It's time to delve into what is now some of the outer reaches of my music collection for this week's TT. Indeed, into a genre that I rarely buy anything from anymore – indie bands. And this one is in a slightly different format to usual, too – click on the Key Tracks links to find video links/track samples. Other suggestions for bands I may have missed welcome…
The mid-90s was not only a time of boorish, boozed-up "Cool Britannia" Britpop bands – it was also a time of seemingly limitless invention from some bands who might be considered to be a little more at the margins – but even so still notched up some respectable success.
A band that had a brief moment in the full glare of the press, with the release of the extraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space – a staggering career peak that Jason Pierce (and whoever he has in his band this year) will never top in any number of lifetimes of trying. The rest of their catalogue – hardly bad – pales in comparison. The band somehow managed to mix blissed-out rock, gospel, despair and a whole shedload of drugs into something that didn't sound utterly self-indulgent, and often in fact had totally the opposite effect: just listen to I Think I'm In Love. Oh, and Live Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997 is one of the greatest live albums I have ever heard.
Key Tracks: I Think I'm In Love, Cop Shoot Cop, Shine A Light, Let It Flow
Their debut album featured Stripping Vicars, Egg-Shaped Freds, S&M, ripped off John Barry and The Beatles, their second album mainly mind-boggling prog, including nods to Taoism, the Marquis de Sade, oh, and Tom Baker. Their later material following that wasn't quite as interesting – or good. In amongst all the wierd subject matter, and wilfully difficult song structures, there existed a damned good pop band who were always a little too "out there" for mass acceptance.
Key Tracks: Stripper Vicar, She Makes My Nose Bleed, Drastic Sturgeon, Shotgun [note: I was at the gig in the Shotgun video – and Paul Draper was right – it was brilliant, too]
An almost unclassifiable band from Scotland, their initial EPs all quickly became collectors editions on vinyl, and were subsequently re-released as The 3 EPs. And with good reason, too: all twelve tracks were awesome. From the shambling folk of Dry the Rain to the bizarre fifteen minute sound collages of Monolith, via hip-hop samples, electronics, pop, indie, blues, and christ-only-knows-what-else, they have been imitated a an awful lot since. Latter albums simplified things a bit, and the effect was never quite as magical.
Key Tracks: Dry The Rain, Monolith, B+A
Initally formed by a couple of ex-members of The Flaming Lips, they remained for a number of years in the same, chaotic and technicolour world as Wayne Coyne's band. Their standing dramatically changed with the release of the grandiose Deserter's Songs – up to then messy, psychedelic constructions had occasionally become songs, and after a few years break much of that was swept away for a wide-eyed, awestruck Americana. The band weren't as awestruck as those who bought this album, though – even now it retains all of it's shimmering power.
Key Tracks: Holes, Chasing A Bee, Racing The Tide
Going back in time a little, some bands were of enormous importance subsequently, too:
The band that very nearly bankrupted Creation Records in those pre-Oasis and Britpop days while recording Loveless, they really were, er, unique. Layer upon layer of squalling guitar noise, with ethereal vocals often buried deep in the mix, and somehow with the most gentle and beautiful melodies floating out of the sonic mayhem. Kevin Shield's perfectionism and attempts to better it meant that the band would never release a follow-up. More's the pity.
Key tracks: Soon, Only Shallow, To Here Knows When
One of the earlier post-rock bands, who even then owed quite a debt to acts like Slint. Their sheer bloody-mindedness and willingness to experiment – and tour, at least in the early days, on some really diverse bills – served them well and helped to get them a high profile as the idea of post-rock finally took off. Early singles were good, but the album Young Team was where they really became something else, before evolving gradually into entirely new soundscapes on subsequent albums, without ever losing their "fuck you" attitude. A number of highly-tipped bands since have shown their Mogwai influence clearly, too: just look at 65DoS for a perfect example…
Key tracks: Mogwai Fear Satan, Xmas Steps [Note: it's very quiet for the first few minutes], My Father, My King
Ok, so there were some other bands I liked, too:
Yeah, so they might have been one of the bands to blame for the Britpop explosion in the first place, and they descended into little more than self-parody on their last album, but it's hard to deny that for the first couple of albums at least Suede were pretty much untouchable. Adding a touch of glamour and a grandiose sweep to indie rock (and with more than a small nod to David Bowie), and even their B-sides were brilliant, too.
Key tracks: The Drowners, To The Birds, So Young
Here's a band that sadly never fulfilled their potential, with no end of mishaps in addition to the spectre of a drug addiction pretty much killing the band's chances. Their initial singles were all thrilling, and their second album took so long to appear that their chance had gone. Unbelievably they have now reformed, but still appear to be suffering the same bad luck as before (see the wiki link)…
Key tracks: Sleep, Time
Like Marion, another band that seemed to just attract disaster. Albums that were released years after they should have been, yet more drug issues, bad promotion, bad record labels, you name it, it happened to them. In amongst all that they had one short period in the sun, when HMS Fable got a decent release and one hell of a promotional push. Quite simply a brilliant, truthful, pop album, rather than pushing on from that they seemed once again to slink into the background.
Key tracks: Natalie's Party, Streets of Kenny
Finally, a band that emerged in the late-80s, whose lead singer – Björk – has gone onto much greater success, while forging a highly individual path. It's not as if the signs weren't there from this band – they released twisted indie-pop that sounded like nothing else at the time (or indeed now, for that matter). It's playful, fun stuff in the main, although I could never pretend to know what on earth they were on about half the time.
Key tracks: Hit, Birthday