My Favorite 15 Albums of 1998

Once again, it's time for me to present my top albums of 1998 list. I've listened to and purchased quite a stack of discs in the course of the past year, so once again it was hard for me to nail down a top 10. So, like last year the list will stretch to 15 albums, and once again they'll be listed in order of how much time I spent listening to them. One difference is that there are quite a few less electronic releases than last year, but maybe it was just an off year. While it doesn't really differ in format from most standard "best of" lists, hopefully it will be a little different from those you may have seen already, as it contains quite a hodge-podge ((what, no Hole, Beastie Boys, or Elliot Smith?) and yes, I've heard them). If you see something below that sounds interesting, go and pick it up, I swear you'll enjoy it. So, without further ado...

1. Massive Attack - Mezzanine (Virgin)
After several years of hiatus, this group came back with an album that raises the bar for all the stale imitators that have come out in the meantime. Everything that the preeceeding albums had contained and more, this album is dark, brooding, and yet quite seductive. full review

2. Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West (UP)
This ultra-prolific trio has released a slew of 7 inches, as well as a couple EP's and two 70 minute-plus epics of albums in just a couple of years. This newest full-length is like the musical road-map to a weary driver traversing the nation. Sprawling songs and smart lyrics from a group who's helping save indie-rock. full review

3. Godspeed You Black Emperor! - f#a# infinity (Kranky)
Out of nowhere (actually, Canada) comes this amazing 10-piece group with a stellar debut that sprawls over desolate stretches in a cinematic and beautiful way. I for one cannot wait to hear even more from them. And soon. full review

4. Neutral Milk Hotel - In An Aeroplane Over The Sea (Merge)
Jeff Mangum is back with another album full of wildly varied instrumentation and completely infectious songs. As the major player behind the group, his low-fi production and almost nasally voice just makes the disc all the more endearing. Prepare to find yourself singing along with nearly every single song on this disc. full review

5. Arab Strap - Philophobia (Matador/Chemikal Underground)
It might just be the breakup album of the century. Downbeat, minimal music and brutally honest lyrics draw you in with their simplicity and hold you with what they're saying. Once you decipher the thick accent, you'll be singing and moping right along with them. full review

6. Dirty Three - Ocean Songs (Touch And Go)
This Australian instrumental 3-piece band has slowly been gaining acclaim and rightly so. Without lyrics or much amplification, they consistently manage to create beautifully moving songs using violin, guitar, drums, and the occassional piano. While this album is a bit less raucious than previous outings, it's no less brilliant. full review

7. Tortoise - TNT (Thrill Jockey)
The best way to describe this group might just be by saying that they're a sort of improvisitional 5 piece or so instrumental group that dabbles in electronics once in awhile. Their third and longest full-length release to date is also their most interesting one musically. What I like to call nice "thinking music," suitible for both background listening or headphone cradling. full review

8. Refused - The Shape Of Punk To Come (Burning Heart/Epitaph)
Last year at this time, the last thing I thought I would be listening to is a punk/hardcore album, let alone have one on my best-of-the-year lists. While the rest of the genre was stuck in neutral with their simple banging power chords and formulaic song structure, this young group went and created a cross-genre slash-and-burn album that hits the bullseye. Too bad they had to go and break up. full review

9. Belle and Sebastian - The Boy With The Arab Strab (Matador)
After overlooking last years album by this group for my year-end list (If You're Feeling Sinister), I picked up this disc soon after release and was greeted with more great music. Smart, pop music without a glossy marketing package, these kids can play all their own instruments and write great little songs as well. full review

10. Bola - Soup (Skam)
One of the best pure electronic albums that came out last year. The only problem with it is that it's kind of hard to find. If you're looking for a bubbling, pulsing, treat, seek it out in a big hurry. Keep the name in mind, because you're going to hear it more often in the future. full review

11. Plastikman - Consumed (Novamute)
Another long, super-acid trip which is really almost just a 50 minute crescendo and subsequent breakdown, this disc goes in a darker direction that Hawtins previous work. It's still awesome, though, and he shows he's still a master at the minimal. full review

12. Third Eye Foundation - You Guys Kill Me (Domino/Merge)
It was only recently that I discovered the first full-length (Ghost) by this brooding electronic outfit, but it didn't take long to grab my attention. The follow-up is more of the same un-nervingly creepy electronic music that will pass through your ears. Add to it a twisted sense of humour and stir to get something very original. full review

13. High Llamas - Cold And Bouncy (V2/Alpaca Park)
Sean O' Hagan (while providing the string arrangements for Stereolab) is one of those very consistent artists who also manages to be fairly prolific. While the sound on this release is a bit less organic than the last time out, it's still solid and fun as can be. full review

14. Boards Of Canada - Music Has The Right To Children (Matador/Skam)
A long, strange album that's sometimes effervescent and sometimes clanking. Bubbling and blooping electronic sounds surrounded by samples of children laughing and silly counting games. Weird song titles and ever-changing moods make it an electronic album worth hearing. full review

15. Junkie XL - Saturday Teenage Kick (Roadrunner)
I feel bad even listing this unabashedly full-throttle techno bash album, but it's just too damn fun not to. While Fatboy Slim stole the spotlight, this duo (including a programmer and the former lead "rapper" from Urban Dance Squad) released this stoopid bouncing disc full of slammin' tracks. Goofy raps and hard-ass beats will get your head bobbing. full review

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