If you've been to these pages before, you may
have noticed it's been a really long time since I've written any reviews.
In fact, it's really been way too long for the old faithful I've-been-real-busy excuse.
I guess what it comes down to is that I don't have that much to say about even the music
I like best. On the other hand, it occurred to me that I'd be pretty happy just making
a big list of the records I liked and didn't like out of those I'd bought in the last year
or so. Like and dislike seemed like too few categories, though. In order to have more
categories, I could have done the Robert Christgau thing and given them grades, but I
hate those Christgau grades. Instead, I decided to list my favorite and least favorite
purchases of the year by how much I think I'd pay for them if I had it to do over again.
It's totally subjective, so a lot of the time I wrote a sentence or two of commentary,
but mainly it's just my own 100% subjective list of likes and dislikes.
Buy new ($11 to $16)
Push Kings -
(Sealed Fate, '98)
John Lennon meets George Michael? Probably too 80's for some, but the hooks are
too clever for anybody with an appreciation of pop music to ignore.
California Skaquake 2 (Moon '96)
This are Moon Ska: Volume 2 (Moon '97) There are too many ska compilations. Nobody else puts 'em together as well as Moon.
Solid Krell Metal (Cup of Tea '98) Excellent squonk-jazz twist on drum'n'bass.
Ozomatli (Almo '98)
Great mix of traditional latin music, funk, and a bit of rap with quality scratchin' by superstar DJ Cut Chemist and also the occasional tabla.
TNT (Thrill Jockey '98)
Largely acoustic instrumental jazz rock with an electronica vibe. I wasn't particularly blown away by this the first time I heard it, but it's a sufficiently unique groove that sometimes I jones for a Tortoise groove that only Tortoise or one of their Thrill Jockey brethren can satisfy.
Navy Blues (Murder '98)
Bringing the Beatles sound into the 70s more successfully than Badfinger did, and nobody even had to kill themselves to do it.
Linda Smith -
Preference: Selected Songs 1987-1991 (Harriet '97)
This is lof-fi pop at its best.
Yo La Tengo -
Fakebook (Bar/None '90)
I got on a Yo La Tengo kick a couple years ago and started buying their older records. Most of their older records have too much of Ira's unrepentant guitar and too little of Georgia. This is the exception - a light-hearted pop record of covers. It's great.
Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight (Black Dog '98)
More indie and more downhome than the post-Tupelo Son Volt/Wilco crowd. Some songs are a whole lot better than others, but there are some real gems here.
Barbara Manning -
In New Zeland (The Communion Label '98)
Great collaborations with the Calexico boys as well as allstars form the New Zeland crowd. Even though there are only six proper songs, there's still a nice range, and coming at the same time as Liz Phair's latest it re-establishes Barbara as the thinking persons' Liz Phair.
Vehicle Flips -
The Premise Unraveled (Magic Marker '98)
I don't think there's anybody else on the indie-pop landscape that sounds quite like Vehicle Flips. They're too quiet for the indie-rock crowd, too smartly lyrical for the Thrill Jockey crowd, and too musically thoughtful for your basic twee indie-pop. This, their second full-length CD, is another set of songs that grows on me more and more with each listen.
Young Marble Giants -
Colossal Youth (Rough Trade '80)
OK, so I was really late catching on to this classic, which seems to predict both the rise of new wave and the evolution of indie-rock without contradicting itself.
The Black Light (Quarterstick '98)
Saying that it's music you'd expect to be the soundtrack for a film noir western doesn't do this justice. It's a whole lot more complex than that with many, many textures, but it's a serviceable quickie-description. It definitely evokes a southwestern landscape for me every time I listen to it.
Pup Tent (Elektra '97)
You can almost certainly find this used, but if you can't, it's worth buying new. I know there are long-standing Luna fans who disagree, but I think this is hands' down their best to date. The guitar hooks are inventive enough that it made me really appreciate the instrument again at a time when I was really tired of guitars.
Even More Raw Soul (Instinct '98)
Along with Bossa Brava, my favorite series from Instinct's Acid Jazz catalogue.
Fats Waller and His Rhythm -
I'm Gonna Sit Right Down: The Early Years Part 2 (RCA '95)
A two disc set from 1935 and 1936. This is Fats at his best.
Slapp Happy -
Ca Va (V2 '98)
There are 3 or 4 songs here that are way better than the rest, but given that their last recordings were made more than 20 years before this, the 3 or 4 great tracks are just plain remarkable. They've definitely updated their sounds, but it's also unmistakably Slapp Happy. Yay!
Archer Prewitt -
In the Sun (Carrot Top '97)
From the indie-rock school of syrupy pop, which is to say it's less syrupy and more substantive than the stuff from the indie-pop school of syrupy pop.
Continuation of Madness (Faffco '97)
The best Acid Jazz I've heard that isn't affiliated with the Instinct label's This is Acid Jazz series.
Neutral Milk Hotel -
In the Aeroplane Over The Sea (Merge '98)
The first successful indie-rock-opera. A very complete record best heard in a single sitting.
The Balboas -
Heavy Surf Advisory (Burn and Surf '98)
True to the original form, but with more teeth and more growl.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion -
ACME (Matador '98)
On the cutting edge of style without making it obvious how hard they're trying to sound like they aren't trying. Hell, they suspend my disbelief. They got the blues explodin' inside 'em and it just came out - they can't help being so hip - just happened - honest.Buy top-priced used ($8 to $10.99)
Kleenex Girl Wonder -
Graham Smith is the Coolest Person Alive (MOC'98)
Solex vs. The Hitmeister (Matador '98)
Surprisingly successful blend of electronica and lo-fi, two styles that shouldn't necessarily work well together.
The Italian Flag (Jetset '98)
Jad Fair + Yo La Tengo -
Strange But True (Matador '98)
A great concept that makes a very entertaining first listen, but I don't expect this to stand up to repeated listenings very well. Maybe I'll be wrong, but I don't think so.
Asylum Street Spankers -
Spanks for the Memories (Watermelon '96)
The Sarnos -
The Sarnos (Hairy '96)
Quirky, poppy, indie-rock. They remind me of Life in a Blender, which I realize is unhelpful since Life in a Blender is equally obscure, but that's who they remind me of.
Come and Get It: The Mighty Sounds of Hairy Records (Hairy '96)
Sue Garner -
To Run More Smoothly (Thrill Jockey '97)
Alternately experimental and silky. There are smooth moments and moments that affect running, but she doesn't seem to get the running and the smooth together much.
Nothing Painted Blue -
The Monte Carlo Method (Scat '98)
Suprisingly little evolution in Bruno's indie-rock songwriting since their full release of new material 4 years ago, but that's not so bad.
DJ Spooky -
Riddim Warfare (Outpost '98)
Awakening (Luv N' Haight '96)
Sean Lennon -
Into the Sun (Grand Royal '98)
A surprisingly good record. If it weren't for the fact that his voice is too pretty for my taste, I'd put it on the buy-new list.
Incredible Force of Junior -
Let the World Fall Apart (Up '96)
Amy Rigby -
Middlescence (Koch '98)
AM (Sire '95)
Bill Fox -
Transit Byzantium (spinART '98)
A lot folkier than I expected, but there are some swell tunes here.
Ray Campi Quartet -
Train Rhythm Blue (Sci-Fi Western '98)
Big Mama Thornton -
The Original Hound Dog (Ace '90)
This is Acid Jazz: The Golden Age of Groove, Volume Six
Prolonging the Magic
More like their first than their second, which is what I wanted when the second came out, but then I got used to the second, so now I'm just a bit disappointed in this, their third.
Belle and Sebastian -
If You're Feeling Sinister
I really loved this record when I first got it, but then I started to find them a bit whiny on repeated listening.
Lunchbox (Not Happy '96)
Extra-peppy and tuneful power-punk. I got my copy in Amoeba's dollar bin, but I'd pay more if I had to.
Olivia Tremor Control -
Dusk at Cubist Castle (Flydaddy '96)
Like most Robert Schneider projects, there's plenty of hook-theft from both the Beatles and the Beach Boys. This CD has some fantastic moments and almost made the buy-new list, but it sort of disintegrates for stretches into too much chaos for my taste.
Soul Coughing -
El Oso (Slash '98)
Not as fresh as the first, but a lot better than the second.
The Hunt (Merge '96)
Chris Knox -
Yes (Flying Nun '97)
Bevis Frond -
North Circular (Flydaddy '98)
Typically, a few great tunes, and a fair number of average ones, and all the pros and cons that a basic failure to self-edit entails.
David Byrne -
Feelings (Luka Bop '97)
Cashmere Jungle Lords -
Southern Barber Supply (Little Abner '97)
Fantasma (Matador '98)
Orange Peels -
Square (Minty Fresh '97)
Great pop songs that get stuck in your head for days, but there's a fine line between prototype indie-pop and generic indie-pop.
Those Bastard Souls -
Twentieth Century Chemical (Darla '96) Buy mid-priced used ($5 to $7.99)
Bingham's Hole (Dot Dot Dash '95)
Not their best, not their worst.
X-Ray Spex -
Conspicuous Consumer (Receiver '95)
New songs that are surprisingly similar to their 70's recordings, but it all sounds a lot weaker and more hollow now. Nonetheless, it's amazing how well they recreated their 70s sound so many years later.
Strange News From the Angels (Flying Nun '96)
30 Amp Fuse -
Saturday at the Atomic Speedway
Crisp peppy punk rock.
Manhattan (Smells Like Records '94)
From the Pavement school or arty indie-rock.
Son Volt -
Wide Swing Tremelo (Warner '98)
Better than their second record, but like most records, it doesn't compare very favorably to the Son Volt debut.
That Dog -
Retreat From the Sun (Geffen '97)
Charlie Nobody -
Soup (Clay Dog '95)
Donna the Buffalo -
Rockin' in the Weary Land (Sugar Hill '98)
Lots of 5 minute songs that would be good 3 minute songs.
DJ Food -
A Recipe for Disaster (Shadow '95)
Frank and Walters -
Grand Parade (Setanta '98)
Polydemic (Razorfish '98)
Junglized (Selector '96)
The cover says "Jazzy Funky Drum'n'Bass", but I find they sometimes get into a slightly jazzy trip-hop groove and they sometimes do a not very jazzy jungle or drum'n'bass, but they rarely put it all together as advertised.
The Pin Group -
The Pin Group (Slitbreeze '96)
Damon and Naomi -
Playback Singers (Sub Pop '98)
Darktown House Band -
Boom Chang (Veni Vidi Vici '96)
Kicking a Dead Pig (Chemikal Underground '98)
For all I've heard about Mogwai, I think I was expecting something a bit more. Interesting, but not worthy of the buzz. Maybe this remix collection was just a bad place to start.
Lecture on Nothing -
Lecture on Nothing (Pop Mafia '97)
Wacky avante-garde with enough concessions to pop to keep it entertaining.
Back in the U.S.S.A (Freeworld '97)
Hi energy mod-style punk.
J.C. Hopkins -
Athens By Night (Shell '97)
Barbara Manning guest appearance makes it worthwhile.
Heroic Doses -
Heroic Doses (Sub Pop '98)
Ex-5ive Style members doing something similar but a lot less groovy.
Tav Falco Panther Burns -
Shadow Dancer (Upstart '95)
Test Anxiety (Mute '97)
Unusually quirky for a Mute release, maybe even too quirky.Buy low-priced used ($2 to $4.99)
Electric Manor (mixed by The Baroness): A Sunburn Compilation (Sunburn '98)
Q-Burns Abstract Message -
Ouvre (Astralwerks '98)
Richard Bryant -
The Waltz of the Blue Devils (Hook and Ladder '97)
Jungle Jazz vol 3 (Irma '98)
Abe Lincoln Story -
We're Havin' A Dance Party (Flipside '96)
Some fun tunes, but too jokey most of the time even for my taste.
Windexed EP (Gyst '97)
Very homemade looking, but quite a few catchy tunes that overcome the iffy production.
Ciao Bella -
1 (March '97)
Perfectly pleasant indie-pop that isn't catchy or hooky enough to stand up on its own.
The Impossible Five -
Eleven Hours in Antwerp (Gern Blandsten '97)
Hominy (Ivy '98)
Frigg A-go-go -
The Penetrating Sounds of… (360 Twist '97)
I loved the "Everything Around Me" single, but this was a big disappointment.
Hula Hoop -
The Loveliest Ring of Saturn (Silver Girl '95)
More generically indie-alternative than you might guess from the cover, the song-writing is solid.
Me and My Big Mouth (Merge '95)
Not as good as the songs she wrote when she was with Love Child.
Thrush Hermit -
Sweet Homewrecker (Elektra '97) Buy in dollar bin ($1.99 or less)
Swim (2 Funky Int'l '97)
OK frat-boy funk. They get it right on a couple songs. If the Chilli Peppers do it for you, they might too.
Cosmovalidator (Homestead '94)
Silver Apples -
Beacon (Whirlybird '97)
Johan (spinART '97)
There's plenty to like about this, as there is with most spinART releases, but the pretty boy vocals mixed with the alternorock guitars is just too wanky for me to get past.
Chemystry Set -
Life in the Underground (Tuber '98)
Lovin' Miserys -
Happy as Hell (PRS '96)
Freexe the Atlantic (Infectious '97)
Not a bad sound, but the songs don't hold my interest. I think one of these songs was recorded at Noise New Jersey the day after the three-song Planet Log recording date.
Braille (What Are '96)
The Drapes -
The Silent War (One Foot '97)
From the melodious punk Metal Circus school of hardcore, but obviously not nearly as good or fresh as Metal Circus.
The Ballad of Hope Nicholls (Sire '97)
Nine Days Wonder (You Say When '94)
Indie-poprock reminds me a little of the db's.
Zeke Fiddler -
Waterproof (spinART '93)
Troubador Squat String Trio -
Troubador Squat String Trio (Pleather '96)
Very challenging recording that looks like it ought to be a bit more fanciful.Don't Buy
Farces Wanna Mo and Runaway Weiner Dog -
There's Got To Be An Aesthetic There (My X-Lover's Records '96)
I really wanted this to be good, because it looked very interesting, but it just wasn't.
2 Foot Flame -
Ultra Drowning (Matador '97)
A potentially interesting group, but every song is simply too unpleasant in one way or another - quite a disappointment.
Paul Weller -
Heavy Soul (Go! Discs '97)
I think I get the vibe he's going for here, and I really like it conceptually, but he just plain fails to pull it off.
Three Day Stubble -
Festival of the Wedding of the Seagoat (Nerd Rock Music '93)
Waikiki (MCA '97)
I'm OK with alternative, I'm OK with fuckin' A rock'n'roll. Fuckin' A alternative is just annoying.
Honeyrods (Capricorn '97)
Low Road -
The Devil's Pocket (Passenger '94)
I'm Peg Boas -
Pop Goes the Weasel (Pegaris '96)
(Amy Rigby, Nothing Painted Blue, Yo La Tengo, Phillistines Jr, Bargepole, Kalahari Surfers, Chumbawamba, Desperate Rock 'n Roll, This Is Acid Jazz)
(The Lonesome Organist, Marbles, Spaceways, Various Artists, Record Shopping Tips)