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

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


Pearl Jam Vs Best albums of the 90s11. Pearl JamVs. (Epic)

Burdened with the nigh-impossible task of following up one of the decade’s most significant albums in Ten, Pearl Jam were facing a welcome but tough crowd when Vs. hit two years later. Actually, given their debut’s slow rise to iconic status – having been drowned out for most of ’91 by the Nirvana fetish and not really bleeding over into mainstream rock until the following year on Nevermind‘s coattails – Vs. wasn’t nearly as long a wait as it seemed for the throngs of wholehearted PJ neophytes hungry for fresh material. – Dustin Allen

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10. A Tribe Called QuestMidnight Marauders (Jive)

Midnight Marauders, A Tribe Called Quest’s follow-up to the critical favorite The Low End Theory, also served as the group’s commercial breakthrough. Featuring hit singles “Award Tour” and “Electric Relaxation,” Midnight Marauders found ATCQ honing their style of jazzy hip-hop to a science, courting mainstream acceptance without losing any of their cultural sensitivity. The result is a fantastic hip-hop album, a high point for one of the most underrated rap groups of all time. – Tony Ling

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9. SuedeSuede (Nude – Columbia)

From the opening riffs of “Metal Mickey” you felt the power of Suede’s glorious melodies. A legion of music fans and I were hooked from the beginning. Even from across the pond, in my own little world in San Antonio, Texas, Suede took me over. They hit a light that had gone out after Strangeways and turned me on with their muse. Suede were the first UK band of the ’90s that I worshiped, and I went out and bought all of their UK singles. There was something about their songs that transcended their unique UK background. I connected with them instantaneously, like I did when I first discovered “There’s a Light that Never Goes Out” a decade earlier. – Adrian Cepeda

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8. QuicksandSlip (Polydor)

While Botch and The Dillinger Escape Plan bring the dissonance to your door like a SWAT team, unable to ignore and powerless against, Quicksand hands you their musical tension like an uncomfortable bit of taxidermy in an exquisite four star hotel in a beautiful and ancient European city. The harmonic richness of the foundations of their music, beautiful at times, abrasive at others, lays a solid groundwork for Walter Schriefels and Tom Capone to apply the noise and chaos that is the trademark of Quicksand’s sound. – Matt Terich

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7. The BreedersLast Splash (4AD – Elektra)

The Breeders started as an outlet for Kim Deal’s songwriting outside of the Pixies. She recruited Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donnelly, Slint drummer Britt Walford and Perfect Disaster bassist Josephine Wiggs and recorded Pod. As Black Francis announced the disbanding of the Pixies via a press release, Kim Deal reintroduced the Pixies with twin sister Kelley, Wiggs and drummer Jim MacPhearson and a new record, Last Splash. With the help of the single “Cannonball,” The Breeders practically owned the Alternative market. The video was in heavy rotation on MTV and if Kim Deal wasn’t already an indie rock demigoddess with the Pixies, she certainly was after that single arrived. – Jackie Im

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6. The Wu-Tang ClanEnter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (Loud – RCA)

RZA, GZA, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were simultaneously the fiercest, most bizarre and most talented hip-hop troupe to have emerged in the ’90s, turning the conventions of rap music upside-down. While they remained true to a hardcore East Coast aesthetic, portraying gritty urban narratives, the all-too-real became spliced with the surreal, with kung fu imagery playing an immense role in 36 Chambers‘ themes and mythology. RZA’s production, as well, took a dramatic left-turn from the hip-hop norm, largely avoiding the bass heavy sound of g-funk and opting, instead, for eerie, cinematic samples and the occasional touch of classic soul. – Jeff Terich

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5. Liz PhairExile in Guyville (Matador)

Liz Phair successfully fused indie rock and pop into 18 significant tracks on Exile in Guyville, which, as quoted by the singer/songwriter herself in interviews, was a song-by-song reply to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. At the very least, it’s a loose tribute to that album, and ultimately the final version of what had surfaced under Phair’s original moniker of Girly Sound in 1991. The lyrics are shamelessly sexual and self-effacingly bitter, running like a dialogue from a scorned yet unequivocally confident woman. She was already strong during a time when women were learning to be strong; she sets an example of an unapologetic exterior and a dirtier version of the feminine sex appeal that was not yet the norm. “Fuck and Run”? “Girls! Girls! Girls!”? “Stratford-On-Guy”? She wants to be your “blowjob queen”? These songs are all unabashed, elegantly structured, infectious, and undoubtedly real. In particular, “Flower” is so intensely awesome and powerful that it’ll give you chills. – Anna Gazdowicz

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4. BjörkDebut (Elektra)

No one need explain to a Björk devotee the irony inherent in the title of the singer’s first solo album released after the demise of the Sugarcubes. Her actual debut was released when she was all of eleven years old, she sang with numerous bands before breaking with the Sugarcubes, and had a featured spot on a jazz standards album by the Trio Gudumndar Ingolfssonar called Gling-Gló, which I hear is not a floor cleaner. Literal translations aside, however, Debut does mark the first appearance of the incarnation of Björk that we all know and love. I am just about to own my third copy of Debut as the first one I bought in 1993 was lost in a move, the second one, that being the one I own now, is irreparably scratched, thus leading me to buy a third copy. I suppose this is an unintended argument for mp3s, but I digress. The point is, Debut is essential. At a time when grunge was just beginning to die and we needed to hear a new voice and sound, Björk came to our rescue. – Terrance Terich

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3. PJ HarveyRid of Me (Island)

Following the urgent, punk-inspired rock of Dry, PJ Harvey’s sophomore release Rid of Me found Harvey, bassist Steve Vaughan and drummer Robert Ellis sounding more primal and brutal than ever. Part of this is thanks to Steve Albini’s engineering work—its abrasive, raw sound is akin to that of Surfer Rosa or At Action Park, and the leaps from quiet to loud are so staggering, the sheer force of volume is enough to cause permanent ear drum trauma. But Albini certainly doesn’t account for the unholy power behind these songs, which become seething, snarling beasts when fully provoked. – Jeff Terich

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2. NirvanaIn Utero (DGC)

In Utero is dubiously admired for this one reason: it’s a punk record. The key ingredient? Steve Albini. At that time, Albini more known for being the truest of the true when it came to aggressive music. He also hated Nevermind, and with that in mind he dowsed Butch Vig’s slick polish job with a barrel of battery acid. Albini’s studio work remolded Nirvana as an actual rock band. Kurt’s guitar playing, though still coherent, shrieked and droned as opposed to echoed and harmonized. His vocals were hoarse and even more indecipherable than ever. Noveselic and Grohl’s rhythms were reduced to neanderthal crashes and thuds. It was at the same time more primal than Tad and more articulate than Pearl Jam. – Chris Morgan

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1. Smashing PumpkinsSiamese Dream (Virgin)

As I looked through our final yearly lists that make up this Best of the ’90s list, I realized that there was a distinct difference between the albums that I can appreciate now in hindsight, and the albums that were of dire importance to me at the time. Among the latter category, there was no album that had more of an impact on me than Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. The year was 1993. I had just gone through a breakup with a long time girlfriend and moved into an apartment with four other newly made bachelors. Music was a refuge for all of us, whether the Violent Femmes, the Grateful Dead, the Madchester scene or Crowded House, all of which I remember as being particular favorites of my four roommates. But I made a connection with Billy Corgan that summer and fall that was more intense than most other connections I’ve made to any other musician; so much so that I feel I can’t separate myself from it to be objective. For that reason, Siamese Dream will forever be one of the single most impactful albums in my lifetime. – Terrance Terich

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