K-Tel, the “as seen on TV” super-hits record label, having released a stream of specialty compilations, was already prepared for your “not in my niche market” incredulity at the notion of a double-CD collection of '80s-era indie rock favorites, so get over yourselves. Chances are good that the generation that fought to eradicate the smothering pop nostalgia of the '80s Big Chill generation is getting plenty of mileage out of the supposed irony in the fact that this double-CD compilation collects the perennial favorites of that decade's forward-thinking independent rock pioneers. But most of the critical reaction to this K-Tel collection is just an excuse for Gen-Xers to pretend they don't suffer the same nostalgia for bands like Dinosaur Jr., Hüsker Dü, and Black Flag that the baby boomers had for Motown and Jackson Browne. Sentimentality for one's youth is universal. So, never mind the irony, here's the grungy gold at hand.
Indie rock was the American version of post-punk. By 1985, hardcore punk had essentially evaporated and many of the artists who paved the way for American loud-fast-rules thrash soon discovered 1) reverb and 2) how to turn off the distortion pedal. The largest entities of indie rock in the '80s were SST, Rough Trade, and Homestead Records. Suitably then, bands from these labels comprise the core of this collection, which opens with two of the most successful and influential of their ilk: Hüsker Dü (“Pink Turns to Blue”) and Dinosaur Jr. (“Little Furry Things”).
Elsewhere, there are progenitors to future alternative big shots, like Squirrel Bait (“Sun God”) — who sired such post-rock faves as Gastr del Sol and the For Carnation — and Spacemen 3, whose fuzz-drone initiated Spiritualized and Experimental Audio Research. Other popular bands herein, the Flaming Lips, the Melvins, Yo La Tengo, Giant Sand, and the Meat Puppets, still continue creating unique and uncompromising music to this day. However, some songs really don't stand the test of time, or make the most sense in album context. Sure, tracks like “Too Far Gone” by My Dad Is Dead, Pussy Galore's “Sweet Little Hi-Fi,” and Big Dipper's “She's Fetching” may trigger some pleasant memories. But the extremely dated period-piece recording — reverb-soaked drums, anyone? jangling detuned guitars with your pith, sir? — and esoteric structures don't make such tracks seem like essential additions to the archives of future generations. Nonetheless, the comprehensive compilation is a worthwhile stroll down memory lane, no matter how reluctant the indie coterie may be to step out of armchair cynicism.