My 1997 January Listening Log

Today, I take a break from my typical new music posts or playlisting to present something a little different. My “archival” listening habits are typically done one year at a time, and with new music slowing down at the end of last year, I decided to really tackle 1997 in January by listening to one new-to-me record from that year every day. I mentioned that I was doing this in the Rosy Overdrive Discord, and RO Discord power user Dan Gorman (aka The Discover Tab) suggested I keep a log of what I listen to in a channel there.

So I did, and what I ended up with is, I think, something interesting enough to share with the entire class, so to speak. Some of these albums are acclaimed and beloved, and some are quite off the beaten path. It’s a bit more casual than your typical Rosy Overdrive post, sure, but I can be casual, too. Anyway, enjoy, and if you’re interested in things like this, I’ll probably do it again in Discord at some point in the future, so I recommend joining in the action if Discord is something you use (or, if not, it’s a great opportunity to start!). If you’re looking for more new music, you can visit the site directory to see what else we’ve written about lately. If you’d like to support Rosy Overdrive, you can share this (or another) post, or donate here.

January 1st: Fuck – Pardon My French (Matador)

Ah, the band with the name. Fuck are frequently cited as a great undersung version of the kind of 90s indie rock that I like, although Pardon My French’s sixteen slippery tracks are less of the underdog lo-fi Sebadoh/Guided by Voices variety and more of a mix between Unrest’s vibe-y indie pop and Yo La Tengo’s atmospheric side (a lot of this is, like, weirdo soundtrack music). But they’ll also bust out acoustic sleepy tunes like “For Lori” and whatever “Raggy Rag” is. I’d say I find it interesting more than straight-up “like” it, at least initially.

January 2nd: Chris Whitley – Terra Incognita (Sony) 

Apparently he’s more associated with Americana/roots rock, but Chris Whitley’s third album is very 90s alt-rock, even going into grunge/post-grunge territory. Whitley has a blues background, which is apparent in a couple songs, but not overly. I originally heard the song “Power Down”, which I still think is an excellent radio rock-type song. “Automatic” is another highlight that comes close; he kind of sounds like an edgier guy from Counting Crows there. Production bogs this record down, it becomes a slog to listen to by the middle with the dated alt-rock sound. There could be more good songs buried in here, but they aren’t sticking with me. 

January 3rd: The Softies – Winter Pageant (K)

I already knew the title track, it’s on my Christmas/winter playlist, but I’ve never listened to this as a whole. The just electric guitar/vocals setup asks for more of your attention than the rockier, more naturally-head-turning Tiger Trap and Go Sailor (blink and you’ll miss some of these songs) but it’s still charming pop music. I like the two-guitar interplay.

January 4th: The Holy Cows – Blueberrie (Big Pop)

Alt-country/college rock from Michigan. Somewhere on the more energetic/pop-punky side of the R.E.M./Westerberg/Gin Blossoms spectrum. I’m predispositioned to like this kind of music, and the album’s pretty consistent throughout (even when they slow it down and get extra rootsy). Bet they’d be fun live. Not life-changing, but if you have a soft spot for, like, Buffalo Tom (as I do)—or for that matter, newer bands like Big Nothing—you’ll find stuff to enjoy here.

January 5th: Tsunami – A Brilliant Mistake (Simple Machines)

I thought I would like this album more on the second listen, and I was correct. Grower energy. I’m familiar with Jenny Toomey through her Franklin Bruno covers; Tsunami never grabbed me too much, but this is solid no-frills indie rock. Really—no bells and whistles here, it’s all about the songs. Which are pretty good, especially in the first half—second could’ve lost a couple of tracks.

January 6th: Strictly Ballroom – Hide Here Forever (Waxploitation)

Alright, now we’ve got some really spaced-out emo music. Like a lot of similar bands at this time, it balances pretty and ugly, but hews more toward the former. There are moments of this album that’ll appeal to slowcore and post-rock fans (the last song is fifteen minutes long!), but it’s first and foremost a good, clean 90s emo record with just a bit of post-hardcore screaming in a couple tracks. Fun fact: bassist Jimmy Tamborello went on to become, yes, the other Postal Service guy.

January 7th: The Summer Hits – Beaches and Canyons 1992-96 (X-Mas)

This one is really intriguing on paper. California band that combined surf rock and sunshine pop with heavy noise pop, lo-fi fuzz-fest indie rock and almost-shoegaze. A sound that’d become a lot more popular in recent years. But is it actually good? Well—since it’s technically a singles etc. compilation, it’s not surprising that it’s kind of hit or miss, but the songs that “hit” that dug-up lost-sound pop peak (“Stony Creation”, the title track, “Caramel Feelin’”) really nail it. Fun fact: drummer Josh Schwartz went on to play in Beachwood Sparks with (in a complete coincidence) Chris Gunst from yesterday’s pick, Strictly Ballroom.

January 8th: Cornelius – Fantasma (Trattoria)

I liked this more than I thought I would. I listened to it sort of out of obligation—it’s one of the “big” critically-acclaimed loosely-defined indie records from this year I hadn’t heard—even as these stitched-together 90s records rarely hold up for me. This one does, however—it feels like a bunch of songs, for one. The collage elements are a factor, but not the whole thing; I’m listening to a lot of Elephant 6 right now, and the similarities would be there even if Robert and Hilarie from Apples in Stereo didn’t guest on a track. Now, hopefully there aren’t any weird scandals about this guy that’d detract from my enjoyment of this music…..

January 9th: Bruce Cockburn – The Charity of Night (True North)

Revered in Canadian singer-songwriter and folk circles, unknown out of them. Bruce’s career had been going on for a quarter-century at this point, but this album does contain one of his most well-known songs, “Pacing the Cage” (apparently covered by Jimmy Buffett, oddly enough). If you like long, winding, frequently political progressive folk with impressive fingerpicking, The Charity of Night continues to explore Cockburn’s strengths. Needless to say, it’s not for everyone.

January 10th: Plumtree – Predicts the Future (Cinnamon Toast)

Canadian punk-pop group, most famous for their song “Scott Pilgrim”, which apparently later became a book or a movie or something, I don’t really care. You could call this album twee if you wanted to, but it sounds slicker than most of their contemporaries in that genre, and a few of these songs have an alt-rock edge to them. So, fairly radio-friendly. I like it well enough. Carla Gillis is a good frontperson, songs like “You Just Don’t Exist” and the Scott Pilgrim song are both really big pop songs, and I like when they get rockier too, like in “Why Won’t You Stop”.

January 10th (BONUS): Elf Power – When the Red King Comes (Drug Racer)

Not technically part of this, but I’m also listening to a lot of new-to-me Elephant Six albums because I’m reading the book, and since this one is from ‘97 I’ll throw it in here as well. The few Elf Power albums I’ve heard have been pretty disparate; this one feels like a midpoint between the lo-fi indie rock of their debut and the shiny power pop of their third album. There’s some early NMH acoustic distortion going on here sonically, even if the songwriting hews more toward Apples in Stereo and more obviously 60s-inspired tunes. Definitely a highlight of this scene.

January 11th: The Eclectics – Idle Worship (Jump Up!)

This is ska-punk recorded by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio. It sounds a lot like ska-punk recorded by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio. It does it in a weird way, though, where these are “normal” ska-pop songs that will all of a sudden have a noise punk section, or the bass will sound like the Jesus Lizard for a few seconds. Once the novelty wears off it doesn’t sound like anything super special to me, although I imagine people who enjoy ska more than I do would probably like it. Also, the album ends with Wesley Willis shouting them out.

January 12th: Archer Prewitt – In the Sun (Carrot Top)

Between John McEntire’s work with Tortoise and Sam Prekop’s solo career, Archer is probably the Sea and Cake member I know the least about (I know he was in the Coctails, but I haven’t gotten to them either). In the Sun doesn’t appear to be his most popular solo album, but I have been enjoying it. It’s a very light, airy chamber pop/minimal indie rock album—it’s colored with horns, strings, and woodwinds in various places, but it never gets overly busy or cluttered. It’s not a hidden Sea & Cake album, but as long as you don’t go into it expecting that, there is a lot to like here.

January 13th: Mogwai – Mogwai Young Team (Chemikal Underground)

I can already tell this is going to be more difficult to keep up with as more new music starts coming out. Still, I plan on finishing out the month. Anyway, it’s another “big one” today, as I’ve never heard a Mogwai record in full until now. I think this is fine—it falls somewhere between the sprinting-away-from-indie-rock, Godspeed version of post-rock (that I can enjoy sometimes), and the more American, more indebted to noise rock/slowcore/post-hardore underground version of post-rock (that’s more my thing). I can see myself putting this on if I want to hear something grand and heavy. I get the sense that they softened their sound on their more recent work, which is less appealing to me, but I’m basing this mostly on hearing a song here and there and how people talk about Mogwai, so I know this isn’t exactly a fair assessment.

January 14th: Prolapse – The Italian Flag (Radar)

It’d also be easier to keep up with this if I didn’t keep choosing hour-plus-long albums to listen to, but here we are. According to my notes, I’ve actually listened to every other Prolapse album before this one and they didn’t make much of an impression on me, but this one seems to be particularly acclaimed and the one song I heard was good so…this record is a lot—beefy, noisy British dual vocal post-punk. Clangs and clatters but can also pull out something really pretty like “Autocade”. Good synthesis of underground rock.

January 15th: Veruca Salt – Eight Arms to Hold You (Outpost/Minty Fresh)

Veruca Salt is a band that seems to be taken just seriously enough to be dismissed as less than the sum of their influences. I think I listened to American Thighs forever ago and it didn’t stick with me, but Nina Gordon being a big Game Theory fan has intrigued me and made me want to give her band another shot. “Volcano Girls” is still a really great 90s alt-rock single (and them doing the “Glass Onion” thing with their last hit song is very amusing). There’s a pretty clear gulf between Gordon’s songs and the other songwriter’s—“With David Bowie” and “Benjamin” back to back is one of the record’s brightest spots, while even Post’s most memorable song (“Sound of the Bell”) doesn’t feel quite fully-formed. Much has been made about the Bob Rock production on this one apparently, but that’s not the issue—something like “Loneliness Is Worse” is maybe dinged a little bit with the over-the-top sound but it still shines through because it’s a good song. The problem is that too many of the tracks aren’t on its level.

January 16th: Laddio Bolocko – Strange Warmings of Laddio Bolocko (Hungarian)

When a band’s “fans also like” section on Spotify includes U.S. Maple, Oxbow, and The Dead C, you know you’re in for some shit. Laddio Bolocko was a New York “free jazz-inspired” noise rock band who (as others have pointed out) is pretty clearly indebted to This Heat (a band that in recent years has been added to the experimental rock/art punk canon but hadn’t really reached that level of their cult status at this point). It starts out as fairly typical (but good) instrumental noise-math-rock, and from there the songs start to grow and mutate to the point where the last track is a two-parter that’s half an hour in total. The saxophone gets broken out about halfway through. I’m more into the songs like “Goat Lips” and the first half of “Nurser”, yes, but I can appreciate what “Y Toros” is doing, sure.

January 17th: Kenickie – At the Club (EMI/Warner Bros.)

Late 90s UK buzz band that I’m surprised doesn’t really come up more nowadays. Appears to have been marketed as something along the lines of “Britpop’s riot grrl band!” (Oh, British press…) ; it’s probably best appreciated when one doesn’t bring any of that kind of baggage near it. It’s a pretty big-sounding album, often sounding like it’s trying to do too much. Smaller-time songs like “Brother John” are the ones that are sticking with me, although they hit with the “anthems” enough too (“Classy”). And “Punka” isn’t as embarrassing as it could’ve been. A mixed bag, but some worthwhile things here to be sure.

January 18th: My Dad Is Dead – Everyone Wants the Honey But Not the Sting (Emperor Jones)

Now THIS—this is “indie rock”. My Dad Is Dead gets the post-punk tag sometimes thanks to their early cold, drum machine-aided sound (with which I’m somewhat familiar), but here, over a decade into the group’s career, it’s full-band power trio rock music (although the gloominess is still here, yes). It reminds me of other Ohio groups like Gaunt, Ron House’s bands, and Scrawl, or Karl Hendricks—stuff that’s very good but largely hasn’t survived into the 21st century due to lack of huge (on an indie level) success or an obvious narrative hook. This is the best of a certain kind of 90s indie rock, where it’s very confessional while also being loud and rocky instead of treating those two things as opposites. Here’s where my biases come into focus—somebody with less tolerance for no-frills alt-indie-rock stuff might find this record same-y, but I like the zone into which it settles, and I think the record’s best tracks (“Don’t Look Now”, “Two Clean Slates”, “A Million Questions”) are pretty universal.

January 19th: Free Kitten – Sentimental Education (Wiiija)

Hey, we were just talking about Sonic Youth in another [Discord] channel. I heard Nice Ass awhile back and it didn’t do much for me, but this is more like it. Not that it’s the greatest record in the world or anything, but it realizes just a bit of the potential of Kim Gordon, Yoshimi, and Julia Cafritz making a record together. It’s an hourlong marathon to be sure but it starts off great, with actual 90s SY vibes for the first few songs. Most of the second half is taken up by the 10+ minute title track, which is…alright. For the longer/repetitive songs I prefer “Never Gonna Sleep”, which feels like the right amount of SY/Yoshimi fusion.

January 20th: The 3Ds – Strange News from the Angels (Flying Nun)

The 3Ds have always been one of my favorite “second-tier” Flying Nun bands off the strength of their first two records, the noisy pop Hellzapoppin and the slightly more refined Venus Trail, but I hadn’t heard their third, final, and least popular album until now. This one is pretty messy—the first few songs don’t grab me, then they launch into a couple of excellent fuzz-rock songs with “Vector 27” and “Ride the Whale”, and then it feels like the record is oddly backloaded, with songs like “Devil Red” and “Big Red Heart” hitting the electric Sonic Youth/Bailter Space sweet spot. I’d definitely recommend not starting with this album if you’re unfamiliar with the band, but if you like them or are a huge fan of this kind of music you’ll probably enjoy it.

January 21st: Flake Music – When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return (Omnibus)

This is—it isn’t even “James Mercer’s pre-Shins band”, it’s basically the whole first Shins lineup under a different name. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s rougher and more 90s indie rock-indebted than The Shins, sort of like Zumpano vs. The New Pornographers but maybe even a little more stark. In theory “rougher, more rocky The Shins” is something I should like—and I think I do. Me being a casual-at-best Shins fan is a double-edged sword—I’m not going to be disappointed because it doesn’t sound “Shins-y enough”, but also Mercer et al’s music has never meant so much to me that merely approaching it would be enough for Flake Music to stand out on its own. So, it’s a solid power pop-influenced indie rock record, opener “Spanway Hits” kind of towers over everything else, although “The Shins” (the song) lights up the second half nearly as brightly.

January 22nd: The Crabs – What Were Flames Now Smolder (K)

Ah, I love this band! Jackpot! is probably one of my favorite 90s indie pop albums, but I hadn’t heard this one yet. It’s an electric guitar and drum duo, both of them sing, and their best songs sound like pop-punk at its most humble and likable (“February 15th”) or like ageless pop music (“Mission Impossible”, “Private Eye”). Calvin Johnson plays bass on “Temper Temper”, which is also the one that most sounds like a Calvin Johnson song. Towards the end of the record “1863” is definitely an unexpected turn—musically it’s one of their finest moments, and while twee might feel like an odd medium for this kind of message at first, I think the Crabs stick the landing. Great under-discussed band, solid record.

January 23rd: For Against – Shelf Life (World Domination/Independent Project)

Everyone’s favorite dream pop/post-punk group from Nebraska, I’d been meaning to give a full For Against record a listen for a while and this one seemed promising. I’m going in for a second listen right now and this record really benefits from that. This sound never really went away and I’ve heard a bunch of bands/albums that throw both post-punk and dream pop hallmarks in the mix, but the songs here are hooky in a vintage 80s college rock kind of way. The jangly guitar arpeggios and melodic bass are both the best of this kind of music, and I like that the vocals aren’t buried either.

January 24th: Isotope 217 – The Unstable Molecule (Thrill Jockey)

It’s time for some jazz! Isotope 217 is a Chicago jazz-funk sextet featuring 3/5 of Tortoise, including guitarist Jeff Parker, who makes a lot of music like this on his solo albums. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this album sounds like a more jazzy version of 90s Tortoise; songs like “Kryptonite Smokes the Red Line” and “La Jeteé” have post-rock empty-space moments. It’s very much an ensemble album, with no instrument rising above the other—I do wish we heard more of Parker’s guitar explorations here, but I understand that’s not the main point of Isotope 217. This is an enjoyable listen, even as I’m still probably more inclined to just listen to Tortoise (perhaps relatedly, my favorite song on the album, the funky “Phonometrics”, is the least Tortoise-y).

January 25th: The Jayhawks – Sound of Lies (American Recordings)

An album I haven’t heard from the foundational Minnesota alt-country group. Although this one is pretty far away from the country rock of Hollywood Town Hall etc—it’s the first album after co-songwriter Mark Olson left the band, and Gary Louris responds by embracing the power pop/60s pop rock side of the band. It’s sort of like what Wilco did a couple years later with Summerteeth, although not quite as jarring. There are some beautiful songs on here (the piano is utilized excellently, and pretty melodies and harmonies abound), although it’s also quite long and the tracks start to blur together a bit by the time we get to the second half. It’s a lot of elements that I like, so I do like it, but in terms of standing out it doesn’t quite do it all the way through.

January 26th: Discount – Half Fiction (Kat/California Roll)

This is another “first, lesser-known band from somebody who’d get big in the 2000s” pick—in this case, lead singer Alison Mosshart would go on to front The Kills. Discount isn’t garage rock; on Half Fiction, they’re a melodic, driven pop punk band. Discount have a scrappiness to them that puts them in line with a lot of other emo/Replacements/Jawbreaker-tinged indie punk bands from this time, but Mosshart already had a superstar voice at this point, and her singing is key in this record hitting as hard as it does (of course, all those power chords don’t hurt, either).

January 27th: Acetone – Acetone (Vapor)

I have seen Acetone grouped in with your typical 90s slowcore bands (your Ida(ho)s and Bedheads), so their 1997 self-titled album wasn’t quite what I expected. It’s delicate-sounding and plodding like a lot of slowcore, sure, but it’s equally if not more so in the realms of alt-country and 60s pop. It reminds me of Yo La Tengo’s decade-spanning crate-digging indie rock as much as anything else, although it also meanders a bit in a way that more than earns the “slowcore” tag. It’s just less…cold than most of that music. I’m warming to it.

January 28th: Blonde Redhead – Fake Can Be Just as Good (Touch and Go)

I listened to another Blonde Redhead album a few years ago and it didn’t stick with me, but figured it was time to give them another try. And I’m glad I did, because I quite enjoyed this one. They’re very much a 90s underground indie rock group at this point—the Sonic Youth comparisons I’ve seen fit here, and Vern Rumsey plays bass on this album, so I hear Unwound too. Like the best of those bands, the album balances dissonance with beauty; the inevitable repetitive post-punk grooves and the lengthy noise rock instrumental sections both feel like they’ve got real purpose here.

January 29th: Comet Gain – Magnetic Poetry (Wiiija)

The second album from the long-running British indie pop group. Opens with the barnstorming “Strength”, which is a classic of Jazz Butcher-y post-C86 pop music to me. The rest of the record isn’t as immediately grabbing but has plenty of good-in-their-own-right tunes. However, there’s also a couple of unremarkable songs, and at least one of them (“Pier Angeli”) kind of drags; not ideal for an eight-song, 24-minute album. The peaks are high, though, and I’d listen to another record from this band; I get the sense this may not be their best work.

January 30th: Ween – The Mollusk (Elektra)

Alright, fine. I put this one off until almost the end because I didn’t wanna do it. Ween annoy me. But I kinda like the “Ocean Man” song, and how can I completely dismiss Gene and Dean without giving their “masterpiece” a shot? Well, listening to the obnoxious opening track, I’m feeling pretty justified…but the rest of The Mollusk is more interesting. The title track and “It’s Gonna Be (Alright)”—these are good songs, as is the country Ween of (sigh) “Waving My Dick in the Wind”. “Mutilated Lips” is an interesting one; I definitely hear how it influenced Kurt Vile. Is it for me? Still no. Is it awful? Yeah I guess not, either.

January 31st: The Orange Peels – Square (Minty Fresh)

The first album out of many to come from the long-running pop rock group. Square is more indie pop than power pop, but there’s still a fun energy in these harmony-led tunes. Allen Clapp’s vocals and Jill Pries’ bass both stand out in terms of melody. It’s fifteen songs in under 40 minutes so a lot of these tracks kind of fly by at first, although there’s also no shortage of songs that hit immediately here (“Didn’t You Know”, “Something Strange Happens”, “All the World Could Pass Me By”).

February 1st: Rye Coalition – Hee Saw Dhuh Kaet (Gern Blandsten)

Alright, I’ll do one more of these since I wanted to hear this one and didn’t get to it. Rye Coalition’s debut came out in ‘97, but it feels very early 2000s. With its combination of irreverent lyrics/song titles, math-y sections, post-hardcore assault, and stop-start post-punk sections, it fits neatly as the link between 90s DC Dischord groups and, like, the 2000s Providence bands (not to mention the heavier dance-punk groups). It’s interesting; I like parts of it. “White Jesus of 114th Street” is a fun song.

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