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Top 10 Albums of the ’90s

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Seth Montpelier: Arts & Leisure Editor

More stories from Seth Montpelier

Photo Courtesy of Discogs.

Photo Courtesy of Discogs.

 

1. If You’re Feeling Sinister by Belle and Sebastian: By their second album, Belle and Sebastian found the perfect balance of their influences. You can hear The Left Banke, The Kinks, Nick Drake, The Smiths, Vince Guaraldi, and Bob Dylan, but they created a sound that was new and distinct. Stuart Murdoch took the throne as the best songwriter of his generation, with complex melodies and sly lyrics about teenage disillusion and sexual frustration. Every song is a classic, but the high point is at the beginning of the second side with the tender anthem “Get Me Away, I’m Dying” that seamlessly goes into the haunting title track about religious doubt and suicide. It still doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but they certainly got people looking with this one.

 

2. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel: Neutral Milk Hotel was the beacon of the Elephant 6 Collective (a group of bands with close ties located in Athens, GA and Denver, CO). Jeff Mangum provided songs that sounded like a bizarre Dylan fixated on the grotesque and Robert Schneider produced them into a lo-fi Revolver. The partnership should have become legendary because this song cycle they turned out, about Mangum’s recurring dream of a Jewish family hiding from Nazis, is a harrowing meditation on rejection and death. Mangum writes with tender sincerity (the title track, “Two-Headed Boy” pt. 1 and 2, “Communist Daughter,” “Oh, Comely”) and with a twisted wit (“King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1”). The act was too great to follow and Mangum sort of disappeared, leaving us wanting more.

 

3. The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips: For the first time, Wayne Coyne’s lunatic ambitions was able to be totally realized by his band. Songs with subjects such as two scientists competing to find an antidote for a lethal disease and the effects of a spider bite, The Flaming Lips came out with their own Pet Sounds, loaded with jangling guitars, oozing keyboards, layers of lush synths, and Coyne’s bare Neil Young-esque vocal. “Race for the Prize” and “Waitin’ for a Superman” are two of the band’s most popular songs, but just as great are “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton,” “What Is Light?,” and “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate.” This is when they left their alt-heavy metal act behind for good.

4. Definitely Maybe by Oasis: While its predecessor often gets most of the attention, Oasis proved from their very first record why they were masters of Britpop. Opening with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” Oasis told us their whole message from the beginning. They wanted to play loud rock ‘n’ roll and were unapologetic. Noel Gallagher wrote great songs, lifting riffs and melodies from T. Rex, The Beatles, The Stones, and Bowie. But, he never hid any of this, always being a giddy fanboy. He was no poet, but he could play some great guitar. His brother Liam, destined for the tabloids, pushed out every syllable with a toxic sneer. They proved that attitude could be everything. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” “Live Forever,” “Supersonic,” and “Slide Away” are some of the rock songs written, but the entire album is great.

5. Crooked Rain Crooked Rain by Pavement: Anchored by their best songs “Gold Soundz” and “Range Life,” Crooked Rain was the epitome of Pavement’s genre-hopping rock and smart-alec lyrics. The band found a more accessible pop sound without losing their edge. “Silence Kid,” “Cut Your Hair,” and “Unfair” show Stephen Malkmus’ gift for concise songs, proving Pavement was the most important band for alternative rock since Big Star.

6. Different Class by Pulp: Jarvis Cocker, with flamboyant theatricality, can have the biting satiric wit of Ray Davies or the uneasy creepiness of Mick Jagger on “Under My Thumb” or “Live With Me.” Both are on full display here. The latter is heard on “Pencil Skirt,” “I Spy,” and “Underwear.” The former was heard on “Mis-shapes,” “Live Bed Show,” and “Common People,” the all-time greatest Pulp song, an epic about class-tourism. Other songs explored club culture (“Sorted for E’s & Wizz”) and Cocker’s own feelings of loneliness and inadequacy (“Disco 2000,” and “Something Changed”).

7. Loveless by My Bloody Valentine: In 1991, Kevin Shields perfected shoegaze, adding layer upon layer of distorted guitar, paired with dream-like music, designed to put the listener in a trance. “Only Shallow,” “Blown a Wish,” and especially “When You Sleep” were a new form of pop that would influence dream pop for every group since. With obscure tuning and sampling, Shields and the rest of MBV created their triumph, and wouldn’t return for another 22 years.

8. The Gay Parade by of Montreal: Kevin Barnes rarely sticks to a sound for long and it seems like a long time since of Montreal were an indie pop group influenced by The Kinks, Sgt. Pepper,  and vaudeville. This is probably why they have had the most staying power among the rest of the Elephant 6 groups. The Gay Parade is a concept album about childhood wonder, creating oddball nursery rhymes and peculiar characters. But, there’s a tinge of sadness in many. For every outlandish pop song like “Fun Loving Nun” and “Tulip Baroo,” there’s a deceptively sad song like “Jaques Lamure” and “My Favorite Boxer,” which tells the story of a child meeting his hero, only to find he is cruel. It’s a colorful, fun album that will make you feel like a child again.

9. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis: Oasis didn’t disappoint with their second LP, an album that boasted their two biggest songs “Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back In Anger” [also their best song], along with classics like the title track and “Champagne Supernova.” This made Oasis the biggest band in the world and marked the end of the Britpop-era, as the group would soon fall apart with tragically OK music. But, their first two albums were a testament to how great they were. Noel crafted these songs to be played together, flowing into one another.

10. Slanted and Enchanted by Pavement: Pavement’s debut got everyone’s attention, showing a new direction for music. Alternating between pop and noise punk rock. Containing some of their best, biggest songs, like “Summer Babe,” “Trigger Cut,” and “Loretta’s Scars.” They became instant critical darlings, college radio favorites, and one of the most influential bands of the decade. Stephen Malkmus, Scott Kannberg, and Gary Young made one of the biggest cult acts around.

 

 

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Top 10 Albums of the ’90s