Must Have CD's

by Scott Thill

OK, the election is over, but the recount frenzy is in full effect. If not, then I obviously shortchanged the American political system, thinking it incapable of doing something as simple as counting up the votes of its citizens. For that I apologize; unless of course I am right, in which case, nice democracy! Give the people a vote, then render it worthless. To mangle Mellencamp, ain't that America?

Anyway, no matter what remains the most important U.S. election of the past century has wrought, you're gonna need some sonic therapy to get over it all. Here's a couple of headache-killers and one desert-island disc that will transport you away from America, for a short time at least.

Pinback, Summer in Abaddon

The more I listen to this album, the more I want to listen to it. If that's not deep praise for a music release, I don't know what is. I was already a fan of Zach Smith and Rob Crow's crystalline structures and precise craftsmanship -- Zach's angular, singular bass style is what made Three Mile Pilot one of my favorite art-rock bands of all time, after all -- but after two stellar releases I figure that they'd hit the hype wall erected by lesser laptop-pop bands like The Postal Service. But Summer in Abaddon is stacked full of compelling tracks, whether it's the driving "Sender" or the insidiously poppy "Fortress." The fact that this San Diego duo made this album -- and all of their others -- in their apartments on their computers is just icing on the cake. In a criminally thin year for music, Pinback is at the top of the pile.


Comets On Fire, Blue Cathedral

Santa Cruz, California is so laid-back that city's major university, U.C. Santa Cruz, doesn't even give its students grades -- it gives them evaluations. Nice. But you would be hard pressed to convince anyone of that after listening to these Cruz crazies laying down some of the most apocalyptic rock I have ever heard. Some call the Comets psych-rock, in honor of the bands that freaked out for over ten minutes per song on the brilliant albums that came out of the '60s and '70s, but that would be cutting the praise short somewhat. Comets On Fire take Led Zeppelin's guitar crunch and feed it through Sonic Youth's noise mayhem, churning out tracks that seem to deteriorate into rewarding rawk on every song. Take "Brotherhood of the Harvest," which spends its first minute in utter bedlam, before coalescing into the most beautiful instrumental space rock unheard since the earlier days of Pink Floyd. Or "Wild Whiskey," in which a banjo and an acoustic guitar mate to the scream and wails of a rampaging electric guitar for around four minutes. The Comets aren't for everyone, but for those who like their music to be challenging and unique, they fit the bill just fine. One of the unheralded masterpieces of the year.


Pixies, Wave of Mutilation (DVD)

OK, you think I'm cheating. After all, this is a DVD and the Pixies released a greatest-hits CD of the same name in the same month -- while reuniting to kick off the year's hottest tour. But greatest-hits comps are usually not worth the vinyl -- um, disc -- they're recorded on, and the Pixies' 2004 release is no different. "Into the White" and "Everlong" as the band's finest B-sides? C'mon, people. Haven't you ever heard "Dancing the Manta Ray" or "Bailey's Walk?" But crappy song choices aside, the CD couldn't hold a candle to the DVD's various features, including a pre-Doolittle concert performance, a behind-the-scenes video road diary, the outstanding U.K. documentary Gouge, and all the maddening videos the band ever recorded. The fact that you can score this DVD at $14.99 at some outlets is amazing, considering how canonical the Pixies have become. The fact that I'm picking a DVD for a 2004 list just shows how lame a year it was for music. After the Pixies reunion, nothing else really shook the Earth.

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© Melt Magazine 2005