Two turntables and a microphone: Ranking Pazz & Jop 1996 albums

With a number of albums that boast the syncretism married to big beats in which the decade specialized, 1996 is one of the decade’s strongest. Different Class, Walking Wounded, Endtroducing…, and Emperor Tomato Ketchup remain on heavy rotation, Odelay less so. Add queer classics (for me) like Imperial Teen’s debut, Ani DiFranco’s Dilate, and Sleater-Kinney’s Call the Doctor , nu-R&B touchstones like Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite and Peace Beyond Passion, and a crunchier, liberal kind of A/C in Sheryl Crow’s first self-produced album, and the results challenge notions about the decade; I’ll claim that 1996 exposed what the rest of the decade didn’t become.

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‘The Report’ builds more myths in its quest for truth

An audience exists for The Report: people who believe men and women of steel hearts and constitutional sonorities ringing in their heads can transcend party loyalties for the sake of preserving our republic. Scott Z. Burns, a screenwriter for co-producer Steven Soderbergh, brings moral zeal to his fictional film about Senate staffer Daniel Jones’ years-long investigation into the CIA’s torture program created after the 9-11 attacks, an investigation that produced the eponymous report released five years ago in the waning days of Democratic Senate control. Taking a just-the-facts approach brings back the tumult of memories that the Obama and Trump administrations have not erased. Burns is clear about blame: the Bush White House for a program that never extracted useful (“actionable” to use Company jargon) intelligence from detainees it couldn’t have procured using conventional means; the Obama White House for the sake of bipartisan comity and, two years into the president’s first term, basking in the triumph of assassinating America’s Public Enemy #1. In a sense Burns’ approach is a kind of BothSidesism. But his failure to lay the blame at the feet of craven senators atrophies his film. Continue reading

This is sex without touching: Ranking Pazz & Jop 1995’s albums

The first stirrings of neo-soul appear on an otherwise uncategorizable list that, even twenty-four years (!) later, portended no movements. “With no consensus culture to fall back on, the voters listened more catholically and/or grasped at straws,” Bob Christgau wrote in his essay. He also perceived the discontents of the Gingrich Era in which younger voters saw no consensus on which to draw. Yet explain Everything is Wrong, whose decent beats and New Age chansonnerie failed to compensate for a below average tune sense. A fan of his eponymous debut, his ambient recordings, and, atop this list, the Move EP, I had trouble even in spring 1995 assimilating this insta-masterpiece.

Otherwise I have no patience for Son Volt, a little more for Wilco, and hear nothing worth lingering on in Oasis’ sodden, underwritten and barely inhabited American breakthrough.

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Watch out for my bullshit: Ranking Pazz & Jop 1994

No one could’ve suspected its totemic value even five years after its release, but its fleet rapping and prodigious wordplay and fly beats would’ve been standouts in the “Regulate” era. As much as I love Live Through This, Illmatic commands my allegiance. Not often cited is its brevity — a reality that Nas would ignore just an album later.

By the time we made it to December we learned several things about 1994. Pearl Jam got weirder. Soundgarden got straighter. Johnny Cash maneuvered his image such that it and a shrewdly curated miscellany of covers, songs for hire, and self-written numbers merged, triumphantly.

Most of the mehs have at least a couple songs to recommend, or, in GBV’s case, three or four I remember by glancing at the titles. The undigested white funk and gestures toward, what do I know, gestures of Asian-American inclusion stymied Ill Communication, a longer Check Your Head but with indelible singles.

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‘Was man made stupid to see his own stupidity?’

Responsible for popularizing the Beats, Richard Eberhart isn’t much read for his own verse, which is a pity. “The Fury of Aerial Bombardment,” inspired by his WWII service, encapsulates his gifts: a talent for the mordant phrase, rhythmic control, and concision.

You would think the fury of aerial bombardment
Would rouse God to relent; the infinite spaces
Are still silent. He looks on shock-pried faces.
History, even, does not know what is meant.

You would feel that after so many centuries
God would give man to repent; yet he can kill
As Cain could, but with multitudinous will,
No farther advanced than in his ancient furies.

Was man made stupid to see his own stupidity?
Is God by definition indifferent, beyond us all?
Is the eternal truth man’s fighting soul
Wherein the Beast ravens in its own avidity?

Of Van Wettering I speak, and Averill,
Names on a list, whose faces I do not recall
But they are gone to early death, who late in school
Distinguished the belt feed lever from the belt holding pawl.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

Teenage angst has paid off well: Ranking Pazz & Jop 1993

To compare the number of UK acts finishing here versus the last three speaks to how quickly the new order that wasn’t New Order rewrote the modern rock/college charts. 1993 was the last time oddities like, say, The Cure’s “Burn,” Kate Bush’s “Eat the Music,” and New Order’s “World” would share space with “Cannonball,” “Feed the Tree” and its heirs — and, as Chris O’Leary has exhaustively chronicled, “Feed the Tree” was an anomaly too. The beneficiary of the last gasp of WTF-ness, Pet Shop Boys watched as Very get their best-ever American reviews, highest chart placement since 1986 (and a gold album), after which they disappeared because they were too pop for college radio and too British faggoty for American radio. You wanna talk about radio segregation? It’s possible “modern rock”-reporting stations needed to compensate for David J scoring as recently as 1990, but as the British charts coughed up Suede, Tricky, Massive Attack, Blur, and, cough, Oasis, we saw Presidents of the United States triumph.

A conversation for another time.

Meh

John Hiatt – Perfectly Good Guitar
Paul Westerberg – 14 Songs

Sound, Solid

PJ Harvey – 4-Track Demos
Dwight Yoakam – This Time
Tony Toni Toné – Sons of Soul
Sade – Love Deluxe
Cypress Hill – Black Sunday
Willie Nelson – Across the Borderline
Rosanne Cash – The Wheel
Aimee Mann – Whatever
Bettie Serveert – Palomine
Urge Overkill – Saturation
Bob Dylan – World Gone Wrong

Good to Great

Terence Trent D’Arby – Symphony or Damn
De La Soul – Buhloone Mindstate
Stereolab – Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements
U2 – Zooropa
Pet Shop Boys – Very
Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville
Digable Planets – Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
Belly – Star
P.M. Dawn: The Bliss Album…?
Nirvana – In Utero
Dr. Dre – The Chronic
The Breeders – Last Splash
PJ Harvey – Rid of Me
A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders
Yo La Tengo – Painful
The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen
Me’Shell NdegéOcello – Plantation Lullabies
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

The Jury’s Out

Cassandra Wilson: Blue Light ‘Til Dawn
Arthur Alexander: Lonely Just Like Me
Jane Siberry: When I Was a Boy