Superchunk - Superchunk (1990), No Pocky For Kitty (1991), Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91), On The Mouth (1993), Foolish (1994), Incidental Music 1991-95, Here's Where The Strings Come In (1995), Indoor Living (1997), The Laughter Guns EP (1997), Come Pick Me Up (1999), Here's To Shutting Up (2001), Cup Of Sand (compilation, 1993-2003), Leaves In The Gutter EP (2009), Majesty Shredding (2010), and I Hate Music (2013). What sets Superchunk apart is their consistent commitment to avoiding bullshit. This is not a band that will attempt to blow your mind with their musicianship or their arty song cycle (not that there's anything wrong with that), but they will attempt to move you with their straightforward pop songs built on solid hooks, smart lyrics, and passionate delivery. As far as the albums go, the band was still working things out with Superchunk, although "Slack Motherfucker" was a 90s anthem for a really good reason. No Pocky For Kitty and On The Mouth show a band hitting all of their marks. I mean, this is what 90s "alternative music" was all about: great, loud, punk-influenced pop music with dynamic structures and odd, smart subject matter. And man, is "Precision Auto" a fantastic song, too. Tossing Seeds is the first compilation, reaching back before the first album to show that Superchunk was a great singles band even before it become a great album band. Foolish is my favorite 90s Superchunk album. Every song is a killer. Most bands struggle through a whole career to come up with songs this good. Incidental Music is another compilation of (mostly) singles, covers, and nonalbum tracks, including covers of songs by the Magnetic Fields, Motorhead, the Verlaines, and the Chills. I love it. I don't have much to say about Here's Where The Strings Come In or Indoor Living, other than that both are fantastic. Most of The Laughter Guns appears on Cup Of Sand, but the track "Hero," which doesn't, is good, too. Maybe not worth hunting down an EP, though. Come Pick Me Up brings in Jim O'Rourke as producer to shake things up, and O'Rourke adds some horn and string accompaniment that does provide a little depth without breaching Superchunk's no bullshit rule. The flourishes continued with Here's To Shutting Up, a lovely and emotional album that again breaks ground with keyboards, horns, and other accompaniment without breaking Superchunk's essential band-ness. The band was on a sort of hiatus for much of the 00s, with the occasional appearance but with no albums. Cup Of Sand is yet another excellent collection of b-sides and nonalbum tracks, including a cover of Bowie's "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)." Leaves In The Gutter is a 2009 EP with the new song "Learned To Surf" and three older unreleased tracks. Then there's Majesty Shredding, which is now my second-favorite of their albums, the sound of a band doubling down on their essential sound with the benefit of age to help them appreciate the simplicity and wonder of doing something very, very well. God, it's good. It's a bit like when the Go-Betweens got back together and starting making music that was among the the best of their careers. This year's I Hate Music is just as good.
Mastering the craft:
...And here is where I stop myself from posting Superchunk videos for the rest of this post. But seriously, this one has John Darnielle as a dentist and then Jon Wurster murders a drummer.
Swamp Dogg - Total Destruction To Your Mind (1970) and Rat On (1971). Yes yes yes I said yes already. One of the biggest regrets of my life was not going to see Swamp Dogg play the Continental Club in Austin when my pal Gary was visiting. He said it would be a good show, but I was worried about the cost. The moral of this story is that I'm an idiot. These are freakin' amazing albums. Plus the cover to Rat On has Swamp Dogg sitting astride a giant rat.
Matthew Sweet - 100% Fun (1995). Missed this one when I covered Matthew Sweet's output back in 18-ought-22. If you follow Sweet's career, you will not be surprised to learn that it is excellent power pop.
The Sword - Age Of Winters (2007), Gods Of The Earth (2009), Warp Riders (2010), and Apocryphon (2012). The Sword do the type of metal meant to be animated by Ralph Bakshi, where sword & sorcery is just a step away from sci-fi. They freakin' rock. Which of these albums is best? ALL OF THEM. They are all best.
Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs (1970), Peel Session 1970, and Barrett (1970). All from 1970? I guess so. Barrett was Pink Floyd's martyred cracked genius and the inspiration for so much of what Robyn Hitchcock does. The Mapcap Laughs may be a bit too far into "The Gnome"-style whimsy from the first Pink Floyd album, but Barrett has a lot going for it. The Peel Session is pretty sweet, actually.
Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter - Marble Son (2011). I've been holding onto this one for a while! I covered the first Jesse Sykes album back in 2009 or 2010. Anyway, this one drops the alt-country and goes for some complex psychedelic folk-rock with a throwback feel. Sykes has a great voice, and this is a great album.