If you want to hear what the 90s sounded like in totality, the closest you’ll get is Beck and this record by Stereolab. Sure, it’s egregiously missing the hip-hop and R&B that was beginning to dominate airwaves, and it hews a bit close to indie tropes, but this still covers a huge swath of the decade’s styles, attitudes and remixing of the past. On this LP, you’ll find: Garage rock riffs, meandering lounge jazz, brisk French pop, instrumental funk grooves with spacey sounds, new age classical motifs, tacky analog synth pop/new wave, cheery folk rock, surf rock harmonies, ambient backdrops, exotica, organized noise, and socialist theory. Um, yeah.
What puts it in my personal pantheon is the fact that, unlike most musical recontextualizations in the 90s, it creates something new and alien with its juxtaposition of genre and instrumentation. Its very strengths are what ultimately limits it, as this fresh sound gets dragged out over the whole record. But let me tell you, normally when I have problems with an album they stick with me. Not so with ETK. It is so much fun I could care less whether some songs sound the same or are too repetitive. As an example, the first couple minutes of the title track is primitively simple, but I still enjoy it because it inevitably builds to the unbelievable climax of the song’s second half. And far from merely respecting the album and keeping my distance, I listen to it regularly. It’s so rewarding, despite the purposeful sameness of the sound, and even the more rote tracks contain surprising details and hooks if you listen closely. Sometimes, it’s better to have something relatively new done fourteen times in a row than fourteen different old things plowed through one by one. There’s nothing else remotely like Emperor Tomato Ketchup. And you can’t have the 90s without “Metronomic Underground”.
Key track: “Metronomic Underground”
See also: Sound-Dust – Stereolab (2001)