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“Dolby’s Top 10 Indie-Singles-from-the-’80’s-or-’00’s-That-Would-Have-Been-Mainstream-Singles-Had-They-Been-Released-in-the-’90’s”

“Here’s a band Seaweed,” articulates Sub Pop record engineer Jack Endino in the grunge documentary Hype!, “that wasn’t really doing anything at the time, they hadn’t played a show in over a year or so, yet Rolling Stone is interviewing them.” Such was the state of the music business in the ’90’s. A prize hog, eating itself, feeding on itself, to the point of logic’s wane.

Some have credited psychedelic mushrooms indigenous to the Puget Sound area for facilitating the wealth of meaningful rock music belted, wailed and spewed in said geographical area. One theory’s as good as another, if you ask me. Take away Soul Asylum, The Jesus Lizard and Helmet, and very few early ’90’s bands are left that made any impact outside of Seattle. The success the music industry enjoyed in the ’90’s, whereas the ’80’s had been lampooned by the big three — Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen — could only be the result of a geographical pilgrimage, a once obtuse, inaccessible nook of the country turned cultural mecca. If Shell would have put out “Grunge Gasoline” for Los Angeleans to put in their cars for a way of getting up there, they may very well have paid an extra 10 cents a gallon.
Ironically, though, many of these choices are also from the Pacific Northwest. This flies in the face of logic. Like, if this place is so diffused and yuppie-oriented now, why is there still inspiration up there?
But the aesthetic of the music is unquestionably shifted. The need for melodic unification has replaced the need for anger’s sublimation, or so I theoretically guess.
The Northwest is represented only by the bottom two of this poll, but even as I compile it, its presence is imposing and daunting. The Decemberists and the Fleet Foxes are just a couple from that region who hailed in a megalomania of galvanizing originality for other bands to follow, spearheaded by politic-transcending androgyny and inimitable sublime folk, respectively. In this way, I guess, these bands aren’t “pop” enough, as if this whole thing needed any more irony.
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10 A.C. Newman – “The Cloud Prayer”
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Between The New Pornographers oeuvre and his solo work, no shortage of gathering pool plagued this guy’s catalog: I could have chosen between probably seven or eight tracks on this very album, to say nothing of his band’s invariably fruitful portfolio, and his solid to syrupy subsequent album.
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9 Black Mountain – “No Hits”
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This may be the best band that 80% of America hasn’t heard of. Radio’s clout would have clearly been augmented by a number of dark forays from this band’s 2005 eponymous LP, from “Don’t Run Our Hearts around” on through the next four or so tracks, each of which chafes its sequential predecessor in both aesthetic and mood, and successfully carves an entirely unique niche in indie rock, particularly that which harks to the psychedelia of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s.
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8 Deerhunter – “Nothing Ever Happened”
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The sum total of this band’s proof-in-the-punishment indie rock madness in the late ’00’s is as stupefying as one man’s very unflappable muse was on the album before this, and as unforgettable as the pop acumen was on the album AFTER this. If anything, though, the message of this song sums it up: what really happened? What did we DO? Did we actually CHANGE anything, did we make anything BETTER. Stay hungry is what Deerhunter did, and so they relish my listenership. Sonic Youth and ’60’s pop are prominent influences.
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7 Rapeman – “Just Got Paid”
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Covers making radio play aren’t unheard of: see Mariah Carey’s “I’ll Be There” of the Jackson 5, which went, you guessed it, Billboard number one. The video for this song is even perfect: this guy’s riding in his car just off work, like banging on the ceiling of it, from what I remember. The whole thing very Chicago somehow, if I may assert as much.
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6 Beach House – “Gila”
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There is a justified critical knock on this album, which tactilely would be the “cheap sounding drum machine,” as cokemachineglow.com put it, and which theoretically would be that this is “music as a means of escape,” as I believe Spin put it. The reverse side of this coin, though, is that the muse, the melody, and the seamlessness of the artistic statements made are undeniable, strains, ebbs and flows more likely grasped, I guess, by people living in a more pastoral area, people for whom the everyday life may be filled with just a little more beauty, at no cost of keeping up with any proverbial “Jones-es.”
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5 Wire – “From the Nursery”
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Colin Newman could sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” at a local day-care and it would sound “punk”; you could say the guy’s just cursed with this scathing image manifested audibly. Made around ’79, and sounding made around ’97, this is gaudy, rich popular rock music for the alienated and askance — no frills adorn these melodic vehicles to celestial punk equality, no matter how long it takes compared to say The Clash or The Buzzcocks.
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4 Wolf Parade – “Soldier’s Grin”
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Well, Apologies for Queen Mary, we threw this whole soiree for you, there’s been cake, a pinata, pin the tail on the donkey, even a slip and slide, and now it’s time for your present: a rotten egg, ‘cause we chose a song from your successor, At Mount Zoomer, to be featured on this list, (oh, burn!) Like The Decemberists’ “The Crane Wife pt. 3,” this is an album opener that follows a near-perfect predecessor, and so does the only thing the band could possibly do — draw on that past intensity, but simplify, and beautify, cementing the band’s m.o. irreversibly in the mind of the listener: hopeless and romantic.
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3 The Dodos – “Paint the Rust”
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The radio rock referent to this would be Queens of the Stone Age’s “Someone’s in the Wolf” — a lengthy, heterogeneous rocking centerpiece on an emotionally challenged album (I THINK the Queens went radio, though I confess I don’t live in the hippest town). Doing battle with vapidity, bad poetry and intimidating soothsayers on the street, sometimes with guitar, and sometimes with lyrics, Meric Long and Logan Kroeber let the two combine forces and gel cozily on this track, operative term: m.o.
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2 Sonic Youth – “Total Trash”
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A popular choice, from a popular album, made during an unpopular presidential term, which I couldn’t possibly conceive as having been as bad as the George W. Bush reign of error, but that’s what I hear…
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1 The Stone Roses – “Waterfall”
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It’s hard to imagine anyone on Earth complaining about hearing this song, short of just saying, “Fu** these guys, they’re British!” If The Stone Roses had been French there’s a chance we still would never have heard them, particularly if they’d emerged during Donald Rumsfeld’s charismatic ascent to power circa 2003. Gimme that FREEDOM THONG! Well, against all odds, achingly gorgeous, integral and cleverly climactic music does surface once in a while, and this song stands by an ear or two over other giants like “She Bangs the Drums,” “Made of Stone” and even the b-sides “Elephant Stone” and “I’m Going Down” for the very equestrian abandon these blokes seem to conjure, as if faced constantly with a deific muse that tells them, Dude, you’re not THAT important.

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