Category Archives: The Full Picture

Covering entire discographies of alternative artists

The Full Picture: The Black Keys

Probably the most necessary of the Full Picture articles that I’ve written so far, what’s becoming a forgotten history for The Black Keys is that they were a very significant act earlier in their career as part of the blues-rock music scene. The band’s always been a duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, and this article is going to try and look at their rise to national prominence and point out just how their sound evolved to allow that to happen. This whole process starts back in 2002 when they released their debut album named The Big Come Up

The Black Keys- The Big Come Up (2002)
The Black Keys- The Big Come Up (2002)

The debut might surprise you if you’ve never heard it before in how raw the sound is, but it gives you a good idea about the roots of the band. The style is straight-forward for the listener, which is more the result of a two-person band than anything else, and it has a strong blues-rock feel to it for sure. That’s to say that while the guitar doesn’t have an overly-complicated role in the song it’s still got a prominent role on every track, and the songs themselves don’t get overly focused on choruses. Tracks progress naturally to tell a story, and that’s something which defines the early Black Keys tracks very well. There’s more attention placed on the instruments than the later work which is a nice change up for listening to them, but they also improved a lot after this album so other earlier works end up defining the band better. They’re cover of “She Said, She Said” is fantastic though.

Track Picks: “She Said, She Said“, “I’ll Be Your Man“, “Brooklyn Bound

The Black Keys- Thickfreakness (2003)
The Black Keys- Thickfreakness (2003)

A terrific album from the group which meant a lot for them getting attention as a premiere Blues-rock group and showed that the sound on The Big Come Up wasn’t a band which struck gold once. Auerbach’s vocals right from the start of the title track are nearly indiscernible in a classic blues-rock sense, and the band’s guitar dominated style seemed to benefit a lot from the band’s label switch to Fat Possum Records. The Black Keys were a young band that was playing energetic-guitar music and had a cool-vibe attached to them which was hard to argue against, and began to grow a good sized fan base because of this. Once again my favorite track on this album’s a cover as the group did a take on the classic Sonics song (and originally Richard Berry) “Have Love, Will Travel” and knocked it out of the park in the process.

Track Picks: “Have Love, Will Travel“, “Set You Free“, “Hurt Like Mine

The Black Keys- Rubber Factory (2004)
The Black Keys- Rubber Factory (2004)

Rubber Factory gets it’s title because it marks a change in the recording environment, as the band shifted out of Patrick Carney’s basement and into an old abandoned rubber factory for the sessions. When you read that you’d expect a larger change in sound then what actually translates to the album though, as the different acoustics and stylistic approach don’t seem to make to much of an indent on the actual recorded sound surprisingly. A good album which marks the first time the group ever charted, but probably best to re-visit for singles more than the whole product. Once again I’m a big fan of a cover song on this album in “Act Nice and Gentle” which was originally done by The Kinks, a huge stylistic difference but one that again ends up working beautifully well for the group, something that speaks volumes about their taste in music in my opinion. “The Lengths” deserves mention here too because it isn’t often mentioned as one of the group’s premiere songs, but I love their slower and sadder material and that track is one of the best examples I can give of why. The song is a really sentimental and emotional listen which is what the blues is supposed to be all about, and it’s a treat to listen to.

Top Tracks: “Act Nice and Gentle“, “The Lengths“, “All Hands Against His Own
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The Full Picture: Wilco

Before there was Wilco, there was an alternative country band named Uncle Tupelo which enjoyed moderate success with the dual lead singers Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. The issue with Uncle Tupelo proved to be that the label “dual” only ended up being true in terms of song credits because Farrar and Tweedy grew to detest each other as they spent more time in the project, continuing up until Farrar decided to quit the band in 1994. This left the remaining group members in a bit of an awkward situation, but likely one that Tweedy was glad to find himself in as all of the other members of Uncle Tupelo sans-Farrar decided to stick with him post-split. The band got renamed to Wilco, a purposefully ironic term which is short for “Will Comply”, and released their debut album A.M. in 1995.

Wilco- A.M. (1995)
Wilco- A.M. (1995)

A.M. stayed true to the alternative-country sound that the band had been accustomed to playing in Uncle Tupelo in many ways, but don’t get that classification confused with the travesty of what is today called country. It was more Americana then that and by many accounts a successful debut album for the group which lent the band some credibility that they would still be releasing good music. Tweedy took over full ownership for vocals and song-writing, but a lot of people at the time held the opinion that Wilco would prove to be the less successful group in comparison to Farrar’s new project Son Volt and their better reviewed debut Trace.

Top Tracks: “Box Full of Letters“, “That’s Not the Issue“, “I Must Be High

Wilco- Being There (1996)
Wilco- Being There (1996)

The opening track for Being There is named “Misunderstood”, and that track is infinitely more ambitious than anything that A.M. could claim. The message is sent that the band was going to try and take a step away from their previous sound and try to create a more meaningful brand of music, and it was met with better reviews and more album sales than their debut, an impressive feat for a double album which was written and recorded in the span of a year. In hindsight I actually end up preferring to listen to their debut over this, but the reason for that is because in terms of Wilco’s discography they went on to progress way past what was being accomplished on Being There. Still, this album served as a good starting point for the sound which would evolve into Summerteeth.

Track Picks: “Misunderstood“, “Forget the Flowers“, “The Lonely 1

Mermaid Avenue
Billy Bragg & Wilco- Mermaid Avenue (1998)

Mermaid Avenue was a projected that started when Woody Guthrie’s daughter approached Billy Bragg and asked him to record songs using a collection of never-before-recorded lyrics which Guthrie had composed. Bragg obliged and recruited Wilco to help out with the project, and today it’s actually evolved to include Mermaid Avenue, Mermaid Avenue Vol. II, and Mermaid Avenue Vol. III (which get combined into the box set Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions). Good recordings to listen to, but unfortunately not-overly significant for the purpose of this article as it was a two artist collaboration where neither one was responsible for the lyrics.
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The Full Picture: Animal Collective

This is the second edition of a new series of posts here on Airwaves. In The Full Picture we will look over a notable alternative artist’s entire discography and note how the sound evolved from album to album, as well as pointing out each album’s best tracks using the magical powers of hindsight. This edition’s band is a bunch of dads who make extraordinary electronic music: Animal Collective

Animal Collective- Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished (2000)

The earliest Animal Collective release has the chaotic and experimental features that the band has become known for today with far less production and pleasantness present. Animal Collective does some weird things in their music, it’s a part of their appeal, and on Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished things are pretty close to being at the extreme end of that spectrum. There’s some very ambitious long tracks, and many which are difficult listens, but the project is consistently interesting in laying down the groundwork for the band which at this point was only Panda Bear and Avey Tare.

Track Picks: “Bat You’ll Fly”, “April and the Phantom“, “Penny Dreadfulls

Animal Collective- Danse Manatee
Animal Collective- Danse Manatee (2001)

Geologist joins the band at this point as Danse Manatee takes the band which was near the extreme in weirdness another step closer. This is the sort of album which could spark a dumb debate in a room about ‘what music actually is’ because the tracks are gradual, experimental, and seemingly random and uncategorized. At this point with the band it becomes pretty clear that although the lyrics can be fascinating and mean something that the ultimate meaning of the song has to be something beyond them because of their cryptic nature. The music gets interpreted as a mindset rather than a meaning from my viewpoint, and Danse Manatee can be a difficult viewpoint to adopt.

Track Picks: “Essplode”, “In the Singing Box“, “Bad Crumbs

220px-Campfire_Songs
Animal Collective- Campfire Songs (2003)

Honestly I feel awful doing this in a post, but I don’t know enough about this album to discuss it and it’s not in my iTunes music library. I’ve read that it compares to the other early works are mentioned in this post very much, and that’s discouraged me from prioritizing going back for a listen because I prefer Animal Collective from Sung Tongs onward.

Animal Collective- Here Comes the Indian
Animal Collective- Here Comes the Indian (2003)

Some of the sounds on Here Comes the Indian are downright scary to listen to, like the track “Panic” which gets placed in the middle of the album and features the vocals of a yell being repeated for the first two and a half minutes of the track. The chaos feels dark and potentially threatening on this album leading you to wonder what exactly is it that they are trying to portray to you through their music here. There was a defined fan base for the band at this point who focused upon the band’s strengths: Their energy, their originality, and their freedom to turn whatever they’d like into music, but it’s an incredibly difficult sound for me even as a self-proclaimed fan of the band

Track Picks: “Native Belle”, “Infant Dressing Table“, “Panic

Animal Collective- Sung Tongs (2004)
Animal Collective- Sung Tongs (2004)

A very important album to understand in the context of their discography, Sung Tongs is the first time that you could look at an Animal Collective and it’s importance doesn’t lie in it’s odd and experimental methods. Those qualities didn’t disappear, in fact they still haven’t in the band’s modern releases, but on Sung Tongs the weirdness all of a sudden becomes a pleasant listen and surprisingly understandable. Compare “You Could Win a Rabbit” to any song that came beforehand and the difference is astounding, and “Kids on Holiday” is a track where the focus is actually turned onto the vocals over a dull guitar strum. This is the birthing of a more accessible version of Animal Collective, and this is the album which a lot of people should trace back to when trying to place where their favorite Animal Collective sounds came from.

Track Picks: “Kids on Holiday”, “Who Could Win A Rabbit“, “Sweet Road


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The Full Picture: Modest Mouse

This is the first edition of a new series of posts here on Airwaves. In ‘The Full Picture’ we will look over a notable alternative artist’s entire discography and note how the sound evolved from album to album, as well as pointing out each album’s best tracks using the magical powers of hindsight. The perfect starting point for me with this is to cover my favorite artist out there: Modest Mouse. All the EPs and every album (just not the two cassette tapes from 1993), starting off with…

Modest Mouse- "Blue-Cadet 3 Do You Connect?" (1994)
Modest Mouse- “Blue-Cadet 3 Do You Connect?” (1994)

The first release for the band is an EP in 1994 named after the title track “Blue Cadet 3-Do You Connect?” and it packs five songs into 7 minutes and 34 seconds including a minute long intro for “It Always Rains on A Picnic“. On this first EP Modest Mouse is incredibly depressing in it’s song topics already, with the aforementioned title track existing as a question to a man lost in space being followed by 30 seconds of silence. The ending track “5-4-3-2-1 Lipsoff” is a thirty second track where we get Brock giving social commentary for the first time, as he makes jokes in the background and references his own lisp before ending the EP with the most profound statement on the album “Whatcha want, whadayou want from outer space?”. Overall some of the best qualities of Modest Mouse are present on this release, but the band wasn’t able to really write a full song at this point.

Track Picks: “Dukes Up

Modest Mouse- "This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About" (1996)
Modest Mouse- “This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About” (1996)

It’s hard to fathom what a gigantic step forward the band took with this release, and the progression is obvious the second that you hear the opening guitar on “Dramamine”. No wasted time, some anger, and a decisive message in the music. You get to hear Brock get pissed off on this album through tracks like “Breakthrough” and his f*** you message to the people fleeing Washington to California, “Beach Side Property” (really one of two on the album along with “Head South“). Another really interesting thing which develops on “Beach Side Property” is how the rocking track where Brock opens with a loud, throaty scream, suddenly slows down and turns into Brock incorporating a religious metaphor into the song. This album is the first time that the band incorporated the religious theme into their music and it proved to be a topic where Brock was very good at displaying his viewpoints. Another huge difference between this was how Modest Mouse jammed, as they’re only one on Blue Cadet-3 was on “It Always Rains on a Picnic” which was noticeable more mellow. On This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About (TIALD from here on out) the more rock oriented jams show up to establish Modest Mouse as what they truly were, a 90s alternative rock group who was capable of morphing their sound into the other genres as well. 

Track Picks: Edit the Sad Parts, Dramamine, Beach Side Property

Modest Mouse- "Interstate Eight" (1996)
Modest Mouse- “Interstate 8″ (1996)

Modest Mouse’s second EP released is what they’re demo tape was, and it contains some great Modest Mouse songs on it like “Edit the Sad Parts”, “Whenever You Breathe Out, I Breathe In (Positive/Negative)” and “Broke“. Still, I’m not going to go into this EP because all of the songs found their way into another album where they are better known and more easily identified, and this EP is viewed nowadays as more of a collector’s item than anything else.

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