10 Best Albums From 1999
As the world prepared for its imminent end as the 20th century came to a close, the best alternative music from the final year of the millennium reflected this tension. But for the most part, it was subtle sweating — nothing too big. While a few of the records on our list of the 10 Best Albums From 1999 address the coming of the 21st century, most just do their things with a hint of the turnover creeping into their grooves.
After 1998’s tropicalia experiment ‘Mutations,’ Beck got back to his wise-ass ways on ‘Midnite Vultures,’ an R&B-steeped record with funk-drenched grooves and songs about gettin’ busy with some ladies (and their sisters). All that fooling around came crashing down hard on his next record, the acoustic singer-songwriter LP ‘Sea Change.’
The full Twitter-unfriendly title of Apple’s second album runs 90 words, and the music is almost as ambitious. Produced by Jon Brion, who laces each and every tune with delicate accompaniment that often shatters beneath Apple’s furious performance, ‘When the Pawn … ‘ is a striking work of rage and beauty that hasn’t aged a day.
Like Daft Punk, these British EDM pioneers were making full-length listening experiences in a genre that’s all about the instant gratification of singles. The duo’s debut album features several popular club jams — ‘Rendez-Vous,’ ‘Jump N’ Shout,’ ‘Red Alert’ — but ‘Remedy’ also flows together as a singular piece of dance music that stitches together house, garage and disco.
Wilco’s third album starts planting the seeds of their future. After an Uncle Tupelo spin-off and a double-record concept album about his life in rock ‘n’ roll, Jeff Tweedy turned to the kitchen-sink style of record-making for ‘Summerteeth’ that layered texture upon texture of candy-colored pop sounds. Wilco would apply a darker brush to the same canvas on the more celebrated follow-up, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.’
‘The Battle of Los Angeles’
Rage Against the Machine’s third album, and in a way their most focused, drops megaton bombs from the very first cut. As the decade came to an end, the band shaped ‘The Battle of Los Angeles’ as a summation on the 20th century, using George Orwell’s classic ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ as a guidebook. Listen closely and you can hear passages from the novel throughout. You can also hear some wickedly furious guitar work.
After more than a dozen years and close to 10 albums, the Flaming Lips finally made their masterpiece. Embracing prog-rock via their own punk roots with a little bit of the artsy noise-pop they’d recently been experimenting with, the Lips craft ‘The Soft Bulletin’ as a thematic work tied together more by luxuriously orchestrated arrangements than any lyrical subject. An accessible, shimmering classic.
A full recovery from 1995’s disastrous ‘One Hot Minute,’ ‘Californication’ saw the return of guitarist John Frusciante and more attention paid to songs rather than jams. It’s the Chili Peppers’ most focused record and their most grown-up. Cutting ties (mostly) with its funky-whit-boy past, the group get serious on ‘Californication’ … and seriously good.
’69 Love Songs’
Three discs and, yes, 69 songs about love. The title is a sex joke, but it’s also a testament to Stephin Merritt’s tenacity to cover the history of 20th century music in three hours. Everything from pop to folk to punk to world music to Broadway-style showstoppers to cabaret are featured in the sprawling ’69 Love Songs,’ played with care and affection by Merritt and his band.
Waits’ best album since ‘Rain Dogs’ expands the junkyard ethos laid out on that 1985 classic and adds a decade and a half of weirdness to the mix. Combining blues, folk, jazz, noise, art-rock and some old-school rock and pop too, ‘Mule Variations’ kicks harder than any of Waits’ other albums … and almost anything else that came out in 1999.
A groundbreaking album in so many respects, ‘Play’ took Moby from EDM hero to global superstar. Combining samples from old gospel, blues and folk records, layering them on top of ghostly electronic instruments and then filtering the entire work through a dusty haze that somehow made ‘Play’ sound like a long-lost field recording, Moby assembled one of the most breathtaking works of the 20th century.