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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 Soft Bulletin 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?

Social Dancing 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.

Midnite Vultures 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.

So...Hows your girl? Handsome Boy Modeling School - SoÖ Howís Your Girl? (Tommy Boy)
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"?

Summerteeth 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 memory.

Central Reservation 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.

Terror Twilight 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.

Stereo*Type A 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.

Fight Songs 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!

When Your Heartstrings Break 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.

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