My Favorite 20 Albums of 1999

Sure, it might be kind of a crappy thing of me to bump up my top albums of the year from 15 to 20, but I really do think that 1999 was an exceptional year for musical releases. Not only were there a lot of quality releases, but I had a really hard time narrowing things down to just 15 essential listens for the year. Instead of wracking my brains, I've instead bumped up the number of things I would recommend to anybody, and tried to give a decent explanation of what I liked about them. Like last year, there were a lot less electronic albums than on my past lists, but it wasn't necessarily due to lack of quality. Instead, I simply expanded my horizons a bit again and found even more amazing music lurking on the fringes. I'm sure I've probably missed some good things, so as always I'll ask for comments (either good or bad) from you about what I should have heard or what you agree with me on. Also, contents may settle somewhat over the course of the next year, as I find that some releases have a bit more staying power than others. Anyway, I've blabbed long enough...

1. Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada (Kranky)
I discovered this group last year after hearing their amazing debut and I've been hooked ever since. If I have to convince you to spend 10 dollars for 30 minutes of music this year, this would be the one I'd point you in the direction of. I'll admit that it's probably not for everyone, but as I read in a review for it somewhere, if someone had to play music at the funeral of mankind, this is what it might sound like. Amazing. full review

2. Red Snapper - Making Bones (Matador)
The term "Making Bones" is basically slang for kicking the crap out of someone and although it's a bit of a harsh statement for this disc, it's also a release that steps it up few notches for them. After two import-only releases, they finally got snagged up and released on this side of the Atlantic, and it's a good thing. With their unique blend of live sounding instrumentation, electronics, and killer rhythym section, they prove they're a force to reckon with and one of the more under-rated groups on the Warp roster. full review

3. Beta Band - The Three EPs (Astralwerks)
Although they also released their self-titled full length this year, it was this combination of their first 3 import-only EPs (hence, the title) that shone brighter. Hailing from Glasgow, they're as goofy as all hell, but their pastische sound (which sounds like a mix between Beck and about 5 other bands) shows that they're definitely a band to watch in the future. With a new single coming early in 2000, they should make even a bigger splash. full review

4. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I See A Darkness (Palace Records)
This one snuck under my radar during 1999, but I discovered it the next year and it's an amazing album. As if you couldn't tell by the title, this is an album full of not very uplifting songs, but they're absolutely perfect when you feel that little cloud over your head. We all knew that Will Oldham has a great voice, and he just shows it off even more here. full review

5. Kruder And Dorfmeister - The K&D Sessions (!K7)
Although this release dropped in 1998 in Europe, it didn't make it to the US until 1999, so I'm throwing it in my best of list for this year. In terms of laid-back grooves, this 2CD offering makes me feel like I've just smoked a big fatty every time I listen to the whole thing clear through. Coming from someone who's never touched drugs before in his life, that should be saying quite a bit about this kicked-back remix project. full review

6. Built To Spill - Keep It Like A Secret (Warner Brothers)
Yet another major label release in the list, this indie-rock disc is way too good to sit alongside most of the labels other releases. While it's shorter than their previous release, Perfect From Now On the songs are no less catchy. Doug Martsch still manages to write multi-guitar parts like no other, and shows that the upper Northwest is still pumping out good music even though grunge has long since been dead. full review

7. The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin (Warner Brothers)
A truly geeky experimental pop album, this is the last thing I thought I'd find in my top releases of the year. I can't deny that they've created a great album, though, and I look forward to even more work from these hand-puppet singing guys from Oklahoma in the future. full review

8. Mogwai - EP+2 (Matador)
While their first release of the year (the full-length Come On Die Young) found them going in different directions musically, this their second release had them honing in a lot more. While there were moments of greatness on CODY, the EP found them mastering their new, more quiet sound to create one of most moving releases I've heard this year. It only runs about a half hour, but works better than many full-lengths. full review

9. Super Furry Animals - Guerrilla (Flydaddy)
Now this is what rock of the future is supposed to sound like; crazy rhythms, weird song structures, electronic beats, kettle drums and about 15 other different things all thrown in the mixing pop and blended together into a pop/rock gem of an album. Nearly every song on this disc will have you either singing along with the group or clapping your hands in glee. full review

10. Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs Box Set (Merge)
171 minutes of original music over the course of 3CDs is quite a bit to digest, but Stephen Merritt somehow manages to make it all go down without so much as a hiccup. A huge undertaking and interesting concept, this release is witty, sad, funny, original, and very listenable. If you're a person lucky enough to have a 3CD changer, you may find this one taking over all three slots for quite awhile after purchase. full review

11. Andrea Parker - Kiss My Arp (Mo Wax)
Another album that I somehow managed to not pick up during the course of the 1999, I found this release soon afterwards and was swooning with the sounds that came out of my speakers. It's a lush, dark, electronic album with great female vocals that's completely different than all the other trip-hop out there. A bit mroe challenging, but that's what makes it so damn nice. full review

12. Bows - Plush (Too Pure)
When I heard Lambs new album, I thought it was going to be the best trip-hop release that I got all year, but this one snuck in someone and beat them to the punch. Lots of strings, lush instrumentation, and snappy beats, this one will make you feel like breaking out the honey and going all seducto on someone. full review

13. Bogdan Raczynski - Samurai Math Beats (Rephlex)
The first time I heard this album, a big fat grin splayed itself across my face and I couldn't stop my body from going into spontaneous convulsions. If you want to keep up with the crazy-ass beats, it's about the only thing that you can really do anyway. It doesn't matter if you end up looking silly, just try to keep up. full review

14. Sparklehorse - Good Morning Spider (Capitol)
This group has been called everything from an American Radiohead (a term that is unfortunately thrown around a lot) to "too lo-fi for their own good." While their production values are somewhat stripped-down (especially considering that they're on a major label), it works with the sound that Mark Linkous has created. It goes from raucous to pensive, but it always manages to work. A great sophomore effort from a group whom I hadn't paid much attention to before. full review

15. Two Lone Swordsmen - Stay Down (Matador/Warp)
Not only is this a full-length ambient/electro funk release from the group, but it has a long EP tagged on the end of it for added value. For the price of one disc, you essentially get two releases, and fortunately they're both very solid (although quite different in style). Andrew Weatherall has been around a long time on the electronic music scene, and his skill shows. full review

16. The Rachels - Selenography (Quarterstick)
Another chamber-music album from former punk rock kids, this release found the group experimenting with some different sounds, but still managing to create beautiful, moving music with nearly no lyrics. Think of classical pieces arranged in sort of an indie-rock style and you're at the essence of this group. Something you'll still be listening to in 20 years. full review

17. Autechre - EP7 (Warp/Nothing)
Yet another EP, this one was more like a full-length release with a running time of over an hour. After tinkering with more fractured sounds and even more foreign sounds on last years, self-titled release, their new EP went the same route to a much better end result. With several songs that will go down as Autechre classics and another nice package design, their releases are seeming more and more like free standing and solid little works of art. full review

18. Do Make Say Think - Self-Titled (Constellation)
Another awesome group from the Montreal, Quebec area, this group manages to create sounds like Tortoise on a good day. Weaving interesting basslines and spacey drones with atmospheric blips and electronic gadgetry, this is one release to check out. Add in amazing packaging and this one's a work of art. full review

19. Lamb - Fear Of Fours (Fontana/Mercury)
After an amazing debut, I was salivating at the release of this groups second album. Although they changed up a few things and things are a little less freestyle, I ended up liking this disc just as much as their self-titled first release. Lead singer Louise Rhodes is even more emotive and Andy Barlow still programs the crazy beats. Oh yeah, and they're still uber-sexy sounding. full review

20. Underworld - Beaucoup Fish (V2)
I was somewhat dissapointed by this release the first time I heard it, but then I just kept on finding it in my player. After Second Toughest In The Infants, I think I had my goals set too highly, and while this album isn't completely mindblowing, it isn't a letdown either. With tracks like "Push Upstairs," "Shudder/King Of Snake," and "Moaner," they show they can still pound a vicious beat, but also show their soft side on subtle tracks like "Skym" and "Winjer." full review

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