Category Archives: Alternative

9 of the best – sounds of nineties

Good morning. It’s a little bit later than normal but hopefully worth the wait. I participated in The Great South Run yesterday, which was was celebrating its 30th anniversary with a 1990s party. It was fun, but certainly not a collection of the decade’s best songs. I give you my favourite nine sounds in chronological order. I have to say this is by far the toughest best-of list that I’ve published… just look at the quality of sound that I demoted to honourable footnotes.

Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy (1991)

R.E.M. – Nightswimming (1992)

Jeff Buckley – Last Goodbye (1994)

The Smashing Pumpkins – 1979 (1995)

Oasis – The Masterplan (1995)

Sparklehorse – Cow (1995)

Radiohead – Let Down (1997)

Mercury Rev – Holes (1998)

Wilco – She’s A Jar (1999)

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Honourable mentions also go to: Cocteau Twins for ‘Cherry Coloured Funk‘ (1990); Pulp for ‘Babies‘ (1992); Pavement for ‘In The Mouth A Desert‘ (1992); Blur for ‘To The End‘ (1994) and ‘The Universal‘ (1995); Beastie Boys for ‘Sabotage‘ (1994); The Flaming Lips for ‘Placebo Headwound‘ (1995) and ‘Race For The Prize‘ (1999); Radiohead for ‘Fake Plastic Trees‘ (1995); Red House Painters for ‘Have You Forgotten‘ (1996); Spiritualized for ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space‘ (1997); and Röyksopp for ‘So Easy‘ (1999).

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9 of the best – sounds of 1990

Looking beyond the pervasive sounds of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and ‘World In Motion’, 1990 had so much more to offer. For the weekend, I give you my favourite sounds that year, in no particular order…

Primal Scream – Loaded

Beltram – Energy Flash

Happy Mondays – Kinky Afro

Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence

Cocteau Twins – Cherry Coloured Funk

Smallage – Together

The Orb – Little Fluffy Clouds

Pet Shop Boys – Being Boring

Adamski feat. Seal – Killer

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Honourable mentions also go to: Enigma for ‘Callas Went Away‘; Happy Mondays for ‘Step On‘; A Tribe Called Quest for ‘Can I Kick It?‘; Faith No More for ‘Falling To Pieces‘; The KLF for ‘Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard‘; Lush for ‘De-Luxe‘; The Charlatans ‎for ‘The Only One I Know‘; and LFO for ‘LFO

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Pale Saints ‎- Kinky Love (1991)

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For a shoegazing band from Leeds, it is amusing that I fundamentally remember Pale Saints for a Nancy Sinatra cover. The band formed in 1987 with Ian Masters on bass/vocals, Graeme Naysmith on guitar and Chris Cooper on drums. In late 1990, Meriel Barham, the original vocalist of Lush, joined the band as second guitarist and vocalist. The next year, the band released the EP Flesh Balloon and on its flipside was the their unexpected cover of ‘Kinky Love’. It managed to balance the psychedelic jangly riffs with Barham’s soothing and sophisticated vocals that did enough to honour Sinatra’s original.

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The Dismemberment Plan ‎- The Spider In The Snow (1999)

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Named after the utterings of Ned Ryerson, the memorable insurance salesman in the movie Groundhog Day, The Dismemberment Plan were always going to have to fight their way out of obscurity. 20 years ago, they managed it with the underground success of Emergency & I, the band’s third album. It features ‘The Spider In The Snow’ and the etched lines “From the age of 20 to 22 I had five friends/ None of whose names I can recall/ And as I would walk down K Street to some temping job/ As winter froze the life out of fall/ Yeah, I must’ve been having a ball.” The lyrics are good; the beat laid down by drummer Joe Easley is better.

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Whitney ‎- Giving Up (2019)

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With its echoes of 1970s soft rock, ‘Giving Up’ was the single that Whitney used to launch their latest album Forever Turn Around. The Chicago band was formed by Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek from the ashes of their previous band, Smith Westerns. In just two years, they have already surpassed their former work.

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Oasis ‎- Slide Away (1994)

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I had a lot of fun watching an Oasis cover band last week. Noel Gallagher once said he’d not written a better track than ‘Slide Away’. The song featured on their genre defining 1994 album Definitely Maybe. It was written on a Les Paul guitar loaned to him by Johnny Marr. It was written about Gallagher’s then-girlfriend Louise Jones. Have a great week.

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I Am Kloot ‎- Northern Skies (2010)

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I Am Kloot’s fifth album Sky at Night confirmed singer-songwriter and guitarist John Bramwell as Warrington’s modern-day answer to Bob Dylan. Elbow’s Guy Garvey produced the album and the instrumentation feels familiar in that regard, but it’s the Manchester trio’s play about everyday life that sets their sound apart. ‘Northern Skies’ is a top song.

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Pixies ‎- Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf) (1989)

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I saw the Pixies at Ally Pally on Friday night. Black Francis can still kick it, helped by a selection of classic tunes. ‘Wave Of Mutilation’ caught my ear. The original version featured on the LP Doolittle, but the band also cut a better slowed-down “UK Surf” version as a B-side to one of their bigger hits, ‘Here Comes Your Man’. ‘Wave Of Mutilation’ is the only song I know about Japanese men killing themselves by driving off piers because they’d failed in business. This was the 1980s. Have a great week.

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The Charlatans ‎- The Only One I Know (1990)

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The Charlatans got a mention on this blog on Monday. More specifically, the organ riff they lifted off Deep Purple for their breakout single ‘The Only One I Know’. The sound they created was right in the mix of the dance-floor friendly Madchester movement that blended alt rock with psychedelia and funk. The swirling organ was played by keyboardist Rob Collins. He did not get the opportunity to deliver his signature on the biggest of stages. His car crash and death occurred three weeks before The Charlatans’ biggest concert to date — supporting Oasis at Knebworth in 1996.

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Purple Mountains – All My Happiness is Gone (2019)

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The self-titled longplayer from Purple Mountains is dark, sad and laced with humour. It is a remarkably candid album from ex-Silver Jews frontman David Berman. It would be his last. Listening to it, it not hard to hear his cry. All the happiness had gone. R.I.P. David.

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Black Belt Eagle Scout – Soft Stud (2018)

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The multi-instrumentalist Katherine Paul (aka Black Belt Eagle Scout) released her debut album Mother of My Children in 2018. Its opening track and lead single ‘Soft Stud’ delivers a different type of strong start … punchy power riffs followed by a sprawling mix of drums and synth. Not too bad for one person.

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The Flaming Lips – A Spoonful Weighs A Ton (1999)

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I saw The Flaming Lips at the Brixton Academy on Saturday night. It is the 20th anniversary of their opus The Soft Bulletin and frontman Wayne Coyne and pals treated us to the full album. ‘A Spoonful Weighs a Ton’ follows the album’s opener ‘Race For The Prize’. Now that’s a strong start.

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9 of the best – sounds of 1991

A compilation for my hangover. Also a compilation for what looks like its going to be one of the last sunny days in September. I was immersed in dance music in 1991, but R.E.M., Nirvana, Mercury Rev and Lenny Kravitz were able to break into a best-of list otherwise dominated by the sound of house music.

Orbital – Belfast

Mercury Rev – Frittering

Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy

Moby – Go (Woodtick Mix)

Future Sound of London – Papua New Guinea

R.E.M. – Losing My Religion

George Michael – Cowboys and Angels

Lenny Kravitz ‎- It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

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Honourable mentions also go to: Saint Etienne for ‘Nothing Can Stop Us Now‘; My Bloody Valentine for ‘Only Shallow‘; De La Soul for ‘A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays‘; Photon Inc. for ‘Generate Power (Wild Pitch Mix)‘; Crystal Waters for ‘Gypsy Woman‘; Altern 8 for ‘Infiltrate 202‘; Björk for ‘Hyperballad’; A Tribe Called Quest feat Leaders Of The New School for ‘Scenario‘; Slam for ‘Eterna‘; Frankie Knuckles for ‘The Whistle Song‘ and Last Rhythm and Silvie Carter for ‘Last Rhythm‘.

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Love and Rockets – Saudade (1985)

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Love and Rockets were formed by former Bauhaus members Daniel Ash (vocals, guitar and sax), David J (bass guitar and vocals) and Kevin Haskins (drums and keyboards). The acoustics of ‘Saudade’ closed their genre-defining first album. Indie rock converged with pop music to give us alt rock, or so they say.

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R.E.M. – Losing My Religion (1991)

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We celebrated the birthday of a friend this weekend. There was much frivolity and nostalgia about the early 1990s. In 1991, there was one band that ruled the radio waves. R.E.M. released the ubiquitous ‘Losing My Religion’ that year – a track that would also feature on their seventh long player Out Of Time. The song was one of the sounds of summer 1991. The album sold over over 18 million copies worldwide.

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