1993 in Music

Music I listened to and reviewed released in 1993.

1. Bill Frisell: Have a Little Faith (10/10)

This is one of those albums that is perhaps even more radical and important than it sounds – in fact it really doesn’t sound all that radical.

Read the full review.

2. Pearl Jam: Vs. (10/10)

Pearl Jam’s second album remains their best, even decades later. Never before or since have they been able to so well combine their aesthetic with quality song-writing. On their debut, mostly strong songs were weakened by rather horrible production. On Vitalogy and almost all subsequent albums, they nearly always find a way to throw in some filler. And this record remains their best set of songs, without filler, without experimentation, but still very much “grunge.”

It’s possibly the best American Alternative Rock album of the decade and the standard by which all other records of its ilk should be measured by.

3. Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream (9/10)

Perhaps it was because the Pumpkins were oh so popular when I was a kid – a kid trying to be different, but of course – that I really didn’t like them. And there was a hangover from this because I found myself giving their records a chance in early adulthood and being only mildly impressed.

But this is nearly as good a record as early ’90s alternative rock ever produced; the songs, the arrangements, the playing – it’s hard to quibble with any of it.

4. Archers of Loaf: Icky Mettle (9/10)

I came at Archers of Loaf backwards: years ago (and I mean years) I ripped White Trash Heroes from my old radio station’s copy. So though I knew their reputation, the only thing I new about them was that the album I had, and which I liked, was apparently utterly not representative of them.

Read the review.

5. PJ Harvey: Rid of Me (9/10)

I have read about Harvey a lot, her albums are often in year-end best of lists and she’s been around long enough that everything that she releases gets a lot of coverage. But I’ve taken a really long time to listen to her.

Read the review.

6. Nirvana: In Utero (9/10)

This is, to my ears, a significant improvement on their most famous album.

First off, its better produced! Hooray! Much of the gloss is gone, thank science.

Second, the songs are generally more mature. We still get a healthy dose of sentiments I can’t relate too but there are far more I can.

And there’s diversity in the music – well there was on Nevermind to an extent, but there’s much more here! It makes me happy.

I like this a lot more. I’m not sure I like it quite as much as their horribly named final album but it’s pretty great.

7. “Kleines Requiem fur eine Polka, op. 6” by Henryk Gorecki (9/10)

The “Requiem” begins as you would expect a requiem to begin – well a modern one anyway: softly and mournfully, slowly building in tension. The influence of American minimalism – as opposed to Gorecki’s own “holy” minimalism – seems very prevalent to me here. Late in the first movement the music just explodes in volume, though the music itself has not changed much – though the instrumentation has – and then it recedes out just as quickly. But the second movement of the piece is considerably more “avant garde,” featuring discordant piano and strings (or brass???) that sound like they have been flattened in post. And then some Charles Ives-type madness comes in, with a brass section that sounds like it belongs in another piece. It is only in the third movement that you get even a remote hint of the piece’s supposed inspiration, the polka. It’s a vigorous section that doesn’t remotely sound like a “requiem.” The final movement is, like the first, far more traditional in terms of its resemblance to a “requiem.” The piece, on the whole, is quite the experience, and well worth listening to.

8. Blur: Modern Life is Rubbish (9/10)

In 2010, I wrote the following:

This is an impressive statement. But it maybe goes a bit too far. There’s a little too much “look what we can do” and maybe not enough songs (and/or variety) to back it up.

Also, the (pseudo?) pretension can be a little annoying. The 69 tracks are not necessary. I understand that this may have come about because of some kind of band-label feud, but still…

I think that understates the pretty excellent quality of this record, which is far more interesting than just about anything else labeled “Britpop” in the 1990s.

9. Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville (9/10)

Records I may like more come after on this list, but this is important. Read the review of Exile in Guyville.

10. The Flaming Lips: Transmissions from the Satellite Heart (9/10)

This record is the culmination of a decade or so of the Lips’ neo-psychedelic garage craziness. Every record before this one feels, at times, like a goof or joke, like they too busy having fun to make a record that would actually show off their strengths, or consistently appeal to their audience. They had made some decent records up to this point, but I’m not sure they’d ever made anything that people outside diehard Lips fans could tolerate up to this point (though it’s been a long time since I listened to ’80s Lips). To me, there’s still their willingness to be weird and crazy, but that’s reigned in and put into packages that are so much more acceptable.

Though this record is not their best, in my mind, it might be the most representative of the early Lips, the Lips who had not yet decided they wanted to make pure pop music, and hadn’t yet discovered programming. It’s their third best record of that part of their career, at worst, and it’s still a bit of a shocker when you go back to it, to remember that they used to like noise this much.

11. Mercury Rev: Boces (8/10)

I was debating about giving it a 9/10 but I’m not sure. Read the review of Boces.

12. Primus: Pork Soda (8/10)

How this record became a hit is anybody’s guess; it has to be one of the weirdest albums to go platinum in the US ever. Anyway…

The production is better this time out to my ears. And, though the songwriting has been criticized for not being as strong as Cheese, I don’t feel that it’s really true, if only because I’ve heard this album so many times that I’m familiar with even the weaker tracks (and they, thus, appear leas weak).

Primus does their thing here. But their thing is unique and they do it well. They may not have the range of some other bands of their musical ability, but they do their idiosyncratic funk metal thing better than anyone else possibly could.

13. Bjork: Debut (8/10)

In 2011, I wrote the following:

I think Bjork is perhaps the most interesting female “pop” star to emerge in the 90s. I suspect this is called Debut because we are meant to ignore the earlier efforts – how can a 13 year old really have creative control of an album?

What is here is mostly great, and mostly engaging, and sets up her idiosyncrasy for the rest of her career.

The biggest issue is that the production on some of the “house” tracks has dated pretty terribly. They would sound like brutally generic early ’90s dance numbers if it weren’t for Bjork’s vocals and lyrics, which of course lift them out of that.

I agree that it’s dated rather horribly compared to her later stuff, but it’s still a pretty damn impressive record, and only bettered by the rest of her career because, well, she became a better songwriter.

14. Frank Black (8/10)

Though I prefer the next record, his debut album is a huge leap in songwriting. Read the review of Frank Black’s debut album.

15. Mauricio Kagel: String Quartet IV (8/10)

Kagel’s fourth and final quartet is similar to his third in that it contains more radical elements, but these elements are incorporated into more traditional and recognizable forms (even if the quartet is two movements of 8 or so passages each, which is very much not traditional). It’s perhaps the most conservative of his string quartets, but don’t let that trick you into thinking this is a particularly conservative piece of music. I think the third is the greater accomplishment, but I still like this piece of music.

16. Girls Against Boys: Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby (8/10)

GVSB carved out their own niche within post hardcore and I don’t really know anyone else who sounds by them (the two basses, the sampler). It’s a distinct style which they own.

The only drawback, I think, is a lack of really great songs. That might have come with the territory – when you set out to sound like this songs probably aren’t that much of a priority – but it means that it takes a number of listens to really appreciate them. (I don’t mean to undersell them here. There are a few pretty good songs here once you get used to the aesthetic.)

It’s definitely style over substance, but the style is so good that you kind of forget. (And, that’s sort of the point, right?)

Of their records I’ve heard, this is the best, in my opinion, and it’s as good a place as any to start with them, given their rather impenetrable sound.

17. Miranda Sex Garden: Suspiria (8/10)

This band seem to have stumbled upon something pretty unique, in their mix of “angelic” vocals borrowed from the western classical tradition and alternative rock. It’s pretty hard to pin down. It also feels like it came out of nowhere.

But, on the other hand, the production isn’t particularly great and the “mantra” style of singing – for lack of a better word – means the lyrics are a little lacking.

But, for the most part, a unique and great record.

18. Fugazi: In on the Kill Taker (8/10)

Their second best album, I think. Read the review of In on the Kill Taker.

19. Tool: Undertow (8?/10)

I will likely like this record more in a few years, and want to up my rating. Read the review of Undertow.

20. Stereolab: Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements (8/10)

I like this better than their later music. Read the review of this Stereolab album.

21. Swervedriver: Mezcal Head (8/10)

So diverse as to stop being shoegaze. Read the review of Mezcal Head.

22. KRS-One: Return of the Boom Bap (8/10)

Hip hop is still not my thing, but if I have to listen to hip hop, let it be this. Read the review of Return of the Boom Bap.

23. The Breeders: Last Splash (8/10)

Surprisingly diverse. Read the review of Last Splash.

24. Superchunk: On the Mouth (8/10)

Not necessarily my thing, but I like this fine. Read the review of On the Mouth.

25. Various Artists: Jugdment Night Original Soundtrack (8/10)

Surprisingly good and it hasn’t dated horribly. Read the review of the soundtrack to Judgment Night.

26. Earth 2 (8?10)

Incredibly influential and pretty damn boring. Read the review of Earth 2.

27. U2: Zooropa (7/10)

Remember when U2 was interesting?

I know this is pretty much sacrilege in the world of U2 fans but for me, the ’90s years in the wilderness are far and away my favourite period in the band’s history. They took more risks than they ever had before and ever would again but they maintained enough of their earlier sound so that they still (mostly) sounded like themselves.

This is a more daring, riskier and more difficult record than Achtung Baby. As a result, it’s far less consistent and I’m not even sure its highs reach that of the average track of that record. But at least it’s provocative, and not just some rich, overly lauded band resting on their laurels.

At times there is too much Brian Eno here – one refrain in one song sounds like it could have been on an Eno solo album from the ’70s – and they sort of lose themselves in experimentation to the point where what we thought was “U2” almost disappears. But I’d still rather a daring, risky record like this than anything they put out in the 21st century, all of which is just dinosaur rock.

28. The Boo Radleys: Giant Steps (7/10)

A few strong songs away from being very good. Read the review of Giant Steps.

29. Dinosaur Jr: Where You Been (7/10)

A little more commercial than I would like, but I still really like this band. Read the review of Where You Been.

30. Hans Werner Henze: Symphony No. 8 (7/10)

The eighth symphony is, if anything, even more traditional than the seventh. It’s programmatic, inspired by A Midsummmer Night’s Dream, and I guess a greater familiarity with that play (which I have read, but not for years) might help me here. Though there are touches of the old Henze, for the most part I find myself yearning for his younger radicalism, even though this is certainly fine work, as Neo-Romanticism goes.

31. Polvo: Today’s Active Lifestyles (7/10)

This is good but maybe not quite as great as its reputation. Read the review of Today’s Active Lifestyles.

32. Morphine: Cure for Pain (7/10)

Such a unique sound. I’d wish they’d do more with it. Read the review of Cure for Pain.

33. Palace Brothers: There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You (7/10)

The debut of one of the great songwriters of his era. Read the review of Will Oldham’s debut album.

34. Catherine Wheel: Chrome (7/10)

Rockier than most shoegaze, which I like. Read the review of Chrome.

35. Counting Crows: August and Everything After (7/10)

The sound of the 1970s. Read the review of August and Everything After.

36. Ry Cooder and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt: A Meeting by the River (7/10)

The first time I heard this, I had never heard anything like it, so I guess I was a little floored by it.

This is an impressive performance by two excellent musicians showing off their abilities. And if we’re going to get fusion between American and Indian music, I’ll take this over that awful Indian dance music any day.

But I’m not sure it’s quite as momentous as I first believed or as many critics have claimed. It is, at the end of the day, some excellent, albeit traditional, improvising by two great musicians.

37. Unrest: Perfect Teeth (7/10)

More interesting and diverse than most indie rock. Read the review of Perfect Teeth.

38. Depeche Mode: Songs of Faith and Devotion (7/10)

Not my thing but I understand why some like it. Read the review of Songs of Faith and Devotion.

39. Grant Lee Buffalo: Fuzzy (7/10)

A unique aesthetic but the songs are a little lacking. Read the review of Fuzzy.

40. Cows: Sexy Pee Story (7/10)

Read the review.

41. The Tea Party: Splendor Solis (7/10)

The Tea Party are accomplished musicians with pretty good songs and both this record and its successor are well produced. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that they worship Zeppelin to the point of mimicry, going so far as to steal lyrics. (Though, in their defense, Zeppelin stole those same lyrics from someone else…)

I can never decide which record I like more, this or the sequel. On the one hand, the sequel is more diverse musically. On the other hand. it’s definitely more pretentious and this record is a more “pure” distillation of their Zeppelin-worship.

This is a band I’ve always wanted to like more than I do. I wish they had been more original because they were clearly talented.

42. Melvins: Houdini (7/10)

I should like Melvins. But I don’t quite. Read the review of Houdini.

44. Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine: Post Historic Monsters (7/10)

Snotty British punk lyrics over dancy alternative rock. That’s certainly something. Read the review of Post Historic Monsters.

45. Dead Can Dance: Into the Labyrinth (7/10)

A little too close to New Age for me. Read the review of Into the Labyrinth.

46. Terence Trent D’Arby: Symphony or Damn (7/10)

Ambitious, but certainly not as ambitious or crazy as that title track promises. Read the review of Symphony or Damn.

47. Matthew Sweet: Altered Beast (7/10)

Pretty decent. Read the review of Altered Beast.

48. Oliver Knussen: Flourish for Firewworks (7/10)

This starts out feeling really appropriately titled – you can visualize the fireworks in your mind – but the middle of it feels perhaps a little too subtle. I don’t know.

49. Ed Hall: Motherscratcher (6/10)

A stupid bonus track away from a 7/10. Read the review.

50. Smog: Julius Caesar (6/10)

Less consistent but more musically interesting than a lot of the stuff below it on this list. Read the review of Julius Caesar.

51. Mazzy Star: So Tonight that I Might See (6/10)

This is a solid, dreamy slowcore record with equal amounts melody and distortion. The latter could be mixed a little higher, but what can you do?

The problem, for me, is that it’s rather one-note. They do one thing. They do that one thing well, but it’s not enough of my thing to really compel me to listen to it regularly – it has literally been years since I last listened to it.

52. Slowdive: Souvlaki (6/10)

If this is your thing, I suspect you like this record. Read the review of Souvlaki.

53. Porno for Pyros (6/10)

This sounds way too much like Jane’s Addiction for me. Read the review of Porno for Pyros’ debut album.

54. The Juliana Hatfield Three: Become What You Are (6/10)

Good songs but not much else. Read the review of Become What You Are.

55. The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of The Reverend Horton Heat (6/10)

This is some pretty great psychobilly. But it’s still 1990s psychobilly. Read the review.

56. Suede (6/10)

Glammy Brit Pop. But the songs aren’t good enough. Read the review of Suede’s debut album.

57. Cynic: Focus (6/10)

Too much vocoder. Read the review of Focus.

58. Bad Religion: Recipe for Hate (6/10)

Well, it’s intelligent anyway. Read the review of Recipe for Hate.

59. Lenny Kravitz: Are You Gonna Go My Way (6/10)

Pure nostalgia. Read the review of Are You Gonna Go My Way.

60. Janet Jackson: janet. (6/10)

I prefer the sequel. Read the review of janet.

61. Tom Waits: The Black Rider (6/10)

Stage music, a collection of filler with some decent songs. Read the review of The Black Rider.

63. Sheryl Crow: Tuesday Night Music Club (5/10)

Very middle of the road beyond the lyrics. Read the review of Tuesday Night Music Club.

64. Roy Hargrove Quintet with the Tenors of Our Time (5/10)

This record should really be called the Roy Hargrove Quintet with the Tenors of Another Time or the Roy Hargrove Quintet with the Tenors of Our Parents’ Time. I didn’t know Wynton had discovered Hargrove; had I, I wouldn’t have borrowed six of his cds from the library. Oops.

Read the full review.

65. Cracker: Kerosene Hat (5/10)

Does nothing for me. I miss Camper Van Beethoven. Read the review of Kerosene Hat.

66. Eleven (5/10)

What I wrote sometime in the mists of time:

As far as I know, these guys are most famous for being a sometime collaborator of QOTSA and the original drummer of the RHCP/temporary drummer for Pearl Jam. A trio without a bassist. But instead of leaving it out, they replace it with a keyboard that usually sounds like a bass. Which begs the question, why not just hire a bassist so your keyboardist can be more interesting?

They lack a great singer. So for some reason the male and female vocalists try to sound like each other.

The songwriting isn’t there either. I mean, some of them are catchy, but they’re catchy in that annoying way where they remind you of older better songs.

I sort of figured this would be different.

What I wrote without knowing I wrote the above review, in August of 2016:

Though generally a fan of alternative rock, this is not the kind I like. Why is that?
Well there are a couple of competing things, I think:

  • First, I don’t like either singer. I don’t think either is particularly great, but its primarily their affects, which are similar and feel like they’re trying to sound like someone else.
  • Second, they are not great songwriters: the melodies are not strong and nor are the riffs. There may be one or two riffs that stick in the head, but when there is a relatively memorable melody, they wine over it.
  • Third, though I would have thought I would have liked a more keyboard-heavy version of grunge, it turns out, maybe I don’t. At least not this version.

I have given this album a bunch of chances at this point, and I think I like it less than I did initially. This band needs both a singer and a songwriter.

67. Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell (3/10)

One of the worst albums to ever seel more than 10 million copies. Shame on all of you. Read the review of Back Into Hell.

Not Ranked: The Buddy Holly Collection (10/10)

At the time of its release, this was, apparently, the closest thing a to “complete” edition of Holly’s work as existed. (So I have read.) So that alone makes it pretty good.

Holly managed to bridge the gap between rock and roll and rockabilly on the one hand, and respectable pop music on the other, better than perhaps any other performer of his era. He brought a more sensitive side to rock and roll lyrics (befitting his spectacles, I guess) that was hugely influential – his influence on John Lennon in particular is immense – and wrote a number of songs that remain classics of the first wave or rock and roll. And, though not the trailblazer that Berry or Perkins was – as those guys literally invented rock and roll guitar – Holly was an extremely innovative and significant guitarist. (There is one song on this collection where he sounds like a rock and roll version of Robert Fripp. Seriously. It’s bonkers.) All of that makes this pretty essential listening.

The collection is sequenced by recording date, which gives you a great sense of how he progressed as a songwriter, musician and performer.
The one issue I have with it – a minor quibble – is that some of the tracks from his albums are replaced with rarities and I’m not really sure why. Oh well.

Not Ranked: Dizzy Gillespie: Birks Works: The Verve Big Band Sessions (8/10)

I recently listened to this band’s performance at Newport and was underwhelmed. It just goes to show you the power of mood. I guess just wasn’t in the mood and I imagined the Newport show as some kind of semi-modernist response to Ellington’s Newport show of the year before. I think I was over-thinking.

Read the review.

Not Ranked: English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner: Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks (8/10) by Georg Friedrich Handel

I have heard parts of Water Music so many times that it’s hard to appreciate it. However, this performance is so idiosyncratic (perhaps the better word might be authentic, I don’t know) that it is almost like rediscovering the work, hearing it for the first time. And so I find that I kind of like it in a way I never would have expected with such an overexposed piece of music.

Music for the Royal Fireworks is something I don’t think I’ve heard before, and it strikes me as definitely a more mature work than Water Music.

That being said, this stuff still pales in comparison to Bach as far as I’m concerned.

Not ranked: Andrei Gavrilov: Grieg: Lyric Pieces (8/10)

This is an arbitrary single-disc collection of Grieg’s “Lyric Pieces” (of which Grieg wrote 66 – there are 24 here). I am a man who likes complete sets, for whatever reason, and so I always find it difficult when listening to a new (to me) composer’s work when it is excerpted arbitrarily like this.

Read the full review.

Not Ranked: Anne Sofie von Otter; Bengt Forsberg: Grieg: Songs (7/10)

Two complete song cycles plus some excerpted individual songs. Read the review of Grieg: Songs.

Not Ranked: David Atherton et al.: Holst: A Winter Idyll (5/10)

Read the review.

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