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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 2012 | DGC

For the Roots' second major-label album, the band apparently recognized the weaknesses of the debut, since there are several songs which provide more structure than previous jam-session efforts -- two even became R&B radio hits. But for all its successes, Illadelph Halflife mostly repeats the long-winded jams and loose improvisatory feel that characterized Do You Want More?!!!??!. And while these songs may sound great live (a field where the Roots excel over any other rap act), in a living-room setting listeners need hooks on which to focus. © John Bush /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1998 | DGC

From the moment the Pyromania guitars herald open the title track on Celebrity Skin, it's clear Hole no longer is tortured. Gone are the roaring guitars and noise, the pain and the anguish that informed Pretty on the Inside and Live Through This. Some angst remains, but it's buried under a glaze of shiny guitars and hazy melodies, all intended to evoke the heyday of Californian pop in the late '70s. Conceptually, it's a bold move for a band that's nearly synonymous with grunge, but the makeover doesn't quite work. Part of the reason is that Hole's music was always compelling as nakedly cathartic spectacle -- and that's exactly what has been excised on Celebrity Skin. In the past, Courtney Love pushed her emotions to the forefront, and the sheer forcefulness of her personality disguised the anonymity of her bandmates. A toned-down Love still may not be able to carry a tune, but there's little grit to her performance on Celebrity Skin, so she effortlessly blends with the faceless musical support -- which is strange, considering her overpowering public image. Walking the line between soft rock and confessional grunge was a difficult task regardless, and to its credit, Hole -- with the assistance of producer Michael Beinhorn and consultant Billy Corgan, who is credited with co-writing five songs and essentially pioneered the very sound of Celebrity Skin with his Smashing Pumpkins albums -- has created an album that sounds like an arena rock monster, but the hooks sink only halfway in, so it doesn't have much impact. It is a complete makeover, but instead of metamorphosing into a new band, Hole has unwittingly neutered itself. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1998 | DGC

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Rock - Released January 1, 1998 | DGC

Pretty ingenious idea: publicize your album by titling it after your website URL. And this is music that deserves to be publicized. On their first major-label release, Pitchshifter maintains its socially -- and politically -- conscious views while making a huge progression musically. www.pitchshifter.com melds the band's usual punk intensity with the hard and fast (bpm speeds are included with each song for the curious) rhythms of drum'n'bass, but with a distinctly organic feel, perhaps a result of the band sampling live drums. J.S. Clayden and John A. Carter show themselves to be masterful programmers. The addition of grinding metallish guitars courtesy of new member Jim Davies also enhances the live feel. Songs such as "Microwaved" and the excellent single "Genius" are dynamic and exciting, and have a dangerous edge that is missing from much current drum'n'bass, which tends to sacrifice intensity for complexity. Even when Pitchshifter slows down the beats, as on "w.y.s.i.w.y.g." -- perhaps the best song on the album -- there is an unbridled fury that shoots through www.pitchshifter.com like a train. Pitchshifter is only getting better. (For the second straight album, the band has included free samples at the end of the CD for the use of listeners.) © Stanton Swihart /TiVo
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Rock - Released May 1, 1998 | DGC

Truth be told, the grunge era never quite fit Sonic Youth. They may have been at the peak of their popularity, but they had traded their experimentalism for sheer, bracing noise. It may have sounded good, but ultimately Dirty didn't have the cerebral impact of Sister, largely because it was tied to an admittedly effective backbeat. Beginning with Washing Machine, Sonic Youth returned to more adventurous territory, and in 1997, they released a series of EPs that illustrated their bond with such post-rock groups as Tortoise and Gastr del Sol. Those EPs, as well as the epic Washing Machine closer, "The Diamond Sea," provide the foundation for A Thousand Leaves, the band's most challenging and satisfying record in years. The blasts of dissonance that characterized their SST masterworks have been replaced, by and large, by winding, intricate improvisations. There's a surprising warmth to the subdued guitars of Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Kim Gordon, which keeps the lengthy songs captivating. Both Moore and Ranaldo concentrate on quiet material, which almost makes Gordon's noisy politicized rants sound a little out of place, but her best moments ("French Tickler," "Heather Angel") have unsettling, unpredictable twists and turns that greatly contribute to the success of A Thousand Leaves. It may be their most cerebral album in ages, but that only makes it all the more engaging. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1998 | DGC

According to party line, neither Beck nor Geffen ever intended Mutations to be considered as the official follow-up to Odelay, his Grammy-winning breakthrough. It was more like One Foot in the Grave, designed to be an off-kilter, subdued collection of acoustic-based songs pitched halfway between psychedelic country blues and lo-fi folk. The presence of producer Nigel Godrich, the man who helmed Radiohead's acclaimed OK Computer, makes such claims dubious. Godrich is not a slick producer, but he's no Calvin Johnson, either, and Mutations has an appropriately clean, trippy feel. There's little question that with the blues, country, psych, bossa nova, and folk that comprise it, Mutations was never meant to be a commercial endeavor -- there's no floor-shaker like "Where It's At," and it doesn't trade in the junk culture that brought Odelay to life. Recording with his touring band -- marking the first time he has entered the studio with a live band -- does result in a different sound, but it's not so much a departure as it is a side road that is going in the same direction. None of the songs explore new territory, but they're rich, lyrically and musically. There's an off-the-cuff wit to the songwriting, especially on "Canceled Check" and "Bottle of Blues," and the performances are natural, relaxed, and laid-back, without ever sounding complacent. In fact, one of the nifty tricks of Mutations is how it sounds simple upon the first listen, then reveals more psychedelic layers upon each play. Beck is not only a startling songwriter -- his best songs are simultaneously modern and timeless -- he is a sharp record-maker, crafting albums that sound distinct and original, no matter how much they may borrow. In its own quiet, organic way, Mutations confirms this as much as either Mellow Gold or Odelay. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1998 | DGC

When the band's major-label effort emerged, the band members were quoted in interviews as saying they were aware of the post-Nirvana '90s cliché where a highly regarded indie rock band signed to a major and then seemingly disappeared after a mediocre effort. Unfortunately, that's just about what happened to the band itself, and it's little wonder why -- Freak*on*ica, on the heels of three brilliant albums, was practically a joke, sounding more like a commercial band attempting to cover Girls Against Boys than the group itself. That's not to say it's not enjoyable at points, especially with the quite excellent "Exorcisto," but instead of the thick, tense energy and inventive arrangements of the past, Freak*on*ica is all too clean and crisp, a bizarre slice of techno-metal far more appropriate for the likes of Garbage, who the band opened for around that time. Part of the blame lies squarely with the choice of producer -- instead of the productive Ted Niceley/Janney partnership that had been in place since Venus Luxure, the band either opted for or was assigned Nick Launay. The Australian's credentials at commercial but smart rock & roll were unquestioned, but either he and his crew smoothed out all the edges or let the group dig its own particular grave. Indeed, it should be said that a fair number of songs, right from the start with the fairly drab "Park Avenue" and "Pleasurized," lack a real spark. Scott McCloud's singing sounds petulant instead of threatening, the occasional weird blast of guitar or sample noise loop sound too clean by half, and the whole thing is an unfortunately classic example of what happens when a band with its own distinct sound and style gets wrung through the commercial wringer to no good purpose. Little wonder that Girls Against Boys realized their mistake and practically celebrated their eventual depature from Geffen to the skies. © Ned Raggett /TiVo
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Film Soundtracks - Released January 1, 1998 | DGC

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Rock - Released January 1, 1997 | DGC

Black Lab's debut album, Your Body Above Me, is an odd juxtaposition of earnest, heavy-rocking post-grunge with the moodiness of goth-rock. At times, the band develops a brooding yet propulsive sound that's actually quite intriguing. Lead singer/songwriter Paul Durham has trouble coming up with memorable songs, but he's pushed his band in the right musical direction. The best moments on Your Body Above Me have an alluring, dark charm that makes up for the occasional awkwardness while suggesting that Black Lab could develop into something distinctive in their own right. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1997 | DGC

Although Plastic Seat Sweat lacks some of the manic energy that made Southern Culture on the Skids' early independent records so entertaining, it nevertheless is a strong latter-day psychobilly record. The style is predictable, but there are unexpected twists and turns in every other song, plus an abundance of catchy hooks and tightly written songs that makes Plastic Seat Sweat go down easily. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released October 1, 1996 | DGC

From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah is the second posthumous Nirvana record, an attempt to capture Nirvana at the peak of its powers on stage. That doesn't necessarily mean all the band's best-known songs are here -- "Come as You Are," "All Apologies," and "About a Girl" are all absent -- but it does mean that this is the closest representation to what Nirvana sounded like on-stage. It may not be perfect and it's a little scattershot due to its varied source material (the tapes were recorded anywhere between 1989 and 1994), but it's still a terrific record, thanks to a sharp selection of performances and a set list that relies on B-sides, album tracks, and album favorites, highlighting the group at its best. It's not necessary, but it still finds a great band in top form. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1996 | DGC

For their second album, Recovering the Satellites, Counting Crows crafted a self-consciously challenging response to their unexpected success. Throughout the record, Adam Duritz contemplates his loss of privacy and sudden change of fortunes, among other angst-ridden subjects. In one sense, it's no different from the subjects that dominated August and Everything After, yet his outlook is lacking the muted joy that made "Mr. Jones" into a hit. Similarly, the music is slightly more somber, yet the approach is harder and more direct, which gives even the ballads a more affecting, visceral feel. Recovering the Satellites occasionally bogs down in its own pretentiousness -- for a roots rock band, the group certainly has a lot of artsy goals -- yet when they scale back their ambitions to simple folk-rock, such as on the single "A Long December," they are at their most articulate. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1996 | DGC

From the pounding, primal assault of the opening track, "Tired of Sex," it's clear from the outset that Pinkerton is a different record than the sunny, heavy guitar pop of Weezer's eponymous debut. The first noticeable difference is the darker, messier sound -- the guitars rage and squeal, the beats are brutal and visceral, the vocals are mixed to the front, filled with overlapping, off-the-cuff backing vocals. In short, it sounds like the work of a live band, which makes it all the more ironic that Pinkerton, at its core, is a singer/songwriter record, representing Rivers Cuomo's bid for respectability. Since he hasn't changed Weezer's blend of power pop and heavy metal (only the closing song, "Butterfly," is performed acoustically), many critics and much of the band's casual fans didn't notice Cuomo's significant growth as a songwriter. Loosely structured as a concept album based on Madame Butterfly, each song works as an individual entity, driven by powerful, melodic hooks, a self-deprecating sense of humor ("Pink Triangle" is about a crush on a lesbian), and a touching vulnerability ("Across the Sea," "Why Bother?"). Weezer can still turn out catchy, offbeat singles -- "The Good Life" has a chorus that is more memorable than "Buddy Holly," "El Scorcho" twists Pavement's junk-culture references in on itself, "Falling for You" is the most propulsive thing they've yet recorded -- but the band's endearing geekiness isn't as cutesy as before, which means the album wasn't as successful on the charts. But it's the better album, full of crunching power pop with a surprisingly strong emotional undercurrent that becomes all the more resonant with each play. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1996 | DGC

The Posies learned to rock on 1993's Frosting on the Beater, where their splendid hooks and creamy harmonies were matched with towering walls of guitar that made them sound like power pop supermen. The lessons they learned were clearly audible on their next album, 1996's Amazing Disgrace, but the tone was dramatically different. Where Frosting on the Beater was overflowing with the fuzzy joy of big loud rock, Amazing Disgrace feels edgy, filled with anxiety and bad feelings, and while beefed-up electric guitars still dominate the mix, the tone is sharper and more brittle, adding an undercurrent of punky venom that roughed up the surfaces of their peerless pop songwriting. The Posies were struggling with severe interband tensions and troubles with their record label while they wrote and recorded Amazing Disgrace, and it's not hard to hear the rancor informing the songs and the performances. "Hate Song" and "Everybody Is a Fucking Liar" wear their disgust on their sleeves, and even the relatively warm numbers like "World," "Precious Moments," and "The Certainty" seem deeply downbeat beneath their well-crafted exteriors. Amazing Disgrace is the Posies' Bad Karma album, but that is a big part of what makes it so memorable. If the emotions aren't especially positive, they lit a fire under this band and there's a strength and drama in the ensemble playing the Posies rarely touched. This lineup of the band -- founders Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow joined by bassist Joe Skyward and drummer Brian Young -- crackles with energy and ferocity, and producer Nick Launay captured it all with admirable grit and clarity. The fact the Posies actually managed to record and release another album after this (1998's Success) is far more remarkable than the fact they soon broke up, but Amazing Disgrace is a stellar example of how rage can fuel an artist into creating something remarkable, and if it's not always easy to listen to, it's genuinely rewarding. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1996 | DGC

As crazy as its cover art (a Komondor running hurdles), Odelay confirms Beck’s genius as an assembler. While Mellow Gold and its hit song Loser was defined by its thrifty, lo-fi style, Odelay boasts a more luxurious production. But the founding idea is the same: combining the uncombinable! Sexual funk, psychedelic rock, lewd country blues, old school rap, wonky folk, flashy easy listening, Beck mixes, matches and unmatches! The samples are just as wild with a blend of Van Morrison’s Them, Rare Earth, Mandrill, Mantronix, Sly Stone, Dick Hyman, Edgar Winter, Lee Dorsey, and a few others… Despite these unlikely combinations, Odelay has its own identity. Yet another gem based on a healthy anti-rut philosophy. Indeed, Beck is not only a mad scientist when it comes to sound, but also a genuine songwriter at heart. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Pop - Released January 1, 1995 | DGC

After spending the first half of the 1990s as one of America's hardest-working independent bands, Southern Culture on the Skids took the bait and signed with a major label in 1995, releasing its fifth album, Dirt Track Date, on Geffen/DGC that year. Dirt Track Date proved to be something of a disappointment for the group's hardcore fans; nearly half the album's songs had appeared on previous SCOTS releases ("Eight Piece Box" hit plastic for the third time on this set), and while producer Mark Williams was sympathetic to the band's approach, the slightly grittier, more homemade sound of For Lovers Only and Ditch Diggin' better suited the band's Dixie-fried guitar textures than Williams' tidier approach. But while Williams cleaned up the band's sound a bit, he didn't rob Rick Miller's hot-rodded guitar of its power to shake the house, and if the set list is familiar to old fans, it makes for an excellent "Greatest Hits" set, with the chicken-scratch R&B of "Soul City," the faux-exotica of "Galley Slave," and the slow-turning dance groove of "Camel Walk" offering rockin' proof that there was a lot more to this band than hillbilly jokes. For Lovers Only is probably Southern Culture on the Skids' best album, but Dirt Track Date may well be the best place for first-time listeners to investigate the band's enchantingly warped take on American roots rock. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1995 | DGC

While Jon Spencer spent much of his time in Pussy Galore trying to destroy rock & roll as fans know it, by the time he got the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion rolling, he'd come to the belated conclusion that old-school rock and R&B could be pretty cool after all, and since the history of Boss Hog -- one of Spencer's seemingly infinite number of side projects -- overlaps with Pussy Galore, you get to witness this transformation over the course of their recording career. While Boss Hog's first album was a nearly unlistenable morass of aural sludge, six years later, their self-titled major-label debut turns out to be a very solid album in the same rootsy grit-rock vein as the Blues Explosion's best work. If anything, Christina Martinez, Spencer's partner in crime (and spouse), is a stronger vocal presence on this record, if only because she hasn't developed quite as elaborate a shtick as Spencer -- she just belts it out in a sturdy blues-punk style, unlike Spencer's often amusing but sometimes irritating collection of blues and rockabilly affectations. Boss Hog also displays a far greater willingness to get funky than JSBX; they're not ready to face the Meters in a battle of "on the one," but the best cuts here boast a more sensuous feel for groove than the prime suspects have shown in the past. In short, Boss Hog shows that somewhere down the line Spencer and Martinez learned the importance of getting a groove on, and though that groove is rough, noisy, and ill-tempered, you can still dance to it. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Rock - Released October 1, 1995 | DGC

After the regressive, low-key Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star, Sonic Youth appeared to be floundering somewhat, but Washing Machine erased any notion that the band had run out of things to say. Easily their most adventurous, challenging, and best record since Daydream Nation, the album finds Sonic Youth returning to the fearless exploration of their SST records, but the group has found a way to work that into tighter song structures. Not only are the songs more immediate than most of the material on their earlier records, the sound here is warm and open, making Washing Machine their most mature and welcoming record to date. It's not a commercial record, nor is it a pop record, but Washing Machine encompasses everything that made Sonic Youth innovators, and shows that they can continue to grow, finding new paths inside their signature sound. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1995 | DGC

The idea that Pell Mell would have ended up on a company run by David Geffen must have seemed truly bizarre when the band first started, but that's what a little Nirvana can do for bands (and so it must have seemed for many an alternative outfit in the early '90s). By the time of Interstate's recording, David Spalding had been established as a new key and core member, and the resultant effort of the quartet was a striking and often emotional take on instrumental rock. Pell Mell's unsurprising ability to self-produce and engineer, helped out by the abilities of Tim O'Heir as well, resulted in a full-sounding, dramatic album that, even so, couldn't have been expected to be a commercial breakout by the label. As a mighty fine example of Pell Mell's talents, though, it couldn't be finer. The title is lived up to not only with the cover art, but with the wide-open feeling of many of the songs, suggesting a slightly dreamy America where there's little around but the weather and the land. "Anna Karina," with its slow pace and hints of steel guitar twang, and the lovely "Constellation" are two examples of many that call those images to mind. Then there's the motorik drive of such songs as "Saucer" (even at three and a half minutes, still a grand Can tribute [or Stereolab, if one prefers]) and "Blacktop," showing the band's longtime fascination with Krautrock now in sync with a new decade's zeitgeist. Steve Fisk's abilities to provide just the right amount of texture and drive throughout, whether it's the buzzing organ break on "Revival" or his Hammond work on "Vegetable Kingdom," show just how brilliant of a not-so-secret weapon he is, but to single him out does a disservice to the whole band. It's an ensemble performance at heart, and an excellent one. © Ned Raggett /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1994 | DGC

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
If In Utero is a suicide note, MTV Unplugged in New York is a message from beyond the grave, a summation of Kurt Cobain's talents and pain so fascinating, it's hard to listen to repeatedly. Is it the choice of material or the spare surroundings that make it so effective? Well, it's certainly a combination of both, how the version of the Vaselines' "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam" or the three covers of Meat Puppets II songs mean as much as "All Apologies" or "Something in the Way." This, in many senses, isn't just an abnormal Nirvana record, capturing them in their sincerest desire to be R.E.M. circa Automatic for the People, it's the Nirvana record that nobody, especially Kurt, wanted revealed. It's a nakedly emotional record, unintentionally so, as the subtext means more than the main themes of how Nirvana wanted to prove its worth and diversity, showcasing the depth of their songwriting. As it turns out, it accomplishes its goals rather too well; this is a band, and songwriter, on the verge of discovering a new sound and style. Then, there's the subtexts, as Kurt's hurt and suicidal impulses bubble to the surface even as he's trying to suppress them. Few records are as unblinkingly bare and naked as this, especially albums recorded by their peers. No other band could have offered covers of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" and the folk standard "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" on the same record, turning in chilling performances of both -- performances that reveal as much as their original songs. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo