Top 10 of 1999
10. Bright Eyes - Every Day and Every Night EP (Saddle Creek Records) After the release of Good Will Hunting, America fell in love with the songs of Elliott Smith. With his beautiful, slightly-hurt voice and haunting melodies, he struck a chord with many people. Conor Oberst, the 19 year old singer/songwriter of Bright Eyes, carries on that legacy with this 5-song EP. The fact that Oberst is barely old enough to be a student at this university is not betrayed by lyrics such as, "I believe that lovers should be tied together and thrown into the water in the worst of weather, left there to drown in their innocence." He sings in a style that is urgent and direct, capturing the listener's attention and sounding as if he is worried that the song will finish before he has time to convey his point. Every Day and Every Night is a document of Conor Oberst, age 19. With any luck, the future will bring us many more such documents.
9. Arab Strap - Elephant Shoe (Go Beat) After Matador Records issued Arab Strap's first two albums (Philophobia & The Week Never Starts Round Here) domestically in 1998, Arab Strap changed UK record labels to Go Beat, meaning that their US distribution was jeapordized. So, after seeing this CD on the shelves at Co-Op for a month with the hefty import price tag of $25, I plunked down the cash and took home one of the only CDs that I can honestly say is worth $25. Arab Strap is a Scottish band and play depressing, alcoholic melodies. If Pulp were Scottish and composed the soundtrack for Trainspotting, the sound might be something like Arab Strap. Lyrically, Arab Strap attacks life in a no-nonsense, straightforward manner which perfectly accentuates their tendency to create music that sounds like what being insanely drunk on hard liquor sounds like. Hopefully this will be released in the US, but in the meantime, you will not regret dropping $25 for this disc.
8. Reggie and the Full Effect - Greatest Hits '84-'87 (Second Nature) Reggie and the Full Effect perfectly epitomize what I call the Rentals syndrome. The Rentals were originally composed of members of two bands I wasn't a fan of -- Weezer and that dog. -- but somehow managed to make some fantastic music. Reggie and the Full Effect is composed of members of the Get Up Kids and Coalesce, but somehow overcomes that initial fault to make one of the best pop records of the year. The songs are all pretty simple and tend to be about romance -- you know, the sort of stuff you write off as having no value. But the songs are just so darn catchy, anf that moog synthesizer kicks in at just the right time. Greatest Hits '84-'87 is my guilty pleasure of the year.
7. Antarctica - 81:03 (File 13) My first serious girlfriend turned me on to the Cure. Independently of her influence I was turned on to New Order. Antarctica takes elements of both bands music and combines it to create a swirling mix of gloomy keyboards and spacey vocals. Not many bands can sustain interest for songs that average 6-7 minutes in length, but Antarctica does it repeatedly through this double-CD set. The only time you'll notice how long the songs are is when you accidentally look at your CD player when you're training your gaze on something else.
6. Pavement - Terror Twilight (Matador) Rumors abound that Pavement broke up, and although the official word is that they didn't, if Terror Twilightis truly Pavement's swansong, they picked a great note to exit on. On this album, Pavement created their cleanest sound to date.
"Spit on a Stranger" and "Major Leagues" are two of the greatest ballads Pavement ever recorded, and the rest of the album holds up to the high standards those songs set. Although not my favorite Pavement album (1995's Wowee Zowee holds that honor), Terror Twilightis certainly one of the best albums of this past year.
5. Godspeed You Black Emperor - Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP (Kranky) The first song of this two-track EP is the 11-minute masterpiece "Moya." GYBE mix traditional string instruments with guitars and effects to create some of the most enthralling instrumental music I have ever heard. The song builds from soft nothings to a breaking point where it seems all hell has broken loose and has the honor of the only thing my neighbords over the summer ever told me to turn down. The second track explores the beauty of instrumental music even further by laying down a track of the ranting of a conspiracy buff over it.
4. The Promise Ring - Very Emergency (Jade Tree) After a disappointing EP last year, The Promise Ring came back strong with Very Emergency. This album sees the band continuing in the power-pop direction hinted at on their last album and expanding it to give the kids just the right lyrics and musical hooks to keep them humming and singing to themselves for all eternity. This album is just so unrelentlessly happy, I challenge anyone to listen to it and not come out with a smile.
3. Built to Spill - Keep It Like A Secret (Warner Bros.) Eschewing the elongated rock songs of Perfect From Now On, Built to Spill return to their days of writing catchy pop songs. At first, I didn't like this album as much as Perfect... but after having months to listen to it, I can say that it definitely is as good an album, if not better. The classic rock influence is just as prevalent on this album, as Doug Martsch composes the lyrics for "You Were Right" solely from old classic rock songs.
2. Rainer Maria - Look Now Look Again (Polyvinyl) Rainer Maria create music that is the aural equivalent of falling in love. The dual vocals of real-life lovers Caithlin De Marrais and Kyle Fischer help to create this atmosphere of intensity. Although the songs are musically extremely simple, the complex lyrics and vocal delivery balance this out nicely. Rainer Maria are my favorite band at the moment and their recent Atlantic EP (also on Polyvinyl) secures that even further.
1. American Football - S/T (Polyvinyl) Champaign-Urbana's American Football deliver the best album of 1999. From start to finish, the only word I can use to describe it is beautiful. Imagine if the most beautiful thing you've ever seen somehow had a soundtrack. That soundtrack would be this album. Adding the occasional trumpet or Wurlitzer organ to the standard guitar/bass/drum mix works quite well. The music is played with the most confidence I have ever heard on a recording. American Football manage to simultaneously lull you to sleep with their beautiful melodies and keep you dreaming with Mike Kinsella's softly-sung vocals of love and loss. The rumor mill says that American Football has broken up, and after just one EP and this album, anyone can see that their time together was far too short.
A lot of great records came out in 1999. Some other ones that could've easily made this list if I had been in another mood: Wheat - Hope and Adams, The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin, Burning Airlines - Mission: Control!, The Faint - Blank Wave Arcade and Sebadoh - The Sebadoh.
10. Ebullition Records - The world's supreme hardcore label put out four solid records this year. The LPs by Yaphet Kotto, Bread and Circuits, Reversal of Man, and Orchid were all stellar in their own way. Each of these bands embody hardcore in so many ways. Fuck Boy Sets Fire and fuck Revelation Records, this is what its really about.
9. Sam Prekop - S/T (Thrill Jockey) - Solo record from this Sea and Cake frontman was as good as I had expected and didn't disappoint in the slightest. Smooth and jazzy, this is the chill out indie record of the year.
8. Antarctica - 81:03 (File 13) - 80s music, "electronica," and emo collide to form this 81 minute, all-absorbing aural experience. Songs about marijuana and the deceptions of modern religion masked as Depeche Mode covers. Oh yeah.
7. Franklin - S/T (Tree) - Finally, Franklin releases the emo-indie-dub-reggae masterpiece they hinted at with their last cd. These guys are truly one of the only innovative indie bands still playing shitty house shows. You know the scene is a fucked up place when trite, cliched rock bands like Jimmy Eat World pass as innovative and pack shows while truly talented musicians like Franklin still play sparsely attended shows around the country. If there was any justice, these guys would be huge.
6. Ted Leo - Tej(?) Leo/Pharmacists (Gern Blandsten) - Every year, one of the Leo brothers will release something brilliant onto the unsuspecting world. People either loved this or hated it, I happen to fall into the category of the former. Both Ted and Chris (The Lapse) Leo write some of the best lyrics out there; this is no exception. This album requires a straight listening without interruption as the songs move in and out of the samples and dubs that complete this collage. The pop gems hide in between and make this album one of the most rewarding out there.
5. Centro-Matic - Navigational (Idol Records) - Borderline alt-country stuff that totally blows you away with it's power, emotion, and urgency. Songwriter Will Johnson is more prolific than J Church could ever have dreamt of being as these guys released two full lengths last year and have another near completed. They are tough to pigeonhole, though - the second album this year was very Archers-esque and rocking. Someday you will be assimilated, jump on the bandwagon early.
4. American Football (Polyvinyl) - This embodied all the feelings and spirit that come along with fall. It captures the slow drift into depression and slowing down perfectly. They may have all the talent to keep making these albums, but they ain't gonna. They played their last show in May at the Fireside. Luckily, I was able to catch the end of a band I witnessed grow and expand from show #1. They will be missed.
3. Tristeza - Spine and Sensory (Makoto) - Absolutely beautiful instrumental band. Incredible musicianship and and flow. Instrumental stuff is rarely moving or involving but Tristeza sure as hell is. From the first notes of the CD to the end, this is an enrapturing listen. Completely gorgeous and sometimes climactic, they are not to be missed. They also offer one of the best live shows out there....totally jaw-dropping.
2. Rainer Maria - Look Now, Look Again (Polyvinyl) - This band just gets better with age. If you've heard the demo, you know exactly what I'm talking about. But seriously, the songwriting, singing, and instrumentation gets better with each recording. Rainer Maria takes you on a ride; nearly depressing in one moment and then elevating you to the highest excitement and passion in the next. If their new songs are any indication, their next album will almost certainly be on my top 10 list next year.
1. Nuzzle - San Lorenzo's Blues (Troubleman Unlimited) - Holy shit. What can I say? This puts all the bands that masquerade as "emo" to shame. Fuck Braid, Hot Water Music, The Get Up Kids, and Jimmy Eat World - this is for real. Still around since the early to mid-ninties boom, this is one of the last remaining (along with Still Life) good, California emo bands. Death to false emo, listen to Nuzzle and hear a band that truly _is_ passionate, original, and intelligent. A record like this must seriously embarass all of said bands. I mean, this is practically the end all emo record; one to close the door on this archaic genre now plagued by third rate lyricists and musicians looking to jump on the bandwagon. I think one of the reasons I love this album so much is that it is the anti-thesis, the honest alter ego of the awful "emo" boom of the late ninties. Screw Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids - give your money to a band that actually deserves it.
Honorable Mention: Joan of Arc, Juno, Kill Holiday, Bonnie Prince Billy, End of the Century Party, The Faint, Bright Eyes, and a shitload more. This was a tough list to pare down, I thought it was a pretty good year all in all. There are still a few bands that need to break up though.......
5. Alkaline Trio - I Lied My Face Off
4. Hot Water Music - No Division
3. Jimmy Eat World - Clarity
2. The Get Up Kids - Something To Write Home About
1. The faceless modern "emo" band who sounds like all these terrible bands. Give it up kids, it's over with.
10. Spazz - Crush Kill Destroy (Slap A Ham Records) - West Coast Power Violence, Spazz has yet to become generic or repetitive like so many other bands have, this album is definitely one of the best Spazz releases to date!
9. V/A - Girls Kick Ass (Punk Rock Onion) - A compilation cd from Punk Rock Onion Records (featuring Oblivion, Urban Idols, The Migraines, Home Grown and more!) A tribute to girls everywhere and a bunch of sappy love songs. The cd is bolth hilarious and emotionally stirring.
8. Short Millie - An Attempt to Document (White House Records) - This is definitely the best Post-Punk album I've heard to date. These guys are playing from the heart and it shows.
7. U.S. Bombs - Put Strength in the Final Blow (Alive Records) - This is a re-release the an extremely rare first album by The Bombs. This album has such a rich and California/77 sound. Pure and emotional, Put Strength in the Final Blow is one of the greatest punk albums of all time.
6. Fat Boy Slim - You've Come a Long Way Baby (Astralwerks) - Very creative D.J. sampling, breakdanceable too. "Praise You" spun one of the best music videos ever.
5. Uniform Pants - The Execution of Hiram Abiff 7" (Tri-Force Records) - Melodic and thrashy anti-Masonic music that will have you singing along in no time. Try it, its Emotional Violence!
4. The Faint/Ex-Action Figures split 7" (Saddle Creek Records) - The Faint's mope-wave, and Ex-Action Figures' indy synth-wave single handedly brought me hope for the future of popular music.
3. MITBN/Pain Jerk split 7" (Alternative Tentacles) Man is the Bastard Noise combined with Japan's Pain Jerk, bring Noise Chaos close to home (too close). Inspiring and Rhythmic, the noise on this record says more than words ever could.
2. Ancient Chinese Secret - Crevate Emptor (Slap a Ham) Double bass Power Violence without the hard-core. This album is innovative, cryptic, and a must have for any record collection.
1. The Faint - Blank Wave Arcade (Saddle Creek Records) The Faint's second full length. Bringing elements of the future back from the past, and focusing on human to human relations, this album is truly amazing!
10. The Mr. T Experience - Alcatraz (Lookout!) - Dr. Frank and the boys put the "pop" back into pop-punk once again, turning this album into probably the first symphonic punk CD ever.
9. Consumed - Hit For Six (Fat Wreck Chords) - Every once in a while, you just need to have that one melodic hardcore CD that just kicks you in the ass and gets your head bobbing up and down. Consumed's "Hit For Six" does just that, and then some.
8. The Stereo - Three Hundred (Fueled By Ramen) - Way over the top, sugary-sweet pop/rock. It's almost TOO addictive for it's own good.
7. Reggie & The Full Effect - Greatest Hits 84-87 (Second Nature) - See above description.
6. The Faint - Blank Wave Arcade (Saddle Creek) - If I were a little bit older, I'm sure this band would bring back memories of the early MTV days, where synthesizers and drum machines were not just cool, they were required. The live show this band puts on (with lights, costumes, and all) is intense, even if there's only a dozen people watching. Their energy carries over wonderfully to CD, and the only fault I found is that the CD is not even a half hour long. I could easily handle more.
5. No Knife - Fire In The City Of The Automatons (Time Bomb) - This band seems to be getting lost in the seemingly endless shuffle of 3rd-rate emo bands out there, and it's a total shame, because they are one step short of incredible. Their 3rd CD, "Fire..." keeps their intensity flowing, and with great, stick-in-your-head-for-days tunes like "Charming" (featuring Jim from Jimmy Eat World) and "Mission Control," this is one CD you won't want to go more than a few days without listening to.
4. Hot Water Music - No Division (Some Records) - They're back, and they're ready to kick ass. HWM are virtual veterans of the "emotional hardcore" scene, and they are setting the style yet again, incorporating a steel guitar, tribal drums, and even a cheerleading squad [!] in their latest effort. Plus, "Driving Home" is a very beautiful, touching song. If only all bands could be this sensitive while still rocking out.
3. Rainer Maria - Look Now, Look Again (Polyvinyl) - What's to say about this CD other than it's barely left my sight since I got it in February? If you haven't heard this group yet, go explore. You'll like what you find.
2. American Football - S/T (Polyvinyl) - This release has all the makings of a classic, and the band has the unbelievable talent to keep making more great albums such as this. If you haven't checked it out, do so.
1. Jimmy Eat World - Clarity (Capitol Records) - Regardless of what John or David Smith says about this CD, it is "emo," so deal with it. From start to end, there is nothing wrong with this CD. The constant vocal layering is incredible, and the interwoven guitar parts and melodies will sweep you off your feet. Harsh at times, sweet when needed, catchy when required, this is the album of 1999.