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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
nogoodforme ix: Our Favorite Albums of the 1990s
PJ Harvey, Dry (1992)
I have a place in my heart and soul for every record in PJ Harvey's extensive discography. Rid of Me is probably the most important record of my life, because it made me want to make art, and To Bring You My Love is Polly's most grand gesture towards the "Greatest Goddamn Rock Artist of the New Century" throne. Stories From The City is the Peej record I'd listen to if I were getting ready to go out for the night, while Uh Huh Her is the one I'd put on when I came home pissed-off and drunk. Is This Desire? and 4-Track Demos remain my personal favorites, although sometimes I really do think White Chalk embodies my soul, which is both a beautiful and disturbing thought. But I think if there were really a PJ Harvey that were completely, utterly me, it'd be Dry. Dry is the girl who went through a massive Wicca phase, the one who wants to believe in the elemental feminine as a source of darkness and magic and power. Dry is the High Priestess card in the Tarot deck, supremely enigmatic and yet direct and fearsome. Dry is the spirit of Stonehenge in eleven songs, the moon and the sea and the dead birds on a beach. Dry is awkward, beautiful, poetic, powerful, earthy, mystical, shameless and primal. I'll always remember the first time I heard it; I had to pull my car over to the side of the road because it was such a miracle, like hearing your soul for the first time. In some way, I knew I could never make music for myself after listening to Dry, because it said everything I would ever need to express through song. If there was ever a record that was pure sorcery, it'd be this one. Nothing has really cast a spell over me in the same way since. (Kat)
U2, Achtung Baby (1991)
"Love Is Blindness"-
Maybe the 11th or 12th most important factor in my development as a human was figuring out at age 13 that Achtung Baby sounds best when you pull your shitty boombox into bed with you and sleep with your ear next to the speaker and let the record play on repeat all night long. Achtung Baby will never make as much sense to me as it did when I was sunk under the covers in my rattly-space-heater-heated attic bedroom, hoping for a snow day, in love with Bono, un-Nirvana-ed, barely a teenager, happily miserable, half-asleep. I hardly ever play it anymore, but it'll always be the first record to ever obsess me a zillion percent, the gateway drug that predicted my eventual evolution into the kind of girl who, upon hearing her favorite song a-beer-and-a-half-in at some bad bar on the Lower East Side, turns to her friend and sighs, "I love this song so much" before grandiosely staring skyward as if life were some beautiful movie. It's both a blessing and burden but I'll take it, always. (Liz)
Blur, Parklife (1994)
Before there was the Beatles, there was Britpop. Factually, that statement could not be less true if it tried. But, in the grand schemata of mia vida, Blur's Parklife functioned as my official Intro to Hot Dudes Singing About England Englishly, which, when you get right down to the nitty-gritty of it, is pretty much the only thing I care about. Of course, my nine-year-old heart was broken when I discovered it was not babealicious Damon Albarn singing the verses of Parklife, but rather an unattractive British actor named Phil Daniels, who was in Quadrophenia (This was beyond rectified two weeks ago, when I discovered this Youtube vid of Damon Albarn and Ray Davies performing "Parklife" tete-a-tete). Parklife is the Kinksiest non-Kinks album this side of Muswell Hill: 50% Stompy "Rave-Up" McStompersons ("Parklife", "Girls & Boys", "Bank Holiday"), 49% blackberry JAM (as in, "of the century")-tinged semi-ballads ("Magic America", "Clover Over Dover", "End of a Century"), and 1% "lullabies about the moon" ("Far Out"). I like Moon Lullabies best. (LJ)
Depeche Mode, Violator (1990)
I really, really, really, really, really tried hard not to pick Violator as one of my contributions to this list. I wanted to put down My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, for one thing, 'cause I think it was a groundbreaking record that totally prepared a whole generation of listeners to embrace genres like noise. Or I wanted to mention something by Unwound 'cause I think they're a perfect apotheosis of D.I.Y punk and noise and no wave and their whole discography encapsulated the decade. Or, you know, Huggy Bear, because what could be more nogoodforme than classic riot grrrl? And yet here I am: Depeche Mode, Violator. It's not like I haven't written about Violator about a million times before: I picked it as one of my desert island discs, I devoted a whole effin' We're Obsessed entry to it, it played a prominent part in my Dream Prom Theme Superlative and I seem to mention it once every two months in a Snapshot. But this is a 90s list, and the 90s just don't mean anything to me without this record. If you were to tell me in the 1980s that a bunch of gay-seeming, slightly effete British dudes with S&M-lite pretentions and love-swoony yet pervy tunes would put out one of the most iconic records of the decade, I would've choked on my Cinnamon Toast Crunch and tripped over my British Knights. But that's what made the 90s so magical -- you really felt like the decade held the promise that the seemingly meek would inherit the earth after a toxic decade of Reagan and Thatcher and gross 80s yuppie materialism. Violator, of course, is a majestically awesome record: it's sleek, seductive, emotional, sensual and dramatic in all its alt-Euro techno-pop super-melodic glory. Depeche Mode were riding a wave of momentum that had been building since Music for the Masses; it was really their time to explode into what was then a more-diverse pop mainstream that was starting to make room for a more adventurous palette of sounds. Still, it was a surprise to see Violator to become as massive as it did; it eventually went onto sell ten million copies, which still blows my mind. It was exciting to go see Depeche Mode on tour that year, because they played huge, massive stadiums -- stadiums full of skaters, ravers, queers, old-school new wavers, baby Goths, normal suburban kids, alternateens, random open-minded jocks who just wanted to hear "Personal Jesus." How magical it was to look around and go, "Wow, there are so many of us!" Singing "Stripped" with about 40,000 people is probably the closest I've ever felt to understanding what it was like to be at Woodstock, except there was way better dancing.
Anyway, I really need to stop writing about Violator, and this is the last time I will ever mention this record as a separate entity in nogoodforme. These are the final five things I want to say about it:
1. DJs always play "World in My Eyes" and it always gets the ladies going on the dance floor.
2. Straight dudes rarely if ever cop to liking Depeche Mode, much less this record. At the time, a lot of dudes I knew dissed hard on Depeche Mode; I think it profoundly puzzled them that these really non-super-hetero guys attracted so much libidinal intensity, and honestly, the dissers were pretty dry in that department. The proof's totally in the songs, which are often simultaneously tender and sensitive and naughty and dirty all at once. What adolescent girl doesn't want this for her first erotic fixation? Duh!
3. But sometimes I wonder if the sheer exposure to Violator at a popular level laid the groundwork for metrosexuality, or at least for a whole genre of gay-ambiguous enough dudes. Just think, a whole generation of "Do you think he's gay?" discussions on the East and West Coast may be intimately tied to Depeche Mode's oeuvre. Granted, this is just lazy quasi-sociological thinking, but it makes for an interesting thought experiment.
4. I have courted physical altercations over my love for this record. Related to #2, I once called a semi-prominent rock critic "fucking stupid" to his face because he drunkenly admitted he hated Depeche Mode because they "sounded faggy." Fag this, fuckface!
5. I am seriously wondering if this is my favorite record of all time. I think it is. I officially declare it is. My life has now come to a pinnacle of self-knowledge and wisdom, and I can move on. (Kat)
Sonic Youth, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)
Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star Day was the day I came home from 11th grade and put on a tape of this radio broadcast thing where Eddie Vedder DJ'ed for many hours late at night and played "Androgynous Mind" and the first half of "Quest for the Cup." The record hadn't come out yet and it was the most quintessentially springtime-lovely afternoon, with perfect air and puffy clouds and chirpy birds and sunny sun, and Kurt Cobain had died about two weeks before and I was sad. Gina showed up in my bedroom while I was listening to either "Androgynous Mind" or the first half of "Quest for the Cup" and said, "Let's go practice driving!" So we went driving with her dad and at one point she almost backed up off a cliff and we screamed, "Noooo, we don't wanna be dead like Kurt!" but then it was okay. On the way back to my house "Bull in the Heather" came on the radio and Gina's dad said it sounded like Poly Styrene but we'd never heard Poly Styrene so we had no basis for comparison. Then the record came out a couple weeks later and I bought it and my favorite was "Starfield Road" and we couldn't tell if Sonic Youth was making fun of the Lemonheads on "Screaming Skull." We sure hoped not!
By the way, my third favorite record of the 1990s isn't Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star by Sonic Youth; it's In Utero by Nirvana, which I already wrote my heart away for and may never write about ever again. But Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star Day was a very good day indeed. (Liz)
Thurston Moore, Psychic Hearts (1995)
What is it with me and irrelevant solo albums writ by dudes from bands with chicks in them? Psychic Hearts by Thurston Moore= the Winter Women/Holy Ghost Language School by Matthew Friedberger of the 1990s. It's wonky, idiosyncratic, occasionally moving, and totally "hyper-," as in, "hyper-solo." But that's the only way in which Psychic Hearts is hyper; mostly, I dig it cuz it's chill, which is a shocker, because Thurston Moore strikes me as a very "aggro" guy in real life (Though nowhere near as aggro as his aggro wifey, with whom I once engaged in the ice-queen bitch-out stare-fest of the century at the Prince Street J.Crew, where I can only assume she was buying Stephen Malkmus his Christmas present). The only facet of Thurston Moore I in any way relate to (besides how I'd guest-star on Gossip Girl if they asked me) is his obsessive lionization of Patti Smith and some other babes, which parallels my own obsessive lionization of Ray Davies and some other dudes. The second-best song on the album (after "Psychic Hearts," which is about me, because you know I had a fucked-up life, growing up in a stupid town) is "Patti Smith Math Scratch," which I will re-name "Matthew Friedberger Math Scratch" and include as a bonus track on my first irrelevant solo album, New Girl At The Holy Ghost Language School, a note-for-note Xerox of Holy Ghost Language School performed in the surf-rock style, featuring Zac Efron on the drums. (Laura Jane)
Lync, These Are Not Fall Colors (1994)
"Silver Spoon Glasses"
If I were to make an astrological chart full of 90s records instead of planets, Violator would be my ascendant/rising sign and Dry would be my sun. My moon sign -- the sign of my unconscious, my shadow side -- would be occupied by Lync's These Are Not Fall Colors. I have always had a real affection for harsh, punkish noise, and it was through discovering this record that I basically got into hardcore and punk in a serious way in the mid-to-late 90s. Lync occupies a weird, liminal space between emo, chaotic post-hardcore and jangle-pop: they're rough, loud and noisy, but unexpectedly melodic and tuneful as well. A lot of K Records/Kill Rock Stars stuff has aged terribly, but These Are Not Fall Colors is still so compelling and urgent and visceral years and years later that I still listen to this and have the same intense immersion into the songs; it just pulls me to this place where feelings overwhelm and emotions take their shapes in front of you, just through sheer brunt of sound. I basically had to write off a whole genre of bands like Modest Mouse and pretty much every emo band on earth, simply because I knew this record existed and would always be ten times better. Because it just is -- in the secret history of rock music in the 1990s, this is still one of the most unique records you'll ever hear, and it's a shame that Lync didn't stick around longer to be more celebrated for it. Then again, loving this record is like belonging to a secret cult, and it's always amazing to meet someone who knows and loves it; it's like finding a member of your real tribe. I don't share this record easily (except when I'm referencing desert island discs). But when I do, it means I really love you. Everyone should know what their record-as-moon-sign is, and be similarly protective of it. You don't want to give your secret heart away so easily, do you? (Kat)
The Spice Girls, Spice (1996)
I used to think "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles was important because it's actually about fucking. But really, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" is important because it's about nothing, guitars, and a moment in time. Conversely, "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls is important because it's totally about fucking. That's what "zig-a-zig-ahhh" means, to answer the age-old question. When I was eleven, my friends and I would sing "Wannabe" on the playground at recess. Essentially, we were singing "I really really really wanna have awesome sex and come hard." Fifteen years later, every pop song that eleven year old girls sing on the playground is about fucking. Therefore, the Spice Girls were the most important band of the 1990s. Beyond "Wannabe," and whatever else the non-"2 Become 1" singles from this record are, Spice sucks. Even when I was eleven, I felt too cool for it. "This music is tacky," I thought. But I listened to it ad nauseum anyway, because, if you were an eleven-year-old girl in 1996, it was just what you did. Who cares? Not counting the Beatles (the Beatles never count), the last thing pop music should ever be is "good." Just ask Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell, Laura Jane Faulds, or any given member of the New York Dolls: Life's no fun without a little TRASH. (LJ)
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
This song isn't off BSSM; it's "Head" by John Frusciante, who's the guitar player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and whose first solo album Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt is my second favorite record of the '90s/evs:
The most annoying thing about life is how everyone's always so surprised when I say the Red Hot Chili Peppers are my favorite band. I guess they're confused cuz I don't have the band logo tattooed on my face, or maybe because I'm an occasionally four-eyed shy little bookish nerdface who loves Star Wars and probably sleeps with her Patti Smith records under her pillow. What the world doesn't understand is you can be all those things and still be Life's Greatest Chili Peppers Fan; there's nothing paradoxical going on there at all. I'm introverted-exuberant, okay? It's a total gas. And guess what, dudes? The Chili Peppers are occasionally four-eyed bookish nerdfaces who love Star Wars and Patti Smith, too! It's true. Most of my Blood Sugar Sex Magik-era existence was taken up with reading every article I could dig up on the Chili Peppers, and from then on my main mission was to turn into some benevolently crazy Californian creature who majorly digs Bob Dylan and Bowie and Bad Brains, surfs and eats weird health food a lot, possesses vast reserves of secret comic genius, and loves life and hot babes above all else. And guess what again, dudes? I totally nailed it. Except for the part about Bad Brains, I suppose.
And oh yeah anyway, Blood Sugar Sex Magik is my favorite record in all the world and it will be forever. The first time I heard "Under the Bridge" was a little after I bought the album; my stepdad was hooking up my new speakers and I haphazardly turned on track 11 to test them out, and the first 27 seconds of guitar kind of made my heart float out of my body. It's one of the most cherished of all my firsts, as good as a first kiss, except probably purer. Dear favorite band, I love you soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much. (Liz)
Tags: astrology, babes, bed, Blur, Bono, Britpop, Damon Albarn, Depeche Mode, Eddie Vedder, Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star Day, firsts, Friedberger, gateway drugs, high school, introverted-exuberant, John Frusciante, Kurt Cobain, Laura loves the Beatles, Laura loves the Kinks, Life After Kurt, Lync, moon lullabies, New York City, Nirvana, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Psychic Hearts, recess, records as planets, Red Hot Chili Peppers, sex, Sonic Youth, Star Wars, the Lemonheads, The Spice Girls, Thurston Moore, U2, Violator, Winter Women/Holy Ghost Language School, Zac Efron
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