While their debut full-length only comes in at number seven here, Jawbreaker, and more importantly Blake Schwarzenbach, is one of the most important, influential bands for me. Hearing Dear You and 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, along with Jets to
Soul Asylum had already cranked out three albums and a B-sides collection in the ’80s before dropping And the Horse They Rode In On, but it wasn’t until this album came out in 1990 that the band began to emerge from the shadow of other Minneapolis bands (*kaff!* The Replacements! *kaff!*). While the band would go on to even better things on 1992’s Grave Dancers Union, Soul Asylum’s mix of alt-rock and alt-country was already nearing its potency here. Songs like “Spinnin’” and “Gullible’s Travels” contained twangin’ and stompin’ and some sweet guitar atmospherics. Frontman Dave Pirner was already on his way to sad sack wonderdom with lines like “Everything’s turning / but mostly just turning out wrong.” Overall, Horse turns out to be an underappreciated gem from an underappreciated band.
Ah, Mike Ness, you charmer you. Despite being a Californian,
Tagged as a less bitter, lady-version of The Smiths, The Sundays emerged and returned to seeming nothingness during the late ’80s and ’90s. The group’s first album,
Formed in 1988 and disbanded in 1996, Jawbreaker put out four amazing alternative/punk records, each of which has powerfully affected my life. Their first album, Unfun, took the longest for me to appreciate. Each Jawbreaker album has its own identity, but Unfun catches the band developing an one. Sure, many key elements are in place: Drummer Adam Pfahler’s forceful flash is already there, and you can tell bassist Chris Bauermeister has serious muscle to bend his metal strings. But frontman Blake Schwarzenbach’s lyrics are less driven by guilt and scene politics here. They have more of a college literary magazine quality to them – dense and dark and fairly hard to remember in entirety – but he still knew how to craft a hook or two, like on opening track “Want,” a song that is insanely catchy despite its off-kilter chorus, or on the religious “Eye-5.” After sitting with the record for a few years, I’ve come to love Unfun’s resistance to certain standards. It’s punky and unwieldy like Nirvana’s Bleach, and similarly a prequel to something even greater.
For a long while, Ritual de lo Habitual was the masterstroke finale to an
Pop punkers Green Day (née Sweet Children) were secretly schooled in The Beatles’ pop leanings, something evident in frontman Billy Joe Armtrong’s clean and clear choruses. While the band would get catchier, and really, better, with Kerplunk! and the albums that followed it, 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours shows how much of the band’s aesthetic was already in place from the beginning. A collection of early EPs, Slappy Hours is steeped in Lennon/McCartney songwriting, with a dash of Descendents and Stiff Little Fingers thrown in. People give Armstrong grief for singing with a British accent, but really, can you blame him when his best influences were from across the pond?
The last truly great Depeche Mode record found the band getting darker and more withdrawn. Gone are the socio-political commentaries and personal outreaches. This record is focused solely on the self-absorption of a sexier idea of Depeche Mode. Make them your personal Jesus and they’ll show you the world in their eyes. Alan Gore’s sonic experimentation was streamlined here as well, focused on moods more than textures, if that makes any sense.
Goo has my favorite Sonic Youth song: “Kool Thing.” “Hey Kool Thing,” Kim Gordon dares him. “C’mere, sit down beside me. There’s something I gotta ask. I just wanna know… what are you gonna do for me? I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls from male, white, corporate oppression?” Chuck D, of all people, cheers her on from the sidelines with “Tell ‘em where it hurts. Let er’rybody know!” Stomp and noise, Sonic Youth’s best known qualities, are still here, but they’re coupled with a more pointed mania.
I love this moody, gothic piece of awesomeness. On tracks like “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” and “Sky is a
Perhaps more brutal than the band’s debut, Fugazi’s Repeater is just as brilliant. By this point in the band’s life, Guy Picciotto was a full-time member, even rocking a six-stringer right next to Ian MacKaye. Picciotto’s songwriting took a huge leap forward after his time with emocore fathers Rites of Spring. I hesitate to call it smarter lyrically… less visceral, more polychromatic, maybe. Whatever the case, Picciotto continued to grow and rule hard here. MacKaye meanwhile, continued to dominate. His voice has an everyman anger to it. I understand why some metal/technical hardcore bands go for a deeper growl, something akin to a grizzly bear having hate-sex with a chainsaw. But ultimately, that style sounds too forced and jumbled to me. When I hear MacKaye shout on Repeater, I hear palpable rage and righteous humanity. I feel like I’m actually communicating with a person, lending extra force to lyrics like “You are not what you own.”
NEXT WEEK: teen spirit and the meaning of swirling, 1991.