Title: Super Bon Bon Title: Bulls on Parade Title: Devil's Haircut
Artist: Soul Coughing Artist: Rage Against the Machine Artist: Beck
Year: 1996 Year: 1996 Year: 1996
Album: Irresistible Bliss Album: Evil Empire Album: Odelay
I started late with 1996 and there is a surprisingly excellent array of music to choose from so I thought I would put forth a rare Saturday Triple Play! Each of these songs deserves its own spotlight but they all have something in common that I think is a true characteristic of music from the mid-1990s.
By this time, elements of hip-hop had infiltrated all pop music genres and many emerging bands had dedicated turntablists as full-fledged members. But even those who didn't seemed to be incorporating the musical elements of turntablists, constructing their songs with breaks and loops played by actual musicians with instruments (as opposed to a sample or turntable--this is not a slam on turntablists). Moreover, the concept seemed to work its way into the lyrics of many artists who eschewed the traditional chorus for a sort of mantric repetition of a single line.
I'll start with the song that inspired this post: "Super Bon Bon" by Soul Coughing. The band's singer, Mike Doughty, was probably just waiting for his time to arrive, having already established himself as a slam poet in New York City, rubbing shoulders with avant garde artists John Zorn and Marc Ribot. His approach to singing leans toward sprechgesang (a very pretentious way of saying "half-sung, half-spoken"—you're welcome) and repetition of a single line is a recurring theme on the band's breakout album Irresistible Bliss. I especially love the noise in this song and the mantra "move aside and let the man go through" is not only intriguing, but spoken with a catchy rhythmic cadence. At 2:52, Doughty breaks the line into pieces the way a turntablist might through scratching.
Rage Against the Machine made their career on complex verses and mantric choruses, albeit it with the verve of a political activist. In "Bulls on Parade," singer Zach de la Rosa spouts his rhetoric with an intensity that may leave you feeling doused in phantom spittle. de la Rosa understands the power of fanaticism and gives the listener several mantras to latch onto, from the opening "come wit' it now" to the hook "they rally 'round the family/with a pocket full of shells" to his titular description of the military industrial complex in the outro. And then there's the talented and creative Tom Morello, turning his guitar into a turntable right before our ears.
Finally, there Beck, no stranger to hip-hop and the only artist featured here who's actually using sampled loops. In "Devil's Haircut" from the brilliant Odelay, Beck lets loose with some evocative surrealism during the wordy verses but keeps it simple during the chorus with the simple repeated line "I got a devil's haircut in my mind." Like the other tracks heard here, Beck makes room for some choice dissonance during almost every available instrumental space. (As an aside, I'm struck by how much this sounds like Eels, who released their debut Beautiful Freak the same year.)