Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Top Albums of the 1990s (Pt. 2)

Yesterday, I listed my favorite albums of the 1990s from #31-120. If you missed it, it's
here or directly below this post. Today, I'm displaying my #30-16 favorites from the decade that bore Men In Black, Beetleborgs, Tickle Me Elmo, and me. This grouping of albums just continues to prove that the '90s were good--great, even--for something besides Furbies. Enjoy.

30. Built To Spill--Perfect From Now On
I had every intention of disliking this album. I truly did. Everything else I had ever heard from Built To Spill was somewhere between boring and irritating, but, eventually, I decided to give Perfect From Now On a try. What I found was a manic, intense, wild album with some of the finest guitars of the decade on it. The songs build, shift, and wander while always staying interesting. It’s unexpectedly heavy at times, and the vocals, which I had previously deemed annoying, work perfectly. Perfect From Now On shows a different, better Built To Spill.

29. Godspeed You! Black Emperor--F#A# Infinity
This album is haunting and warm, apocalyptic and beautiful, overwhelming and miminal. That said, it’s undeniably creepy at times. But it’s intricately plotted, well-produced, and doesn’t drag on, which is impressive seeing as every piece is over 15 minutes. Its three pieces (they can’t be called songs) juxtapose otherworldly narratives, intense orchestration, minimalist rock music, bagpipes, and silence seamlessly to create a truly definitive post-rock statement that, despite its length, makes it easy and pleasurable to listen to.

28. Wu-Tang Clan--Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
I know I’m not exactly a hip-hop connoisseur, but Wu-Tang Clan appeals not only to the hip-hop fan, but also to the record connoisseur. The samples (which range from old-school funk to movie—often kung-fu movie—dialogue) are always interesting, and they are integrated with expert precision. The lyrics concern drugs, kung-fu, chess, and who not to fuck with, and they’re rapped by a lineup consisting of some of hip-hops all time best MCs. Enter The Wu-Tang hits harder than most hip-hop albums I’ve ever heard, but it’s also incredibly smart.

27. The Jesus Lizard--Goat
When it comes down to it, Goat rocks harder than anything else to come out in the ‘90s. The riffs are heavy and constant, but without sacrificing any artistry. They are simultaneously frantic and precise. The vocals, handled by David Yow, certainly add extreme depth to the music in that they’re crazy. Yow’s howling and mumbling and groaning is haunting, dark, invigorating, and, sometimes, just bizarre. And Goat rocks nonstop; unlike many metal and hard rock albums, every song is hard, heavy, and gloriously chaotic. What I mean is: Goat is nonstop awesome.

26. Tom Waits--Bone Machine
Tom Waits’s first official studio full-length since Rain Dogs doesn’t disappoint, which is an amazing feat (seeing as Rain Dogs is my favorite albums ever.) It follows a similar formula of pairing hectic, avant-garde blues romps next to tender but bizarre ballads. It’s darker and weirder than Rain Dogs or Swordfishtrombones, but even as Waits sings about horrific things, he sounds relaxed, confident, and incredibly smart. Musically, it is less startling and good as Rain Dogs because it’s been done, but lyrically it finds Waits at his doom-filled peak.

25. Fugazi--Red Medicine
Red Medicine is Fugazi’s first (and probably best) album on which they prove themselves to be more than really angry, albeit talented, hardcore punks. This album shows them writing really interesting and original songs that finds their brand of post-hardcore becoming more mature, complex, experimental, and amazing. But fans of Minor Threat and 13 Songs need not worry; Red Medicine is still as heavy and as angry as any previous release from this group, but in a different way. This is the sound of a really great band at their finest.

24. Spiritualized--Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
Many years removed from his previous masterpiece (Spacemen 3’s The Perfect Prescription), J. Spaceman a.k.a. Jason Pierce created the only truly worthwhile Brit-pop/rock album of the decade. It mixes Spacemen 3-esque psychedelia with soul, pop, and straightforward rock n’ roll to create an intense and refreshing aural experience. The lyrics tackle extensive drug use and a tough breakup, but the record still manages to sound uplifting when it needs to. It is more conventional than any of Spaceman’s previous releases, but it’s also more heartfelt and refined.

23. Aphex Twin--Richard D. James Album
When I first heard this a few years back, it sounded like nothing I had heard previously. And that's always a good thing. To this day, few things sound like it, and those are all just cheap imitations of this album. The songs are bright, but densely populated with clicks and clacks and beeps that sound distinctly like the future--even twelve years later. The beats are surprising and jarring, but they're genius as well. Also, this album takes the IDM label more to heart because some of these songs do inspire dancing in their own experimental, unique, great way.

22. Bjork--Post
Post is probably Bjork's most fully realized, most musically intelligent album. It keeps her voice (the voice that has inspired every other current female singer) front and center, but adds an array of highly interesting orchestration and electronics behind the vocals. From West Side Story sing alongs to industrial, well, sing alongs, Bjork covers a lot of musical ground while always sounding uniquely like herself. And Post is certainly more of a pop album than any of previous (or post) releases. That said, it's still wonderfully weird in all the right ways.

21. Yo La Tengo--Painful
On Painful, Yo La Tengo created their first truly classic record. It contains plenty of their signature guitar noise alternating with their organ-driven quiet pop, and it does so with the utmost success. What makes it stand out though, is that--though still messy--the songs are refined, mature, and written with the expertise that only a truly experienced band can have. It's one of the best from a classic group, and Painful is a further example that, by kind of sounding like other people, Yo La Tengo created one of the most distinctive (and best) sounds in rock.

20. Ride--Nowhere
I might be a little bit of a sucker for shoegaze, but I can definitively say Nowhere is not only one of the best shoegaze albums, but also one of the best British rock albums of the decade. Beneath the layer of shoegazing, the album contains songs that are long (kinda), chaotic, and awesome against songs that are poppy, pretty, and also awesome. The hooks and riffs are certainly more out in the open than on a certain other classic shoegaze album (Loveless), but that just makes it easier to digest. Also unlike that other album, Nowhere is an arena-sized album in a good way.

19. Boards of Canada--Music Has The Right To Children
No album is as atmospheric or relaxing while still being entirely stimulating as Music Has The Right To Children. It combines spaced out electronics with occasional hip-hop-esque beats, scratching, and samples to great effect. I think what makes it truly stand out from the many other things like it is its personality. The music is completely electronic, but it still pours out emotion, feeling, and tons of soul, which is rare for an electronic record and extremely refreshing. This is most likely (you haven't seen 1-15) the best release of the decade in its genre.

18. Bonnie "Prince" Billy--I See A Darkness
I See A Darkness is extremely subtle, often extremely minimal, and always good. Most songs are painfully slow upon first listen, but further listens show that the pace is necessary to best express the lyrics, which, are typically (for Will Oldham) creative, intricate, melancholy, and morbid. The musicianship is a little sloppy, which only adds to the homy, warm, yet haunting atmosphere that the music (mostly alt. folk/country) provides. Moments are beautiful, moments are creepy, and the whole thing is brilliant. Plus, it gets better upon every listen.

17. Pixies--Bossanova
With Bossanova, Pixies kind of solidify themselves as one of the top two indie rock bands ever (Sonic Youth being the other). For me, Bossanova is their second best album (behind Doolittle.) It's not as perfect or consistent as Doolittle or Surfer Rosa, but it fabulously raw and weird and earnest. The band was kind of in turmoil at the time, and you can hear that on the record. It's heavy and frustrated, but contains some of the bands more expertly executed soft songs. Bossanova sounds like the Pixies recording a break-up album in space, and it's a classic.

16. Talk Talk--Laughing Stock
Laughing Stock is a really weird album, especially to someone who knows Talk Talk for "It's My Life" or "Talk Talk." And, while those are pretty good songs, the radical change presented on Laughing Stock is a great thing. This album is long, minimal, free jazz influences, and a little hard to swallow. Mark Hollis's voice wavers hauntingly and beautifully over decidedly slow soundscapes created by guitars, strings, and clarinets (I think). On this album, the band has furthered the post-rock from Spirit of Eden to create an atmospheric post-rock masterpiece.

That's what I think. Now it should be pretty easy to predict the top 15. I'll give you a hint: Hanson's Middle of Nowhere didn't make the cut.

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