End-of-the-year/decade/ century/illennium lists are a worn-out excuse for music journalism, but—like John McCain and soft-money contributions —we can't stop being involved with them until everybody else stops first.We'll concentrate on 1999's best discs of the local crop, skipping the big-boffo national acts you're already reading about on a zillion other lists (if you really wanna know, we thought the Rage Against the Machine, Tom Waits and June Carter Cash albums were amazing; Beck was okay; but our copy of the Nine Inch Nails CD is still in its shrink-wrap, and the Flaming Lips disc really wasn't thatgood). Those guys don't need the press anyway.
Our Top 11 list, in alphabetical order:
So American (Raw Power)
A brilliant, balls-out rock N roll record, from the opening junkie joke of “911 (Who Is Gonna Dial . . .)” and the cheeky title tune (“Chicks . . . cars . . . so American! . . . Drugs and bars are . . . so American!“) to “Jesus Ain't My Friend,” with its bratty, finger-flipping swipes (“Jesus ain't my friend . . . and you ain't either! Gotta lotta friends . . . and you ain't one of 'em!“) and “Gonna Fuck You Up,” a perfect blast of angry, end-of-the-century, piss-taking, beer-swigging ecstacy pounded out in just under two minutes. Drugs, death, random violence, sloth, mayhem, anarchy, uprising, laziness and rebellion also make cameo appearances. So American, indeed.
The Monroe Doctrine (Revelation)
A decade-old band that feels like it's just getting started. Easily the best thing Farside have done, this disc neatly fulfills their early melodic hardcore promise (though not without some major forays into black-hearted grindcore spittle, plus a Graham Parker cover), patched together with poppier stuff like “I'm Not Shy, I Just Don't Like You” and the acoustic “I Hope You're Unhappy,” which sounds like something Bob Mould or the Foo Fighters might do.
HAVALINA RAIL CO.
America (Jackson/Rubio Recordings)
An unashamed concept disc about touring, where the wondrous Havalina Rail Co. grab you by your ears and drag you through everything from gentle, Johnny Cash-style country pickin' to gritty Memphis garage-soul to Mississippi River harmonica romps to Acadian fiddle rave-ups to Georgia hippie-swamp grooves to Pentecostal Appalachian howlers to old-school urban hip-hop rhythms to smoky Manhattan jazz riffs to Midwestern roots-rock to Hawaiian slack-key guitar impersonations, all decked out with fiddles, mouth harps, banjos, lap steels, farfisa organs, washboards and the occasional clothes dryer.
Welcome (self-released; check out www.peepshot.com)
Perhaps the most evocative album of the year, one that conjures up images of nickel beer, bad cigarettes, fast highways and pockmarked desert back roads. Alterna-country that bleeds, rock N roll that's as gnarled and pissed-off as prime Crazy Horse. Like I've said, hear them or be laughed at and ridiculed by those of us who know.
Things Move Fast (Elastic)
Crash-bang garage-rock from the Sonic Youth/ Pixies/Nirvana school, but with a deep dose of '60s pop. The most intriguing track is “The New Commodity,” on which drummer Jason Thornberry (who, incidentally, is now out of the hospital and on the mend after suffering a severe beating in July) pounds out a neo-disco beat that backbones what sounds like the hit single Sonic Youth never made. “Inside Out” and “Account Executive” lash out against robotic corporate-think—you can tell they're sick of their day jobs. “This Morning,” though, is what really convinces you that the Pressure are a deep outfit, a dreamy, ethereal acoustic ballad that's equal parts the Stones' “Sister Morphine” and Sonic Youth's “The Diamond Sea.”
Tension and dissonance, heartbreak, menace, uneasy near-Sabbath guitar grooves, pain, vitriol, and raps against bad, bad religion (“My dad put a Bible by my bed/It felt like I had a gun up to my head”). Relish are the collective anti-Alanis, and more convincing and honest to boot.
The Product (Reject Factery)
In the finest guitar-folkie, fascist-killing tradition, wired-up Fullerton warbler Rez is armed with smart, worldly, pointed lyrics about uncomfortable things nobody likes to hear (usually about the Man and all of its variations). But he's also got biting tunes about bands as marketing concepts (“Product”) and a heartwarmer about having gooey oral sex with Queen Victoria (“Victoria's Orgasm”). “God” is an anti-organized-religion rant that he masks in a gentle, Franciscan-choir-like hymn. And “Jail Inc.” goes off on the California prison industry from an inmate's POV (“Where would you be without this corporate slavery?/Where would you be without us working for free?/Where would you be without Pete Wilson's empathy?/Go on and build another jail”). Slightly dated lines—the governor selling out to the prison-industrial complex is now Gray Davis—but still vital.
Speakeasy (Tooth N Nail)
This list's biggest seller, even though you've probably never heard of them. You should, though. Big, booming, passionate, slightly hardcore anthems, loaded with informed slams against Jesus Incorporated—a risky stance, since most of their market is in contemporary Christian music. But if they get knocked around for their POV, it'll only make them stronger.
STRANGER DEATH 19
Jealous Robot (Elastic)
Amped-up, distorted, dive-bomber guitars and frenzied, spastic riffing; Thor-like backbeats welded to a numbing bottom end that could implode skulls at 20 paces. Not strictly a punk band, they definitely subscribe to the music's original fuck-trends ethos. The kind of art-punk album that the Minutemen used to whip up, a smart work perfect for people who are burnt-out on stale, by-the-numbers, onetwothreefaw! hardcore.
Coffee Tea Soda Pop Pee (Centipede)
Big, expansive, working-class rock N roll—what the Replacements might have turned into had they only sobered up in time. A primer for practically every other local band on how to do it right:simple, easy melodies shoved up against primal yowling.
American Style (Breakin' Records)
Wus fiddle with wild, space-jazz jams, funky bubble-gum psychedelia, New Age effects, samples, tape loops, hip-hop beats, and guitar squeals that sound like cats slowly getting their balls sauted. You could probably hear something new with each listen, and without any drugs, either. What Beck would sound like on a GHB binge, or the less migraine-inducing parts of experimental Japanese noise bands. Messy, bratty, freaky, disturbing, paranoid, but ultimately unlike anything else out there.
And now—fish in a barrel! The year's most tragic CDs, signs that the end is truly nigh. And nary a mention of that most obvious of bands, the one that recently played a show in New York during which their lead singer drunkenly insulted the crowd, dropped trou, stuck his dick out, moaned about his ex-girlfriend and his dog, offered to “service [the audience] anally,” according to SPINmagazine, and held up his middle and index fingers and asked, “Who wants to smell Madonna?” No, no mention of them at all. But thanks for the blind plug in the Rolling Stone article, anyway!
Antiseptic girly-girl foof. After they lip-synched a two-song set at Westminster Mall in January, I wrote a story about how I just knewthey'd be huge—not because they have any real talent, but because of the powerful marketing machinery behind them, which is reallyhow the music biz operates. Sure enough, their album came out two months later, eventually hitting platinum. I wish I had been wrong.
Garth Brooks In . . . the Life of Chris Gaines (Capitol)
Freak-boy Garth tries to be all rock N roll but comes off like Billy Joel with a bad hair-and-makeup job. The Michael Jackson of country, for all the right reasons—none of them artistic ones.
Euphoria Morning (A&M/Interscope)
In which the former Soundgarden shrieker succumbs to wussy Paul Westerberg disease in his first at bat, a soft, squishy, “introspective” yawner that you forget you ever heard as soon as the laser lifts—if you can stay awake till then.
CROSBY, STILLS, NASH N YOUNG
Looking Forward (Warner Bros.)
Aren't they dead yet? More like Looking for Work, which should be the mantra of those first three guys. Some people should never, everget back together.
Significant Other (Interscope)Nah—too easy.
A Place in the Sun (RCA)
Special guest critic—Robert Christgau of the Village Voice: “Led by two Orange County lads whose dad was a pop DJ, they like Vegas and old Cadillacs; make too much of their play on 'come,' 'complete' and 'completely miserable'; and serve as a dull-dull-dull reminder to anyone besotted with Blink 182 that punk in itself guaranteed nothing even in the days of the Real Kids and the Suicide Commandos. Grade: C.”
Tonight the Stars Revolt! (Uni/DreamWorks)
The stars ain't the onlything revolting.
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
Californication (Warner Bros.)
Same ol' snore-all. Maybe they'd be better if they were back on heroin. And please—old men shouldn't be seen in public without their shirts on.
Take an honest-to-God legend like Carlos Santana and pair him with some of the dullest, most uninteresting figures in all of modern popdom in a horrifically misguided attempt to make him seem “current” and “happening” to the youngfolk. Result: Dave Matthews, Rob Thomas, et al. steal Santana's soul, transforming him into their evil, just-as-bland selves. A high crime.
Greatest Hits (MCA)
Purely for nonmusical reasons. This is the fourth posthumous rehashing—regurgitation, actually—of Sublime material in the four post-Brad Nowell years, which tells you more about how the marketing department at MCA thinks than whether there was ever an actual need for this (couldn't the Sublimealbum have basically been a greatest hits, too?). Apparently, in MCA's eyes, Sublime's legacy is destined to live on through an endless stream of repackaging—expect the inevitable slew of box sets, “lost” track collections, remasterings (“WITH GREATLY IMPROVED SOUND QUALITY!”), “tribute” albums, Nowell's-death-anniversary reissues and God knows what else to follow. The danger, of course, is that no one will remember why Sublime mattered in the first place. Vultures plucking at corpses is the apt metaphor here.