Our 20 Favorite Songs of 2014

Although we’re already a few days into the New Year, we’ve been asked to select our top 20 songs for the past year. We’ve been pretty happy with the choices of indie music of 2014, which has been arguably the best year since 2009.

So for all the goodness without a lot of loquaciousness, here’s our Favorite 20 of 2014 (in no particular order).

1.  Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting On You)”

This is the number-one song on Sirius XMU‘s Top 41 of 2014, and for good reason.  This up-beat indie gem has all the chord-changes in exactly the right spots, a powerful chorus, and one head-scratchin’ ironic video to accompany it. This should be destined to be a classic.

2.  Perfume Genius – “Queen”

Dark, brooding, and absolutely beautiful, Perfect Genius came up with the perfect angst-anthem of the year.

3.  Che-Val – “My Beat”

We are completely smitten with the debut song we found on Twitter from husband-and-wife duo Kenny and Laura Cash from Connecticut. Che-Val‘s fun retro romp harkening back to ebullient pop of the ’80s is an impressive way to bust out of the gate.

4.  TV On The Radio – “Happy Idiot”
5.  TV On The Radio – “Careful You”

Synth-pop is rarely better than what TV On The Radio has put out in the past year on their sixth album “Seeds.” They knocked two out of the park with the perky “Happy Idiot” and the hypnotic “Careful You.”

6.  tUnE-yArDs – “Water Fountain”

This is truly Merrill Garbus‘s world we’re living in, and we’re okay with that. The Connecticut puppeteer has come up with an eclectic, eccentric, and completely original sound filled with intense passion and hilarity. While the album is great, tUnE-yArDs must be seen live to fully appreciate.

7.  Sylvan Esso – “Coffee”

We first heard Sylvan Esso when they opened for tUnE-yArDs at the Republic New Orleans.  Singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn were rather scruffy, looking like they stopped by the venue to play a few tunes between loads of laundry.  Regardless, the North Carolina duo were thoroughly mesmerizing, and their song about our favorite beverage only made us love them more.

8.  Alvvays – “Archie, Marry Me”

There’s something seriously ’60s about Alvvay‘s “Archie, Marry Me.” Is she singing about Riverdale’s favorite red-headed doofus? Probably not, but we’d like to think it’s Betty Cooper pining over Archie Andrews while gazing out the window into a warm afternoon rain and holding her Pee-Chee close to her sweatered breast. Ah, innocence…

9.  Empathy Test – “Throwing Stones”

Simply gorgeous. The debut single from Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf of Brooklyn’s Stars & Letters label is reminiscent of delicious ’80s synth pop like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Depeche Mode. We look forward to great things from this London-based duo in the years to come.

10.  We Are Temporary featuring Misfit Mod – “Machine Love”

We’re mad for this dark thriller that’s a collaboration of two severely underrated Stars & Letters acts, We Are Temporary and Misfit Mod (stage name for Sarah Kelleher). You should be, too.

11.  Foxygen – “How Can You Really”

Break out the go-go boots and hot pants, the sounds of the late ’60s/early ’70s is back! California-based Jonathan Rado and Sam France‘s sound conjures up long-lost audio images of Haight-Ashbury salad days pop at its finest.

12.  BABYMETAL – “Death”

Nobody, and we mean absolutely nobody, knows what to make of Japanese death metal act, BABYMETAL.  Fronted by three super-cute teenage girls (Suzuka Nakamoto as “Su-metal,” Yui Mizuno as “Yuimetal,” and Moa Kikuchi as “Moametal“) and backed by the hardcore grind of exceptionally good death metal riffs, you just don’t know how to react when you experience what is being slapped across your face. This genre is ordinary ruled by hairy ghouls who sound like Cookie Monster and look like one of Satan‘s minions, not fresh-faced angels in pig tails. BABYMETAL is a great novelty bringing a breath of fresh air to a rigid genre not known for irony, but it will only last as long as the girls are teens.

13.  Saint Pepsi – “Fiona Coyne”

If you hail from some snowy areas like most of us here, you may have childhood memories of riding in your parents’ car on sunny winter Saturday afternoons listening to really cool songs on the local radio station, and everything in Kid-dom is perfect. This song reminds us of that.

14.  Sleater-Kinney – “Bury Our Friends”

The Portland trio Sleater-Kinney is back. Wow, are they ever back. This teaser was released just before the year’s end in advance of their Jan. 20 release of their new album No Cities To Love.

15.  Interpol – “All The Rage Back Home”

That Jimmy Finnerty really knew his bands. For those who don’t remember, he was the Interpol-loving middle child played by Griffin Frazen in the underrated, off-beat ’00s TV show Grounded For Life. Interpol hasn’t lost a single step from their earlier days, and this masterpiece juxtaposed with dark and upbeat riffs is evidence of that fact.

16.  Phantogram – “Fall In Love”

How can anyone not fall in love with this tasty bit of synthpop? The only thing we didn’t fall in love with was Phantogram‘s overuse of strobe lights at their live shows, but they hit the mark perfectly with this dreamy tune.

17.  Sun Kil Moon – “Ben’s My Friend”

Perfect song for a summer road trip.  It made us want to be 20 and irresponsible again so we could drive our crappy cars across Jack Kerouac‘s America discovering angel-headed hipsters and cool jazz kicks.

18.  SBTRKT/Ezra Koenig – “New Dorp, New York”

So New Dorp is actually a place in New York. Who knew? I want to go there. Is it just me, or does anyone else think this would fit nicely on a Paul Simon album?

19.  Chelsea Light Moving – “Groovy and Linda”

We always thought the hippies of the ’60s were mostly posers along for the ride, but they seemed to have a great time regardless. Thurston Moore, formerly of the legendary art-noise band Sonic Youth, captures that pretty well in his own uniquely dissonant way.

20.  Spoon – “Do You”

A great comeback, a great song, and a great way to end a Top 20 list.

Ten questions with Empathy Test

Empathy Test’s Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf
Super-smooth British synthpop masters Empathy Test have caught our attention recently during a Twitter scan of new music with their vibrantly textured melodies and haunting lyrics that stayed with us like a bittersweet memories of teenaged loves. The duo of singer Isaac Howlett and producer Adam Relf deftly blend ’80s-style electronic pop inspired by brilliant movie soundtracks like Drive, Terminator, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind along with modern indie groups like CHVRCHES and Purity Ring to create a stunningly layered and satisfying sound.
Empathy Test will publicly debut the entire new EP Throwing Stones live at a November 28 release party at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London. Tickets are available online for £6 or at the door for £8. Fellow London synthpoppers New Arcades are slated as the opening act.  The EP will be available through the Brooklyn-based Stars & Letters label on December 9.
Throwing Stones cover art by Adam Relf
1.  Gentlemen, congratulations on your gorgeous new EP Throwing Stones. You both seem to be in perfect synch with each other musically. What do you attribute to that success?
Well, we’ve known each other since we were kids, so we’ve had a long time to get to know each other! We share a mutual love for a good hook and a catchy chorus and we both enjoy music that’s dark and uplifting. We have our roles in the band well-defined, we play to our strengths and we respect each other’s opinions about how best to do things. That’s it really. 

2.  You two have been together as Empathy Test for less than a year.  What did you do previously?
Isaac was an acoustic singer-songwriter and Adam produced dance records for a few independent London labels. We attempted to work together before but it never really got off the ground. With Empathy Test everything just clicked. In synth pop we found a genre that suited us both, and we finally had the skills and experience to make it work. 

3.  Although you have been childhood friends, you just recently decided to play music together. What drew you together for this project?
Isaac took a two year sabbatical from London, spending a year in Brighton and a year and Barcelona. He came back to London and we started hanging out again. One day we were at Adam’s place talking about movies and music, and we were just inspired to make some new music. We recorded Losing Touch, and quickly realised we were onto something.


4.  You mentioned your shared love for ’80s synth pop, and your music does seem to echo shades bands like of Depeche Mode and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. What are your influences from that time period?
We can’t say that either of us really listen to any of those bands now, although we are aware of them and the influence they’ve had on the current electronic music scene. Adam is particularly into the movie soundtracks of that time and as we use ’80s analogue synth samples we’re bound to sound a bit like the bands you mentioned. 
5.  There has been a resurgence of synth pop over the past decade or so with innovative bands like yours and also those like M83, Sylvan Esso, and Hot Chip. Is this a continuation of what was started 30 years ago, or do you see this as a completely new direction for the genre?  How do you see the genre progressing?
Again, we don’t really see ourselves as part of a particular genre or movement. Synth pop has seen a big resurgence as part of the 80s revival in all areas of culture. It’s great to be riding this wave but we like to think that as our career progresses our music will develop and change, as it already has done. We wouldn’t be surprised if the bottom falls out of the synth pop thing quite rapidly now because we’re nearing saturation point. We hope to stick around a bit longer.
6.  Visual art is an important component to your music. Can you explain more about that?
Adam is an illustrator as well as a music producer so he was always going to do our artwork. The artwork is inspired by the music we make and Adam likes to create a new piece for every track. We made a conscious decision at first, not to put up any “band photos” or too much info about us, we wanted to give the music a life of its own. The artwork was and is part of that. 
7.  You also both share an appreciation for movie synth pop soundtracks like Drive and Aliens. What about those soundtracks drew you to that music, and what made you want to expand on it?
There’s something primal and deeply evocative about analogue synth sounds that we find really moving. They’re alien and synthetic but at the same time somehow organic and human. They immediately give a dream-like quality to a track; we wanted to build on that. Essentially, we wanted to work those cinematic soundscapes into proper, memorable pop songs. I think we achieved that immediately with Losing Touch.

8.  You’re kicking off your tour with an EP release party on November 28 at the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London. Can you tell us where you will tour and what to expect at your live shows?
We haven’t actually booked a proper tour yet, as such. We’re looking to sign with an agency because booking tours is a logistical nightmare we’d rather not deal with! We’ll start with a UK tour, then Europe and finally America, it’s all a question of how big we get and how soon! The live show is something we’re developing at the moment. We’ve got a new set-up where all of our instruments, including the drum pads, will be on three separate tripods. We’re auditioning a drummer to join us on stage. 
9.  You recently signed with the U.S. indie label Stars & Letters Records in Brooklyn, New York, which seems to be a great fit for you.  They boast a rather impressive stable of indie acts such as Shocking Pinks, Bad Blocks, and Misfit Mod.  We know you are about to release the new EP, but can you tell us what’s on the horizon with Stars & Letters (e.g., new album, videos, etc.)?
Everything depends on the success of the Throwing Stones EP really. Once the EP lands and the dust settles it’ll be a case of taking stock and sitting down with Stars & Letters to decide the next move. Stars & Letters are very keen for us to release a début album with them – they wanted an album as our first release, but it had always been our plan to release at least two EPs before a full-length album. For us it’s about building an audience. The last thing we want to do is to release a whole album and no one to hear it! 
However, we’ve plans for a Throwing Stones Remixed EP in the new year, with some really exciting bands lined up to do remixes. The first one, by Sweden’s Lost Years, has already previewed on Soundcloud. We’re also working with Richard Swarbrick, who did the Liverpool FC animation featuring Losing touch on our first music video. We’ve seen his ideas for it and it looks incredible.

10.  Any chance you’ll bring your live show to the States?  Specifically this blog’s hometown of New Orleans?
Yeah, definitely, I’m guessing we’ll make a preliminary trip over to NYC as Stars & Letters are based there. We’ve applied for SXSW too, so maybe if we get picked we’ll be over for that. As we say to everyone that asks, we will get to you as soon as we are physically able to! 

Tasty synth-pop from London’s Empathy Test



One of the better offerings from the synth-pop world is coming from the duo of Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf, collectively known as Empathy Test.  In their latest offering Throwing Stones, the title track from their forthcoming EP due in November, Howlett’s haunting voice floats through Reif’s beautiful electronic landscapes for a satisfying electronic pop slice not heard since the genre’s golden age of the 1980s.

Taking their name from the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, producer Relf seem to disprove the movie’s premise that advanced machines lack empathy.  His deft use of electronic media demonstrates a mastery of warm melodies that envelop you like a warm down comforter on a chilly country evening.

Empathy Test will throw their EP release party on November 28 at the Hoxton Square Kitchen and Bar in London.  We look forward to hearing more from these two.

Seattle’s Straight Red Worth Your Time

We comb through countless bands on Twitter looking for new music we like, and we found it in spades with Straight Red, an indie band hailing from Seattle.

Travis Crowell – Lead Vocals
Arthur Peach – Bass
Rich Todd – Guitar/Vocals
Evan Peterson – Drums

This Pacific Northwest band caught our attention with their unique blend of high-energy straightforward garage rock and psychobilly (without the horror) with a touch of post-punk somewhere in between The Cramps and Joy Division.


Although we can’t find videos of shows, their danceable tunes appear to be perfect for live performances, and we hope to see them live someday.  Straight Red is definitely worth your time.

Ten questions with Che-Val


Che-Val, an up-and-coming pop duo from Norwalk, Connecticut, comprised of husband and wife team Kenny and Laura Cash, has caught our attention with its upbeat tempo, catchy lyrics, and a clever video that showcases the Cashes’ charisma and swagger usually seen with long-established acts.  While the duo is hard at work on their forthcoming debut EP due early next year, Kenny also owns and operates a music studio while Laura teaches high school chemistry.

(Wanna listen to the MP3 instead?  Click My Beat)

Despite juggling two careers, marriage, and exceptional taste in Mardi Gras masks, Laura took time to answer our Ten Questions:

1. While Che-Val is a new band, your sound is exceptionally polished.  What previous bands/experience did you and Kenny have prior to your current project?

Thank you! Kenny is definitely the man behind the curtains when it comes to how polished we sound. He graduated from Berklee College of Music and plays the bass, guitar, keys, drums, and some clarinet (he even does the dishes too! Lol what a guy!). So he always incorporates a lot of live elements into the music, which really bring it to life. Kenny also learned a lot from being the leader of his funk band Decifunk during college and from playing in the Green Pasture Baptist Church band in the Bronx. Owning his own music studio (the Factory Underground studio), he has worked as the producer/composer of several projects that helped him to develop his own sound. One project close to his heart was the album his created with his young rap protégé, Lighta, who died in a car accident. Lighta really helped to shape Kenny’s sound, and we actually plan to feature his vocals on one of our tracks on our EP.

I was mostly a song-writer before this project. I had recorded a country album in Nashville that I loved! I was on the country route when I met Kenny and got back into pop music. Then we started to incorporate more of the alternative side more recently.

We also have great mixing engineers on board: Grammy-nominated John Shyloski mixed “My Beat” and actually directed the video too, and Nic Hard, who is mixing a couple of other tracks on the EP. Both have been vital and influential to our sound and to Kenny, who has also mixed a couple of tracks.


2. How long have you two been married to each other?  How did you meet?

We have been married for three years this past July, but we’ve been together for seven years.

I met Kenny while accompanying a friend to record a hip hop hook in Kenny’s studio. Though I was recording a country album at the time, Kenny was impressed by my writing and wanted to start working together. Best pick up line ever (laughs) Just kidding! We actually started on the music first and the love came second. My friend whom I met Kenny through actually told me that Kenny was “off-limits” because he didn’t want me to mess up his business! But hey, now I get him discounts… so who’s laughing now?


3. How did “My Beat” came about?

My Beat was meant to bring back that nostalgic vibe of going into a record shop or CD store and picking out the new album that you’ve been waiting for. You could be having the worst day, but somehow that experience and that excitement made it so much better. And once you have that album, it’s now a part of who you are. And that’s the meaning behind My Beat! Because it was a vibe we felt was lacking in the digital market. We even work into the lyrics artists that we did go shopping for or claimed as our beat (TLC, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, James Brown, etc)!  When doing the video for My Beat, we did retro stop motion animation with vinyl records to play with that concept too.

4. Can you tell us a little more about the upcoming EP?

The upcoming EP is titled Gone Mad and it’s now set for release in January 2015. It really plays with the dark and the light… the upbeat and the downtempo. It’s a little bipolar in an awesome alternative way. We have songs that lean more toward Lorde, Banks, and the Neighborhood… and then we have other songs that lean more toward Ellie Goulding, Icona Pop, and Madonna.  We felt it was more like putting together a favorite playlist.

We will be releasing another single in November 2014 before the album drops. The single is called “Don’t Give Up On Me” and it’s an acoustic ballad that we will be using to raise awareness for Parkinson’s disease, and we will be donating the profits to the cause. It’s a cause close to our hearts because Kenny’s mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 10 years ago.


5. What are your inspiration(s) for your music?

The inspirations for our music really can change daily.  One week it could be a real personal event that has happened in our lives the next it could be a tv show, something that happened in pop culture, or something more global. So being a chemistry teacher, I want to say… it could be microscopic or macroscopic!

6. Who are your influences?

While Kenny’s influences root pretty heavily in soul, rock, and hip hop mine are a little more pop and country based.  While you may find names like Prince, Led Zeppelin, Snoop Dogg and Charles Mingus on his top list, you’ll find Madonna, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, and Shania Twain at the top of mine! I am unashamed to say that Debbie Gibson and the Spice Girls have influenced me as well!

7. You both have impressive careers outside of Che-Val.  Can you tell us about those?

They couldn’t be more different lol.  I teach high school chemistry so it’s very schedule oriented and my day starts at 6 a.m.  Kenny owns a recording studio (The Factory Underground) so he may not get home until 6 a.m.  Because it’s his business you never know what duty he may be called to do so he has to be more improvisational about how he approaches day to day.


8. How do you juggle both careers?

It’s definitely a challenge! (laughs) When I’m teaching, I give 100 percent to that and put all of my effort and energy into it because that’s what my students deserve (Sometimes I really feel like I have 120 children… that’s about how many students I teach!) And I really do love giving them an appreciation for science, because I have a Master’s degree in chemical engineering, and that is something that I am proud of! But after the long day, it is difficult to make sure I also give 100 percent to my music and practice my vocal exercises, promote our music, work on songwriting, record, and/or whatever is lined up for that evening. The couch can look very tempting after that point! But ultimately it’s a passion and I make time for both. It’s also super difficult to sing well after talking/teaching for like 7-8 hours, because it does take a toll on your voice. But I guess I am trying to invoke some superwoman powers here… either that or just hope for some snow days! Just kidding.

9. What do your fellow teachers/students think of your musical pursuits?

They don’t really know much about it! I try to keep the two separate so that during school I’m promoting the fact that right now, we’re in a learning space and it’s time to focus.  Though other teachers and students keep asking me to do the talent show!

10. What do you hope to achieve musically?

We are pretty invested in the community that surrounds the Factory Underground, which is Norwalk, Connecticut. When a lot of people think of Connecticut, they think super rich, but there’s actually a large income disparity.  Having successful music come out of this area can help break down barriers that are set up by the financial disparity and help bring other people to the area to work on music and arts.Che-Val banner with logo

Premium pop in a post-pop world: Che-Val’s “My Beat”

People are likely to think I’m making this up, but there was a time when pop music was actually fun.  It was still mostly put together by studio wonks who were more interested in song writing by committee to reach key target demographics than it was about laboring over song and lyrics to create something as memorable as it was danceable, but they were less obvious about it.  We didn’t have to endure hackneyed shows like American Idol and The Voice where pop stars are stamped out like license plates on a prison press.  We were at least left with the illusion that some talented people got together on their own and crafted an upbeat track to our life’s soundtrack.

This may be the illusion created by Connecticut husband/wife pop duo Che-Val.  There is little about them on the Internet…no names, no bio…not much other than a few pictures and one complete and infectious song, “My Beat.”  Based on this song, the two appear to be fans of ’80s dance pop, complete with a campy video dripping with appears to be intentional irony that looks like it might have seen some rotation time on early MTV.  Regardless, it’s raucous fun that will stick with you like Aquanet to a magnificent mane of ’80s hair.  I hope we hear more from them.

You can find their Website here, Twitter here, and Soundcloud here.


Back for the attack…

After a six-month hiatus, I’m back! Even though I haven’t been posting to the blog, I have been listening to lots of new music, hitting live shows when I can, networking with bands, and keeping an ear out for great stuff (like Lia Ices, Interpol, Merchandise, Che-val and others).


ll post as often as I can given I do have a full-time job.  Plans are to continue the Friday Five Across the Lips, SirusXM U’s Download 15, and random articles where I’ll opine such things as why rock is dead, Gene Simmons is full of crap, and that the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame either admit Sonic Youth to the next class or admit that it’s really not a hall of anything more than overpriced souvenirs.

Stay tuned…


FRIDAY 5 ACROSS THE LIPS: Five bands we wish would get back together


1.  LCD Soundsystem


Years active: 2001-2011
Number of albums: 9 (including three EPs)

While I try to keep an open mind to all genres, I’m not a fan of what is generally known as “dance music.”  It might be because it seems like there isn’t much of a creative process in making it.  It might be because the lyrics to most dance songs seem vapid at best.  Or it might be because I have no coordination and can’t dance my way out of an open burlap sack with all the sides removed.  Regardless, it’s just not for me…unless that dance music is coming from LCD Soundsystem.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been a long-time fan.  I can’t go into the nuances of their music or tell you the different stages of their decade-long career.  I came to the LCD Soundsystem game late, perhaps two or three years before the breakup.  I became hooked to their clever, humorous approach to dance, which made it more appealing. What’s more fun than moving your hips to “Losing My Edge” while watching frontman James Murphy getting his face slapped repeatedly to the beat for four minutes and 27 seconds?  Or the thought of “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” where you can “Dance Yrself Clean (with Kermit and the Muppets)” with lots of “Drunk Girls“?

Yep, that was one dance party I wish never ended.

2.  The Smiths


Years active: 1982-1987
Number of albums: 16 (including 10 compilations and one EP)

For some reason, Morrissey recently declared in a Billboard magazine interview that “I don’t know a single person who wants a Smiths reunion.”


I’m here to declare I’m that single person who really wants a Smiths reunion.  I’ll sit in the audience by myself if I have to.

I first heard the Smiths during my DJ days at the University of Denver’s student-run radio station, KAOS, from 1983-86.  It was a far cry from what I was used to during my high school days in central Michigan, where we were fed a regular diet of Bob Seger, Journey, and Billy Joel.  The most alternative thing we listened to at the time was maybe Cheap Trick (Patti Smith didn’t count because the only tune we heard her sing was actually a Bruce Springsteen song).

There was something off about the Smiths, but I loved it.  Morrissey’s velvety smooth voice interlaced with Johnny Marr’s dirty guitar work created an incredibly complex and gorgeous tapestry of juxtaposing sounds.  Couple that with the irony of Morrissey’s lyrics dripping with sadness, depression, and defeat against a wall of Marr’s joyously upbeat chords and you had something offbeat, fun, and as addictive as heroin-laced Dove chocolates.  I didn’t really know what to make of the Smiths at the time, but I knew I could never go home again.  And I was very good with that proposition.

3.  Das Racist


Years active: 2008-2011
Number of albums: One studio album, two mixtapes

Remember when hip hop was clever and fun?  Yeah, I barely remember that either.  The likes of Sugar Hill Gang, Beastie Boys, and NWA are long gone and have been replaced by rappers slurring lazy rhymes with no irony, sense of humor, or any purpose.

Then along came Das Racist, three apparent slackers from Brooklyn with degrees from  Wesleyan University who employed humor, academic references, foreign allusions, and unconventional style of rap that hasn’t been heard in years.  Taking their name from the short-lived MTV show  Wonder Showzen in which a character constantly yelled “That’s Racist!” between skits, the trio intentionally or unintentionally set out to make rap fun again, which included songs about trying to find your buddy at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, a tribunal led by Michael Jackson, and the finer points of stalking.  Some saw them as a joke, others saw them as an important milestone in modern hip hop.

Incidentally, while the name was meant to be a clever homage to Wonder Showzen and how a serious accusation had become little more than a quip, it backfired as some thought the group was comprised of white supremacists, which is not the case.  All three are men of color who are definately not racists.

4. Sonic Youth


Years active: 1981-2011
Number of albums: 30 (including four compilations and eight EPs)

I pretty much grew up with Sonic Youth, so I took the news rather hard when I found out they disbanded following the separation and subsequent divorce of guitarist Thurston Moore and his wife/bandmate, bassist Kim Gordon.  It was like losing someone you love who was also taking all her cool stuff with her.  It was devastating.

Sonic Youth is arguably most influential band of the modern rock era.  They did things with guitars that had never been thought of before, such as alternative tuning and playing the instruments with screwdrivers and drum sticks to create vast walls of dissonant sound.  They championed other indie bands, such as Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, and Cell, after signing with Geffen’s DCG label.  They came out with 30 great albums in 30 years (not counting singles and bootlegs), nary a clunker among them.  They are the greatest band of all time.

Their fifth album Daydream Nation was enshrined in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2005 for being “…culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”  The Registry describes the album:

“Pioneer members of New York City’s clangorous early 1980s No Wave scene, Sonic Youth are renowned for a glorious form of noise-based chaos. Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo had previously performed with Glenn Branca’s large guitar ensembles, and their alternative guitar tunings and ringing harmonies attest to this apprenticeship. On Daydream Nation, their breakthrough album, the group’s forays into outright noise always return to melodic songs that employ hypnotic arpeggios, driving punk rock rhythmic figures and furious gales of guitar-based noise. Bassist Kim Gordon’s haunting vocals and edgy lyrics add additional depth to the numbers she sings.”

And now they’re no more.  Given three decades of unfettered brilliance, we’re fortunate to have such an in-depth collection of incredible avante-garde musical art from which to draw because they’re gone for good.  The world is worse for it.  One more show wouldn’t deaden the pain, but it might alleviate it a bit.

5.  Cell


Years active: 1990-1995
Number of albums: 2

Cell had so much potential, but was a victim of being in the right place at the wrong time.  I first heard them when they opened up for Sonic Youth at Tuxedo Junction in Danbury, Conn., on July 2, 1992, to promote their first album, Slo-Blo.  That was about a year into the grunge era which, unfortunately, would only last a few more years as Kurt Cobain’s suicide on April 5, 1994, marked the decline of the genre.  As grunge went, so did Cell.  By 1994 they released their second and final album, Living Room, then they faded into oblivion.  During their short career, they produced some powerful guitar rock that was just as much on their albums as it was live.