Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sam's Top 24 Favorite Music Videos of the '90s (Part 2)

As a special Thanksgiving treat, here’s part two (the final part) of my Top 24 Favorite Music Videos of the ‘90s! Gobble gobble, my darlings.

12. “I Miss You” by Björk (1997), dir. John Kricfalusi (NSFW)

Björk has a lot of great videos, but I’ve always been drawn to this animated masterpiece. It has the same animation style as The Ren & Stimpy Show (probably because it was directed by the show’s creator, John Kricfalusi), which means it’s packed full of crude humor and surrealism. This animation style definitely suits an artist like Björk because it’s off-kilter and kind of unnerving. Warnings for cartoon nudity and some strange imagery that may not fly at work.

11. “Liar” by Rollins Band (1994), dir. Anton Corbijn

Henry Rollins is a god amongst men, and this video proves it. It starts simply enough—Henry struts around doing his jazzy, spoken-word thing in a couple different costumes (including a superhero and a cop). But as soon as the chorus kicks in, he goes full ape-man, jumping around the set covered in red body paint. If you want to know what Henry Rollins is all about, look no further than “Liar.”

10. “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys (1998), dir. Nathaniel Hörnblowér

Ah, the Beastie Boys. I was torn between this video and “Sabotage,” but I have to be honest—I just love “Intergalactic” more. I mean, what’s not to love about this video? You’ve got robots, a giant squid monster and it’s all set in Japan. It’s the Beasties at their most irreverent, and boy, is it entertaining. The corniness of the special effects just makes it all the more hilarious.

9. “Let Forever Be” by The Chemical Brothers (1999), dir. Michel Gondry

You will see Michel Gondry again on this list because he’s just an amazing director. “Let Forever Be” is one of his best videos because it’s a perfectly synchronized, surreal dance epic. His work has a lot to do with dreams, and this video is no exception. It just looks like a dream with the camera angles, the color scheme and all the cool effects.

8. “Smack My Bitch Up” by The Prodigy (1997), dir. Jonas Åkerlund (NSFW)

Okay, this video is 100% not safe to view at work. Just warning you now. I actually did a presentation with “Smack My Bitch Up” in an English class last year, and let me tell you, the looks on people’s faces were absolutely priceless. Controversy aside, this video is incredible. It’s shot from a first-person perspective, which gives the whole thing a more intimate feel. We follow a particularly rowdy individual on a night out and things get a little extreme. This also has a great twist ending, but I won’t spoil it here. (Note: You may have to sign into YouTube to watch it, since it's age-restricted.)

7. “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails (1994), dir. Mark Romanek (NSFW)

Here’s another one you might want to save for a home viewing. “Closer” is a visually stunning video because it has a 19th century torture chamber motif. Okay, so it’s just really creepy and I dig creepy videos. The editing in this video is pretty cool, too. In order for it to be shown on MTV, certain scenes had to be removed. They were replaced by a title card reading “Scene Missing.” And every time the word “fuck” had to be censored, the video appeared to stop, like a defective filmstrip. The film stock Mark Romanek used gives the whole video a nice vintage look.

6. “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. (1991), dir. Tarsem Singh

This is a video that’s heavy in metaphorical imagery, but that’s what makes it great. There’s a lot of religious imagery here, but it’s not of the sacrilegious variety, as shown in “Closer.” The color contrasts are what really sold me—the video shifts between dark grays and browns in the band scenes and oversaturated colors in the other scenes. “Losing My Religion” is a gorgeously haunting song with an equally gorgeous music video.

5. “Everlong” by Foo Fighters (1997), dir. Michel Gondry

Didn’t I tell you that you’d see Michel Gondry again? This is definitely my favorite Gondry video. He still plays with the dream motif (this time by actually structuring the events of the video within a dream), but it has that trademark Foo Fighters humor to it. Also, Taylor Hawkins makes a surprisingly pretty woman.

4. “Longview” by Green Day (1994), dir. Mark Kohr

What’s a ‘90s countdown without Green Day? This was the band’s first music video, and it’s pretty underrated, if you ask me. It doesn’t have the cool special effects of “Basket Case” or the nice tracking shots of “When I Come Around,” but it perfectly captures the snotty essence of Dookie-era Green Day. Billie Joe Armstrong still has a nose piercing and the remnants of dreadlocks. Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool have enough pent up energy to rock out in a closet. This is what Green Day is all about.

3. “Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana (1993), dir. Anton Corbijn

Kurt Cobain had a particular vision for this video and Anton Corbijn executed it perfectly. “Heart-Shaped Box” is a surreal trip into Kurt’s imagination, complete with hospital beds, poppy fields, little girls in KKK uniforms, human fetuses dangling from trees and an old man representing Jesus in a Santa Claus hat. It’s creepy, but visually stunning.

2. “Criminal” by Fiona Apple (1997), dir. Mark Romanek

So if you read this blog on a regular basis, you already know that I’m in love with Fiona Apple. This is one of her best videos because turns the whole female exploitation thing on its head. Fiona was barely legal at the time, making the scenes of her mostly naked a little risqué. Though it was deemed controversial, the video was all Fiona’s idea. She said, “I decided if I was going to be exploited, then I would do the exploiting myself.” Nicely played, Fiona.

1. “Tonight, Tonight” by Smashing Pumpkins (1996), dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris

There are too many things to love about this video. Based on the groundbreaking silent film, George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, “Tonight, Tonight” successfully evokes a sense of whimsy and pure magic. It’s almost frame-for-frame identical to the film, with shots of the band performing in the clouds added for good measure. I’m actually speechless when it comes to this video. It’s just perfect, okay? 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sam's Top 24 Favorite Music Videos of the '90s (Part 1)

What’s that? You want another countdown? Well, your wish has been granted, dear readers. If you were a fan of my Top 50 Favorite Albums of the ‘90s countdown, you’ll love my Top 24 Favorite Music Videos of the ‘90s countdown!

I love music videos. I appreciate the artistry of matching music with visuals, and the weirder the visuals, the more I love the video. So get ready for some cinematic adventures, kids. Look for part two next week. (Warning: Some of these videos are not safe to view at work. I’ll label them to spare you the embarrassment.)

24. “This Is Hardcore” by Pulp (1998), dir. Doug Nichol

“This Is Hardcore” is a song about pornography, so you would think the accompanying music video would reference that. Well, you’re wrong. Pulp opted out of the obvious porn parody video and instead produced a collection of dramatic film noir scenes that feel just as seedy as a homemade porno. The characters are dark and empty, much like adult film actors going through the motions.

23. “Tommy the Cat” by Primus (1991), dir. Mark Kohr

I had a hard time deciding which Primus video would make this list. It was between this video and “Mr. Krinkle,” but I ultimately went with “Tommy the Cat.” I think this video captures the true essence of Primus. You’ve got hyper-sexualized cartoon cats, Monty Python references and a special appearance by Tom Waits. And damn, that’s a funky bass line.

22. “Just” by Radiohead (1995), dir. Jamie Thraves

My music video preferences tend to fall on opposite sides of the spectrum. On one hand, I love weird, extravagant videos full of metaphors and symbolism. On the other hand, I really appreciate simple videos with a strong hook. The hook in Radiohead’s “Just” is the mystery of one person’s actions. A man lies on the sidewalk and refuses to explain why he’s doing it until the very end. But we never hear his words.

21. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by Backstreet Boys (1997), dir. Joseph Kahn

Most boy bands in the ‘90s tended to make cheesy videos that mostly consisted of either synchronized dance breaks or “come hither” bedroom eyes. I definitely have to give the Backstreet Boys props for this extravagant ode to old horror films. Those pretty boys weren’t afraid to get ugly for this video. Vampires and werewolves and mummies, oh my!

20. “Give It Away” by Red Hot Chili Peppers (1991), dir. Stéphane Sednaoui

This video is a great introduction to the Chili Peppers. It just shows Anthony Kiedis and company as a bunch of funky, shirtless dudes who like to get weird. That is the RHCP philosophy in a nutshell. Also, the camera work in this video is trippy as hell.

19. “Who Was in My Room Last Night?” by Butthole Surfers (1993), dir. William Stobaugh

Butthole Surfers didn’t have a ton of success with this song, but this video just screams ‘90s MTV. The Surfers play in a creepy bar with even creepier characters buying drinks, but the animated sequences are the really rad parts (those scenes were animated by RobZombie, so you know they’re badass). “Who Was in My Room Last Night?” is basically a Saturday morning cartoon on acid with some live action shenanigans thrown in.

18. “Three Little Pigs” by Green Jellÿ (1993), dir. Fred Stuhr

If you’re not familiar with Green Jellÿ (pronounced “green jello”), sit yourself down and watch the video for “Three Little Pigs.” You will probably love it. Green Jellÿ is a comedy rock band that promoted itself as “the world’s first video-only band.” “Three Little Pigs” is part of the band’s video album, Cereal Killer. The video is ultra cheesy claymation, directed by the guy responsible for Tool’s “Sober” video. Unlike “Sober,” “Three Little Pigs” is hilarious.

17. “Just a Girl” by No Doubt (1995), dir. Mark Kohr

Okay, so this is probably because I have a huge girl crush on Gwen Stefani, but I’ve always loved the “Just a Girl” video. It sets up a nice contrast between the “boy’s club” and the “girl’s club.” Gwen is stuck in the girl’s room with the pretty pink walls and mirrors, while the rest of her bandmates are jamming away in the boy’s room. The visuals really complement the song here. And Gwen looks her best.

16. “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam (1992), dir. Mark Pellington

Most of the videos on this countdown are fun videos, but I do appreciate a music video with a serious message. “Jeremy” is powerful in its simplicity. We get a glimpse of the title character’s story through newspaper clippings and brief flashes of his home life and the final controversial scene in the classroom. The subject matter is dark, but it’s handled so well on the screen.

15. “Prison Sex” by Tool (1994), dir. Adam Jones (NSFW)

Tool produces some of the most thought-provoking music videos I’ve ever seen. Though most people tend to like “Sober,” I prefer “Prison Sex.” Both videos use claymation, but the message behind “Prison Sex” is much stronger. Though the visuals are mostly metaphorical, the song itself is about the cycle of child abuse. In the video, we see the larger, more menacing creature play around with the smaller creature like a helpless doll, only to put it back on the shelf.

14. “Freak on a Leash” by Korn (1999), dir. Todd McFarlane

Say what you want about Korn, but this video is badass. Using the same camera techniques as The Matrix, “Freak on a Leash” follows a bullet in slow motion as it travels through various objects (and leaves them shattered). White boy, nu-metal angst aside, the bullet trick in this video is beyond cool.

13. “Violet” by Hole (1994), dir. Mark Selinger & Fred Woodward

I was torn between this and “Doll Parts,” but “Violet” resonates more with me. I love the ballerina/stripper dichotomy presented in the video, and Courtney Love shifts between virgin and whore seamlessly. The old-timey film stock also gives the video a gritty feel to it, making the whole song just that much more aggressive.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Sound Familiar?
“Creep,” “Waterfalls,” “No Scrubs”

Who Are They?
One of the most successful girl groups of the ‘90s (and of all time).

In 1990, Atlanta-based record producer Ian Burke and his client, teenager Crystal Jones, got the bright idea to start a girl group. The two wanted a female equivalent of Bel Biv Devoe, combining a tomboyish, hip-hop image with contemporary R&B music.

So Crystal put out the call for two more girls to join her group. Tionne Watkins and Lisa Lopes took the job and the three called themselves 2nd Nature.

The girls got an audition with singer Perri “Pebbles” Reid, who gave them the name TLC-Skee. She was so impressed with them that she set up another audition with local label LaFace Records. The label heads saw potential in Tionne and Lisa, but felt that Crystal should be replaced (ouch). Crystal left and Rozonda Thomas stepped in just in time to record the group’s first album.

(Fun fact: Once Rozonda joined the group, the name was changed to just TLC, which was originally an acronym for Tionne, Lisa and Crystal’s names. In order for the name to still make some sense, the girls adopted nicknames—Tionne became “T-Boz,” Lisa became “Left-Eye” and Rozonda became “Chilli.”)

TLC’s first album, 1992’s Ooooooohhh…On the TLC Trip, was a critical and commercial success. The debut is often cited as a prime example of “new jack swing,” which is a genre that fuses dance-pop, hip-hop, R&B and swing, and landed TLC with an opening slot on tour with MC Hammer.

After the tour, the group dropped Perri Reid as a manager and began work on a new album in 1994. During this time, Lisa began dating Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison. The two were living together by 1994, but the relationship was rocky (Lisa filed an assault charge against Andre in 1993, but Andre maintained that he didn’t assault her). After a fight in the early hours of June 9, 1994, Lisa tossed a few pairs of Andre’s shoes into the bathtub, doused them with lighter fluid and set them on fire. The whole house caught on fire and Lisa was charged with first-degree arson.

All of that happened right before TLC released CrazySexyCool (arguably the group’s best album). CrazySexyCool spawned four successful singles, including the socially-conscious “Waterfalls,” and was one of the first albums to receive a diamond certification from the RIAA.

(Fun fact: Remember the Nickelodeon show All That? Remember the theme song? That was by TLC.)

TLC was on top of the world by 1995, but in the midst of the girls’ success, they were forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This was mostly due to Lisa’s insurance payments from the arson incident and Tionne’s medical bills (she was diagnosed with sickle cell disease), but the primary reason for all the debt was the fact that all the money was going to managers, producers, expenses and taxes.

Work on the group’s third album, 1999’s FanMail, was constantly delayed due to drama between Chilli and producer Dallas Austin (who were dating at the time and had a son together) and Chilli and T-Boz’s appearances in various films. By the time the album was released, tensions were at an all-time high between Lisa and the rest of the group. Lisa openly claimed that she was unable to fully express herself on FanMail and challenged T-Boz and Chilli to record solo albums and let the fans decide who was the better musician.

The girls eventually settled their dispute and FanMail ended up going six times platinum.

Where Are They Now?
Without the incredible talent of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (R.I.P.), but still making a comeback.

Before TLC began recording its third studio album, Lisa recorded her own album, 2001’s Supernova. The album didn’t sell well at all (and wasn’t even released in the US), so Lisa went back to recording songs with Chilli and T-Boz.

On April 25, 2002, Lisa was killed in a car crash in Honduras. She had only completed vocals on five of the tracks on 3D, but Chilli and T-Boz decided to keep those tracks and finish the album as a duo (most of the other tracks eulogize Lisa).

Chilli and T-Boz made their final appearance as TLC (until now) in June 2003. After two greatest hits albums, the two remaining members announced they would search for a third member on a reality show called R U the Girl. The winner, 20-year-old Tiffany “O’so Krispie” Baker, did not become a permanent member of the group (Chilli and T-Boz vowed never to replace Lisa), but did record a single with the group.

In 2009, Chilli and T-Boz began making more appearances as TLC, and signed a new recording contract with Epic Records just last month (October 2013). TLC released a compilation album called 20, and just one week later, VH1 premiered a biographical TV movie about the group called CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story.

As of right now, Chilli and T-Boz plan to start a tour in 2014 (most likely as a duo, as they refuse to replace Lisa).

But Why TLC?
Chilli and T-Boz are making a comeback, of course! And then there’s the VH1 TV movie, which I haven’t seen (but I’ve heard mixed things).

What Does Sam Think?
I grew up with the poppier version of TLC (the FanMail era). Not that “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty” are bad songs (I still love them), but they don’t really have the same substance as a song like “Waterfalls.” That’s what made CrazySexyCool such a great album—it was socially conscious and empowering and it still had that new jack swing sound.

If you guys surf the interwebz as much as I do, you’ve probably heard of a lovely Internet celebrity by the name of Nostalgia Chick. What does she have to do with TLC, you ask? Well, she made a video a while back about the group and just how important these girls were. I could reiterate everything she said here, but I urge you to watch the video because Nostalgia Chick gets pretty passionate (part 1, part 2).

The one point she makes that I will reiterate here is that TLC was a very empowering group. In comparison to another prominent ‘90s girl group, the Spice Girls, TLC just had more soul. The Spice Girls brand of “girl power” was pretty superficial—you can be any girl you want to be (as long as you fit into one of these five stereotypes). TLC’s brand of “girl power” was a bit more subtle and involved more emotional support. “Unpretty” (while not the best TLC song out there) is a good example of that support. It’s pretty blunt in its delivery of a message (inner beauty vs. outer beauty), but the message still gets across.

Now let’s talk about Left Eye. She contributed a lot to the group and her death was definitely tragic. But is it okay for Chilli and T-Boz to continue on without her? This is always a tricky situation (and I think I’ve addressed it before in another entry). Should a band continue to make music after losing a key member? Technically, Chilli and T-Boz are okay because they haven’t replaced Lisa. But is TLC still the same with only two members? In this case, I don’t think so. If Chilli and T-Boz want to continue making music, I think they should retire the TLC name. They’re both talented, so why do they need the name to back them up?

In any case, it’s tough to deny how influential this group was. Even if you don’t like the music, you have to look at it objectively—here’s a girl group made up of three strong women of color that wrote songs with deep messages. Sure, they had their issues, but those issues just made them stronger. Now these are great role models for girls.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sam's Top 50 Favorite Albums of the '90s (Part 5)

Here it is, folks—the final installment of my top 50 favorite albums of the ‘90s! Here you’ll see the coveted Top 10. Make sure to check out parts one, two, three and four before you start to complain about an album that appears to be missing.

10. OK Computer by Radiohead (1997)

This is a pretty obvious choice for a ‘90s Radiohead album. While I do like The Bends (and kind of, sort of enjoy Pablo Honey), OK Computer is by far the superior album of the three. Before this album, Radiohead was just another Britpop band trying to make it big across the pond. OK Computer has a much more experimental sound (though not nearly as experimental as something like Kid A or Amnesiac, both of which came right after this album), but it’s surprisingly accessible. “Airbag” is a killer opening track, and songs like “Karma Police” and “Lucky” have the power to reach a wide audience. Since I have a thing for long, multi-part songs, my favorite song on this album (and favorite Radiohead song in general) is “Paranoid Android,” a track with so many layers that I just want to curl up and live in it. While OK Computer isn’t my favorite Radiohead album of all time (that title belongs to Hail to the Thief), it’s still a flawless record in an objective sense.

9. The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails (1994)

I’ve gushed about Nine Inch Nails plenty in my NIN entry, but let me just tell you how incredible The Downward Spiral is. The first NIN song I ever heard was “Closer,” and my little pre-teen mind was fascinated by the creepiness this band exuded. The Downward Spiral was recorded in the house where Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family, which makes the album all the more frightening. This is supposedly a concept album following an unnamed protagonist through his descent into his own psyche--and boy, is it twisted. The lyrics are pretty dark (see “Heresy” and “Hurt,” especially), but the instrumentation is really the most menacing aspect. Listen to the clicking backbeat in “Closer,” or the swirling chorus of screams in “The Becoming.” Scary, ain’t it? If I were able to include EPs in this list, Broken would probably top this album, but The Downward Spiral is an obvious winner for best NIN album of the ‘90s.

8. The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers (1994)

Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Manic Street Preachers on this blog before. The Holy Bible is honestly the only Manics album I really enjoy, and I think that’s because it’s one of the darkest. Musically, it’s deceptively catchy. But lyrically, it deals with everything from British imperialism and fascism to anorexia and the Holocaust. It’s very much a politically charged album, taking on both the British and American governments. “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart” is an especially biting criticism of racism in the US (though bassist Nicky Wire has said it’s not a completely anti-American song). “4st 7lb” is a fairly intense portrait of an eating disorder. (Warning to readers who are sensitive to mentions of anorexia: DO NOT listen to “4st 7lb.”) The Holy Bible sounds a lot like a post-punk album, but it also invokes new wave, industrial, art rock and goth rock styles. It’s an unapologetic album and I really admire the band’s audacity to write about such serious subjects on a rock record.

7. The Fat of the Land by The Prodigy (1997)

I’ve always loved this album for nostalgic reasons, but now that I’m older, I can really appreciate how great of a record this is. I grew up listening to a lot of electronic music and The Prodigy eventually became one of my favorite bands. The Fat of the Land was always on repeat in my mom’s car, and I remember being so entranced with songs like “Breathe” and “Narayan.” This album has the perfect mix of pumped up tracks (“Smack My Bitch Up,” “Firestarter”) and musically layered spectacles (“Narayan,” “Climbatize”). The Fat of the Land, like The Downward Spiral and The Holy Bible, is a fairly controversial album (mostly because of “Smack My Bitch Up”), but don’t let that deter you. Even if you don’t like electronic music, you’ll probably like this.

6. Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette (1995)

Angsty female singers of the ‘90s are my lifeblood. When I was younger, I wanted to be Alanis Morissette. Jagged Little Pill was Alanis’ first foray into alternative music, as her first two albums were of the dance-pop persuasion. But she sounds at home with the distorted guitars and harmonicas. The lyrical content always hits me hard, especially on tracks like “Perfect” and “Mary Jane.” There’s really a song for every mood on this album—“Mary Jane” is for those rough patches in life, “You Oughta Know” is for that awful breakup and “Head Over Feet” is for those special occasions when you find yourself in love with someone who really cares about you. So no, not all of Jagged Little Pill is endless angst, but even the slower songs have a certain intensity to them. Alanis isn’t afraid to get personal on this album and it definitely pays off.

5. Porno for Pyros by Porno for Pyros (1993)

I said this in my Jane’s Addiction entry, but I’ve always preferred Porno for Pyros over Jane’s Addiction. Perry Farrell is an entertainer, and Porno for Pyros always seemed like a better outlet for all that creativity than his first project. Of course, I still enjoy Jane’s Addiction (though not the more recent stuff), but this album just blows me away. When I went through my Woodstock ’94 phase (which I guess I’m still going through), I watched Porno for Pyros’ performance of “Cursed Female” and “Blood Rag” for the first time on YouTube. Both songs included a bit of performance art and I thought that was so rad. This band was edgy and psychedelic without trying too hard. Porno for Pyros is a fairly chill album compared to a typical Jane’s Addiction album, but the laid-back atmosphere is perfectly executed. The band’s second album is good, but not nearly as fantastic as this one. But apparently Perry and the gang are reuniting for a new PFP album soon. Fingers crossed.

4. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel (1998)

Let me just crack open a PBR and put on my hipster glasses for this one. But in all seriousness, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is life-changing. I discovered this album during my senior year in high school, and I shit you not, it changed my life. Senior year was a really weird time for me and this album helped me get through it. I know it’s the quintessential “hipster” record (and yes, before you ask, I have it on vinyl), but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. Sure, Neutral Milk Hotel is not everyone’s cup of tea. I can understand why some people just don’t dig anything this band has every done. Jeff Mangum’s voice isn’t always pitch-perfect and the instrumentation is sometimes off. But the first time I heard the title track, I was somehow able to ignore all those minor issues. It’s very rare for me to fall in love with an album upon first listen, but In the Aeroplane Over the Sea won me over on the first try. I love the strange instrumentation (the band used everything from a singing saw to a shortwave radio) and I adore Jeff’s cracking voice. And yes, I still cry every time I listen to “Oh Comely” and “Two-Headed Boy Part 2.”

3. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins (1996)

This album is 100% nostalgia for me. I mean, a track like “1979” just sounds like how nostalgia feels. It’s so comforting. I feel like I could wrap Mellon Collie around me like a big fluffy blanket and just sleep in it. And if I haven’t already mentioned this about a million times already, I really love concept albums. According to Billy Corgan, this isn’t really a concept album, though—the two halves (Dawn to Dusk and Twilight to Starlight) represent day and night. Nevertheless, the musical diversity on Mellon Collie is impressive. The Smashing Pumpkins go from moody, hard rock riffs on “Zero” to string arrangements on “Tonight, Tonight” to playful electronic effects on “Lily (My One and Only).” Mellon Collie was the last really great Pumpkins album, in my opinion. This record, along with Siamese Dream, really defines the band.

2. In Utero by Nirvana (1993)

Yes, I’m one of those people who likes In Utero more than Nevermind. But that’s not because I think I’m too cool to like Nevermind (if you recall, it still made my Top 20). I prefer In Utero because it’s so much darker and definitely more personal than its predecessor. I like dark things—who knew? This album kind of hearkens back to Nirvana’s Bleach days, but it’s not as sludgy. There are some delicate tracks on here (see “Dumb” and “All Apologies”), but the majority of the album is a heavily distorted punch in the face. The opening track, “Serve the Servants,” uses a droning guitar riff that’s almost hypnotizing, “Tourette’s” is one big feedback fest and “Scentless Apprentice” features some of the dirtiest drum work (and gnarliest screams) I’ve ever heard. Whether we know the true meanings of these songs or not, I still believe Kurt Cobain bared his soul on this record.

1. Dookie by Green Day (1994)

Was there anyone out there who didn’t see this one coming? As I have mentioned countless times on this blog, Green Day is my favorite band, so of course Dookie is my favorite album of the ‘90s. Sorry that I’m just too predictable (but I’m not really sorry). But come on—Dookie is a really fun record. Even if you hate everything Green Day’s ever done, you probably still have a soft spot for this album. It’s snotty and brash while still being radio friendly. It has a song with one of the best bass lines I’ve ever heard (that would be “Longview”). It just makes me really happy, okay? “When I Come Around” was one of the first songs I ever remember hearing on the radio, and I would make up words to sing just so I could sing along. While Dookie isn’t necessarily the one album that truly defines me (if I had to choose one, it would probably be American Idiot), it’s still an amazing album. I can listen to every song about a million more times and I would still never get sick of any of them.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sam's Top 50 Favorite Albums of the '90s (Part 4)

Sorry for no entry last week, my dear readers. I’ll make it up to you by skipping a regular entry in favor of part four of my ‘90s albums countdown! Check out parts one, two and three first.

20. When the Pawn… by Fiona Apple (1999)

If you were not already aware of how much I adore FionaApple, prepare for ultimate fangirl mode. Fiona is a queen and When the Pawn… is quite possibly my favorite album from her (her newest release, The Idler Wheel…, is a very close second). This album isn’t as jazzy as her debut, but Fiona manages to find the right mix of soulful and poppy. But there’s still some angst underneath all those gorgeous piano hooks, especially on tracks like “Limp” and “Get Gone.” Of course there are some general crowd pleasers (“Paper Bag,” “Fast As You Can”), but I think the real highlight on When the Pawn… has to be the final track, “I Know.” I saw this live and I won’t lie—I cried. “I Know” is a strikingly heartbreaking tune that shows off Fiona’s incredibly sultry voice perfectly. If you only know Fiona Apple for “Criminal,” you’re really missing out on her best stuff (though “Criminal” is still a fantastic song).

19. Mezzanine by Massive Attack (1998)

Didn’t I say you’d see more electronic artists as the countdown went on? I grew up listening to this album in my mom’s car (even though I had no idea what I was listening to at the time), but you might recognize one of these songs as the theme tune to House (that song is “Teardrop”). The rest of Mezzanine isn’t as delicate as “Teardrop,” but it’s still brilliant. Most of the tracks are sexy as hell, as is the case for most trip-hop bands. Just take a listen to “Inertia Creeps” or “Risingson” and try to tell me you don’t get all hot and bothered. Massive Attack has a way of making even the most complicated hook sound effortless—in fact, most of the beats in the band’s songs are a little weird, but in a good way. If you’re just starting to get into electronic music (or you’re only versed in dubstep), put on Mezzanine and prepare to have your mind blown.

18. Homogenic by Björk (1997)

Björk appeared earlier on this countdown with Post, but Homogenic is definitely my favorite album of hers. From the menacing opening track (“Hunter”) to the heartbreakingly beautiful closing track (“All is Full of Love”), this album is just flawless, and it’s Björk at her very best. Homogenic is the perfect mix of pop hooks and experimentation—it’s weird, but not too weird. The Icelandic pixie shows off her incredible vocal talent on tracks like “Joga” and my personal favorite, “Bachelorette.” Homogenic is full of stuttering beats, chilly string arrangements and lyrics that make you believe in love. I still think this is Björk’s best album and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Some may be turned off by her more recent stuff (see the highly experimental and polarizing Biophilia), but Homogenic captures the true essence of this lovely lady.

17. Darkest Days by Stabbing Westward (1998)

Taking a detour from critically acclaimed albums for a second, let’s talk about Stabbing Westward. Not all of my favorite ‘90s albums are Pitchfork-friendly (see Creed and Dave Matthews Band), but they’re still perfect 10’s to me. I grew up thinking everyone knew who Stabbing Westward was because my parents let me listen to music I probably shouldn’t have been listening to at such a young age. My mom played the shit out of Darkest Days and I eventually fell in love with it. In case you weren’t aware, Stabbing Westward was an industrial band (though not quite as heavy as Nine Inch Nails or Ministry) that had a “Brandon Lee in The Crow” vibe. You may know for their arguably biggest hit, “Save Yourself.” The rest of Darkest Days is basically a dark concept album that follows four phases of going through a nasty break-up. It’s loud, emotionally raw and just plain badass.

16. Dirty by Sonic Youth (1992)

To me (and I guess to most critics), Dirty ranks pretty high on the list of great Sonic Youth albums. The title is also the perfect description of the noise you’ll hear for one solid hour. It opens with a solid wall of sound on “100%” and continues to let the guitars buzz, even on slower tracks like “Wish Fulfillment” and “JC.” If you don’t like distortion, I’d stay away from Dirty (but you’re totally missing out on some of the best noise rock you’ll ever hear). Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore trade off vocal duties throughout the album (Lee Ronaldo only gets one song, but it’s actually one of my favorites), and even though their vocal styles are different, I don’t prefer one over the other. I keep thinking, “Oh, well I like Kim’s songs more because of ‘Swimsuit Issue’ and ‘Drunken Butterfly.’ But wait, Thurston sings really well on ‘Sugar Kane’ and ‘100%.’ THEY’RE BOTH SO PERFECT.”

15. Vegas by The Crystal Method (1997)

More electronic artists! Like Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, this album was always on repeat in my mom’s car. Vegas was TheCrystal Method’s debut album, and remains the group’s most successful album to date. I think the record’s appeal stems from the totally random samples used in almost every song. For example, the album’s opening track, “Trip Like I Do,” samples dialogue from the ultra-cool Jim Henson movie, The Dark Crystal. “Keep Hope Alive” samples a Jesse Jackson speech. But perhaps the weirdest sample is in “Bad Stone,” which uses dialogue from a couple of Bill Cosby’s stand-up routines. Other than the samples, Vegas is just a rich electonic album with a huge sound. It reminds me of a massive wave that continuously crashes around me.

14. Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers (1999)

Okay, so I know including this album is really cutting it close in terms of the time frame. Californication was released at the tail end of the ‘90s and its major singles didn’t even make it to the radio until 2000. But dammit, this is my favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers album and I will include it in this list if I so choose! I’ve heard a lot of criticism about this album, and I can see where it comes from. Yes, it’s not as funky as, say, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. And yes, it does sound a bit overproduced. But I’ve always had this strange connection to it since the day I first heard “Otherside” (also, this album’s predecessor, One Hot Minute, is pretty awful). John Frusciante comes roaring back to the band with some crazy awesome riffs, especially on “This Velvet Glove” and “Around the World.” Many of these tracks are a bit more personal than tracks on previous Chili Peppers album (even though a lot of critics called it “false empathy”), and I think that’s what makes Californication stand out to me. Yes, Blood Sugar Sex Magik is still an amazing album (and it’s probably objectively better than this one), but I will always prefer Californication.

13. Insomniac by Green Day (1995)

Finally, Green Day makes its first appearance on this countdown. You saw it coming. While most people tend to remember Dookie as one of the best Green Day albums, Insomniac is probably the most underrated album in the band’s catalog. This was kind of a big “fuck you” to all the punks back home who cried, “Sell-outs!” Insomniac is raw, nasty and honestly has some of the best Green Day songs ever. Billie Joe Armstrong and company manage to pack a metric ton of angst into just 32 minutes of music. The lyrics are so much darker than the songs on Dookie—“Geek Stink Breath” tells the story of a meth addict and “Brat” tells the story of a kid waiting for his parents to die so he can get his inheritance. “Brain Stew/Jaded” was the most successful single (they’re technically two separate songs, but they were released as a single track for radio play), but the real highlight on Insomniac (for me, at least) is “Panic Song.” That track was written by both Billie Joe and bassist Mike Dirnt as kind of an homage to panic attacks, and that really hits home for me.

12. Rubberneck by The Toadies (1994)

I’m fairly certain that I mentioned multiple times in my Toadies entry that this band is probably the most underrated band of the ‘90s. You know these Texas post-grungers for their hit “Possum Kingdom,” but the rest of the album it came from is beyond brilliant. The Toadies inject some Southern charm into their strange, post-grunge sound, and it’s kind of unnerving (in a good way). I mean, just listen to the lyrics on “Tyler.” That song is about some guy who stalks a girl and breaks into her house. “Possum Kingdom” is (supposedly) about vampires. And Todd Lewis really knows how to wail (with his voice, that is). There’s an underlying creepiness to Rubberneck that’s hard to find on other albums, and I just wish more people listened to this band and appreciated it. I saw the Toadies live quite a few years ago and they sounded incredible. Even their most recent album is almost Rubberneck quality. It’s really too bad they’re considered a one-hit-wonder.

11. Nevermind by Nirvana (1991)

Before you go shunning me for not putting this in the top 10, let me just remind you that these are my personal preferences. You’ll see Nirvana again, I promise. As for Nevermind—well, what can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? The first time I listened to it, I felt like I had found the Holy Grail. I was a pre-teen with some manufactured angst and I absolutely worshipped this band in 5th and 6th grade. I remember listening to Nevermind with my friend Alex and deciding to start a band (that obviously fell through because neither of us could play an instrument). I also remember being completely devastated when I found out Kurt Cobain has died almost a decade prior to the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Even though this album belongs to Generation X, I can still feel the impact. I still love the three-chord simplicity, the gruffness of Kurt’s vocals, the often-nonsensical lyrics. Nevermind may be as old as me, but it feels new every time I hear it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sam's Top 50 Favorite Albums of the '90s (Part 3)

Get ready for part three! Check out part one and part two first.

30. Sixteen Stone by Bush (1994)

So, if you couldn’t tell already, a lot of my favorite albums came out in 1994. This was the year of Kurt Cobain’s death and the unofficial death of grunge. All other bands with a similar sound that came out after Kurt’s passing are considered post-grunge (what an original name). Bush was one of the first, and say what you will about the band’s later albums, but Sixteen Stone is flawless. If you don’t listen to any other Bush albums, listen to this one. Gavin Rossdale and company are from across the pond, but they ended up with not three, not four, but FIVE successful singles from just this album. You’ll probably recognize the songs “Comedown,” “Everything Zen” and my personal favorite, “Glycerine.” Bush isn’t the most creative band out there, but sometimes I like straightforward rock songs, and Sixteen Stone has plenty of those.

29. Electriclarryland by Butthole Surfers (1996)

What can I say about Butthole Surfers? This band is strange and unapologetic, but it scored a mainstream hit with a song that features the line, “Then there was the ever-present football player rapist / They were all in love with dyin’, they were doing it in Texas.” That was from possibly the only Butthole Surfers song most people know, “Pepper.” The rest of Electriclarryland is a pretty bizarre ride (though not nearly as bizarre as earlier albums), but it still packs a punch. There’s something psychedelic about the whole album, like a 50-minute acid trip. It’s honestly difficult to describe Butthole Surfers to someone who isn’t familiar with their music. My only advice is to listen to Electriclarryland first, then work your way up to something like Locust Abortion Technician. Highlights include “Jingle of a Dog’s Collar,” “Cough Syrup” and “The Lord is a Monkey.”

28. Goo by Sonic Youth (1990)

This was the first Sonic Youth album I ever listened to and it quickly became one of my favorites. I was always aware that Sonic Youth was an important band and basically required listening. During my huge Nirvana phase back in 5th and 6th grade, I took Kurt Cobain’s musical preferences as gospel and began to go through all his influences. That list included PJ Harvey, the Melvins and of course, Sonic Youth. Goo is usually cited as the band’s best album (probably next to Daydream Nation) and the most accessible album thanks to singles like “Kool Thing” and “Dirty Boots.” It’s noisy, gritty and just plain cool. My favorite Sonic Youth song also appears on this album, even though Goo is only my second favorite album from the band (that song is “Mote” if you’re interested).

27. Eleventeen by Daisy Chainsaw (1992)

I just recently got into this band and I’m still kicking myself for not listening to Eleventeen earlier. I first heard of Daisy Chainsaw on an episode of Roseanne (if you know me in real life, you know how much I love that show). This was Darlene’s favorite band, and I love Darlene, so I had to check it out. Eleventeen is the definition of noise rock with one hell of a female singer. It’s the only Daisy Chainsaw album to feature the flawless Katie Jane Garside on lead vocals, and oh man, can she wail. Katie Jane has one of the best screams I’ve ever heard. Add some heavy distortion and trippy vocal effects and you’ve got one weird, raw album. It’s really too bad Daisy Chainsaw broke up. I always seem to get into bands that have already disappeared.

26. Odelay by Beck (1996)

Oh, Beck. You clever man. Yes, I went with the obvious choice for best ‘90s Beck album, but Odelay is incredible (and it proved that Beck wasn’t just a one hit wonder with “Loser”). This was one of the many albums that I found in the CD traveler case in my mom’s car and became obsessed with. Beck is cool without even trying, especially on songs like “Devil’s Haircut” and “Sissyneck.” Even though he samples a healthy mix of different songs, he makes everything his own. Take “Where It’s At” for example—Beck samples five different songs, but the samples are seamless. “Where It’s At” doesn’t sound like an amalgamation of five different artists—it sounds like one really rad Beck song. This man is incredibly talented and dares to be different, experimenting with hip-hop, noise rock and folk music. Odelay is still impressive almost a decade later.

25. Loveless by My Bloody Valentine (1991)

I tried to explain what shoegaze is to my mom one day, but I found it impossible to give her a clear description, so I just played “Only Shallow” from Loveless. I waited a while to listen to My Bloody Valentine, possibly because I didn’t think I could handle it. You have to be emotionally prepared for Loveless. This album is pure fuzzy noise, but it’s beautiful. Each song is a swirl of drum loops, hushed vocals and the sound of a million guitars. When you hear the term “wall of sound,” it’s basically referring to this album. The sound just hits you in the face and the swallows you whole. I know quite a few people who can’t stand My Bloody Valentine, but they’re wrong and we’re probably not friends anymore (kidding, but seriously, they’re wrong). Loveless has influenced plenty of bigger names, including Trent Reznor, The Cure and Radiohead. It’s a fuzzy dreamscape that I don’t want to wake up from.

24. Pinkerton by Weezer (1996)

Remember when Weezer put out great albums? Pinkerton wasn’t a huge hit when it first came out, but it has since gained cult status (and a perfect 10/10 rating from Pitchfork). It’s dark, it’s abrasive and it has one of the best drunk sing-a-long songs ever (“El Scorcho”). I’ll admit that I wasn’t a Weezer super fan before I head this album. I was familiar with a few songs, most notably “Buddy Holly” and “Hashpipe.” I listened to Pinkerton for the first time over Christmas break a few years ago and I fell in love. It’s a brutally honest album with some excellent musical moments. The heaviness of a track like “Tired of Sex” meshes surprisingly well with the delicateness of a track like “Butterfly.” Pinkerton is one of those albums that seems to be accessible for everyone, even people who otherwise dislike Weezer. Everyone finds common ground when they’re shouting, “I think I’d be good for you / And you’d be good for me!”

23. Human Clay by Creed (1999)

I’m not even sorry for this one. You secretly made fun of me for including Dave Matthews Band earlier in the countdown, but now you’re probably considering leaving this blog for good for including Creed in a list of great albums. If you read my previous entry on the band, you already know that I used to be a Creed fanatic. Since this band was such a huge part of my life growing up (though not so much anymore), I just had to include Human Clay. Ignoring “With Arms Wide Open” for a second (because that song is probably the worst one on this album), Human Clay is a pretty strong rock record. “Are You Ready?” is a great opener, and even the slower songs have intensity. Yes, Scott Stapp’s voice can get grating at times, but he can still carry a tune. And yes, I still know the words to every song. Judge me all you want.

22. Dummy by Portishead (1994)

Still with me after that last album? Yes? Good. Let’s talk about Portishead. I grew up listening to a lot of ‘90s electronic music. I got really into trip-hop for a while with Massive Attack’s Mezzanine (which you’ll see later in the countdown), and it was around that time that I found Portishead. Beth Gibbons’ voice is absolutely heavenly and the instrumentals are so sexy. I remember listening to this album during a certain coming of age experience, so that might be why it appears so high on this list. But aside from that, Dummy is just a really chill record. This sounds silly, but I’ve written so much poetry while listening to songs like “Mysterons” and “Pedestal.” The slower tempos and trippy electronic effects are perfect for fueling creativity. And “Strangers” remains one of my favorite songs of all time.

21. Frizzle Fry by Primus (1990)

If you know me at all, you know that I adore Primus. And while this band has a fairly strong catalog, I’m going to have to go with Frizzle Fry as my absolute favorite (though Tales from the Punchbowl is a very close second). Frizzle Fry is the first complete studio album from the band and it’s the perfect introduction to the insanity that is Primus. I have a thing for heavy bass and this album is ALL BASS. The first Primus song I ever heard was “Too Many Puppies” and it hits me just as hard as the first time I heard it. Not only is Les Claypool a master bassist, but Larry LaLonde is one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. There’s some real skill on songs like “Pudding Time” and “The Toys Go Winding Down” that you just can’t ignore. Frizzle Fry as a whole is probably the heaviest funk metal album you’ll ever come across. And if you ever get a chance to see Primus live (which I had the pleasure of doing a few years ago), bring a helmet.