Twenty Years On: 2001, Part V

It took a bit of time for life to get back to some semblance of normalcy after September, and for me it was getting back into the groove of writing and continuing my comic and music purchases. I shied away from most of the political commentary and conversation that floated around at the time. If anything, it made me even more determined to keep up with what had long been my true career as a writer.

Starsailor, Love Is Here, released 8 October 2001. Named after a Tim Buckley album (they even borrowed the same font for their logo!), Starsailor is similar to Elbow in that they have their own unique sound and mood that might not stand out upon first listen, but their songs definitely stay in your head.

Lamb, What Sound, released 8 October 2001. Where 1999’s Fear of Fours was an exercise in odd time signatures and emotional tension, its follow-up was a lovely, calm respite filled with some of my favorite Lamb tracks ever. This was on heavy rotation in the Belfry as it served as a perfect soundtrack for what I wanted to achieve with A Division of Souls.

Death Cab for Cutie, The Photo Album, released 8 October 2001. This Seattle band had been around for a good number of years and hiding in plain sight, but this was the album that gained them the most national attention at the time. Their popularity would only grow exponentially with each release.

Sloan, Pretty Together, released 16 October 2001. Canada’s Other Great Band doesn’t always get the love it so justly deserves, but those (like me) who love them have been fans for a LONG time. This is probably one of my favorite mid-career albums from them.

Pulp, We Love Life, released 22 October 2001. This band’s last album comes almost twenty (!!) years after they started, but they went out on a supreme high note. Every track on here rocks, and contains some of Jarvis Cocker’s best lyric work. Bonus points for the video for single “Bad Cover Version” which is a hilarious watch!

Lovage, Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By, released 6 November 2001. One of Dan the Automator’s weirder side projects (as if 1999’s Handsome Boy Modeling School wasn’t weird enough) featuring Faith No More’s Mike Patton and Elysian Fields’ Jennifer Charles on vocals. It’s trip-hop meets film noir meets b-movie drama and it’s a hell of a fun listen.

Andrew WK, I Get Wet, released 13 November 2001. It all started here, with one hell of an attention-grabbing album cover (the iconic AWK with a bloody nose) and songs that rock your ass off so hard that you’re not quite sure if he’s being serious or taking the piss. And he’s still partying hard twenty years later!

Various Artists, Not Another Teen Movie soundtrack, released 14 December 2001. The late 90s/early 00s wave of teen movies covered everything from sex comedies (American Pie) to bro-filled sports films (Varsity Blues) to weekend parties (Can’t Hardly Wait) to horror movie pastiches (the Scream series). A lot of them were terrible, but that didn’t always mean they weren’t fun to watch. Most of the time, however, the soundtracks were often the best part. This particular one is filled with then-current bands covering 80s songs you’d have found in John Hughes films.

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I went into 2002 determined to make it as positive as I could. Not so much because of then current events, but because for the first time in years I was in a good place and could pull it off. I dedicated all my free time to writing, to the point where I was writing every single day, including weekends, on a major project I had a lot of faith in. I had good friends and the ability to keep in constant touch with them. And 2002 was indeed a stellar year personally as well as with the music that I loved.

Twenty Years On: 2001, Part IV

It’s hard to talk about 2001 without bringing up the events of that second Tuesday of September, but even then I wasn’t about to let that disrupt my life. I would still head down to my writing nook and nail that word count. I would still do my weekly comic and cd run. There was a lot to process, and life in the US would definitely shift in a direction I felt wasn’t the smartest or safest one, but I kept going. And as always, music helped me get through that.

System of a Down, Toxicity, released 4 September 2001. Another summer record, all the local alt-rock stations played “Chop Suey!” “Toxicity” and “Aerials” heavily. SoaD could be badass but they could also be hysterically funny, sometimes within the span of a single song.

They Might Be Giants, Mink Car, released 11 September 2001. TMBG has long been a favorite of mine, but their 90s output after Apollo 18 always felt a little lackluster to me. Fun, but not quite up to the level I’d hoped. This record, on the other hand, was a great shift in their sound — they felt a hell of a lot more self-confident and freewheeling here and sounded like they were having fun again.

Ben Folds, Rockin’ the Suburbs, released 11 September 2001. Folds’ first official solo record (not including 1998’s Fear of Pop) finds him continuing down the road of smart and funny pop songs and beautifully heartfelt ballads…plus the title song which would become my Live Journal title a few years later. Folds is still the only musician I know who has ever played with the San Francisco Symphony and managed to get the entire hall audience to scream “fuuuuuuck!” multiple times.

P.O.D., Satellite, released 11 September 2001. I’d known about this band for a few years from my HMV job, but this was the record that broke them into the mainstream. It’s a widescreen-sounding album which works to their benefit — “Alive” and “Youth of the Nation” sound spacious yet so full of life and power. It’s a solid hard rock album and still one of my favorites of that year.

Curve, Gift, released 18 September 2001. Curve didn’t release too many albums, but each one was brilliant with its sonic abrasiveness, dreamlike melodies and Toni Halliday’s amazing vocal delivery. They were like Garbage’s older, often-ignored sibling that had a much cooler music collection and less inclination to hold back on their creative endeavors. This was another Belfry soundtrack with heavy airplay.

Bis, Return to Central, released 18 September 2001. This Glaswegian trio had formerly been known for its punk-twee ‘teen-c power’ cuteness (and the closing credits theme for The Powerpuff Girls) but eventually morphed into a dance-ready groove machine, and the evolution worked shockingly well. I absolutely loved this record — it’s one of those with a handful of great singles and deep cuts, and “What You’re Afraid Of”, “Protection”, and “Two Million” sound great as standalone tracks — but it also sounds wonderful as a whole. Highly recommended.

Days of the New, Days of the New III, released 25 September 2001. Travis Meeks was pretty much the sole member of this band by then (the original lineup having quit in frustration and formed Tantric), and while this isn’t nearly as grungy as the first album or expansive as the second, it’s just as melodic and fascinating.

Sense Field, Tonight and Forever, released 25 September 2001. I got into this band quite late but their records have always been fun to listen to. Not quite emo, not quite alternative rock, but full of great songwriting and memorable tunes. Another Belfry soundtrack!

The Verve Pipe, Underneath, released 25 September 2001. Two records on from their ridiculously popular Villains and Brian Vander Ark was still writing amazing records, even if the band’s labels didn’t give a shit. This is a wonderful record full of some of BVA’s best love songs.

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More to come!

Twenty Years On: 2001, Part III

Summer 2001 stretches on, with hot days and cool evenings. I’d started picking up a guitar again after ignoring it for far too long — I hadn’t written any new music in years, and it felt right to get back into that. Went to my first science fiction convention, Readercon 13, getting the feel of cons and what they offered for fans and writers. Saw a lot of movies as well. Really leaning hard on finding new inspirations and influences for my creativity.

The Chameleons UK, released 2 July 2001. Like Love Tractor, this British rock band resurfaced out of nowhere with a stellar comeback featuring their signature dreamlike post-rock sound. This one got a lot of play during the cool summer evenings down in the Belfry.

Tricky, Blowback, released 2 July 2001. This isn’t everyone’s favorite Tricky record — Tricky himself isn’t the biggest fan, having recorded it “for the money ’cause I was broke” — and it’s not nearly as experimental or weird as his usual records, but despite that it contains a lot of great tunes. “Evolution Revolution Love” is definitely an earworm and features Live’s Ed Kowalczyk (he would return the favor by popping up on their V album a few months later on “Simple Creed”).

L’arc~en~Ciel, “Spirit Dreams Inside” from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within soundtrack, released 3 July 2001. I actually loved this movie, despite its flaws! (I’m still of the mindset that gamers familiar with the FF universe had much higher expectations than I did, which led to its panning.) This was also the first L’arc~en~Ciel song I’d ever heard, and instantly became a huge fan of the highly regarded Japanese rock band.

Ivy, Long Distance, released 10 July 2001. I loved the late 90s/early 00s chillwave movement! It wasn’t just about laid back electronica or lazy dance beats, it was also the sound of relaxing alt-rock grooves like this band. Just the perfect thing to listen to while staying up far too late at night on the weekend working on my novel.

Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American, released 24 July 2001. The happiest emo band ever, this was such a brilliant, fun and energetic album you couldn’t help but love all every track and blast them at top volume. You still hear “The Middle” and “Sweetness” on the radio to this day.

New Order, Get Ready, released 27 August 2001. Their first record in eight (!!) years following 1993’s Republic, this was definitely a welcome return. It felt like they’d finally shed a bit of their Ibiza hedonism from the last couple of records (and countless remix singles) and got back to the gritty four piece.

Explosions in the Sky, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever, released 27 August 2001. Alongside Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai, I’d caught up with the post-rock movement and fell in love with its soundscape experimentalism — I mean, what better music to listen to while writing a science fiction trilogy? This was the one that started it for me, and I’ve been a fan of the style ever since.

Puddle of Mudd, Come Clean, released 28 August 2001. Say what you will about this band and its ties to Limp Bizkit (Fred Durst helped them secure a major label deal and rebuild the band), this was a surprisingly tight and extremely melodic record with some amazing songs on it! “Blurry” is still one of my favorite 2001 tracks.

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More to come!

Twenty Years On: 2001, Part I

It’s summer of 2001, and my team and I are breaking in the new shipping lanes at Yankee Candle’s newly minted shipping warehouse. I’ve been with the team maybe six months or so, having switched from second shift late in 2000. I was still getting used to not being at HMV anymore, having changed my music store alliance to Newbury Comics in Amherst. I was getting paid better (and finally getting out of debt). And most importantly, I was down in the Belfry writing A Division of Souls almost every night.

All told, 2001 was a year of transition for me. I’d gotten serious about the writing (and the writing schedule), and a lot of personal changes were taking place. New friends, new outlook. Feeling much more positive than I’d been just a few years previous. And I immersed myself in a lot of different music that I hadn’t tried before.

Low, Things We Lost in the Fire, released 22 January 2001. I’d been familiar with Low for a couple of years — an HMV coworker introduced me to them — but this was the first album of theirs I’d picked up. I wasn’t quite used to the extreme quietness of this band, but they’ve become a favorite of mine over the years.

Rainer Maria, A Better Version of Me, released 22 January 2001. I’d started listening to WAMH 89.3 again as their playlist had once again resonated with me. (Or was it because they’d toned down the Pavement-esque indie rock that never really gelled with me?) I used to hear “The Seven Sisters” almost every afternoon on the drive home, so this was picked up during one of my many Newbury runs.

Crooked Fingers, Bring On the Snakes, released 20 February 2001. Same with “The Rotting Strip” — the afternoon DJ would play this partly because he loved how much it sounded like Neil Diamond singing Bruce Springsteen songs. It’s a slowish record, but it sounds great!

Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Piratespace, 20 February 2001. I think I had to special order this one from Newbury, if I recall. I was greatly amused that my beloved Sputniks had decided to resurface with new music, especially since their original 80s iteration saw themselves as futurists. It’s got its goofy moments — no big surprise — but it’s also got some solid and surprisingly mature tracks.

Duncan Sheik, Phantom Moon, released 27 February 2001. This is indeed a lovely album, and probably my second favorite of his, just past his 1996 debut. I used to throw this one on during the summer when the heat of the day was giving way to the cool of the evening.

Snow Patrol, When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up, released 5 March 2001. A few years before they broke with multiple hit singles and featuring on Grey’s Anatomy and numerous other TV shows, this Glaswegian band had a few funky, offkilter pop albums worth checking out. Gary Lightbody’s vocal delivery was much softer at this point, but his lyrics were just as wonderful.

Love Tractor, The Sky at Night, released 6 March 2001. This Athens GA band had dropped off the map quite some time ago, so I was quite happy when they decided to drop a new album! They were always more about sculpting sounds than writing pop songs, and this record’s no different. And they’re currently alive and well on Twitter and soon to be touring!

Kristin Hersh, Sunny Border Blue, released 12 March 2001. This record’s a bit more laid back than her usual solo and Throwing Muses records, but I love its bluesiness, especially this track, which ended up on multiple mixtapes over the year.

Our Lady Peace, Spiritual Machines, released (US) 13 March 2001. This is definitely a weird album even for them — it’s somewhat of a concept album based on Ray Kurtzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines — but it’s got some of their best and most tense songs they’ve done. I’ve always been a fan of the band and I admit this one’s my favorite of theirs. And I’ve just learned that their next album will be a direct sequel to this one!

Gorillaz, Gorillaz, released 26 March 2001. Hard to believe it’s been twenty years since this animated band has graced us with its presence — and that Damon Albarn and company continue to drop great memorable tunes and hilarious videos! Even more so that they’ve become so popular despite their inherent weirdness!

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More to come!

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! 🙂

Twenty Years On: Spring 1999

I’d have to say 1999 was kind of a weird time for me, as it had some smashing highs and some really frustrating lows for me. While I still loved my record store job at HMV, things had changed there, and not necessarily for the better. The new manager and I often butted heads, and I also found my shifts often being pushed to weird hours to cover someone else’s plans. I’d gotten frustrated with the fact that my sci-fi novel (The Phoenix Effect) was getting no bites from publishers and its sequel was soon to be aborted when I instead chose to completely rewrite the whole damn thing.

Radio was also getting more frustrating to listen to, the more melodic sounds of 90s alt-rock getting replaced by what I’d call ‘meathead alt-metal’, with the drop-tuning and growling (and sometimes unfortunate white-boy-rapping) of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Marilyn Manson. I started listening to less radio and more of my own collection, which of course had already grown considerably in the last couple of years. On the plus side there, I’d discover a lot more imports and obscurities that became some of my favorite records of the time.

The Supernaturals, A Tune a Day, released 8 February 1999. I was pretty heavy into the imports at this time. I would read the British music mags religiously, checking out the news and reviews and following up accordingly, ordering a copy or two for the store. A lot of it was hit or miss, and most of the time I’d be ordering a copy simply for my own collection. The Supernaturals are one band that got some minor reviews in Mojo and elsewhere but kind of vanished soon after. I really dug the alternapop of this record, though.

Annie Christian, Twilight, released 8 February 1999. The same goes with Annie Christian…they were part of a newer British wave of guitar groups that wrote some really nifty tunes that unfortunately got ignored by pretty much everyone.

Tin Star, The Thrill Kisser, released 9 February 1999. Now THIS record is groovy and quirky as hell and more people need to know about it. The “Head” single got some minor airplay on the alt-rock stations, and every now and again I’m pleasantly surprised when it resurfaces. This record got a hell of a lot of play during my writing sessions. Well worth searching for and checking out.

Lit, A Place in the Sun, released 23 February 1999. These guys could easily be filed away in that same meathead alt-metal gang, considering their biggest hit is about being an alcoholic loser…but they do it in style with catchy riffs and fun tunes. Bonus points for providing a nude cameo of Blink-182 (following up their “What’s My Age Again” streak) in their video for “Zip-Lock”, another radio favorite.

Jimmy Eat World, Clarity, released 23 February 1999. Before the enormous success of 2001’s Bleed American, this band was a favorite of the emo crowd, and “Lucky Denver Mint” was a minor hit on a lot of alt-rock stations. Their early records are definitely worth checking out as well.

Badly Drawn Boy, It Came from the Ground EP, released 1 March 1999. This one remains one of my favorite import finds from the HMV years, and it’s one of BDB’s best songs, and really should have gotten a hell of a lot more attention than it did. I always play this one loud because it’s just that awesome.

3 Colours Red, Revolt, released 2 March 1999. Yet another fantastic alt-rock album criminally obscured by alt-metal radio and record distributor shenanigans of the day. “Beautiful Day” is a gorgeous tune that has the epic quality of Bends-era Radiohead. Had this come out a few years earlier or later, it may have been a much bigger hit.

Blur, 13, released 15 March 1999. Blur, on the other hand, was the Britpop band that survived the late 90s fallout of their scene by way of changing up their sound considerably. Their 1997 self-titled record introduced a much heavier and more experimental sound, while this record exposed their more emotional (and emotionally fraught) side.

Various Artists, The Matrix OST, released 30 March 1999. Say what you will about the trilogy, the first movie definitely changed the entire game of American science fiction movies by being fiercely original, relentlessly creative, refusing to rely on tired tropes, and introducing some of the best jaw-dropping special effects ever made up to that point. And it had one hell of a great soundtrack that just had to be played as loud as possible.

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The last year and a half of my HMV tenure may have been fraught with irritations and stress, but it also provided me with a ton of excellent music that would keep me busy and entertained. This was the peak era of my weekend road trips to comic stores, book stores and Boston, and it was also an extremely creative time for me as well, even if my current project was about to be completely restarted from scratch. My social life was nil, but that was the least of my worries, as I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, and I was actually getting paid enough to be able to afford it to some extent. I’d dug myself out of an extremely deep depressive funk, and despite managerial frustration, I refused to fall back into that trap again.

Twenty Years On: November 1998

Oh hey there!  Here we go with another edition of Twenty Years On.  I don’t have too much to cover regarding memories of this point in time, other than that I was pretty much in full-on revision mode with The Phoenix Effect and listening to all sorts of tunage down in the Belfry.  This volume’s a bit thin, as is normal for end of year, but I still love these albums.

Beck, Mutations, released 3 November.  After the massive success of Odelay, Beck surprised many with a decidedly straightforward and moody semi-acoustic album.  This would become his album release style: alternating between weirdo funk and introspective melody.  

Alanis Morissette, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, released 3 November.  This album garnered mixed reviews — it was extremely long at seventeen tracks, and it lacked the pissed-off-exgf feel of “You Oughta Know” — but in retrospect it’s a surprisingly solid and pleasing album about finding inner peace after years of turmoil.

The Offspring, Americana, released 17 November.  This is possibly their most accessible and consistent record, featuring quite a few of their radio hits (“Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)”, “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” and “The Kids Aren’t Alright” for starters), but it’s also a surprisingly dark album as well.  It’s my favorite of theirs.

Seal, Human Being, released 17 November. Slagged off by critics for not containing the hits that his two previous records had, it’s nonetheless a lovely and contemplative album.  He’s on my “I will buy anything from them” list of musicians, and he’s one hell of an amazing singer.

Coming Up: December 1998!

Twenty Years On: October 1998

October 1998: The fourth quarter kicks in at the record store, which keeps me ridiculously busy in the back room, processing all the stock coming in.  I do manage to sneak out onto the sales floor every now and again to check out what’s going on and upsell some of my favorite releases.

U2, “Sweetest Thing” single, released 4 October. A teaser single for their first official greatest hits album that would be released in November, this is a reworking of an old Joshua Tree-era b-side that got airplay even back in 1987. It’s a simple pop song even by their standards, but it’s lovely and fun. Plus, the video is wonderfully silly.

The Wiseguys, The Antidote, released 5 October. There were many electronica one hit wonders in the late 90s, and these guys were one of them. Their single “Ooh La La” did get some minor notice in a commercial, but it was this track that got the most attention. One of my favorite 90s videos as well, as this is pretty much exactly the visual equivalent of how I hear this kind of creative sampling!

Duncan Sheik, Humming, released 6 October. While not as gorgeous and introspective as his debut, his follow-up album did in fact show his fabulous songwriting chops with some great upbeat tunes. He’s definitely on my I will buy anything he releases shopping list.

Placebo, Without You I’m Nothing, released 12 October. While their first album flew well below the radar in the US, their second one got some major airplay thanks to one of their best songs, “Pure Morning”, which of course should always be played at top volume.

Fatboy Slim, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, released 12 October. Norman Cook’s breakthrough album is indeed a fine collection of some of his best DJing work and featuring “The Rockafeller Skank”, “Praise You” and “Right Here Right Now”.

Love and Rockets, Lift, released 13 October. The final album is so markedly different from their first from 1985 that it’s almost impossible to see they’re the same band — but it also shows how much they’d evolved since their Bauhaus/Tones on Tail days.

Eels, Electro-Shock Blues, released 20 October. Mark Everett’s quirky songwriting has always been naked and personal, but it’s also a fascinating listen. “Last Stop: This Town” got some heavy airplay on the alt-rock stations upon its release.

Robbie Williams, I’ve Been Expecting You, released 26 October [UK]. You either loved or hated Robbie Williams in the 90s and 00s; you either found him cheeky and unbearable, or you found him fun and enjoyable. I’m firmly in the latter, because his songs were always so full of relentless energy. In 1999 some tunes from this and his previous UK album (Life Thru a Lens) would be compiled into a hit album in the US, fittingly called The Ego Has Landed.

Phish, The Story of the Ghost, released 27 October. THE jam band of the 90s, this album was a lot quirkier and improvised than 1996’s Billy Breathes, so while passive fans who liked their single “Free” weren’t as excited, the hardcore ones loved it.

REM, Up, released 27 October. I’ll admit that I was never that big of a fan of REM’s later years, partly because they’d moved too far away from their original sound. I didn’t mind the sheen of Out of Time or the rock of Automatic for the People, but I couldn’t quite get into anything after that. However, Up was in fact an excellent example of just how tight they were as a band despite their change in style.

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Next Up: November 1998!

Twenty Years On: September 1998

September 1998: It’s starting to get cooler out, the days are getting shorter. The commute home gets me there in the dark. On the occasional Wednesday I’ll do my comic book road trip across the state; while I’m enjoying buying the comics and taking the long drives, I think it’s more about me finding a new outlet to escape the frustration of living back at home with family. It’s about doing something for myself, just like my occasional drives into Boston on the weekend, or my hiding down in the basement to write. I’m pretty much finding my own unique self at this point. It’s a perfect time to do so, considering that I’ve disconnected from most everything and everyone else that had held me back a few years earlier.

Just me, my music, and my writing. I could live with that.

The House of Love, The Best of the House of Love, released ?? September 1998. I’d been a fan of this band since “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” but for some reason I never got around to buying any of their albums…! This was a perfect jumping-on point, as it’s an excellent mix of their late 80s-early 90s output.

Depeche Mode, “Only When I Lose Myself” single, released 7 September. A new teaser single to add to their upcoming greatest hits album (The Singles 86>98, which would drop on 28 September), it’s got the grim darkness of 1997’s Ultra, but it also has the tenderness of some of Martin Gore’s best balladry. It’s a lovely, relaxing song.

Mansun, Six, released 7 September. While this certainly didn’t come close to the Britpoppy goodness of their minor hit “Wide Open Space” and was resequenced and pretty much ignored in the US, it remains my favorite Mansun record for its grandiose scope. It’s a long album, but it goes in so many interesting and unexpected directions that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. Another record that got heavy rotation during my writing sessions.

Belle & Sebastian, The Boy with the Arab Strap, released 7 September. Critics loved this band since their start, but it was this album that expanded their fanbase exponentially, thanks to being signed to Matador in the US. [This is also the album that infamously received a ridiculously pompous negative review on Pitchfork, thus branding the site by some as being written by and for hipsters who only listen to obscure bands.] It’s light and poppy — and the perfect example of ‘twee’ which became the code word for them around this time — but it’s also full of great tracks including the title song. Another writing session album.

The Fireman, Rushes, released 21 September. Paul McCartney’s side project into chilled-out electronica gets a second album here, this time of completely new source samples and sounds. It’s relaxing and lovely and totally not what you would expect from Macca at all.

American Football, American Football EP, released 29 September. A band that partly inspired the late 90s-early 00s resurgence of quiet, meandering post-rock, this band had only released this EP and a single album (of the same name) the following year before breaking up (and not acrimoniously: their college years had come to an end and were now in different cities). They’re a cult favorite and well worth checking out; they’ve also reunited as of 2014 and put out a second album (yes, of the same name again) in 2016.

UNKLE, Psyence Fiction, released 29 September. I rarely embed a full-album video stream, but this is definitely an album you need to hear from start to finish, as it’s JUST THAT AMAZING. Producer/DJ James Lavelle created this group, initially with DJ Shadow, and created a ‘band’ that defies description. It’s hip-hop, electronic, soul, hard rock, industrial, and who knows what else, and melded into a semi-thematic album of aliens, space travel, mind travel, and spiritual healing. It can be dark and dense, hard and heavy, but also amusing and just plain weird. And its guests run the gamut as well: Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Mark Hollis (Talk Talk), Jason Newstead (Metallica), Kool G Rap, Badly Drawn Boy, Richard Ashcroft (The Verve), and Mike D (Beastie Boys). It’s a phenomenal album that you should definitely have in your collection. [And yes, another writing session album. I still listen to this one quite a bit to this day.]

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Coming soon: October 1998!

Twenty Years On: August 1998

7 August 1998:  I’ve just stopped writing The Phoenix Effect longhand, as I’m already caught up with the evening transcription, to the point where I write the final chapters of the novel straight to PC.  Finishing this draft will most likely take place around the end of the month or into early September.  I will then spend the next months working on revision and looking up various publishing houses I’d like to send it to, eventually sending it out sometime early in 1999.

These revision months are spent down in the Belfry, focusing on banging the story into shape, cleaning up the prose and making it even better.  This means that I’ll be listening to a TON of music over the next few months.  I’ll also be listening to the same albums while at the record store job to keep myself in the proper mindset.  In the process, these records become part of the Bridgetown mythos, providing me with not just a soundtrack for the book but inspiring numerous scenes and ideas.

So get comfortable, this is a long one!

LHOOQ, LHOOQ, released 3 August 1998. An import brought to my attention via a UK music mag, partly due to their Duchamp-inspired band name. [It comes from the infamous Mona-Lisa-with-a-mustache painting from 1919; it’s a French pun where you read out the letters as ‘Elle a chaud au cul’…translated to “she’s horny”.] Smooth, laid back electropop, it didn’t do much of anything anywhere, but I quite enjoy it.

Various Artists, For the Masses: A Tribute to Depeche Mode, released 4 August 1998. An amazing collection of DM cover songs, featuring Failure, Dishwalla, The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins, Hooverphonic, and more. While most tribute albums are touch and go, most with a few stellar tracks and a lot of filler by unknown names, this one is absolutely solid and is highly recommended.

Rasputina, How We Quit the Forest, released 4 August 1998. The trio, known for their Victorian visuals and goth-with-strings sound, released a heavier, beefier-sounding second album with the help of NIN’s Chris Vrenna. It’s weird, spooky, and gorgeous at the same time. It’s probably their most accessible album, and it’s a lot of fun.

Embrace, The Good Will Out, released 6 August 1998. A favorite of the late 90 British Rock era, this album was an immediate UK hit right out of the gate with its strong songwriting and powerful sounds. I especially loved the epic punch of its main single, “All You Good Good People”.

Dishwalla, And You Think You Know What Life’s About, released 11 August 1998. I absolutely adore this album. It didn’t gain nearly as much popularity as it’s 1995 predecessor (Pet Your Friends, which had their hit “Counting Blue Cars”), but as an alt-rock record, it’s a hell of a lot stronger and heavier in sound, and contains quite a few of their best songs, including the stunning ballad “Until I Wake Up”. This one stayed in my writing session rotation for years, and I still pull it out now and again.  If you like their big hit, definitely try this one out too.

Hooverphonic, Blue Wonder Power Milk, released 11 August 1998. I love this album as well, and it’s the one that made me a huge fan of the band. It’s a major shift in sound for them — a new singer, more orchestral accompaniment, less electro beats and more pop mentality. It’s a lovely album to listen to in headphones. This too stayed in my writing session rotation for years. The single “Eden” also influenced the character that ended up being Akaina in the trilogy.

Orgy, Candyass, released 18 August 1998. One of many darkwave bands that surfaced in the late 90s, their one claim to fame might be a crunchy cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday”, but the rest of the album was equally as fun. I’d throw this one on during my Belfry sessions when I needed something loud and aggressive.

Korn, Follow the Leader, released 18 August 1998. I really wasn’t much of a Korn fan at all at the time, but there’s something about this album that clicked for me. It could be that this one captures their signature sound the best — the drop-tuning, the intricate weaving of dissonant sounds, and some of Jonathan Davis’ best songwriting. Plus I loved “Freak on a Leash”, both the song and the video.

Boards of Canada, Music Has the Right to Children, released 20 August 1998. I didn’t get into this band until their next release (2002’s Geogaddi), but I was quite aware of them via this album, which sold regularly at my store. Their name and unique sound is wrapped in childhood nostalgia — they definitely sound like those old public service/educational films you might have watched if you were a Gen-X kid in the 70s and 80s.

Bob Mould, The Last Dog and Pony Show, released 25 August 1998. I’d lost track of Mould’s output after his Sugar albums, so this was a great album for me to return to. It’s more laid back and approachable and features some lovely melodies — like most of 1989’s Workbook, his lighter, more acoustic sound has always resonated deeply with me.

Snowpony, The Slow Motion World of Snowpony, released 25 August 1998. Deb Googe from My Bloody Valentine popped up unexpectedly as a co-conspirator for this noisy alt-rock band. Not as ear-splitting as MBV, but definitely not pop, either.

Manic Street Preachers, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, released 25 August 1998. I was quite familiar with the Manics by this point, thanks to their numerous loyal UK fanbase, but this was the album that won me over. It can be a little preachy at times, but it’s also a fantastic record filled with excellent melodies.

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Coming Up: September 1998, in which even more alt-rock goodness gets released and becomes a part of my permanent writing session playlist!