By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
Fave Local Disc: The Suicide Kings' debut was a genuine joy, its country comforts laced with notorious self-saboteur Bruce Connole's clear-eyed vision. Front-Runner for '98: Whatever Dead Hot Workshop disc that includes the new killer song "Oh Well."
1. Modest Mouse, The Lonesome Crowded West (Up Records) This 72-minute double LP is the standard by which all other recordings this year were judged, and none came close. The Modest mice are the precocious bastard offspring of the Pixies' experimental aesthetic and Built to Spill's pop ingenuity, warped by guitarist/vocalist Isaac Brock's beer-soaked high-school-dropout trailer-trash perspective. And these kids are barely out of their teenage years. Pray they never "mature."
2. Elliott Smith, Either/Or (Kill Rock Stars) Smith's latest solo recording makes kids put down their guitars out of shame. Smith plays every track on this lo-fi acoustic masterpiece. Twenty years from now, when your kids (or grandkids) ask you what folk music is, you'll say Elliott Smith before you say Joan Baez.
3. The Get Up Kids, Four Minute Mile (Doghouse America) Scenario--hip-hop kid listening to this recording says to me, "This record makes me feel kinda sad and kinda happy at the same time; will you turn it off?" Intensely introspective, these Kansas City kids delve into subject matter that rips at your heart while you're pounding your fists in the air. This is the most intelligent "emo" recording of the year.
4. The Promise Ring, Nothing Feels Good (Jade Tree) Delaware and blue jeans and Chevys and parks & recreation pools and Heaven and quiet airplanes and pink chimneys and Air Supply and Southern belles and rafts; Davey and the Promise Ring boys have created the best pop album of the '90s, sonically and lyrically. "I'm proud of my genius just like a painter and dumb like a poet," as well they ought to be.
5. Joan of Arc, A Portable Model of (Jade Tree) The hardest recording to describe of the year--acoustic pop minimalism layered with "electronica" like you've never heard before. Vocalist/guitarist Tim Kinsella (who, along with bandmates Mike Kinsella and Sam Zurick and the Promise Ring's Davey vonBohlen were in the seminal math-emo Cap'n Jazz) is a master of pop deconstruction. Alternately tender and disturbing, A Portable Model of gives "concept record" a new definition.
6. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars) Riot Grrl grows up. Though Sleater-Kinney didn't quite reach the masses to the extent the press expected, this is still the best recording ever to come out of Olympia, Washington's grrl-rock scene. Quite possibly the definitive punk recording of the year, Dig Me Out is a benchmark that transcends gender.
7. The Peechees, Games People Play (Kill Rock Stars) Lookout! Records' house band (vocalist Chris Appelgren and his wife, drummer Molly Neumann, run Lookout!; bassist Rop Vazquez works in the Lookout! store) busted out a recording seething with sex and slicked-back attitude. Forget pop punk, this is fucking rock 'n' roll. Sophomore slump, my ass--Games People Play is twice the recording last year's Do the Math was, and that's saying a lot.
8. Superchunk, Indoor Living (Merge) What can you say about a band whose name has become synonymous with the term "indie rock"? Superchunk released yet another classic this year, more layered, more mature, and with more organs. Will this band ever release a less-than-brilliant recording? I doubt it.
9. Lync, Remembering the Fireballs (part 8) (K Records/Troubleman Unlimited) A retrospective of the late, great Lync's seven inches and compilation tracks. Stalwarts of the early-'90s Northwest experimental indie-pop scene that spawned bands like Built to Spill and later Love As Laughter (which includes Lync's Sam Jayne and David Schneider), Lync was the precursor to all the simplistic pop seven inches covering your local record stores' shelves. The minimalist frustration anthem "Turtle" alone puts this in the Top 10.
10. Uranium 9 Volt, wild 7 (Lookout!) From the ashes of veteran East-bay bands Monsula, Sawhorse, and Pinhead Gunpowder (best-known as Billie Joe Armstrong's other band), Uranium 9 Volt came from outta nowhere (no press, no hype, no tours) with this six-song EP. Crunchy, loud, melodic emo-core that avoids the wuss-rock trap so many "mature" hard-core bands fall into. Angry music for sad people.
1. Elliott Smith, Either/Or (Kill Rock Stars) Smith really isn't a folkie, he just uses a folkie's acoustic tools because his haunting tunes sound best in spare settings. He's actually a masterful pop songwriter, composing melodies so gorgeous that they enliven and enrich his simple, opaque lyrics. On "Ballad of Big Nothing," he gently sings "You can do what you want to, whenever you want to," and makes it feel heartbreakingly sad in a way that printed lyrics never are.
2. Cornershop, When I Was Born for the 7th Time (Luaka Bop) In a musical year defined by cultural collisions, this was one of the more exotic, and certainly the most accessible. Tjinder Singh is a Brit of Indian descent who gets off on house music and knows his way around the Velvet Underground catalogue, and his band's music is as wonderfully schizophrenic as such a bio implies.
3. Ron Sexsmith, Other Songs (Interscope) Lost in a world without empathy, the Toronto-based Sexsmith humbly sings with genuine compassion for Average Joes and Josephines like himself, and makes it feel like a new concept. "Strawberry Blonde" is the most beautiful track here, but it's the implausibly sympathetic "Child Star" that fully demonstrates how big Sexsmith's heart is.