac
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you like late-night music to drive/cook/make love to, you haven't yet lapped up everything by Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes
really hard to get music of these guys, but go here then click enter site, then today and the link to Prop to hear 'Portal'
3. THE KNIVES OF NEPTUNE - LAKES (2007)
I've been meaning to do something on these guys for a while, a review, spotlight of a track, something, and while i realise they've been getting a bit of airplay, i still think that enough of you won't have heard of them yet to give them the attention they deserve.
Admittedly i bought this album after only hearing a few clips on their MySpace site and thought it'd be a simple stop-gap before the next Mars Volta album. I'm glad i was proven wrong.
They're definitely a progressive rock band, the title of opening track Bildungsroman Number Two lets the cat out of the bag before you even hear its steadily building wash of chanting and noise rock. But the album is lent an organic and folky edge thanks to the abundance of piano and acoustic guitar. Ocassionally the heady mix of instruments and vocals can become a bit muddy, but considering this is an independent label release without the aid of a big budget record label its easily forgivable, its easier to admire the band's sheer ambition.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you're a regular listener of Triple J or RRR, you enjoyed Fallopian Tube or Zero Point Defect
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: You're a fan of prog rock or Australian heavy music in any way shape or form
here be clips at MySpace and Last.Fm
2. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG - 5:55 (2006)
Charlotte Gainsbourg is the daughter of French lothario Serge Gainsbourg (of Je t'aime... moi non plus fame) and her second album, 5:55, is filled with artists that you've heard of but probably didn't even realise. Where to start, well all the string arrangements are done by Beck's dad David Campbell, some of the lyrics are co-written with Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, all the music is performed by French duo Air and to top it all off, the whole thing is produced and mixed by Nigel Godrich, Radiohead's unofficial sixth member. Whoo, did you get all that?
If all that name-dropping isn't enough to get you excited, how about a concise album of pop gems, wryly written observational pieces, piano epics and late-night poems sound? Here is an album that lives up to the weight of its contributers, and Gainsbourg herself still manages to steal the limelight with her breathy vocals and charming personality. She's an actress too, talented thing.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you saw her in The Science Of Sleep or I'm Not There and became obsessed, or if you're a fan of any of the people i mentioned
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you're a fan of any of the people i mentioned, you like intelligent female singer-songwriters
Songs here: The Songs That We Sing, The Operation, 5:55
1. THE BLUE NILE - HATS (1989)
This Scottish three piece have always had a low profile, maybe it has something to do with the fact that they have released only four albums, with a minimum of five and a maximum of eight years between them. Safe to say however, that most people who discover their gently crafted mix of pop and romance become fans for life. Their second album 'Hats' exemplifies everything that's best about the band.
Maybe its in Paul Buchanan's leisurely Scottish croon, or in the simple electronic instruments they employ that ensure it never comes over 'too 80's sounding.' Maybe it's the scope of love and loss that broadens further than the mere seven tracks on offer. Or a repeated lyric like "How do i know you feel it?" that combined with music, equates to you knowing exactly what he's feeling.
I can't really express why or how much i love this album only to say that it comforts me when i'm feeling low, helps me sleep when i'm restless, soothes me when i'm agitated, breaks my heart when i want it too and then makes me fall in love with it all over again.
YOU'LL HAVE HEARD IT IF: you followed British pop closely in the late 80's, you were lucky
YOU SHOULD HEAR IT IF: you want to hear a great album you've never heard before.
discover them here with Downtown Lights & Let's Go Out Tonight
Right that brings another entry to a close, but there's plenty more where that came from. Anyone for Part 2?
let me know with your comments.
Till next time, keep searching for great music, you'll find it.