Best CDs of 1998

  1. Permutation Amon Tobin (Ninja Tune) Endlessly listenable, Tobin’s latest full-length mostly eschews the Brazilian native’s bossa-nova penchant for cut-up variations on classic jazz.

  2. Form & Function Photek (Science/Astralwerks) Rarified to his fans, antiseptic to his (mistaken) detractors, Photek sums up his early drum’n’bass work with a combination of archival material and remixes.

  3. Sound for Spaces Scanner (Sub Rosa) Burbling, threatening ambience pervades this collection of site-specific work by the British musician who is obsessed with surveillance and the shape of the human voice.

  4. Music Is Rotted One Note Squarepusher (Warp/Nothing) Gone are the cheeky themes and percussively aberrant drum-machine exercises. Here, Squarepusher rekindles early jazz fusion, at times abrasively funky, at others splendidly spacey.

  5. LP5 Autechre (Warp/Nothing) A MiniDisc-only release got Autechre (aka Gescom) much of its press this past year, but it was the duo’s latest full-length that truly cemented their seniority in experimental audio.

  6. chotto matte a moment! icu (K) Like Tortoise, World Standard and the Tied & Tickled Trio, icu mixes up live instrumentation and electronic skills. The trio’s brand of threadbare party music is sure to please.

  7. Mold Praxis (Yikes) Bill Laswell releases so much music, he’s due to produce a gem like this group project on occasion. The CD consists of tidy cinematic cues — think Oval remixing Peter Gabriel.

  8. Country Gazette World Standard (Asphodel) Taken literally, “country music” suggests a landscape of sounds. This international quartet mixes various string instruments with select electronic effects to evoke the exoticness of home.

  9. Consumed Plastikman (Novamute) Richie Hawkins suggests techno, long the bastion of flailing mechanized dance numbers, as a highly nuanced act of introspection.

  10. We Are Reasonable People Various artists (Warp) The Blue Note of electronica labels releases a state-of-the-music compilation. The highlight Aphex Twin squares off with Squarepusher. Also aboard Plaid, Plone, Red Snapper, and others.

Train Train, 16 Samples Long

Do the reputedly chaotic rhythms of drum’n’bass seem too synchronized for your tastes? Do quirky sound bites bore you, especially when they appear atop thoughtlessly danceable beats. Then Chessie, born Stephen Gardner, is your man. After upending the guitar strumming that opens the album Signal Series (Dropbeat) with a rising tide of synthesized tonal baubles, Chessie never quite restores the album’s equilibrium — and the listener is all the more fortunate for it. Tracks layer so much field-recording material (trains are a fave), analog musicianship and digital percussion that no single entry proves characteristic of the record as a whole. Nonetheless, a languid, song-like feel informs much of the album, especially on the brief, Eno-esque “Landjet” and slowly warping “Shasta.” If you can’t find the full-length, keep your eyes out for a 7″ that Chessie released earlier, featuring two songs (“Approach Limited” and “The Last Lie I Ever Told”) destined for Signal Series.