10 Best Albums From 1997
Sometime around 1997, the music industry -- tired of picking up the funeral bills for all those grunge-era rockers they signed five years earlier -- went looking for the future of music. And somewhere somebody hit on the idea of selling electronic music to a generation of fans weaned on guitars, bass and drums. For the most part, the plan failed in the late '90s; turns out, the usually shortsighted industry was about 15 years ahead of EDM's boom. Still, some classic electronic records managed to find some brief footing. A few of them are scattered in our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1997.
The debut album by British drum-and-bass master Roni Size and his Reprazent crew is a two-disc opus that pretty much helped make electronic music the Next Big Thing in 1997. Size has released a steady stream of records since his Mercury Music Prize winner, but none touches 'New Forms'' scope and magnificence.
Spiritualized's freak-out masterpiece is bigger and grander than almost any other indie-rock album released in 1997. In some respects, 'Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space' is a breakup album penned by frontman Jason Pierce. But the layered, rich textures are mesmerizing no matter what state your heart is in.
Björk's follow-up to her 1995 masterpiece 'Post' is almost as monumental -- an electronics-drenched feast built on native sounds. In a way, 'Homogenic' is Björk's most organic album of the '90s, a modern-day spin on folk and classical music, with strings riding alongside the digital noise. A blippy classic in its own weird, wonderful way.
Built to Spill's major-label debut remains one of their all-time best albums, an epic jam record stuffed with epic-length songs. Most of the album's eight tracks run more than six minutes; two of them come close to nine. Frontman Doug Martsch aims for Neil Young-sized landscapes most of the time and lands there more often than not.
Smith's breakthrough album was released the same year that he contributed some songs to 'Good Will Hunting,' which led to an Academy Award nomination. 'Either / Or' is the bridge between Smith's earlier singer-songwriter records and his later pop experiments. He made better records, but this is his most personal.
'When I Was Born for the 7th Time''s centerpiece, the still-exhilarating 'Brimful of Asha,' is enough to guarantee the British band's third album a spot on our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1997. But the rest of it is a wild trip through record shops, psychedelic music and frontman Tjinder Singh's Indian heritage that mixes and mash-ups a dozen different genres.
Record companies were trying their hardest in the mid and late '90s to convince music buyers that electronic music was the future. Most of it turned out to be boring, calculated noise designed for drugged-out kids who weren't very discerning about what they were listening to. The Chemical Brothers were one of the bright spots. Their second album is filled with great songs that expand electronica's boundaries.
New Jersey trio Yo La Tengo's eighth album is their most expansive, incorporating everything from buzzed-out indie rock to quiet folk music to a 10-minute space jam to a Beach Boys cover. If that isn't enough, there's also some electronic elements sprinkled into the mix. Yo La Tengo made their best albums in the mid '90s; 'I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One' is their warmest.
Sleater-Kinney's best album starts with a battalion of guitars raining down over the trio's primitive, primal beat and Corin Tucker's yelps, which get fiercer and more strained as the song progresses. From there, the record doesn't let up, unleashing one mid-'90s punk attack after another. No one got closer to the music's core idealism during the era than these three badass women.
A milestone of '90s indie rock and one of the greatest albums ever made, Radiohead's classic plays like a technological breakthrough whose conceptual center hasn't completely loosened its human grip. 'OK Computer' spawned a couple hundred crappy bands over the next decade, but its real significance lies in its ability to bridge analog and digital, heart and mind. It's a stunning piece of work.