Nineteen ninety-seven was a massive year for electronic music. This fact is too often forgotten; and so, 20 years later, it’s important to revisit these albums that continue to hold up and inspire two decades after their initial release.
Daft Punk – Homework
Long before Daft Punk revived interest in themselves with the summer anthem “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell, even before they released the bulk of their most legendary hits, Daft Punk had already accrued much acclaim and adoration their 1997 debut “Homework.”
“Homework” didn’t invent French House by any means, but it streamlined and popularized the approach, spreading it internationally further than ever before. Quirky funked-out dance anthems like “Daftendirekt” and the iconic “Around The World,” despite their ’90s kitsch, still sound fresh and fun in the 21st century, and their influence can still be spotted today.
Portishead – Portishead
Three years following their celebrated debut album “Dummy,” Portishead returned in 1997 with a self-titled album that managed to sound completely fresh, while still sounding unmistakably Portishead. Portishead’s approach to trip-hop has influenced almost every trip-hop act to follow it, and while “Dummy” remains their most popular and influential work, “Portishead” may very well be their most proficient and confident. “Dummy” was a new sound. “Portishead” did much of what “Dummy” did, and so while it wasn’t “new,” it was more refined, with Beth Gibbons’ melancholy croon perfectly meshing with Geoff Barrow’s electronic programming in an atmosphere of a smoky jazz lounge, feeling nostalgic but still distinctly futuristic in its execution. “Portishead” is a record out of time, and as such feels as vital today as it did twenty years ago.
Björk – Homogenic
It’s no exaggeration, and indeed is not even a controversial statement, to say that there is nothing else before or since “Homogenic” that sounds quite like “Homogenic.” Björk had already established herself as an innovative force to be reckoned with in her previous two records, but with “Homogenic,” her approach to trip-hop-adjacent experimental production graduated from creative to “new” in the most literal sense. From the Radiohead-influencing depressive aggression of “Alarm Call” to the intricate subtleties of “All is Full of Love,” “Homogenic” simply radiates an array of unexpected yet perfectly in-harmony sounds that were fresh and vital unlike anything else at the time. Their power only amplified by Björk’s signature lyrical mixing of the personal with the abstract. “Homogenic” could have been released last week and it would still sound ahead of its time.
Roni Size & Reprazent – New Forms
Drum and Bass as a genre has always boasted a certain jazz influence, but “New Forms” by British duo Roni Size and Reprazent took this jazz influence to its logical extreme. Not inventing, but fully fleshing out the idea of “jazzstep” to its furthest extent. “New Forms” is undeniably a Drum and Bass album first and foremost, but the chopping up of the drums and the bass that constitute the genre as a whole has never before felt as close to the jazz that makes up the source material, while still sounding like its own entity. The wobbling double-bass tones of “Brown Paper Bag” dance alongside the warped bebop drums of “Mad Cat” and the quick flowing snares of “Watching Windows” until the whole thing culminates into a derivation of jazz as danceable as anything to be born out of jazz convention since the swing era.
The Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole
Alongside The Prodigy and a few others, The Chemical Brothers are the poster child for the UK big beat scene. Their unabashedly thick and heavy basslines and aggressive drum patterns being certainly comparable to their peers but undeniably of themselves. There’s not a lot in the way of complexity here, but there’s more than enough in pure energy. With the undeniable plodding bass of “Block Rockin’ Beats” and twisted turntable madness of “Elektrobank,” and most songs on the album acting as its own little song-length package of contained energy. The album sounds very much of-its-time to be sure, but its sheer drive will never fade.
There are countless other albums from ’97 that deserve your consideration, from the spaced-out art pop of Stereolab’s “Dots and Loops” to the pioneering drill and bass of Squarepusher’ “Hard Normal Daddy” to even the shockingly original and innovative electronic soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu to Square Enix’s “Final Fantasy VII” video game. All of these albums and plenty more deserve your attention, and the vast catalogue of 1997 electronic music is more than worth exploring well beyond the scope of this article.