10 Best Albums From 1996
Alt-rock was beginning to lose its luster in 1996. Record companies, fans and even the artists themselves were no longer content with the three-chord guitar rock that Kurt Cobain helped launch a revolution with a half-decade before. So the landscape changed. And the artists changed with it, applying electronic blips and artsier elements to their previously primal or low-fi indie rock. The 10 Best Albums From 1996 rolled with the changes, ushering in a new era.
In 1995, American DJ Todd Terry remixed a song by British duo Everything but the Girl, who were a jazzy pop group that played around with Sade-like sounds. ‘Missing’ transformed the band into a dance-club favorite, and their next album, the great ‘Walking Wounded,’ was filled with all sorts of trip-hop and house beats.
By the time California ska-punks Sublime released their third album, frontman Bradley Nowell was dead of a heroin overdose. Too bad, because the simply titled ‘Sublime’ made them modern-rock stars for a year. The album spawned four hit songs and countless reissues and repackaging of their only good album.
These London alt-rockers have always been hard to classify. Their chill lounge grooves sound like they come from the ’60s, but with bits of electronic post-rock modernism spliced into the mix. Then there’s the French singing and the experimental tone of it all. That probably helps explain why Stereolab aren’t bigger. If you need a starting point, their fourth album makes a perfect intro.
‘Dusk at Cubist Castle’
This Louisiana collective never got as much attention as their Elephant Six cohorts Neutral Milk Hotel, but their debut album is almost as good as Jeff Mangum’s records from the period. The full title of the LP is ‘Music From the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle,’ just so you know where their pretensions are coming from.
The debut album by the French electronic duo is all bubbly grooves and razor-sharp riffs. Songs like ‘Revolution 909,’ ‘Da Funk’ and ‘Around the World’ set the template for countless laptop-wielding DJ teams in the late ’90s (a few of them even French) and the rise of EDM over the past decade. As influential as they come.
Apple would get artsier and more damaged/fragile with each album. But she was already pretty damaged, artsy and fragile at 18, when her debut album was released. It sounds like her famous battles with her record company have already started on ‘Tidal,’ as standard singer-songwriter fare collides with daring musical and lyrical phrases that announced the arrival of one of the coming millennium’s most important artists.
‘Call the Doctor’
The second album by the three toughest women to play northwestern punk in the ’90s burns with an intensity that most of their fellow indie rockers had given up on by the middle of the decade. Sleater-Kinney would get bigger and better as the decade progressed, but ‘Call the Doctor’ is their opening shot. And it’s a loud one.
‘Endtroducing … ‘
Turntablist culture reached its peak on this alternative hip-hop masterpiece constructed out of old samples, found sounds and an entire symphony of new music inside of Josh Davis’ head. Built on layer after layer of salvaged vinyl records — pops, hisses and scratches included — ‘Endtroducing … ” is unlike any album you’ve ever heard. Gorgeous, eerie and mesmerizing.
The second album by the Scottish collective (and the first to receive a wide release) remains the cornerstone of the ’90s twee-pop movement. That wouldn’t mean much if the record didn’t also serve as the springboard for every single indie-pop album that’s been released since then. The melodies are sly and subtle; the lyrics are even more sly. While almost everyone else was beefing up their sounds with electronics in 1996, Belle and Sebastian amplified theirs with chamber-pop magnificence.
Beck celebrated his surprise 1994 hit ‘Mellow Gold’ with a bigger budget and a more wide-open playing field to roam around in. He also enlisted the Dust Brothers, who produced Beastie Boys‘ ‘Paul’s Boutique’ classic, to sprinkle some of their magic powder over his music. The result is a sonic tour de force, one of the ’90s’ most momentous records and a headphone trip worthy of the alone time. Beck jumps genres so often — from blues to rock to pop to hip-hop to country to indie rock and back again — you’ll be dizzy by the end. But a good kind of dizzy.