from You'd Prefer an Astronaut
by Liz Phair
from Exile in Guyville
from In the Valley of Dying Stars
"Stars" (3 plays at Last.fm, unranked): Hum is one of those mid-90's bands that found minor success before the label machine ate them, and "Stars" was their entree into that world. I think it's playing in a Cadillac commercial now. It's also maybe the best example of what the Smashing Pumpkins' explosion did for the Chicago fuzz-rock scene. It's a pretty simple song, really -- an uncomplicated melody and unassuming lyrics over a technically fancy lead guitar progression, lots of cymbal crashes in the background. The band and the song had a lot to do with what came later from bands like Cave In and the Life and Times, and even Ken Andrews' various late-model projects. The good news is that Hum is now out touring a reunion show, so maybe the density and energy of this song will be found again in a new record.
"Divorce Song" (9 plays, tied for #299): Oh, Liz. I've written before about the tragedy that is Liz Phair, and this song is in so many ways the prologue. Others might identify a different Guyville song as the epitome of what Liz Phair, the entity, meant in 1993, but for me everything is in this song. Compared with the rest of the album, it's one of the most expanded songs from what she'd done on the Girlysound tapes. There's the harmonica outro, the shakers, the extra guitar lines. Her low alto is as gruff-sounding as the lyrics are fatalistic, and titling it "Divorce Song" without including an ending in the song's story is an exceptional bit of framing. And it's a perfect story-song in so many ways, the sort of thing that really does sound like a direct counterpoint to the Stones' "Ventilator Blues." Hearing what Phair's doing now, it's like rewatching a movie when you already know the character in the tragic setting isn't getting out.
"Gimme Animosity" (10 plays, tied for #218): For some reason it took me until early 2000 to pick up Superdrag's debut LP, even though I'd loved their one hit ("Sucked Out") when it was released in 1996. After buying that record, I was consumed with anticipation for their then-upcoming release, In the Valley of Dying Stars. When I got it, this was one of a few songs that went on constant repeat for the rest of the year. The driving guitar and insistent vocals from Jon Davis keep things cranking during the chorus, and the way the bass swoops in during the verses is spectacular.
VERDICT: "Stars" is awesome to rock out to, but I'm not sure it would even win a Hum-only favorite song contest (look for their "The Scientists" to show up in a future round). "Divorce Song," on the other hand, is an all-time great: a fabulous piece of poetry, and an untarnished core sample of an indie explosion that never quite happened.