1. Blur, 13 (Virgin)
A lot of people really didn’t like this record. I’m obviously not one of them. Blur gets better and better with each release. The self-titled album was but a hint of things to come. 13 is weird, complex, and difficult on the first listen. But give it time. It’s as rewarding as anything I’ve heard all year. I dare you to try to get “Coffee & TV” out of your head once you’ve heard it a couple of times.
2. Built To Spill, Keep It Like A Secret (Warner Bros.)
Less sprawling and dissonent than previous Built To Spill releases, Doug Martsch solidifies himself as one of the great minds in rock music. This has it all great lyrics, great music, and fantastic playing. Martsch is masterful with his guitar. It’s off-kilter mastery, but mastery nonetheless. While Radiohead rests, Built To Spill is the best live major label act on the scene.
3. Elf Power, A Dream In Sound (Arena Rock)
The cream of 1999’s Elephant Six crop, Elf Power isn’t afraid to buck the E6 trend and get loud and raucous on occasion. But Elf Power’s true appeal is in their ability to take goofy songs and make them brim with imagination and wonder, rather than just utter silliness.
4. The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros.)
I know I’m far from alone in my adoration for this record. It’s almost unfair because anything less than spectacular is a disappointment from the band that has been consistently outstanding despite their brief foray into the mainstream. Luckily, The Soft Bulletin is spectacular and “Race For The Prize” has my vote for the song of the year.
5. Sloan, 4 Nights At The Palais Royale (Murderecords)
Sloan is a phenomenon in its native Canada but has remained a well-kept secret in America. This double-live album compiles songs from four previous albums. A refreshing alternative to power-pop bands that worship Brian Wilson, Sloan owes much more to Big Star.
6. Moby, Play (V2)
I never got into the whole electronica revolution, but this is great stuff. Play has blues, gospel, rock, hip-hop, and dance tracks done in a way you’ve never heard before. The essays in the liner notes are top-notch as well.
7. Cobra Verde, Nightlife (Motel)
You gotta love a band that can pull off a straight-up glam-rock record laced with swingin’ horns and smarmy attitude and still hold on to their dignity in the process.
8. Kleenex Girl Wonder, Ponyoak (March)
Graham Smith says he’s the coolest AND the strongest man alive. This is instantly catchy lo-fi pop reminiscent of earlier Guided By Voices, but less fragmented. Strangely (or maybe not), Kleenex Girl Wonder have developed quite a following in Japan.
9. Sparklehorse, Good Morning Spider (Capitol)
Although Mark Linkous’ sanity has come into question on occasion, his musical genius needs no treatment. Good Morning Spider is a fine collection of lo-fi jangle-pop with a touch of alternative country.
10. Sunny Day Real Estate, Live (Sub Pop)
Their proper 1999 release, How It Feels To Be Something On, was a great accomplishment in itself for the Seattle band that reassembled after three years apart. But Jeremy Enigk’s intensity on stage is formidable, and this live release features gems from all three studio albums.