Yeah, you read right- the Grammys are tonight, meaning it's about time for the second annual Timmy Awards- my take on the best music for the previous year. Finished compiling this list just under the usual, I got a little wordy. Print it out and read it on the train if necessary- this is the annual answer to "You have so much music- hear anything good lately?"

Last year I tried doing the whole category system- Best Song, Best Duo or Group, etc.- and I really had to stretch to find some nominees. This year I decided to just list my favorite 25 albums with a few words on each. I put them in order of preference at this particular moment- #15 has been moving up the list the past couple of days, so the rankings aren't necessarily carved in stone, but #1 will never be #25 and vice versa.

Mind you, I don't have the privilege of receiving albums in the mail for free, so if something seems conspicuous in its absence, it's probably because I haven't heard it. Or maybe it sucked.

I'm adding the Timmy Lifetime Achievement Award this year. It seemed like Carlos Santana had a good chance of getting his first Timmy in this category, but then an unexpected death changed all of that. The TLA (how cute) goes to Screamin' Jay Hawkins. I wonder how many people at his wake expected him to get up out of his coffin.

The envelopes, please...

derailers.jpg (15747 bytes) 25. The Derailers- Full Western Dress: The only Timmy awarded to a country album, the cover of this one features the fellas wearing snappy cowboy clothes in an NYC Subway train. Produced by Dave Alvin (formerly of the Blasters) and featuring Buck Owens on one track, this is a nice cheery update of 50's-60's style country- the type of album Dwight Yoakum used to make...
addntox.jpg (12368 bytes) 24. Add N to (X)- Avant Hard: This is music by Robots for Robots. Titles include Steve's Going To Teach Himself Who's Boss, Buckminister Fuller, Ann's Eveready Equestrian and Machine Is Bored With Love. Lots of weird bleeping and gurgling noises. It's a little hard to listen to at times, but in a challenging way rather than being (too) annoying.
barber.jpg (11551 bytes) 23. Patricia Barber- Companion: Recorded live at the Green Mill, this album has pianist/organist/vocalist Ms. Barber and her swingin' jazz combo tackling Sonny & Cher's "The Beat Goes On", Bill Withers' "Use Me", and "Black Magic Woman". There are a few originals as well, but it's obviously the covers and the low price tag the are designed to suck in new fans. I think it works.
djlogic.jpg (6192 bytes) 22. DJ Logic- DJ Logic presents Project Logic: Not the most adept turntablist I've heard this year, but he manages to use his instrument well in a band format. Medeski Martin & Wood, Vernon Reid and Mark Ribot all join in here, contributing to a very modern-sounding funk jazz record.
gomez.jpg (10119 bytes) 21.Gomez- Liquid Skin: A runner-up for the '98 Best New Artist Timmy, these fellas mix British blues with Oasis style pop. They start to stretch out a little more here than they did on their debut, suggesting that there may be a future for them and their style of (dare I say it) album-oriented rock.
green.jpg (11937 bytes) 20. Benny Green- These Are Soulful Days: My favorite jazz artist performing today tackles standards from the Blue Note back catalog. Just piano, guitar and bass here- no drums required. A nice selection of tunes, too- nothing that struck me as being too obvious or often covered, but good, solid songs.
handsome.jpg (13002 bytes) 19. Handsome Boy Modeling School- So...How's Your Girl?: Any group that gets their name from a "Get A Life" episode is a shoe-in for this list. That they sample Chris Elliott and Father Guido Sarducci makes a guest appearance brings this one a little closer to the top. Perhaps it's yet to grow on me fully or maybe I'm expecting too much from Prince Paul and the Automator, or maybe I'm outgrowing rap a little, but this album gets a little bogged down too often to be any higher.
highllamas.jpg (10965 bytes) 18. The High Llamas- Snowbug: A little Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, a little bossa-nova, and a whole lot of smoooth. A light, loungy record that does a nice job setting a mood and sticking to it. Modern music for cocktail parties, or Steely Dan for indie-rock nerds. A good listen.
betaband.jpg (17318 bytes) 17. The Beta Band- The Beta Band: Weird, adventurous, goofy- the Beta Band is all these things and more. Their everything-including-the-kitchen-sink instrumentation and willingness to experiment make them a band to pay attention to; their penchant for long, sprawling songs that veer off in various directions make them a band you hope gets better. Monty Python, The Bonzo Dog Band, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson are reference points. If that doesn't scare you off, you should check this one out.
velvetcrush.jpg (11938 bytes) 16. The Velvet Crush- Free Expression: A pure pop record belongs somewhere on this list, and here it is. Produced by Matthew Sweet, who's obviously a reference point sound-wise, the boys of VC appear to be a little happier than ol' Matt. That may make them a little too sweet (sorry) in some circles, but not mine.
widney.jpg (14356 bytes) 15. The Kids of Widney High- Let's Get Busy: The second album by these very special kids from a very special high school. The kids tackle topics that affect us all, like being afraid to go to the doctor, seeing pretty girls everywhere, and having a party with MC Hammer records. The album is great for all the wrong reasons and several of the right reasons, too.
cray.jpg (11665 bytes) 14. The Robert Cray Band- Take Your Shoes Off: How many years has it been since "Smokin' Gun"? RC has been kicking around for awhile, playing passable modern blues. Nothing spectacular in my book, but it's not my favorite genre, either. Here he takes Stax/Hi/Muscle Shoals sounds, working more often than not. A great collection of soul songs, the best of which would sound natural coming after an Al Green or Otis Redding tune.
magmetic.jpg (7275 bytes) 13. Magnetic Fields- 69 Love Songs: Living up to its title, this is 69 songs about all aspects of love stretched out over 3 cds. Stephin Merrit's voice wears thin quickly, so thankfully he invites along a lot of friends to share the vocal duties. He can write a mean song in a number of different styles however, and he does a great job covering all the different facets of the L word.
orton.jpg (8254 bytes) 12. Beth Orton: Central Reservation: The second album from this folk singer with the modern beats behind her. Her very British voice is generally charming, but can wear thin by the album's end. Other than that, the lyrics are strong and the music is both interesting and instantly enjoyable. Not a perfect album, but watch out for her...
chemical.jpg (16230 bytes) 11. The Chemical Brothers- Surrender: The fellas who proved with Dig Your Own Hole that "electronica" (or whatever you want to call it) can work in album format are back again- and while this is a good solid work, I feel like I heard this on their last album. And my favorite track on this album, Let Forever Be- with Noel Gallager from Oasis, reminds me of Setting Sun from the last one which had who on vocals? That's right. Here's hoping they try something different next time...
macy.jpg (11000 bytes) 10. Macy Gray- On How Life Is: Speaking of voices that can wear a little thin, Macy's is generally enjoyable, but by the time track 10 rolls around, well, I want to hear someone else. I'm often leery of albums that have this many production and co-writing credits, too (and she shares a lot of those people with Fiona Apple). So as far as long-term goes, who knows about Macy Gray. For now, this is one good album that works pretty well all the way through. And "I Try" is my song of the year- a bittersweet love song which will undoubtedly be covered by some SuperDiva somewhere down the road.
EBTG.jpg (10716 bytes) 9. Everything But The Girl- Temperamental: The story is starting to get a little familiar- pretty, haunting female vocals over the latest dance beats. If it didn't start with EBTG, they've certainally become the masters of this style. The backing tracks are varied enough and the vocals fit in perfectly.
junglebros.jpg (16605 bytes) 8. Jungle Brothers- V.I.P.: I may be cheating a little with this one, as it was released in the UK in 1999 but won't be available stateside for another two weeks. Tim's house, Tim's rules, though, and this disc impressed me for being up-tempo and catchy- two things that are usually said about only the most mainstream rap releases. Even then, you'll usually get a good single and an album of filler. This one is pretty solid throughout, and seeing as how it was produced by one of the Propellerheads, it mixes in some dance grooves to keep things moving along. Bonus points for sampling the theme from "I Dream of Jeannie" on the title track.
moby.jpg (9795 bytes) 7. Moby- Play: Now we're getting into the real meat of the awards. A little bit of everything all blended together and it all comes out as a pretty exciting and original album. The Delta-blues samples drew me into this one, but there are a lot of other styles to keep this one from becoming a one trick pony. Docked a couple of points for allowing the Kirstie Alley vehicle "Veronica's Closet" for using Bodyrock as its opening theme. Dock me several points for actually knowing that.
football-nfc.jpg (10250 bytes) football-afc.jpg (9972 bytes) 6. DiskothiQ- The Football Albums: If you thought 69 Love Songs was high concept, check this out- an indie-rock band from California with a really crappy name decides to record a song based upon every NFL team (with a bonus song for L.A.). Released simultaneously on two CDs (one AFC, one NFC), they pull this concept off more often then not. The best songs are clever mixes of catchy guitar pop and sports geek lyrics. The worst songs are over fairly quickly. Here's hoping they tackle baseball next- I'm reserving a top 5 spot for it next year.
flaming.jpg (10341 bytes) 5. The Flaming Lips- The Soft Bulletin: They've come a long way, baby. Who'd have guessed a few years ago that the Lips were capable of putting out an album as lush and orchestral as this one. But here it is. They're still the Flaming Lips, if perhaps a bit (gulp) kinder and gentler. Downright impressive.
looper.jpg (9679 bytes) 4. Looper- Up A Tree: Side project of the bassist from Scottish darlings Belle & Sebastian, Looper takes the precious pop of B & S and adds, you guessed it, electronics (seems to be a bit of a them this year). From childlike references and samples of kids playing, to recited vocals about two very shy penpals falling in love, this album is like the perfect glass of lemonade- light and utterly refreshing.
beck.jpg (12909 bytes) 3. Beck- Midnite Vultures: Beck is back, and he's put together one funky soul album- well, his version of a soul album. It's a pretty solid effort throughout, starting with the horn-driven 60's style Sexx Laws through the last cut, Debra- a downright hilarious Prince-like affair that includes the line "Lady, step inside my Hyundai". Genius.
magnolia.jpg (14029 bytes) 2. Aimee Mann- Magnolia Soundtrack: First off, I thought the movie was great on its own merits, but it also afforded me the chance to sit and listen to music I would normally shake off as fodder for the VH1/Starbucks crowd. Aimee Mann never knocked me out in the past, but I admittedly never gave her a fair shot. Great songs, great performance, and the help from Michael Penn and his sometimes Penn/Fiona Apple sidekick Jon Brion doesn't hurt either. Some of these tunes are real knockouts, and there are few, if any, duds. What kept this from #1? Two things. First, the gushing liner notes from P.T. Anderson. Buddy, I already bought the album if I'm reading your notes inside- quit trying to sell it. And settle down- the music's great, so let it speak for itself. Secondly, how could I be comfortable with myself for the next year knowing my self-proclaimed album of the year had two Supertramp songs on it?
beulah.gif (12691 bytes) 1. Beulah- When Your Heartstrings Break: My album of the year by default, if nothing else. I first heard last spring and it was my favorite album of the year at the time, bar none. As the year progressed, it kept finding its way back into my skull. When compiling this list, I knew it would be near the top. Once things started shaping up, I found few reasons not to have this at number 1. Well, it starts to sound a bit repetitive by the end, and the lyrics are a bit...obtuse. Other than that, what you have here is the perfect update of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, one of my favorite all times albums. Vocal harmonies, horns, strings, breezy melodies, it's all here. I always feel better after hearing this album than I did before, and I can't think of much higher praise than that. Oh, and the final track is called "If We Can Land A Man On The Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart". I like that.

Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom...or scrolling down to see how long this thing was. Either way, thanks. A compilation tape of the winners is in the works, if anyone is interested...


Note: I've used the images of album covers on this site so that if anyone reads this and is inspired to buy these albums, they know what they look like. Anyone from these record labels who would like me to add copyright information or remove any of these images, let me know. Thanks.

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