"With the band itself falling to bits shortly after the March 1985 debut of First and Last and Always, the album's place in the skewed history of the rise of goth rock would, on one hand, be permanently linked with that discord but, on the other, not impacted in the slightest, leaving the fractious set's success and structure to become a blueprint for an entire generation of up-and-comers. With static drumbeats and jangle-angled guitars backing Andrew Eldritch's atonic, graveyard vocals, the songs on First and Last and Always paid to play alongside the ghosts of myriad forgotten post-punkers as well as the band's own goth forebears. From the opening air-fire claustrophobia of "Black Planet" to the melancholy "No Time to Cry," Eldritch continually assured listeners that "everything's gonna be alright" — but, really, coming out of that mouth, did anyone actually believe him? Even on the occasional wobbly patches imbedded in the now classic "Marian" and the title track, where the song threatens to dissolve into irrelevance despite Eldritch's chirky vocal, they pull up wonderfully on the bass-driven, bee-stung guitar gem "Possession" and the closing "Some Kind of Stranger," an untouchable epic that, clocking in at over seven minutes, is the best of its kind from any time — period. "Some Kind of Stranger" not only became a love song for the doom and gloom crowd, but was also an anthemic, anemic declaration of intent laid bare in a haze of sonic smoke and mirrors. Copied to death, its brilliance has never been replicated. Indeed, the entire album remains unequaled in the genre, permanently granted top place on a pedestal from which it cannot be toppled."
"Following a series of single and EP releases that had found chart success in the U.K. and indie credibility in the States, the British band Curve released their full-length debut Doppelganger on Dave Stewart's Anxious label. Led by lead singer Toni Halliday and guitarist Dean Garcia, both of whom had toured with Robert Plant, Curve enlisted production help from Flood for this record. Roaming the same sonic landscape as My Bloody Valentine, Doppelganger features the breathy, dreamy vocals of Halliday over top layers of throbbing guitar, dense keyboards, and sledgehammer drumming to create formidable aural textures. At times meandering and unrelenting, tracks like "Already Yours" and "Wish You Dead" are stellar workouts full of rhythm and attitude. The few slower numbers are a nice change of pace with the best results on "Fait Accompli" and the quiet, almost dirge-like "Sandpit," where the less dense instrumentation allows Halliday's vocals to become the focal point. At times menacing and dark and other times more playful, Doppelganger is a bracing listening experience that earned Curve well-deserved attention on both sides of the Atlantic."
"On Step in the Arena, DJ Premier and Guru hit upon their mature sound, characterized by sparse, live jazz samples, Premier's cut-up scratching, and Guru's direct, unwavering streetwise monotone; but, with Daily Operation, the duo made their first masterpiece. From beginning to end, Gang Starr's third full-length album cuts with the force and precision of a machete and serves as an ode to and representation of New York and hip-hop underground culture. The genius of Daily Operation is that Guru's microphone skills are perfectly married to the best batch of tracks Premier had ever come up with. Guru has more of a presence than he has ever had, slinking and pacing through each song like a man with things on his mind, ready to go off at any second. Premier's production has an unparalleled edge here. He created the minimalist opening track, "The Place Where We Dwell," out of a two-second drum-solo sample and some scratching, but is also able to turn around and create something as lush and melodic as the jazz-tinged "No Shame in My Game" without ever seeming to be out of his element, making every track of the same sonic mind. For an underground crew, Gang Starr has always had a knack for crafting memorable vocal hooks to go with the expert production, and they multiply both aspects on Daily Operation. Every song has some attribute that stamps it indelibly into the listener's head, and it marks the album as one of the finest of the decade, rap or otherwise."
"Seductive singer/songwriter and producer Poe returns with a bombastic second release Haunted, making for a mind-blowing intimate account of her relationship with her father, well-known lecturer and talented documentary filmmaker Tad Danielewski. Shifting around the gnarling reign of powerhouse femininity draped over her debut Hello (1995), Poe is much stronger on Haunted's layers of therapy, and that's certainly impressive for a sophomore effort. She splices in spooky stints of her late father's recorded voice to converse with him in an attempt at closeness, therefore making Haunted a story of sorts. It is more like a story anyway: Poe's novelist brother Mark Z. Danielewski wrote The House of Leaves (2000), and the music found on Haunted is an eerie account of the book itself, serving cathartic measures for both Poe and her brother.
The overall album is sexy, in fact hauntingly so with Poe's vocals growling and bellowing for self-appreciation and individualism, especially on the title track and "Control." The third song into the record, "Control" is an excellent track with crashing percussion and mysterious backdrops from her father, which are layered over goth-like string arrangements and Poe's emotional roar. The quick flamenco stylings of "Spanish Doll" are sheer in the face of the tempestuous "Walk the Walk," and "Wild" keeps up with the bold in the midst of its brisk, moody complexity due to Poe's self-searching process of acceptance and retaliation at being disregarded. Haunted's initial concept alone alone is brilliant. Poe has outdone herself creatively and artistically; the drum machines and overlapping guitar riffs among her sampled vocals and stretched lyrics make this album more of a modern-day epic. It is also a sweet tribute to her late father, and a nice composite to speak to him. Sadly, Poe's work might not be welcomed in the mainstream, which is disappointing because her original compositions have the makings for a new music revolution alongside the likes of Radiohead's Kid A. Haunted is in its own class of twisted intelligence and beauty."
"The problem with Copacetic was the dingy production, so for Simpatico, Velocity Girl hooks up with the Smiths' first LP producer John Porter. Flaw corrected. Perhaps too much? Some have expressed the opinion that Porter has neutered them somewhat, and indeed, the rawer edges have largely been relinquished, but so what? They sound great now, much tighter, more convincing, more together. Constant touring has obviously toughened and synchronized them, so credit them for a lot of thankless, hard work. Simpatico, at the least, is a three-times-better version of their first LP, which is the small flaw now -- they don't seem to have enlarged their scope much, still clinging to the chiming guitar version of the Wedding Present meets the Shangri-La's they started with long ago -- remember when My Forgotten Favorite was on so many of our turntables? And the problem with narrow scopes is that some of the songs just aren't going to click as much as the better versions of the same thing. But if they aren't going to change their sound, or to a lesser extent, their style; at least they can keep getting better at it, and that is the case, so there are more big delights. "Drug Girls" has a sharp chorus, and the best song, "Rubble," adds a New Order bass and acoustic. "Hey You, Get Off My Moon" at least attempts a slow ballad, and "What You Left Behind" and the single "Sorry Again" are big-time hooky. Porter seems to have worked Sarah Shannon into singing stronger and more firmly. It's time to move on, but for now, there's plenty to enjoy. "
"Throwing Muses' self-titled 1986 debut is still a startling collision of punk energy, folky melodicism, and Kristin Hersh's mercurial voice and lyrics. The violent, vibrant mood swings on songs like "Call Me" are a testament not only to Hersh's unique talent, but the elasticity of Tanya Donelly, David Narcizo, and Leslie Langston's playing. Even if the volatile moods on songs like "Hate My Way" aren't easily understood, they're easily felt; the twists and turns "Vicky's Box" and "Rabbits Dying" take are guided purely by the intense emotions they carry. Throwing Muses is almost as varied musically as it is emotionally, ranging from the scary punkabilly of "America (She Can't Say No)" to "Stand Up"'s angular, acoustic post-punk to the cathartic thrill of "Delicate Cutters"'s unsettling folk. Donelly contributes the surreal, ethereal love song "Green"; even at this early point in the Muses' career, it's clear that she is a more accessible, straightforward songwriter, despite the care taken to make the song sound more like the rest of the album. A powerful debut, Throwing Muses puts the work of most self-consciously "tortured" artists to shame; its fluid, effortless emotional shifts may not make for the most accessible music, but they're unquestionably genuine."
"The grunge era's most overlooked masterpiece, Congregation was the Afghan Whigs' breakthrough album, an incendiary and insidious set which bridges the gap between the noisy aggression of the band's early releases and the soulful swagger of their later work. Slipping with ominous ease into the sinister, self-obsessed Lothario guise which would serve him so well from here on out, Greg Dulli announces his arrival as a truly magnetic presence -- by turns predator ("Tonight") and prey ("I'm Her Slave"), he's the guy your parents always warned you about, delivering each syllable of his remarkable lyrics with equal measures of innuendo and venom. Equally startling is the Whigs' musical growth -- while still unmistakably a member of the Sub Pop stable, there's a greater maturity and depth to their sinewy sound, with a newfound grasp of mood and nuance on tracks like the opening "Her Against Me" and "Let Me Lie to You" -- the wah-wah guitar which dominates "Turn On the Water," meanwhile, offers the first taste of the funk ambitions to follow. It was hardly a surprise when the Whigs jumped to Elektra soon after -- Congregation was clearly their ticket to the big leagues."
"This album is a must-have for any fan of 60s French pop. Avoiding some of the disingenuous disposability of her earlier "yeh-yeh" era songs and the occasionally maudlin element of her later work, "Ma Jeunesse" is an impressively even album. It captures that wonderful time in French music where the technical strengths of the chanson tradition were able to blend with the best influences in mainstream pop in the UK and US to produce something uniquely of its time. Although many of the songs are tinged with a sense of loss, the sobriety is lifted throughout by the strong melodies, written by Hardy herself and a rich variety of collaborators. The highlight is "Des Ronds Dans L'Eau" from the film "Vivre Pour Vivre", a cascading and haunting tune, beautifully sung by Hardy. Like all great albums, "Ma Jeunesse" never rests on its laurels and continues to twist and turn all the way through to to the wistful "C'etait Charmant". I would recommend it both to aficionados and starters in French pop. Sad though that the genre's period of true greatness was so shortlived."
"This time working solely with Steve Lillywhite, the Furs introduce a brighter, poppier side to their underground rock edge, with smashing results throughout. The group produces some powerful songs, even more rough-edged than before. Especially striking is "Dumb Waiters," with its queasy, slow-paced arrangement that allows both Kilburn's sax and Ashton's guitar to go wild. However, the six still create some undeniable pop classics. Most well-known is the lead track, "Pretty in Pink," inspiration for the iconic John Hughes film years later and re-recorded as a result. The original is still where to go, though, with Butler's catchy description of a romantically unsure woman matched by a killer band performance. Similarly lighter numbers on the record call to mind a rockier version of Roxy Music's output in later years: elegant, romantic angst given a slightly rougher edge in both music and vocals. "She Is Mine" is especially fine as a gently swinging number with some of Butler's best, quietly ruminative lyrics. Straight-up anthems abound as well, the best being the amazing "Into You Like a Train," which mixes the blunt desire of the title with a sparkling Ashton guitar line and a fast rhythm punch. Talk Talk Talk ends on another high with "All of This and Nothing." A soft, acoustic guitar-sax-rhythm combination introduces the song, then fades away for the main section to begin; Butler details bits and pieces from a lost relationship over a sharp full-band performance, and a final drum smash leads into a reprise of the start — a fine way to end a fine record."
"Joy Zipper's second album American Whip is as sun-kissed and blissful as their first. Which is to say very much so. Sort of like a sunny take on the Jesus and Mary Chain circa Darklands, the band works the same straightforward noise-dipped-in-honey-approach as the JAMC. Only instead of Jim and William Reid's sneers, we get Vincent Cafiso and Tabitha Tindale's sweet as sugar vocals and harmonies. The catch is that the candy is a cover for the dark and gloomy subject matter of the lyrics. You may never hear bubblier songs about drug use, dying, Alzheimer's, feeling like a mannequin and madness. Whether this is a good thing depends on how you like your lyrics. Some may find the content a bit jarring. If you can hack it, though, this is a solid indie pop record. No surprises to be had but plenty of melody, harmony and hooks. Plenty of happy-when-it-pains tracks like "Christmas Song," "Ron" and "Valley Stream" to hum as you contemplate the dark underbelly of life. Perfect for a really creepy summer day."