48 Bands That Took 20 Or More Years Between Albums
What’s a legacy to a legend? For some, it’s a thing to be actively patrolled: endless tours, obligatory records, the noblesse oblige of the bassist getting to do the occasional side project. Constant existence, in other words. For others, it’s an ambient gift. You’ll always have a band to join; awestruck journalists will check on you from time to time; people will send you messages, telling you how something you did in a small, dim room in 1968 or 1976 or 1988 or 1993 kept them alive for another day or season or year.
And what’s a legacy to us? An objectivity, something that can be upheld or sullied. Dying young is the worst tragedy, but its best outcome is a good legacy: flash-frozen and built for wishes. For the greater part of seven decades, we’ve lived in an ecosystem of performers, rather than songs. Creating a great album — hell, writing one great song — is a feat beyond the ability of billions, but that fact hasn’t prevented generations of consumers from griping about an act tarnishing its legacy. (And I’m writing as someone who once tried to convince you what Prince’s 17th-greatest album is.) Bands are brands: a change in sound prompts the same hand-wringing as Apple announcing a luxury watch, or McDonald’s doing McDonald’s-type social engineering things. But a band, essentially, is just a particular configuration of people working together for some number of weeks at a time. And people are a mess. Fans will live with Raw Power or Loveless or Odessey And Oracle for all time. But greatness couldn’t keep the creators of those albums together.
Still, greatness pulls. Each of the acts listed was eventually persuaded to release a new record, many years after the last one. For some — the Stooges, Os Mutantes, Cherubs — it took nothing more than the passage of time to mend old angers. For others — Mission Of Burma, the Juliana Hatfield Three, the Slits — the circumstances properly aligned. Others, particularly the solo artists, had done great work in secret, and the labors of collectors and bootleggers brought them back: Linda Perhacs, Bill Fay, Vashti Bunyan, Silver Apples, Death. And yeah, the allure of cash backgrounds most of these, if not all. For us, a good name is a legacy. For musicians, a good name is equity. For full-time artists in their forties, fifties, and beyond, that’s a precious — and often badly needed — commodity.
Of the 48 acts in this list, three issued their comeback album in the ’90s. Twenty-one did so in the ’00s, and 24 have done it in the ’10s (which, of course, we’re only halfway through). Obviously, this was a self-selected crop (and many thanks go to Scott, Michael, and Erik for helping me fill in the gaps), but the trend makes sense. Boomer-era acts, by and large, aren’t under pressure to generate new material. Barring the odd Stones, those groups can play the same crop of golden oldies for the same set of state fairs. It’s the rock and roll version of the pension system: kinda glorious, distressingly fading. The math is different for those who hail from the Age Of Punk and onward. The combination of cheaper recording methods, digital distribution, and a sellers’ market on the festival circuit makes it very tempting for alt-rock acts to bury the hatchet for as long as it takes to mount a tour and release an LP. (Or in the Pixies’ case, a tour and a bunch of tepidly received EPs.) Correspondingly, it’s never been easier for a music consumer to audition the comeback, to decide whether it’s worth the $20 for vinyl or the $40 for a ticket.
Unlike festivals or vinyl, though, the comeback bubble will never burst. Who wants to believe that the genius seed can perish? Listening to a record has never cost so little, but the animating principle is still the same: the desire to be amazed, to learn something new. Before Marva Whitney linked up with a Japanese journeyman funk act, she’d already lived a remarkable life. But I Am What I Am offered one more tantalizing chapter. Making a great piece of music is an incredible feat, and there’s nothing that can be done — short of, say, a felony — to erase a high-water mark. A bad album from a beloved act is a bummer, sure. But its spirit can always be glimpsed. And, if nothing else, a late-period dud points up how great the past work was, and how hard it is to match it. That’s what happened for me, anyway. In putting this together, I listened to dozens of separate comebacks (not including any follow-ups). Some came from longtime favorites, and others, like the artists that released them, were totally new to me. After all that, though, I gotta tell you: there’s nothing like that long pause before someone steps to the mic.
In the slideshow above is a survey of acts who went 20 or more years between studio LPs. (Twenty years based on the year of release, anyway, not the release date.) They run the gamut from genre pioneers to niche acts, from footnotes to megastars. Feel free to list any omissions in the comments. And take a second to dream about second acts not yet seen. A lot of bands from the Golden Age Of Emo are approaching two decades since the last album. (Plus there’s still hope for the ultimate comeback: Paul McCartney, Rihanna, and Kanye West releasing an album as the Beatles, then watching the internet burn itself to the ground.)
Steely Dan: Gaucho (1980) / Two Against Nature (2000)
The whole Scientology-word-for-mishegoss with Beck's Album of the Year Grammy got a lot of folks recalling other times when the Grammy electorate rewarded an artist for the career, not the album. What many people landed on was Two Against Nature, Steely Dan's comeback platter, which garnered four Grammys against a loaded pop field. "Steely Dan Steals Grammys From Eminem, 'N Sync" was ABC News' headline. For their part, they weren’t particularly plussed, just satisfied to be making the precisely-engineered, finely-wrought jazz-pop that made them the Seventies' oddest stars. Two decades before, Walter Becker and Don Fagen filed for creative divorce after a decade of intake and thirtieth takes had caught up with them. To the end, they could still finish each other’s sentences, but each man was ready to stop talking. Fagen released The Nightfly in 1982, a molded-plastic replica of a gee-whiz Space Age childhood. After that, he drifted: writing the odd score, publishing essays about film music for Premiere, then forming the club concern New York Rock & Soul Revue. Becker got clean and started producing other artists' albums; eventually, he produced Fagen's. A reunion tour followed -- the Dan's first concerts since 1974 -- and the protracted, demanding recording sessions that are the stuff of most musicians' nightmares. But for Steely Dan it meant, more than any left-field industry plaudit, that they were back. After 2003's Everything Must Go, they've contented themselves with giving preposterous names to their tours and making us forget that they once taped a parody of Taxicab Confessions.
The Undertones: The Sin Of Pride (1983) / Get What You Need (2003)
The pride of Derry, Northern Ireland, the Undertones were every bit the pop craftsmen that Buzzcocks were, and a lot of that is due to their pop/rock roots. But the inevitability of punk arrived. They were a bit late to the game; their debut single "Teenage Kicks" didn't come out until 1978. Fortunately, it found a true champion in BBC DJ John Peel. He would famously declare it his favorite song, and one of his plays caught the attention of Seymour Stein, owner of Sire Records. Sire was the home of the Ramones, a huge influence on the 'Tones, and they signed a five-album deal. They only made two before jumping to EMI, but they maintained their success for a time, charting seven Top 40 singles from 1978 to 1981. The whole time, though, they were drifting further from the pop-punk formula, and by 1983's The Sin Of Pride, the Undertones were under the sway of American soul. The album stacked up well with the New Romantic impulses of the time, though the group was sonically deeper in debt to the era than their more arch peers. Unfortunately, the singles stalled in the lower reaches of the charts, and the combination of internal and external pressure prompted singer Feargal Sharkey to quit. As a solo act, Sharkey's chart achievements outstripped his band's. The same year Pride was released, he hit the Top Five with his guest spot on "Never Never" by the Assembly, a synthpop act founded by ex-Depeche Mode/ex-Yazoo/future-Erasure member Vince Clarke. Under his own name, he topped the chart in 1985 with the keening pop showcase "A Good Heart." In the early Nineties, he shifted from performer to executive, heading a number of organizations advocating for the British recording industry. After the breakup, brothers John and Damian O'Neill went on to form the straightforward pop/rock outfit That Petrol Emotion. Drummer Billy Doherty performed in the Carrellines, an act fronted by radio personality Paul McLoone. McLoone and Doherty founded a recording studio, and when at the end of the century Sharkey spurned his old mates' invitation to reform the Undertones, McLoone stepped in. The new 'Tones started performing a series of shows in Derry before going global. Comeback platter Get What You Need was a self-conscious return to their punk days, with more than a touch of garage-rock: McLoone does a credible imitation of Sharkey, and "You Can't Say That" in particular kicks major ass. It took four years for the next record, but the band's bread and butter is in touring. On a number of occasions, they've performed their debut record in its entirely, and this summer they can be caught all across Europe.
Devo: Smooth Noodle Maps (1990) / Something For Everybody (2010)
Every act ends up a shell of itself. But Devo were the only ones who wrote that into the business plan. Each bit of commercial compromise, every Disney détournement, all those weird stabs at the dancefloor: all of it could be written off (or written down) as conceptual pranks. But Devo produced just enough fun to counteract all the grouchiness and Church of the Subgenius mania, even on Smooth Noodle Maps. By 1990, the puckered art-punk of their heyday had given way to a sort of ersatz Sparks (their drummer, David Kendrick, once manned the kit for the Maels). It turns out that not even Devo was immune to the allure (or the necessity) of a hit. Maps' most likely candidate was "Post Post-Modern Man," maybe the sweetest love song the band ever tracked. It scraped to #26 on the dance charts, and the album stiffed. The brothers Mothersbaugh and Casale went their separate ways after a tour that was aborted due to low ticket sales. All four went on to fruitful industry careers: Gerald Casale as a music-video director, Bob Mothersbaugh as a composer, Bob Casale as an engineer and producer, and Mark Mothersbaugh as the man scoring every kid's show and quirky movie released in the last 20 years. In the second half of the 2000s, Gerald tried to kickstart Devo with the spectacularly ill-conceived Jihad Jerry & the Evildoers project. The four men (?) did eventually enter the studio, even though the best possible grace note would have been Devo 2.0, a band comprised of Disney kids bowdlerizing the band's best songs. Alas, Devo finally emerged with Something For Everybody in 2010. The record was pointedly focus-grouped to death, a process that got the ol' energy dome colored blue. In all seriousness, it's a fine record: muscular and invigorated, featuring production from Santigold and Greg Kurstin. Bob Casale died in early 2014; the band then released the leftovers collection Something Else For Everybody and embarked on a short tour to raise funds for Bob's family.
The Feelies: Time For A Witness (1991) / Here Before (2011)
When New York fell down a hXc well in the '80s, New Jersey was there. The Feelies offered all the singlemindedness of punk with none of the aggression. The title of their 1980 debut, Crazy Rhythms, gave the game away. The presence of lyrics felt like a concession; the band seemed most at home interweaving stripped-down percussion with insistent, twitchy guitar lines. The record's reputation is such that for many folks, it may as well be the Feelies' only release. But after losing their rhythm section, the remaining members gigged in any number of permutations alongside other local players, several of whom became Feelies. The new lineup released three fine jangle-rock LPs, calling it quits after 1991's Time For A Witness. As often happens, everyone remained on good terms, frequently collaborating on each other's projects, with the exception of co-founder Bill Million, who moved to Florida to work as a locksmith. Everyone except Million made appearances on Glenn Mercer's 2007 solo debut; the next year, when Sonic Youth invited the Feelies to open for them, they were finally ready. A handful of well-received club dates followed, culminating in Here Before. Produced by Mercer and Million, it's a prototypical reunion platter, recalling past glories while staying planted in the present.
Pink Floyd: The Division Bell (1994) / The Endless River (2014)
Truly, it's amazing they even made it to '94. The angriest accountants in rock achieved ubiquity with 1981's The Wall and its legendary, bath-taking tour. That idea was Roger Waters', and so was the one to dissolve the band. But Pink Floyd had never been formally established, and from that technicality sprung the David Gilmour years: two records, Richard Wright on retainer, and Gilmour's houseboat Astoria as a recording studio. After taking a backseat on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, Nick Mason was finally ready to attack some 60-bpm tempos again. A loose arrangement of texts pleading for increased communication, The Division Bell actually launched a couple of singles into the UK Top 30, though no single had the classic-rock-radio staying power of Lapse's "Learning To Fly." Remarkably, there was no final blow-up; the band just dispersed, more or less. The Gilmour/Mason/Wright axis reunited with Waters for 2005's Live 8 event, and then made the interview rounds, shooting down any chance of a full tour, or even a new record. That changed after Rick Wright's death in 2008, and after a suitable time, Gilmour and Mason combed through the Division Bell tapes, assembling a farewell to their long-suffering keyboardist. Right after Bell's release, the band had briefly considered collating the aerier bits from the recording sessions for an ambient record to be titled (ugh) The Big Spliff. The Endless River is still largely instrumental, save closer "Louder Than Words," a cute summing-up of the band's tangled history. Otherwise, though, everything's as inconsequential as the song titles suggest: imperial, immaculate cottages of sound.
Jodeci: The Show, The After Party, The Hotel (1995) / The Past, The Present, The Future (2015)
In the '90s R&B scene, Jodeci was practically peerless. Last year, Complex placed them atop their '90s Male R&B Group Pyramid Of Excellence -- right above Boyz II Men. The groups were on different paths, of course. Boyz II Men were Motown to the core: polished performers notching pop smashes helmed by top producers and songwriters. Jodeci was a self-contained unit, launching to fame on the production skills of brothers Dalvin and Donald DeGrate. Jodeci songs were always fiending: erotic slow burns that translated New Jack for a harder chart age. All three of their LPs were smashes, and Donald (aka DeVante Swing) converted that capital into a slew of outside production credits. He also assembled a loose crew of like-minded artists: members of his Swing Mob/Da Bassment collective included Static Major, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Ginuwine, Magoo, and Tweet. But drug addiction and legal troubles -- issues shared by his bandmates -- sent DeVante's affiliates fleeing, with precious little to show. (An intriguing set of clips from an unreleased Bassment project hit the internet a few years ago.) By this point, Suge Knight had wormed his way into the picture, signing Jodeci to a management contract before the release of The Show, The After Party, The Hotel. It was their highest charter, which made the group's split all the more peculiar. Brothers K-Ci and JoJo Hailey carried on as a duo, guesting on 2Pac's "How Do U Want It," then peaking with the worldwide #1 "All My Life" (which owed more than a little to Boyz II Men) in 1998. That same year, DeVante was working with an ill-fated record label founded by Mike Tyson; by 2010, he was making headlines for stumbling around a Burbank Subway. But he -- and the rest of Jodeci -- pulled a stunner last year when they announced they had completed a new record: The Past, The Present, The Future, which dropped last month. One-time Bassment cohort Timbaland (who made his debut, along with Elliott, on 1993's Diary Of A Mad Band) contributed production work to two tracks. But DeVante's stamp is all over it: updating a mad sound for middle age.
Cherubs: Heroin Man (1994) / 2 YNFYNYTY (2015)
Folks forget, but South By Southwest was originally a scheme to divert A&R dollars to the middle of Texas. King Coffey wasn't in on the planning, but the annual showcase for his Trance Syndicate label soon became one of the festival's highlights. The label, founded with savings from Coffey's day job as drummer for Butthole Surfers, initially made its name as a home for Tex-ass noise rock by the likes of Ed Hall, Pain Teens, Distorted Pony, and perhaps his best signing: Austin's Cherubs. A three-piece featuring guitarist Kevin Whitley (formerly Ed Hall's drummer), Cherubs' 1992 debut Icing lumbered along the low end, like a punch-drunk heavyweight. By Heroin Man, Whitley's guitar lived in the snarling mid-range, his voice lived in the upper, and the mix was boosted to punishing levels. It was a local classic and one of the best releases in its genre. (It's almost certainly the only noise-rock record to sample XTC’s "Making Plans For Nigel".) Encompassing blown-out grunge-pop ("Venus Flytrap"), grooving two-chord sludge ("Wornout Balls," "Cockpit - Kiss the Shine") and -- honest to God -- a gorgeous bedroom-pop ballad ("Playdough"), Heroin Man could have been the start of relatively big things. But Cherubs had already broken up: during the West Coast leg of a tour, bassist Owen McMahon and drummer Brent Prager got into a sidewalk brawl after a show. Whitley moved to Minneapolis, while Prager stayed in Austin, manning the kit for one-time labelmates Fuckemos. Rumors of a reunion came and went, but fans had to settle for Short Of Popular, a leftovers comp. Meanwhile, Trance branched out with releases by Bedhead, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, and Labradford before Coffey pulled the plug in 1998. Last year, the three Cherubs made the patch-up official by entering a recording studio, emerging with 2 YNFYNYTY, a classic melange of buzzy noisetrawl and pop structure.
The Zombies: Odessey And Oracle (1968) / New World (1990)
A lot of us think of the music industry in the '60s as a time when worthy work found the proper audience. Countering that is the fact that CBS thought "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)" was Odessey And Oracle's single. Al Kooper, rock's Zelig, had to move mountains just to get the record released stateside -- no matter, though, for the Zombies had already disbanded. It took the stunning success of album closer "Time Of The Season" to convince CBS that they actually, maybe had something on their hands. (Seriously -- Odessey is pretty patchy, but no pair of songs mapped the Love Generation’s trajectory as well as "Care Of Cell 44" and "Season.") So guitarist Colin Blunstone and drummer Hugh Grundy cobbled together a new band and a new record, but nothing came of it. (The record was released decades later in Japan as R.I.P.) The individual Zombies jumped headlong into the arena-rock Seventies: organist Rod Argent formed… well, Argent, scoring a Top 5 American hit with "Hold Your Head Up." Blunstone sang lead vocals for the Alan Parsons Project for a time; Grundy did A&R for CBS Records before working as a chauffeur for the Royal Air Force. Unlike many of their peers, the Zombies perpetually refused to reunite, a noble stance that opened the door for a number of ripoff acts to tour under the Zombies name. Partially as a concession to the situation, Blunstone, Grundy and bassist Chris White released New World in 1990. The record -- which featured contributions from Argent and founding guitarist Paul Atkinson -- was basically a subpar Steve Winwood record, which is to say it’s super listenable. Two more records featuring Argent as a full-time Zombie again followed the turn of the century, bookending what the people really wanted: Odessey And Oracle, performed front-to-back on the occasion of the album’s 40th anniversary.
The Soft Boys: Underwater Moonlight (1980) / Nextdoorland (2002)
The word on the Soft Boys was that they were a band out of time, but how many Oi! compilations do you own? Debut single "(I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp" and first LP A Can Of Bees dabbled in post-punk churn, but on Underwater Moonlight, Robyn Hitchcock and company ran it back a couple decades: jangle, psychedelia, even electrified blues. In a concession to the current era, however, the Soft Boys packed it in due to lack of commercial interest. Guitarist Kimberley Rew joined some mates in a band called Mama's Cookin', which, in deference to its American lead singer, renamed itself Katrina And The Waves. Rew's Katrina compositions included the deathless "Walking On Sunshine" as well as "Love Shine A Light," Britain's victorious Eurovision '97 submission. Matthew Seligman became a bassist for hire, recording for Thomas Dolby, Whodini, and David Bowie. The other Soft Boys reconstituted as Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians for a decade. Meanwhile, a number of American acts were discovering, covering, and namechecking Robyn Hitchcock and the rest of the Boys, acts like the Replacements, Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, and -- most crucially -- R.E.M., whose members frequently collaborated with Hitchcock. After he disbanded the Egyptians, he briefly hooked up with the Soft Boys. A proper reunion followed after Matador Records reissued Underwater Moonlight in 2001. During their soundchecks, the band hashed out a whole new record: Nextdoorland. Splitting the difference between the snotty guitarchitecture of A Can Of Bees and the flower-power pop of Underwater Moonlight, it was a worthy third effort. Everyone's schedules closed up afterward, but if you find yourself in Cambridge some weekend soon, do check out Kimberley Rew in Jack.
Mission Of Burma: Vs. (1982) / ONoffON (2002)
Had Mission Of Burma not reformed, they would have remained one of rock's great what-ifs. They didn't split due to acrimony or major-label pressure or substance abuse. They were just too fucking loud. By the release of their debut full-length, 1982's Vs., the Bostonian four-piece (your standard guitar/bass/drums/tape manipulation quartet) was in rarefied form, splitting the difference between pugilistic American punk rock and gloomy, artsy post-punk. But the sonic accumulation of 250 live shows started to affect guitarist Roger Miller's hearing. He tried ignoring the symptoms of tinnitus, but the headphone levels during the Vs. sessions aggravated the problem. After opening for Public Image Ltd. in March 1983, Mission of Burma called it a day. Though the band's rep was concentrated in the Northeast, the reputation of their slim discography held steady. In 1988, the Massachusetts-based label Rykodisc compiled MOB's lone EP and LP with some odds and ends onto the world's first 80-minute CD. Reissues of individual releases followed in 1997. And then, in 2001, Michael Azerrad published Our Band Could Be Your Life, his landmark survey of the '80s American indie scene. The popularity of the book (to say nothing of Azerrad's glowing appraisal of the band) wasn't the sole impetus for their reunion -- in an interview with The Quietus, Miller also cited Joey Ramone’s death and a Miller/Peter Prescott/Clint Conley performance at a Wire show -- but the pump was primed for Burma’s re-emergence. (With one slight change: Shellac’s Bob Weston took over for engineer/effects wizard Martin Swope.) Matador released ONoffON in 2004 to near-universal praise. With proper precautions for Miller's tinnitus (long gaps between live stands, repositioning amps, putting Plexiglas around Prescott's kit), the band has managed to stay together for thrice as long as their original run, with three more excellent LPs following ONoffOn.
My Bloody Valentine: Loveless (1991) / m b v (2013)
It was touch and go there for a minute, but Loveless looks to be 1991's premier alt-rock touchstone. Perhaps it's because Loveless is a frighteningly singular sense-document. Perhaps music writers are suckers for a troubled-genius story. Perhaps we all got tired of asking how Gen X is doing. Or maybe it was the lack of a follow-up. Lord knows it wasn't for trying: after Creation Records punted the band following the release of the budget-busting Loveless, Island scooped them up, giving them a hefty advance (some sources say it was a quarter-million pounds, Kevin Shields claims it was twice that) in anticipation of the madness to come. Sadly, the madness was all in the method. The protracted recording sessions claimed drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig and bassist Debbie Googe. A project involving just vocals and guitars from Shields and Bilinda Butcher could have been smashing, but it was not to be. Butcher departed in 1997, the money ran out, and Shields abandoned the project. Years later, upon revisiting the band's archives for an MBV reissue campaign, Shields decided to give the album another go. First, however, the band needed to find its legs. After a series of rapturously received festival appearances and a brief North American tour, My Bloody Valentine hashed out the new record. Demand was such that the band’s website crashed soon after offering the album for download; once the dust settled, fans and critics declared m b v a worthy entry in a too-tiny catalog. The band wasn't exactly reinventing the wheel -- every track save one was based on existing recordings -- but the result was a continuity and familiarity that's fairly remarkable, considering the album's sui generis predecessor.
The Juliana Hatfield Three: Become What You Are (1993) / Whatever, My Love (2015)
The Three's inclusion on this list is a trick of pedantry more than anything else. No slight intended toward the rhythm section, but this was as much a Hatfield record as her '92 debut (which features drummer Todd Philips) or 1995's follow-up Only Everything (which features bassist Dean Fisher). But it was Hatfield's debut on Atlantic (the same major to which Hatfield's Lemonheads were signed), and the record that propelled her from college-rock stardom to pop-culture suborbit. A great interview and a fount of sturdy power-pop-inflected tunes, Hatfield scored the covers of SPIN and Sassy, scraped into the Mainstream Top 40 with "Spin The Bottle," and topped the Modern Rock chart for one week with "My Sister." As she recently admitted to the Cleveland Scene, the "Three" appellation was designed both to deflect pressure and to attract attention; after quickly finding her footing, she recorded under her name from then on. Philips married Tanya Donelly in 1996 and backed her on a series of solo discs. Only Everything turned out to be Juliana Hatfield's last album for Atlantic. The label refused to release the excellent, not-at-all-commercially-suicidal God's Foot, and after much wrangling - which did not include a hunger strike, contrary to alt-rock rumor - Atlantic kept the tapes, while Hatfield got her release. She spent the new century releasing variations on her trademark unaffected pop/rock sound. Finding herself in possession of a song that cried out for the classic treatment, Hatfield rang up her old bassist and drummer. A successful PledgeMusic campaign followed, and Whatever, My Love was released in February, treating nostalgics to the exact typeface found on Become What You Are.
Pixies - Trompe Le Monde (1991) / Indie Cindy (2014)
Pixies were arguably the best band of the '80s and the most influential band of the '90s -- just ask Thom, Kurdt, and the rest of the loud-quiet-loud pack. The underground heroes' original run ended, famously and unceremoniously, with a fax from Black Francis, making 1991's Trompe Le Monde (which plays like a Frank Black record anyway) the band's final LP. Several Breeders and Frank Black releases followed, and all the while the Pixies' legend picked up steam. By 2004 they were so venerated that a worldwide reunion tour cast them as conquering heroes. That tour inspired a documentary, but it didn't generate any new music besides the Kim Deal curio "Bam Thwok." Another decade of touring and band drama ensued, but by 2014, the post-Deal Pixies were finally ready to present a new album to the world. Comprising three rapid-fire EPs, Indie Cindy was instantly polarizing; some fans embraced it wholeheartedly as the latest classic in a canon full of them, while others rejected it as a halfhearted disappointment. Whether you heard it as going through the motions or a return to form, it was unmistakably a Pixies LP. Could've used more Kim Deal, though!
The Dictators: Bloodbrothers (1978) / D.F.F.D. (2001)
The tempos may have lagged, but make no mistake: the Dictators' four-chord approach and trash-culture aesthetic were punk rock to the core. The band's principal songwriter was Andy Shernoff, who once took piano lessons from Arnold Friedman (of Capturing The Friedmans infamy), and who cut his teeth writing rockcrit for his Teenage Wasteland Gazette. The zine led to a gig at Creem, which led to a record contract for the Dictators, the band he co-founded in college. In Shernoff, the band boasted a top-notch songwriter; with Ross "The Boss" Friedman, they had an ace guitarist. But the real draw was the band's roadie-turned-singer "Handsome" Dick Manitoba, immortalized in singlet and boots on the cover of Go Girl Crazy, the Dictators' Epic debut. They had the songs, but what went over in NYC didn't connect nationally, and the band was dropped. The 'Tators were non grata for a time after an infamous onstage confrontation between Manitoba and singer Jayne County that resulted in Manitoba receiving a shit-ton of stitches and County receiving assault charges that were eventually dismissed. The Dictators' management got them signed to Elektra/Asylum, and two very good records followed. But they never broke out, and aside from the occasional reunion show, that was all she wrote. Rhythm guitarist Scott Kempner created NY roots-and-roll act Del-Lords; Friedman joined forces with Black Sabbath’s pyrotechnician to found Manowar, the beefiest power metal act of all time. After six albums, Manowar fired The Boss, and he hooked up with Manitoba and Shernoff to form the crossover act Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, which released one record in 1990. Then, in 2001, the Dictators dropped D.F.F.D., featuring the original lineup save new drummer J.P. Patterson. The record was a punk-pop delight: cynical without nastiness, taking stock of the band's history without wallowing in past glories. Afterward, Shernoff soldiered on with a solo career, while his bandmates hooked up with one-time Murphy's Law bassist Dean Rispler and Ramones producer Daniel Rey -- an original member of Manitoba's Wild Kingdom -- to form the Dictators NYC.
Chic: Chic-Ism (1992) / It's About Time (2015)
Rejection never suited Nile Rodgers. One of Chic's biggest hits was famously written after he and co-founder Bernard Edwards were turned away at Studio 54; concerned about being pigeonholed, the two men insisted to Billboard that they were done with disco. But Rodgers' crisp, jazzy inversions were immaculately tailored for dance music. So while Chic wound down, Edwards and Rodgers wrote and produced a number of club classics: Sheila and B. Devotion's "Spacer," Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," Diana Ross's Diana, Madonna's Like A Virgin, David Bowie's Let's Dance. (Though their greatest legacy, arguably, is the interpolation of "Good Times" that powered Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight.") Performing Chic tunes at a party got the two in a mind to revive the group. Original drummer Tony Thompson -- who'd also produced a number of acts in the '80s, as well as playing in the AC supergroup Power Station -- declined to participate, and it was just as well: Chic-Ism was a self-conscious attempt to reclaim their legacy, an un-chic combination of R&B and hip-house. (The record did inspire Johnny Marr to name his son Nile, so there's that.) Though the record didn't sell, it did get Edwards and Rodgers touring the world as Chic. In 1996, Edwards died of pneumonia after a performance at Tokyo's Nippon Budokan; Thompson passed seven years later. Rodgers continued to tour as "Chic featuring Nile Rodgers"; he also founded a production and distribution company for video game soundtracks. He returned to the cultural consciousness in a big way courtesy of his rhythmic spangle on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories; his work on the record garnered him three Grammys. On March 20, he released "I'll Be There," the lead single from the upcoming Chic record, titled It’s About Time.
The Who: It's Hard (1982) / Endless Wire (2006)
It's Hard is important because it's John Entwistle's last Who record, and also the first time Rolling Stone gave an inexplicable five-star review to a past-its-prime rock act. Granted, "Eminence Front" is the best jam Peter Gabriel never released, but nothing else ended up creating "a viable adult vocabulary for rock," as the reviewer predicted. It's Hard was the latest consequence of the Who’s conflicting aims: Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, and Kenney Jones wanted to rock, and Pete Townshend wanted to issue statements. Still, like Paul McCartney at the end of the Beatles' lifespan, Townshend was the only one in the group with any kind of drive. Leery of presenting his bandmates with a cache of songs they wouldn't get behind -- as had happened on 1981's Face Dances -- he instead asked everyone what they thought the next Who record should be about. The answer was, unfortunately, "the world in which we live in." Daltrey in particular hated the resulting record, and tensions between singer and guitarist were such that concerts supporting It's Hard were officially promoted as a farewell tour. Townshend hoped to continue the Who as a studio-only concern, but he couldn't cobble together the necessary material, and he stunned his mates by announcing his resignation from the Who in December 1983. The other three members were incensed, but it was the smart play: Warner Bros. released them from their contract, leaving them free to tour in endless permutations for absolutely the most tenuous of reasons (the 25th anniversary of Keith Moon joining the band, the release of the live The Blues To The Bush on MusicMaker.com). On the eve of a 2002 North American tour, Entwistle died of a cocaine-induced heart attack; Townshend and Daltrey carried on with a replacement bassist. Eventually, it made sense to peg a tour to new music. And because Pete Townshend only does Pete Townshend things, Endless Wire was yet another extension of the Lifehouse project, which Pete had been worrying over since the beginning of the '70s. Opening cut "Fragments" was a self-conscious rip of "Baba O’Riley," and the second half of the record formed a "mini-opera" called Wire & Glass. The record was received warmly enough, but the two surviving Whos knew what the people wanted: three world tours followed, heavy with hits. Now the band's undertaking a 50th anniversary tour. Daltrey's described it as "a long goodbye," but who really knows.
The Cars: Door To Door (1987) / Move Like This (2011)
Like AC/DC before and Def Leppard after, the Cars found their greatest fortune with Mutt Lange, scourge of human drummers. Recorded over a six-month period, 1984's Heartbeat City nearly doubled the band’s total of Top 40 hits. Then came the requisite tour, and then the solo records: Elliot Easton's Change No Change, Benjamin Orr's The Lace, and Ric Ocasek’s second effort This Side Of Paradise. Orr and Ocasek each sent a single into the Top 30, but their success didn’t much carry over for the reconvened Cars. Door To Door's "You Are the Girl" was valedictory treacle and therefore rewarded appropriately, but that was about it. Ocasek had a decent production record to this point -- helming releases by Bad Brains, Suicide, and Romeo Void -- but, oddly, his sole co-production credit on a Cars record marked their commercial nadir. The band split the next year, and each man went his own way. However, their laconic, poised catalog endured. Orr died in 2000; a few years later, Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes formed the New Cars with Todd Rundgren singing lead. Both events affected Ocasek at differing depths, but when he found himself with a batch of new tunes that recalled the Cars, he called his bandmates to flesh them out. The classic formula didn't produce another pop smash, but Move Like This abounds with the weird energy that powered the Cars’ time as the goofiest-looking motherfuckers in pop.
Radio Birdman: Living Eyes (1981) / Zeno Beach (2006)
Though their legend was largely confined to their native Australia during their brief lifespan, Radio Birdman were a multinational affair. Their guitarists were Chris Masuak (Canadian) and Deniz Tek (Turkish-American), and Tek's formative adolescence in Ann Arbor, Michigan guided the band's direction. Radio Birdman is itself a Stooges mondegreen, and the band aspired for the incendiary chaos of Iggy Pop's crew and the MC5. After moving to Sydney to pursue a medical degree, Tek met kindred spirit Rob Younger, who would become Radio Birdman's singer. A number of players were recruited, and Radio Birdman carved out an indie scene, including a venue (the Oxford Funhouse, surely named for the Stooges' sophomore effort) and a sympathetic recording studio. They recorded an EP, then an LP: Radios Appear. The album was self-released, and sold poorly until Sire Records' Seymour Stein -- in Australia to sign the Saints -- snapped them up. Finally, Radios Appear could sell poorly on a much larger scale. That, plus the tendency towards implosion for young men looking to provide debauched transcendence on a nightly basis, set Radio Birdman on a bad course. The year after Radios Appear's release, the band shipped off to Wales to record Living Eyes. Nothing rocked as vitally as "Hand Of Law," and while waiting for the record's release, they embarked on a fractious European tour, breaking up before its completion. Upon returning to Oz, though, everyone landed on his feet. Masuak and bassist Warwick Gilbert joined the Hitmen. Tek finished his medical internship, then hooked up with drummer Ron Keeley and keyboardist Pip Hoyle to create The Visitors. Younger started the New Christs, then reconnected with Tek to form New Race with two of their idols, the Stooges' Ron Asheton and the MC5's Dennis Thompson. (This happened in April 1981 -- Living Eyes finally saw the light of day the month prior.) After New Race, Tek moved back to America, becoming a flight surgeon for the US military -- where, according to legend, his call sign was swiped by Top Gun's writers. In 1995, a number of Birdmen convened to oversee the remastering of their scant catalog. The experience healed some wounds, and when Australia's '96 Big Day Out festival tour made them an offer, they accepted it. The reformed Radio Birdman toured intermittently, though Gilbert and Keeley eventually peeled away before the recording of 2006's Zeno Beach. A European tour is scheduled for this summer.
The dB's: The Sound Of Music (1987) / Falling Off The Sky (2012)
Of all the college-rock cult acts that sprouted in the South, the dB's are perhaps the tallest stalk. Before 2012's long-in-coming Falling Off The Sky, the band's discography divided neatly: the first two records were twangy, restive power-pop, released on a British label; the second two records came out on an American concern, and they jangled and drawled. The latter two were also recorded without the input of founding member Chris Stamey, who, before the dB's, had recorded with Alex Chilton and released Chris Bell’s only single. After leaving the band, Stamey recorded a few solo records and produced notable American acts like Flat Duo Jets, Yo La Tengo, and Le Tigre. The Peter Holsapple-led dB's wound up recording one album for IRS Records, the abysmally art-directed The Sound Of Music. According to the band, IRS halted the presses so that they could get R.E.M.'s Document into as many greedy little hands as possible, so that even though it'd just been released, the record was essentially out of print. It didn't help that the core members were scattered across the country; these disconnects spelled the end of the dB's in 1988. Holsapple was snapped up by R.E.M. for their Green tour; he left after recording Out Of Time, finding himself embroiled in a dispute over songwriting credit. He soon surfaced as a rootsy woodshedder in the Continental Drifters. In 1991, he and Stamey recorded an album together. Drummer Will Rigby backed rootsy luminaries like Steve Earle and Freedy Johnston. (His solo record, released before the dB's split, came out in 1985 on Yo La Tengo's Egon label.) The founding members remained cordial, frequently appearing on each other’s projects. In 2005, they released a cover of "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted" for the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund as the dB's. A second Holsapple/Stamey record appeared in 2009. Their attempt at a third collaboration sounded like a dB's record, however, so Rigby and bassist Gene Holder joined up to record Falling Off The Sky. The tone was set from opener "That Time Is Gone": Falling was a pleasant check-in, but outside of the classicist "I Didn't Mean to Say That," it wasn't much more than a brief stopover.
Loop: A Gilded Eternity (1990) / Array 1 (2015)
OK, sure, it's an EP. But it's Loop! Any psychedelic revival will include those who dream darkly, and Robert Hampson's Loop was a different stream entirely from the baggier currents of British alt-rock. Hampson, the band's founder and constant, is perhaps the quintessential Quietus man: fiercely independent, sonically swashbuckling. Over the course of three records (1987's Heaven's End, 1989's Fade Out, and 1990's A Gilded Eternity) for Jeff Barrett's Head label, Hampson and company served up heavy alloys of his beloved Stooges and Krautrock bands. Guitars droned menacingly (and panned frantically) when they weren't yowling like a wounded beast. Even their pop moves, such as they were, had a sort of deliberate frenzy: Fade Out's opener "Black Sun" is propelled by Neil Mackay's irresitable bassline, but Hampson foregrounds the crispy fuzz and locks his vocals in the cellar. The records were underground hits and Hampson's vision was expanding with each release (the legend goes that he only knew four chords when Loop began, but this may have been a canny embellishment from Barrett, who had years of promotional experience with a number of Creation Records acts), but the band called it quits in 1991. The year before, Hampson hit it off splendidly with Godflesh's Justin Broadrick on a joint tour, and after Loop's end, Hampson folded his crushing psych sensibilities to Godflesh's trippy industrial approach on the Pure LP. Hampson contributed to one track on Godflesh's Cold World EP, then struck out with his Main project, where he and Scott Dawson (Loop's second guitarist) explored the ambient side of drone, turning their axes into abstractions and leaving conventional rhythm behind. It was Hampson's longest-lived project; Dawson left the group in the late ‘90s, but Hampson soldiered on until, tired of his fanbase's fond memories of his guitar-heavy days, he retired the Main name. He decamped for France, beginning a residency with INA-GRM, Pierre Schaeffer's legendary experimental studio, crafting electro-acoustic works under his own name. He regrouped Main, and a chance festival encounter with Broadrick led to his performing with Godflesh again. Having resisted years of pressure from fans and promoters, Hampson reconstituted Loop. Mackay, Dawson, and drummer John Wills played a first round of shows, but all three men broke away to pursue other ventures. Hampson pulled the plug on the band's Facebook page, only to retract it the next day. Loop continues, with a new lineup and the half-hour of new psychonautic material Array 1 out this summer via ATP.
Angel Witch - Frontal Assault (1986) / As Above, So Below (2012)
The early line on Angel Witch was that they sounded like "the first Black Sabbath album played through a cement mixer." A killer line -- take a bow, Geoff Barrow -- but Angel Witch were a bit more mythological and melodic. But they were much more muddled. In the whip of a neck, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal transformed from critical construct to major-label mania, and Angel Witch found themselves signed to EMI. Their debut EP Sweet Danger hit #75 in 1980, a major score for a young metal act with no album and some bitchin' occult cover art. But manager Ken Heybourne (father of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter/constant Kevin Heybourne) wasn't impressed with EMI's promotion, and inked the group to indie Bronze Records. For what it's worth, Dave Hogg, the drummer at the time, wasn't impressed with Ken Heybourne. He got the boot soon after the recording of their debut, Angel Witch, a doomy punk-metal classic. Bassist Kevin Riddles quit soon after, and Kevin H. hooked up with Deep Machine, another London NWOBHM act. The Witch's pull was too strong, however, and he re-formed the group with two Machinists in tow, and though the chemistry wasn't right, Heybourne persevered. A new new lineup was introduced in 1984 (after a break in which Heybourne moonlit for Blind Fury, whom you may remember from the Satan entry), and this group produced 1985's tuff and tragically titled Screamin' N' Bleedin'. One year and one more sacking of Dave Hogg later, they released Frontal Assault, a stealth alley-rock juggernaut. But the band fell apart, and Heybourne found two fallbacks: a devoted American scene (he was arrested for overstaying his visa, scuttling any momentum there) and a career back home as a tree surgeon (which he loved, presumably until he suffered an injury on the job). At the close of the century, Heybourne cobbled together a new Angel Witch. They split just before a series of Swedish dates with Iced Earth, only to reunite a few months later and again in 2003. Intermittent live appearances -- a number of 'em featured Bill Steer of Carcass on second guitar -- culminated in a long-awaited return to the studio, the result of which was 2012's As Above, So Below. Issued on Metal Blade, the LP was split between glory-days re-records and new cuts. It wasn't pretty, but it sure lived up to Barrow's epithet.
Satan: Suspended Sentence (1987) / Life Sentence (2013)
An underrated way to put distance between LPs is to go incognito. That wasn't Satan's plan, but image concerns and incoming members spurred a number of changes. Alongside fellow Novocastrians Raven and Venom, Satan had a nailstruck name and a bracing thrash sound. But the band's focus was never on demonry, and after 1983's debut LP Court In The Act, the band changed its name to Blind Fury, absorbed Angel Witch's Kevin Heybourne, then jettisoned him before Out Of Reach, a poppier NWOBHM excursion. Blind Fury pivoted back to Satan for 1987's Suspended Sentence, an ambitious record that featured their third vocalist in three albums. But even a second-tier metal act wasn't immune to right-wing protest, and the band finally axed the name. Three albums as Pariah followed, and then Graeme English and Steve Ramsey formed the folk-metal outfit Skyclad. The allure of the metal festival was too much to resist, though, and the Court In The Act lineup reunited as Satan, completing their legal trilogy with the galvanizing Life Sentence in 2013.
Big Star: Third/Sister Lovers (1978) / In Space (2005)
Big Star is the quintessential American failure story: genius unnoticed in its lifetime, but appreciated by the "right" people in time. The fog of unluck that enveloped their brief career billowed out of every crevice of nearly every power pop act that followed. The band couldn't even survive until its (presumed) final record: co-founders Andy Hummel and Chris Bell departed before the fraught Third/Sister Lovers, which became an Alex Chilton solo record in all but name. A shambolic, haunted document, Third/Sister Lovers received a test pressing in '75 but had to wait three years for any kind of release. (It also features one of the great Christmas songs -- "Jesus Christ" -- and a list of collaborators that includes Steve Cropper, Tommy Hoehn and photographer William Eggleston.) Its reputation, like that of Big Star's entire discography, skyrocketed after the band's first demise. Chilton spent the '80s and early '90s on a willful, patchy solo career. In 1993, he and drummer Jody Stephens re-formed Big Star; the parts of Chris Bell (deceased) and Andy Hummel (disinterested) were filled by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies, the decade's great power-pop hope. A series of tours followed, capped with the band’s national-TV debut on The Tonight Show. Finally, in 2005, Big Star Mk. 3 released In Space. Guided by Chilton's insistence that lightness win the day, the record features brisk, formalist power-pop workouts alongside funk-pop and baroque instrumentals. As a spiritual successor to Third, it was a flop. As a spiritual counterweight, though, it sparkled.
China Sky: China Sky (1988) / II (2015)
Like Southern soul, album-oriented rock never went away. Everyone involved just got a hell of a lot older. Unlike Southern soul, AOR (also called melodic rock) never bothered updating its sound. The hair's still big; it's the airwaves that got small. China Sky was formed as the Bobby Ingram Project in Jacksonville. After some lineup shakeups, the band (now down to three members) signed to CBS. Their self-titled album was a sterling example of power-pomp that opened with a Def Leppard homage ("Turn On The Night") and concluded with a six-minute Aquanet ballad ("The Last Romantic Warrior") that liberally mentions "China sky" in the chorus. A combination of transitions shoaled the band's hopes. Just a few weeks after China Sky's release, guitarist Bobby Ingram quit to join Molly Hatchet. CBS Records had sold to Sony for a staggering $2 billion the year before, and the new regime didn't see the point in promoting an act whose key player just defected. And as the '90s barreled closer, AOR was ceasing to be a commercial force. The remaining members (singer Ron Perry and bassist Richard Smith) saw the signs and packed it in. But in the 2000s, Europe -- with its unslakable taste for cheese -- came calling. Perry and Smith began hearing from fans across the world who still remembered their one shot at glory. So they assembled a new China Sky, fleshing things out with three new members, including -- poetically -- Molly Hatchet's original drummer (and one-time Teen Beat pinup) Bruce Crump. The dolefully-titled II is the same shit, different decade: a dozen punchy, hairsprayed pop/rock tunes, every song clocking in between 3:02 and 4:42, in deference to a rock radio dictum that no longer exists. Less than two months after II's release, Bruce Crump died, aged 57. "We are still reeling from the sudden passing of our friend and brother in the band, Bruce Crump," the band posted on Facebook, "but the music he helped create on 'China Sky II' continues to gain momentum. 'One Life' is number one on the Melodic Net Singlechart FOR THE FOURTH WEEK IN A ROW."
Silver Apples: Contact (1968) / Beacon (1997)
Outside of the ESP-Disk label, the Sixties didn't get much farther out than the pioneering electronic rock duo Silver Apples. A Tennessee boy in New York City, Simeon Coxe III was fronting the Overland Stage Electric Band when a composer friend loaned him a 20-year-old oscillator. Coxe put on a Rolling Stones record and fired up the machine, completely flipping for the resultant alien waves. He began using the device at every opportunity, causing all his Overland bandmates to bounce save drummer Danny Taylor. Coxe acquired more oscillators, rigging them with an assortment of pedals and keys. The resulting act grew notorious enough to draw the attention of Kapp Records, for whom they released two albums: Silver Apples and Contact. Each album was essentially a collection of serrated waveforms, matched by Taylor's oompah pulses and fronted by Coxe's thin, tremulous tenor, with the occasional radio signal thrown in. Even so, each record charted, however briefly. The end of the line came when Pan Am got ahold of Contact. On the front cover, Simeon and Danny posed in one of the airline's cockpits. But on the back cover, they were superimposed over the wreckage of a plane. The airline launched lawsuits and injunctions against both the label and Silver Apples, resulting in the recall of Contact and the shelving of a completed third record. Taylor started a career as a repairman for Bell Atlantic, and Coxe got into graphic design. In the mid-'90s, Coxe chanced upon a bootleg Silver Apples release. Suddenly, he was a recognized pioneer, and he capitalized on this burst of fame by forming a new Silver Apples, which made its live debut at New York's Knitting Factory in 1997. The ponderous, low-end-heavy album Beacon -- recorded by Steve Albini -- followed. To complete the comeback, Coxe needed Taylor. Unfortunately, the two had long since lost touch, so Coxe began appearing on various radio stations, putting the word out. In 1998, Taylor was listening to WFMU on his lunch break when the DJ put on Contact's "I Have Known Love" -- a rare Apples song that featured his vocal. Gobsmacked, he pledged $25 to the station, which alerted Coxe. (Taylor also came up with that long-lost third album -- it had been in his attic that whole time.) A handful of shows followed before the Apples' van was run off the road, breaking Coxe's neck and putting the reunion on hiatus. After completing physical therapy, he continued the Silver Apples as a solo concern; Taylor passed away in 2005.
Cat Stevens: Back To Earth (1978) / An Other Cup (2006)
This is likely the most famous release gap in modern popular music. Yusuf Islam was once Cat Stevens, purveyor of lithe folk-pop, until a near-drowning spurred him to vigorously investigate spirituality. He converted to Islam in 1977, and while he was prepared to forsake the pop-star life entirely, he owed his record company one final album. Recorded quickly, and released with no promotion from Yusuf Islam (still credited as Cat Stevens on the album), Back To Earth fared poorly in the marketplace. But Yusuf threw himself into benevolence, using his substantial royalties to fund schools and charities the world over. Though an imam had once granted him license to record pop music, he did not wish to work with an industry he considered inherently compromised. In the '90s and '00s, though, he released a series of devotional albums and compilations featuring himself and others on his own label. Already pondering whether he had withdrawn from mainstream culture too hastily, Yusuf was jolted by the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. He performed "Peace Train" a cappella for the Concert For New York City; over the next few years, he began performing more Cat Stevens compositions, culminating in the release of An Other Cup, his first pop release in 28 years. Splitting the difference, the record was credited both to Yusuf and Cat Stevens. Two more records followed, the second of which (Tell 'Em I'm Gone) was released after Yusuf's induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2014.
Van Der Graaf Generator: The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome (1977) / Present (2005)
On a Saturday evening in July 1977, Johnny Rotten, at the height of his fame, appeared on Tommy Vance's show on Capital Radio. The two men chatted and spun tunes from Rotten's personal collection. The only artist to get played twice? Peter Hammill, lead singer of Van Der Graaf Generator, whose Nadir's Big Chance LP is perhaps the latest possible candidate for the protopunk tag. While Hammill never rocked so hard or got so glammy with VDGG, the band's decidedly unpompous compositions -- often bordering on abrasive -- earned them a pass from a number of punks, Rotten included. Having burnt the candelabra at both ends, VDGG had already taken a hiatus earlier in the decade. During that break, Hammill recorded a few solo records backed by his bandmates in varying combinations, and the non-Hammill contingent of Van Der Graaf created a fine instrumental record, the A-plus radio-bumper set The Long Hello. The band had always been quite prolific for a progressive act, and after reconvening in 1975, three full-length albums (Godbluff, Still Life, and World Record) were issued within a 12-month span. Keyboardist Hugh Banton and saxophonist David Jackson ghosted; as a response, the band truncated both its name (becoming Van Der Graaf) and the track lengths on The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome. And that was it: Hammill resumed his restless solo career, with frequent assists from his old bandmates. A box set released on Virgin in 2000 sold a remarkable 10,000 copies, and after the classic lineup performed at the end of a Hammill show in 2003, they set about recording new material. Hammill suffered a heart attack at the end of the year, but recovered sufficiently to complete Present, a two-disc set: half compositions, half improvisations. Three more albums followed, and the band remains a functioning entity.
Eagles: The Long Run (1979) / Long Road Out Of Eden (2007)
Until their infamous reunion, the Eagles' discography was perfectly inscribed within the '70s: a clutch of self-absorbed, insincere masterpieces at the intersection of rock, country, and pop, helmed by a bunch of loaded, cantankerous pros just as likely to make tantrums as hits. Originally convened as Linda Ronstadt's backing band, the Eagles' grand theme was the material success of the boomers and the crushing guilt felt by the same. That guilt was a generational curse, and despite recording about 10 perfect songs, the group couldn't win over the critics, never attaining so much as an ironic reassessment. (The secret joke in The Big Lebowski is that CCR and the Eagles are actually identical bands on either side of an arbitrary divide.) After 1979's The Long Run (a disappointment only compared to the juggernaut that was Hotel California), the Eagles alums spent the '80s notching pop hits and reaping unfathomable royalties, keeping the proper distance from each other until country megastar Travis Tritt launched a Hail Mary. He invited the entire Long Run lineup to appear in his video for "Take It Easy," recorded for a Nashville tribute disc. And lo, they appeared: shooting pool, palling around, even -- inexplicably -- getting patted down by the cops. Shortly after, prime movers Don Henley and Glenn Frey hashed out their differences over a meal. The Hell Freezes Over tour lasted for more than two years, concluding as one of the highest-grossing tours of all time. After years of further irregular touring (and an extended legal battle after firing longtime guitarist Don Felder in 2001), the band released the double-disc Long Road Out Of Eden, exclusively through Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, because the Eagles don't give a fuck. The record was certified 7x platinum, and two of its cuts won Grammys, the band’s first in nearly 20 years.
The Slits: Return Of The Giant Slits (1981) / Trapped Animal (2009)
Three centuries of British colonial domination altered Jamaica indelibly. In the middle of the 20th century, Jamaica returned the favor, more than generously. At the conclusion of World War II, facing a shortage of workers, the United Kingdom sounded a call throughout the empire. Tens of thousands of Jamaicans emigrated between 1945 and 1970, forging a cultural pipeline that pumped the sounds of mento, rocksteady, ska and reggae into untold numbers of homes, black and white alike. In the late '70s, British punk moved into its "post” phase with the help of Don Letts, the resident DJ at London’s Roxy club. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Letts spun dub and reggae alongside the buzzy punk cuts of the day, and his work dribbled into the efforts of the Clash, John Lydon, and the Slits, the latter of whom he would manage. When they formed, the Slits were just two: Spanish-born Palmolive (age 21) and German-born Ari Up (age 14). In true DIY fashion, they (along with guitarist Viv Albertine and bassist Tessa Pollitt) formed a punk band with just the rudiments of musical ability. By the time the Slits' debut Cut was released in 1979 -- minus Palmolive, who'd joined the Raincoats -- the band had replaced punk thrash with skeletal approximations of reggae and dub. The charge of amateurism still came: besides missing the point, it ignored how punk rawk's three power chords covered up a wealth of compositional shortcomings. On 1981's Return Of The Giant Slits, the songs' confidence finally matched the band's. Pollitt's basslines lope along the cosmos; the addition of flute and mellotron forges a stronger link to the music of their idols. After the group's breakup, Ari Up and Albertine briefly contributed to Adrian Sherwood’s dub collective New Age Steppers. Ari and her new family eventually settled in Kingston, and she did intermittent work as a solo act. Pollitt caught a show of hers in London, and a reunion followed. Viv Albertine -- who had become a television director in the interim -- declined an invitation, so the singer and bassist recruited an all-new lineup. Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook backed them on their 2006 comeback EP Revenge Of The Killer Slits; on the full-length Trapped Animal, his daughter Hollie contributed vocals and keys. The record was an internationalist update of the band's expansive sound, but any further work was forestalled by Up's death in 2010. Two years later, Viv Albertine released The Vermillion Border, her solo debut, and two years after that she published Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys., a musical memoir of the first order.
Comus: To Keep From Crying (1974) / Out Of The Coma (2012)
The last grotesque gasp of '60s folk, Comus emerged from Bromley with a worldview -- encompassing hanged Christians, murdered maidens, and nature's indifference -- that was practically metal. 1971's First Utterance is regarded as a masterpiece now, but it got no traction when it was released, and the band drifted apart. A couple of years later, though, Virgin Records came calling. The label was new on the scene, but had already scored with Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. In search of other progressive sounds, they convinced co-founder Roger Wootton and two other members to assemble under the Comus name. To Keep From Crying (produced by Family vocalist Roger Chapman) was the result, and while Wootton disowned it as too commercial, as usually happens, the combination of askew instincts and pop concession made for fascinating listening. The record still tanked, and Comus scattered. Vocalist Bobbie Watson got an art degree and spent the rest of the '70s as an illustrator and animator (most notably on Pink Floyd's The Wall). Violinist Colin Pearson fell into session and arrangement work, eventually scoring big as a producer for Alphaville (of "Forever Young" fame). Guitarist (and co-founder) Glenn Goring restored paintings, while Wootton embarked on a series of creative endeavors. By the 2000s, subsequent generations of musicians were starting to namecheck Comus, most notably David Tibet of Current 93 and Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt. In 2005, the band's two records were reissued as the Song To Comus compilation; in 2008, the band played Sweden's Melloboat festival at Åkerfeldt's behest. Four years later, the apt Out Of The Coma was released. Consisting of three new compositions and the unearthed "Malgaard Suite" -- intended for a never-recorded followup to First Utterance -- Out Of The Coma depicts a group of folkies as uncompromising and abrasive as ever.
Black Flag: In My Head (1985) / What The… (2013)
Popular conception associates Black Flag with Henry Rollins, but make no mistake -- legal or otherwise -- it's Greg Ginn's baby. He founded the band, he owned their label, and he outlasted all his singers. And after Hank's confrontational magnetism helped establish the band as hardcore's leading light, Ginn moved Black Flag into more confounding channels. Shortly after detonating the hectic, violent Damaged on the scene, the band was slapped with an injunction from their label, Unicorn Records. (Unicorn was refusing to release the record, so Ginn put it out on his own SST Records.) When the legal smoke cleared, Black Flag had an astounding three records ready to go: a rapid succession of sludge-touched releases. Songs routinely crept over the six-minute mark, with long stretches devoted to Ginn's ghastly noodling; Family Man was split evenly between Rollins's poetry and Ginn's Sharrockian fusion instrumentals. 1985 brought an instrumental EP (The Process Of Weeding Out) and two more full-lengths. Loose Nut harkened, in part, to a more traditional hardcore sound. In My Head was a sparkling alloy of punk loathing and heavy-metal atmosphere. But while the sound was meshing, the band wasn't: Ginn kicked out the rhythm section (drummer and founding member of Descendents Bill Stephenson and bassist Kira Roessler). Ginn's new instrumental combo Gone served as the opening act on Black Flag's 1986 tour. When the tour finished, he decided that the Flag had progressed as far as possible (plus, he and Rollins couldn't stand each other). So he quit. For good measure, he broke up Gone that same year. His bandmates jumped to the brand-new Rollins Band, just one of many Henry's ventures on his way to becoming alt-rock's favorite grumpy uncle. Ginn continued running his various labels, but in the late '80s SST stalwarts like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. jumped ship after a crowded, Stax-in-1969 release schedule and charges of shoddy accounting. In 2003, Ginn assembled a throwback version of Black Flag (including former singer Dez Cadena and drummer Julio "Robo" Valencia) for a few benefit shows. A decade later, longtime fans were faced with two less-than-ideal versions of the band. The first was Ginn's, featuring Ron Reyes -- the band's second singer -- on vocals. The second was just called FLAG, and it boasted the original singer (Circle Jerks' Keith Morris) and their first permanent bassist, Chuck Dukowski. Ginn filed a trademark infringement action against FLAG and also Rollins, who had registered some Black Flag marks with the U.S. Patent Office the year before. The injunction was shot down shortly before Ginn's Black Flag released What The…, a serviceable hardcore exercise that boasted a whopping 22 tracks and maybe the worst album cover of the year. The same month the album was released, Reyes got canned in the middle of a show.
Dick Dale: Summer Surf (1964) / Tribal Thunder (1993)
Dick Dale isn't just surf music's greatest artist; he midwifed the damn genre. He invigorated the practice of instrumental rock 'n' roll, adding strenuous alternate picking and the frequent employment of the double harmonic scale, a gift from his Lebanese heritage. Dale single-mindedly pursued a music that would evoke his beloved surfing: the feel of shooting the curl, the pounding of huge swells. He worked with the Fender company to design the kinds of amps and speakers that could withstand -- and enhance -- the powerful sounds in his head. One day, he got the idea to run his guitar through a reverb unit -- he'd been using it to reinforce his singing -- and that classic wet tone was born. It rarely broke onto the charts, though: Dick Dale and the Del-Tones cracked the Hot 100 just twice, peaking at #60. In 1966, Dale was diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to quit music. The next year, Jimi Hendrix could be heard intoning "you'll never hear surf music again" on "Third Stone From the Sun," reportedly as a tribute to Dale. But Dick beat cancer, and spent the next couple of decades putting on an Elvis Presley fantasy camp: studying martial arts, learning to fly, caring for a number of endangered animals, and becoming a horseman. And, of course, there was the occasional gig. He issued a live album in the '80s -- you'll notice he's holding a pet tiger cub on the cover -- and was nominated for a Grammy in 1988 for his duet with Stevie Ray Vaughan on a cover of the Chantays' "Pipeline." A series of gigs around San Francisco led to a record contract, and he released Tribal Thunder in 1993. The man hadn't lost a step, and the CD era allowed him to stretch out on a few moody compositions. But his comeback hit the next level the following year, when "Misirlou," his stunning 1962 cover of a 1920s Greek folk tune, scored the opening credits of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. His live career took off: the Warped Tour added him to their 1996 lineup; he played two songs atop Space Mountain at the 1998 reopening of Disneyland. His cancer recurred in 2008, accompanied by diabetes and renal failure. But he's still a man of inexhaustible energy, and he's declared that he plans to play 'til he dies. (And for the record, he covered "Third Stone From the Sun" in 1996, as a tribute to the long-gone Hendrix.)
Magazine: Magic, Murder and the Weather (1981) / No Thyself (2011)
Howard Devoto appeared on just one Buzzcocks release, but oh, what a release it was. Spiral Scratch was the first self-released record by a British punk act: it didn't evince the tunefulness that was to come, but that wasn't the point. Having said his piece as a Buzzcock, Devoto left the group, moving into post-punk before punk had even completed its first course. He founded Magazine with guitarist John McGeoch in 1977, releasing four uncompromising, artsy records in as many years. The post-Devoto Buzzcocks rode their poppy humanist dissatisfaction to a number of top-40 hits; the arch, icy output of Magazine produced a number of vital tracks (chief among them "Shot On Both Sides"), but commercial success eluded the group. Several band members -- McGeoch among them -- moonlighted in the synthpop act Visage, scoring a continental hit with "Fade To Grey." With this taste of success, McGeoch jumped ship, joining Siouxsie And The Banshees. As post-punk gave way to New Wave, Devoto quit Magazine. A solo release (the slightly warmer, delightfully-titled Jerky Versions Of The Dream) followed, and then a new band: Luxuria, co-founded with Norman Fisher-Jones, later of Apollo 440. Neither project gained much traction, and Devoto quit the industry. He spent the 1990s managing a photographic archive, finally ceasing his musical hiatus with, of all things, a collaboration with Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley. In 2007, Magazine keyboardist Dave Formula began recording his solo debut with the help of the old crew. An enquiry was made of Devoto, who was amenable to a Magazine reunion. Stan White filled in on bass for Barry Adamson, who had other commitments, and Fisher-Jones stepped in for John McGeoch, who died in 2004. The resulting album, No Thyself, was a wry, lived-in thing, a chamber-punk continuation of the band's very peculiar legacy.
The New York Dolls: Too Much Too Soon (1974) / One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This (2006)
Trash in pretty much every sense of the world, the theatrical, incompetent New York Dolls were one of the hotter local things going in the first half of the '70s. Punk was still a ways off, but the thirst for straight white dudes transgressing was still mighty. 1973's landmark New York Dolls pitched a camp that triangulated tossed-off glam and thrown-up punk. On Too Much Too Soon, the Dolls added a twist to their concoction of Hollywood, heroin, and rock 'n' roll: producer George "Shadow" Morton, whose embrace of atmospherics and effects helped the band burrow into weirder holes. He also helped the band gloss over the fact that David Johansen had already run out of songs: four (well-chosen) covers padded the collection. All the rockcrit buzz New York could muster couldn't move units, and Mercury Records dropped the band. In stepped Malcolm McLaren. Now best known as the manager of Bow Wow Wow, McLaren paused his work with London's The Strand to jump-start the Dolls' career. His solution was perfectly Malcolm: red leather getups and Communist iconography. It was funnier than it was canny, and drummer Jerry Nolan and guitarist Johnny Thunders quit mid-tour, returning to New York to form the Heartbreakers. The remaining Dolls rode things out until the needle hit E, and every man scattered to make rock as he saw fit. Guitarist Sylvain Sylvain released a couple of fine, formalist albums on RCA. Johansen issued a number of solo efforts (mostly on Blue Sky Records, a vanity label run by Johnny and Edgar Winter's manager). In the mid-'80s, he switched to his Buster Poindexter alter ego, finally scoring with a diabolical cover of an Arrow tune. "Hot Hot Hot" only hit #45 on the Hot 100, but it’s pretty much haunted everybody at regular intervals for 28 years. But the most fascinating post-breakup life was bassist Arthur Kane’s. After dabbling in brief projects with ex-bandmates, he quit NYC (and music) for LA. An alcoholic by the '80s, Kane jumped out of a window after seeing Johansen in the movie Scrooged. After his recovery, he converted to Mormonism, volunteering with the church as a librarian. He badly missed the glory days of the New York Dolls, though, and when London's Meltdown Festival granted curation powers to OG Dolls fan Morrissey, he invited the surviving members -- Nolan and Thunders died within nine months of each other in the early '90s -- to reform. Johansen, Kane, and Sylvain joined a number of acolytes on stage. Though Kane died of leukemia soon afterward, the concert resulted in a very unlikely victory lap from Sylvain and Johansen. One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This wasn't a barnburner, but it was a fun affair, featuring production from the legendary Jack Douglas and guest spots from Michael Stipe, Bo Diddley, Laura Jane Grace, and Iggy Pop.
The Stooges: Raw Power (1973) / The Weirdness (2007)
As countless bands stripped the Stooges' sonic jalopy for parts, their triptych of records started to appear of a piece. But there was something a little off about Raw Power, even by their droogish standards. For starters, there’s the packaging: a glammy mythmaking shot of Iggy Pop, his eyes upon God, or maybe the sound guy. Then there’s the credit: Iggy & The Stooges. The band had already called things off by this point, having been dropped by its label for poor sales and worse behavior. (Iggy in particular was a revolving door of noxious oozings.) Into the maelstrom rode David Bowie, who signed Pop to a management contract and whisked him to England. Guitarist James Williamson made the trip as well; unable to find a suitable rhythm section, he and Iggy recruited the Asheton brothers. In the eyes of many, Bowie's production did Ron and Scott raw. Already relegated to bass duties, Ron had to take a giant sonic step back while Williamson got to blast shrapnel across the soundfield. Still, Raw Power was a fittingly 3-D effort: a complex, freewheeling rawk document. But the third time wasn't the commercial charm, and they were soon punted by their label and their management. The Ashetons fell back into their native Detroit scene; Dave Alexander, the founding bassist, died of pancreatitis in 1975. Iggy, of course, continued to not die. James Williamson contributed to a handful of Pop's solo releases before pursuing a career as an electrical engineer. Fast-forward to 2000: J. Mascis was touring his More Light record, playing the occasional Stooges song. Ron and Scott joined him (and Minutemen's Mike Watt) on a few dates. That caught Iggy’s attention. The Ashetons joined him for five tracks on his 2003 release Skull Ring; the three (plus Watt) then toured the world over as the Stooges, pausing to issue The Weirdness in 2007. Critical reception was dire: the phrase "unwanted stepchild" was tossed around. But the Stooges powered through. When Ron Asheton died in 2009, Iggy and Williamson reconnected. Williamson produced 2013's Ready To Die (like Raw Power, credited to "Iggy & The Stooges"). It's great.
Bill Fay: Time Of The Last Persecution (1971) / Life Is People (2012)
Like Judee Sill, Bill Fay wrote aching folk-pop that was frequently about Jesus Christ. Sill's two albums were recorded for David Geffen's Asylum Records; Fay's were released on Deram Records, an offshoot of Decca intended for the proggy/jazzy ends of British pop. (Before that, he recorded the first Sufjan Stevens song known to historians.) Fay came to Deram's attention through a thoroughly unlikely and yet particularly typical series of events: while in retrospect it seems like the majors had a fantastic batting average, in truth they signed everything that was capable of standing upright in a studio. Sonically, Fay's career tracked closely with Nick Drake's: intimate, acoustic-based songs fleshed out by a cracking supporting cast. Fay left Deram after 1971's Time Of The Last Persecution, but remained in his native North London, writing all the while. Between 1978 and 1981, he recorded Tomorrow, Tomorrow And Tomorrow with improvisational trio Acme Quartet. The record was shopped to a dozen labels, but no one took interest. One evening in 1998, after listening to a cassette of his early recordings while tending to his garden, Fay fielded a call from a journalist, informing him that his first two records were being reissued. (Tomorrow, Tomorrow And Tomorrow received a proper release in 2005; Current 93's David Tibet oversaw the issue of a demo collection in 2010.) Some years later, another call came, this one from American producer Joshua Henry, who had grown up with Fay's music. At Henry's urging, Fay re-entered the studio with a band that included two cohorts from his Decca days. The result was the stately Life Is People, impeccably engineered by mastermixer Guy Massey and featuring both a cover of Wilco’s "Jesus, Etc." and a duet with avowed fan Jeff Tweedy (who can be heard singing a Bill Fay tune in the I Am Trying to Break Your Heart doc). Another album, Who Is the Sender?, followed in 2015 on Dead Oceans.
Vashti Bunyan: Just Another Diamond Day (1971) / Lookaftering (2005)
They called her the Godmother of Freak Folk, and God knows why. A young artist in a milieu ('60s London) that seemingly gave shots to everyone who shared her inclinations, Bunyan spent the middle of the decade working under the guidance of Andrew Loog Oldham. A handful of multimedia appearances gained little traction, and Bunyan and her boyfriend decamped for the north in a horse-drawn cart, writing songs all the while. Urged back to London by American production maestro Joe Boyd, she recorded a number of these plaintive, intimate sketches with the assistance of some UK folk luminaries. The result, released on the Philips label, was Just Another Diamond Day. Unfortunately, the album arrived at the tail end of the Great British Folk Boom, and the combination of meager sales, ambivalent reviews and Boyd's control of the proceedings set her a-wandering again. She hung up her Martin and raised a family. And then, in 1997, she did a very un-freaky thing: she Googled herself. As it happened, her output had acquired the usual collector/speculator following; a stray acetate (gifted to a journalist in 1968) ended up on a 1990 compilation, from which Lush repurposed it on their 1996 LP Topolino. Bunyan hadn't gotten royalties, and after making the proper arrangements with 4AD, she began casting about for a way to squelch the Diamond Day boots. Her publisher tracked down her masters, and the reissue became Spinney Records' first release in 2000. From there, it was a quick step to correspondence and recording with Joanna Newsom, Piano Magic, and Devendra Banhart, the last of whom secured a US release for Diamond Day, bringing her to the attention of the wider indie-rock world. Her young friends, in turn, contributed to 2005's Lookaftering (along with Robert Kirby, the arranger on her debut). Demoed on recording software, Bunyan was persuaded by producer Max Richter to return to the barely-adorned, acoustic vibe of Diamond Day. Though she rejected the folk label time and again in interviews -- and though her precise, crystalline compositions shared very little with her proteges' mudpies -- Bunyan was a standard-bearer for a special moment in time, and last year's Heartleap expounded on her gift for plaintive, wide-eyed beauty.
Sir Lord Baltimore: Sir Lord Baltimore (1971) / Sir Lord Baltimore III Raw (2006)
Straight up, "heavy metal" was not first used as a musical signifier by Creem's Mike Saunders to describe Sir Lord Baltimore. It was first used as a musical signifier by Rolling Stone's Mike Saunders to describe Humble Pie. (Probably.) But Saunders invoked the term positively for SLB's debut Kingdom Come, and that's something. Louis Dambra, John Garner and Gary Justin were three Brooklyn kids barely out of high school when they auditioned for Mike Appel. Appel was blown away by the heavy, speedfreak racket they kicked out. He snapped them up, dubbed them Sir Lord Baltimore after a minor character in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, and helped write their debut. An early landmark in stoner rock, 1970's Kingdom Come packed the doomy, fuzzed-out bliss of Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly, only at twice the speed and with four times the riffs. And in Garner, they had a unique specimen: the lead-singing drummer. Their self-titled second record was rushed out the next year. With Joey Dambra joining his brother on guitar, the lunacy was dialed down, and in its place was more standard hard-rock fare and also a ten-minute prog epic about Jesus touching down in contemporary NYC. The band jettisoned Garner, and Appel took the band to California. By that time, though, he’d taken on Bruce Springsteen as a client, and he soon washed his hands of his heavy metal brood. The sneaky Christian streak in the band’s lyricism turned out to be a harbinger of sorts: John Garner put together a corporate-gig/party band while also playing drums for his church. Louis Dambra did him one better, remaining in Los Angeles to become a pastor, ministering to the homeless. Meanwhile, a weedy patch of sunstroked, heavy-lidded rockers sprung up in the early '90s, opting for the heavy-psych sound bands like SLB had once laid down. In 2000, Garner was snapped up as the lead vocalist for the Lizards, a band led by Randy Pratt, a sort of Worldwide Wes for second-tier hard rock vets. Pratt eventually reunited Garner and Louis Dambra, bankrolling their third record. The six-song Sir Lord Baltimore III Raw drew heavily from a long-abandoned SLB project, but with a delicious wrinkle: the lyrics are super-Christian. It's not a dank metal nugget, but Garner's pipes are in fine shape and Dambra gets to dabble in modern guitar effects. The record did not get distribution, and the band's website has vanished.
The Flower Travellin' Band: Made In Japan (1972) / We Are Here (2008)
True to their name, the Flower Travellin' Band were some free and open spirits. The cover of their debut Anywhere showed the band on motorcycles, naked as the truth; the record itself found them reupholstering four Western blues and rock classics. Their followup was Satori, considered a masterpiece of lysergic hard rock. Their commitment to the holy, heavy-psych freakout -- as well as their tendency to write English lyrics -- won them a number of Western admirers, and a chance encounter with a traveling Canadian rock/fusion act in Osaka led to the whole band moving to Toronto for a spell. The result was the focused, deceptively-titled Made In Japan. After FTB returned home, they coughed out a live/studio hash (Make Up) before their producer, and then the band, moved to other projects. Singer Joe Yamanaka turned to reggae, fronting the Wailers for a time. In 2007, musician and author Julian Cope published Japrocksampler, a beloved, dreadfully-titled survey of Japan's rock scene. FTB graced the jacket by way of the Anywhere cover; the next year, the band released We Are Here. Produced by bassist Jun Kobayashi's son Ben in Toronto, the record was a conscious attempt to avoid nostalgia. In practice, that meant sounding like a fusion funk act, although Hideki Ishima gets to show off his sitarla, a hollow-bodied electric guitar of his own invention. Tour dates followed (including their American live debut), but Yamanaka's death from lung cancer shut the lid on further efforts.
Os Mutantes: Mutantes Ao Vivo (1976) / Haih…Or Amortecedor… (2009)
Alongside that of the other luminaries of Brazil's Tropicália movement, the Mutants' work represents a clash between freedom and repression. As might be expected from a group founded by teenagers, Rita Lee, Arnaldo Baptista and Sérgio Dias were attuned to the countercultural sounds coming from Britain and the United States. Over the course of five albums, Os Mutantes jury-rigged an expansive, psychedelic world, practicing what Gilberto Gil called "the politics of ecstasy." But unlike many of their peers, who incurred the wrath of the military government, Os Mutantes were worn down by conflicting ambitions. After releasing two solo albums -- one of which was actually a Mutantes album repurposed by their label -- Lee quit the band. Baptista followed soon after. Dias soldiered on under the Mutantes banner for a while longer, moving into prog territory. The band's final release was Mutantes Ao Vivo, a Moog-heavy live set consisting of all-new compositions. The original three members kept making music, with widely varying outcomes: Lee became a pop superstar; Dias moved to America and alternated solo work with session-musician gigs; Baptista recorded a couple of solo efforts before injuring himself escaping from a mental institution. Os Mutantes may have remained a fascinating footnote in America were it not for the efforts of White Flag's Pat Fear, whose sister bought the band’s debut during her studies in Brazil. Thanks to Fear's evangelism, Kurt Cobain was caught raving about the band on MTV Brasil, eventually mailing Baptista a fan letter. David Byrne's Luaka Bop label issued the Everything Is Possible! compilation in 1999. A few years later, Dias and Baptista -- who are brothers, by the way -- overcame their differences long enough to play a series of dates in England and the United States as Os Mutantes. (Rita Lee wished her old bandmates well, but had no interest in joining them.) Baptista soon bowed out, and like the previous few Mutantes records, Haih…Or Amortecedor was recorded under the sole direction of Dias. Fool Metal Jack followed in 2013.
The Pyramids: Birth/Speed/Merging (1976) / Otherworldly (2011)
Southwestern Ohio was lousy with phenomenal black groups in the 1970s: Zapp, Slave, Ohio Players, the original Bootsy-led J.B.s, and the Pyramids, for starters. Unlike the others, the Pyramids were a jazz ensemble - a fabulous one, too. But their total conceptual commitment to futurist Afrocentric music was little-recognized in their time: their three LPs were self-released in small batches. If that bothered the Pyramids, they never really talked about it. The group met at Antioch College; several members took a course taught by visiting lecturer (and uncompromising avant-garde pianist) Cecil Taylor. Though students, the Pyramids weren't green: bassist Kimathi Asante had recorded an album with soul/funk outfit Brute Force (which featured Sonny Sharrock), and multi-instrumentalist Idris Ackamoor had collaborated with a number of free-jazz luminaries in LA and Chicago before starting his own Ohio-based group, the Collective, with flautist Margo Simmons. Galvanized by a common outlook and the instruction of Taylor, the students formed a trio, taking the name Pyramids during a European tour. The three members spent months living and playing in Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt before returning to Ohio, where they recorded and released two records: Lalibela and King Of Kings. A Pyramids concert was a special thing -- chock-full of magick, costumery and theater -- and so it makes sense that the group relocated to San Francisco in the mid-'70s. There, they completed the trilogy with Birth/Speed/Merging, a collection of suites celebrating the totality of black history and music. Then the band split up. In 1979, Ackamoor founded Cultural Odyssey, a non-profit dance/theater/music company, which has staging vital productions for the community ever since. Osaka's EM Records released a retrospective of Ackamoor's work in 2007. The set included quite a few Pyramids tracks, and a number of Pyramids alumni joined Ackamoor at the release party. The vibe was right, so Ackamoor and Asante -- along with percussionist Bradie Speller, who played on King Of Kings -- re-formed the group, releasing the funky, cosmic Otherworldly in 2011.
The Pop Group: For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (1980) / Citizen Zombie (2015)
Like the Slits (alongside whom they appeared on a couple singles), the Pop Group saw punk not as proscription, but as permission: to be dissonant and dubby, to confront from odd angles, and -- we'll be frank -- to borrow liberally from black artists. The very idea of them was catnip to the UK press: New Musical Express put singer Mark Stewart on its cover five months before his band released its debut single, the sideways-reggae classic "She Is Beyond Good And Evil." Their debut album Y -- produced by Bajan reggae vet Dennis Bovell -- was a gallery of sonic shards, an agonized avant-funk thrashing. The band took over the production reins for For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, released on Rough Trade and their own Y Records. It's just a tad more conventional: like A Certain Ratio, but if the ratio were 6:6:6. The center couldn't hold: the instrumentalists were moving toward out-there jazz, and Stewart balked at trying to combine his increasingly direct texts against the out-there structures his bandmates yearned to erect. The band's brief run ended in October of 1980, with a triumphant live performance on behalf of the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament. Stewart, drummer Bruce Smith, and guitarist John Waddington joined the dubby New Age Steppers; Smith and guitarist/saxophonist Gareth Sager were also members (along with Neneh Cherry) of post-punk act Rip Rig + Panic, named after an album from the god Rahsaan Roland Kirk. In the '80s and '90s, Stewart recorded a series of albums, sometimes credited to "Mark Stewart And The Maffia." Nary a thought of a reunion occurred until Matt Groening enticed the Pop Group to play an edition of All Tomorrow's Parties for which he was the curator. They passed, but the band's interest in reuniting was sufficiently piqued. Live sets and vault raids followed, capped by this year's Citizen Zombie, recorded by Sager, Smith, and Stewart. Decades in the music industry have sanded the Pop Group's corners, and while there are moments of striking melody and wild-eyed stomp, the record is awash with godawful vocal treatment and runout grooving.
The Yardbirds: Little Games (1967) / Birdland (2003)
During their brief existence the Yardbirds somehow employed three of the century's most heralded lead guitarists. It's hard to imagine a band withstanding the loss of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, or Jimmy Page; the Yardbirds nearly outlasted all three. But while Page was using Yardbirds singles as proving grounds for a burgeoning protometal sound, founding members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty wanted to explore a folksy path. Though the band called it quits, Page wanted to keep whatever cachet the Yardbirds name had. Relf recommended a singer, who in turn recommended a drummer; a longtime 'Birds collaborator joined on bass. The new foursome, dubbed the New Yardbirds, soon became Led Zeppelin; Relf and McCarty became the nucleus of the proggy Renaissance. (Renaissance hit the UK Top Ten with "Northern Lights." Led Zeppelin didn’t release any British singles -- point to Renaissance!) Relf died in his home in 1976, playing a poorly-grounded guitar. In the '80s, original Yardbirds McCarty, Chris Dreja, and Paul Samwell-Smith released two albums as Box of Frogs. A who's-who of British R&B and pub-rock guested on the records, including prodigal 'Birds Beck and Page. In 1992, the Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. A reconstituted version of the band played clubs for a decade, and the band made its digital-era debut with 2003's Birdland. A combination of glory-day rehashes and pale originals, Birdland proved its lineage mostly in the guest list: Slash, Steve Vai, Brian May, Joe Satriani. (Oh, and Johnny Rzeznik singing on "For Your Love" - point to the Yardbirds!)
Gary Higgins: Red Hash (1973) / Seconds (2009)
Red Hash is perhaps the great success story of the private-press collector scene, which tends to value the unmediated and the uncommercial. Even by Acid Archives standards, the history leading to Red Hash was spectacular: rush-recorded before Higgins was due to serve a prison term for possession, the album was released in miniscule quantity on his own Nufusmoon label. Upon securing his freedom, Higgins settled into a regular family life in Connecticut, but the original pressings changed the usual hands over the ensuing years. Two of those hands belonged to guitarist Ben Chasny, who covered Red Hash's leadoff "Thicker Than A Smokey" for a 2005 Drag City release. "If anyone has any information on the whereabouts or fate of Gary Higgins," the liner notes read, "please contact us..." Numero Group's Rob Sevier -- no stranger to lost-record legwork -- contributed Gary's phone number, and the stage was set for a very unlikely comeback. Four years after the reissue of Red Hash, Drag City released Higgins' follow-up, the aptly titled Seconds. Supported by a couple of sidemen from the first record, as well as his son Graham, Higgins sounded less like a damaged spirit than a guy playing a Wednesday evening coffeeshop gig. Wisely or predictably, Drag City chased Seconds with A Dream A While Back, an archival, largely solo set that predated Red Hash.
Marva Whitney: It's My Thing (1969) / I Am What I Am (2006)
The fact that Marva Whitney recorded only two studio albums is astounding; that they were released 37 years apart is just as incredible. The loyalty of soul, funk, and R&B audiences -- to say nothing of the professionalism of their idols -- is generally enough to sustain a prolonged career. And Whitney was nothing if not dedicated. Born and raised in Kansas City, Whitney was a performer from the age of three, eventually jumping from her family's gospel group to her husband's. She made her first big commercial move as the lead singer of Tommy And The Derbies, a popular local act. In 1967, the Derbies opened for James Brown, who was in the middle of popular music's greatest creative run. After a brief backstage audition, Whitney joined the James Brown Revue. The professional relationship soon became romantic. And when the Isley Brothers hit big with "It's Your Thing" in 1969, it turned strategic. As she told an interviewer, "The Isley Brothers was on James' back. Everywhere he turned he heard, 'It's your thing, do what you want to do.' It was so hot, it was upsetting Mr. Brown. And he said, 'Whit, we gotta do something about that.'" The Brown-penned, Whitney-hollered "It's My Thing (You Can't Tell Me Who To Sock It To)" hit the lower reaches of the Hot 100. But Marva Whitney's legacy was really cemented on the accompanying album. Under Brown's direction, the typically top-notch playing of the Famous Flames gained new life as - what else - material for hip-hop classics. DJ Mark the 45 King slowed and looped the bari sax/drum intro on "Unwind Yourself" for 1987's seminal "The 900 Number," which DC's DJ Kool expanded on in 1996 for the beyond-live "Let Me Clear My Throat." Not that any of this would matter to Whitney at the time: she jumped off the James train shortly after the album’s release, disembarking back in Kansas City. She married Ellis Taylor, recording a number of fine singles for his Forte label in the '70s. But she was the classic prophet without honor, and it took the efforts of Osaka Monaurail, a Japanese funk outfit active since the early '90s, to provide Whitney another album-length showcase. The collaboration I Am What I Am was released in 2006, loaded with allusions to Whitney’s time alongside the Godfather. In 2009 she suffered a stroke performing at an Australian festival. She recovered, but died of complications from pneumonia in 2012. Numero Records released a Forte retrospective as part of its Eccentric Soul series in 2013.
Death: ...For The Whole World To See (1975) / N.E.W. (2015)
Projectile vomit anywhere between rockabilly and Mott the Hoople and you'll get flecks on a claimed progenitor of punk. Death almost didn't get the chance to get in line. The story's famous enough by now: three Detroit brothers on their own musical and spiritual wavelength, moving from rock 'n' roll to funk to the technical, frantic hard-rock approach that earned them (and then scuttled) a chance at an LP release. The result -- which finally saw the light of day in 2009, as a seven-song Drag City release -- arguably hews closer to glam than punk. But the skill and ingenuity of Bobby, Dannis, and David Hackney is incontestable. The story of the Hackneys, though, neither began nor ended with Death. After moving to Vermont, they brought the same sense of dynamics and urgency to the two gospel LPs they recorded as the 4th Movement. David returned to Detroit (where he died in 2000), but his brothers carried on as Lambsbread, a regionally popular reggae act. The Death tapes languished in Bobby's attic until someone spun one of their original 45s at a party attended by Bobby's son Julian. Recognizing his father's voice, he and his own brothers began spreading the word, eventually attracting the notice of Drag City. Bobby's trove of tapes yielded three separate archival releases; the documentary A Band Called Death was released in 2012. After basking in recognition that was a long, long time coming, Bobby and Dannis (along with guitarist Bobbie Duncan, a cohort from the Hackneys' reggae days) entered the studio as Death once again. The album (titled N.E.W.) came out last month.
Linda Perhacs: Parallelograms (1973) / The Soul Of All Natural Things (2014)
Even the vaunted losers' history of music is really a gold-medal competition in yet another invented category. Linda Perhacs' achievement wasn't codified with the reissue of Parallelograms, or by the outrageous sums that the original copies commanded on the secondhand market. She already triumphed. Having already demonstrated a facility for arrangement in high school, Perhacs chose a career (dentistry) that gave her the time and freedom to just be. Working near Rodeo Drive and living in Topanga Canyon, Perhacs rambled up and down the West Coast with fellow mellow travelers, composing synesthetic tunes. At the behest of client (and film composer) Leonard Rosenman, Perhacs handed over a demo; before she knew it, she was recording at Universal Studios, leading a crack session crew that included Shelly Manne, Milt Holland, and future Neil Diamond bassist Reinie Press. An incredibly intuitive, centered person, Perhacs managed to communicate her vision(s) on her first try. The result, released on Universal subsidiary Kapp Records, is perhaps the closest anyone's gotten to the loner-folk ethos on a major-label release. As occasionally happens to works of unmediated expression, Parallelograms stiffed. However, one composition -- "Hey, Who Really Cares," a co-write with jazz legend Oliver Nelson -- enjoyed a fascinating quarterlife. It was written to be the theme for a one-season television show on ABC. In 1971, it was covered by the Whispers, an LA R&B group; 25 years later, their version was sampled for the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Niggas Bleed." Two years after that, Perhacs' album was reissued by the late Michael Piper's psych label the Wild Places. Shortly afterward, he tracked down Perhacs, who had just recovered from a frightening bout of pneumonia; she gave him the original masters, and in 2003, an expanded, remastered edition set the indie press alight. With the assistance of Julia Holter and Nite Jewel's Ramona Gonzalez, Perhacs recorded The Soul of All Natural Things. To call the record belated would be inexact; as Pitchfork's Jayson Greene noted, "Perhacs' sense of time is looser than ours."
The Sonics: Introducing The Sonics (1967) / This Is The Sonics (2015)
Being a top regional act was once an achievement on par with being a Pacific Coast League MVP -- you could make the jump to the majors, but life on your local circuit was pretty sweet too. Decades before the Northwest was grunge's harsh realm, it was the incubator for some legendary garage-rock acts. Some of them cracked the national consciousness to varying degrees -- think Portland's Kingsmen or Boise's Paul Revere And The Raiders. And some of them were the Sonics, the biggest near-miss story the region ever told. The Tacoma band's rep was made on the back of two fearsome originals: "The Witch" and "Psycho." Featuring the unhinged screamy camp of newly-minted lead singer Gerry Roslie, these singles and more galvanized teens across Washington. Their first couple of records were released by Etiquette Records, owned by hometown heroes the Fabulous Wailers, whose cover of "Louie Louie" inspired the Sonics to form in the first place. Here Are The Sonics and Boom didn't invent the garage aesthetic, but they locked it in a crimson cage: hamfisted power chords, demented vocals, and a paint-peeling volume. (Legend has it that while recording Boom, the band tore out the studio’s soundproofing in order to generate the properly improper sound levels.) At odds with Etiquette, who had turned down purchase offers from a couple of major labels, the Sonics broke ties, recording the comparatively tame Introducing The Sonics in 1967 for Jerden, a Seattle concern owned by the Kingsmen’s producer. By then, the Vietnam War was in full effect, and several band members enrolled in college to avoid the draft. The Sonics moniker was sold to new singer Jim Brady, who recorded bleached (but occasionally pretty tight) pop-rock for another decade or so. Reissues in the '70s and '80s brought the original Sonics sound to new markets, and a critical reappraisal followed. After years of resistance, Roslie agreed to perform with his old bandmates, and a third edition of the Sonics (with a new rhythm section) made a triumphant appearance at Brooklyn’s Cavestomp! Festival in 2007, with a European tour after. Last month, the band dropped This Is The Sonics. The only lesson was to release the record on their own label; the blistering cover of "I Don't Need No Doctor" takes on a wickedly mordancy, and the original "I Got Your Number" cannily threads the Stooges and Roky Erickson through the same needle.