My prelidiction for music lists at the moment may be coming across all a bit High Fidelity, but it is in the main me rummaging through the boxes of musical history in my mind – that and I am finding it quite a lot of fun hunting through the archives of YouTube. In addition, of course, it is far easier being able to let you hear/see what I am talking about – I would rather not post mp3s here, and with Youtube being as good as it is for this nowadays, I don't have to.
So what is this week's list of ten? A slightly woolly one, really – ten North American alternative bands from the nineties. Criteria? There isn't really one, suffice to say that most of these bands would probably have appeared on what is now MTV2 at some point or another (indeed, I don't doubt in the slightest that some of them have). Some of the songs mentioned may be from more recent times, but the reasons I love the bands come from the decade in question.
First up, then, are two bands that I still listen a lot even now. One of which are long-since disbanded, the other just about still active. The former is Brainiac, whom I have mentioned a number of times before but have never linked to any music thereof. So to redress the balance, here is the video for Vincent Come On Down (that until I found it I didn't even know it existed), and then a live version of Sexual Frustration, with a somewhat static crowd. The latter is perhaps understandable – when I saw them in June 1996 at the long-gone Duchess of York in Leeds we were stood there open-mouthed for much of the set, too.
The one song I'd love to link to, is I Am A Cracked Machine. Brainiac songs are difficult enough to find as it is now (I believe all of their back catalogue is now out of print), but hunt it down by any means possible, as it really is something else. While follow-on band Enon sound very similar – and were great live when they supported Girls Against Boys back in 2002 – missing Tim Taylor they just aren't quite the same.
The band that are just about still active are Girls Against Boys, who were the headline band for the Brainiac gig above, and also had a close association with Brainiac, with keyboardist/second bassist Eli Janney being their producer in the main. I've seen them another six or seven times since, and rather irritatingly have missed their past couple of UK appearances – annoying as they have never been anything other than a fantastic live band (example: this ass-kicking cut of Bulletproof Cupid from '93). They seem only to be active as a live band at present – last actual release was You Can't Fight What You Can't See way back in 2003.
For some time they were critics darlings, too, although their major label excursion to Geffen for one album was something of a disaster for all concerned, and their profile has never been as high since. So what videos to offer? Well, probably their best-known song, first: Kill The Sexplayer (guess which film it is on the soundtrack of, folks?), then the other single from the same album (Cruise Yourself), (I) Don't Got A Place. Follow-up album House of GVSB was brilliant, Superfire being the roaring opening track. Basstation was the opening track from the last album. Last to mention is their cover of She's Lost Control, which as I recall was done for a tribute album years and years ago.
Time for another long-disbanded group now – The Afghan Whigs. Another band that never really got the recognition they deserved, and singer Greg Dulli has continued in the same, soul-based furrow with The Twilight Singers. Tracks to mention here? The glorious soul-searching of Debonair, and the short, sharp, lust-drenched blast of Somethin' Hot. This version of Going to Town on David Letterman (and yes, it borrows from Stevie Wonder's Superstition) is also well-worth seeing.
Back to another band who seem to stagger between action and inaction – The Breeders. Kim Deal's band were initially formed as an outlet for her own output beyond Pixies, but found their own enduring fame thanks mainly to one cracking track: Cannonball.
One very much alive band is the wonderfully-named …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead. I'll start here with their live version of Richter Scale Madness (the track they traditionally finish with, and trash the set at the end, seeing them banned from quite a number of venues since). This was the first song of theirs I ever heard, when buying their first (self-titled) album back in '98, and it's chaotic, formless sound is inpenetrable at first. Stick with it, though, and it's brilliance soon shines through. First single off second album Madonna – Mistakes and Regrets – has rather more melody and structure to it, but is no less impressive. They play the Leadmill on 20-August, too, so it will be interesting to see if they are still as good as before.
Ben Folds Five are no longer a going concern, but Ben Folds still plays the band's stuff as part of his solo set, as this live version of Underground from Manchester in January shows. The original video for Underground is pretty bloody strange, too.
I remember going to see this lot live back in November 1996, too. I was asked along by a friend, having only heard the aforementioned track to that point, to leave with a bloody great grin on my face. One of the most entertaining gigs I have ever seen, with a rather devoted fan-base even then. One last track to mention, too – One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces, worth it alone for the clever lyrics, never mind the great tune and video!
The Dandy Warhols are next, and again this takes me back quite a while. The summery shamble of Every Day Should Be A Holiday was the first track I heard, and I remember shelling out an awful lot at the time for an import copy of the album it came from. Sister Ray on Berwick Street in Soho used to be one of my favourite record shops of all, and the sheer amount of import stuff I got from there – particularly US.alt – was scary.
Of course, the follow-up single Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth was the one that really got them attention (and the truly bonkers video certainly helped), before a certain song later used on a Vodafone advert pushed them to even greater stardom…
Pavement kinda ended on a sombre note when they announced their split some time back, and despite the solo projects since they have never really been as popular as the band were. Probably their best period was around the release of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, which featured the singles Cut Your Hair (with it's hilarious video), and the more wistful Range Life. I saw them once at an NME Awards show in January 1997 – while drunk and stoned, after Mogwai had nearly deafened us, and they were in one of their somewhat 'difficult' moods, playing none of their well-known songs at all. At Reading two years later in '99 they were in more expansive mood, matching the summery feel of the weekend well.
For the final two bands, it's time for something more downbeat. Like Mazzy Star, and the dreamy, otherworldly beauty of Fade Into You. I think it was always Hope Sandoval's voice that won me over on their output. Best listened to late at night – it never really works during the day…
Final band is Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They never released videos as such – but there appears to be a whole host of "fan" videos for various songs. The best I have found is this one for The Dead Flag Blues. Also worth seeing (or seeing again) is the
the extraordinary use of East Hastings in 28 Days Later's most iconic sequence (the walk through a deserted London).