Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures

With all the cheer and polish of a dungeon latrine (it may have even been recorded in one), post-punk's grimmest, most Gothic act released its first major work. Uncomfortable and intentionally unprofessional, Ian Curtis' baritone notes clang and trip over themselves as Martin Hannett's stark and murky production adds reverberating toilet flushes and lo-fi telephone wires to the gloom. Really, it only adds to the mythos. I don't think the band set out to define themselves as the barbiturate to punk rock's Benzedrine, at least not initially, and it's as much the production as Curtis' internal demons that set the tone, but they learned quickly that the formula worked; standout tracks like "Disorder," "New Dawn Fades" and "Shadowplay" reveal the depths of the band's souls, the impossibly black tar of their emotions bubbling in slow motion, the pasty white fleshless hands of broken spirits reaching up to pull you down with them. And yes, at times, a sort of joy: the sincerity and raw authenticity makes even this album's average tracks seem meaningful, though those dark times are where the joy fades. (Content: intense emotional themes.)