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Pickled Priest Mini-Project #2: Our Favorite Artists A to Z, "Modern" Version (1990-Present)



PICKLED PRIEST FAVORITE ARTISTS A TO Z

MODERN VERSION (1990-PRESENT)


Notes: "Modern" means all artists included released their first record in 1990 or later. I know, not so modern. A couple exceptions were granted and explained, but that's the arbitrary rule we're setting to make this process easier to manage. If we forgot an artist, which is possible, we'll fix it in post.



A

ARCTIC MONKEYS

Rationale: One of the most original, challenging, evolving, and entertaining bands of the 21st century, led by a true, bona-fide songwriting genius, Alex Turner. If Fiona had released a couple more albums in the 2000s, maybe I'd have put her here, but even then, it was a coin flip.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Alabama Shakes, Ass Ponys, Fiona Apple



B

BUILT TO SPILL

Rationale: The real sound of alternative rock. Everything is slightly off the tracks, but in the end it all rights itself and comes together to produce the most consistently thrilling sound of its era.


Angst Quotient: Low


Also Considered: Bikini Kill, Björk, Bombino, The Bottle Rockets



C

NEKO CASE

Rationale: Some serious competition from some unique artists, but Neko matches them arcane lyric for arcane lyric, with songs held together by beguiling melodies and that magnificent wonder of a voice that elevates anything she touches. I could've made cases for several others, but in the end it's that voice I love, and it sounds like true love.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Calexico, Camera Obscura, Cornershop, The Coup



D

THE DECEMBERISTS

Rationale: Just what modern times needed, a Renaissance Fair/Civil War-reenactor who plows new ground in an old-fashioned way. Delightfully and peculiarly out of its element, but it's totally captivating in their world.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Death Cab for Cutie, Iris DeMent, Lana Del Rey



E

ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO

Rationale: Few artists have delivered the consistency of Escovedo over the last 25 years. A literal True Believer, his solo work has floored me, on record and live, time and time again. A lifetime artist who started his solo career just after the 1990 cutoff.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Eminem



F

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE

Rationale: I picked FoW here over some tough competition because I wanted to reward pure-pop songwriting talent and the band delivered that on every album. Yes, Father John is a one-of-a-kind performer and FDC is one of the best bands of this era, but the former has slipped a touch recently and the latter is still a relatively new outfit, so while this choice is not set in stone, it is still well-earned.


Angst Quotient: High


Also Considered: Bill Fox, Father John Misty, Fontaines D.C.



G

MACY GRAY

Rationale: In addition to being one of the great undervalued R&B artists of the last three decades (should be much bigger), she's the definition of a "true original." Never anything less than interesting, often nothing less than brilliant in her own, bizarre, freaky, eccentric way. And we love her for it. If you must know, GBV, despite operating 98% in 1990 or later, did technically start in the late-80s, so we demoted them to "also considered" status. Rules are rules.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Grinderman, Guided By Voices



H

PJ HARVEY

Rationale: One of the most important artists on this entire list. If she wanted P and J and H, we would've given them to her, just to get her to show up.


Angst Quotient: Low


Also Considered: Brittany Howard, Ha Ha Tonka, The Hold Steady, Hurray for the Riff Raff



I

JASON ISBELL

Rationale: The only artist to make both the "All-Time" A to Z list and the "modern" version, which should tell you something about his songwriting abilities. It should also tell you that his name starts with the letter "I", not a letter with extreme competition. That said, knocking off one of my favorite bands of the last 20 years, Iron & Wine, is a significant accomplishment in itself.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Iron & Wine, Interpol, Idles



J

JAPANDROIDS

Rationale: Japandroids take the J spot because they remind me of why I fell in love with rock & roll in the first place.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: The Jesus Lizard, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings



K

PAUL K & THE WEATHERMEN

Rationale: A surprisingly shallow K pond gives me the opportunity to highlight Paul Kopasz, one of the finest songwriters nobody seems to know. He brought a rawness to his songwriting that was 100% real—he lived a troubled life—and died too soon in 2020 from throat cancer at the age of 57. But all the proof I need to substantiate my claim is right there in his songs that will haunt me until I'm gone.


Angst Quotient: Low


Also Considered: The Kills, Michael Kiwanuka



L

JENNY LEWIS

Rationale: She's a songwriter unlike anyone else and a steady and quirky breath of fresh air amidst a deluge of generic artists deep in their feelings that we now suffer through regularly. Standing apart is hard to do in this day and age, but she's a natural at it. That said, if there's a letter I'd like to call a five-way tie it is this one.


Angst Quotient: High


Also Considered: Kendrick Lamar, Lady Lamb, Lightning Bolt, Low, The Lucksmiths, Lydia Loveless, Low Cut Connie, Mark Lanegan



M

MORPHINE

Rationale: A totally novel concept for a new band—sax, two-string bass, drums, wry vocals—especially this late in the evolution of rock and roll was intriguing enough; that they kept finding new ways to keep their distinct sound fresh is a tribute to the vision of the band, and especially leader/singer Mark Sandman. A great live band, too.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Bob Mould, Janelle Monáe, Juana Molina, Laura Marling, The Makers, Modest Mouse, Material Issue



N

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS

Rationale: One of just a handful of bands "also considered" in our "All-Time" list, it's a tribute to A.C. Newman's singular songwriting style that he barely lost out to another singular songwriter named Newman—in that case, Randy. Quite a high compliment. Even more impressive, we're not even done with him yet. Read on.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Jeb Loy Nichols, Meshell Ndegeocello, The National, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Notorious B.I.G.



O

OUTKAST

Rationale: I got so tired of Oasis I don't know if they'll ever recover. The Oblivians and Oh Sees bring a frantic, demented spirit to the nominee list and we thank them for that. Old 97's almost won out, but in the end the full, bizarre catalog of OutKast, especially those early records, stood out in the end. A modern Funkadelic.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Oasis, Oblivians, Oh Sees/Osees (et al), Old 97's



P

PARQUET COURTS

Rationale: With a case to be made for any of the "finalists," I went with the band who has repeatedly shown up in year-end lists at Pickled Priest, including our #1 album of 2021, Sympathy for Life, and our #2 song of 2016, "Berlin Got Blurry." The sentimental choice was Pinback, my therapists, so I wanted to acknowledge them formally at the very least.


Angst Quotient: Very high


Also Considered: Orville Peck, Pinback, Portugal. The Man, Protomartyr



Q

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE

Rationale: Each of our A to Z lists must have its queen, of course, and the logical choice post-1990 is QOTSA, which is what passed for classic hard-rock in the new alternative universe. They've done a pretty good job of hanging onto the throne throughout the last quarter century. but I admit I am not a huge fan. There are benefits to being a Q band and this selection is one of them. Not many other solid options.


Angst Quotient: Low


Also Considered: Quintron, Q and Not U, Quantic



R

RUN THE JEWELS

Rationale: Leaving off Radiohead is a minor shock, but I haven't been enamored with their electronic meanderings for at least twenty years, so after an amazing start, they've faded off my radar. Rage would've been a worthy pick, too, but I feel that nothing has quite matched the consistency, intensity, and power of the four RTJ records released since 2013.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, The Reigning Sound



S

ELLIOTT SMITH

Rationale: S is the kind of letter that almost makes you want to abandon stupid projects like this altogether. Just take a quick gander at the power list of nominees included below. No perfect choices and I may even have left some off. In the end, the choice became more and more obvious, so I went with one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, somebody that had such quiet power in his troubled soul, to represent this whole group. He'd probably hate that role, but his music becomes more important to me every year and his legacy strengthens as a result.


Angst Quotient: Extremely High


Also Considered: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Screaming Females, The Shins, Sleater-Kinney, Sons of Kemet, Sugar, St. Vincent, Taylor Swift, Spoon, The Strokes



T

TV ON THE RADIO

Rationale: During the early years of this new century, I regularly cited TVOTR as the best band on the planet. They didn't last, unfortunately, but their music still resonates with me, still feels vital. Would love some music from them soon. And another tour. They were an amazing live band as well.


Angst Quotient: Low


Also Considered: Trash Can Sinatras, Tegan & Sara, The Thermals, Tinariwen



U

UNCLE TUPELO

Rationale: At the forefront of the new alt-country explosion, Uncle Tupelo is still my favorite band that includes Jeff Tweedy and/or Jay Farrar. I've seen Wilco and Son Volt live enough to know that UT packed a far greater visceral punch in their short time together—they were old souls seemingly transported here from the early 20th century and made to adapt to modern times, hence they had a raw power unlike any other band around at the time. No wonder they jump-started the alternative country trend.


Angst Quotient: Very Low


Also Considered: U.S. Girls, Ugly Casanova



V

JOHN VANDERSLICE

Rationale: I discovered JV early in the 21st century, and I've been a loyal follower of his ever since. He's a totally original songwriter AND singer AND producer, crafting magnificent sounding yet willfully obscure creations in his own studio with a complete disregard for commercial rewards. He has a cult following as a result, of which I am a proud card-carrying member. So get on your tiny telephones and spread the word.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Kurt Vile, Sharon Van Etten, Vampire Weekend, Velvet Crush



W

THE WHITE STRIPES

Rationale: No-brainer. One of the most important bands of their time, capable of igniting spontaneously onstage and on record both. Now if we could just get every stadium of mindless sports fans to quit ruining "Seven Nation Army" things would be much better. Originality is dead, the White Stripes live on.


Angst Quotient: Low


Also Considered: Amy Winehouse, Kelly Willis, M. Ward, Rufus Wainwright, Waxahatchee, Wussy



X

THE XX

Rationale: A single big X for the all-time list, a double-mini xx for the "modern" list. Sounds about right. Not a tough choice considering the nominees, but they do operate on a seductive frequency that I can cotton to when I'm in simmer mode.


Angst Quotient: Low


Also Considered: Xiu Xiu, XV



Y

YEASAYER

Rationale: Yard Act is still a developing concern, Y3 was the biggest fully established challenger, and Young Fathers will potentially beat them all in the end, but in their time Yeasayer was my band. I loved their sound and still do—it was entorely their own, not an easy accomplishment at the time.


Angst Quotient: Moderate


Also Considered: Yard Act, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Yola, Young Fathers



Z

ZUMPANO

Rationale: The New Pornographers were formed by A.C. Newman (see N) after his first band, Zumpano, broke up. They had a similar vibe, but not quite as developed or diverse, still managing to thrill with their quirky off-kilter melodies, out-there lyrics, and inventive rhythms. Sub Pop knew a good pop band when they saw one and this group's two mid-90s albums (Look What the Rookie Did and Goin' Through Changes) are both off-the-beaten-path classics. Shout-out to Zen Guerrilla though, one of the most insanely great live bands I've ever witnessed. Hard to transfer that intensity into the studio, however.


Angst Quotient: Low


Also Considered: Zen Guerrilla


_____________________________________


If I ain't sleeping after putting this project to bed, finally, I never will. Time for the Melatonin drip, I suppose.


Cheers, The Priest



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