Tuesday, September 29, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1999

After spending the past few months writing up best-of lists from years that I knew were strong and top-heavy and contained some of my all-time favorite albums, I decided to challenge myself this time around. The late '90s and early '00s have never really been that high on my radar because I just wasn't into top 40 and CHR around that time; rather than play this by memory, I decided to do my homework. When I look back at that year, it was around the time that I really got into classic rock; I had my first real tastes of bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, and The Rolling Stones during the summer that I turned 15. 1999 was also the year where I began pursuing a career in radio; I hadn't really thought about what I wanted to do with my life at that point, and I had listened to the old WXCD-FM in Chicago to such an extent that I was really curious about being a disc jockey.

In a way, the soundtrack to '99 gets drowned out by all the other artistic achievements of that year. It was a strong year for movies, with cinematic milestones and cult faves such as The Matrix, Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, Fight Club, Man on the Moon, Office Space, and to a lesser extent American Beauty. Over on television, "The Sopranos," "The West Wing," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Freaks & Geeks," "Family Guy," "Futurama," and "Spongebob Squarepants" all bowed in '99. The year in literature alone gave us Isaac's Storm, The Onion Presents: Our Dumb Century, and the third Harry Potter novel. From a pop culture standpoint, the whole year was an assault on the senses. After five weeks of research, however, I think I've pieced together a pretty good summation of what the sounds of 1999 were all about. Here goes:

1. The Soft Bulletin, The Flaming Lips. After fiddling around with an experimental, neo-psychedlic sound for a little over a decade, The Lips pieced together a career-defining album in the wake of a bizarre incident that nearly destroyed the band. (Listen to "The Spiderbite Song" for more details.) Their previous release Zaireeka was a four-disc cacophony of noise that denies any comparison; Bulletin is not as difficult or layered but probably just as weird and a lot more accessible.
2. 69 Love Songs, The Magnetic Fields. This set is paid as advertised; three CDs with 23 tracks each, all of which run about two minutes in length, each about love, infatuation, and romance. The songs bounce from one genre to another, from punk to country to the old soft shoe, with a minimalist acoustic sound that's equally cozy and charming. My only question is, why 69 songs? ;)
3. Play, Moby. Nearly every track on this disc either became a top 10 hit, was used in a TV commercial, or became the theme song of a short-lived TV show. If you churned out that many catchy tunes, you'd use every part of the cow, too.
4. Summer Teeth, Wilco
5. When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts..., Fiona Apple
6. 1965, The Afghan Whigs
7. Remedy, Basement Jaxx
8. The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, Ben Folds Five
9. Midnight Vultures, Beck
10. Californication, Red Hot Chili Peppers. I have a weak spot for a good comeback story, and the Peppers' resurgence stood out the most that year. The uneven One Hot Minute notwithstanding, this was the true follow-up to RHCP's 1991 breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik. With guitarist John Frusicante back in the fold and frontman Anthony Kiedis looking at his demons in the rearview mirror, Californication is as theraputic as it is a goofy, funky party album.

Honorable Mentions: The Gay Parade, Of Montreal; Stupid Dream, Porcupine Tree.

"My Own Worst Enemy," Lit
"Drive," Incubus
"Let Me Go," Cake
"The Kids Aren't Alright," The Offspring
"Take a Picture," Filter
"Everything You Want," Vertical Horizon
"Steal My Sunshine," LEN
"She's So High," Tal Bachman
"Angel," Sarah McLachlan
"The Great Beyond," R.E.M.

1. "Learn To Fly," Foo Fighters. In a year where the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. dominated the gossip pages, several music videos with plane crashes at the heart of the plot were pulled by MTV out of respect to the mourning family. Where Filter's "Take a Picture" and eerie and mopey, "Learn To Fly" was a fun romp. Plus, how can you go wrong with a cameo by Tenacious D?
2. "My Name Is," Enimem. The first of many topical and incediary clips by the "artiste" Marshall Mathers. His Clinton impression looks kinda like Andrew McCarthy.
3. "Praise You," Fatboy Slim. Spike Jonze's gonzo imagination runs wild again. The whole clip is the end result of a mockumentary about a spazzy small-time choreographer (played by Jonze) and his gaggle of dancing misfits.
4. "The Child," Alex Gopher. The director of this video has repeatedly referred to this effort as "word porn," though it's what happens after procreation that dominates the premise.
5. "Coffee & TV," Blur. A poignant love story about anthropomorphic milk cartons, with a mystery to boot. I can't say anything else about it without ruining the plot, though the ambitious usage of old-school trick photography is a sight to behold.

Special thanks to mtjaws for his contribution to this blog entry.

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