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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: A Year When Pop
        Genres Took Turns in the Limelight

        Related Articles 
        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 


            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. 

        Jon Pareles 

         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
                                  (Nothing/Interscope). Trent
                                  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
        every arrangement. 

         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. 

        Neil Strauss 

         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
        saccharine teeny-bopper
        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
        sound effects. 

         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. 

                                  Ben Ratliff 

         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. 

        Ann Powers 

         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
        indelible charm. 

         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
        their dreams. 

         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. 

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeremy Smith [mailto:jeremy_ni_smith@hotmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, January 05, 2000 4:16 AM
To: tv@obbard.com
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.


Jeremy (UK)
----- Original Message -----
From: Cliff McLenehan <klif@volny.cz>
To: <tv@obbard.com>
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
> discs.
> 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.
> Cliff
> S
> Marc Bolan 1947-1977 A Chronological History by Cliff McLenehan
> http://start.at/kliff
> --------------
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