Music: America the beautiful

No more Britpop in '98. Not many Australian soap stars either. As for `distaff distorto grunge-victims', well, they've seen better days. No, 1998 was the year in which American pop began a heady renaissance. The evidence? Our critics' choice of 10 CDs of the year

MERCURY REV Deserter's Songs V2

IN A year during which forward motion seemed for the most part stalled, bands continued to trawl through previous eras in search of inspiration, none more successfully than Mercury Rev. This was no simple Weller-style retro-rock appropriation, however. The heartbreakingly beautiful Deserter's Songs used half-remembered hints of old melodies or arrangements as poignant sepia-tint coloration for songs concerned, in part, with the very nature of recollection and reflection. It's an extraordinarily emotional record, somehow managing to sound both melancholic and euphoric, suggesting that for Mercury Rev the past is a much more complex, ambivalent territory than that encountered in, say, Oasis's cheery celebrations of old ways.

In this respect, Deserter's Songs is more representative of the current wave of American retro-rockers than of its British equivalent. For unlike the second-hand sound-stylists of Britpop, such bands as Sparklehorse, Lambchop and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and such solo artists as Beck and Gillian Welch, are all inspired as much by the pioneer nature of older music forms as they are by the music itself. The immediate result has been a succession of graceful, exploratory albums, whose appeal grows, rather than diminishes, with familiarity. Honourable mentions also go to Sparklehorse's Good Morning Spider (Parlophone) and Lambchop's What Another Man Spills (City Slang)

Andy Gill

BECK

Mutations

Geffen

PERHAPS THIS year's most intriguing development has been the end of the assumption that musical innovation will automatically originate on the dance floor. Not that stadium behemoths will ever stop seeking vindication in the fairy dust of an over-priced remix, but an increasing volume of traffic is now moving the other way, as horny-handed beat-farmers come down from the hills in an urgent quest for old school rock charisma. It's a manor of which Beck is undisputed boss, and his Mutations - supposedly just a bit of fun with his touring band while gearing up for a "proper" next album - is a gleaming monument to its diverse possibilities. Owing as much to The Beatles' Revolver as The Beasties' Paul's Boutique, these are space-age bachelor-pad cowboy laments of transcendent and enduring quality. Honourable mentions to Air's Moon Safari (Virgin), and Glaswegian Arab Strap's rumbustious Philophobia (Chemikal Underground).

Ben Thompson

AIR

Moon Safari

Virgin

THE PRAISE heaped upon Air is as much a result of their repair job on French music as the fact that they have produced the most bewitching retro-futuristic album of the year. They have often been aligned with the clattering vibrations of their compatriots, Daft Punk, but, in truth, they couldn't be further apart. Moon Safari is an otherworldly foray into some of the more tender moments of the last three decades. "Kelly Watch the Stars" and "Sexy Boy" epitomise Air's sound: soothing Serge Gainsbourg- style vocals, processed through a vocoder and set against Seventies' funk- jazz and Eighties' synth pop soundscapes. Smart and fluffy, uplifting and melancholy.

If I had to choose an album to accompany a stroll on the moon, it would indeed be this one. For more smart retro-futurism and vocoder wizardry, listen to the Beastie Boys' Hello Nasty (Grand Royal) and Bran Van 300's chaotic, self-titled debut album (Capitol).

Fiona Sturges

TORI AMOS

From The Choirgirl Hotel

EastWest

THIS ONE threw us for a loop. The flame-haired temptress with a million voices in her head spoke in her own on Choirgirl, an unleashed, autobiographical affair. Cathartic release could be due to the fact that Tori's no longer a relationship-damaged waif, but a smugly happy wife. With that in the mix, a side we hadn't seen roared kaleidoscopically off the disc. Bashing her Bosendorfer alongside heavy bass and electric guitar, Tori went Led Zep. Elsewhere, we had references to Jackie Kennedy, David Cassidy, Pandora and Persephone - Amos was this year's chart-topping goddess.

Other contenders? Almost alone, Polly Harvey carried the flag for distaff distorto-grunge victims. Is This Desire? (Island) reached uncharted territory, so far west of Yeovil, it seemed located in America's desert badlands. Lucinda Williams's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Mercury) took a more rural American route, her sweet folk voice telling us of the heat and dust, the beat-up and broken-down.

Glyn Brown

4 HERO

Two Pages

Talkin' Loud

THIS YEAR saw the various genres of the UK dance scene in nostalgic mood. Such a climate even touched the future-obsessed drum'n'bass scene, most engagingly in the case of the breakbeat scientists, 4 Hero. In Two Pages they crafted an album which updates the classic soul of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Stevie Wonder's Innervisions with Detroit techno-inspired drum'n'bass. True, the album's inspirations are all drawn from the past, yet the duo rarely overdo the nostalgic reverie bit. They take their source material and contort it through a vibrant fusion of technology and imagination. Similarly inspiring were Jurassic 5 and Faithless. The former's brilliant eponymous album (Pan PIAS) combines the word play of old skool hip hop with new skool turntablism. Faithless fused classic UK house, the moodiness of Massive Attack and the energy of Motown to create the unique sound of their stunning second album, Sunday 8pm (Cheeky).

Martin James



LYLE LOVETT

Step Inside This House

Universal

TEN YEARS ago this sort of thing was called New Country. New Country wore a cowboy hat, not with irony but with contingent pride; it cleaved to Country idioms but aligned itself intellectually with the world beyond Nashville's moral catchment; it was neat and tidy on the outside, but scruffy in its soul. Now it's a supporting leg of the coffee-table mainstream - not alt.country but art-country: currently white American pop's most sophisticated property.

Lovett will politely concede that, if nothing else, this double-length collection of other Texans' songs enables him to duck questions about whether he's still boiling his head over Julia. What we must concede is that this is the most playable length-and-line art-country record there's been, by a man. Texas sounds like a real place for once, inhabited by real people. You should also hear Emmylou Harris's elegant Spyboy (Grapevine) and Gillian Welch's grim Hell Among the Yearlings (Almo Sounds).

Nick Coleman

VARIOUS ARTISTS

The Voice of the People

Topic

A SURVEY of the traditional music of these islands ought to be an impressive affair. It ought to be grave, monumental, desiccated, worthy, unlistenable; it should chafe in its unwearable work boots. In fact, Reg Hall and Tony Engle's epic, 20-volume Voice of the People "anthology" is a delight: it is monumental and to a large extent grave, for sure, but it is also moving, involving and enlightening, and, like all the best narratives, keeps you wanting to find out what happens next. Also, you don't have to fork out 300 fat ones for the privilege of owning the whole thing in a boxed set; you buy it piecemeal or you don't buy it at all.

This has been a good year for tradition-driven music, both here and in the States. Here, Eliza Carthy deservedly got on the Mercury shortlist for her imaginatively worldly Red Rice double album, while dad Martin made a splendid comeback of his own with Signs of Life. (No compensation, though, for the loss of Lal Waterson.)

Nick Coleman

MILES DAVIS

The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions

Columbia Legacy

THE IMPULSE! label is all-round jazz re-issue champ for 1998. It's given stylish new life to its Coltrane back catalogue and is now embarked on the noble project of revivifying the late-Sixties/ Seventies New Thing, as if it were indeed a new thing.

However, the label responsible for the single most impressive re-con job of the year is Sony's Columbia Legacy imprint. Their orgiastic slobber over Miles Davis's Bitches Brew sessions was profoundly worthy, not merely for its textured cardboard and aluminium finish, certainly not for the accompanying rubric, but for the complex loveliness of the music itself, which benefits hugely from being remastered to perfection and then laid out schematically over the length of four CDs as if it were, indeed, all part of the same musical continuum. Honourable mentions go to Coltrane's The Complete Classic Quartets (Impulse!) and Tina Brooks's heartbreaking Back to the Tracks (Blue Note).

Nick Coleman

RITA

MARCOTULLI

The Woman Next Door

Label Bleu

EVEN WHEN a musician goes into the studio and records his or her current live set, a context of sorts still emerges according to the dominant mood, texture or tempo of the event. But when the setting of the context precedes the recording, we can end up with an album as complete, as satisfying, and as profound as The Woman Next Door by the Italian pianist Rita Marcotulli. Inspired by the films of Francois Truffaut, Marcotulli has written a suite of tunes that relate to different themes or characters, and then cast them for various permutations of a large ensemble. The result is wide-ranging music held together by the central concept and recurring motifs. It works as a whole in a way that very few jazz albums ever manage to do.

Two other albums of governed mood: the American pianist Brad Mehldau's Songs (Warner Bros), and the veteran soul-jazz vocalist Terry Callier's Timepeace (Talkin' Loud/Verve).

Phil Johnson

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform