Posted tagged ‘best music of the 1990s’

My Top 10 Favorite Musical Artists

29/12/2016

Laurie Anderson (flanking Laurie are my daughters, both talented musicians, backstage after Anderson’s Language of the Future performance at Dallas’ Kessler Theater in October, 2014)

Unbelievably Laurie Anderson does not make it onto this top 10 list (“musical artist” reduces her and a few others here but she’s an honorable mention at the end).  These are my favorite non-classical (that’s a future post) musical artists and therefore most of them are are still alive and making music (7 out of 10) – they all inspire my own music.

As I put this together I patched together a Spotify mix.  Included in this mix are tracks from my favorite musical artists and affiliated and related bands.  There are a few obscure songs like Boards of Canada’s Jacquard Causeway (as opposed to Dayvan Cowboy).  I tried to make it new to me too.  It’s a musical accompaniment for the post.  Listen while reading.

I’m 47, born in 1969.  My first musical “renaissance” was between 1985 and 1988, starting at age 16, followed by a resurgence in the late 1990s then in the early aughts when I discovered and mined alternative and underground/alternative hip hop (already loved Public Enemy and The Beastie Boys) lead by artists from Anticon Records and Boom Bip’s Lex Records.  Around this time I also got into some key Warp Records artists, and in particular Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin.

Music Video from Anticon Records’ Antonionian

I got really interested in music (and film too) during the mid-1980s for a handful of reasons: better new music, money to spend;  I was now buying and selling music at the retail level and I had a growing interest in performing and composing.  As a kid I really liked listening to classical music and I liked Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys and Queen starting at age 8 perhaps.  I had guilty pleasures like Journey, Kiss and Madonna (did a famous art work with her poster called Madonna Exploded for those in the know).  I liked when my Dad played the first Boston album on his hi-fi.  Kinda interested in Bernard Herrmann and his score for Hitchcock’s Psycho.  I was very intrigued by The Beatles but didn’t have many of their albums and this was the dilemma for a teenager in 1986 – access.

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I got so beaten down by most music in the early eighties.  I mean, that was a pretty bad time for music and there are certainly exceptions like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, early post punk, The Police, Prince, Rush, etc.  Great stuff but it’s not until 1986 when the following records are released:  Skinny Puppy’s Mind the Perpetual Intercourse, The Smith’s The Queen is Dead, David Sylvian’s Gone to Earth, Severed Heads’ Come Visit The Big Bigot and Steve Roach’s Quiet Music.  Never mind the hardcore punk Black Flag and his partners at SST Records were making along with Texas’ own Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid – loved it.

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Steve Roach, Quiet Music 2 (1986)

In 1985 I somehow charmed Dallas’s Rizzoli Books at Northpark Center (a rather swank Dallas mall and sophisticated New York book store that publishes fabulous art books) to hire me.  I was preppy and a generally very nice person at the time. I knew my classical music and Rizzoli eventually had me buying and selling music (vinyl, cassette, the emerging CD and yes, the LaserDisc) for the store.

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We carried classical, new age (very mixed bag here – you know like Yanni), jazz and the soundtrack to Les Miserables and its ilk (after all I had to feed some of this to the Dallas elite with a very mixed bag of taste – don’t we all have mixed taste).  My coworkers were fascinating, older, smart people and also a little silly in the head.  For example, I got introduced to photographer John-Peter Witkin’s work (pretty sure it was on my first day of work from one of these aforementioned co-coworkers) which damaged me irreparably:

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John-Peter Witkin: Anna Akhmatova (1998)

This Charming Man, right, that’s a woman’s arm?  I suppose I learned more about art in general between 1985 and 1989 than in any other years before or since and I was a skilled buyer of classical music at age 17. At 16 I was really getting into playing both the piano and French Horn, the latter of which as a much better player, and was already a composer and getting ready to get very busy with music at The University of Oklahoma.

Back to the music and away from the self-aggrandisement.  In 1987 three more albums came out from my top ten favorite musical artists.  David Sylvian released Secrets of the Beehive in 1987 (not my favorite work of his – that’s Gone to Earth).  The Smiths’ broke up way to early but also released their best and last of four studio albums, Strangeways, Here We Come.  Morrissey fever had broken out and they also released the magnificent compilation album Louder Than Bombs, the American sister to Hatful of Hollow in 1987.

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The Smiths, Louder than Bombs (1987)

1988 three albums were delivered as well. Severed Heads put out Bulkhead.  The other two include the Cocteau Twins’ Blue Bell Knoll and Steve Roach’s essential, iconic Dreamtime Return.  My favorite Cocteau Twins album, Heaven or Las Vegas, was released in 1990.

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Cocteau Twins, Heaven or La Vegas (1990)

It wasn’t until 1996 after the grunge bullshit died down a little that my boys and girls really started delivering again – we did get Sonic Youth’s Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star in 1994 – one of my faves.  In 1996 the following important albums were released:

  1. The Cocteau Twins’ last effort – Milk and Kisses.  But then:
  2. Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album,
  3. Meat Beat Manifesto’s sublime Subliminal Sandwich, and
  4. The Magnificent Void by Steve Roach – probably his best work and certainly his most popular.

There is such a through line here which makes obvious my love for electronic music – of the 20 artists (top 10 and 10 honorable mentions) 13 are associated, if not straight out, with electronic music.  And the work of electronically inclined artists like Severed Heads, Steve Roach, Boards of Canada, Meat Beat Manifesto, Laurie Anderson, Skinny Puppy, Boom Bip, Brian Eno, Thomas Dolby and Radiohead at times – are very dear to this heart.  Coming up with the 10th artist was difficult – Aphex Twin vs. Brian Eno (not fair, right?).  You will find out who wins if you keep reading the post.

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The list (again in no particular order):

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1.  The Smiths

I discovered The Smiths after The Queen is Dead in vinyl came out in 1986 thus discovering their first three albums at the same time – so I was a little late to the game; however, my musical tastes were becoming more sophisticated – I mean I was the oldest of four so no cool older sister.

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The Smiths (1984)

At one time I had the original The Smiths, Meat is Murder, The Queen is Dead, Louder than Bombs and Strangeways, Here We Come (my favorite back to front)  – on vinyl.  The only band that I can safely sing all lyrics to all songs along with that crooner Morrissey.  I was at a post-Smiths Morrissey concert in Dallas in the late eighties (circa Viva Hate).  It was this concert where security could not control the scene, had fans rushing on stage, etc and was cancelled promptly after about 20 minutes of him performing.  Later Morrissey sited it as his favorite concert – I guess he was touched by the love.  If Strangeways had anything to do with this, The Smiths were poised to take the mantle of The Beatles if they could have made it a few more years and it’s such a shame they didn’t.

favorite five albums:

  1. The Queen is Dead (1986)
  2. Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)
  3. The Smiths (1984)
  4. Louder Than Bombs (1987)
  5. Meat is Murder (1985)

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2.  David Sylvian

What can I say about David Sylvian, his work, his collaborations with Robert Fripp, Fennesz, Sakamoto and others.  It’s an archive of beauty when you consider his solo albums, many compilations, now free jazz improv which is amazing, his printed work and museum installations.  I have probably one of the best Sylvian collections anywhere and it amounts to around 70 pieces, including CDs, books, limited edition material – I’m not terribly proud of this hoarding but I feel like I have something special in the aggregate.

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Blemish (2003)

His late work with glam rock band Japan (esp Tin Drum) launched a solo career for the once voted “Best looking man in Britain.”  His instrumental ability is somewhat limited (he’s the first to tell you this) but his ability to produce, songwrite and perform music of such sublimity, ennui and beauty is unparalleled.  At one time in my life I lived in Minneapolis, MN (mid 1990s) and he lived nearby with his then wife and collaborator Ingrid Chavez and their two young girls.  I’m fairly sure I dreamed of meeting him in this awesome local record shop.

favorite five albums:

  1. Gone to Earth (1986)
  2. Dead Bees on a Cake (1999)
  3. Blemish (2003)
  4. Secrets of the Beehive (1987)
  5. The First Day – Sylvian & Fripp (1993)

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3.  Severed Heads

Severed Heads, aka Tom Ellard have been pioneering electronic music since the late 1970s, operating lately out of Ellard’s home and offices in Surry Hills, New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.  Early adopting for a transgressive loop method of electronic sound collages with video in tow lead to some pop sensibility, with electro-techno and tours with Skinny Puppy (honorable mention).  Ellard was one of the first artists of his kind to sell then home burnt CDRs for loyal fans and his website remains top notch allowing interface with a Bandcamp store (I have quite the collection – like almost everything he’s released including very limited edition stuff) but there is not much to stream from either Spotify nor Apple.

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Such a huge influence on my music over the years and I was proud to have had conversations with Ellard in the early 2000s about producing a Texas tour that never came to fruition.  A very patched Spotify playlist was compiled and many classics are missing like their best album in 1991: Cuisine (With Piscatorial), a bizarre experiment in techno, ambient, experimental and country music with a new found interest in guitar – all the while suffering from his relationship with Nettwork Records and how he fit (he didn’t) into the electronica of the day like Depeche Mode and New Order (both barely missed honorable mentions).  This too a good place to pay homage to The Cure.

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Cuisine (With Piscatorial) (1991)

favorite five albums:

  1. Cuisine (With Piscatorial) (1991)
  2. Come Visit the Big Bigot (1986)
  3. Bulkhead (1988)
  4. Gigapus (1994)
  5. Haul Ass (1998)

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4.  Radiohead

My real introduction to Radiohead also came late with an early obsession for OK Computer and in particular tracks like Airbag, Paranoid Android and Let Down.  I had been under the impression that this was just another alt/grunge band after the release of Pablo Honey and none of that album resonates with me today either.  In 2007 they self-released In Rainbows which solidified my love for this band and it remains my favorite Radiohead album front to back.

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In Rainbows (2007)

I appreciate Jonny Greenwood’s work with the BBC and his great film score work that somewhat mirrors the work of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.  They collaborate with whom you might call the sixth Radio head, Stanley Donwood who is an amazing artist (he keeps his internet presence mysterious) that caught my eye on OK Computer.  Here is a pastiche of images of his work on the project:

I do hope these guys have it within them to stay together and finish their legacy.

favorite five albums:

  1. In Rainbows (2007)
  2. OK Computer (1997)
  3. Kid A (2000)
  4. A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
  5. The King of Limbs (2011)

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5.  The Beatles

What can I say about this band that hasn’t already been?  This is clearly the most conventional entry on this list but hey, they’re The Beatles.  When I was seven or so my parents bought me my first turntable which was this all in one unit that happened to be pea green in color.  They also gave me three LPs to get started with – a Sonny and Cher album, I think music from Borodin and The Beatles’ Let It Be.

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Revolver (1966)

This would be my desert island band and in particular everything from 1965’s Rubber Soul going forward.  Very difficult to come up with a playlist (and I have so little interest in pre Rubber Soul) with the albums I love – I like all tracks.

favorite five albums:

  1. Revolver (1966)
  2. Abbey Road (1969)
  3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
  4. The Beatles (1968)
  5. Let It Be (1970)

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6.  Cocteau Twins

The ethereal shoegaze “dream pop” created by this 4AD standout has always been a big influence – got to see them in concert twice.  The combination of Elizabeth Frazer’s amazing multi-octive voice combined with Robin Guthrie’s unique guitar landscape is truly magical and hasn’t been matched since.  Like other bands in this list they had so much more music in them; however, the romantic relationship between Frazer and Guthrie, which included the birth of their young daughter, deteriorated and Guthrie’s drug problems finally did them in.  They made a little run at a reunion but it fell short – too much damage had been done.  Guthrie made some very good ambient work with Harold Budd, an artist in my orbit.  Frazer has done work with Massive Attack but largely disappeared but her contribution to This Mortal Coil is quite iconic.  Sometimes Cocteau Twins are thrown in the shoegaze genre with the My Bloody Valentine, a band I should like more than I do.

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The Moon and The Melodies – The Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd (1986)

favorite five albums:

  1. Heaven or Las Vegas (1990)
  2. Blue Bell Knoll (1988)
  3. Treasure (1984)
  4. Four-Calendar Café (1993)
  5. Milk and Kisses (1996)

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7.  Boards of Canada

Brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin continue (albeit slowly with their relatively scant output – they have released only 4 LPs since 1998) to strongly influence many artists yearning to capture the mystical dread and analog wonder inspired by 1970’s cultural ennui.

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Geogaddi (2002)

favorite five albums:

  1. Geogaddi (2002)
  2. Music Has the Right to Children (1998)
  3. Tomorrow’s Harvest (2013)
  4. The Campfire Headphase (2005)
  5. Twoism (1995)

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8.  Steve Roach

Steve Roach is clearly the most prolific artist on this list with more than 60 solo releases since his 1982 debut, Now.  His electronic soundscape has been an important part of my life, both as an artist and a person.  There is no better sleep accompaniment than Quiet Music, and in particular Quiet Music 2.  Find it.  This music that has put me gently to sleep for literally over 25 years.  New Age (worst genre name ever) is making an odd comeback and Steve Roach was lumped into this category early and by association probably doesn’t get the attention he deserves because there is so much Crap new age – most of it.  He works constantly out of what’s called The Timeroom, a massive studio that is part of his home in the desert around Tucson.  Seeing him play live in Tucson with my great buddy Matt was incredible.

Steve Roach in concert in Tucson, Arizona, 2006 (that’s me pictured to the left on the side view mirror)

I’ve had the pleasure speaking to Steve when I called to order some CDs – he comes across as a seriously cool guy.  The The Magnificent Void (as mentioned his landmark album in my opinion and for many of his fans) is an album that must be listened to and preferably with headphones.

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Steve Roach, The Magnificent Void (1996)

favorite five albums:

  1. The Magnificent Void (1996)
  2. Quiet Music (1986)
  3. Mystic Chords and Sacred Spaces (2003)
  4. Dreamtime Return (1988)
  5. Light Fantastic (1999)

Spotify mix – A Steve Roach mix for sleep

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9.  Meat Beat Manifesto

It’s so frustrating because I wrote the best little missive about Jack Dangers and erased the thing accidentally.  Ever happen to you?  I mean, heck, I don’t write that much anyway so I think it’s pretty unfair.  Anyway, my intro to him was through early EPs (Strap DownI Got the FearGOD O.D.) that blew my freshman college head off.

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Subliminal Sandwich (1996)

I have such a strong interest in genres he works in: a beautiful mashup of dub, dubstep, electronica, big beat, house, trip hop, industrial dance, hardcore techno, IDM, experimental, breakbeat and jungle — think about this combination as in it’s pretty amazing — I hate genre talk but now you got it, ok?  Keep making music, Jack!

favorite five albums:

  1. Subliminal Sandwich (1996)
  2. Storm the Studio (1989)
  3. Satyricon (1992)
  4. Actual Sounds + Voices (1998)
  5. R.U.O.K. (2002)

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10.  Aphex Twin

Richard D. James narrowly beat out Brian Eno and made into the top 10.  He’s widely regarded as a musical genius (he’s only 45 too) and has influenced most other electronic musicians on this list.

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drukQs (2001)

Radiohead in particular has communicated their high regard for James and is a clear influence on Kid A and later electronica by Radiohead.  After Drukgs he stayed busy but didn’t release another Aphex Twin (or from his other monikers – AFX, Caustic Window, Polygon Window, et al.) album until 2014’s highly acclaimed Syro, 2015’s Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP and the excellent Cheetah EP in July 2016.  Also in 2015, under the AFX moniker he released the EP, Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-08 which again, is VERY good.  James is on a roll and will be in concert in the US for the first time since 2008 at the music festival Day for Night this month in Houston.

favorite five albums:

  1. Richard D. James Album (1996)
  2. drukQs (2001)
  3. Analord (From AFX, An 11 disc, 32 track, 3 1/2 hour series of recordings released on 12″ vinyl during the first six months of 2005)
  4. Come to Daddy EP (1997)
  5. Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)

Honorable Mentions (also in no particular order): 

 

Laurie Anderson

Boom Bip (aka Bryan Hollon)

Peter Gabriel

Thomas Dolby

Sonic Youth

Elton John

The Smashing Pumpkins

Pixies

Brian Eno

Brian Eno on fragrances

Skinny Puppy