So who were those masked men? THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, THE MODERN LOVERS? Well, nearly. They arrived with a darkly psychedelic garage sound, yes, but they came from Liverpool armed with two of the singles of the year, the zippy smack paranoia of ‘Monkey On Your Back’ and the urgent speedfreak, um, paranoia of ‘Cement Mixer’. And they wore surgical masks. How can they fail?
Choice cut: ‘Cement Mixer’ (Aladdin’s Cave Of Golf)
Bellowing faux bluesmen from the Mersey delta, or a bunch of dope-addled students just having a larf at the public’s expense? The Gomez wars raged across Britain, and – love ’em or hate ’em – you’ll be hard pushed to avoid the Mercury Prize-winning gringos in 1999.
Choice cut: ’78 Stone Wobble’ (Hut)
3 ELLIOTT SMITH
One man in a woolly hat shuffled out of Portland via an Oscar soundtrack nomination to become the hero of the heartbroken everywhere. Elliott Smith‘s four albums mined precious songs from granite-bleak experiences, unearthing quiet defiance and fierce humanity on the way down. Calling him a ‘genius’ would only make him blush.
Choice cut: ‘Ballad Of Big Nothing’ (Domino)
Two men (CASS and DES) in silly hats bond together and wisely decide to get a bit funky and ever so slightly stoned. The end result is a clutch of irresistible singles and the sprawlingly loved-up ‘One Love’ opus.
Choice cut: ‘C’mon Cincinnati’ (Go! Beat)
5 BADLY DRAWN BOY
Despite spending most of the year aggravating A&R men and hacks with his ‘concept’ gigs, Manchester’s Badly Drawn Boy (aka DAMON GOUGH) still ended ’98 signed to XL and touted as The New BECK. His ‘EP3’ confirmed why. Schizophrenic but smoothly melodic, it was a record that revealed a scuffed genius beneath the bad jokes.
Choice cut: ‘EP3’ (XL)
6 TEN BENSON
Straight from the swamps of the Thames Estuary came three men drunk on the burger-bar blues of America, with tales of demonic preachers and severed hands: such was their ‘Six Fingers of Benson’ mini-LP (on Deceptive). Imagine Beck stranded at a Wimpy in Lakeside Thurrock shopping centre, and you won’t be far off.
Choice cut: ‘The Claw’ (Sweet Records)
7 THE DANDY WARHOLS
Ill-looking Americans who stormed outta the Portland, Oregon art scene. When they shut up about sex and drugs, and keyboardist Zia kept her top on, the Dandies managed to thrill with a string of lazily effervescent singles, dealing primarily with sex and drugs and taking one’s top off.
Choice cut: ‘Every Day Should Be A Holiday’ (Parlophone)
8 REGULAR FRIES
They look like vagrants, but the eight-strong insurgent force of Superfry guys have stormed the reality factory and are beginning to free the workers. The Fries thrive on free-thinking, community action and collective well-being. Think fast dudes – not fast food.
Choice cut: ‘Free The Regular Fries’ (JBO)
9 JURASSIC 5
At last – a hip-hop crew who didn’t brag about guns and ‘hos’. Los Angeles’ Jurassic 5‘s brand of hippy-hop was as far removed from WU-TANG folklore as possible, while singles ‘Jayou’ and ‘Concrete Schoolyard’ revelled in a loose, freestyled simplicity. Not dinosaurs, then.
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Choice cut: ‘Concrete Schoolyard’ (Kiff/SM)
10 HEFNER Walthamstow-based bedsit musos extraordinaire, this trio’s LP, ‘Breaking God’s Heart’, bubbled with dreams and twisted love schemes and indie ideals. A genuine bolt from the blue, their angular take on credible guitar music was simply too left-field for some. There can be no higher recommendation.
Choice cut: ‘Love Will Destroy Us In The End’ (Too Pure)
11 BLACK BOX RECORDER
Not the youngest band in On ’98, it’s fair to say. Or the nicest. But AUTEUR LUKE HAINES, ex-Mary Chainer JOHN MOORE, and the deb tones of SARAH NIXEY caught the petty nastiness of old Blighty beautifully on their ‘England Made Me’ LP. And with, “Life is unfair/Kill yourself or get over it”, ‘Child Psychology’ had the chorus of the year. A bitter antidote to Cool Britannia.
Choice cut: ‘Child Psychology’ (Chrysalis)
12 LLAMA FARMERS
At last, good news for Clearasil-free teenagers. After years of adolescent popsters drunk on the thrill of alcopops, finally Llama Farmers emerged from deepest Greenwich to remind the world that Britain’s youth are angst-wracked buggers who love NIRVANA-fixated rock even more than petty crime.
Choice cut: ‘Always Echoes’ (Fierce Panda)
Some hailed it as the rebirth of synth-pop, but the rainy grandeur of Laptop’s debut single, ‘End Credits’, needed no bandwagon to increase its impact. JESSE HARTMANN was wry without being dry, steeped in the ’80s but looking beyond the ’90s. A processor with intelligence inside.
Choice cut: ‘End Credits’ (God Bless)
Possibly the most well-connected, if understated, band of ’98. Comprising ex-HEATMISER SAM COOMES on schizo keyboard duties, and SLEATER-KINNEY‘s JANET WEISS on drums, Quasi proved themselves both as Elliott Smith‘s backing band and as a marvel unto themselves. Laced with wobbly vitriol and big love, their debut LP strung Coomes‘ vocals over drum and organ melodies with taut grace.
Choice cut: ‘Featuring ‘Birds” LP (Domino)
Amsterdam’s Solex chucked traditional songwriting out the window, and substituted junk shop records, an old sampler and an eight-track as sonic raw material. Result? The groovesome ‘Solex All Licketysplit’ single, in which ELISABETH ESSELINK‘s sweetly off-kilter vocals intertwined with post-techno beats and synths to unique effect.
Choice cut: ‘Solex All Licketysplit’ (Matador)
16 CAT POWER
Think WILL OLDHAM as a girl and you’re nearly there. Cat Power‘s CHAN MARSHALL went places others fear to tread on her fourth and best LP, ‘Moon Pix’. And singlehandedly revamped the American gothic blues tradition with her otherworldly croon, naturally.
Choice cut: ‘Moon Pix’ LP (Matador)
17 KID LOCO
The punk-turned-love messiah may’ve watched in dismay as fellow Parisians Air stole large chunks of his thunder, but Le Kid’s penchant for sweet strings and languid hip-hop ensured that debut LP ‘A Grand Love Story’ had a nonchalant Gallic charm all of its own.
Choice cut: ‘Love Me Sweet’ (Virgin)
In a year filled with American bands tapping into their roots traditions, Calexico were one of the finest. Essentially JOEY BURNS and JOHN CONVERTINO of the venerable GIANT SAND, their ‘Stray’ single saw all the desolate twangs and blasted reveries of desert rock pulled off with dusty panache. A record to watch tumbleweeds roll by to, in a non-ironic kinda way.
Choice cut: ‘Stray’ (City Slang)
19 THE MONSOON BASSOON
Their ‘The Iceman’s Back Garden’ single is where it effectively started for this London ensemble. Like all genius works of horror, what informed you of its greatness was less what you heard, more the extremity of the reactions it provoked, and these were chiefly terror. Great galloping Grendel. They’re coming to your town.
Choice cut: ‘The Iceman’s Back Garden’ (Weird Neighbourhood)
This loose musical collective were described by Stephen Pastel as “Glasgow’s answer to the Wu-Tang“. However, as might be expected from friends of BELLE & SEBASTIAN, they failed to bring the ruckus, instead confusing everyone by following the sparky northern soul of their ‘Gifted’ single with the BILL WELLS-remixed groove of ‘Dark Tourism’. All hail the new eclectronica.
Choice cut: ‘Dark Tourism’ (Domino)
Which of them would be your pick for superstardom next year? Have you heard just how awesome Clinic really are? Have your say. Post a message on Angst!
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