Spin magazine’s recent list of the best albums from the last twenty years (as well as MSNBC’s alternate list) got me thinking about what my favorites list from that era might look like. Since I’m not Spin and my musical opinion doesn’t carry any weight, I felt free to list what I like, influenced me, continue to find enjoyable, and will still listen to in the future instead of what’s actually good…whatever good means.
In rough chronological order and briefly annotated:
- Nevermind, Nirvana - As I’ve mentioned before, I was a late bloomer musically. Nothing outside of Casey Kasem and his Top 40 countdown existed for me when I was a kid. And when you’re listening to music like that, it’s hard to get excited about music in general…I was pretty much apathetic about the whole thing. My freshman year in college, a guy on my floor got a nice stereo system for Christmas and when he threw on Smells Like Teen Spirit, that was it. I’m sure the bands and songs that opened your mind to the possibilities of music and life were a lot better, but you can’t really choose how/why/when/where that happens.
Rave ‘Til Dawn, Various - This is the worst album on the list but may be the most influential in terms of my future listening habits. For a kid who grew up in the country and went to college in a small Iowa city, hearing rave music for the first time was a complete revelation for me. I had no idea people were making music like this, so fast, so joyous, so unlike anything that anyone I knew would enjoy listening to. I loved it immediately and have been a huge fan of electronica ever since.
- The Chronic, Dr. Dre - Introducing Snoop Doggy Dogg, probably my favorite rapper. So smooth. And Dre’s beats are among the best in the business.
- Siamese Dream, Smashing Pumpkins - College junior, couldn’t get laid…isn’t this what I was supposed to be listening to?
- The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails - I still tell anyone who will listen that Closer is one of the best pop songs ever made. Pretty Hate Machine was probably the better album, but I fell in like with this one first.
- Entroducing…, DJ Shadow - One of the most solid debut albums in the past 20 years.
- Orblivion, The Orb - Little Fluffy Clouds is my favorite song from The Orb, but Orblivion is the album I’ll never get tired of. Saw them spin/play live in Minneapolis once and when Toxygene came on, it was almost religion.
- Homework, Daft Punk - Around the World is my answer to the question, “if you were stranded on a desert island and could only take one song with you, what would it be?” I’ve probably listened to it about a thousand times in the past 8 years and I’m still not sick of it.
- OK Computer, Radiohead - Somehow it wasn’t until mid-2000 that I heard this album (old habits die hard), but it didn’t take long to become a favorite. Still their best…although I haven’t given their earlier stuff the attention everyone I know says it deserves. Radiohead = favorite band.
- Bedrock, John Digweed - Cheesy trance music, but I love it. This album reminds me of my (then) new Jetta and fine times in Minneapolis.
- Agaetis Byrjun, Sigur Ros - I found Sigur Ros while poking around on Napster looking for an advanced copy of Radiohead’s Amnesiac. Boy, I thought, this Amnesiac album is going to be fantastic, but what happened to the vocals? Oh, heh.
- Boards of Canada, Geogaddi - I can’t remember how I found out about Boards of Canada. Online somewhere probably, downloading mp3s off of Limewire or something. After hearing a few songs, I immediately procured Geogaddi and Music Has The Right To Children from my nearest CD shop. Fantastic stuff…they make me wish I could make music.
- Give Up, The Postal Service - Might be too early to tell, but I think this is a classic.
Conclusions: I seem to like all sorts of music, but the common thread is the mainstream-ness of these albums; they’re typically the most popular examples of a particular genre, style, or time period. Gangsta rap wasn’t that mainstream at the time, but The Chronic went multi-platinum. Nevermind was grunge for the mainstream, and The Downward Spiral was one of the few industrial albums to make it big. The same for Rave ‘Til Dawn, Daft Punk, DJ Shadow, Smashing Pumpkins, and Sigur Ros, if to a lesser extent.