Backspin: WMXM Vinyl Archives Spotlight Fall 2012

WMXM has been a living breathing FM station since the late seventies. WMXM peaked when most college stations peaked, in the mid 1980s and eaprly 1990s.What is left is a museum for the music lover, a sort of petting zoo for the audiophile. Some of the best records, and the deepest cuts of the earliest trials of the biggest names in music are just lying in wait. Years of recording history are trapped in the shelves of Lake Forest College’s cavernous archives. To help free them upon the thirsty public, WMXM has decided to spotlight one major Chicago trendsetter at a time. This semester we are looking at punk legend Steve Albini.
When it comes to this city’s punk scene, Steve Albini is Chicago’s crown jewel. A writer, engineer, and music journalist, Albini remains one of the most controversial figures of this scene, his certain influence on music for decades to come explains why we chose to highlight him in our first Vinyl Archives Spotlight here at WMXM.
Albini entered the scene in 1982 when his band, Big Black, released its first EP Lungs. Follow-up albums Atomizer and Songs About Fucking are considered pivotal punk albums from the 80’s. After this, Albini became one of the “hardest working” producers in the business. He took over the Effigies’ label Ruthless Records, which saw releases from Big Black, Effigies, End Result, Naked Raygun, Rifle Sport, and Urge Overkill, and recorded dozens of artists, including Urge Overkill, The Pixies, The Membranes, Flour, Pussy Galore, and EVERY JESUS LIZARD RECORD EVER. In addition to this work with others, he continued to pursue his own sound, forming the group Rapeman after the split of Big Black in 1987, and much later, founding the band Shellac with Bob Weston and Todd Trainer.
The 90’s were loaded with controversy, but also some of the biggest records Albini would put his stamp on. He recorded The Breeder’s (Kim Deal of Pixies fame, and her twin sister Kelly) Pod, Superchunk, Fugazi, PJ Harvey, Melt-Banana, Low, Scrawl, Guided By Voices, Cheap Trick, and most controversially, Nirvana.
Many critics called Nirvana’s In Utero a flop for Albini. Not that the record was bad. The recording and sound that made Albini so famous, with its focus on instrumental tracks and especially on drums, was seen as a bad fit for Nirvana, by now an established success story. Albini was criticized even before the record was complete. Here was Albini, one of the most outspoken critics of bands who “sold out” their sound to be more accessible to a more mainstream audience recording Nirvana, a platinum-selling artist. When the record was done, neither Nirvana nor the record company was satisfied with the end result. Calling the record “unlistenable.” Scott Lit remixed the singles “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” for the radio.
That even rock gods have hiccups on their careers notwithstanding, Albini is nevertheless regarded as one of the most influential producers in Chicago. He still plays in Shellac, and has recorded the most recent critically acclaimed albums from The Screaming Females, and the incredible Attack on Memory from Cloud Nothings.

2 thoughts on “Backspin: WMXM Vinyl Archives Spotlight Fall 2012

  1. I was a WMXM dj in 1985. I was there for the heyday. Steve Davis was our manager and he deserves credit for much of the music library. Check out Glorious Din “Leading Stolen Horses”. What a great time we had. All the best to the new WMXM staff.

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