Twenty Years On: 2001, Part II

Easing into Q2 of 2001 here, I had my Wednesday errand down to a science: log out of work at 3pm, head down Route 116 from Sunderland to Hadley to pick up my comics at Hampshire Mall, then drive into the center of Amherst, park at the central common, and walk over to Newbury Comics (which was across from the Town Hall at the time), where I’d buy that week’s new releases and maybe a box of Pocky and some blank tapes for mixtape purposes. It was my way of relaxing after a long day of moving boxes.

We had a relatively tight team at YC. A good portion of us were smokers at the time and would head out to the back picnic table near the rear truck drivers’ entrance — this was before all the smoking bans went into effect, so as long as we weren’t directly in front of the door, no one seemed to mind. Bruce and I used to hang out there chatting about music and other things while WHMP played over the loudspeaker above the door. The job itself was hard work, but at the time we all enjoyed it, especially since we were now in a HUGE shipping department three times the size of the one we’d been at previously.

Plunderphonics, 69 Plunderphonics 96, released 3 April 2001. I think this predated the mashup craze by a year or so, if I’m not mistaken. It initially intrigued me because it’s on Seeland, Negativland’s label, so it had to be weird and experimental in a really fun way. John Oswald’s aural experiments aren’t for everyone, but they’re often clever and sometimes hilarious. This particular track is twenty-four versions of Richard Strauss’ opening to “Also Sprach Zarathustra” played at once and turning into a slurry mess that, ironically, sounds like the Ligeti piece played during the headtrip light show near the end of 2001.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, BRMC, released 3 April 2001. Bluesy, shoegazey, and just amazing. I’d been intrigued considering the lead singer was the son of Michael Been (the lead singer of The Call, an 80s band I loved). It’s an album that should be played loud.

Skindive, Skindive, released 3 April 2001. I mentioned this band a few posts ago. It’s a pity they disappeared as quickly as they arrived, because they were fantastic! They captured the ferocity of Curve and the sexiness of Garbage, and even had a bit of the musical nerdiness of Failure. I still pull this one out and give it a spin now and again.

Stereophonics, Just Enough Education to Perform, released 17 April 2001. A band that has more of a following in the UK than here, this is a super moody but wonderful album that took them in a much darker and louder direction. “Mr. Writer” is such a great eff-you to their music critics that like the sound of their own voice more than the music they reviewed.

Elbow, Asleep in the Back, released 7 May 2001. An auspicious beginning for a band that would consistently release brilliant and beautiful music over the next two decades. Their debut is a quiet and meandering affair compared to later albums but no less amazing. They remain an “I will buy anything they release” band for me!

Tool, Lateralus, 15 May 2001. “Schism” was the bassline of the summer, felt like. I’d hear this on the hard rock stations, MTV, the alt.rock stations, and even on the college stations. I heard the song everywhere. They’re a band that tend to have a lifetime between releases, but this was well worth the wait.

Stabbing Westward, Stabbing Westward, released 22 May 2001. A 90s band I’d always enjoyed. They had that NIN blizzard of sound and anger to their music just like a lot of alt.metal bands, but they pulled it off with consistently amazing tracks. This album got a lot of play in the Belfry during my writing sessions! Also one of the loudest bands I’d ever seen live.

Radiohead, Amnesiac, released 4 June 2001. The second, moodier and creepier half of Radiohead’s strange foray into experimentalism, this one doesn’t quite stand up as well as Kid A does for me, but it does have its great moments.

The Cult, Beyond Good and Evil, released 22 June 2001. I’d always been a fan of this band but never quite got around to acquiring their albums for ages. I finally started with this one when it came out, and I was not let down. It’s HEAVY AF and loud as hell, and I love it. This one also made it through multiple plays during Belfry writing sessions!

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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!

Fly-by: Twenty years on interlude

Hello from a very rainy Oxford Street in London! I have come full circle and stepped foot into an HMV for the first time since probably 2001, when its US stores started closing up. This particular shop I believe is connected to the original first one, if it isn’t THE first one.

I’m glad to say the selection is still fantastic and the prices are great. Found everything I was looking for (which is often a rarity) and the service was aces.

So yeah — glad to be able to hit an HMV one more time for old times sake. 😁

Twenty Years On: July 1998

July 1998:  Stupidly hot and humid in central Massachusetts, and thankfully the back room at HMV is nice and cool.  I’ve been put in charge of ordering imports for the store, which is a dangerous thing indeed.  Also, I’m coming extremely close to finishing The Phoenix Effect, and at this point my nightly transcription/revision sessions are all caught up to the point that I’ll eventually finish it on the PC instead of longhand.  I spend my nights down in the Belfry listening to tunes and writing, or going out to see movies at the theater that they’d finally built in the rear of the mall I worked at.  Wednesday drives after work out to the Pioneer Valley for my comic book run.  Occasional Saturday drives into Boston to visit the comic book and used record stores.

Barenaked Ladies, Stunt, released 7 July. BNL’s jump into major stardom in the US actually started a few years earlier with 1996’s live Rock Spectacle (they’d been a cult favorite for years before), but this one broke them open wide with the hilarious pattering of the ubiquitous single “One Week”. The entire album is amazing, with some of their best songwriting to date.

The Hope Blister, …smile’s ok, released 14 July. One of Ivo Watts-Russell’s last projects before leaving his 4AD label in 1999, he revisits the ambient sounds of his This Mortal Coil project but with a fixed line up. A short but lovely album.

Beastie Boys, Hello Nasty, released 14 July. The Beasties continue their unique style of hip-hop that’s equal parts intelligent and ridiculous. “Intergalactic” got heavy airplay pretty much everywhere, from the pop stations to the alternative rock stations to MTV.  Years later a minor character in one of the new Star Wars films is named after it.

12 Rounds, My Big Hero, released 14 July. This one was more of a personal favorite of mine, and got a lot of play down in the Belfry during writing sessions. They’re kind of hard to pin down as their sound alternates between Sneaker Pimps-style triphop to the porn of Lords of Acid to Marilyn Manson alt-metal and moody goth rock of VAST. It’s all over the place but it’s a fascinating listen. Music Trivia Time: This was Atticus Ross’ band before he started working with Trent Reznor!

The Tragically Hip, Phantom Power, released 14 July. I really enjoyed listening to this one down in the Belfry as well — there are a lot of lovely tracks on this one, with some of Gord Downie’s best lyrics.

Small Soldiers soundtrack, released 14 July. This was such an odd little summer film, but that’s typical coming from Joe Dante. All his films are quirky. I loved the soundtrack, though: classic rock songs remixed by electronic and hip-hop artists, including an amazing remix of Rush by DJ Z-Trip.

Black Box Recorder, England Made Me, released 20 July. I mentioned this band last week during my recent purchases post. They were like the anti-Belle & Sebastian, with lo-fi twee qualities and really dark lyrics. Yet somehow I found them fascinating and picked up all their albums over the course of their brief career.

Republica, Speed Ballads, released 30 July. Their second and last album popped up only as an import here in the states, which is a pity considering this one’s just as fantastic as their debut, if not more adventurous and experimental.

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Next Up: August 1998, in which we see four albums that become my favorites of the year and get a crapton of play in all of my writing nooks for years to come.