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Steve Albini's Greatest Albums

As a bandleader, engineer and (de facto) producer, Steve Albini was behind some of the most important albums of the last 40 years.

albini split
Source: MEGA; Jim Newberry/Alamy Stock Photo; MEGA

PJ Harvey's 'Rid of Me' and Nirvana's 'In Utero' are just a few of the classics in Albini's discography.

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Pixies, "Surfer Rosa"

surfer rosa

Though he famously disliked the label of "producer," Steve Albini, who died on May 8 at the age of 61, was arguably the defining rock producer of the 1990s. And the album that truly made Albini’s name as a studio wunderkind, 1988's Surfer Rosa, was essentially the sonic blueprint for the next decade of adventurous, aggressive rock music. From this point on, a steady stream of major music figures would seek out Albini, looking to capture just a morsel of the rawness, immediacy and infectious weirdness that explodes out of every groove on the Pixies’ debut. -- Andrew Barker

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Nirvana, "In Utero"

in utero

Albini was not a big fan of Nirvana. He once called them “R.E.M. with a fuzzbox.” But the engineer agreed to produce In Utero because, essentially, he pitied the band. He believed they were being taken advantage of by the music industry. As a follow-up to the massive-selling Nevermind, In Utero sounds very organic. It’s fuzzy, warm and often feels like everything is about to fly off the rails. The four-page proposal Albini sent Nirvana before agreeing to the project is definitely worth a read. It says a lot about his philosophy as a producer. “I’m only interested in working on records that legitimately reflect the band’s own perception of their music and existence,” he wrote. -- Noah Zucker

Low, "Things We Lost in the Fire"


As a producer — or a recording engineer, as he preferred to be called — Steve Albini is probably best known for making raw and aggressive rock records with loud guitars. But his work with Low proved that his naturalistic touch in the studio could work wonders in other contexts too. Low’s 2001 album Things We Lost in the Fire, still one of their best-loved records, ever-so-slightly expanded the Minnesota indie rock band’s sound without losing any of their stark, singular immediacy. -- Peter Helman

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PJ Harvey, "Rid of Me"

rid of me

PJ Harvey’s debut album, Dry, had plenty of discomforting moments. But nothing on Dry could have prepared listeners for the all-out aural assault of her second album, Rid of Me — in fact, several early critics were openly shocked by its abrasiveness. With Albini’s assistance, Harvey stripped her music back further and further until all the nerve-endings were exposed, and songs like “Snake,” “Me-Jane” and the seething title track are among the most immediately arresting recordings she’s ever made. Albini was particularly proud of the result: “I haven’t done any sort of Pepsi Challenge with other records of the era,” he said, “but it’s hard for me to think of a better record that came out during that period.” -- A.B.

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Jawbreaker, "24 Hour Revenge Therapy"


This wasn’t Jawbreaker’s final release, but it was the band’s last record that utilized their signature gruff approach to emo. 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is exactly what a soulful pop punk record should sound like. It’s warm, messy and straightforward. There’s something sluggish and slightly sleepy about Blake Schwarzenbach’s jangly guitars and pained vocals. They artfully communicate the apathy at the core of the album. The precise but buzzing rubbery bass tone is also on point. -- N.Z.

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Manic Street Preachers, "Journal for Plague Lovers"


Albini came into the orbit of the Manics “just by communicating with them,” he mentioned during a 2023 NME interview. His production on their 2009 album Journal for Plague Lovers helped get the band back to their post-punk roots by way of lyrics that were left behind by Richey Edwards (who had gone missing in 1995 and was declared legally deceased in 2008). “They gave me the run-down on the concept and I was like, ‘Man, this sounds like a really lovely tribute to your friend, to use his lyrics and pay respect to him and his words by making a record with them.’ That was such a beautiful gesture.” -- Amy Hughes

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The Wedding Present, "Seamonsters"

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When it was originally released in 1991, Seamonsters definitely felt like a major left turn for David Gedge and company, as well it should have, given the distinct change in the band’s sound. But as Gedge revealed in an interview with Brooklyn Vegan, those first two Wedding Present records “never really sounded like the version of the Wedding Present which I knew in my head and which I’d heard at concerts, for instance, or rehearsal rooms.” Albini, however, approached the sessions for Seamonsters in a different way than their previous producers, getting the band to agree to knocking out the record in two weeks. “It probably sounds more like a band because of the Albini way of recording,” Gedge acknowledged. Granted, the record sold about half as many copies as its predecessor, and it wasn’t exactly beloved by critics upon its initial release (although it did produce the top-30 UK single “Dalliance”), but by the end of the decade, the process of reappraisal had already begun: it turned up on several notable Best Albums of the ‘90s lists, including Alternative Press'. -- Will Harris

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Big Black, "Songs About F--king"

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The final full-length album from Albini’s first band, the aggressively-titled Songs About F--king was about as thoroughly uncommercial as rock music got back in 1987. At times it practically dared you to turn off your stereo in disgust. Yet it’s a testament to Albini’s genius that so few people did, balancing blasts of noise with strangely faithful covers of Kraftwerk’s “The Model” and Cheap Trick’s “He’s a Whore,” and attracting such unlikely fans as Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, who would later work with Albini on Walking Into Clarksdale, his full-album reunion with Jimmy Page. “I bought the Big Black album when it came out, the green fluorescent one with the two people making out,” Plant recalled. “I became an Albini fan.” -- A.B.

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Songs: Ohia, "The Magnolia Electric Company"

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Many of Albini’s most iconic records are straightforward and intense, but the producer’s work on this solemn country rock album shows that he was no one-trick pony. The brooding, layered mixes that define the album could have easily buried Jason Molina’s iconic compositions. Instead, they meld together perfectly to give the record the energy of a well-rehearsed live performance. The Magnolia Electric Company was such a career-defining album for Molina that he ended up renaming his band after it. -- N.Z.

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Cloud Nothings, "Attack on Memory"

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Cloud Nothings reinvented themselves in multiple ways on their 2012 sophomore album Attack on Memory. Once Dylan Baldi’s solo project, they became a full band and moved from power-pop to startlingly visceral noise. Albini’s famously hands-off approach to producing — he apparently played games of online Scrabble and wrote a food blog during the recording process, which kinda rules — let the brutal physicality of the band’s performance shine through and knocked listeners on their asses. -- P.H.

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Screaming Females, "Ugly"

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Ugly was technically Screaming Females’ fifth album, but it was the one that introduced them to much of the world. Not coincidentally, it was also the first they recorded with Albini, who helped capture and refine the snarling intensity and guitar-shredding from Marissa Paternoster that made the New Jersey punk-rock band’s live shows such a can’t-miss spectacle. -- P.H.

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The Jesus Lizard, "Liar"

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It’s hard to think of a better match for Albini’s confrontational early style than the Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow, and the two parties worked together continuously throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Arguably none of their collaborations brought out the best in both better than 1992’s Liar, which explodes out of the speakers with “Boilermaker” and never really lets up. -- A.B.

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The Breeders, "Pod"


Though the Breeders would eventually come to be known for the inimitable interplay between Kim Deal and twin sister Kelley Deal, the group’s first album only contained the former, with future Belly frontwoman Tanya Donelly then on guitar. And while the band would go on to greater commercial success with its revamped lineup on Last Splash, Pod remains a fan-favorite for a reason: Kim Deal was positively brimming with musical ideas as she began to grow disenchanted with her role in the Pixies, and Albini captures her creative eruption in all its ragged glory. -- A.B.

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Leftöver Crack, "F--k World Trade"

leftover crack

Elevating a gritty punk band without making them sound too polished is a tall order for even the most celebrated producers. But that’s exactly Albini accomplished with this 2004 record. Stza’s vocals are as raw and grating as ever, but the searing guitar tones and punchy rhythm section Albini crafted give F—k World Trade a sense of purpose and precision. There are also some engaging soundscapes and pensive orchestral interludes on the record which somehow make these crusty street urchins seem sophisticated. -- N.Z.


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