12 min read

Notes on Landfill (boho) Alt

You don't need one hit to be wonderful to me
Notes on Landfill (boho) Alt

Today’s newsletter is admittedly pretty newsletter-y. Don’t worry, I’m still going to get at least a couple Iliad-length essays about Turnstile b-sides to you a month. But today is more me just checking in, seeing how you’re feeling, bitching about nothing, really, and recommending some stuff. Next week, we’ll do a new record roundup, and then we’re back to oblivion-bait you all pay good money for. Speaking of, now that all the free speech dullards are joining us unemployed hipsters on substack, the competition is feeling kind of tight. So I’d appreciate it if you subscribed and shared even more than usual! If not this edition then one of the deep dives. Thank you very, very much.

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The other day, I almost got mad online. There was a Medium post, by the author K. Thor Jensen,  called “The Top 50 Landfill Alternative Songs,” in which the writer essentially listed fifty songs he liked from the 1990s that he considered one-hit (if that) wonders. He used the recent VICE UK Landfill Indie” writeup (an overview of the slurry of generic guitar rock that followed the success of Arctic Monkeys over there) as an umbrella/framing device. The VICE article was fun and flawed in its own ways. God knows, as a musician who at one time badly wanted to “make it,” I don’t love genre names based on denigration of musicians and/or their ambition. But, enjoying cheap shots as much as the next guy and not having any particular dog in the Cribs vs, Futureheads fight, I didn’t pay yet another foray into fickle nostalgia by the UK press too much mind. K. Thor Jensen’s list, however, being concerned with the music borne out of (and killed by) an industry desperate to recreate the success of grunge, was in, as they say, my lane. In fact, “The Top 50 Landfill Alternative Songs,” was paved with my bread. The lane’s yellow divider line, my butter. So, with the amount of possessiveness that coverage of music that literally every single person my age has a claim to definitely warranted, I got mad online. Almost. Well, not almost. But only for a minute.

To make something clear, I have absolutely nothing against K. Thor Jensen. We have different interests but his tweets pass through my timeline now and again and, when they do, I rarely think much beyond “dude seems cool.” And there was nothing wrong with the writing of the piece. And before I could fly too far off the handle, I saw that the incomparable Maura Johnston, who I enjoy and admire beyond measure, both as journalist and human, helped compile the list. It’s unlikely I’d strive to be the writer I am/hope to be without Johnston’s example; hers is an extensive catalog of music writing that manages to be breezy and pointed and informative all at once. Even beyond her writing, Maura’s career, entirely free of the cliquey gladhanding I both despise and occasionally take part in, serves as one worth aspiring too. All around, a real boss chick. So my competitive nature about who else is allowed to gatekeep ‘90s alt minutiae was immediately checked. Somewhat.

So, yes, despite the actual writing of the list being both crisp and (largely) appreciative, I almost got mad online. As power-popper Mo Troper pointed out (in the tweet that brought the whole fandango to my attention), some of the bands included, in a list of bands that supposedly disappeared from view, have never been as highly, and almost as popularly, regarded as they are now. Maybe in the ‘90s, The Lemonheads and Third Eye Blind weren’t taken as seriously by critics as their peers, but now they are canon. There are endless college age indie bands, with members as far from death as their proclivities will allow, aping Evan Dando’s genial tunefulness and Third Eye Blind’s… Third Eye Blind-ness. The early (good) work of Lemonheads is sadly less influential but it occasionally happens. What is Guitar Fight from Fooly Cooly’s “my friends are my power (spoiler alert!)” but an excruciatingly (almost “fueled by ramen” levels of bad) named (but tbc still rad as an actual song) inversion of The Lemonheads’ “Hate Your Friends”? Maybe such influence is unintentional, but do we believe in lipstick traces or not? Anyway, Troper’s complaint raised my eyebrows (and made me click), but I got bigger problems than The Lemonheads not getting their due, so I was merely bemused at this point.

When I did get mad online (for a minute), was when the longstanding indie pop band, Nada Surf, got slandered. Now, I don’t deny that Nada Surf had one hit. Nor do I deny that the band did not have another hit after “Popular.” But Jensen’s dismissal (presumably more out of ignorance than malice) of Matthew Caws’ long and, by my standards, successful career irked. Caws, both in Nada Surf and as a solo performer, has done what all artists should aspire to; he’s made music, on his own terms, all his life. And with a catalog of thoughtful and original songcraft, even if it’s not the scabrous scum fuckery I generally big up, he’s managed to pay for his own groceries and rent. One of the things that’s always driven me mad about the UK music press (and to a far lesser extent Pitchfork and its ilk) has been the conflating of “in fashion” with “relevant” or “good.” I don’t think Jensen meant to be unkind, and god knows when I make my cheap jabs at whomever it’s under the assumption that my victims probably won’t see it, but it still bothered me. Nada Surf did and does valuable work. Unless one thinks a band sucks (in which case, go with god… artists aren’t deserving of special dispensation from jokes at their expense just by dint of sticking around), saying a band was “never thought of again” is unnecessary; a dismissal based on the vagaries of public taste rather than merit. Boo the fuck to that. Caws, to his credit, took the insult with good humor. Probably helped that artists from Superchunk to Joe Pernice took umbrage on his behalf. Still, I was briefly mad online. I’d love to be Matthew Caws. Motherfucker still has all his hair.

Also, and while I can’t make a case for it in a court of law it’s truer than truth itself; THE BAND HAZEL WAS AMAZING. Easily one of the top 5 post-grunge bands of all time.

Despite the previous 800 words making it seem that I’m “not mad I’m laughing actually” actually wicked mad, I am not, I swear. Some of the piece’s naysayers called it “clickbait” but I don’t think it was that. It was on Medium, not a music site under constant pressure to please its hedge fund overlords. I think K. Thor Jensen (who, as far as I can tell, like Matthew Caws ironically enough, has years of well regarded art under his belt) genuinely likes all the songs he listed and merely found a way in which he could talk about them. Whether it was a niche passion project or just a fun way to kill time before the grave, I think the intent was good. If I take major issue with the list, it’s only as major as a prejudice of small difference will allow. I’ve written plenty of music pieces that were accused of being based on misunderstanding of history and art. Some of the Facebook discussions of both my Leatherface essay and the one on Australian grunt-rock were positively scathing. People from all over the globe have taken the time from (presumably) busy days to call me a poseur. Anyway, one of the pleasures of music lists- arguably their only value at all- is in getting mad about them. Hell, maybe Jensen’s list will inspire a Buck Pets revival. Which would be, you know, no worse than anything else going on.

See, even after all that, there I go being an asshole about The freakin’ Buck Pets. Who I loved when I was 14! So, K. Thor Jensen, I don’t presume to be any better than you. You are my people.

But, seriously, Hazel’s Toreador of Love is a gorgeous record, you fool, you utter maroon. JK. We good. Maura, don’t be mad at me. Jensen isn’t the only one who sometimes needs to find things to talk about.

BUT haha, jokes on all of you, I’m not just wasting time over here. I am, in fact, taking inspiration from “The Top 50 Landfill Alternative Songs” to write about some albums that vaguely sound like some of the bands on that list, that I think you, my readers, might enjoy; albums that I think about a lot but that aren’t easily fit into any framing device other than “hey… you like melodic, abrasive but not strictly speaking ‘punk,’ music that sounds like it could have been made in the 1990s but, as none of us want to be beholden to our ancient CD collections, wasn’t, right? Right? You like that? Great! Here’s some of that!”

So, in gratitude to K. Thor Jensen, Maura Johnston, Matthew Caws, and all past, present, and future members of Buffalo Tom… here is some great guitar music that sounds a little like Eleventh Dream Day, but isn’t.

Brain F≠ Sleep Rough

Ok, well, maybe this is a punk record. It’s fast and noisy and made by punks and came out on punk label/store par excellence, Sorry State. I dunno. Who cares. It’s catchy and heartfelt and feels like pop to me. Guitars that sound like static from Mars and drums that sound like they were recorded on Phobos. “Landfill” in that it was briefly hyped by punk intelligentsia when it came out in 2011 but never worshipped by discogs nerds or DIY profiteers in the way Iceage or Merchandise were. Still, one of the finer pieces of independent guitar art that flannel ‘n’ shorts sporting, house-show porch-drinking, malcontents have made in the 21st Century.

Museum Mouth Alex I Am Nothing

The “Alex” of the album title is (presumably) not Alex Stewart. But if you ever dreamt of the singer of Xiu Xiu fronting Smoking Popes (and who hasn’t?), Museum Mouth has got you covered on this absolute beaut of an album. Slashing guitars and pure emotionalism, but with no more traces of irksome “emo” than is absolutely necessary. Music for summer babes and the orgasm addicts who get too high and, in a monsoon of unrequited feeling, like all those babes’ instagram posts. After Alex I Am Nothing, Museum Mouth devoted a few years to having almost mythic levels of bad label luck. Their solid 2016 album was on Say Anything dude’s imprint of Equal Vision and then the band signed to Tiny Engines, right before the label was cancelled by DIY. But, recently the band seems to have regained its mojo, releasing glorious covers from the Disturbing Behavior soundtrack and a b-side/rarities comp that’ll hopefully get ‘em signed to a label that will do them the justice these songs deserve.

Bird of Youth Get Off

Bird of Youth’s Beth Wawerna (nepotism alert: we’re “friends” in that we’ve hung out at bars and I like her and I assume she likes me- what’s not to like- but we don’t, you know, talk or write or anything like that) is the only person I’ve ever met in real life who actively thinks about the band Green On Red. Before her, I just thought, even after I owned a couple of their records, that they were an invention of critics who needed to hit a word count on their Trouser Press submissions. But she loves them, The Rock-A-Teens, pre-fame Soul Asylum, Rockpile; all that sad and sweet, rockin’ Americana Not Americana crit shit. And, on Get Off, Wawerna and her band fold all those influences (with a healthy dose of Squeeze) into a haunting (if peppily so) elegy to family, the city, and her own fucked around youth. It’s a great, resonant New York album of non-cartoons barely getting by, without sounding like any of the musics associated with the city. It’s kind of what I always wanted, based on the myth and literature, Mink DeVille to sound like, truth be told. Once, years ago, I was deejaying at Second Chance Saloon. I was playing “I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass” and I all of a sudden felt a strong grip close to my neck. I turned with a start and it was an extremely high Jimmy Gestapo giving me a shoulder rub as thanks for playing Nick Lowe. If that had gone any further, Bird of Youth would have been the band at my and Jimmy Gestapo’s wedding.

The Neckbones The Lights Are Getting Dim

While definitely more on the garage end of the spectrum than “alternative” (whatever the hell that could mean anyway), The Neckbones feel like a nice roughneck americana continuation of Bird of Youth, and there’s sure as shit no arguing that they are overly appreciated. I know barely anything about this record, even after randomly sitting next to the singer at Manitoba’s, and proceeding to fanboy his soused ears off, years after Lights Are Getting Dim’s release and subsequent disappearance. I vaguely recall a critic calling the album a “combination of The Stones and The Dead Boys.” In retrospect, having lived through so many cycles of horrific  bloozy garage hogwash, we can of course say “nothing could live up to that and, also, that sounds awful.” But Lights came out in 1999, when I was 24 and, buddies, I was ready for it. I couldn’t tell you whether it’s nostalgia or truth that this holds up. But I still love it. And, while some of it is maybe a tad hokey, “Ocean Blue'' is still the finest, saddest Pixies song those effete and impudent Bostonians never wrote.

A Giant Dog Pile

I’ve written about this album a million times. As it ain’t famous yet, a million and one will hopefully do it. Best rock and roll album of the last twenty years. They should teach the lyrics to “Hitchhike Love” in seminary school.

Alif Aynama-Rtama

I realize that I’m not the writer that one goes to for Radiohead opinions. I pretty much only like The Bends and about half of OK Computer. But, to my mind, if you like Radiohead, all of it, then there is no reason that this Arab world supergroup, and this stunning collection of tunes, wouldn’t be a favorite as well. It has all the things I love about Radiohead (the overarching mood of dread, the experimentation cloaked within actual tunes) and none of what I don’t like (everything else). Music for people smart enough to be scared but too sussed to be scared of robots.

Eleventh Dream Day New Moodio

Hell, no reason to not include the template for all my rambling this week.This album sounds like Eleventh Dream Day and is! El Moodio, the Chicago indie band’s 1993 flop on noted indie label Atlantic Records, was purchased by me when I saw it in a cutout bin within weeks of its release. It was unfashionable in ways that are hard to imagine even in our distorted memories of the early ‘90s. It was more grumpily philosophical  than straight up nihilistic and more interested in still maintaining the loud Neil Young simplicity of ‘80s midwest college rock than the loud Neil Young anthems grunge was copping. El Moodio was beautifully produced but seemingly aimed at no one who didn’t steal records from the local college radio station or tend bar in Chicago. Despite being neither of those types, I loved it. I think I had multiple copies at one time because it was always so cheap. El Moodio’s only competition in the cutout/used bin sweepstakes was Stiffs, Inc’s (also excellent) American Records disaster, 1995’s Nix. Naught. Nothing. As I no longer use my CD player, I haven’t heard it for years, so this 1991 rough and ready first draft of the album is a  major treat. Even if “Murder” isn’t on it.

Noura Mint Seymali Tzenni

With its combination of off-kilter funk and snaking guitar lines, all in the service of emphatically sung songs of love and praise, Noura Mint Seymali are the B-52’s the world needs. I don’t necessarily know that this album was slept on, I suspect Glitterbeat always does well in its chosen markets, but Tzenni doesn’t get the alt rocker plaudits I think it deserves (even if it’s doubtful that my need to put everything I like under the niche umbrellas of “genres I liked as a teenager” is an overriding concern shared by the band itself). At least I’m not calling them “funk metal.” (Tzenni is an amazing funk metal album tho.) (Pat Dubar would cream his jeans for these riffs.) (Sorry for that imagery, Mind Funk fans.)

Finally, I’m going to throw Coup Sauvage & The Snips’ Heirs to Nothing on this list. It doesn’t meet any criteria I’ve been drawing on except that it was woefully slept on and I can never fit it anywhere and, also, it rules. Let’s give Dave Kendall some alternate (reality) credit and just assume that, if it had existed at the time, the agit-house of Heirs To Nothing would have been on heavy 120 Minutes rotation. Anyway. It’s my newsletter. Until I get replaced by a Skynet sex pillow with the face of Glenn Greenwald, I’m gonna do what I want. And what I want to do is ask you to please buy the Coup Sauvage album.

That’s it for today! Don’t forget to vote Biden! I heard his son was in Hate Forest, but only on the first album.

Thanks for reading Abundant Living!

PS. Sub Pop needs to get Hazel back into print and on Bandcamp ASAP. While at they’re at it, Teen Angels’ Daddy needs to be on Bandcamp as well.

PPS Did you know Pat Dubar’s sister, Courtney, started Affliction Clothing? Isn’t that interesting? I think so!

PPS In my recent Machine Gun Kelly essay, which was otherwise amazing (and wildly shareable btw), I took a kind of bullshit jab at Run The Jewels. While the duo isn’t always my exact speed, I don’t actually think they’re comparable to Machine Gun Kelly. I let my weird need to occasionally be real fucking cute get the best of me. While I can’t imagine they saw, or would care if they did, I feel bad about it. Sorry, Run The Jewels! Truly!

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