Awesome '98 Albums You May Have Missed

A roundup of records by Aceyalone, Calexico, Hot Taco Thighs and others that deserved more attention this year.

With tens of thousands of albums issued each year, it's inevitable that some noteworthy

ones aren't going to get the attention they deserve.

Mixed in with the Holes, Beastie Boys, Lauryn Hills and Marilyn Mansons in 1998 were

records by a number of less famous artists who warrant time in CD players. Here are a

dozen good ones that may have flown under your radar this year. It's never too late to

catch up.

Aceyalone, The Book of Human Language (ProjectBlowed): The once

and future Freestyle Fellowship rapper dropped what may be the deepest hip-hop album

of the year. Aceyalone tackles the mortality of both man and hip-hop over jazz-fusion

loops in a poetry-slam atmosphere. He labels his songs "chapters," because the

questions they ask and the answers they give require the listener to sit down for a while

to fully digest them. (Randy Reiss)

Dave Alvin, Blackjack David (Hightone): The earthy sounds on Alvin's

sixth solo album surely would find a home in the collections of those who embrace the

No Depression movement. As a solo artist, the former Blasters songwriter has followed a

quieter muse. These songs ask you to sit for a spell and live with their characters, who

reveal themselves over time. (Chris Nelson)

Buck, Buck (Sympathy for the Record Industry): After the pop-punk

princesses in Cub decided to call it a day, singer/bassist Lisa Marr hightailed it from

Vancouver to L.A. and formed Buck. This debut disc is grittier than Marr's previous work,

but it's chock-full of melody. I'm down with any song that opens with the line, "She looks

like a witch but she dances like a chicken," as "Hex Me" does. (CN)

Calexico, Black Light (Quarterstick): Shimmering, slithering high-desert

(mostly) instrumentals from two charter members of Tucson's meandering band, Giant

Sand. Spooky, shifty-yet-sleek songs, such as "Gypsy's Curse," "Where Water Flows"

and "Over Your Shoulder," sound like a flying saucerful of mariachis landing just over the

hills at night. (Gil Kaufman)

Cinerama, Va Va Voom (SpinART): Smart, lounge-y, faux-Europop from

David Gedge, former frontman of indie-pop kings the Wedding Present. Bitter, often

funny lyrics are offset by sophisticated arrangements and lush instrumentation. (Nick

Tangborn)

The Coup, Steal This Album (DogDay): Although this album is heavy on

the politics, it's a lean, mean hip-hop machine when it comes to tight lyrics and funky

beats. While a live band recreates loops from the likes of P-Funk and Prince, the Coup's

Boots and DJ Pam The Funkstress shoot at anything that moves, and they often score

bull's-eyes. (RR)

The Demonics, Formaldehyde Injection (Man's Ruin): Pure greaser rawk

'n' roll, with an appropriate emphasis on hot rods and girls. The song titles "Jesus

Chrysler Super Stock" and "Hellhound for Booty" say it all. (CN)

Hieroglyphics, 3rd Eye Vision (Hieroglyphics Imperium): Del The Funkee

Homosapien, Souls of Mischief and Casual are stellar hip-hop acts on their own, but this

posse album (which also includes newcomers the Prose) is greater than the sum of its

parts. The bohemian hip-hop on 3rd Eye Vision balances memorable, soulful

hooks that don't rely on easy-to-recognize samples; multiple, unique voices that don't

feel crowded; and star power galore. (RR)

Hot Taco Thighs, Suck My Sound (self-released): This hard-to-find hunk

of dementia contains the most twisted rock 'n' roll I heard all year. (It came recommended

by the Memphis Goons' Xavier Tarpit, if that tells you anything.) The unpolished sound

ain't for the faint of heart, but "Love You Like a Friend" shows this New York band is

headed in the right -- albeit warped -- direction. "Why Is She With the Old Man" and

"Body By Mother F---er" are masterworks as titles alone. Check out the band yourself at

hottacothighs.org, which features MP3 sound clips from the album. (CN)

Refused, The Shape of Punk to Come (Epitaph): This Swedish

hardcore outfit crashed and burned on the eve of its American debut. It's too bad,

because the album title is no idle boast. The sharply left-leaning Refused meld samples

into their distortion and cellos into their grinding guitars, resulting in an agile album that's

as heavy as any punk record released this year. (CN)

Stereo Total, Juke-Box Alarm (Bungalow): These German synth-poppers

sing in German, French and English (at least); they worship disco, garage-rock, French

chansons, cheesy pop and Holiday Inns; they record on a lower budget than your

little brother could muster; and their third album is one of the most charming, oddball pop

records anyone's made since the Vaselines packed it in. If you've worn out your old

Serge Gainsbourg records and want to move back into the '90s, try starting here. (Matty

Karas)

System of a Down, System of a Down (American Recordings): Who

would've guessed the future of heavy metal could be found by adding some electric

oomph to riffs from Middle Eastern folk songs? System of a Down's self-titled debut is a

testosterone- and brainpower-fueled assault on the eardrums, in the best way possible.

(RR)