1995 in Review

by Mitch Goldman

New Stuff...

1. Sonic Youth--Washing Machine: Sonic Youth's twelfth release istheir most relaxed effort yet...from the snappy discordance of Thurston's"Junkie's Promise" to his beautiful "Unwind"; from Kim's epic mini-suite "WashingMachine" to her Shangri-La's spoof "Little Trouble Girl"; from Lee's rap-popexperiment "Skip Tracer" to his "8 Miles High"-ish anthem "Saucer-Like"; finallyculminating in the ultimate SY vehicle, the 20 minute "The Diamond Sea" ahaunting ode to marriage encased in a nightmarish feedback journey...WASHINGMACHINE is another non-linear chapter in the influential story of America's bestguitar band.

2. Faith No More--King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime: Faith No Morewisely jettison metal-cliche meistro Jim Martin, replace him (temporarily) onguitar with Trey Spruance from Mr. Bungle, and record their best lp yet. Theirfifth album genre-hops without ever losing the singular FNM sound (thanks mostlydue to Mike Patton's incredible range as a singer); they hit metal, disco, funk,soul, country, and pop ballad territory with equal facility. The fact that thissingular disc sank without a commercial ripple says much about the Americanpublic's ability to absorb music that exists on several different levelssimultaneously. By turns frightening, funny, moving, and rocking, KFAD is one ofthe most unique records to come out of American rock in years.

3. Pavement--Wowie Zowie: Stockton California indie-rockers Pavementgive us their third and best album. Less referential than Crooked Rain,Crooked Rain or Slanted and Enchanted, Wowiepresents Steve Malkmus, Spiral Stairs and crew as full-blown songwritinggeniuses; the punk shriek of "Flux=Rad" and "Serpentine Pad"; the lush beauty of"AT&T" "Grave Architecture" and "Kennel District"; the art-rock modulism of"Fight this Generation" "Best Friend's Arm" and "Half a Canyon"; and the pure-poplustre of "Rattled by the Rush" (and that doesn't even mention the country-swingof "Father to a Sister of Thought"). Pavement have dropped the musical in-jokesthat made their early singles and ep's such a critics' favorite and havedelivered a mature, endlessly enjoyable work of lyrical depth and melodicrichness.

4. King Crimson--Thrak: Robert Fripp's newest version of KC is aferocious six-piece combo, and the rehearsal recordings released last year as theVroom ep only hinted at the power lurking within this band. The big, snarlinginstrumentals like the title track, "Vroom" "Vroom" and the respective"Vroom" codas harken back to the metal-cum-jazz fusion the mid-70's John Wettonera Crimson; but this year's model (like the 80's KC) has Adrian Belew asfrontman, and his guitar and voice lend 1995 KC a unique texture; Belew'sLennonesque vocals on "Dinosaur" "One Time" and "Walking on Air" give a delicatefeel that smoothes out the prog-rock edges inherent in the band's playing. Thrakis guilt-free art rock.

5. Tad--Infrared Riding Hood: The fifth studio release from Seattle's biggestrockers is more of what we've come to expect: big fat hooks, big fat melodies,big fat guitars, big fat vocals...big fat Tad Doyle, whose songwriting has neverbeen more concise, and who plays all the guitar parts for the first time on thisrecord. Characteristic Tad melodies collide with grunge rhythms in "Bludge" and"Bullhorn"; "Weakling" is the kind of scary Tad portrait that would have been athome on early records like God's Balls, and "Thistle Suit" is the great Tad hitsingle that never was. More good news from Seattle's most criminally overlookedband.

6. Kyuss--...And the Circus Leaves Town: It was a good news/bad news year forKyuss...they made their fourth and best album, and they broke up. But you canconsole yourself with repeated spinnings of this disc, which picks up where SkyValley left off...Sabbath-y, sludgey metal moments blend with long, spacey,Dead-like jamming. Kyuss were the great white hope of thinking man's metal, andnow they're gone...the circus really has left town.

7. Smashing Pumpkins--Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: How is a two-disc,28 song album less pretentious than the previous Smashing Pumpkins records? Whenit's filled with great, touchingly beautiful ballads and full-tilt, paint-peelingangst rock. Billy Corgan and company have crossed Zen Arcade and The Wall andgiven us a cohesive (though not really concept) lp of modern rock that will takeyou months to sort out. From the Nirvana kick of "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" tothe Cure strum of "1979" and through some of the most achingly gorgeous songsthey've yet recorded, the Pumpkins need not worry about their legacy as songcraftsmen; Melon Collie makes it clear that these tunes will be living with usfor a long time.

8. Swans--The Great Annihilator: Michael Gira and Jarboe continue to develop awayfrom the Foetus-like No Wave noise of their early efforts, and move ever-onwardwith another record of lush, richly arranged tunes of horror and angst. Thetension between the bleakness of their worldview and the deep, soulfulgoth-singing voice of Gira is what makes the Swans tick; that Jarboe keepscranking out songs with titles like "My Buried Child" is merely a bonus for thedour following of one of America's most important bands.

9. Monster Magnet--Dopes to Infinity: More of what you'd expect from New Jersey'swhite trash metal contingent, their fifth lp moves MM's mix of Grand Funk andHawkwind a little more into pop territory, with a couple of tunes sporting spiffykeyboard parts. And Dave Wyndorf's vocals contain more melodic grit than ever.Monster Magnet continue to exist in a dope-smoke haze of power chords and bonghits.

10. Mudhoney--My Brother, the Cow: Seattle's least pretentious supergroup do itagain, with more great songs and no suprises; Mudhoney continue to crank outalbum after album of no frills grunge-pop, peppered with Mark Arm'sI-don't-give-a-fuck vocal delivery. This time he even aims a couple of tunes atmedia star Courtney Love, railing in "Into Yer Shtik" "why don't you go blow yourbrains out too?". This tune could be the "You're So Vain" of the 90's....

11. The Flaming Lips--Clouds Taste Metallic: Oklahoma's twisted post-punk popstersFlaming Lips continue to record layered, dense tracks of silly-yet-touchingmelodicism on their eighth album. Lead Lip Wayne Coyne paints miniature portraitsof fringe characters trapped in his heavenly pop confections: the strandedastronauts in "They Punctured My Yolk"; the wacky pacifist protagonist in "Kim'sWatermelon Gun"; the anti-social animals in "Christmas at the Zoo"; and theslackers lurking in all of us in "Bad Days." The Flaming Lips are one ofAmerica's great musical resources, and their touchstone influences (Brian Wilson,Neil Young, Beatles, Butthole Surfers, Meat Puppets) combine for a charmingcollection of tunes.

12. Neil Young--Mirror Ball: Neil rebounds from the repressed navel gazing ofSleeps with Angels and records a full album in only four days with Pearl Jambacking him up. The result is Neil's rawest album since Ragged Glory, with epicNeil odysseys like "I'm the Ocean" sounding as timeless as old classics like"Cortez the Killer." Pearl Jam function like Crazy Horse with a tighter rhythmsection, Neil's songs are acute and focussed, and the production (by BrendanO'Brien) is off-the-cuff and non-intrusive. Probably the closest thing to ZumaNeil could possibly have recorded in the 90's.

13. X--Unclogged: X make the unlikely transition from post-hardcore rockers tofull fledged maturity, and they drag their considerable repetoire with them, tothoroughly enjoyable results. Classics like "Because I Do" are given more thanjust an acoustic treatment; these tunes are rearranged with a thoughtfulnessusually absent in similar "unplugged" records. Unclogged gives a freshperspective to one of American post-punk's most important bodies of work.

14. Meat Puppets--No Joke!: The Kirkwood brothers again collaborate withproducer/Butthole Surfer Paul Leary, but this time the result is a darker,moodier record that still rocks big ("Scum") and poppy ("Taste of the Sun""Cobbler") but also gives us dour, surreal moments ("Head") to break up theirresistable fun of the more upbeat tunes. Not as idiomatic as past Puppetsalbums, but more polished and focussed; and as always, the playing of theKirkwoods and drummer Derrick Bostrom reveals the fifteen years these guys havelogged together.

15. Foetus--Gash: It's no surprise that Jim "Foetus" Thirwell's major label debutdoes not represent any kind of compromise. Jim gives us what we want fromFoetus...industrial rhythms, clanging percussion, abrasive guitars, nastysnarling vocals with every conceivable target feeling the full force of theFoetus fury...this is probably not going to make the Sony stockholders happy.

16. AC/DC--Ballbreaker: If it ain't broke, Angus and Malcolm Young won't fixit...and the AC/DC formula certainly ain't broke on Ballbreaker. Great riffs fromthe brothers Young, high-pitched nonsense from Brian Johnson, and originaldrummer Phil Rudd back on the skins...this is their best record since For Thoseabout to Rock.

17. David Bowie--Outside: Bowie's best record since 1980's Scary Monsters is amuddled concept piece, but the music is striking indeed...with help from producerBrian Eno and guitarist extraordinaire Reeves Gabrels, the Thin White Dukeplunges headlong into sound collages of industrial noise, throbbing rhythms,spooky keyboard textures, and arty vocal stylings. Bowie wisely jettisons the popfacility he banked on in the '80',s and the result is his most satisfying workin nearly a generation.

18. Gang of Four--Shrinkwrapped: A major improvement over the Gang's reunionalbum of '91 (Mall), Shrinkwrapped fuses the white boy soul of the Gang's early80's work with the slick post-punk British pop of Mall. Best of all, thesongwriting is better than it has been since Songs of the Free...Jon King'svocals fairly ooze disaffected Marxism while Andy Gill pumps out his trademarkunrecognizable noise riffs. Gang of Four are the only band from Britain's punkheyday to have made a substantial transition into the '90's.

19. The Residents--Gingerbread Man: The faceless ones slip out another twistedconcept masterpiece just when we weren't looking. Like Freak Show, GingerbreadMan features character songs; but the concept is much more subtle here. Ratherthan the connection of displaced sideshow freaks, Gingerbread's characters arelinked by their failure and lack of purpose in a fragmented world; these hauntingmonologues are spoken (with delay effects) over the Residents' creepy, hauntingsamplers and throbbing electronic rhythms.

20. Alice in Chains--Alice in Chains: AIC ditch the overt grunge of Dirt and thehalf-finished feel of Jar of Flies for a creepy, dynamic slab of the mostdepressing music you'll ever hear. Layne Staley's vocals show us the dark insideof his addictions, while Jerry Cantrell's guitar work shows more texture andvariety than five ordinary axemeisters. Not a party album, but a must listen foranyone with the stomach for serious and honest music.

Honorable Mention


Old Stuff...

The Who--Live at Leeds, The Who Sell Out, A Quick One, Who's Next: Who couldargue with the job MCA's done on the long awaited revamp of the Who catalogue?Not fans, who now get a fully remastered Live at Leeds that's now double itsoriginal length (as is Sell Out).

Grateful Dead--100 Year Hall: 1995 was the worst and final year in the 30 yearhistory of the Dead, but this record reminds us how great 1972 was for the boys(and girl). Check out Bob and Jerry's wah-wah duel in the 36-minute "The OtherOne" and you'll never doubt the connection between the Dead and Sonic Youthagain.

Velvet Underground--Peel Slowly and See box set: Everything you'll ever need fromthe Velvets (and some demos you don't need, but are cool for one listen anyway)plus the finally restored "closet mix" of the third lp. A fitting tribute to thememory of Sterling Morrison.

Live Stuff...

Hawkwind--Masquerade, Atlanta, GA 4/14/95

Faith No More--Masquerade, Atlanta, GA 5/6/95

Tad--The Point, Atlanta, GA 7/19/95

Swans--Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA 7/30/95

Sonic Youth--Lollapalooza, Atlanta GA 8/5/95

David Bowie/Nine Inch Nails--Lakewood Ampitheatre, Atlanta, GA 10/9/95

King Crimson--Roxy, Atlanta, GA 11/12/95

The Flaming Lips--Masquerade, Atlanta, GA 12/14/95

Copyright 1996
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