Music Review: Three unforgettable albums from the 1990s

By David W. Pedersen

Now and then, I am told I need to listen to “this record, by this band”—and by the time I get around to listening to it, they are long forgotten.

When given a description of unsaid band, I am usually bombarded with other groups that group sounds like. Great new groups are out there, but few will hold their weight in years to come, and I am stuck in the endless cycle of a musical transient—that is, until I reach for groups from the past.

Groups from the past hold ground. They are that beacon of light in a storm of future has-beens and clouds of not quite. I share with you three albums to which I will always return.

Trace, by Son Volt, released in September 1995

Son Volt: Formed after the break of Bellville, Ill.’s, Uncle Tupelo, which included Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Son Volt’s Trace is a showing of great Americana, mixed with a less-pretentious Seattle grunge sound. The songs are both heartbreaking and authoritative. The lyrics are equal parts Walt Whitman and Harvey Pekar.

Where are they now? Son Volt continues to tour and record with an ever-changing line-up. The band’s constant is their lead vocalist and chief songwriter, Jay Farrar.

Roman Candle, by Elliott Smith, released in 1994

Elliott Smith: Hailing from Texas, but a Portland, Ore., transplant, Elliot Smith recorded this lo-fi masterpiece in a borrowed basement on a four-track tape machine. Never intended for release, once pressed, the record became a success. After hearing Roman Candle, Director Gus Van Sant asked the artist to record a song for the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. The song recorded was nominated for Best Song by the Academy Awards, but lost to Celine Dion’s forgettable Titanic piece.

Where is he now? Smith took his own life Oct. 21, 2003.

OK Computer, by Radiohead, released June 16, 1997

While listening to this album, one can imagine Upton Sinclair banging out his objection to capitalism on a synthesizer the size of the moon. The record is a brilliant lyrical call to arms, and an instrumental spit in the face to 1997. During the year of its release, the bands on the Top 20 included Hanson, The Spice Girls and Third Eye Blind. OK Computer is a torch that has been passed on to bands like Coldplay and Muse.

Where are they now? The band is working on their seventh release, and continues to tour internationally. The record has since gone triple platinum.

David W. Pedersen is a local musician.

From the September 9-15, 2009 issue

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