Twenty Years On: March 1998 in Review

March is right about when the doldrums of first quarter taper off, the post-Christmas sales of older titles have quieted down, and more exciting new releases start popping up.  Some of my favorite albums of the year surfaced around this time, albums that remained on heavy rotation for quite a few years afterwards.  Here are a few for you to enjoy.

Madonna, Ray of Light, released 3 March. I’ve been a passive fan of Madonna since her Like a Virgin days (which goes to show how old I am), and interestingly her albums always seesawed between phenomenal and lackluster. I consider this particular album one of her crowning achievements; it beautifully and seamlessly blends her signature dance sound and the brilliant electronica of producer William Orbit. It’s an amazing album from start to finish.

Fastball, All the Pain Money Can Buy released 10 March. Yes, it’s that song, their one-hit wonder (and there were many in 1998), but the rest of the album is actually quite a solid one worth checking out, with equally hooky riffs.

Morcheeba, Big Calm, released 16 March. One of many rock/electronica hybrid bands making the scene at the time, Morcheeba could be alternately loud and chunky or soft and sexy, sometimes within the span of a few tracks on their albums.

Cornelius, Fantasma, released 24 March. Keigo Oyamada has been called “the Japanese Beck” by certain critics, and they’re not wrong. Adventurous, experimental, weird, and often amusing, his work as Cornelius is a feast for the ears.

Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine, released 24 March. This band could have ended up a one-hit wonder with “Closing Time”, if it wasn’t for singer Dan Wilson’s brilliant songwriting, which kept the band in the spotlight and has carried his post-Semisonic career to achieving numerous award-winning hits. The entire album is catchy as hell and a lot of fun to listen to.

Superdrag, Head Trip in Every Key, released 24 March. After their snotty, punky mega-hit “Sucked Out” from 1996’s Regretfully Yours, this trio was bound and determined not to be pigeonholed into being another snotty-punk clone, and released a phenomenal album…which, alas, the label hated and proceeded to drop them unceremoniously. Surprisingly mature, often Beatlesque, and full of lovely melodies and introspective lyrics, Head Trip actually proved that they were a strong band, carrying them well into the early 00s and beyond. Highly recommended for your collection.

Sully, I Have Much to Report, released 24 March. An obscure Canadian band from Ottawa, this band nonetheless managed to pop up in the background in numerous shows and movies in the mid-90s. I love this album purely for its murky Cocteau Twins-meets-Sneaker Pimps ambience.

God Lives Underwater, Life in the So-Called Space Age, released 24 March. GLU’s second album is a change from the aggro-electronics of their first album, and in effect it sounds darker and more experimental. It’s a great album for headphones and long writing sessions, though! One of my favorites from this year, it got a hell of a lot of play down in the Belfry for a few years.

Scott Weiland, 12 Bar Blues, released 31 March. Scott’s debut solo album is quite the mix, alternating between weird and unstable, and heartfelt and beautiful. It features a few older tracks (“Lady Your Roof Brings Me Down” is from the Great Expectations soundtrack from a few months earlier, and “Mockingbird Girl” is a rerecording of the song he contributed to the 1995 Tank Girl soundtrack) alongside some fantastic new ones.

Pulp, This Is Hardcore, released 31 March. Jarvis Cocker & Co follow up their brilliant Different Class album with a decidedly darker and sinister outing about the more questionable side of life. This isn’t about the have-nots, it’s about the don’t-give-a-shits.

Harvey Danger, Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone, released 31 March. Another band that sadly became a one-hit wonder, despite multiple albums and excellent songwriting. A fun and exceptionally nerdy band, their entire discography is well worth checking out.


Next Up: April 1998!

Recent Purchases, February 2018 Edition

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here, what with me releasing a new book, catching up on personal things, and preparing for FOGcon, I almost forgot to continue with the Recent Purchases post!  Thankfully February is a short month and I don’t have to split it up into two posts, so I can catch up quickly.

Hope you enjoy!

GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star, released 9 February. I don’t listen to jazz nearly as much as I used to, but this one was suggested by AllMusic and I have to say I’m glad they did, because this album is FREAKING AMAZING. They’re your basic piano-bass-drums trio, but their music is so energetic and unique that it sounds so much bigger. Highly recommended.

Franz Ferdinand, Always Ascending, released 9 February. These poppy weirdos have returned with yet another irresistibly catchy album full of quirky alt-pop gems. As always, it’s a fun listen from beginning to end.

The Wombats, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, released 9 February. One of my favorite album names of 2018 so far, and another fun listen. This band somehow manages to write songs that sound gleefully happy, even when the lyrics aren’t, and I love them for it.

Fischerspooner, Sir, released 16 February. I’d almost completely forgotten about this band — I own 2003’s #1 album, but missed out on all their follow-ups — but this one jumped out at me and wouldn’t let go. Alternately sexy and weird, and that’s exactly how they want it.

Superchunk, What a Time to Be Alive, released 16 February. My manager at the record store loved this band back in my HMV days, but I never quite latched onto them. Thankfully their latest has fixed that ghastly mistake! Good punky fun.

FiFi Rong, Awake EP, released 23 February. Another groovy, trip-hoppy EP from one of my favorite internet finds.

Our Lady Peace, Somethingness, released 23 February. This crowd-funded release finally gets a wide release. There’s an energy on this album that’s reminiscent to their late 90s-early 00s sound that balances out their softer side that they’ve been mostly using on their later releases.


Coming Soon: March 2018, which so far seems to want to bankrupt me with its awesomeness!

Twenty Years On: February 1998 in Review

Welcome to another edition of Twenty Years On!  It’s February 1998, and I’ve started to take it upon myself to order imported albums for my store that I think will sell.  I’m reading all the British music magazines and reading the reviews, and for the most part I do a pretty good job.  Though I may also order a few imports for my own purchase…

Ultrasound, “Best Wishes” single, released 1 February. The major label (Nude UK) debut for this psychedelic Britpop band was an unexpectedly calm track and a one-eighty from their previous small label (Fierce Panda) single, the raucous “Same Band”. A piano-only version of this would later show up as a hidden track on their first album.

Primal Scream, “If They Move, Kill ‘Em” single, released 1 February. After the blissed-out Screamadelica and Stones-y Give Out But Don’t Give Up, PS would return with something equally unexpected: jazzy dub electronica, with 1997’s Vanishing Point. Critics loved it, and fans, once they got used to it, called it a brilliant success.

Catatonia, International Velvet, released 2 February. The Welsh band’s second album might not have made as big a splash as they’d hoped in the UK, but they certainly knew how to write catchy and fun alt-pop singles filled with brightness and humor.

Ian Brown, Unfinished Monkey Business, released 2 February. The former lead singer for the Stone Roses released his first solo album nearly four years after the Roses’ last one, and it’s full of oddities as well as catchy riffs. It’s missing the sunshine-psych sound of his former band (and definitely sounds like demos in places), but it also shows that he’s a strong songwriter lyrically and musically.

Pearl Jam, Yield, released 3 February. The wildly popular Seattle band returned to the airwaves with a classic album that channels both their Ten/Vs sound as well as the angular and punkish No Code. They also returned with their first official video since 1991’s “Jeremy”, co-directed by Todd McFarlane, then known as the creator of the Spawn comic book.

Roni Size/Reprazent, “Brown Paper Bag” single, released 10 February. Taken from 1997’s New Forms album, this fantastic track is a perfect example of the drum & bass sub-genre that popped up around that time. Size and his group were one of the best of their style, seamlessly mixing electronic dance and smooth jazz.

Curve, Come Clean, released 16 February. The group’s third album came nearly five years after their previous one (during which time they’d dissolved, done some solo work, and regrouped two years later and released a few rare singles).  It contains the signature guitar-driven heaviness but with a harder, more acidic edge.

Loreena McKennitt, “The Mummers’ Dance” single, released 17 February. McKennitt was part of the new-age/folk/Celtic wave of the mid-90s (thank you, Riverdance) and had a very strong following, enough to release a remixed version of a track from 1997’s The Book of Secrets album. This version would get significant airplay on many alternative stations around this time.

theaudience, theaudience, released 23 February. An amazing British power-pop band that really should have been a hell of a lot more popular than they ended up being. The entire album is filled with catchy riffs, smart and clever lyrics, and sung by the wonderful Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Alas, they were not only a band that suffered from the Universal/PolyGram merger (a sampler EP for the US was put together but disappeared soon after), their guitarist and co-songwriter quit the band soon after, breaking them up. Ellis-Bextor, thankfully, went on to become a popular solo singer in her own right just a year or so later. Highly suggested to add to your collection if you happen to find it.

Craig Armstrong, The Space Between Us, released 24 February. Armstrong is more known for film score composing (including numerous Baz Luhrmann movies such as Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby), but he’s also released a handful of gorgeous albums full of rich ambiance.  His work is perfect for chilling out — and also perfect for background music during writing sessions!


Next Up: March 1998!

[Note: I know, I know…I skipped Neutral Milk Hotel’s In an Aeroplane Over the Sea from 10 February. While I understand and appreciate its ridiculously huge cult status, I’ll admit I’m not that much of a fan and decided not to list it here.]

Recent Purchases, January 2018 Edition, Part Two

Here’s the second half of last month’s purchases for your enjoyment!

They Might Be Giants, I Like Fun, released 17 January. Released as a ‘rock album’, TMBG is still writing the short, weird and catchy songs thirty-plus years on. They’re still doing their classic Dial-a-Song project as well, which is now available online!

Belle & Sebastian, How to Solve Our Human Problems (Part 2) EP, released 19 January. The second of three EPs to be released by the band, they’ve found themselves comfortable in their invigorated indie-pop sound but still retain their wonderful songwriting chops.

tUnE-yArDs, I can feel you creep into my private life, released 19 January. Merrill Garbus and co. are still playing off-kilter tunes infused with international beats and worldly lyrics. This one’s less abrasive than some of her earlier work, but no less confrontational when it needs to be.

The Go! Team, Semicircle, released 19 January. A band I’d heard of but not followed, and now I’m wondering why the hell I haven’t! A goofy fun mix of indie pop with funk beats and double-dutch chants.

Milck, This Is Not the End EP, released 19 January. Ages ago I probably would have filed this under ‘one of those singers you hear on Grey’s Anatomy‘ but I’ve come to like a lot of this kind of thing when it’s done really well.  This release is quite lovely.

The Spook School, Could It Be Different?, released 26 January. Scottish indie punk that manages to emulate the classic C86 sound perfectly. Lots of fun listening here.

Django Django, Marble Skies, released 26 January. This band has always been just a bit weird, but always catchy and great listening. This new album is a bit of a departure in that it feels less poppy/commercial than their previous albums and more adventurous, which is definitely not a bad thing. There’s even a few synthy tracks that kind of remind me of early Depeche Mode in there!


Coming up soon enough: February releases!

Recent Purchases, January 2018 Edition, Part One

Here we are, back again for another round of new tunage at the start of a new year!  Since I’m doing a lot more streaming than impulse buying this year to save money and get my collection under control, a lot of these were bought not on their drop date but week or three later.  These are the many of the titles that made the cut.

It feels like this month was stronger than previous, with a lot of solid albums that I’ve been listening to on repeat.  So much so that I have to split it up into two posts!  We’ll see the follow-up next Tuesday.  So!  On with the show…

BØRNS, Blue Madonna, released 12 January. One of those albums where the more you listen to it, the more you love it. My initial listen was ambivalent but positive; I thought it was pretty good. Upon repeated listens, however, I found myself resonating with a lot of it. It kind of reminds me a bit of early New Order mixed with the atmosphere of M83.

Typhoon, Offerings, released 12 January. I’d never heard of this Salem, OR band before, but I love what I’m hearing. One of those bands with an indeterminate number of members, with a sound that could be inventive indie rock or lower-level math rock, I’m not sure. All I know is that they sound great and I’m most likely going to search out their other stuff soon enough.

Jaguwar, Ringthing, released 12 January. Shoegaze is alive and well! Jaguwar’s latest is a lovely, blissful run full of fast and fun songs and a lot of reverb. It’s quite enjoyable, especially during my Day Job hours!

Shame, Songs of Praise, released 12 January. What you get when you cross shoegaze with Art Brut-like punk silliness. Dreamlike but with sometimes shouty, sometimes surprising, and often not-quite-on-key vocals. I kept coming back to this one.

The Neighbourhood, To Imagine EP, released 12 January. This band has surprised me over the last few EP releases. They’ve been heading in interesting, experimental directions, leaving the rap-surf-pop of “Sweater Weather” far behind. I’m definitely liking what I’m hearing.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Wrong Creatures, released 12 January. BRMC returns to a much darker, louder J&MC-esque sound that fits them like a glove. An album that’s just begging to be listened to at top volume.


Stay tuned for more next week!


Thirty Years On: February 1988

Welcome to another edition of TYO, with another batch of albums and singles released sometime in February of 1988 (as far as I can tell).  After the quiet calm that usually starts Q1, we’ll start hearing more classic tracks and albums, many of which still get played to this day.

Peter Murphy, “All Night Long” single. A teaser for his upcoming second album, Love Hysteria, this one definitely set the tone for Murphy’s new sound. Where his debut record (1986’s Should the World Fail to Fall Apart) was strange, angular and reminiscent of his last few years with Bauhaus, the new album was more mature, layered, and warmer in tone. This first single hit college radio and 120 Minutes and became a mainstay for months.

Jerry Harrison, Casual Gods. The Talking Heads drummer’s second solo album was a favorite on AOR stations and featured session greats such as Robbie McIntosh and Bernie Worrell.

Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, Globe of Frogs. While Robyn had always maintained a strong following since his Soft Boys days, this particular album seemed to be the turning point, in part thanks to his signing to a major label, A&M. “Balloon Man” would get heavy play on AOR and college stations, and still gets played on alternative stations now and again.

Wire, “Kidney Bingos” single. Another teaser single, this time for Wire’s second comeback album A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck. Many fans who’d missed out on Wire’s original late 70s post-punk run (like myself) jumped on the bandwagon with their 1987 comeback The Ideal Copy and this album, which the band themselves called their ‘beat combo’ era. Their songs are much more melodic and straightforward this time out, but they’ve retained their inherent arty weirdness with fascinating soundscapes and off-kilter lyrics.

The Wedding Present, “Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm” single. Released as a stand-alone single after their George Best album from 1987, this track is indicative of the Weddoe’s classic jangly pop-punk sound that gathered a small but loyal following.

Abecedarians, Resin. A southern California band with a unique sound that was equal parts goth, spaghetti western, and post-punk. Not too many had ever heard of this band, but those who did swore by them religiously. Highly recommended if you search long enough for their small but excellent discography.

Various Artists, Salvation! soundtrack. A fascinating soundtrack to a rather bizarre cult movie about a skeezy televangelist that features multiple tracks from New Order, including the above. [Note: the ‘movie’ scenes in that video have nothing to do with Salvation!; in fact, the video director made the entire plot up just for the song.]

Various Artists, Sgt Pepper Knew My Father. British music mag NME created this interesting if sometimes questionable recreation of the classic Beatles album as done by numerous mostly-UK bands of the day, as a charity album for their runaway hotline Childline. For every fantastic cover (such as the above, The Wedding Present’s “Getting Better” and Billy Bragg’s “She’s Leaving Home”) there are a few stinkers in there (a half-assed rap take on the title song by The Three Wize Men and a weak “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Christians). And then there’s the outright weird Frank Sidebottom doing “Mr Kite”. Still, it’s a curiosity worth checking out just to get a feel of what UK pop sounded like in the late 80s.

The Woodentops, Wooden Foot Cops On the Highway. A band that could conceivably be compared to Belle & Sebastian nowadays, this band played a mix of quirky folk and rock that began with the quiet but stellar Giant in 1986 and morphed into a more boisterous sound a few years later. This album sank without trace soon after, but the band has made a comeback with an excellent cd collection of their 80s output (2013’s Before During After) plus an album of new songs a year later (2014’s Granular Tales).


More soon, including THAT PARTICULAR SONG. You know which one I’m talking about…!

Thirty Years On: January 1988

Hello and welcome to another edition of Thirty Years On, in which we take a look at that year I have an unhealthy obsession with.  Heh.  This episode features the few albums I have solid release dates for!  Hope you enjoy!

The Godfathers, Birth, School, Work, Death, released 11 January. Much-needed Brit-punk in a season of American hardcore, these guys channeled the Clash and mixed it up with a bit of garage punk psychedelia, creating a fantastic blend of kick-ass rock and a solid album from start to finish. Highly recommended for your collection.

The Fall, “Victoria” single, released 11 January. The Fall’s mid-80s output was surprisingly upbeat and melodic, even despite singer Mark E Smith’s eternal crankiness. A wonderful cover of the classic by the Kinks, and a song that still pops into my head at the mention of that queen or the underground line.

The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God, released 18 January. The album that also features that perennial Christmas classic, The Pogues’ third album was a huge favorite for the AOR stations in New England. I believe I owned this as a dub from my British exchange student friend for a time before I finally owned it on digital many years later.

Recoil, Hydrology, released 25 January. Essentially a solo experimental project by Depeche Mode’s Alan Wilder, it’s an interesting album worth listening to, especially if you’re a big DM fan. Take all the cold industrial-synth sounds from that band’s mid-to-late 80s albums, take away Martin Gore’s lyrics, and this is what you’re left with.

George Harrison, “When We Was Fab” single, released 25 January. Okay, it’s not college rock, but it was an ex-Beatle! The second single from 1987’s comeback album Cloud Nine, this one’s an obvious and loving nod to his past.  I used to listen to this single repeatedly when it came out.

David Lee Roth, Skyscraper, released 26 January. DLR’s second post-Van Halen album was a surprisingly mature and experimental affair, focusing more on the rock and less on the flash. I particularly loved this wonderful ballad featuring some fantastic guitar work from Steve Vai.


Next Up: February 1988!