Monks of Doom

At its peak in the mid-’80s, Northern California’s Camper Van Beethoven was a strikingly precocious ensemble unable (despite regular releases) to contain the disparate enthusiasms of its members. The Monks of Doom was one of several side projects to emerge, giving a forum to bassist Victor Krummenacher, guitarist Greg Lisher, drummer Chris Pedersen and Ophelias…

Alarm

If these four young Welshmen weren’t so studiedly intense, the Alarm might be able to drop the Clash/U2 pretensions and use their evident talent to make enjoyable records. Singer Mike Peters and bassist Eddie MacDonald write catchy, anthemic songs, but the tireless exhortations are tiring and, worse, can become ludicrous. The Alarm compiles pre-LP UK…

Coolies

One of the better families of entertaining Atlanta indie rock swims in and out of the corpse of the Coolies, a group of high-concept jokers (and cover-song boys) led in the ’80s by singer Clay Harper and guitarist Rob Gal. The Atlanta jokesters made an underground splash with dig..?, a collection of goofy Simon &…

Absolute Grey

Long before self-reflective female singers became the hip trend on the alternative music scene, Beth Brown of Rochester, New York’s Absolute Grey was writing and singing about loneliness and the challenge of independence. What Brown lacked in vocal range, she more than made up for in guts and naked emotion. Green House (aka Greenhouse, a…

Run On

New York’s Run On is an underground supergroup of sorts, teaming Fish & Roses/Information/V-Effect/Les Batteries drummer Rick Brown, Last Roundup/Fish & Roses/Shams/Six Layer Cake singer/bassist Sue Garner, Love Child guitarist Alan Licht and multi-instrumentalist/college-radio broadcasting vet David Newgarden (who also played in the Mad Scene and the Moles before moving on to a management role…

Jonathan Richman (and the Modern Lovers)

At the outset of his career, Jonathan Richman was considered a radical trailblazer, precociously exploring minimalist rock years before such behavior became popular (or even acceptable). Not only was his unique approach enormously influential on later bands, original members of the Modern Lovers went on to become successful in such groups as Talking Heads (Jerry…

Mink DeVille

On a good night in the New York underground around 1976 or ’77, the band led by Willy DeVille (New York native William Borsay, who had arrived back in the city via London and the Bay Area) could be the coolest cats on the scene. Willy dressed like a pimp and played a guitar covered…

Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Although changing Dexy’s from a nouveau American-soul band to an ethnic Irish folk group may make singer/mastermind Kevin Rowland seem a tad fickle, his singleminded devotion to whatever direction he selects gives the Birmingham group’s first two albums a powerful sense of care and dedication that many infinitely more consistent musicians never achieve. Searching for…

Big Country

Guitarist Stuart Adamson — the unsung hero and sound shaper of the Skids — survived that once-wonderful Scottish band’s miserable end to form a down-to-Earth rock quartet unhampered (at the outset, anyway) by grandiose artistic pretensions. Strengthened by guitarist Bruce Watson and the ace rhythm section of Tony Butler and Mark Brzezicki (who have also…

Menster Phip and the Phipsters

This humble, almost-lost classic offers conclusive proof that you don’t need a budget — or even much talent — to make timelessly great rock’n’roll. In their parents’ basement in suburban Fairlawn, New Jersey, during the early ’60s, Kenny Collins, his brother Richie and various friends and relatives pounded out rudimentary but undeniably infectious rock with…

Drivin’ n’ Cryin’

Atlanta’s Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ (also Drivin-N-Cryin; more recently, drivin n cryin) isn’t an easy band to classify. The group delves into folk and bluegrass as easily as it kicks out gritty guitar rock. Singer/guitarist Kevn Kinney’s thoughtful (if occasionally melodramatic) lyrics contribute a romantic working-class everyman sensibility that rarely seems forced. It’s Lynyrd Skynyrd and…

Microdisney

Originally a duo from Cork, Ireland, Microdisney combine heavily orchestrated smooth pop with potent songwriting. A sublimely seductive paradox, the music goes down easy but invariably returns to haunt the intellect. After moving to London and recruiting three more members, Cathal Coughlan (vocals/lyrics) and Sean O’Hagan (guitar/music) recorded Everybody’s Fantastic, thirteen gently atmospheric songs that…

Men They Couldn’t Hang

This English quintet acquired its name when original bassist Shanne Bradley nicked it from her former Nips bandmate, Shane MacGowan, who had it in mind for his own combo — which instead became the Pogues. Playing whistles, mandolin, bouzouki (with guests adding fiddle, accordion, etc.), the Men sail a musical sea that is not that…

Blue Aeroplanes

The Blue Aeroplanes are so arty that their lineup includes a full-time dancer, but this ever-mutating Bristol combo has the talent and vision to justify its pretensions. Leader (and sole original member) Gerard Langley’s lyrics, unlike those of most literate rock writers, are genuinely absorbing and poetic, while his band — which has maintained a…

Bevis Frond

The Bevis Frond is Londoner Nick Saloman, an artist of singular vision whose staunch devotion to the spirit of vintage psychedelia has yielded a shelf full of unmistakably ’60s-derived albums. But there’s more to the Bevis Frond’s extensive catalogue than mere hippie revival. The singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s twisted pop tunes, reflective acoustic excursions and extended guitar freakouts…

Reegs

This Manchester combo formed by guitarists Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies — after their bandmates in the Chameleons went off to launch the Sun and the Moon in 1987 — mixes a droney semi-psychedelic attack and a strong melodic sensibility with partial success. Though a few memorable numbers like “Blind Denial” (from Rock the Magic…

Blood Oranges

The Boston-bred Blood Oranges are one of America’s finest and least formulaic roots-rock combos, balancing stylistic know-how and instrumental skill with a timeless emotional thrust, all the while consistently avoiding the genre’s clichés. Corn River is an accomplished debut, showcasing singer/mandolinist Jimmy Ryan’s bluegrass expertise and guitarist Mark Spencer’s inventive picking on catchy tunes like…

Swimming Pool Q’s

When Glenn Phillips met Jeff Calder in 1975, the former, late of Atlanta’s Hampton Grease Band, had just released his first solo album and was playing a string of dates in Florida. Calder was assigned to write about him for a local paper. A little over a year later, guitarist Calder moved up to Atlanta…

Roky Erickson and the Aliens

As lead singer of Texas’ infamous 13th Floor Elevators — one of rock’s earliest, strangest and greatest psychedelic bands — Roky Erickson explored the far reaches of musical and personal extremes. The Elevators’ first two albums (Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators and Easter Everywhere, released, respectively, in 1966 and ’67) are essential classics…

Happy Flowers

This Charlottesville, Virginia duo of Mr. Anus (Charlie Kramer) and Mr. Horribly-Charred-Infant (John Beers) has built a distinctive and unexpectedly productive career out of tuneless sub-garage childhood-trauma rants. The pair’s spontaneously composed primal scream tragicomedies recount a litany of prepubescent horrors with an oddly compassionate mix of humor and pathos, adding up to a surprisingly…