In a time long ago and a galaxy not so far away… the year 1998:
January: Nepalese police intercept a shipment of 272 human skulls in Kathmandu
February: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein negotiates a deal with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, allowing weapons inspectors to return to Baghdad, preventing military action by the United States and Britain.
March: Data sent from the Galileo probe indicates that Jupiter’s moon Europa has a liquid ocean under a thick crust of ice.
April: Pakistan tests medium-range missiles capable of hitting India.
May: The Galaxy IV communications satellite fails, leaving 80–90% of the world’s pagers without service.
June: The CIH virus is discovered in Taiwan.
July: Japan launches a probe to Mars, joining the United States and Russia as an outer space-exploring nation.
August: The first RFID human implantation is tested in the United Kingdom.
September: Google, Inc. is founded in Menlo Park, California, by Stanford University PhD candidates Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
October: Hurricane Mitch makes landfall in Central America, killing an estimated 18,000 people.
November: A Russian Proton rocket is launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying the first segment of the International Space Station, the 21 ton Zarya Module.
December: U.S. President Bill Clinton orders airstrikes on Iraq. UNSCOM withdraws all weapons inspectors from Iraq.
The year Phil Hartman died is to me one of an escalating and evolving culture, mimicking continued technological advancements and new levels of just about everything… Looking back at what music albums were released in ’98, it is a bit mindboggling, as there are envelope pushing albums in just about every genre.
This year was the first year I was really able to keep up with most new music, as I had been living in Chicago for a bit at this point, and knew where virtually all the record stores were. It was also the time where I lived in 3 completely different places: downtown Chicago, Davenport, IA (my only brief stay outside living in IL), and uptown, Chicago. (I’d end up staying in uptown for quite a long time).
Massive Attack – ‘Mezzanine’
It’s hard to pick just one song from this album, so I’ll link the whole damn thing. ‘Mezzanine’ raised the bar on production in 1998 and branched out into music composition fusing new technology in computer music with lush studio values and wonderfully recorded vocal performances. So many great songs on here, yet “Teardrop”, “Dissolved Girl”, “Man Next Door”, “Black Milk” all are quite memorable for me, as well as the pair of “Exchange” and “(Exchange)”.
It’s one of the biggest albums of the 90s and gets somewhat overlooked in the best album of the 90s conversation. Massive Attack’s entire third album was available on their website for download many months before the physical release was even announced. Also, ‘Mezzanine’ was one of the first major releases in the MP3 format.
Amon Tobin – ‘Permutation’
Here is “People Like Frank”, which blew my mind the first indeterminable # of plays. Suffice it to say, I listened to this album a ton. And it’s one of my favorite albums of all time. Not really much filler here, all killer. One of the more memorable albums I bought in college, by far. Amon Tobin remains a highly innovative visionary in computer music, djing, and new forms of music in general. Am very influenced by his style along with…
Autechre – lp5
Another in a series of very influential albums, Autechre’s LP5 was my introduction to the band… between this and ‘Permutation’ I was convinced of the need to work on experimental electronic music more often, having already dabbled in it for a couple years. This album is strong start to finish, in my view starting a new sound that would culminate years later with the devilishly titled ‘Untilted’.
Part of my main focus in college being sound and production, many of us would bring up Autechre and the new sounds of computer processing and other unconventional methodologies that they displayed. Perhaps my favorite electronic music group, another key song to check out from this opus is “Arch Carrier“.
Tortoise – ‘tnt’
Here’s another example of an album that I ended up liking but did not at first. Perhaps I was too excited about living in a new city, or had not matured yet music taste-wise (let’s see, I was 22 back then, probably not), but I couldn’t believe how much people liked Tortoise. Years later, I can appreciate the nuances of this mostly laidback Chicago band, who threw all types of music into a blender and somehow made it very reasonably presentable. Enough of my rambling, ‘TNT’ is one of the most influential albums to be released in the late 90s… fitting the continuing theme of big albums from 1998. Countless bands have emulated this sound to some extent, and helped spawn the term post-rock for better or worse. For me, it is a great changeup from much of my intense music collection which incorporates and reconstitutes genres more obvious like electronic music, jazz and world music, and more subtly manipulates other genres into its plodding, pleasant path.
Boredoms – ‘Super Ae’
This release is the first of the Boredoms sort of unexpected, psychedelic/tribal (more organic) rock direction. Almost sounding like a completely new band, but retaining the studio tricks and other antics in general, ‘Super Are’ reaches new heights. Layered rhythmic drumming, slowly building compositions, and an overall bright new sound was an interesting change for the band that probably won them over some new followers (and may have baffled a few old school fans of the more noise oriented version). Great album from beginning to end, it is also one of the more positive sounding statements in my entire music collection!
Don Caballero – ‘What Burns Never Returns’
One of three Don Caballero albums that still get a lot of playing time in my collection (other two are ‘II’ and ‘Singles Breaking Up’). ‘What Burns Never Returns’ is a favorite among musicians (especially drummers and guitarists amazed by Damon Che and Ian Williams). This song in particular that is linked is an example of all eras of Don Cab, it incorporates most of their moves into one song. This album is also very important to a lot of music geeks… for me it is working on both levels as a musician fascinated by what these guys are doing and as a music nerd blown away by the creativity and next level shit. To many others, Don Caballero is an overrated music noodle storm, but I have a feeling their brains are overwhelmed and their ears are unaccustomed to cool sounds.
Gorguts – ‘Obscura’
Speaking of next level shit, this next album on the list definitely qualifies. To many that would hear this probably accidentally, it would sound like a nightmarish and disturbing musical hell… but the kicker is that that’s exactly what it is. The first time I heard this was at a time when I was going back and discovering heavy metal that I had somehow missed, so I was as prepared for it as I was ever going to be.
Challenging, experimental, groundbreaking, nervewracking, and just plain dumbfounding are a few ways to describe ‘Obscura’ (which obviously spawned a band naming itself after it!). It is its own universe, one of painful cries, monstrously creaking and scraping guitars, and maniacally evil drumming (well, if evil drumming is possible, this is probably a good example). Once one figures this beast out, it is a very rewarding listen and grows more interesting over time… there is so much detail and mood to go along with the aforementioned adjectives leading off this paragraph.
And omg, it absolutely slays live.
Few albums in the entire history of heavy metal can match the ferocity, ingenuity, precision, and creativity on display here. One of the greatest heavy albums of all time, completely devastating on every level. Sadly enough, most of the band involved in this album are now deceased, but one of the survivors has resurrected the group for what is to be in all likelihood one of the best metal releases of 2012. Completely wild yet extremely precise, ‘Obscura’ is my favorite metal album of 1998 if I had to choose. (also, RIP to Steve Hurdle who passed away earlier this year).
Meshuggah – ‘Chaosphere’
…And more groundbreaking metal, probably even more imitated than Gorguts’ masterpiece, is something called ‘Chaosphere’. This is where Meshuggah figured out what they’d be doing for years to come. I don’t find myself listening to this album much anymore, but I do figure it deserves a historical footnote here in xenochrony.com. I know when it came out it floored me and I actually heard it that year. And it is insanely influential. I now prefer some of the later albums and maybe one of the ones before this to ‘Chaosphere’, but it certainly did make waves (it all just kinda sounds like the same song).
Clutch – ‘Elephant Riders’
The first album I bought by Clutch. Still one of my favorites by them… at the time I had difficulty finding people who were into it, but in the aughts I found some cool friends and saw Clutch many times (only have seen the melvins more often). They are an incredibly fun and good live band, and much of their discography is pretty much flawless (not as into the latter years albums that are a little less heavy and more like traditional hard rock or blues, but they are still pretty good too).
Standout tracks besides “The Dragonfly” are “The Soapmakers”, “Muchas Veces”, and “The Yeti”. Awh, I feel all nostalgic now after hearing these songs. So good. I’d link to ‘em but the youtube upload quality for these are pretty bad, plus you should just go right ahead and buy ‘em and help these boys out. They are a hardworkin’ band that probably is still scrapin’ by a bit even after all these years.
Queens of the Stone Age – self titled debut
Not long after getting this it was already one of the coolest rock n’ roll albums around… it did not take long to get into, and it just made you want to hear it more. To top off being a top notch debut, it also introduced me indirectly to Kyuss, one of my favorite bands. But anyway, ‘qotsa’ is chock full of perfect rock riffs and robotic rock beats. Josh Homme brings a rock steady drummer from the later incarnation of Kyuss with him, the excellent Alfredo Hernandez. Josh plays all the rest, but later recruits old pal Nick Oliveri; and rock history is made.
Since I especially like the sound on the re-release and the inclusion of “The Bronze” and “These Aren’t The Droids You’re Looking For”, that’s the version of the album linked above. Off the original release, this is perhaps my favorite song… or this. Another favorite album of mine, making 1998 another year that is quite ridiculously stacked in albums (see also 1992).
All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors – ‘Turning Into Small’
ANOTHER album that I consider one of my favorites in music history is this, part of America’s answer to shoegaze/My Bloody Valentine (albeit, by a bunch of teenage dudes from New Jersey and a few years late to the shoegazing party). They are to me an extremely underrated psychedelic/experimental/noise pop band, although I find that it is hard to find people who like ‘Turning Into Small’ as much as I do. A hidden gem of an album since the late 90’s were not really known for this type of music, it still sounds fresh to me at this point. Think Stereolab with the noise and distortion of My Bloody Valentine.
Beastie Boys – ‘Hello Nasty’
Going back to nostalgia… I listened to this album perhaps more than any other album in 1998. The infectious sounds of ‘Hello Nasty’ still stand out as some of the Beastie Boys most adventuresome. Tons of diversity in material, echoing the Boys’ past (hardcore, rap, hiphop, pop, punk, rock, etc). Introducing some dub into the mix was the best move they could have done at the time. The most nostalgic memory is listening to this on a greyhound to Florida drinking Dr. Peppers and rum and having a grand old late 90’s time. Also remembering playing tracks off this at a dive bar I used to frequent, frequently.
Gang Starr – ‘Moment of Truth’
Another full length album on youtube with many great songs, making it difficult to choose… Premier’s innovative yet traditional hiphop production full of hooks and of course the best beats matched with Guru’s unparalleled style using a strange mix of focus, observation, and surety that ran the gamut from intensity to empathy, is displayed at its zenith on “Moment of Truth”. To me this album is all about the first half, especially “You Know My Steez”, “Robbin Hood Theory”, “Work”, and “Above the Clouds”; and towards the end “Betrayal” (featuring Scarface). I usually like to listen to the ‘Full Clip’ compilation, but the first half of ‘Moment of Truth’ stands up well with just about any side of any album.
DJ Spooky – ‘Riddim Warfare’
This reminds me of going to a bunch of crowded, smoky drum n’ bass parties in Chicago in the late 90’s. I love the panning effects used here, and of course the guest appearance of the inimitable Kool Keith. “Rhymes come in cycles”.
DJ Krush – ‘Kakusei’
DJ Spooky tends to cram as many beats as possible into his tracks (especially on ‘Riddim Warfare’) but Japan’s DJ Krush goes the other route of minimalism in his dj opus ‘Kakusei’. This is another nostalgic album for me, practically had it on repeat for much of ’98 in uptown Chicago. Probably overrating it at the time as it is not quite as highly rated by critics these days, I think it is an important example from this time period, as dj’s and turntablism was in its heyday.
Squarepusher – ‘Music Is Rotted One Note’
This would be another song that would be on a soundtrack for my college years in Chicago. Was not super into this at the time, but this album has grown on me. Today it is considered one of the best albums of the late 90’s by many. Certainly groundbreaking, experimental, and in its own little universe, ‘Music Is Rotted One Note’ is to be heard by anyone into electronic music in my opinion. Maybe not the best Squarepusher album, it is certainly a turning point for his sound.
1998 was a pretty turbulent time, but I suppose it has been ever since. Not that it wasn’t before, it just seems to me that things have been extremely hectic ever since then. This is where I ramble randomly about things in general in ’98. Before I cause too much drama, yes I know that Neutral Milk Hotel – ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ came out that year, and no I do not much care for that album. I suppose I’ve lost all credibility now, but it is what it is (a boring album). But at least that is just another critically acclaimed album to be released in the extravagant year of 1998.
Some good bands disbanded in ’98: Faith No More, Helmet, Chrome.
Honorable mentions: Unwound – ‘Challenge For a Civilized Society’, Morbid Angel – ‘Formulas Fatal To The Flesh’, Sonic Youth – ‘A Thousand Leaves’, godspeed you black emperor – ‘F#A#infinity’ (when I first got into them!), Death – ‘Sound of Perseverance’, and Rush’s wonderful sounding double disc live album ‘Different Stages’.
Film corner: yes, I am going to try and throw a few references to movies in here. It is not just about music here (although the film corner is a very small corner).
American History X: I must admit, I haven’t seen this movie for over a decade. I remember it being slightly disturbing. It’s funny to think that only a few years after this came out I would hear people talking about racism being “over” in America. Could not be further from the truth. The sad specter of racism continues to plague the USA. Which is pretty fucking odd considering it is the melting pot of the world and every culture is represented here. Get over yourselves, racists. Please.
The Big Lebowski: here is a complete 180. One of the most entertaining and re-watchable movies of all time, I still remember seeing this in the theater the first time, as well as the second. Still in my top 5 movies of all time. A comedy like no other.
Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas: Even after seeing the LOTR movies, I still think this is the most accurate book-to-movie conversion of all time. Spot on. While Big Lebowski is my favorite movie of 1998, this is a close second. One of Johnny Depp’s best performances. That said Benicio del Toro almost steals the show. And it has Terry Gilliam! Excellent.
Happiness: Another movie I need to re-watch as I have not seen it since the late 90’s. I remember it being very controversial yet I love black comedy, and I think that’s largely what it was going for. I’ve actually been thinking about watching this lately, time to find a copy.
Pi: Was this my introduction to arthouse cinema? I don’t know really, but it sure seems like it was. Perhaps the most stereotypical of the genre. I remember liking it the first time but upon the second time through, I was sort of shaking my head at it a little. That said, Aronofsky is a damn fine director even though he veers off into slightly over the top cheesy territory sometimes (mainly thinking The Fountain… oh my).
Run Lola Run: To me this is rather exemplary of the flashy 90’s futurism that was at hand during the time. Need to see this one again too, to see how it has held up to time and my getting older and more cynical and critical.
Well, there ya have it… I now have a few movies to re-watch (along with Total Recall… would rather see the original again than watch the remake). Also I feel a bit enlightened in discovering how many of my favorite albums were released in ’98. It seems from here on out I will need to spend more time on these, as more and more releases are made possible by advances in technology. Here we go!