Novelist and Musician Rick Moody Picks His Essential ’80s Indie Albums
Back in his 20s, when Rick Moody was gaining the kinds of life experiences that would make him an acclaimed novelist, he was also listening to some great music. He proves it with this list of Essential '80s Indie Albums, which the Brooklyn-based author was nice enough to write up especially for Diffuser.fm.
Best known for the books 'The Ice Storm,' 'The Diviners' and 'The Four Fingers of Death,' Moody is also a member of the Wingdale Community Singers,' purveyors of what he's dubbed "woebegone and slightly modernist folk music, of the very antique variety."
Earlier this year, the Wingdales dropped their third full-length, 'Night Sleep Death,' via Drag City, and while he's clearly got the super-literate, neo-old-timey acoustic thing down pat, Moody is also well versed in Midwestern indie rock, dream-pop and the avant-garde stylings of Glenn Branca, among other sounds.
Scroll down to see what the multil-talented wordsmith was vibing on back in Reagan era.
I'd heard 'The Ascension,' before I heard this one, but somehow the guitar drone was more magnificent, more purposeful, more intense on Symphony Number Three.' Branca took his time and let the piece develop rather than catering to the short attentions of the rock 'n' roll set. I didn't hear a live performance of Branca until 1984, and that was an incredible experience. It was so loud you could almost see the sound waves.
On their first couple albums, the Lounge Lizards sounded like a pastiche of jazz influences, but by the time of 'Voice of Chunk,' John Lurie, their principal composer, had come up with his own saxophone vocabulary, which owed more to West African music and less to New Orleans. The band (with Marc Ribot on guitar) was incredibly tight, and with a confidence and masculinity that was a joy to behold. The best concert I ever say in my life featured this band playing this music.
The song that got my attention was 'Celebrated Summer,' with its acoustic guitar break in the middle. At the time, an acoustic guitar was verboten in the punk/indie scene. Anyone who played an acoustic guitar was suspect. But Bob Mould had major credibility as an electric guitar player, and so he pulled it off. It probably didn't hurt that the rest of the album was startlingly loud. Some of the melodies were amazing here, too, and that was different from much of the hardcore of the period. I loved this record and the one that followed ('Flip Your Wig') without restraint. I think this music paved the way for the Pixies and Nirvana.
A lot of music that I loved in the mid-'80s I first heard on an NYU-related radio show of the period called 'The New Afternoon Show,' and that was how I found out about this record. I think I had dismissed the Cocteau Twins based on reviews and so on, but 'The Spangle Maker' really got my attention. I still am in awe of Elizabeth Fraser's voice. The band may have lost its edge later on, but her phrasing and vocal precision is sort of out of this world, still to this day. The guitar feedback and general audio sludge of the early Cocteau Twins was also part of their great charm. (And apparently, this was also the first CD 4AD ever released.)
- 5I admire just about anything Pere Ubu-related (especially, e.g., 'New Picnic Time' and 'Dub Housing'), but this was the very best album they made in the '80s, with the right degree of avant-garage stomp, and with two drummers (including Chris Cutler of Henry Cow), and the nearest thing to their classic lineup of the seventies (before Allen Ravenstine went off to fly jets for Northwest Airlines). There's a refreshing joy and unpretentiousness to songs like 'George Had a Hat' and 'We Have the Technology,' and they would not sound quite this joyful for a while to come. We tend to think of the '80s as the decade of gated reverb and MIDI'd keyboards, but this album proves how much more was going on, as does this entire list.