College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 30 and 29

rocket group
30. Rocket from the Crypt, Group Sounds

Given that the main context I’ve brought to these College Countdown posts on CMJ‘s 2001 year-end has been one grounded in my own relationship with the individual artists–either of discovery, familiarity or pure puzzlement–there’s an interesting bit of symmetry to the two bands paired this week. Both were groups with a strong punk influence, and I had previously purchased and loved earlier efforts from both of them during the span of time between my commercial radio tenure and my return to college radio, when I was toiling (and somewhat floundering) in an effort to keep up with new music. And, with both of their 2001 albums, I started to realize the bands might not be worth getting excited about any longer. Rocket from the Crypt was a hard rock band from San Diego that had been around since 1989, but had garnered their first significant attention with their major label debut, Scream, Dracula, Scream, in 1995. I had that, but it was the follow-up, RFTC, that I thought was terrific, despite having a thoroughly atrocious album cover. In between that and their 2001 effort, Group Sounds, there was a fair amount of turmoil within the group, including personnel changes, a switch in labels and various diversions for the band members, mostly notably leader John Reis taking the time to start up his own record label. For Group Sounds, Rocket from the Crypt wound up on Vagrant Records, a L.A. label with an emphasis on rough-and-tumble rock that was still in its early stages. The album obviously did well enough, at least on the college charts, but it struck me as fairly uninspired, piling up bludgeoning sounds with none of the keen sense of hooks and song construction I’d heard in the band’s earlier efforts. There must have been somewhat of the same sense in the band, because they only released one more, largely ignored album before calling it quits. Thus far, the break-up has been permanent, with one notable exception.

donnas 21
29. The Donnas, Turn 21

At around the same time I was giving extensive household airplay to RFTC, I was also sparking to the Donnas. A quartet from Palo Alto, California, the band was comprised of four women who’d been playing together since their middle school days. The Donnas was actually a guise they took when they wanted to take a little more of pop-punk approach than what they were employing with under their primary band identity of the Electrocutes. Since they were leaning heavily on a Ramones influence, they decided to borrow one of their tricks of showmanship and subsumed their individual identities, all adopting the first name Donna when on stage. Their music was punchy, direct and laced with a sense of humor that did indeed make them worthy descendents of the Ramones and the Runaways (though the latter comparison feels too easy), which was itself enough of a lure for me. But, also like the Ramones (I’m sorry to say), there was a lurking sense that the novelty was going to wear off at some point, that there were only so many directions they could take their music. On their 2001 album, The Donnas Turn 21, the tires were already starting to look a little bald. Everything on the album is certainly strong enough, but it was also their fourth full-length album and they’d settled into a style that wasn’t especially conducive to growth. It was hard to avoid the nagging frustration that there was nothing new there. Their commercial peak was still to come, though. Turn 21 was their last album for the punk haven indie label Lookout! before signing to Atlantic Records and getting the full weight of their well-budgeted promotional efforts.

Previously…
An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey

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