In 1990 when I discovered Consolidated and Meat Beat Manifesto, Nine Inch Nails didn’t come up. Melodic, entranced by rock star poses, Trent Reznor had no patience for the happiness-in-slavery submission to beats and noise of industrial, which marked him as a star from the beginning—NIN, not Consolidated, were asked to play Lollapalooza in 1991. I’m not a fan—this kind of hysteria makes me question the idea of sex itself, for if you’re heaving and shouting and lisping and drooling so strenuously, you must be more desperate than I need at the moment. But I can’t deny Reznor’s manipulation of self-destructive zones that stop just short of demilitarized zones. His most sustained recording is Broken, when he figured out the connections between Adam Ant and Adam and Eve. I wish I had seen his 1995 tour with David Bowie, with whom he formed a poignant bond: a tour that didn’t deserve its slings, according to the clips I’ve watched.Visit our partner site Humanizing the Vacuum for great lists, commentary and more.
Clad in a T-shirt and basketball jersey, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott looked like no other MTV fixture in the late Clinton era. Whether she’s gay is of no account: her clattering aluminum beats, declaration of appetites, camp ethos, and fascination with banality denotes a queer sensibility regardless. Every one of her albums released between 1997 and 2005 — an era that encompassed boom times and end times — is essential; This is Not a Test! has the most bangers and good album tracks, Da Real World still curiously forgotten, but Supa Dupa Fly still sounds like strange voices from another star, for which she deserves more credit than Timbaland. Souping up guys like won-ton, swaying on dosie-do like you loco, making you hot like Las Vegas weather, she reminded artists that before hip hop developed a social consciousness and was known as rap, it was an excuse to fling fly rhymes over dope beats. “‘Look, it’s very simple,” John Lennon once said to David Bowie in a fictional conversation. “‘Say what you mean, make it rhyme, and put a backbeat to it.’” What else is there?Visit our affiliate/partner site Humanizing the Vacuum for great lists, commentary and more.
By the early 90s, Brian Eno’s cachet was at its apex. I caught up to him the year he did more than produce U2’s best album, Zooropa: I discovered Low, “Heroes,” and Lodger, found a Nice Price cassette version of Another Green World, and bought James’ Laid. Then Roxy Music beckoned. Eno was right, as usual: Roxy recorded its best music upon his departure. Through four wonderful vocal albums—unmatched in their admixture of formal invention and gonzo humor—and a beguiling series of collaborations with Robert Fripp, Cluster, Harold Budd, John Cale, and others, Eno has approached rock with a dilettante’s amateurish glee and a sophisticate’s subtlety, bound only by the limits of his curiosity.So vast as to seem forbidding, his catalog is full of unexpected diversions, uneven by definition. I rank his 1990 Cale collaborationWrong Way Up with Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) and Before and After Science but find the Jon Hassell co-recording Fourth World, Volume 1: Possible Musics a vaporous bore, while Discreet Music and Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks are never far away from my stereo, notably around bedtime.I’m happy with my list: a compulsive miscellany. The songs include the collaborations mentioned above, plus a couple excellent ones from David Bowie’s Outside and a standout from his second Karl Hyde project. The differences between “songs” and “collaborations” is elastic though.Visit our affiliate/partner site Humanizing the Vacuum for great lists, commentary, and more.
I have a few comments about shoegaze, but I’ve filed a review of a certain band’s new album that recorded those comments. I’m no aficionado, though, and I didn’t listen to Isn’t Anything until a decade ago; the 2012 remaster is amazing. Nevertheless, I’m struck by my ability to remember twenty songs. I can even hum “Glider”!Visit our affiliate/partner site Humanizing the Vacuum for great lists, commentary and more.
Although I don’t believe homo sapiens as species has improved, in this century we expect hotels to offer attractive bars serving cocktails with fresh ingredients and restaurants that can properly bake Brussels sprouts. We also expect boy bands to offer decent material. I don’t think my memory is playing tricks on me when I claim New Kids on the Block offered terrible songs: slovenly written and indifferently produced. Matters improved during the Backstreet Boys and NSync days, thanks to Max Martin and Kristian Lundin, among others.By the time the English quintet One Direction released “What Makes You Beautiful,” the boys were thinking in terms of sharp middle eights and crazy harmonies. For a while I was on SPIN’s unofficial1D beat even though it took me a while to get their voices and faces straight; I never would have figured Harry Styles to be the star but there you go (I also thought The Wanted had the career; I still prefer “Glad You Came” to “What Makes You Beautiful”). Brad Nelson’s rumination on how the loss of Zayn Malik crippled the band helped.In the meantime, we have songs, good ones. At an academic year-end banquet in April, students manning the smartphone playlist slipped “No Control” into the mix; these college radio devotees went crazy.Visit our affiliate/partner site Humanizing the Vacuum for great lists, commentary and more.
How fitting that James Murphy released his last album in 2010, for LCD Soundsystem lives in a climate-controlled space where college students and post grads, downloading songs onto their new smartphones, got excited about voting for Barack Obama. To say the music is “dated” is redundant—all music sounds like the time in which it was recorded. Also wrong. If anything, the collar-loosening white boy boogie of “Dance Yrself Clean” and “Daft Punk is Playing in My House” predated the ways in which the Silicon Valley ethos of app-ready affluence established itself in the last three to five years: dancing to “I Feel It Coming” after a few pints of the local microbrew. LCD’s 2010 show at the Fillmore presented the act at its best, with Murphy and Nancy Whang trading instruments and losing themselves to the music. He started losing me with the singer-songwriter material that won him praise a decade ago: all that “In My Life” stuff. I included a couple moments anyway because I won’t renounce my past.Visit our affiliate/partner site Humanizing the Vacuum for great lists, commentary, and more.
A hopeless list, especially if you lived in South Florida. Using crossover hits as guides for drawing hard, bold, lines, it’s difficult to distinguish hi-NRG (Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round”) and Italo disco (Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy”) from fellow travelers like Stacey Q, early Taylor Dayne, and Lisa Lisa + Cult Jam, not to mention Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” and “Point of No Return.” Matters got more complicated went house hit American clubs; its pop crossover coincided with freestyle’s, therefore listeners had to deal with a bunch of Black Box singles and The Adventures of Stevie V, and CeCe Peniston’s “Finally” sharing space with Lisette Melendez’s “Together Forever” and Corina’s “Temptation” at the same time that Stevie B, Timmy T, and the Cover Girls followed the Lisa Lisa (“All Cried Out”) and Expose (“Seasons Change”) template by scoring their biggest hits with slush. To add to the confusion, on WPOW 96.5 I’d hear what in 1987 and 1988 we called bass, which wedded orchestral blasts and the Roland TB-303 to Triassic Era declamatory rap: Dimples T’s “Jealous Fellas,” JJ Fad’s “Supersonic,” early Six Mix-a-lot (“Rippin”), and anything — anything — by 2 Live Crew. Meanwhile the Stock-Aiken-Waterman remix of Debbie Harry’s “In Love with Love” and Samantha Fox’s “Touch Me (I Want Your Body)” insisted on airplay.“You can listen to this record as many times as you want and still not have any strong impressions that human beings actually made it. In other words, it’s the perfect disco record,” the great John Leland rhapsodized about Nu Shooz in SPIN. The perspicacity of this insight, however, doesn’t include most of the tracks below, sung by amateurs who could no more suppress their humanity than they could the swelling of their hair (assume this phenomenon was limited to the women and please goggle at Google Images’ supply of Stevie B photos circa 1988). There’s a reason why “Let the Music Play,” the urtext of freestyle and eighties disco, tops this list: the fluidity with which Shannon ducks from hysteria to detachment. I’ve written about dance floors as spaces where desire and fantasy call a delighted truce — until the next hunk of hotness ponies up at the bar.Visit our affiliate/partner site Humanizing the Vacuum for great lists, commentary, and more.
Hi, Q! I didn’t even include your arrangements and conducting for the Count Basie Orchestra or Billy Eckstine, or your scores for In the Heat of the Night and The Color Purple. I can even devote a paragraph to your stewardship of New Order when they got an American label and genuine promotion. From The Wiz to Tevin Campbell, you’ve been involved in democratizing R&B: thanks to you, more (white) people listen to it without its losing a note of interest.Visit our affiliate/partner site Humanizing the Vacuum for great lists, commentary and more.
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Fortunately my generation has never had trouble accepting Sade as the origins of a well-wrought tuneful melancholy that for American fans translated as posh but fooled no one who listened to R&B radio before they joined the adult R&B lineup. Besides, it’s Sade whom we have to thank for Maxwell.Visit our affiliate/partner site Humanizing the Vacuum for great lists, commentary, and more.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.