1. Jarboe, Anhedoniac (No label)
Head spinning, gut churning, slate clearing, life changing: this astounding and harrowing independent release from former Swans’ keyboardist-vocalist Jarboe set the standard in 1998 for both strength of creative vision and quality of musical achievement. Brava!
2. Pere Ubu, Pennsylvania (Tim/Kerr)
Cleveland’s journeymen noisemakers create the year’s best road record, filling it with strange moments, odd sounds and bittersweet stories-all of which will resonate deeply if you’ve ever spent too many late nights drinking strong interstate truck stop coffee.
3. Clutch, The Elephant Riders (Columbia)
You wanna sit on your porch eatin’ pork rinds, talkin’ about race cars, gawpin’ over those amazing Yeti pictures in the Weekly World News and watchin’ your dog chew on the fat ticks poking out of his matted fur? And you need background music? Here ’tis.
4. R.E.M., Up (Warner Bros.)
R.E.M. ably weathered the loss of drummer Bill Berry and created this dreamy, yet confident masterwork as a trio. They also printed lyrics for the first time, showing that Michael Stipe’s words are as nice on the eyes as they are on the ears. Who knew?
5. Slapp Happy, Ça Va (V2)
Peter Blegvad, Anthony Moore and Dagmar Krause reunited after 23 years to prove that collective creative magic doesn’t dissipate when shelved. Krause also furthered her case for canonization as our century’s greatest female vocalist. She’s certainly got my vote.
6. Asian Dub Foundation, Rafi’s Revenge (London)
Mix equal parts Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, Cornershop and Clash. Season with strong spices from the Indian subcontinent. Broil under a bare light bulb in a police interrogation room, stirring occasionally with a truncheon. Ignite . . . and run for cover.
7. Francis Dunnery, Let’s Go Do What Happens (Razor and Tie)
Smart pop from a convivial fellow who knows what he wants and knows how to get it: simply by believing it’s gonna come. Amazingly enough, Dunnery manages to share both his joy and his faith with nary a hint of schmaltz or treacle. Can church do that? Rarely.
8. Neil Finn, Try Whistling This (Work)
Neil Finn offers a perfect set of musings from the dark end of the pop spectrum, crafting sounds largely unlike those he made with Crowded House and Split Enz. It took this consummate band member 25 years to make his debut solo album. It was worth the wait.
9. Ulla Pirttijärvi, Ruošša Eanan (Atrium)
An astounding contemporary take on the joik music traditions of Norway’s ancient Samii people. Different from anything that you’ve ever heard before, but somehow so primal and elemental that it evokes all the music that’s ever been made. Or is yet to come.
10. Robert Wyatt, Shleep (Thirsty Ear)
English art rock’s grandfatherly elder statesman sets aside his difficult politics and personal pain to make a beautiful album about love and insomnia with help from some of Europe’s finest players and producers. A sweet record, sometimes bitter, sometimes not.