Top 10 Albums of 1992

Number 10.   –  Angel Dust – Faith No More

The music here is extremely hard to categorize. The best overall tag here is experimental alternative rock/metal, but even that feels a bit unfitting. There’s a distinct funk influence in many of the songs, especially “Land of Sunshine”, the lyrically witty “Be Aggressive”, or the symphonic “Kindergarten”. Progressive rock influences creep their way in throughout the entire album, as do jazz and hip hop tendencies. There’s even a country music influence in “RV”, which illustrates Mike Patton’s hilarious satirical parody on American “white trash”. Picking a standout track on Angel Dust is virtually impossible since they’re all absolute masterpieces. The closing track, John Barry’s “Midnight Cowboy”, is an interesting choice to end the album, but I think it works surprisingly well. This is just yet another example of the eclecticism on Angel Dust. An interesting sidenote are the large amount of sampling used here, especially for a rock album. Record label executives were quite concerned with all of the sampling on Angel Dust, but I can’t imagine listening to the album without it. The interesting placement and usage of samples really give Angel Dust yet another experimental edge that make it one of the greatest albums of all time in my opinion. Of course, another great thing about Faith No More is the excellent musicianship. Mike Patton’s vocals were always the highlight of this album for me, but the rest of the group is always tight and precise. There isn’t anything too technical in Angel Dust, but the musicians (especially the amazing bass playing from Bill Gould) are still very capable and a joy to listen to.

Number 9.  –  Doppelgänger – Curve

Doppelgänger is like jellyfish soup – if there ever could be one it would resemble this album – it would be nettling and wobbly and jellylike. Music is very gelatinous and listening to it I literally got stuck in the sound. “Fireworks, blue and green I can see what they sing. But you are away, you always smile. Boxing ring, the back of mules, you can really see, from the inside, across the room. There’s a horror in my head when the blanket is gone from the floor in my castle where I see the sun from. There’s a horror in my head.” And all these ghostly vocals dubbed on music create an atmosphere of cosmic unreality. Talk about loud, Curve’s Doppelganger has its moments of breathtaking noise that My Bloody Valentine would’ve been jealous of. That record sounds almost tame compared to this sex drenched rush. You can thank Toni Halliday’s sexy, blistering vocals for that. She drives the melodies, creating harmonies that for the most part run against the electric background. The guitars are so layered and loud but they can never drown out her purrs and bedroom confessions.

Number 8.  –  Automatic for the People – REM

This is a culmination of everything that R.E.M. was. It is the last record where the band was able to successfully expand its art. At one point in the early 90s, I’m sure it must have looked as though R.E.M.’s days as a groundbreaking, innovative gang of musicians were behind them, and that they were destined, if the uneven content on “Document”, “Green” and “Out of Time” was any indication, to nip the bud of major label stardom to a degree that would invariably result in the “alternative culture” labeling them as sellouts, if they hadn’t been so labeled already. To some degree, that did indeed happen. By 1991-92, R.E.M. were no longer a band with a fresh, enigmatic sound and vision, as they had been when “Murmur” seemed to appear out of nowhere and sounded like it too. Though they had become the standard-bearers of “that alternative sound” from the get-go, their original motivations as musicians and artists seemed to be fading. They were drifting rather dangerously close to the types of pop concessions and pretensions that sank many a band in the 80s and 90s artistically, even though they were experiencing more commercial success than they ever had before. I would argue that R.E.M.’s talents as artists never gelled more thoroughly and yielded as fully formed results musically as they did here. As plaintively stated in “Everybody Hurts”, sadness is a universal human emotion. At some point in his or her life, every person has experienced some event of such unequivocal pain, loss, or disappointment that makes us grieve; disoriented, we face the world with the kind of infantile vulnerability that defines a child. We come to crave a mother’s consolation, we cry for help, and for better or worse, we redefine ourselves in the process. My depression now defines my life, impacting my grades, my social behavior, and my sense of self-worth. With breathtaking scope and startling accuracy, Automatic for the People charts this cycle of depression through Michael Stipe’s poetic lens, and in doing so, provides an ocean of hope to those trapped within this vicious circle.

Number 7.  –  Slanted & Enchanted – Pavement

Most people who don’t “get” this album have, in my experience, too rigid a view of what rock music is. They say things like: they don’t play in time, they sound like they are mucking around, it’s too loose, it’s too lax, the production is hopeless etc. etc. But ‘Slanted and Enchanted’ is made partially as a reaction against rock cliches. For a really good discussion of the ‘low-fi’ production of this album, check out the excellent review on Pitchfork. The long and short of it is that the fuzzy, low-budget production is part of a deliberate aesthetic and attitude. There is so much fake emotion in popular music, but you won’t find it in Pavement. These songs are often emotionally guarded, but a song like “Loretta’s Scars” offers new insights into relationships between men and women. “How can I make my body shed for you?” is a much more interesting question I am used to encountering in a love song. A lot of these songs are sad, but they don’t parade their sadness in the way that a lot of independent music does. And then they do take themselves too seriously either. If it isn’t already obvious, I think Pavement’s two first albums are about as good as indie rock gets.

Number 6.  –  Little Earthquakes – Tori Amos

One of those rare albums that although being candidly and painfully cathartic, can also be played from start to finish as an enjoyable and catchy pop album, and manages to not come accross as self-indulgent and self-pitying all of which pieces just falll together falwlessly. Musically, Tori admittedly doesn’t come close to reaching her creative peak and her dazzling classically trained piano playing ability doesn’t reign as thunderously as it would on later albums. But that doesn’t matter as all twelve songs, consisting mostly of majestic piano ballads or mid tempo ensembles, are all strong bodies of work. The tracks were composed as piano pieces with additional instramentation and percusssion added only as required. In the context of this album, the production works perfectly, it’s not sparse to the point of monotony, but minimalist enough not draw attention away from, but instead complement the candid confessionals and the piano playing. Lyrically too, she is not as dense and impenetrable as she has been for the rest of her career, but this too works to her advantage.

Number 5.  –  Selected Ambient Works 85 – 92 – Aphex Twin

This can easily be considered to be one of the best, most influential albums in the history of electronic music.  It is without a doubt the pinnacle of early 90’s electronica, and has had a huge influence on artists to follow.  In my opinion, the first half of the album is the best.  My favorite track is the opener, ‘Xtal.’  The track starts with some light percussion, which is later joined by some female vocal samples.  Toward the middle of the track a beautiful synth melody enters the mix, which also closes out the track.  This is one of my favorite all-time Aphex Twin tracks. Aphex Twin is a genius. Objectively. I’m pretty sure he has one of the highest IQs in the music business, and if you’re still not convinced by my totally made-up fact, just look at the title of this album. 85-92 means that these pieces were composed between 1985 and 1992. He was born in 1971. This means that at least one of these songs was composed when he was as young as 13. Even if this wasn’t one of the best albums ever, that would still be a hell of an accomplishment.

Number 4.  –  Dirt – Alice in Chains

Dirt is one of the darkest, depressing, harrowing albums ever made. It’s full of so much despair and pain, it contains so much anguish that it’s sometimes really hard to listen to. It’s seen as THE heroin album, because of what Layne was going through and how vivid the lyrics were and the imagery they evoked. The album is definitely about Layne’s addiction, but I think the songs go beyond that. They go much deeper and it isn’t quite as one dimensional as that, even though at the album’s heart it’s about addiction I think the songs deal with deeply personal and emotional issues that go beyond Layne’s addiction. Sometimes, the lyrical content is incredibly vivid and other times it’s so cryptic and hard to decipher. It’s one of the most absorbing albums ever, I feel exhausted and drained after listening to it. The best thing about Grunge, for me, was the different styles the best bands had. From Nirvana’s Punk Rock sensibilities, to Pearl Jam’s classic rock leanings, to The Afghan Whigs’ soul influences. Each band from the scene had something different to offer. Alice In Chains were the band whose aesthetic was closest to Metal and I think Dirt is not only the darkest album to come out of the movement, but it’s one of the darkest albums ever. Dirt is Alice In Chain’s masterpiece, their career defining album and it’s one of the best and most essential albums of the decade. It’s actually chilling, Layne invites us into his hellish nightmare and completely changes our perception of music. It’s an album that floors me, it leaves me absolutely speechless

Number 3.  –  Ferment – Catherine Wheel

There have been occasions, admittedly rare, when reviewing my record collection I’ve stumbled across an album which makes me question why I resisted the compulsion to buy more by the same artist. Ferment by Catherine Wheel is one such album. Regarding my own musical motivators, Ferment pressed all the right buttons. Creating harsh, metallic rhythms as a backdrop for dark, depressive lyrics is a winning recipe in my book and Catherine Wheel are certainly adept in this area. Why I didn’t follow this up is a complete mystery as the band have released several other albums. (Since writing this review I’ve acquired nearly all the band’s back catalogue and have no regrets). The fact the band chose to drown what are particularly strong melodic hooks in droning guitars and whining feedback is usually a complete turn-off, but in the case of Catherine Wheel this isn’t the case. Part of the answer lies with the vocal style of Rob Dickinson. Instead of the expected growling, indistinct voice, his lightweight sound provides a brilliant counterpoint for the mayhem of the music around it displayed to best effect on “Texture”, “Black Metallic”, “Flower To Hide” and “I Want To Touch You”. Unfortunately that strange mixture of styles could be the reason why the band have not had the success that they certainly deserved.

Number 2.  –  Check Your Head – Beastie Boys

How do you follow an album like Paul’s Boutique? Most bands would do more of the same, but not the Beastie Boys. Instead of continiuing with the sampling and over the top lyrics, they return with a grittier, funkier, darker album with more politically tinged rhymes and a touch of punk for good measure. And the strange thing is, less than half of the 20 songs on the album are even rap. With this album, the Beastie Boys showed they were much more than your average hip-hop group, they weren’t afraid to take risks and change styles and genres at will, and for that, I think ‘Check your Head’ is an underrated masterpiece. This is without a doubt one of the most interesting and varied records i have ever heard, let alone for hip-hop. I suppose it reinforces my love for the out-of-step, but the moods and styles this record goes through without being pompous or ridiculous or jarring is amazing to me. Its funny because on all their other records (before and after) they have a variety of elements but only on this one do they bring them all together, and it works! I especially love the instrumentals featured here. It’s impossible to categorize this album and that’s what makes it a bona-fide classic. A hodge-podge of rap, funk, rock, punk and jazz fusion, this album proves that the Beastie’s musical purview is limitless. All three of them are very proficient at playing their respective instruments and none of the three sicks out ahead than the others. Check Your Head” is my favourite Beasties’ album because it has something for everyone – it’s such a juxtaposition of styles that works incredibly well as a cohesive whole.

Number 1.  – Rage Against The Machine –
Rage Against The Machine

Rage Against The Machine is the amazing debut of this revolutionary band. When I was just getting into music I used to think this was the best thing out there and it really is something. In your face songwriting, explosive riffs and pure unadulterated ANGER are what Rage promises and with their self entitled they certainly deliver. The 4 angry young men who make up the band are Zach de la Rocha, a unique singer (well rapper i guess) who spits out pure hate and has some extremely strong vocal chords considering the intensity of some of his screams. Tom Morello is the guitarist and he really has a style of his own. His riffs are one of the best things about the band, and instead of taking solos he makes awesome noises come out of his guitar. Rhythm section is comprised of Timmy C on bass, a great player with an excellent approach to the instrument and drummer Brad Wilk who definately fits in well with Rage’s style. This was their best album, basically because it was their first, and they had the most power and anger in them at that time. The lyrics are fairly out there, usually spreading awareness of injustices that go on all over the world. If that sort of thing gives them the fire inside to write this kind of music then good for them. Saying I understand what he really tells me is probably not true but I can relate to it. And it’s not like “relate” in Human Traffic or in other words, when you’re on pills. I do relate. Well, I guess we all relate to “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” or “Burn, yes, you’re gonna burn” in some way, sometimes. It does not have to be about fighting for a specific purpose. Zack might say you have interpret his songs his way but there’s no one correct almighty way although I have to admit the sense of freedom is intense and dominant. All the songs are strong but not offensive, rough but not raw, (and oddly enough) beautiful!

 

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