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Nine Records I'll Never Again Listen to from Start to Finish

I had a conversation with Jon Mount a few nights ago about how I’m far more inclined than he is to return to mid ’90s records (or fill in the gaps from records we respectively missed). Well, there are some exceptions. One of our big talking points was the first album on this list, which got me thinking about other indie or alternative albums that I’ll likely never listen from start to finish again. Sure, I may hear a song or two, but this list is about dedicated listens. Most of these albums are from bands I even enjoy or enjoyed in the past. This list could be much, much longer, but these were the albums that stood out upon first glance at my record collection Excel database.

Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: Every now and then my mom brings up how I got my dad to drive me to Circuit City/Media Play/etc. to pick up this album on the night of its release. I don’t have the heart to tell her that I sold the album off at some point—likely between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college—or that this record taught me a considerable amount about how artists turn away from their strengths. Jon mentioned how he sold it off within a few days, but it was a far more gradual process of acceptance for me. I think I like some of these songs. Right? That process was helped by Billy Corgan’s radical change in appearance, in which his shaved head and increased heft encouraged me to compare him to a bloated tick in the videos and live appearances. Mirroring your supposed magnum opus’s greatest weakness in your physical appearance is an awfully noticeable tell, Billy.

In terms of the actual album, I could probably make a reasonable single disc from the era, containing the album tracks I wouldn’t mind hearing again (“Bodies,” “Stumbeleine,” “Jellybelly,” “Muzzle”) and maybe a few of the b-sides (“Set the Ray to Jerry”) from the array of singles that accompanied the album. (I officially stopped buying them after 1979 and was rather ticked about that box set.) I could complete this task so long as I never again have to hear one of Corgan’s overblown attempts to grasp at teenage angst or one of James Iha’s horribly bland vocal tracks. Part of me wonders if the switch of the dominant genre tags from “alternative” to “indie” that accompanied my casting aside of my favorite band circa age fourteen might have caused me to be a bit too rough on the Smashing Pumpkins’ later works, but remembering how bland the Zwan record was, even with Pajo and Sweeney in tow, prevents me from worrying too much.

Hum - Fillet Show: If anything, Hum replaced Smashing Pumpkins as my favorite band (admittedly remaining within “alternative”), but my later burn-out on their material had far more to do with the logistics of my fandom, like running a fan site and answering daily questions about their vague demise. Lately I’ve returned to their three main albums and found that my old stances have held up: Electra 2000 is a bit too rough in parts, but has some of their finest moments; You’d Prefer an Astronaut is thematically and musically their best album; and the over-thought gloss of Downward Is Heavenward betrays some of their better instincts (the original edge of “Comin’ Home,” the delay-heavy live intro for “Afternoon with the Axolotls,” the space of the demo version of “Ms. Lazarus”), even if the album stands up fairly well. Their debut, however, is not a record I intend to check up on. I own Fillet Show on cassette, since the CD was out of print by 1996, but I don’t think I made it through the album as a whole more than once. It’s essentially a different band: one that lacks Tim Lash’s focused leads and Matt Talbott’s introspective lyrics. And hey, those are the main things I like about Hum.

New Wet Kojak - New Wet Kojak: Competing with Hum for my favorite band status circa 1997 was Girls Against Boys, which meant that I indulged Scott McCloud and Johnny Temple’s late night jazz-ish project for a few albums. Their self-titled debut established the aesthetic (whispered Beat gibberish, dirty grooves, horns) but I don’t recall more than two actual songs on the album and I don’t want to confirm that assumption. I’m writing this at 1:30pm, which means that any New Wet Kojak material will sound downright hilarious when accompanied with the clarity of daylight. I’ll indulge the better moments of Nasty International or Do Things if I’m driving around late at night, but the self-titled will continue to collect dust on my shelf.

Jawbox - Grippe: I returned to Jawbox’s second album, Novelty, in this round of iPod Chicanery, but that does not mean I’ll be digging their debut out of my CD cabinet anytime soon. Fillet Show is an interesting point of comparison, since debut albums show the respective bands in their infancy, but whereas Fillet Show shows a different band with two different members playing essentially disparate material from the follow-up, Grippe only lacks Bill Barbot’s second guitar position, which filled out Jawbox’s sound. It’s a dry run for the considerably better Novelty, which I even assert pales in comparison to the Zach Barocas–enabled complexity of For Your Own Special Sweetheart. I won’t rule out listening to a track down the road (the Joy Division cover, “Bullet Park”), but the whole thing? No thanks.

Wolfie - Where’s Wolfie: It’s rather unfortunate that Signal Drench’s legacy is essentially a footnote in a Brent DiCrescenzo review of this album on Pitchfork, which calls out one of my contributors’ (Ty Haas) review of the record and then implies that writing Wolfie-esque music would impress “the guy who runs Signal Drench,” or, you know, me. In comparison to the bands I’d actually stake that magazine’s legacy (and the four years of my life that it involved) upon—Durian, Shiner, Rectangle, Bald Rapunzel, Tungsten74, etc.—Wolfie is an outlier. Their youthful, technically deficient indie pop does not hold up well. Whereas Awful Mess Mystery had a few passable songs for the Rentals-obsessed Kick Bright crowd (“Subroutine the Reward,” “Mockhouse”), Where’s Wolfie played up almost all of the band’s embarrassing traits—the nasal vocals, the cutesy lyrics, the fuzzy production as a vague attempt to move forward. The band themselves moved away from this approach with their later records (and the post-Wolfie band The Like Young). I can’t imagine listening to a single song from this record again, except for penance. Oh: I even own a Wolfie side project, Busytoby’s It’s Good to Be Alive, that I picked up for no more than a dollar. That record doesn’t apply to this list since I never listened to it in the first place, but maybe its memory will merit a different list.

Weezer - The Green Album: I bought this disc the week it came out, despite having heard the lead single (“Hash Pipe”) and presumably knowing better, since I had seen the band phone in a performance back in March of that year. Like the Smashing Pumpkins, it took a bit more time to recognize that Weezer had completely lost my interest, but The Green Album certainly confirmed that feeling. This album is one of the laziest displays of songwriting I can fathom. I’d sell it off, but I’m fairly sure that a million smarter people beat me to it.

Centaur - In Streams: Centaur may be the single biggest disappointment in my years of listening to music. Given the combination of the singer from Hum, the bassist from Castor, and a Champaign-Urbana scene drummer who works at Parasol, I figured that getting in on the ground floor of Centaur’s existence by attending their first ever show at a VFW in Danville, Illinois would be a rewarding experience. Most of what I remember from that show is how loose, how seemingly lazy the band’s performance was. They numbered their songs, but debated about which songs those numbers applied to. Every song boiled down to this blueprint: take a heavy riff, repeat it, sing a verse, apply wah and distortion to the riff for a solo, play another verse, sing what may be a chorus, do another solo. It was heavy and sad like early Codeine, but all too repetitive. The skeletal structures of the songs meant that those riffs became tiresome by the end of each song. Little did I know that those songs were much closer to finished than I could have imagined.

The disappointment comes from what Centaur could have been. In Streams is a profoundly sad album about some of Talbott’s personal tragedies, but making through it from start to finish is a nearly impossible task. “Wait for the Sun” is a bit lighter and fleshed out, but it’s still too long. “The Same Place” takes a solid riff and embraces its title far too much. Talbott’s meditations on life and death are intriguing, but there’s so little energy propelling them. I don’t know if adding Tim Lash’s leads would corrupt the album’s topical focus, but it’s so remarkably telling that Lash’s album as Glifted is interesting aesthetically without containing any actual songs, while Centaur’s lone effort has interesting lyrics languishing in a lack of aesthetic. I saw at least six Centaur shows without seeing much improvement from the first. I may pull out a song from time to time, but In Streams as a whole is marked with a profound sadness beyond its thematic ruminations.

Pavement - Terror Twilight: If there’s an album that I might reconsider, it’s this one. I certainly tried to like Terror Twilight, but it just encapsulates too many of late Pavement’s bad tendencies for me to sit through it as a whole ever again. The overdone production values are somewhat understandable, but the forced attempts at spontaneity are downright insulting, the “quirky” tracks like “Carrot Rope” make me shudder, and it’s a precursor to Malkmus’s underwhelming solo career. I’ll willingly listen to the following songs: “Spit on a Stranger,” “Cream of Gold,” “Major Leagues,” “Speak See Remember,” and “The Hexx,” even though the two singles are unsuitably melodramatic and “And Then…” overshadows the “The Hexx.” The middle stretch of the record is something I’d prefer to block from my memory. If I have to choose between the mixed bag swan songs of big 1990s indie rock bands, Archers of Loaf’s White Trash Heroes and Polvo’s Shapes come long before Terror Twilight.

Rex - Rex: Though Rex’s debut contains their finest song (the impossibly melancholic “Nothing Is Most Honorable Than You”), I could never make it past the album’s mid point without a concerted effort. I could probably include Rex’s overlong follow-up, C, on this list as well, and throw in their finale, 3, given its somewhat bland character in comparison to the high points of its predecessors. Rex is by no means a singles band, but they certainly aren’t a band I enjoy enough to stomach an entire album from in one sitting.