by Scott Thill

Spring is in full effect, my friends, and nowhere is this annual explosion of health and wealth more evident than the touring schedules of the various musical acts descending upon your town like rampant good cheer. Where I live in California, the month of May will bring Sleater-Kinney, The Shins and the Pixies, to name just a few, to my local club scene. Well, in the case of the Pixies, it’s the entire desert -- headlining the Coachella Festival in Indio, to be exact. But you get my drift. Scan your newspapers or, even better, your local freebies for a hefty dose of musical offerings. And then, for God’s sake, get outside and shake it. Let’s rock!

Pixies, Doolittle

So far, my continuing breakdown of the Pixies’ stellar catalogue has elaborated on their work that floated beneath the radar, namely, their first two albums. While Surfer Rosa enjoyed a slender amount of airplay everywhere besides college radio, the band’s third album changed that trend completely, along with the styles, structures and signatures of alternative rock. For good.

Doolittle came out in 1989, two years before Nirvana’s epochal Nevermind, which is another way of saying Kurt Cobain, a self-proclaimed Pixies borrower, had two years to soak it all in to help take alternative rock past the tipping point. So did David Bowie, who upon hearing Doolittle’s opener, “Debaser,” immediately incorporated it into his live show. Stacked from front to back with breakneck pop-punk classics like “Gouge Away,” “Tame,” “Mr. Grieves” and more, Doolittle is not only the Pixies most acclaimed effort, it’s one of the finest rock albums ever released. If you only have five albums to your name, make sure this is one of them.

Denali, The Instinct

This hidden treasure was released without fanfare in 2003, which is why I’m including it in a column more oriented towards recent offerings. One thing that sucks about the music industry -- or any industry, come to think of it -- is its ceaseless hype machine which inundates the scene with bands undeserving of your hard-earned cash at the expense of smaller, more modest outfits that could use some attention and support. Denali is one of those bands.

Formed by rock chanteuse Maura Davis -- brother of Engine Down’s Keeley Davis - Denali is equal parts Portishead, Cat Power and Throwing Muses; they’re what lovers should listen to after they’ve been jilted and are ready to get even. Davis has excellent range (although she is heavy with the operatics sometimes), and her band can rock out when called upon. So far, The Instinct has one impossible-to-ignore single, “Hold Your Breath,” making the rounds, and if there is any justice it’ll get them the credit they deserve. Check this band out now before they explode.

Mellowdrone, A Demonstration of Intellectual Property

Another band that floated through 2003 without nabbing the spotlight is Mellowdrone, which is basically the multitalented Jonathan Bates and whoever he’s chilling with these days. Bates is almost notorious in indie circles for drafting much of his exquisite sonic offerings on a crappy Mac and Casio keyboard in his bedroom, a confident move that allowed him total control and netted him serious label interest. But that’s all backstory.

Bates has a serious ear for rock drama, and his songs thrive on the loud-soft-loud paradigm laid down by the Pixies and later legitimized by Nirvana and Radiohead. His 2003 efforts -- A Demonstration of Intellectual Property and the Go Get ‘Em Tiger EP -- are clinics in alternative rock songcraft, usually buttressed by Bates’ hook-laden riffs and Thom Yorke-ish vocals. Lots of comparisons, I know, but that’s what gets people up off the couch and on Limewire, Napster, iTunes or whatever these days. And, most importantly, Bates deserves it. He’s the real deal.

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© Melt Magazine 2004