Friday, September 10, 2010

25 Albums of the Last 20 Years

I recently came across a blog called Electronic Cerebrectomy, to which I recommend a viewing, and found a post from July of the blogger's 25 favorite albums over the last 20 years. The list is a very excellent list filled some very interesting choices and, most importantly, a nod to Tenacious D. The post made me think about what I consider my most important 25 albums of the last 20 years and here they are.

Simply put, it is a very fun album by a band I came across on MTV's 120 Minutes and Oddville back in 1997. This album, and the band, were once described as your bratty teenage siblings raiding your Buzzcocks albums and then forming a band. It is very hard to disagree with that sentiment and that is reason that I still, to this day, love this album. It is a boost of energy in a world post-grunge and gangsta rap and pre-nu-metal.

24. Burn Berlin Burn by Atari Teenage Riot
Like the Bis album, this was also released by Grand Royal and was the polar opposite to Bis' spunky, teenage pop-punk. Instead, this U.S. compilation (compiled from their first two albums) was filled with cold, ugly and distorted electronic beats, Bad Brains samples, shouting, rapping, rage and a disdain for authority figures. If you are planning a revolution or feeling a bit disaffected, there are not as many albums as perfect as this for those moments.

23.Get Away From Me by Nellie McKay
Deliciously quirky is the best way to describe McKay's debut album. The songs styles range from piano ballads to piano driven hip hop songs to almost uptempo jazz songs while the lyrics discuss marriage, dog walking and threatening to slitting a lover's throat if they decide not to be nice and sit near her. The album is a great introduction to her sense humor and knack for crafting bizarre, catchy tunes. Bonus points for also convincing her then-label (Sony) to release the album as a 2-CD set to mimic the concept of flipping over a record..

22. Commencement by Deadsy
Bands like Orgy and 30 Seconds to Mars went on to fame but with Deadsy's brand of death-pop, neither of those bands would have careers had it not been for Deadsy. Deadsy's sophomore/debut (depending on which version you are listening to) album is a sea of synthesizers, droning vocals, heavy rhythms and menacing guitars. Lyrically and musically, it is the living embodiment of science fiction book with a side of horror thrown in for good measure.

21. The Grey Album by Danger Mouse
Honestly, I was never a big fan of The Beatles and, other than a few songs, I am less of a Jay-Z fan but the combination of these two worlds is beyond brilliant. The combination of The Beatles' The White Album and Jay-Z's The Black Album is far superior and better crafted for Jay Z's than the tracks provided onThe Black Album. It has "99 Problems" backed by "Helter Skelter." This album does for mash-ups what Paul's Boutique did for sampling.

20. Quality Control by Jurassic 5
In the Summer of 2000, this is one of four albums in permanent rotation (along with White Pony (8), Rated R (2) and the original version of Commencement (22)). Granted, their follow-up, Power in Numbers, is a better album but there was something about hearing this album for the first time and the way that each of the five MC's effortlessly wove in and out of the tracks that still makes this album a favorite of mine. In fact, almost every mixtape made that Summer and the year after usually included a track from this album.

The obvious of choice would be The Reality of My Surroundings but for me, there is about the anger and looseness of this album that still resonates with me to this very day. It is the closest Fishbone has ever gotten to capturing the excitement of their live show on album. It is raw, manic and one of the greatest middle fingers to a record label and racism of the 90's.

18. Slipknot by Slipknot
The only time I ever went to Iowa was before this album came out and I have never been back since. The only thing scarier than this album upon its release were the images of this band in Kerrang and the only thing more menacing was someone threatening to beat you in the face with a crowbar. This is controlled chaos at its finest moment and thankfully, Purity has been reissued to the 10th anniversary edition of the album. Too bad its creepy lead-in track, Frail Limb Nursery was not.

17. When the Pawn... Fiona Apple
I really got into Fiona Apple when this album came out. I enjoyed Tidal but, musically, this was a huge leap for her. The songwriting became more refined yet experimental (ex. "Paper Bag," "Fast As You Can") and she seemed more confident and comfortable as an artist and vocalist. She also had the courage to give the album a 90-word title taken from a poem she wrote.

16. In Search Of... by N.E.R.D.
In both of its versions, this album is a true masterpiece of production and performance. It is not to say that the world needed an album from The Neptunes but it is much better place with songs like "Lapdance," "Truth or Dare" and "Rock Star." What could have been a simple vanity project for the producers is a full-on collection of memorable beats and songs. From beginning to end, this album is a great listen in which you will end up rapping along to.

N.E.R.D. - Lapdance
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15. Water & Solutions by Far
For years, I have sworn by this album and consider it a lost classic of the late 90's. A heavy album filled with delicate melodies without being too emo for the rock crowd and being too rock for the emo kids. This, like Pinkerton (5), spawned imitators, yet neither album really sold at the time. There is just a simple honesty reflected in the songs and a polish on the tracks without watering down the band's intensity.

14. The Cold Vein by Cannibal Ox
I still claim that there are very few hip hop albums that truly rival this album. By that, I mean only one other album (El-P's Fantastic Damage, as El-P produced both albums) that exists in the same realm as this album. The sound is cold and dark, like 80's era Def Jam but set in 2025 and MC's Vast Aire and Vordul Mega follow every percussion hit with flows perfectly suited for one another. It is interesting that this album predated September 11th because the denseness of the beats sound like they came from a post 9-11 New York.

13. Korn by Korn
From the opening hi-hat notes of Blind to Jonathan Davis' crying on the ending of Daddy, this is hands down, one of the best metal albums of the 90's and probably one of the most influential as well. Downtuned guitars, hip hop influenced bass lines, bagpipes and nursery rhymes helped change the metal landscape for the next 10 years but very few of those bands ever nailed the sound Korn and producer Ross Robinson recorded for this album.

12. Angel Dust by Faith No More
Undoubtedly, it is one of the most unique follow-ups to a platinum selling, breakthrough album ever recorded but that is only part of its charm. The album's complex nature makes it less accessible than any other Faith No More album as it never stays with one sound for very long. One minute, you are listening to the countrified waltz ballad of "RV" and then dragged through the metallic sludge of "Smaller and Smaller" only to end up at the cheerleader chants of "Be Aggressive." If you do not own this album, you really should.

11. Elephant by The White Stripes
This is a very appropriate title for the album with its low end guitar sound and heavy drum pounding. This is the dividing line between the Stripes' old sound and their more experimental sounds on the two albums following. Although, they would continue to record some pretty heavy songs, nothing can take the place of the thump of "Seven Nation Army" or the bluesy, punkish thrash of "Black Math" and "Hypnotize."  

10. Portishead by Portishead
Dummy was great but this was excellent. If Bernard Herrmann made a pop album, this is what it would sound like. It as romantic as it is haunting and hypnotic in both the vocals and the music. With this album, Portishead, again, sculpted an album unlike any other album released that year (mind you, this was 1997 and the year of Radiohead's OK Computer) and backed it up with some impressive music videos to promote it. Eleven years passed until they release the follow-up to this but there was not one year where I did not listen to this album while waiting.

09. The Divine Comedy by Milla
Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, Resident Evil, Kuffs) released a folk-pop album in 1994 which should elicit lots of laughter as she is a model/actress recording an album. On her one and only official album, Jovovich released an album as beautiful and engaging as she is and as captivating as a young Kate Bush on her debut, The Kick Inside. Far from a vanity project, Jovovich either wrote or co-wrote almost every song on the album ("In a Glade" being the exception) and produced one of my favorite albums of all time.

08. White Pony by Deftones
The album that finally got Deftones some well deserved commercial exposure. After releasing two amazing albums (1995's Adrenaline and 1997's Around the Fur), Deftones significantly upped their game with this album. It is a moody, atmospheric album filled with electronics and lush soundscapes that blend seamlessly into band's aggressive sound. The darker, ambient tone of the album set the band apart from the rest of late 90's/early 00's nu-metal scene and put them more in the ranks of Tool than Limp Bizkit. Also, a small suggestion, I would say to get this album in its original release or its limited release as they are better versions than the reissue with "Back to School" tacked on. Nothing against the song but it really does not fit this album.

07. Rubberneck by Toadies
I have owned this album for 15 years and still sing along to it every time I hear a song from it. Toadies write great hooks to their songs and this album is filled with them. Granted, "Possum Kingdom" is the single best remembered from this album and the band but "Tyler" and "Away" are equally as great as singles as is the frenzied "Mister Love" ("Are you gonna save meeeee?")  Rubberneck is about as great of a debut as would expect from a band if not better especially in the post-Nirvana rock world.

06. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco
I finally discovered this album two years ago and wondered how I had missed it. The last Wilco album to feature late, multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett is truly an amazing album. Band leader Jeff Tweedy and Bennett wrote an album not filled with hooks or catchy songs but with well written, memorable songs that when together creates something so refreshing, so undeniably poetic. As with most great albums, this one had its fair share of problems, luckily most of them occurred pre and post-production.

05. Pinkerton by Weezer
No one knew what to make of this album and that was a shame because it is the pinnacle of Rivers Cuomo as a songwriter and lyricist. Today, critics look back at this album and praise it for its honesty and Cuomo's interest in not recreating Weezer but back in 1996, you would have thought he handed the critics and some fans the audio equivalent to Waterworld. Those who really listened to album found an under-appreciated gem that was easy to relate to if you had a heart and love to rock. 

04. New Sacred Cow by Kenna
Why more people do not own this is beyond me as it is a great album. A combination of Depeche Mode, pop music and Neptunes-esque beats (Chad Hugo produced this album) that could resonate with the indie rock audience as much as it could with r&b fans. For some foolish reason, this album was shelved for almost a year thus killing the momentum of its first single, "Hell Bent," just as it was starting to receive airplay on the MTV channels. Only a fool would try to hold something back as excellent as this album.

Kenna - Hell Bent
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03. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by Wu-Tang Clan
If Wu-Tang had broken up after this album, they would have been hip hop's answer to Sex Pistols. Get in, get out and influence the masses. Instead, they stayed and, in turn, raised the bar significantly high for not just hip hop but their own albums as well as created a sound many producers are still copying to this day. Not many hip hop albums have carefully crafted such a classic of street grittiness and lust for kung-fu flicks with strings, sample and a diverse group of rappers. By not many, I mean the only other ones were Wu-Tang solo albums.

02. Rated R by Queens of the Stone Age
C-c-c-c-c-cocaine! If platinum records were given out based on sheer awesomeness of an album, Queens of the Stone Age would have several platinum albums especially on this, their sophomore album. There is no need for technical jargon or flowery complements. Quite simply, this album rocks and more so than the majority of albums released in the 10 years since its debut. If you are headbanging and/or singing by the end of "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," you might not have a pulse.

01. Sea Change by Beck
If Midnite Vultures was a exciting night of partying and debauchery, then Sea Change is the morning after filled with regrets and questions. Sea Change is Beck at his most vulnerable and reflective and showcases his superb songwriting abilities instead of his masterful genre-blending. It is a stunning album in its simplicity and more along the lines of Weezer's Pinkerton in terms of its candid openness  It is, to this day, Beck's best album and as much as you want to hear him make another album like this, you really would not want one to suffer that much for something this beautiful.

Feel free to post some of your favorites in the comment section or debate my choices.

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