These are the albums that I just seem to keep playing over the years.

Star Album Cover
Star
(1993, Sire)
Belly
Founded by Tanya Donelly, the more pop-minded lead of Throwing Muses, Belly dishes out angular tunes with very hummable melodies and poetic lyrics which pull their imagery from suburban "troubled homes" and neighborhoods as well as folktales. Unfailingly imaginative.
A comprehensive fan site, Seal My Fate.

The Dreaming Album Cover
The Dreaming
(1982, EMI America)


Hounds of Love Album Cover
Hounds of Love

(1985, EMI America)

Kate Bush
A one-woman show who is hugely popular in the UK and not so popular in the US, Kate Bush has been making records since the late '70s. Her music is dramatic in tone, often focussed on a discrete narrative and characterized by her dystinctively dynamic voice. Some find it hard to look beyond the voice (which, especially in her early music, is so high it sounds like she's been sucking helium) to her imaginative song-writing. I admit to paying little attention to her lyrics, but I find the music various and satisfying.
A comprehensive fan site, Gaffaweb.

Key Lime Pie Album Cover
Key Lime Pie
(1989, Virgin Records America)

Camper Van Beethoven
This was the last album Camper Van Beethoven made before splitting up and the world-weariness is evident in songs like "All Your Favorite Fruit", in which David Lowery's voice slurs sadly. I find the gravity a welcome counterbalance to the band's previously lightweight, jokey sound (see "Take the Skinheads Bowling" from their album Telephone Free Landslide Victory for a good example of what I mean). This is a darkly shining, at times depressing, album.
A comprehensive fan site, CamperVan-Etc.

Let Love In Album Cover
Let Love In
(1994, Mute/Elektra)

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
I've long been amused by Nick Cave's gothic poet/murderer persona, which hovers fruitfully on the verge of self-parody. Let Love In is his best album, with a rich, shimmering quality to the production and some fabulous songs, including "Loverman" and "Red Right Hand", which made me laugh when it was played on an episode of The X-Files (as serial killer accompaniment, of course).
A comprehensive fan site, Angel In Devil's Boots.

Heaven or Las Vegas Album Cover
Heaven or Las Vegas
(1990, 4AD)

Cocteau Twins
Cocteau Twins make sweeping, chiming, melodic, candy music. This is an album I listen to when I feel like inducing a humming, happy trance in myself. I've heard that, in contrast to their other albums, this one's lyrics are written in English instead of a secret, invented language. But I still have no idea what the singer is saying. It makes no never-mind.
The official site.

Dead Can Dance Album Cover
Dead Can Dance
(1984, 4AD)


A Passage In Time Album Cover
A Passage In Time

(1991, 4AD)
Dead Can Dance
This twosome from Australia started off with a synthesized industrial sound that has shifted over the years toward "world music", liberally picking elements from music of various cultures and times and uniting them in songs that are rich in atmosphere and given an angelic, otherworldly feel by the beautiful voice of Lisa Gerrard. (I can't say I like Brendan Perry's voice as much -- it reminds me way too much of Neil Diamond's!)
A comprehensive fan site Dead Can Dance Within.

Songs of Faith and Devotion Album Cover
Songs of Faith and Devotion
(1993, Sire)

Depeche Mode
In high school my friend Kevin was a big fan of Depeche Mode and tried to impress upon me their genius. I went so far as to buy a copy of their album Black Celebration, which I enjoyed for a few months but eventually found too contrived. Also, the band's image as sensitive techno artists, while very appealing to hordes of teenage girls, rubbed me the wrong way. I was equally unimpressed with their shift to sensitive bad boy techno artists on their album Violator, though fleetingly amused by the song "Personal Jesus". But on Songs of Faith and Devotion they really got it right. The synthesized themes are rich and dense, the album flows well from song to song, and the lyrics seem to be a bit more ironic than usual (though I am not the best judge of that). It's quite satisfying.
The official site at Reprise Records.
A comprehensive fan site, Halo's Depeche Mode Site.

Peter Gabriel III Album Cover
Peter Gabriel
(1980, Charisma)


Passion Album Cover
Passion

(1989, Realworld/Virgin)

Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel was my first musical obsession and the only artist to whom I've ever written a fan letter (don't ask what I wrote; I've suppressed the memory). My first Gabriel album was So in 1986. Upon my arrival in college in the fall of that year I proceeded to buy nearly every Gabriel album in existence and spend uncounted hours in brow-furrowed concentration upon his creations. He was also the first musician I ever heard perform in concert. My fandom was a little too intense, however, and burned out within the year. Of all the albums I own, these are the only two I still listen to on a regular basis. Peter Gabriel III has a clean, lean sound that enhances the songs, which are varied and curiously timeless to me. Passion is very different from much of Gabriel's other work (an exception is his other soundtrack album, Birdy). Taking its musical themes and instrumentation from the Middle East and Africa, it is enormously powerful and beautiful.
The official site.
A comprehensive fan site, And Through The Wire.

Duniya Album Cover
Duniya
(1995, Waveform)

Loop Guru
I was introduced to Loop Guru by Dave Clifton, a big techno fan (he even listens to Kraftwerk!), at the KUA Geek Reunion in summer 1996. I'm not sure how to label their music -- techno / tribal / ambient -- all I know is that I like it. I believe their name is a pun on the French word for werewolf, loup-garou, though I have no idea why...
The official site.

Doolittle Album Cover
Doolittle
(1989, 4AD)

The Pixies
Ever startling and "hip", the Pixies achieved a masterpiece with this album, which actually manages to sound sincere from time to time. Their other albums are too smug and knowing to sustain my interest, but this is a keeper.
A comprehensive fan site, e y e b a l l s.

Doolittle Album Cover
The Fat of the Land
(1997, Maverick)

The Prodigy
A product of the rave scene in Essex, England, the Prodigy became a huge success in the US with the release of this album. As well it should be.
A comprehensive fan site, the Online Prodigy Center.

The Bends Album Cover
The Bends
(1995, EMI)


OK Computer Album Cover
OK Computer

(1997, EMI)

Radiohead
One day in 1996 I was visiting Boston on a business trip and found myself listening to WFNX while staring at the ceiling of my cheap hotel room, bored and somewhat depressed. Radiohead's "High and Dry" began playing. I had heard it before, but its beauty and sadness combined with my mood and the all-too-appropriate surroundings to fix it in my mind. Though I knew almost nothing about the band, and couldn't remember hearing any of the other songs from the album, I decided to buy The Bends. Its matter of fact recognition of the loneliness and boredom of much of life, mixed with rushes of emotion and melody, moved me profoundly. Nevertheless, I was not prepared for my reaction to their follow-up album, OK Computer. If The Bends could be described as a collection of stories, OK Computer is a novel. I felt as if I had been drawn into another world. It's an amazing achievement. I wonder what they will come up with next?
The official site. WARNING: Extremely bizarre.
A comprehensive fan site, green plastic radiohead.

Chronic Town Album Cover
Chronic Town EP
(1982, IRS)


Murmur Album Cover
Murmur

(1983, IRS)


Reckoning Album Cover
Reckoning

(1984, IRS)


Fables of the Reconstruction Album Cover
Fables of the Reconstruction

(1985, IRS)

R.E.M.
I first heard R.E.M. in 1987 when their song "The One I Love" was in heavy rotation on the radio. That fall, when I began my sophomore year in college, I borrowed Document from my next-door neighbor and just about wore it out in my crappy tape player. Then he bought Murmur and I became a major fan, not only of the music but of the band itself. I was impressed by the following things: a) the band members shared credit for all the songs they wrote, regardless of who actually wrote them; b) they all lived in the same obscure college town (Athens, GA) and had no intention of moving to New York or L.A.; c) most of their music was indirect if not obscure in its focus, in contrast to the "thought experiment" music of Peter Gabriel; d) Michael Stipe's persona as wise fool.
I've puzzled about what it is that I like so much about their early music and what makes it so distinctive. Certainly there is an unusual approach to chording and an emphasis on consistent rhythm (Peter Buck could barely play the guitar at the time). Also a fusion of the instrumental and the vocal, Stipe's voice being mixed back to the point of incoherence. Stipe's lyrics, when they can be discerned, are often non-sensical or at best "evocative" ("They shifted the statues for harboring ghosts"; "Scratch for scandals in the twilight"). The result, for me, is a dreamlike immersion in the music, a sense of subconscious movement without overt manipulation -- which, to my puzzlement, was achieved with Southern musical elements I had previously associated with folk and country music.
In recent years I've become less interested in the band. When Bill Berry left in late 1997 I gave up hope for them. To my surprise, I really like their first post-Berry album, Up. Wonders never cease.
The official site.
A comprehensive fan site by Jason Zimberoff.
Another one by Kipp Teague.
Lyric annotations compiled by the Usenet group rec.music.rem.
An R.E.M. news site, Murmurs.com.

Melt Album Cover
Melt
(1990, Arista)

Straitjacket Fits
This is one of the very few bands I have been led to by MTV. In the summer/fall of 1991 (remember when MTV used to play videos instead of stupid theme shows?) their single "Down in Splendour" was in fairly frequent rotation, and I was mesmerized by its rich, twisting guitar line and mysterious atmosphere. I bought the album and found that it was more hard-edged and dark than I had expected, which may explain my continuing fascination with it.
The official site at Flying Nun Records.

Blind Album Cover
Blind
(1992, Geffen)

The Sundays
I first knew the Sundays by their album Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, which flavored my jobless, sponging life the summer after I graduated from college. Harriet Wheeler's ironic, at times mean-spirited, lyrics and the band's chiming guitars were a welcome distraction from daily life. But when compared to this second album I find that the first seems a bit lightweight. Blind is a leap forward in sincerity and power. I especially like "Goodbye" and the Rolling Stones cover "Wild Horses".
A comprehensive fan site.

Hunkpapa Album Cover
Hunkpapa
(1989, Sire)


Real Ramona Album Cover
The Real Ramona

(1991, Sire)

Throwing Muses
I was clued in to the existence of Throwing Muses by some alternative music newspaper long before I was capable of understanding them; in an attempt to improve myself musically I bought House Tornado and listened to it a few times, intrigued but completely confused. Some years later I gained enough context to appreciate the genius of their bizarre song arrangements and unique guitar style (though House Tornado is still a little too weird for me). Tanya Donelly has left the band and moved on to a series of other projects, including Belly, the Breeders, and a solo career. Kristin Hersh has continued to put out Throwing Muses albums with a new line-up of musicians, as well as starting her own solo career. Donelly's music appeals more to my aesthetic, but Hersh's Hips and Makers is pretty damn good too.
The official site.

Maxinquaye Album Cover
Maxinquaye
(1995, Sire)

Tricky
I first heard Tricky while shopping for clothes in a second hand store and simply had to know who made this new, strange music. I bought Pre-Millennium Tension the same day and really liked it, though eventually some of the songs seemed to stick out like sore thumbs (yes, it is possible for an album to be too diverse, at least for me). Turning, as I often do, to the web for further information, I found that this earlier album was quite well liked. I got myself a copy and the rest is history... This, as well as the music of Portishead and Massive Attack, is what "trip hop" is all about. A fusion of the spoken word lyrics and sampling of hip-hop and the electronic atmosphere of techno as well as whatever other elements Tricky feels like adding to the mix, this album was and is a revelation.
The official site.
A comprehensive fan site, Apocalypse: Tricky.


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