Clinic - Internal Wrangler (2000)

Clinic's long-awaited debut album Internal Wrangler fleshes out the sound the group crafted on their self-released EPs, and it also adds a few new twists. Though eerie, punk-tinged songs like "The Return of Evil Bill" and the title track sound like they could have appeared on the band's first singles, Internal Wrangler's best songs concentrate on the experimental yet accessible sides of Clinic's sound. "The Second Line"'s darkly catchy throb, the aptly named "2nd Foot Stomp"'s organ-driven pulse, and "Voodoo Wop"'s blend of surf and Krautrock are a logical progression from Clinic's roots, but ballads like the "Pale Blue Eyes"-esque "Distortions" and the late-night calm of "Goodnight Georgie" are a leap into new territory for the band.

Gothic Archies - The New Despair (1997)

It's a somewhat pointless exercise for Stephin Merritt to release his work under so many different monikers (Magnetic Fields, Future Bible Heroes, the 6ths, and the Gothic Archies), but this little idiosyncrasy doesn't make the music any less gorgeous. The New Despair treads the same inorganic, melancholy synth ground as most of Merritt's other work, with equally satisfying results. That said, it is true that the Gothic Archies title does have its own sonic identity: thin, distant guitars take over some of the space Merritt usually fills with synths, and The New Despair's compositions push his pop experiments past the familiar ground of Magnetic Fields and into more varied, adventurous territory. As a result, the seven songs on the record almost seem to have more depth and consistency than some of Merritt's other endeavors.

Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska (1982)

There is an adage in the record business that a recording artist's demos of new songs often come off better than the more polished versions later worked up in a studio. But Bruce Springsteen was the first person to act on that theory, when he opted to release the demo versions of his latest songs, recorded with only acoustic or electric guitar, harmonica, and vocals, as his sixth album, Nebraska. It was really the content that dictated the approach, however. Nebraska's ten songs marked a departure for Springsteen, even as they took him farther down a road he had been traveling previously. Gradually, his songs had become darker and more pessimistic, and those on Nebraska marked a new low. They also found him branching out into better developed stories. The title track was a first-person account of the killing spree of mass murderer Charlie Starkweather. (It can't have been coincidental that the same story was told in director Terrence Malick's 1973 film Badlands, also used as a Springsteen song title.) That song set the tone for a series of portraits of small-time criminals, desperate people, and those who loved them. Just as the recordings were unpolished, the songs themselves didn't seem quite finished; sometimes the same line turned up in two songs. But that only served to unify the album. Within the difficult times, however, there was hope, especially as the album went on. "Open All Night" was a Chuck Berry-style rocker, and the album closed with "Reason to Believe," a song whose hard-luck verses were belied by the chorus -- even if the singer couldn't understand what it was, "people find some reason to believe." Still, Nebraska was one of the most challenging albums ever released by a major star on a major record label.

Martin Denny - Exotic Moog (1969)

Exotic Moog is the glittering grail for both Martin Denny collectors and Moog fans. There really is nothing else like it, and the LP is very much in short supply. The Moog in this case is one of the earliest synthesizers, which is more like a wondrously imaginative computer from a 1950s science fiction film than the more "realistic" synthesizers of today. Mostly because of the Moog's difficulty and sharp differentiation from traditional instruments, Moog records of the late 1960s tend to be disappointing musically. That is okay, however, because the camp value can be extraordinary -- the various beeps, clicks, and sprongs take even such warm tunes as "Spanish Flea" into the cold depths of space. Fortunately, the exceptional Exotic Moog ranks highly musically, almost on a par with the incredible work of Moog pioneer Jean Jacques Perry. Get this oddity if you can.

Little Stevie McCabe - Sweat It Out (1986)

Axeman Little Stevie McCabe's solo lp 'Sweat It Out' was released in an edition of 300 in 1986, this DIY/Outsider masterpiece has long been under the radar, mostly due to the fact that for ages it was only available from Steve himself. Soundwise it stands head to head with standout line blurringly great one-offs such as Jowe Head's 'Pincer Movement' & Milk From Cheltenham's 'Triptych Of Poisoners'.

Wire - Pink Flag (1977)

Perhaps the most original debut album to come out of the first wave of British punk, Wire's Pink Flag plays like The Ramones Go to Art School -- song after song careens past in a glorious, stripped-down rush. However, unlike the Ramones, Wire ultimately made their mark through unpredictability. Very few of the songs followed traditional verse/chorus structures -- if one or two riffs sufficed, no more were added; if a musical hook or lyric didn't need to be repeated, Wire immediately stopped playing, accounting for the album's brevity (21 songs in under 36 minutes on the original version). The sometimes dissonant, minimalist arrangements allow for space and interplay between the instruments; Colin Newman isn't always the most comprehensible singer, but he displays an acerbic wit and balances the occasional lyrical abstraction with plenty of bile in his delivery. Many punk bands aimed to strip rock & roll of its excess, but Wire took the concept a step further, cutting punk itself down to its essence and achieving an even more concentrated impact. Some of the tracks may seem at first like underdeveloped sketches or fragments, but further listening demonstrates that in most cases, the music is memorable even without the repetition and structure most ears have come to expect -- it simply requires a bit more concentration. And Wire are full of ideas; for such a fiercely minimalist band, they display quite a musical range, spanning slow, haunting texture exercises, warped power pop, punk anthems, and proto-hardcore rants -- it's recognizable, yet simultaneously quite unlike anything that preceded it. Pink Flag's enduring influence pops up in hardcore, post-punk, alternative rock, and even Britpop, and it still remains a fresh, invigorating listen today: a fascinating, highly inventive rethinking of punk rock and its freedom to make up your own rules.

Robert Pollard - Elephant Jokes (2009)

Has Robert Pollard been reading his reviews lately? The back cover of 2009's Elephant Jokes, the fifth album Pollard released that year, features the blurb "Another big batch of Robert Pollard songs, a new nadir in patience and delicacy," suggesting he's become aware of the not-uncommon complaint that he's more interested in quantity than quality. But truth to tell, Pollard's joke has been attached to the wrong record: Elephant Jokes sounds more like a Guided by Voices album than anything Pollard has done in quite a while, which is to say the tunes are short, energetic, and hooky as all get-out and he dives into them with a full head of steam. The album was cut using Pollard's now standard working method -- Bob singing and playing guitar; Todd Tobias recording, producing, and handling the rest of the instruments -- but the results suggest Pollard put a bit more thought into his guitar playing, with a larger portion of joyously aggressive slop making its way into the final mix than listeners have come to expect, and though Elephant Jokes still doesn't perfectly replicate the sound of the members of a full band bouncing ideas off one another in the studio, it comes much closer than most of his post-GbV work. And as for the songs, Elephant Jokes is just consistent enough that perhaps Pollard actually threw away a few less than worthwhile tunes for a change; the wordplay is thoroughly cryptic, as usual, but there's actually some sort of point to "Things Have Changed (Down in Mexico City)" and "Hippsville (Where the Frisbees Fly Forever)," and the primitivism of "Jimmy" and "Symbols and Heads" is enough to make you think the man has rediscovered his four-track cassette machine, and likes it. Sure, Elephant Jokes is another big batch of Robert Pollard songs, but it harks back to a time when most smart pop fans could hardly ask for anything more.

The Mantles - Burden 7" (2007)

The long-=awaited first single from San Francisco's best (and only) purveyors of drone-garage-pop. Four dirgey, dark, and catchy songs dug deep in a lovely slop of homemade reverb slop, heavy guitar, and fuzzed-out organ, all recorded brilliantly by our man (and new semi-permanent Mantles secret weapon) Drew Cramer. No one seems to agree on an adequate comparison, but maybe the Clean if they were into the Seeds instead of the Velvets?

Kraftwerk - Computer World (2009 Remaster)

The last great Kraftwerk album, Computer World captured the band right at the moment when its pioneering approach fully broke through in popular music, thanks to the rise of synth pop, hip-hop, and electro. As Arthur Baker sampled "Trans-Europe Express" for "Planet Rock" and disciples like Depeche Mode, OMD, and Gary Numan scored major hits, Computer World demonstrated that the old masters still had some last tricks up their collective sleeves. Compared to earlier albums, it fell readily in line with The Man-Machine, eschewing side-long efforts but with even more of an emphasis on shorter tracks mixed with longer but not epic compositions. While the well-established tropes of the band were used again -- electronically treated vocals, some provided by Speak and Spell toys; crisp rhythm blips; basslines and beats; haunting, quirky melodies -- there's a ready liveliness to the songs, like the addictive "Pocket Calculator," with its perfectly deadpan portrait of "the operator" and his favorite tool, and the almost winsome "Computer Love." Cannily, the lyrical focus on newly accessible technology instead of cryptic futurism and vanished pasts matched this new of-the-now stance, and the result was a perfect balance between the new world of the album title and a withdrawn, bemused consideration of that world. The title track itself, with its lists detailing major organizations presumably all wired up, echoes the flow of Trans-Europe Express, serene and pondering. "Pocket Calculator" itself is more outrageously fun, thanks to the technical observation that "by pressing down a special key it plays a little melody." Others would take the band's advances and run with them, but with Computer World Kraftwerk -- over a decade on from their start -- demonstrated how they had stayed not merely relevant, but prescient, when nearly all their contemporaries had long since burned out.

Kraftwerk - Radio-Activity (2009 Remaster)

A concept album exploring themes of broadcast communications, Radio-Activity marked Kraftwerk's return to more obtuse territory, extensively utilizing static, oscillators, and even Cage-like moments of silence to approximate the sense of radio transmission; a pivotal record in the group's continuing development, the title track -- the first they ever recorded in English -- is their most fully realized electro-pop effort to date, while "The Voice of Energy" precipitates the robot voice so crucial to their subsequent work.

Kraftwerk - The Man-Machine (2009 Remaster)

The Man-Machine is closer to the sound and style that would define early new wave electro-pop -- less minimalistic in its arrangements and more complex and danceable in its underlying rhythms. Like its predecessor, Trans-Europe Express, there is the feel of a divided concept album, with some songs devoted to science fiction-esque links between humans and technology, often with electronically processed vocals ("The Robots," "Spacelab," and the title track); others take the glamour of urbanization as their subject ("Neon Lights" and "Metropolis"). Plus, there's "The Model," a character sketch that falls under the latter category but takes a more cynical view of the title character's glamorous lifestyle. More pop-oriented than any of their previous work, the sound of The Man-Machine -- in particular among Kraftwerk's oeuvre -- had a tremendous impact on the cold, robotic synth pop of artists like Gary Numan, as well as Britain's later new romantic movement.

Kraftwerk - Autobahn (2009 Remaster)

Although Kraftwerk's first three albums were groundbreaking in their own right, Autobahn is where the group's hypnotic electronic pulse genuinely came into its own. The main difference between Autobahn and its predecessors is how it develops an insistent, propulsive pulse that makes the repeated rhythms and riffs of the shimmering electronic keyboards and trance-like guitars all the more hypnotizing. The 22-minute title track, in a severely edited form, became an international hit single and remains the peak of the band's achievements — it encapsulates the band and why they are important within one track — but the rest of the album provides soundscapes equally as intriguing. Within Autobahn, the roots of electro-funk, ambient, and synth pop are all evident — it's a pioneering album, even if its electronic trances might not capture the attention of all listeners.

Sebadoh - Rebound EP (1995)

Most Sebadoh fans would probably cite the early '90s as the band's heyday; first came the stunning Bubble and Scrape, and then in 1994 the electric-charged Bakesale won over whatever hearts hadn't already softened. Far from the sound of the group's early recordings, these were still lo-fi, yet were a bit more polished and surprisingly linear-sounding rock albums. This EP followed on the heels of Bakesale, and features the record's first single as well as some great sounding acoustic versions of other Sebadoh tracks. "Rebound"'s catchy lead riff opens the album on a heavy note, but is later reprised in a more relaxed take that sees band leader and everyman Lou Barlow abandon the riff and go straight for the song's melodic center. Also included are the swaggering "Social Medicine" and the acoustic ballad "On Fire," which was reprised in electric mode on the Harmacy LP with surprisingly less enjoyable results. Rounding it out is Bakesale's opening "Magnet's Coil," which becomes a tender anthem that proves Barlow's abilities to pull multiple emotions out of his better work. Sebadoh's earliest records consisted of mostly unaccompanied guitar ditties, and with the more complicated material they moved on to write, it's nice to see the that the later songs still retain their strengths even when they are given up to completely unadorned presentations.

Sebadoh - 4 Song CD (1994)

Despite the title, 4 Song CD actually includes ten tracks -- however, give the band credit for some truth in advertising, since only four or so are truly listenable. It's a strange, willfully schizophrenic collection, even by Sebadoh standards -- released just months before their masterpiece, Bakesale, it includes two of that disc's highlights ("Rebound" and "Careful"), as well as two more in four-track demo format ("Not a Friend" and "Mystery Man"). With the exception of the closer, "Lime Kiln," the rest are raw, noisy instrumentals and tape experiments, including a wholly unexpected cover of John Coltrane's "Naima."

Palace Music - Lost Blues & Other Songs (1997)

Despite the overall excellence of albums like There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You and Viva Last Blues, Will Oldham tended to save his best Palace offerings for the group's singles; Lost Blues & Other Songs is a career-capping collection of those 7" releases which serves as a superb overview of the Palace project's mercurial history. Although a few stray tracks (like the German-only "Gezundheit," a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Every Mother's Son," and the live Lounge Ax single) are MIA, the set includes all of the truly crucial Palace singles from the first (1993's "Ohio River Boat Song") to the last (1997's "Little Blue Eyes"), along with unreleased material like "Valentine's Day," "Lost Blues," and a more ragged rendition of the debut album's classic, "Riding." The highlights are many, but the true standouts are the anthemic cover of the Mekons' "Horses" and both sides of the "West Palm Beach"/"Gulf Shores" single, a luminously pastoral effort reminiscent of Red House Painters. A stunning recapitulation of a truly unique musical vision, Lost Blues & Other Songs is an essential record from an essential band.

Sonic Boom - Spectrum (1990)

Sonic Boom's first solo turn outside of Spacemen 3, while the band was still vaguely in existence, ironically features not only Jason Pierce, but most of the original Spiritualized lineup as well, including bassist Will Carruthers and guitarist Mark Refoy, not to mention other regular cohorts as the Jazz Butcher and the Perfect Disaster's Phil Parfitt and Josephine Wiggs. Carruthers co-produces the record as well, and the end result is a much softer, gentler effort than Spacemen 3 itself ever came up with -- instead of sheer extremes of serenity and noise, with the notable exception of the intense "You're the One," things are generally serene on Spectrum. If not necessarily calm, admittedly -- lyrically, there are references to death, loneliness, suicide, addiction, though all delivered in swathes of echo and with extreme gentleness by Sonic himself. Both the album's opening and concluding songs, "Help Me Please" and "If I Should Die," sound almost too fragile to exist, mere wisps of sound. "Angel," the accompanying single, initially consists of little but a click track, softly plucked semi-surf guitar, and Sonic's spoken word drawl, before building into a sweeping yet subtle guitar/string orchestration worthy of Spiritualized, Wiggs' cello work especially key. Two songs where the energy level is a bit more active are, perhaps unsurprisingly, covers -- Doc Pomus' classic "Lonely Avenue" and Suicide's "Rock and Roll is Killing My Life," another of Sonic's tips of the hat to the Alan Vega/Martin Rev partnership. Even both those songs rely on a distanced zone of performance and delivery from Sonic and associates, making everything sound like an endless trip subdivided into different movements. Ultimately Spectrum is a one-off -- Sonic didn't revisit this particular approach with Spectrum itself or with E.A.R. -- but it's a very entertaining one worth the hearing.

Cosmic Jokers - S/T (1974)

The first of Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser's exploitive cosmic space rock albums is also the best, and certainly kicks the seat out of the many jam bands that arose in the '90s. Unlike most "super groups" who collapse under the weight of their own hubris, the Cosmic Jokers, who were never really a proper group anyway, almost improve upon the sound of their precursors, namely Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze from acid-jam-supreme Ash Ra Tempel, and Jurgen Dollase and Harald Grosskopf from blitzkrieg psychedelic Wallenstein. Structurally, the record is similar to those vintage Ash Ra Tempel albums, with two sidelong suites, the first side representing the peak of the acid freakout and the second side more relaxed, acting as the chill out later in the trip. Thus, the first side, "&Galactic Joke," has more emphasis on Gottsching's freaked-out guitar, as the music slowly builds to full phased-out fury and then subsides and builds again. The flip side, "Cosmic Joke," is mellower, though no less improvised as it travels with Schulze's keyboard washes at the forefront into deepest space on a similarly slow ebb and flow. The effects are laid on much thicker than on a normal Ash Ra effort, especially on this second track, enhancing the sci-fi aspects as the mixing board of Dieter Dierks adds another dimension to the sound. Unlike later Cosmic Jokers records, where vocals were added in, this album is completely instrumental, letting the music stand by itself.

Beat Happening - Jamboree (1988)

Co-produced by Steve Fisk and the Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan and Gary Lee Conner, Beat Happening's brief, brilliant sophomore effort significantly expands the trio's horizons without sacrificing any of their naïve charm. Sporting a fuller, more intricate sound and stronger songs than their debut, Jamboree crystallizes the trio's love-rock aesthetic in its embryonic stages; veering sharply from the idyllic drones of the perennial "Indian Summer" to the poignant crush-pop of "Cat Walk" to the indie-party classic "Midnight a Go-Go," each cut is a marvel of innocence and ingenuity.

Beat Happening - Black Candy (1989)

As evidenced by its title, Black Candy is Beat Happening's darkest, most deliriously ominous album; clearly influenced by the Cramps, the record is dominated by Calvin Johnson's coffin-creak vocals, with Heather Lewis' breathy sweetness rarely in earshot to lighten the mood. A less developed batch of compositions than the previous Jamboree, it strives to evoke the mood of a grade-Z teen horror flick soundtrack, with faux-creepy songs ("Pajama Party in a Haunted Hive," "Gravedigger Blues," "Bonfire") and primal, drum-dominated production; less eclectic and nuanced than the trio's other LPs, Black Candy quickly grows tiresome, although the oft-covered highlight "Cast a Shadow" is a treat.

Miles Davis - In A Silent Way (1969)

Listening to Miles Davis' originally released version of In a Silent Way in light of the complete sessions released by Sony in 2001 (Columbia Legacy 65362) reveals just how strategic and dramatic a studio construction it was. If one listens to Joe Zawinul's original version of "In a Silent Way," it comes across as almost a folk song with a very pronounced melody. The version Miles Davis and Teo Macero assembled from the recording session in July of 1968 is anything but. There is no melody, not even a melodic frame. There are only vamps and solos, grooves layered on top of other grooves spiraling toward space but ending in silence. But even these don't begin until almost ten minutes into the piece. It's Miles and McLaughlin, sparely breathing and wending their way through a series of seemingly disconnected phrases until the groove monster kicks in. The solos are extended, digging deep into the heart of the ethereal groove, which was dark, smoky, and ashen. McLaughlin and Hancock are particularly brilliant, but Corea's solo on the Fender Rhodes is one of his most articulate and spiraling on the instrument ever. The A-side of the album, "Shhh/Peaceful," is even more so. With Tony Williams shimmering away on the cymbals in double time, Miles comes out slippery and slowly, playing over the top of the vamp, playing ostinato and moving off into more mysterious territory a moment at a time. With Zawinul's organ in the background offering the occasional swell of darkness and dimension, Miles could continue indefinitely. But McLaughlin is hovering, easing in, moving up against the organ and the trills by Hancock and Corea; Wayne Shorter hesitantly winds in and out of the mix on his soprano, filling space until it's his turn to solo. But John McLaughlin, playing solos and fills throughout (the piece is like one long dreamy solo for the guitarist), is what gives it its open quality, like a piece of music with no borders as he turns in and through the commingling keyboards as Holland paces everything along. When the first round of solos ends, Zawinul and McLaughlin and Williams usher it back in with painterly decoration and illumination from Corea and Hancock. Miles picks up on another riff created by Corea and slips in to bring back the ostinato "theme" of the work. He plays glissando right near the very end, which is the only place where the band swells and the tune moves above a whisper before Zawinul's organ fades it into silence. This disc holds up, and perhaps is even stronger because of the issue of the complete sessions. It is, along with Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew, a signature Miles Davis session from the electric era.

The Damned - Damned Damned Damned (1977)

While the Sex Pistols will always have a prominent place in the story of U.K. punk, the Damned did nearly everything first, including the first single, the smoking "New Rose," and the first album, namely this stone classic of rock & roll fire. At just half an hour long, Damned Damned Damned is a permanent testimony to original guitarist Brian James' songwriting (ten of the 12 tracks are his) and the band's take-no-prisoners aesthetic. Starting with Captain Sensible's sharp bassline for "Neat Neat Neat," which rapidly explodes into a full band thrash, the Damned left rhetoric for the theoreticians and political posing for the Clash. All the foursome wanted to do was rock, and that they do here. Dave Vanian already has his spooky-voiced theatrics down cold; "Feel the Pain" indulges his Alice Cooper fascination while the band creates some creepy fun behind him. Most of the time, he's yelping with the best of them, but with considerably more control than most of the era's shouters. Scabies' considerable reputation as a drummer starts here; comparisons flew thick and fast to Keith Moon, and not just for on-stage antics (of which there were plenty). His sense of stop-start rhythm and fills is simply astounding, whether on "So Messed Up" or in his own one-minute goof, "Stab Yer Back." Though the Captain doesn't get his full chance to shine on bass, he's more than adequate, while James just cranks the amps and lets fly. Concluding with a version of the Stooges' "I Feel Alright" that sounds hollower than the original but no less energetic, Damned Damned Damned is and remains rock at its messy, wonderful best.

Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Live at the El Mocambo (1978)

Live at the El Mocambo was recorded on March 6, 1978, during a club show in Toronto, Canada, as Elvis Costello and the Attractions were storming North America in support of My Aim Is True; the set was broadcast live by a local FM radio outlet, and this album is a clean but compressed, slightly flat recording drawn from the station's feed. Released as a promotional album by the Canadian branch of Columbia Records, the album soon became a eagerly sought-after collector's item, and before long it became perhaps the most widespread Costello bootleg on the gray market before Rykodisc gave the album a belated commercial release as a bonus disc in 1993's 2 1/2 Years box set. (The Ryko version, however, does clip out some of the between-song patter, including Costello's announcement that he's come to Toronto on behalf of Great Britain to ask for Canada back!) Replete with adequate but hardly spectacular audio and occasional flubs from the band, Live at the El Mocambo is a warts-and-all portrait of this band in their earlier days, but the seething energy of the performances is unmistakable, the stripped-down interpretations of the My Aim Is True material rock harder than their studio incarnations, and the version of "Less Than Zero" features the "American" lyrics Costello penned to make the song more relevant to stateside listeners. And it does sound a good bit better than any of the bootlegs available of Costello onstage during his formative period; if you want to hear what Elvis Costello sounded like on stage when he was still pop music's angriest man, this is the best place to go.

Link Wray - Slinky! The Epic Sessions (1958-1961)

While there was a 20-track 1992 compilation devoted to Wray's Epic work (Walkin' With Link), this two-CD, 46-song set more than doubles the volume. It not only sweeps up some stray previously released cuts that eluded the previous album, but also adds 17 previously unissued outtakes, demos, and alternates, along with rare singles by the Ponies, Doug Wray, and Bert & Ray, on which Link played. Wray's Epic output was not quite his peak; the slightly later period covered by Norton's Mr. Guitar anthology was more outstanding. Still, there's some fine string bending and distortion to be heard on these discs, though it doesn't contain the original hit version of "Rumble" (which was issued on Cadence, not Epic). If there are flaws, these are mostly relative. Wray doesn't get as unhinged as he did on his wildest sessions, and some of the cuts are samey sounding, routine instrumental workouts that get closer to Duane Eddy than was his usual wont. Still, you get some mighty cool ingeniously devious rockers like "Raw-Hide," "Walkin' With Link" (which explodes into the "Rumble" riff at the end), and "Comanche," while his occasional vocal workouts, like "Oh Babe Be Mine" and "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby," are some of the most sandpaper textured early rock & roll singing to be heard. There are also some weird detours into south of the border Tex-Mexisms on "Tijuana" (with a flute solo), "El Toro" (with mariachi horns), "Guitar Cha-Cha," and "Rumble Mambo," all of which sound like soundtracks to bullfights in which the matadors brandish switchblades and wear leather jackets. Some of the previously unreleased outtakes also brandish an odd sort of lounge sleaze ("Kiki" has a cheesy burlesque wah-wahing horn that has to be heard to be believed), while the hitherto unavailable "Moonlight Love" is a surprisingly effective sort of raw Henry Mancini-meets-untutored-Duane Eddy ballad with strings.

Spacemen 3 - The Sound of Confusion (1986)

Sonic Boom's liner notes from the 1994 reissue in many ways capture the whole point of Spacemen 3's full-length debut: "[It] was basically an exorcism for us of our early material...we began our discography with an equal nod to our influences and our inspirations." Indeed, calling Sound of Confusion derivative misses the point entirely, where calling it anything but a clear and specific homage to a sound and style would be a complete mistake. Three of its seven songs are cover versions -- "Rollercoaster" by the 13th Floor Elevators, "Mary Anne" by Juicy Lucy, and the Stooges' "Little Doll" -- while the originals are at once very much Spacemen 3 songs and clear distillations of everything the band members were tripping out on at the time. Though Sonic and Pierce later expressed a preference for the takes included on the Taking Drugs to Make Music bootleg, the rough garage energy throughout still makes Sound of Confusion a fine listen, if nowhere near as stunning as where the band would later go. As was the case throughout the band's early days, Pierce handled all the vocals with the right amount of diffidence and low-key intensity, while he and Sonic cranked up the amps for minimal, bluntly entrancing riffs and the Brooker/Bain rhythm section chugged along. Of the originals, leadoff cut "Losing Touch With My Mind" is the strongest of the bunch, a perfect fusion of the psych/proto-punk/drone influences of its creators sent into the outer void. Meanwhile, "Hey Man," the title audibly playing off the rhythm and sound of the word "amen," is the first of many overt references to gospel music that Pierce would incorporate for years to come. Some later CD versions included the Walking With Jesus EP for bonus tracks, along with one of the many demo takes on "2:35."

Sun Ra - The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1 (1965)

The German Happy Bird label issued this pirate of Heliocentric Worlds, Vol. 1 (1965) during the mid-'80s when the majority of Sun Ra platters were not widely available. Surprisingly, one distinct disparity is the radically improved sound quality of Other Worlds (1983), allowing greater attention to the subtle detail in the overtones and interplay. These seven sides became the first of what many free and avant-garde jazz enthusiasts had heard from Ra. At the heart of his post-bop performances is the flexibility of the support from the Arkestra, whose percussive talents were equal only to their unquestionable abilities on other respective instruments. The probing nature of longer selections such as "Outer Nothingness" and "The Cosmos" contrasts "Of Heavenly Things," providing Ra a chance to steer the combo's intrepid excursions from the all-too-rare perspective of a percussionist. His tympani leads motivate the cut, which is also highlighted by Ronnie Boykins (bass) and John Gilmore (tenor sax). All the more impressive is the consistent level of improvisational skills that each member brings to the ensemble. Jimmy Johnson's (drums) timekeeping ranges from appropriately propulsive and bombastic to a spurious foil for Ra's seemingly maniacal prodding. Indeed, this material solidifies the progression that the bandleader had made from his former tuneful, yet ever intricate big-band type of arrangements. While Sun Ra and His Arkestra may not be for everyone, parties whose tastes fall within Ra's unique realm are encouraged to locate Other Worlds and/or The Sun Myth (1983), which replicates the running order of Heliocentric Worlds, Vol. 2 (1965).

Sun Ra - Strange Strings (1966)

Strange Strings is a somewhat legendary album from the mid-'60s. "Worlds Approaching" is a great tune, anchored by a bass ostinato and timpani and featuring several fantastic solos, including Marshall Allen on oboe, Robert Cummings on bass clarinet, John Gilmore on tenor, and Sun Ra on electric piano. Off and on throughout the tune, Bugs Hunter applies near-lethal doses of reverb, giving the piece a very odd but interesting sound. "Strange Strings" is one of those songs that is likely to inspire some sort of "you call that music?" comment from your grandmother, or even from open-minded friends. It sounds like they raided the local pawnshop for anything with strings on it, then passed them out to the bandmembers. It's difficult to tell if some of these instruments have been prepared in some way, or if they're simply being played by untutored hands. There are also lots of drums and some viola playing from Ronnie Boykins that is also treated heavily with reverb. Despite the cacophony, there is a definite ebb and flow to the piece and what seem like different movements or themes. Whatever you think of the music contained, there's no denying that it produced some of the most remarkable sounds of the mid-'60s. If you don't like "out," stay clear of this one.