Top 10 Albums of 1999

Number 10.  –  Antipop – Primus

Primus has returned to the weirdness that has made them famous over the years. A complete 180 degree turn from the Brown Album, this album has it’s heavy monsters, (laquerhead, anti-pop, and electric uncle sam), it’s progressive pink-floyd-meets-Rush epics(eclectic electric and The Final Voyage of Liguid Sky) not to mention it’s very demented closing number “The Coattails of a Dead Man”. Les Claypool plays like a madman, propelling what might be an ordinary song in the hands of another band into future Primus classics. If you combined Pork Soda with Sailing the Seas of Cheese and threw a little bit of the Rhinoplasty sound, you might begin to resemble the excellent musical beast that is the anti-pop.

Number 9.  –  Emergency & I – The Dismemberment Plan

The Dismemberment Plan had some really talented players, especially Eric Axelson and Joe Easley, who comprised the rhythm section (listen to “Spider in the Snow” to hear what sort of insanely tight grooves they could produce). But the central figure of the band was always lead singer Travis Morrison, whose quavery voice so perfectly captured the angst he so eloquently wrote about. Whether he’s singing about becoming independent (“A Life of Possibilities”), or being overwhelmed with caresr (“Memory Machine”), or the perils of relationships writ dramatic (“I Love a Magician”) or just pure loneliness (“The Jitters”, “The City”), Morrison never failed to find a way to make even mundane topics fascinating.  As always, the music is just as unpredictable and complex as the lyrics, like the moment the smooth groove of “A Life of Possibilities” ends with a guitar rawkfest, before transitioning into the unstructured noise of “Memory Machine.” Or the way a simplistic drum beat in “You Are Invited” evolves into a glitchy, tortured mess of electronica before another loud guitar part. This album really shows The Plan at their most varied, as they hop from genre to genre from song to song, or often bar to bar. Prime stuff.

Number 8.  –  The Slim Shady LP – Eminem

After being a struggling rapper trying desperately to get noticed, Eminem was finally discovered by the good Dr. Dre, who gave him the honor of helping his newly formed Aftermath label blow up. Eminem was a white rapper that came out with Dre’s and MTV’s support when nobody wanted to give white rappers a chance following Vanilla Ice disgracing their name. Beastie Boys strayed away towards their outsider fanbase, so it was almost dead for white rappers to succeed. Well, with Eminem, things changed. He got signed to Aftermath and released his debut The Slim Shady LP, in the same year as Dr. Dre’s 2001, which is 1999. Eminem is like the total package as a rapper. He can get deep in terms of subject matter (“Rock Bottom”), he can say the craziest shit imaginable and is all around simply flawless technically. His rapping is on some next level shit and he can do it all. His childish humor which contains taking shots at random celebrities and saying some outrageous stuff that crosses the horrorcore border never gets old even though most of us have heard all of his early material a thousand times by now. Concept songs like “Guilty Conscience” are pulled off flawlessly and disturbingly dark material like “97′ Bonnie & Clyde” work smoothly as well. The skits are kind of a waste of time but “Ken Kaniff” is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. (call me out on childish humor all you want!) Dr. Dre is the executive producer but he only produces three cuts, all of which are super dope. The Bass Brothers do the rest and they give the album some pretty good production that sometimes lets down but other times works perfectly. I can’t help but think of the album cover when I hear these beats. They go together perfectly so that gives you an image of how it sounds. Eminem blew up totally with this and “My Name Is” got played to death on MTV but little did he know how much further his followup album would go and how much controversy he caused.

Number 7.  –  I See A Darkness –
Bonnie “Prince” Billy

I See a Darkness is one of the most emotionally stirring albums I’ve ever listened to, if you can listen to this and not feel anything, I think you may be dead inside. Sorry to break it to you. Whenever I listen to it, it sounds like a man on the brink of defeat. It has a sparse and stark beauty, it’s the most haunting, melancholy, sorrowful albums I’ve ever listened to. You get a lot music that can be extremely subversive and it can feel extremely contrived. This isn’t like that, this is true sadness. The existentialist lyrics are full of such pain, but they manage to be incredibly thought provoking. I think the worst thing about the album is the opening song, ‘A Minor Place’ is quite catchy and upbeat. It lulls you into a false sense of security and makes you completely unprepared for what comes next. It’s an album about life and death, love and hate, friendship, sex. It feels incredibly thoughtful, it has a real sense of fragility about it. It’s feels so intimate, eerie and sombre. Absolutely exquisite.I See A Darkness is quite short, clocking in at 38 minutes but I think that’s the perfect length for an album like this. It’s perfectly paced, it’s incredibly fleeting. You turn it on, listen to it, it hits you, it makes you so sad and depressed and then it’s over. Definitely one of the most draining albums I’ve ever listened to, and that’s a good thing. But at the same time, I think that’s the thing that stops it from being a five star album. But honestly, it’s jaw dropping. The gloomiest thing you’ll ever listen to.

Number 6.  –  Play – Moby

Believe it or not, this is (along with Beastie Boy’s Hello Nasty & Less Than Jake’s Hellow Rockview) is my first album I’ve ever bought and that’s because I was really pulled into Porcelain and Bodyrock.  It’s an album I’ve lived with for years, bought on a whim eons ago and slowly working its magic on me as the time’s passed. At first it made me joyous and got me to dance about in my room, eventually its subdued moments hit me and got me to sit quietly in intense concentration as I reflected what I heard: “My Weakness” in particular is a song whose power has never dulled and which is guaranteed to stir a reaction, often watery-eyed, within me whenever it appears. It is an album with a particular type of impact on me, and it’s actually an impact not repeated in the majority of my other close personal favourites. Because Play mixes together the very upbeat with the very downbeat, it’s an album that provokes reactions from all the sides of the spectrum rather than simply keep one steady mood which is usually what enchants me to albums. It’s an album I always party along to on my own but which always ends up turning me into a reflecting pile of human fluff as it progresses. Ultimately it’s a good thing: when “My Weakness” fades out of existence that feeling of existential clarity that follows whenever you’ve once again finished a close personal favourite thing (be it an album, a book, a film or a game) is a particularly interesting kind of mush of joy and melancholy. And, of course, the notion of realising the beauty in both which the album presents you with. Even if the debate about the sample use still lingers a bit years and years later, it takes nothing away from what it is. Play is not just Moby’s definitive statement, but in its own way, it’s an artistic triumph.

Number 5.  –  The Soften Bulletin –
The Flaming Lips

It seems to me that depression sells. There’s a strange comfort in sadness. It’s like, there’s no point to life, so why should I have to do anything? Why live my life? It would follow that the music industry would latch onto this. Bands and artists such as Linkin Park, Evanescence, Elliott Smith, etc. make music designed for the depressed. It’s become pervasive. If you listen to the radio for five minutes, you’ll be struck by the amount of negative energy that comes from it. As a result of the success of hopelessness, it’s a rare thing that you find a truly happy record. As rare as they are, they’re certainly a breath of fresh air when you come across them. The Soft Bulletin is one of these records. It’s a celebration of love, hope, and innocence, in an increasingly cynical world. And while it doesn’t deny that the world is a dark place, it tries desperately to keeps hope alive. It starts off strong, and keeps the pace throughout. The first two tracks, Race for the Prize and A Spoonful Weighs a Ton, are a story about, as far as I can tell, two scientists trying to find a cure for a pandemic. The pressure is unbelievable, and there is a chance that they could die from this pandemic, they struggle onward, finally discovering the cure that will save mankind. While they are ecstatic, they never forget the cost of the discovery. Every track on here is a great song; it’s like a fix when your on happiness withdrawal. It’s like someone captured good feelings, hope, love, and kindness, and managed to record them on a CD. Utterly brilliant.

Number 4.  –  Agalloch – Pale Folklore

Agalloch are always listed as folk metal and black metal, but it is important to only keep these terms in the back of your mind, for Agalloch have a sound that is not that simple.  In fact, I’ve heard the band referred to as Grey Metal.  And it makes sense, partly because their music is difficult to classify, but mainly because the term fits their foggy autumn sound so well.  Maybe it is because they are from Oregon, far away from the European Black/Folk Metal scenes, that they have been able to craft such a unique sound for themselves.  Or maybe not, it doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that the metal world has been blessed with a new champion of creativity and intelligence. There’s also that folky texture that has become one of Agalloch’s trademarks, though it’s not as obvious as the acoustic interludes present throughout The Mantle—alternately, it’s more inherent and subdued.  The comparatively short instrumental The Misshapen Steed sums up Agalloch’s direction on this album for me: it’s quieter and more haunting than Agalloch’s next albums, but the enchanting and menacing qualities are still there, even if they take longer to make an impression. Hallways of Enchanted Ebony and As Embers Dress the Sky would make a list of Agalloch’s best songs, undoubtedly, and are the standouts on this release.  The Melancholy Spirit is harder to get into than those two but is also excellent.  The album’s weaknesses come in a few spots in the Skyline trilogy, which has its iffy moments, and Dead Winter Days is probably Agalloch’s most average song, but not bad by any means.  The lyrics to this album were written as straight-out poetry by John Haughm, and they too have iffy moments (“The birds wore masks” must be one of the most unintentionally hilarious lines ever), but overall really enhance the atmosphere (“The haunting stain of her woe had burned itself into the oak,” also from The Melancholy Spirit, helps the song tremendously and balances out any images of birds dressed up as Zorro, which is what is usually in my head at that point). So I think I’ve rambled enough now.  This isn’t my favorite Agalloch album, but I do love it, even with its faults.  Everything this band does seems to have an underlying genius to it, and if dark, folky, and especially nature-worshiping music suits your fancy, the patience it takes to get into this album is well worth it.

Number 3.  –  Battle of Los Angeles –
Rage Against The Machine

This is a fantastic album, and from a production, technical ability and songwriting point of view, it is RATM’s best. At this point in Rage’s evolution, de la Rocha is a mature lyricist, his rhyming and delivery is crisp, passionate and intelligent – far more affecting (if a little less anthemic) than the Killing in the Names etc. of the past. Rage Against The Machine has achieved the balance they’ve needed. Previously, their heavy messages and their particularly heavy music have clashed, with one drowning out the other in about half of their songs. But “Battle” changes that. The music has much more variety than previous albums. “Calm Like a Bomb” has some ridiculous guitar work, as does “Voice of the Voiceless,” a call of the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal. “Sleep Now In The Fire,” the current single, is an almost straight-ahead rock tune, and pretty darn catchy. Once again, RATM can make the claim that “All sounds [are] made by guitar, bass, drums, and vocals” only. Listen through this album and gasp at that achievement; it doesn’t sound like it came easily. Overall this album is a worthy addition to any Rage fan’s collection, and hopefully the thought-provoking messages and powerful music will draw in many new fans for such a deserving band.

Number 2.  –  Ágætis byrjun – Sigur Ros

The disappearance of shoegaze-style is forever vanished in the late-90’s but thankfully, there are still obscure bands out there that took inspiration with the magic of the genre. Ágætis byrjun is an album that Deserves all the cult following and hype surrounding it. Showing of elegant Beauty, in the most distorted way I have ever Heard. Ágætis Byrjun provides a level of comfort that is just beyond words. I’ve heard others describe this album as atmospheric–Von was atmospheric, and almost nothing else–but this album transcends atmosphere. It is deep, penetrating, unconventionally emotional and soul-comforting. Yes, it comforts your soul! Well, mine at least. It’s both the most relaxing and the most exciting album I’ve ever heard. When you listen to the album it’s not hard to see what all the fuss was about. This is some of the best Icelandic album since Björk’s Homogenic.  Though the lyrics are great the music is just wonderful and hypnotic, they sound kind of like the pop version of “Godspeed You Black Emperor!” but still with an edge of their own, and still not really pop. This is one of those albums that gets better every time I listen to it.

Number 1.  –  Still Life – Opeth

As with many people, Opeth were my introduction to extreme metal, and also one of the first prog bands I really enjoyed, along with The Mars Volta and Tool. Still Life was my first experience of the band, and remains my favourite album of theirs, and one of my favourite albums of all time. Still Life represents the band at the peak of their career, between two styles. The dark, atmospheric sound of the early albums is still here, but the lengthy prog-influenced sounds of the more recent albums are displayed here for the first time. Still Life is possibly also the band’s most complex album, guitar-wise at least, with many time changes, heavy/acoustic switches and technical riffs and solos in most of the songs here. While Opeth are often criticised for staying on the same riff for too long, on this album they always seem to do something different at the exact moment you feel they should move on, with the possible exception of “Serenity Painted Death”, which thankfully has some of the better riffs on the album to save it anyway. The acoustic sections onStill Life are sublime, with “Benighted” and especially “Face Of Melinda” being beautiful, almost entirely distortion-free songs, with Mikael Akerfeldt’s clean vocals a huge step up from My Arms Your Hearse. The soft parts also work magnificently in contrast with the heavier areas, in particular on the insane opener “The Moor”, packed full of huge riffs, harmonies and time changes but also some brilliant melodic parts. “Moonlapse Vertigo” has some of Opeth’s catchiest guitar sections while “White Cluster” has some of their most technical, but my favourite song on here has to be “Godhead’s Lament”. Having the band to discover the folk style was the best thing for the best otherwise they would remain mediocre. It shows the spirit and soul that most Metal albums are seriously lacking but it enthuses upon so much creativity at the point where it’s artistic.  Opening with a maelstrom of swirling riffs and masterful drumming, it goes on to provide a storming display of the band’s best heavy work and also one of their most beautiful acoustic passages. The songs here are lengthy yet never dull, and perhaps more than any Opeth album since, offers new sounds on each listen. I have heard albums that do prog, metal and acoustics better than Still Life, but none that manage to blend the three as fantastically as Opeth on this release.

Now that we’re done with all of the Top 10 lists of albums for each year, stay tuned for the highly anticipated Top 10 Albums of the 1990s!

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