Monday, October 6, 2008

90s music - what's your bag?

Music lists are silly, and far from definitive. In fact, I'm sure some publications create lists simply to spark debate and enrage the faithful reader/listener. It's an old trick; whether people love something or hate something, to have an opinion is all that matters to the originators.

While I'm not suggesting that Pitchfork has done that with their top 100 albums of the 90s list, I will say that I find some fairly glaring omissions. And I'm not even talking about certain genres they've casually ignored. I'm talking about important albums that shaped the musical landscape. I understand that Pitchfork sometimes carries a grudge against the more mainstream albums, but that doesn't mean they should ignore music that left a mark, especially if you're creating a list and suggesting it should be definitive.

Of course Pitchfork is free to do what they want, and surely won't even know this piece exists, but I still feel it is my duty to point out some of the albums they missed.


On the flip side, my discussion about these "missed" songs and albums I think represent the music scene of the 90s...

"Bell Bottoms" - Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion plays a blender mix of punk, blues and rock and roll. If that makes any sense. "Bell Bottoms," off of their 1994 album Orange gives a good example of their sound, if a little more accessible than the rest of that album. Though if I had to pick a great 90s Blues Explosion album, I would go with Acme. Very accessible, with a nice coat of veneer to smoothly go down the throat.

"If I Could Just Kill a Man" - Cypress Hill

The Pitchfork list acknowledges hip hop, but only if you're in A Tribe Called Quest. (Ok I agree with adding The Chronic and Wu-Tang, but the 90s were the height of rap explosion; a little diversity would have been nice). Cypress Hill, though largely forgotten, delivered hits just like the more known hip hop acts of the times. To ignore their contributions is to not recognize how much of a grip hip hop had on the music scene.

"Two Step," and "Rapunzel" - Dave Matthews Band

It's easy to hate on the Dave Matthews Band and call his music Hippie-lite. It's also easy (and somewhat legitimate) to label his crowds as "teenage girls looking to get high easily and frat boys in white baseball caps." But here's the thing...DMB delivered the albums in the 90s and delivered the hits. I always found it weird to hate a group because of their audience; to a large degree they can't do anything about that. The band plays music, and whoever shows up is out of their control. Yes, they hit the mainstream and that makes them evil to both the Pitchfork people and the hippie crowd, who want more room for glowstick, but of all the band on this list and Pitchfork's DMB probably has the largest name recognition across the population. For that reason alone you can't leave them off a list when discussing the 90s.

"Just Another Victim" Helmet and House of Pain

Back in 1993 a truly atrocious movie starring Emilio Estevez as a victim of urban crime, called Judgement Night (it involved an RV, a bad part of town and Dennis Leary). Yeah, I'm pretty sure not even Martin Sheen knows of the movie's existence, so don't fret if you've never heard of it. However...

(and this is where I speak in huge hyperboles)

I'd go out on a limb and say the soundtrack to the movie is one of the best from the decade. Not relying on Brian Eno or John Williams, this soundtrack instead took the novel approach of marrying hard rock/heavy metal bands with hip hop acts. The result? One of the first true mashup albums to come out - a good 10 years before the idea of mashups were cool. But don't take my word for it, see what others said here. (This is also the first time I heard about an alleged Tool/Rage Against the Machine collaboration though. I'd love to hear that!)

"A Go Go" - John Scofield

Not just John Scofield though, Medeski, Martin and Wood, a critically acclaimed jazz trio who backed Scofield on this album and made a chill album back before electronica began to hit its stride. Not quite a jazz album, not really a rock album, it's simply a great album. This title track sets the mood and lets you know exactly what you're in for with the rest.

"It Ain't Over 'til It's Over" - Lenny Kravitz

Before Kravitz Hendrixed out on us (and butchered a Canadian classic that butchered the U.S.'s stance on war - loosely at least), he wrote what I think is one of the greatest love albums ever. Dedicated to Lisa Bonet (his wife at the time, though they were going through some tough times) it showcases everything a relationship is about (both the highs and lows), while only really getting sappy once (the syrupy "Flowers for Zoe, about his daughter).

"Daughters of the Kaos" - Luscious Jackson

In Search of Manny, while technically an EP and not an LP, is still a fantastic accomplishment for any band. That it was followed up by inconsistent albums only shows what Luscious Jackson could have been, had music execs not watered down their sound.

"Too Many Puppies" - Primus

No Primus on a list of albums from the 90s? For shame. This song was the soundtrack to a game we used to play in college; we would move all the furniture out of my friend's dorm room into the hall, take a half deflated beach ball and wrap in duct tape, turn off the lights, crank up this song and then proceed to beat the hell out of each other in close dark quarters. Last person standing in the room "won."

I think I've shared too much.

"Why Go" - Pearl Jam

I've often heard that many people believe Pearl Jam ripped off their sound from Nirvana. And I'm not here to tell you what is and isn't true. All I know is that Pearl Jam's 10 came out very close to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. It's possible Eddie Vedder went to Nirvana shows with a notebook and scribbled down chords and fashion notes. Even so, leaving this album out of the discussion of 90s music seems like little more than holding a grudge that Cobain killed himself and not Eddie Vedder. Would the rock critics' opinion of Pearl Jam and Nirvana flip-flopped had that scenario played out?

"Prison Sex" - Tool

C'mon, this is getting ridiculous. I know it's cool to hate Pearl Jam, but I thought the Internet loved Tool! Possibly not the most defining album of the 90s, but the list has 100. Nothing against Elliot Smith, but 2 of his albums are in the top 100. Heck, the reviewer of Either/Or (ranked #59) basically says Elliot Smith was the voice of Portland. Fine. But Tool is the voice of the Internet geek, a much more robust, influential and somber group!

"True Dreams of Wichita" - Soul Coughing

Eclectic and accessible at the same time, I classify Ruby Vroom as one of the definitive albums of the 90s. That it was probably fueled mainly by heroin beside the point. Of course that can also explain why the band doesn't exist anymore but still. The crazy landscape singer Mike Doughty wraps around the catchy melodies gives his songs a catchy yet haunting vibe. Full of contradictions and bizarre imagery, the recipe doesn't sound like it should work, yet it does.

"Burn Don't Freeze" - Sleater Kinney

Ranked #30 on the list, Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville definitely deserves to be there. In fact, I might argue it deserves to be higher. But other than her, PJ Harvey, Bjork and a couple others, the list is underwhelming when it comes to women. The addition of Sleater-Kinney would have helped that - and wouldn't have been out of place.

"Natural Blues" - Moby

Used for something like 17 billion ads, Moby's Play acted as a bridge between electronics and pop for a lot of listeners. Obviously Pitchfork believed there were better electronica albums, but this one went on to sell more than 10 million copies! I know sales figures don't always equal critical acclaim, but there comes a point when a lot of people enjoying something should carry some weight and not simply ignored. I know "mainstream" is an ugly, nuclear bomb of a word to hipsters around the country, but it shouldn't. At it's very basic level, music is made and listened to for entertainment; something should be said if it does that very well.

So there you have it. Would my list of albums differ from Pitchfork's? Most certainly. Would it be better? Of course not. At the end of the day, it's all opinion. It just seems to me that Pitchfork does things simply to generate debate, discussion, and unfortunately, vitriol. But then one has to wonder, what the discussion would have been had they chose to select some of the albums I've brought up.

I'm thinking it would have given people something more to complain about.

What did I miss? Leave your suggestions in the comments!


Cline said...

The omission of a Sleater Kinney album is beyond criminal and borders on the ultra-criminal.

Though it took me a while to warm up to The Hot Rock is the one that seems the most Pitchfork-friendly.

I'd take Dig Me Out, but Call The Doctor wouldn't be bad either.

hendge said...

Leaving out "10" is just flat-out ridiculous and more of an overt snub than anything else I can think of. There's no way I can out-indie Pitchfork, but two that are in their wheelhouse that they missed are Son Volt's "Trace" and Nada Surf's "The Proximity Effect."

"The Chronic" should be Top 10 easily, in my opinion. That was THE album that brought West Coast gangsta rap mainstream.

Metallica's "Black Album"? Is that too mainstream for them? Don't know, but that's a pretty iconic record from the decade too.

Goose said...

Black album I didn't think about, but there's enough dissenting opinion out there about it that I would probably leave it off. I'd say Metallica's heyday was the 80s - that's when they were truly revolutionary.

Also, they included the Beastie Boys Check Your Head, which I can understand, but I would say Ill Communication is the better album. Of course, Check your Head is probably more influential.

mndleftbod said...

was coming to post I am shocked and that it is a travesty that Pitchfork missed Trace...Hendge beat me to it.

Seems like they got lazy, I like a lot of the bands they have on there, but there was a built to spill then another of their albums a couple spots up, same with pavement and a few other bands.

Seems they were trying to be "too smart" by leaving off the obvious one like 10.

Goose said...

I am telling you right now, go out and get "In Search of Manny," by Luscious Jackson - it's ridiculous.

Nothing like the label releases by Luscious Jackson, and yet still sounds like them. I can only imagine what happened to them once they signed.

I dare say it's the best "album" (ok, EP) I mentioned. Kinda easy since its 6 or so songs, but not a weak one in the bunch.

As for the omissions by Pitchfork, I honestly think they do those things to build their hipster cred, which is a shame, because in doing so, it kind of diminishes their music credibility. But that's on them.