Alex Picks the Top Ten Albums of 1998
By: Alex Steininger
While a lot of other magazines have been closing out their 1998 issues with their "Best of..." lists, I've decided to start 1999 off with a recap of what made 1998 such a good year in music -- both in the independent and major label markets.
1. Jr. High -- Killer of Friendships (Empty): Portland, Oregon's hottest power-pop act has been bashing it out in clubs through a few line-up changes for the past few years. But, now that they've got their strongest line-up (which is permanent), they seem to have taken a once powerful sound even higher. Nineteen ninety-eight saw the release of their debut album, Killer of Friendships, which is an explosive trip through Elvis Costello styled power-pop that also calls on influences from bands like The Jam and The Kinks.
2. Ruth Ruth -- Are You My Friend? (RCA): Three different albums, on three different labels, Ruth Ruth might have just found themselves a permanent home at RCA Records. With their most intricate, provocative, and powerful album to date, Ruth Ruth seems poised to take modern rock radio by storm with their next single, "Chemical Peel," due out at the beginning of February. Are You My Friend? is a brilliant mixture of fast, energetic power-pop and delicate, thought-provoking pop.
3. Elliott Smith -- XO (Dreamworks): After years of kicking out the jams with his power-rock outfit, Heatmiser, Elliott Smith's solo career started to take off with the highly-acclaimed release of his third solo record, EITHER/OR (Kill Rock Stars). Following the tremendous underground success of that record was the Oscar nomination Smith received for his contributions to the GOOD WILL HUNTING soundtrack (Capitol). Breaking out of the 'quiet box,' though, Smith's forth solo album, and first for Dreamworks, finds him crafting beautiful pop hooks along side his timeless lyrical portrayal of life as he sees it. Beatles and Kinks fans take notice, here is the gem you've been waiting for.
4. Golden Smog -- Weird Tales (Rykodisc): An all-star alt-country band composed of members from Wilco, Run Westy Run, Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks, and Big Star, their second full-length is what you look for in an album -- crafty lyrics combined with captivating hooks. You'll feel every note, while your own burdens will be set aside due to the easy-going nature of the disc. Folk, rock 'n' roll, and country on the same disc, one listen and you'll know why this band is one of the hottest acts of the 90's.
5. Indigo Swing -- All Aboard (Time Bomb): Nineteen ninety-eight saw a huge resurgence in the popularity of swing. Everyone and their grandmother was dancing and having a joyous time listening to the sounds of the 30's and 40's that made everyone jump in excitement then. And one of the hottest bands in the neo-swing movement is San Francisco's Indigo Swing (hands down the best). Hard work and a great show finally paid off for them when they landed a recording contract with Time Bomb Recordings. Right away they went to work, released All Aboard, and started to turn more and more heads onto the sweetest sound in modern swing.
6. Five Fingers of Funk -- About Time (Ho-Made): Fusing hip-hop, funk, and jazz, this amazing group packs the energy onto their CD's, but their live set is something you won't want to miss. Using live instrumentation, including a full horn section, the soulful feel of About Time is enough to make you want to get down and shake your body (which you will). On top of that, rhyme master and frontman Pete Miser kicks out phat beats that are sonically and lyrically sound. His words are more than words, they are inspirational. A well-rounded disc that has all the components in the right place, hip-hop fans need not miss this one.
7. Rancid -- Life Won't Wait (Epitaph): Redefining what punk rock means on each album, Rancid is back at it again with their fusion of punk, reggae, and ska. Deeper in emotions, and stronger in content than ...And Out Came The Wolves, Life Won't Wait molds and bends each musical form they use into shape, and then recreates it into Rancid's own. Political, fun, and containing lots of grooves, here's a punk rock record that will make you dance and sing-along without ever reaching over into the pop spectrum.
8. Golden Delicious/Pete Krebs -- Cavity Search (Cavity Search): Sampling two of the three current bands on the Cavity Search roster, this EP features the now-defunct Golden Delicious along side Pete Krebs' solo work. On the first five tracks, Pete Krebs and company deliver rockin' bluegrass like no other, while on the remaining four tracks Krebs brings forth his blend of pop, country, and folk to deliver some of the most inspirational acoustic music you've heard in a long time. Here is a label sampler done right.
9. Pilfers -- Pilfers (Self-Released): The very definition of independent, this CD was self-released by the band and only available through their live shows or their web page. For the longest time they weren't allowing anyone to distribute or sell this record in retail shops. They wanted to make sure the right people were into them for their music, not because the band featured Vinny Nobile (ex-Bim Skala Bim) and Coolie Ranx (ex-Toasters). A mixture of ska, reggae, and punk, Coolie Ranx led his crew through some amazing tracks on this disc. Here is what ska-fusion is all about.
10. Social Distortion -- Live at the Roxy (Time Bomb): Who could forget Social Distortion, one of the best punk bands to ever come out of the Orange County area? Kings in the 80's, they kept going and turning heads well into the 90's. Featuring such classic tracks as "Mommy's Little Monster," "Story of My Life," "Prison Bound," and "Bad Luck," this is a must have for any fans of Social Distortion...or punk for that matter. Mike Ness can still kick ass, and this disc proves it.
There you have it, the best of 1998. Of course, looking into 1999, I can already tell it is going to be an amazing year for music. Three albums that I'm especially looking forward to are: Paul Westerberg's third solo album (due out in February), Pete Krebs and the Gossamer Wings' album (tentatively slated for March), and Jr. High's sophomore release (date unknown). Other albums I'm looking forward to include new ones from Filter, Portland's Pinehurst Kids, Weezer, Mike Ness' solo album, and a full-length from No. 2 (featuring Neil Gust, co-singer/songwriter for Heatmiser).