Love him or hate him, Steve Albini has probably worked with at least one of your favorite bands. The audio engineer/singer/guitarist/Big Black, Rapeman, Flour, and Shellac frontman/journalist/asshole’s credits include Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey, Jawbreaker, Cheap Trick, and, um, Bush, among hundreds and hundreds more. (He doesn’t ask for royalties for his work, only a fee for using his studio, which is one of the many reasons artists love him.) In 2012, he’s added his distinct production sound (think booming drums and dry, aggressive guitars with somewhat buried vocals) to two of the year’s finest albums, Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory and Screaming Female’s fifth record, Ugly, released today.
Here are 11 of the finest (but not necessarily the 11 finest—you could probably listen to nothing but Albini albums for an entire year and never repeat a track—slightly-more-obscure-than-“Pennyroyal Tea” songs he’s worked on.
“Rivers” by Dark Arts (from A Long Way from Brigadoon)
A post-punk Jefferson Airplane. As haunting as it is gorgeous.
“Kicked Out” by Pussy Galore (from Dial “M” for Motherfucker)
Wikipedia tells me that this song was used on Fox’s House to “induce a seizure in a patient.” That wonderful tidbit puts it slightly ahead of the equally great “Dick Johnson” and “Wait a Minute” from the same album — that, and the sporadic blurts and squeals that sound like a barnyard genocide.
“Fuck My Old Boots” by the Membranes (from Kiss Ass Godhead!)
The post-punk legends’ best album.
“Rope” by the Jesus Lizard (from Liar)
Really any song from Liar, the Jesus Lizard’s masterpiece (just ahead of Goat), would do. I just like the line, "He lay beneath a broken branch face down in the grass/No mason or bricklayer he, a trowel was in his ass."
“Tie a Rope to the Back of the Bus” by Superchunk (from No Pocky for Kitty)
If anyone want to makes the case that Superchunk is the greatest American rock band of the last 20 years, well, let’s just say, I’m listening...
“Philip K. Dick In the Pet Section of a Wal-Mart” by Man or Astro-man? (from Project Infinity)
Nervous, twitchy surf rock.
“Your Motive” by Crow (from My Kind of Pain)
The songs on Crow’s second album, My Kind of Pain, sound like they’re on the verge of dissolving into a mess of feedback. But the Australian group remarkably toes the line between restraint and utter chaos, leading to some great tracks like “Your Motive.”
“New Partner” by Palace Music (from Viva Last Blues)
As bleak as any album in Albini’s discography, but with pedal steel guitars instead of, in his own words, “big-ass vicious noise.”
“Driving” by Wrangler Brutes (from Zulu)
A more chaotic and fractured Minutemen, it’s a shame Wrangler Brutes only released a single album, 2004’s Zulu (Kill Rock Stars), before splitting up.
“Trouble of the World” by Jinx Titanic (from Stuporstardom!)
A reworking of a well-known gospel song, as sung by the former deprived frontman of Super 8 Cum Shot. Yes.
“Angela” by Jarvis Cocker (from Further Complications)
In the summer of 2008, Jarvis met Steve at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, and they decided to work together. The mix of Cocker’s sly seductiveness and Albini’s aggressiveness, as exemplified on first single “Angela,” is so much better than it has any right to be; in fact, it’s Cocker’s best album since 1998’s This Is Hardcore. (Which isn’t to say I want to hear any of it over “Underwear” when Pulp’s in town next week.)