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(TV) NY Times Best of 1999
If interested here is today's "Pop Life" column from the NY Times with
critics naming their favs for '99.
THE POP LIFE
The Pop Life: A Year When Pop
Genres Took Turns in the Limelight
Comebacks and Newcomers Win Nominations for Grammy
The Pop Music List: Hormones, Correctives, Bandwagons and
Apparitions (Dec. 26, 1999)
Join a Discussion on Popular Music
By NEIL STRAUSS
he pop charts last year were a game of rock, scissors,
paper. Three very different forces were at work, each one
briefly supplanting the other. There was the rock of rap-metal
bands like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock; the sharp, angular
minimalist hip-hop that emerged from the South with J T Money
and Juvenile; and the paper was the lightweight pop of the
Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, Britney Spears and Ricky Martin.
Rock smashed scissors, paper smothered rock, scissors cut
Bubbling beneath the
surface of a pop world in
which singles flourished
and albums were
undernourished were at
least a dozen genres.
Thanks to the success of
"Buena Vista Social Club,"
it was a banner year for
Cuban music with releases
from Ibrahim Ferrer, Los
Zafiros and Eliades
Ochoa. Benefiting from the
success of Lauryn Hill, a
crop of soul divas
sprouted, including Macy
Gray, Angie Stone and Blandinna (Melky) Jean of Melky
Sedeck. Bluegrass boomed, with musicians like Steve Earle
turning to a genre flourishing thanks to the popularity of Alison
Krauss and Bela Fleck, and alternative hip-hop emerged with
enough bands to fill compilations like "The Funky Precedent"
and "Quannum Spectrum" with quality nongangsta tracks.
So then, it was a year of . . . lists. And here is one more, with
pop and jazz critics of The New York Times selecting their
favorite recordings of 1999.
1. Me'Shell Ndegeocello, "Bitter" (Maverick). Mourning a
breakup carries the singer into a contemplative realm where
soul, jazz, rock and folk intersect. The songs circle through
gentle vamps, trying to break free and find solace and perhaps
2. Nine Inch Nails, "The
Reznor's answer to
songwriter's block was,
paradoxically, a double
album, one that finds fury,
vulnerability, delicacy and
rot. Its strongest passion is
its obsession with sounds,
each one a wound or a
3. Fiona Apple, "When the
Pawn . . . " (Sony/Epic). No
longer a teenager, Ms.
Apple matches the
ambivalence and volatility of troubled adult romance with music
that shadows every mood swing: confident and blue, catchy and
convoluted, matching painful honesty with ambitious
4. Tom Waits, "Mule Variations" (Anti/ Epitaph). Mr. Waits's
first new songs since 1994 clank and scrape as they did before
his hiatus. But behind the tales of freaks and lowlife is a
renewed longing for home that is echoed in the blues, waltzes
and parlor songs under his growl and thump.
5. Café Tacuba, "Reves/Yosoy" (WEA Latina). Café Tacuba, a
band from Mexico City, has surreal transformations on its mind.
The instrumentals on one disc of this double album keep shifting
tempos and textures, from string quartet (the Kronos) to angular
hard rock. In the thoughtful, mostly understated songs on the
second disc, the lyrics imagine all kinds of metamorphoses as
the Beatles, Mexican traditions and new-wave rock coalesce.
6. Macy Gray, "On How Life Is" (Epic). Ms. Gray doesn't just
reclaim the optimistic grooves of late-1960's soul, with an organ
tootling like both the church and the circus. She comes up with
fully formed songs about desire and lovers' games that make
the most of her tiny, scratchy, feisty voice.
7. Beck, "Midnite Vultures" (Geffen).
As blaxploitation funk riffs meet 1990's zingers, Beck plays a
trashy Casanova who knows there's devastation just outside the
luxury suite. Partying while he still can, he builds laughs into
8. Rage Against the Machine, "The Battle of Los Angeles"
(Epic). Can the testosterone surges of adolescence be
channeled into political fervor? Rapping about leftist martyrs
over choppy (and newly funky) hard-rock riffs, Rage Against the
Machine bets it can, and hedges with ample guitar mayhem.
9. Mos' Def, "Black on Both Sides" (Rawkus). Mos' Def's
consciousness-raising rap navigates the narrow passage
between preachiness and cynicism. He keeps his voice casual
and his backup tracks limber, never letting his clear sense of
mission stifle a good time.
10. Squarepusher, "Presents Selection 16" (Nothing). Tom
Jenkinson, alias the one-man studio band Squarepusher,
makes electronica that doesn't pretend to be pop; for variety he
overdubs himself into a jazz-fusion ensemble. The music is
hyperactive and quick-changing, teeming with so many odd
noises that it's just this side of haywire.
1. Cesaria Evora, "Café Atlantico" (RCA Victor). Equal parts
Billie Holiday and Buena Vista Social Club, Ms. Evora of Cape
Verde makes nondenominationally beautiful music. For this
album she pours on extra strings and brass, creating a set of
songs that glides by like a tragic heroine at a joyous party.
2. Rage Against the
Machine, "The Battle of
Los Angeles" (Epic). In a
year in which the white pop
audience split between
ballads and meathead
rap-rock misogyny, Rage
Against the Machine
scored a victory for quality
with its best, most
hard-hitting album of
spittle-flying protest lyrics
and high-velocity guitar
3. Prince Paul, "A Prince Among Thieves" (Tommy Boy). In an
artistic coup for hip-hop, Prince Paul gave the genre its first
realized opera, the rap equivalent of the Who's "Tommy", with a
tightly composed and well-acted tale about the death of an M.C.
in which narrative and beat flow seamlessly together.
4. Randy Newman, "Bad Love" (Dreamworks). Taking a long
overdue respite from children's music, Mr. Newman returns as
the wry piano man who has seen it all. With razor-tongued wit,
he rips into European imperialists, dinosaur rockers (including
himself) and trophy wives, pausing every now and then for
simple, poignant sincerity.
5. Toru Takemitsu, "Quotation of Dream" (Deutsche
Grammophon, performed by the London Sinfonietta, conducted
by Oliver Knussen). A gentle rebuke to those who dismiss this
Japanese composer's final works, this collection of seven
colorful impressionistic compositions (from the
Debussy-quoting title piece to the leisurely mutating "How Slow
the Wind") shows him sketching his imaginary garden in a
drifting, harmonious world without borders, beginnings or
6. East River Pipe, "The Gasoline Age" (Merge). On his most
polished album, rock's beautiful loser (the reclusive F. M.
Cornog) makes music radiant with the pain of an outcast unsure
if he wants to join the jet set or tear it apart. "Hell is an open
door," he sings, drenching his voice in John Lennon-like reverb.
"Come on everybody, get in."
7. Dolly Parton, "The Grass Is Blue" (Sugar Hill). Like Steve
Earle, Jim Lauderdale and many others last year, Ms. Parton
went bluegrass and turned in an amazing album. With an expert
team of side musicians, she radiates, whether racing at
breakneck speed through a Louvin Brothers song or wailing
high and lonesome on an original tear-jerker.
8. Moby, "Play" (V2). Technically it is a simple idea: Grab
snatches of old gospel and blues field recordings, match a
dance beat to them, and nestle them into a pretty musical bed.
But Moby works it all into a powerful combination, creating a
hybrid that is neither blues nor dance but a soulful, elegant
subgenre unto itself.
9. Toy Box, "Fantastic" (Edel). A Danish Euro-pop act featuring
a male with a delivery that makes Arnold Schwarzenegger
sound like Shakespeare and a female singer who makes
Britney Spears seem like Marie Curie, Toy Box is pop culture at
the turn of the century. This album is the equivalent of an E!
travel special, in which world culture is reduced to a pointless
party, except there is something innocent and addictive about
Toy Box's party that keeps me coming back.
10. Mary J. Blige, "Mary"
(MCA). Practically a
dinosaur in the fast
turnover world of
contemporary rhythm and
blues, Ms. Blige has
improved with age,
smoothing out the hip-hop
beats in favor of slow jams
and soul rhapsody on an
album that shines when it
is contemplative or
resolute but weakens when
it turns to self-pity.
1. Jason Moran, "Soundtrack to Human Motion" (Blue
This is round one of a jazz pianist's career that ought to be worth
watching closely. With Greg Osby playing alto saxophone and
producing, the album benefits from a tightly knit band and a tart
but structuralist compositional sense.
2. Café Tacuba, "Reves/Yosoy" (WEA/ Latina).
The sound is sometimes harshly electro-futuristic, sometimes
nostalgic (for the 80's new wave, though the band doesn't make
fun of it) and sometimes musicological (traditional Mexican
song forms with a transformative enthusiasm). This biting,
sprawling, daydreaming and tuneful double album confirms
Café Tacuba as one of the world's greatest rock bands.
3. Marcus Roberts Trio, "In Honor of Duke" (Columbia).
Self-consciously arty to the extreme, even while all its basic
territory, as Mr. Roberts argues, was staked out long ago by
Ellington. There's not an Ellington tune here, but it helps one to
think about the master's -- not to mention Mr. Roberts's --
4. Ben Allison and Medicine Wheel, "Third Eye" (Palmetto).
Mr. Allison, a young bass player, is doing what jazz composers
should, ideally, do: remain open to music of all kinds, including
what young people outside the jazz realm are listening to, and
work it into ambitious, energetic compositions that do not
condescend or underestimate an audience's intelligence.
5. Stefon Harris, "Black Action Figure" (Blue Note/Capitol).
A swift, finely rendered, musically literate and very contemporary
album by a young jazz vibraphonist who is evolving so rapidly
that this will soon seem a childhood picture.
6. John Lewis, "Evolution" (WEA/Atlantic).
Highly organized and humid with quiet emotion, this is a
late-career solo masterstroke from Mr. Lewis, the former
Modern Jazz Quartet pianist, and its roomy sound is far above
the standard of most jazz recordings.
7. Gonzalo Rubalcaba, "Inner Voyage" (Blue Note/Capitol).
A Cuban virtuoso of speed piano takes it super slowly for a
change, and the jazz-trio tracks display a touch that is so quietly
authoritative it makes your head hurt.
8. Alison Krauss, "Forget About It" (Rounder).
Ms. Krauss, a bluegrass musician who has been edging away
from tradition and toward a modest version of a pop diva, has a
cottony soprano that may be one of the great voices of the day,
and the songs here, by top current songwriters in pop and
country as well as obscure 70's oldies, were expertly selected.
9. Basement Jaxx, "Remedy" (Astralwerks/Virgin).
A casual description of Basement Jaxx, an English duo, might
suggest that it fits the house music genre, which could turn off
anyone who doesn't spend long nights in dance clubs.
But what a dense, joyous, pleasurable album this is, and how it
stands out in a field of music that sounds as if it is mostly made
by Stepford zombies.
10. Beck, "Midnite Vultures" (Geffen).
In which Beck tucked in his shirttails and delivered a perfect
triumph of technical work.
The album is funky, if not indicative enough of what his working
band sounds like, and funny, if too abstract; it did not make a
quarter of the splash of "Odelay," but there are layers of sound
here to savor for a long time.
1. Fiona Apple, "When the Pawn . . . " (Sony/Epic). Pundits
made fun of her pretensions, yet instead of the expected
rantings of a pinup girl, Ms. Apple offered some of the most
immediate, individual and just plain human music of the year.
This is no pawn, but a well-armed knight on a visionary quest.
2. Mary J. Blige, "Mary" (MCA). Women's voices lifted rhythm
and blues out of the doldrums last year, from TLC's blockbuster
to promising debuts from Macy Gray and Melky Sedeck. The
queen of hip-hop soul enjoyed a quieter triumph.
"Mary" shows Ms. Blige's talent in full bloom, steady and refined,
but still electrifyingly emotional.
3. Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band, "The Mountain" ().
Mr. Earle, a great country music bad-boy, is audacious even
when bowing to tradition. He set out to write certifiable classics
for this trip into hard bluegrass, enlisting the genre's top band to
render them immortal. This was the year's richest journey into
roots music's living history.
4. Fountains of Wayne, "Utopia Parkway" (Atlantic). This
power-pop gem is a concept album about suburbia, but even if
all the songs were about pasteurized milk, their melodies would
stick like glitter make-up on a teeny-bopper's face. The
conceptual framework simply adds dimension to the album's
5. Joe Henry, "Fuse" (Mammoth). Creeping up like the thoughts
that maliciously wait until your head hits the pillow, the songs on
this subtle album ennoble the term "adult contemporary."
Top-notch studio musicians helped build a bridge between Mr.
Henry's quirky vision (and voice) and the kind of smooth pop
that permeates the atmosphere, creating a portrait of one man's
inner life as a quiet storm.
6. Magnetic Fields, "69 Love Songs" (Merge). Stephin Merritt,
the artiste behind this three-CD epic, is a miniaturist with grand
ambitions, an autodidactic pop musicologist, an ironist who
cannot resist the pleasures of sentimentalism, and an openly
gay man hanging out in the mostly straight world of indie rock.
Made from the scrapheap of pop history, this is his handmade
monument to the music of romance.
7. Nine Inch Nails, "The Fragile" (Nothing/Interscope).
Trent Reznor's memorial to the writer's block he finally overcame
is certainly narcissistic and grandiose. But check out the bricks
in the thing: each riff, sample or rhythm fascinates, and they all
hang together in mysterious patterns that lay bare the effort of
their construction while defying gravity.
8. Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate, "Kulanjan" (Hannibal).
Taj Mahal has been tracing the worldwide path of the blues for
decades. This collaboration gently melds Mr. Mahal's country
style with the virtuoso stylings of kora master Toumani Diabate.
Other Malian musicians, including the nightingale-voiced
Ramatour Diakite, enrich this delicate and deep cultural
9. Kelly Willis, "What I Deserve" (Rykodisc).
The Austin-based singer-songwriter Kelly Wilis used
country-rock's inherent conflict between roots and horizons to
evoke that moment in early midlife when the future starts
showing its borders, and self-acceptance becomes a painful
necessity. It is a guidebook for people learning how to live with
10. Quannum Spectrum, "Quannum Projects", and the Funky
Precedent, "No Mayo" ( Loose Groove). While corporate
hip-hop milks hackneyed hooks and poses, hope lies with the
historically conscious, forward-looking underground.
These two collections, both from California, encapsulate a
scene that overflows with what hip-hop needs: skilled lyricists,
innovative D.J.'s, grass-roots politics and lots of laughs.
From: Jeremy Smith [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, January 05, 2000 4:16 AM
Subject: Re: (TV) Recent acquisitions
Out of interest, where did you pick up the bootlegs from. I've always bought
my TV stuff from Subterranean in NY - it would be good to find a UK source.
----- Original Message -----
From: Cliff McLenehan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Tuesday, January 04, 2000 8:08 PM
Subject: Re: (TV) Recent acquisitions
> So after a trip back to the UK I managed to pick up a handful of
> Top of the pile was Rowland S. Howard's 'Teenage Snuff Film'. I
> know Jeremy (US) has raved about this. It was definitely worth the
> 7 year wait and thoroughly recommended, if you're able to locate it.
> Also finally got around to getting Pere Ubu's 'Terminal Tower'.
> And then there were the bootlegs, including 'Pleasure Without
> Measure' - Tom live at the Town & Country Club, London 19/3/97.
> This is on a label called Barfing Spaniel. It's a double CD-R in a
> gatefold card sleeve. Quality is listenable, though not brilliant.
> I assume the Barfing Spaniel label originates in London or maybe
> Taunton (in-joke). There were other Tom & Television titles
> including Electric Ballroom 1984, CBGB's 1976 plus releases from
> Magazine, John Cale, Buzzcocks, Bowie (I also picked up a
> double CD of the Vancouver 76 rehearsal) amongst others. Some
> titles were CD-R copies of previously existing releases. Other titles
> featured original material. I'll try and get a full list of all the
> and Television titles later this week.
> Marc Bolan 1947-1977 A Chronological History by Cliff McLenehan
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