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

Best of 90s - 2

1998

11. Jeff BuckleySketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk (Columbia)

On the cusp of Y2K came the final release of original material by the late great Jeff Buckley. Buckley’s death is one of remorse for all that could have been for this gifted talent. How is it that we only have one official album from Buckley and he is still considered one of the most influential artists of the ’90s? Take your pick of any successful band or singer/songwriter active today and they will most likely say that Jeff Buckley influenced their life. Yes, Jeff inspired countless others including well-known rock heroes like Jimmy Page and Elvis Costello, and even Bono dubbed him, “a pure drop in an ocean of noise.” – Adrian Cepeda

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10. BeckMutations (DGC)

I still need my space after just one listen to Odelay, but with Mutations, Beck threw me, and likely thousands of others, for a loop. Aside from “Tropicalia,” the album got very little airplay (I remember hearing b-side “Electric Music and the Summer People” on the radio more frequently), and though his style remained playful and loose, Mutations was miles away from the bohemian beat-box irony of albums past. Instead, Mutations was a playful buffet of psychedelic pop, country, blues, space rock and, of course, tropicalia, and having Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich to aid in its creation certainly helped in making it a marked contrast to Odelay.- Jeff Terich

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9. SpoonA Series of Sneaks (Elektra)

Spoon seems to be the archetype of the late-nineties indie band. Whereas bands like Nirvana were taking influence from The Pixies’ eccentric pop of Doolittle, bands like Spoon, The Wrens, Modest Mouse and Archers of Loaf derived their sound more from the art punk of Surfer Rosa. Ironically, it’s Spoon’s only major label album that started them on their decade-long ascent into the indie limelight and, ultimately, car commercials. A Series of Sneaks is a mosaic of post-punk from both sides of the Atlantic. One the one side you have the tense minimalism of Wire, while on the other you have the surrealist rock of Pavement and The Pixies. In the middle it gets meshed in with Britt Daniel’s own fragile artistry of American rock and hallucinogenic storytelling. – Chris Morgan

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8. Black StarMos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star (Rawkus)

Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star is a charged album, both lyrically and socially. And though there are songs that deride empty materialism, comment on society falling short of its aspirations, and present a remedy for that malaise of self-defeat, Mos Def and Kweli groove and flow without preachiness. Black Star is not a socially aware record first and an enjoyable album second or vice versa; it’s an enjoyable socially aware album. Period. Full stop. – Hubert Vigilla

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7. The Beta BandThe Three E.P.’s (Astralwerks)

At least until Natalie Portman swore by the life-changing aptitude of the Shins, no more famous fictional words were ever uttered about a band than the following: “I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band.” So averred John Cusack in High Fidelity, a movie devoted two-thirds to pop fetishism and one-third to a crazy little thing called love. The subsequent buzz didn’t exactly make the Beta Band like Garden State made the Shins but it might have calmed Rob Gordon down a mite, had he known and had he, y’know, actually existed. It’s a story made only in rock ‘n’ roll, although how the Beta Band actually slotted into that category has buffaloed folks since they broke up. What they were was the sort of ragtag, aslant, nigh-invisible band that rock ascetics like Gordon would upend bins of Night Ranger for. In short, a find. – Anthony Strain

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6. PulpThis Is Hardcore (Island)

In the three years between Different Class and This is Hardcore, something happened to Pulp. Or, more accurately, something happened to Jarvis Cocker—he turned 33. And that’s when things started to get really, really dark. With opening line “this is the sound of someone losing the plot,” Cocker & Co. set an ominous tone for This Is Hardcore with opener “The Fear.” From there, Cocker sings “I am not Jesus, though I have the same initials,” perhaps simultaneously panicking and chuckling about that coincidence combined with being the same age as Christ when he was crucified. And then comes the epic, pornography referencing title track, which puts stroke films in simultaneously the most poetic and depressing light possible. And eventually they throw in some touching moments via “Help the Aged” and “A Little Soul.” If not for an uptempo track like “Party Hard” here and there, this would be just about the most emotionally exhausting listen one could handle. – Jeff Terich


5. Boards of CanadaMusic Has the Right to Children (Warp)

The ’90s were indisputably critically, commercially, and in my humble opinion, qualitatively dominated by guitar rock. But the best works in the waning years of that decade portended what was to come in the 2000s; and no album exemplified that like (again, in my humble opinion) Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children. In its wake, the album has become universally revered as one of the best works not only in the ambient genre, but in the ’90s in general. Reviewers stumble for words and often settle for vague statements while describing its appeal but are always spot-on in conveying the record’s undeniable emotional resonance. Believe every single drip of gaudy praise heaped upon it – this record transcends the typical depth of response an album can elicit in its listener. – Tyler Agnew

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4. AirMoon Safari (Source – Caroline)

If ever there was an album tailor-made for “chilling out,” it’s this one from the French duo of Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin. While later albums would become more suitable for “zoning out” than chilling, Air’s seminal debut blends a perfect late-night cocktail of trip-hop, ambient pop, and downbeat techno, garnishing it with vocal contributions from indie chanteuse Beth Hirsch in addition to their own ambitiously androgynous whispering on “Sexy Boy,” which remains the best song ever for mischievous make-out sessions on your parents’ couch. Bonus points too for not only rocking a vocoder, but making it cool for other acts to do it again. – Robert Huff

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3. Massive AttackMezzanine (Virgin)

Massive Attack reached their apex of breakbeat brooding with Mezzanine, their long-awaited third album that was born out of ego-clashing and considerable amounts of rewriting. The wait seemed worth it. While the album is clouded with thick mood-production, the lush melodies, sugar-lunged guest vocalists (reggae singer Horace Andy and Cocteau Twins muse Liz Frazer) and subtle danceability blasted Massive Attack onto the mainstream – and more than a handful of film soundtracks. Tracks like the roaring “Angel,” the somber “Inertia Creeps” and the starkly skin-crawling duo “Risingson” and “Mezzanine” meld their gothic smoke screen with warm ambience, collages of electronica, not to mention jazz, amped arena rock and sweet pulsating dub. – Chris Morgan

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2. Elliott SmithXO (Dreamworks)

The sound of an acoustic guitar playing solitary notes, followed by a few strums, then accompanied by a dulcet voice is nothing new for an Elliott Smith record. It’s after a minute and a half into the opening track of XO, “Sweet Adeline,” that those who were already fans of Elliott did a double take. True, Smith had starting using other instruments in previous albums, and had a much fuller sound when he recorded “Miss Misery” for Good Will Hunting, but this was still a leap. This was Dylan recording Highway 61 Revisited, or Jeff Buckley going from the one guitar and little amp of the Sin-É to the grandiose production work of Grace. In other words, it’s not what we expected, and given time, we would all love it. – Terrance Terich

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1. Neutral Milk HotelIn the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Merge)

On a surface level, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea recalls the sounds of various psychedelic and folk acts from the ’60s—Bob Dylan, Syd Barrett, The Beatles, Skip Spence—and yet, in its simple, ramshackle stripped-down approach, sounds completely innovative and bizarre. In a way, it’s almost too simple. Most songs are built on fairly basic two or three chord progressions, with acoustic guitar providing the primary framework. After hearing it through some discman headphones for the first time in my junior year of high school, the glorious sounds pouring into my ears left me speechless. In a way, it seemed so simple that I was utterly shocked that nobody had made anything like it before, but in fact, didn’t. – Jeff Terich

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