10 Das Damen – Mousetrap
If you can believe it, my road to Mousetrap by the East Coast’s Das Damen was completely devoid of the Internet — they first garnered praise that I noticed in Everett True’s Nirvana: the Biography for being an inspired, spontaneous punk act. Then, it was my unmitigated good fortune to stumble upon one of their albums on CD, Mousetrap, at Twist and Shout in Denver, for a used price. It’s almost like punk rock with the vocal poignancy of emo… or, a perfect recipe for ’90s alt-rock, in other words, very much ahead of its time since this album came out in ’89.
9 Umphrey’s McGee – Songs for Older Women
No Songs for Older Women on Spotify? This seven-song live album was like my INTRODUCTION to Umphrey’s and Umphrey’s were my heroes in ’01 or so, when I was in high school they were just coming up in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana. Even though I think eventually they’d get even better at their instruments to where they could literally perform any genre of music as a band, even dance club electronica (they also do a cover of Warren G’s “Regulator” for their Snow Barn live album), the songwriting prowess was there in the band’s early days, after they morphed out of Ali Baba’s Tahini in the late ’90s. “Hangover” is a favorite, “Front Porch” is an old classic the band would eventually stop performing, as if to wean fans off of it, but taking the crown by far is “2 x 2,” showing off the band’s knack for constructing a progressive rock song and showcasing Brendan Bayliss’ celestial vocals.
8 MTV 120 Minutes Live
Sometimes, I figure, why wouldn’t you want to hear a compilation with multiple artists on it? It might be harder to orchestrate for this time we’re living in now and the main impetus last decade might have been one of either supporting the troops or opposing the war, but the ’90s were a different time, when alternative rock was still fresh and it could basically unite the country. This collection might not be perfect (opening with Oasis… gah…) but it could be a fun kind of ’90s token of sorts, enjoyable through streaming for the reason of giving it a technological leg-up on the epochal CD, perhaps. Jane’s Addiction’s “Kimberly Austin” is a personal favorite that used to make it on to some of my mix tapes, off of this exact comp., and not the Addiction album, as it were.
7 Pell Mell – Flow
Yep… Pell Mell – Flow… there’s nothing else like it on the planet. It’s like this completely narcotic instrumental surf-rock, except that Steve Fisk isn’t even from California and has probably never bought a surf rock album in his life let alone actually got on a board, and too hilariously fits the bill of ’90s slacker-music snob to even need such a thing. So, yeah… what you have left is a gripping alt-rock album which will leave you wondering as to how songs this bare and empty of lyrics can be this deep and absorptive of your attention, while using primarily guitar and drums, all the while.
6 U-Men – Solid Action
Ok, Solid Action is a “compilation album” and not a proper cluster of the same studio session, by founding mid-’80s grunge band the U-Men, but that’s all the more reason for it to surface as their primary reference point, seeing as they are so little known but underrated (apparently their farewell show was attended by Mudhoney’s Mark Arm and culminated in a near-lethal stage-wide blaze), and the 20-something song stature is as brutal and uncompromising as the band’s m.o. was itself, with sadistic, maniacal songs about a little girl’s “favorite frogs” getting run over, and, I believe, a song that basically gave birth to the Pixies’ “Vamos.” Now that’s some credentials I can live with.
5 Grateful Dead – Truckin’ up to Buffalo
Somehow South Bend’s library just got a gaggle of awesome Dead bootlegs on CD (which were released as official compilations) and I never envisioned this day and age when the CD would be this obsolete. Well, that might be because 89 million CD’s were actually sold during the year 2017, but still, I’d like to see this one get up to streaming, a 1989 show in Buffalo which features a great live version of “Touch of Grey,” a song so late in the band’s career that you usually just hear the studio take, as well as a spirited “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” which I’ve decided is actually primarily a bout of sympathy toward men, as much as it is a compliment to women. But that’s open to debate.
4 MF Doom – Unexpected Guests
It’s hard to remember much from this album other than the great beats, through and through, the fact that it’s a mix tape and the appearance of “Angelz,” a bouncy little joint about growing weed, getting a bunch of money and then jetting to Club Med, and which features this hilarious sound bite of some old dude fretting over gun shots. See, it’s as heartless as Wu-Tang, but a little more playful in its heartlessness, with the beats coming from Sub Rock, Pete Rock and other outlets and making for a more pert, less serious listen when you need something rhythmic and urban at work. No MF Doom stone should go unturned, the way I see it.
3 Meat Puppets – Out My Way
Ack, no Out My Way on Spotify? This is arguably the best album of their career, even though technically it is only an EP, or a mini-LP, annexed into 13 songs for the CD version I used to own. Well, its credentials hold up scientifically, through and through, as the title track, “On the Move” and “Burn the Honky Tonk down” (remember the Meat Puppets come from Arizona and write lots of songs about rural settings) each surface on the band’s best-of compilation of sorts, Classic Puppets. There’s a hurried heavy-metal cover “Good Golly Miss Molly,” an atrocious rendition of “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” which if nothing else is at least entertaining, and “Other Kinds of Love” and “Not Swimming Ground” are great pop songs that don’t sound like the singer is suffering from some sort of brain embolism. He**, they deserve an award just because of that.
2 Blitzen Trapper – Live in Portland
This is where it really kicked into gear and I realized Blitzen Trapper were a great band, for several reasons. One, they open with “Fletcher,” which comes from American Goldwing, an album that got thoroughly torn to shreds by critics but which really rocks it to the top nonetheless, the m.o. remaining simple of straight-ahead rockabilly-classic rock congealing around fun, hummable choruses. Two, the band proved they could belt out concise pop songs or jam on 11-minute expeditions, each with equal ease, and three, Eric Earley actually responded to a couple of my Facebook comments around this time, to which of course I was so nervous that I said something totally stupid and pompous, but then, he’s used to dealing with stupid people like me, or so I think.
1 Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – Good Life: the Best of Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth
Yeah, all we have here is basically THE FOUNDATION OF HIP-HOP, my number-one soundtrack to stoned drives on cloudy days during winter breaks in college, a beatmaker so untouchable that as a rhymer he’s better than 90% out there but still barely ever gets on the mic, favoring “Skinz” and “The Creator” as his rare vocal exploits. C.L. Smooth just has this effortless, Energizer battery type delivery and one time I had this sh** on at work and this music snob I was working with was like “What’s this? I like this sh** already.” Yup, that about sums it up — it’s undeniably great hip-hop music in general and I realize their greatest hits albums do grace the streaming platforms but I always long for this one, which, after you skip the first track, offers about 11 or 12 classic songs in a row like “Straighten it out,” the bitingly political and sociological “Anger in the Nation” and perhaps my favorite, the oft-cited “They Remininsce over You (T.R.O.Y.),” written about Pete Rock’s late brother Trouble T-roy of Heavy D and the Boys and, as Questlove pointed out, offering the best intro in the history of hip-hop.