With the 20th Anniversary release of Radiohead’s Ok Computer OKNOTOK we wanted to share some other albums that turn 20 this year, that are still worth all the hype.
While top 40 radio was bombarding listeners with boy bands and The Spice Girls, some truly incredible releases came out in 1997, here are some of our favorites in no particular order. Share any albums you love in the comments!
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds– The Boatman’s Call
The Boatman’s Call was a departure for the post punk records Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds had been making to this point. It is somber and romantic, with the use of few instruments beyond Cave’s voice and a piano. The minimalism of these songs are somehow as intense, if not more-so than the 10 albums that came before. This album, while is an album of heartbreak following Cave’s divorce, offers some spiritual guidance and a place where rock bottom, while lonely, is hopeful.
Blonde Redhead– Fake Can Be Just As Good
Too often reviews of Blonde Redhead end in Sonic Youth comparisons, while there are parallels, Blonde Redhead have a voice of their own and Fake Can Be Just As Good is no exception. Uncommon guitar tones, badass drum beats, and haunting vocals create an eerie album of catchy songs, bound to be stuck in your head for days.
Helium– No Guitars/Magic City
My favorite description of Helium is: part shoegaze, part rock, part punk… and it’s true… I don’t know how else to describe Helium, lead by Mary Timony. While bands she has played in since have been favorites of mine, Helium holds a special place above the rest (I LOVED Ex Hex) Helium was feminine, while maintaining a gritty sound. With songs about space or an alternative state of mind, the songs on this record/ep are catchy and fun.
Spiritualized– Ladies and Gentlemen We’re Floating in Space
If heartbreak needed a soundtrack, it would be this album. Jason Pierce denies writing most of the album after his breakup with bandmate Kate Radley, but the album begins with Radley’s voice in a voicemail she had left Pierce ending the relationship. This sets the tone for the next 70 minutes. It is angry. It is hopeless. It is desperate. And honestly, it is perfect. From gospel choir backing vocals, to wildly loud fuzzy guitars, to crushing lyrics of loss and addiction; this album is a journey absolutely worth taking.
Elliott Smith– Either/Or
Believed by many to be Elliott Smith’s best album, Either/Or launched his career to new heights. 5 songs were used to soundtrack “Good Will Hunting” earning Smith an Oscar Nomination. Most of the album was recorded live, with Smith singing and playing his acoustic guitar in just a couple takes. While these songs are impossibly sad, his gentle but somehow emotionless voice delivered crushing lyrics in a way that was more sweet and brilliant, than devastating. The songs may be simple, but are impossibly smart and timeless.
Modest Mouse– Lonesome Crowded West
Often referred to as Modest Mouse’s “breakthrough album” Lonesome Crowded West perfects ideas introduced in Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About. I remember hearing these albums for the first time and being so confused, they were just so… weird… I had never heard anything like it, everything felt so aggressive and so important and so, so weird. From dancy guitars to Brock’s yell singing, if you only have one Modest Mouse record, this is a great choice.
Sleater-Kinney– Dig Me Out
Dig Me Out, is a collection of feminist anthems and punk rock love songs with strong influences from Devo, The Clash, and The Talking Heads. Sleater-Kinney’s third album marks the introduction of Janet Weiss to the band, often regarded as the backbone, Weiss added a more classic style. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker front the band with call and response vocals that are infectious and impossibly fun, despite some of the content. While Corin Tucker’s vocals my not be for everyone, this album is fantastic. With sludgy guitars and straight forward drumming, it is a classic by any definition.
Whiskeytown– Strangers Almanac
Whiskeytown had an incredibly rocky road to making Strangers Almanac, from constant lineup changes, to nearly catastrophic feuds during shows, to a loading mix up resulting in Ryan Adams leaving all of his guitars in a parking lot before recording. It was almost as if Strangers Almanac was not meant to happen, but lucky for us, it did. This alt country classic goes in a lot of directions paying tribute to many influences, (Alejandro Escovedo sings on “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight,” my personal favorite) While the tracklist may not be seamless, the songwriting is flawless. Adams has obviously since polished his songwriting skills and can put together a record with 17 b-sides.
Neko Case and Her Boyfriends– The Virginian
The Virginian is the debut solo album from Neko Case. This record is more retro-Country than the Neko Case we are now used to, but still shows off her stellar voice, as bright and rich as ever. This album is features covers of classic country songs belted out by Case, breathing new life into old favorites.
Built to Spill– Perfect from Now On
An album that truly almost wasn’t. Recorded 3 separate times, Perfect from Now On, seemed to come out of nowhere. The indie pop songs of the previous 2 albums were replaced by layers of loud guitar riffs and spacey effects pedals. At just a little under an hour, these 8 songs stretch out and grow. Perfect From Now On is thoughtful, the philosophical lyrics of the questions of the universe are challenging while remaining relatable.