This feature originally ran in July 2014.
The hours spent in the bowels of the Student Union Building working for 88.7 The Edge KTRM at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, were some of the best hours I spent in college. Being able to play whatever I wanted during the drive-time hours every Friday and talking to essentially myself over the air waves was exactly what I needed to wrap up my week. It also gave me access to a huge library of old and brand-new music.
Once upon a time, up-and-coming bands that had a hard time breaking the commercial radio market could find an audience on college radio stations. Bands like R.E.M. and They Might Be Giants got huge boosts from college radio when they were starting out and became a kind of blueprint for the “college rock” sound and success. After these bands, artists could count on college radio stations to give them an attentive audience and a leg up to spread their names.
However, sometimes bands get lost in the shuffle on a music director’s desk and aren’t put into as heavy rotation as they should be. That’s where we come in. We combed through the artists who were finding their footing during the post-2000 infancy of Internet music downloads and were counting on college radio to spread the word. These are amazing albums that should absolutely have gotten more buzz or attention when they were released. Here is our list of the most criminally overlooked college rock albums post-2000. Let us know how we did, and if we missed some of your favorites, share the knowledge in the comment section below!
Senior Staff Writer
Kashmir – Zitilites (2003)
Strung between Radiohead’s creeper brit-pop and the clipped post-punk revival of the early aughts, Danish band Kashmir slipped just under the radar of most budding music geeks in the US. Their fourth album, Zitilites (pronounced like “city lights”), had a healthy run in the band’s home country, scoring radio play with the nervous, Bends-y guitar jam “Rocket Brothers”. But Zitilites‘ locked its most original offerings deeper in the track list; the mournful lullaby “The New Gold” exposed the warm cracks in frontman Kasper Eistrup’s voice, while the slow-burning, organ-powered “The Push” swayed with melancholy descending chord progressions and distant, lilting piano. “Ruby Over Diamonds” kicks like a hidden B-side from the Secret Machines, all straight-lined tension until its murmuring hook. The drums pound bigger than the voice, while piano and bass sneak around in each other’s footsteps. It’s an earworm dressed up for art school, slick and poised and way more fun than it would ever want to admit. –Sasha Geffen
The Long Winters – When I Pretend to Fall (2003)
The Long Winters’ sophomore effort, When I Pretend to Fall, is a classic of sensitive-dude rock, but lead singer John Roderick’s sometimes deadpan, always-straightforward delivery does a lot to keep the band’s output from straying into the realm of over-earnest overkill. Jazzy, buoyant numbers like “Scared Straight” are about as perfect as anything else recorded in the early 2000s indie-label heyday, and contributions from Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla and others make the 12-song album feel like a Barsuk Records team effort. I know I would have loved this album as a Death Cab-obsessed high schooler; I would have loved the weird synth opening of “Blanket Hog”, and I would have loved it when Roderick sang, “Show me all your scars/ Hold me by my arms.” The fact that The Long Winters never achieved quite the same level of success as label mates Death Cab or maybe even Nada Surf doesn’t make When I Pretend to Fall any less of an enjoyable accomplishment. –Katherine Flynn
Ugly Casanova – Sharpen Your Teeth (2002)
After the recording and release of Modest Mouse’s 2000 masterpiece The Moon and Antarctica, lead singer Isaac Brock began quietly working and recording solo tracks with some members of Modest Mouse, bluegrass group The Hackensaw Boys, and The Black Heart Procession. Brock wanted to be able to separate himself from the expectations of a Modest Mouse sound, so he made up an elaborate backstory of someone named Edgar Graham aka “Ugly Casanova.” He then recruited John Orth from Florida-based Holopaw and Tim Rutili and Brian Deck of Red Red Meat to make a full-length album under the Ugly Casanova moniker.
Sharpen Your Teeth was released on Sub Pop in 2002 and coasted under the radar as Brock told more and more stories of Edgar Graham. People weren’t quite sure how to take the album, so while it is a beautiful, haunting, and quasi-experimental album, it didn’t catch on with the public as it should have. The eerie folk of “Hotcha Girls”, the bouncing swirl of “Barnacles”, and the utterly weird “Diamonds in the Face of Evil” show Brock’s capabilities as a highly intelligent songwriter. Brock eventually revealed that he had invented Edgar Graham — as most people expected — and the album has begun to get more appreciation than it had previously. –Nick Freed
Emperor X – Central Hug/Friendarmy/Fractal Dunes (2005)
Emperor X, the moniker of Jacksonville-based songwriter Chad Matheny, is probably better known for his overwhelming do-it-all-myself live sets than his recordings, which is why it’s maybe understandable that his remarkably consistent run of at-least-solid (and always mouthful-named) full-lengths haven’t received due appreciation. The back-to-back shots of sheer enthusiasm on “F-R-E-S-N-E-L Licenseur” and “Sfearion”, the outstanding middle two tracks of his third album, Central Hug…, are the backbone of the record and demonstrate Matheny’s abilities in only eight minutes by effectively transporting his athletic performance style directly into headphones. –Steven Arroyo