Posts Tagged ‘1990s’

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Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies

Thursday, February 19, 2009
Jar of Flies (1994)

Jar of Flies (1994)

To me, Jar of Flies marks the apex of Alice in Chains’s career, though excellent cases can be made for all three of their studio albums.

Only Jar of Flies is an EP. Released a couple years after the band’s most successful CD, Dirt, AiC’s Jar of Flies paints the same themetic picture, only is softer ones. Though Dirt was loud and angry, it still had some measure of hope. Jar of Flies is the surrender, the junkie’s dying whisper. Layne seems to know here that his addiction has bested him.

Though writing about drugs is somewhat cliche in the music world, Layne has a way of turning that cliche on its head. First, AiC’s music is about the despair drugs cause. You need go no farther than “Nutshell,” track two on Jar of Flies, to know what I’m talking about: “And yet I find / yet I find repeating in my head / If I can’t be my own / I’d feel better dead.”

Instead of glorifying drugs, Jar of Flies and Alice in Chains’s music condemn them by the harsh realities they depict. If you’ve listened to Alice in Chains as much as I have (mostly when I was  younger), then you know that as you listen to each album progressively, it’s tells a story, from the band’s rise to fame with Facelift in 1990 to their legendary MTV Unplugged peformance in 1996, where Staley looked almost like an emaciated scarecrow. You knew then, if you had any doubts before, how he’d meet his end (which he did in 2002).

Despite the sad story, the music is important. Not only is Jar of Flies beautiful and heartfelt, it serves as a warning to anyone willing to listen closely. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I would say this message is a great part of Layne’s legacy.

This EP is such an experience. It flows like no other – from “Rotten Apple” to “Don’t Follow”… wow. It is something (though I’m not a fan of the closer). Still, Jar of Flies is the greatest EP of the nineties.

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Massive Attack – Mezzanine

Monday, February 16, 2009
Mezzanine (1998)

Mezzanine (1998)

I swear England makes better music than the U.S.. Not that Americans don’t make good music, but it just seems like more quality musicians come from across the pond.  At least per capita, England outdo America, music-wise.

Massive Attack is an English trip-hop group whose heyday was in the nineties. Mezzanine hit stores in 1998 and marked the end of that nineties heyday. Many consider Massive Attack to the best trip-hop group (though I say the cake goes to Portishead).

Where most English hip-hop groups had insanely fast tempos (some around 500 beats per minute), Massive Attack staked their claim but slowing things down. This is one the band’s trademarks, and it makes for a groovy, relaxing, and unique experience.

Massive Attack was more successful than many other trip-hop groups, and that’s due to the quality of their music. While those groups will fade into obscurity with the passage of time, Massive Attack will remain fresh.

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Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Thursday, February 12, 2009
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)

“My reflection / dirty mirror /there’s no connection / to myself /I’m your lover / I’m your zero / I’m a face in your dreams of black.”

-“Zero”

Pretty depressing. To be honest, I would say 50 percent of Mellon Collie doesn’t appeal to me. I guess I could see this working better as single album.

But where Billy Corgan and the crew get it right, it’s really right.

I won’t try to pretend I have a long history with this album. In fact, I’ve only had it about a year. Yet even though I wasn’t there when it was released in 1995, forver changing the way conused teenagers looked at music, I can still appreciate the effect its had.

Though most of the lyrics are a bit down, this album isn’t solely a depressive dirge. Neither is it a post-grunge album filled with typical lyrics of childish self-angst. It’s deeper than that.  Mellon Collie reflects a great range of humanity – hope, pain, fear, love, even silliness. For that reason, it is honest and mature.

These lyrics aren’t depressing for the sake of being depressing.  I think a great example of this can be heard in the song “Galapagos,” which reflects the pain of losing someone. Yet instead of being bitter, it is tender, the mesage being that the person who left can still expect to be loved.

At the beginning of this review, I mentioned half the songs weren’t worth keeping. I still stand by that. But the ones that are  make Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness one of the greatest albums of nineties.

“Too late to turn back now / I’m running out of sound / and I’m changing / changing. / And if we died right now / this fool you love somehow / is here with you.”

-“Galapagos”

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Portishead – Dummy

Monday, February 2, 2009
Dummy (1994)

Dummy (1994)

I got this a couple weeks ago when I went with my friend to Hastings. It was a six dollar gamble, considering Portishead was a band I’ve heard of but never actually heard.

I asked my friend to put it in his CD player in the car on the way back. He picked the most depressing sounding song on the album, “Numb” (he’s kind of emo).

We really dug it – I didn’t expect the heavy bassline and beats. My friend commented that is sounded like hip-hop (I later found out i’ts called trip-hop, but to anyone reading this that’s probably not a new thing.)

Then came the voice. Holy crap, it’s a girl! Yes, that was the general reaction.

The genral vibe of Dummy is sort of spooky, yet simelteneously strangely relaxing and warm. My friend agreed, although more on the spooky side.

Anyway, in the two weeks since, I’ve probably listened to Dummy ten times or so, which is actually saying a lot since I go through new music pretty fast. The last album I remember getting that kind of attention was Depeche Mode’s Violator, which I bought last summer.

I haven’t had time to fully explore the album, but I just want to mention that “Roads” is quite possibly one the most haunting and beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. If you have not heard this song, you’re missing out on one the greastest musical creations of the nineties, no contest. Incredibly powerful and powerfully simple, “Roads” really hits me deep.

Sorry to end this so abruptyly here, but I posted a video of “Roads” below, which has something like two and half million views. So it’s a very cool song.

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Soundgarden – Superunknown

Sunday, January 25, 2009
Superunknown (1994)

Superunknown (1994)

I like Soundgarden. I’m not as much into them today as I once was (try a year ago), but of the Seattle Four I’d give them second place (after Alice in Chains).

I guess the main connection I have with Soundgarden was my roommate from last year liked them as well, so we listened to them quite a bit.  We pretty much decided “Head Down” and “Fourth of July” were the best tracks ever, in the whole world.

I really like Soundgarden’s indulgence in the experiemental with “Head Down’s” alternate tunings. I remember I tried playing along with it, and broke my top string because it was tuned up a whole step. Back when I was a noob…

This band had so much amazing talent. Chris Cornell’s vocals are just out of this world. Before you roll your eyes at the mention of “Chris Cornell,” forget everything’s he’s ever done after 1994. Now imagine back to the grunge era, to the glory days as I like to call them.

Now that we’ve set the scene,  listen to “Slaves and Bulldozers” on YouTube, off their album Badmotorfinger, released in 1991. Epic. Absolutely epic. Chris Cornell’s crowning achivement.

Well, looks like I set out to talk about Superunkown and ended up on Badmotorfinger. Oh well. Two birds, one review.

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My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

Monday, January 19, 2009
Loveless (1991)

Loveless (1991)

I got Loveless on a recommendation and was expecting it to be somewhat different. I popped it into the CD player of my truck last summer and thought it sounded pretty good, if a bit different. 

This is pretentious art music. Why do I say that? Because you cannot understand the lyrics because they are merely background the strange soundscape conjured by muddy guitars that obviously have reverb all the way up and then some.

The chord changes would be best described as unconventional. I’m sure they follow some specified pattern, but it seems almost alien. Loveless feels like that kind of album you have to listen to fifty times in a row before you “get it.” To me, it just doesn’t seem to be worth all that time.

Such is My Bloody Valentine. Apparently they were a key influence on the alternative, grunge, and post-rock that would inevitably follow it a few years down the road. But I find most of the bands that My Bloody Valentine influenced to be much better. Take the Smashing Pumpkins for example, one of the greatest bands of the post-grunge years.

Yes, I would recommend this album. But be warned, it is truly a love/hate album. As for me, I’m still not sure what to think of it. I know it’s probably genius, but not the kind of genius that appeals to my musical tastes. Perhaps in time I might come to like it. 

I could see myself giving Loveless a spin once or twice a year.

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Wilco – Summerteeth

Sunday, January 11, 2009
Summerteeth (1999)

Summerteeth (1999)

Forgive me for talking about Wilco again. Actually, no. Don’t forgive me. They deserve it.

I know, it was merely last week that I gave you glowing accolades that put a New Year’s firework show to shame. But I’ve found a new love, Summerteeth.

I went to the BCS national championship a few days ago (I just got back, in fact). What a depressing game. 

The car ride there and back was almost as depressing, at about eighteen hours one-way. Around hour nine or so, I felt the cabin fever begin to grip me. Who would placate me in my time of turmoil?

I picked up my iPod and turned it to Wilco. Trusty old Wilco, the band I always mean to listen to, but never do. They had me as a captive audience now, as it was in that prison of a car where I heard the first strains of Summerteeth just a few days ago.

It was love at first sound. The song that really stuck out to me was “She’s a Jar.” It’s a very smooth jam. It’s just so catchy and perfectly crafted. I love the harmonica, the unexpected chord changes, the strings. It all just works to perfectly together.

And of course, there’s “A Shot in the Arm,” one of Wilco’s more popular tunes.

Other highlights for me include “ELT,” “How to Fight Loneliness,” and “My Darling.”

Wilco is one of the greatest relatively new American bands recording and touring today. How I’d love to see them live…

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The Pietasters – Willis

Sunday, January 4, 2009
Willis (1997)

Willis (1997)

The Pietasters first came to my attention when one of their songs was featured on a video game a few years ago.  Since then I have found it difficult to get my hands on this CD and I didn’t know of anybody who had heard of them, much less liked their music.  But I finally got my hands on a copy and Willis by the Pietasters, released in 1997, is a good example that the best bands are sometimes the hardest to find.

Hailing from the same ska-punk tradition established by bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the Pietasters expand on the ska-punk theme while maintaining a traditional ska feel.  The opening track, entitled “Crazy Monkey Woman,” is very much a punk song.  The second song, “Out All Night,” is a catchy ska tune with some definitey Bosstone influence.  This is the song that got me turned onto them in the first place.

This CD is balanced out by the traditiona ska feel the Pietasters bring into their songs.  “Higher” is a good example of a traditional ska song.  It’s got a great reggae feel, which gives you a break from the manic melodies present throughout the CD.  A couple of tracks later, the Pietasters bring it out again in “Whithout You.”  This track makes me want to go to the beach.  It brings out a traditional ska feel while sticking to a more modern 3rd wave feel.

Willis ends with another more traditional tune, rounding out an excellent album.  Whether you prefer a ska-punk feel, a 3rd wave feel, or a traditional feel, this ska album offers a little bit of everything.  Anybody who enjoys ska and grew up in the 90’s will love this CD without question.

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Depeche Mode – Violator

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Violator (1990)

Violator (1990)

Violator is a somewhat famous album released in 1990 by synth-pop band Depeche Mode. It is fairly unique for an album that has enjoyed so much mainstream success. Even eighteen years after its release, it still sounds fresh. This is part of what makes the album so memorable. Good music lasts.

But more than its longevity, Violator is also very groovy and fun. From the first notes of “World in My Eyes,” I was hooked by the Depeche Mode’s catchy synth-pop beats. The song didn’t really stick out to me at first, but with more rotations, I couldn’t get enough of it. Depeche Mode’s sound is amazingly unique for a band so mainstream. It is bands like them which make me believe that people once had better taste in music.

But mainstream is a relative term. Many don’t know this wonderful band and the footprint they’ve made on the musical world. After listening to this album, I could see where Muse got their inspiration for Black Holes and Revelations, an album not even a tenth as good as Violator. The music video for Coldplay’s recently released “Viva la Vida” actually mimics the music video of “Enjoy the Silence” off this ablum. Without a doubt, Depeche Mode were pioneers in the synth-pop sound that influenced many artists.

Depeche Mode’s strength lies in their mastery of crafting a catchy yet unique song. This almost seems like a contradiction in terms. But an example of Violator’s duality of catchiness and uniqueness can be heard in track two, “Sweetest Perfection.” The song is dark, brooding, and passionate, and yet, strangely captivating. The twelve-eight time signature gives it a swing feel, and the accompanying strings, which can sometimes be cheesy and misplaced in other music, work well in this song.

The most rocking and famous song off Violator is track three, “Personal Jesus. ”Surprisingly, I find this song to be one of the weaker ones. Yet I still like it — perhaps I’ve listened to it too much to appreciate it much anymore. But people who have never heard it will instantly fall in love with its driving simplicity.

Track five, “Waiting for the Night,” displays Depeche Mode’s softer side. The song has an almost childlike simplicity. I don’t cry often listening to music, and this holds true for this song as well, but I can see this song as being one people would cry to. Well, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is soft and tender.

And now, with track six, we have my favorite song on the album, “Enjoy the Silence.” It is a beautiful song with a beautiful message, about how words can often ruin a perfect moment between lovers. Sometimes we just need to learn how to shut up and enjoy the silence. The words of the chorus are pure poetry: “All I ever wanted, All I ever needed is here in my arms / Words are very unnecessary / They can only do harm.”

“Enjoy the Silence” has been covered by numerous bands, and for good reason. It is amazing, end of story. It is the crowning jewel of one of the best albums of 1990. Even if you don’t think Violator is up your alley, at least find this song.

The only other song worthy of mention on Violator is “Policy of Truth.” It has the same catchy synth-pop thing going for it that makes their more upbeat tracks so great.

Unfortunately, the album lags in quality following “Policy of Truth.” Don’t get me wrong; the songs are good. They are just not great. But to end my examination ofViolator’s tunes on a positive note, the first seven tracks are amazing enough to counterbalance the three so-so ones at the end.

Violator is a fun and unique album. You do not even have to even be fan of synth-pop to enjoy it – I certainly wasn’t when I bought it. Actually, it is hard to imagine anyone not liking the album after giving it a shot. Despite the uniqueness of the band, Depeche Mode is also highly accessible and they definitely grow on you.

And better yet, practically every song on the album is danceable. That is, if you don’t mind taking a trip back to 1990. But in the case of Violator, that is a trip you will be willing to take fairly often. 

Four and a half out of five stars.

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Catch-22 – Keasbey Nights

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

 

Keasby Nights (1997)

Keasby Nights (1998)

Keasbey Nights was released in 1998 on Victory records by a little-known band from New Jersey. But since then, the CD has grown to represent the entire third-wave ska movement.  After giving it a listen, I’d say its reputation is definitely justified.  While the band has made several lineup changes and style changes since then, this album lives on.

This CD was a high-energy, high-volume, super-fast joyride from the moment I turned it on to the moment the last track ended.  The whole time, I kept waiting to see what would happen next.  If nothing else, it always kept me on my toes.

Filled with manic guitar rhythms and bouncy horn melodies, this CD is nonstop action.  It’s no wonder many call it the best third-wave ska album ever made.  It’s not THE best in my opinion, but it’s in the top three.  The best way to describe it is a musical sugar high without the bad aftereffects.  I have no trouble saying that I have played this CD alone in my room and simply jumped around because it was so full of energy.

While the tone of the CD is always upbeat, there are moments where the band does change styles.  While frontman Tomas Kalnoky is known for his fast vocals and manic writing style, a few songs go off on different tangents.  “Walking Away” is a departure from typical third-wave ska songs in that it has a swing feel to it.  I think it hints at jazz and swing while maintaining Catch-22’s ska-punk style.  Similarly, “Kristina” is not a radical departure from Kalnoky’s style, but it definitely slows things down a bit.  I got a hint of his softer side, but the song still maintained his personality.

As a ska-punk band, Catch-22 also shows a bit of their punk side.  The song “Giving Up Giving In” is just everyone playing their instruments as fast as they can.  To me, it’s still entertaining and I like to see that side of the group.

The instrumental, titled “Riding the Fourth Wave,” is a fun piece where pretty much every brass instrument gets a solo.  When this CD was released, the band consisted of a trombone, trumpet, and saxophone in addition to all the traditional rock instruments with one exception.  The bass player used a fretless bass, which gives the songs a certain feel that few ska bands can match.  It definitely stuck out to me in “Walking Away.”

Another thing that makes this CD so neat is the way the CD ends.  After the last song plays, the beat and bass line keep playing and all the band members do all their special thanks on the CD.  They just recorded and started talking and it wasn’t always perfect, which made it funny.

All in all, this CD is definitely worth whatever money you pay for it.  It’s probably hard to find in places other than used bookstores, but if at all possible, I think everyone should get their hands on it.