10 Best Albums From 1998
Indie rock was in a state of flux as it approached the end of the 20th century. The guitar-based noise that helped shape the music in the early part of the ’90s was disappearing by 1998. Only the warmed-over leftovers and copycats were still around by this point. So, as a new millennium approached, artists began branching into new directions — some guided by the electronic wave that rushed in a couple of years before, some riding a low-fi buzz that would signal some of the ’00s’ best indie rock. There’s a little bit of all that in our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1998.
‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby’
Fatboy Slim’s second LP falls together more like a collection of great singles rather than an album, but no matter: The songs here are some of the best electronic cuts of the ’90s: ‘Right Here, Right Now,’ ‘Praise You’ and, especially, ‘The Rockafeller Skank,’ perhaps the greatest four minutes of DJ-culture excess unleashed in the late ’90s.
‘Is This Desire?’
Following the blues-rock wail of 1995’s ‘To Bring You My Love,’ Harvey scaled back her sound and ambition for her fourth album. ‘Is This Desire?’ doesn’t expose the emotional scars that make her other albums such intense listens, but the quiet solitude uncovered in the record’s best cuts amount to some of her most personal songs.
Beastie Boys’ last great record is overstuffed with electronic jams, hip-hop beats, indie-rock muscle and space-age instrumental blasts. In other words, it’s business as usual for the trio in the ’90s. ‘Hello Nasty’ is a sonic whirlwind of styles, rhymes and rhythms fighting to keep up with each other.
Silver Jews were formed in the late ’80s by David Berman and Stephen Malkmus. When Malkmus’ other band, Pavement, became indie-rock gods, Berman was left alone to manage Silver Jews’ rotating membership. Malkmus shows up all over the band’s third and best album, ‘American Water,’ which sounds like Pavement filtered through desert sand and a handful of downers.
For the most part, the big electronic-music takeover that was supposed to happen peaked in 1997 and was fading fast by the following year. But this British trip-hop crew made one of its best albums in 1998, a spooky, woozy, hazy and all-around mind-blowing trip across a sonic landscape populated by skittering percussion, ghostly vocals and dirty beats.
After three albums of messed-up noise collages and crash-and-burn assaults, this trippy band from Buffalo finally got it right on ‘Deserter’s Songs.’ The group was about ready to call it quits when they decided to make one final record for themselves. Turns out there was a pretty smart band hiding in the Flaming Lips-style freakouts and gorgeous soundscapes Mercury Rev sculpt throughout the record.
We’re all into Smith’s earlier mopey records, but the Beatlesque melodies and retro-pop bounce of ‘XO’ make it one of our favorites. The exploding canvas of sounds Smith and his producers explore here open up the singer-songwriter’s confessional folk music to brand new worlds. And they’re all the better because of it.
The debut album by that other French electronic-music duo is all pillow-soft beats and fuzzy rattles and hums. Unlike Daft Punk, Air make music for the after-parties — chill-out tunes that go down like a smooth cocktail but eventually sneak up on you with their quiet power. The textures and layers found in ‘Moon Safari’ go deep.
In the early ’90s, legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie’s daughter gave British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg a bunch of notebooks containing some of her late father’s unpublished poems. A few years later, Bragg and Wilco put new music to the words and came up with a timeless collection of loose, rustic tunes that spans two volumes and an expanded box set. The first album includes the best of the batch.
‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’
This indie-pop collective made only two albums. ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ was their last, and it stands as a testament to frontman Jeff Mangum’s ability to wrangle dozens of different sounds — from low-fi to chamber pop — into a visionary record that may or may not be as historical as fans claim. Either way, it’s a monumental recording brimming with indie-pop hooks.