Ten reasons 1996 was a great year for dance music
#6 Sneaker Pimps – Becoming X
Shortly after they finished touring Becoming X, Sneaker Pimps made what would later go down as A Very Bad Decision. Founding members Liam Howe and Chris Corner decided that the songs they were working on for their follow-up album were better suited to male vocals, so they showed singer Kelli Dayton the door and put Corner in front of the mic. It didn’t work. Without Dayton’s cool, disaffected drawl, Sneaker Pimps lost their allure, were dropped by their label and failed to make much more than a ripple with their two subsequent LPs.
Which makes Becoming X all the more special. This is Sneaker Pimps at their short-lived peak, contributing their lone entry to the trip-hop hall of fame. Dark, sparse production sets the atmosphere, but it’s the attitude of the album that elevates it to the league of the greats: “Don’t think ‘cause I understand, I care/ Don’t think ‘cause I’m talking, we’re friends,” Dayton sasses on enduring favourite 6 Underground, a perfect musical embodiment of the hair-flick emoji 20 years ahead of schedule. [Katie Cunningham]
#5 Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album
Aphex Twin’s fourth album is at once one of his most accessible and one of his weirdest. Richard James’s output forever presents such paradoxes. On this album, more than ever, he creates staggeringly beautiful and cinematic soundscapes, worthy of comparison to contemporary masters such as Brian Eno and Philip Glass, and then subverts them with noise (sometimes thrilling, sometimes annoying) and incomprehensibly knotty beats.
Whether or not this is a more personal work from James is uncertain – perhaps naming the album after himself is, like the evil-looking self-portrait on the cover, just another of his pranks. Working extensively with digital plug-ins instead of analogue synths for the first time, and heavily influenced by the work of friend and fellow mad beatmeister Luke Vibert (Wagon Christ), James took the drum & bass sound of the day and sliced and diced it into something at times almost inhuman.
Yet the music frequently attains a grace and clarity (as on the climactic sequence that pairs the effervescent Yellow Calx and the orchestral Girl/Boy Song) that few others besides Warp labelmates Boards of Canada have ever achieved. No wonder it’s regularly named as one of the best albums of the decade. [Jim Poe]
#4 DJ Shadow – Endtroducing
It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since DJ Shadow’s jaw-dropping debut came out: the album that launched a thousand sample obsessions, inspired Diplo to get into production (his 2004 debut Florida is a clear homage to Shadow’s Endtroducing), bridged the gap between backpack rap fans, lovers of experimental electronica and all the other weed smokers in between, and spawned numberless trip-hop imitators.
Endtroducing brought together the fastidiousness of crate-digging for samples with the improvisational cut-and-paste of turntablism, and took Josh ‘DJ Shadow’ Davis two years to piece together with nothing but crates full of old records, a Technics 1200 turntable, an MPC sampler and a tape deck.
There’s good reason why Endtroducing is frequently found in critical lists of the ‘90s best albums across every genre – in one fell swoop it birthed a whole new sub-genre of instrumental hip hop and then shut it down, because no one can ever better Endtroducing on its own turf. [Nick Jarvis]