Last week’s list reminded me just how overly fond I am of music from the 90s, so for this week I wanted to go over favorite tracks from the decade. But the more I went through my music… the more I realized what a fucking joke it would be to try slimming down that many favorites onto a list of ten. So to make it easier, I neglected the more obvious selections and decided to pick more unsung (ha-HA, see what I did there?) tunes that though less people know about, I think everybody should love as much as I do. As always, if you have any suggestions please feel free to add.
The Dismemberment Plan – Memory Machine
A great example of what a wildly imaginative indie rock band the Dismemberment Plan was, Memory Machine combines clever time signatures with a nearly anthemic, poppy chorus. The beginning is almost awkward, sounding as if it had been meant for the middle of a completely different song, and then it’s followed by a quick barrage of guitars and keyboards before finally settling into the verse. Experimental and weird, but never alienating, and extremely catchy to boot.
Screeching Weasel – Slogans
Whatever pop chord progressions the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, and the Descendents may have missed, Screeching Weasel managed to pick up. It’s a shame the band never saw much popularity; this song’s parent album, My Brain Hurts, predates the mid-90s pop punk explosion by a good three years, was hugely influential to all of the bands involved, and arguably did it the best. Slogans, like the rest of My Brain Hurts, is fast, catchy, and loaded with genuine personality. Plus, I can’t think of any other time that “I don’t really give a shit” has ever sounded so cheerful…
I-F – Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass
Mumbled robotic vocals, well layered electronics, and a thick, hook-ridden collective of dirty synths make this one a great electro dance number, but really it’s all about that bass. The back end in this song is absolutely towering, and with as much as he throws on top, it never loses control of the song. This is in that rare breed of electronic dance music, where it’s actually good enough to be repetitive for six minutes without getting boring.
The Beatnuts – Watch Out Now
For the life of me, I don’t think I will ever understand how this didn’t become a monstrous hit. Oh wait it did, when Trackmasters and Cory Rooney all but stole the beat in 2002 for Jennifer Lopez’s Jenny from the Block. Ba-dum tsh. That addictive flute loop beat is great enough, but JuJu and Psycho Les are relentless over it; seamlessly switching between English and Spanish (which is not something I’m normally into), goofy shit talking, and a highly melodic chorus. Sooner or later, I’ll be at a party and hear this come on, and I’ll go fuckin’ apeshit.
God Lives Underwater – From Your Mouth
Toning down the industrial sound of their first album and incorporating more trip-hop influence resulted in a very hit-or-miss sophomore effort, but this song nearly made up for it all on its own. The unsettling synths and incessant scratching over that heavy beat go together beautifully. From Your Mouth manages to be catchy, intricate, and very chill all at once; if you’ve ever wondered what Depeche Mode might sound like with a bit of a hip-hop flavor to the music, check this out.
The Jesus Lizard – Boilermaker
The opening track on their third album, Liar, Boilermaker‘s intensity gives the listener an idea of what the band’s notoriously chaotic live show might feel like. It wasn’t even just how crazy the music was; the songs were all tightly composed (especially here) and immediately engaging. Right out of its gate, the guitar and snare are working in furious conjunction, while vocalist David Yow screams over it all like a madman. Best when enjoyed as loudly as possible.
Brainiac – Nothing Ever Changes
One of the most unique and insanely creative alternative rock bands to ever be so criminally slept on. In the thirteen years since vocalist Tim Taylor’s unfortunate demise, no band of this genre has come close to capturing their imagination, or handling their patented blend of punk, synth pop, and noise rock as well as they did. Brainiac had a spectacular way of taking wonderful melodies and deliberately fucking them up by playing them with odd sounding moog synths, bent guitar notes, and gleefully bizarre vocal treatments. A must-hear, even if only to think “…the hell is this?”
Prong – Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck
Tailor-made for metal dancefloors (yes, there is such a thing), Snap Your Fingers boasts a crunchy guitar hook that could possibly be the heaviest earworm ever written. It almost feels unnatural for something this crushing to be so immediate, but Tommy Victor and co. made it work. Dark and menacing with just enough pop sensibility, while groups like Pantera and Machine Head may have been given the groove metal tag, this was the real thing.
Fantastic Plastic Machine – Take Me to the Disco (FPM Original Mix)
I am cheating a bit with this one, unless of course you judge the decade as 1991-2000 instead of 1990-1999. In any case, the trumpets and aggressive piano give this a very swinging start before the keyboards and female vocals come in, along with that trademark thumping beat that house is so.. er… known and loved for. Extremely cheesy, but never going over the top, and frankly it’s so bright and danceable that I doubt I’d care if it did.
The Tea Party – Army Ants
Mixing Nine Inch Nails and Led Zeppelin may not sound like the best idea, but on their fourth full-length, Transmission, the Canadian trio managed to pull it off with impressive style. The whole album has a great blend of eastern tinged hard rock with industrial sounding guitars and electronic effects, but they’re easily at their most aggressive on Army Ants. Jeff Martin switches between his much praised/criticized Jim Morrison-esque croon and an angry roar to great effect, with cleverly laced samples and excellent cymbal work propelling the song from behind him. A shame they didn’t stay with this style, it’s tempting to wonder where they could have taken it.