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




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


Moon Safari


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


From The Choirgirl Hotel


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


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


Step Inside This House


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 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


The Voice of the People


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


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



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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum