I live for music, among other things.  A certain large record store chain uses the slogan "no music, no life."  For once, I have to agree with a slogan, because it does hold truth.  I have tons of CDs, and curious listening habits.  There is usually a pile of tapes and CDs on my desk that I have selected for listening as if it was a "to do list."  But music is not a chore!  Here are some of the bands I think people out there haven't heard of but are worth checking out.

I live in Japan, so my interest in Japanese music is quite advanced.  Go take a look at my Japanese music page if you haven't already.

What I hope to do on this page is not to rant and rave about well-known acts that I like, but to introduce and discuss unknown or underrated bands, specifically groups like An April March, Leonard Cohen, Cornershop, Serge Gainsbourg, Kyuss, the Machines of Loving Grace, Malhavoc, the Mekons, Mindfunk, Bob Mould, Pop Will Eat Itself, Public Enemy, Amalia Rodriguez, the Rollins Band, Sade, Siddal, the Sugarcubes, and I might even step out on a limb to say a little something about Yngwie J. Malmsteen!

An April March

An April March are an edgy pop band based in Toronto, Ontario that rose out of the ashes of a great little group called the Whittingtons that recorded one of my favorite songs ever, "Beatrice."  Fronted by married couple Danella Hocevar (singer, songwriter, sometimes bass and guitar player) and Chris Perry (guitarist and producer) and a procession of bass players and drummers, the group recorded a bunch of CDs before calling it a day in 1999.  Like the best bands, their recorded music kept improving with each successive release, although each album has its strong songs.  Latest album opens with two perfect guitar pop songs "Stardust" and "Slipped."  It is a miracle that these didn't become radio staples and catapult the group to Canadian superstardom, and as a result they remain largely unheard and underappreciated.  An April March continues with Danella and Chris reincarnating themselves musically in a new project called redhotred that will be picking up with new recorded work from a new studio in 2000 - new spirit for the new millenium.  Check out the An April March and redhotred websites, but do not confuse them with April March, a.k.a. Elinor Blake, the one-time Ren and Stimpy animator whose goofy songs ("Chick Habit") and French songs (Serge Gainsbourg's "Chancon de Prevert," a French version of "Chick Habit", etc.) really have nothing to do with AAM besides the almost-shared name.  I had a theory that the name came from a Jorge Luis Borges short story, but the band deny it.  Check out the band, read more Borges, and keep "Beatrice" alive.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is one of Canada's best and most famous poets.  At age 35 he began another career, that of a singer songwriter.  In 1964 he released his first solo music, the sparse, beautiful songs of his which were very often poems of his set to music, and he makes both occupations seem like they are something he has been doing all his life.  With only about 10 releases in over 35 years in the music industry he is not a prolific artist, but what he lacks in quantity he makes up tenfold in quality.  These beautiful songs will definitely touch your heart with both their lyrics and their tender melodies that range from the simple and sparse to heavily produces.  Though not without his awful blunders ("Jazz Police" the song and Death Of A Ladies Man the album had a lot of fans scratching their heads), his first greatest hits collection is essential to any collection... and maybe his second too.  Leonard Cohen websites abound, but this one is particularly good.


Cornershop are a group from England powered by singer-songwriter Tjinder Singh.  As the name would suggest, he is an ethnic Indian born in England, hence also the name.  They have three albums to their name so far: Hold On It Hurts, Woman's Gotta Have It, and When I Was Born For The Seventh Time.  The first one is Indian flavored guitar punk that sometimes hits tabla and sitar, while the latter two are guitar pop that often meets tabla and sitar.  All of their releases are worth getting, and each of them combines sweet, hopeful songs, sarcasm, punchy rock, trippy world music, and sad melodies, and each release has its high points: Hold On It Hurts has the funny "Born Disco: Died Heavy Metal", the trippy "Terma Mera Pyar", and the punky/funny jam "England's Dreaming."  Woman's Gotta Have It has two versions of the great raga trip-out "Jullandar Shere", as well as the rock classics "Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu", and "Call All Destroyer."  Buzz.  When I Was Born For The Seventh Time is the release that contains the most pop songs, including the infectious "Sleep On The Left Side" and "Brimful of Asha", but it also contains a cool cover of "Norwegian Wood" sung in an Indian language (Parsi?), a jam with Allen Ginsberg "When the Light Appears Boy", and the great mock-Country and Western duet "Good To Be On The Road Back Home."  Destined to sit in your CD player for spin after spin after spin.  Check out a review I did for a concert of theirs I saw in Osaka, Japan on my JapanMusic page.  But where are they now?

Serge Gainsbourg

The king of horny (emphasize horny) Gallo-rock, great melodies, deep voice and chain-smoking, Serge Gainsbourg reshaped music in so many ways that he should not be ignored.  A best-of CD of his music (like "de Gainsbourg a Gainsbarre" for example) is required listening.  Songs like "Je t'aime, moi non plus" and "Bonnie and Clyde" are instant classics, and the rest aren't too bad either.  While his later songs at times come off like an unsuccessful marriage of lounge music and reggae (or whatever), the earlier songs are perfect in conception and execution.  Vive la Serge (too bad he died of lung cancer after chain-smoking Gitaines cigarettes all his life).  Anyone seeking English versions of his songs should look for Mick Harvey's CD of Gainsbourg covers.  Also known as one of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, Harvey has Nick Cave and Anita Lane sing the heavy-pantin' duet of "Je t'aime, Mon Non Plus," and I have to admit that even I am intrigued...


When do you ever hear anyone mentioning this band as a favorite or an influence?  Kyuss are perhaps one of the most Black Sabbath-inspired band out there, and their heavy, plodding cymbal-heavy rock is just buzzing with doom.  Called "desert rock" by some, it lumbers on into long, spacey jams that are pretty bluesy in their attack on heavy metal.  Great stuff.  Luckily, the vocals are short and light in the mix, giving more focus to what the band does best - rock out.  Their Blues For A Red Sun is highly recommended, although any of their releases will probably give you a good taste of what it is that makes this band unique.

the Machines of Loving Grace

Another forgotten band that seemed to get better and better with each release is the Machines of Loving Grace.  I first heard them on the Crow soundtrack and was intrigued, since which time I have picked up their three releases Machines of Loving Grace, Concentration, and Gilt.  Creepy electronic-inspired guitar rock at its finest, the Machines write great songs and fill them with spooky post-modern lyrics that deconstruct everything.  I can't believe that I was the only person who ever thought they were a great band.  Check out Gilt and listen to "The Richest Junkie Still Alice" and the heavy sludge of "Suicide Kings" and tell me what you think.


This is the most insane band from Canada since Skinny Puppy, and in fact backed by the same horror-fascination inspirations, they are a little more high-concept and, if you listen carefully, funnier!  Murder can't be funny, but a death-metal song with a disco beat certainly is.  This sounds sad, but since these guys obviously know I can only call it clever.  So obscure that I have only ever been able to find one tape outside Canada (Premeditated Murder) which I immediately bought, I will try to stock up when I get back.  Don't be put off by bad graphics and silly song titles, Malhavoc understand the genre and have fun with it.  Check out this Malhavoc fansite.

Yngwie J. Malmsteen

This is where I step out on a limb again.  People who have heard of Yngwie J. are more than happy to either idolize his guitar skill or ignore him completely as a rock star cliche.  I am more than willing to agree with both of these undeniable positions, while tending to favor the latter, but want to add is how important it is to listen to his first album Rising Force.  It is mostly an album of moody, heavy, well-written instrumentals - pretentious, but in good ways.  Just to give you an example "Icarus Dream Suite Opus" begins with heavy guitar chords, then becomes a somber version of a familiar classical theme by Albinoni (you'll know it when you hear it), then it introduces a beautiful and catchy guitar riff, then it changes into something else, and then it changes again and again.  There are a few tracks with vocals on it, but it is no coincidence that these are the worst tracks (or the only bad tracks on the album, depending how you look at it).  According to my sporadic listening, I've come to the conclusion that he has done nothing better since that first one, and has hit rock bottom several times, including his cover of the ABBA song "Gimme Gimme Gimme" (he's Swedish, right?) on a recent release, where the male vocalist in his band prudently changes the lyric "Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight" to "Gimme gimme gimme your love after midnight."  But do give the first one a chance.

the Mekons

The Mekons are an old band from Leeds.  This puts them in the same scene that produced better-known bands like the Gang of Four and the Sisters of Mercy.  They have been together nearly 25 years and are either the best kept secret in music or the most underrated band ever.  They have hit all of the points on the musical spectrum, starting out as a punk band, then becoming somewhat of a "cow punk" band as they developed a country fascination during their relocation to Chicago.  They have also dabbled in avant-garde, pop, rock, dance, and a literary collaboration with deceased postmodern author Kathy Acker.  Superficially, the types of songs that they write are nice and could be considered ordinary if they were performed by other lesser groups, but somehow the synergy that the members of the Mekons have with each other, as well as the veneer of intellectualism that they possess, give a frantic essence to their recordings that is hypnotic and essential - it manages to work its way into your heart and finds a place to stay in there no matter what you want.  Among their fans they are as god-like as the Grateful Dead are among Deadheads, and put their favorite band under the microscope in a similar way.  For a glimpse into their world, check out the lovingly maintained Mekons news page or the mysterious Mekons Bullshit chat page.

Mekons appreciation

Whenever I read the Mekons chat group, I always get a bit jealous at people that have been able to see them several times in different cities.  It would be nice to experience them live, but seeing as I will be in Japan for a while (why not – there is plenty of fine fine music to be heard here) it looks like I might never see them.  Of course, I could jump on a plane…

I first got turned on to the Mekons when I was in college and a tape copy of “Retreat From Memphis” came into the student newspaper and I decided to review it.  The information that came from Touch ‘n’ Go made it seem like they were an influential band that had been around for a long time.  I was intrigued, so I took it home and gave it some listens.  Nothing stood out, so I kept listening.  Then I noticed a catchy number called “the Flame that Killed John Wayne.”  Then more and more songs came out as the mist of comprehension revealed the pure light of day, and I was hooked.

Shortly after that, my fate carried me to Taiwan, where I began to build up a Mekons collection: I mail ordered “United,” “I Heart Mekons,” and “the Edge of the World” from Touch ‘n’ Go, I picked up “Rock ‘n’ Roll” at HMV records in Hong Kong, and then here in Japan I got a few more.  I came across “So Good It Hurts” recently at a Tower Records, which surprised me, since it is on an obscure label (could I call TwinTone obscure?) and Tower rarely stocks anything before “me.”  A few years ago I found a shop called Disc Pier in the Nippon Bashi area of South Osaka (known as a computer retail wonderland) that had almost all of the Mekons CDs!  I was shocked, this store in Osaka had more Mekons than I had ever seen in one place.  Not having that much money, I bought “the Mekons Story,” “Honky Tonkin’,” and “the Mekons,” leaving others behind.  Some time after that, I asked a Chicago friend who was going back home to look for “the Curse of the Mekons” for me back home.  He returned without the disc explaining that he couldn’t find it, but this didn’t surprise me too much.  I’m sure every Mekons fans has stories to tell about the roundabout ways that they took to complete their collections.  Anyway, after a while I came across Disc Pier again, and checked out their Mekons – they still had the whole bunch (without the ones I had bought, of course).  I think that about three years had gone by.  They didn’t look too dusty either.  I bought “Curse of the Mekons” right then and there with the last 2500 yen I had.  It seemed kind of funny that nobody had bought any of the CDs in the years in between.  It was almost like Disc Pier was keeping a little Mekons stash in their shop just for me to buy at my convenience.  Unfortunately, this is where my luck ran out – when I went back again recently to buy “Fear and Whiskey,” it wasn’t there anymore – they just had “Hen’s Teeth,” and “Journey To The End Of Night,” which I had already bought at Tower when they came out!

I’ve also had frustration finding other Mekons fans (which is one of many reason why I value this mailing list).  Whenever I come across someone who seems to be knowledgeable about music (American, English, Welsh, Leeds, etc.), I always ask if they have heard of the Mekons, and the answer is always no.  I actually did once come across two people who had heard of the Mekons, editors at a gaijin newspaper I sometimes write for, but they only had scorn for the Mekes – “that’s the shite band that did that awful ‘Never Been In A Riot,’ yeah?”  Oh well.

I have made some Mekons conversions among friends – it is nice to know that people who already know a lot about music are eager to fill the holes in their knowledge, and that there’s something universal about good music.  Good music.  Good music.  The search continues.


Guns 'n' Roses made it big, but Mindfunk was totally overlooked.  They had two releases before they disappeared into obscurity and appeared to go nowhere.  Too bad, because if anybody ever heard any of their music, they'd know that it was catchy, well written, and much edgier than anything else the L.A. glam scene produced.  Great, nasty Stones-inspired rock that would have those G 'n' R guys running for cover.  Where are they now?

Bob Mould

Who doesn't own any of Bob Mould's music?  Sugar, Husker Du, or solo Mould, this guy knows what he's doing and knows how to write a song.  His voice is also the classic singer/songwriter type - he may not have a gifted voice (neither do Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, or Bob Dylan), but his ragged emotion will cut right through you and you'll never forget him.  Wow.  Bob Mould.  Singer, song writer, punk rocker.

Pop Will Eat Itself

Another band that didn't really get a lot of attention and then quietly went away was Pop Will Eat Itself, a.k.a. PWEI.  They produced a string of albums, getting better and better, each one characterized by quirky guitar and electronic sounds, nasty vocals and biting humor.  Stylistically, they could probably be thrown in a pool with other British bands like the Wonderstuff, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, and Eat, but PWEI would surely float to the top (or claw their way there).  Some critics think that the band peaked early and went in the toilet, but I disagree - cool songs like "Me No Fear The Reaper" and "Ich Bin Ein Auslander" from the last album are as nasty and nice as their earlier classics like "DefCom One" but more concise.

Public Enemy

When it comes to rap, does it get any better than PE?  I must admit that I have a blind spot when it comes to rap, and I just can't see what is interesting musically or even socially about other rap, but I think it must be because they broke the mould when they made PE.  It may be old news by now, but give a close listen to Fear Of A Black Planet for some great sounds and some excellent lyrics.  It is relentless, it doesn't quit, and there are more musical ideas happening on this one release that the group doesn't know what to do with all of them.  SPIN magazine made this the #2 album of the Nineties, just after Nirvana's Nevermind, but I think Fear should have been #1.

Amalia Rodriguez

Amalia is the goddess of Portuguese fado style singing.  In Portugal she has the status of Billy Holliday, Edith Piaf, or Maria Callas, and it is richly deserved.  Each song is an emotional opera and she manages to capture the raw emotion of your favorite sentimental film ("Casablanca", "Gone With The Wind", or even "Titanic" if you will) in a single three minute song.  Listening to a single Amalia tape or CD will leave you exhilarated and drained.  Essential listening, everybody should have at least one of her releases.

the Rollins Band

The antithesis to Amalia is the Rollins Band, one long listen to which will also leave you exhilarated and drained... or highly annoyed.  Heavy, intense, plodding music, bass-heavy, intoxicating, intense, bellowed lyrics, hateful and deep.  People who have been exposed to the music and personality of Henry Rollins either love or hate him - there is probably no in-between. I  first heard him in 1992 when I picked up his newly-released the End of Silence tape in Vancouver.  I listened to it all the time on my walkman, and the plodding bass and tense edge was at the perfect pace for walking through sunny (miraculously, at that time) Vancouver, contemplating my loneliness and alienation.  This tape got me through some tough times, and I listened to it all through my following trips to South-east Asia before settling in Taiwan.  Years later I worked my way back from this release, and picked up new ones as they came out.  Rollins' early work in the D.C. hardcore band State of Alert and then L.A. hardcore giants Black Flag, and his solo work with the Rollins Band, are all pretty different.  S.O.A. and Black Flag are fast and punchy, nasty, smartass, ironic.  Solo, Rollins worked his bellow up into an intense screech (for early solo albums like Hard Volume and Life Time), then put out the mighty bouncy the End of Silence.  This was followed by Weight and Come In And Burn, two CDs of good sounds that showcased shorter, punchier songs that had a little less of the might and boom.  After a long absence, Rollins put out a new CD Get Some Go Again in spring 2000 with a completely new Rollins Band, 3 guys from another band called Mother Superior.  This might seem extreme, but then again the original line up was the rhythm section of Greg Ginn's instrumental project Gone plus guitarist weirdo Andrew Hackett.  The new album is fine, booming rock 'n' roll and picks it up a bit for the first time since the End of Silence.  The regular-priced CD I picked up in Japan came with a second bonus CD that had 3 different songs, 2 live songs, plus a multimedia video clip for "Get Some Go Again" and a promo clip.  Thanks Henry.  The first disc also has an unlisted 14th track called "Hollywood Money Train" where Rollins jams with Stooges guitarist Wayne Kramer and does a rant and rave.  Disc 2 also contains a musical rant 'n' rave piece that also combines the best of Henry's spoken word with music, perhaps for the first time since the goofy Hot Animal Machine/Drive By Shooting CD that is his first official solo work and contains bizarre pieces like "I Have Come To Kill You" and "Can You Speak This" of the type that he hasn't tried again until now.  There are several official recordings of live Rollins Band material, perhaps even as many live albums as studio releases.  Rollins also has three other careers: spoken word, writer, and actor.  His spoken word CDs are available and show a lighter (if consistently hateful) side of the man, and his rants 'n' raves are also available in book form from his own publishing company, 2.13.61, which has also released books by Nick Cave, Iggy Pop, and others.  The best of this bunch are the Black Flag tour diaries, although each book has its own nuggets among the seeming self-indulgence.  As an actor, Rollins has been in several movies like the Chase, Johnny Mnemonic, Heat, and the Lost Highway, although never in a commanding role.  The good news is that with the new album out, Rollins has re-released all of his early material and they are easy to get again.  Get Hard Volume and Life Time while ou still have the chance.


Why do I love Sade so much?  Perhaps it is the silky voice that floats through the night air, perhaps it is the groovy vibes.  Sade is a mystery woman who has all but disappeared since the early nineties, yet putting one of her releases on is never dated or awkward.  I have listened to the tapes so many times that I know every song very well, but new listeners will probably dig them just as much.  With jazzy perfection, I'm not really sure why people want to listen to floating faces like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion.  Sonic mood personified in one mysterious woman - Sade.


What, you've never heard of Siddal?  Appropriately, Siddal comes after Sade, both velvety and pleasing to the ear, but in different ways.  Siddal is a sonic husband and wife team that produce beautiful guitar pop.  Their sound is not entirely original or diverse, but you've probably never heard a voice like that of Siddal singer Elaine Winters, and it will pierce your heart with its purity.  Their best songs can make you soar high into the clouds, and if you have a sentimental bone in your body you will definitely be hooked after one listen.  What will it take to make these people superstars?

the Sugarcubes

The Sugarcubes of Iceland (or, as they said live "the ice cubes from sugar land") are no more, but most people have heard of their diva muse Bjork Sigmundsdottir.  Bjork still produces great work (she can't help it with that fine voice of hers) but her old group should not be overlooked.  In their day, the Sugarcubes were stranger and better than any of those other weak non-Icelandic bands.  Writing some dark and catchy guitar pop and making use of two singers (the divine Bjork countered with the guttural Einar), the group pushed out three albums before calling it a day - Life Is Good, Here Today Tomorrow Next Week, and Stick Around For Joy.  Most highly recommended is the first (of course), although the second does have its merits.  Bjork pretty much sings it straight, but Einar's English lyrics are a study in absurdism "I don't even like lobster!"  Think of the Sugarcubes as the musical version of all of your favorite cult movies - El Topo, Freaks or the films of Jean Cocteau and Luis Bunuel.  They have all of the familiar elements, but done in ways you could not have imagined before.  And it works well.  Some of the releases feature original songs sung in Icelandic, as well as live tracks, all of which are great.  Beware the boring remixes, though.  The Subarcubes also had an earlier incarnation Kukl which you might still be able to find, but I miss the Sugarcubes.


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email: Peter Höflich
all writing copyright Peter Hoflich, 2000