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How Steve Albini Shaped Rock in 13 Albums

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Few figures have had as profound of an impact on underground rock as Mr. Steve Albini. Both as a performer and a recording engineer (and producer, though he was less fond of that specific title), Albini, who passed away yesterday, May 8th, at the age of 61, leaves behind a body of work that’s as staggeringly massive as it is insanely impressive. Seriously, he’s almost certainly either played on or recorded one of your favorite records.

As a member of Big Black, Albini helped define the Chicago indie scene with abrasive, drum-machine-backed noise punk; with Rapeman, he made like Ian MacKaye and made the transition from hardcore to post-hardcore look easy; and, finally, with Shellac, he perfected his Albini-esque mix of punk subgenres (noise rock, punk, post-rock, math rock, [insert other fucked up style of guitar music here]).

And yet, as influential as his piercing, metallic guitar tone and ferocious performances were, Albini’s biggest contributions to the world of music arguably came from his work behind the boards. As a recording engineer, he pioneered revolutionary techniques and upheld a unique, strong-willed philosophy that put artists and their creations well ahead of the almighty dollar. Famously, he would refuse to take royalty percentages on the music he worked on, instead opting for a one-time upfront payment. To do otherwise would be “ethically untenable,” he said. Considering some of the records he worked on, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa and Nirvana’s In Utero (!!), it’s a decision that likely left quite a bit of money in the pockets of artists.

With the sheer number of truly incredible records that bear his fingerprints, rounding up the best of Albini’s catalog is a nearly impossible task. We might as well have just linked to the lengthy “discography” section on his Wikipedia page, said ‘here ya go,’ and called it a day. Narrowing it down to any reasonable number inevitably leaves out countless albums that, on any other artist’s list, could have been in the top five. If we had the space, we’d be gushing about his work with Melt-Banana, Poster Children, Don Caballero, Jawbreaker, Oxbow, Brainiac, Bush, Dirty Three, Bedhead, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Scrawl, Mogwai, High on Fire, Mono, Screaming Females, Ty Segall, Sunn O)))… sorry, what were we doing again?

Oh, yeah, here are 13 of the best albums from Steve Albini. Prepare for a lot of, “Wait, he did THAT too??” — Jonah Krueger

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