Tag Archives: Godspeed You Black Emperor!

The Best CDs of 1999

From a creative standpoint, the popular music industry has been on life support for some years, but I may well remember 1999 as the year when we finally pulled the sheet up over its head. There was a lot of fine music produced and released, but unless you had the time, energy, and determination to go hunting for it your chances of actually hearing anything meaningful were zip.

I hate to bitch, because I’m not somebody who believes that popularity and commercial success are automatically bad. I like the idea of massive record sales in principle, so long as those benefiting are talented artists whose work improves the audience in some way. But the system works that way rarely, and by happenstance instead of design, because people who genuinely care about music are rarely allowed in the same room with an important decision. Thanks to yet another mind-numbing round of bloodless corporate mega-mergers, the range of artists the average listener heard in 1999 was narrower than ever before.

The result was predictable. In Denver, where I live, we have three or four stations that pretend to play “alternative” in some form or another. At any given moment I can flip through the dial, knowing I have less than a 25% chance of finding anything listenable on any of them. I sometimes wind up listening to commercials because they’re less annoying than the crap being shoveled into the airwaves.

In a word, the mainstream rock & roll offerings in 1999 were mostly ordinary. Plain. Uninspired, homogenous, ho-hum. Helloooo, sports talk radio.

The bad news is I had to work even harder this year than before to keep myself plugged into meaningful new music. Of my top 10 releases, only one received significant airplay. A second got limited spin, and a third just got added this week.

The good news is that if you knew where to look you could find some absolutely remarkable music this year. I apologize in advance to those artists who belong here, and would probably be included if radio and the record industry didn’t suck. I mean, if you were trying to construct a music industry that kept innovative and interesting new artists from gaining an audience you’d have a hard time improving upon the corporate clusterfuck we have in place already.

The following list represents the best releases I heard from 1999, and also includes some 1998 releases that, for one reason or another, didn’t hit my radar screen until this year.

The Top 10

1. Godspeed You Black Emperor! – F#A#Infinity Read more

The Best CDs of the 1990s

Below is my Best CDs of the 1990s list. I never kidded myself for a second that I could produce a definitive review – if I can’t even convince myself that the list is as good as I’d like it, I can hardly fault others for disagreeing here and there, can I?

In the end I wound up deciding on a Top 25 list, and I also offered comments on 25 more honorable mentions. The whole thing, top to bottom, is something like 10 pages worth of reviewing, analysis, and self-defense. I even employed multiple methodologies. First, I tried laying it out by a “connoisseurship” model – that is, I made my own estimates based on my own sense of how things qualitatively met the criteria I established for the project. Then I played a little game where I weighted each criterion and then rated each entry mathematically, thereby generating a quantitative estimate. This had the effect of making me seriously reconsider my initial rankings (for instance, it forced me to give Pearl Jam more credit than I really wanted to – see below for more on that).

Then I sent the list to some friends whose opinions I respect and invited criticism (which I got, in spades – thanks, Greg). That forced some more noodling. Then I set about writing and justifying my picks, and that ALSO led to some revision (if I have a hard time justifying its place in the Top 25, that could mean I’m over-relying on my “like” reflex). Read more