It’s now been twenty years since such seminal works as Music Has the Right to Children, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and The Shape of Punk to Come were released. These records and their peers epitomized late-nineties culture of genre experimentation and to many signify the prime of Post-Modern musical subversion. To celebrate, we’ve compiled fifteen albums that turn twenty years old in 2018. We hope you enjoy it—maybe you’ll find something you’ve been missing all your life.
Air – Moon Safari
In 1998, the French electronic duo Air released their throwback electronica classic Moon Safari. Heavily inspired by ‘70s lounge, soft rock, and early ambient music, this record was probably the first entry in French electronica’s search to create a national musical tradition somewhat parallel to earlier English and American developments in House and Rock, further explored by similar French acts like Daft Punk and Phoenix. That said, Moon Safari’s understated grace never strikes one as a particularly inventive record—but its cultural import was just as subtly profound as its simple and touching melodies. It’s one of those albums that fits any mood with infinite replay value. Touching tracks like “All I Need” and “New Star in the Sky” are perfectly balanced by driving pop songs like “Sexy Boy” and “La Femme D’argent”.
RELEASE DATE: 16th January 2018
Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Although earlier ‘90s acts like Pavement and Beck may be responsible for the ascension of Lo-fi Indie Rock, rising from the ashes of ‘80s College Rock and Jangle Pop, Neutral Milk Hotel’s sophomore effort In the Aeroplane Over the Sea helped take the genre to new levels. NMH was the foremost member in The Elephant Six Collective, a group of associated bands (also including The Apples in Stereo, The Olivia Tremor Control, and Of Montreal) that, at least at their outset, combined the experimentation of ‘60s British Invasion Rock with the Lo-fi zeitgeist of their time. In the Aeroplane stands as a testament to the power of recontextualizing genre with powerful musical and emotional effect. Jeff Mangum’s famously crazed lyricism reached a level of sense-making and empathy even in their obsessive love—mostly directed toward a dreamy imagining of Anne Frank’s ghost. The album saw a resurgence in popularity with the rise of ‘00’s message boards like 4chan’s /mu/, which introduced the album to a second generation. Arguably, NMH would never have reunited in this decade were it not for this resurrection.
RELEASE DATE: 10th February 1998
Madonna – Ray of Light
In 1998 the release of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine clearly showed the trip-hop scene was at its peak, even if the new ideas weren’t spreading in the mainstream music, Madonna found the inspiration to change her own style and the 90’s pop music. Based on downtempo beats typical of Trip-Hop, Ray of Light was one of the most influential pop album of the next decade, which overhauled mainstream music forever. The album sold 20 million copies and won 4 Grammy Awards, gaining an incredible overall success.
RELEASE DATE: 22nd February 1998
Duster – Stratosphere
Stratosphere plays like a massive explosion in the distance; while the warmth and intensity of the music can be heard pounding away, a glacier of feedback casts a shadow over it all. It sits somewhere in between consciousness and unconsciousness, so stagnant and slow it provokes the image of an album covered in a damp bacteria, caught in an analog limbo. With its woozy textures and mossy atmospheres, Stratosphere stands the test of time as still one of the most beloved slowcore records ever recorded.
RELEASE DATE: 24th February 1998
Tortoise – TNT
Chicago Post-Rock band Tortoise never did what you expected—on their eponymous debut, they started as rock band with two bassists and no guitarists, making ambient dub tracks with live instruments. They moved from there into, you didn’t guess it, musique concrete-influenced Post-Rock, and played around with ridiculous song structures, time-signatures, and key changes on the brilliant follow-up Millions Now Living Will Never Die. 1998 saw them incorporate the even less expected—Spanish modes and Drum ‘n’ Bass percussion. To this day, it stands as one of the greatest meetings of electronic and rock, next to OK Computer, The Fragile, and other classics of the turn of the millennium. Its brilliant mixing of genres, its movement between intensity and ambience, its graceful flourishes and calming transition all sound agreeably unexpected, at once surprising and comforting the listener in its familiar and unfamiliar elements.
RELEASE DATE: 10th March 2018
Tori Amos – From the Choirgirl Hotel
Tori Amos’ fourth album, and second self-produced record, saw her explore many different environments and new lyrical spaces, ranging from outright depressed and emotionally shattered piano ballad (“Northern Lad”) to dance-y electronic expressions of a woman’s strength (“Raspberry Swirl”). Ultimately, From the Choirgirl Hotel may be one of her most powerfully singular statements of artistic intention, a record that shows off, with proud glee, everything Tori can do and everything she wants to do. It may not beat 1996’s Boys for Pele, but it nonetheless nobly attempts to take that revolutionary sound to new heights in originality.
RELEASE DATE: 5th May 1998
Massive Attack – Mezzanine
In the ‘90s, Massive Attack and Portishead made Trip Hop. The former’s debut, Blue Lines, is widely regarded as an indisputably perfect Trip Hop album. And to many fans, Mezzanine is the only thing that could possibly top it. And indeed, Mezzanine is a brilliantly produced foray into industrial tones and dark synths—an engineered aesthetic drenched in despair and paranoia. It’s what would happen if Coil made a Trip Hop album. Few bands can essentially invent a genre and then, years later, successfully alter their sound so drastically without losing their essence, but Massive Attack did exactly that, and in pushing their own genre to the brink of madness, made one if its greatest albums.
RELEASE DATE: 20th April 1998
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children
By 1998, Boards of Canada had released two respected EPs, Twoism and Hi Scores, each demonstrating their penchant for the radical synthesis of Hip Hop and Ambient Techno, but the release of Music Has the Right to Children took this to the next level. Though their EPs had played with memory and so-called “Hauntological” music, recontextualized tones of the past—their debut album is widely respected as their first release to fully realize those experiments. This sounds very cerebral, and sure, it derived from the method behind IDM, but the product is essentially a pop album of Techno-Hip Hop instrumentals. Not only is it a perfectly melodic and infectiously catchy ambient record, but it also was influential enough to provide inspiration across the musical spectrum—without Boards of Canada, we wouldn’t have Chillwave or Vaporwave’s Hauntological aesthetic; we wouldn’t have John Maus or Ariel Pink; we wouldn’t have Black Moth Super Rainbow or Grimes; we wouldn’t have cLOUDDEAD or most of contemporary Hip Hop.
RELEASE DATE: 20th April 1998