Alex Shaw looks back fondly on the days when an indie record store was a place for secrets, sneering and “Boy Music”
What a title! How’s that for specificity? Note that I said record ‘store’ rather than ‘shop’ as well. When I was first into these albums, I wished I’d been born in the States, even so far as to letting Americanisms creep into my vocabulary. Lame, I know (ha, did it again).
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know some of the bands on this list – the point of this ‘scene’, as I remember it, was to keep the bands you loved a complete secret, and to sneer at people who didn’t know who you were talking about. I’d also like to point out here that my wife likes to call this music, ‘Boy Music’. I saw most of these bands live and, judging by the ridiculously long toilet queues for the mens’ – and no queue for the ladies’ – she’s right again. Curses.
The reason for this trip down memory lane is that Spotify has recently added a ton of American indie rock to its library, even including some albums from legendary indie Chicago label Touch and Go, who at one point in my life would have inspired me to sell both my kidneys had it meant my band could have released an album through them.
The Jesus Lizard: Goat (1991)
This was the second album from The Jesus Lizard, produced by the mighty Steve Albini and madder than a bag of hammers. Trying to describe David Yow’s vocal style is difficult; remember when Jack Nicholson was chasing Danny through the maze at the end of ‘The Shining’ shouting “DaaaAaNNeeeehh”? Well, it’s pretty similar to that. Great album.
Shellac: Terraform (1998)
Shellac’s second album proper is as uncompromising as ever. Their actual (sort of) second album was called The Futurist and was limited to 779 copies, was vinyl only and had the names of everyone that received one as the cover art. They even went so far as to circle the names of who the copy was for so they could be shamed if they ever tried to sell it. Brilliant. Terraform didn’t pull any punches either; opener “Didn’t We Deserve A Look At You The Way You Really Are” is over 12 minutes long, and is basically just one riff played over and over. True story: when I was living in Muswell Hill I once put this album on, went to La Porcetta, ordered a pizza and got back to the flat with it before the song had finished.
Listen to Terraform by Shellac on Youtube
The Melvins: Gluey Porch Treatments (1987)
Any Nirvana fan worth their salt should know about The Melvins. Their drummer, Dale Crover, played for Nirvana just before they recorded Bleach, and I’ve always wondered what Nirvana would have sounded like if he had stayed on. In any case, Dave Grohl must have been paying very close attention to this album – more than a few drum fills made it onto Nevermind (naughty Dave). Standout track, “Leeech”, was gifted to them by a band called Green River, who would later go on to become Pearl Jam, fact fans.
Kyuss: Blues for the Red Sun (1992)
Kyuss are actually the only band on this list I didn’t get to see live. Stupid Josh Homme ruined everything by forming the awesome Queens of the Stone Age before I could. Blues for the Red Sun is musical filth, with a huge guitar sound reportedly achieved by putting the guitar though Bass amps and miking them up using a bass amp speaker cone wired backwards, making it a microphone (according to Engineer Joe Barresi). Madness. Reports are the album only sold 39,000 copies initially, which is also madness.
Slint: Spiderland (1991)
How cool are Slint? Pretty cool, I’d say. The front cover of this album was taken by Will Oldham, for Chrissakes. Guitarist David Pajo has eaten out on this album in the twenty years since it was released, going on to be in (or appear with) Stereolab,The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Tortoise and ill-fated Billy Corgan ego project Zwan, amongst others. Deserved though, as Spiderland has to rate as one of the best American indie albums of all time.