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

Best of 90s - 2


11. (tie)

BlurBlur (Virgin)

Commonly known as “the one with the ‘woohoo!’ song on it”, Blur found one of the leaders of Britpop casting aside their crown to champion American indie rock. Full of gritty guitars, hissing white noise, and head-scratching lyrics, it looked like the group had forsaken what had gotten them to the top of Britain’s charts. And yet everything that made Blur, well, Blur could be found on Blur, from the nifty solos to the massive choruses, only dunked in mud instead of spit-polished. Against all odds, Blur is the album that tells you the most about who Blur is as a band. – Tony Ling

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SpiritualizedLadies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (Dedicated)

Described by one reviewer as Pierce’s ‘classic rock album,’ Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space is much more accessible and structured than Spiritualized albums past, and owes a much broader debt to the canon. And that includes Pachelbel’s “Canon,” the chord progression of which is used in the title track. The London Community Gospel Choir in particular is one aspect that makes this a much bigger, more forceful album in its arrangements. Backing anthems like “Cool Waves” and the impeccable rock single “Come Together,” the choir lends a soulful gospel aspect to the songs, with religion crossing paths with drug themes, as both come to symbolize one’s means of salvation and a way to kill the pain. – Jeff Terich

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10. PortisheadPortishead (Go! Discs – London)

Nobody loves this album, not like they love Dummy. Nevertheless, the Bristol trio’s reliance on their own compositions in favor of sampled soundtracks for this outing helped it age a lot better than its older sibling. In addition to sounding less dated, Portishead reveals itself now to be subtly and surprisingly forward thinking. The chilling electronic permutations that Beth Gibbons’ haunted vocals undergo aren’t unlike the silent shouts of the Knife’s Karin Dreijer, while the cinematic pomp and circumstance of songs like “All Mine” reveal the embryonic stages of what was to come on their triumphant Third album, which wouldn’t have made nearly as much sense in the scheme of things without this album to set the tone. – Robert Huff

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9. Built To SpillPerfect From Now On (Warner Bros.)

For a fairly good measure of just how big Built to Spill’s contribution to music in the past decade has been, just listen to any of the several hundred or so scruffy indie pop bands that have emerged in the past few years. But even the best of them likely wouldn’t attempt something as sprawling and as monumental as BTS’ 1997 effort, Perfect From Now On. Truthfully, they couldn’t have picked a better title for their third album, which was merely the centerpiece of a flawless run from 1994-99. It’s a huge record, with slow-burning dreamscapes like “Randy Described Eternity,” sinister rockers like “I Would Hurt A Fly,” and best of all, the soaring and sublime movements of “Velvet Waltz.” As a Built to Spill album, it’s an odd one, favoring lengthier, textured pieces rather than bite-sized tracks of guitar wizardry and college rock hooks. But in the end, it’s a Built to Spill album through and through, showing off their impeccable songwriting talents and artistic ambition. And don’t forget, Doug Martsch was rocking a beard long before all these hipster kids were buying their first Gillette blades. – Jeff Terich

8. The VerveUrban Hymns (Virgin)

In many ways, The Verve’s Urban Hymns is a triumphant tale. It’s the story of a band overcoming its tumult to achieve the acclaim and glory it had long been destined for. Known by the unmistakable “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” Urban Hymns is a trip driven by singer/songwriter Richard Ashcroft’s drug-induced lullabies. A record built on a string of calming interwoven melodies; it’s one of those ones that you can gladly sit through, arriving at a feeling that is almost therapeutic. Ashcroft’s distinctive voice and the trippy nature of the guitars make Urban Hymns a lasting example of what great mood music should sound and feel like. – Tyler Weir

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7. Modest MouseThe Lonesome Crowded West (Up)

Unlike its predecessor, Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West is a long drive for someone with some serious shit on his mind. Every stretch of road is lined with harsh and rugged terrain, and every rest stop is populated by bizarre, mythical figures. People are deified (“See the man with teeth like God’s shoeshine/sparkles, shimmers, shines“) and the divine act like common folk (“Jesus Christ was an only child/ he went down to the river, and he drank and smiled“). Even the seraphim can’t be trusted (“And all of the angels, they’d sell off your soul/ For a set of new wings and anything gold“). And all the while, Isaac Brock, on his way to “God don’t know, or even care” narrates like a man whose demons are battling it out with the No-Doz in his system for his sanity, keeping his foot on the gas as they grapple. – Jeff Terich

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6. Daft PunkHomework (Virgin)

You could start a party without the first twenty seconds of “Da Funk” but I wouldn’t recommend it. Ask James Murphy. As one of the many modern beneficiaries of Daft Punk’s liturgy, the LCD Soundsystem architect built more than a shrine with “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”–he knew above all that chicks can’t resist them. In recent years Daft Punk has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts thanks to all the hipsterati who think they can dance. Getting chummy with Kanye West didn’t hurt. To some extent, as is often the (unfortunate) case, they’ve been redeemed in the public eye by a series of lesser acts. But Homework is where it all started and in its jagged-glass realpolitik and gleaming jungle of beats real and imagined it beats the tight pants off all the post-IDM competition. – Anthony Strain

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5. Sleater-KinneyDig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars)

Sleater-Kinney’s self-titled debut was good. Their second album Call the Doctor was better. But neither of those albums compares to the group’s third, Dig Me Out, a 13-track rollercoaster of two-guitar, no-bass punk rock, heavy emphasis on the rock. The band’s first album with new drummer Janet Weiss, Dig Me Out almost sounds like the work of a completely different band. It’s crisper, punchier, more streamlined, yet still fierce and with some of the most kickass drumming ever recorded on an album of its kind. And thus would begin one of the most rock solid lineups in rock ‘n’ roll for the next 9 years. – Jeff Terich

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4. Yo La TengoI Can Hear the Heart Beating As One (Matador)

I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One is all over the place, indescribable at parts. Very roughly, it’s a pop album with frills up the ass, oh but how wondrous and loins-moistening those frills are. The mood swings themselves recall some tense, but exhilarating pleasure. At one moment, they’re bouncy, festive and innocently loving on “Sugarcube” and one track later, the sob story oozes ever so slowly on the plodding and ambient “Damage.” The opposite is true with “Autumn Sweater” and their cover of “Little Honda.” – Chris Morgan

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3. BjörkHomogenic (Elektra)

From the beginning, Björk had always been quirky. She was ambitious. She was artsy. She was different. But with Homogenic, Bjork exposed a completely different aspect of her musical persona. Where avant garde dance music and trip hop explorations once ruled, gorgeously orchestrated and emotionally resonant compositions took over. It’s a darker and more dramatic affair, balancing ominous electronic marchers like opener “Hunter” with serene and sensual pieces like closer “All Is Full of Love.” And in between, there are a series of haunting songs such as “Joga” and “Bachelorette,” which show her songwriting at its strongest. The latter in particular marks a peak for Björk, with sweeping strings and gut-wrenching emotion. As with all of Björk’s albums, Homogenic is just one piece of a greater puzzle, but it’s one breathtaking and devastating piece. – Jeff Terich

2. Elliott Smitheither/or (Kill Rock Stars)

either/or is one of Elliott Smith’s most beloved albums and more upbeat than its dark, self-titled predecessor. It’s romantic and beautiful and features some of the best songs of Elliott’s career. I imagine, at some point, an Elliott Smith “best of” compilation would be inevitable and it’s likely that at least half of this album would make its way on to it. “Speed Trials,” “Alameda,” “Between the Bars,” “Ballad of Big Nothing,” “Say Yes” and “Angeles” are all essential tracks, though the remaining six are equally worthy of inclusion. Personally, picking favorites is difficult for me, as the album is really perfect as a whole. It’s the album that started my infatuation with Elliott Smith’s music and, like many other fans, will stand long as my personal favorite album of all time. – Jeff Terich

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1. RadioheadOK Computer (Capitol)

There’s no need for me to go through any track-by-track or blow-by-blow account of this album. If you’re reading this, then Radiohead means something to you already, and OK Computer, in particular, had a similar effect on you as it had on me. I often think to myself that Radiohead’s albums have formed an arc. From the modern rock intro of Pablo Honey to the complete opposite end of the spectrum of the aptly titled In Rainbows, Radiohead’s albums can be grouped accordingly as separate segments of that that arc. As an example, I usually see OK Computer as the beginning of a trilogy that ends with Amnesiac. To make it even more of a bookended set, I sometimes think of OK as the alternately titled Paranoiac. This trilogy seems to me to be the odyssey of a character overwhelmed by the modern world, thus seeking escape into several different fantasy worlds, then ultimately completely losing his identity in the face of globalization and politicization. Thus, the reason that OK Computer means more to me is an association with those feelings of alienation, depression and helplessness as the world changes so rapidly that I feel it will someday leave me behind. – Terrance Terich

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