January 1999- Monthly Mixtape
Michaelangelo Matos is a freelance writer who contributes to the Minneapolis City Pages, the Chicago Reader, and the NY Press. Every month he will dig through his stacks--recent acquisitions, new albums, old favorites--compile a 100-minute tape, and delineate the contents for Perfect Sound Forever.
This isn't quite a best-of-1998 tape, though it's all from this just-past year and I love everything on it at least a little. Originally conceived as such, I steeled myself to repeat myself and include cuts I'd had on the first three editions of this column. Instead, I found myself with an overabundance of goodies--lotsa stuff I hadn't thought of before or that's new to me. Which means I was able to not repeat myself for this 100 minutes at least. With the minor exception of R.E.M., whose cut hardly counts as such, and Cornershop, who get overhauled by a beat junkie anyway, there aren't any guitar bands here. Sorry if that offends anyone, and tough shit. Merry Christmas and happy new year to all.
- R.E.M.: "Airportman," Up (Warner Bros) 4:13. You hate them for abandoning that (sigh) sound (shiver) that made your knees a-tremble back when you were going to college in the '80's or at least fantasizing about it, or you staunchly defend their right to exist and grow ever outward. Whichever. The one undeniable thing about this pretentious band is that they know how to set a mood. So if you choose to ignore that hectoring thing of theirs on AAA radio (you know, the one where Stipe's vocals finally make the step from keening to grating) and try their first trio album, you'll know that songcraft or no songcraft, the best thing on it is the one where they finally do away with logic altogether- the only thing to hang onto here is the textures, which are as gorgeous as anything they ever came up with as a four-piece, maybe more. If you can't get with that, you either need your idols more openly visible than I do or care too much about text.
- Tori Amos: "Mainline Cherry--Ambient Spark," Cruel/Raspberry Swirl EP (Atlantic) 5:20. Similar to above: a cult artist whose cult is so big it subsumes mainstream radio seven years on, whose fanbase has gotten as lost inside her sound as they do her persona. I have a girlfriend who was obsessed with her for years (it's subsided, although she still buys every single). Though I hated Tori on contact I've warmed to her, although I still say she speaks to a very specific type of person, a type I'm afraid I'll never be. Still, I'm glad the ice was broken: I like the new album, and I'm glad, because had it not been for the woman I love I probably wouldn't have noticed or cared. So I've Grown and Learned (Awwww). But I still prefer Tori's remakes: Armand Van Helden's towering deconstruction of '96's "Professional Widow" and this churning groove most of all. She sounds so perfectly at home inside these sounds (compare Ray of Light and wince)--it's like she's found her metier at last, and it's through other people. (I just realized I'm referring to Ms. Amos as "Tori." Jesus, I sound like a cultist. I'll have to speak to my girlfriend about this...).
- Fatboy Slim: "Gangster Tripping," You've Come a Long Way, Baby (Astralwerks) 5:19
- Cornershop: "Brimful of Asha (Norman Cook Original Radio Edit Remix)," Digital Empire II--the Aftermath (Cold Front) 4:00
- Wildchild: "Renegade Master (Fatboy Slim Old Skool Edit)," Urbal Beats 2 (FFRR) 3:50
- Mindfield General: "Devil in Sports Casual," Brassic Beats Volume 3 (Skint import) 6:00
Can Norman Cook do any wrong? Not in the year he handily owned (although Timbaland came close). The Skint import On the Floor at the Boutique, which he mixed, was 1998's best album (it sees domestic release around summer)- it starts with my favorite track ever (Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band, "Apache"), ends with the best single of the year (Cook/Slim's own "Rockafeller Skank"), and never touches the ground for the 60 minutes in between. His remix of Cornershop's best pop moment made it into even better pop; his reworking of Wildchild's dancefloor anthem turned it into an even bigger dancefloor anthem. And "Gangster Tripping" is just astonishing: horns and chants and organs and DRUMS! bigger than the fucking Grand Canyon, all getting jiggier than Will Smith in a blender.
- DJ Ming & FS: "Madhattan Bound," Deeper Concentration (Om) 3:28. Wonderful scratchadelic comp (sired from a just-as-wonderful scratchadelic comp); this is my favorite cut, a tribute to horns from every jazz era.
- Jungle Brothers: "Jungle Brother (Urban Takeover Mix)," Amp 2 (Astralwerks) 6:54
- Goldie: "Temper Temper (Grooverider Remix)," Urbal Beats 2 (FFRR) 5:09
Big beat wasn't the only post-rave genre to champion the hard-fast-loud-immediate this year- jungle took a big step toward reclaiming its for-the-people stance with cuts like these. The Jungle Brothers may not have much hip-hop credibility (although I frankly don't keep track, and why should I?), but they're fast making converts of club kids thanks to storming remixes like this one. And as good as Grooverider's debut album was, his best work was his overhaul of protege Goldie, which was seriously sinister and kicked serious ass.
- Alec Empire: "Hard Like It's a Pose," You've Got the Fucking Power (DHR) 5:47. As loud, fast, fucked-up, pissed-off, sneering and stunning as this, it's almost clean-sounding- not that that's bad or anything, just that when it comes on after one distorto manifesto after another, it's a shock. Of course, this record would be a shock in any company- it'd jolt even the most dead-eyed hardcore gabber crowd at peak hour, and that's saying something. The most blistering thing I've heard since Dark Magus first pinned me to the wall a couple years back.
- Aaliyah: "Are You That Somebody?," Dr. Doolittle--the Album (Atlantic) 4:28. What the fuck was this doing on pop radio?! In the top ten??? I mean, what was the last hit record so completely fucking avant- garde? "I Am the Walrus"? The only thing Timbaland could possibly do to top this would be a performance of John Cage's "4:33" w/drum machine. That baby is R&B's MVP of the year.
- Brandy & Monica: "The Boy is Mine," CD5 (Atlantic) 4:54
- Lauryn Hill: "Doo Wop (That Thing)," The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia) 3:55
- Will Smith: "Gettin' Jiggy wit' It," Big Willie Style (Columbia) 3:48
This was the best year for pop radio--excuse me, black pop radio; white pop radio sucked, as usual--in a long time. Makes you believe in miracles, I swear, when something that sounds like a bunch of melismatic goo like "The Boy is Mine" turns out to be undeniable melismatic goo. Or when one of the year's most overrated albums (I told a friend I thought the new Lauryn Hill sounded good but undifferentiated and went on way too long; her response was my favorite quote of the year- "It's like French," she said; "You know: it sounds nice but it all just sort of runs together") contains something that could knock me out on the radio (even if she does sound more and more like the smug know-it-all her detractors have claimed her to be since The Score was released). Or when Will Smith + Puff Daddy = not instant turnoff but instant classic. Who'da thunk? Don't wake me up, I'm enjoying this dream.
- Whirlpool Productions: "From: Disco to: Disco," Sonar 98 (Advanced Music/So Dens import) 3:33. Drugged out, off-key, androgynous (I literally can't tell whether the singer's a guy or a girl, not that it matters, but dammit I'm CURIOUS) indecipherable (is that, uh, person singing "Oh my body" or "On my body"?), utterly hypnotic, this was the most fucked-up record of the year, which is saying something. I've long been a sucker for the concept of lo-fi disco (the greatest example of which is still Loose Joints' 1980 classic "Is It All Over My Face," which this resembles in almost every way), and if there's more of this somewhere I can't fucking wait to hear it.
- Dominatrix: "The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight," The Perfect Beats Volume 2 (Timber!/Tommy Boy) 3:31. If clubland has a folk record- one every late-night reveller has heard a million times but probably couldn't ID if their life depended on it- it's this one. Pretty, funny, utterly charming, undeniably classic, and addictive, it's my favorite thing on the year's most fascinating reissue.
- Mantra feat. Lydia Rhodes: "Away (Todd Edwards Mix)," Tuff Jams: Speed Garage--the Underground Sound of London (Ultra) 3:58
- Jhelisa: "Friendly Pressure (Into the Sunshine Edit)," Muzik Magazine Presents the Tunes 98 (Muzik insert, import) 3:49
- Yasang: "Because of You (Banana Republic Dub)," UK ID (Music Club) 3:08
- Maxim: "Love Fantasy #3," Pure Speed (Street Beat) 6:57
- Gisele Jackson: "Love Commandments," Basslines (Moonshine) 4:26
I misconstrued speed garage at first: I thought it was all Armand Van Helden remixes and monster basslines attached to house grooves. Turns out that's a small part of it (although it's probably just a splintering off- in dance culture, how unusual). The real deal is that SG's MO is to add exciting junglist aesthetics to snappy club beats, with a lot of R&B in the mix. So if it's not earth-shattering, oh well- it's still as pleasurable as any style of post-rave music you can think of. These cuts are some of my favorites: Mantra's features vocals, strings, flutes and other assorted sonic ephemera darting in and out of the mix constantly, and the effect is like a multicolored strobe glancing off a mirror ball- one of the most sheerly beautiful records I've heard all this year. Jhelisa's filtered, sped-up, cut-up vocal sounds urgent but unhurried; the Yasang has some sublime effects and fascinating cutaways. Maxim sampled teen-pop idol Robyn for its vocal, and touche! Gisele Jackson, meanwhile, takes the cake for sheer nuttiness: on an already bangin' album, "Love Commandments"'s blitzkrieg bounce explodes like napalm, and when Jackson is made, through the magic of digital technology, to scream "You need some UN-derstanding" over and over and over again, she's no longer preaching the gospel- she IS the gospel.
- DJ Shadow: "High Noon," Preemptive Strike (Mo' Wax/FFRR) 3:57. More soundtrack music from the new Ennio Morricone. But tell me, Josh- couldn't you have said no to your boss just the one time instead of coughing up that goddamn Psyence Fiction album?
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