by Courtney Knopf
1999 was a surprisingly good year for music. Sure, we continued being
pummeled to death with more boy bands than you can shake a stick at, and two
of the Spice Girls went solo, but look at it this way: we did stave off the
invasion of British ubergroup, Steps, for another year. So we end the
millennium with a bang rather than a whimper.
The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros.)
Sure, Lipsí frontman Wayne Coyne may get tired of all the comparisons to Pet
Sounds-era Beach Boys, but he doesnít do much to dissuade it either. The
Soft Bulletin is an amazing soundscape of lush orchestrations and soaring
harmonies that blend together to form some amazingly beautiful and complex
pieces of music. Along with artists like Sebadoh, Robyn Hitchcock, Cornelius
and IQU, The Flaming Lips launched quite possibly the best packaged tour of
recent years wherein they passed out headphones tuned to a specific radio
frequency running from the sound board so the audience could experience the
show in surround sound. Remember when Lollapalooza was that cool?
Bis - Social Dancing (Grand Royal/Capitol)
My first assessment of Social Dancing was enjoyment, but not love. I still
had to get past my occasional distaste for Manda Rinís voice. But after
listening to the album more times than I can count, Iíve come to see how
much this album truly rocks. Itís a quintessential party album; new wave,
disco, punk and techno all rolled into one. If your friends donít get on the
floor and shake some booty to "Eurodisco," you should get some new friends.
Beck - Midnite Vultures (DGC/Interscope)
Undeniably one of the greatest albums to come along in recent years, Midnite
Vultures is a platter of musical chicken and waffles with a side of funk.
Beck sheds the acoustic trappings of Mutations for an orgiastic
clusterfuck of sound reminiscent of Prince in the 80ís. This album is liable
to charm the pants (and possibly more) off any girl you bring home.
Handsome Boy Modeling School - SoÖ Howís Your Girl? (Tommy
The brain child of Prince Paul and Dan the Automator, SoÖ Howís Your Girl?
is a cut-and-paste hip hop odyssey with more guest appearances than an
episode of "The Love Boat". Collaborating with the likes of Mike D., Miho
Hatori of Cibo Matto, Josh Hayden of Spain, DJ Shadow and even old SNL
stand-by Father Guido Sarducci, Handsome Boy runs the gamut of rock, rap,
drum and bass, jazz and hardcore yet somehow manages not to choke on itself.
And who can resist an album whose concept was derived from an episode of
Chris Elliotís "Get A Life"?
Wilco - Summerteeth (Warner Bros./Reprise)
Iím a sucker for melody and harmony, and with Summerteeth, I was
reeled in, hook line and sinker. Walking the fine line between lush
arrangements and over production, Wilco shot out of the box with a pop
masterpiece without totally abandoning their twangy roots. The achingly
beautiful "Sheís a Jar" was only ruined for me by a friend who thought it
would be cute to rename is "Sheís a Jar-Jar" in honor of the most annoying
movie character of all time. Floppy eared aliens notwithstanding,
Summerteeth delivers some of the best pure pop brilliance of recent
Beth Orton - Central Reservation (Arista/Heavenly)
The chillout queen of Englandís third album is a markedly more somber work.
It still dabbles in the mixing of folk and breakbeat, but beneath the
surface bubbles an intense plate of emotions. Aided by guests like Ben
Harper, Terry Callier and long-time collaborator William Orbit, Central
Reservation is the album Orton will be remembered for long after her 15
minutes are up. "Sweetest Decline" is quite possibly one of the most
beautiful songs ever recorded.
Pavement - Terror Twilight (Matador)
For some unknown reason, it took me a hell of a long time to jump on the
Pavement train. But with the release of Terror Twilight, produced my
former Radiohead collaborator Nigel Goodrich, I got my shit together and can
finally give Stephen Malkmus and Co. their due. Pavement are the consummate
indie rock band of the 90ís, both grungy and melodic, complex and simple,
raucous without being mindless sweet without being cloying and above all,
intelligent. And hell, Stephen Malkmus lives in my hometown, so thatís got
to be worth something.
Cibo Matto - Stereo*Type A (Warner Bros.)
Thereís something special about Cibo Matto that Iíve never quite been able
to put my finger on. Perhaps itís the total amalgam of cultures they blend
seamlessly to create such a unique sound. The diverse mixture of funk, hip
hop, tropicalia, jazz and even heavy metal is what gives them strength as a
cohesive unit. The lyrics sometimes slip into nonsensical spirals of Miho
Hatoriís rhymes, yet somehow it all seems to make perfect sense.
Old 97ís - Fight Songs (Elektra)
Let me state for the record that I hate country music. Well, more
specifically I hate Pop-Country like Garth and Shania. I guess the Old 97ís
fit somewhere into the category known as alt-country. Theyíve got twang, but
theyíve also got a terribly endearing pop sensibility about them. On their
fourth album, the deceptively melancholy Fight Songs, these four boys
from Texas are reaching for commercial and critical success. And that thar
Rhett Miller is pretty darn foxy!
Beulah - When Your Heartstrings Break (Sugar Free)
Have you ever been so smitten with an album that you tell every person you
know to go buy it so they too can share in your joy? Thatís what Beulahís
second album is to me. Part of the Elephant 6 collective, Beulah know a
thing or two about harmonies and beautiful pop melodies. When Your
Heartstrings Break is the album you pull out on that first day of spring
and donít retire until well after the last leaf of autumn falls.
Read Courtney's past reviews of these albums.