My Year in Lists
Week Twenty Three
My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger's quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

"Part of her appeal is how she can make hard-to-interpret lyrics so emotionally gripping."-Ned Raggett of Allmusic, on ELizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins

"I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies, I have to admit it."-Kurt Cobain, on the writing of "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

"No album in recent history had such an overpowering impact on a generation"”a nation of teens suddenly turned punk"”and such a catastrophic effect on its main creator."-
Rolling Stone on Nevermind

As I prepare to travel outside of the country for two weeks, on a trip that will include time at the Edinburgh Film Festival (regular readers can expect some thoughts on that in a different space whence I return), this column has not received the attention it deserves this week. Apologies in advance if there's a dip in quality, but
My Year in Lists must soldier on even when its author hasn't the time to give it the attention it deserves. So let's get right to it then.

The earliest incarnation of what would become The Cure formed as The Obelisk at Notre Dame Middle School in Crawley, Sussex in 1973 with Robert Smith on the piano, Michael "Mick" Dempsey on guitar, Lawrence "Lol" Tolhurst on drums, Mark Ceccagno on lead guitar and Alan Hill on bass. In January of 1977, the group adopted the name Easy Cure, and after a brief flirtation with a record deal that produced no releases, Smith, Tolhurst, and Dempsey reemerged as The Cure. The group released their US debut album (which collected songs from their UK debut
Three Imaginary Boys along with five new songs), and Tab's pick this week Boys Don't Cry.

The title track was written by all three members of the band, and tells of a man reeling from heartbreak but hiding his emotions to retain his masculinity. "Boys Don't Cry" is a great song by any measure, but whenever I hear it I am slightly confused by the posturing inherent in its message. The Cure is not generally seen as a hyper-masculine, Gary Cooper type band, and Robert Smith has never seemed to emphasize the need for stoicism (see: much of the rest of the band's discography, including Disintegration, which we discussed a few weeks back, for evidence of this), yet one of the band's most famed and enduring songs basically boils down to "Man up! Don't be a little bitch! You're not a baby, nor are you a girl, so don't cry over your heartbreak!" And all of this prior to a decade in which the band would spend much of its time releasing pop love songs. Nevertheless, "Boys Don't Cry" is tops, so I can't gripe too much over a mixed message. Plus, having not shed a tear in over a decade (not, I assure you, because of my stoic approach toward existence), I can get behind the song's message anyway.

The demo of "10:15 Saturday Night" is the song that caught the attention of Chris Parry, who signed the band to his newly formed record company Fiction. "Jumping Someone Else's Train" is just a great early post-punk track, fun, thoughtful, catchy and quick. But I will always have a soft spot in my heart for "Killing an Arab," if only because as a self-satisfied twelve-year-old I thought the reference to Camus' The Stranger was the coolest thing in the world. Apparently, for past-Jordan, knowing that a post-punk band as cool as The Cure had read and enjoyed the same absurdist existentialist philosopher I was currently obsessed with was just about the best thing since sliced bread (seriously, though, Camus is the man. If you haven't read The Fall or "The Myth of Sisyphus," you should stop reading this right now and do so. I guarantee you'll find his work more enlightening than my smart assery about The Cure).

The Cure has continued to produce excellent music over the three decades since the release of Boys Don't Cry, yet this debut set the stage for an entirely different sound and paved the way for what not just this band, but many others would be doing for years to come.

In the early days of post-punk, surrounded by the sounds of Joy Division, The Birthday Party, Sex Pistols, Kate Bush and Siouxsie and the Banshees, Robin Guthrie, Will Heggie, and their brand new vocalist Elizabeth Fraser joined together and formed The Cocteau Twins. Their debut album, and Collin's pick this week, Garlands was released in 1982.

"Wax and Wane" establishes the band's often dreamy style, with Fraser's ethereal voice taking a fairly standard early post-punk melody and imbuing it with an otherworldly feel that gives it power it might otherwise lack. By "Blind Dumb Deaf," though, the melodies have caught up to Fraser's vocals and The Cocteau Twins have transcended their influences and cemented their own sound.

"Shallow then Halo" is a darker song that at parts takes on an almost Lynchian quality (I can easily see Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet slinking across a dance floor to the song). The title track displays a band that has figured out its sound, which is always a plus on a debut album. Overall, Garlands is an assured debut for The Cocteau Twins, a solid album that introduces a revolutionary new sound and then plays around with it until it finds just the right ways to make it shine. The band, along with The Cure and Sonic Youth was instrumental to the formulation of dream pop, and is considered an influence on My Bloody Valentine, Sigur Ros, Asobi Seksu, Broken Social Scene and dozens of others.

Formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987 by Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, Nirvana is quite possibly the most important band of the last twenty years. To qualify that statement, I am no Nirvana superfan, nor would I say they are my favorite band of the last twenty years. Yet, within their seven years together (prior to Cobain's untimely if not unpredictable suicide) and within the space of just three albums, Nirvana became a phenomenon that shaped music more than any of their contemporaries. Their second album, and Ashley's pick this week, Nevermind launched them into the stratosphere.

Nevermindis also the first album to include drummer Dave Grohl as part of the band's line up. After listening to REM, The Smithereens, and Pixies, Cobain began experimenting with more melodic songs. The band also signed with Geffen Records, based off of the suggestion of their idols Sonic Youth. The opening track "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was Cobain's attempt to write a song in the style of Pixies. Cobain got the title for the song from graffiti a friend spray paintedo n his wall reading "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit." He didn't realize until months after the song's release that Teen Spirit was a brand of deodorant; he thought the term smacked of revolution, and the song he wrote fits that mentality. While the lyrics are often indecipherable, the mood is one of rebellion, and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" would have to be on any list of the best songs of the '90s. Seething with anger, touched with ambivalence, and catchy as hell, the song is an apex of the band's short career.

"Come As You Are" is a song about the expectations people have for how one another should behave. "Lithium" features shifts from quiet verses to loud choruses, a songwriting trick Cobain had lifted from Pixies. The song is about a person who turns to religion after a heartbreak to save himself from suicide. The song is powerful in the best sense of the word, rollicking, dark, singable and anthemic. In short, it fucking rocks.

Nevermind popularized the Seattle grunge movement and cemented alternative rock into the mainstream of American culture. Where before alternative rock struggled to find commercial success, Nirvana ushered in an era when alternative rock, for a time at least, truly ceased to be an "alternative." Nirvana made their sound the mainstream through sheer craftsmanship and force of will. It's hard to quantify the impact of Nirvana, except to say that they changed the face of music forever, bringing alternative rock into the mainstream and heavily influencing the lives of an entire generation of music lovers. When we speak of the most influential bands of all time, it would be a mistake not to include Nirvana in the discussion.

In lieu of a conclusion tying all of this together (again, time being a concern as I write this installment, apologies to any fans of my overwrought conclusions), I will simply end this week by saying happy listening in the unusually long interim between postings. You can expect Week Twenty Four to be posted on Wednesday, June 22nd, and we'll be back to our regular Friday postings for Week Twenty Five on June 24th. Also, there should be another My Year in Lists: Interlude for your reading pleasure by the end of the month. For any of you playing along with the feature at home, enjoy the long period you'll be able to spend with next week's music. Me, I'll be giving it the attention it deserves and more. I've got a long flight ahead of me. Which reminds me, I've got a plane to catch.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next on My Year in Lists:

The Buzzcocks are Singles Going Steady, U2 is headed off to War and Red Hot Chili Peppers are cooking up a little recipe involving Blood Sugar Sex Majik.

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