Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The 20 Best Electronic Albums of the 90s (15-11)

*UPDATE* There has been a position switch from the previous posting. Air has been moved up to the next (currently forthcoming) post, while Aphex Twin has been bumped to number 11 as seen below. This was not done on a whim, and I think this new arrangement better fits in line with how I genuinely feel about the albums.

15. Bjork - Homogenic (1997)
Bjork is another musician that I tried listening to after they'd already released a great deal of material. This is mainly due to my refusal to listen to music with lyrics for a few years. I don't actually own a Bjork album aside from a greatest hits compilation. Truth be told, I like Bjork because of the music videos she did with Michel Gondry. The videos really bring out the beauty of the songs, becoming an engrossing audiovisual experience. Going back and listening to some of Bjork's full LPs, Homogenic stands out to me. The beats are catchy and inventive; same could be said for Bjork's vocals as well, I suppose. I've selected this Bjork album over her others because I like the flow of Homogenic the best, and also, it has my all-time favorite Bjork songs (see below recommendations). There's quite a range of material here as well, from sweeping ballads to vulnerable pleas to towering battle-cries. Each is executed as smoothly as the last. The result is an album that packs an emotional wallop.

Standout Tracks: "Joga," "Bachelorette," "Is Full of Love"

14. Massive Attack - Mezzanine (1998)
Yeah, yeah, I know what you'll say. "What about Blue Lines? Blue Lines is so much better. They never topped Blue Lines." No. Massive Attack did top Blue Lines, and they did it with Mezzanine, which I consider a much more interesting and satisfying listen. Sure their debut LP was the groundbreaker, but I'm trying to list what I consider the best here. So what makes the difference? It's mainly a result of the bands maturation of their instrumentation skills and their method of integrating them. On their debut LP, MA created some wonderful beats that served mainly as a backdrop for vocal performances that could definitely be considered an acquired taste. On Mezzanine the instrumentation not only takes center stage, but is cooler, catchier, moodier, more adventurous, and just all-around better. The album art alone is enough to make me want to listen to the thing. This is a defining trip-hop album, not to be missed by fans of the genre.

Standout Tracks: "Angel," "Risingson," "Teardrop"

13. Photek - Modus Operandi (1997)
!SPOILER ALERT! This is the only drum and bass album on the list. !END SPOILER! DnB (not to be confused with DMB) is a great subgenre, and one that I really enjoy, but sometimes I have a hard time finding a variety in the work. Maybe I just haven't listened to enough, but Photek is different. I remember reading a user review of this album years ago that despised it and said it sounded like someone emptied their toolbox into a metal trashcan and kicked it down a parking garage stairwell. Well, it kind of is, but it's far more calculated and rhythmic than I imagine said trashcan would actually sound. There's also quite a bit of subtlety here as opposed to the frantic, hardcore side of DnB. If nothing else, you can tell that Rupert Parkes is freaking paranoid. The album builds stark tension, like you're all alone in a giant, dark metal box, hearing the beats of people striking it from the outside. There's also the eerie calm of the title track, providing a momentary, if insecure, oasis from the noise. It's not all slamming metal though, Photek works wonders with silence and "distant" noises, also sampling strings and piano chords quite often to add more of a human touch. If you're driving alone at night out in the country and have even a remote fear of alien abduction, don't listen to Photek.

Standout Tracks: "The Hidden Camera," "Modus Operandi"

12. Basement Jaxx - Remedy (1999)
The debut album from the Jaxx is the most infectious, unabashedly pop, house record of the 90s. The whole LP is nothing but hooks, wonderful hooks. It's one of the first albums I owned where I really began to understand that this kind of music was meant to be danced to. Most of the electronic music I had been listening to seemed too abstract and complex for the dancefloor, but with Remedy, if you don't understand that you're supposed to dance then you're probably not capable of smiling either. I must say that I think Rooty (2001) is the best Jaxx album taken as a whole, but Remedy matches it's best songs with it's own (again, note the standouts down there). If there's one thing I've noticed as lacking from the most recent work from the Jaxx, it's the influence of salsa and other Spanish music. On Remedy and the singles that proceeded it, salsa was the foundation of the band's sound and something I'd like to see return in their work. This mainly has to do with how well the house/salsa sounds mesh on the record. I think it's no small coincidence that Remedy is so infectious because of this combination of the new and the traditional. These songs will enjoy a kind of timeless appeal in the house world that few records (some to be mentioned later on this very list) have earned.

Standout Tracks: "Rendez-Vu," "Red Alert," "Bingo Bango"

11. Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1993)
Here's another example of me posting an album that doesn't contain any of the songs that the artist is known for, but with this release from Aphex Twin, it also doesn't really include any of his signature twitch and drill style. Instead we have a far more subdued affair, one that experiments with sounds perhaps never heard before with one-of-a-kind song compositions. SAW doesn't really sound all that ambient either, or at least not what music listeners have come to understand as "ambient." There are occasional beats and melodies, though the terrain can feel sparse at times. It's a landmark musical accomplishment made all the more impressive by the fact that, unless Richard D. James is lying to us (quite possible), AT was a mere 14 when he created some of these tracks. The late, fondly remembered CDNOW website listed this album as the greatest electronic album of all time. Clearly I disagree, but I can totally understand where they were coming from.

Standout Tracks: "Pulsewidth," "Green Calx"


Michael said...

best DnB album: Roni Size-New Forms
best Massive Attack album: Massive Attack vs. Mad Professor-No Protection (yeah, I said it).

Dan said...

Roni Size is pretty tight, but I guess I don't think he's the best. If I was going with guilty pleasures I'd totally be listing Dieselboy. His DJ mixes are insane. I'll accept No Protection because it acknowledges that Massive Attack improved after Blue Lines. Lastly, I'm not so sure I can believe Moon Safari's not in the top 10. Maybe it should be. To be honest, 11-6 are kind of fluid in their rankings as I found it hard to pick one over another. Some slight post-posting shifts may take place. Don't be surprised if I take Moon Safari down and put something from 10-6 in its place.