Top Ten Albums for ’95

1. PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love. This is the sound of a new blues, announced by the title track, as epic a statement of primordial lust as has ever been recorded. Controlling the resulting maelstrom is a taut, if somewhat affected, art-rock backing ensemble. Harvey’s albums and evolving stage show may yet fall prey to pretentiousness; for now they’re the two rings of one of the greatest shows on earth.

2. Son Volt, Trace. From the wreckage of Uncle Tupelo Jay Farrar headed south, crafting a deeply affecting alternative-country fusion that eschews the solipsism of much modern rock and the gimmickry of modern country.

3. Sally Timms, To the Land of Milk and Honey. Mekons singer Timms freely notes that she lacks the sexual angst of a PJ Harvey; her second solo record, made in Chicago with Dave Trumfio and Jon Langford, captures the improbably distinguished voice of a self-described riot granny who’s watched punk evolve for 20 years and uses this perspective to imbue her songs and a wild selection of covers with depth and substance.

4. Jayhawks, Tomorrow the Green Grass. The Jayhawks bet the farm on this, their fourth album, and lost. The band–minor stars in Chicago, as their steam bath of a show in a packed Vic this summer attested–can’t get arrested in the rest of America, and broke up late last year. But they left this engaging record, which found gorgeousness in all sorts of places–a cover of a Grand Funk tune, a tribute to Victoria Williams, and a song about feelin’ bad called “Blue.”

5. Jo Carol Pierce, Bad Girls Upset by the Truth. Pierce is an Austin institution: a somewhat unstructured playwright/performance artist/singer-songwriter who was saluted two years ago by local musicians with an impressively diverse tribute album. This, her first real album, marries patter from her stage show with touching, absurdist tunes to create a corrosive, bawdy bildungsroman about sex, religion, and feminism.

6. Tricky, Maxinquaye. The milieu that spawned DJ-producer Tricky is an ethereal drug music called trip hop, which like many musical subcultures is probably a dead end as far as a pop breakout goes. But like Portishead’s Dummy last year, the dramatic Maxinquaye emanates sounds from a tough emotional netherworld of by turns lulling and arresting dance music.

7. Wilco, A.M. For their first album the members of Wilco, led by Chicagoan Jeff Tweedy, the other half of Uncle Tupelo, crafted a measured song cycle of country-inflected pop tunes whose seeming effortlessness disguised nuance and thoughtfulness. Like the Jayhawks, the band was denied the MTV and radio exposure that effervescent songs like “Box Full of Letters” and “I Must Be High” deserve.

. Shane MacGowan and the Popes, The Snake. The sound of a madman hammering at death’s door underlies nearly every track on this deceptively shambling solo outing from the proudly alcoholic former Pogue. The grimness only adds depth to the very modern songs that seem to have a century or two of blood and dirt on them.

9. Steve Earle, Train a Comin’. Speaking of death’s door, that’s something that former junkie and jailbird Steve Earle has knocked on as well. Sadder and wiser, he offered a redemptive acoustic album this year, full of antique songs and settings and marred only by a pair of inappropriate covers–the Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You” and the reggae classic “Rivers of Babylon.”

10. Matthew Sweet, 100% Fun. Girlfriend, Sweet’s remarkably produced pop masterpiece of 1991, was, it turns out, something of a fluke: What Sweet really does is crank out seamless near masterpieces of unshakable tunefulness tarted up by an insular recording style and malleable voice. No messy subject matter either–when it’s over, you’re left with nothing but the melodies still running through your head.

Hitsville asked Spot Check columnist Peter Margasak to contribute his top-ten list as well:

1. PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love

2. Yo La Tengo, Electr-o-pura

3. Tammy Rogers & Don Heffington, In the Red

4. Tricky, Maxinquaye

5. Son Volt, Trace

6. The Sea and Cake, The Biz

7. Autechre, Amber

. Richard Buckner, Bloomed

9. Palace, Viva Last Blues

10. The Roots, Do You Want More?

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): record covers.