My friend Diana from Club Underground, had suggested that I write a year-end album list. I started compiling one. Soon, however, I realized that I couldn’t add anything to the end-of-2011 conversation except for more gushing over M83.
In 2011, I had a few serious episodes of 1991 déjà vu punctuated by bouts of ennui that rivaled the summer after eighth grade. I blame the economy, or something. Point being, I revisited a lot of early 1990s albums this year and so it made more sense to compile the list of the best albums of 1991 now.
If you had asked me for a Top 10 list in 1991, it wouldn’t be this. Back in 1991, I would have added Morrissey’s Kill Uncle and Siouxsie and the Banshee’s Superstition just because I was a huge fan of the artists. I was in denial of the fact that they are both subpar albums. I also would have mentioned Nevermind. Needless to say that I’ve since tired of that album. However, many of the albums here would have been on my real 1991 list. Others I didn’t hear until a couple years later. Regardless, I think all of these are worth a few plays in 2011. Get to it.
12. The KLF– The White Room
I didn’t go to raves in 1991, but I did see an episode of 90210 about them. In 1991 rave was a big enough phenomenon that even junior high kids in the suburbs and their parents knew about them. Yes, kind of like now.
I don’t remember The KLF being particularly underground. You could hear their music while shopping for bike shorts at Merry-Go-Round. In fact, “3 a.m. Eternal” charted in the U.S. So, when people talk about the recent dance music phenomenon, it doesn’t seem that strange. David Guetta and Afrojack aren’t the first artists from the dance scene to hit pop radio. Nor will they be the last.
11. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin– God Fodder
About ten years ago, I was a resident DJ at a club called Bang!, where I played Brit pop and indie music. I would always play requests for my friends and people who were regulars. One of my friends, who was also a firm supporter of the club night, was really into Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. With that in mind, I played the band, thus clearing the floor of everyone but my friend. (Or, at least, that’s how it looked as I was panicking in the DJ booth.)
Now that twenty years have passed since the release of God Fodder, I would like to think that “Kill Your Television,” “Happy” and “Grey Cell Green” would be smashing hits with all the kids who wish they hadn’t been in diapers in 1991. Oh, who am I kidding? All those songs would still clear the floor, but that’s alright. We all know that Ned’s Atomic Dustbin is freakin’ amazing.
10. Blur– Leisure
By the mid-1990s, Blur was the premiere Brit pop band, going head-to-head with Oasis for the eternal devotion of the British press. But, back in 1991, they were part of a glut of kind of psychedelic sounding bands from the U.K. who were slapped with the shoegaze tag.
This is the Blur that was lumped together with Ride, Lush and all the rest. But Blur was always different. For one thing, when Damon Albarn sings, “She’s so high/She’s so high/I want to crawl all over her,” you can actually understand him. Even then, it was apparent that Blur would go on to poppier things. Listening to the album now, I’m starting to wonder if I’m somehow remembering things incorrectly. How could Blur be lumped together with bands like Ride? There’s nowhere near as much distortion in their songs.
9. Chapterhouse– Whirlpool
Who else remembers 1991 as the year Chapterhouse and Siouxsie and the Banshees popped up on KROQ boasting the same sample? It could have been the equivalent of showing up to prom wearing the same dress as someone else. It wasn’t.
“Pearl,” the song with the famed Schoolly D sample, is addictive. I still have problems listening to it just once. It’s the perfect combination of sample-based dance beats and weird noises. Much of the album follows the same premise, as though its caught between The Stone Roses and Sonic Youth. There’s no way I can stress how completely underrated Whirlpool is. You have to hear it for yourself.
8. Current 93 with HOH– Island
“Crowleymass” trumps any sort of witch house shenanigans. It’s Current 93’s stab at dance music and it’s a really fun track. The single version that was released in 1987 is superior, but it also costs a pretty penny if you find it on vinyl. That said, the version on Island– “Crowleymass Unveiled”– is a decent alternative.
This is the album that features Bjork. She sings back-up on the opening piece, “Falling.” The album also features creepy lounge number, “Paperback Honey,” and nightmare-inducing (for me, at least) “The Fall of Christopher Robin.”
7. James– S/T
In 1990, this Manchester band released an album called Gold Mother. A year later, the album came out in the U.S. as a self-titled release and marked by a single daisy on the cover. I bought this on cassette at Sam Goody inside the Northridge Fashion Center. On that same trip, I purchased Nirvana’s Nevermind. I don’t know why I can remember details like this, but I can’t remember to do laundry.
At the time, I was obsessed with British music magazines and had read a lot about the band. I remember reading something, maybe in Select, where James was compared to Simple Minds. That made no sense to me. In my American teenage mind, this meant that James made music for John Hughes movies. I couldn’t imagine “Sit Down” in The Breakfast Club, or even Pretty in Pink or Sixteen Candles. Maybe if Hughes had made a teen flick instead of Home Alone, he would have used James. Or, maybe the reference went completely over my head, as we were years away from having access to BBC radio stations. Regardless, I fell in love with James and I still consider the band one of my all-time favorites. Years later, I interviewed Tim Booth. The fourteen-year-old who wished she lived in England would have been proud.
6. Coil– Love’s Secret Domain
I didn’t hear this album until much later in the 1990s, probably at the beginning of college when I became entranced by hearing the title track on the dance floor at goth clubs. It’s a landmark album in the development of electronic music. That glitchy kind of sound you hear on “Disco Hospital” became fairly common in electronic albums by the end of the decade. The dark acid vibe of “Windowpane” set the stage for the more synth-minded, darkwave bands of the decade. And “Titan Arch” features Marc Almond, which just makes the album altogether awesome.