Sunday, October 2, 2022

Never Mind the Ballots (the Pitchfork Songs and Albums of the 1990s Lists)

I contributed some entries to the Pitchfork Best Albums of the 1990s and Best Songs of the 1990s  - Oval Diskont 94 and Massive Attack Blue Lines in the long-players, My Bloody Valentine's "Only Shallow" in the short-players.

(I was taken aback really that the selectorate didn't go for "Soon" and "To Here Knows When" as the MBV Peaks of that decade. Or even "Loomer". Still, I'm hardly going to spurn an opportunity to hymn Loveless again, am I?)

Talking about selectorates (which was unusually large with this vote, I believe)...  the selection process is two-fold with these P-fork lists. 

First round, you pick your 50 Faves. If you don't see your fave in the list already, you can add it (thereby fractionally increasing the chance some other selector might pick it too). This stage of the voting is pretty close to one's very own absolute faves, although a low-key, by-default sort of tactical voting  tends to seep into the process, in so far as I didn't pick some of my actual faves because they just seemed not to have a snowflake's chance in hell of getting through. I mean, Sacred's "Do It Together" is not going to make the final cut, is it? Nor Goldseal Tribe "Living Lonely". Nor anything by the Mover, Miro or Reign. So there's a little bit of preliminary sifting that takes place here, I should imagine it's the same with the other voters participating.   

Second stage involves this huge mass of preferences getting boiled down by invisible hands into a sort of proto-consensus Long List - still a very large number of candidates - and it's out of this squad that you make another and final selection. (For some reason at this stage we were encouraged to select 100 singles rather than 50).  Here's where some serious tactical voting took place, at least on my part. (Why bother? I honestly can't tell you! I've yet to outgrow these impulses, is all I can say.) Funnily enough, though, some things that I never considered on the first round, thinking them too marginal, actually popped up in this narrowed selection of top tracks and tunes.  E.g. Double 99, "Ripgroove". So of course these got my vote on the second ballot 

Here is the first round ballot of mine for song/track (as you can see I actually overspilled the Fifty) 

1 Omni Trio: Renegade Snares (Foul Play VIP Mix)

2 Foul play: Open your mind (Foul Play Remix)

3 Apollo Two: Atlantis (I Need You) (LTJ Bukem Remix)

4 The House Crew: Euphoria (Nino's Dream)

5 Acen: Trip II the Moon (Pt. 1 and 2)

6 Boards of Canada: Roygbiv

 7 Orbital: Chime

 8 Nightmares on Wax: Aftermath

 9 Aaliyah: One in a Million

 10 Tricky: Aftermath

 11 Beltram: Energy Flash

 12 Blame: Music Takes You (2 Bad Mice Remix)

 13 My Bloody Valentine: To Here Knows When

 14 Prodigy: Firestarter

 15 Busta Rhymes featuring Janet: What's It Gonna Be?!

 16 My Bloody Valentine: Soon

17 New Radicals: You Get What You Give

 18 Urban Shakedown: Some Justice

 19 LFO: LFO

 20 Dem 2: Destiny (Sleepless)

 21 Seefeel: Time To Find Me

 22 Second Phase: Mentasm

 23 Human Resource: Dominator

 24 Aphex Twin: Analogue Bubblebath

 25 Björk: Human Behavior

 26 Goldie: Angel

 27 The Prodigy: Charly

 28 Aphex Twin: Alberto Balsam

 29 Slowdive: Catch the Breeze EP / specifically "Shine"

 30 Craig Mack: Flava in Ya Ear

 31 Aaliyah: Are You That Somebody

 32 Beenie Man: Who Am I: 

33 Future Sound of London Papua New Guinea

 34 Cypress Hill: How I Could Just Kill a Man

 35 Goldie: Inner City Life

 36 Missy Elliott: The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)

 37 Cypress Hill: Latin Lingo

 38 World of Twist: Sons of the Stage

 39 The Chemical Brothers (ft. Noel Gallagher): Setting Sun

 40 Liz Phair: Fuck and Run

 41 Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain

 42 LL Cool J: Mama Said Knock You Out

 43 Primal Scream: Higher Than the Sun

 44 The Prodigy: Breathe

 45 Jane's Addiction: Stop!

 46 Saint Etienne: Avenue

 47 Jane's Addiction: Been Caught Stealing

 48 DJ Shadow: Midnight In a Perfect World

 49 TLC: Waterfalls

 50 Edwyn Collins: A Girl Like You

overspilling -  

51 Elastica: Connection

 52 Alice in Chains: Would?

 53 Deee: Lite - Groove Is in the Heart

 54 The Breeders: Cannonball

 55 Ice Cube: It Was a Good Day

 56 Busta Rhymes: Dangerous

57 Pulp: Common People

 58 Britney Spears: Baby One More Time

 59 Fatboy Slim: Praise You

 60 The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony

 61 Public Enemy: 911 Is a Joke

 62 Missy Elliott featuring Nas, Eve and Q-Tip: Hot Boyz

 63 Aphex Twin: Windowlicker

 64 Naughty by Nature: O.P.P.

 65 Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit

 66 Wreckx-n-Effect: Rump Shaker

 67 My Bloody Valentine: Only Shallow

And here is the second round, winnowed-down selection of songs / tracks 

1 Omni Trio: Renegade Snares (Foul Play VIP Mix)

2 The House Crew: Euphoria (Nino's Dream)

3 Aaliyah: One in a Million

4 Boards of Canada: Roygbiv

5 New Radicals: You Get What You Give

6 Blame: Music Takes You (2 Bad Mice Remix)

7 Acen: Trip II the Moon (Pt. 1 and 2)

8 Tricky: Aftermath

9 Beltram: Energy Flash

10 Urban Shakedown: Some Justice

11 Orbital: Chime

12 My Bloody Valentine: Soon

13 Aaliyah: Are You That Somebody

14 Beenie Man: Who Am I

15 The Stone Roses: I Wanna be Adored

16 Prodigy: Firestarter

17 Liz Phair: Fuck and Run

18 Prefab Sprout: Wild Horses

19 Björk: Human Behavior

20 Craig Mack: Flava in Ya Ear

21 Missy Elliott: The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)

22 LL Cool J: Mama Said Knock You Out

23 Liz Phair: Divorce Song

24 The Future Sound of London: Papua New Guinea

25 Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain

26 Pulp: Common People

27 Blackstreet ft. Dr. Dre: No Diggity

28 The Breeders: Cannonball

29 Juvenile ft. Mannie Fresh, Lil Wayne: Back That Azz Up

30 The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony

31 Double 99: Ripgroove

32 Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit

33 Busta Rhymes: Put Ya Hands Where My Eyes Can See

34 Goldie: Inner City Life

35 Stardust: Music Sounds Better With You

36 Outkast: Elevators (Me & You)

37 Orbital: Halcyon On + On

38 Artful Dodger ft. Craig David: Re-Rewind

39 Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome

40 Green Velvet: Flash

41 TLC: Waterfalls

42 Primal Scream: Higher Than the Sun

43 The La's: There She Goes

44 Blur: Girls & Boys

45 Smashing Pumpkins: 1979

46 k.d. lang: Constant Craving

47 Destiny's Child: Bills, Bills, Bills

48 Björk: Army of Me

49 Naughty by Nature: O.P.P.

50 Ice Cube: It Was a Good Day 

51 Beck: Loser 

52 Destiny's Child: Say My Name 

53 Britney Spears: Baby One More Time 

54 Deee-Lite: Groove Is in the Heart 

55 Elastica: Connection 

56 DJ Zinc: Super Sharp Shooter 

57 DMX: Ruff Ryders Anthem 

58 Alice in Chains: Would? 

59 K.P. & Envyi: Swing My Way 

60 Missy Elliott ft, Nas, Eve and Q-Tip: Hot Boyz 

61 Busta Rhymes: Woo-Hah!! Got You All In Check 

62 PJ Harvey: Rid of Me 

63 Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg: Still D.R.E. 

64 Crystal Waters: Gypsy Woman

65 Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg: Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang  

66 DJ Shadow: Midnight In a Perfect World  

67 Massive Attack: Unfinished Sympathy  

68 Warren G, Nate Dogg: Regulate 

69 Robin S.: Show Me Love 

70 Ginuwine: Pony 

71 Björk: Hyperballad  

72 Dr. Dre, Eminem: Forgot About Dre  

73 Weezer: Undone (The Sweater Song)  

74 Isolée: Beau Mot Plage

 75 My Bloody Valentine: When You Sleep

 76 Brandy, Monica: The Boy Is Mine

 77 Mazzy Star: Fade Into You

 78 Snap: I Got The Power

79 My Bloody Valentine: Only Shallow

 80 Nirvana: Heart Shaped Box

 81 Julee Cruise: Falling

 82 My Bloody Valentine: Sometimes

 83 Daft Punk: Around the World

 84 Aphex Twin: Windowlicker

 85 Cutty Ranks: Limb By Limb

 86 TLC: No Scrubs

 87 Le Tigre: Deceptacon

 88 Björk: Venus as a Boy

 89 P.M. Dawn: Set Adrift on Memory Bliss

 90 Ghost Town DJs: My Boo

 91 Portishead: Sour Times

 92 Björk: Jóga

 93 Utah Saints: Something Good

 94 The Sundays: Here's Where the Story Ends

 95 Korn: Freak On A Leash

 96 2Pac: Dear Mama

 97 Madonna: Vogue

 98 Harvey Danger: Flagpole Sitta

 99 Dawn Penn: You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)

 100 The KLF: 3 a.m. Eternal (Live at the S.S.L.)

 101 Spice Girls: Wannabe

 102 SWV: Right Here 

103 The Notorious B.I.G.: Hypnotize 

104 The Offspring: Self Esteem 

105 Underworld: Born Slippy (Nuxx) 

106 SWV: Weak

Albums now - here is the first round ballot o' mine

1 Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92

2 Tricky: Maxinquaye

3 Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works Volume II

4 LFO: Frequencies

5 Boards of Canada: Music Has The Right To Children

6 Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville

7 Ultramarine: Every Man and Woman Is A Star

8 Wagon Christ: Throbbing Pouch

9 Omni Trio: The Deepest Cut, Vol.1

10 Saint Etienne: Foxbase Alpha

11 Seefeel: Polyfusia

12 Insides: Euphoria

13 My Bloody Valentine: Loveless

14 Pulp: Different Class

15 Massive Attack: Blue Lines

16 World of Twist: Quality Street

17 Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott: Supa Dupa Fly

18 Björk: Debut

19 Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet

20 Roni Size/Reprazent: New Forms

21 Kraftwerk: The Mix

22 Goldie: Timeless

23 Saint Etienne: So Tough

24 Morrissey: Vauxhall and I

25 Oval: 94 Diskont

26 Portishead: Dummy

27 Seefeel: Quique

28 Pulp: His n Hers

29 Björk: Post

30 Prefab Sprout: Jordan: The Comeback

31 Stereolab: Mars Audiac Quintet

32 Herbert: Around the House

33 Pulp: This Is Hardcore

34 Cypress Hill: Black Sunday

35 Stereolab: Emperor Tomato Ketchup

36 The 6ths: Wasps' Nests

37 Radiohead: OK Computer

38 Stereolab: Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements

39 PJ Harvey: Dry

40 Basement Jaxx: Remedy

41 Elastica: Elastica

42 Busta Rhymes: When Disaster Strikes

43 Björk: Homogenic

44 Kirstin Hersh: Hips and Makers

45 Destiny's Child: The Writing's on the Wall

46 Busta Rhymes: The Coming

47 Daft Punk: Homework

48 GZA: Liquid Swords

49 Busta Rhymes: Extinction Level Event

50 Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted

And the second and final votes for album, taken from the reduced-in-number consensus squad. Now here an interesting thing happens which is that I start running out of real faves (my own abfavs having been taken out of contention, you see). So I start drifting into "approve of" criteria, or have some other metric of solidarity or tangential reason to support (see if you can spot which artist is in there really only because a 4 Hero remix made me fall for that particular song and come to greatly appreciate the remixee's own skills of storytelling and delivery. But in truth the album from which said remixed track hails I only heard this year!).

Truthfully, from number 23 onwards in this second shorter shortlist, it's often the case that the singles off the album, perhaps even just one track on it, are the reason it's included (Aaliyah is for the title track obviously - and "If Your Girl Only Knew" which is decent). Other times there might be another album  (or albums) by the same artist that I much much prefer, but since the selectorate has gone for it, I've lent it the support. 

1 Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92

2 Tricky: Tricky: Maxinquaye

3 Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville

4 Boards of Canada: Music Has the Right to Children

5 Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works Volume II

6 Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott: Supa Dupa Fly

7 Pulp: Different Class

8 Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet

9 Cypress Hill: Black Sunday

10 My Bloody Valentine: Loveless

11 Massive Attack: Blue Lines

12 Oval: 94 Diskont

13 Goldie: Timeless

14 Roni Size/Reprazent: New Forms

15 Björk: Post

16 Destiny's Child: The Writing's on the Wall

17 Stereolab: Emperor Tomato Ketchup

18 Prefab Sprout: Jordan: The Comeback

19 Dr. Dre: The Chronic

20 Elastica: Elastica

21 Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted

22 Radiohead: OK Computer

23 DMX: It's Dark and Hell Is Hot

24 Beck: Odelay

25 Portishead: Dummy

26 GZA: Liquid Swords

27 U2: Achtung Baby

28 Nirvana: Nevermind

29 PJ Harvey: Rid Of Me

30 Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

31 DJ Shadow: Endtroducing

32 OutKast: ATLiens

33 Nirvana: In Utero

34 De La Soul: De La Soul Is Dead

35 Daft Punk: Homework

36 Aaliyah: One in a Million

37 Bone Thugs n-Harmony: E. 1999 Eternal

38 The KLF: Chill Out

39 Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes

40 Teenage Fanclub: Bandwagonesque

41 Primal Scream: Screamadelica

42 Aphex Twin: Richard D. James Album

43 Ice Cube: Death Certificate

44 The Beta Band: The 3 EPs

45 Juvenile: 400 Degreez

46 Scarface: The Diary

47 Tortoise: Millions Now Living Will Never Die

48 Le Tigre: Le Tigre

49 Slint: Spiderland

50 Main Source: Breaking Atoms


Looking at these ballots again, some glaring and unaccountable omissions inevitably emerge - most notably the absence of A Guy Called Gerald's Black Secret Technology and several of the 12-inch releases on Juice Box.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

1990 surveyed and assessed


Yes that list looks middlebrow, now - but in 1990 this would have radically widened the influence-scope of these groups. And have I identified Shoegaze here, w/o naming it? Or were people already talking about the Scene That Celebrates Itself?.  

bonus bits

one solitary blurb for the Albums of the Year 

Not 100% certain this is my blurb although "erotic politician" and "radical MOR" sound like my turn o' I should have written AOR rather than MOR though, to more accurately peg the sound. Also I did the big cover story on the Hearthrobs that year. Cannot honestly resummon my excitement about this album now - but do remember the single "Dreamtime" fondly. 

Q + A with Tim Burgess of the Charlatans. Canny recycling of a feature I did for Spin, or rather, full use of the transcript thereof. Likeable fellow, relentlessly mediocre band though. 

Monday, June 27, 2022

Artforum - best and worst 1996

PRO The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” is a sort of Dionysian hymn to arson, based around this monstrous loop riff of guitar feedback and a really boombastic hip-hop beat. On a similar tip, “Loops of Fury” by the Chemical Brothers mashes up hip-hop and techno.

CON  I’d say that R.E.M. has become one of the most turgid bands on the planet. And as for Michael Stipe’s enigma/savant pose, I suspect there’s probably less there than meets the eye.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Artforum - Best and Worst 1995


Steeped in the studio sorcery of dub and hip-hop, TRICKY is as much a part of England’s art-rock continuum as he is a British B-boy. One way of thinking of Maxinquaye is as Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure remodeled as an accounting of the costs of the UK’s recreational drug culture. Tricky makes his own travails with alcohol, ganja, and other “cheap thrills” emblematic of a generation able to find its provisional utopias only through self-poisoning. From the polluted stream-of-consciousness lyrics to the smeary, maculate textures and wraithlike melodies, Tricky transforms inner chaos and cultural entropy into picturesque soundscapes—like “Strugglin” (Public Enemy minus the dream of a Black Nation), like “Aftermath” (Miles Davis’ “He Loved Him Madly” meets The Specials’ “Ghost Town”), like “Abbaon Fat Tracks” (how “There’s a Riot Going On” might have sounded, had Sly Stone used a sampler).

Tricky is the sharpest, cruelest poet of England’s political unconscious since the John Lydon of PiL’s “Metal Box.” In place of the slogans, redemptive exhortations, and case studies perpetrated in the name of “political pop,” Tricky simply lets the contamination and corruption speak for itself, in its own vernacular: paranoia (“mystical shadows fraught with no meaning”), implosive rage (“my brain thinks bomblike”), and exile (“raised in this place, now concrete is my religion”). Perhaps his most poignant poem of all is “Maxinquaye” itself, his personal word for Zion, for paradise lost. Maxine is his mother, who died when Tricky was four; the Quaye are an African tribe. As for Tricky, he’s sorrow’s native son.


Spoilt for choice here, as ever. There are many contenders: BLUR’s “The Great Escape”; GUIDED BY VOICES’ double whammy of “Alien Lanes” and the four-CD box of unreleased albums; SILVERCHAIR’s “Frogstomp” and PAUL WELLER’s “Stanley Road ”; the wholesome Everyman rock of HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH’s “Cracked Rear View.” But 1995’s most nauseating moments ultimately belong to MICHAEL JACKSON’s “You Are Not Alone”—not so much for the song, sickly as it is, but for the cringe-making video, with its staged seminude scenes of “marital intimacy” ’tween Wacko and Lisa Marie, and for the appalling spectacle of Michael’s bared and bleached chest, hairless and withered like a teenager with premature aging syndrome.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Artforum - Best and Worst of 1994

Artforum December 1994


Lords of Jungle

Jungle is all the rage in London: from every other car and boutique you hear its febrile beats, rumblin’ bass, and insolent ragga chat. Now that the sound has broken into the mainstream, most people equate jungle with dance-hall reggae-influenced hits like Shy FX & UK Apachi’s “Original Nuttah.” I prefer the sub-genre of ambient jungle, because it’s at once more experimental and more melodic.

“Renegade Snares (Foul Play Remix)” (Moving Shadow, import) unites my two fave a-j artists, Omni Trio and Foul Play, who pull off the remixer’s miracle of making a perfect original even more sublime: somehow they manage to extract even more searing/soaring orgasmitude out of Omni’s arrangement of soul-diva spasms and mellotronic synth-swoops. The drum-and-bass undercarriage is based around a break beat so crisp and fierce it’s like a cross between James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and an Uzi. What I really love about ambient jungle, though, is its sentimentality—the gushing tenderness of the voices, the tingly, almost-twee piano motifs—and the way that fits the huggy, openhearted poignancy of the Ecstasy experience. Strangely, and thankfully, people continue to make this kind of music even though the luv’d-up E-vibe has disappeared from British clubland, replaced by a sullen aloofness.


Boys in the Band

The chorus of the would-be anthem by These Animal Men, prime movers in the Brit-scene “New Wave of New Wave,” goes “This is the sound of youth today” (Hi-Rise, import). The pat rebuttal would be “No, this is the sound of youth yesterday”—specifically of youth 1966, or worse, its charmless replay in 1979’s mod revival. But what really unnerves me about These Animal Men—and the same goes for the U.S. pop punk of Green Day—is that this is the first time rock revivalism has gotten around to exhuming something I lived through as a late-’70s just-missed-punk adolescent. I’ve always hated those old fogies who greet each new band with a cynical “seen it all before”; now I find myself one, as kids half my age pogo.

Still, everything about “This Is the Sound of Youth” is a tale thrice told and stingless. From the band’s legs-akimbo stage leaps, windmilling Pete Townshend power chords, and speed-freak stares to the video’s boys-will-be-boys plotline (the band as ten-year-old schoolkids throwing paper pellets at girls and cheeking their wrinkly old school ma’am), this is prehistoric stuff: a willful flight from all the things that make ’90s pop exciting (samplers, remixology, women’s ferocity), a retreat into a Luddite, homosocial nostalgia.