1997 Retrospecticon
by Marc Hirsh

Determined as I am to continue my mad fever dream of actually pretending that I hear enough music these days to know what I'm talking about, I offer up this half-baked version of my annual Top Ten album list, abbreviated, for the second year in a row, to Five, thanks to the fairly unimaginative Indianapolis radio/club cartel. If it weren't for Luna Music (86th and Ditch, right next to Half Price Books), I just might die. My 1998 New Year's Resolution is to quit complaining about it and jump right in with both feet to kick this town in the ass. You read it here first.

And the winner is...

1) Kim Fox, Moon Hut (Dreamworks). The first album in a long time to feel like a gift from the recording industry. Fox writes songs that feel like dreams and sound like childhood (and centers them around that most childlike of instruments, the piano), and her voice wraps around her words and melodies like a scarf. Even when she's admonishing others for their lack of adventure ("Bleed A Little, Allison") or covering one of Springsteen's classic Beautiful Loser songs ("Atlantic City"), she maintains a sheen of youthful innocence (with all the exuberance, too) that seems to portray the exact moments that bits of childhood drop away forever. Beautiful, painfully sad and brilliantly strong.

32 flavors and then some 2) Ani DiFranco, Living In Clip (Righteous Babe). I've never been in the Cult of Ani, and I don't think I will (or can), but this superb snapshot of the live prowess of the only rebel folk-punk record mogul (or at least the only one that matters) justifies almost every ounce of her reputation. Over two hours of live tracks culled from concerts all over the country show her to be a great guitarist, a terrifyingly real writer and the possessor of a wicked sense of humor (and humility) that's not always evidenced in her music alone. Hearing the giggle behind the songs is worth the price all by itself.

3) You Am I, Hourly, Daily (Ra/Warner Bros.). Australia's finest working band shows up for the second consecutive year (and third consecutive release) with an album that expands on previous ideas while stretching out in all directions musically. You've got acoustic balladry (the title track), post-mod love songs ("Trike") and swingin' radio promos ("Good Mornin'). In fact, this may well be as close to The Who Sell Out as the world may ever again see, which reconfirms my declaration from last year : this band is nothing more or less than a postmodern Who, which the world very desperately needs. Absolutely worth the 9-month wait it took to be released in the U.S.

4) Jen Trynin, Gun Shy Trigger Happy (Warner Bros.). So blithely unfazed by her pretty triumphant debut (1995's killer Cockamamie ) is Jen (name shortened, like her hair) that she kicks things off with what could be a leftover from her last one (the bitter and pretty "Go Ahead") and then proceeds to demolish her past and build a cathedral from the rubble. There's lovely melodic rock ("If I"), lovely melodic balladry ("Everything") and lovely melodic sonic experimentation ("Rang You and Ran"), all sung with Jen's creamy voice that gets more and more appealing with each song. Improvement: only one clunker (the nip-and-tuck nightmare of "Under the Knife"), as opposed to the three on Cockamamie . That's called progress.

5) (tie) Guided By Voices, Sunfish Holy Breakfast (Matador); Guided By Voices, Mag Earwhig! (Matador). Yes, I am determined to have it both ways. Classic GbV lineup (SHB) or competent pretenders (ME)? Low-fi realities (SHB) or studio-produced fantasies (ME)? "Jabberstroker" or "I Am A Tree"? Yes, please.

Special bonus kudos to the What's Up Matador? comp, the Beck-meets-Steely Dan bizarro pop of New Zealand's own Bressa Creeting Cake's self-titled debut, the latest (and maybe best) Flying Nun Records compilation Pop Eyed , the Freshmakers' Low-Fi As Fuck and Foo Fighters' The Colour And The Shape, which ain't perfect but contains higher highs than damn near anything else you'll hear this year. Plus it contributed not one but two of the very few high points in radio this year (this means you, "Monkey Wrench," dumb-ass lyrics included, and you, "Everlong," with your flabbergastingly accurate portrayal of the self-doubt at the start of a relationship, where you are so attuned to how things can't remain as great as they are now that you never notice how great they are now), so that's enough in my opinion.

Other oases in the wasteland included Supergrass's awesome "Richard III" (an uncharacteristic slab of faux-Pumpkins which anchored an otherwise disappointing disc); Texas's dreamy "Say What You Want," woefully underplayed (as per the band's usual) and damn near the sole saving grace of the band's first fully disappointing album; Veruca Salt's "Volcano Girls," a wicked reclamation of cock-rock by the ladies, and with a wicked sense of humor besides; and Leslie Rankine's (?) spectacularly salacious and sassy "Thank Heaven For Little Girls." The irony of the latter being a Mountain Dew ad is not lost on me, and shouldn't be on you, either.

This year's Better Late Than Never Award is a tie this year. Actually, it isn't, but I narrowly missed placing Amy Rigby's heartbreaking and wonderful Diary of a Mod Housewife on last year's Top Five, which wasn't fair but only happened because my special order arrived about 2 days later than I had hoped. For those who still remember last year's list (feel free to email me for a copy), it goes between Aimee Mann and You Am I. The real award goes to the Yardbirds' Roger The Engineer , which is still available on CD if you know in which countries to look. [It has since been reissued domestically.] It's worth it if only for a rare CD version of the fake raga-rock classic "Over Under Sideways Down" and the proto-Zeppelin "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," from which you can draw a straight line to "Achilles' Last Stand." Essential, and unfortunately difficult to find.

Next year, to the moon!

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