January 20, 2011

Best of 1997

February 1, 2017 update: I am revising this list for two reasons. One, yesterday I learned from Chris Simpson that Mineral's "The Power of Failing was actually first released in 1996. So it moved from the #2 album here to the #1 album there. Then, these albums are celebrating 20th anniversaries, so it is time to revisit and spend more time with them. Most of this was written in 2011.

1997 was the first year I published a year-end list. This was before blogs, but I remember emailing it to a lot of my friends. I also had a radio show at the time, and I announced it over the air. (Maybe I even posted it on the 7ball message board.) So this is the first 90’s list I am posting on my blog that is actually a re-write; and it is interesting to see how things have changed in 13 years.  So to start, here is the original list:

Top 13 albums of 1997 as written in early 1998:
1. Sixpence None the Richer**
2. Stavesacre- Absolutes
3. Model Engine- The Lean Year’s Tradition
4. Velour 100- Of Colour Bright**
5. Luxury- The Latest and The Greatest
6. Rose Blossom Punch- Ephemere
7. Dear Ephesus- The Consolation of Pianissimo
8. Christine Glass- Human
9. Havalina Rail Co.- Russian Lullabies
10. Starflyer 59- Americana*
11. Five Iron Frenzy- Our Newest Album Ever
12. Vigilantes of Love- Slow Dark Train
13. Pedro the Lion- Whole EP*
(I was clearly less aware of music in 1997.)

My current top 13 albums of 1997
1. Sixpence None the Richer- Sixpence None The Richer**
The album that contains Sixpence’s worldwide hit single, but also 11 other superior tracks. I wrote a detailed review of it back in 1997 that was I think the first album review I ever wrote. (Here is the review on Google Docs.)What I most remember about this album is that in an age of no mp3s and no leaks, I still knew every song on the album prior to its release because I had seen Sixpence in concert six times in concert in 1997. I still have two cassette bootlegs of shows I recorded in February of 1997. These bootlegs include the first ever live performance of “Kiss Me”, an early version of “Easy to Ignore” (called “One Night”) and a song Sixpence never released, called “Breakdown Ready Engine”. 1997 overall is a pretty dead year for vinyl, but to this day this album is the only Sixpence album available on vinyl. The track-listing is much different though, as it drops personal favorites "Easy to Ignore" and "Puedo Escribir" and adds a bonus track "Sad but True." (How amazing would it have been if they had dropped "Kiss Me" from the vinyl version of this album?)


Probably weird to list this album ahead of the next, but I honestly like it much better.  This was Stavesacre on top of their game, my favorite release of theirs. I saw them live numerous times in this era, the most memorable being at Cornerstone 1997 in which they played almost every song off of it. I bought it on Saturday in Birmingham, before I owned a car. I rode my mountain bike a couple miles from Samford’s campus over to the shopping center and picked up this and Soulfood 76’s Velour (Retrospective). I really wish I could find music in 2011 that was similar to this (heavy yet melodic.) Hard to know whether or not to still consider Stavesacre an active band. They put out an EP in 2009 that was their best release in almost a decade, but they could easily never record or play together again.

I don’t remember the first time I heard this album, but it probably wasn’t until 1999. I loved it upon first listen, and many people rank it as the best album of the 1990’s, but what I’ll say here is why it took me so long to discover it. I was of course aware of Radiohead, they had been all over the radio on the X stations of the mid-90’s with their single “Creep”. I hated this song and still do. (As amazing as this band is, their debut is terrible.) Then in 1995 I saw them in concert. Not on purpose, but they were opening for REM. I hated the show. HATED it. I don’t remember exactly why, but I think it was mostly due to Thom Yorke’s on-stage antics and language. Ironically enough, that was The Bends tour, an album I now find to be terrific. I have an OK Computer poster up in my classroom and it gets more comments than any of the other dozens of posters I have on display.


4. Velour 100- Of Colour Bright**
For many fans of the band, this is their least favorite release due to it’s lack of consistency. That is understandable, as the use of three lead vocalists (Tess Wiley, Syndey Rentz and Karin Oliver) makes it a little disjointed. However I personally love the first two of those vocalists and their contributions make up for the weak Karin Oliver songs. The Tess Wiley songs are especially strong, with the highlight being “Dolphin Grey”, which she co-wrote. (Most of the songs were written by instrumentalist and band mastermind Trey Many and then handed over to the vocalists.) One of only two vinyl LPs I own from this year, and one of my favorites all-time as far as artwork goes. The sleeve is bright and colorful as one would expect from the title of the album but then the record itself is white, which has some great symbolism.
Poor Old Lu’s break-up was pretty tragic for me in 1996 (honestly, it still is). Thankfully Aaron Sprinkle and Nick Barber quickly formed a new band and released this album a year after Poor Old Lu’s A Picture of the 8th Wonder.  Rose Blossom Bunch sounded drastically different than the former band, with Aaron’s pristine vocals and much more traditional, straight-forward song-writing. This band is the precursor of Sprinkle and Barber’s current outfit Fair, and honestly if they played a Rose Blossom Punch song at a Fair concert in 2011 no one would know the difference. (Unfortunately the chances of a Fair concert in 2011 are slim to none.) This would be Rose Blossom Punch's only album and they also released an EP. But Aaron then jumped into a prolific solo career (3 albums) before starting another rock band (Fair).
(Wikipedia lists this album as a 1996 release, but it is most definitely not. I am holding it in my hand and it stamped 1997. Not only that, I followed the band closely at the time, and bought this album the day it was released. I can’t remember the circumstances, but it was in early 1997.) This is probably my least favorite Luxury album, and the band members would probably agree it is their weakest release. That is nothing against this album, it is fantastic; it just proves how extraordinary Luxury’s other three albums are. This album was the first for the band after a car accident in 1995 in which most of the band was almost killed (all survived and are healthy in 2011). It took them a long time to recover and even longer to regain their form as a band. Rumor had it they scrapped their first attempt at their sophomore album, and this was attempt number two.


7. Model Engine- The Lean Year’s Tradition
The swan song from Jeremy Post and company; he would go on to become a commercial airline pilot and hang up his pen and guitar. One of the most clever lyricists of the 90's and incredibly intense during live performances (saw them twice). Band was originally called Black Eyed Sceva but they made the name change due to pronunciation issues and a member switch. Black Eyed Sceva had one LP and one EP prior to this album, which has a far more mature and slick sound. The first three songs are right up there with any 3-song album intro I have ever heard: "Hang You Upside Down", "Scarred But Smarter" and "Reeperbahn". As I have mentioned, this is the dead age of vinyl, but I do have a fun 7" picture disc that is a split between Model Engine and Soul Junk. One of the bands I frequently hope to have an unexpected reunion.


Chances are if Starflyer released an album at anypoint in the last 18 years it will be found in my top-10 for that year. This is probably Starflyer’s hardest and least-experimental album. The rhythm section is ridiculous, as Wayne Everett (drums) and Eric Campuzano (bass) joined after the Prayer Chain disbanded. As good as this is, there is no SF59 album I listen to less in 2011. This was by far Starflyer's best live era. Jason Martin is very open about the fact he does not enjoy playing concerts, but  Eric and Wayne clearly did. The rare Plugged EP was recorded with this line-up and captures the energy, noise and loudness of this short Starflyer era.
Most people in 2011 know Marc Byrd as half of the post-rock/drone outfit Hammock. Most people a decade ago knew him as the writer of the popular Christian song “God of Wonders”. (Well, they may not have known he wrote it, but they definitely knew the song.) I have always known him as the lead singer/songwriter of the rock band Common Children. I first saw them open for The Choir in 1996 and they blew away the band they opened for.  This is the best of Common Children’s three albums and I am dying for Marc Byrd to record similar music again (as terrific as Hammock is.) I have always thought it to be a perfectly titled album, as it really does describe what you hear. Steve Hindalong produced it, and at the time he claimed it was the best album he had ever worked on. That is blasphemy to me, as he also produced 1995's Mercury (the Prayer Chain).

I have owned this album for a whole two months; I still can’t believe I discovered this band over a decade late. Emusic introduced me to their last two albums, but I had to order this one as a used CD from Amazon.  I bought it for a dollar; best deal on a used CD ever possibly. Incredible guitar work and changing tempos Shared the same scene as Mineral and Jimmy Eat World. . In 2009 Jimmy Eat World reissued their best album Clarity on vinyl and then toured performing the album start-to-finish. No Knife opened and I am sick to this day that I missed it. That was probably my last chance to see No Knife but I am seeing Jimmy Eat World in just a couple weeks at 40 Watt in Athens!

11. Mogwai- Young Team* It took me FOREVER to get into Mogwai (and postrock in general). My brother first introduced them to me in the 90's (maybe around the time of this album), but it took me almost a decade to really give them my attention. Emusic was one cause of that, because all of their work was on there. When I had downloads left at the end of the month, Mogwai was where I used them and eventually I had acquired the whole Mogwai catalog. Mr. Beast was the first Mogwai album I listened to on it's release date, and I have followed them ever since. The new Mogwai album is about to drop in a month, and has the best album title I have ever heard: Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will.

12. That Dog- Retreat from the Sun
"Never Say Never" is one my favorite songs of all time. If that song appeared on this album 10 times it would be enough to rank it this highly. The other songs are strong though, and this would be the peak of this band's existence. I only discovered That Dog because the radio station I volunteered at got sent a cassette promotional copy of this album. To this day, it is the only physical copy of Retreat From the Sun I have. I did some research on this band recently (I knew nothing about them) and discovered their three core members have remained very active in music. Lead singer Anna Waronker released a solo album and sisters Petra and Rachel Haden have sung with Weezer and Jimmy Eat World among countless other bands.

13. The Sundays- Static and Silence

14. Dear Ephesus- The Consolation of Pianissimo

15. The Autumns- The Angel Pool

16. Toad the Wet Sprocket- Coil

17. Roadside Monument- Eight Hours Away From Being a Man

18. Camber- Beautiful Charade

19. Letters to Cleo- Go!

20. Built to Spill- Perfect from Now On









Top 5 EPs of 1997:
1. Pedro the Lion- Whole A perfect example of why artwork matters. I frequently mention this in the graphic design class that I teach: In 1997 I walked into a store and saw this on the shelf. I had never heard of Pedro the Lion but the artwork alone led me to buy it. That decision led me to become aware of David Bazan, who I follow to this day. Unfortunately for the later press runs on this EP they changed the paper color and type (the original had the look and feel of a brown paper bag). If this were a full-length, it would easily be in my top 10 albums for this year. The sounds found here would never really appear again on any Pedro the Lion release and the screaming on "Almost There" is awesome. I saw Damien Jurado play a cover of "Almost There" at Cornerstone one year (2002?) and it was spectacular. (Jurado and Bazan were in a band together a long time ago called Coolidge).

2. Velour 100- Songs from the Rainwater
This was a 1995 demo cassette that the band remastered and/or rerecorded and added some songs to. Contains possibly my favorite Velour100 song, “Ambivalence.”


3. Bloomsday- EP Very short-lived band, although the mastermind behind it, Blake Wescott, has remained active in music, mainly as a producer and studio musician. I just read the Wikipedia article on him, and apparently he has even performed with R.E.M.

4. Phantasmic- I Light Up Your Life Not technically an EP, but I am considering it one here since it is an album of covers. The second of Tess Wiley's band names (the first was Splendora) before she settled on her own name to release her music under. Not sure why Tess did an album of covers at this point in her career, but the song selection and instrumentation is spot-on.

5. Over the Rhine- Besides Also not really an EP, it is an album of b-sides (I love the pun title of this album). Released around the same time as Over the Rhine's best album, Good Dog Bad Dog, and contains outtakes an alternate mixes from those sessions.

Best radio single of the year:
Jill Sobule- "Bitter"- I love this song! Thank you Thunder 94 (RIP).

Other notable 1997 albums I own and enjoy:
Bjork- Homogenic
Blindside- s/t
Caedmon’s Call- s/t
Christine Glass- Human
Elliott Smith- Either/Or 
Fold Zandura- Ultraforever LP and Return EP
Foo Fighters- The Colour and the Shape
Havalina Rail Co.- Russian Lullabies
Jars of Clay- Much Afraid
Joy Electric- Robot Rock
Morella’s Forest- From Dayton With Love
Natalie Imbruglia- Left of the Middle
Neko Case- The Virginian
Plankeye- Commonwealth
Rainer Maria- Past Worn Searching 
Soulfood 76- Velour (Retrospective)
Vigilantes of Love- Slow Dark Train
Waterdeep- Sink or Swim
Flying Tart’s Christmas In Heaven (compilation)

Notable 1997 albums I don’t own but would like to:
Ben Folds Five- Whatever and Ever Amen
Blonde Redhead- Fake Can Be Just as Good
Blur- s/t
Ben Harper- The Will to Live
Collective Soul- Disciplined Breakdown
Death Cab for Cutie- You Can Play These Songs With Chords
The Get Up Kids- Four Minute Mile
Godspeed You Black Emperor- F♯A♯∞
Jill Sobule- Happy Town
Modest Mouse- The Fruit That Ate Itself EP and the Lonesome Crowded West LP
Our Lady Peace- Clumsy
Portishead- s/t
Primus- Brown Album
Spoon- Soft Effects EP
The Flaming Lips- Zaireeka
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones- Let’s Face it
U2- Pop
Veruca Salt- Eight Arms to Hold You
Zao- Splinter Shards the Birth of Separation
Lost Highway Soundtrack

Lastly, 1997 was the first of four Cornerstone Festivals I have attended. I journaled while at Cornerstone that year, and I listed all the bands I saw play and how much I liked them. Here is that list, after scanning and being converted to a Google Doc.
Shows seen at Cornerstone 1997 (BEST to WORST):
1. Over the Rhine (Saturday)
2. Over the Rhine (Wednesday) (First time I had ever seen them; had previously only heard one song)
3. Havalina Rail Co.
4. Adam Again
5. Stavesacre
6. Vigilantes of Love
7. Michael Roe
8. Rose Blossom Punch (Sunday)
9. Sixpence None the Richer
10. Soulfood 76
11. Aleixa
12. Rose Blossom Punch (Friday)
13. The Insyderz (What did I see in them? Must have been the energy and fan participation)
14. Common Children
15. Dime Store Prophets
16. Christine Glass
17. Broomtree
18. Morella’s Forest
19. Send the Beggar
20. Tourniquet
21. Terry Taylor
22. The Waiting
23. Sarah Masen
24. Plumb (It was very sad to see JJ playing bass for them and not Sixpence)
25. Roadside Monument (Wish I could see this show again, it would probably be in this top 5 now)
(-I enjoyed all shows above, the ones below were not so good-)
26. All Star United
27. Dryve
28. Left Out
29. Bride
30. The Electrics
31. Grover Levy
32. Putty
33. Between Thieves
34. Ashley Cleveland

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