Top 10 Albums of 1998

Number 10.  –  Adore – Smashing Pumpkins

This is the most different Smashing Pumpkins album to date and that’s all thanks to the gothic movement that was happening in the late-90’sThis is not an easy album. You probably will not like it at first. But the more you try to wrap your head around it, the more it opens up and presents itself as being just as beautiful as any of the bands prior work. If you won’t take anything less than a Mellon Collie killer or an album full of anthems, you may be a tad disappointed, but please do not let this one slip though your fingers. In short, it is the album you hate to love. No matter how much you will try to stray yourself away from it, you will surely come back to it. Unfortunately, Billy Corgan says it like it is in Daphne Descends when he whispers “You can’t resist.” The more you put into this album, the more you will get out of it and the more great it will be, just as great as many of the Smashing Pumpkins other essentials.Under-rated, then.  It still surprises me how many Pumpkins fans don’t own this, and how many of the ones that do have dismissed it.  Siamese Dream will always be their canonical classic, but I always found this album much easier to appreciate and much easier to listen to Adore.

Number 9.  –  Hello Rockview – Less Than Jake

Believe it or not this is my introduction to both punk and ska music and still today, I’m looking for anything better than what Less Than Jake had to offer. It’s impossible to hate any of the songs on this album. If it was as perfect as Losing Streak, it would receive a 4.5 or maybe a 5, but it’s not… still, it doesn’t have ANY weak points in my opinion. Just the few tracks that you can’t really listen to all the way, like (in my opinion) Five State Drive and Nervous in the Alley. Overall, though, it’s a surprisingly strong album; its strongest points and best songs are Last One Out of Liberty City, All My Best Friends Are Metalheads, Motto (my favorite, even though it doesn’t have much Ska), Danny Says, Scott Farcas Takes It On The Chin, and Al’s War. Strong album and highly recommended!

Number 8.  –  Mezzanine – Massive Attack

Mezzanine is one of the ultimate and definitive trip hop records and if it wasn’t for Portishead’sDummy it would be THE trip hop album. As a genre, trip hop was absolutely brilliant and  I really have no idea why the genre rose to such heights and then died. It makes absolutely no sense to me. The great trip hop albums just had a uniqueness and unique atmosphere to them that no other genre has. Even though there’s not nearly enough great trip hop, at least we’ll always have the great trip hop albums like Mezzanine. As an idea and a genre, it’s pretty great but the execution from bands like Massive Attack and Portishead were spectacular. Mezzanine is one of the darkest, most evocative, smoothest and damn right coolest albums I’ve ever listened to. I really do love trip hop, as I said in my review for Dummy trip hop is just perfect mood music. Perfect music for having sex, playing video games, general night time and sleeping. I really don’t think anything else embodies Trip-Hop in the way in which Mezzanine does. Here you’ll find the soul of Trip-Hop, the absolute peak of the genre and one of the absolute greats.

Number 7.  –  Queens of the Stone Age – Queens of the Stone Age

Ok, where to start? This album is an absolute master piece. My favourite album by so much of a long shot it’s sad really. It’s kind of the bridge album between Kyuss (Josh Homme’s previous, massively influential stoner band) and Queens of the Stone Age. Not quite as poppy as some of QOTSA’s later material, yet not as drawn out or jam orientated as Kyuss – this album falls into some beautiful place between the two. It’s the vibe and groove of this album that is just absolutely to die for – Homme’s trademark minimalist, fuzzy toned down guitars and jagged but melodic solos, bare bones bass lines (also supplied by Homme on this album, despite the fact future bassist/hell raiser Nick Oliveri features on the back cover) and one time Kyuss drummer Alfredo Hernandez’s brilliantly understated, hypnotic drumming not too mention the perfect analogue recording/production. The real icing on the cake though is Homme’s laid back, Californian desert drawl that just oozes cool – it blow’s my mind to think that he only decided to sing on it after searches to find a singer proved unsuccessful. The songs range from the robotic “Walkin On The Sidewalks”, “You Would Know” to the heavy “Mexicola” to the plain weird – the polka (yes, polka) inspired “Hispanic Impressions”, while all the time remaining melodic and so aggressively original. Listen to this album – you can smell the weed hanging in the baking afternoon desert heat, taste the Corona and limes and only begin to imagine the amount of narcotics consumed…

Number 6.  –  Music Has the Rights to Children – Boards of Canada

Why do I love this album so much? Well, first of all, it evokes emotions no other album manages to evoke. I find it quite interesting that a lot of people seem to talk about feelings of nostalgia in the context of Music Has the Right to Children; it seems it has a quite similar effect on those it does have an effect on. While I’m not sure I’d describe it as “nostalgia”, it certainly are feelings closely related to it. How it does that, I don’t know. Well, I know every beat, every note, every sample by heart now, they’re part of me, so to speak. It also would appear that noone is able to combine beautiful pop-akin melodies with the perfect beats quite as well as BoC. At its core, the music rarely deviates from a couple of layers of synths and some crunchy beats. And you’re certainly in the wrong place if you’re looking for progressiveness. Even still, with all the above methods, and two innovative producers like these, it results in a something that’s perfectly able to hypnotize willing listeners. It’s the kind of record where you just put it on and let your wandering mind fill in the blanks. I personally picture a solar eclipse and the way everything around us looks once it’s complete. Of course, a popular interpretation is that of nostalgia.

Number 5.  –  Hello Nasty – Beastie Boys

This goes back to when I was first getting into music and after all of these years since I bought this album as a kid, I still have no regrets being the Beastie Boys fan that I’ still am today.  After the slightly uninspired and heavily alternative rock sound of Ill Communication, the Beastie Boys sort of went into a break for four years. Instead of the over done experimentation with instrumental jams they had done in their previous two 90s albums, Hello Nasty makes it more even and does it better. There’s 22 tracks, a bunch of it features the three members rapping with the ever-present chemistry and never ending energy where they are equals. Sometimes they experiment with “singing”, shall I say. It’s more whispered though, so it’s not a disaster. There are plenty of smooth jams, though. Sometimes they are sequenced very badly, particularly in the second half where too many instrumentals seem to come at once and not enough rapping to balance it. The production here introduces their associated DJ, Mix Master Mike as a member of sorts. His scratches are totally out of this world and the production is a throwback to the old school and strays away from the rock, guitar heavy production of their previous album. It’s a lot more electronic with all kinds of electronic sound-effects and production styles here.  Hello Nasty is sorta all over the place and in a way inconsistent, which makes it tough to listen to that often. But despite my first thoughts when I first listened to it, it’s an excellent album and much better than Ill Communication. If anything, this might be the closest to Paul’s Boutiquehave gotten and I’m glad their latest “Make Some Noise” single seems to take inspiration from the sound on this album rather than the guitar-heavy headache inducing Ill Communication (which I really find a tough listen). The excessive amount of instrumentals made me hate this at first, so it might be similar to you and take a few listens before you’ll like it, but it’s well rewarding.

Number 4.  –  Cowboy Bebop – The Seatbelts

People who seen Cowboy Bebop knows that the soundtrack is so good that it has it’s own personality. Not only this is a great comeback for jazz/band music in general, but it’s more memorable and iconic than any other album of the genre. The toughest part about discussing about a soundtrack is that you’re trying your best trying to stick with the music and not where its it came from. The music was a big mix-up of everything – jazz, blues, rock, soul, folk – and you can bet that every style that brilliant composer and arranger Yoko Kanno and her band tried was a runaway success. This focuses on the jazzy stuff, which is probably the best the series had to offer. “Tank!” is enough to make up for the fact that there’s a lame-ass ELP song (really, is there any other type of ELP song?), and the awesomeness never lets up from there. Especially of note is “Bad Dog No Biscuits,” which quotes Tom Waits’ “Midtown,” but really, you need to hear all of this – it’s one of those soundtracks that works just as well out side of context as it does in.

Number 3.  –  Psyence Fiction – Unkle 

This album and many of its songs takes me back to a time where I was introduced to modern music and getting my Playstation 1 each time I play any one of the songs in this LP. A phenomenal album, especially considering the age. First is obviously vocals – there’s a great list of features here (Thom Yorke, Mike D, and Kool G Rap are just a few). Endtroducing probably had the better beats, but some of the performances from these guest artists definitely lend an element to the songs that keeps each of them fresh. After all, hearing Mike D’s rapping and Thom Yorke’s haunting singing only a few tracks away from each other certainly lends the album a lot of variety. Second, there’s a lot of great drum-heavy beats, as compared to Endtroducing. Both Drums of Death songs, period. Some of these songs are just phenomenal, and the aforementioned variety is undeniable. Incredible slow, emotional songs (Bloodstain, Lonely Soul, Rabbit in Your Headlights) mixed in with hard-hitting jams (Guns Blazing, Nursery Rhyme, The Knock, UNKLE Main Title Theme). Some songs are passable, but just don’t really grab you. A lot of strength, but the album doesn’t keep it 100% consistent. Great album, certainly sounds ahead of its time.

Number 2.  –  In The Aeroplane Over the Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel

Without a doubt this is one of the more immediately weird albums I’ve heard in a while, and yet oddly enough, it’s one of my favorites that 1990s had to offer. I haven’t completely gotten the chance to get used to it, but I can see why it’s a favorite, and given enough time, I think it could be a favorite of mine as well. I’ve really never heard anything like it at all. If I could liken it into one thing… Shit, this is going to be funny. Pretend that during a dream, life and all of it’s highs and lows was compressed into a compact city from either the very late nineteenth century or very early twentieth century, and you were just jacked up on some kind of happy drug and told to run across the whole damn city in forty minutes. You would probably hear something like this. That may sound pretentious, but there is definitely some kind of powerful, moving feel to this music. It definitely has a weird old fashioned thing going on. The album is spread full with powerful drums and frequent horns, and even the cover art is kind of old fashioned. The liner notes are the same, very antique.

One of the obvious criticisms of this album is Mangum’s grating vocals. I will concede that if you’re the type of person who needs to be “in the mood” for idiosycracities in music, Mangum’s voice is definitely something you’ll need to be in the mood for. If you’re the type of person who think’s Bob Dylan’s songs were always done better by other people, then you’ll probably turn this album off after a few minutes. However, if you believe that aural pleasures in music don’t necessarily equal overall pleasure, and believe originality and honesty are more important than technicalities than you should be fine with his vocals. The same goes for the sometimes amateurish guitar playing.  This is definitely a one of a kind and it’s as compelling and enjoyable as it is unique.   It’s well deserving of its classic status.

I can definitely see why this is so popular among indie rockers, and I think it’s growing on me at a rate that it has already been one of my favorites that that should tell you how wonderful this album is when you give it just enough time to fall in love with it.  By no means is it an easy album to understand; I’m still having a hard time getting at ease with it even months later, but there really isn’t a weak track on the album, and every song does something to contribute to the whole.  This was clearly intended to be the band coup de grace, considering they never actually followed it up and there is enough of a momentous, concluding atmosphere to merit this being the end of the band.  You’ve never heard something dealing with issues such as life, death, love, and sexuality with as much contrasting tenderness and fun.  If  you haven’t heard it, give it a shot.  You will probably either love it or hate it, but that’s a risk you should be willing to take.

Number 1.  –  Sound of Perseverance – Death

And so we come to Death’s last, and during their run in the 1990s from Human, to Individual Thought Patterns, to Symbolic, to finally their last album, was the best 4 consecutive albums that a single band has ever had! Death’s 1995 album Symbolic had been an astounding release and Chuck had evolved each album in a fairly linear direction away from straight forward death metal, and with that album appearing to take the sound as far as it could go without falling out of the genre altogether. Fans were left wondering just where he’d take things next. While the death metal in Death had softened over the years, there was never any doubt which band you were listening to, even with almost entirely different line-ups on each release. With only the occasional riff or lead reminding you that this is the same “band” that released albums like Human and Symbolic. The progressive element has been amped up to much higher levels and the more traditional death metal riffs are far less prominent, none of which is surprising when you consider the members of the band were never hired to play to death metal in the first place.

The more progressive metal style of The Sound of Perseverance is not the only thing that makes this album stand out from the rest of the Death discography. Chuck’s vocals have a much higher tone than on previous releases, approaching black metal-like screams while remaining completely intelligible. Chuck had stated that he was really tired of doing the lower growls night after night, which is one of the reasons he wished to move away from death metal for a while, so I can only assume he changed his style just for something different. The new vocals somehow create such a passionate roar as we simultaneously hear many of the high-pitched riffs that roar for blood. The musicianship is truly impressive and from a purely technical perspective, there are not too many albums out there that could match it. Every track has moments of sheer brilliance with crushing riffs, exquisite leads and some fantastic drumming from the very impressive Richard Christy. The majority of the album’s highlights occur in the first half with Scavenger of Human Sorrow, Bite the Pain and the wonderful Story to Tell containing the most fluent and consistently enjoyable structures overall. It’s not surprising to me that there are many out there that consider this the finest Death album, as it would undoubtedly have drawn a whole new crowd to the band.

Everything just comes together here, and sounds better than ever, from the mystic atmosphere to the driving grooves that had come to define Schulidner’s guitar wizardry.  Not to mention the fantastic songwriting, filled with memorable hooks and powerful vocals, with what is probably the best riffing the band had done up to this point.  Opening with the furious “Scavenger of Human Sorrow”, the signature avant-guitar sound if present, and “Bite The Pain” is an atmospheric joy.  “Spirit Crusher” is easily one of the darkest, heaviest and most brutal death metal songs ever made, with sadistic lyrics and thunderous guitars, it will have you hooked.  “Story To Tell” conjures a real sense of menace and evil, as does “A Moment Of Clarity”, and the melancholy “Flesh and the Power It Holds”.  “To Forgive Is To Suffer” is just an all-out blaster, with a furious drum intro, charging forwards at full speed.  The “Painkiller” cover is perhaps an acquired taste, but still raucously enjoyable. This is a culmination of all of Death’s previous works, and their ultimate album that left the metal world a huge bang to remember.