Riverwise's Top 100 Albums Of All Time!

We’re thinking of going to that :+1:

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I’ve been to every one since 2010, it’s a lovely little festival

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28. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Let Love In

Nick Cave’s run of albums between 1989’s Tender Prey and 1996’s Murder Ballads (inclusive) was tremendous. I could have just as easily chosen The Good Son or Henry’s Dream for this countdown, but I settled on this one, which seems to be a useful capstone for this phase of his career. It highlights both the storm und drang hellfire preacher side of his work and the balladeer who would come to greater prominence in years to come, and some of his best lyrics, all soaked in his trademark themes of love, death and religion.

The title track and opener oozes over the top gothic drama, church bells and organs adding to the cacophony as Nick serenades a wild lover, the sound of standing in a wrecked church in a thunderstorm. At the other end of the record, its Part 2 bookend is a spectral and haunted thing, a resigned and defeated tale of an unwholesome encounter in a cinema. In between we have the thrashing punk of Thirsty Dog and Jangling Jack (an early try out for the Murder Ballads formula), and the laments of Nobody’s Baby Now or Lay Me Low. This latter is perhaps the most obvious representation of another important facet of the record - for all the swirling darkness Cave loves to invoke, it’s also really funny:

They will interview my teachers
Who’ll say I was one of God’s sorrier creatures
They’ll print informative six page features
When I go they’ll bang a big old gong
The motorcade will be ten miles long

And yeah, perhaps it has become annoyingly ubiquitous, but Red Right Hand and it’s carnival menace is a hell of a song.

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27. Alcest - Ecailles De Lune

Imagine if Slowdive were actually French metalheads. Sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? Alcest take all the sonic cathedral grace and beauty of shoegaze and put it through a black metal filter. It’s a fabulous sound, more ethereal and prettier than Deafheaven, but not afraid to be crushingly heavy when it wants to. The opening track here, Ecailles De Lune pt 1, is a fine illustration. We have seven minutes of twinkling guitars, layered vocals and a dreamy sun through the eyelids on a summer day vibe, and then the blast beats come in, and the guitars ramp up and develop the classic black metal tremolo sound, but it’s still recognisably the same song. The driving force behind the band, Neige, has spoken of experiencing vivid hallucinations in childhood, visions of a kind of fairyland where colours and sounds differed to those here. Yo can hear that influence in his music, how he strives to open a gateway to the otherworldly. I’ll always have a soft spot for them because they were the last band I saw before the long gig desert of lockdown, but the music being so atmospheric and beautiful just adds to it.

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26. Deafheaven - New Bermuda

And so to Deafheaven. Nominally in the same genre as Alcest, the charmingly named blackgaze, these San Franciscans are much more on the heavy end of the scale. If Alcest’s take on metal is like being carried heavenward on beds of gossamer by soft winged cherubs, then Deafheaven’s angels are the fierce Old Testament visions of Ezekiel, fiery creatures of wheels and eyes that scour the land. The (mostly) clean vocals of Neige are burnt away, replaced by George Clark’s demented goblin shrieks and rasps. There is a lyric sheet, but even following it the words are impossible to decipher. Best not to even try, just let them become part of the overall soundscape. And what an amazing sound it is. Absolute sheer pummelling noise, it’s a surging visceral force that pushes you skyward. And then they’ll stop and deliver a passage of sheer beauty, like the way Come Back moves from flailing howling rage into a long sliding elliptic coda of tired grace. This is truly transcendent music, something that makes you feel you are standing outside your own body. It’s purging and cathartic. It doesn’t matter that you can’t hear what George is singing, what matters is that you know he is screaming till there is not one drop of air left in him. Not many records leave an afterglow, the kind of exhausted satisfaction you might feel after a long run or some fantastic sex*, but this one does.

*cwbaft

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Never liked Sunbather but this album is brilliant.

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25. Julian Cope - 20 Mothers

This is the essence of Julian Cope. The music ranges from acoustic sketches to synth workouts to gentle kosmiche to jangly anthemic pop, and the lyrics encompass megaliths, how great his wife and kids are, lullabies, and rages against capitalism, all seen through his particular strand of English mysticism. Its joyful record, one that pulses with the delights of being alive. A lot of songwriters can do melody or experimentation, but not both. Cope however has the happy knack of being able to weld great tunes to strange noises, and for every burbling synth oddity or half finished strum here there’s a corresponding pop gem with a huge chorus. As you might expect from a twenty track double album, not every single song is a winner, but everything is at least interesting and if you don’t like one tune there’ll be another one along in a minute. It’s a varied grab bag of Cope’s obsessions, a celebration of one of the best artists this country produced in the last quarter of the twentieth century, and who is criminally underrated these days following his self-enforced exile from the mainstream music business.

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24. Nirvana - Nevermind

(largely reprinted from my HGATR post, think of this as the 180 gram reissue)

I was around for pretty much Nirvana’s entire lifespan, and also pretty much exactly the right age. My sixth form mates and I were Sub Pop kids from when the NME started writing about the label, so we all had copies of Bleach early on (I have the original Tupelo green vinyl pressing, which would be worth a bit if my brother hadn’t scratched it as soon as I went to uni). I remember five or six of us chaotically dancing to Negative Creep on an otherwise empty dance floor in the alternative club. First time I saw them was at Nottingham Polytechnic in October 1990, which was good messy fun, then the Reading 91 appearance, famously below Chapterhouse. I was in the front three or four rows of people going mental while the rest stood and watched. And then Nevermind and Teen Spirit happened.

It was a strange experience to watch something I knew and loved explode so quickly. I’m not being Mr Indie Wanker, it was also great. Loads of great memories from the time, like watching them on Jonathan Ross in my mate’s bedroom when they played Territorial Pissing instead of whatever had been announced, laughing as the campus glam rock band started covering Teen Spirit instead of the Black Crowes, watching the yellow corporate whore T-shirts appear all over the city (I will admit to being bit of an indie wanker by loudly preferring my original white circles of hell crack smoking motherfucker version). Nirvana were everywhere that autumn and winter, and I was loving it. It was kind of like a slow motion version of the euphoric rush you get from Nirvana’s best records. I saw them again at Rock City in December (luckily I’d bought the ticket months in advance) and that was the last time I ever saw them. By the time In Utero came out I’d discovered the delights of loud electronic music in fields, and so I was interested and enjoyed it, but the passion wasn’t the same. It wasn’t them, it was me. Still undeniably a great band, and I’m so grateful that I was there at the time. I learnt about Kurt’s death from Teletext late one night on Channel 4, and can still remember the moment now.

There’s a good clip from Japanese TV about that Rock City gig. Nirvana - Rock City, Nottingham 1991 - YouTube . I still listen to Nevermind several times a year, and it is still a perfect blend of punk attitude and pop smarts. It’s not a rough diamond at all, it’s polished to within an inch of it’s life, but it is still completely thrilling. This is the best song, don’t @ me

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Wait is this an entire playlist? That thing is full of amazing songs.

23. Radical Dance Faction - Wasteland

This is another album very closely tied up with that particular time of my life when I was into the free festivals of the early 90s, a crusty by any other name. RDF were stalwarts of that scene, the anarchopunk answer to the dub poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson or Benjamin Zephaniah. Frontman Chris Bowsher declaims (‘singing’ would be far too generous a word) his lyrics over some thunderously heavy dub backing. The words are bitter and angry but empathetic, anthems for the dispossessed and those done down by the cruel and vindictive government of the day (plus ca change, eh?). The real rewards are in the music, the relentless bass pulse and the echoing drums. I had this and the preceding album Borderline Cases taped on either side of a C90, and when I hear it now, it provokes one of those Proustian rushes, a memory of being sat on an InterCity train somewhere in the Midlands, rushing past the cooling towers of a concrete power station. I’m not sure how this album would fare to someone coming brand new to it in 2023 but this urban ragged dub punk poetry has been with me with thirty years and I don’t think it’ll ever leave.

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Somehow I’ve seen them twice this year!

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I’ve just read their Wiki - had no idea they were back tbf :open_mouth:

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wow, that is some list of past members! Frag from Back To The Planet is playing guitar with them now, in some sort of crusty crossover supergroup. Tbf, I’ve seen them be a bit ropy more than a few times over the years, but this year’s gigs were really good (one was a midnight appearance at a festival, the other a double header with Culture Shock here in Bristol)

I’ll have to let the TV know - she loves BTTP!

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22. Press Club - Late Teens

My favourite new band of the last five years. I’ve written before in this list about how the combination of frantic punk rock with big melodies and hooks is basically my musical happy place, and Melbourne’s Press Club absolutely nail that sound. It’s the Hüsker Dü template updated for the twenty-first century, and it sounds fantastic, with punchy riffs and a firebrand vocal performance. It’s full of energy, thrills, and general lust for life. There’s a real sense of integrity and passion around them, and it helps that they are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. Frontwoman Nat is a force of nature and an absolute superstar. They should be massive.

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  1. Jets To Brazil - Orange Rhyming Dictionary

A supergroup of sorts, JTB featured Blake Swarzenbach, late of Jawbreaker, Chris Daly from Texas Is The Reason and Jeremy Chatelain of Handsome, all big or biggish names in the post hardcore scene. This was their debut, and their masterpiece (the second album is decent, the third is unlistenable). It’s not a word I’d often use in a positive sense, but this is one of the most adult alt rock records I know, in all the right ways. It just sounds good, you know? You can tell time and care has been taken over the production, instead of the banging it out in twenty four hours option a younger band might be forced to take. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean it’s a polished piece of tasteful boredom - there is still plenty of distortion and crunch in the guitars, and a muscular rhythm section, played off against quieter introspective ballads. And, yes, it’s emo but it’s years on from the slamming the bedroom door and shouting I hate you approach. It’s about cynicism and depression, about finding yourself a fair chunk of the way through your life and realising it hasn’t turned out like you thought it might. Broken marriages and motel bedrooms, bad thoughts on sleepless nights.

Swarzenbach’s lyrics have a literary flair unusual in the genre (he was an English major and it shows). The heartbreaking Conrad in particular could be a modern classic short story, and every song has some snappy couplet or arresting image at its heart. It’s a record that paints pictures in your head, vibrant and vivid. It even manages the difficult trick of making a love song sound like something fresh and new, as the closer Sweet Avenue ends on a note of beauty and the hope of a nascent relationship.

There’s a reason why there’s only going to be one or two alt-rock, indie rock, call it what you like records higher than this on my list. I’ve loved it ever since it came into my life sometime in the late 90s, and it gave me one of my most High Fidelity moments when I was blasting it over the speakers in a Portsmouth record shop and two or three people came up to ask what it was.

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20. Donny Hathaway - Live

(Looks up what’s still to come).Yeah, turns out this is the greatest live album of all time. If the holy grail of a live recording is to make you feel like you were there, then my word does this deliver. That old cliche of ‘you can hear the room’ is for once actually appropriate and not hyperbolic embellishment. This is an astonishingly warm and intimate album, driven by Hathaway’s soulful electric piano and Steve Wonder-esque vocals. It’s a soul record - it couldn’t be anything else when you feel this close to the raw heart of the performer - but the sense of talented musicians coming together and creating in the moment is also very jazz, especially in the lengthy ten minute plus jams of The Ghetto and Voice Inside (Everything Is Everything). It’s not just the musicians that make this the record it is, though. The audience is such a vital part of the recording, clapping and hollering ecstatically throughout. The give and take between them and the band is incredible, a huge positive vibration of love, never more so than in their almost gospel choir singing along on You’ve Got a Friend.

So much groove, so much atmosphere, so much joy, so much fun.

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19. Studio - West Coast

West Coast by Studio celebrated it’s fifteenth anniversary a couple of years ago. There weren’t any deluxe remasters or box sets. It’s an album that never troubled the charts or the arbiters of cool. I can’t even remember how I came across it. There’s no origin story, no great rock n roll myth, to Studio. They were just two guys from Sweden who thought it’d be a good idea to make an album that sounded like Can, Neu, Happy Mondays and The Cure dancing together in the rays of the rising sun somewhere in the Balearics. Somehow they pulled it off and gave us this gem, effortlessly pretty disco, krautrock, dub, and indie pop replayed through a sun kissed filter without falling into generic Cafe Del Mar blandness. Perhaps that makes it sound like Record Collection Rock, a faithful ticking off of the approved influences, but to think that would be to miss just how invitingly lush and lazy, blissful and beautiful, this music is. These are long hypnotic tracks that somehow stay the same while shifting and reinventing themselves like Underworld records used to do, all delay and echo, off kilter afrodub rhythms, synth washes and trebly guitars. Music to get lost in.

It’s an obscure record, but not one without influence. It could well have kickstarted the Scandinavian disco scene, a signpost to the stuff Diskjokke, Lindstrøm, Prins Thomas and others would start doing a little later. Studio themselves never made another record (there’s a collection of their remixes of other artists called Yearbook 2* that is worth tracking down, if only for their unutterably gorgeous take on The Rubies’ Room Without A key), but this one assured their place in my heart. One of the great lost albums. There’ll be magazine features about in twenty years.

Summary

*Studio’s discography, though tiny, is rather confused. As best I can piece it together, most of the tracks on West Coast were originally 12″ singles that were compiled on a vinyl LP that was subsequently reissued on CD. Then there is another CD, Yearbook 1 that repeats several of the tracks from West Coast in slightly different versions along with some odd tracks from compilation albums and samplers. None of it is rubbish.

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18. Cassandra Jenkins - An Overview On Phenomenal Nature

The most recent record on this list by some distance. The third song here was my introduction to her, found in the early 2021 lockdowns. “Hard Drive” is a tour de force, a spoken word account of meetings with various people – a security guard, a bookmaker, a driving instructor – that builds and builds on waves of glittering guitar, piano and drum loops. It’s a stunning song, one that will have you playing it again as soon as it finishes. And the good news is the rest of the album is pretty special too. The sound takes in traditional singer songwriter, folk, jazz, even some ambient. The palette throughout is restrained with hushed saxophone, gently rolling drums, keys for melody and atmosphere, and some lovely fluid, occasionally fuzzy, guitar, alongside strings and woodwind where they are needed. Across the record they coalesce into terrific arrangements, ornate yet direct, intimate but outward looking. The whole thing sounds luminous and honeyed, a triumph of production. The lyrics are snapshots and stories from everyday lives, part narrative, part poetry. It makes sense that Jenkins has supported Craig Finn from the Hold Steady, although the sound here couldn’t be more different from his main band. The words are held together with a sense of awe, a recognition of the extraordinary wonder and range of life, from the glories of nature to deep grief (Jenkins was in David Berman’s band for his Purple Mountains tour, which was derailed by his suicide on its eve – “Ambiguous Norway” here is about that “Farewell, Purple Mountains / I see a range of cumulus / the majesties transmutation / distant, ambiguous / The skies replace the land with air / no matter where I go / you’re gone, you’re everywhere.”). It all comes together on the closing The Ramble, seven minutes of shimmering keyboards, throaty sax and field recordings of birds and insects. There are no words, but it doesn’t need them to reach the transcendence the record has been building towards for the past half hour. Close your eyes and you can see bullrushes against a golden late summer sky, and feel a lover’s head on your shoulder and the sun on your face.

I saw her at the end of 2021, one of my first gigs after things started happening again, and it was a perfect capstone to that strange year, with none of the intricacies of the album lost. Maybe it’s a bit odd to describe a record that’s barely out of nappies as an all time favourite, but. it’s hard to imagine there’ll be a better ambient indie folk-jazz set released in the coming years.

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