Over the past two years, there’s been such a remarkable abundance of great music by female artists in the overlapping territories of alt-country, roots, and Americana that it could fill this playlist many times over. From the folky, sepulchral sounds of Pieta Brown, to the Kitty Wells-style honky-tonk throwbacks of Rachel Brooke, to the raw and tender country blues of Adia Victoria (pictured), it’s a boom time all round.That said, trying to fit a disparate group of artists into a tidy category that’s based in part on their gender can’t help but feel unfairly reductive. Hell, it may even perpetuate the kind of backward sexual politics that persist in the worst of American country music and that many artists understandably buck against. Back in 2014, the duo Maddie & Tae scored a surprise smash with “Girl In A Country Song,” a bouncy piece of C&W pop that doubled as an unusually acerbic satire of the ways women are typically represented by Nashville. “We used to get a little respect,” goes the chorus. “Now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck/ Keep our mouths shut and ride along/ And be the girl in a country song.” Three years later, with “bro-country” acts like Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, and Chase Rice doubling down on innuendo-laden tailgate-party anthems and yet more videos with models in bikinis, mainstream country needs that kind of skewering even more.Lest all this just serve as another reason for alt-country hipsters to feel smug about their superior tastes, even they ought to admit that there ain’t much gender parity when it comes to the artists who generally cross over from the No Depression crowd and gain wider renown and success. After all, there are many more female acts who’ve been just as willing as Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson to pursue a richer, more adventurous kind of artistry than Nashville generally tolerates. They too deserve to garner audiences beyond the flannel-clad roots-music devotees who already recognize the virtues of Rhiannon Giddens’ revamps of old-time spirituals, savor the gilded harmonies of The Trishas, or tremble at the sound of Tift Merritt’s warble.This bounty of talent ranges from newbies like Kacy & Clayton (a Canadian duo who’ve become protégés of Jeff Tweedy) and Molly Burch (an Austinite blessed with a voice whose chilly beauty evokes Patsy Cline and Karen Dalton at their most desolate) to Shelby Lynne and Alison Moorer, sisters and alt-country vets who demonstrate their own dexterity by combining covers of Townes Van Zandt and Nirvana on their new album Not Dark Yet. These are the alt-country women you need to hear if you haven’t been so lucky already. Big-hatted bros best take heed.
In the 10 years since London’s enigmatic Burial released his boundary-breaking sophomore LP Untrue, the face of electronic music has changed dramatically. Not only have new arenas opened up for ambient-leaning producers to bring their experimental soundscapes into the spotlight, but the divisions between such typically at-home forms of listening and more club-oriented sounds have continued to blur. Though his releases seem to come less and less frequently, Burial’s thumbprint still courses through dance music today, whether in his haunting, intimate use of vocal samples, his brisk, tactile beats, or his free wandering into the kind of ethereal abstraction usually reserved for avant-garde composers.Part of what made Burial’s sound on Untrue so inspiring was his willingness to tackle original rhythms, without regard for what scenes he might be breaching. At turns reminiscent of house, garage, dubstep, and hardcore, Untrue is as bracingly pulsing as it is forlorn and relaxed, capturing the sounds of dance music at their most provocative, enveloping, romantic, and pain-ridden all at once. You can hear his influence in the dark nightclub ruminations of Dean Blunt, the grimy bass sculptures of Andy Stott, the ethereal beatmaking of Jamie xx, and even the minimal rhythms of latter-day Radiohead—all of whom have taken his blueprint for emotional, mysterious dance music and carried it valiantly forward into the future. Burial left an undeniable mark on music with Untrue, and with this playlist, we explore the many ways that his vision lives on today.
Punks various origin stories have been documented ad infinitum, and through them, the movements myriad influences have been enshrined in a familiar proto-punk canon. It includes everything from the snotty 60s garage-rock bands compiled on Lenny Kayes Nuggets compilation to the metallic Motor City soul of the MC5 to the sleazy glam of the New York Dolls to the proletariat pub rock of Dr. Feelgood. But while theres no denying the impact these groups had on punks inaugural class-of-76, to 2018 ears, a lot of them can sound, well, a little tame. Sure, a Nuggets standard like The Standells "Dirty Water" oozes bratty attitude, but its really no more threatening than the average golden oldie. And while the brash swagger of the New York Dolls still resounds, they essentially sound like a more irreverent Rolling Stones.But in this playlist, we highlight the pre-punk songs that, to this day, sound every bit as violent and visceral as what followed. Certainly, theres some expected names: Iggy and the Stooges 1972 thrasher "I Got a Right" actually blows past punk completely to invent hardcore a good six years early. And the nastiest of Nuggets, like The Music Machines "Talk Talk," still hit like a leather-gloved fist to the face. But there also are a number of classic-rock icons here who, in their most unhinged and primordial states, rival anything punk coughed up——listen to John Lennon shred his throat into a bloody pulp on "Well Well Well," or Deep Purple fuse 50s hot-rod rock and 70s metal on "Speed King." Punk may have preached "no future," but these songs still blaze like theres no past.
“Break On Through (To the Other Side)” is both a feral howl of desire and dislocation and a sleek, supple creature that darts and pounces in a manner at once sinuous and sinewy. The Doors’ 1967 debut single, urging a shattering of society’s constrictions, served notice that there was something new happening, the likes of which no one had seen before. Its simultaneously explosive and seductive power embedded it irreversibly not only in the mood of the moment but also in the very fabric of American culture forever after. We recently reached out to Doors guitarist Robby Kreiger about the songs origins and heres what he told us:“We were working up “Break on Through” in rehearsal. John came up with this bossa nova beat. I didnt think it would work, but he said it would, and he was right. I had the idea to use the type of riff that Paul Butterfield used on Shake your Moneymaker. I wouldn’t say I stole it, just borrowed it. With Ray’s vox organ, it was sounding good! The lyrics were some of Jim’s best. As we played it at more and more gigs it got better and better. The only regret i had was that we let them cut out the word high from ‘she gets high’ on the single version. I guess that was too controversial for the AM radio, but we made up for that on the Ed Sullivan show (by singing), ‘get much higher.’ LOL”While its origins are relatively modest, its impact is far-reaching. Below, we’ll look at how the song changed The Doors and rock ‘n’ roll forever.Arrival of the Rock Gods"Break On Through" was The Doors introduction to the world—their first single as well as the first track on their debut album. It was the opening salvo of a four-man rock n roll revolution that would fill the collective cultural consciousness with a heady brew of sex, poetry, anger, beauty, and indelible tunes. The songs urgent entry into the publics ears marked the auspicious arrival of a group that would remain real-deal rock deities even decades after disbanding.The Real Start of the 60sThe Doors anthem of social sedition, fueled in part by Jim Morrisons use of LSD as a mind-expanding tool, arrived at the start of 1967, the year the 60s really became the sixties. The blend of gritty garage-rock tonalities and lithe, bossa nova-influenced grooves that rippled through “Break On Through” framed an invitation to abandon the cage of convention and leap headfirst into a bold, burgeoning countercultural realm. In that sense, for many it heralded the onset of the Aquarian age.Rock n Roll PoetryArriving ahead of game-changers like Sgt. Peppers and Songs of Leonard Cohen, "Break On Through" brought the world a brand of rock poetry that had nothing to do with Dylan. From its very first lines—"You know the day destroys the night/ Night divides the day"—it gave a glimpse of the possibilities still in store for rock n roll lyrics, possibilities Morrison fearlessly explored for the rest of his tragically short life.Trail of TributesIts a sure sign of a songs staying power when it appears in all sorts of disparate circumstances generations after its release. Any tune that can be covered by metal supergroup Adrenaline Mob, grunge gurus Stone Temple Pilots, power-pop heroes The Knack, and avant-garde guitar god Marc Ribot, as well as being sampled by hip-hop stoners Cypress Hill and Danish neo-garage rockers The Raveonettes, has got some serious shelf life.The Ultimate HonorIt would be absurdly easy to unfurl a laundry list of the countless times “Break On Through” has been used in movies, TV shows, and video games. And do you really need to know much beyond the fact that it was belted out on The Simpsons by Krusty the Clown himself, clad in Morrison-esque attire and writhing on the floor à la The Lizard King?
"Strange days have found us, and through their strange hours we linger alone" – Jim Morrison"Beauty always has an element of strangeness" – Charles BaudelaireThere was always something dangerous about The Doors. From the very beginning it was blindingly obvious that they stood far apart from the rest of the 60s Sunset Strip scene, not to mention the entire rock world. Sophistication? Sure. Darkness? Undoubtedly. Sensuality? You bet. Blend all of the above with a generous dose of transgression and you start to zero in on The Doors magic mixture. Not coincidentally, that same confluence of elements is pretty much the definition of 19th century Frances Symbolist poetry movement, as epitomized by Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud. It was an influence that is obvious to any fan of both The Doors and the French Symbolist, but it’s also an influence that Morrison spoke to when he mailed French literature expert and Duke professor Wallace Fowlie, thanking him for producing a translation of Rimbuad’s complete poems, and relaying, "I dont read French that easily. . . . I am a rock singer and your book travels around with me."If course, Morrison was hardly the only singer of that era to be influenced by poetry. The second half of the 60s saw a giant evolutionary leap for rock n roll lyrics, one that inspired fans to append the "poetry" label to rock for the first time. Bob Dylan got that ball rolling, followed closely by The Beatles, but the arrival of The Doors gave the rock-as-poetry concept an even bigger boost of an entirely different kind. Jim Morrison was rocks first real poetic enfant terrible, an heir at last to the moody mien of poetrys original dark princes, Baudelaire and Rimbaud. It was all right there in The Doors very first introduction to the world at large. The first line of their first single, "Break on Through (To the Other Side)," which was also the opening cut on their debut album, immediately served notice of Morrisons intentions. "You know the day destroys the night, night divides the day" was both a world away from what was coming out of most rock singers mouths and an entirely different kind of enhanced lyricism than that of Dylan or John Lennon.Dylan and Lennon dazzled their disciples with phantasmagorical, LSD-aided imagery perfectly in tune with the psychedelically stimulated times. But while acid undeniably acted as a launching pad for some of Morrisons lyrics, The Doors werent wowing fans with "tangerine trees and marmalade skies" or gently calling to Mr. Tambourine Man in search of a "jingle-jangle morning." Sure, Morrison was a lyricist who liked to paint vivid, sometimes psychedelic pictures with words. But he was also a libertine who loved nothing better than to line up taboos and, well, break on through to the other side. In all of these things, he was blazing his own trail on a path begun a century earlier by Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and company. Like The Doors singer, the French Symbolist poets were iconoclastic hedonists for whom nothing was more important than the derangement of the senses in the service of experiencing lifes absurd carnival to its fullest and finding an artful way to describe it. The bad boys of their eras literary scene, they might have been rock stars if the possibility existed at the time. But their visions burned as deeply and brightly as anything to emerge since. Morrison drew as much from these transgressive poets as he did from John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. He was an avowed admirer of their dark visions, from Baudelaires deliriously decadent Flowers of Evil to Rimbauds daring A Season in Hell. There was even a book dedicated solely to the topic of Morrisons relation to Rimbaud. But if you want to pick up on the connection all you need to do is listen.Its not so far a leap, for instance, from The Doors "End of the Night" to Baudelaires "Death of the Poor." The former finds Morrison crooning:
Realms of bliss, realms of lightSome are born to sweet delightSome are born to sweet delightSome are born to the endless night
In the latter, Baudelaire declares:
It is death who gives us life in excitationIt is the end of life, the one hope, the one delightThat, divine elixir, is our IntoxicationAnd which gives us the heart to follow the endless night
Parallels between Morrison and Rimbaud arent tough to spot either. Take the opening of the latters legendary A Season in Hell:
Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.One evening I seated Beauty on my knees. And I founder bitter. And I cursed her.I armed myself against justice.I fled. O Witches, Misery, Hate, to you has my treasure been entrusted!
It doesnt require a great contortion of sensibility to draw a line between that and "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)," where Morrison cries:Listen to this, Ill tell you about the heartacheIll tell you about the heartache and the loss of GodIll tell you about the hopeless nightThe meager food for souls forgotIll tell you about the maiden with wrought iron soulMorrison never seemed to be aping his influences, but its certainly possible to imagine that he and the poets he admired were reporting from the same spiritual/psychological precipice. Of course, Morrison wasnt content to be considered merely a "rock poet" either; he published two books of his own verse, eventually combined as The Lords and The New Creatures. But The Doors singular mix of music and imagery remains the most intoxicating indication of the Symbolists sway over Morrison.
When it comes to rock ’n’ roll sans boys, sisters were doin’ it for themselves all over the globe as far back as the mid-’60s. Half-baked historians tend to trot out ’70s bands like Fanny or The Runaways as examples of rock’s first self-contained all-female bands, probably because—though hardly stars—they became better known than most of their forebears. But the fact is that when the mid-’60s garage-rock phenomenon was inspiring tons of teenagers to bust out guitars and drums, eschew aural niceties, and start playing guts-and-gravel rock ’n’ roll, there was no shortage of young women revving up for the revolution.In the U.S., distaff ’60s bands were thick on the ground. Goldie & The Gingerbreads, the launching pad for respected rocker Genya Ravan, were probably the first, getting together in New York City in 1962. But within a couple of years, they were joined by The Pleasure Seekers (including future glam-rock star Suzi Quatro alongside her sisters), The Debutantes, The Luv’d Ones, and hordes of others.But America wasn’t the only place where this phenomenon was being forged. England had its own female Merseybeat band in The Liverbirds, while Germany had Die Sweeties, and Indonesia boasted Dara Puspita. Quebec gave Canada Les Intrigantes, and Las Mosquitas generated a buzz (sorry) in Argentina, while Sanjalice showed up in Yugoslavia. Some of these bands were cutting covers of the hits of the day, but a lot were writing their own tunes, and even if the bands that made the femme-rock underground of the ’60s never really found their way to fame and fortune, they still made a crucial contribution to the culture. In an era when the women’s movement was just getting underway, the original Riot Grrrls made it clear that guys didn’t have a monopoly on rocking out.For more ladies of the first generation of rock, read Jim Allens story on pleasekillme.comhere.
Get set to realign what you thought you knew about some of your favorite songs—specifically, their origins. The past several decades have been loaded with widely loved tunes that have secret pasts. From rock staples to pop anthems to soul milestones, heres a heavy batch of classic cuts you never knew were not the original versions.Some one-hit wonders even built their entire careers off a stealth cover. Toni Basil’s lone success, the 1982 No. 1 “Mickey,” was the result of gender-tweaking a 1979 tune called “Kitty” by British glam-rockers Racey.You wouldn’t have wanted to be a member of Motown group The Undisputed Truth when their minor 1972 hit “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” found a place in the R&B pantheon courtesy of The Temptations’ version later that same year. The New Wave era brought plenty more. Blondie’s 1978 single “Hanging on the Telephone” first found life as the opening cut on power-pop cult heroes The Nerves lone release, a self-titled 1976 EP. Bow Wow Wow’s ’80s smash “I Want Candy” was originally written and recorded in 1965 by The Strangeloves, a band that included future Blondie producer Richard Gottehrer. Even some artists famous for revamping classic tunes have been known to slip one by. Though Joan Jett scored a bunch of hits by rebooting other artists’ songs, most people are unaware that her biggest track, “I Love Rock ’N Roll,” was a 1975 glam-rock nugget by The Arrows.A decade later, The Lemonheads were another act known for covers whose biggest single was widely mistaken for an original. “Into Your Arms” originated not with Evan Dando but with the Australian duo Love Positions, who released it in 1989, after which band member Nic Dalton joined The Lemonheads, eventuating their version of the tune.Even ex-Beatles were part of the phenomenon. One of the biggest hits of George Harrison’s solo career was 1987’s “Got My Mind Set On You.” The song never gained much traction in its 1962 release by R&B singer James Ray, but George became familiar with it and retained it all those years later. One of the things this goes to show is that you never can tell where a great song will wind up.
It was in the summertime half a century ago that the world first met one of the great American bands, a group that would reach sky-high success while retaining a resolutely rootsy, earthbound sound. Creedence Clearwater Revivals 1968 debut album introduced guitar-playing brothers John and Tom Fogerty, drummer Doug Clifford, and bassist Stu Cook, four young men out of El Cerrito in the San Francisco Bay Area. But while they emerged in a place and time where trippy psychedelic visions where the order of the day, CCR bucked the trends and instead tapped into a rich, traditional seam of American music that connected to blues, country, rockabilly, gospel, folk, and R&B.When their contemporaries were unfurling mind-bending musical excursions with elaborate productions that included everything but the proverbial kitchen sink, Creedence crashed into the upper rungs of the album and singles charts with songs that wasted nary a note or word, overflowing with raw soul and unbridled energy. They cranked out 10 Top 40 singles, six Platinum albums, and one Gold in just four intensely prolific years, all powered by John Fogertys gut-level growl, with the rest of the band providing just the right kind of gritty, in-the-pocket punch to propel CCRs vision.
Of all the many artists and songwriters who cited the Doors’ mercurial frontman as an inspiration, no fan may have been quite as ardent as Patti Smith. “Jim Morrison probably got the closest to being an artist within rock and roll,” she once said. “His death made me sadder than anyone’s. He was really a great poet.”That last word is an especially significant one. When the Doors’ career as Elektra recording artists was launched with the release of “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” on the first day of 1967, the idea that a poet had any business being in a rock ‘n’ roll band was still a radical one. Claiming Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire as his own heroes, Morrison was determined to bring a sensibility that was both unabashedly literary yet as sexy and dangerous as you’d hope for from a guy who looked so good in tight black leather pants. As a rock ‘n’ roll poet, Morrison had also introduce explicitly adult content and subversive themes into a musical form that was still marketed first and foremost to teenagers. No wonder that “Break on Through” sparked the first of many controversies for the Doors when Elektra balked at releasing it with its original lyric “she gets high” lest such a blatant drug reference offend radio programmers. The single flopped anyway, only later becoming one of the Doors’ signature songs.That first single also served as an opening salvo for a band whose musical ideas proved just as influential as Morrison’s lyrical provocations. Robbie Krieger’s spidery guitar lines were as distinctive as the Ray Manzarek keyboard sound the band used in place of bass guitar. And while drummer John Densmore was capable of supplying all the required force and momentum, his rhythms were equally suggestive of non-rock influences like bossa nova and German cabaret music. The latter influence signposted when a cover of “Alabama Song” showed up alongside that debut single and the band’s first true hit “Light My Fire” on the Doors’ self-titled album.The wild, passionate and daring music that followed the Doors’ first recordings was bound to make a strong impression on musicians for generations. Sometimes this influence was glaringly obvious. That was certainly the case for vocalists who’d perform with the surviving Doors in the years after Morrison’s death in 1971, starting with the fellow rock legend who very nearly replaced him: Iggy Pop. Such was Iggy’s admiration for Morrison that he smuggled many of the Lizard King’s lyrics inside his own songs, including “The Passenger”. Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland and the Cult’s Ian Astbury were two more Morrison devotees who fronted later versions of the Doors.Despite the punks’ oft-stated disdain for hippies, many of the blank generation’s key acts were Doors fans, too. Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen even described the band as “the most perfect and compatible four musicians in the history of time.” Siouxsie & The Banshees considered them a core inspiration, later covering “You’re Lost, Little Girl” and “Hello I Love You.” Legendary Manchester producer Martin Hannett modeled his productions for Joy Division on the sound of Waiting for the Sun. Meanwhile, the Stranglers’ use of keyboards explicitly evoked Manzarek’s and the spare, eerie feel of “The End” was closely studied by Bauhaus. Then there was the example Morrison set with his rich baritone and literary gravitas for heavy-duty singers and songwriters like Nick Cave and Mark Lanegan. X and the Gun Club were two of many later bands from the Doors’ hometown of Los Angeles acknowledged their stylistic debt.More recently, retro-rockers like Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Allah Las have been equally brazen about their devotion. Indeed, the realm of the Lizard King is and always has been a crowded one – this playlist serves as your passageway.
Psychedelic culture stands at the cusp of mainstream acceptance. This may sound odd given the fact that the United States still includes LSD, psilocybin, and numerous other hallucinogens on the list of Schedule I substances, but there are many signs. Academia is in the midst of a psychedelic renaissance, with Johns Hopkins University leading the way in exploring the therapeutic benefits, while tales abound of California techies microdosing. And though marijuana is not an hallucinogen, per se, it is culturally linked to psychedelics, and it’s legal in 30 states and counting. Then there’s the recent publication of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. The book, written by celebrated author and journalist Michael Pollan, cracked the Top 10 of Amazon’s books charts and is sure to further accelerate the field’s growing respectability.Such developments were unthinkable in the mid-’60s when psychedelics, helping fuel the counterculture’s alienation from mainstream American culture and politics, were pushed underground through prohibition. Having been booted out of Harvard University in 1963, outlaw psychonaut Timothy Leary (in)famously exhorted America’s youth to “turn on, tune in, drop out”; Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, meanwhile, kickstarted the hippie movement with their Bay Area Acid Tests. Rock ’n’ roll played a central role in the spreading of this psychedelic gospel. As musicians themselves experimented with hallucinogens, they in turn penned anthems charting their consciousness-expanding adventures.The first wave of anthems, probably more inspired by cannabis than hallucinogens, sound rather innocuous, even goofy in hindsight. Bob Dylan’s double entendre-laced “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” wraps early “head” humor inside a marching band sing-along, and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” sways with childlike innocence as John Sebastian croons the slyly suggestive lines, “And you can be sure that if you’re feeling right/ A day dream will last long into the night.”In 1966, however, the folksy playfulness of these tunes gave way to noggin-blurring proselytizing. The Beatles—whom Leary, in one of his typically hyperbolic bursts of cosmic thought, described as being “endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species”—led the charge. The group dropped both “Tomorrow Never Knows,” perhaps the first rock song to truly drone, and “She Said She Said,” a cryptic reference to an acid trip with Easy Rider actor Peter Fonda, into the sonically phantasmagoric Revolver. The Byrds kept apace, unleashing “Eight Miles High,” which certainly matched “Tomorrow Never Knows” in its ability to express the acid experience through mystical lyricism and raga-flavored music.The following year, 1967, saw the Jefferson Airplane and The Doors up the ante with “White Rabbit” and “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” respectively. Both are stirring—though radically different—evocations of West Coast’s exploding psychedelic movement. Where “White Rabbit” is a whimsical call to action drenched in Alice in Wonderland imagery, “Break On Through” comes on like a freight train threatening to jump the tracks. Its expression of a consciousness freed is reckless and unnerving (but also utterly thrilling).It’s important to remember that The Doors, named for Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, a chronicle of the author’s experiences with mescaline, weren’t flower-picking hippies; they were art-school bohemians whose music charted the shadowy side of psychedelia, especially the sense of loss and disconnect that comes with untethering the mind from reality. As Patrick Lundborg points out in his 2012 book Psychedelia: An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way of Life, “In that tumultuous era, as acidhead musicians directed their creativity towards reflecting their psychedelic experiences, the looming threat and occasional reality of dark, terrifying trips unavoidably came to influence the music.”This ominousness courses through The 13th Floor Elevators’ “Slip Inside This House” and Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” two of the era’s most emotionally complex anthems. The former, swirling into vortices of reverb, creates a profoundly esoteric vision, over the course of which the promise of spiritual enlightenment and the dangers of ego death coil around one another like snakes. Pink Floyd’s early anthem, on the other hand, is a cold, paranoid, and atonal portrayal of an acid trip as a rocket ride into the black expanse of space. Needless to say, both walk the existential edge, a fact that should come as no surprise considering both the Elevators’ Roky Erickson and Floyd’s Syd Barrett embodied the excesses of the psychedelic era: psychonauts who wound up venturing too far out, damaging themselves in the process.In the United States and United Kingdom, the golden era of the psychedelic anthem didn’t last all that long, roughly 1966 to 1969. By the time Woodstock went down, more and more musicians were eschewing cosmic exploration for earthbound rock heavily accented with country, soul, and blues. The visionary utopianism so profoundly linked to altered states of consciousness simply couldn’t weather the harsh realities of a war in Vietnam that seemingly had no end in sight, the ascendency of Richard M. Nixon and his Silent Majority to the Oval Office, and the brutal Civil Rights unrest of 1968. Hippies, reeling from these bitter developments, embraced more personal forms of enlightenment: yoga, meditation, and health food, to name a few. Or, they bolted for the country.Exceptions did pop up, like Funkadelic’s moodily sublime “Maggot Brain,” not an anthem in the strictest sense yet certainly a powerful expression of mind-smashing lysergia. There also were late-to-evolve psychedelic scenes in central Europe and Japan, where hippiedom didn’t take hold until the early ’70s. A perfect reflection of this is the Switzerland-based Brainticket, whose 1971 epic “Brainticket (Part Two)” really is one of the most over-the-top anthems of the era. It’s tough to imagine anything better capturing the wild, transgressive spirit of the times than when vocalist Dawn Muir moans the line “An army of thoughts retreating towards oblivion/ A square of light, a circle of thought, a triangle of nothing!!!” as though she’s descending her entire being into an LSD-fueled orgy from which there is no return.As with most of the expansive pieces on this playlist, it’s safe to say the researchers at Johns Hopkins don’t play a whole lot of Brianticket around the lab!
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.