This is a list of reviews I’ve written about music I’ve listened to released in 1995.
1. Mr. Bungle: Disco Volante (10/10)
For the first 12 or so years of my life, I listened only to “oldies” and vocal pop. (Back then, “oldies” meant ’50s music, ’60s pop music, and the odd ’70s song that was safe enough.) I really had no one to guide me musically.
Fortunately, one of the bands I was introduced to through oldies radio was The Beatles. Eventually I listened to The White Album and my world changed. I began to understand that melody wasn’t the be-all end-all of music and that there was a whole, gigantic world of other sounds out there. The White Album changed my life more than any other album. But Disco Volante is a close second.
I didn’t get to this album until I was 20 or so. I had already heard their debut and appreciated it (at the time) more for its humour than for its artistry. And I bought Disco Volante probably in the hope that there would be another song that I liked as much as “The Girls of Porn.” (Don’t worry, that’s no longer my favourite song on the debut.)
So, imagine my surprise… I imagine it’s much the same as the surprise of anyone who has ever listened to this without warning (or without having first listened to The Mothers of Invention).
Bungle gets attacked for being “Zappa fetishists” but this attack has always bothered me. It’s not like other bands don’t take inspiration from their predecessors. Just because this album uses The Mothers’ musique concrete phase as a palette doesn’t mean they’re ripping off Zappa. Hell, I don’t know of any other band that learned as much from those early Zappa records. I mean, The Mothers kicked the door down, and it was like the rest of the world turned their backs on what was on the other side of the door. Until Bungle (and a few other bands) finally followed them through the door.
Just because this record is difficult doesn’t mean it should be ignored and maligned. There is nothing wrong with trying to chart your own path. If that path happens to involve risk-taking and breaking conventions, that’s a good thing. I don’t understand how people can decry this stuff as “noise.” There are songs here, you just have to give them the time they deserve.
Some of these songs are among the best avant rock/experimental rock ever made. But you’ll never know that if you listen to this album once and decide it’s “noise” or it’s “pretentious.” (Saying something experimental is ‘pretentious’ has got to be one of the laziest criticisms of experimental music going.)
Anyway… this album warped my fragile mind when I was 20 and I’ve never been able to go back. My tastes have expanded exponentially and I have a broad and healthy definition of music. That’s thanks to The Beatles and Mr. Bungle. Seriously.
I think this is probably the best/most forward-thinking experimental/avant rock album released between We’re Only in it for the Money and 1995. It’s that good. And if you like interesting music, you owe it to yourself to listen to this (more than once).
Listen to me talk about Disco Volante.
2. Blind Melon: Soup (10/10)
Blind Melon emerged fully formed on their debut: a unique combination of alternative rock attitude and classic rock influences with sometimes Stonesy sometimes Allmanesque interlocking guitars. Only two songs didn’t fit the mode of that debut, and one was their big hit.
Their second album is a conscious “Difficult Second Album,” beginning with an alienating Shannon Hoon + New Orleans brass band intro and never really letting up. The guitar hooks are more angular, the influences are more broad (post punk, art rock, other classic rock bands, jazz, folk and other influences mingle) and the lyrics are, on the whole, much, much darker (often alternating between focusing on Hoon’s addiction problems and his fascination with serial killers).
Nearly every song here is a classic: strong arrangements bridge the divide between classic art rock and alternative art rock and this is Hoon’s peak as a lyricist (though he occasionally falters). The arrangements are so inventive compared to the fairly one-note (albeit excellent) debut this almost sounds like another band.
And everyone is in peak form: Thorn and Stevens seem constantly at war in the complimentary way managed by a band like the Voidoids (and when Thorn isn’t playing guitar, it’s to add new sonic levels to the band’s sound), Graham and Smith are completely on (and super well recorded) and Hoon strains more than he should, reflecting his state of mind at the time. In addition, there are extraordinarily tasteful contributions, not just from the aforementioned Kermit Ruffins and his band, but the cello parts (and Smith’s own flute). Basically, what I’m trying to say is: everything works.
To me, this is how you do art rock in the ’90s. It’s right at the top of my list of best ’90s alternative rock albums ever, along with The Bends, OK Computer, Vs. and maybe a few others.
An absolute (and regularly overlooked) classic. Listen to me talk about Soup.
3. Whiskeytown: Faithless Street (10/10)
Full disclosure: This is my favourite alt-country album ever so I cannot be objective. Second, I have only ever heard the expanded edition, and so some of my feelings for this record are tied to outtakes that weren’t actually present when the original album was released in 1995. So I guess my review is for the 1998 edition…
This album is, to my ears, the perfect alt-country record. It combines everything you’d want in the genre: strong songs, energetic but ragged performances, music that could pass for country or punk, etc. In my opinion, this is Adams’ best set of songs ever. I haven’t heard anywhere near most of his solo records, but it’s certainly his best set of songs while in Whiskeytown. So many of these songs resonate with me and if Adams is one of our great living songwriters (and that is a question for debate if there ever was one) then this is the record I would point to as making that case. (I have yet to find a solo record of his that I really like a lot.)
As an aside: now that Adams is so damn famous for covering Taylor Swift, will any of these youngins find their way to this record? I hope so.
I have nothing to say in criticism, so maybe my praise sounds a little hollow. But this is one of the few records I could put on again and again and again without getting tired of it.
Listen to me talk about Faithless Street.
4. Radiohead: The Bends (10/10)
It’s hard to look back at this after Radiohead has become the Radiohead we all know and (presumably) love. They’re practically a different band, making conventional “alternative” pop rock, with only a few hints of the kind of wackiness they would get up to later (and more than a few hints of their influences, like when they totally rip off Nirvana on “My Iron Lung”).
But this is utterly excellent for what it is. It’s like a Greatest Hits record, few if any of the songs miss and, had the band never gotten more adventurous, I’m sure some Greatest Hits compilation would have been loaded up with this record, rather than the other records. (I have never heard Pablo Honey.) It’s one of the great rock albums of the year, even the decade, but the only reason we don’t remember it as that is because they released OK Computer and then sort of stopped playing guitar,
I’d actually say this holds up better than their most recent effort – better songs – and I think it’s shame that we don’t all celebrate this just because the band got even better later.
Listen to me talk about The Bends.
5. Pavement: Wowee Zowee (9/10)
Another of the numerous ’90s bands I ignored in the ’90s because I was stubborn and horribly uncool – or, really, the older sibling, and therefore I had nobody to help me out.
Far less immediate and way more difficult than their first two albums, this really seems to be the sound of a band telling casual fans to fuck off, or trying to recapture their earlier, weirder days before they were “corrupted” by releasing LPs/CDs for an actual label (not that Drag City wasn’t).
I think the scope is what impresses most. It’s not quite The White Album of ’90s indie rock – okay, maybe it’s really far from that – but they definitely throw nearly everything at the wall to see what sticks. And the production on a couple of the tracks is so deliberately weird/difficult as to be incredibly endearing (at least, to my ears).
Science love these guys.
6. Faith No More: King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime (9/10)
Maybe this album is such a favourite of mine I can’t be objective about it. Maybe that’s why I don’t see what so many other people claim to see. But this is my favourite FNM album, even if I do acknowledge that it is not quite the absolute classic its predecessor is.
Yes, whatever magic the band managed to conjure on Angel Dust to make that album seem coherent, despite the ridiculous amount of styles, is missing here. And I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s the production, maybe it’s how the stylistic diversity seems to be put into separate tracks, rather than mixed into most of the songs. I don’t know.
But on measure, I think this is actually the stronger set of songs: the album contains a number of their loudest, fastest songs, some of Patton’s most out-there vocals and, most importantly for me, my favourite FNM song, “Just a Man”, where the band apparently does gospel.
It’s so weird to me to go back and look at contemporary reviews. I know Angel Dust was a hard act to follow, but the idea that this crazy, super diverse, awesome record is somehow bad is utterly mystifying to me.
7. The Flaming Lips: Clouds Taste Metallic (9/10)
For years this was a record I maybe got a little too excited over, without really loving it as much as I claimed. Yes, that’s a little odd. I guess it was because nobody else I knew had heard it, and I was that kind of teen/young adult. I used to say it was “Pet Sounds for the ’90s,” or some foolish thing like that, that I had read somewhere, without having even heard Pet Sounds.
It’s not quite the masterpiece I used to insist it was, though it’s very close. I think it is absolutely the apex of the Lips’ earlier, guitar-dominated sound. It’s also probably the best produced record they put out before they really got into record production. (The dynamics on some of the songs are kind of insane.)
I still really enjoy this record. Their zaniness is on full display but is held in check enough so that the focus is still on the songs. I don’t think they ever fully achieved that with their earlier records. And though I may prefer the ambition of Zaireeka at this point in my life, this is the stronger, more conventional record.
I miss this old version of the band, even if I appreciate bands like this who can change their sound so drastically mid career.
8. Fugazi: Red Medicine (9/10)
Years ago, I gave Fugazi a try and got very confused. (Let’s say it was 15 years ago.) I believe it was Repeater I listened to. I got even more confused after I listened to Minor Threat. “Is this what’s come of Ian MacKaye?” I guess I thought, disappointed. Read the rest of the review.
9. Bill Frisell, Kermit Driscoll, Joey Baron: Live (9/10)
I think this live album embodies everything I think post-modern (or post-Hendrix) guitar playing should be: Frisell is all over the place within the same songs, throwing out all sorts of different techniques, tones, effects, styles totally arbitrarily. But he is just such a good player, and the band is so locked in behind him that it doesn’t matter that he does what he wants. This is what I want to hear: a talented guitarist doing whatever he wants, seemingly on whim. And when he returns to the song, the band play as if the song – rather than Frisell going crazy during his solos and fills – was the whole point.
Just incredible stuff.
10. PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love (9/10)
This definitely seems mellower (though hardly mellow) than the last time out on first listen, but I think that’s a mis-characterization. The rawness and emotion are channeled differently, that’s all. And it’s more varied musically – which seems an odd thing to say compared to an album that featured strings…. And it’s interesting to me that this album with a less notorious producer ends up sounding like a more interesting production.
The songs may be not quite as strong, but it could also just be that it takes a little longer for them to work their way in, they are longer after all.
The more I listen to it, the more I think it’s the equal of the previous album, despite the marked departure in sound. She combines her excellent songwriting with an aesthetic that cannot be mistaken for anyone else.
11. Strapping Young Lad: Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing (9/10)
I know Devin Townsend’s music for one reason and one reason only: I lived in residence in university with his current rhythm guitarist. And so I’ve been given a CD or two and been to some shows. And honestly, I was never blown away. I was always like, ‘this man is really talented, and really esoteric, and really into genre-bending in all the right ways’ but there was something about the genres he bended that perhaps rubbed me the wrong way a little. (I must say, I have enjoyed the Devin Townsend Band a lot more live than on record, to date.)
12. Smashing Pumpkins: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (9/10)
When I was younger, I listened to this record and thought it was too long. I thought it was too ambitious. I thought it was just too too much. (And yet I loved prog rock…)I told anyone who would listen that Siamese Dream was far better because it was so much less ambitious.
But I think I was wrong. There is a lot of music here but the remarkable thing is how little is actual filler. Rather, here we have a songwriter at the top of his game, showing off that he can write in multiple genres and come up with a seemingly endless supply of melodies and riffs. Really, here’s something for (nearly) everyone. And it’s crazy that it’s as listenable as it is, despite its massive length.
13. Dieselhed: Tales of a Brown Dragon (9/10)
This may have been the first ever al country album I ever heard, and I heard it at just the right time for me to fall in love with it.
Certainly, they are one of the more idiosyncratic alt country bands, at times sounding like a hard rock or even a metal or hardcore punk band and, at other times, sounding extremely soft (and, on another record, essentially recording pop music).
And the songs are idiosyncratic to match (Shaw is one of my favourite songwriters of the era).
I really cannot be objective about this record. It’s just too important to me and my own personal musical journey.
My favourite alt country record a lot of the time, even if its not the best.
14. Augusta Read Thomas: Words of the Sea (8/10)
This is an engaging piece whose movements run the gamut from borderline violent to whatever the menacing version of ‘serene’ is. Thomas’ music, in its quieter moments, reminds me of film music, which I think means she does a good job of conjuring images.
15. Blur: The Great Escape (8/10)
In 2011, I said the following
Like all their albums from their “prime” I don’t like it as much as when they did their tribute/parody of American indie rock, but that’s basically because I prefer American indie rock to brit pop. Some of the lyrics are pretty scathing, which I like. I find that sometimes Albarn lacks a really compelling melody, which is fine, but occasionally I wish the music were slightly more interesting around those melodies. I do agree that this is a very logical follow-up to Parklife subject-matter-wise. I don’t know what to say about it definitively really. It’s good, but it’s not great.
I think I still agree with that. I find that last track to be heavily indebted to mid-70s Eno in a way that most Blur isn’t. So that’s something.
16. The Jayhawks: Tomorrow the Green Grass (8/10)
It sort of boggles my mind that these guys had already been around for a decade when this came out. Read the rest of the review.
17. Emmylou Harris: Wrecking Ball (8/10)
Sometime in the ’00s we became inundated with new releases from established roots and country stars with an alternative take on their music and their legacy, most famously helmed by producers like Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett. I think this might have been first. (I honestly do not know if it was or not.)
18. King Crimson: Thrak (8/10)
The first proper King Crimson studio album in a decade once again shows the band as unwilling to rest on their laurels, as unwilling to just keep playing music from their past (unlike, say, Yes).
Gone are most of the influences from the various iterations of the band in the ’70s (I mean, for the most part, as this is still a prog rock band playing prog rock, but there’s no obvious influence from Romantic music or Third Stream, for example). and gone is the heavy new wave influence from the ’80s version of the band. These influences are replaced by some alternative rock influences (perhaps a light NIN-style industrial influence too), art rock influences, electronic influences and some other more contemporary things. And the whole thing is combined in the bizarre “double trio” stew where sometimes half the band is playing one thing and the other half is playing something else, and sometimes they both play the same thing (and sometimes it just sort of sounds like it…)
As late-career reinventions go, this is pretty good: it still sounds vaguely like (’80s) King Crimson, but it doesn’t sound like they are trying to relive their past (unlike its sequel).
19. Raekwon: Only Built for Cuban Linx… (8/10*)
20. David Bowie: 1. Outside (7/10)
Despite the out of control pretension and the muddled (and later unfulfilled) narrative, this is the most engaging and interesting, if scattershot, album he had made in nearly a decade and a half. Credit must go to Eno, and if it is a little too reminiscent of the late ’70s (except when the ’90s styles surface) at least it isn’t reminiscent of the mid ’80s.
21. John Oswald, Grateful Dead: Grayfolded (7/10)
There is a part of me that feels like this is an extension of the ideas the Grateful Dead experimented with back in the late ’60s, and so the feel like a logical artist for plunderphonics.
But a lot of this album’s appeal probably lies in how much you can handle “Dark Star” as if it was one long, spacy jam. I can’t imagine what this might be like for people who do not like “Dark Star” or not like jam band noodling.
22. Silverchair: Frogstomp (7/10)
Yes, this is second rate grunge and a little late. But…
“Israel’s Son” is just dynamite. Most bands would kill for this kind of urgency. I can forgive the generally terrible lyrics because, well, weren’t they 15 or something?
I still can’t believe a bunch of Australians not associated with AC/DC did this. Fuck AC/DC because I don’t think they could pull off something this loud.
The problems generally lie with the rest of the album: I hear Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, STP, Alice in Chains, Greenday, and a few other bands (so they basically ripped off every grunge band ever).
But for a blatant rip off of everything else at the time, it’s still pretty compelling. I mean, teenagers made this! Crazy. I have to give it a decent rating if only for that. I couldn’t have done something like this when I was 15 (if I had any kind of talent).
I guess what I’m trying to say is I’d rather listen to something like this that doesn’t have an original bone in its body than a lot of the other stuff on the radio at the time.
23. No Doubt: Tragic Kingdom (7/10)
For years and years, I regarded this as a “guilty pleasure,” one I couldn’t admit to liking because a) a whole bunch of these were hits songs that people I knew liked when I was in high school and I was doing my utmost not to like what was on the radio and b) I was a very stubborn teenager.
But as the years have passed, I have come to like the singles a fair amount, more than a lot of the pop music that was ubiquitous when I was 14. But I still can’t affirm this as the classic that a lot of people view it as, for a couple reasons:
- As strong as the hits are, some of them have some pretty weak bridges (I don’t know why it’s the bridges specifically, but they are always the parts that I think could be better);
- Don’t Speak” is the pop ska version of “Dream on”;
- The “deep cuts” are mostly not very good, compared to the singles. I don’t mind “The Climb” but the rest of them aren’t really my thing.
Otherwise, it’s much better than I would have admitted 20 years ago, 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago.
24. Pulp: Different Class (7/10)
25. Rammstein: Herzeleid (7/10)
Somebody called this dance-metal, which seems almost appropriate. Hilariously over the top (though I don’t know what they’re singing about) but usually heavy enough not to worry me. That album cover is pretty funny.
26. Rocket from the Crypt: Scream, Dracula, Scream! (7/10)
I don’t generally like pop punk. But I respect a band that is willing to embrace the “pop” in pop punk, in this case the Phil Spector side of “pop.” Though hardly present on all tracks, this album often features a wall of sound, with horns, percussion and doo-wop style backing vocals of a kind you’d rarely associate with “punk.” It elevates an otherwise already engaging set of songs. But it’s still pop punk.
27. The Tea Party: The Edges of Twilight (7/10)
When I was younger, I used to defend the Tea Party like this: Zeppelin did the same thing. As the Tea Party rips off Zeppelin and The Doors (and other classic rock bands, and the odd Post Punk band, see the cover…), so Zeppelin ripped off numerous artists. So their unoriginality is not so bad.
Certainly that’s what I’ve told myself many times over the years. Because, the thing is, I really like this music. I understand that it’s extremely derivative and that The Tea Party haven’t had very many original musical ideas (if any, really…). But I still like the music. Loud blues-based rock music with “eastern” accents is my kind of thing. It might always be.
So I struggle mightily with this record. In ripping off other, better bands, The Tea Party have actually created some pretty great music. They are extremely talented musicians (I doubt anyone would deny that) who somehow manage to sound really good copying other people.
And I guess the role that this album played in my own personal musical evolution strikes me as important enough that I can mostly overlook the ridiculous plagiarism.
At least that’s how I feel today.
28. Railroad Jerk: One Track Mind (7/10)
This is a pretty great amalgam of punk and blues, perhaps a little lacking in songs. It’s a particularly contemporary spin on the blues and you could argue that there’s a bit of a post-hardcore influence and perhaps even a tiny bit of a hip hop influence (at least to some of the vocals). I’d certainly rather listen to stuff like this than some guy just playing the blues like he thinks his parents played it. (Or, by infusing the blues with R&B and pop, like certain famous blues musicians…)
A little lacking in strong songs, but otherwise a good record.
29. Flying Saucer Attack: Further (7/10)
I had always thought of this as being on the super lo-fi end of post rock, kind of like another Disco Inferno. I guess I just hadn’t heard enough lo-fi music at the time to realize this isn’t really post rock at all. Of course, how I classify this in my mind is of no interest or use to anyone.
This is one of those records that appeal to you if you like the constituent parts, but likely leave you baffled otherwise. It’s basically folk plus shoegaze, if you want to really oversimplify it.
I’d like it more if the folk songs were stronger, I think, but I am not this record’s target audience. I will acknowledge that it’s a relatively unique combination and it deserves respect for that.
30. Foo Fighters (6/10)
31. Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill (6/10)
If you were born in the late ’70s, or early or mid ’80s (and especially if you’re Canadian), you probably know at least five of these twelve songs whether you like it or not. (Certainly, at age 13, I was not happy to be subjected to these five songs ad nauseum.) If you’re younger than me, you might not have been aware that Morissette was a teen pop star (in Canada anyway) prior to this release. (I was barely aware). Read the full review.
32. Echolyn: As the World (6/10)
Super derivative but very well written and played. Read the review.
33. The London Philharmonic Orchestra: Us and Them (6/10*)
I listened to this record as a teenager more times than I could count; it was my first regular exposure to “classical” music. So I have a soft spot in my heart for it.
34. Oliver Knussen: …upon one note (6/10)
This is a piece based on something of Purcell’s. It’s incredibly brief and so feels pretty inconsequential. Because I don’t know the piece Knussen is referencing, I am in the dark as to how this works as a comment. Meh.
35. Roy Hargrove: Family (5/10)
This albums starts out a lot cooler than what I’m familiar with from Hargrove. But by the third track it gets hot again, briefly, which is, for me, a good thing.
On the plus side, Hargrove is writing all his own music now, instead of relying on standards and other tunes which have been done to death (and often done better). But he is still stuck in this worship of the very old which makes him so much less interesting than someone like Dave Douglas, at least to my ears.
His band is arguably stronger at this stage than it was earlier in his career (Blake, for example, sounds more confident). But this is still pre-free music that doesn’t want to concede that life has been happening for the last 35+ years and that people outside of the self-perpetuating mainstream jazz establishment have found more interesting things to do with their time and talents.
The album features numerous guest appearances by people you would associate with this kind of conservatism, most famously Wynton, who I can no longer be objective about. The problem for me is that there is more cool here than bop, and I have always preferred bop to cool. And if I am going to listen to people rehashing old traditions and adding nothing to do them, I would prefer it be bop than cool.
36. Oasis: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (5/10)
37. Various Artists: Help (5/10)
Review coming in the distant future, if ever. I may have gotten rid of this record, honestly.
38. Marilyn Manson: Smells like Children (3/10)
First of all, this is not an “EP” though it is regarded by many (fortunately not Rateyourmusic) as such. EPs were specific things back in the days of vinyl and they had less time than a LP. I wish this was an EP. It might actually be good if it was an actual EP.
Not ranked: John Coltrane: The Heavyweight Champion of the World: the Complete Atlantic Recordings (10/10)
If Coltrane had died before he moved to Impulse, I still think he would be ranked as one of the two greatest jazz saxophonists ever. His Impulse recordings may have moved him into first place, but his Atlantic recordings are still a marvel.
Not ranked: Walter Gieseking: Debussy: the Complete works for Piano (10/10)
I lost this and I’m so sad. Read the review.
Not ranked: Dizzy Gillespie: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings 1937-1949 (10/10)
Gillespie is probably the greatest trumpet player ever, but this is the first time I’ve really gotten into his discography, a major oversight on my part.
Not ranked: Roy Howat: Debussy: Piano Music Vol. 1 (10/10)
To my ears, the Etudes really don’t sound that difficult on first listen, but then I can’t even play “Heart and Soul” on a piano. Read the rest of the review.
Not Ranked: Sofia Gubaidulina: Seven Words; Silenzio; In croce, performed by Maria Kliegel, Elsbeth Moser, et al. (9/10)
This is just an awesome set of really challenging modern chamber music, sort of smaller versions of what Penderecki was up to, I guess. The set contains three works by Gubaidulina centered around the cello and the bayan, a Russian version of the accordion.
Not Ranked: Lola Odiaga: Haydn: Keyboard Works 1773-1779 (9/10)
This is a collection of six of Haydn’s keyboard sonatas (played on piano) ostensibly written between 1883 and 1779. (However, there appears to be some debate.) The sonatas are Nos. 39, 40, 41, 48, 49 and 51, which seems an arbitrary selection. However, the alernative cataloguing of Haydn’s works (really, the standard catalogue) suggests that all but 49 were composed during two particular moments, so maybe that’s why. (Okay, I’ll stop.)
Not Ranked: London Sinfonietta: Kleines Requiem fur Eine Polka; Harpsichord Concerto; Good Night by Henryk Gorecki (8/10)
This is a rather arbitrary collection of Gorecki’s later “avant garde” works, featuring a concerto from 1980 and two chamber pieces from the 1990s. But putting the arbitrariness to the side, what we are left with is some very stirring music.
Not Ranked: Earl Hines: Piano Man! His Greatest Recordings (8/10)
This is collection of 25 recordings featuring Earl Hines – solo, leading his orchestra, with Armstrong, Bechet and some other, less famous bandleaders. It jumps around a little too much…
Not Ranked: Seattle Symphony Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely: Fahrenheit 451 [et al.] by Bernard Herrmann (6/10)
This is another Hermann compilation, a kind of scattershot one. Read the full review.