Twenty Years On: December 1998

…and here we are at the end of a long year of great music!  As always, labels usually focus more on holiday sales of already-released albums than on dropping new ones, so this month was indeed a bit light.  A few singles here and there, and that’s it.  Personally I was letting myself relax a bit after an incredibly fruitful and creative year by listening to a lot of the records I’d purchased (or gotten as free promos!) from my store.  I started working a little on the revision of The Phoenix Effect and starting in on its sequel, and would continue to do so until about late 1999 when I decided a complete rewrite was in order.  (That, of course, would become A Division of Souls, the first book in the Bridgetown Trilogy.)  I spent New Year’s Eve up at my sister’s place and taping WFNX’s countdown, and driving home early the next morning.

Porcupine Tree, Metanoia EP, released December.  I didn’t get into this band until early 1999 when they dropped their fantastic Stupid Dream album, but I’d seen this cd floating around in the back room of the record store.  It’s full of instrumental outtakes from their 1996 album Signify but it does go to show how tight they were as a band.

Belle & Sebastian, This Is Just a Modern Rock Song EP, released 7 December.  A lovely follow-up EP to their fantastic The Boy with the Arab Strap record from earlier in the year.  The title track is a simple three chord tune but it’s got a wonderful slow build.

Beck, “Tropicalia” single, released 7 December.  A bit of light-hearted bossa nova fun from his otherwise moody Mutations album, this one got the most airplay from the record on the local alt-rock stations. 

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All in all, 1998 was a very good year for me.  I’d finished up my first novel in years, and I was in a good place financially and emotionally for the first time in ages.  I still had a long way to go before I could save enough money to move out on my own, but I was no longer flailing.  Things would change soon enough when the store manager moved on to bigger and better things (a regional manager of Newbury Comics — during the post-HMV years I’d run into him every now and again).  He was replaced by a much less enjoyable manager, and by 2000 I’d be out of there myself.  Despite that, I found myself in a much better frame of mind.  And a lot of the tunes from 1998 had a lot to do with it.

Hope you enjoyed my year-long series!  I may follow it up with more overviews but I don’t have anything planned as yet.  We shall see!

Coming Soon: 2018 Year End Best-of Lists!

Thirty Years On, December 1988

Well here we are, on the back end of one of my favorite years ever.  Despite the emotional ups and downs I dealt with, it was a highly creative one for me, and started me on the long road of becoming a more serious writer.  My circle of college friends returned for a brief holiday break and we met up a few times before it was time to return for spring semester of 1989.

The brief meet-ups we had were just what I needed to get myself back on track emotionally and creatively.  It would still be a sad parting, but at the same time I had to remind myself that I was only a few months shy of escaping my small town as well.

Various Artists, Winter Warnerland, released early December.  The Warner Bros distribution team kicked this fine and fun double album out to radio stations across the land, and ended up in my vinyl collection later on.  Its quirky lineup includes Danelle Dax, Los Lobos, Hugo Largo, Throwing Muses and REM alongside more lighter fare like Gardner Cole, PM, Honeymoon Suite and Peter Cetera.  It also features a few holiday cheer bumpers from  bands and singers such as ZZ Top, Randy Travis, Nelson Wilbury (aka George Harrison), and, weirdly enough, multiple bumpers from Pee-Wee Herman.  It’s worth checking out if you can find it, if for it’s kitschiness.

The Pogues, “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah” single, released December.  A stopgap single between albums, this a wonderful take-off on early 60s British pop, complete with a fantastic video riffing on European music programs like Beat Club.

The Cowboy Junkies, The Trinity Session, released 7 December.  This band came out of nowhere and immediately became a critic and fan favorite with its gorgeously sparse album of tunes and covers recorded in a single day using the natural reverb of a Toronto church.  While their follow-up albums may not have garnered the high praise this one received, they’ve remained active and dropped a lovely bluesy album just this year.

Compilation, Does Truth Dance? Does Truth Sing?  The Singles 1988, created 27 December.  My first end-of-year, multi-tape mix encapsulating my absolute favorite tracks released throughout the year.  Partly inspired by the end-of-year countdowns I used to record off the radio, this one ended up being a favorite mix of mine, even though the tracks do get a bit thin by the third tape.  Not bad for a first try, though!  The title was snagged from a repeated line from Wire’s “A Public Place” that closes out side 2 of the first tape.  I’d make more of these mixes off and on throughout the years, and by 2011 I’d made it a consistent annual event.

…and that’s it!  Hope you enjoyed this series!  It was certainly a fantastic year for music, a year that in my opinion was going to be hard to top.  For years I held it to the highest regard and no years would ever come close, at least not until ten years later, with the HMV year of 1998…

Recent Releases, November Edition

Hi there!  While I was hiding out and taking a blogging break, I of course kept listening to all the new tunage coming our way.  I have to say I’ve been right pleased with the crop of releases for 2018 (further proving my theory that the best music comes out in years ending with 2 and 8, heh).  Here’s some great stuff that came out this past month.

Dead Can Dance, Dionysus, released 2 November.  An unexpected yet fascinating release from a great band.  It’s essentially two side-long tracks threading multiple melodies together, but it’s a fascinating listen.  I’d say it’s similar to their 90s output in sound and rhythm.

The Neighbourhood, Hard to imagine the neighbourhood ever changing, released 2 November.  Okay, so essentially this is their self-titled album plus tracks from the HardTo Imagine and Ever Changing EPs (whose names finally make sense now) and resequenced into a full album, but it’s still great.  I love how they’ve evolved from the radio-friendly “Sweater Weather” to murky and experimental alt-rock.  A solid collection.

Steven WIlson, Home Invasion: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, released 2 November.  A great live album from one of my favorite multi-instrumentalists.  It features a good cross-section of his solo output with a few Porcupine Tree surprises in there.

K-DA (feat. Madison Beer, (G)I-DLE & Jaira Burns) “Pop/Stars” single, released 3 November. I’m totally not a gamer (this is from League of Legends) and this would not have been picked up on my radar otherwise, except that an artist I follow on Twitter commented on how freaking amazing the rendering was on this animated video.  And it’s a killer track that gets stuck in my head now.

Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers, Bought to Rot, released 9 November.  An energetic and raucous album, she really sounds like she had a hell of a fun time recording this one.  Even the ridiculously spiteful “I Hate Chicago” sounds like there’s an element of playfulness.

Imagine Dragons, Origins, released 9 November.  I’ll totally cop to being a big ID fan despite their corporate rock sound — they’re just so much fun to listen to, and their ability to switch styles during the course of a single album is impressive.

The Beatles, The Beatles (The White Album) Super Deluxe Edition, released 9 November.  Well of COURSE this would be on my list here!  Giles Martin did a fantastic job of remixing an album that’s caused all kinds of arguments between fans, musicians and producers over the years.  It sounds clear and vibrant, but more importantly it brings out the band’s innate energies and gives each track a new life.  Highly recommended, even if you’re a passing Beatle fan.

P.O.D., Circles, released 16 November.  I’ve always liked this band ever since the Southtown album back in the day.  Great alt-metal tunes to crank up loud in the headphones.  A fantastic new release from them.

Failure, In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing from Your Mind, released 16 November.  An experiment for the band, they recorded this album four songs at a time over the course of 2018 and released them as EPs via PledgeMusic before dropping the entire album upon completion.  While this could have easily caused the album to become disjointed, it flows beautifully and retains its energy and power throughout.

Hooverphonic, Looking for Stars, released 16 November.  One of my favorite bands sneaks out an album while I’m not looking!  They may have yet another new singer but they’ve retained their lovely atmospheric style I love so much.  It sounds very similar to The Magnificent Tree, come to think of it.

The Smashing Pumpkins, Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., released 16 November.  With a ridiculous title like that, I really was expecting some kind of overblown navel-gazing monolith, but it’s actually a super-tight, super-fantastic, positive-sounding record that reminds me of Billy Corgan’s side project Zwan. I’m quite surprised and pleased by how fun it sounds. 

Laibach, The Sound of Music, released 23 November.  Our favorite Slovenian band takes its turn at covering songs from the Rodgers/Hammerstein musical and does it in their usual disturbing yet fascinating style.  Only they could make the purposely childish “Do-Re-Mi” sound sinister, proggy and awesome. Bonus points for managing to intertwine the music with their attempt to play a live show in North Korea some time ago.

Art Brut, Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!, released 23 November.  These lovable goofballs return after a long absence with more punk silliness and infectious party rock.  A very welcome return.  Hooray!

The 1975, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, released 30 November.  This band has evolved in so many fantastic and unexpected ways that I’m always fascinated with what their next song will sound like.  This time out they’re twitchy and poppy, alternating between technopop giddiness and Radiohead-like weirdness.  I’m still not quite sure what to make of this album, but it’s definitely amazing.

Coming Soon: December releases and a Year-End Roundup!