Artist:  Mark Lanegan

Album:  Scraps at Midnight (1998)

Notes:  Of the six CDs I got, this was the only one by an artist I knew; Lanegan was the lead singer of the Screaming Trees.  This is the second solo album of his that I’ve purchased, and it does not disappoint.  His deep, husky voice is a great fit for the dark acoustic sound of his solo work.

Sample song:  “Stay”

Artist:  The Features

Album:  Wilderness (2011)

Notes:  This was a good find; I’ve listened to this album a few times over since I picked it up, and I like it a lot.  The Features are an indie-rock band from Nashville.  With their guitar-and-synth pairing, they sound kind of like the Killers and the Bravery, but with a harder edge.  The vocals, on the other hand, remind me more of the guy from the Black Keys.  And the song below, which I think was the single from the album, at times reminds me of Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out.”  I would love to see this band live; I bet they have a great energy.

Sample song:  “How It Starts”

Artist:  Big Head Todd & the Monsters

Album:  Strategem (1994)

Notes:  Big Head Todd has the distinction of having penned some of the most pompous, pretentious liner notes I’ve ever seen in a rock album.  He goes on and on about how this album is “a pastoral,” how its songs are written as “koans,” how the painting of a horse on the cover has some kind of symbolic significance that has to do with “the cardinal oriental virtue of balance between pen and sword.”  This all seems even more absurd once you’ve listened to the album, which is nothing more than a solidly mediocre mid-‘90s album.  Indeed, critics panned the album and criticized the band for squandering the promise of its prior album – as if to say, “Fuck you and your pretentious intellectual bullshit, Big Head Todd!  That’s our department.”  Todd Park Mohr’s voice at various times reminds me of — in no particular order — Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen, Ronnie Van Zant, and the guy from Paw.

Sample song:  “Neckbreaker”

Artist:  Guadalcanal Diary

Album:  Flip-Flop (1989)

Notes:  Talk about your R.E.M. knockoffs!  Guadalcanal Diary apparently came up in the same theater of ‘80s Southern college rock, but that doesn’t account for how similar their singer sounds to Michael Stipe.  This is supposedly their worst album, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up one of their better ones.  After all, if I want to listen to the sounds of ‘80s R.E.M., I’ll just get the genuine article.  (That said, I’d pick this Guadalcanal Diary album over anything R.E.M. released in the 2000s, eleven times out of ten.)  Anyway, I do like a number of songs on Flip-Flop, but none more than “Pretty Is As Pretty Does.”  It’s unfortunate that the YouTube video below cuts off a few seconds too early.

Sample song:  “Pretty Is As Pretty Does”

Artist:  Big Dipper

Album:  Slam (1990)

Notes:  Here’s another great find.  I’d never heard of Big Dipper, and I’d surmised from looking over their album that they were a Devo knockoff band.  Instead, I find that I prefer their sound:  a sort of guitar-based jangle-pop.  I guess this is what alternative music was like in the ’80s before the advent of grunge.

Sample song:  “Love Barge”

Artist:  2 Live Jews

Album:  As Kosher As They Wanna Be (1990)

Notes:  Comedy rap, courtesy of two Jewish comedians in the guise of two elderly Jewish men who’ve discovered their rhyming prowess late in life.  The name of the group and the album title parody 2 Live Crew’s (in)famous hit album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be.  Moreover, the song below is a direct parody of “Me So Horny,” where, instead of the Full Metal Jacket dialogue sample of a Vietnamese hooker saying, “Oh!  Me so horny, me love you long time!” we get a stereotypical Jewish woman’s voice exclaiming, “Oy!  It’s so humid, it’s like a sauna in heah!”  Pretty funny stuff, but it’s a one-note joke so it’s best taken in small doses.

Sample song:  “Oy!  It’s So Humid”