Top 36 Music Albums of the 1990s by NoAlarms (2020)
- Chart updated: 4 days ago
- (Created: 04/03/2020 23:46).
- Chart size: 36 albums.
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For me, it's not OK Computer's futuristic motifs, slick guitar lines or harmonic prowess that take the cake. It's the intangible wonder of an album so meticulously crafted to the note. The emotional response that wells up from within during each and every listening experience and the philosophical resonance that never fails to affect me. In an age where resistance to a popular opinion is so prevalent, I'd have every reason in the world to dismiss OK Computer, to liken its listeners to a brand of entry-level beginners to the world of critically acclaimed music and yet the album dazzles each and every listen. In many ways, OK Computer warns against the monotony of modern times and times to come, but still the album comes home every night, reliable as ever.
"This is my final fit, my final bellyache. With no alarms and no surprises..." - No Surprises
1. No Surprises
2. Let Down
3. Paranoid Android
104.5 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
The album's crown jewel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, layers striking metaphorical proclamations in rapid succession, partnering that with dizzying singing saw, creating an indie masterpiece confined within an alien biodome. Communist Daughter eases down the tempo but not the whimsy, as it oozes beauty almost in a whisper as it flutters into Oh Comely. The album closes with the hauntingly reflective Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2 as it whirrs into Magnum's words. He declares, "God is a place where some holy spectacle lies", endlessly waiting for divine intervention, even if he questions its existence in a world that can be so cold.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, is partly a horror story of the Nazi Regime, a love letter to the courage of Anne Frank, but mostly its an examination of life's smallest moments and whether it's worth going forward or not. Whatever it is to you, however, is likely the most fitting description. Magnum's poetry on the LP is indicative of a higher consciousness and it's partnered with a cornucopia of musical ingenuity to form one of the finest, most earnest albums ever pressed.
"Now how I remember you,
How I would push my fingers through,
Your mouth to make those muscles move,
That made your voice so smooth and sweet."
-In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
1. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
2. Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2
3. Oh Comely
102 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
Lead vocalist Dax Riggs likens tracks Tranquilized and Cheap Vodka to drug-triggered, personal anecdotes. The bluesy restraint of Scream of the Butterfly harkens back to the regret of an abortion and the distinctive sound of the woman's grief over said act. Toubabo Koomi is cajun french for Land of the White Cannibals and takes aim at the savagery of the governmental system. Finally, The Bones of Baby Dolls details the unvarnished evil of a child molester. All in all, When the Kite String Pops is not for the faint of heart.
With John Wayne Gacy plastered on the cover, few would gaze upon the album and foresee the intense, brilliant musicianship buried within the catacombs of this striking record. This is partly the appeal. Sometimes it seems like this is something we shouldn't be listening to, like a suicide caught on tape. The dichotomy of the vulgarity and poetry on the album makes it the best kind of rarity. It's a shame that it will likely be restricted to residing in dusty attics, at the bottom of garage sale bins and quiet corners of failing record shops. Listening to When the Kite String Pops is the musical equivalent of watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). A brilliant film no doubt, but one of immense depravity. When the Kite String Pops makes you want to shower once it's over, but you are helpless to the notion of starting it all over again, bathing in its magnificent grime.
"I feel the wetness of her tongue that slides across my skin
The viruses crawl over me and feel for some way in."
-Cassie Eats Cockroaches
1. The Bones of Baby Dolls
2. The Blue
3. Dr. Seuss is Dead
99.1 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
While examining the title track, The Bends, the two-headed monster of guitar fury is let loose as Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien flourish their talents all throughout a track named after a sensation caused by gas-infused bubbles in the blood. However, the concepts communicated in the song deal with fair-weather friends riding the band's coattails into stardom and knowing who the true confidants are. The conclusion is drawn by Thom Yorke himself who snarls, "We don't have any real friends". Fourth track Fake Plastic Trees goes down as an early era anthem of rejection for the band, serving as a wiser, more contemplative Creep evolution. Working both as a blistering assessment of consumerism in modern society and as Yorke's own disillusion towards the porcelain nature of his experiences of human interaction, particularly those with the opposite sex. The song delicately unfolds before crashing thunderously with guitar hits subbing for lightning. The track softly recoils as Yorke sorrowfully ponders, "If I could be who you wanted, all the time". This was, for lack of a better term, a "grown up" piece for the band and it was also the moment of discovery for Yorke's own lyrical voice. Closing cut Street Spirit (Fade Out) sculpts out a place alongside other Radiohead classics with an emotional weight not yet produced by the group. Commencing with a guitar hook that could inspire ominous dread within Satan himself, the track explores nihilistic motifs and the chilling-certainty of life's short duration. Yorke has even claimed that "it hurts like hell to play" and likened it to "staring the Devil in the eyes". The backing vocal harmony during the second half beseeches images of wandering souls lost in transit as the frontman begs those who listen to "immerse your soul in love". Street Spirit (Fade Out) serves as a proper creative zenith for the band, acting almost as a baptism into a higher consciousness of musical inspiration for the English quintet.
In May of 1997, Radiohead would go on to release the seminal OK Computer and the rest, as they say, is history. For all of OK Computer's ingenuity and attention to detail, the seeds for the album were really sown two years earlier on The Bends. The 1995 effort often draws the short straw when most recall Radiohead's most polished discography entries. It's easy to overlook the stratospheric ascent in dynamism between the band's first and second LPs. The Bends enjoyed a mostly cordial reception by critics but few could be astute enough to cite the album as the birthing of a modern music legend. The pyramid of what we now know as Radiohead was still being built, and the blocks of stone at the foundation are just as important as the ones that sit atop them.
"Faith, you're driving me away,
You do it every day,
You don't mean it, but it hurts like hell,
My brain says I'm receiving pain,
A lack of oxygen,
From my life support, my iron lung."
-My Iron Lung
1. Street Spirit (Fade Out)
2. Fake Plastic Trees
3. (Nice Dream)
95.7 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
As Long Season (Part 1) surfaces, a spacey, smoky atmosphere comes into focus, bubbling with an alien strut. The track evolves into a cascading keyboard loop which is majestically serene while carrying an ever-present promise of combustibility. This is when Sato's first declarations are audible, "At dusk we drove, calling the wind and calling you, we ran from one end of Tokyo to the other, halfway dreaming." The track shimmers during its climax as Honzi's violin and accordion join the fray with exuberant grace. The track seamlessly drifts into Long Season (Part 2) as the keyboard loop is adorned with percussive twinkles and Sato's own protuberant guitar solo. As Kin-ichi Motegi's drums cushion the final moments of Long Season (Part 2), (Part 3) introduces itself with a decidedly ambient complexion. Commencing with a damp, distant quality, (Part 3) is notably restrained when compared to the previous two movements. The track blossoms with Motegi's second drum flourish, a solo that lasts the length of the track serving as a distinct bridge between both boundaries of the record. (Part 4) comes into view with relaxed, remote guitar strikes. Whistling is interwoven throughout the DNA of (Part 4) betwixt a duplicated vocal melody and a swirling, ominous backing whirl. (Part 5) is a different shade of (Part 1), reintroducing the hypnotic keyboard riff with heightened immediacy and scope. The track builds to Sato's own haunting falsetto, broadcasting a billowing a sense of catharsis and rebirth amidst the sonic revisitation. (Part 5) is as majestic as the LP gets and is among the most gorgeous movements in recent memory.
Long Season (Part 5) sounds suspiciously like a swan song in many distinct manners. It recounts the past and treats a movement only 25 minutes removed to be one of complete nostalgia. Sato's own vocals at the finale are so undeniably vulnerable that one would be inclined to think of it more in terms of a finale for him rather than the LP, like a final championing of life and its wonders. The backing vocals stand to up the ante as intrinsic collateral for such a moment. Eerily enough, this movement would be the final piece of music Sato would play live. Long Season in its entirety would be played in Fishmans' final performance which was featured on the beloved live album, 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare. Sato died suddenly of a heart attack three months after the band's final gig. These days, the outfit has reached an entirely new audience far from their native Japan. Long Season has been instrumental in moving the needle and has been retrospectively lauded as a masterpiece, one that graces the ears of new listeners each and every day. It's a testament to the band and the music they were producing. The record outdistanced its own release and becomes more inviting with age. Aligned with the recurring nature of its content like a persistent dream, Long Season is a crisp Spring day that will never end and more importantly, will never wither at the hand of a cruel Winter.
"What is the song are you humming,
What things can you remember,
We are half in a dream."
-Long Season (Part 1)
1. Long Season (Part 5)
2. Long Season (Part 1)
3. Long Season (Part 4)
94.7 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
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