February 1997
s m u g
ear candy
by Leslie and Jack

We Surrender

We're not immune to peer pressure, so here's a list of our top picks for records released in 1996. We figure, by now, you've read at least 28 top ten lists, so what's one more. At least you know we at SMUG really love you, and we're not just using you for your cool car/job/power tools/whatever. Yes, SMUG loves you. And we give you 12 records, not like those stingy rock writers who only give you ten and keep the best two for themselves.

Beck: Odelay

This is going to be on every year end top ten, so, we'll keep it brief. The trailer park Mozart takes Fluxus to the mountains and comes back with an assortment of subtle grooves fusing The Stanley Brothers to Marcel Duchamp and Isaac Hayes to Redd Kross. Best record of the year. Buy it now.

Tricky: Pre-Millennium Tension

Leslie says he can't rap. I say, "Who cares?" Tricky throws down the de rigueur post guitar/bass/drums soundscape. The sound of this record is the sound of a thousand Fender Mustangs being burned in a grunge inferno bonfire. We say, "It's about time."

Neutral Milk Hotel: On Avery Island

One of our favorite new bands of the year, NMH have all the things kids today love. Enigmatic lyrics, fuzzy guitar pop, and 12 minute end of the record guitar drone that can only be a shout out to the Mack Daddy of all noise bands, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore.

Sonic Youth: Washing Machine

Speaking of Thurston, add this one to the list. Certainly not their best effort, but our expectations of them may be too high. Washing Machine delivers all of what we love SY for, plus "Little Trouble Girl" a song that only girls seem to get.

John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey: Dance Hall at Louse Point

Guitarist John Parish supplies the music while Polly Jean her own bad self croons, wails, and moans her lyrics. Don't confuse this with a PJ Harvey album. Less bluesy. More experimental. Less angry. More longing. Hearing Polly Jean sing the heartbreaking "That Was My Veil" will leave you misty eyed and sporting wood at the same time. Well, the guys anyway.

Sebadoh: Harmacy

Lou Barlow's posse take the four track out of the basement and into the bedroom for another strong set. Songs about being fucked over by bitchy girls have been a staple of popular music for centuries. But recently the rash of overly sensitive shoegazing bands have had other things to whine about. Fuck getting along with your ex-girlfriend. We need material to wrap around clever hooks. Sebadoh can also step outside the pop song structure once in a while for some hell noise and even close on a happy note with a Bags cover. Pop is dead. Long live Sebadoh.

Archers of Loaf: All the Nation's Airports

We never knew that we wanted to go underneath the belly of Alaska. At least, not until we listened to All the Nation's Airports. Maybe it's their physics major looks complete with pocket protectors, but never has the soundtrack to The Discovery Channel been so damned entertaining. Underneath the belly of math rock lies Archers.

Ween: Pure Country Gold

Okay, there is a certain humor inherent to modern country music, and no one gets it more than Dean and Gene, those wacky boys who, like so many of today's artists, spend too much time in their room. Still, it's full of solid pop hooks and laced with the wry humor we've come to expect from the boys. We defy anyone to listen once and not walk away humming "Mr. Richard Smoker."

Elvis Costello: All This Useless Beauty

We know, you feel like Elvis has let you down a couple times and you're a little hesitant to try throwing your money at one of his projects again. Not to mention, there was no single, so you have nothing to go on. Trust us, the Elvis-as-Balladeer is back full stop, and Useless Beauty delivers in spades the haunting melodic barebones Elvis we all love.

Afghan Whigs: Black Love

Chalk another one up for the Cincinnati Heroin Kings [*note, that's a nickname we're giving them, nothing official*]. First, they try to convince us they're on the smack, but Greg Dulli is still chubby. On Black Love they're trying to tell us they have some deep rooted criminal longings. Okay, Greg, we'll buy it, but not because we believe you, but because you had the presence of mind to set it to some haunting guitar licks and layer it over a solid funk infrastructure. We're glad you're in touch with your dark side, it will save you a fortune in therapy.

Gillian Welch: Revival

Can't tell if she's really into Jesus or she just thinks Jesus gives her the mountain cred. (Kinda like technoheads name dropping John Zorn we guess.) Either way, these sparse songs with Louvin Brothers harmonies bring Steinbeck novels and Walker Evans photos to mind. Dead babies, ginny mules, and V-8 Fords everywhere. This is especially surprising since she's from California

Iggy Pop: Greatest Hits

"Best of" records generally don't rate top ten status, but Iggy is Iggy and frankly, with all those Stooges records, Iggy novices may have a hard time deciding where to begin worshipping at the altar of the real granddaddy of grunge and modern rock. This will be a good compass for the uninitiated and a handy feel good plate for the converted.


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