Everything's alright forever.
There's one album that would always show up on this list that has been getting a lot of personal airplay lately, and it's an album that most of the world has either forgotten or never knew existed in the first place. "Everything's Alright Forever" may be the first or third album by The Boo Radleys, depending on how you look at it, but it's definitely the first one to get a United States release. For an album that came out on Columbia records domestically, it sure slipped under a lot of people's radar. Those who remember the earlier Boo Radleys work at all (by which I mean the albums they released before having a UK #1 hit with "Wake Up Boo" in 1995) generally see it as formative. They'll give "Giant Steps," the follow-up to "Everything's Alright Forever", some props for its wide-ranging exploration of the psych-pop genre, but "Everything's Alright Forever" is usually damned with faint praise as an also-ran of the shoegaze (god, I hate that term, probably even more than I hate "screamo") movement's tail end.
I have a different opinion. As far as I am concerned, "Everything's Alright Forever" ranks with My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless", Ride's "Nowhere", Swervedriver's "Raise", and Slowdive's "Just For A Day" as one of the crowning achievements of the entire "shoegaze" time period, representing a particular combination of psychedelic textures, roaring guitars, and pure pop songcraft that was unique to The Boo Radleys and better than almost any other contemporary band that attempted to combine those ingredients. That sentence was particularly long and I can't decide if it's a run-on or not, but fuck it! My love for this album must be stated unequivocally, in terms no one can fail to understand.
There are those who would criticize "Everything's Alright Forever" with the argument that there is not enough song structure buried underneath the layers of psychedelic haze that dominate the album; that, once the layers of distorted guitar that somehow manage to be both loud and ambient are peeled away, there's not too much there. This argument might have weight if it is assumed that the goal of The Boo Radleys on "Everything's Alright Forever" was to create an album of solid power-pop on which any layers of psychedelic noise is just window dressing, but this is an assumption that doesn't really offer any evidence to back itself up. There are several songs out of the 14 present here that directly contradict this assessment. Even the songs that are vulnerable to this criticism have plenty to offer despite their relative lack of solid pop song structure. More to the point, while many of these songs would be disastrous as mixtape picks, all of them work extremely well in the larger context of the album they're presented in, helping "Everything's Alright Forever" add up to considerably more than the sum of its parts. There may be albums that are better as collections of songs, but I've almost never encountered another record that works this well as a whole.
Despite the fact that it works better as a whole than a collection of parts, there are some amazing individual songs here. "Smile Fades Fast" features a loud, rocking instrumental bridge that is overlaid by swirling loops of distorted guitars that both augment the loudness of the main riff and create interesting harmonic counterpoints to it. Meanwhile, the verses are acoustic-based and Beatlesque in their construction, but still feature a grinding electric guitar, far lower in the mix, adding an undercurrent of menacing heaviness. "Lazy Day", the shortest song here at 90 seconds in length, is so criminally underdeveloped that I once made a mixtape featuring the song twice in a row. Nonetheless, it's one of my favorites here, mixing a conventionally rocking chorus with strange verses that jump from loud and distorted to melodic and acoustic within each line. "Memory Babe", the title of which is but one of several Jack Kerouac references hidden throughout the album (it's title is shared with a book considered to be the definitive critical biography of Kerouac, while the album's title comes from a line in Kerouac's "The Dharma Bums"), is the closest The Boo Radleys come on this album to imitating the sound of their contemporaries in British rock of the time, with Sice's crooning vocal tones mixed higher than usual over a standard soft verse/loud chorus dynamic and a catchy, power-chord based chorus. Still though, the multiple tracks of loud, roaring guitar chords that dominate the instrumental breaks mark the song as an unmistakable Boo original.
In fact, it's these strange washes of jet-engine guitars that still manage to sound ambient that connect the quietest, slowest acoustic songs to the loud, rocking guitar numbers and give the album a unified, coherent mood. I think this is what I like the most about it: it expands on the "melodic vocals and lead guitar overtop extreme volume and scorching distortion" formula that Dinosaur Jr perfected on "You're Living All Over Me" (another one of my short-list candidates for favorite album ever). Instead of making the division between melody and heavy noise so clearcut between parts and instruments, The Boo Radleys find ways to do all of those things at once, with the same instruments at the same time. The best sections of "Everything's Alright Forever" are quiet and heavy, loud and melodic, noisy and poppy, all at the same time. The sheer sonic layering of it all is explicitly psychedelic, while still giving the listener plenty to anchor to within the songs, even on such less structurally developed tracks as "Towards the Light" or "Firesky". These less-developed tracks are dispersed throughout the album, placed between stronger songs in order to act as a bridge from one strong point to another and to keep the album flowing as a coherent, unified whole. In the end, to cut "Everything's Alright Forever" apart into segments in any fashion is to do it a disservice and render the full effect of the album impossible to perceive. Only through listening to it as a whole can its greatness truly be understood.