In the eighties, music fans who didn’t want to preen with the new wavers, pout with the hair metalists, or snooze with Lionel Ritchie really had to do their research. Groups like Black Flag, Throwing Muses, and The Feelies weren’t exactly playing alongside Mötley Crüe on MTV at 4PM, though you might catch them if you stayed up past Midnight on Sundays. You might also read about them in photocopied fanzines or get lectured about them from the Doc Martened blowhard at your local hole-in-the-wall record shop.
In the Internet era, this kind of happenstance is less a prerequisite to discovering great underground groups, so from one point of view, Andrew Earles’s Gimme Indie Rock: 500 Essential American Underground Rock Albums 1981-1996 is about twenty years too late. Arriving in 2014, however, it still serves a definite function as a valuable tour of one of the least-eulogized roads of Rock history. More practically it’s a distillation of The Trouser Press Record Guide that hones a fifteen-year flood of small-label albums down to the must haves… or, at least, Earles’ idea of the must-haves. As is the case with any “best of” guide created by one person, the selection is highly subjective even as the writer reveals he chose some albums he didn’t like because of their historical importance. Taking that under consideration it isn’t unreasonable to wonder where certain artists (no Spinanes, no Velocity Girl, no Grant Lee Buffalo) or select albums (no Pony Express Record, no The Real Ramona, no The Stars Are Insane) are. Still I can’t say there are a ton of glaring omissions from Gimme Indie Rock.
As a writer, Earle certainly seems to have been influenced by The Trouser Press Record Guide (which he name-checks in his introduction) with his tendency to write about ecstatic music clinically rather than ecstatically. That kind of writing isn’t generally my cup of tea, but even Earle can’t hold back his awe from time to time, as when he uses more visceral terms to describe Team Dresch’s Personal Best, which “will knock unprepared listeners against the wall”. He is not fucking kidding.
Get Gimme Indie Rock: 500 Essential American Underground Rock Albums 1981-1996 on Amazon.com here: