Neile's Favourite Music of 1997


Contents


My absolute tops for 1997

Music I expect will haunt my cd player far into the next millennium

Veda Hille--Here Is A Picture

This disc is a delight and actually it surprises me how very much I like it. You see, when I heard Veda do these songs in concert, while I liked them I never loved them as I love the songs from her other three collections. Maybe it's the fact that I'm hearing them for the first time in context and recorded and not in a tavern where everyone is yacking around me, but I find this album wonderful and affecting. And most miraculously, it does capture a feeling of who the painter Emily Carr might have been, and gives the sense of a life progressing. How does Veda do this? I don't really know, but I find this an amazing, effective collection. Canadian--special order, but U.S. distribution forthcoming.

Ingrid Karklins--Red Hand

A highly individual effort: a construct of passion, both of affection and anger. This is power without bombast--sonic richness and simplicity and density and clarity all at once. And of course Ingrid's voice and sensibility. An album that forces you to listen. To get involved. And the gorgeous handmade packaging. U.S.--mail order.

lamb--lamb

This one really caught my ears this year and didn't let them go. Electronica in the Portishead vein, but melodic and musically intriguing, and oh, that voice and the powerful songs she sings! By far my favourite debut of the year. I play this and play this and play this and can't seem to tire of it. The songs have the emotive strength of Beth Gibbons of Portishead, but are just enough more upbeat and evoke a greater variety of emotion that I find this is something I want to listen to more often. U.K.--widely available, though maybe in the Trip Hop or Acid Jazz area.

Other excellent music

Bjork--homogenic

My favourite of Bjork's albums, this is mysterious and wonderful. Haunting tunes. Less pop and more strangeness than her earlier albums but still dancey. Widely available everywhere.

Broadcast--Work and Non Work

More electronica, but great songs and a great voice. Another disc that stood up to obsessive repeat plays. Material overlaps with their Booklover's EP of last year. U.K.--import stores in U.S.

Lisa Cerbone--Mercy

While I found her first album nice enough to keep and play every once in a while, this album really caught my ears. The songs show a wonderful maturity and her style is so much richer in this album. Great pop music--catchy but not thin. Enough sonically and lyrically to listen to for a long time. U.S.--pretty widely available in the U.S.

ani difranco--living in clip

I usually don't like live albums. That said, I think this is a wonderful compilation of Ani's material and presence. This is one of the few live albums that will get a lot of player time. Listenable in the best of all ways. And Ani is a great performer. U.S.--wide distribution

Laika--Sound of the Satellites

What was it about electronic music this year, anyway? Somehow it just seems to have found its feet for me. Anyway, I've always liked Laika's music, but this album is a delight. Full of strange and catchy songs and lines, it's the kind of music you find yourself humming and trying to remember where it's from. Great electronica. Lovely voices and songcrafting. Not to be confused with the surf rockers, Laika and the Cosmonauts. U.K.--in import & indie shops in U.S.

Lida Husik--Fly Stereophonic

Lida Husik is an unrecognized pop genius. Each of her albums takes me a while to realize just how different each sounds yet how very Lida they all are. She's got a subtle way with a song hook, and I frequently don't realize how much she's grabbed my attention till I find myself carrying her songs in my head with me all the time. This is another fine album from her. She deserves far more recognition than she receives. She's truly wonderful. U.S.--stores that carry indie recordings.

Susan James--Shocking Pink Banana Seat (1996)
Susan James--Life Between Two Worlds (1990)

Well, Life Between Two Worlds is a tape from 1990 and Shocking Pink Banana Seat is officially from 1996, but I got them both this year. Life Between Two Worlds is a mostly folky-sounding rock album, with some lovely work and two great songs that I've been busy adoring since I first heard them: "From Across The Sea" and "Far Away". There are other lovely moments, too, but those are the songs that reach up and grab me if I allow my attention to drift. I've written about Shocking Pink Banana Seat before but let me say again, I think it's a wonderful album. It took me a while to be able to hear it at first, but damn I love it now. I think she's one of the guitarists around. Versatile player and a knockout voice. U.S.--mail order.

The Moon Seven Times--Sunburnt

I was disappointed with this when I first got it, but it has since grown on me. A lot. I still hate the guitar noodling over a couple of the songs, but underneath that Henry Frayne's brilliant guitar work and Lyn Canfield's voice still get me every time. "Some of Them Burn" is one of M7X's best songs every, and there's other great work here. Don't dismiss this as I did at first because it's not another album like their ethereal eponymous debut or their rocky 7=49. Sunburnt is a wonderful album that is another side of this creative and talented band. Wonderful songs, great guitar, and catchy vocals. This is a great band. U.S.--stores which carry indie discs.

Seely--Julie Only
Seely--Seconds

Seely sounds a lot like early Stereolab, and now that Stereolab has abandoned that style (much to my dismay) the territory is Seely's alone. Not that they're doing the 60s stuff that Stereolab doing, it's more in the vocal harmonies and overall complexly simple soundscapes they create. Lovely music, wonderful female vocals. Ethereal, yet more song-oriented than the Cocteau Twin stream of things. Highly recommended. U.S.--stores that carry indie and U.K. rock

Shai nO Shai--Human Condition

No one else seems to have heard this album--or at least I can't find references to it anywhere. I found this by being bored in Tower and idly playing with the sound station in the world music area. This is worldish rock and has great female vocals (lyrics in English). Strong Middle Eastern flavour with contemporary pop has all kinds of echoes. First it reminds me of early Sheila Chandra, then Sinead O'Connor, then early Bel Canto, with a bit of the yelling/singing of Boo Trundle and rap influences at times then beautiful ballad-like songs. High energy. I like urgency--this album has it. France--seems to have good distribution in the U.S.

Some really good stuff I don't want to overlook

Mari Boine--Eallin

Live versions of songs from her earlier albums. Gives a sense of how brilliant she must be live. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in her contemporary/world/sami music. Very listenable and dynamic, even though I don't understand the lyrics. Scandinavian, available in U.K. and U.S.

Eliza Carthy & the Kings of Calicutt--Eliza Carthy & the Kings of Calicutt

Great contemporary playing of traditional folk, and Eliza Carthy's voice is getting better with every album. Those of you a little disappointed with the new Waterson:Carthy might do well to pick this one up. These are great musicians and Eliza Carthy shines in this setting. U.K.--available in U.S. in stores that carry U.K. folk.

The Changelings--The Changelings [1996?]
The Changelings--Terra Firma

Dead Can Dance with a little less bombast? Cocteau Twins with a more Middle Eastern flair? Whatever--this is definitely ethereal and definitely interestingly structured sonically. Listen and dream. Both albums are good and highly recommended for those who love world/ethereal music. U.S.--mail order.

Paula Cole--This Fire

Finally found this used--I didn't want to pay full price because I wasn't a major fan of Harbinger, though I loved seeing her when she opened for Sarah McLachlan (in that show at least, she blew Sarah out of the water--Sarah seemed to be playing by rote that night) and I love her cover of "Jolene". Anyway, I like much of this disc, though it's never going to be up there with my favourites. I like her passion, but her lyrics sometimes just don't match the power of her singing (like that "bitch in heat/liar" thing repeated so many times it doesn't escalate but weakens it). I still think she's got a lot of promise but she hasn't reached it yet, for me at least. U.S.--widely available.

Cranes--population four

So the Cranes got a little more melodic and have a couple of acoustic songs. I think it shows signs of growth and makes for a far more casually listenable album--though that may be what the Cranes' fans were objecting too. I like it--all the best features of the Cranes and more melodic, too. Delightful. U.K.--widely available in the U.S.

Sandy Denny--The BBC Sessions 1971-73

Damn. No one has a voice like this--rich and expressive in both traditional songs and her own. Such a delight to find alternate live & radio versions of these great songs. I especially like the simple arrangements (with some of her work the style of the arrangements can be a barrier for me really enjoy the songs) I could listen to Sandy forever. This was the single most expensive disc I bought this year and worth every penny. U.K.--limited release.

Devils Wielding Scimitars

I love Suzy Callahan's voice and played this so much the first week I had it that I started getting sarcastic comments from the person who tries to share a house with me. Gradually I started to get tired of all but two songs, which I still feel as though I could listen to forever: "Did You Lie?" and "Talk To Her Sister", and you know, now after only letting it rest a week I'm enjoying the rest of them again. I suspect I'll be liking this one for a long time. U.S.--mail order.

Anna Domino--Favorite Songs from the Twilight Years 1984-1990 [not 1997]

A delightful collection of her best work. Really. I wasn't too interested in her earlier discs, but started finding her work with the colouring in the edge and the outline ep intriguing enough to follow her and track down her hard to find discs. This is the best because it focuses on her best work. Ethereal, a touch experimental. Europe--import stores in the U.S.

Mila Drumke--Illinois

Gathering My Name is way too soft and formless for my tastes, but after the first song of llinois I find that the album has plenty of energy to make me sit up and listen. Doesn't bear too many repeated listens for me, but she has a lovely voice and I agree that her version of "Under The Ivy" is a surprise delight. It's very different from Kate Bush's but she pulls it off with flair. Her own songs are good, but not knockouts--in other words, she's very good, but was overshadowed by others for me this year. Pleasant listening. U.S.--mail order.

Katell Keineg--Jet

This one surprised me. I wasn't a big fan of O Seasons O Castles--it just lacked that something that keeps me putting a disc into my player. I don't mind the album, but I forget about it. However, Jet has so many wonderful songs that I found myself obsessing on it. That made the album wear out its welcome for a while, but I still enjoy this whenever I play it. A strong album, mature and wide-ranging songwriting. U.K.--wide distribution.

Mary Jane Lamond--Suas e!

A sweet, clear voice singing Gaelic with simple pleasant backing. A little more world-popish than her first album, but the traditional elements are front and centre. Very pleasant listening in one of my rare quieter moods. Highly, highly recommended to you trad music fans out there. Canadian--may have a U.S. release.

Barbara Manning--1212

Another overlooked indie. Barbara Manning created the sound that Liz Phair made famous. This is probably Barbara Manning's strongest album with some great and emotive songwriting and some great covers, particularly of Tom Lehrer's "Rickity Tickity Tin." Like fellow indie Lois Matteo, she just goes on making her own music in her own style and luckily some people take notice. Good stuff if you like gentler indie rock. U.S.--stores that carry indie rock.

Mazzy Star--Among My Swan

I really enjoyed this--much more than their second disc, but it still doesn't take the place of their first in my heart. I love Mazzy Star's style, but their first album had such a huge impact on me it's going to be hard for them to top this. Still, I like this one second best of their three albums so far. U.S.--widely available.

Holly McNarland--stuff

Good, but not as immediately catchy as her Sour Pie EP. She has a strong voice and strong delivery. The songs here just aren't as witty and are more didactic than the Sour Pie, and she seems to keep grabbing for the easiest rhyme which makes her lyrics seems a little dumb sometimes. I miss that lighter touch, but you know her delivery makes her songs compelling, especially such songs as "Water." And when I listen to her sing the wordless "Mystery Song" I begin to suspect I'd listen to this woman sing the phone book if she did it with this kind of conviction. Canadian--good U.S. distribution

Mrs. Torrance--Porn EP
Mrs. Torrance--I'm the Bird

Weird pop noise. A strange but not unpleasant voice. Noise and twange. I don't think I've heard anything like Mrs. Torrance--who aren't that far off the scale of alt rock but are definitely going in their own direction. Their first album (can't remember the title) was pretty forgettable (see?) but the Porn EP and I'm The Bird, the album that follows (and has most of the songs from the EP) is not. Very worth tracking down and listening to. Canadian.

My Scarlet Life--Trypnotica

Great trypnotica. I confess to being a little disappointed that there wasn't anything as majorly quirky and playful on this album as "Lunch with Gandhi" from their previous disc, but the direction they're taking definitely suits the talents of this band. Swirly soundscapes with great vocals--works either as mood/background music but rewards close listening as well. U.S.--mail order.

Pale Nudes--Wise to the Heat

Strange and experimental but full of hooks--that defines almost everything Amy Denio touches, and certainly this disc. Pale Nudes is a group with Amy Denio working with some excellent and interesting German musicians. Amy Denio's sound (accordian, sax, her vocal techniques) is all over this, though. Wonderful! U.S. and Germany--mail order.

Portishead--Portishead

I like the production and love Beth Gibbon's voice. This is a lovely album that I like nearly as much as their first, and it might even wear better over time. Highly listenable, emotive, lots of guts and power. U.K.--widely available.

Pram--Gash

Yeah, Pram makes some pretty weird sounds. I love it. Toy pianos rule, and so does Pram's vocalist Rosie, who sings like she's on a floor that's tilting below her feet. Damn delightful stuff. Not for the faint of heart, but will charm the socks off other people. Like me. Or someone else you've never met. I would give other albums of theirs a higher priority than this one if you've never heard them, but it's still way good. U.K., but they're on a totally obscure Seattle label I've never heard of before and I live in Seattle. Mail order, I think.

Red Stars Theory--But Sleep Came Slowly

Mostly male vocals (though Lois Maffeo guests on one track). Rock in the Low, slow vein made by excellent musicians. I like their sound and what they do musically and sonically, but they need a stronger vocalist (like Lois) to really make this stand out. As it is, it's great listening and shows a lot of promise. U.S.--indie--mail order.

Siddal--the crossing [199?]
Siddal--mystery and the sea ep

I just discovered this group this year, though I'd heard some pieces here and there before. This is dreamy, atmospheric, ethereal pop in the Area/Hex/An April March vein. U.S.--indie, mail order.

Sarah Slean--Universe EP [currently cassette only]

Well, it's clear that her sound is maybe a little too like Tori Amos no matter how she might not want it to be and she's a little young, but boy did these songs stick in my head and prove themselves playable over and over and over again (yes, this was another obsession). She's got a lovely voice and a good sense of song structure and she's only going to grow from here. I really enjoy this tape and look forward to hearing more from her! Canadian--at shows only.

Velvet Belly--Lucia

Great, smooth vocals. I love this when I listen to it, but somehow doesn't seem quite as memorable to me as their previous two albums Window Tree and The Landing. Still a good album, though, and the lead singer's voice is a delight to listen to. Norway.

Gabriel Yacoub--Babel

There's something about French folkrocker Gabriel Yacoub's voice and sensibility that I just love, and so far I think I'm the only person I know who loves him and Malicorne's later work so excessively. Ah well, it may be because of my weird tastes for both traditional and experimental music. This, his new disc is another wonderful collection of his work. While maybe not as earthshattering to me as his previous disc, Quatre which is one of my Desert Island Discs, this also has musical moments so wonderful I can hardly bear to listen to them without trying to sit you all down to listen to them, too. This man knows how to craft a melody so it hits your spine and makes your heart leap. Or mine at least. France--mail order in U.S.

Some other music of note in my year

An April March--It Goes Without Saying

More of their ethereal rock--lovely vocals over swirling, guitar with some crunchy beats. If you like this type of music and their previous work you will like this. Canadian--U.S. label--mail order.

Anita Best--Crosshanded

Great a capella renderings of traditional Newfoundland folk songs (Celtic in origin). Anita Best has a lovely voice, and if you like simply presented traditional music, get this disc! Canadian--mail order.

Brigid Boden--Brigid Boden [1996]

Pop-disco-world-Celtic, this is a lively one. Brigid Boden has a sweet voice and she bounces up traditional songs. It's a lot of fun, but not something I listen to a lot. Not sure where this is from. Ireland? Canada? The version I have is from A&M Canada.

Sam Brown--Box

Well, sadly Sam Brown is back to her pre-43 Minutes sound again. I enjoy this every once in a while, but I connected so strongly with 43 Minutes that I had hoped I would like this more. Ah well. U.K.

Meryn Cadell--6 blocks

With her third (and first indie) album, Meryn Cadell seems to be concentrating more on songs rather than performance pieces. The music is quite wonderful, and of course so is her voice, but it somehow it just doesn't grab me as much as I would think it would have. Some great background vox by Mary Margaret O'Hara.

Eliza Carthy and Nancy Kerr--Shape of Scrape

Good renditions of trad. folk. Lively reels. I prefer Eliza Carthy's other work better, though. U.K.

Martin Carthy--Sweet Wivelsfield [reissue] Martin Carthy--Landfall [reissue]

Not my absolute favourites of Martin Carthy's work, but still highly listenable and I love the way he presents traditional folk with his brilliant guitar work and his expressive voice. U.K.--available in U.S. in stores that carry a good selection of world folk.

Clan Alba--Clan Alba [1996]

I should have liked this more , but I guess it goes to show how weird my tastes are in trad. folk music. This album is a kind of supergroup of Scottish traditional musicians and singers, and basically I find it uninspiring. I listen to it and I wanted it badly when I heard of it and heard discussion of it on a couple of Celtic folk lists, but I don't love it. I expected something more, though I'm not sure what that more is. U.K.--mail order only.

Emm Gryner--the original leap year

This is pretty mainstream pop for me, but there are a couple of songs on here, including "49 Days from Alcatraz" that stuck in my head pretty well. Canadian.

Sara Craig--Miss Rocket

After the astounding Sweet Exhaust and the previous, wonderful, Sara Craig EP this was a bit of a disappointment to me. Quite pop. A lot of fun, but the songs haven't worn as well on me. There are wonderful moments and Sara's voice never disappoints. I just don't find it as compelling as her earlier work. Canadian.

Indigo Falls--Indigo Falls

Occasionally a little overwrought, this album has some lovely moments, especially when they seem to be letting the music going where it wants and aren't trying quite so hard. I kinda want to tell them to just ease up and let go. Especially the overuse of synths and the guitars squalling. Passe, honey. Let the voice and compositions take over. They want to, you know. But just when I think this is too forced and artificial for my taste there's something lovely. U.K.

Lanterna/Scenic--Live Recordings [single]

I don't listen to the Scenic part of this. But this reminds me that Henry Frayne is a brilliant guitarist. He creates emotional soundscapes like no one else. Heaven. Only iffy because I can't much be bothered with the Scenic part of this and it is only a single. U.S.--mail order from Parasol.

Low--Songs for a Dead Pilot

More of Low's slow rock. Bleak. And there's actually one repeated guitar cord that drive me mad. Still, what Low is doing can be intriguing. Is this a concept album?? U.S.--widely available or mail order.

Pamela Morgan--On A Wing And A Prayer

Very smooth pop. Doesn't usually hit within my radar, but her work in Figgy Duff and with Anita Best made me notice her stunning voice. If I listen to it and not the songs, I love this. Those with a more friendly relationship with smooth pop will LOVE this. Canadian.

Muzsikas & Marta Sebestyan--Morning Star

Apparently this is an album of studio recordings of their best-received work from their concerts. If you like world music, especially Eastern European, you will love this. They are great live. Marta Sebestyen's voice is strong throughout. Not sure why I'm not more excited by this, though--I prefer The Prisoner's Song or Blues for Transylvania or Marta Sebestyan's early solo work. Hungarian--widely available in U.K. and U.S.

Beth Orton--Trailer Park

Really, really uneven. A couple of the songs are way catchy and others I can't bear to listen to and have to hit the skip button. Still the good stuff is so compelling I'll put it in my player, but not often. U.S.? U.K.? Widely available.

Perfume Tree--tide's out ep

More of Perfume Tree's noisy, ethereal rock. There are great moments in this, but I found it a little less consistently interesting than some of their previous recordings, esp. A Lifetime Away. Still, if you like their sound, you will like this. Canadian.

Pet--Pet [1996?]

I picked this up used because the fact that Tori Amos produced this made me curious about it. It's heavy-ish mainstream alternative rock, with female vocals. The lead singer's voice is not that unlike Tori's. I enjoy this when I listen to it, but it doesn't call to me from the shelves. U.S.--widely available.

Maddy Prior--Flesh & Blood

Maddy Prior's voice is as strong and expressive as ever. This is collection of mostly traditional songs and songs based on traditional tropes by Prior and her husband, Rick Kemp. I enjoy most of the material very much, though I could do without some of the overwrought pop toward the end. Anyway, this is among the best of her recent solo albums. U.K.

Jane Siberry--Child

Jane is a genius, I know, and she's a favourite genius of mine. But I just don't like holiday music, and not even Jane can make me like it. This is my problem, I know. The version of "The Caravan" and "Hockey" are brilliant and I love them, but this is Xmas music, folks. My problem. Damn. This is in this final category because of my failings, not Jane's. Canadian, but widely available, at least this time of year.

Patti Smith--peace and noise

I loved Gone Again, but this album just doesn't make that much of an impression on me. I enjoy listening to it, but it hasn't got its hooks into me like Gone Again or her earlier, classic work. Like Dream of Life, this is good but not an insistent as my favourite of her work. Still, any Patti Smith has value to my ears. U.S.--widely available.

Sneaker Pimps--Becoming X

I loved this when I first heard it, but it didn't stand the test of time with me very well. Still, I spent a large part of 1997 listening to it. U.K.--widely available

Kinnie Star--Tidy

A strange mixture of spoken word, angry rock, noise, performance art. Canadian--widely available in U.S.

Steeleye Span--live at last! [reissue]
Steeleye Span--Original Masters [compilation reissue]
Steeleye Span--Storm Force Ten [reissue]
Steeleye Span--Sails of Silver [reissue]
Steeleye Span--Time

Steeleye Span just ain't what they used to be. Still there are some wonderful songs on Time. It's just that these reissues show how great they were, even when they weren't necessarily in their prime. Live at Last is a delightful live recording of some great material. Original Masters is their first (as far as I know at least) compilation album--I got it when I first fell for Steeleye Span and it has my favourite of their songs on it. Storm Force Ten has two great Bertold Brecht/Kurt Weill covers on it and some of Steeleye Span's best neo-trad songwriting on it. Sails of Silver has a couple of good neo-trad songs, like "Gone To America". U.K. special order (reissues), widely available (Time)

Stereolab--Dots and Loops

I find this album a little uneven. I've never been fond of Stereolab's more pop side, and there's some display of that here, but some of these tracks that I like a lot. U.K.--widely available.

The Sundays--static and silence

I always liked The Sundays but never loved them and was hoping this album would make the difference. Sadly, no. They're always compared to Innocence Mission, but somehow they've never grabbed me like Innocence Mission have. A very pleasant, enjoyable listen but this isn't the album that's going to make me a big fan of theirs. U.K.--widely available.

June Tabor--aleyn

I love June Tabor's voice--it's deep and expressive and is shown off well in this collection of songs. I still like her versions of traditional songs and contemporary ballads best--and have some problems with some of the cheesy backup of the pop songs. Ah well, she does a great version of Richard Thompson's "The Great Valerio" and of "Bentley and Craig" (a ballad about the two kids whose story was the basis for the movie Let Him Have It . The best of her recent recordings IMO. U.K.--widely available.

Suzanne Vega--nine objects of desire

Why can't this music stick in my head? I enjoy it when I listen to it, but it melts away in my memory as though it never existed. I can remember nearly every song on her first album. U.S.--widely available.

Waterson:Carthy--common tongue

I love their first album, and like this a lot. A couple of the songs make me hit the repeat button a lot, but the jigs and reels just don't do it for me on album. I like them live, but I guess I need to see the musicians to enjoy them. I love all three of the voices, though, and Martin Carthy's guitar work and Eliza Carthy's violin. U.K.--widely available.

Wendy Wall--Wendy Wall [not 1997, can't remember the year]

I picked this up cheaply after hearing people comparing her voice to Happy Rhodes'. Yes, there are similarities, and I kind of like this disc. U.S.--indie.

Weeping Tile--valentino

I still like Sarah Hammer's voice and the way this group sounds, but this hasn't reminded me to put it in the player. This isn't quite as outright noisy indie rock as Cold Snap nor is it as folky as their eepee. I think I need to listen to it more, and I think it will reward more listening especially as I think the band enjoys what they're doing. Makes such a difference. Canadian--I've spotted it in the U.S.

1995's favourite discs § 1996's favourite discs § 1997's favourite discs § 1998's favourite discs § 1999's favourite discs § 2001's favourite discs


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