After their first single ‘Song to the Siren’ under the name The Dust Brothers, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons released their EP Fourteenth Century Sky in 1994. It features ‘Chemical Beats’ and in that moment The Chemical Brothers were born.
From one marginal sound to another… guitar-lick-laden rock’n’roll is now followed by horrorcore hip hop. Gravediggaz released 6 Feet Deep (aka as Niggamortis anywhere outside the US). ‘Diary of a Madman’ is one of the album’s standout tracks, featuring Scientific Shabazz on guest verse and RZA providing the beat only a few months after the release of Wu-Tang’s classic 36 Chambers. “I’ve been examined ever since I was semen/They took a sonogram and seen the image of a demon/At birth the nurses surrounded me with needles/and drugged me all up with the diseases of evil.” Yeh man; Johnny B. Bad.
Nirvana’s 1993 performance of Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ song for MTV introduced his early work to a new audience. Kurt Cobain’s TV performance was recorded 5 months before his death. The song would be released a year later on the MTV Unplugged in New York.
On this side of The Pond, Blur’s third album Parklife had such an impact. In 1994, it sounded like the quintessential Britpop album. Part concept, part social commentary, the album did more to define Britpop than all that followed. For all the the happy-chappy singalongs, nestled at the heart of the album was ‘To The End’. Slightly sophisticated, slightly psychedelic, and ever so slightly sounding like Saint Etienne, the band would revisit the same style with their classic ‘The Universal’ from the following LP The Great Escape. Have a great weekend.
In fact, Danger Mouse had made waves before the Grey Album, working with Jemini on Ghetto Pop Mix. Included on the mixtape was Danger Mouse’s remix of Nas’s ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ which he’d spliced with Beth Gibbons singing ‘Roads’. (Now that’s what I call a segue.) ‘Roads’ had originally featured on Portishead’s classic debut Dummy. It is/was a contemporary alt-hip-pop masterpiece.
‘Grace’ was the title track and first single from Jeff Buckley’s masterful debut long player. Buckley based the soaring vocals on how he felt saying goodbye to a girlfriend on a rainy dayat the airport. The result is engaging and brilliant. The sound was also greatly influenced by a previous work ‘Rise Up to Be’ written by his collaborator Gary Lucas.
What’s a boy supposed to do? Well how about writing one of the definitive alt rock symphonies. ‘Disarm’ was a watershed moment for The Smashing Pumpkins – the sound featured on 1993’s Siamese Dream and would be explored on their following album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness; and the ban for the song’s lyrics did nothing else but help their credibility in certain quarters. Billy Corgan had found his voice.
Before be became Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Will Oldham recorded under many pseudonyms. As Palace Songs, he released Hope in 1994. The EP includes the fans’ favourite ‘Agnes, Queen of Sorrow’ and the melancholic ‘Christmastime in the Mountains’. The latter opens with the heartbreaking lyric “Should I play ball with the dogs, or should I walk away?”. It’s a forlorn start to the festive week, but it’s a beautiful piece of music and I’m spending Christmastime in the mountains.
Trax, Champion, Warp, Junior Boy’s Own… this week has turned into a roll call of some of the seminal, early house record labels. Alarmingly conspicuous by its absence, Strictly Rhythm was integral to the development of the house music that Trax, D.J. International and Transmat had placed at the dance floor altar. By 1993, the culmination of all this artistry was to feature as the final track on George Morel’s Grooves Pt 4. ‘Let’s Groove’ was a high-water mark in progressive house music. Incidentally, it was in 1993 that my interest in the scene tailed off, only for it to return with the release of Etienne De Crécy’s Super Discount and all that French filter house that followed. This has been fun – have a great weekend!
Unquestionably Pulp’s best song, ‘Babies’ sounds like New Order until Jarvis Cocker opens his mouth. What comes out then is, well, nothing like Bernard Sumner. “I only went with her cause she looked like you.” A pathetically real tale of teenage love and sex is wrapped in an anthem so appealing, that it was released, remixed and ultimately re-released to great acclaim as part of the 1994 album His ‘n’ Hers. It had found its time… this was the year that Blur’s Parkside was released and everybody was mocking their own youth. The plethora of anthems that was Britpop… “Yeah yeah yeah.”
During my formative years, I thought that UK output in most music scenes was comparable to, and often better than, their US counterparts. But in the early nineties, and certainly prior to the 1995 release of The Bends by Radiohead, rock music was US-defined. During this time, UK creativity seemed to be channeled through dance music. Nirvana’s 1991 release of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a game changer, but it was Pavement‘s output between 1992-94 that was most impressive to these ears. ‘Gold Soundz’ was the second single from their second long player, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. It reminisces about those gold sounds; I am nostalgic for its sound.
This week, I met up with a pal who’s in town for Christmas. I spent a memorable slice of 1994 hanging out with him in Santa Monica. That summer, ‘Fade into You’ had the type of radio exposure that you can only get in the US. Mazzy Star were a local L.A. band who would never reach such heights again. Singer Hope Sandoval would go on to collaborate with Massive Attack, and for fans of her distinctively haunting vocals, check out ‘Paradise Circus’ off Heligoland. Have a great weekend.