Monday, September 27, 2010

Hyperbole Time! The (Actual) Best Song of the 90s!

A coupe of weeks ago, the website devoted making people who don't really care that much about music appear as though they do issued one of their periodic "listicles." Its purpose, as with all their other lists, is to build canon and inspire debate. Whether you agree or disagree (or vehemently disagree), the mere discussion of their lists solidifies the authority of the source.

It's not for no reason that they are one of the few major websites without a comments section. It's as though they're saying:
You're welcome to have issue with our opinions but you can't air your grievances in our house. Feel free to quarrel with our choices in another public space of your choosing so it appears as though we are the center of universe. And if you could link us, that would be great too.
This particular list was "The Top Tracks of the 1990s," a topic I thought VH1 already covered definitively. Still, there was some anticipation for who would get top honors. Bets were made. I lobbied for Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments' "Negative Guest List" via Twitter and figured Nirvana were "too Rolling Stone" to get break the top 10. (And I was right!) Ultimately, the #1 slot went to a band which recently reunited and thus could possibly repeat the feat when the best of the 2010s list is made. Possibly with the same song, Michael Bolton-style.

I was tempted to make my own counter list. I eventually decided against this, partly because it would be hypocritical to decry these kinds of lists as dumb, arbitrary and ultimately meaningless and then make one of my own. (Not that this stopped me from contradicting myself throughout this piece anyway.) It's also because I'm told my lists are often viewed by readers as "bunch of bands I've never heard of," which makes the task of checking out any of said artists to appear more daunting than it actually is.

That being said, why not just give my unequivocal endorsement to one band? Surely, there's one group of the 90s that's both so criminally underappreciated and undeniably awesome that they deserve an unshared spotlight. And if that group isn't Silkworm, it would have to be Prisonshake.

Cleveland's Prisonshake had been around since 1987 and put out a slew of singles, EPs and a box set (no kidding) before releasing their first "proper" album, The Roaring Third, in 1993. This mammoth record got enough notice to receive a positive appraisal from Spin and inclusion in the Trouser Press Record Guide. However, Prisonshake's sound was more (early) Alice Cooper than Alice in Chains and failed to connect with anyone beyond a small percentage of the indie audience (which, as a whole, was much smaller now that it is today).

This was a pity because the record was simply a monster. It has all the strut, gnarl, grit and grandeur one could possibly want from a rock album. If the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion were the 1990s embodiment of rock n roll trash, Prisonshake equally celebrated this aesthetic but without the detachment. They played it straight and their convictions and sincerity granted them a greater power.

An you don't have to take my word for it. Here's Dusted's Nate Knabel on Prisonshake:
I think Prisonshake is like the axis around which all conversations about rock music should rotate. Like planet earth spinning far and wide in its revolution around the sun (that's what it does, right?), our conversations about rock music can pretty distant from the source. And it's winter right now. Really, I'd just like to tell every band begining with like Arcade Fire (who are just fine I guess) and extending to like Wilco, MGMT, I don't know, the Delta Sprit (and deifnitely Chromeo) to go get fucked. But it's okay, because Prisonshake remains a fixed inextinguishable source of heat. The Roaring Third is the best record of the 1990s.
The Roaring Third's "hit" was "2 Sisters," released separately as a 45. Was it the best song of the 1990s? Well, it was one of the best songs from one of the best albums of the 90s. And it definitely rocks harder than "Gold Soundz."

Now that your appetite is whetted, you can go purchase The Roaring Third from the Scat Records website for mere $10. It's a bargain at twice the price. Prisonshake have many other records available from Scat as well. If you want a quick sample of the rest of their work, Brushback at On Base On An Overthrow is a big Prisonshake fan and has posted many MP3 from their various releases.

But first and foremost, get yourself a copy of The Roaring Third. Your record collection is not of museum quality without it.


Brushback said...

"I think Prisonshake is like the axis around which all conversations about rock music should rotate" -- I've never read that one before!

Pardon me for stepping away from Prisonshake for one moment, but for me the best record of the '90s is Telephono.

PB said...

I haven't listened to "Telephono" in quite some time, though I do remember liking "A Series of Sneaks" a bit more.

Funny how Spoon went from the band "you should be listening to" to the band "you wished people would shut up about already."

Brushback said...

At one point I thought "Series of Sneaks" was better... only to start leaning back towards "Telephono" again. Mostly because the first three tracks on "Telephono" easily kill anything else that came out within that decade.

But, yeah, I stayed with Spoon right up through "Gimmie Fiction", and then after that I put up the white flag and gave up.

David Glickman said...

You do know that their's an honest chance that Pitchfork didn't pick Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartements or Prisionshake, for the honest reason that they did not know about them? I mean I think I'm pretty well versed in musical knowlage, but I had never heard of Thomas Jefferson till I read "We Never Learn", and Prisionshake was over my head until you told me about them.

P.S. I still love Spoon. Shoot the indie rock messanger.

PB said...

Quite honestly, David, if Pitchfork has never heard of Prisonshake of TJSA, that's part of the problem.

I know many haven't heard of them, but P4K has positioned themselves as an authority and arbiter of taste. Yet, they continue to have huge blind spots in their coverage of independent music past and present.

There was a brief period when TJSA, Prisonshake and Guided By Voices all had roughly the same level of recognition. All were beloved by the indie cognoscenti of the time. GBV is obviously the band that pulled ahead of the others in terms of fame. But to decide that GBV is the only band of the three worth covering because of this, is a "to the victor goes the spoils" philosophy, one that totally contradicts the underground aesthetic they ostensibly embody.

Maybe you've only learned of Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and Prisonshake recently. However, if Pitchfork was responsible in their coverage, maybe you would have heard of them a lot sooner.

And for the record, even though I thought their last album was kind of a dud, I still like Spoon just fine.