Music

Best of 1999: Sarah Sharpe

Sarah Sharpe

1. Gomez, Liquid Skin (Virgin)
This album hooked me from the first listen, and I still smile with uncontrollable delight every time I push play and the sounds of "Hangover" begin. Guitar lines mingling muddy blankets of sound with quiet acoustic melodies are backed by percussive rhythms that drive the tunes. Ben Ottewell's deep and gravelly voice carries the weighty stoicism of blues' best yowlers, but it's the harmonies that wind their way into my unconscious. From the restrained and bitter "Rosalita" to the raucous fun of "Bring It On," Gomez's craggy rock is under my skin.

2. Moby, Play (V2)
Moby mixes techno beats with gospel and blues influences, filling the music with a soul often lacking in the synthesized sounds of other bands. It also gives the album range and variety that lure those who have come for the infectious grooves of "Bodyrock" into staying for the rich melodies of "Natural Blues" or "Find My Baby." This is joyful and intense dance music with depth.

3. Ben Lee, Breathing Tornadoes (Grand Royal/Capitol)
As much as its dance beats and tunes are grounded in the late-'90s, Ben Lee's album seems eerily like a message from another time. The piano chords that open "Cigarettes Will Kill You" are as loungy and smoky as the song's title, the lyrics of "I Am a Sunflower" are sweetly poignant, and the guitar of "Birthday Song" is uncomplicated and lovely. My favorite, "10ft.Tall," reveals a charming boy-next-door quality in Lee's music that makes this album irresistible.

4. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, I See a Darkness (Palace Records)
This latest release from Will Oldham (formerly known as Palace, Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, etc.) may be my favorite of his albums so far. Not only is Oldham's voice rich and full, but the harmonies enhance the already haunting quality of the simple melodies and beautiful lyrics. Although Oldham could be compared to such alt-country bands as Wilco, his music is more tender, troubled, and almost transcendent.

5. Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs (Merge)
It would seem funny to call this quirky and subdued collection a tour de force, but its three albums in one pack a powerful wallop. With 69 songs at his disposal, Stephin Merrit can thoroughly explore and document every aspect of love's throes, from country music despair to pop rock giddiness.

6. Owsley, Owsley (Giant)
Beatles revival pop at its finest, this is sweet and wistful rock. The solid back beats are guaranteed to start heads bobbing. The distortion that creeps into the vocals and guitars lends the tunes a touch of good-boy-trying-to-rebel swing.

7. Beck, Midnite Vultures (DGC/Interscope)
Campy, funky, and loungelicious, this album is Beck's latest step into musical mania. A sort of homage to early Prince that occasionally blossoms into the glory of a blaxploitation soundtrack, Midnite Vultures is playful, fun, and undeniably groovy.

8. Low, Christmas (Kranky)
An antidote to the commercialism of the holiday season, this is a somber but ultimately warm and comforting album. Low's version of "Little Drummer Boy" is hauntingly wonderful, and the whole album is filled with quiet Christmas lullabies guaranteed to produce visions of sugarplums.

9. Everything But the Girl, Temperamental (Atlantic)
Warm but melancholy folk music set to techno rhythms, Temperamental's dance beats sound like the beats of a heart struggling against loneliness.

10. TLC, Fanmail (BMG/Arista)
TLC are sultry, self-possessed, and sassy, and their music carries all these strong character traits. The diva funk of "No Scrubs" and "Unpretty" make the album's weaker spots all worthwhile.

Honorable Mentions:

Robert Arellano, Havanarama
A great album packed into a six song EP, Havanarama puts a whole new spin on 1999's Cubamania. Songs by Arellano are mixed in with covers of Johnny Cash and Will Oldham songs — translated into Spanish.... And, rest assured, the only qualities Arellano shares with Ricky Martin's music are Martin's energy and exuberance.
(http://www.netspace.org/rabyd/)

Leo Kottke, One Guitar, No Vocals (Windham Hill)
Kottke has returned to what I love best about him: amazing guitar playing. This album is filled with guitar lines so full that no voice is necessary, and singing would only detract from the beautiful melodies.

Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Live at Luther College (BMG)
I'm not overly fond of concert albums as a genre, and I think Matthews can be accused of exploiting this genre to the hilt — this is the second of three live albums he's released in the past few years. However, this album played incessantly on my stereo last spring; and "One Sweet World," "#41," and "Crash into Me" made me want to reach for my lighter every time.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Alt-rock heroes the Foo Fighters deliver a three-hour blast of rock power that defies modern norms.

It's a Saturday night in Sacramento and the downtown area around the swank new Golden 1 Center is buzzing as if people are waiting for a spaceship to appear because the alt-rock heroes known as the Foo Fighters are in town. Dave Grohl and his band of merry mates have carried the torch for 20th-century rock 'n' roll here in the next millennium like few others, consistently cranking out one great guitar-driven album after another while building a cross-generational appeal that enables them to keep selling out arenas across America.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image