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Left of the Dial: Dispatches From the '80s Underground (Rhino)

In the age of Interpol, a comprehensive overview of the rock made between new wave and grunge is as timely as can be. Although Left of the Dial, a four-CD boxed set, doesn't pin down each influence or solve every mystery, it provides an effective summary of an interesting period, when art frequently fought commerce to a draw.

With some notable exceptions (Minor Threat, Beat Happening), the lion's share of performers here recorded for big labels or indies with ties to majors. That so many of these corporations have consolidated in recent years is bad news in general, but it works to the advantage of compilers Gary Stewart and Mark Leviton, who couldn't have obtained such a variety of great tunes under more competitive circumstances. To their credit, Dial features future stars (Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Cure), underground influences (Nick Cave, the Raincoats), cult figures (Robyn Hitchcock, the Cocteau Twins), and assorted category-busters (Throbbing Gristle, the Pogues). Some selections are more vital than others, but arguing about the distinctions only enhances the experience.

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