Granite and Tumble: volume 2

Subtitled: 1998 a review of music


Recorded Music

Prior to commenting on my favorite releases of this year, I must discuss my philosophy on album reviews.   I firmly believe favorite album compilations should lag by two years for two primary time constraining reasons:  to address the staying power of the album and to acquire a suitable number of fine albums.  Finally, I must also add in order to be considered for top album awards, I must own the album. 

Now with the philosophy behind us, let's go back to 1996.  My favorite ten albums from 1996 (out of 50).   All of these albums are excellent additions to any music lover’s album collection, and fortunately can be bought at the premier online music store.

  Buy it at Insound!  


1    Brainiac's Hissing Prigs in Static Couture (Touch and Go)
2 Tortoise's Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Thrill Jockey)
3 Joe Henry's Trampoline (Mammoth Records) 
4 Handsome Family's Milk and Scissors (Carrot Top)
5 Directions in Music's Directions in Music (Thrill Jockey)
6 Folk Implosion's Take a Look Inside (The Communion)
7 Rex's C (Southern)
8 Polvo's Exploded Drawing (Touch and Go)
9 June of 44's Tropics and Meridians (Quarterstick)
10 Dirty Three's Horse Stories (Touch and Go)



Despite my earlier comments about music needing age to properly evaluate, I will still offer my best guess at my favorite releases from the current year (1998).    

Neutral Milk Hotel's
In the Aeroplane over the Sea


Plexiglas Cube

Gastr Del Sol’s 
 (Drag City)

Will Oldham’s  
Black/Rich Music
(Drag City)

Pinetop Seven’s 
Rigging the Toplights

Turnstyles and Junkpiles
(Thrill Jockey)

June of 44’s
Four Great Points

Will Oldham’s
Western Music
(Ovni Records)


Live Music

1998 was the first year that I spent a good deal of time on the road (11 months in San Francisco).   This allowed me to hit the majority of cool venues in SF, while still hitting a large number of good shows in Chicago.   My initial judgment would place Bottom of the Hill as the top venue in SF, followed closely by the Great American Music Hall.    The Lounge Ax still reigns supreme in Chicago, followed by Schubas.

I attended a few noteworthy events this year.   A friend of mine in SF took me to a show entitled, "Symphonies for the Devil: A Rock and Roll Circus."   It is a unique annual event that blends music, poetry, and nudity in a way only San Francisco could.    The music was just ok, but the event was certainly memorable.   Another interesting show this year occurred at the Brandon King's screening of Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks its Back.   This independent movie  screened at the Celluloid Movie Bar, had its soundtrack played live during the film.  The all-star line-up featured musicians from Palace, Tortoise, Dirty Three, Pinetop Seven, Brokeback, Pullman, Gastr Del Sol, and Eleventh Dream Day.   Following the film, David Grubbs played his Coxcomb album in entirety.

Anyway, enough of this folderol, to the top concerts of the year.   I saw 41 concerts at 18 different venues in 1998.    The most commonly hit venue was the Lounge Ax (10 times).


1. Polvo, Ilium
    at the Lounge Ax (Chicago)

Polvo on their final tour went out with style.  This show displayed so much guitar virtuoso that I believe I saw Billy Corgan  mumbling after the show, “Man, I cannot even make that much sound with 24 tracks!!!”.   It was aggression colliding with infinite.   A phenomenal show.  
2. Hugh, Gerbils, Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel
     at the Lounge Ax (Chicago)

Usually on four band lineups, you expect a couple duds and a headliner.  That was definitely not the case with this show.   The Elephant Six was out in full force, many of the musicians playing in multiple of the sets.  Picture loud and aggressive brass, serene saw strumming, looping guitars, with lyrics as slippery as a Clinton testimony all at the same time.  
3. Isotope 217 
    at The Hot House (Chicago)  

I saw I217 three times this year and this was by far their best show of the year.  The venue and the crowd were perfect for I217 jazz experiment.   John McIntire played drums and xylophone with the usual cast of sax, second drum kit, guitar, and bass.   Parker and Mazurak were spectacular, they were leading and following their switches so well between sax and guitar, at the conclusion of pieces you were left wondering, “how did we get here?”.  
4. Brokeback, Chicago Underground Duo, Les Batteries, Sue Garner 
    at the Lounge Ax (Chicago) 

This was a show of unbelievable doubles.  Brokeback is a six string bass and cello, CUD is sax and drums, and Les Batteries is drums and well, drums.   Not only was each of the first three spectacular, the music progression was outstanding.   Sue garner was not duo, but she would not have fit it with this lineup anyway. 
5. Double U, Sunshine Club, Daniel Johnston and the Brown Hornets
    at the Bottom of the Hill (San Francisco)  

DJ is the antithesis of the typical rock star.   He is overweight, wears sweat pants, belches on stage, takes Prozac, and is downright hilarious.   But his stripped down lo-fi songs about the Beatles, comic book heroes, and never-found love are as catchy as venereal diseases from the ladies on North Avenue.
6. Moonshine Willy, Split Lip Rayfield, Country Melvins, Kelly Hogan
    at the Empty Bottle (Chicago)

Another show that we attended to see was Moonshine Willy, only to find another band on the bill with amazing talent.   Split Lip Rayfield is simply a great band to see live.  Their rendition of punk, blues, and country translates spectacularly to a live setting.  Not too mention the fact that any band that plays a one-string gasoline tank (with a string made from a weed-whacker) and makes it sound good is worth seeing.
7. 16 Horsepower, Diane Izzo
    at the Schubas (Chicago)  

16 Horsepower is the only band alive that can make an accordion rock.   These guys are another must see live band.   They play a blend of punk-inflected country rock delivered through a gospel choir.
8. Alejandro Escovedo, Rose Polenzani 
     at the Old Town School of Folk (Chicago)  

I never understood why Alejandro was not the most famous Escovedo in his family; but I typically find more people know his sister Shelia E.   Alejandro has played just about every kind of music known to ears.  This show was a low-key acoustic show.   Simply amazing.
9.  Bells, Richie Davies, Archer Prewitt Band
    at the Lounge Ax (Chicago)

Australian performer Richie Davies brought his spectacular chamber pop to the lounge ax.   While the Archer Prewitt Band played a phenomenal set of light rock with brass accompaniment.
10. Waycross, Handsome Family, Mekons 
      at the Great American Music Hall (San Francisco)

A fun show with plenty of crowd banter.   Its hard to believe an audience could ever get more abuse than a show with the Sparks family and Jon Langford.   The crowd took well to them, and they fed off the energy.   A great set was performed by all.



Music combined with love will surely pave the road to paradise.


Your self-proclaimed music critic  

  W. C. HUB

January 6, 1999

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