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)…

Buzzcocks

Inspired by the Sex Pistols, Manchester (England) natives Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley formed the Buzzcocks in 1976, specializing in high-energy, staccato delivery of stripped-down pop songs. With John Maher (drums) and Steve Diggle (bass), the Buzzcocks cut Spiral Scratch, the UK’s first self-released punk record. Though ragged and rudimentary, the 7-inch features the frantic,…

Placebo

Placebo’s back story is about as multi-national as can be. Swedish bassist/keyboardist Stefan Olsdal and Belgian-born singer/guitarist Brian Molko — the son of an American father and a Scottish mother — met at the American International School of Luxembourg, but didn’t actually become friends until they reconnected in London several years later. The duo recruited…

Prince

Prince’s impact on the direction and sound of ’80s pop music can’t be overstated. By the mid-’70s, race segregation had become nearly as rigid a musical barrier as it was at the outset of rock’n’roll in the ’50s, but Prince’s brilliant stylistic cross-fertilization has been a major agent in its slow dissolution. He continually demonstrates…

Fags

John Liccardello (aka John Speck) is a great rock ‘n’ roll guitarist, an even better singer and an absolutely ace songwriter. So far, though, his reputation (at least outside Detroit) rests at least as much on his monumentally rotten luck as on his music. The same goes for his former bandmate Jim Paluzzi. After Paluzzi…

Radio 4

Brooklyn’s Radio 4 probably deserves as big a share of the credit (or blame) as any band for getting the post-punk revival bandwagon rolling, thanks to its timing, its name (from the Public Image Ltd. song) and, of course, its sound. On The New Song and Dance, bassist/vocalist Anthony Roman, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Williams and drummer…

Fountains of Wayne

In 1996, Ivy bassist/drummer/songwriter Adam Schlesinger turned a longtime friendship into a creative partnership and recorded a marvelous album of rare electric pop wit and ingenuity with singer/guitarist Chris Collingwood. As Fountains of Wayne, with a major label deal through a label co-owned by Schlesinger, James Iha and others, the duo (quickly expanded to a…

Futureheads

Although the Futureheads’ self-titled debut is phenomenal, with nary a bum track (though a curious cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” comes precariously close), a thorough examination is somehow unbefitting. While this could mean that the quality of the 14 original danceable blasts of jagged guitar and joyful Oi!-ful call-and-response shouting speaks for itself,…

Oasis

The debut album by the brashest brats Britain has produced in a decade sloshes cocky rock-star attitude all over sensually loud rhythm-guitar pop, one-upping elders like Stone Roses and the Jesus and Mary Chain by swiping their best features and adding a heavy dose of unfashionable Beatles worship. Landing squarely in familiar post-punk mud, the…

Donnas

Unlikely rock veterans by their 20s, the Donnas — together since junior high school — went through three band names before emerging on the national scene; they then struggled to shed the perception that a man pulled their creative strings. The Palo Alto, California, quartet — guitarist Alison “Donna R.” Robertson, vocalist Brett “Donna A.”…

Cheap Trick

[Full disclosure: I worked on Cheap Trick’s box set and instigated the band’s Steve Albini-produced single on Sub Pop in 1997.–Ira Robbins] At a time when heavy metal had lost its menace and was fading into side-show stupidity, Cheap Trick — a powerhouse that had long been dominating Midwest clubs and bars — blew out…

Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk (German for “power station”) began in the electronic metal trend that erupted in Germany in the early 1970s. Although quiet in recent years, the four-piece synthesizer group showed amazing resiliency for more than fifteen years, tightening its electro-pop formula to fit smoothly into art-rock and, later, disco. Kraftwerk essentially created the sonic blueprint from…

Refreshments

Tempe, Arizona’s Refreshments (no relation to the Swedish rockabilly outfit of the same name featuring Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner) briefly played court jester in the ’90s roots-rock kingdom. The quartet (singer/guitarist Roger Clyne, guitarist Brian Blush, bassist Buddy Edwards and drummer Dusty Denham) garnered intense local support through zany live performances and a self-released album.…

Gary Myrick

Texas-born guitarist/singer/songwriter Gary Myrick was a veteran of several local blues and roots-rock bands (including one, Kracker Jack, in which he replaced Stevie Ray Vaughan) before he moved to Los Angeles at the end of the ’70s. Signed to Epic with his band the Figures, at a time when American labels were starting to push…

Green Day

Who knew? One day, punk was thundering along, minding its own business, comfortable in a seemingly permanent role of rocking the converted. Stuck in the past and digging it, the hellions of hardcore could wallow merrily in their noisy state of mindless grace without any need to peer over the edge of the commercial gutter.…

Verve

This quartet from Wigan, England, was one of shoegazing’s most dynamic proponents — even if that quality manifested itself in terms of soaring musical sweep rather than onstage theatrics. Amid the swirling, psychedelic music, solid songwriting and frontman Richard Ashcroft’s hypnotic vocals helped the band’s better soundscapes actually go someplace. The five-song ’92 EP (compiling…

Your Vegas

Coming together in the Yorkshire town of Otley, and relocating first to Leeds, then to New York City, the members of Your Vegas are the latest enrollees of the Bunnymen-Chameleons-Teardrop school of rock to try for advanced placement. Released following a three-song preview of the same title, A Town and Two Cities offers anthemic rock…

Caesars

Starting out in the mid-’90s as the Twelve Caesars, this quartet from Borlänge, Sweden proffers ’60s garage rock on its first album, complete with weedy Farfisa organ, grimy guitar (not to mention plenty of tremolo on the spooky ballad “Suzy Creamcheese”) and distorted vocals. In “Sort It Out,” guitarist César Vidal wails a truly dysfunctional…

Hives

Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, who has called Fagersta, Sweden “the punk rock capital of the universe,” formed the Hives there in the early ’90s when all five members were still in their teens. They started out as a fairly typical punk band, but their rock and roll sound gradually turned more “classic” — loaded with swagger,…

Sahara Hotnights

This all-female quartet from Robertsfors, Sweden took its name from a racehorse and got its break at a battle of the bands in Stockholm. The prize for winning the contest was studio time; the resultant EP was good enough to be issued by BMG. On the full-length C’mon Let’s Pretend, the band plays tough, surging…