para-para-parrotdies Posted August 30, 2013 Author Share Posted August 30, 2013 1994: 10. Suede – Dog Man Star Instead of following through on the Bowie-esque glam stomps of their debut, Suede concentrated on their darker, more melodramatic tendencies on their ambitious second album, Dog Man Star. By all accounts, the recording of Dog Man Star was plagued with difficulties -- Brett Anderson wrote the lyrics in a druggy haze while sequestered in a secluded Victorian mansion, while Bernard Butler left before the album was completed -- which makes its singular vision all the more remarkable. Lacking any rocker on the level of "The Drowners" or "Metal Mickey" -- only the crunching "This Hollywood Life" comes close -- Dog Man Star is a self-indulgent and pretentious album of dark, string-drenched epics. But Suede are one of the few bands who wear pretensions well, and after a few listens, the album becomes thoroughly compelling. Nearly every song on the record is hazy, feverish, and heartbroken, and even the rockers have an insular, paranoid tenor that heightens the album's melancholy. The whole record would have collapsed underneath its own intentions if Butler's compositional skills weren't so subtly nuanced and if Anderson's grandiose poetry wasn't so strangely affecting. As it stands, Dog Man Star is a strangely seductive record, filled with remarkable musical peaks, from the Bowie-esque stomp of "New Generation" to the stately ballads "The Wild Ones" and "Still Life," which are both reminiscent of Scott Walker. And while Suede may choose to wear their influences on their sleeve, they synthesize them in a totally original way, making Dog Man Star a singularly tragic and romantic album. 9. Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2 is a more difficult and challenging album than Aphex Twin's previous collection. The music is all texture; there are only the faintest traces of beats and forward movement. Instead, all of these untitled tracks are long, unsettling electronic soundscapes, alternately quiet and confrontational; although most of the music is rather subdued, it is never easy listening. 8. Built to Spill – There’s Nothing Wrong With Love Wistful: it seems an odd word to describe anything penned by Boise’s scruffiest guitar hero. But Doug Martsch’s band Built to Spill show a charmingly childlike side on 1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong with Love, their last independent-label release. With simple, straightforward lyrics that trace a Brontosaurus constellation in the sky (“Big Dipper”); recall gym class parachutes and games of 7-Up (“Twin Falls”); and explore the inner life of a baby in the womb (“Cleo”), Martsch seems to be looking not forward, but back. The effect may be nostalgic, but it’s anything but sweet. As in childhood, emotions run raw and close to the surface: “Christmas, Twin Falls Idaho’s/ Her oldest memory/ She was only two/ It’s the first time she felt blue.” Musically, Love is less noise-driven than what was to come, with shorter songs and melodies hooky enough to hum in the shower. But the mature band’s splintered song structures and quirky chord progressions are already evident; tunes start and stop suddenly, time signatures change without warning, and string arrangements shimmer in unlikely places. Still, it might be easy enough to write this off as Pavement-esque indie pop were it not for Martsch’s effects-laden guitar. By turns soaring and spacious, jagged and gnarled, it paints soundscapes as lovely—and as bleak—as the Idaho sky. 7. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Let Love In Keeping the same line-up from Henry's Dream, Nick Cave and company turn in yet another winner with Let Love In. Compared to Henry's Dream, Let Love In is something of a more produced effort -- longtime Cave boardsman Tony Cohen oversees things, and from the first track, one can hear the subtle arrangements and carefully constructed performances. Love, unsurprisingly, takes center stage of the album. Besides concluding with a second part to "Do You Love Me?," two of its stronger cuts are the (almost) title track "I Let Love In," and "Loverman," an even creepier depiction of lust's throttling power so gripping that Metallica ended up covering it. On the full-on explosive front, "Jangling Jack" sounds like it wants to do nothing but destroy sound systems, strange noises and overmodulations ripping throughout the song. The Seeds can always turn in almost deceptively peaceful performances as well, of course -- standouts here are "Nobody's Baby Now," with a particularly lovely guitar/piano line, and the brooding drama of "Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore." The highlight of the album, though, has little to do with love and everything to do with the group's abilities at music noir. "Red Right Hand" depicts a nightmarish figure emerging on "the edge of town," maybe a criminal and maybe something more demonic. Cave's vicious lyric combines fear and black humor perfectly, while the Seeds' performance redefines "cinematic," a disturbing organ figure leading the subtle but crisp arrangement and Harvey's addition of a sharp bell ratcheting up the feeling of doom and judgment. 6. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die The album that reinvented East Coast rap for the gangsta age, Ready to Die made the Notorious B.I.G. a star, and vaulted Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy label into the spotlight as well. Today it's recognized as one of the greatest hardcore rap albums ever recorded, and that's mostly due to Biggie's skill as a storyteller. His raps are easy to understand, but his skills are hardly lacking -- he has a loose, easy flow and a talent for piling multiple rhymes on top of one another in quick succession. He's blessed with a flair for the dramatic, and slips in and out of different contradictory characters with ease. Yet, no matter how much he heightens things for effect, it's always easy to see elements of Biggie in his narrators and of his own experience in the details; everything is firmly rooted in reality, but plays like scenes from a movie. A sense of doom pervades his most involved stories: fierce bandits ("Gimme the Loot"), a hustler's beloved girlfriend ("Me & My Bitch"), and robbers out for Biggie's newfound riches ("Warning") all die in hails of gunfire. The album is also sprinkled with reflections on the soul-draining bleakness of the streets -- "Things Done Changed," "Ready to Die," and "Everyday Struggle" are powerfully affecting in their confusion and despair. Not everything is so dark, though; Combs' production collaborations result in some upbeat, commercial moments, and typically cop from recognizable hits: the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" on the graphic sex rap "One More Chance," Mtume's "Juicy Fruit" on the rags-to-riches chronicle "Juicy," and the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets" on the overweight-lover anthem "Big Poppa." Producer Easy Mo Bee's deliberate beats do get a little samey, but it hardly matters: this is Biggie's show, and by the time "Suicidal Thoughts" closes the album on a heartbreaking note, it's clear why he was so revered even prior to his death. 5. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand The cult of indie rock thrives on the unexpected discovery, and in 1994 Guided by Voices was just the sort of musical phenomenon no one figured was still out there -- 30-something rock obsessives cranking out fractured guitar-driven pop tunes in a laundry room. Robert Pollard and his stable of beer buddies/backing musicians had been churning out stuff like Bee Thousand for years, but the album's surprise critical success marked the first time the group found a significant audience outside their hometown, and it made a clear case for Guided by Voices' virtues -- as well as their flaws. From the moment "Hardcore UFOs" kicks in, it's obvious that Pollard has an uncanny gift for a hook and a melody, and Bee Thousand's 20 cuts are dotted with miniature masterpieces like "Echos Myron," "Smothered in Hugs," and "Queen of Cans and Jars." However, there are also more than a few duds that threaten to cancel out the goodwill the great songs generate, and Pollard is an acquired taste as a lyricist -- his freakishly poetic verse has a real charm, but it's hard to figure out what he's on about. (GBV's other principal songwriter, Tobin Sprout, contributes less often, but manages a higher batting average.) The lo-tech rumble of the album's D.I.Y. production also wavers between being a help and a hindrance, depending on the songs, and as musicians Guided by Voices veer between sounding like inspired amateurs and, well, just amateurs. On Bee Thousand, Guided by Voices sounds like a passionate and gloriously quirky garage band fronted by a thrillingly and maddeningly idiosyncratic songwriter; its many pearly moments make it a fascinating discovery for rock enthusiasts, but a few years would pass before this band was fully earning the new accolades showered upon it. 4. Jeff Buckley – Grace Jeff Buckley was many things, but humble wasn't one of them. Grace is an audacious debut album, filled with sweeping choruses, bombastic arrangements, searching lyrics, and above all, the richly textured voice of Buckley himself, which resembled a cross between Robert Plant, Van Morrison, and his father Tim. And that's a fair starting point for his music: Grace sounds like a Led Zeppelin album written by an ambitious folkie with a fondness for lounge jazz. At his best -- the soaring title track, "Last Goodbye," and the mournful "Lover, You Should've Come Over" -- Buckley's grasp met his reach with startling results; at its worst, Grace is merely promising. 3. Portishead – Dummy Portishead's album debut is a brilliant, surprisingly natural synthesis of claustrophobic spy soundtracks, dark breakbeats inspired by frontman Geoff Barrow's love of hip-hop, and a vocalist (Beth Gibbons) in the classic confessional singer/songwriter mold. Beginning with the otherworldly theremin and martial beats of "Mysterons," Dummy hits an early high with "Sour Times," a post-modern torch song driven by a Lalo Schifrin sample. The chilling atmospheres conjured by Adrian Utley's excellent guitar work and Barrow's turntables and keyboards prove the perfect foil for Gibbons, who balances sultriness and melancholia in equal measure. Occasionally reminiscent of a torchier version of Sade, Gibbons provides a clear focus for these songs, with Barrow and company behind her laying down one of the best full-length productions ever heard in the dance world. Where previous acts like Massive Attack had attracted dance heads in the main, Portishead crossed over to an American, alternative audience, connecting with the legion of angst-ridden indie fans as well. Better than any album before it, Dummy merged the pinpoint-precise productions of the dance world with pop hallmarks like great songwriting and excellent vocal performances. 2. Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain It may be a bit reductive to call Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain the Reckoning to Slanted & Enchanted's Murmur -- not to mention easy, considering that Pavement recorded a song-long tribute to R.E.M.'s second album during the Crooked Rain sessions -- but there's a certain truth in that statement all the same. Slanted & Enchanted is an enigmatic masterpiece, retaining its mystique after countless spins, but Crooked Rain strips away the hiss and fog of S&E, removing some of Pavement's mystery yet retaining their fractured sound and spirit. It's filled with loose ends and ragged transitions, but compared to the fuzzy, dense Slanted, Crooked Rain is direct and immediately engaging -- it puts the band's casual melodicism, sprawling squalls of feedback, disheveled country-rock, and Stephen Malkmus' deft wordplay in sharp relief. It's the sound of a band discovering its own voice as a band, which is only appropriate because up until Crooked Rain, Pavement was more of a recording project between Malkmus and Scott Kannberg than a full-fledged rock & roll group. During the supporting tour for Slanted, Malkmus and Kannberg recruited bassist Mark Ibold and percussionist Bob Nastanovich, and original drummer Gary Young was replaced by Steve West early into the recording for this album, and the new blood gives the band a different feel, even if the aesthetic hasn't changed much. The full band gives the music a richer, warmer vibe that's as apparent on the rampaging, noise-ravaged "Unfair" as it is on the breezy, sun-kissed country-rock of "Range Life" or its weary, late-night counterpart, "Heaven Is a Truck." Pavement may still be messy, but it's a meaningful, musical messiness from the performance to the production: listen to how "Silence Kit" begins by falling into place with its layers of fuzz guitars, wah wahs, cowbells, thumping bass, and drum fills, how what initially seems random gives way into a lush Californian pop song. That's Crooked Rain a nutshell -- what initially seems chaotic has purpose, leading listeners into the bittersweet heart and impish humor at the core of the album. Many bands attempted to replicate the sound or the vibe of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but they never came close to the quicksilver shifts in music and emotion that give this album such lasting appeal. Here, Pavement follow the heartbroken ballad "Stop Breathin'" with the wry, hooky alt-rock hit "Cut Your Hair" without missing a beat. They throw out a jazzy Dave Brubeck tribute in "5-4=Unity" as easily as they mimic the Fall and mock the Happy Mondays on "Hit the Plane Down." By drawing on so many different influences, Pavement discovered its own distinctive voice as a band on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, creating a vibrant, dynamic, emotionally resonant album that stands as a touchstone of underground rock in the '90s and one of the great albums of its decade. 1. Nas – Illmatic Often cited as one of the best hip-hop albums of the '90s, Illmatic is the undisputed classic upon which Nas' reputation rests. It helped spearhead the artistic renaissance of New York hip-hop in the post-Chronic era, leading a return to street aesthetics. Yet even if Illmatic marks the beginning of a shift away from Native Tongues-inspired alternative rap, it's strongly rooted in that sensibility. For one, Nas employs some of the most sophisticated jazz-rap producers around: Q-Tip, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, and Large Professor, who underpin their intricate loops with appropriately tough beats. But more importantly, Nas takes his place as one of hip-hop's greatest street poets -- his rhymes are highly literate, his raps superbly fluid regardless of the size of his vocabulary. He's able to evoke the bleak reality of ghetto life without losing hope or forgetting the good times, which become all the more precious when any day could be your last. As a narrator, he doesn't get too caught up in the darker side of life -- he's simply describing what he sees in the world around him, and trying to live it up while he can. He's thoughtful but ambitious, announcing on "N.Y. State of Mind" that "I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death," and that he's "out for dead presidents to represent me" on "The World Is Yours." Elsewhere, he flexes his storytelling muscles on the classic cuts "Life's a Bitch" and "One Love," the latter a detailed report to a close friend in prison about how allegiances within their group have shifted. Hip-hop fans accustomed to 73-minute opuses sometimes complain about Illmatic's brevity, but even if it leaves you wanting more, it's also one of the few '90s rap albums with absolutely no wasted space. Illmatic is a great lyricist, in top form, meeting great production, and it remains a perennial favorite among serious hip-hop fans. Honorable Mentions: Global Communication – 76:14 Tempering the industrial tilt of their previous Reload material with slower, more graceful rhythms and an ear for melody unmatched by any in the downtempo crowd, Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton produced the single best work in the ambient house canon. The tick-tock beats and tidal flair of "14:31" are proof of the duo's superb balance of beauty with a haunting quality more in line with Vangelis than Larry Heard (though both producers were heavy influences on the album). On several tracks the darkside appears to take over -- the pinging ambience of "9:39" -- but for most of 76:14 the melodies and slow-moving rhythms chart a course toward the upbeat and positive. Mark Lanegan – Whiskey for the Holy Ghost Mark Lanegan's first solo album, 1990's The Winding Sheet, was a darker, quieter, and more emotionally troubling affair than what fans were accustomed to from his work as lead singer with the Screaming Trees. The follow-up album, 1994 's Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, used The Winding Sheet's sound and style as a starting point, with Lanegan and producer/instrumentalist Mike Johnson constructing resonant but low-key instrumental backdrops for the singer's tales of heartbreak, alcohol, and dashed hopes. While The Winding Sheet often sounded inspired but tentative, like the solo project from a member of an established band, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost speaks with a quiet but steely confidence of an artist emerging with his own distinct vision. The songs are more literate and better realized than on the debut, the arrangements are subtle and supportive (often eschewing electric guitars for keyboards and acoustic instruments), and Lanegan's voice, bathed in bourbon and nicotine, transforms the deep sorrow of the country blues (a clear inspiration for this music) into something new, compelling, and entirely his own. Whiskey for the Holy Ghost made it clear that Mark Lanegan had truly arrived as a solo artist, and it ranks alongside American Music Club's Everclear as one of the best "dark night of the soul" albums of the 1990s. Oasis - Definitely Maybe Definitely Maybe begins with a statement of aspiration, as Liam Gallagher sneers that "tonight, I'm a rock & roll star" -- the words of a bedsit dreamer hoping he'd break out of those four walls and find something greater. Maybe all he could muster is a fleeting moment of stardom as he sings in front of a fleet of amps pushing out power chords, or perhaps he'd really become a rock & roll star; all that matters is he makes the leap. This dream echoes throughout Oasis' debut, a record which takes the dreams of its listeners every bit as seriously as those of its creators. Both the artist and audience desire something greater than their surroundings, and that yearning gives Definitely Maybe a restlessness that resonates. Certainly, Oasis aren't looking to redefine rock & roll here; they'd rather inhabit it. They scour through the remnants of the past three decades to come up with a quintessentially British rock & roll record, one that swaggers with the defiance of the Rolling Stones, roars with the sneer of the Sex Pistols, thieves from the past like the Happy Mondays, and ties it all together with a melodicism as natural as Paul McCartney, even if Definitely Maybe never quite sounds like the Beatles. All the Fab Four comparisons trumpeted by the brothers Gallagher were a feint, a way to get their group considered as part of the major leagues. Soon enough, these affirmations became a self-fulfilling prophecy -- act the way you'd like to be and soon you'll be the way you act, as it were -- but that bravado hardly diminishes the accomplishment of Definitely Maybe. It is a furious, inspiring record, a rallying cry for the downtrodden to rise above and seize their day but, most of all, it's a blast of potent, incendiary rock & roll. Soon after its release, Noel Gallagher would be hailed as the finest songwriter of his generation, an odd designation for a guy drawn to moon/June rhymes, but his brilliance lies in his bold strokes. He never shied away from the obvious, and his confidence in his reappropriation of cliches lends these bromides a new power, as do his strong, sinewy melodies -- so powerful, it doesn't matter if they were snatched from elsewhere (as they were on "Shakermaker" or the B-side "Fade Away"). The other secret is of course Noel's brother, Liam, the greatest rock & roll vocalist of his generation, a force of nature who never seems to consider either the past or the present but rather exists in an ever-present now. He sometimes sighs but usually sneers, shaking off any doubt and acting like the rock & roll star Noel so wanted to be. This tension would soon rip the group apart but here on Oasis' debut, this chemistry is an addictive energy, so Definitely Maybe winds up a rare thing: it has the foundation of a classic album wrapped in the energy of a band who can't conceive a future beyond the sunset. Underworld -Dubnobasswithmyheadman From the beginning of the first track "Dark & Long," Underworld's focus on production is clear, with songwriting coming in a distant second. The best tracks ("MMM Skyscraper I Love You," "Cowgirl") mesh Hyde's sultry songwriting with Emerson's beat-driven production, an innovative blend of classic acid house, techno and dub that sounds different from much that preceded it. In a decade awash with stale fusion, Underworld are truly a multi-genre group. Vangelis – Blade Runner [Original Soundtrack] Arriving 12 years after the release of the film, Vangelis' soundtrack to the 1982 futuristic noir detective thriller Blade Runner is as bleak and electronically chilling as the film itself. By subtly interspersing clips of dialogue and sounds from the film, Vangelis creates haunting soundscapes with whispered subtexts and sweeping revelations, drawing inspiration from Middle Eastern textures and evoking neo-classical structures. Often cold and forlorn, the listener can almost hear the indifferent winds blowing through the neon and metal cityscapes of Los Angeles in 2019. The sultry, saxophone-driven "Love Theme" has since gone on as one of the composer's most recognized pieces and stands alone as one of the few warm refuges on an otherwise darkly cold (but beautiful) score. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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