Treble’s Best Albums of the ’90s: Part One

Treble's Best Albums of the '90s: Part One

1991

11. De La SoulDe La Soul Is Dead (Tommy Boy)

There is a busted pot of daisies on the album cover. Mase throws a punch and he connects lovely to the ribcage. Someone’s brother is a cokehead. A social worker molests his own daughter. The Harrys and Dicks and Toms of the world incessantly push their demos. They got dissed by Arsenio Hall, but they took it and they’re doing things differently. And that’s just a thumbnail sketch of De La Soul’s second album, De La Soul is Dead. – Hubert Vigilla

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10. Massive AttackBlue Lines (Virgin)

Massive Attack’s Blue Lines blends the magic of soul, funk, rap, rock and reggae all into one beautiful sound that, at the time, was revolutionary. Before Achtung Baby, Massive Attack was the first commercial band to reveal a major influence by Gulf War I. Blue Lines was a direct response to world on the brink of world war. The uncertainty of our future reflected on the sound of Blue Lines. – Adrian Cepeda

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9. The PixiesTrompe Le Monde (4AD – Elektra)

Trompe Le Monde may very well be the most neglected Pixies release. Possibly, with good reason. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t great, so much as to say that the three albums preceding it are among the most canonized of the last twenty years. It is probably the least strange, the most straightforwardly rocking and, maybe, the most cohesive. Maybe it is too cohesive for a Pixies album, at least too much so to fully convey the singularity and incomprehensibility of their particular genius. A little less quiet/loud and more loud/loud, like on “Planet of Sound,” or quiet/not so loud. – Tyler Parks

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8. Primal ScreamScreamadelica (Creation)

Re-invention of the wheel can lead to an entirely different road. Widely heralded for definitive genre absorption at the time, Screamadelica sounds great today beyond the confines of its defining singles. It’s cohesive across a wide spectrum of sound, and I’m impressed by how catchy, euphoric and desolate its composite parts can be. Factually speaking, Andrew Weatherall, the Orb, Denise Johnson and Jah Wobble are audible here. The resultant rock, rave and gospel aesthetics shine in unison. – Tom Lee

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7. U2Achtung Baby (Island)

Achtung Baby is arguably U2’s best album, depending on your mood. After the downright sober seriousness of The Joshua Tree, U2 surprised everyone with an album of electronic experimentalism, incredible hooks and songs of love, sex and passion, though with a sense of fun. One of the four Achtung Baby producers, Brian Eno, combined with the recording location of Berlin, made some think this U2 album would reach the sonic mastery that was Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, and while these assessments weren’t exactly wrong, it wasn’t that fair of a description of what U2 accomplished. – Terrance Terich

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6. Talk TalkLaughing Stock (Polydor)

If Talk Talk’s career were to be depicted in diagram form, to reveal mathematically just how far they diverged from their point of origin, the resulting graph would be a gradual but steady upward curve, with the point correlating to 1991’s Laughing Stock landing at the precise opposite pole as their new romantic, synth pop debut. Nothing against their early ’80s beginnings—they were actually quite good—but by the time Talk Talk had entered the ’90s, they had completely deconstructed their sound, eliminated simple pop song structures and opened up their sound to atmospheric experimentation, ultimately pioneering the form that came to be known as `post-rock.’ Laughing Stock is not just innovative and different, however, it’s utterly gorgeous. Never before had music seemed so powerful and so delicate at the same time. – Jeff Terich

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5. Pearl JamTen (Epic)

One of the two seminal records that set the tone for mainstream rock at the start of the ’90s – just take a nod at number two on this list for the other – Pearl Jam’s debut Ten was the backbone that helped give shape to the decade’s dominating alternative movement. Spawning a radio-ready single with virtually every one of its 11 tracks, this album documents the emergence of one of rock’s leading talents, fully formed and alarmingly cohesive from their inception. While I can’t fully prescribe to Manic Street Preachers’ fatalistic argument that most bands should call it quits after their first record, Ten is one of those that very nearly proves the rule. But with a record so pristine at their onset, this Seattle group could have easily retired their corduroy shorts and Mookie Blaylock paraphernalia, and walked away icons at the top of their game. It’s a rare occurrence for any band to reach such heights, yet alone at first bat the way Pearl Jam clearly did. – Dustin Allen

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4. SlintSpiderland (Touch and Go)

What’s left to be said about Slint’s Spiderland? Name-checked by countless indie musicians, a cornerstone influence of at least two separate genres of music, possibly every angle to take on the album has already been taken. Fortunately, the aura that surrounds Spiderland does not take away from the music itself, and the odd power that continues to draw people in more than a decade later. – Tony Ling

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3. A Tribe Called QuestThe Low End Theory (Jive)

With People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm jazz was already a huge component to A Tribe Called Quest’s laid-back sound, but The Low End Theory pushed that connection even further. The songs are built on sparse grooves, mostly centered on expertly chosen upright bass samples. Furthermore, in “Verses from the Abstract” Tribe brought in legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter to play real-time with the boys. Much credit goes to Tribe’s resident DJ, Ali Shaheed Muhammad who kept things simple and knew when to bust out the perfect sample. It was on The Low End Theory that Q-Tip and Phife’s delivery become honed to perfection and as they bounced off of each other, it was sublime. It was low-key simplicity that made A Tribe Called Quest so great. In a word: unflappable. – Jackie Im

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2. NirvanaNevermind (DGC)

There has been so much said in the past 17 years about Nirvana’s Nevermind, it’s almost guaranteed redundancy to attempt to say anything more. Writers have taken just about every angle possible in discussing Nevermind, ranging from its cultural importance in defining a generation, how they admitted they were trying to write Pixies songs, Kurt Cobain’s sainthood among the decade’s youth, its responsibility for ushering alt-rock into the mainstream and, of course, how it knocked Michael Jackson off the charts. All relevant, all well-documented, but too easy. But consider this: Were Nirvana to sound more like, oh, say, Swans, it’s likely we would never be in this situation because Nirvana’s audience would be exponentially smaller. What made Nevermind such a big deal in the long run was that it was such a magnificent pop record. Thanks to the crisp production from Butch Vig, a major label budget and a crisp batch of songs, Nirvana soared well past their grimy debut and into the top 40, with singles like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are” and “In Bloom” garnering them regular airplay on MTV and selling millions of records. It’s the essential grunge record, but more than that, the quintessential alternative rock record, and to take it one step further, the ultimate mainstream rock album of the ’90s. – Jeff Terich


1. My Bloody ValentineLoveless (Sire)

The myth of Loveless sometimes seems bigger than the album itself—it cost a quarter of a million pounds to make, nearly bankrupted Creation Records, and is an endless stack of guitar tracks. Kevin Shields has debunked these myths, claiming that the record only cost about 2,000 quid, with the band using the rest of the money to live on, and that each track typically has about two or three guitars maximum. But when you sit down to listen to Loveless, and the impenetrable wall of noise and melody knocks you flat, it’s once again obvious that no myth could outweigh the music. It’s an enormous record, with enough studio parlor tricks to create something of a sonic trompe l’oeil. There may only be two guitars in a song like “Only Shallow,” but you could easily mistake that number for, say, 79. There might be 5-10 albums ever recorded that come close, but there is absolutely nothing that sounds more amazing than Loveless. – Jeff Terich

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