Sit And Spin
Our Roundup Of The Best Albums 1998 Had To Offer.
By Tucson Weekly Critics
JANUARY 4, 1999: NOBODY SPENDS MORE time or money listening to the plethora of platters spewed forth by the industry than the jaded and disabused music critic. Throughout the year, these guys throw themselves in the line of fire, taking the proverbial bullet to save you from too many lost dollars and trips to the CD exchange counters. Of course, nobody's saying you have to agree with them. But we asked our regular contributors to share their top picks of '98, running the genre gamut:
10. Come Back Woody Guthrie, by Steve Earle (Copperhead, UK). On Nov. 16, 1997, the Dukes took a bit of El Corazón to Switzerland and wound up kicking a lot of shit right off everybody's shoes--as evidenced by this double-CD set's killer encores of "Sweet Virginia" and "Sin City."
9. F#A#infinity, by Godspeed You Black Emperor! (Kranky). This 10-piece orchestra from Montreal lobs Ennio Morricone's head back and forth on their psychedelic tennis court, with lapsed disciples of Savage Republic and Tortoise serving as cheerleaders.
8. Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, by Miles Davis (Sony). No revisionism, just an indisputable service to fans and historians. It's like pulling back the curtain: Look, it's the Wizard...or the Dark Magus, take your pick.
7. The Black Light, by Calexico (Quarterstick). Chronicling "the Tucson sound" is a nigh-impossible task, but these homeboys nailed it with their cantina rattle, noirish hum and dark moon twang, earning international kudos in the process.
6. The K&D Sessions, by Kruder & Dorfmeister (Studio K7). Deejay mix sets are a rather, ah, mixed bag; this 'un ain't, though: a double-CD set of seamless hiphop/dub/jazz/funkadelicized that plows through the oeuvres of David Holmes, Depeche Mode, Roni Size, Lamb, William Orbit, and even those dorks from Bone Thugs 'N Harmony.
5. S.F. Sorrow and Resurrection, by Pretty Things (Snapper). The former reissues the epochal-but-criminally underrated '68 rock opera, while the latter documents the live-at-Abbey Road Internet broadcast of same--but 30 years later and this time with Arthur Brown and David Gilmour along for the ride.
4. God And Hair, by Yahowa (Captain Trip, Japan). A sprawling 13-CD collection charting the tribal-psych adventures of Father Yod and his California/Hawaii cult of hippies; erstwhile Tucsonan Sky Saxon even spent some time among the troupe. Yahowa out-Krauted the Krautrockers and out-spaced the spacerockers.
3. Tomorrow Hit Today, by Mudhoney (Reprise). Bastard son of Funhouse and Let It Bleed, edgily atmospheric yet hard-hitting and downright scary in places.
2. Self-titled, by Mark Hollis (Polydor, UK). The former Talk Talk singer bows solo with a minimalist masterpiece that alternates between hushed claustrophobia and expansive, cinematic soundscapes.
1. Ray Of Light, Madonna (Maverick). Melodically lush, rhythmically compelling, and more uplifting than a barrel full of Tabernacle Choirs. Forget electronica trendiness; this moved me plain and simple, in all the right areas (ears, ass, brain), more than any other record in '98.
10. Last Tango In Paris, by Gato Barbieri (Rykodisc). This tango-heavy re-release is the sultry soundtrack to the 1972 Brando film; definitely one of the best (and most overlooked) albums this Argentine tenor honker ever recorded.
9. The Sound Of Summer Running, by Marc Johnson (Verve/Polygram). Bassist Johnson knows how to pit the best against the best, as proven by his previous work as the leader of Bass Desires. Here he makes Pat Metheny finger-wrestle Bill Frisell through a set of folky jazz reminiscent of both guitarists' very American styles.
8. The Nine Volt Years, by Marshall Crenshaw (Razor & Tie). Crenshaw's melodies and unique chord structuring could make your tax audit sound romantic, a defining trait that easily overrides any home-studio limitations found on this collection of demos.
7. Imagination, by Brian Wilson (Giant). Just when you'd expect to read that Wilson went permanently into mental la-la land, he releases an amazing collection of harmony-thick tunes as solid as anything since 1971's Surf's Up. Meanwhile, Mike Love tours with a band of beached boys posing as the real thing.
6. Panthalassa: The Music Of Miles Davis 1969-1974 , by Bill Laswell (Sony/Columbia). It was just a matter of time before this moody funkster paid direct tribute to mentor Miles; this album is offered up as both a remix (heavier bass) and repasting (different segments) of the trumpeter's first jazz/rock studio sessions.
5. Painted From Memory, by Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach (Mercury). The witty lyrics of a younger, Attractions-era Costello are resuscitated through his partnering with the 70-year-old Bacharach's classy composing. An exceptional bridge between two generations of melody addicts.
4. Legends Of Acid Jazz Series, various artists (Prestige). Interest in the rather thin genre of acid jazz resulted in this far more solid reissue series of organ/sax funksters like Shirley Scott and Willis Jackson. Gritty and nasty throughout, with the Prestige label releasing many more discs in the near future.
3. The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, by Miles Davis (Columbia/Legacy). These four CDs pay as much tribute to producer Teo Macero's ability to have cut-and-snipped raw Davis studio sessions into The Best Fusion Album Ever as they do the brave embracing/transcending of the late '60s rock scene made by the mid-'40s trumpeter.
2. Days And Nights Of Blue Luck Inverted and Vertical's Currency, by Kip Hanrahan (American Clave). Two reissues of jazz by the mysterious and horribly underrated New York composer/percussionist, who alternates between reading erotic verse over banks of Cuban percussion and coupling bassist Jack Bruce with hardcore honkers from the downtown scene.
1. Yo Miles!, by Henry Kaiser & Wadada Leo Smith (Shanachie). Unquestionably no Miles tribute to date has worked as well as this abrasive paean to his funk years. Guitarist Kaiser and trumpeter Smith avoid the overdone Kind Of Blue stuff in favor of Davis a la 1973-1975.
10. Silky, by Andre Williams (In the Red). Raunchy jailbait-inspired '50s R&B lunacy from Mr. Bacon Fat with help from ex-members of the Gories. Down 'n' dirty blooze punk at its grittiest.
9. Self-titled EP, by Lyres (Matador). Primo CD reissue of 1981 Ace of Hearts mini-album with seven unreleased bonus cuts from the kings of Boston garage rawnch. Monoman goes ballistic and takes no prisoners.
8. Teenage Hate, by the Reatards (Goner). Teenage serial killers from the Deep South who carve up one hellacious lo-fidelity punk slopfest. These scary rat finks would make Linda Blair's head spin in horror.
7. "I Can't Stop Thinking About It," taken from Horndog Fest album, by the Dirtbombs (In The Red). Hands down, the best indie song of 1998: a grimy, gutbucket guitar excursion wrapped around a vulgar R&B dance rhythm, plus Mick Collins' bad-ass vocals that's as intoxicating as sweet poontang.
6. Let Them Eat Pussy, by Nashville Pussy (Amphetamine Reptile). Best live punk band in the universe right now. A blistering metalpunk subterfuge exploding from two scruffy rednecks and two X-rated babes that champions Nugent, Kiss, Motorhead and the Cro Mags. Hotter and sexier than Gene Simmons' spittin' fire at a strip joint.
5. Sweet Nothing, by Sonic's Rendezvous (Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts). First legitimate release of monster Detroit pre-punk supergroup live circa 1978. Featuring ex-MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith and ex-Stooges drummer Scott "Rock Action" Asheton. 'Nuff said.
4. Get With It: Essential Recordings 1954-69, by Charlie Feathers (Revenant). The godfather of the backwoods adenoidal whine which became rockabilly, all his swinging hillbilly stomps are gathered together on this indispensable double-disc, 42 tracks collection. Hey goober, just ask Elvis.
3. Do You Feel It Baby?, by Question Mark and the Mysterians (Norton). The greatest garage punk band of the '60s returns from beyond the grave (fully intact) for this phenomenal two-LP live set recorded last year chockfull of choice organ poundin' nuggets like "96 Tears." Question Mark is the quintessential frontman-sorry, no contest, Mick.
2. Six Pack To Go, by Puffball (Burning Heart, Swedish import). Fuck Abba, Ace of Base and all that other Swede lite pop fluff, these raging mofos uncork a lightning fast punk assault that's rages heavier than Lemmy frontin' the Dwarves. Puffball is raw as fresh ground meat and twice as nasty.
1. Heart and Soul, by Joy Division (London/UK import). Sadly missed post-punk trailblazers from Manchester, led by suicidal genius Ian Curtis, are finally (20 years after Curtis' death) given the overdue respect they deserve. This massive four-CD box set covers their entire recorded output including live, demo and unreleased cuts. A must-have for any fan of alternative music, period.
10. Hisser, by Howe Gelb (V2). As Howe himself states in the liner notes, most of these songs are not about Rainer Ptácek, his sadly departed friend; but Rainer's spirit is all over this sparse and rambling collection of mostly self-recorded-to-four-track songs. Somehow consistently quiet and mournful without lapsing into the realm of depressing, Hisser is worth the time it takes to spin a few times before it all starts to make sense.
9. Into the Sun, by Sean Lennon (Grand Royal/Capitol). This Beastie Boy pal--and oh yeah, I think his parents are famous or something--has (if nothing else) absorbed the Beasties' sense of eclecticism on this assured debut. Name it and it's here--indie rock, bossa nova, free jazz, delicate pop gems, pseudo-country. His voice takes a little getting used to, and the lyrics leave something to be desired in places, but I still found myself playing the hell out of this little sleeper.
8. Sweet Life, by Varnaline (Zero Hour). Moving even further away from the influence of Neil Young for their third full-length release, this New York trio proves they can do no wrong. Adding horns and pedal steel to their usual guitar/drums/bass configuration, Anders Parker unleashes another winning collection of songs rare in its beauty and sadness.
7. Overcome by Happiness, by Pernice Brothers (Sub Pop). Having disbanded his country-infiltrated cult-hero band, Scud Mountain Boys, Joe Pernice turns his eyes toward the lushly produced classic-pop stylings that've become all the rage lately. Luckily, his new shoes fit just fine. With songs as beautifully well-written as these, he could probably play light jazz and make it work.
6. The Boy With the Arab Strap, by Belle & Sebastian (Matador). While not as instantly winsome as last year's If You're Feeling Sinister, this year's model gets better with each listen, feeding us more of the wispy Nick Drake-inspired pop songs about the bizarre lives of "normal" people that we've come to love so much.
5. Mermaid Avenue, by Billy Bragg & Wilco (Elektra). Though it could've easily slipped into the annals of "interesting but unlistenable," this unlikely pairing (with guest vocalist Natalie Merchant) has produced one of the most surprisingly poignant and fun listens of the year. Using tuneless lyrics written by folk prophet Woody Guthrie as its point of departure, this collaboration has breathed new life into a dead American icon; and we, the listeners, reap the benefits.
4. Deserter's Songs, by Mercury Rev (V2). Psychedelic rock is back, as proven by the Rev's fourth long-player, their finest yet in an already impressive canon. Sporting Jonathan Donahue's helium vocals over everything-including-the-kitchen-sink production, the band begs, borrows, and steals from every psych-rock masterpiece ever created, from Pink Floyd to the Flaming Lips, in the end creating its own unique and seamless whole. "Goddess on a Highway" is the catchiest (non)single of the year.
3. The Black Light, by Calexico (Quarterstick). Perhaps no other Tucson band represents the sound of what it's like to live in the Old Pueblo better than Joey Burns and John Convertino. These barrio dwellers have given us a concept album that actually works (no small feat in 1998), combining lonesome highway melodies with mariachi instrumentation to meld into what can only be called the "Calexico sound." We should all be proud of these local boys for bringing the sound of our fair city to the rest of the world.
2. I Become Small and Go, by Creeper Lagoon (NickelBag). The first time I heard this one, I thought it was boring. But repeated listenings have revealed it to be a beautifully subtle collection of sublime indie-pop. The San Francisco quartet are aided by the production team of the Dust Brothers (Beck's Odelay and Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, to name a few), who scrap their trademarked cut-and-paste technique here and let the purity of the songs shine through. Album opener "Wonderful Love" is one of the most unabashedly romantic love songs put out in years.
1. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, by Neutral Milk Hotel (Elephant 6/Merge). Jeff Mangum and company step into the Elephant 6 collective's limelight to produce what is hands down the best album of the year--a psychedelic pop masterpiece of a song-cycle, incorporating such recurring characters as the King of Carrot Flowers, Two-Headed Boy, and Anne Frank (yes, that Anne Frank). Somehow, it makes aural sense. I must have listened to this album hundreds of times this year, and it still sends chills up my spine every single time. An instant classic.
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