Illuminated – The 360s (1991)

Illuminated album cover
Illuminated album cover

Do a Google search for 360 and you’re likely to get info about Microsoft’s game console. That’s the legacy of a band that was overshadowed by popular trends in rock or video game consoles. Somewhere in the haze after Jane’s Addiction but before Nirvana, alternative rock was something relegated mostly to college radio or MTV (back when they played music). If you were to randomly pick a college station in the United States around 1990, what you might have heard would likely have sounded like the Boston-based quartet The 360s.

Sounding like a mishmash of Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Courtney Love all filtered down into a noisy ’60s psychedelic soup, Illuminated was a snapshot of pre-Nirvana rock in a time when Walmart only sold country and classic rock in its stores. Like many debut albums, The 360s were sounding like a new decade trying to find its groove.

Despite its hard rockin’ nature you could hear undercurrents of shoegazer rock in its intense guitar and somewhat English sounding vocal styling of Audrey Clark. Mostly though, the album recalls various female singers from the past (Chrissie Hyde of the Pretenders) and from their future (Shirley Manson of Garbage among others).

While the vocal inspiration varied wildly, all of its songs were glazed over with a vaguely Jesus and Mary Chain wall of guitar noise. It’s that wall of noise that gave Illuminated its most charismatic sound. While The 360’s were much too hard sounding to be called shoegaze, Audrey Clark’s vocals seem to fit the mode seamsly of any number of female lead bands, but with a hook-less guitar angst that made the band’s music sound familiar.

The one song to get any traction was the title track, which sadly was limited mostly to college radio. It’s basically a dance song by Anglo standards with a driving guitar rhythm set against a ’60s style backup chorus. ‘Illuminated’ was the closest to the album might have got to producing a conventional hook. Other standout songs include beautiful Patti Smith-like ‘Saved’.

At its best Illuminated was a great example of how alternative rock sounded before Nirvana came along and re-introduced Neil Young and Jeffro Thuls to a new audience.

The 360’s continued to record a few albums up to 1994. By then they must have realized that the Nirvana and Pearl Jams of the world were the future and disbanded. Audrey Clark was involved in a band that ended up writing the song ‘Yard of Blonde Girls’, a song that ended up being recorded by Jeff Buckley.

While it might be unfair to call the 360s a one hit wonder, their debut album Illuminated was a great example of how alternative rock sounded before Nirvana came along and re-packaged Neil Young and Jethro Tull’s  style for a new audience.

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