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

Best of 90s - 2

1996

11. Modest MouseThis Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About (Up)

Back before the ship sank, Modest Mouse were so indie they were almost fictional. This was before the SAT-like ‘as Isaac Brock is to Modest Mouse, so Brad Lidge is to the Astros’ reference on SportsCenter which a flock of cynics, fairweather feathers and all, identify as the approximate moment when indie culture died. While Lidge subsequently lost his slider, Modest Mouse still hasn’t missed a trick. But that flawless pedigree of off-chart musicality and bonkers-to-brilliant eclecticism never distilled itself better than on This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About, at once sort of the consummation of the so-called indie sound and a dramatic career statement for a band that’s never stopped thinking–even in the high altitude of the Billboard Top Five. – Anthony Strain

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10. Fiona AppleTidal (Work)

Listening to Fiona Apple’s debut, self-titled album makes me feel excessively tired. Apple’s pipes belt out melodies like a sleep-deprived streetwalker. Her narrative lyricism rang off like diaristic rants, which is excusable since she was not yet 20 when she made the album. For a lesser talent, and I’ve met many, this would have spelt doom, doom to be yet another child of divorce writing shit poetry in between dreaming about meeting their first of many gay boyfriends at Sarah Lawrence. Fiona Apple was able to offset that doom by being a provocative songstress. – Chris Morgan

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9. StereolabEmperor Tomato Ketchup (Elektra)

Emperor Tomato Ketchup marked Stereolab’s subtle transformation from the ’60s drone revisionists of Transient Random Noise-Bursts With Announcements to fully realized fanciers of insoluble melody and the occasional edifice of massive electronic sound. Led by founding couple Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier, Stereolab’s knack for reinventing simple rhythms and refracting them through a percolating pop prism is unrivaled. Ten plus albums into their career and their material still seems increasingly relevant. Like fine wine, perhaps, destined only to get better with time. – Mars Simpson

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8. HeatmiserMic City Sons (Caroline)

Doing away with the barrage of distortion (yet retaining just a little for good measure), Heatmiser created something much more akin to Elliott Smith’s solo work on Mic City Sons, and that of co-frontman Neil Gust’s post-Heatmiser outfit, No. 2. Yet in stripping off the extraneous layers of overdrive and angst, the emotion and ill ease within these songs becomes more palpable. And yet, they’re impeccably written pop songs, short but satisfying, soulful and bare. If one were to play Mic City Sons back to back with Dead Air or Cop and Speeder, one might ultimately determine that they were the work of the same band, but just barely. – Jeff Terich

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7. JawboxJawbox (Tag)

Die-hard fans of the band have been known to dismiss this album as a sell-out, a glossy big label production, while time has forgiven their major label debut, For Your Own Special Sweetheart. Jawbox is definitely well produced and features less of the indie / gritty feel of their earlier releases on DeSoto and Dischord. This, I contend, is the hallmark of a band progressing and striving to make themselves better as opposed to merely phoning it in to a slick producer. Lest we forget, Nirvana, Helmet, and Shudder to Think all went to majors and made some great music. (Let’s just forget about the last STT album though, shall we?). – Terrance Terich

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6. Aphex TwinRichard D. James Album

I think musing on the persona of the Cornish Richard James in depth amounts to window dressing. The guy does what he wants, largely on his own terms, and has entertained and occasionally irritated me to this effect. He probably doesn’t care too much about things like this. Aphex deserves his massive reputation and resultant trappings because he’s released a lot of electronic music under various monikers, and enough of it has been brilliant, innovative, or brilliantly introductory. His 1996 album Richard D James is probably my favorite Aphex Twin album, let alone one of the best albums of the 90s, and an easy access portal to quite leftfield electronic music. It’s hyper-energetic and playfully mesmeric, cohesive aside the confines of “drill and bass” or pastoral techno. – Tom Lee

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5. WeezerPinkerton (DGC)

Hot off the heels of a wildly popular debut, Rivers Cuomo decided to roll the dice. He swapped innocuous subject matter relating to ’50s rock stars and Dungeons and Dragons for an open-faced diary about a year spent as a undergrad at Harvard. For critics, what resulted was a feeding frenzy of mockery and head scratching. For fans, it was a steadfast confessional that rang all too true for the lonesome and vulnerable. Filled with honest and abrasive emotion, Pinkerton was the anti-Blue Album; a concept that bounded from the sheets to the love letters from the basement and back to the bedroom again. Throughout it all, Cuomo looks for love, suffering obstacles of unrequited obsession and heartache all the while towing the line between self-destruction and self-pity. Years later, the masses would come to embrace Pinkerton for many of the reasons they previously had shunned it. But hindsight makes for poor forethought, and the damage that made Cuomo so genius on this release is something he will never put to paper again, lest it be in the company of his lonesome self. – Kevin Falahee


4. WilcoBeing There (Reprise)

The arrival of Jay Bennett brought a distinctive style to Wilco. His multi-instrument depth pervaded the brilliant summerteeth, but also the band’s second album, Jay’s first with the band, Being There. While A.M. was easing itself away from the alt-country wunderkinds Uncle Tupelo, Being There took a bigger leap towards pop, folk, rock, and a little bit of jam-bandiness. (Is that a word? Well, it is now.) Jeff Tweedy was and always will be the center of the band being its main songwriter, voice and persona, but as a maturing songwriter, he owes a lot to Bennett for his contributions. – Terrance Terich

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3. Belle & SebastianIf You’re Feeling Sinister (Jeepster)

It is amusing to think of the title of Belle and Sebastian’s sophomore full-length as a postscript attached to messages inviting friends, family and arbitrarily selected strangers to listen to the album. Not that it would be unfounded. While the music is simple, acoustic guitar driven indie-pop, and Stuart Murdoch’s voice is soft and lyrical, his lyrics are barbed with a singularly (and charmingly) venomous wit. The infusion of this wit into arrangements that range from delicate and fey to exuberant and raucous, is what made Belle & Sebastian great from the beginning. It always pisses me off when someone writes them off (in conversation or in writing) with a dismissive wave of the hand and a haughty assertion that they are “too precious.” – Tyler Parks

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2. BeckOdelay (DGC)

Hearing the opening riffs of “Devil’s Haircut” takes me back to time of my not so distant past. I remember staying late at this office in San Antonio, Texas, with a bunch of college compadres gathered together to work on our dream job, publishing our own magazine. Four of us Latino hombres in our mid-twenties, listening to Beck because it was the only artist we all could agree on. Two of the guys loved Prince and the rest of us loved alternative Brit Pop music. So we compromised by listening to Odelay over and over again, Beck’s album becoming the soundtrack to our dreams. – Adrian Cepeda

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1. DJ ShadowEndtroducing (MoWax-London)

DJ Shadow is neither anarchist nor hedonist. On the one hand, his approach to sampling is most certainly a liberal one, and on his magnum opus Endtroducing…, there are literally hundreds of samples, looped over one another, with little random bits of sound in-between the melodic combinations. Yet unlike Girl Talk or Jason Forrest, there is no erratic barrage of breaks and minimal Top 40 rips, but rather carefully structured sonic strata, building new creations which ultimately come to be brand new songs, with their own melodies and identities, built entirely out of other songs. – Jeff Terich

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