Sunday, February 11, 2007

Best of: 1997

Then: Still editing/writing for the Collegian; started interning for the Philadelphia City Paper, more specifically, their short-lived quarterly music mag Earshot. At the time, my pick of the year was Ben Folds Five’s Whatever and Ever Amen (Sony 550). I had a pretty strong fixation on this band throughout the bulk of my college years. Maybe that seems odd, but I’m a sucker for unabashed hooks and the heartfelt/humorous dichotomy. And yet, I have not listened to this album in about six years.

Now: I did not know what to make of Cotton Mather’s Kontiki (Copper) at first. Boy, I thought, they really want to be The Beatles, or maybe just Squeeze. But songs like “My Before and After” and “Homefront Cameo” wore me down, with such resilient melodies, perfectly baited hooks and bizarrely elliptical lyrics (“Cracked the code on the Rosetta stone/Said the word for ‘alone’ is ‘alone’”). “My Before and After” (the source of that lyric) particularly is the great lost perfect pop song. Everything’s there for a reason: the snare-drum thwacks, the peeling guitar riffs, the chorus piano. The Austin, TX-based Cotton Mather became a semi-sensation among power-pop aficionados (always a double-edged sword, that), but their existence was just elusive enough to make them more of a rumor than a real band, one of the great secret stories of indie-rock.

(In fact, just as I was planning this entry, I finally tracked down CM frontman Robert Harrison. His new band Future Clouds and Radar has a self-titled double-disc debut due out on April 24. For a particularly promising entry from this outfit, check here.)


Anonymous Bob said...

I know we've had this conversation before, but I will again state my belief that 1997 was a particularly great year for music. If my past lookings-up didn't lie to me, Kon Tiki, OK Computer, In It For The Money, Blur, Tone Soul Evolution, Either/Or, Dig Me Out and R&B Transmogrification were all that year, along with well-regarded albums in the field of Music By Older People like Time Out Of Mind, Flaming Pie and Fogerty's Blue Moon Swamp.

Having listened to both Ben Folds Five and Whatever and Ever Amen sort of recently, the former definitely held up better relatively speaking, I thought.

In 1997, I would have gone with OK Computer or Blur, and unhip as it may be, I'd probably say the same today, freely admitting that I probably like Blur more than most people, as long as you cut off before "Essex Dogs."

All that said, I'd put Kon Tiki right there with both as a contender and I listened to it as much or more as the other two then and even now. Even have it in with me today, actually. Of songs you didn't mention, "Autumn's Birds" is a great closer, but my favorite on there by far is "Aurora Bori Alice" for its odd warbly sound and the boy loves girl who loves constellations more storyline.

I think, favoring that and "Strange News From Another Star" so much, I may just like songs with space in them. Almost as much as songs about pirates and doomed ships...but that's for 1998.

10:03 AM  

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