Words + Guitar (+ Beats + Skronk)

What mattered and what splattered in pop, 1997

2) 16 Horsepower, Low Estate (Import) This Denver threesome shuffle up somber backwoods country and deliverance blues of banjo, accordion, slide guitar, and righteous religious hellfire on their brooding second album.

3) Dead Moon live at the Kilowatt and Empty Bottle, Chicago The inspiration and energy consistently exuded by these sage lo-fi garage rock troubadours is more like a religious revival than a rock show.

4) Melvins, Honky The latest batch of the grunge progenitors' surly intellisludge sounds like a young, new band over-flowing with enthusiasm and ideas that hint at further explorations into electronics, atmospherics, metallics, and -- that's right -- hallucinogenics.

5) Junior Kimbrough, Most Things Haven't Worked Out Droning blues staggers hovering in an ethereal haze of ringing and chiming guitar tones and softly mumbled words are guided by the harmonizing blend of breathy drums, open-tuned guitars, and isolated necessity.

6) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The Boatman's Call At first listen, this St. Nick outing sounds like whistlin' pianoman Roger Whittaker. However, after a few listens the bare-bones melodies and twining piano, guitar, and drums beneath Cave's uncharacteristic swoons demonstrate an accomplished capacity for subtle harmonies.

7) Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space This utterly pretentious, yet uniquely fresh and heartfelt approach to cover songs is an intravenous dose of every hipster record collection in the universe condensed into one album. Just as his former band, Spacemen 3, built its name stealing ideas from and nodding (off) to particular bands, Jason Pierce actually filters and interprets only the finest selections from his -- and probably your own -- record collection into an album that immediately sounds like a treasured classic.

8) Chrome Cranks live at the Kilowatt These bloated, middle-aged men can rock harder and slink sexier than bands whose child-support payments probably come from these curmudgeons' royalty checks.

9) Sunshine live at Kito Junction, Prague, Czech Republic Sunshine are a remarkable swirl of Joy Division's desolation, MC5's power-chord frenzy, spastic art-punk, Jimi Hendrix's free-form meanderings, and entrancing acid rock. The exhausting live show is well worth the trip abroad.

10) Bad ideas getting worse a) Electronica, Trip Hop, Drum 'n' Bass: Point me the way to any of the ilk with a fraction of the intelligence and craft of the now-ancient electro-groundwork of Throbbing Gristle, Kraftwerk, and NON. Likewise, increasingly annoying are those goddamn cutesy space-alien and UFO graphics. b) Victim Rock, and its indie offshoot, Emo: Fiona Apple, Smog, Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, Sebadoh, Modest Mouse, Palace, Boy's Life, Live, etc. c) Independent Rock: Justifying music that sucks, but thankfully isn't corporate, indie rock continues to muddy the gene pool with insipid "jazz is punk" (Tortoise), '70s clichecore (Royal Trux, Helium), and coterie-clustering platitudes (Pavement, Sonic Youth, and the bazillion bands who mimic their every move). d) Reunions, reissues, and hangers-on.

Robert Arriaga's Top 10

1) DJ Cut Chemist vs. Shortkut live at Future Primitive Soundsessions IV The Future Primitive parties put two DJs who don't usually play together on five turntables and wait to see what happens. Something did happen: The phat beats and deft scratching bled through the speakers like a hemorrhage, and not a head in the room remained still.

2) G.B.H., Punk Junkies Just when it seemed they had gone irreversibly cheesy, G.B.H. shed the metal overtones of their previous three albums and returned to the old-school sound of pure punk rock. The latest release by this British hardcore group showed why they are still one of the greatest punk bands ever to sport 2-foot liberty spikes.

3) X-ecutioners live at the Justice League Of the three best DJ collectives -- Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Beat Junkies, and X-ecutioners -- only the latter master the visual art of body juggling. From cutting records with chins, elbows, and feet to the facial gymnastics of Mr. Sinister, the X-ecutioners put on an unbelievably good show.

4) Jumbo Shrimp live at the Chameleon Jumbo Shrimp -- featuring ex-Dead Kennedys Klaus Flouride and East Bay Ray -- usually toss a cover of the DK's "Too Drunk to Fuck" into their otherwise surfy set. "We have a rock star in the audience," said Ray at the Chameleon. Up popped former DK frontman Jello Biafra, who belted out his nasty lyrics and took me back to the first punk single I ever bought.

5) Dick and Trotsky from Subhumans/Culture Shock/Citizen Fish Merging dub and reggae with political punk, the Subhumans paved the way for what would become known as ska punk. Citizen Fish's newest album, Thirsty, proves that after 15 years, Dick's political dissection is as wry as 1982's trio of Subhumans singles, "Demolition War," "Reason for Existence," and "Religious Wars."

6) World Groove This Quango Records compilation, which combines hip-hop groove and world music spirituality, has spent more time in my CD player than any other album released this year.

7) Toy Dolls live at the Trocadero Anyone who skated in the '80s most likely spent at least one day trying to pull an air to the sounds of Toy Dolls. I'd never seen the Dolls live until this May Troc stop. As Olga made his one guitar sound like three, visions of method airs and hippie twists danced in my head.

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