Granite and Tumble: volume 4

Subtitled: 2000 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 1998.......

1998 may very well have been the most spectacular year of music in the nineties.   Generating a favorite ten was extremely difficult, I was forced to leave off such great albums as the double disc debut from Cap 'N' Jazz, the critical darling Mermaid Avenue, the first bonnie prince billie recording, an amazing acoustical blow-out from Pullman, David Grubbs' solo debut, the musical extravaganza from Calexico on the Black Light, and an intriguing beginning from Clem Snide. Here is a complete list of all albums considered for 1998.

With that said, the albums included in the favorite ten are nothing short of brilliant.   All of these albums are not simply excellent additions to any music lover’s album collection, they are necessary additions.   Fortunately, they can be bought at the premier online music store.

  Buy it at Insound!  


1    Pele's Teaching the History of Teaching Geography (Star Star Stereo) - Eight amazing instrumental jams with a touch of electronics to make a melodic monument of sound.  [Pillowfight Review]
2 Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Merge) - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea shifts from acoustic folksiness to loud, fast punk rock with little or no warning. It features a noisy horn section and a dreamy singing saw, all rolled into a package that does a credible job of blending Sgt. Pepper with early 90's lo-fi [Pitchfork Review]
3 Pedro the Lion's Its Hard to Find A Friend (Made in Mexico) -  Imagine Lou Barlow reincarnated as a devout Christian.  This album captures the broken-hearted lo-fi bedroom pop, as well as any. 
4 Will Oldham's Black/Rich Music (Drag City) - Black/Rich Music is a miniature song cycle commissioned by Estep Nagy for the film The Broken Giant.  These songs are ancient organ accompanied by an acoustic guitar, with Will's unique vocals (includes a DH Lawrence poem put to music).
5 Silver Jews' American Water (Drag City) - Named after a poster Berman saw at his veterinarian's office for American Water Spaniels, the album boasts some of the Jews' best arrangements and playing, from the flute and brass-tinged "Random Rules" to the driven but eloquent guitars on "Night Society" to the wah-wah friendly, '70s-style pop of "People." [AMG Review]
6 Gastr Del Sol's Camoufleur (Drag City) - Jim O'Rourke's last album with Gastr del Sol is a subdued, meditative affair, bringing together elements of folk, jazz, film music and the avant-garde. [AMG Review].
7 Pinetop Seven's Rigging the Toplights (Atavistic) - Through their unique blend of musical styles, unusual instruments and intricate lyrics, Pinetop Seven has created a haunting collection of dark, melancholy stories.  [CMJ Review]
8 Tortoise's TNT (Thrill Jockey) - TNT while never living up to its explosive moniker, is nevertheless a hang-glide ride through modern post-rock-- jazz, indie-rock, subtle techno, funk, and international flavors whipped together into a creamy treat, served over your always hungry ears. [Pitchfork Review].
9 June of 44's Four Great Points (Quarterstick) - June of 44's fourth full-length is their most experimental effort to date — fractured melodies and dub-like rhythms collide in a noisy atmosphere rich in detail, adorned with violins, trumpet, severe phasing effects and even a typewriter. [AMG Review]
10 Ilium's Plexiglas Cube (Hefty) - A rhythmic instrumental exploration with extraordinary guitar and base interchange, subtle tempo changes, all with great sense of melody.



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 (2000).    

Battle Champions


David Grubbs’ 
The Spectrum Between
(Drag City)

Kind of Like Spitting’s 
Old Moon in the Arms of the New

The Letter E’s  
No. 5ive Long Player
(Tiger Style)

Modest Mouse’s 
The Moon and Antarctica

Jim O'Rourke’s  
Halfway to a Three-way
(Drag City)

The Nudes

Songs: Ohia’s
The Lioness
(Secretly Canadian)

Live Music

2000 was another year on the road for your writer, I attended concerts in Chicago, New York, Hoboken, Cincinnati, and Washington DC.    But the most notable events in 2000 for live music was the closing of the Lounge Ax in Chicago and Sudsy Malone's in Cincinnati.   The Lounge Ax farewell tour - 2 weeks of not-to-be-missed shows proved spectacular.   They did not sell advance tickets to any of these shows, and considering the minuscule fire-code capacity you had to get there a few hours prior to doors open to ensure entrance.  One particular show, Wilco, on a Sunday, I heard the line started at noon for a 10 PM show.   Needless to say when we showed up at seven with a line two city blocks long, we did not make it in.   Hopefully, Lounge Ax can follow a similar path to Cincinnati's legendary rock-and-roll laundry mat; which with the addition of sprinklers and exits earned them city permission to reopen in December.  

I also attended a few noteworthy festivals.    The long time San Francisco music festival, Noise-Pop, made its Chicago debut, participating venues were the Double Door, Empty Bottle, Chicago Cultural Center, Schubas, and the Metro.   I attended several of these shows, the most notable concert was the pairing of Jeff Tweedy and Jim O'Rourke.   I believe this was only a one time gig, so that was exciting.    Flower booking celebrated their ten-year anniversary, and held a 5 day extravaganza at the Metro in Chicago, and a private show at the Empty Bottle.    I attended New York's Festival of Electronic Composers and Innovators at the Knitting Factory.   Interestingly, two Chicago stalwarts earned spots on the first two nights, David Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke.   Ironically, they used to play together in the same band and their final album was my sixth favorite release of 1998.   Most of the music was interesting, but a bit too experimental for my taste.

Anyway, enough of this folderol, to the top concerts of the year.   I saw 45 concerts at 16 different venues in 2000.    The most commonly hit venue was the Empty Bottle (12 times).  


1. The Coctails, Dianogah, Moto
    at the Lounge Ax (Chicago)

The final night of the legendary Lounge Ax.   With no advance tickets being sold getting into this show required either dedication or connections.   Unfortunately for me and my friends this meant dedication, we showed up two hours prior to the first band starting and waited outside in literally freezing weather.  Believe it or not, it was definitely worth it on so many levels:  to be a part of a historic closing, to see the disbanded Coctails one last time at the Ax, and to simply hear the unbelievably great music.   This show had more energy and excitement then any show in recent memory - a definite show for the ages.
2. Storm and Stress, Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt, Tortoise
     at the Lounge Ax (Chicago)

This very well could have been the most crowded show ever at the Lounge Ax.  With their immanent closing, I am not sure the fire codes were being enforced.  Despite the fact, I could barely move, much less breath, this was still the second best show of the year.  Storm and Stress opened with a unique set of odd music and vocal arrangements - let's just say Ian Williams loves his delay pedal..   Prekop & Prewitt played several tracks of Sam's solo album, a solid set if not spectacular.   Then Tortoise rocked like I have never seen them rock before.   In the countless times that I have seen this instrumental rock super group, this was surely their finest moment.   Appropriately, it was at the final week of the Lounge Ax.
3. Pinebender, Velour 100, Pedro the lion 
    at Schubas (Chicago)  

This was the first time I had ever seen Pinebender, and I was definitely pleasantly surprised.  Pinebender are similar to JSBX (in that they have no bass guitar), however their sound is much closer to guitar distorted pop of Built To Spill.   However, tonight's show was definitely highlighted by amazing set from Pedro the Lion.   Their slick lyrics with lo-fi guitars was perfectly delivered in Schubas intimate back room.
4. Prince Billie & Marquis de Tren, Godspeed Your Black Emperor!
    at the 9:30 Club (Washington DC) 

Bonnie Prince Billie (aka Will Oldham) and the Marquis De Tren (aka Mick Turner) with other unnamed musicians played one of the quietest sets I have ever seen.   There was nary a cough expelled for fear of offending the musicians.   I think Godspeed's set is best summed up by a CMJ review of their excellent Slow Riot For Zero Kanada, "this extravagantly named nine-piece builds up its charging crescendos with poise and spatial grace, but when a given track reaches its breaking point, the orchestral overload of double drums, two basses, three guitars and a string section rushes forth with the unhindered force of the Johnstown Flood."  Enough said, these guys are one of the more unique and rewarding live sets going.
5. The Naysayer, Clem snide, Songs: Ohia
    at the Schubas (Chicago)  

Any band that chooses its name from a character in William Borough's Naked Lunch has to be at least interesting.   Not only was Clem Snide interesting, but they played their cello, upright bass (occasionally with a bow), and drums to perfection and provided slick communicae between songs that was comedic and entertaining.   Songs: Ohia played a set dominated by their new album, Ghost and Tropics, scheduled to be released in February. 
6. Bride of No-No, Palace Brothers, Jim O'Rourke, The Dance, King Kong
    at the Lounge Ax (Chicago)

Will was up to his usual antics, delivering the unexpected.   He played an almost all instrumental set, mainly from the Ode Music soundtrack, which frankly does not give Will an opportunity to showcase his greatest musical weapon, his crackling voice.   A melodic if monotonous set that helped prepare the audience for O'Rourke.   O'Rourke's set was simply outstanding his guitar prowess left me thinking of a modern day guitar virtuoso like John Fahey.   Bride of No-No was also at least entertaining, a group of women dressed liked mummies playing hyperactive guitar.  
7. The Race, Pele, Karate
    at the Empty Bottle (Chicago)  

Pele is an instrumental three piece from Milwaukee.  However, they avoid the unfortunate post-rock tendency of turning rock, jazz, and electronic music into an indecipherable and indistinct soup by avoiding electronics and nearly eschewing rock (outside of some moments of conventional beat-keeping), while turning the rhythmic interplay into the reason for and reward of the music (much like Dianogah).  Karate is also a jazz-rock hybrid, however their tendencies are much closer to rock.   With nearly spoken lyrics they could remind some of the velvet underground.
8. Taking Pictures, Drums & Tuba, Dianogah 
     at the Empty Bottle (Chicago)  

Drums and Tuba is a bit of a gimmick band.   They are as their name suggests a band featuring drums, tuba and little else.   The music is at times astounding, but more typically its just original.   Dianogah's untraditional lineup, two base guitars and drums, however is anything but gimmick.   These guys are one of the premier primarily instrumental live sets going.  The interplay between the musicians is what is most impressive.  As a friend of mine at the show said, "these guys surely must eat, drink, and sleep together to achieve such perfect coordination."  
9.  The Bottle Rockets
    at Brownies (New York)

The Bottle Rockets got their start as roadies for the legendary alternative country band, Uncle Tupelo.  However, unlike many who forsake their roots, they have remained true-to-form.    They are still playing rock-and-roll with twang.  A great band to see live, these guys entertain the audience with their humor and their excellent blend of twang and rock.
10. Five Style, The Eternals, Abeline 
      at the Empty Bottle (Chicago)  

This was a show bringing styles from the past into the modern day.   The eternals blend reggae with jazz, an interesting combination that you need to see to believe.   Five Style features amazing funk guitar filled with quick start/stops and turns. A great set for anyone who likes guitar based rock.



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


Your self-proclaimed music critic  

  W. C. HUB

January 14, 2001

Email me your thoughts.