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100 Best Songs of the ’90s (#100-91)

These are the best songs of the 1990s.

100: Built to Spill — Car (1994)

Not many songs are beautiful enough for Elliott Smith to cover. Built to Spill’s “Car” is one of them. From their great second album There’s Nothing Wrong with Love—which also featured “In the Morning,” “Reasons” and “Big Dipper,” among others—“Car” is an emo-indie treasure. Lyrically, the song begins with a delightful, romantic verse of “You get the car, I’ll get the night off/ You’ll get the chance to take the world apart/ And figure out how it works/ Don’t let me know what you find out,” at once bold and timorous. It only gets better from there: “I wanna see it/ When you find out what comets, stars, and moons are all about,” singer Doug Martsch intones in his recognizable high-pitched, earnest voice.

I wanna see movies of my dreams”—is there a more adolescent sentiment? Indeed, the song seems to universalize adolescence into a general condition of longing. This is reflected in the music, too—in the solitary guitar that starts the song, the quiet pulse that joins in at the chorus and the jammier portion that follows, the up-and- down scaling and the final petering-out—as though mimicking the first tentative strains of expression of an insecure youth, the fleeting satisfaction and pleasure in opening oneself to the world and a final retreat back inward.

Built to Spill would grow as a band in the following years. They would sign to Warner Bros. And release the psychedelic masterpiece Perfect from Now On in 1997, still their most definitive album to date and one of the best guitar records of all time, along with several more excellent efforts in the coming years and into the present. “Car,” then, captures the group in simpler, scrappier times, a lo-fi lullaby, the soundtrack for the first kiss you wish you’d had. – Dylan Montanari

99: Fugazi – Turnover (1990)

When Minor Threat disbanded, Ian MacKaye knew he wanted to move beyond the confines of the hardcore punk world he had become synonymous with. His tentative steps with Embrace hinted at something new but didn’t stray too far from the hardcore sound he was known for. It wasn’t until MacKaye formed Fugazi, with bassist Joe Lally and Brendan Canty, and embraced a looser, jam based approach to songwriting that MacKaye found the perfect vessel for his musical desires. The three developed an aggressive but groove-oriented sound. Songs like “Waiting Room,” the first song off of Fugazi’s first EP, and it’s reggae-inspired bass line made it clear that this was not the same MacKaye that hardcore punks of the world had come to revere.

By the time Fugazi recorded its full length debut, Repeater, Fugazi had evolved again. Guy Picciotto had long been an integral part of the band, throwing his body across the stage in ecstatic spasms, taking lead vocal duties on several songs and playing MacKaye’s hype man and backup vocalist on others. Eventually, Picciotto felt the need to contribute more, and the rest of the band agreed to start writing songs with him on second guitar.

Where 13 Songs was a compilation of EPs that documented a moment in time, Repeater functions as a cohesive album with consistent themes throughout its 11 songs. Lead track “Turnover” serves as the launching pad, a warning that Fugazi will not tolerate the head-in-the-sand mentality that had become so toxically pervasive. Like a cat, “Turnover” pads gently into the room to the sound of controlled guitar feedback. Next, Canty and Lally sneak in, gently, as if they don’t want to scare the cat away, Lally’s bass laying down what sounds like an inverted version of the bass-line from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down on the Corner.” So far, so slinky. Then, like razors scraping concrete, the guitars come slashing downward and Picciotto’s sandpaper voice begins its tirade against apathy. He spits out the syllables like a man who can barely contain his disgust, the searing guitars responding in kind. The song eventually finds release when Picciotto mockingly screams “I’m only sleeping!” and the band lets loose with a propulsive riff that eventually ushers the song back to the slinky opening. Now we’re ready. Now we’re awake. – Eric Mellor

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