Steve Albini: The Anti-Spector
Indie rock's resident grouch changed the sound of modern music

Steve Albini (1962-2024) in his natural environment.

Starting in 1958, the sound of American pop music became heavily influenced by the aesthetic sensibilities of a single neurotic teenage boy from New York City. Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” recording techniques set the bar for lush sonics, capable of elevating even the most anodyne bubblegum tunes to quasi-operatic heights, and the elfin producer himself became legendary for his megalomaniacal insistence on control — both in and out of the studio. (Ask his wife.) The wunderkind of Boomer pop died in prison in 2021 for the murder of Lana Clarkson, the culminating horror of decades of widely-reported misdeeds on his part.

On Wednesday of this week we lost Steve Albini, the Chicago-based recording engineer who spent the past 35 years undoing Spector’s legacy of sonic overreach with a steadfast dedication to recording musical acts in the cleanest, most straightforward manner possible. He considered himself a workman and not a “producer” and refused royalty points on projects he recorded. Albini also regularly called out music industry shenanigans in the harshest of terms, bluntly made his opinions known on musicians and projects he did not respect, and engaged in more than his share of edgelord behavior. With his “fuck off” attitude, it’s not hard to see how he came to be Gen X’s mirror universe analog to Spector.

The list of artists Steve Albini recorded is staggering and the projects he helmed are said to number somwhere north of 2,000. Who else can boast having worked with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Wesley Willis, Cheap Trick, the Pixies, Nirvana, P.J. Harvey, Pussy Galore, the Frames, the Breeders, Urge Overkill, Gogol Bordello, Flogging Molley, Sunn O))), the Fleshtones, Bush, Killdozer, the Sadies and literally hundreds of other acts? And through it all he remained accessible — and affordable — to any garage band that could pony up his meager fee.

And then there are Albini’s contributions as a journalist, commentator and musician. His bands Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac are enormously influential in the noise rock sphere — and Albini’s fatal heart attack came just ten days before the scheduled release of Shellac’s long-awaited new album To All Trains, leaving fans stunned by the unexpected loss.

In remembrance, Honk Journal has put together this playlist of 140 songs recorded by Steve Albini over the years. This tiny sampling of his work runs nearly eight straight hours. Crank it up while you read his famous letter to Nirvana, or this tribute to him written by Brian Beattie of Glass Eye, or especially Albini’s landmark 1993 article “The Problem with Music,” in which he invites the reader to imagine the music industry as “a trench filled with decaying shit.”

Love him or hate him, you couldn’t deny him.

About Michael Carmody

Michael Carmody is a Gen-X musician living and working on the Great Plains.

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