Tom Waits

Armed with one of the most distinctive voices in popular music — a gravelly, smoke-scratched rasp that crosses Joe Cocker and Louis Armstrong at the end of a particularly bad bender — Tom Waits is at once a throwback and a visionary. His gritty Everyman sing-song and tubercular jazzcat persona — fusing seedy imagery and…

Fall

Some people think chief Fall guy Mark E. Smith does the same thing over and over again, but he’s such an original that observation hardly rings as criticism. Indeed, on the Manchester band’s first single, back in 1978, Smith presented his manifesto: “Repetition in the music and we’re never gonna lose it.” Turning subtle but…

James McMurtry

John Mellencamp “discovered” James McMurtry; besides a backing band, both men have shared the nagging feeling that something’s rotten in Peoria. McMurtry’s lyrics read as riveting poetry, but they’re that much more powerful when heard in the company of a modest hook and a heartland backbeat. Sung in a flat deadpan, the songs tell tales…

Smog

Consisting of the peripatetic Bill Callahan and a shifting cast of backing musicians, Smog is an unheralded pioneer of the lo-fi movement, with all the opportunity for intimate self-revelation and solipsistic self-indulgence the genre offers. The music is shot through with a pinched melancholy that more than occasionally turns bitter and veers unpredictably between almost…

Cardinal

While everybody else was singing “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmik Twentysomething Angst Blues Again,” Cardinal set about making pristine, Anglocentric chamber pop about the heartbreak of heartbreak. Australian Richard Davies wrote and sings most of the tunes on Cardinal’s self-titled album, while Oregonian Eric Matthews concentrates on arrangements, employing pastoral horns, piano, strings, marimba, harpsichord…

Siouxsie and the Banshees

In 1976, Siouxsie Sioux (Susan Dallion) and Steve Severin were part of the clique of steady suburban London Sex Pistols fans known as the Bromley Contingent. As Siouxsie and the Banshees, the nascent punk rock stars debuted at the 100 Club’s legendary 1976 punk festival; aided by future Ant guitarist Marco Pirroni and the unknown…

Jeff Buckley

Operatic and Romantic with a capital R, the late Jeff Buckley’s extraordinary singing drew on sources as diverse as Robert Plant, Edith Piaf, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Freddie Mercury and Billie Holiday — and, though the New Yorker protested the comparison, even a blind taste test would reveal a noticeable vocal resemblance to his late…

Fabulon

Just as not all popular albums are wonderful, not all wonderful albums are popular. Proving the latter point is Fabulon’s All Girls Are Pretty, a record that came nowhere near the Top 200 but sounds like a collection of wall-to-wall pop-funk chartbusters. Fabulon (Kevin Macbeth, a veteran of such Miami bands as Reagan’s Dream and…

Glenn Branca

Many artists have had their music described as a wall of sound, but few have deserved it as much as New York composer/guitarist Glenn Branca. One of the first to realize that a classical-rock fusion need not involve technique-crazed keyboardists soloing away to the accompaniment of rehashed Brahms or Stravinsky, Branca writes music of orchestral…

XTC

Hailing from the bland English exurb of Swindon, XTC emerged from an early punk-manic phase to produce several ambitious and now-classic records: the spiky art-pop gems Drums and Wires and Black Sea, the flawed epic English Settlement and the exquisite pop pastorale Skylarking. For many years a trio of Andy Partridge (guitar/vocals), Colin Moulding (bass/vocals)…

Jungle Brothers

“Educated man from the Motherland…” begins Afrika Baby Bambaataa on the Jungle Brothers’ debut album, putting these charter members of the Native Tongues posse on the Afrocentric tip way before it was cool. Expanding on Grandmaster Flash’s concept of the inner city as a jungle (sometimes), New Yorkers Mike G, Uncle Sam and Baby Bambaataa…

Gang of Four

If the Clash were the urban guerrillas of rock’n’roll, Leeds’ Gang of Four were its revolutionary theoreticians. The band’s bracing and style-setting funk-rock gained its edge from lyrics that dissect capitalist society with the cool precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. The Gang saw interpersonal relationships — “romance,” if you must — as politics in microcosm,…

Big Audio Dynamite

The rote replay of the ersatz Clash’s Cut the Crap only underscored the accomplishment of Mick Jones’ subsequent band, originally formed with filmmaker-musician Don Letts. Joe Strummer attempted to purify the Clash by purging Jones, but wound up liberating the guitarist’s muse and (for a while) misplacing his own. The original B.A.D. — which included…

Doo Rag

This Arizona duo plays electrified — and sometimes electrifying — Delta blues along the lines of modern-primitive roots duos Flat Duo Jets and the Chickasaw Mud Puppies. Featuring the virtuoso slide work of Bob Log (who sounds like Mississippi Fred McDowell after a few too many cups of coffee), the band updates its raw, vintage…

Heatmiser

Portland, Oregon’s Heatmiser featured the melodic-abrasive formula that made the Northwest famous, but with a lyrical twist — Neil Gust is an openly gay songwriter. And Elliott Smith, Heatmiser’s other singer/songwriter, went on to become a major pop force on his own. Firing off 14 songs in 37 minutes, Dead Air is laced with hints…

Bad Livers

Representing perhaps the most true-blue wing of the mid-’90s alternative country movement, Austin’s Bad Livers — Danny Barnes (vocals, banjo, guitar), Mark Rubin (upright bass, tuba) and Ralph White III (fiddle, accordion) — first made a name as the folks who could whip out bluegrass covers of punk classics and toured with the Butthole Surfers.…

Laurie Anderson

After kicking around the New York art scene for a decade, Chicago native Laurie Anderson reached the masses in the early 1980s when the improbable UK success of “O Superman” suddenly made her the world’s most famous performance artist. Singing in a droll deadpan and playing violin and keyboards, she followed up on her surprise…

Unwound

The power trio of singer/guitarist Justin Trosper, bassist Vern Rumsey and drummer Sara Lund may not make memorable songs per se, but Unwound does make an indelible sensation. Flaunting serious noise science that recalls but rarely imitates Fugazi, Slint and Sonic Youth, this Tumwater, Washington (near Olympia) band exudes an almost palpable existential rage, largely…

Lisa Germano

Self-billed as “The Emotional Wench,” Indiana native Lisa Germano first surfaced as the fiddler with John Cougar Mellencamp’s band, but her own work is light years away from the heartland swagger of her erstwhile employer. The self-released On the Way Down From the Moon Palace showcases country-tinged folk-pop with mandolin and accordion augmenting guitars and…

Contributors

These folks either wrote reviews that appear on the site or wrote for Trouser Press magazine. If anyone listed below cares to E-mail us with a link you’d like added, just let us know. And ditto if anyone is AWOL from this list. Grant AldenDavid AntrobusJem AswadTroy J. AugustoMichael AzerradCary BakerMichael BakerEmily BeckerJohn BergstromArt BlackJohn…