Who Needs New Music? My top albums of 1998!

by Raffi Youssoufian on January 9, 2012

I miss Netscape sometimes...

“What’s wrong Chazzy Black, you look sad?”

“I don’t know Linux, I know we have all this great music that came out in 2011 (Spinning Platters Top Ten Albums of 2011), but I’m just not happy.  I like dreamy guitars, sad depressing themes, and booty shaking grooves and all that, but I’m just not sure it means anything anymore.  All these albums are derivative…”

“Chazzy Black you’re the only person I know that can take a wonderful thing like the music of 2011 and turn it into a problem.”

“Isn’t there anyone that can tell me what music is all about?!

“Sure Chazzy Black I can tell you what music is all about”

“Time Machine Please…”

“And there was my favorite music of 1998…”


1.  Alpha – Come From Heaven

Mezzanine (see below), should be number one, but I had to give the prize to Alpha.  They were the first band signed to Massive Attack’s (now defunct) label Melankolic, so they should be proud.  I’ve always said, if you were to draw a triangle, with Massive Attack at one end, Portishead at one end, and Air at the other end, this is what you would come up with.  Slow and brooding, Alpha manages to craft a great deal of warmth, where as Mezzanine is very cold, in the realm of what is classified as trip-hop.  Three outstanding guest vocalists sing sometimes together, sometimes not, on an album full of songs of love unrequited, ever so softly, and ever so lusciously.


2. Massive Attack – Mezzanine

What is it about third records? Radiohead and Bjork did it one year prior.  Massive Attack’s third effort destroyed any notion predictability that Protection may have left.  They abandoned their hip and R&B roots, and went extremely stark, stunning, haunting, and precisely arranged.  It almost took on a persona of its own, accomplishing feats undreamed of for a record of this nature.  No one in their right mind would have expected Massive Attack to have a hit on American “Adult Rock” stations, or have their music show up in multiple mainstream television shows and film, but “Teardrop” managed to do so behind the vocals of Cocteau Twins great Liz Frazier.  It gave credibility to Leigh Nash.  Everyone from your next door neighbor to Garfunkel and Oates love to hate on Sixpence None The Richer’s front woman, but she delivered one of the most stunning beautiful vocal performances I’ve ever heard, on “Group Four.” It also gave me one of my favorite songs of all time in, “Black Milk.” I can keep going, but if you haven’t given this record time, do it.  In two words, the album is: almost perfect.


3.  PJ Harvey – Is this Desire

I may be in the minority on this one, but this is my favorite PJ Harvey record.  After “To Bring you My Love,” nothing she could have done would have been good enough.  I think after a bit of time, people have eased up on this album.  I heard her once describe the making of this record with the desire to find sounds that made your insides twist, turn, and move.  While I can’t concur she did that with this record, she did however make an outstanding divisive record exploring darker themes in a more melodic, quieter, but still highly intense manner.


4.  Tori Amos – From The Choirgirl Hotel

“I don’t like this album.” “I don’t like Tori with a band.” “It’s not Boys for Pele.” Yeah, yeah, enough, I heard it in 1998, and I still hear it today.  Stop living in the past (cough), and live in the slightly less past!  This is fantastic record.  Ok, I can do without “She’s Your Cocaine,” but the addition of other musicians, including the wondrous drummer Matt Chamberlain added a new dimension to Tori’s music.  In addition, she forever changed some of her old classics when she toured with a live band.  “Precious Things” solo on piano has got nothing on the full band version.  And that is hard to do.


5.  Saint Etienne – Good Humor

After some years of melodic pop with experimentation, Saint Etienne gave in, and wrote what they were meant to write.  One of the most perfect “real” pop albums ever crafted.  Saint Etienne is a band you want to have a good time with. When they get too experimental, they aren’t fun.  Every song on this record is a sing a long with bit of heartbreak.  And that, in my mind, is what constitutes a real and amazing pop record.


6. Air – Moon Safari

By far this was the trendy pick for album of the year.  While everyone was labeling Massive Attack as perfect dinner party music, I was conversating and chowing down to this.  70s analog luscious comfortable soothing spacey keyboard loveliness is really the best way I can put this.  It took two French guys to wonder where the love was in “electronic” music.   Et ont-ils le trouver…merci Air…merci…


7.   UNKLE – Psyence Fiction

One of the dopest records to come out that year.  Yes DJ Shadow made me say “dopest.”  When I put this record on for the first time, I was floored.  A feeling of immense inspiration came over me, and I was convinced this is where music needed to go.  And I’m not just talking about the Thom Yorke and Richard Ashcroft songs.  Psyence Fiction is the perfect time capsule of where music was going at the time, filled with the desire to push boundaries with the intermingling of genres.  That spirit has seemed to fade recently, because, well, apparently according to the general public, everything has already been done.


8.   Gomez  – Bring It On

Gomez appeared literally out of nowhere and won the Mercury prize in 1998, beating the likes of everything in this list, with their eclectic debut album.  Unlike most bands they actually sounded new, regardless of how plain their name sounded.  Three different members of the band sing, they all sound extremely different from one other, but boy do they work well together.  There’s the bluesy guy, the Brit pop guy, and the let’s have a good time guy.  Listen to the first two songs on the album and you’ll see how diverse this record really is. They’ve built a solid following with their particularly fun live energy, but that essence still shines through on record.


9.   Elliot Smith – XO

Cleaning up his act and signing to Geffen, we got a newer, peppier Elliot Smith in XO.   Maybe I was the only one surprised at how good this record was.  But I seem to be the only one who still talks about it.  Exploring more elaborate melody and harmony, every song stands alone as a work of art.  We’re still unsure if he wasn’t trying to write these songs to sell more records, but if he did, they’re still better than 90 percent of the music that does sells them.


10.  Belle & Sebastian – The Boy With the Arab Strap

Everybody still quotes If You’re Feeling Sinister as their favorite Belle & Sebastian album.  While I can’t say enough good things about IYFS, the songs sound a little too much alike for me to give it the crown.  Instead of staying the same district, of the same town thinking about the same people, this feels more like B& S left the city for a short weekend trip to explore something new, while keeping their lovely soft, thoughtful, and a bit nerdy spirit.


Honorable Mentions:  In no particular order

Pulp – This is Hardcore

Lauryn Hill – The Mis-education of Lauryn Hill

Pearl Jam – Yield

Morcheeba – Big Calm

Mercury Rev – Deserter’s Songs

Beta Band – Three Eps

Black Star – Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star

Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Garbage – Version 2.0

Madonna – Ray of Light

Natalie Merchant – Opehelia

Black Eyed Peas – Behind the Front

System of a Down – System of A Down

Ash – Nu-clear Sounds

Stereolab – Aluminum Tunes

REM – Up

Bright Eyes – Letting Off the Happiness

Placebo – Without You I’m Nothing

Jurassic 5 – LP

Cardigans – Grand Tourismo

Hooverphonic – Blue Powder Wonder Milk

Heather Nova – Siren

Emm Gryner – Public



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