Today I met my friend Brian at Easy Street and for $6.99 I purchased The Trip Hop Test Part One (Moonshine, 1994). I am on the last track and am satisfied that I have in fact purchased the most perfect '90s artifact this side of The Crow OST.
It opens with Saint Etienne's "Filthy," which because I wasn't paying attention I didn't know was Saint Etienne and thought I'd heard some of the stupidest lyrics I've ever heard; all that's changed is my sense of embarrassment for the perpetrators. The Dust Brothers' "My Mercury Mouth" (pre-lawsuit Tom & Ed, of course, Chems fans) provides some relief, as do a couple others I didn't quite catch, but soon enough we're into Paul Weller's "Wildwood (Portishead Remix)," the very definition of weedy being made over into the very definition of "mood piece" before my very ears. Jesus, they must have been hard up that month, and you can hear it; it wouldn't make a Deluxe Edition of Dummy. The Aloof's "Society" struck me as something you could throw on at peak hour in the right kind of basement and kill with: heavily accented vocal under heavy water-echo, breakbeat groove that builds and builds, hypnotic. It's also the trippiest number on the record, thanks to an early-trance-ish expanding-contracting synth line, like a slowed-down and thickened version of the ones from "I'm So High" by Eden Transmission.
What was much more striking overall, though, is how hilarious much of this stuff has become. For a lot of non-fans, of course, trip-hop and its many aural cousins and foreparents were too silly to be anything but laughed at. This in turn makes for stern po-faced responses that straighten once-fluid lines. But listening to this stuff again, especially after having given a shot to so many things of this kind at the time, not to mention a decade has gone by, it's almost charming how eager some of these guys were to mope. (Maybe someone should redraw the history of popular music via its least cheery practitioners.) Tranquility Bass's "They Came in Peace" is a piece of music so pro forma it ought to be framed: every element arrives in the exact metered time you expect it to, and when it arrives, none of it surprises you in the least. It's like having a dream about getting on a familiar elevator, walk into a familiar office, sit down at a familiar desk, drink familiar coffee, and then waking up at 8:09 mark.
The one I was most, er, "impressed" by was a track by Lemon Interupt. This is, of course, an early alias for the members of Underworld. I've been going around lately saying that "The Funeral," by Band of Horses, is the song that people who hate the Flaming Lips think the Flaming Lips sound like. "Minneapolis," by Lemon Interupt, is the song that people who hate the Chemical Brothers think the Chemical Brothers sound like. The drums are comically huge, and so deadly serious you could see them following Russell Crowe through a slow-mo chase scene; after a minute and a half, they're joined by synths, especially a lead riff, that sound about as dangerous as an egg cream. Which is probably a good phrase for trip-hop as a whole. And of course, apologies for subjecting you to these biannual outcries of "why the fuck did I like the music I liked during the '90s?"