Digitization Finds #12 — The 90s Revisited
Electronic Music: Trip Hop & Ambient/Jungle
Portishead — ”Dummy” (1994)
The rise of the trip hop genre spawned quite a few successful acts, including the previously covered Tricky, Massive Attack, and Portishead. Portishead is quite the oddity of the group, given their uniquely-refined sound. Sufficiently refined that I assumed these were likely involved in classical or jazz performance previously. However, they are an unlikely bunch to gel as well as they do. The line-up consists of:
- Geoff Barrow: hip hop fan, turntablist
- Adrian Utley: jazz guitarist
- Beth Gibbons: singer who grew up on a farm with no significant performance experience
Somehow that ragtag bunch created one of the best albums of the 1990s. It’s a coherent album that flows well, with no tracks that stand out as subpar. Beth Gibbons’ voice is unique and fits the backing instruments perfectly. Definitely pick this up!
Aphex Twin — ”Richard D James Album” (1995)
There are certain artists that shaped my musical taste significantly more than anyone else. Tom Waits is at the top of the list for songwriting. Aphex Twin and other Richard D. James projects were the first electronic project that I really enjoyed.
Richard D. James Album is a masterpiece that despite being nearly 3 decades old, sounds modern. It’s the first LP to incorporate significant amounts of drum & bass and jungle elements, while still keeping the ambient and breakbeat qualities of his previous works. Tracks including “Girl/Boy Song”, “Fingerbib”, and “4” are all-time classics. For any fan of instrumental music, electronica, or just music in general — this is a must have! It’s one of my favorite albums of all-time.
Not Quite Pop Music
Fiona Apple — “Tidal” (1996)
If I were to pull 4 albums out of the 90s at random and compare them to Fiona Apple’s debut Tidal, I’d be confident that Tidal would be the best album. Not a single mediocre track on the album, the songs flow together quite well, and a young Fiona Apple exhibits quite a bit of talent in songwriting and performance. It’s a shame that she didn’t realize more albums during her career, but what she did release is generally high quality throughout.
Jamiroquai — “Traveling Without Moving” (1996)
“Virtual Insanity” was a breakthrough hit for Jamiroquai, an acid jazz/pop group struggling to break out of their niche status. This album brings many great songs at the top-end, including “Cosmic Girl”, the closing wind-down track “Spend a Lifetime”, the title track, “High Times”, and a few others. Unfortunately, there are a few tracks that haven’t aged well at all and likely weren’t good back in the 90s either including “Drifting Along”.
It’s a really solid 90’s album I recommend to fans of funk, soul, or acid jazz, or just want something interesting to listen to from the 90’s pop music scene. Jamiroquai has other albums that are more uniformly great, though
Intelligent Hip Hop
Dr. Octagon —” Dr. Octagonecologyst” (1996)
Dr. Octagon is one of Kool Keith’s original hip hop personas. His trademark style, which is typically over-the-top imagery with an odd flow, fits perfectly with the content of this album: a mixture of sex, horror movie clips, and more being relayed by Dr. Octagon. Dan the Automator provides perfect beats to accompany these bizarre stories.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard — ”Return to the 36 Chambers” (1995)
Ol’ Dirty Bastard (ODB) was a character. He stormed the stage at the Grammy’s once during someone else’s award acceptance to tell the crowd that Wu-Tang should have won and that they are “for the children”. He escaped from a rehab facility and went on the run from the police for over a month, performing during that time occasionally. He’s as human as one can be: exemplary, creative, and altrustic on one end, and a slave to hedonistic needs on the other. Unfortunately, the latter took his life much too early.
This album is a bit rough. Had RZA not been the producer, it probably wouldn’t have quite worked. ODB’s freestyles which come across as half-sung occasionally and occasionally don’t flow terribly well, is juxtaposed with the very precise, organized beats by RZA. The inconsistency of ODB and the structure of RZA meld together somehow, holding the album together. It’s definitely front-loaded, with the latter 20% of the album being forgettable.
Alternative Rock Albums to the Grunge Copycats
Smashing Pumpkins — ”Siamese Dream” (1993)
This is essentially the opposite of Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy in my experience listening to it again for this review. Siamese Dream was the first CD I ever owned, bought for me as a Christmas gift along with my first CD player approximately three decades ago. Actually, yeah. Pretty close to exactly three decades ago!
Upon first listening as a seven year old (or I might have been eight years old), I l liked it. It was a catchy rock album. Looking back on this 30 years later, the brilliance of the album, and the chaotic circumstances faced by the band during recording, comes across in this music. Billy Corgan faced mental health issues (depression, possibly?), James Iha and Darcy weren’t getting along, likely due to her substance use issues, and Jimmy Chamberlain was also having substance use issues. This was relatively early on in their respective careers as well.
Despite personal and band issues (or perhaps at least in part due to these issues), a masterpiece was created here. Even if you aren’t a huge Corgan, Pumpkins, or 90s Alternative Rock fan, it’s worth a listen!
Pearl Jam — ”Vitalogy” (1994)
Siamese Dream aged gracefully. What about Vitalogy? This is the first album with modern Pearl Jam sound, seemingly driven by Eddie Vedder. It’s a softer album than Ten or Vs. It has some potent singles with mass appeal. It’s unique sound that harkens back to Neil Young a bit and modern arena rock has aged surprisingly well.
The album itself is perfectly fine but lacks any qualities to make it stand out from later Pearl Jam albums. Personally, I’d much rather listen to No Code if I had to listen to a full album. It’s still an important album and completely listenable. It’s just not likely to overly impress.
My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult — ”Confessions of a Knife” (1990)
This album is a difficult one to assess. In it’s time, it was one of the more successful industrial albums. As a 1990 release for the more fringe tastes of the industrial / EDM / goth scenes, it’s time-appropriate. It sounds oddly out-of-date, though, even from a purely instrumental perspective. While the campy lyrics (i.e. “christian, zombie vampires” repeating for a chorus of one song) fit the music, the overall album just feels too much like a relic of the past to be something I’d purposefully dig out to listen to very often.
It’s still an above average album, so if you are into 90s industrial and related music, definitely check it out!
KMFDM — ”Nihil” (1995)
I was almost certain going into this one that KMFDM likely aged as well as TKK (not that well). Wrong! KMFDM is as great as they’ve always been. This is often considered their best or at least most popular album. Not sure about popularity (admittedly, it’s popular), but I definitely prefer Symbols, Angst, and a few other KMFDM albums over this one.
Nihil is a classic of the industrial / industrial metal genre and makes a decent entry point if you’ve never heard KFDM before.
- Tom Waits — “Mule Variations” (1999)
- Smashing Pumpkins — “Siamese Dream” (1993)
- Aphex Twin — ”Richard D James Album” (1995)
- Tori Amos — “Little Earthquakes” (1992)
- Tom Waits — “Real Gone”(2004)
- Portishead — ”Dummy” (1994)
- Venetian Snares — Rossz Csillag Allat Született (2005)
- Tricky — Maxinquaye (1995)
- Frank Zappa — “Hot Rats” (1969)
- The Postal Service — “Give Up” (2003)
- The Polyphonic Spree — “Live from Austin TX” (2004)
- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Tender Prey” (1988
- Rush — “A Farewell to Kings” (1977)
- Boards of Canada — “Music Has the Right to Children” (1998)
- Bjork — “Post” (1995)
- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Murder Ballads” (1996)
- Ani Difranco — “Little Plastic Castle” (1998)
- Sufjan Stevens — “Illinois” (2005)
- Subtle — A New White (2004)
- Amon Tobin — “Bricolage” (1997)
- Elliot Smith — “Figure 8” (2000)
- MF Doom — “MM..Food” (2004)
- Aesop Rock — “Labor Days” (2001)
- Fiona Apple — ”Tidal” (1996)
- Kahil El’Zabar & David Murray — “Spirit Groove” (2020)
- Warren Zevon — “Excitable Boy” (1978)
- GZA — “Liquid Swords” (1995)
- Leonard Cohen — “You Want it Darker” (2016)
- Stereolab — “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” (1996)
- Sunny Day Real Estate-”How It Feels to Be Something On” (1998)
- KMFDM — ”Nihil” (1995)
- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Ghosteen” (2019)
- Dr. Octagon —” Dr. Octagonecologyst” (1996)
- Incubus — S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (1997)
- LCD Soundsystem — “Sound of Silver” (2007)
- Architecture in Helsinki — “Fingers Crossed” (2004)
- Ol’ Dirty Bastard — “Return to the 36 Chambers” (1995)
- Atari Teenage Riot — “Burn, Berlin, Burn” (1997)
- Godspeed You! Black Emperor — “G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!” (2021)
- Yann Tiersen — “Kerber” (2021)
- Skalpel — “Skalpel” (2004)
- Asheron’s Call 2: Legions Preorder Promo CD (2005)
- 44 Leningrad — Klub Livestream 2022–01–22 (2022)
- Jamiroquai — “Travelling Without Moving” (1996)
- Pearl Jam — “Vitalogy” (1994)
- Busdriver — “Fear of a Black Tangent” (2005)
- Butt Trumpet — “Primitive Enema” (1994)
- Mogwai — “As The Love Continues” (2021)
- My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult — ”Confessions of a Knife” (1990)
- Nancy Griffith — “Storms” (1989)