Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sam's Top 50 Favorite Albums of the '90s (Part 2)

Here’s part 2 of my Favorite Albums of the ‘90s countdown! Check out part 1 here.

40. Weight by Rollins Band (1994)

Henry Rollins formed Rollins Band shortly after Black Flag broke up in 1986. Henry and company didn’t have much success in the mainstream until 1994’s Weight, carried by the MTV staple, “Liar.” My favorite thing about Rollins Band is the band’s tendency to go into jazz territory. You can definitely hear it on “Liar,” which is honestly one of the best songs of the ‘90s. Weight is a great album because it doesn’t try to be a Black Flag record. Henry’s biting self-examination and snark come through loud and clear, even with all that wonderful instrumentation. There are so many great songs on this album—“Fool,” “Wrong Man,” “Shine.” Henry, you clever bastard.

39. S.C.I.E.N.C.E. by Incubus (1997)

Most people tend to cite Make Yourself as Incubus’ best album and conveniently forget about S.C.I.E.N.C.E. This is a crime. Incubus used to be a funk metal band before they hit it big with “Drive.” This album (plus the first album, 1995’s Fungus Amongus) is some funky shit. There’s some fantastic bass work (and we all know how much I love bass guitar) and frontman Brandon Boyd lets it all hang loose like a young Anthony Kiedis. The energy never lets up, especially on songs like “Redefine,” “Glass” and “A Certain Shade of Green.” And what exactly does S.C.I.E.N.C.E. stand for? Southern California's Incubus Enters Nevada Carrying Equipment (among other things).

38. Becoming X by Sneaker Pimps (1996)

Have I mentioned how much I love ‘90s electronic music yet? No? Well, this is a good album to start with. I actually grew up listening to this album (and others like it), so I always assumed everyone knew the SneakerPimps. Becoming X was their first (and best) album. It mixes downtempo and trip-hop with a pixie-like female vocalist (the lovely Kelli Dayton). This album has always been one of my favorites because there’s so much going on. On one hand, you have ultra-cool electronic powerhouse tunes (“Low Place Like Home,” “Walking Zero”), and on the other hand, you have super sleek downtempo tunes (“Post Modern Sleaze” “How Do”). It’s equal parts badass and beautiful.

37. Evil Empire by Rage Against the Machine (1996)

Objectively, RATM’s self-titled debut is probably the better album. But I just love Evil Empire more. It’s just balls-to-the-wall, take-no-prisoners awesome. “Bulls on Parade” and “People of the Sun” are really strong singles, but “Tire Me” (which actually won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance) is a real highlight. “Roll Right” and “Year of tha Boomerang” are just as heavy. Evil Empire was the band’s second to last studio album (not including Renegades, which was a covers album), but it’s definitely better than the last album, 1999’s The Battle of Los Angeles (unpopular opinion?). And just try to tell me that you don’t immediately feel like a badass every time “Bulls on Parade” comes on in your car. “They rally round the family / With a pocket full of shells.” Ugh, that delivery. Zack de la Rocha is too cool for this world.

36. Call the Doctor by Sleater-Kinney (1996)

Sleater-Kinney kind of straddles the line between the riot grrrl movement and a more generalized form of punk rock (though this album was compared favorably to Heavens to Betsy’s Calculated, a riot grrrl staple). Either way, Sleater-Kinney definitely delivers on Call the Doctor. Clocking in at just 30 minutes long, the album goes beyond the common riot grrrl themes of gender roles and explores the commoditization of people. Call the Doctor just proves that maturity and raw anger are compatible with each other, especially when they come from girls like Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Lora Macfarlane.

35. Live Through This by Hole (1994)

Forget whatever qualms you may have with Courtney Love for a second and actually listen to this record. Surrounded by the death of two important people in her life (Kurt Cobain and Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff), Courtney and company churned out one of the most personal and painful albums of the ‘90s. Though not as visceral as Pretty on the Inside, Live Through This is a delicate mess (and I mean that in the best way possible). Courtney floats between deep-seated rage (“Violet,” “Gutless”) and subdued misery (“Doll Parts,” “Miss World”) so easily. She may not be the best singer in the world, but you can still hear every emotion in her voice. Whether you believe Kurt Cobain really wrote all the songs on the album or not, you have to admit that Live Through This is perfectly executed.

34. So Much for the Afterglow by Everclear (1997)

I think I mentioned Everclear’s appeal in my Everclear entry, but I’ll just reiterate it here: this band’s albums are great because they hide dark subject matter in poppy hooks. So Much for the Afterglow is a little more radio-friendly than Sparkle and Fade, but I still think it’s the better album. The singles are perfect because they have dark themes, but sound great on the radio. “Father of Mine” is my go-to example because, well, look: “Father of mine / Tell me, how do you sleep / With the children you abandoned/ And the wife I saw you beat?” Most of the songs on this album have the power to make me head-bang while sobbing—they’re so catchy, but the lyrics get me every time. “Amphetamine” is my personal favorite not just because of the lyrics, but also because of the string arrangement at the end. Gorgeous.

33. Crash by Dave Matthews Band (1996)

Yes, I genuinely like Dave Matthews Band. Why is that a problem? I know very few people who really dig DMB and I still don’t understand why people hate this band. Okay, maybe I have some idea—not everybody likes jam bands. Or bluegrass. Or jazz fusion. Wait, why do I like this band again? Oh right, because of this album. Crash is arguably DMB’s best album (though it may be tied with Under the Table and Dreaming). There’s just something whimsical about Crash, especially on my favorite song, “Crash Into Me.” It kind of sounds like a fairy tale (minus the creepy parts like, “Oh, I watch you there through the window / And I stare at you / You wear nothing, but you wear it so well”). I do realize there’s nothing I can really say about this album (or this band) to sway a non-fan’s opinion, but I will tell you that Crash makes me really happy whenever I hear it. After all, my happiness is really the deciding factor when it comes to choosing music to listen to, right?

32. Rid of Me by PJ Harvey (1993)

I had a really hard time choosing between this album and PJHarvey’s previous album, Dry. But when I really think about it, Rid of Me is stronger. It’s aggressive and distorted and just raw. I think having Steve Albini record the album was a great choice. He captures the primal qualities of each instrument so well, including PJ’s voice. And oh, her voice. Polly Jean has a vocal style all her own. She manages to sound both angelic and bitter at the same time. And there’s a sensual quality underneath that’s so smoky and mysterious. You can hear it on songs like “Rub ‘til it Bleeds,” “Rid of Me” and “Ecstasy.” Rid of Me as a whole is controlled chaos. It’s destructive, yet beautiful.

31. Post by Björk (1995)

Speaking of female artists with amazing voices, here’s Björk’s first (and definitely not last) appearance on this list. Post was the first Björk album I really got into, mostly because of the song “I Miss You” (along with the ultra-cool, ultra-weird music video). Even if you don’t like her music, you have to admit that this woman is incredibly talented. She has an amazing vocal range and a totally unique style. Post has some of the dance elements of Debut, but it leans more toward the experimental style of later Björk albums. There’s a healthy mix of heavier electronic tunes (“Army of Me,” “Enjoy”) and softer ballads (“Possibly Maybe,” “You’ve Been Flirting Again”), which just accentuates Björk’s versatility. This isn’t my favorite Björk album (you’ll see that one later), but it’s pretty close. 

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