The Founding Fathers
The one that started it all, Blue Lines is often called the blueprint for the genre of trip hop. The record dropped from Virgin Records in 1991 to critical acclaim across the board, earning the notoriety for Massive Attack that eventually led to their canonization as the pioneers of the genre. Blue Lines is obviously Bristol influenced, and would seem as comfortable in a club as any of the time’s principal House hits. Vocals provided by Shara Nelson defined the album’s most notable cut, “Unfinished Sympathy”, a track still revered as the UK’s favorite dance anthem. “Unfinished Sympathy” later went on to be voted one of the 10 Greatest Songs of All Time by the Guardian.
>>Key Track: “Unfinished Sympathy”
Bristol native Portishead released Dummy, their debut full-length, in 1994, launching them to the forefront of the budding genre. The record features similar downtempo beats to Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, but with a more accessible overall feel. This allowed Portishead’s fanbase to reach well beyond Bristol, most notably to America, where hey are now regarded as one of the founding fathers of the genre. The single, “Glory Box” is considered one of the album’s most recognizable cuts, featuring sampling from “Ike’s Rap II” by Isaac Hayes. Regardless of the way that Portishead’s media-shy marketing approach limited the album’s quick spread throughout the scene, the album was named by plenty of UK publications as the Best Album of 1994, including MixMag, who first coined the term “trip-hop”, and won the Mercury Prize for 1994 as well.
>>Key Track: “Glory Box”
Also hailing from Bristol, Adrian Thaws, aka Tricky, existed as Portishead’s avant garde counterpart. While Portishead released “accessible” tracks that reached a broader audience, Tricky turned to the darker side of the genre, producing tracks with a more experimental feel. His characteristic sprechgesang lyrical delivery featured a deep, fluid sound that defined his debut release, Maxinquaye, . Tricky’s African American roots tied him in closely with the then flourishing genre of dub, which is undoubtedly heard throughout Maxinquaye. Unbeknownst to either artist, both Portishead and Tricky sampled the same Isaac Hayes track for a track on each of their debut albums. Tricky’s “Hell Is Round the Corner” is backed by samples of “Ike’s Rap II”, which Portishead used in their “Glory Box”. The album’s darker roots, complemented by vocals from Tricky’s girlfriend at the time, Martina Topley-Bird, is a textbook example of the darker side of trip-hop, and one that can’t be ignored by any fan of the genre.
>>Key Track: “Hell Is Round the Corner”
Morcheeba’s success lied in the London-based trio’s ability to achieve the darkness of Tricky, the groove of Portishead, yet not fall victim to the “pop-sensibility” of Sneaker Pimps. Some may argue that the album lacks the originality of their peers’ records, but the unbelievable connection that Morcheeba achieves with their listeners is hard to ignore. Morcheeba brought out everything atmospheric about the genre on the record, making it all the more significant in the grand scheme of things. In one of the 90’s most memorable trip-hop releases, Morcheeba adds yet more accessibility to the genre, but with a more downtempo and soulful approach that anyone had been able to achieve prior to the record’s release.
>>Key Track: “Tape Loop”
Released at the peak of trip-hop’s popularity, Skylab’s #1 began as a postal service project between the UK’s Mat Ducasse and Howie Bernstein, who was responsible for production at the time for both Bjork and U2. The grainy, lo-fi project turned into one of the most memorable releases of the genre. It signaled the genre’s tendency to lean towards a more ambient focus, relying on cerebral grooves throughout the record’s progression. Rumor has it that Ducasse spent weeks tripping in his attic to come up with the material that would eventually turn in to #1.
>>Key Track: “Seashell”
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