Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi You Wanted the Best!

By Stewart Mason and some calculator-wielding midgets

JANUARY 11, 1999:  What have we learned from the flagship edition of the Weekly Alibi Year-End Music Countdown? Mostly that Alibi readers have wildly eclectic tastes: Nearly 100 ballots were cast, and on these ballots were more than 300 releases, ranging from the predictable to the remarkably outre. Also that spreadsheets are kind of a pain in the butt to program.

Alibi readers seem to like their pop and their alt.country best, and it looks like they prefer the Next Big Thing to old favorites: four albums by bands from Baltimore (this year's Seattle/Athens/Chapel Hill) ranked higher than R.E.M.'s more-than-respectable latest effort, and heavily-hyped releases by PJ Harvey, Massive Attack, Alanis Morrissette and Bob Mould failed to hit the top 25 at all.

And so, without further ado, the Weekly Alibi Top 25 Albums of 1998, as chosen by you. Or about 100 of you, anyway. We'll hear from the rest of you in the letters column for the next couple of weeks, and maybe next year you'll take a minute to send in a ballot.

--Stewart Mason

(Numbers following listings are the total number of points given and total number of votes cast.)


  1. The Loud Family Days For Days (Alias)--188 points, 26 votes

    This surprises only those who have not yet heard this album. More adventurous yet more inviting music was not heard this year.

  2. Elliott Smith XO (Dreamworks)--181, 27

    Behold the power of an Oscar nomination and the promotional muscle of Dreamworks Records. XO doesn't sound too different from any of Smith's many previous releases, but suddenly everyone knows his name. We hope Smith can hold onto this new, fickle mass audience, since his indie credibility is pretty much shot to hell by now.

  3. Myracle Brah Life On Planet Eartsnop

    (Not Lame)--111, 16

    Strike one: Incredibly stupid band name. Strike two: Even more painfully stupid album title. Saving grace: singer/songwriter Andy Bopp, who indulges his Beatles/Badfinger fixation with more care and wit than any other artist since the Rutles.

  4. Neutral Milk Hotel In the Aeroplane

    Over the Sea (Merge)--108, 15

    Jeff Mangum's kaleidoscopic collage of super-melodic pop songs, experimental digressions and loopy sound effects may be the crowning achievement of the Elephant 6 recording collective, at least until Olivia Tremor Control's Black Foliage comes out in late February.

  5. Lucinda Williams Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Mercury)--106, 18

    The cognoscenti have known since 1988's Passionate Kisses that Williams is one of the folk-country-blues greats, but her first new album in six years is her strongest, most accessible work yet.

  6. Liz Phair Whitechocolatespaceegg (Matador)--105, 18

    Four years, a marriage and a child later, Phair sounds more mature (but just as smart-alecky) on her third album, dishing out smart, funny, provocative pop songs with a grown-up assuredness that suits her just fine.

  7. Splitsville Repeater (Big Deal)--82, 11

    On their fourth release since the splintering of the much-missed Greenberry Woods, Brandt and Matt Husemann move past their earlier, somewhat monochromatic power pop into a more '60s-inspired realm. Revivalism becomes them.

  8. Cotton Mather Kon-Tiki (Copper)--79, 11

    Singer/songwriter Robert Harrison and crew blend the best of Revolver-era Beatles, Squeeze and Guided By Voices into one of the year's most sonically inventive and melodically inviting releases.

  9. Pernice Brothers Overcome By Happiness

    (Sub Pop)--74, 18

    Ex-Scud Mountain Boy Joe Pernice and his band have created alt.country's answer to Nick Drake, adding a strong dose of Pet Sounds and Big Star's Sister Lovers in the process: lush strings, aching melodies, and downcast lyrics melding into an unforgettable wash of emotion.

  10. Billy Bragg and Wilco Mermaid Avenue (Elektra)--74, 12

    First comeback: Woody Guthrie, whose lyrics Bragg and Wilco turn into raucous after-hours stomps, working-class anthems and quavery ballads, admirably capturing all sides of the late bard's musical personality. Second comeback: Bragg, who has not sounded this relaxed and confident since 1987's Talking With the Taxman About Poetry.

  11. Eels Electro-Shock Blues (Dreamworks)--63, 11

    Not since Lisa Germano's harrowing Geek the Girl has a pop album sounded so genuinely pained, but Mark Everett and band turn songs about his sister's suicide and his parents' deaths into angry, sad, mordantly funny and finally cathartic gems.

  12. Orange Humble Band Assorted Creams

    (Half a Cow)--63, 10

    Australian pop geniuses Daryl Mather and Dom Mariani hook up with ex-Posie Ken Stringfellow (before his current gig as R.E.M.'s deputy bassist) and producer extraordinare Mitch Easter for an album's worth of killer garage-pop bashing.

  13. Love Nut Baltimucho (Big Deal)--61, 10

    Myracle Brah mainman Andy Bopp's day gig, hiding that band's British Invasion heart behind anthemic choruses and walls of diamond-sharp guitars. If Cheap Trick could still write songs like this, they wouldn't have to spend so much time reliving their '70s glory days.

  14. Belle and Sebastian The Boy with the Arab Strap (Matador)--58, 9

    Glasgow's finest stay the polite, jingle-jangly course on their third full-length release, single-handedly keeping the turn-of-the-'90s Sarah Records sound alive. An Arab Strap, by the way, is some kind of penile-extension device. Not that any of us here at the Alibi would know anything about that, of course, but it does make you wonder why there's also another Glasgow band called Arab Strap. Apparently, the answer to the question "What does a Scotsman have under his kilt?" is "Not much."

  15. Saint Etienne Good Humor (Sub Pop)--57, 9

    The year's best Swedish pop album, complete with the requisite strings, horns and relaxed, intimate vibe, comes courtesy of these former UK dance mavens, of all people. Possibly the year's most effortlessly lovely record.

  16. Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach

    Painted From Memory (Mercury)--56, 8

    In concept it sounds odd, but in execution it's glorious. Costello is Bacharach's finest songwriting partner since Hal David, and Bacharach matches some of Costello's best lyrics in years to beautiful, inspired arrangements. An instant classic.

  17. Son Volt Wide Swing Tremolo

    (Warner Bros.)--55, 8

    Jay Farrar has stuck to a more traditionalist path than his ex-Uncle Tupelo bandmate Jeff Tweedy (now of Wilco), yet his music is somehow even more impressive now than ever.

  18. Beck Mutations (DGC)--49, 10

    Pretending that the dancefloor explorations of Odelay never happened, the latest from the prolific Mr. Hansen continues in the psychedelic folk vein of Mellow Gold and One Foot in the Grave, adding a few more electronic squiggles and odd touches here and there as necessary.

  19. Richard Buckner Since (MCA)--48, 7

    As a singer, his (over)use of melisma gets on some people's nerves, but Buckner has the best ear for spacious orchestral arrangements this side of Richard Davies and Eric Matthews.

  20. Starbelly Lemon Fresh (Not Lame)--47, 7

    The last of the Baltimore bands, winningly recreating the early-'70s vibe of the Raspberries and Big Star with no whiff of nostalgia.

  21. R.E.M. Up (Warner Bros.)--46, 9

    This one hasn't exactly been flying off the shelves or into people's memories, it seems. A shame, considering that drummer Bill Berry's departure inspired the band's most consistent record in six years and their most adventurous since 1985's Fables of the Reconstruction.

  22. The Merrymakers Bubblegun (Virgin)--45, 6

    This second album by these Swedish power-poppers is due for a US release in March; those of us who couldn't wait agree that a wider stateside profile for these guys would be most welcome.

  23. Rufus Wainwright Rufus Wainwright (Dreamworks)--43, 9

    Son of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, immortalized by Leonard Cohen when he was still breast-feeding (1977's "Rufus is a Tit Man," a title that now seems a bit ironic when applied to the openly gay Rufus), Wainwright acknowledges and then ignores this peerless family tradition of confessional folk music, instead favoring lush art-pop with deep stylistic and emotional debts to Van Dyke Parks, early Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and late '60s Brian Wilson.

  24. Cheri Knight The Northeast Kingdom

    (E-Squared)--43, 6

    Ex-Blood Oranges singer Knight has created a rootsy, folksy solo debut that puts her always-remarkable voice in its most appealing settings yet.

  25. Cornelius Fantasma (Matador)--42, 5

    Japanese auteur Keigo Oyamada, with the help of a High Llama, two Apples in Stereo and some other remarkable friends, created the year's most knowing, subtle, funny and melodic art-pop-dance collage.

  26. Air Moon Safari (Source/Caroline)--42, 6

    Take two French songwriters, a British singer, and a priceless collection of analog synths and old '70s jazz and disco records and you have the pop-electronica album of the year. As naggingly addictive as Beth Hirsch-sung tracks like the inescapable "Sexy Boy" are, it's languid, gorgeous instrumentals like "Ce Matin La" and "La Femme D'Argent" that are the real highlights.

  27. Massive Attack Mezzanine (Island)

  28. Tori Amos From the Choirgirl Hotel (Atlantic)

  29. Neil Finn Try Whistling This (Sony)

  30. Alanis Morrissette Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (Maverick)

  31. Komeda What Makes It Go? (Minty Fresh)

  32. PJ Harvey Is This Desire? (Island)

  33. Hole Celebrity Skin (DGC)

  34. Yazbek Tock (What Are Records?)

  35. Dave Alvin Blackjack David (HighTone)

  36. Kristen Hersh Strange Angels (Rykodisc)

  37. Mercury Rev Deserter's Songs (V2)

  38. Richard Davies Telegraph (Flydaddy)

  39. The Spinanes Arches and Aisles (Sub Pop)

  40. Lauryn Hill The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Columbia)

  41. Brian Wilson Imagination (Giant)

  42. Calexico The Black Light (Quarterstick)

  43. Stereolab Aluminum Tunes (Drag City)

  44. Bob Mould The Last Dog and Pony Show (Rykodisc)

  45. Pulp This is Hardcore (Island)

  46. Catpower Moon Pix (K)

  47. Chris Von Sneidern Wood and Wire (Mod Lang)

  48. Garbage Version 2.0 (DGC)

  49. The Knack Zoom (Rhino)

  50. The Cardigans Gran Turismo (Stockholm)

  51. Flakemusic When You Land Here, It's Time to Return (Omnibus)

--compiled and tabulated by calculator-weilding midgets



Local Celebrity Picks

Stewart Mason (Weekly Alibi, Flamingo Records)

  1. The Loud Family Days For Days (Alias)

  2. Saint Etienne Good Humor (Sub Pop)

  3. Cornelius Fantasma (Matador)

  4. Stereolab Aluminum Tunes (Drag City)

  5. The Cardigans Gran Turismo (Stockholm)

  6. Liz Phair Whitechocolatespaceegg (Matador)

  7. John Southworth Mars Pennsylvania (Bar/None)

  8. The High Llamas Cold and Bouncy (V2/Alpaca)

  9. Richard Davies Telegraph (Flydaddy)

  10. Lisa Germano Slide (4AD)


Ira Gordon (KBAC)

  1. Bryan Setzer Orchestra The Dirty Boogie (Capitol)

  2. Bob Dylan Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert (Columbia)

  3. Barenaked Ladies Stunt (Reprise)

  4. Dr. Didg Seronality (Astralwerks)

  5. Josh Rouse Dressed Up Like Nebraska (HighTone)

  6. Air Moon Safari (Source/Caroline)

  7. Alanis Morrissette Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (Maverick)

  8. Liz Phair Whitechocolatespaceegg (Matador)

  9. Olu Dara From Natchez to New York (Caroline)

  10. Angelique Kidjo Oremi (RealWorld)

  11. Andy Horvitz (Bow Wow Records)


The Best Boxed Sets of 1998

  1. Miles Davis Bitches Brew Sessions (Columbia)

  2. Various Artists Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era (Rhino)

  3. John Coltrane The Classic Quartet (Blue Note)

  4. Bob Dylan Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert (Columbia)

  5. The Zombies Zombie Heaven (Ace)

  6. Various Artists 60 Years of Blue Note (Blue Note)

  7. The Jam Direction (Polygram)

  8. The Miles Davis Quintet 1965-68 (Columbia)

  9. Various Artists The Smithsonian Jazz Singers Box (Smithsonian)

  10. Burt Bacharach The Look of Love (Rhino)


Putnay Thomas (KUNM)

The Best Blues Releases of 1998

  1. Lurrie Bell Sweet Kiss of the Blues (Delmark)

  2. Johnny Adams Man of My Word (Rounder)

  3. James Harman Takin' Chances (Cannonball)

  4. Various Artists Big Blues Extravaganza: Best of Austin City Limits (Columbia)

  5. Eric Bibb Good Stuff (Earthbeat)

  6. James "Son" Thomas Beefsteak Blues (Evidence)

  7. Elvin Bishop The Skin I'm In (Alligator)

  8. Magic Slim Black Tornado (Blind Pig)

  9. Bryan Lee Live: Friday Night (JustinTime)

  10. Yank Rachell Tennessee Jug Busters (Delmark)


Brendan Doherty (Weekly Alibi)

  1. Neutral Milk Hotel In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Merge)

  2. Medusa Cyclone Mr. Devil (Third Gear)

  3. Billy Bragg and Wilco Mermaid Avenue (Elektra)

  4. Calexico The Black Light (Quarterstick)

  5. Belle and Sebastian The Boy with the Arab Strap (Matador)

  6. Air Moon Safari (Source/Caroline)

  7. Cinerama Va Va Voom (spinArt)

  8. The Pernice Brothers Overcome by Happiness (Sub Pop)

  9. Pinetop Seven No Breath in the Bellows and Rigging the Toplights (Truckstop)

  10. Sportsguitar Happy Already (Matador)


Tony C. (Natural Sound)

  1. Richard Buckner Since (MCA)

  2. Afghan Whigs 1965 (Columbia)

  3. Mogwai Young Team (K)

  4. Calexico The Black Light (Quarterstick)

  5. Catpower Moon Pix (K)

  6. Massive Attack Mezzanine (Island)

  7. Chucho Valdes Bele Bele en la Habana (Putomayo)

  8. Lucinda Williams Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (Mercury)

  9. The Spinanes Arches and Aisles (Sub Pop)

  10. Bedhead Transaction de Novo (Emperor Jones)


Valerie D. (Natural Sound)

  1. Charlatans UK Melting Pot (Elektra)

  2. Belle and Sebastian The Boy with the Arab Strap (Matador)

  3. Saint Etienne Good Humor (Sub Pop)

  4. Morcheeba Big Calm (Island)

  5. Stereolab Aluminum Tunes (Drag City)

  6. Massive Attack Mezzanine (Island)

  7. Son Volt Wide Swing Tremolo (Warner Bros.)

  8. Air Moon Safari (Source/Caroline)

  9. Dave Alvin Blackjack David (HighTone)

  10. Pernice Brothers Overcome By Happiness (Sub Pop)


Michael D'Elia (Lotus Sound Records)

  1. Various Artists Ya Ho Wah God and Hair: The Yahowah Collection

  2. Help Yourself Help Yourself/Beware the Shadow

  3. Bardo Pond Lapsed

  4. Mighty Baby Jug of Love

  5. Mountain Bus Sundance

  6. Various Artists Tenor Rising/Drums Expanding

  7. United States of America United States of America (Edsel)

  8. Brother JT and Vibrolux Dosed And Confused

  9. Fifty Foot Hose Ingredients

  10. Dock Boggs Country Blues (Revenent)


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