December 1999
s m u g
ear candy
by Ben Auburn

Eleven Months of 1999 in Review

Eleven Months of 1999 in Review

Many people don't know this, but best-of-the-year lists are in fact required by the rock critic union contract -- it was a rider inserted sometime in the mid-seventies, I think to win the wear-jeans-everywhere concession they were looking for at the time. Nonetheless, it's a curse we all live with -- I have to turn in three or four of the things.

It's even worse, though. Thanks to our base-10 system of counting, there's a veritable harmonic convergence of end-ofs and beginnings come December 31. Not only should I be outlining my faves from this year, but there's the decade to revisit, and if I'm feeling cheeky, the century (Sgt. Pepper 23rd, Rite of Spring 24th, or the other way around?), and even the not-exactly-millennium.

I'll leave the long-view to my more, er, highly-compensated fellow critics. You can always go look up Spin's 90 albums for the 90s or Rolling Stone's 150 important records (including a Billy Joel for chrissake) of the decade (and, no, we're not going to link to them -- you try navigating through those sites' navigation, oy).

What's more, I'm having trouble picking 10 albums that deserve to be singled out. A best-of list shouldn't be process of elimination-- the ten least bad albums of the year -- after all. I'm willing to equivocate for other places, but SMUG readers deserve better.

Herewith, then, a list of all the records with 1999 copyrights I bought or received this year and still have. I'm leaving out older albums -- you probably don't need to know about the British Invasion kick I went on, or that I finally bought Pet Sounds. The list is annotated where necessary or interesting (or both) to do so , and it likely has a few glaring omissions. I invite you to point them out, sneeringly or not, in blab, and also to leave your own lists.

Fiona Apple, When the Pawn . . . : Maybe I'm a sucker for Jon Brion, her producer and player of most of the instruments, but this is actually a terrific record. No, really.

Apples in Stereo, Her Wallpaper Reveries

Ash, Nu-Clear Sounds: Reviewed this for Sonicnet, haven't listened to it since, but for some reason can't bear to give it away. Pleasant guitar rock, far more interesting than the Stereophonics, who are much more popular for some reason (in the U.K. of course, where everyone is famous for fifteen minutes every thirty-five minutes).

Beck, Midnite Vultures: This "follow-up" to Odelay ain't Mutations, but it is absurdly catchy. Honest-to-goodness ersatz.

Beta Band, Beta Band: Hypnotic, beguiling, absolutely annoying.

Beulah, When Your Heartstrings Break: Elephant 6 record, probably forgotten already, but along with The 3-Way, one of the most satisfying pop records of the year.

Bis, Social Dancing: Okay, so it's been pointed out to me that Social Dancing is essentially a B-52s album, but that doesn't mean it's not completely entertaining. This is the kind of thing the word "fabulous" was invented for.

Black Box Recorder, England Made Me: Part of our 1999 wish list. So low key it practically is sleep.

Blinker the Star, Blinker the Star

Blur, 13: Almost exactly the record I wanted, but with a bunch of sludge thrown in, too.

David Bowie, hours . . . .: Oh for crying out loud.

Breakbeat Era, Ultra-Obscene

Built to Spill, Keep it Like a Secret: As good as it gets.

Dr. Doom, First Come First Served: Kool Keith's first offensive of '99. Weird, but not engagingly so.

Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin: Organizers and headliners of the best package tour ever; a record of obscure grace in an otherwise graceless year.

Folk Implosion, One Part Lullaby: I'm not embarrassed to say it -- absolutely fantastic. So there!

Guided by Voices, Do the Collapse: Might have been more interesting if it'd sounded like a Cars record on more than just the single.

Handsome Boy Modeling School, So . . . How's Your Girl?: Part two of Prince Paul's double-whammy. Best album cover of the year, bar none.

Kristen Hersh, Sky Motel

John Spencer Blues Explosion, X-tra Acme: All the reasons Acme was nifty, and twice as long.

Kool Keith, Black Elvis/Lost in Space: Another disc I reviewed for Sonicnet. I was fortunate enough to get an advance with a song that was eventually cut, so now I'm cool.

Lilys, The 3-Way

Los Lobos, This Time: Tamer and less interesting than its worse-received predecessor, Colossal Head.

Mos Def, Black on Both Sides: Thank God. Thank God Thank God Thank God.

Muse, Showbiz: Yes, sounds like Radiohead, a lot like Radiohead, but played by guys 10-years younger, and so, so much less world-weary. Debut of the year, no shit.

Olivia Tremor Control, Black Foliage: Makes me dizzy.

Pavement, Terror Twilight: Impeccable production turned off a lot of people, but for no good reason. Their Mutations.

Archer Prewitt, White Sky: Finally, a good Bacharach-inspired pop record.

Prince, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic

Prince Paul, A Prince Among Thieves

Rage Against the Machine, The Battle of Los Angeles

Rahzel, Make the Music 2000

Red Snapper, Making Bones: Drum and bass, but played with instruments. Novel. Sometimes even good.

REM, Up: Oh, yeah, REM put out a record. Toured, even. Weird, I totally forgot.

The Roots, Things Fall Apart: The Roots, The Roots Come Alive: One-two punch from the best act in Rap. But why doesn't Black Thought sound like himself on the live disc?

Self, Breakfast with Girls: Another rhetorical question: Why aren't Self the most popular band in America?

Sebadoh, The Sebadoh: Yawn.

Shivaree, I Oughta Give You a Shot in the Head for Making Me Live in This Dump

Sloan, Between the Bridges

Source Direct, Exorcise the Demons: Because Photek didn't have anything out this year. Won't last in the shelf for long, but good for those rainy days when you're certain you're being chased by evil beings from another dimension. Or something.

Super Furry Animals, Radiator: Okay, actually almost three years old, but we just got it in these parts.

Super Furry Animals, Guerilla: Very nearly better than Radiator, even. Still, criminally overlooked. What does a Welsh band have to do to get a little alternative radio play? Oh, yeah, be the Stereophonics.

Matthew Sweet, In Reverse: Woo-hoo, wall of sound -- the exact opposite reason I've always liked Matthew Sweet.

Those Bastard Souls, Debt and Departure: A minor record by minor alt-rock figures, you'll say. But I say, a note-perfect, tight-as-hell record most songwriters dream about making. From the guys who brought you the Grifters. And Red Red Meat. And the Dambuilders.

Tom Waits, The Mule Variations: Not good enough. Really, it's good, but it's not good enough.

Stereolab, Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night: Ditto.

XTC, Apple Venus Vol 1: Pastoral, sticky-sweet, makes me cry.

XTC, Homespun: Not-surprisingly, the demos for Apple Venus Vol. 1, aren't much different from what ended up on record.

So there you have it: 1999, the year in review. I'll be the first to admit that there's plenty missing -- but I am very close-minded. Feel free to chime in with your own best-ofs, or worst ofs, or just ofs.

in the junk drawer:

and such
and such

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