by Scott Thill


It's that time of year again, my friends. Time to close the book on another worthy summer and watch it metamorphose into a productive autumn. To commemorate the changing of the seasonal guard, I've decided to pick three releases -- including one desert-island classic to start with -- to suit your darker, introspective mood. Read it and weep softly for bygone beach parties:

Cocteau Twins, Victorialand

Everyone who knows the Cocteau Twins won't blink twice at the inclusion of this ethereally strange 1986 gem. But non-adherents will need some guidance, and here it goes: Turn the lights down low, don't worry about the lyrics, drink one hard-hitting glass of your favorite kind of alcohol, and float away on the lightest, airiest art cloud you've ever seen. With bassist Simon Raymonde off working on another This Mortal Coil record, songbird Elizabeth Fraser and guitar wiz Robin Guthrie were left to their own devices to fashion something out of nothing, and the result of their efforts was unlike anything the band had ever done (save the similarly constructed collab with Harold Budd, The Moon and the Melodies, released the same year).

Listen to the impossibly high registers Fraser reaches in "The Thinner the Air," or the reverb-drenched strums found on "Lazy Calm" and "Throughout the Dark Months of April and May," and you'll find a 4AD band reaching its creative apogee. Sure, it's not close to accessible compared to their other work, but for a night alone (or with company), it's almost impossible to beat Victorialand. Go get it.

Comets On Fire, Blue Cathedral

Now, I understand that some might think this psychedelic freakout of an album belongs in the sunnier summer months, but I disagree. When Comets On Fire aren't totally destroying their instruments in the middle of a nine-minute jam session, they're creating some of the most haunting music heard since Pink Floyd's "Careful With That Axe, Eugene." Indeed, the Comets can craft some compelling work out of nothing but a few guitars and a drum kit; witness the wailing strangeness of "Wild Whiskey" or "Brotherhood of the Harvest." This release's spirit resides somewhere between Children of the Corn and Led Zeppelin's Song Remains the Same. And if that description does nothing for you, I'm all out of them. Good luck finding your own to describe the bizarre but always explosive mood rock these Santa Cruz, CA-based lunatics manufacture.

Mike Watt and the Secondmen, The Second Man's Middle Stand

Once the bassist behind L.A.'s post-punk activists The Minutemen and still a DIY lifer who's the darling of the alternative rock elite like Sonic Youth, Pixies and more, Mike Watt is an artist who's forgot more music than the rest of us have illegally downloaded. His second solo album is a catharsis of sorts for Watt, who based it on Dante's Divine Comedy after taking a trip of his own through Hell for a few months while fighting a near-fatal illness. The result is a postmodern update on a classic narrative, calibrated to emote Watt's inner turmoil over his lost time, his broken body and his close brush with the Grim Reaper.

What's great is that Watt's signature bass takes the spotlight; there isn't really a guitar to be found anywhere here. But that doesn't mean this disc doesn't still rock, or avoids interest; songs like "Beltsanded Man" and the self-explanatory "Pissbags and Tubing" still get the meter up, but only long enough for Watt to rip the demons out of his chest for good. This is a great album from an indispensable punker. What more do you need?

For more "Must Have CD's" click here to view back issues.

Visit Scott at


© Melt Magazine 2004