What is the memory you most associate with this title?
I remember playing this album on my computer CD-ROM drive instead of my stereo and hearing what would have been lush strings strangled through cheap, tinny computer speakers. It was the lowest point in the 14 years I spent in Austin. Even lower than losing my job two years later. Why was I playing this album on cheap speakers? Because my apartment had been burglarized.
What was happening in your life when it was released?
In February 1998, I had been living in Austin nine months, and I wasn’t having an easy time of it. I had a distracting crush on a co-worker, who was leaving the office. I was working a night shift and didn’t have much of a social life. And I was discovering that I really hated gay bars.
I was keeping an online journal at the time, which I now keep under authentication. Around that time, I had wanted to contribute to a Duran Duran tribute album, but I didn’t have the equipment to make a decent recording, nor did I know anyone who could sing it. It would be another 7 years before I could record it properly.
What was happening in your life when you bought it?
Someone broke into my apartment, stole my music equipment, stereo and a bunch of cassette tape cases. They had hit a neighbor’s apartment a few doors down about two weeks earlier, and that spurred me to get renter’s insurance.
The insult to injury in this ordeal was the fact those cassette tape cases didn’t have anything of commercial worth — just the masters of my 4-track demos. I had years of music in those cases, but just one cassette tape survived. It was in my car at the time of the burglary.
At the time, it felt catastrophic to lose so much creative work. I even broke down and cried in the office when the magnitude of the loss hit me.
The insurance settlement covered the cost of the music gear in terms of its current value, not its depreciation. That meant I could purchase entirely new gear for the price I had paid in 1991.
What I eventually discovered was that I was limiting myself creatively with outdated gear. I started to lose the desire to make music because what was in my head didn’t match what I was actually creating.
Since then, I’ve built a home studio and have kept it reasonably up to date. I also never live on a first floor apartment any more.
What do you think of it now?
This album monopolized my attention at the time I bought it, and that’s why I was listening to it on cheap, tinny speakers. Just because I didn’t have my stereo didn’t mean I was going to sit in a silent apartment.
Armstrong did the film score for Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and The Space Between Us included an orchestral version of Des’ree’s “Kissing You.” I dug the mix of electronic beats and strings, and I’ll admit to ripping off a bit of that sound for one of my own tracks.
But I think the melancholy of the album suited my frame of mind at the time. I really wasn’t enjoying life all that much, and I let the sadness of the music wash over me.
Last year, new releases made up 7 percent of my music purchases. This year, that number ticks up to … 8 percent. For a while there, I didn’t know if I would find enough titles to make a Favorite 10, but I did.
Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!: When you visit multiple record stores and ask what is playing, you probably ought to buy that album if the answer is the same at each store.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: I also liked the Emotion Picture that accompanied the release of this album.
Christine and the Queens, Chris: Those dance moves!
Various Artists, Adam to Eve no Ringo: I didn’t realize the cover of “Sid to Hakuchuumu” was by MIKA, the singer “discovered” by Perez Hilton. MIKA’s circumspection about his sexuality drew a lot of attention and some controversy. I checked out his music as a result of the brouhaha and found little that was remarkable. That said, he nails the French interpretation of this very Ringo track.
Steve Grand, Not the End of Me: I don’t know if it’s intentional, but I hear a bit of Matt Alber’s swoon on some of the quieter moments on this album.
Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson, Landfall: Take all the swagger and posturing out of hip-hop, and it would probably sound a lot like Laurie Anderson.
Seattle Symphony with Roomful of Teeth, Berio: Sinfonia: This piece was awesome to hear live.
Nico Muhly & Thomas Bartlett, Peter Pears: Ceremonial Balinese Music: Oddly enough, I found a recording of Colin McPhee performing his gamelan transcriptions with Benjamin Britten, and I kind of wish Muhly and Bartlett had also done the unpublished scores.
Yore, EP1: Recent press seems to obscure the fact Yore released music under his own name, so we’ll stick with that preference and just mention this EP finds him moving in a direction more akin to Cocteau Twins or even Utada Hikaru.
Utada Hikaru, Hatsukoi:Her sound has gotten darker since her comeback.
Other favorites from the year:
John Coltrane, Both Directions at Once
Leo Imai, VLP
Mikami Chisako, I AM Ready!
Craig Armstrong, Sun on You
Tracey Thorn, Record
Renee Fleming, Broadway
Igor Stravisnky, Chant Funebre / Le Sacre du Printemps
Eponymous 4, Travis
OK, I’m being a bit cheeky including my own album, Travis, on this list. I finished recording it in 2016, so I’d been sitting on it for more than a year. In all that time, I’ve not gotten sick of hearing it day in and day out, and when I compare it with other albums I’ve recorded, it sounds like a proper, professional work.
A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.
As much as I loved the ’80s, I can’t say the ’90s holds as much sentiment. I feel more affinity for the Aughts than I do the ’90s. That said, 1998 has proven to be rich with favorites, and I would consider it the pinnacle year in the decade. This list has gone through extensive revision from the original.
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Madonna, Ray of Light
Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
Fastball, All the Pain Money Can Buy
Patty Griffin, Flaming Red
SUPERCAR, Three Out Change
Various Artists, For the Masses: A Tribute to Depeche Mode
Bruce Robison, Wrapped
Other favorites from the year:
Shakira, ¿Dónde Están Los Ladrones?
Wendy and Lisa, Girl Bros.
Midnight Oil, Redneck Wonderland
8 1/2 Souvenirs, Happy Feet
Kronos Quartet, Alfred Schnittke: The Complete String Quartets
the brilliant green, the brilliant green
Bang on a Can All-Stars, Music for Airports
Craig Armstrong, The Space Between Us
Julieta Venegas, Aquí
Aterciopelados, Caribe Atómico
Idlewild, Hope Is Important
Pansy Division, Absurd Pop Song Romance
A number of titles that held positions in the Favorite 10 switched places with ones in the extended list.
I didn’t give Fastball much credit 10 years ago because the album had been all over Austin at the time of its release. I got caught up in that hype, then dismissed it as such later. I was wrong. All the Pain Money Can Buy needs to be in the Favorite 10.
For the Masses actually turned me into a Depeche Mode fan. Some of the covers on the tribute album rival the originals. In the case of “Shake the Disease” and “Everything Counts”, they straight up improve them.
Madonna dominated the top position of this list for 10 years before Neutral Milk Hotel nudged her down a notch. SUPERCAR makes another revisionist ranking, pushing 8 1/2 Souvenirs off.
Idlewild makes an appearance with a debut album that’s at times bratty and tuneful. It’s a mess compared to its follow-up, 1000 Broken Windows. But it’s a riveting mess.
So many gay male artists are releasing new music this summer, it makes me wonder why they all didn’t put everything out in June. But muses can’t be rushed. Nor marketing plans.
Steve Grand, Not the End of Me, July 6
I listen to a lot of really serious music. I need Steve Grand to stop me from being too melancholy.
Luciano Berio, Sinfonia (Roomful of Teeth, Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot), July 20
I went to the Saturday performance of this piece on the recommendation of my music theory professor.
Jake Shears, Jake Shears, Aug. 10
I’ve never really cottoned to Scissor Sisters, even though they seem to be in my wheelhouse.
Death Cab for Cutie, Thank You for Today, Aug. 17
The first two albums of Death Cab’s major label of phase made me wonder if they would follow R.E.M.’s downward creative trajectory in a similar fashion, but Codes and Keys and Kintsugi actually stemmed that tide. I’m not encouraged by the band’s comparison of this new album to Narrow Stairs, however.
Julee Cruise, Three Demos, Aug. 17
I loved Floating Into the Night, so I’m curious to hear these early drafts. A reissue of The Voice of Love also arrives the same day.
Troye Sivan, Bloom, Aug. 31
I was nowhere near the target market for Blue Neighborhood, but I liked it anyway.
Craig Armstrong, Sun on You, Sept. 7
Craig Armstrong is known more for his film scores, mostly because few of his studio albums get US releases. Here’s hoping a streaming release makes up for that drought.
Renée Fleming, Broadway, Sept. 7
A Broadway album? With Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Tell Me on a Sunday”? And a song from Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music that isn’t “Send in the Clowns”? OK, Renée Fleming, I’ll bite.
Prince, Piano and a Microphone 1983, Sept. 14
Sure, I’m curious enough to check out this set of demos, but what I’d like to know is when the vinyl reissue campaign will get to the Love Symbol album.
U2, Achtung Baby, July 27
U2, Zooropa, July 27
Zooropa is an odd album in the U2 canon, recorded in a spontaneous rush with experiments that work (“Numb”) and some that fail (“Lemon”). Despite a lavish repackaging, Achtung Baby had not yet been reissued in stand-alone black vinyl.