Steve Albini’s 10 Essential Recordings


For the first record he recorded outside of his friend circle, Albini used the buzzy Boston band Pixies as lab animals for his sonic ideas: loading its debut album, “Surfer Rosa,” with off-the-cuff studio chatter, refusing to use silence in between songs and making the bassist Kim Deal sing the reverb-soaked background vocals on “Where Is My Mind?” in the studio’s echo-y bathroom. In retrospect, Albini said his production touches were intrusive, but the next generation of alt-rock titans found them invigorating. “‘Where Is My Mind?’” later became one of the records that other bands would reference when they wanted to work with me,” he told The Guardian. “Nobody expected it to take off because no underground American band of that generation had even a fleeting notion of commercial success as a goal. People just wanted to blow minds.”

When Albini worked with Deal on her solo project the Breeders, “I instantly preferred it to the Pixies,” he said in the book “Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies.” “There was a simultaneous charm to Kim’s presentation to her music that’s both childlike and giddy and also completely mature and kind of dirty.” The band, often in pajamas, banged out its debut LP, “Pod,” in the first week of a two-week session. “Steve Albini wasn’t interested in ‘perfecting’ a song or a performance: His métier was getting the best sound from the equipment and pressing ‘record,’” the Breeders bassist Josephine Wiggs said in a 2008 news release. “He was utterly pleased with himself when mixing the record, saying, ‘Look — no EQ!’”

“When I think of the Jesus Lizard, I think of them as the greatest band I’ve ever seen, as the best musicians I’ve ever worked with, and as the purest melding of the sublime and the profane,” Albini said in “The Jesus Lizard Book.” The group of noise-rock chaos engines was prone to injury, audience entanglements and public nudity, and Albini somehow harnessed its energy across four full-length LPs. “Steve worked quickly and cheaply, and got good deals at studios,” the band’s bassist David Wm. Sims said in “Book.” “He was inclined to offer more input than we were looking for, but didn’t seem to mind that we generally ignored him.”

“I knew I wanted to work with Steve Albini from listening to Pixies records, and hearing the sounds he was getting, which were unlike any other sounds that I’d heard on vinyl,” PJ Harvey told Spin about recording her breakthrough album, “Rid of Me.” “I really wanted that very bare, very real sound. I knew that it would suit the songs. It’s like touching real objects or feeling the grain of wood.” Some reviewers blanched at Albini’s caustic, drum-dominant production of “Rid of Me,” but the album would prove to be one of the most enduring of the ’90s.

Following Nirvana’s multiplatinum coup, “Nevermind,” the trio retreated to a secluded spot in Minnesota to work with the guy behind the Pixies, Breeders and Jesus Lizard records they loved. “We didn’t wanna be sellouts and Albini is known for having integrity,” the Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic told Mojo. “It just seemed like it made sense, going back to our roots instead of just making another really slick album.” Recorded in around 12 days using a handful of first-takes, Nirvana’s final studio LP, “In Utero,” was a feedback-soaked, ragged-edged document of a band that had already rewired rock music to embrace the ugly and imperfect.



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