For this week’s edition, I chose to focus on two classic albums, and one album that I feel has already earned the status of a modern classic. What Pavement and Refused have in common is their influence on the next generation, while remaining relatively unknown to today’s typical music buying public. They displayed a great commitment to indie ideals and produced some of the best music of their generation. It is my purpose today to highlight two songs from their back catalogs that I believe will convince you to go out and purchase their albums. I previously named The National‘s High Violet as my second favorite album of 2010.
1. “Stereo”- Pavement
Pavement never really achieved the success that they deserved. Although I believe this had something more to do with their performances on shows like Conan O’Brien, which seemed to showcase a band more interested in having a good time than getting famous. Their performance on his show in the 1990s when Brighten The Corners was released was met with a very honest and frank comment from a YouTube user who simply stated, “no wonder no one bought this album”. Frankly, it’s their loss. This track is led by a great bass riff and is peppered with fuzzy guitars throughout. To me, this song represents a separation between what is considered ‘indie’ today, and the ability of a songwriter like Stephen Malkmus to push the boundaries by writing a great song featuring a quasi-rap verse and a huge chorus. As well as being released on Brighten The Corners, this song is the first track on Matador Records 10th Anniversary Compilation. Judging by their back catalog, which includes albums by legendary bands such as Guided By Voices, Modest Mouse and Yo La Tengo, I can’t personally think of a better track to start with.
2. “Lemonworld” – The National
It’s rare for me to sit back and listen to a song on repeat to try and hear each instrument individually in order to appreciate the apparent complexity behind what is a simple and unquestionably beautiful song. The almost tribal sound to the drumming, which seems to be completely absent of any high-end, was achieved by taping torn up pillowcases to the kit. The guitar work is characterized by single strums coated with a deep chorus effect, and never attempts to stand out or take the focus away from the other instruments that lead the song. The vocal performance, which is mixed into the track at a level usually reserved purely for pop music, is somehow still sombre and restrained. Sure it doesn’t have the grand finish on the refrain “Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul” displayed in the track “Afraid of Everyone,” and granted it doesn’t have the instant likeability and hooks of “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” but it’s a grower. It really is more rewarding with every listen.
3. “Summerholiday vs. Punkroutine” – Refused
The re-release of The Shape of Punk To Come on vinyl was one of my highlights of 2010. When I finally had the record in my hand, I instantly skipped to this track. Vocally, it’s the stand out of the album; Dennis Lyxzén’s vocal work sits almost perfectly between punk rock and hardcore in the way that he only ever lapses into a commanding roar to emphasize a lyric. The lyrics, which include lines like “Rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in” and “I’m still certain that what motivates me is more rewarding than any piece of paper could be,” seem even more relevant today. For me, this is a song about living on your own terms and recognizing that we can reject what is said to be of importance by others. The track almost takes a step back completely from the guitar-heavy opening tracks of the album and is bass-led until the chorus kicks in. This is the sound of one of the only bands to successfully foresee their influence on the next generation.