Top 100 albums of the ’90s

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Dance Rock, Downtempo, Drum 'n' Bass, House, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Album Quilt - Top 100 Electronica Albums of the '90s - 2

The ’90s were the creative highpoint of a music revolution: the convergence of computers, electronics and human ingenuity. The fusion of machine rhythms and electric melodies freed musicians to coalesce around a predominantly energetic instrumental form. The new tools also liberated sound itself, soundwaves carving shapes and effects never before imagined.

On a stealth level, electronica was essentially X-ray music for a pre-9/11 teenage wasteland. It evaporated lyrical me-isms and mass materialism. It projected listeners into holographic Promised Lands interconnected by spines of time. Around the skeletal interplay human beings transmitted their deepest hopes and dreams. It was at once intellectual and carnal, escapist and clairvoyant.

Below is a list of my top picks from that splendid decade with tributes to each album. My basic criteria was that each pick reasonably emphasize electronica’s instrumental dynamics, display a full range of invention, express a deep artistic voice, and weather the test of time. A more detailed explanation of my selection process follows after the list. Chime in with your thoughts and criticisms. The next 100 best albums of the ’90s, as well as lists on the ’00s and ’80s are also in the works.

Click on album titles to read descriptions and histories:

1. Underworld - Dubnobasswithmyheadman – 1994
2. Orbital - Orbital 2 (‘Brown Album’) – 1993
3. Future Sound of London - Lifeforms – 1994
4. Leftfield - Rhythm and Stealth – 1999
5. Fila Brazillia - Luck Be A Weirdo Tonight – 1997
6. Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92 – 1993
7. Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children – 1998
8. The Black Dog - Temple of Transparent Balls – 1993
9. Daft Punk - Homework – 1997
10. Ismistik - Remain – 1994
11. Speedy J - G Spot – 1995
12. Leftfield - Leftism – 1995
13. The KLF - Chill Out – 1990
14. The Chemical Brothers - Exit Planet Dust – 1995
15. Young American Primitive - Young American Primitive – 1993
16. Rockers Hi-Fi - Rockers to Rockers – 1995
17. Underworld - Second Toughest in the Infants – 1996
18. Move D - Kunststoff – 1995
19. LFO - Advance – 1996
20. Eat Static - Implant – 1994
21. Ken Ishii - Innerelements – 1994
22. Global Communication - 76:14 – 1994
23. Amorphous Androgynous - Tales of Ephidrina – 1993
24. The Advent - New Beginning – 1997
25. Children of the Bong - Sirius Sounds – 1995
26. A Guy Called Gerald - Black Secret Technology – 1995
27. Radioactive Lamb - The Memoirs of Reverend Cowhead and Sheriff Lamb Boy – 1996
28. Ronnie & Clyde - In Glorious Black and Blue – 1997
29. La Synthesis - Matrix Surfer – 1997
30. Spooky - Gargantuan – 1993
31. Coco Steel & Lovebomb - New World – 1997
32. Photek - Modus Operandi – 1997
33. The Chemical Brothers - Live at the Social – 1996
34. Orbital - Snivilisation – 1994
35. Fila Brazillia - Old Codes New Chaos – 1994
36. Nu-Era - Beyond Gravity – 1994
37. Underground Resistance - Interstellar Fugitives -1998
38. Plastikman - Musik – 1994
39. Fila Brazillia - Power Clown – 1998
40. Orbital - In Sides – 1997
41. Higher Intelligence Agency - Freefloater – 1995
42. Russ Gabriel - Voltage Control – 1995
43. The Orb - Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld – 1991
44. Orlando Voorn - Nightvision – 1996
45. The Chemical Brothers - Dig Your Own Hole – 1997
46. Kirk Degiorgio - Check One – 1998
47. DJ Dan - Loose Caboose – 1996
48. Kruder & Dorfmeister - K&D Sessions – 1999
49. Various Artists - Excursions in Ambience – 1993
50. Spring Heel Jack - 68 Million Shades – 1997
51. Love Inc. - Life’s a Gas – 1996
52. Lionrock - An Instinct for Detection – 1997
53. Torch Song - Toward the Unknown Region – 1995
54. Swayzak - Snowboarding in Argentina – 1998
55. The Black Dog - Bytes – 1993
56. Squarepusher - Hard Normal Daddy – 1997
57. Plug - Drum ‘n’ Bass for Papa – 1997
58. Spacetime Continuum - Emit Ecaps – 1996
59. Maurizio - Maurizio – 1997
60. Plaid - Not for Threes – 1997
61. Future Sound of London - Accelerator – 1992
62. 4Hero - Two Pages – 1998
63. Depth Charge - Nine Deadly Venoms – 1994
64. Dave Clarke - Archive One – 1996
65. CJ Bolland - The 4th Sign – 1992
66. Autechre - Tri Repetae – 1996
67. As One - In With Their Arps, and Moogs, and Jazz, and Things – 1997
68. B12 - Electro-Soma – 1993
69. Mouse On Mars - Iaora Tahiti – 1995
70. Woob - 1194 – 1994
71. As One - The Art of Prophecy – 1997
72. Jedi Knights - New School Science – 1996
73. Reload - A Collection of Short Stories – 1993
74. Nightmares On Wax - Carboot Soul – 1999
75. Icons (Justice & Blame) - Emotions With Intellect… – 1997
76. The Irresistible Force - It’s Tomorrow Already – 1998
77. Single Cell Orchestra - Single Cell Orchestra – 1996
78. Model 500 - Deep Space – 1995
79. Ed Rush & Optical - Wormhole – 1998
80. Groove Armada - Northern Star – 1998
81. Future Sound of London - Dead Cities – 1996
82. Baby Mammoth - One…Two…Freak – 1997
83. Sasha - Northern Exposure 2 – 1998
84. Underworld - Dark & Long – 1994
85. Richie Hawtin - Mixmag Live! – 1995
86. Biosphere - Microgravity – 1991
87. Ian O’Brien - Gigantic Days – 1999
88. Pluto - Pluto Rising – 1995
89. Jonny L - Sawtooth – 1997
90. Kosmik Kommando - Freaquenseize – 1993
91. Strange Cargo - Hinterland – 1995
92. DJ John Kelley - Funky Desert Breaks – 1996
93. Various Artists - Flux Trax – 1995
94. Aphrodite - Aphrodite Recordings – 1997
95. Faze Action - Moving Cities – 1999
96. Various Artists - The Deepest Shade of Techno – 1994
97. Nightmares On Wax - Smokers Delight – 1995
98. Coldcut & DJ Food - Stoned…Chilled…Groove – 1996
99. Various Artists - Atlantic Jaxx Recordings – 1997
100. Thomas Fehlmann - FlowingZeroNineEight – 1998

Key Electronica-Influenced Albums of the ’90s:
1. Massive Attack – ‘Blue Lines’
2. Bjork – ‘Debut’
3. Radiohead – ‘Kid A’
4. DJ Shadow – ‘Endtroducing…’
5. Massive Attack – ‘Protection’
6. Madonna – ‘Ray of Light’
7. Portishead – ‘Dummy’
8. Primal Scream – ‘Screamadelica’
9. Stereo MC’s – ‘Connected’
10. Morcheeba – ‘Who Can You Trust?’
11. U2 – ‘Achtung Baby’
12. U2 – ‘Zooropa’
13. Seal – ‘Seal’
14. Deee-Lite – ‘World Clique’
15. Everything But the Girl – ‘Amplified Heart’
16. Big Audio Dynamite II – ‘The Globe’
17. David Gray – ‘White Ladder’
18. Jamiroquai – ‘Return of the Space Cowboy’
19. The Stone Roses – ‘The Stone Roses’
20. The Happy Mondays – ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches’

The thought-process behind the selection of the 100:

Many important and influential albums are missing from the list above by design. For example, followers of the Berlin dub-techno school will complain of the omission of Basic Channel and Pole. Due to the relatively rarefied nature of these artists, I have instead focused on the most accessible and representative of these ‘schools.’ In the above case, I have added Maurizio as the genre stand-in. In the case of auteurs like Jeff Mills and Matthew Herbert, their oeuvres are scattered across 12″ singles and later compilations, and will be considered in later write-ups.

Others might also scream bloody murder at my exclusion of Roni Size and Reprazent’s debut classic New Forms or Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. Ditto when it comes to Bjork. My decision in these cases was to focus on albums that generally eschewed the pop arena and hewed closer to the instrumental electronica paradigm. These albums and many other key releases are considered elsewhere on this site.

Compilations and DJ mixes are sparingly included to help fill in key gaps of the story. DJs played a crucial role in electronic dance culture, quilting together the best underground releases and taking newcomers on unforgettable journeys into sound. Many of electronica’s best compositions also came out as vinyl singles and one-offs. In addition to the DJ mixes, a few compilations were selected to help capture those groundbreaking moments.

In part, this list is meant as an antidote to the many distortions of mainstream music culture that have colored assumptions about popular music for the last 30 years. Yes, Radiohead has been brilliant. Yes, the Beastie Boys and Jay Dilla penned fantastic hip hop gems. But the creative wave of these genres crested in the ’60s and ’80s respectively. The ’90s was arguably techno’s decade, despite the critical aversion and deafness of the press at large.

As the freshest and most creative music form of that decade, one could argue that several of the ‘electronica’ albums above were also many of the best albums of the last 20 years, period. I hope those who got the message in the ’90s would agree. I hope naysayers will at least take some stock. And I wish newcomers the same joy of discovery these albums have given me and so many others over the years.


1. Underworld – ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Dance Rock, House, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Underworld - Dubnobasswithmyheadman

Underworld * Dubnobasswithmyheadman * 1994 * Junior Boys Own / Wax Trax!

“Thunder, thunder, lightning ahead, hummm. Will you kiss me dark and long?”

So whispers Karl Hyde at the beginning of DubnobasswithmyheadmanUnderworld‘s loopily titled audio odyssey and breakout techno album of 1994. Prior to its release no one had heard anything like it, with its blend of sawing analog synths and surreal cut-up poetry, its rush of futuristic rock and breakbeat rhythms. By the time it soaked into DJ sets and the listening press, Underworld were underground superstars.

Formed by Hyde and Rick Smith, old mates from Cardiff Art College in Wales, Underworld had already made a run at musical success in the ’80s. Originally as the band Freur, they penned the new wave hit ‘Doot Doot.’ They even toured with the Eurythmics as an industrial funk outfit. But with each turn they found themselves with no money and diminishing prospects.

In between their commercial ups and downs, Hyde cut out a wayward living as a session guitarist, first at Prince’s Paisley Park studio in Minneapolis. When he moved to New York City to tour with Blondie’s Debbie Harry, he discovered acid house and began to scissor the Village Voice newspaper and rearrange phrases into lyrics. On a parallel track back in England, Smith had teamed up with Darren Emerson, a young DJ who knew the ins and outs of dance music. When Hyde returned, they fused his wordplay and guitar licks with their electronics, using techno as the dominant force for their chimera music.

In 1992, they played a legendary 18-hour set at the Glastonbury Music Festival in the Experimental Sound Field, freewheeling from a tower stage placed in the middle of a blissed-out crowd, quadraphonic speakers blasting them all to a new frontier. Underworld could write songs, but they were first and foremost composers who knew how to jam live with power to the people.  Dubnobasswithmyheadman perfectly crystallized this expansive, blistering dynamic.

First on vinyl, Underworld’s manifesto ignited dance floors across the globe. The outtake single ‘Rez’ added to the buzz, an instant anthem of instrumental youth music and an unforgettable merry-go-round of sound. Everyone who knows it remembers where they were the first time they heard its oscillating strings of zipping fire. And as one of the early techno albums to hit the compact disc format, Dubnobasswithmyheadman flashed onto discmans and car stereos with equal heat. It was a headphone epic as well as a perfect night drive.

With Dubnobasswithmyheadman, the energetic magic of ‘Rez’ was spread across a whole album, yielding inventive compositions of what sounded like the glorious end of pop music. Hyde’s lines like “Whiplash Willy the motor psycho” and “Here comes Christ on crutches” were humorous and dark, floating above synth riffs or crashing through a haze of textures — impressionistic images painted onto the wild sonic shapes conjured by Smith and Emerson.

‘Dark & Long,’ ‘Mmm Skyscraper I Love You,’ ‘Surfboy,’ ‘Spoonman,’ ‘Tongue,’ Cowgirl,’ ‘Dirty Epic,’ ‘River of Bass,’ ‘M.E.’ — each were bold statements in their own right yet essential pieces in a seamless nocturnal symphony. By the time one got to the romantic ‘Dirty Epic’ and stood at the pearly gates of ‘Cowgirl,’ Hyde frantically repeating “I’m invisible, and a razor of love,” you were no longer listening as a bystander. You were wrapped up inside something bigger.

“Everything, everything, everything,” Hyde sings to the futuristic hoedown of ecstatic rhythms before leaving you dazed in a cloud of sparks and pinball melodies. Was it dance rock? Was it techno for the masses? Was it pop music for the next millennium, its post-modern poetry raining down through an electronic ether?

Dubnobasswithmyheadman was all those things, and more. It was the Beatnik jam session of a new generation.

Tracks:
1. Dark & Long
2. Mmm Skyscraper I Love You
3. Surfboy
4. Spoonman
5. Tongue
6. Dirty Epic
7. Cowgirl
8. River of Bass
9. M.E.


14. The Chemical Brothers – ‘Exit Planet Dust’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Breakbeat, Dance Rock, House, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

The Chemical Brothers - 'Exit Planet Dust'

The Chemical Brothers * Exit Planet Dust * 1995 * Astralwerks

Exit Planet Dust was the beginning of an unlikely journey. The Chemical Brothers‘ earliest fans originally mistook the English duo, who looked more like they were from Milwaukee than hip London, for the Los Angeles-based producers The Dust Brothers. Ed Simmons and Tom Rowlands had originally used “The Dust Brothers” moniker as a tribute to their LA-based heroes, who had produced the seminal Beastie Boys album, Paul’s Boutique. They switched their name when the real deal threatened to sue.

But Simmons and Rowlands had a much bigger mark to make. Their early singles exploded on dance floors across the globe. ‘Song to the Siren’ was their first breakthrough, a pound cake of Run DMC-inspired beats and heady acid tweaks. But it was ‘Chemical Beats’ that really tore the roof off. It was a reach-for-the sky blast of scratching acid squiggles, pinpoint cow bells and stadium crowd dynamics, tossing everyone over the moon. What was evident from the start was their knack for concocting rocking beats with technological precision. The meticulous placement of a softer bass pulse as a backbeat on ‘Chemical Beats’ is a prime example — the resulting call-and-response between the main bass drop and the subtler note creates a deeper sense of space and intimacy. It’s a dimensional nudge that tucks you right into the pocket of the groove.

Tapping into this raw energy, Exit Planet Dust put everyone in the driver’s seat. Its starter ‘Leave Home’ zooms, slides and howls, hooking listeners with its motor funk. ‘In Dust We Trust’ continues the rock guitar grinds, chunky beats adding meat to the psychedelic romp. ‘Song to the Siren’ and ‘Chemical Beats’ make devastating cameos while ‘Three Little Birdies Down Beats’ wields an ax of acid glory. But the Chemicals also had a sweet side. The instrumental ‘Chico’s Groove’ and ‘One Too Many Mornings’ use haunting chords and uplifting rhythms to cast spells of catharsis. The defiant ‘Life Is Sweet’ features vocals by Tim Burgess of The Charlatans, the first of many rock collaborations that would include the likes of Noel GallagherWayne Coyne and Richard Ashcroft. And ‘Alive Alone’ reveals a softer songwriting bent, featuring vocalist Beth Orton, who would appear again on subsequent albums.

The British music press derisively labeled the Chemical’s breakbeat techno as ‘Big Beat,’ easily the stupidest name possible for their groundbreaking sound. But in America, few ravers cared about the politics of the London music scene, and immediately heard kindred spirits in the Chemicals. A Pacific wave was already moving in California, where producers like UberzoneBassbin Twins and The Crystal Method were filling in the blanks.

Given the Chemicals’ impressive career, that enthusiasm was right on the money. There would be plenty of fireworks down the road. But Dust was that first rush of hitting the accelerator, a turbo-charged beginning to a long and strange trip of sonic alchemy.

Tracks:
1. Leave Home
2. In Dust We Trust
3. Song to the Siren
4. Three Little Birdies Down Beats
5. Fuck Up Beats
6. Chemical Beats
7. Chico’s Groove
8. One Two Many Mornings
9. Life Is Sweet
10. Playground to a Wedgeless Firm
11. Alive Alone


33. The Chemical Brothers – ‘Live at the Social , Volume 1′

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Breakbeat, Dance Rock, Downtempo, House, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Chemical Brothers - Live at the Social, Volume 1


40. Fila Brazillia – ‘Power Clown’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient Techno, Dance Rock, Downtempo, House | Tags: | No Comments »

Fila Brazillia - 'Power Clown'


44. The Chemical Brothers – ‘Dig Your Own Hole’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Dance Rock, House, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

The Chemical Brothers - 'Dig Your Own Hole'

The Chemical Brothers * Dig Your Own Hole * 1995 * Astralwerks

Tracks:
1. Block Rockin’ Beats
2. Dig Your Own Hole
3. Elektrobank
4. Piku
5. Setting Sun
6. It Doesn’t Matter
7. Don’t Stop the Rock
8. Get Up On It Like This
9. Lost in the K Hole
10. Where Do I Begin?
11. The Private Psychedelic Reel


MGMT – Sound of the Summer

Posted: July 30th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Dance Rock | No Comments »

MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

Yes, everyone is beginning to catch wind of these two East Coast wonder kids with their electronica-inflected songs and ironic wit packed into a tripped out debut album, Oracular Spectacular. It’s not often I dig ‘rock’ music but these guys are irresistible. “Electric Feel” is the anthem of the summer, simultaneously retro and futuristic: “Ooh baby! Shock me like an electric eel” is the most brilliant lyric I’ve heard in years — simple, impressionistic, throwaway, indispensable. The Justice remix available on iTunes ain’t bad either. This is psychedelic pop and disco poetry for all the washed out apocalypticos out there. Come on out from the cold.


Daft Kanye: leeching or propping?

Posted: February 11th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Audio-Visual, Dance Rock, Events | 1 Comment »

Daft Kanye at Grammy Awards

For anyone who still gives a crap about the Grammy Awards, one of the most bizarre moments last night was Kanye West’s live performance with Daft Punk in tow. At least the two robots in the pyramid looked like Daft Punk, though they could have been paid actors. Such is the problem with post-modern robot costumes — how to verify their human authenticity? Read the rest of this entry »


Top Ten Albums of 2007

Posted: December 30th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Dance Rock, Drum 'n' Bass, House, Techno | No Comments »

1. Underworld – Oblivion with Bells

2. Radiohead – In Rainbows

3. Daft Punk – Alive 2007

4. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

5. Chemical Brothers – We Are The Night

6. Tom Middleton – Lifetracks

7. Future Sound of London – From the Archives

8. Pantha Du Prince – This Bliss

9. Groove Armada – Soundboy Rock

10. The Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future

*HONORABLE MENTIONS:
The Black Dog – Book of Dogma (reissue)
Muscles – Guns Babes Lemonade
Klute – The Emperor’s New Clothes
Simian Mobile Disco – Attack Decay Sustain Release
Arctic Monkeys – Favorite Worst Nightmare
Calvin Harris – I Created Disco
Guy Gerber – Late Bloomers
Gui Boratto – Chromophobia
CSS – Cansei de Ser Sexy
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
The Tuss – Rushup Edge
Cornelius – Sensuous
Pig & Dan – Imagine
Battles – Mirrored
!!! – Myth Takes
Burial – Untrue
M.I.A. – Kala
Justice – +


Best Songs of 2007

Posted: December 30th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Dance Rock, Drum 'n' Bass, House, Techno | No Comments »

“Faxed Invitation” – Underworld

“Best Mamgu Ever” – Underworld

“W” – Cobblestone Jazz

“All I Need” – Radiohead

“Reckoner” – Radiohead

“Never, Never” – Klute

“Asha” – Pantha Du Prince

“Beautiful Burnout” – Underworld

“Shinkansen” – Tom Middleton

“Someone Great” – LCD Soundsystem

“Battle Scars” – The Chemical Brothers

“Golden Skans” – The Klaxons

“Belly Dancing” – Guy Gerber

“Mate Tron” – Luke Vibert

“Futile” – Pig & Dan

“The River” – Spooky