This week we’re obsessed with beginnings- what marks the start of something special? How do we get away from what we once were? Take a look at some of our writers’ takes on what bands started with a bang.
The Exploding Hearts – Guitar Romantic (2003)
The rock ‘n roll force that are the Exploding Hearts is immediately evident on “Modern Kicks” that begins their debut record. The utterly catchy power pop hooks show up not too far along on “I’m a Pretender”, proving that the group can catch the listener up in a groove. The punk urgency in “Thorns In Roses”, the third track, adds some gritty edge to the group’s overall sound. After only three tracks, the group grabbed me a few years back when I first heard this record due to the bountiful mixture of pop, rock, and punk on every song. This record doesn’t have a dud on it and Adam “Baby” Cox’s vocals blends in well with the raucous band due to his natural upper range that doesn’t get annoying. For a record to come out like this in 2003, there were definitely high hopes of what this band could do in successive recordings. Unfortunately, the Exploding Hearts never released another full album due to the tragic plane crash that killed 3/4 of the band. I am just glad that this one record continues to give pop rock fans some long-term happiness after the group’s passing.
Kings of Leon- Youth and Young Manhood (2003)
Youth and Young Manhood, produced by indie rock guru Ethan Johns, is everything a rock album should be. Its gritty and fuzzy and unpolished and strange with front man Caleb Followill’s voice all soul and growl. Every song is a gem but “Red Morning Light” and “Molly’s Chambers” are especially catchy. The band which produced this album and their next, Aha Shake Heartbreak” is possibly my favorite rock band ever, which is really saying something. Unfortunately that band no longer exists. The band that started to emerge on Because of the Times and then came into its own with Only by the Night in 2008, has infinitely less character and soul, a bland, unremarkable product of the pop music cycle.
Eminem –The Slim Shady LP (1999) [Major Label Debut]
“Hi! My name is — what? Who?” Thanks to this album, Eminem (or Slim Shady), we know your name now. The Slim Shady LP shocked and offended mainstream media with its violent and explicit lyrics, and showed us that white dudes can rap too. More than a decade later, his songs still have punch. His lyrical delivery, irreverent and nasal, still stings you. Dre’s beats, especially on “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” and “Brain Damage” are freaky, and fit the violent fantasies Eminem enacts in his songs. Since the album, we’ve seen Eminem mellow out, sober up, and release a couple less provocative (both lyrically and creatively) albums. But the Slim Shady LP exemplifies Eminem’s distinctive style and launched the career of one of the most popular rappers of all time.
Spinal Tap – This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
It is 11-11-11 and there just aren’t many records that go all the way to 11 like this one does. This Is Spinal Tap looks back at the career of its namesake from their earliest recordings at The Thamesmen (“Gimme Some Money”), through their flower-power era (“Listen to the Flower People”), into their heavy metal heyday with their epic “Stonehenge.” It may have been the “first release” from the Tap, but it was hardly the first time this set of talent came together. Look all the way back to the 70s when David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) teamed up for the National Lampoon masterpiece Lemmings. Of course they were joined by other comedic and musical talents including John Belushi and Chevy Chase well before their SNL careers. Not familiar with it? Then get thee to Netflix and watch the stage production documenting Woodshuck: Three Days of Peace, Love and Death. http://bit.ly/teLBZc McKean & Guest surfaced outside of National Lampoon again in 1979 with the album Lenny & Squiggy Present Lenny and the Squigtones, a spinoff property from the hit TV show Laverne & Shirley. More than a comedic vehicle for Lenny & Squiggy, the Squigtones included luminaries such as Murphe Dunn (also known in comedy circles from the SNL and Blues Brothers bands), drummer Don Poncher and someone who may or may not have been Harry Shearer. Spinal Tap went on to tour the US multiple times following their American tour debut documented in the film This Is Spinal Tap. They’ve toured as recently as last year, losing countless drummers to spontaneous human combustion in their wake.
The Clientele- Suburban Light (2000)
The Clientele are a band who are about aesthetic over all else. Their songs are nearly uniformly clouded in warm reverb, a dreamy haze of nostalgia, whispers of desire. They released three of the last decade’s best albums: 2005’s Strange Geometry, 2003’s The Violet Hour, and their 2000 debut Suburban Light. It’s undeniable that over the last 12 years the band has moved towards better production, crisper drums, strings and horns, but Suburban Light still stands as the purest crystallization of the band’s sound. It’s almost as if they did it so well on tracks like “I Had to Say This”, “We Could Walk Together” and “What Goes Up” that everything that followed merely had to touch upon a certain musical aspect, a certain chord or harmony in order to evoke everything that came before it. This obsession with memory is something explicitly in the band’s music, notably in the stunning “Reflections After Jane”, but the way the band built a catalog that is so tight, so self-referential but always fresh originates in the strength and perfect beauty of Suburban Light.