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“Dolby’s Top 50 ’90s Alt-Rock CD’s.”

50 Pearl Jam – Ten

It might seem odd that I ranked this one so low, especially since I’m such a big Pearl Jam devotee… yeah it is overproduced, though, with those Bon Jovi drums and the guitar that sounds like it was recorded in the next room over, at some Stevie Ray Vaughn RV convention or something. The classic songs stack up too high to miss though (“Alive”; “Jeremy”; “Even Flow”; “Release” et. al.)

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49 Everclear – Sparkle and Fade

This undeniably is a great CD to just CRANK UP in terms of sound itself, whether you’re in a car or in your home: singer Art Alexakis was already manning the sonic control panels for this sophomore effort and dizzying, Nirvana-harkening rockers like “Heroin Girl” are as meaningful as the infinitely catchy “Queen of the Air” and “My Sexual Life.”

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48 Fastball – All the Pain Money Can Buy

This band is SO divisive… well can somebody please explain how that dirty whore on the radio can straight up steal “Out of My Head” and then these guys still get no props? The video for “The Way” is absolutely hilarious, “Fire Escape” is one of the best songs of the ‘’90s and “Which Way to the Top?” is a nice story about lead singer Tony Scalzo having been working the night shift in a bagel eatery, wondering that exact thing.

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47 R.E.M. – New Adventures in Hi-fi

This is one of those albums that’s just so LOADED with content that it seems quintessentially ’90s and proper for the CD’s 80-minute format, which really it takes pretty decent advantage of. People usually make a significant deal of the eerie, tense and tiptoeing opener “How the West Was Won and Where it Got Us” and surely this is justified… other highlights include “New Test Leper”; “Low Desert” and sublime closeur “Electrolite.”

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46 Brainiac – Hissing Prigs in Static Coutre

This is like compact power pop on a lot of caffeine and vampire’s fangs: this totally twisted and funny bundle of spleen-splitting, crisp energy and noise centering on the galloping rocker “Vincent Come on down” and the sarcastic, sneering centerpiece “70 KG Man.”

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45 Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville

Really, it’s impossible not to let the hype of this album occlude your own opinion of it, particularly if you’re like me and got into it after the Pitchfork craze of last decade: well I seem to have rambled around on enough hungover, scorching days to really connect with “Help Me Mary”; “Soap Star Joe” and “Shatter.” As well, you’ve gotta love the mature honesty prevalent in closeur “Strange Loop”: “I always wanted you / I only wanted more than I knew”.

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44 Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona

Well into her own career but still early on within the breadth of alt-rock here, Kristin Hersh sounds like she’s been chomping at the bit for some time to for this whole plane to take off, roaring out classics like “Counting Backwards”; “Golden Thing” and “Say Goodbye” almost a full year before Kurt Cobain would make poppy abrasion and offhand subservience truly cool.

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43 Primus – Pork Soda

This album opens with the song “My Name is Mud” which is primarily known for that bass riff sure to spawn the question “How the fu** is he doing that?” Well, Les Claypool also plays bewildering bass riffs all over the place, sings and prances around the stage like a strange guitar-wielding Rip Van Winkle all at once, so it looks like there’s a larger issue here. “Welcome to This World” and “DMV” likewise feature some of Claypool’s finest runs on wax.

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42 Primitive Radio Gods – Rocket

Ahead of “Standing outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand,” which just might be my favorite song of the ’90s, this album in general cranks out light, fun-loving and tongue-in-cheek pop-rock that, even more commendably, was recorded a full five years before its release, to be unquestionably shelved for a half decade by its label.

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41 Green Day – Insomniac

Well, the good news is, nobody calls this Green Day’s “sellout” album… the bad news is everybody sometimes seems to just assume it’s crappy, completely limp before the reality of “Geek Stink Breath”; “Bab’s Uvula Who?” and “Brain Stew” cranking out some of the band’s thickest, catchiest and most high-energy rock to date. Another personal favorite is the direct, hilariously “punk” in message mid-album prompt “No Pride.”

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40 Pearl Jam – Yield

I just got done reading Steven Hyden of the A/V Club refer to this as an empty stab at commercial success, which seems very odd to me given that the album basically begins with a full-on, high-speed punk rock song (in very similar form to what I consider this LP’s sister album, the ensuing Binaural). More than anything, it seems absurd to neglect the direct and poignant honesty of “In Hiding,” more than ever now that Eddie Vedder is the only surviving lead singer out of the four main grunge bands of the early ’90s.

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39 Throwing Muses – University

With a slightly bigger sound and slightly, more live, garage-y production than The Real Ramona, this sucker is the clear superior in my book, featuring some awesome wah-wah pedal action on the excellent “No Way in He**,” unabashed sexuality on “Snakeface,” and something on “Fever Few” that almost seems best left unsaid, like a dance with death that spawned something no listener would ever forget.

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38 Nirvana – Incesticide

This is Nirvana’s “b-sides” album that was issued in ’92 during what I understand was a period where the label was demanding the new material the band just didn’t have. Well it plays as anything put filler, full of scrappy, blues-punk riffs and a couple amusing covers like Devo’s “Turnaround” and The Vaselines’ “Son of a Gun.” Also, “Aneurysm” is one of the band’s best songs to date.

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37 Everclear – So Much for the Afterglow

A lot of people might think it’s odd that I ranked this ahead of the earlier, perhaps harder-rocking Sparkle and Fade. So Much for the Afterglow is an album that’s near and dear to me in part because I GOT INTO IT right when it came out, savoring the pop sensibility and slacker humor of “I Will Buy You a New Life”; the direct and brutal honesty of “Everything to Everyone” as well as the heartbreaking ode to innocence “Sunflowers.” You won’t find many if any bad tunes on this sucker.

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36 Stone Temple Pilots – No. 4

“Down” is nothing less than a writhing gyroscope of uncompromising, menacing and demoralizing rock and roll from the depths of he**, brought to you by state-of-the-art producer Brendan O’ Brien and a brilliant fu**-you to the decade about to come, which would be full of war, terrorist attacks and free downloading. The classic songs pile up on this masterpiece like “No Way out”; “Glide” and the beautiful, flowery closeur “Atlanta.”

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35 The Cardigans – First Band on the Moon

At the time around ’97 I was sort of on the fence about “Lovefool,” the most famous single from this Swedish band, not really sure if it was bland ennui or mental inactivity so sordid that it was funny. Over the years, I’ve generally veered toward the latter (it fit in with the ’90s, anyway) and fully cozied up to the astonishing “Been it,” a relationship horror story of scintillating proportions.

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34 Supergrass – Supergrass

All of Supergrass’ token attributes are here in full force on their third album, from the energy, to the Valvoline-oiled vocal pipes of Gaz Coombes to the band’s preternatural knack for putting together a chord progression and creating a sense of tension and release within a tune. “Shotover Hill” and “Eon,” however, are ultimately the two slowed-down, reflective gems.

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33 Soul Asylum – Grave Dancers Union

Like Nevermind, Grave Dancers Union pipes in with its first three tracks all being successful singles, so that it’s sort of hard to establish an opinion of the ALBUM itself as divorced from MTV and the whole hype machine itself, but as a whole LP this sucker doesn’t disappoint, veering from the premiere “Black Gold” into gutbucket blues rock of “April Fool” and beautiful, humanistic balladry in the form of “Sun Maid,” the tuba-toting finale.

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32 Blur – Parklife

Is this the album where they really proved they were better than Oasis? Does it matter? Probably to some footballer lads in Britain it might, but to me it’s just another collection of this miasmic spectrum ranging from beautiful acoustic pop (“End of a Century”) to a baffling rap song (“Parklife”) to this utterly astonishing triumvirate of coked-up funk-rock toward the end of “Magic America”; “London Loves” and “Clover over Dover”. Unofficial closeur “This is a Low” is another gem.

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31 Green Day – Nimrod

Nimrod is like DMT to me. I’m not kidding. I considered ranking it higher but I got these creeping, entirely psychedelic sort of fear spreading over me, relating to the sheer amount of feeling that went into these songs, the bewildering band tightness on “All the Time” and “King for a Day,” the unfathomable emotional low of “Uptight” and of course, that flawless surf-rock instrumental “Last Ride in,” also which no one ever seems to talk about seeing as it’s not “Time of Your Life,” and whatnot.

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30 Pearl Jam – Vs.

Just relating to the whole waveringly discursive take on Eddie Vedder that he’s an “egomaniac,” I suppose that to enjoy their music you do have to be in the mood for a singer having really strong opinions, making really strong statements and exhibiting what COULD perhaps in some sectors seen as a slight ebb in sense of humor. Well, I trust that these things will come back to me in time and meanwhile “Daughter” is a song that not just everybody can write and “Go” is a psycho-rock groove that not every band can just lay down.

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29 The Smashing Pumpkins – Adore

Obstinately torpid, defiantly dark and impossible somber, Adore took the whole “sadness” thing to another level from its successful, arena-rock predecessor. Really, though, the album to me is somewhat fractal between two da**-near impeccable singles, “Ava Adore” and “Perfect,” and the rest of the LP, which seems to float along on an ambient, narcotic haze but never stagnate.

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28 Radiohead – The Bends

I just cannot for the life of me get over that Pitchfork critic calling “Daydreaming” the point at Thom Yorke’s career when he were finally capable of surrender. It’s like have you HEARD “High and Dry”? Of course, he also saw Yorke’s sarcasm in the statement “We’re only here to serve you” completely escape him, so that should tell you something. “Just” is one of the best songs ever put to wax, a beautifully caustic paean to accountability and some good ol’ fashioned shut-the-fu**-up verbal punch.

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27 Morphine – Cure for Pain

This is probably a band that doesn’t get enough credit for playing a pretty key role in the ’90s — they’re as far as I know the only group of musicians to prominently feature a saxophone in this era, save for that very brief moment in Beck’s spooky hit “The New Pollution.” “I’m Free Now” is the gut-check centerpiece but “In Spite of Me” might be the most meaningful moment, full of palpable mourning and a sun shining out of singer Mark Sandman’s gut of pure aforementioned “pain.”

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26 Weezer – Weezer (1994)

I’m pretty sure most of us know and love Weezer and “The Sweater Song” by now but what set them apart at the time of their genesis? If anything I’d say they’re like the ’90s update on college rock, like R.E.M. very erudite and notable almost more for what they WITHHOLD from their albums, stadium bombast, genuine love songs and any level of overseriousness, than what they impart to them. Even the mournful “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” has a way of “turning” so quickly on itself that it seems almost like the casual observation of the left brain than any earnest pining. And yes, “Surf Wax America” is making fun of surfers, true to Weezer form.

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25 Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind

I guess you can’t just hate late-’90s alt-rock in general and like this band or its primary album — you can’t thing that fuzzy, crunchy power chords were dated by this time or that everybody should have been sucking on pacifiers and dropping Molly over Crystal Method records, or something like that. Well, this album rewards listeners with a lot of classic guitar riffs, to my ears, as on “Jumper” and “God of Wine” and courtesy of Kevin Cadogan who would be with the band for their fist two studio albums.

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24 Guided by Voices – Bee Thousand

This would be a funny album for one of those hipsters to say is essential to own on vinyl because it literally just SOUNDS so shi**y… there’s even this hilarious drop in one of the channels about a minute into the first song which then picks up again, where the guitar mistakenly goes almost silent and then chimes back in, an error the band apparently never fixed for sheer confidence, nay, haughtiness, in the quality of their songs, which is not at all off-base, for that matter.

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23 Pearl Jam – Vitalogy

Oh here I go dissing those vinyl nerds and then I get to “Spin the Black Circle” from the millennial godfather of rock… serves me right for getting too high on my high horse. Well, that’s nowhere near the best song on this album, which is presumably actually why Eddie Vedder was so nonplussed after it received the Grammy for Best Rock Performance. Anyway, “Immortality” is scintillating, epic stuff, all the more poignant for having been first performed live a day after Kurt Cobain died.

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22 The Breeders – Last Splash

I used to have this album on CASSETTE and it sounded great even on that, which should give you a testament to the toothy firepower Mark Freegard and the band summoned up on production. Kudos to the band for on this commercial breakthrough getting away from the ham-handed sound man Steve Albini, who tends to overproduce in his own distinct, ironic sort of way.

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21 Helmet – Betty

It’s pretty arbitrary to slot Betty ahead of its petulant predecessor Meantime within this band’s catalogue, but I’ve done it anyway. The landscape seemed to call for it as even though many of these songs were classic, everybody was shooting heroin and writing immortal rock songs in ’94, having learned from the best, and it’s the debut that set the groundwork and the defiant, psychotic vocal disposition of Page Hamilton.

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20 Blur – The Great Escape

I position this as the best Blur album on this list as a result of what I hear as a sort of unflinching seamlessness in how they put these songs together and get their wacky, coked-up ideas to wax, the awesome singles “Country House” and “Charmless Man” flanking what seems like an endless supply of sarcastic quips and good ol’ disdain for just about anything under the sun other than rocking out.

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19 R.E.M. – Automatic for the People

On a sad note, one new thing I did learn from the Steven Hyden A/V Club series “Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation” was that this was the CD that Cobain had in when he blew himself away, at least according to legend. Sure, that’s just about the running joke on this band. Take it or leave it, but nobody else could have made such a strong, decisive statement with just piano, strings and vocals as they do on “Nightswimming” and if you’re not inspired by “Find the River” I think there’s something seriously wrong with you.

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18 PJ Harvey – Dry

Again, I sort of came to full intellectual stature (if you can call it that) during the indie/Pitchfork era, so my thinking on PJ Harvey is a tad bit muddled by hype… sure enough, over about a dozen listens, the scrappy character of tracks like “Hair”; “Joe” and “Fountain” start to emanate forth and this puppy starts to play as, if not necessarily a classic, one he** of a tense and promising debut effort.

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17 Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York

Pretty much everybody from gutter, homeless people to general managers of restaurants seems to agree that this album is a classic — I even heard one middle-aged dude relate this as the point where he first got INTO Nirvana, apparently finding it approachable to a levitated extent from their former stuff. Can I please take this platform to argue that the success of the Meat Puppets covers is primarily the work of Kurt Cobain’s scouting and performance genius and not the result of Meat Puppets II being remotely listenable? And this is coming from a huge Meat Puppets fan, too.

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16 Supergrass – I Should Coco

It’s funny: looking at this list you’d think that Supergrass at least vied for best unruly rockin’ blokes from Oxford (their competition being the modest Radiohead) and many thanks are due to this maniacally crisp debut train ride of honest, grating and relentless power pop, coming to a head on the classic “Alright” which found itself on the Clueless soundtrack.

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15 Green Day – Dookie

“When it Comes around” was absolutely, positively my favorite song on the planet and hopefully that’s worth something or I’d feel pretty bad. Other obvious bulwarks the wise would turn to would probably be the hilariously cheeky “Pulling Teeth” about a girlfriend who’s physically abusive, the unapologetic and frenetic energy of “In the End” and “F.O.D.,” the haunting closeur that reminds you that these guys are anything but Mr. Nice Guys.

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14 Primus – Frizzle Fry

To be honest, I just listened to this thing straight through on streaming yesterday and I find it almost impossible to conceive of anyone doing that and not immediately proclaiming them as the best band on the planet. Not only to they ferociously combine punk and metal into something totally new and cultural (the stomp part of “Too Many Puppies” definitely scratches my grunge itch) but lots of the songs also have these awesome knack for displaying this noodley, spacey psychedelia, which seems to suggest a whole new direction that band could have turned in, if they’d wanted.

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13 Beck – Odelay

Now this isn’t especially an album where I find the PRODUCTION itself to be the primary achievement like with say No. 4, but it can’t just be a coincidence that The Dust Brothers sat in on this and Paul’s Boutique, two albums which have already given me over a lifetime’s worth of entertainment value. Well, I guess the sound is clean and porcelain on the amazing centerpiece “Jack-A**,” which bubbles forth and oozes out of the speakers so perfectly that it reminds you of a song Pavement had always wanted to write.

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12 Counting Crows – August and Everything after

Readers of this site might know I do a lot of gushing and spilling about this album… it is one of my favorites… but over the years one more thing to its credit is that the things I think will one day suck about it, the overplayed singles “Round Here” and “Mr. Jones,” are the exact glue that holds this whole structure together, playing like this crisp and undeniable rock and roll that suggest an anything-is-possible type of realm, which I guess it should.

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11 The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

If you take away that questionable piano intro, finding a bad song on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is perhaps not as easy a quest as you might have thought: even when you get late onto the discs, faux-industrial bruisers like “Love” and “X.Y.U.” pummel forth with some stout, sturdy percussion and “Muzzle”; “We Only Come out at Night” reaffirm Billy Corgan’s knack for melody and climax.

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10 Soundgarden – Down on the Upside

Just a second ago I was singing to myself the song on this album that features the words “down on the upside,” which is “Dusty,” and I was like oh yeah, naturally that’s one of the catchy singles on the album. Except it’s not. And I guess that right there about sums up my issue with how underrated this thing is… it’s like what’s people’s problem? It’s 16 tracks of inspired and varied rock, none necessarily besting the staggering triumvirate of singles that is “Pretty Noose”; “Blow up the outside World” and “Burden in My Hand.”

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9 Nirvana – In Utero

And then in terms of SOUND again here I don’t think it gets much better than this one: I’d say they definitely got the right producer for this project, although apparently it did indeed meet with a lot of flak from Geffen, which is supposed to be one of the “cooler” mainstream labels of the early’90s (the band originally wanted to title “Heart-Shaped Box” as “Heart-Shaped Coffin,” reportedly). The only slipup on this album in my opinion is “Pennyroyal Tea,” which is better as an unplugged ballad and freed from that thick, awkward grunge sound.

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8 Helmet – Meantime

What kind of music IS this? I remember thinking that when I first heard it but also finding it fun, inspired and capable of pertaining to a lot of my low-wage-job frustrations I was currently going through as a 20-something. “Ironhead” is a commendable pillar in sound and pure muscle but don’t underestimate the catchy single “Give it,” which has an infectious and still fuzzy chorus and a meaning that I think I’m glad escapes me.

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7 PJ Harvey – Rid of Me

Now I have to say this is probably one of those albums that it’s advantageous from a sonic standpoint to own on vinyl, with its mountainous, uncompromising production from Steve Albini fully befitting its psychotic and voluminous disposition. “Rub ‘til it Bleeds” is probably my favorite and things really get going from there, with “Hook” an irresistible kiss-off to one’s own sanity and “Ecstasy” sending things off into the night in spooky and defiant form.

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6 Soundgarden – Superunknown

Again, I live in the Midwest and generally every fan of rock around me really likes this band and album — it’s generally regarded as something not just the average person can do, some of these songs overplayed but still enjoyable like “Fell on Black Days”; “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman” and others illustrating themselves as more powerful and pertinent than ever, maybe “Mailman”; “Like Suicide,” et. al.

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5 Stone Temple Pilots – Purple

Now here is another divisive band which some people apparently consider a Pearl Jam ripoff: they did share the same brilliant producer of Brendan O’Brien and this indeed makes up part of why I like this album so much, as grunge-y moments like “Vasoline” and “Silvergun Superman” cut to the bone of my noise craving. But don’t forget the unsettling moments of eerie calm like “Pretty Penny,” or “Big Empty,” which is da** near the perfect song complete with a bellowing hopeless romantic vocal in an emphatic, slacker-gone-mad drawl. I don’t think most people gave this band enough credit for being as off-kilter and distinct as they are.

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4 The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

More than with any other album, I think, your opinion of this one says a lot about what kind of person you are, and I think to neglect the 16-hour days and 50-odd guitar overdubs they put into songs like “Today” would be a pretty heartless maneuver, along with how “Spaceboy” was beautifull penned to Corgan’s autistic half-brother. Other cuts like “Mayonaise” are just as heavy as the most leaden rockers here, with “Soma” a beautiful amalgamation of the album’s consummate abilities, delicate acoustic reflection exploding at the end into vituperative electric guitar catharsis.

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3 Supergrass – In it for the Money

It was a bewildering experience first hearing this album, having already decided that there’s no way it could be as good as its predecessor I Should Coco, getting through the first four tracks without much undulation but then finding “G-Song” and “Sun Hits the Sky” to be among the absolute most vital statements in all of ’90s rock, two songs without which I could hardly imagine the world as it is today. “Hollow Little Reign” is a ballad-like ditty I often favor for playlists that features this stupefyingly complex and sophisticated chord progress, hardly surprising given that the band comes from Oxford, the intellectual hub of the world.

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2 Radiohead – OK Computer

For this one I’d probably take a vinyl although I can certainly vouch for the CD. Anyway, it certainly won’t hurt if the listener is stoned for laconic ballads toward the end like “No Surprises” and “Lucky.” “Electioneering” and “Climbing up the Walls” are tense, eerie numbers with the odd prowess of making you feel like you’ve just read a book, but “Subterranean Homesick Alien” is a song the glory of which just hit me recently during this cold winter we were having, when I craved a little humanness amidst this uninhabitable and foreign world.

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1 Nirvana – Nevermind

It’s a band that’s frustrated, maligned, addled and driven da** near madness, but ultimately at the end of the day it’s a band that’s having fun, as well as showing some serious skill like the breakneck riff in “Breed” and the drone-y, feedback-filled interlude in the middle of “Drain You,” as well as even the acoustic centerpiece “Polly,” which would have made just as good a radio single as anything else on the album, just about. Is Kurt Cobain complaining too much? Probably, and it probably caught up to him eventually but what they did with this album is indescribable, making catchy, infectious melody something you could pry out of the speakers stand up to the world with, with a ferocity and intensity you’d never known before.

 

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