01. "In Circles" - Sunny Day Real Estate – It’s perhaps a bit cliché to start with a song widely recognized as one of this seminal underground band’s greatest and most-cherished songs – but that would then belittle the fact that such praise is merited. Where as bands like Rites of Spring and Minor Threat are credited with being the precursors to the indie rock sound that became known as “emo,” it was Sunny Day Real Estate who would become the first true emo band. Don’t despair – this isn’t tight jeans and guyliner rock. This was the first wave, true, passionate, emotional rock and roll, played at eardrum-bursting and whisper quiet volumes, full of vocal acrobatics and guitar heroics. Punk’s energy fused with stadium rock’s amplifiers, with some very light salting of metal and progressive rock, and of course, the heart on the sleeve lyrics to lead the way.
02. "Signal" - The Appleseed Cast – I can directly attribute my knowledge of this band to the drummer in my first college band, Frank Vernon. He was obsessed with them (what drummer wouldn’t like all of this cacophony?), and likewise, so became I. This is from their two volume opus, Low Level Owl, a suite of interconnected songs that weave together and create an enthralling tapestry. Unfortunately, most songs from those albums do not translate well to a mix-tape, but rather are meant to be heard in sequence. Nonetheless, this track stands out as one of the best on two album’s worth of stellar musicianship and songwriting, and a breathtaking etherealness that U2 only wishes it could achieve.
03. "A Dethroned King" - Starflyer 59 – Another band I heard about from our drummer. You’d find Starflyer 59 records in a Christian book store, and yet they don’t follow the mold of most godrock bands – copy the latest alterna-rock craze and cash in. At least not on this record. Here, you find a band following their own muse, mixing pop, alternative rock, and “shoegaze” to great effect, rocking hard without being preachy. Too bad more godrock isn’t this damned good.
04. "Target" – Snapcase – Credit here goes to the lead singer and good friend Wes Erwin, who was obsessed with hardcore bands and – no joke – Brittney Spears. No “hit me baby” here, though. Just pure energy, like a rocket taking off – in your face. The way this music sounds, it’s almost athletic. It’s in your face nonstop, it has a message, it goes for the throat and never quits.
05. "High Noon" – Juno – I discovered Juno (on the CD and favorite track below) by accident – looking for the band Joan of Arc. Browsing the CD bins at TD’s CDs and LPs (rest in peace, Tom!), I came upon an awesome album cover, and the rest was history. This track made it easy to play an awesome band I loved, without killing 10 minutes of my Radio Bliss (see below).
06. "Modern Gang Reader" – Ativin – I discovered Ativin in the “local bands” section of our in-studio library at WIUS. I pulled out a disc, dropped it in, hit play. What I found was some weird-ass angular skronk – on the fringes of “math rock,” perhaps, but something more. It’s sinister at times. Melodic at others. They were on Secretly Canadian at the time, and they were students/former students at IU. And they were some of the nicest guys you’ll every meet. I remember interviewing Chris Carothers for a project for one of my journalism classes, and came away with an entirely new level of respect for the band. Some of these gents will show up in a band later, but this was my introduction to Ativin, and is by far my favorite track under this name.
07. "8" - Sunny Day Real Estate – You’ll notice a few repeat bands scattered throughout these albums. Note these as the very important ones, and you’ll do well at the test at the end of the class. I just can’t say enough about SDRE. Wes was instrumental in getting me into this song, off the album LP2, also known as the “pink album.” They broke up after releasing the pink album, with lead singer Jeremy Enigk announcing he had become a born-again Christian. It didn’t effect the glorious results of the music. And, thankfully, the band would reunite soon, and record more great music. This track stands out as one of my all-time faves by this classically underrated band. Of interesting note – my first college band “formed” on the way home from a SDRE show in Cincinnati. After an amazing performance, Wes, Frank and I made our minds up to form a band, to play this kind of music. Our friend Rob Chamness was kind enough to put up with our ramblings, then later helped us get our first gig. He was never the official road manager, but he might as well have been. The genesis was all right here, in the car ride back to Bloomington on a cold winter’s evening, with the echoes of amplifiers still ringing in our ears, and the warmth of one of the greatest concerts any of us had ever seen still burning in our hearts. Yeah, I make it seem sugary and poetic, but it can’t be said enough – this band was amazing, and there has never been a band labeled “emo” or otherwise that could come anywhere near close to touching the greatness and grandeur that was Sunny Day Real Estate.
08. "Christmas Steps" - Mogwai – Instrumental math rock from Scotland. They like to play a while. There is something so beautiful in the way they build their songs. This track in particular is a magnum opus. I found Mogwai in the studio, and intrigued by the name, gave them a spin. It’s amazing how much music I discovered, in the studio and at TDs and All Ears, based on the title of the band or record or the artwork of the disc alone. The scope of records in my collection that were bought “sight unheard,” as I like to say, is amazing. Even more amazing is the fact that maybe 3% off those records sucked – the rest were solid gold. Anyway, Mogwai was a good band, and was an excellent way to kill time in the studio – put this 10+ minutes track on and go looking for more stuff to play! I do sincerely love this track, though – it has great feeling.
09. "Only Shallow" - My Bloody Valentine – MBV are usually credited with beginning the “shoegaze” movement – so called because the members of the bands rarely looked up and out into the audience, but rather stayed transfixed on the floor or on their instruments and gear. This is the opening track off of the band’s definitive record, Loveless. The recording budget for this one record alone bankrupted the label they were on, and they never built on the promise of this amazing record – they have still yet to record a follow up record. Most figure that band leader/guitar maestro Kevin Shields couldn’t face the prospect of trying to live up to such a critically acclaimed record. It deserves all of the praise it gets – from Bob Mould, he of Husker Du and Sugar fame, to more lesser known acts such as Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins and Kurt Cobain from Nirvana. Eh? EH?!? You’re putting the pieces together in your head right now, aren’t you? The fuzzy feedback squeals all over In Utero? The complex army of layered guitars on Siamese Dream? None of it possible without Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. Before you dismiss this as samplers, synthesizers and studio trickery, remember one thing – none of those things are true. What you have here is four people, playing guitar, bass, and drums, and singing. Sure, there may be a keyboard here and there, but not as many as you’d think. No, the orchestral swells and symphonic strings are all the results of guitar work – standing as close to a large stack of amplifiers, cranked up as loud as they could go, and painting soundscapes. Which explains the other reason Kevin Shields never recorded a follow-up – he was nearly deaf after recording this album and taking the masterwork on tour.
10. "The Sound of Waves" - Seki – This was one of those rare “top shelf” finds. I discovered “The Sound of Waves” and didn’t look back – it became a staple of my show that first year. I often dedicated to my friend Amanda, my first college crush. Smart, funny, sexy – she was everything a guy like me wanted… that is, until Rush Week. Sorority girls. Damn. Lost another one, another good fight ends in defeat. Regardless, this shares the same qualities as Ativin and Mogwai, and truth be told was likely my doorway into those bands. Dense and textured, it’s another piece of music that feels truly built and orchestrated – not just three chords and a song in the heart, but rather a vision of madness brought to stunning life.
11. "Blueprint" - Fugazi – The flagship Do It Yourself (DIY) band. Fugazi set the stage for thousands upon thousands of independent bands to record and print up their own records, organize their own tours, and do things their own way. Plus, Fugazi never – EVER – sold out. Their mixture of dub/reggae rhythms, punk rock, and hardcore spirit still resonates with youth today, and the brilliant interplay of the musicians is typically jaw-dropping. Never ones to mince words, the band delivered message after message to their fans to stand up for their rights, don’t sell out, and be your own person. Featuring members of both seminal hardcore (and pre-emo) bands Rites of Spring and Minor Threat, Fugazi was like an indie rock super band – one that always lived up to its top billing.
12. "I Would Hurt A Fly" - Built To Spill – Somewhere in a small Idaho farm town sits Doug Martsh, crafting ungodly works of staggering guitar genius. Another band that was simply brutal in concert (God, I love how many of these guys I actually got to see in their heyday!), Built to Spill was really just one man. That man plays the hell out of a guitar. Perfect From Now Own is a holy grail in the indie rock world, with good reason – no one else had yet took the blueprint that Neil Young set down with “Cortez The Killer” and ran with it.
13. "JC Auto" - Sugar – After recording “File Under: Easy Listening” with his new band Sugar, Bob Mould had some left over tracks (one of these things is not like the others!) that needed an outlet. Where as FU:EL was packed full of punk-pop gems, the Beaster EP was a return to Mould’s previous form in Husker Du. What you got was one hell of an incendiary guitar tone, and a lot of attitude. I love the chorus, where Mould does his best Frank Black impression and shrieks his way through - "I'm not your Jesus Christ - I know, I know, I know, I know!" The song takes you for a strong ride, never letting up until Mould has shrieked his last please that he is not, in fact, your Jesus Christ. I know. And now, so do you, if you found a way to survive the buzzsaw guitar.
14. "The Sea Looked Like Lead" - Juno - I have mentioned Juno previously - see track 5, on this here disc 1 - and here, they go to great lengths to please the masses of epic, sprawling guitar rock with this 8+ minute album closer. From the aforementioned album I bought on cool-looking cover alone - This is the Way It Goes & Goes & Goes. I like the way this song tells a story of betrayal, all calm and serene at first, until all hell breaks loose at the end. The band ends up cresting like a tsunami wave, never letting up until the bitter, arching, and epic end. My first band, Endolori, had a song like this - "Ocean of Ash, Dust, and Stars" - directly influenced by this track. I didn't quite pull it off, but the feeling was almost there. God what I wouldn't give for the chance to play and record music this epic, carefree, and devestating.
15. "Bleeding Orange" - Snapcase - If you are angry at work, then this is the song for you. Work for yourself. Another split lip, another message delivered with savage fury. And that damned walking bassline in the intro kills me every time. These guys killed - KILLED - in concert, even when half the band had the flu and they only played a nine song set. They played this. I went nuts. Never was a big hardcore fan, but in my humble and now admittedly revealed not fully formed opinion, there was no better hardcore band than Snapcase. How they create these textures, this anger, this righteousness, I don't know. I know only that many, many hardcore bands fail to catch the thread, and sound like cheap pussy knockoffs.
16. "Waterfront Park" - Killwatthours - This may or may not have been a Top Shelf find. It may or may not have been a sight unheard purchase. Either way, it was in the studio, and I did play the hell out of it. I so wanted this band to do more - I loved the interplay of the guitar and the piano. They remind me a bit of The Appleseed Cast. It's great driving music, or lounging around music, or cleaning house, or taking a nap music. It just... fits. Again, another band that out U2's U2.