Granite and Tumble: volume 3

Subtitled: 1999 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 1997.......

1997 was a breakthrough year for many of my favorite albums.   Many of these albums are either the first under a given moniker (Palace legend recorded under Will Oldham for the first time), a first for new record label (Dianogah first full length released on Ohio Gold and the Old 97s major label debut on Elektra), or simply a first CD recording in general (Beulah, Aerial M, and Isotope 217).

Without further ado, here are my favorite ten albums from 1997 (out of 43).   All of these albums are excellent additions to any music lover’s album collection, and can be bought at the premier online music store.


  Buy it at Insound!  

1    Smog's Red Apple Falls Smog's Red Apple Falls (Drag City) - With flourishes of piano, horns, drum machines and pedal steel, Red Apple Falls appropriates the best of folk, rock and country while transcending the boundaries of each style.  [AMG Review]
2 Will Oldham's Joya Will Oldham's Joya (Drag City) - Oldham sticks to the simple, slow acoustic country-folk songs that dominated the latter-day Palace albums, and like before, the songs teeter between apparent sincerity and inscrutable irony. [AMG Review]
3 Old 97's Too Far to Care (Elektra) - Too Far to Care is full of smart lyrics and catchy, rocked-up country melodies. [AMG Review]
4 The Sea and Cake's Fawn (Thrill Jockey) - The Fawn blends soft soul, shuffling, textured rhythms and warmly crafted pop augmented by ever-so-gentle touches of clicking drum machines, sequencer tones and whimsical synths. [CMJ Review]
5 Tobin Sprout's Moonflower Plastic (Welcome to My Wigwam) (Matador) - Moonflower Plastic works the Guided By Voices signature lo-fi art-pop foundation and opens up the formula with more detailed arrangements and instruments [AMG Review].
6 Dianogah's As Seen From Above (Ohio Gold) - With the unusual lineup of two bassists and a drummer, Chicago trio Dianogah creates a completely unique sound by bringing instruments normally used as a rhythm section to the forefront [AMG Review].
7 Beulah's Handsome Western States (Elephant Six) - Handsome Western States features a lo-fi aesthetic given some fresh breath by its astute songwriting and occasional touches of atypical (though not by Elephant 6 standards) instrumentation [CMJ Review]
8 Isotope 217's The Unstable Molecule (Thrill Jockey) - The Unstable Molecule is an album that is neither straight-ahead jazz or space-rock, but a quirky, funk-flavored, astute musical venture [AMG Review].
9 Aerial M's Aerial M (Drag City) - This self-titled full-length is an atmospheric journey of soothing guitar rock, full of hooks, choruses, ambience and emotion [CMJ Review]
10 Modest Mouse's Lonesome Crowded West (Up) - The aggressive (especially bass) rhythms, chaotic guitars and frantic vocal shouts are amazingly catchy on this musically diverse album [CMJ Review]



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 (1999).    

Tom Waits' 
Mule V
 (Anti / Epitaph)  

Sam Prekop’s 
Sam Prekop
(Thrill Jockey)  

The Eventual Bow Travels in Constants vol. 6
 (temporary residence limited)  

Songs: Ohia’s  
Axxess & Ace
(Secretly Canadian)  

When your heartstrings break 
(Sugar Free)  

(Sign Language)  

Knock, Knock 
(Drag City)  

Elf Power’s 
A Dream in Sound
(Elephant Six)  

Live Music

In 1999, I was working in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco; so I have a larger number of different venues in different cities.   However, the favorite venues remain the same.   The best rock roll club in the country still has to be the Lounge Ax in Chicago.   My favorite venue in SF is Bottom of the Hill, followed closely by the Great American Music Hall.   New York’s Mercury Lounge and the Knitting Factory show good potential.  

The Knitting Factory got huge brownie points when I showed up to see the emo-core tour-de-force, Dismemberment Plan, Burning Airlines, and the Promise Ring; only to find the show was sold out.  I figured since I had made the hike down to Tribecca, I was going to at least listen to some of the music from outside.   While hanging out in front, the door man asked me, “ Why aren’t you inside listening?”   I casually responded because it is sold out.    Which to my massive surprise he says, “Come on in”.   So, not only did he let me into a sold out show, but he also did not charge me the $15 dollar cover.   Move over Dan, there is new kid in town for the top doorman at any venue.    This wasn’t as cool as ex-Uncle Tupelo, current Wilco guitarist John Stirrat putting me on the guest list for the invite-only second ever show by Son Volt at the Schubas; but it was still damn nice.

Anyway, enough of this folderol, to the top concerts of the year.   I saw 42 concerts at 16 different venues in 1999.    The most commonly hit venues remain the perennial all-stars:  Lounge Ax and Schubas.  


1. Archer Prewitt, Papa M, Jim O’Rourke, The Sam Prekop Band
    at the Bottom of the Hill (San Francisco)  

It is a rare show indeed when I own multiple albums by every band playing in a four band set, but that was the case here.   So, I had a feeling this was going to be something special; however, apparently many others had the same feeling.  According to the doorman, this show was one of the fastest  shows to sell out at the Bottom of the Hill.   Doors opened at 6:00 for the 9:00 PM show, and was sold out by 6:10 (advance tickets were sold at ticketweb).   Anyway, I showed up around 7:00, not knowing that this Chicago musician consortium would be so popular in the Bay area.   Luckily for me, some guy showed up with an extra ticket before Archer ever came on and sold it to me for a beer and $10.   This meager price was clearly worth it.   Archer played many songs of his upcoming album White Sky.   Papa M played one 25 minute song with massive amounts of delay.   The last five minutes of the set he was no longer on the stage, the guitar layers we watched him create were simply cycling for the audience enjoyment.   Next, Jim O’Rourke entered the stage.   Jim a Chicago native who only accompanied this group at this show (interestingly enough he did not even join them at the Lounge Ax) and it was certainly a bonus.  He played 5 strong songs -  one from Bad timing and 4 from Eureka.   Jim’s set was probably the second best of the night.  Then, Sam and the boys took the stage.   They played a superb set, almost exclusively from Sam’s latest self titled album.   They were definitely tight, hitting many stops perfectly.  They closed with two Sea and Cake songs.    This was a great show.  
2. Supreme Dicks, Anomoanan, Bonnie Prince Billy 
     at the Great American Music Hall (San Francisco)

The two San Francisco shows (the other at the Starry Plough) were the only shows to feature Will’s brother Ned and his band Anomoanan.   And it was definitely a bonus.   The Supreme Dicks aren’t for me their goofball pop and odd instruments while mildly intriguing begin to grate on you after 15 minutes.   Anomoanan is pretty good stuff,   they play the poppier side of Palace Brothers.   However, the show was clearly made by Bonnie Prince Billy.   Will was in charge for this show.   He played about half Palace and half solo stuff.   His brother joining him on vocals for many of the songs.    This song would have made a believer out of anyone, even if you were “Drunk at the Pulpit”  
3. Jack Logan, The Handsome Family 
    at the Schubas (Chicago)  
Jack was touring in support of his two new albums:  Tinker and Buzz Me In.   New stuff, old stuff; Jack likes playing and is consistently good.    He performed a strong mix of new stuff and old stuff, winning over the crowd at Schubas once again.  Handsome Family was up to their usual antics, arguing on stage, joking with the audience, and playing old school country.   Handsome Family is consistently  the opening act for top shows.   This show ranked number three despite the fact I broke my elbow on the way home from the show.  
4. Sonna, Two Dollar Guitar, Papa M 
    at the Mercury Lounge (NY) 

One of the primary reasons, I went to this show was that I could not get tickets to see Papa M opening for Stereo Lab the night before at Irving Plaza.  Blessings come in many disguises.  The show got off to a great start when Sonna took the stage.   Their melodic slow-core post rock grabbed the audience’s attention.   It was their first time playing in NY, but judging by their performance this will certainly not be their last.   Since Two Dollar Guitar  was playing between two post rock bands, I thought they would play more stuff from their Train Songs album; but I was wrong.   They came out with their Lemonheadish pop.  Not a great set, but a good set.   Dave Pajo walked up to the stage, wearing a Stereo Lab T-shirt from the night before.   They took the stage to a rap song centering around the concept, “Your Music Sucks You Sell Out.”  I am not sure who the rap artist was, but it may have been All Natural.   It was damn comical.  This paved the way, for a kick ass show,  Pajo and gang rocked.  
5. Papa M, Archer Prewitt, Sam Prekop Band
    at the Lounge Ax (Chicago)  

I cannot believe Papa M, played in three of my top five shows.   I was standing next to Jeff Parker, the guitar player from Tortoise for this show.   Jeff was really excited to see ex-Tortoise guitarist Dave Pajo perform his new stuff.  This show however was dominated by the Sam Prekop Band (much like my favorite concert of the year).  
6. The Pickets, Old 97s
    at Slim’s (San Francisco)

I saw these two play together on the original No Depression Tour (with Whiskey Town, and the Hazeldines)  almost three years earlier.   A lot has changed since then, but one thing remained the same – the Old 97s blew the Pickets off the stage.   The pickets are one of two bands that I know that have their drummer closest to the front of stage (the other being A Minor Forest).  Their music is watered down alt country, not that impressive.   The Old 97s ,on the other hand, are one of my favorite live acts.    Their high energy delivery of pop, punk, and country translates great to the stage.   This particular night was punctuated by the normally quiet Murray Hammond ripping on pretty boy now rock star, Rhett Miller.     
7. Sixto, Sweeder, June of 44 
    at the Lounge Ax (Chicago)  

June of 44’s amazing tight set was one of the best performances of the year, its too bad the opening acts were weak.  This tour was just before they released Anahata.     So, we got a good mix of 1998's superb Four Great Points and Anahata.    
8. Kelly Hogan, Old 97s 
     at the Lounge Ax (Chicago)  

Another spectacular show by the Old 97s.   I think it is hard to leave a show sober watching these guys, and I mean that as compliment.   They are a great live band.  
9.  Superchunk, Beulah 
    at the Great American Music Hall (San Francisco)

I never really bought into Superchunk’s straight up rock and roll delivered through indie veins, so Beulah stole the show for me.   Watching the massive amount of instruments played (they had over 16 musicians play on their last album) by this quality act is impressive enough.  Not to mention, they are the best thing to happen to the Elephant Six since Neutral Milk Hotel.   They played with poise, noise, style, and guile ... and man did they sound good.  
10. The Eternals, Brokeback, Chicago Underground Duo 
      at the Empty Bottle (Chicago)  

The Eternals are one of the latest local talents to sign to Thrill Jockey Records.  The play reggae and rock.  A solid high energy show that I would like to see again.   It shifted into a slow jazzy bass extravaganza.   Tonight McCombs was in full force playing the double bass, with occasional accompaniment by Mazurak.   Chicago Underground Duo was actually a foursome tonight, with the usual cast (Mazurak and Taylor) accompanied by Jeff Parker and Doug McCombs.   Their show was great Jazz set.  



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


Your self-proclaimed music critic  

  W. C. HUB

January 12, 2000

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