For your collection of classic albums nobody has ever heard of, add R.L. Burnside’s A Ass Pocket of Whiskey (1996), which is classic for that title alone. Also for what Burnside did bringing blues music up to the gates of the 21st century. I must admit that I actually like aggressive electric blues like Burnside’s a lot more than traditional shotgun shack blues of olden times. Having been raised on blues-derived rock music, this kind of high-leaded energy feels like what blues ‘should’ sound like, while the crackly acoustic recordings of the old masters sound a little alien to me. Palates change, of course, and I know that some things are acquired tastes. But this right here is what I, the modern listener, want from a blues record. Which is why even the most deep-rooted musical styles have to evolve or face extinction.
For those of you nostalgic for 1996… Nada Surf may or not take you there. I didn’t listen to music like this in 1996, but you might have. Not factoring in the 1996-ness of it all, you might appreciate the fake-Velvet Underground vibes going on. That kind of grimy sound with diamond-in-rough melodicism mixed in is periodically in short supply, but I’ve heard that the early-to-mid 90’s were actually a good time for it. I’m not sure why I latched on to this group out of all the others I’d missed out on, but there you go anyway.
Remember a couple of years ago when I was so obsessed with Belle & Sebastian, and I was posting about them every other week? I guess that was around 2015, and it was one of my favorite albums of that year. Kind of a random and unexpected choice of fresh obsession. As it happens, Belle & Sebastian have released about a dozen albums, the first of which came out in 1996, so I was, of course, very much late to the party. In 1996 the pieces were already fully in place, the aesthetic recognizably formed, but perhaps the market wasn’t quite ready for shoegazer pop reminiscent of something you would hear in an inoffensive mid-1960’s romantic comedy. Now that particular aesthetic is its own cottage industry, because apparently society is finally ready to go full-twee.
This Fatboy Slim song sounds like it should be on the soundtrack of one of those horror movies that lean heavily on gratuitous digital filters and aggressive jump cuts for their scares, and as such it’s not really much of a song. However, I did think that some of you might enjoy watching the video, which juxtaposes footage of Californians frolicking in the sun with depressing images of life in the Soviet Union. That was a very relevant and timely point to have made in 1996, when Norman Cook released his debut album. Yes, Americans are greasy, scantily clad and fond of gaudy tattoos, while Russia is full of snow and sad people. Accurate. Some of us feel the warm tingle of fond nostalgia when we see a Zhiguli puttering through the slush.
I didn’t know that Nada Surf had any other good songs besides the one, you know, the popular one. But this one is really addictive, too. And the whole album is actually pretty good. And apparently they’ve recorded like ten albums and they’re still together and are still touring. All of which I didn’t know, because the box labeled “Mid-90’s One Hit Wonders” isn’t one that I care to peek into very often. Time to learn more, I guess. Maybe I can fill in some of the gaping holes in my musical knowledge that are the 90’s.
How far into this song can you get before you realize it’s not what it sounds like? I mean, it is what it sounds like; it’s an old school country song with a lot of twang. But it’s also tongue-in-cheek in a way almost no old school country songs have ever been. Earnestness has always been the bane of country music; it’s music to cry in your beer to, gerd-dern it, and fans take their beer-cryin’ pretty seriously. What they genre really needed was a little touch of Weener in the night. So, if you like the musicianship of classic country, but hate the weepy cowboy and hard luck lady stereotypes, saddle up for Ween’s 12 Golden Country Greats.
If you’re old enough, you might remember this from the summer of ’96, when Nada Surf was a band that was popular. Or you may not. I don’t remember jackshit from the summer of ’96. I was 13 and still cared a lot about my Barbies. I was in no way, shape or form concerned with cultivating teenage charm and popularity, so even if I did hear this song I certainly wouldn’t have understood or related to it. I get it now, though, and it’s actually timelessly good advice. You should, by all means, wash your hair at least once every two weeks. Also, having your own car and your shit together makes you a catch, in or out of high school. And don’t worry too much about going steady, because every boy in the whole wide world could potentially be yours. So, yeah, words to live by, even if they were delivered with some degree of irony.