WOWEE ZOWEE (16)
April 18, 2018
One in a series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the subject of our favorite albums of the Nineties (1994–2003). A new installment in this series will appear each Wednesday during 2018.
SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS | UNDERWORLD | 1996
I was an atrocious college student. Quaintly self-destructive, I frittered my student loans on Namiki fountain pens, library late fees, martinis at the Excelsior Inn, and lavish gifts for not-so-pretty graduate students. I racked up incompletes and failing grades and later left without a diploma. Stranded in a small, mossy city in the Pacific Northwest, I needed a quick way out of the southern end of the apocryphally named “valley of sickness and death” into which I was slowly sinking.
Sometime before my exodus, however, a godless South African design professor suggested I look into the work of an English design collective: Tomato. Already known to me for remixing the jankiest technologies available (8mm film, faxes, Letraset, etc.) for gigantic corporations, I dug a little deeper and learned that two of the firm’s members had a music project: Underworld. I made a quick trip to the worst record store in town and had a listen to their then-recently released second album. Everyone there told me their first one was better. How would I know? I’d never purposely listened to electronic music before, much less acid, house, techno, trance or whichever raver-hippie ghetto I’d assumed they’d arrived from. One press of the play button and I was floored.
This was a new landscape. This was ecstatic digital music made on a well-oiled mechanical typewriter: winding chains of tintinnabulating arpeggios framed by hyperactive hi-hats, pulpy stream-of-consciousness lyrics, vocoded Delphic chants interrupted by occasional guitar, a faint whiff of dissonance, and bass that didn’t let up until the power went out.
After the campus design lab closed for the evening, the willowiest lads from my program decamped for the 24-hour off-campus Kinko’s. My cohort bobbed in mindful unison to the overwrought spiel of Blur, Pulp, Ride, and other 4-letter bands, while I rocked out to Underworld’s Second Toughest in the Infants. While they designed perfectly acceptable and professionally perfect logos for non-existent businesses, I busied myself crossing the Art of Crass fuck-all with the daintiness of Jan Tschichold: cutting up specimen books, fixing them with scotch tape, tearing it all up, passing them through the copier again and again until I was left with a fractal typographic mess. On breaks, I stood in the rain, drank coffee, smoked Camel Lights first, then straights, with my Discman pumping, pumping away and experienced something approaching joy. I had new music that, to this day, remains new. Pulse and pathos arrived to me from 5,000 miles away on thin, silver disc and I was ready to accept the miracle.
WOWEE ZOWEE: Stephanie Burt on UNISEX | Anindita Basu Sempere on UNDER THE PINK | Mark Kingwell on DUMMY | Bill Nericcio on AMOR PROHIBIDO | Sherri Wasserman on HIPS AND MAKERS | Mimi Lipson on THANK YOU | John Overholt on BEN FOLDS FIVE | Jordan Ellenberg on GET LOST | Chelsey Johnson on PERSONAL BEST | Marilyn Snell on MAXINQUAYE | Dan Fox on DIFFERENT CLASS | Devin McKinney on IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER | Alice Boone on MTV UNPLUGGED (ALICE IN CHAINS) | Rob Wringham on SPICE | Joe Alterio on BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE | Jason Loeffler on SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS | Rick Pinchera on EITHER/OR | Josh Glenn on THE LONESOME CROWDED WEST | Jennifer Krasinski on SUPA DUPA FLY | Sara Ryan on DIG ME OUT | Luc Sante on MEZZANINE | Molly Wright Steenson on I CAN HEAR THE HEART BEATING AS ONE | Franklin Bruno on ENGLAND MADE ME | Michael Campochiaro on IS THIS DESIRE? | Adrienne Crew on CALIFORNICATION | Drew Daniel on I SEE A DARKNESS | Veda Hille on THE SOFT BULLETIN | Vanessa Berry on TEENAGE SNUFF FILM | Tom Kipp on GET SKINTIGHT | David Hirmes on DOPETHRONE | John Hilgart on YORK BLVD. | Deborah Wassertzug on JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT | Adam McGovern on INVINCIBLE SUMMER | Brian Berger on TIRED SOUNDS OF… | Michael Grasso on MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO CHILDREN | Jen Collins on HURRAH | Flourish Klink on THE TEACHES OF PEACHES | Judith Zissman on TALLAHASSEE | Lauren Oliver on SOUND-DUST | Jason Cohen on IS THIS IT | Matthew De Abaitua on THE RAINBOW CHILDREN | Jenny Davidson on TIME (THE REVELATOR) | Crystal Durant on LIVE THROUGH THIS | Gordon Dahlquist on GARBAGE | Erin M. Routson on WASHING MACHINE | Carl Wilson on TEMPTING | Jessamyn West on ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS | Kaleb Horton on STREETCORE | Tom Nealon on BAZOOKA TOOTH | Erik Davis on DOPESMOKER | David Levine on FEVER TO TELL | Deb Chachra on MASS ROMANTIC.
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