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Halibutt's 10 Favorite Albums of the 90s

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Cyanide gave me permission to do my own thing regarding this, so here I am!

10. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - "F#A#∞" [1997]
Post-Rock, Ambient
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For the record, I like this album quite a bit more that Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, Godspeed's other really big album that everyone loves. While I still love Skinny Fists, there are issues with it. First of all, it's way longer than F#A#∞, which results in some hit-or-miss spots. A lot of the not-so-good bits come from the songs and moments that are focused on harsh guitar drones, which I would've appreciated if they had some soul or emotion in them, but there usually wasn't any that I could detect. Yeah, this album has the same thing, but I felt it had more of a purpose here. While Skinny Fists is more focused on the explosive types of aspects of an apocalyptic atmosphere, this album focused on the really hopeless, empty feelings in life.

Yes, this album is pretentious. Yes, Godspeed is pretentious, very fucking pretentious, but pretention is nowhere close to always being a bad thing. The fact of the matter is that this album is terrifying. There is some really suspenseful and fucked up instrumentation, some crippling spoken-word bits, and a whole lot of emptiness. A lot of this album can't even really be counted as music that has a melody and such, but that's what makes it work. This album uses a lot of silence and lack of actual instruments, and while that sounds like it could easily be boring, if you listen to this at the right time, you're gonna feel like everyone is out to get you. Damn shame Godspeed has influenced post-rock bands that focus more on "prettiness" to sound good, but that doesn't make for nearly as good of art as these Quebec musicians can pull off.

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Time for #9

9. Mr. Bungle - "Disco Volante" [1995]
Experimental Rock, Noise Rock
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There are some bands in the music nerd world that have a devoted following as really fucking weird bands. You know, stuff like The Residents, Butthole Surfers, Captain Beefheart, Boredoms, Faust, Naked City, Throbbing Gristle, all the shit like that. One of those really famously bizarre bands that have made a more mainstream-ish impression were Mr. Bungle. This band was created by Mike Patton, who was the frontman of Faith No More and created a crapton of different bands. Because of his work on Faith No More, he managed to make Mr. Bungle successful, and it's definitely one of the weirdest bands to ever get some real attention.

Let me say right now for people who think I'm exaggerating, I am not. This album in particular has some of the most bipolar and varied songs you will hear in your life time, the genres I listed above do not cover the entire thing at all. This album goes from industrial-ish metal to doowop to club music to slapstick sound effects in an insanely short span. This is not an album for anyone expecting, well, anything really unless they know about these guys and understand how screwed up they can be. That being said, this album can be very awesome at the right time. The guys who worked on this are obviously insanely talented, and Mike Patton is an utter genius. This would probably make first-time listeners shiver, but that's the great thing about this thing. Screw genres, you may as well play all of them!

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8. The Jesus Lizard - "Goat" [1991]
Noise Rock, Post-Hardcore
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Noise rock isn't devoid of "genius" by any stretch when it comes to songwriting or composing or whatever, but The Jesus Lizard doesn't seem like they could care any less shits about that. These guys are not that "impressive" musically is what I'm trying to get at. There are bands like Big Black that take noise rock to some insane extremes to try to sound as awesome as possible, but this album proves that noise rock can be simple and somewhat conventional, and it can still knock your fucking socks off. Okay, I'm not trying to say this album is generic, because it is not. This album has a really heavy and brooding mood, one that I don't really hear in that many albums like this one. Essentially, that's what makes me love this album to pieces.

It also helps that so much of this album is just INSANELY catchy. The lead singer shouting "I CAN'T SWIM!" in "Seasick" is some of the most energetic and incredible stuff you'll hear in the genre. Also, I'm not totally sure why, but because of this, the song sorta reminds me of "Good Morning, Captain" by Slint in a really vague, disconnected type of way. This guitar in this album plays the best role though, occasionally sounding like a lawn mower or a chainsaw, and that's what this album is about. These guys don't care about impressive, they just rock out, and they rock out hard.

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12 minutes ago, Rock said:

I don't mean to annoy you, but I think you should again at that album cover.

Other than that, I want to get into these guys at some point.

If you mean the nipples, they're really subtle and hard to notice. I doubt I would need to hide it.

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7. Melvins - "Houdini" [1993]
Sludge Metal, Grunge
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Fuck yes! Fuck to the yes! I'm one of those people that kinda gravitates toward the hipstery side of metal like black metal or drone metal, but sometimes, you just need to give up and listen to some of the most catchy and awesomely heavy stuff you can find. These guys are usually considered to be part of the whole 'grunge' thing with stuff like Nirvana, but the main difference between these guys and the more famous grunge is that while the more successful bands didn't really put their heavy metal edge in the spotlight, the Melvins were totally okay with being a straight-up metal band, and a fucking incredible one too. If you want an album to make you feel as macho as possible, this is the album to go with.

This album isn't subtle and it doesn't want to be. When you listen to this album, it's not one of those albums where you have to pay close attention to appreciate. That's what makes it great, obviously. It's so accessible and so easy to love. For me, the big highlight of this album is when they take an old KISS song called "Goin' Blind" and turn it from a hard glam rock song to just sheer sludgey heaviness. While KISS always has their music be fun and energetic, Melvins drags it down and makes it Hellish and dark, and that's generally why this album is so amazing. It's kinda hard to discuss this album using words, just listen to this album and you'll probably manage to understand all of this.

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Houdini was the first really heavy record I listened to. Man, it completely warped my mind. I think I single handedly got angrier as a person while listening to that record, as I listened to that near the end of a big transitional phase in my life. In fact, listening to Houdini might be the thing that ended that.

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6. Mr. Bungle - "California" [1999]
Experimental Rock, Art Rock
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You know, I was thinking that maybe I shouldn't have bothered with two Mr. Bungle albums on this list, but there's two reasons I didn't do it. First of all, I FUCKING LOVE MR. BUNGLE. Second of all, this one isn't a copy of the previous one, this one does have its own distinctions. But yeah, I did put a Mr. Bungle album already at #9, but while I love that album, I love this one a lot more. Like I said, this one is quite different from the other, and there is a reason I love this one a lot more. Well, here's the thing about Disco Volante. That album fucking terrified you. That album is really cold-blooded and shows almost now warmth or personality in it, which results in it just being a really fucked up album. This isn't an insult though, I love the album for that reason, but you know what I like more than freakiness and insanity? Warmth and personality, of course!

Yeah, let me tell you now, the #1 big difference between California and the previous album is that this one 500 times more accesible. Yeah, it's still really wacky and occasionally sadistic because it would be dumb for a Bungle album to do otherwise, but when this albums wants to be fun, it will be. Now, that does not mean the drastic changes in genre and mood don't exist here. They definitely still exist here. What sets it apart though is that while the previous album seemed like it was meant to alienate and shock, this one takes the genre-shifting and makes something really catchy and almost pop-ish about it! With Disco Volante, that album's all about the fucked up mood, it's not really an album meant to listen to songs from on the iPod for your entertainment. This album does that though, and that's what makes it great! These songs don't shock. Despite being definitely weird, they're still insanely fun, insanely catchy, and you can listen to it all the time without feeling like a pretentious twat. This is quirky pop rock really, and that is a-okay.

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5. Earth - "Pentastar: In the Style of Demons" [1996]
Stoner Rock, Psychedelic Rock
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This is when the albums start going above and beyond. From 10 to 6, the albums were "amazing," but now, that doesn't cut it. These albums are so insanely good, they're basically a part of me. I feel it's only fitting to start off the next-level albums with the entire list's most obscure album. Okay, it's not very obscure itself, but compared to stuff like Mr. Bungle and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, it may as well be. For those who are in the know, Earth are most well-known for inventing drone metal in the early 90s, and then making ambient post-rock efforts in the latter half of the 2000s. Because of that, Pentastar is kind of the black sheep because instead of being drone or post-rock, it's a balls-out and heavy stoner rock album with psychedelic influences. It's a really dark, brooding album, but it's not an even remotely violent or aggressive one. It has a certain ambience to it that makes it more than just metal or rock. It also helps that the second-to-last track on the album is a 7-minute long piano piece of two repeating chords over and over again.

I understand that this album could probably test the patience of some people. It can be pretty repetitive at times, and the fact that it focuses a lot more on the "stoner" aspect of "stoner rock" than the "rock" part doesn't help that, but for me, when I'm the right mood for this album, this shit is some of the most colossal-sounding stuff ever. I assume most fans of this album like listening to it when baked off their asses, but I've never touched pot in my life, yet I still love every single second of this album. If I love it that much sober, I bet this album is orgasmic. Either way, this may not be the really heavy drone doom that Earth is known for, but quite frankly, I have listened to their biggest album Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version, and I'd rather go with this any day of the week. Fantastic.

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4. Slint - "Spiderland" [1991]
Post-Rock, Post-Hardcore
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Oh, boy. Ooooh boooooooooooy. Out of all albums on this list, probably out of all albums I've ever listened to, this one has taken the most grueling amount of time to grow on me. The first time I listened to it, I did it for a project where I got 60 albums from the local library, and it bored me. The second time, it bored me even more. After a few listens, I kinda decided that I outright hated it. Looking back, I have practically no idea why. Maybe the soft, undermixed vocals didn't sit well with me, but man, this album just did absolutely nothing for me for about 7 months. After listening to it for the first time in a while a few months ago, I realized it was actually really good. I listened to it more, finding more awesome details about it. By a few months ago, I basically decided that it was one of the best albums ever. There are albums I like more, but no album I have ever listened to has been more rewarding than this one, and I doubt anything else will ever take that accolade any time soon.

I'm sure I was not the only one ever to take this long to have it grow on me, though. Like I said, the vocals are very soft. Actually, they can only barely be considered the vocals at times. A lot of the album's vocal work is the guy doing a whispery spoken-word thing, but when he wants to ham it up a little more, it pays off so fucking well. It helps a lot to actually read the lyrics too, because the songwriting and storytelling has a really dark edge to it that really needs to be acknowledges, even if you're one of those people that doesn't care too much about lyrical content of music, like me. All of that really shifts it up to 11 with the fact that these guys are just straight up RAW. The emotion in this album is very evident, the best example for me being the big loud climax of "Breadcrumb Trail." The lead singer shouting "I SAID GOODBYE TO THE GROOOOOOOOUND" forced me to just smile at how big and euphoric it sounded. That's the power of this album. It's post-rock in a way that you would not expect if the post-rock you listen to is either the more ambient school started by late-period Talk Talk or the crescendo-based stuff by Godspeed. This, despite being one of THE biggest influences of all of post-rock music, is practically impossible to replicate, because it's just so unique and so indescribably perfect. I very, very highly recommend this to anyone who wants to see what happens if you get post-hardcore punk and add some wildly innovative composition to it.

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3. Swans - "Soundtracks For the Blind" [1996]
Post-Rock, Experimental Rock
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Scary albums are really tough to find for me. Sure, you've got the stuff that's really twisted and sinister like the Butthole Surfers or even Faust, but the freakishness gets kinda numbed down for those bands because there is some sort of humor to it that makes it joyously freaky rather then authentically horrifying. This album is absolutely authentic at getting as dark, twisted and humorless as possible. Because of that, this album actually very well represents Swans' wonder progression as artists. They started off in the early 80s along with Sonic Youth as revivalists of the late 70s No Wave scene that was happening in New York, and back in those days, No Wave was a genre of rock that was known for being incrredibly brutal, noisy and experimental, but Swans turned it up to eleven after they wanted to keep the spirit going after the big wave simmered down. By the mid 80s to the early 90s though, they started getting more refined with their insanity by adding a less meatheaded and Filthy (hehe) aesthetic and gearing towards the gothic. This album is a TWO-HOUR-LONG monstrosity that was the very last studio album these guys released until they started going again a decade and a half later. I'm not too experienced with Swans, especially their post-punk stuff before this, but god damn, this album is easily one of the best of all time.

Like I said, Swans remained as fucked up as they did before, but they did it in a much more creative and experimental way. Long before this, their brand of freaky rock music revolved around very deranged and loud vocals along with brutal drumming. That's very rarely seen here. At this point, Swans gave up at being straightforward and utilized the post-rock aesthetic which involved really washed-out and massively droning guitars, colossal dynamic changes and even the really disturbing brand of sampled sound collages and spoken-word bits that would be found only about a year later when Godspeed You! Black Emperor took their first big stab at the post-rock genre. Post-rock as a genre has existed for a little less than a decade at this point, and while it is often considered to be invented by Talk Talk's last two albums which were really ambient and jazzy, Swans were the ones to define what was going to be the mind-meltingly huge sounds that would be made even more famous by Mogwai, Godspeed and Explosions in the Sky. I cannot thank Swans enough by any means whatsoever for that.

For the record though, this album isn't just droning, spacey crescendo jams though. There's a lot of strange shit, like the disturbing pisstake of EDM that is "Volcano" or the straightforward no-wavish live punk track that is "Yum Yab Killers". This just adds to the album's excuse to be two damn hours long, though. This album will not bore you, it will do the exact opposite. This album grabs you in, leaves you in the scariest place on Earth for a couple of hours, and then spits you back out with your mind only barely intact. This one sure isn't for everybody on the planet, but if you can maintain the patience and the open-mindedness, I trust that you would adore this album just as much as I do.

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