All conversations converged to one singular point at the close of 1999: The End of the World, and because of it, every possible best list of the century. Whether it was about greatest album, or greatest toenail clipper, a list was compiled by the fanciest per-milenium robots. Now the singular list missing from the cornucopia of lists was: The Music of 1999. Everyone, consumed in their chicken little theories of Y2K and end of the world were too mad to see what was really happening. The end of music as we knew it! In reality it seemed to set the youth of America back about twenty years. (If you take a look at the top record sales for 1999, trust me, you’ll want to cry). I’m as easy going as the next guy, but the Grinch himself would have shuddered at the sound of pop music sung by teen queens, boy bands, and all the music to come out of the entire state of Florida. They all belonged on the naughty list, and should have been banished to the island of misfit albums.
Luckily I was able to see through the doomsday smoke, and find some albums to balance out the slew of trash on radio airwaves or Total Request Live.
Here my Silver and Gold Choices of 1999! Because after all, everyone wishes for silver and gold…
(note* the order of the albums signifies my own personal list)
1. Fiona Apple – When the pawn hits the conflicts he thinks like a king what he knows throws the blows when he goes to the fight and he’ll win the whole thing ‘fore he enters the ring there’s no body to batter when your mind is your might so when you go solo, you hold your own hand and remember that depth is the greatest of heights and if you know where you stand, then you know where to land and if you fall it won’t matter, cuz you’ll know that you’re right.
All Fiona Apple album title jokes aside, this only solidified what those of us who loved the first album thought. Fiona Apple is a damn good, talented musician, singer, and lyricist. She writes it herself. She plays it herself. And she means every, as she might put it, “fucking word” she sings. All the haters can hate, but it doesn’t disprove what I just said. 10 power packed lovelorn driven songs about break ups and some Paul Thomas Anderson that can provide a lot more therapy at a much more reasonable rate than a therapist, and probably accomplish more.
2. Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin
I must admit, the last time I had listened to Flaming Lips prior to this album was “She Don’t Use Jelly.” I can’t say I was overly excited off their prospects from that tune or Beverly Hills 90210 appearance. Boy was I all kinds of wrong. Easily one of the top 10 albums of the 90s, and the favorite album of a good friend of mine (#2 is also coincidentally next on this list!), it’s all kinds of good! I can’t do it justice by talking about it. But I had the chance this year to see them do The Soft Bulletin in its entirety last year, and it was ridiculous. After Radiohead, it’s really hard to argue they aren’t the most interesting band of the past 20 years that continually push the envelope.
3. Sleater- Kinney – The Hot Rock
Basically just like Flaming Lips, this was my first real introduction to Sleater-Kinney, and it’s by far my favorite of their albums. I will admit to being in the Corin Tucker camp if I had to choose sides, but this album, more than others has the perfect balance of Corin yelp, Carrie monotones, and tight guitar hooks, with song exploration fitting perfectly into 3.5 minute indie rock gems. No amount of Wild Flags and Corin Tucker Bands could replace true unity, but at least we have this to dry a few of our tears.
4. Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun
Sometimes I’m easily befuddled how spacey non directional sound scaping music sung in a language that nobody could understand could become all the rage. Then I remember two things. First, Spinning Platters stalwart Dakin Hardwick has said on numerous occasions, people love Icelandic music no matter how strange it is. Without writing a thesis on the subject, I think it’s because they seem so much cooler than we do. (Pun intended? You decide =) ) The second being that good music can prevail against all odds. I always believe regardless of genre or taste, truly good music can be appreciated by all if it just gets the chance to.
A fantastic journey across a fantasmic made up Iceland composed of guitar, strings, and noise, it’s a beautiful debut album best experienced with a pair of headphones while looking at stoic viewscapes of nature, through the window of your car. Please ask someone else to drive.
5. Heather Duby – Post To Wire
I’m not sure how many people I’ve come across who have ever heard this record or of Heather Duby for that matter, outside of the Pacific Northwest. Signed to Subpop (sighs), I was floored upon hearing the first song in the Subpop store (sighs). Heather’s ridiculously beautiful voice shapes over lush and spacey ambient tracks constructed from instruments both electronic and organic. She lifts you into another space. The first song “Judith” with its heavy rolling bass juxtaposed against her angelic voice is one of my favorite songs of all time to date. If this album was released two years earlier, I think it would have received a bit more play. An ethereal version of PJ Harvey’s younger sister? It’s possible. But why label.
6. Beth Orton – Central Reservation
Everyone seems to claim her first record Trailer Park was her best. I have no idea what those people are smoking. Song for song, note for note, and melody for melody, this album is without a doubt, superior. The trip-hop-esque sound combined with a 60s and 70s folk sound which people seem to forget started with Orton, and which drove Trailer Park to such fanfare was diluted in this project, almost in an effort to keep her unlabeled. Several of the tracks produced by Everything But the Girl’s Ben Watt, reflected a more thoughtful and developed sensibility from Orton. The songs feel very personal, but seemed to be told in a story format rather than a personal account. It should not be forgotten, the casserole we hear today from countless bands fusing together modern beats with an older sound should be giving a nod to Beth Orton, William Orbit, and Victor Van Vugt.
7. Travis – The Man Who
After The Bends there were some of us that really enjoyed the lovey-dovey side to Radiohead, and yearned for an album solely comprised of those songs. I’m not sure if we ever hoped it would really happen, but while Oasis may have appeased some of those people (you should all be ashamed of yourself if you fall into that category), I think this is the closest anyone has ever come at the time. (Time Machine spoiler alert, Keane’s debut record will be featured on a future list as the “Super-Travis”). I can not stand by any other of Travis’s work, but this more than got the job done. All the ladies of brit-pop could not turn away from Fran Healy’s caring soft vocals, meandering inside perfectly structured guitar-based love songs. As a bonus, their cover of “Baby Hit Me One More Time” at live shows was a nice lesson in how even the worst songs, at their core start as real songs with a heart, before the evil gets their hands on them.
8. Everything But the Girl – Temperamental
So much was made of the remix to Missing from their previous record Amplified Heart, giving them an immediate bad rap as a one random dance hit wonder act, which I think still holds true today. But the truth of the matters was that they had been around for many years, and Amplified Heart wasn’t event a dance record! Temperamental was their first dance record! But it was so much more than that. Ben Watt intricately layered a stack of heartbreaking tracks underneath Tracey Thorn’s oh so wonderfully comforting voice, generating a temperamental emotional roller coaster ride. As much as I liked their previous more organic songwriting with traditional instruments, Tracey’s voice was born, tailored specifically for lovelorn trip hop and accelerated beat samples.
9. The Roots – Things Fall Apart
Everyone has their favorite Roots album, I can’t say this is mine, but it doesn’t matter. Finally understanding who they were as musicians gave them the freedom to experiment and push the boundaries of hip hop, live instrumentation and style. “You Got Me” still stands up as one of the best hip hop tracks of all time, and it has a drum n bass ending? Things Put Together might have been the better title, as they showed old boring un-organic hip-hop music was just falling apart.
10. The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
For some reason I’d rather speak of this album in haiku:
Magnetic it is
Filled with sixty-nine great songs
Let the field move you
11. Blur – 13
We all thought Graham was going to leave before this album came about. Maybe I’m crazy, but I still think the video for Coffee and TV (which by far is still one of the best videos of all time, period) was a tongue in cheek nod to the ramshackle situation. Well since Graham was still there, by default, the album was awesome! To the average music listener’s ear, this album may sound a bit bizarre and off putting at times, without anything that sounds like “classic” Blur. But most Blur fans, (and believe me I know my share =)), will debate the record as one of their finest. I still want a miniature version of the milk carton man!!!
12. Tori Amos – To Venus and Back
If you know me, you know Tori was going to show up on this list. Almost a forgotten album, this was the start to Tori’s short-lived but extremely interesting experimental period with instruments of the electronic persuasion. The songs, still organic in spirit, beamed a vibrant element of vigor and creativity that seemed to resound fully in the new material. I really wish she did explore this realm a bit further before going back to the piano. But I really can’t complain as her next album will show up in the 2002 list =).
12. Dot Allison – Afterglow
If you tried listening to the Heather Duby album (#5), well you might as well put this on too. Afterglow includes more ethereal but breathier vocals over harpsichords and beats, by the former voice of One Dove. “Colour Me” you might recognize, as it has shown up in the most random of places, most recently “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” in one of the saucier scenes. Aside from the two very long songs that seem to have been projects for an electronic music class, it’s a fairly delicate record that stays consistent.
13. Basement Jaxx – Remedy
With no proper release prior, but tons of club and street cred, Basement Jaxx had to be most music nerd hyped artist of 1999 regardless if you were into dance music or not. Putting some more faces to the invisible DJs of the garage scene, it more than delivered. It was a perfect mish-mash of tons of samples with strong beats. They combined so many styles of music, it was almost as if they threw all of the world’s music into blender, producing a smoothie tasting a lot better than most would have thought.
14. Le Tigre – Le Tigre
I think I’d rather jump up and down and dance to this record than talk about it.
15. Gomez – Liquid Skin
Everything I said about their first record last year holds true to their second. This almost felt like they had recorded this at the same time. It’s the same great Gomez, maybe just a little older. I probably saw them at least 5 times touring for this record, no show disappointed.
April March – Chrominance Decoder
The Innocence Mission – Birds of My Neighborhood
Chemical Brothers – Surrender
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – Burn to Shine
NIN – The Fragile
Blink 182 – Enema of The State
Beck – Midnight Vultures
Eminem – The Real Slim Shady
Mr. Bungle – California
Mos Def – Black on Both Sides
Underworld – Beaucoup Fish