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If you really sit down and think about A.D. 1998, what comes to mind? I tell you what comes to my mind...status quo. Everywhere you look, people are content. Interest rates are lower, gasoline costs less than a buck a gallon, and there's no shortage of Ben and Jerry's at the local market. What's there to get upset about? Even the Lewinsky/Clinton/impeachment affair, which could potentially send this country crumbling back down to the dire financial straits of the late `70s, has failed to shake the American consciousness enough to get people riled up to buck the system. Which brings me to my point...it's difficult to make music that matters when everything else is peachy keen. Hence, the rise of Boy Bands like `N Sync, the Backstreet Boyeeeeezs (zzz!), and Boyzone. Happiness is the currency that counts right now, and while times like these make for great pop singles, the songs lack in cultural importance and fade from memory when the seasons change. That being said, there were still a lot of really GOOD songs and albums released this year that deserve some props, so without further ado, the fourth annual Grahammy music awards...

Honorable Mentions: Beastie Boys, "
Intergalactic"; Harvey Danger, "Flagpole Sitta"; Fatboy Slim, "The Rockafeller Skank"
10) Saint Etienne, "
Sylvie" - This song sounds like a sunny, breezy springtime afternoon.
9) Dario G, "
8) The Verve, "
Lucky Man" - Happiness, more or less.
7) JD Featuring Jay-Z, "
Money Ain't A Thang" - I don't like it if it don't gleam gleam, and this track definitely gleam gleams.
6) Bernard Butler, "
Stay" - Ex-Suede ax man goes solo with grandiose results.
5) Hole, "
Malibu" - A breathtakingly gorgeous ode that sways like a California palm tree.
4) Placebo, "
Pure Morning" - Balls out rock, plain and simple.
3) Pras Featuring ODB and Maya, "
Ghetto Supastar" - I can't wait for the "Coward of the County" remix.
2) Brandy and Monica, "
The Boy Is Mine" - The sexiest catfight since Teri Hatcher and Charlize Theron in "2 Days In The Valley."
Natalie Imbruglia, "Torn" - Pure pop perfection. If there was ever a song that was the equivalent of a Pixy Stick, this is it. Highly addictive and ultimately pretty empty, but very, very tasty.

Honorable Mentions: Catatonia, "
International Velvet"; Jesus & Mary Chain, "Munki"; Massive Attack, "Mezzanine"
10) Spinanes, "
arches and aisles" - Sparsely accompanied by subtle percussion, Rebecca Gates' breathy voice and lovelorn lyrics alone are worth the price of admission.
9) Neutral Milk Hotel, "
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" - The album begins with the lyric "When you were young you were the King of Carrot Flowers" and gets more obtuse from there; the most unique sounding record of the year, it combines acoustic guitars with everything from theremins to short-wave radio static.
8) Hooverphonic, "
Blue Wonder Power Milk" - If the Cocteau Twins and Bjork combined their DNA, you still couldn't get an album as lush and exciting as this.
7) Placebo, "
Without You I'm Nothing" - And this album shall rock. But wait! It'll make you swoon too. Frontman Brian Molko sounds like Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys) on crystal.
6) Bob Dylan, "
Live: 1966, The Royal Albert Hall Concert" - Believe it or not, Dylan used to be young and fresh and cocky. This landmark album will go down in history as a document of the pinnacle moment in the career of America's all-time greatest songwriter. Essential.
5) Hole, "
Celebrity Skin" - Abound with sonic sheen and California dreams, Courtney Hole stepped up to the plate, pointed to the fences and smacked a...triple. Derivative? Probably. Brilliant? Not quite. Worth owning? Damn straight.
4) Belle & Sebastian, "
The Boy With The Arab Strap" - One of the more prolific bands in recent memory (three EP's and two LP's in the last 18 months), this Glaswegian sextet gets better and better on each successive outing. From "Is It Wicked Not To Care" (which delightfully recalls the twee sound of Talulah Gosh) to the plaintive "Chickfactor" to the rollicking title track, B & S is a band on the run.
3) Air, "
Moon Safari" - Wow. I went to France last year, and other than Julie Delpy Wartinsmooth, I thought all French people sucked. I was wrong. "Moon Safari" perfectly describes the journey this duo takes you on. Their subtle electronica sound is cosmopolitan and hip without being pretentious...Serge Gainsbourg meets the Orb over at Burt Bacharach's space age bachelor pad.
2) Liz Phair, "
whitechocolatespaceegg" - You know how when your little and you're watching a flick with your parents and they tell you "You're too young to understand this" and you laugh and go "Yeah right, empathy's my middle name"? Well, anyone under 30 IS too young to understand the complexities of this album (myself included). Nonetheless, this album is richly rewarding, both lyrically and musically. Alongside longtime producer Brad Wood, Scott Litt helped Liz step away from the DIY school and make an incredible studio record. Gems such as "Perfect World", "Polyester Bride" and "Uncle Alvarez" stand up to her best work from "Guyville", though it's totally an apples and oranges sitch. Liz Phair is THE definitive female artist of the 1990s.
1) Elliot Smith, "
XO" - Kurt is dead and gone and the world of music will never be the same. Every word he uttered was fraught with a weird hybrid of self-loathing, fragility and hope; in that sense, Elliot Smith is a kindred spirit. He's a grown-up version of one of those kids you remember from high school who sat in the back of the class and never raised their hand but when the teacher called on them, they said something totally unexpected and surprisingly brilliant. But instead of rocking out Pixies-style like Cobain, Elliot follows in the sensitive singer/songwriter sneakers of guys like Nick Drake. I mean, the guy wore a white suit (!) when he performed his out of nowhere hit "Miss Misery" on last year's Oscar ceremony, for chrissakes. Anyway, the fourteen songs on this major label debut shine with an amazing brilliance. "Waltz #2 (XO)" is the stand-out track on the first listen, mainly due to the heavenly combination of Smith's graceful acoustic guitar, engaging and fresh piano solos, and sulking violins. Repeated listens are essential and fun, especially when you are awarded with the brilliant harmonizing on "Bled White" (you'll find yourself listening to the song over and over, it's impossible not to), the Sgt. Pepper-ish "Baby Britain", and the full orchestra of "Waltz #1". But where this album really excels is in the way Smith's smooth voice flows like warm caramel over rough and poignant lyrics such as "...My feelings never change a bit / I always feel like shit / I don't know why, I just do" (on the brilliant acappella album closer "I Didn't Understand"). This album will burrow its way into your collection of favorite albums and reside on top of your stereo for years to come, guaranteed.

Okay, there's the beef. Thanks to those of you who ventured this far, and please feel free to exercise the First Amendment and let me know what you think.

The Funk Soul Brotha,