To a lot of folks, the late-’90s was a pop-music wasteland. Grunge and rap, two styles that matured in the late-1980s/early-’90s, were going mainstream and, in the process, being grossly watered-down. Grunge was turning into glam, and rap was turning into pure pop (the songs, basically, were fluffy R&B tunes with goofy rap-filled centers). The era, however, was a glorious time for indie pop rock. When I got an iPod a couple of years ago, I duly began transforming songs from my CD collection into digital files. I noticed that I had a whole lot of late-’90s indie pop rock. One of my playlists is now devoted solely to the stuff: Freedy Johnston’s “On the Way Out,” Francis Dunnery’s “My Own Reality” and “Riding on the Back” (scroll down the song list in the link to listen to samples), Imogen Heap’s “Getting Scared” and “Oh Me, Oh, My,” everything by Martin Sexton (probably the most played: “Young and Beautiful”; again, scroll down a little), Folk Implosion (“Natural One”), most everything by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (including “Flavor”), and a bunch more. Until about a week ago, when I first heard British singer-songwriter Jack Peñate, I never noticed that contemporary singer-songwriters aren’t hearkening back to the sound: rough and raw but snappy, crisply produced, and solo-based. Based on Peñate’s “Pull My Heart Away” (below), which could have come out in 1995 and fit right in, they should.


Other similar-sounding ’90s-throwback songs: Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson’s twee “Relator” and Great Northern’s bombastic but melodic “House” (below).

“Thought Problem”
by Vijay Seshadri, The New Yorker, October 12, 2009

How strange would it be if you met yourself on the street?
How strange if you liked yourself,
took yourself in your arms, married your own self,
propagated by techniques known only to you,
and then populated the world? Replicas of you are everywhere.
Some are Arabs. Some are Jews. Some live in yurts. It is
an abomination, but better that your
sweet and scrupulously neat self
emerges at many points on the earth to watch the horned moon rise
than all those dolts out there,
turning into pillars of salt wherever we look.
If we have to have people, let them be you,
spritzing your geraniums, driving yourself to the haberdashery,
killing your supper with a blowgun.
Yes, only in the forest do you feel at peace,
up in the branches and down in the terrific gorges,
but you’ve seen through everything else.
You’ve fled in terror across the frozen lake,
you’ve found yourself in the sand, the palace,
the prison, the dockside stews;
and long ago, on this same planet, you came home
to an empty house, poured a Scotch-and-soda,
and sat in a recliner in the unlit rumpus room,
puzzled at what became of you.