Monday, November 23, 2015

The 9 Best 80s and 90s Bands in 2015

I am a firm believer that most bands who breakup or take extended breathers, mostly had their moments in the sun, and can rarely re-kindle what made them special at the time. The Smiths are a perfect example. People clamour for a reunion just about every day. I am as big a Smiths fan as anyone, and a reunion is something I absolutely hope does not happen. For me, they and so many other artists represent a moment in time. If you are lucky you call it a day before you have a chance to suck (like U2).

All of that said, sometimes bands have unfinished business. Or they reappear in a way that is true to what made them unique, while somehow tapping into the current vein of music so as to not appear novel, dated or overly derivative. These are nine records released this year by bands with heydays in either the 90's or the 80's. They either broke up, vanished, or perhaps just have not put out anything this strong since their glory days.

Blur - The Magic Whip

Based on the anticipation and expectations for Magic Whip, it is a good thing that consensus among Blur fans seems to be largely positive. Break-ups with personality conflict, in fighting or general drama always create a unique dynamics for re-grouping. This album sounds exactly what a Blur album should sound like in 2015. I also like how it borrows from less obvious places, like a few tracks that could fit easily on Modern Life Is Rubbish (my personal favourite). It really sounds like they were enjoying themselves on this recording.

Local H - Hey, Killer

I have never been the world's biggest Local H fan, but I have always admired their steadfast approach to making big, full sounding 90's type rock records. If there is a genre that has dated itself way quicker than feels fair, it is U.S. mainstream grungy guitar type rock. Not that Local H has ever fit that bill specifically, but they are easily lumped in with Teen Spirit clones. Hey, Killer gives long time fans exactly the crunchy guitar stuff one would hope for, but the hooks and song craft feels stronger than it has since they actually had a couple "hits". At face value you could write this off as a big, fun, dumb rock record, but in fact this is a big, fun, clever and well put together guitar rock record, without ever being Big Shiny Tunes fodder.

The Charlatans - Modern Nature

Another one from 90's BritPop royalty. The Charlies have been releasing new music with scattered regularity over the last fifteen years, but nothing nearly as noteworthy as Modern Nature. At their height they felt like the Madchester band who were making the albums the Stone Roses were supposed to have been making. This record finds them at an all time high point of maturity and comfort in their musical skin. This is a groovy, soulful, mellow record that still manages to be throughly engaging. The Charlatans swagger is here, it's just grown up and a lot less in your face, with far less to prove. 

Shriekback - Without Real String Or Fish

Admittedly for me, you can file Shriekback largely under "missed along the way" until this year. Weird when you consider how many of their 80's Brit post punk contemporaries were (and are) listening staples for me. I was aware of them, and loved "Nemesis" (brilliant track), but this album allowed me to go back and invest some time in the full catalogue and get caught up somewhat. In the meantime, this is a great record, which seems to balance all their best sides. Their first new release in five years, the funk, electronic, baggy, and synth pop sounds of their past all find their way on to this album. In spots it reminds me of a perfect mix of Midnight Oil and The The. Nothing wrong with that.

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love

Sometimes when a band has been on hiatus for 10 years, they come back at the perfect time to remind everyone why they were so important in the first place. That is what the re-emergence of Sleater-Kinney felt like in 2015. They sound rested and full of purpose. The urgency from all their best work is here, but free from pressures or expectations. The songs remain complex and their voices and words are perhaps even more relevant socially than they were at their peak.

Swervedriver - Autodidactic

Swervedriver always felt a bit like the shoegaze version of Soul Asylum in the sense that they were often in the shadows of My Bloody Valentine and Ride, in a similar way that Soul Asylum were overshadowed by fellow Minneapolis counterparts, Husker Du and The Replacements. Autodidactic is the first Swervedriver album since 1998. Like the Local H, there is a real risk with this genre to fall into some really dated and regurgitated trappings. What carries this album are the hooks and melodies. The fuzz and feedback is still here, but absolutely backseat to catchy songs. The seemingly disinterested vocals and classic time signatures of gaze are throughout, make no mistake. This is a fantastically fresh sounding record for any band in any era, regardless of their stripes.

New Order - Music Complete

There are a handful of bands from my formative music nerd years where admittedly, I have a hard time being objective about the new music they make. New Order are one such band. Ahead of this release however, it is like I over compensated. I was convinced there was no way this could be good, especially without Peter Hook. I sort of wanted to hate this album, perhaps to convince myself I could. The reality is that this is not just a very good record ... it is a very good New Order record. Perhaps their best since Technique, but at least their best since Republic. Sumner's voice always ensures familiarity. There is a renewed sense of electronic playfulness that has been missing on the last couple albums. Glad I was wrong about this one, before I even heard it.

Built To Spill - Untethered Moon

It's hard to believe Built To Spill have only made eight albums since 1993. They still sound like the quintessential American indie rock band, even though all their records since 1997 have strangely been released on Warner. This album once again offers something slightly different than we have heard from the lads before, without breaking the mold. Much of it reminds me of Keep It Like A Secret (their best imo). Aside from the first and last songs coming in at six and eight minutes plus respectively, everything here has nice compact corners at around four minutes on average. Most importantly, BTS can still say they have never made a bad album. 

Mercury Rev - The Light In You

Even though Dave Friddman is absent on this album for the first time, the songs are still as plush and beautiful as ever. The textbook orchestral and chamber leanings are here in full force. The album is also rooted in classic Rev psych and controlled tripped out chaos. It sounds like The Light In You follows on some real life adversity for the key members, but there is an overarching theme of optimism. This is the sound of a unique band hitting all its marks and reminding fans, as well as themselves perhaps, that they can still still sound like basically no other band making music.

Veruca Salt - Ghost Notes

This feels like an album that could have gone terribly wrong. The parting of Nina and Louise as band members (and friends) was by all counts, heavy on the drama quotient. Ghost Notes sounds like hatchets being buried. It also sounds like the album they were supposed to make before things broke down. This album almost perfectly balances all the best parts of their first two albums. It's got the glammy pop and hard rock hooks of Eight Arms, but without the high gloss and more importantly without Bob Rock. It has the same producer as American Thighs, and perhaps not coincidentally, it has the same mix of cute and heavy, in a lo-fi lustre that made that record so great. Again, this does not feel like a 90's throw back record, but it hits all the right points of familiarity, while standing quite solidly on its own in 2015.