By the early â€˜90s, there was a real fracturing of the musical landscape when it came to pop music.Â To me, the popularity of rap, country, and grudge had split the music-loving culture into tribes that were trying to purify their identities by shunning what I love about pop music: the fusion of styles.Â Now, I know if I really wanted to be picky and pedantic about what I just wrote, I could go on a long dissertation about the â€œrootsâ€ of each of these genres and blah, blah, blah.Â Really what Iâ€™m trying to say is that by the mid-â€˜90s I didnâ€™t feel alienated from new music, and part of the reason was a genre known as â€œtrip hop,â€ or the Bristol sound.
Combining elements of rock, rap, electronica, and even jazz, the artists that are featured in this mix restored my faith that musicians would find new wine in old skins; new combinations of fresh sounds that still have great hooks.
Now even though this album came out in 1991, I hadnâ€™t heard of Massive Attack until the mid-â€˜90s, when my brother gave me Trickyâ€™s first album. After grooving on Maxinquaye (named after Trickyâ€™s mother), I went back and started filling in the gaps in my library when it came to trip hop — and that pretty much meant starting with Massive Attack.Â The groove on â€œBlue Linesâ€ has such a cool/chill vibe that even if you donâ€™t like rap (which Iâ€™m not a big fan of), itâ€™s difficult not to like Massive Attack.
“Space Sickness,” Red Snapper (download)
London-based, but certainly in the pantheon of seminal trip hop groups, Red Snapper has got that jazz thing really goinâ€™ on.Â The combination of acoustic drums and saxophone with the dense, synth-driven atmospherics is, well, pretty awesome. â€œSpace Sicknessâ€ is an apt title for this tune, because the tumbling and disorienting sax combined with the rapid-fire work on the snare, can lead to bouts of nausea upon repeated listens — but I mean that in a good way!
“Black Steel,” Tricky (download)
Tricky was my gateway drug into the world of trip hop and may the gods bless him!Â This cover of a Public Enemy classic is the kind of cover that I really love, because Tricky really makes the song his own.Â And having Martina Topley-Bird add some scratchy and somewhat robotic vocals to the thick electronic sound makes Trickyâ€™s â€œBlack Steelâ€ a classic in its own right.
“High Noon,” DJ Shadow (download)
The one guy whose contribution to trip hop comes not from the UK, but from Davis, California.Â Josh Davis (AKA DJ Shadow) creates some really exciting soundscapes that undoubtedly made him a huge hit at UC Davis back in the day.Â Those who think that trip hop is primarily chill just need to buy one DJ Shadow album to know that ainâ€™t true.
By the time I was getting into the music of Tricky and Massive Attack, along comes the Sneaker Pimps, whose hooks-heavy tune â€œSix Undergroundâ€ was all over my local modern rock station in â€™96. At the time, I really wasnâ€™t too impressed with this tune, but time does funny things, and now I find myself humming the melody from time to time without even wincing.
“Sour Times,” Portishead (download)
â€œSour Timesâ€ has a lot in common with â€œSix Undergroundâ€ in that both Beth Gibbons and Kelli Dayton/Kelli Ali have a very dreamy styles of singing. But Portishead have had greater staying power, if only because theyâ€™ve kept the same lineup and never really strayed from their roots.Â The band is still together they say they may not wait another 10 years to record new material.Â However, given how devoted their fan base is, it might not hurt their popularity if they decided to.