I know it’s super old school to care about producers in rock music, but I’m an old school kind of guy. It’s not as if it’s hip-hop or anything. It’s producing guitars and drums and shit that sounds like shit should. No bleeps and bloops, no wall of sound. No bullshit. Just straight ahead rock and fucking roll.
And nobody, in my opinion, does it better than Steve Albini. The man can make drums sound like the banging instrument they should be, not just background mush. And ripping guitar solos and squealing shredding and bombast all right up front and not buried in the overproduced whitewash reverb of most of today’s hipster music. Of course, reading over my Bitch Magnet review, I’m obviously talking about the album of the dual-album re-release that Albini did NOT record…
I clearly enjoy the man’s work as evidenced by the multitude of albums I own that were produced by him. Here they are in relatively chronological order:
Slint – Tweez
Pixies – Surfer Rosa
From the opening downbeat of “Bone Machine,” Surfer Rosa’s first track, you know this album is gonna kick some ass. Driven by the radical production of Steve Albini (can this guy make even a shit sandwich sound good?), this album is all up in your face. And despite there being a lot to grab onto here, this thing is still all knees and elbows. Black Francis talk/sings/yelps his way through song after song filled with skulls and body parts and illusions to things near and far. There’s terror and humor, and even a softer side of a band that would just as soon give you a hotfoot as spit something vile in your eye. Everything they do on this album just has an edge of smart to it. They aren’t your daddy’s punk band giving the middle finger and farting into the mic; they’re the thinking man’s college rock band. Oddly enough it’s actually the Kim Deal sung song, “Gigantic” that kind of steals the show here. Like her song with The Breeders, “Cannonball,” of a few years later, this thing just sticks in your head and begs for you to hit repeat. I know I wanted to marry her after hearing it. Even “Where Is My Mind” points to Frank Black’s later career direction and shows us that these guys are not one-trick ponies. One of the best pure pop punk albums of all time, and certainly my favorite Pixies record.
Bitch Magnet – Umber and Star Booty Who the hell mixed this thing? I could listen to this CD on the world’s best stereo and it would still sound as if I was playing it through my little cousin’s Hello Kitty boombox. The whole two-records-in-one thing is kind of weird in itself, and when the two are relatively indiscernible from one another, I guess it doesn’t matter. This is one of those albums I thought I’d con myself into liking, but, alas, I still don’t dig it very much. The thing is just too jumbled, the lyrics and instrumentation just too scattered, and the constant symbol hitting on the drums gets on my nerves. The lead singer sounds as if he just wandered in off the street to sing along with the band, showing his chops to be sub par at best. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay for an indie singer to have a bad voice, as long as it’s unique. Overall, without a complete re-mastering, this album just bores me. The second half, Star Booty, is a little better than the first, but sounds like an early Dinosaur Jr. album recorded in a fraternity basement. Overall, I can’t help but be disappointed with what I thought was going to be an amazing piece of art.
Poster Children – Flowerplower
The Breeders – Pod
The Wedding Present – Seamonsters
Poster Children – Daisychain Reaction
Superchunk – No Pocky for Kitty
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
I keep finding all these albums produced by Steve Albini that I didn’t know or didn’t recall were produced by him. The guy certainly has a sound. And, on this, what amounts to The Blues Explosion’s first recognizable album, the bizarre punk noise experiment is underway. Sounding as if Rocket from the Cryptbroke all their equipment, forgot how to sing but still tried to lay down some tracks anyway, Jon Spencer seems to have no coherent plan in terms of actually creating cohesive songs. It’s as if he’s “singing” merely based on feel and not a lyric sheet. Actually howling is more like what he’s doing – for 20 tracks! It’s so absurd at times, it almost seems like a joke. In fact, it may well be. To call this blues would be like calling the similar-styled Cramps a goth band. Nothing quite fits and nothing quite gels. It’s difficult to point to this album and say, “Yeah, that’s an awesome song!” Maybe, that’s an energetic song, that’s a fun song, that’s a crazy song, but rarely that’s an awesome song. Honestly, by track 10 it’s time to rest and regroup for the onslaught for the next 10.
PJ Harvey – Rid of Me
Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy
Nirvana – In Utero
Mule – If I Don’t Six
Superchunk – Incidental Music 1991-95
Palace Music – Viva Last Blues
Silkworm – Firewater
What more can you ask for than catchy rock songs about drinking and falling down? Almost every song is about the sadness and debauchery of a gin-soaked life. There is even a shitting of the pants! But it’s done in a wry, intelligent way, not a Party Hard!kind of way. Straight up rock n’ roll at the bottom of a bottle never sounded so good. This album is a serious hidden gem.
Bush – Razorblade Suitcase
Souls – Bird Fish or Inbetween
Pixies – Death to the Pixies
Silkworm – Developer
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Acme
Low – Secret Name
The New Year – Newness Ends
Owls – Owls
Silkworm – Italian Platinum
It’s as if nobody makes fuckin’ rock ‘n roll anymore. Okay, this isn’t a completely accurate statement, but everything seems to fit into some niche. You got your KROCK rock (Hoobadrowningstaind), your emo, your nü metal, your alt-country rock, your garage rock revival, etc. Silkworm defies any of these categorizations. It can only be called “great music to get drunk by”–and we’re talking longneck bottles of Bud here folks. They’re one part Silver Jews, one part Dinosaur Jr., and another part some garage band that can write a melody. This is an awful comparison, and completely off, but I couldn’t think of anything better. Helping them in their journey is producer Steve Albini, who does a better job than anybody out there making a band sound live and raw. Listening to this album through headphones is the perfect way to appreciate his amazing talent for making drums sound great (a tall order if you listen to most rock albums out there).
McLusky – McLusky Do Dallas
McLusky fuckin’ rock! Really, they do. All frat boy outbursts aside, McLusky is like a Welsh Nirvana with a good sense of humor. They’ll make you tap your foot, bang your head and laugh your ass off all at the same time. The great thing about this album is that it gets better with every listen. You’ll find yourself mimicking lead singer, Andy Falkous’, gnarly Welsh accent as he screams and snarls his way through tight guitar driven punk-pop rock. Steve Albini does the producing, giving the trio that quintessential powerhouse sound that is all at once raw and grandiose. There’s nothing like some old school, raucous punk (with some nice Budweiser longnecks) to get your heart racing.
Rye Coalition – On Top
The Forms – Icarus
McLusky – The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire
The Ponys – Celebration Castle
The Wedding Present – El Rey
Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
This is one of those bands that I’ve peripherally come across in my musical wanderings, but always dismissed them out of hand as “not my thing.” Oh, how wrong I was. Granted, my understanding is that this album is quite a departure from past efforts. Luckily, I don’t care what they used to sound like (they could have farted tuba music for all I care) cuz now they’re right in my wheelhouse. Guitar rock is dead my ass, as these guys — with some help from my favorite producer of all time, Steve Albini, — rock it old school with insane, thundering drums (complete with time signature changes galore), squealing guitars and raw-throated vocals overlaid with art rock aesthetic and Nirvana-like anti-melodies. Think a less prog rock version of an early Trail of Deadalbum. Though I suppose that’s like saying “think a less funky version of an early Parliament album.” It doesn’t quite make sense in the abstract, but in reality it’s right there — especially on the 9-minute second track, “Wasted Days.” The whole thing just feels like rock used to feel — wide open and exciting and aggressive but thoughtful. Maybe it’s just the radical shift in rock music to bleeps and bloops, but I can’t help but love the throwback nature of the attitude here. My only complaint is that at only eight tracks (one of which is an instrumental), it feels more like an EP than a genuine album. But even at its short length, it’s definitely at the top of my 2012 list so far. Rawk!
Screaming Females – Ugly
To awkwardly quote Belle & Sebastian: “Jersey’s where it’s at!” Well, Jersey is where Screaming Females are at. Or from. Despite this fact, they sound more like a Pacific Northwest band from the days of yore. That could in part be the blistering production from my man, Steve Albini, but the nineties alt guitar rock aesthetic of Kill Rock Stars acts like Sleater-Kinney is evident all over the album. Add to that the fact that the band’s tiny lead singer, Marissa Paternoster, snarls and shreds the guitar like her little midget hands are angry at it and you have something that seems anachronistic on its face, but reminds us how pussified modern music has become on so many fronts. And in that is refreshing for its dedication to the lost art of real guitar-lead indie rock. Following on the heels of the great Wild Flag album from last year, this album continues in that vein but is rawer and less pop-driven. The lack of hooks in some songs can make the album more challenging at times, and Paternoster’s voice can, like Corin Tucker’s, grate a bit after long exposure but that is small sacrifice to immerse yourself in something that brings back that warm glow in your heart that has faded with the emergence of the laptop as a lead instrument.
The Cribs – In the Belly of the Brazen Bull I honestly don’t know a whole lot about The Cribs. And I feel, after listening to this album, I still don’t know a whole lot about them. I mean, I know one of the dudes, Johnny Marr, from The Smiths used to be in the band, but left prior to this album, and that at least one song was produced by my fave, Steve Albini, but the album itself really reveals little about what they’re all about. They seem to be three lads (all of whom are brothers) kind of in love with that middling 90s throwback, which is actually just a kind of 70s throwback, rock and roll that stays pretty completely within the same aesthetic box and rarely, if ever, surprises or excites. It’s how I feel about classic bands that adopted the whole British invasion shtick like The Jam and Big Star. The whole genre just feels watery and intentionally wimpy in its attempt to be all pop-like and neat. We get it, dudes, you like The Beatles and seventeen-year-old indie rock and stuff, but these days we either need a really good pop hook or some over-the-top energy or new shtick that differentiates your band from the other three thousand bar bands out there. I could put this album on, and I would seriously have no idea whatsoever who these guys were. It could be some 120 Minutes band from the early nineties or just another Brit band that heard that Yuck album and thought, “hey we can do that.” This is hardly a terrible album, and I do, of course, love Albini’s production on “Chi-Town,” but with all the millions of albums I have, I just need more something in my music these days to warrant many repeat listens.