Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Top 26 Albums of the 1990s (Part 1)


Who: Yo La Tengo
What: Fakebook
When: January 1, 1990
Why: Yo La Tengo has had one of the longest-lived and most productive careers possible for a band that most people have never even heard of. Guitarist Ira Kaplan took his rock-crit background and has put it to good use, with the help of Georgia Hubley (Ira’s wife and the band’s drummer) and bassist James McNew (although McNew didn’t actually play on this album).
Fakebook was a rather odd choice for a band which was still in it’s early stages – an album of covers, including several covers of their own songs.

Throughout their career Yo La has vacillated between droning, feedback-drenched prog rock and the tenderest of ballads. This album is a little different in that the entire disc has a singular sound (acoustic strumming and brush drumming) which is rarely heard anywhere else in the Yo La Tengo catalog. The result is a new feel for the covers of their own songs as well as those of others. Looming over all are the exquisite harmonies that Kaplan and Hubley bring to the most memorable of the tunes (i.e., most of the disc). The image evoked is of the two of them spending late nights playing and harmonizing. Loverly. More here.

Fear Of A Black Planet

Who: Public Enemy
What: Fear Of A Black Planet
When: March 20, 1990
Why: A wonder of production upon its first hearing in 1990, this album still packs a sonic wallop like few others. The Bomb Squad production and Terminator X’s turntable beats undergird and provide on ongoing chorus to the raps of intellectual Chuck D and comic foil Flavor Flav. "Welcome To The Terrordome” is the epitome of this style, combining apocalyptic lyrics with a dense soundscape of samples of everything from Kool & The Gang to the Temptations and James Brown. More here.


Who: Matthew Sweet
What: Girlfriend
When: October 22, 1991
Why: 60s power pop updated to the 1990s. This was Matthew Sweet’s breakthrough album and contained all of the elements that sustained his successes throughout the decade: endless hooks, jangling chords leavened with Hendrix-style guitar rants, lush harmonies, and a touch or two of country honk and gospel flavorings. The centerpiece is, of course, the title song. The pristine production allows all of those elements (in particular the shimmering harmonies) to flow through at full force. More here.


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