As the new year draws closer, we’ve decided to take a look the music that’s gotten us to where we are today. So in an effort to broaden our musical horizons and our understanding of contemporary artists, we’re counting down 2012 by counting up from 1952, taking a look at a handful of songs from a different year every day until January 1st. You can find the full list here. Today we’re heading back to 1995!
Ol’ Dirty Bastard – “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”
Russel Tyrone Jones jumps off the Wu-Tang platform and lets his slur-n-spit style loose full-time. He’s outlandish, crude, and most remarkably, a master of the form. Also, he’s probably solely responsible for letting me know that hardcore rap could also be experimental, weird, and even funny. Give it a listen and tell me you don’t like it raw.
PJ Harvey – “Down by the Water”
PJ Harvey’s first single apart from her eponymous trio abandons her indie rock roots, skirting electronica and blues instead. Harvey tells a story about drowning her daughter and riffs on the folk song “Salty Dog Blues” through the refrain. While that toothy bass synth sounds all kinds of menacing, those plucked strings over that bossa nova beat turn this outing into some kind of alternative ballroom number — inviting and terrifying at once.
Tricky – “Hell is Round the Corner”
Former Massive Attack member Tricky begins his nine-album strong solo career this year with Maxinquaye. On this slouching and smokey downtempo, Isaac Hayes.-sampling track, he raps about the struggles of growing up in poor Knowle West, Bristol, and it must have made every bedroom music mixtape at home and abroad.
Blur – “Country House”
Three British imports in a row, seems like a trend. But here we have the progenitors of Britpop — a sound crafted in opposition to North American grunge. If the latter were about noise and sludgy riffs, the former would be about clean, bright guitar pop. The “Battle of Britpop” took place in ’95, when Oasis and Blur released albums on the same day. At the outset, Blur charted higher, but those Oasis songs live on as jukebox, karaoke, and cover band mainstays (guitars come with instructions on how to play “Wonderwall,” right?). Anyways, if we’re gonna have a pissing match, Blur wins the day. They’re less self-important and “cool.”
Elliot Smith – “Needle in the Hay”
Eliiot Smith: The professional melancholyist. I feel bad writing that, given his tragic and untimely suicide in 2003, but he’s become the bard our generation turns to when they want to wallow in their sadness. Here he is at rock bottom — strung out and his love unrequited. The track is painfully minimal, just an acoustic guitar and those haunting layered vocals. A perfect soundtrack to slitting your wrists to as Wes Anderson so aptly demonstrated.