Mixes By Year: 1998 Most Recommended Albums

In 1998 I was one year into my stint at Atlantic Records, living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn which was about to become the hipster capital of the world, and had recently moved in with my wife to be…well several years later.  The pay was so low at an almost entry level record company job that I actually took a hit from waiting tables and didn’t have much in the way of extra spending money- as I was still in my mid 20’s I had to go out as well and the drinks weren’t going to pay for themselves.  What I lacked in extra spending cash was made up for in access to the entire WEA Catalog- every cd in it for $3.15 each.  My reason for telling you all this is that ’98 became a year of looking backwards rather than forwards to me- rediscovering early 80’s New Wave and discovering or/or collecting lots of classic soul music in particular.  So outside of a few big records- Lauryn Hill & Lucinda Williams most of all, new music was not as big for me in ’98 as it had been in every other year of the 90’s.  Therefore it turns out that I pretty severely underrated the music of ’98.  Though not known for it’s big records the year is quite deep and quite great and represents a pretty major shift in R&B, Pop, Techno & Indie Rock.  Other notable indie releases of ’98 were the third and best album by Silver Jews (with help from Steve Malkmus of Pavement) “American Water” and the debut album from the prolific future New Pornographer Dan Bejar “City of Daughters” from his band Destroyer.

Radio at the time was dominated by the horrid sounds of rap metal and nu metal (think Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, Creed etc…) and the beginning of the dominance of boy bands and Disney pop (Britney Spears, ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys etc…). But beneath the commercial surface some strange and good things were brewing.  Though future super-producers like Timbaland and the Neptunes had already made their mark over the past two years, each of them solidified their status with the Neptunes “Superthug” by Noreaga and Tim’s great Aaliyah production “Are You That Somebody” as well as Nicole’s “Make It Hot”, also featuring Missy Elliott which she released between her first and second albums on her own label.  Even besides Lauryn Hill’s solo debut “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” which had huge success commercially as well as being an artistic game changer and ’99 Grammy dominator, ’98 was a big year from rap.  The lyricist lounge movement in NYC was replacing the Native Tongues in conscious rap.  Mos Def released the great “Body Rock” single as well as his Black Star collaboration with Talib Kweli.  In Harlem Big Pun released the biggest single of his career “Still Not a Player” along with his most successful album “Capital Punishment” before his untimely death two years later.  DMX released his extremely successful gangsta rap album “It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot” and Brooklyn’s Jay-Z release the 2nd “In My Lifetime” album containing his two biggest hit songs to date- “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” and “Can I Get A…”.  The Beastie Boys released their last great (or near great) album “Hello Nasty”. Down in the dirty south Atlanta’s Outkast released the sprawling “Aquemini”- their best album so far and New Orleans “Juvenile” released his debut album which included the great single “Ha”.

The grunge sound in alternative rock was dying a slow death and the great question in rock music in ’98 is what would replace it.  Commercially it was the aforementioned nu-metal/rap rock which was understandably unsatisfying to many.  Though the Big Beat techno sounds of Fatboy Slim & Chemical Brothers were certainly omnipresent in ’97 and’98 it was becoming quite apparent that they would hold nowhere near the cultural dominance of grunge.  So instead of one big answer to the big rock question there was a whole mish mash of things happening at once that would lead to the rock music of the new century.   Grunge holdovers Hole came out with “Celebrity Skin”, a very good album for sure co-produced by Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, but it was more sheen the the grit of their last album, ’94’s “Live Through This”.  Placebo’s “Without You, I’m Nothing” and Garbage’s second album “Version 2.0” were similar “cleaned up” post-grunge albums.  After the hugely successful “Odelay”, Beck released the more low key but still great “Mutations”, showing that he was on such a streak that even his barely marketed albums were becoming hits.  New York’s Mercury Rev had been kicking around the whole decade and came out with their best album so far with the great “Deserter’s Songs”, setting the tone for other ambitious orchestral albums by the Flaming Lips and Beta Band.  After being nominated for a Grammy for “Miss Misery” from the “Good Will Hunting” soundtrack, Portland singer songwriter Elliott Smith signed to a major label and released the high budget “XO”.  Though the album seemed to use every production fluorish in the book it was just as good if not better than his prior stripped down indie records.  Austin, TX Spoon released their major label debut “Series of Sneaks” which would be a commercial failure and would get them unceremoniously dropped by their label Elektra, but which would also ferment their status as a new rock group to be reckoned with- they would record a series of consistently great records throughout the oughts and indeed would become one of my very favorite bands of the decade.  Pulp recorded their follow-up to the huge (in Britain at least) “Different Class” with “This Is Hardcore”, as fitting end as any to the Brit-Pop movement from one of its biggest bands. Experimental

Another hated sound in commercial rock was ‘Emo’.  Though its commercial ascendency was a few years bands like At the Drive-In and Sunny Day Real Estate (with their 3rd album “How It Feels to Be Something On”) that would prove very influential on the sound recorded good music in ’98.  One of the very best albums of ’98 was “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Atlanta band Neutral Milk Hotel.  Though they could hardly be labelled an ‘Emo’ band the album would be a touchstone for many future bands of the genre and of indie rock in general.  The album was released only to critical fanfare in ’98 but has increased in stature each passing year and is now known as one of the very best albums of the whole decade.  It would also be last release (thus far) of the band and its reclusive frontman Jeff Mangum.  The above shows that no matter how crappy a genre, its influeces are usually much better.

Indie music was merging much more with electronic music in the late 90’s.  Though it was their third album, Bristol England’s Massive Attack released their most successful with “Mezzanine” which further refined the Trip Hop sug genre they had all but invented.  France’s Air released their full length debut “Moon Safari” which included the worldwide (x U.S.A.) hit “Sexy Boy” and made the world safe for techno cocktail music (in a good way!).  Elsewhere Boards Of Canada combined Techno, Hip Hop & Trance music with their amazing debut “Music Has the Right to Children”.  I am still getting to know this album better but from this go around I can confidently say that it was one album which certainly should have made my top 100 albums of the 90’s list.  Elsewhere experimental dance music artist released his most above ground album with “Around the House”- he would continue to have traction in the electronic music community up through our present time.  That only scratches the surface of all the great music in the underrated and diverse year of 1998.

 

NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL- IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA

Buy In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel

Buy In the Aeroplane Over the SeaAmazon




FATBOY SLIM- YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY BABY

Buy You’ve Come a Long Way Baby – Fatboy Slim

Buy You’ve Come A Long Way Baby [Explicit]Amazon




LUCINDA WILLIAMS- CARE WHEELS ON A GRAVEL ROAD

Buy Car Wheels On a Gravel Road (Deluxe Edition) – Lucinda Williams

Buy Car Wheels On A Gravel RoadAmazon




SILVER JEWS- AMERICAN WATER

Buy American Water – Silver Jews

Buy American WaterAmazon




AIR- MOON SAFARI

Buy Moon Safari – Air

Buy Moon SafariAmazon




MERCURY REV- DESERTER’S SONGS

Buy Deserter’s Songs (Deluxe Edition) – Mercury Rev

Buy Deserter’s SongsAmazon




SPOON- A SERIES OF SNEAKS

Buy A Series of Sneaks – Spoon

Buy A Series of SneaksAmazon




HERBERT- AROUND THE HOUSE

Buy Around the House – Herbert

Buy Around The HouseAmazon




BLACK STAR- MOS DEF AND TALIB KWELI AND BLACK STAR

Buy Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star – Black Star

Buy Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star [Explicit]Amazon




HOLE- CELEBRITY SKIN

Buy Celebrity Skin – Hole

Buy Celebrity SkinAmazon




BECK- MUTATIONS

Buy Mutations – Beck

Buy MutationsAmazon




THE BEASTIE BOYS- HELLO NASTY

Buy Hello Nasty (Remastered) – Beastie Boys

Buy Hello Nasty (Deluxe Version) [Remastered] [Explicit] [+digital booklet]Amazon




PULP- THIS IS HARDCORE

Buy This Is Hardcore (Deluxe Edition) – Pulp

Buy This Is HardcoreAmazon




REFUSED- THE SHAPE OF PUNK TO COME

Buy The Shape of Punk to Come (Deluxe Version) – Refused

Buy The Shape Of Punk To Come [Deluxe Version]Amazon




BOARDS OF CANADA- MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO CHILDREN

Buy Music Has the Right to Children – Boards of Canada

Buy Music Has The Right To ChildrenAmazon




LAURYN HILL- THE MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL

Buy The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill

Buy The Miseducation of Lauryn HillAmazon




DESTROYER- CITY OF DAUGHTERS

Buy City of Daughters – Destroyer

Buy City of DaughtersAmazon




OUTKAST- AQUEMINI

Buy Aquemini – OutKast

Buy Aquemini [Explicit]Amazon




MASSIVE ATTACK- MEZZANINE

Buy Mezzanine – Massive Attack

Buy MezzanineAmazon




ELLIOTT SMITH- XO

Buy XO – Elliott Smith

Buy XO Amazon


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