Posts Tagged ‘1990s’

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Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Volume II

Friday, March 26, 2010

Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)

I bought this on a whim. When I popped into the CD player and put my headphones on, I realized I had made a dreadful mistake and that I had wasted about $20. I felt stupid, considering I thought this would be something awesome that I would like immediately.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty open-minded with most types of music. I can listen to just about anything that has artistic merit.

But with Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume Two, it seems I have met my match.

Because this music is what it says it is in the album title. It’s ambient. It has very little structure, if any at all. When I listen to this, I feel like I’m in zero gravity, floating through space, completely disoriented and confused. It’s like the feeling you have right before you fall asleep, that place where strange thoughts come, where suddenly everything feels like it makes sense.

This album is a taste of that, and I don’t believe it’s something the conscious mind can wrap itself around.

I don’t listen to this often. Once a year, at most. It’s just not that kind of music. I could listen to this on a sleepless night around 3 or 4  in the morning, alone in a dark room when I’m writing a late night paper or studying for finals, in the dark hour right before the first gray on the horizon appears. It’s music that must be listened to alone.

In any case, I won’t pretend to understand anything about this album. I don’t understand it. I don’t enjoy it very much, except when I’m in the rare mood for a song (if you could call them that) or two. But I don’t hate this kind of music, either. I understand there is merit, even if I don’t know what that merit is.

It’s not my bag, but when I’m in a rare mood, when my mind is on its level, I can listen to it. No doubt ambient music is challenging to listen to, and it may take more patience than I’m willing to have to form a more decent opinion on it. In that case, I continue listening to it, when I feel that rare mood strike.

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Jeff Buckley – Grace

Sunday, February 22, 2009
Grace (1994)

Grace (1994)

Right now I need a break. I’ve been writing a paper that’s due tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m., and I’ve only seriously begun to research it a couple hours ago. I almost have enough quotes and info to begin the paper (about tactics during the First Crusade, in case you’re interested, though you’re probably not).

Right now, I’m listening to Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible for the first time and I’m really digging it. Review material sometime in the next two weeks.

Modest Mouse show coming ever closer – hopefully I’m not let down and they remember to play some of the oldies!

Anyway, I would like to take a look at Grace by Jeff Buckley. If you’re reading this review, then chances are you already know and love Jeff Buckley. His only album, Grace, is hailed by many to be a nineties classic. For good reason – it is a nineties classic, and no knowledge of nineties music is complete without at least listening to Grace at least once, recognizing it’s importance.

Though Grace is Buckley’s only album, he probably influenced more artists than anyone else in the nineties. Matt Bellamy of Muse cites his falsetto to be inspired by Buckley. Thom Yorke of Radiohead made the recording for “Fake Plastic Trees,” possibly Radiohead’s saddest song, after hearing Jeff Buckley live. Chris Cornell was close friends with Buckley, and they gave inpsiration to each other. Many other artists cite Grace as a top 5 desert island album.

Then there are some who say it’s highly overrated – that Jeff Buckley had little songwriting ability and had to cover others’ songs, adding his particular flavor with his legendary voice. Bullocks to that. Buckley’s Grace is chocked full of his great original stuff – “Grace,” “Last Goodbye,” “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over, “Eternal Life,” and “Dream Brother.” Each of these songs stands on its own as Buckely’s genius songcraft.

Probably what Grace is most famous for is Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” This is just one of those songs (when sung by Buckley) where you just have to stop and listen, because you are completely powerless not to. I reamember buying Grace and skipping to this track immediately. After one listen, it was over – I put it on repeat and listened to it over and over for a good two hours.

By the time “Hallelujah” had about 30 plays on my iTunes, I decided to expand to the rest of the album, and each of the songs slowly built their play counts to rival “Hallelujah.”

As you can see, Grace shouldn’t just be listened to because it’s important. It is that, but it’s so much more. It’s amazing music, period. It’s a straight-up rock album for the most part, but the songs are highly complicated, using unconvential chords for pop music while retaining a powerful sense of melody. The lyrics are usually deep and sensitive, and though I’m not a girl, the lyrics to “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” are almost enough to make me swoon.

Songwriting aside, the main trademark of this album is Buckley’s angelic voice (and I don’t say angelic lightly).  It is literally the most beautiful and perfect voice to grace the world of music. It was a shame he died so young.

Grace should be in anyone’s collection. I cannot see anyone not liking this album (even though they’re likely out there).

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maudlin of the Well – My Fruit Psychobells…A Seed Combustible

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Fruit Psychobells...A Seed Combustible (1999)

My Fruit Psychobells...A Seed Combustible (1999)

Alright, this is the last album by these guys I have yet to review. After this, I promise not to talk about them until they release their new album this year (or something newsworthy happens).

My Fruit Psychobells…A Seed Combustible was my very first maudlin album. I ordered the re-issue via Amazon a little over a year ago.

Up to this point, I hadn’t listened to anything so freakishly strange as maudlin of the Well. I lived in Iowa City, IA, where I attended the University of Iowa. I had recently transferred from the University of Oklahoma and was starting from scratch – no friends, no family, no life.

So, I turned to music, in a way.

This era of my life was defined by two bands – Sonic Youth, and maudlin of the Well. The chaotic and often beautiful music of both seemed a suiting metaphor for my life at the time.

It wouldn’t be until the following summer that my mind would be graced with the sheer majesty and epicness of Bath and Leaving Your Body Map. Consequently, it was this album I listened to constantly when I needed my maudlin fix.

Though this album is not as great as the other two, it is still worthy a full five out of five stars. “Ferocious Weights” begins the album strong. Slow and methodical, it reaches high trying to grasp at whatever it’s trying to attain, seeming to fall flat at the end (in a good and fitting way, if that makes sense). “A Conception Pathetic” starts strong and takes some interesting twists and turns along the way. As I was listening to this for the first time on a walk through downtown Iowa City, the part where the song sort of turns into a demented circus orgy of sorts made me think, “what am I listening to?” maudlin of the Well. Duh. They do crazy stuffs sometimes.

The first truly memorable track comes with “Undine and Underwater Flowers.” This is one of the few maudlin songs that follows a verse/chorus/verse pattern. The outro at the end is wonderful. Very desperate sounding.

“The Ocean, The Kingdom, The Temptation.” Epic. This is the greatest song on the CD, no doubt. It has that underwater quality to it that literally transports you to some fantastical realm – the music maudlin conjures bears you away to places which can only exist in dreams. This song is the epitome of a dreamscape – the tension holds throughout until the nightmare unfolds around minute four or so. Very cool song.

“Pondering a Wall”… meh.

“Catharsis of Sea-Sleep and Dreaming Shrines” is really high up there, second place to “The Ocean.” The intro is just so killer. Killer might not be the right word…the majority of the song and album is very relaxing, like you’re floating on a vast, glass-still ocean under a canopy of stars, drifting towards the line where consciousness ends and sleep begins.

While nothing on the album really sticks out, such as on Bath and Leaving Your Body Map, the songs work really well together, more cohesively, I daresay, than their other two. The lyrics, as in all maudlin songs, are absolutely poetic and destroy 99 percent of other bands do.

For what it’s worth, I recommend this album without reservation to anyone who’s interested in the slightest. Perhaps you might be better off starting with Bath, but if you start with My Fruit Psychobells…, you’ll likely not go wrong.

This album isn’t for anyone who’s just going to listen to it once or twice. I’m convinced it’s impossible to truly appreciate this album unless you’ve had it for months. It’s so complicated that you could never “get it” on the first or second go-around.

So, as in both other maudlin of the Well albums, be patient, be kind, and be loving, and it will duly return the favor.

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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.