Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1996

1. Pearl Jam - Habit - No Code
On their fourth album, Pearl Jam hadn't shown any signs of slowing, as far as I was concerned (and still am). This isn't necessarily a straight-up anti-drug song, but Vedder is obviously singing to someone who he thought would've been above the whole thing.

2. Wilco - Misunderstood - Being There
This is an intensely personal song for me, from my favorite band of my generation. Jeff Tweedy has always made this song about an explosion of passion, fighting to rise above the mundane and the shouldn't-be's. I caught Wilco on this tour and they brought the house down. It's still a song and an album I listen to all the damn time, definitely one of the best albums of the 1990s. This opening song sets an amazingly high bar, and Wilco meets it.

3. The Roots - Ital (The Universal Side) - Illadelph Halflife
I didn't know what this was at first, but it's Q-Tip's fault. I'm new to this album (1999's Things Fall Apart was my first Roots album), and the quest turn from Tribe's MC had me wondering how I had a hole that big in what I know of their work. But it says great things about the early days of The Roots that they not only snagged one of the best rappers of all time (at the height of his career, no less) and made him fit so seamlessly.

4. Dave Matthews Band - Two Step - Crash
This is more along the lines of where I was in 1996 - Dave Matthews headlined my first big, real concert, the H.O.R.D.E. Festival in Phoenix in 1996. It was July and 115 in the sun (probably why I don't really remember Rusted Root), but once the night began to cool and the music filled the sky, it was one hell of a time. I caught Dave Matthews once more, then lost interest precipitously as I found music that seemed to have a lot more to say for me. But this is one of his best, and though I can't say how many years it's been since I've listened to it, there's no denying that Matthews and his band could really turn out a great jam.

5. Alejandro Escovedo - Gravity/Falling Down Again/ Street Hassle - More Miles Than Money
This 12-minute medly closes Escovedo's 1998 live album (but was recorded in 1996, so shuffle says it belongs here) More Miles Than Money, which was part of several Alejandro albums I picked up in short order after hearing him sing backup on Whiskeytown's "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight," from 1997's Strangers' Almanac. Every song he did captivated me, and it's been that way since. I've seen him a couple times and it's felt like being in the presence of a legend. I'm glad he's finally getting some due from more mainstream audiences. Thanks, Bruce.

6. Belle & Sebastian - The Stars of Track and Field - If You're Feeling Sinister
For the longest time, this was the only Belle & Sebastain song I liked at all, even the tiniest bit, and that's mostly because I love the notion of someone give a shout-out to the stars of track and field. And I just read the lyrics for the first time, so now I'm not sure what to think. But it's still a catchy and atmospheric song, and one I bet would've moved me more into the band's corner if I'd heard it then, instead of years later.

7. The Wallflowers - One Headlight - Bringing Down The Horse
Jakob Dylan's big break, and it's his eyes that are remembered the most. The truth is, this is a very good song on a good album, one that was certainly worth playing over and over in 1996. But I always liked "Sixth Avenue Heartache" so much more. Regardless, it was nice to see someone playing a lot of Hammond B3 in that era.

8. Johnny Cash - Rusty Cage - American II: Unchained
There's little to say about Rick Rubin's work with Johnny Cash, other than Thanks. That Nashville had little need for Cash for about two decades prior to this new collaboration is simply stunning. And what the American Recordings series produced was simple and stunning music. The series is marked by these unlikely and inspired choices for covers, and the stark black & white album cover images. Cash turns this Soundgarten screamer into one of his own, like so many others.

9. Modest Mouse - Space Travel Is Boring - This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About
Early, loose Modest Mouse was a confounding thing when I first heard it, but now this album is a comfortable and necessary sound, and I appreciate so much more how they continued to evolve along the way.

10. Soul Coughing - Super Bon Bon (Propellerheads Remix) - Super Bon Bon single
Ugh. The original song was so awesome, with its dominating, funky bass line and M. Doughty's scatty, beatnik rapping. A sorta drum-n-bass thing just doesn't work for me. So I'll just pretend the Irrestible Bliss album version came up. In November of 1996, six of us piled into The General's old Crown Vic for a drive to Tempe to catch Soul Coughing (and Geggy Tah opening!) at Gibson's. Much has been written about that epic journey, but for now I'll just say it was one of the coolest days of my life. Thanks ma-yan.

Wilco - Misunderstood (live)
Soul Coughing - Super Bon Bon (live)

1 comment:

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