Twenty Years On: Spring 1999

Time to catch up on the 20YO series again! This time out we have a whole slew of fine records that became my favorite records of that year. Many of them were played heavily during writing sessions in the Belfry, but many of them were also getting play in my car as I expanded my weekend pleasure drives and long commutes. I was still feeling that nudge of discomfort coming from various angles (mean boss, low funds, frustration with my writing projects), but at the same time I felt stronger and more confident than I’d ever felt that entire decade.

Porcupine Tree, Stupid Dream, released 6 April 1999. I didn’t discover PT until their next album (2000’s Lightbulb Sun) but I immediately checked this album out once I did, and it became one of my favorite mid-catalog records of theirs. Steven Wilson (you may know him now as the producer behind all those 5.1 remixes of classic albums getting released lately) and the rest of the band really found their niche with this record, easing back on the extended jamming and leaning towards more concise melodies. Highly recommended, whether you’re a prog fan or not.

Ben & Jason, Hello, released 9 April 1999. Ben Parker and Jason Hazeley were a UK duo that wrote and sang absolutely gorgeous indie folk but avoided the sometimes saccharine twee of most other bands in that genre. They only put out three records and a handful of singles but they were one of my all-time favorite finds at the time. Definitely worth searching for if you can find them.

Electronic, Twisted Tenderness, released 17 April 1999. The third and last album from Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s side project, this is a fantastic album and in my opinion the best and tightest of them. It got a delayed and ignored release here in the States, which is too bad, because there are some really strong singles on this one. And quite possibly my all-time favorite version of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”, featuring some of the best Marr guitar work I’ve ever heard.

Ultrasound, Everything Picture, release 17 April 1999. Another import find that quickly became one of my favorite records at the time. It might be a bloated overlong mess but it’s a hell of a lot of Britpop/psych-rock fun and I still give it a spin every now and again.

Lamb, Fear of Fours, released 17 May 1999. Lamb is a fascinating electronic band in that they’re more about exploring and experimenting with soundscapes than they are about being played in a club, and I’ve always loved their records. This one’s fascinating in that it’s an experiment in unconventional time signatures, with very few tracks actually being in 4/4 time. (Track 4 is even untitled, and features nothing except a seven-second single bleating synth sound.)

Moby, Play, released 17 May 1999. Say what you will about his bouts of sort-of-creepy weirdness in his latest memoir, Play remains an excellent record and worthy of its accolades. It’s clever, inventive, and a wonderful listen.

Travis, The Man Who, released 24 May 1999. This record broke them in the States (where it was released a few months later). It’s less noisy than their debut record but it’s a lot more introspective, and truly shows just how great they are as songwriters. Every single track on this record is wonderful, even the hidden tracks! [This is the record they were touring on when I met the foursome after a show in Boston; they were all lovely people and I’m glad they made it as big as they did.]

Smash Mouth, Astro Lounge, released 8 June 1999. Yeah, I know, I could easily have used the “All Star” meme here, but I didn’t, because the rest of this album is actually pretty damn great! It’s a fun listen — it’s tighter and perhaps a bit poppier and more commercial, but that works to their advantage here.

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Coming up soon: Thirty Years On, in which I briefly talk about The Best Album Ever! 🙂

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