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Words + Guitar (+ Beats + Skronk) 

What mattered and what splattered in pop, 1997

Wednesday, Dec 31 1997
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Jeff Stark's Top 10 Records Released in 1997

1) (tie) Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space The Perfect Prescription, Spacemen 3's finest record, actualized the peaks and comedowns of an LSD trip; in his spin-out band Spiritualized, Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) has tried to approximate the sound of heroin over two records. This third Spiritualized full-length is as unpredictable as a pharmaceutical cocktail. (C'mon -- Dr. John and Spanish horns?!) In Pierce's fucked-up-inside head, drug use and love are so intertwined that each becomes a metaphor for the other: "I don't even feel it but Lord how I need it/ When I'm not with her I'm not all myself." And the sound of a man trying to empty the swirling noises in his head onto multitrack is sublime.

1) (tie) Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One Yo La Tengo's had it since 1993's Painful -- coincidentally when Ira Kaplan and company stopped pretending to be a noise band -- but they never got it this right. After making records for more than a decade, the New Jersey trio take chances that a younger band wouldn't dare -- starting the record with a quiet, wind-down instrumental, for instance -- and are still a band of fans, this time uncovering the Beach Boys and a song Anita Bryant made famous. One gripe: The riff in "Autumn Sweater" sounds suspiciously like it was lifted from U2's "The Fly." It almost ruins the song. Almost.

3) Portishead, Portishead There are three rogues in all of singer Beth Gibbons' tales: You, I, and We. The insular despair that results infuses her alien keening with frightening aches and moans, making for a voice so bizarre that it's difficult to figure out when she's using effects to help her along. In her songs, she's either devastated by sorrow or screeching with nastiness -- when she sings, "Render your heart to me," you can be forgiven for thinking she's talking about a meat grinder. And over it all, sound auteur Geoff Barrow layers crackling vinyl and samples of his own band. But the production here isn't as dense as everyone seems to thinks. Instead, Barrow allows each sound to breath or resonate, using repetition, forced silences, and pregnant pauses to create a tension that matches Gibbons' skewed emotionality.

4) Built to Spill, Perfect From Now On Doug Martsch's self-indulgent major-label opus challenges both the indie rockers who expect a logical continuance of the twee There's Nothing Wrong With Love and, one assumes, Warner Bros., which would have liked at least one song to clock in at a radio-friendly three minutes. Suckers. Perfect begins with a story about a boy using feather swipes to wear down a "metal sphere 10,000 times the size of Jupiter" to the size of a pea. That image dominates an album about fluctuating space, introductions, transitions, and codas. Listen quietly for the message uttered by Martsch's pentatonic workouts: "Hooks are easy; let's try a three-movement suite."

5) Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out It's almost spring and you're waiting. You scour the music-magazine release schedules like an old man scrutinizing his weather page. The squares on your calendar become a series of strikes on a score card. You finally hit the 10th frame and you march to the record store. There's a sign on the door: "Yes! We have the new Sleater-Kinney." You pay the man with dogeared dollar bills. You stare at the sidewalk on the way home and secretly brace yourself for a letdown. Finally -- finally -- you press play: Corin Tucker's vibrato wail wavers between catharsis and imperative; Carrie Brownstein barks back at Tucker; two competing, no complementing, guitar riffs echo the relationship between the two voices. For the next 35 minutes the force of songs about love and making rock 'n' roll is incidental. You feel like a blushing teen-ager, thankful for anticipation, thankful that someone cares enough to make rock fun.

6) Belle and Sebastian, If You're Feeling Sinister This eight-piece-plus group of lazy Scots crafts exquisite folk songs spiked with arsenic. Imagine Donovan on a mean streak, or Simon & Garfunkel embittered by waiting for the dole. The title track, evidenced by the line "She was into S/M and Bible studies/ Not everyone's cup of tea she would admit to me," is "Walk on the Wild Side" set in pastoral Great Britain.

7) Cut Chemist vs. Shortkut, Live at the Future Primitive Soundsession Volume One If 1996 was the year of the DJ, then 1997 was the year of the turntablist. On this tape, recorded live at a booming San Francisco hip-hop party, DJ Shortkut's marksmanship makes the needle wheeze, moan, and hiss with the lyrical personality of Hendrix's guitar licks -- really. Meanwhile Cut Chemist, the beatmeister behind Los Angeles hip-hoppers Jurassic 5, improvs like a jazzman, juggling the beats and samples with equal parts dexterity and soul. This isn't appropriation -- it's creativity served up steaming on a steel wheel. Cameo appearance by the explosive crowd, applauding so loud that the stylus picks up the cheers.

8) Old 97's, Too Far to Care The Most Likely to Succeed of the No Depression freshman class make a sophomore album with enough punk energy to appease the kids, and enough pain and drinking to speak to the adults. A-plus for lyrics: "I went through the motions with her on top and me on liquor."

9) Apples in Stereo, Tone Soul Revolution Apples frontman and Elephant 6 recording-genius-in-residence Robert Schneider takes his little band of adorable popsters where bedroom indie rockers fear to tread: the 24-track studio. The quartet emerge with an irony-free record best heard on headphones.

10) Beulah, Handsome Western States A California boy slacks through a summer in the Midwest, then comes back to San Francisco, where he meets an overtalented multi-instrumentalist in a Financial District mail room. The pair spend two years recording shitty guitars on a four-track in a tiny rehearsal space. Out pop 12 songs about thrift-store losers, being drunk, and leaving your heart in Kansas. Ooh ooh oohs? Yep. Catchy choruses? You betcha. Hooks? Galore. Don't be fooled by the lyrical non sequiturs; this is as smart as indie pop gets.

Silke Tudor's Top 10 Reasons That a Dramatic Reading of Lord Martine's Biweekly Examiner Nightlife Column Should Be Incorporated Into Life's Daily Routine

1) The Guidance "Fashion should be painful"; "Don't even think about going to a club that doesn't have a line or crowd of at least 15-20 at the door"; "There is nothing worse than a club bunny who doesn't have enough coins in her Prada pocketbook for a cocktail"; "Reserve Gap and Eddie Bauer for casual Fridays" (from the June 26 column "Tips for the Unhip From King of S.F. Nightlife"); "You can never be too rich, too thin, or too sexy"; "Consider getting a new tattoo or body piercing" (Aug. 7, "Sex Within Tantalizing Reach Once More").

2) The Poetry "Saks Fifth Avenue Men's Store/ What a bore/ Parties I adore/ This one was such a snore/ Couldn't take it any more/ Annoyed me to the core/ I dashed for the door/ Don't go if you're poor/ But if you're a fashion whore/ Visit Carter on the fifth floor" (Aug. 21, "Let Them Eat Puff-Pastry Topiaries"). "Birthday Soiree/ Turned 28 this day/ Guests danced to Chip DJ/ And ravished on Sushi Groove raw did they/ Pals Charles McAlister, Micaya, Tom Pitts, Tim Graskin, and Juan Garcia looked smashing must say/ Past 9:30, Julie Tolleson and Linda Luchetta did stay/ It's breath, my angel Janel takes away/ A safe, sweet home I've found in the bay/ Thank you my friends, much love and best wishes I send back your way" (Sept. 18, "Know Your Limits, Gather Up Your Wits").

3) The Idiom "P-Cubed": "Professional Party Person, not Premiere Party Promoter (although they're fabulous, too)"; "Club Kid": a P-Cubed in training; "Messy Bessy": an amateur (Sept. 4, "How to Be a Professional Party Person"). "Disco Nap": 30 or 40 minutes of "power shuteye" (Nov. 27, "Trannys Strut; Disco Naps; Burbs Alive"). "Double MT": making me tired; "Double MC": making me crazy (Oct. 16, "For Some of Us, It Is the Morning Paper"). "Full Feng Shui": "all things fierce," not the practice of symbiotic furniture arrangement (Dec. 11, "Festive Times for Sourest of Scrooges"). "Hair-oine": as in Ron Pernell (Nov. 13, "Be Naughty or Nutty for the Holidays"). "Club Clueless": the "nightlife impaired"; see No. 1 above (June 26).

4) The "foodies" that are "yummy for the tummy" (Sept. 4).
5) And the "classic drinkies" (Sept. 18).
6) The Insight "Like the world of fashion, the club scene has an evolutionary process. Old ideas are recycled with a new twist" (July 10, "More Nightlife Lessons for Newcomers").

7) The Heritage "My mentor, Cynthia Robins" (Oct. 16). "Barbie, pink feather boas, blond hair, flawless figure. She speaks to me" (June 26).

8) The Agenda "It's club-personalities-a-ganza when I host Anthem's Pride Weekend kick-off at 1015 Folsom" (June 26). "Official Passport Party (produced by yours truly)" (Aug. 7). "Please accept this as your personal invitation to tear it up at the official Macy's Passport Cast and Crew Party" (Aug. 21). "Passport Party '97 Update" (Sept. 4). "Come and carouse with the cast and crew of Passport '97" (Sept. 18). "Tune in to Live 105 every other Thursday, for the Lord Martine Party Report" (Oct. 16).

9) The Look "Our dress is simple, body conscious, and monochromatic, we look fresh off the catwalk"; "Bedecked in my metallic steel blue security jacket"; "a pair of baggy jeans, a tight logo T, and my sneaks" (June 12). "Giving a command performance in military chic"; "Break out the Versace swimwear" (June 26). "Feeling malformed in Mizrahi"; "Todd Oldham-dipped touche"; "my silver plastic jeans and cerulean-blue fun fur jacket!" (July 10). "Hit the Stairmaster, slip into something body conscious" (Aug. 7). "In full Tiffany-blue brocade Amadeus drag, I was living the dream" (Aug. 21). "I bedecked in a cropped black patent motorcycle jacket, fringed black stretch pants, velvet Ozbek tights, and a Billy Idol blond spiked up do" (Nov. 13).

10) And Finally, the Wisdom "It's lonely at the top, but then again, it is crowded at the bottom" (Nov. 27).

Dave Clifford's Top 10 Music Things of 1997

1) Swans, Soundtracks for the Blind Once again, and for the last time, Swans brilliantly isolate the refrain, the most limiting element of music. Over the course of 15 years, Michael Gira and an assortment of co-conspirators have taken repetition to its extreme aberration; to the point at which music ceases to represent a song and instead focuses fragments of harmony and rhythm into an entrancing infinite. Far from exhibiting the "brutal antipathy" most writers associate with their music, Swans are a celebration of life to the point of annihilation.

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.

8) DJ Quest every day Carlos Aguilar (aka DJ Quest) is an inspiration: He's one of the best turntablists anywhere, he's one of the few Latinos on the DJ circuit, and he's dope as all hell. Quest made his name one party at a time, honing skills that make DJs drool with jealousy. But more importantly, he's reinventing turntablism by scratching with musicians in his improv jazz group Live Human.

9) Portishead, Portishead
10) The Accused, Martha Splatterhead's Maddest Stories Ever Told After listening to this record for the past 10 years, I still grin at the slurred, maniacal vocals and the crazed riffs. Back then, when every band worth its amplifiers was trying to make the perfect crossover album, the Accused's fusion of punk and metal set the standard. In the words of a good friend, "It needed to be done."

Heather Wisner's Top 10 Music-Related Stuff of 1997

1) Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the Mexico City Metro loudspeakers Because unfamiliar surroundings can make old and well-loved music sound new and thrilling all over again.

2) The Mono Men live at the Kilowatt Grinning, sweaty drunks bounced helplessly around a beer-soaked floor as Olympia's finest ripped into one garage rocker after another from their '97 album Have a Nice Day, Motherfucker. A reminder to shut up and dance.

3) Beyond and Back: The X Anthology The rest of the unheard music -- studio outtakes, previously unreleased songs, live shows (Exene slags Debbie Harry!), funny liner notes, candid photos, and testimonials from people whose lives were transformed by the mighty power of X, including Joan Jett, Donita Sparks, Pat Smear, and Pee-wee Herman.

4) Elliott Smith, Either/Or Smith's bitter valentine to the scenic misery of Portland, Ore. You can almost hear the rain and the tears sloshing against the sides of a pint glass.

5) Lynyrd Skynyrd biography on VH1 "Free Bird" sounds so much more poignant after the gruesome details of the plane crash.

6) Portishead, Portishead Singer Beth Gibbons is possessed -- gorgeously, eerily -- by the ghosts of dance halls past.

7) Jonathan Fire*Eater live at the Kilowatt New York City showmen preach the gospel at a rock 'n' roll revival; the enthralled capacity crowd leaves feeling like they've been privy to something major.

8) Israeli singing sensation and swoon-worthy teen-age heartthrob Halil Elohev in Saint Clara at the Roxie Oh, to be 16 again, just for the weekend.

9) Jazz crooner Jimmy Scott live at Stern Grove Maybe it was just the afternoon sun that melted our butter.

10) Anticipation for the January release of the Donnas' American Teenage Rock 'n' Roll Machine, after tantalizing previews Teen gals plug in, get loaded, flip Mom and Dad the bird, stay out past curfew, and grab a piece of boy action. Excellent.

1997 Booby Prize "I'm very much against live music in bars" -- Chron staff writer Sam Whiting, approving the Kilowatt's decision to stop booking bands, in the execrable "What's Shakin' on 16th Street: A Guide to the Hippest Nabe in the City" (Datebook, Nov. 30-Dec. 6).

Paul Kimball's Best Music of 1997 (In no special order)

1) Shudder to Think, 50,000 BC Departing from the standard indie script on their second major label release (where you reach back to the fans who brung ya), Shudder to Think went from the art-punk weirdness of 1994's Pony Express Record to the strangest pop album of 1997.

2) Machine Head, The More Things Change The corpse of heavy metal twitches again, lunges forward, grabs you by the hair, and forces you to crank up this excellent disc from Oakland's Machine Head.

3) Pink Noise Test, Plasticized Pink Noise Test take the best of late-'80s goth-pop (the Cure, Love & Rockets) and mix it with teen-punk energy, New York cool, and bursts of squiggly electronic noise.

4) The singles from Sublime OK, the album's been on the Billboard charts for 73 weeks as of this printing, so it's pretty stupid to count it as a "best of 1997" anything. That being said, it seems like every month of the past year has seen the release of a new single from the record, each one a cheerfully intoxicating mix of tough-guy sentimentality and beachfront bluster. "What I Got," "Santeria," "Wrong Way," "Doin' Time," and "Caress Me Down" are all great examples of why some bands live forever on the FM dial, despite the brevity of their hit-making careers.

5) Old 97's, Too Far to Care Clever lyrics can murder a good rock tune. But the Old 97's manage just the right balance of cleverness and sincerity on Too Far to Care, turning thin-soled country-rock cliches into rousing sing-along anthems. Intense enthusiasm allows the sharp turns of lyrical phrase to emerge as signatures, not the ironic forgeries of novelty.

6) Built to Spill, Perfect From Now On Doug Martsch and his band, Built to Spill, show just how much can be said in the transitions between lyrical images, between musical phrases, and between parts of a song. Perfect From Now On is a collection of beautiful transitional gestures drawn in guitar, bass, and drums that confidently asserts the enduring ability of traditional rock instrumentation to communicate complex moods and thoughts. So far six songs have taken turns being my favorite on this record, and I'm still not done with it.

7) Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape Dumb lyrics, great hooks, huge guitars, enormous drums: The Foo Fighters valiantly strive to be the AC/DC of the '90s.

8) Reef, Glow The Rolling Stones to Oasis' Beatles, Reef lean heavily on rhythm and blues while stomping around in full Britpop swagger. The album's power comes from the impressive vocals of singer Gary Stringer, who carries his tunes like a throaty (young) Mick Jagger.

9) Moloko, "Fun for Me" A delightful slice of electronic trip-pop, this funky, punchy single buried itself in my brain from the moment I first heard it; I still haven't found a place to drop it off. One caveat: "Fun for Me" is by far the best song on Do You Like My Tight Sweater?, the album it comes from.

10) Steve Earle, El Corazon When Steve Earle sings you a story on El Corazon, you believe him. Whether he's singing as an oil worker going to his first brothel, a "colored boy" visiting a redneck town alone, or a lonely man seeking solace on the streets, Earle uses his oak-bark-rough voice and pick-heavy guitar playing to imbue his songs with a grizzled veracity. El Corazon has all the markings of a classic, including the occasional sure-to-sound-dated studio gimmickry.

Eight Things That Mattered to Martin Johnson in 1997

1) Erykah Badu and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott Instead of working opaque sex appeal like L'il Kim, Foxy Brown, Total, SWV, and just about every other black female performer young enough to still get carded, these two took self-definition seriously; that is, they controlled the selves they were defining. That control underpins their recordings -- Badu's Baduizm and Live, and Elliott's Supa Dupa Fly -- where the singers alter the urban contemporary song form to fit their own statements, not vice versa.

2) Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You" Unlike anger, grief isn't a particularly artful emotion, and unlike Biggie Smalls -- for whom the track is a eulogy -- Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs isn't a particularly artful rapper. But as the sample of the Police's "Every Breath You Take" proves, Combs is an excellent recycler. The ubiquity of this song made a stronger statement about the senselessness of black-on-black crime than any other singer, rapper, or self-appointed black spokesperson.

3) The Miles Davis live '70s reissues, Cassandra Wilson's Traveling Miles (due in '98), and Javon Jackson's Good People As the boring run of music-school grads playing rote standards lets up, the jazz labels are finally realizing that the music is more relevant when it meets pop halfway.

4) Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes After all those years of being a tomboy in TLC, she emerged as a full-effect glamour woman in her video and during her performance of "Not Tonight" at the MTV video awards. If there is really a beauty sleeping deep inside everyone, Lopes' diva woke up big time this year.

5) Wyclef Jean & the Refugee Allstars Anyone who dismissed the Fugees for their bland covers of "No Woman No Cry" and "Killing Me Softly" is missing a great party. On The Carnival, Jean combined musical diversity, political savvy, and raucous humor to create one of the year's most compelling recordings.

6) Roni Size and the entire DJ movement Almost every week another DJ-based recording dropped and redefined the way we hear music, replacing melodies and harmonies with fragments of sound. Size's New Forms was the best.

7) The Love Jones soundtrack A good match for the movie's underlying theme about race and cultural prerogative, this collection of tracks by Dionne Farris, Lauryn Hill, Groove Theory, and others gave alternative R&B a self-perpetuating authority.

8) Billy Higgins' return The best drummer in jazz was out of action for most of 1996 due to a liver transplant. He returned forcefully in '97 playing concert halls with Ornette Coleman and nightclubs with Jackie McLean.

Sam Prestianni's Top Seven Transcendent Moments in Music '97

1) Globe-trotting from the homestead Rare aural snapshots of the world from four different CDs, including The Dance of Heaven's Ghosts, passion, sorrow, and joy from the cultural cauldron of the Greek islands, kindred to flamenco's soul-stirring duende; The Mystic Fiddle of the Proto-Gypsies, ecstatic trance rituals performed by the Baluchi people of Pakistan; Angels in the Mirror, spirited Haitian voodoo rituals that debunk black-magic stereotypes; and Susana Baca, an intense combination of sparse yet riveting Peruvian percussion, gut-string guitar, and Baca's ethereal vocals.

2) Hedonism and improvisation The scene was a party for friends and friends of friends at the home of the Modern Mandolin Quartet's Mike Marshall -- a heady mix of home-cooked vittles, fine wine, and music at an impromptu gathering. After dinner Marshall assembled some pals -- percussionist Aaron Johnston, clarinetist/saxophonist Harvey Wainapel, and Brazilian classical-guitar star Paulo Bellinati -- for a brief set of Brazilian choros, the original music of Carnaval. The ad hoc quartet essayed gorgeous melodies from a fat book of charts, then improvised a couple of tunes. Bellinati's virtuosic chordal accompaniment on the constantly modulating choros created a rolling effect of continuous waves of melody and grace. The guests were swept away in the current.

3) The difference between stripping and playing the violin In an effort to illustrate "the commodification of music, the body, ethnicity, and eroticism in our market-driven society," one-of-a-kind bandleader and kotoist Miya Masaoka gave lunchtime passers-by at U.N. Plaza far more than a Whopper and fries. The performance -- What Is the Difference Between Stripping and Playing the Violin? -- combined a 12-piece orchestra with the steamy gyrations of erotic dancers. The result: a juxtaposition of global-thinking avant-garde music -- Asian folk melodies, jazz improv, speed-metal riffs -- and titillating striptease that wowed hundreds of onlookers.

4) Tapping into the universal stream of music In September I went on a camping trip with a few dozen elementary-school students. (I work as a teacher.) I brought along a box of percussion instruments; a half-dozen fifth- and sixth-graders each selected one and joined me noodling away on guitar on a bench amid the redwoods. Without uttering a word, we collectively swayed into adventuresome, tuneful melodies and polyrhythms -- and during a certain five-minute span, the magical energy matched any of the best music I've ever heard, let alone played. None of the kids had ever before picked up an instrument. Some improvisers say that they don't play music exactly, but rather act as channels or conduits, tapping into a universal stream where all melodies and rhythms coexist all the time. Here was strong evidence of the phenomenon.

5) Alan Lomax's Southern Journey series The first six installments of Southern Journey, a 13-volume set of nearly 40-year-old field recordings produced by legendary folklorist Alan Lomax, document the Deep South's musical heritage more specifically than the year's most-talked-about collection, Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. The range is mind-blowing: black and white spirituals, mountain music, country blues, prison and work songs, breakdowns, reels, on and on. These long-out-of-print and previously unissued tracks are significant collector's items, not only for their historical value as an archive of pre-Elvis culture, but because the music is raw, authentic -- not prefabricated in a digital studio by spoiled pop stars.

6) Steve Roach and Olivier Messiaen The introductory apocalyptic strains of "Heart of the Tempest," the lead track on ambient pioneer Steve Roach's new CD, On This Planet, drove me to pull out Quartet for the End of Time, the spellbinding suite -- written in a World War II prison camp -- by radical French composer Olivier Messiaen. Playing the two discs simultaneously, I created an in-the-moment "remix" that melted distinctive soundtracks, literally worlds apart, into a single, haunting entity.

7) Conlon Nancarrow, Sarah Cahill, and the power of radio One cool August afternoon in Berkeley, strange sounds snaked over the airwaves. Diamondlike, slightly off-kilter, and harmonically from another planet, they seemed like piano, but not quite. Pianist, critic, and KPFA DJ Sarah Cahill back-announced Conlon Nancarrow, the iconoclastic and influential 20th-century classical composer who had just died at his home in Mexico City. On the avant-garde of the avant-garde, Nancarrow devoted nearly half a century of his life to creating more than 60 immensely intricate studies for player piano, the rolls of which he hand-punched himself.

Five of Jill Stauffer's Favorite San Francisco Things

1) Wetgate, the all-projector orchestra Where art-wanking meets why not? Three men and three projectors create sound and image performances enthralling enough to dance to -- if you're not too busy watching. Worth seeing more than once because it's never the same.

2) The Lexington Club A Mission lesbian bar, but a neighborhood bar, too. Atmospheric elements -- of family, of welcome, of hipness, and of suspicion -- complement rather than cancel one another. Owner and manager Lila Thirkield made a space for community in a place where community was supposedly waning.

3) The Dovre Club While it was still open, it was truly a wonder of a neighborhood bar: Old men and hipsters, drunks and pool players, academics and buffoons, locals and visitors, all joined together and made room for each other. And drank a great deal.

4) Fort Funston, that first look when you approach the edge of the cliff After winding down the precarious stairs and navi-gating the sandy paths, you never know what you might see: maybe wet dogs performing canine water ballet or people on horses; maybe sunbathers and swimmers braving icy waters; maybe sun and heat; maybe wind and sandstorms; maybe hang gliders or families or couples or singles. No matter who's there, you'll always find beauty.

5) Waycross This San Francisco band sounds like a cross between Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd; that is, if Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd were powered by girls with a gift for profound lyrics. The four-piece Waycross -- a straight girl, a lesbian, a straight guy, a gay guy -- draw audiences as sexually diverse as the band. And they rock!

Andi Zeisler's Top 10 (In no particular order)

1) Elliott Smith, Either/Or, and live at the Bottom of the Hill Smith is the human embodiment of the ego conflict faced by many artists -- desperately wanting people to respond, shrinking away in horror when they do. He suspends acoustic narratives like "Rose Parade" in a matrix of pure tension, while "Cupid's Trick" gives his voice, lightly strangled misery on the folkier tracks, a stomping release.

2) Portastatic, The Nature of Sap Mac McCaughan's follow-up to 1995's Slow Note From a Sinking Ship finds the normally manic Superchunk frontman in an extended soporific spelunk through the caves of his waking dreams. With narcotic klezmer ("A Lovely Nile"), echo-chamber punk ("Impolite Cheers"), and the wandering wobble of "You Know Where to Find Me," I like to imagine that this is the album playing in Steve Buscemi's ice cream truck in Trees Lounge.

3) Bob Dylan and Ani DiFranco live I saw the pair performing at an antiseptic new venue in rural Connecticut that looked like a metal kleenex box, smelled like a dentist's office, and was staffed entirely by cranky senior citizens. With Jakob Dylan's Wallflowers racking up the glossy magazine covers, some media types looked for a 1997 father-son duke-out between the two musical Dylans, but the elder's blistering set this night confirmed that timeless material will beat the cover of Details every time. Opening act and one-woman youth movement DiFranco was, nevertheless, the bigger star to a significant portion of the crowd. Best overheard comment, from one suedeheaded teen-ager to another: "Should we stay for Dylan?"

4) Hermenaut No. 11/12 "The Digest of Heady Philosophy for Teens," truant from the newsstands since last year's Bruce Lee spectacular, is back with a thick issue on camp. It mines the predictable sources (Liberace, Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, Tiny Tim) with equal parts humor and critical bile, proffers twin tributes to irony kingpins Oscar Wilde and S¿ren Kierkegaard, and blames Susan Sontag for almost everything.

5) Stay Free!'s "Marketing to Kids" issue This supersmart zine, formerly a melange of music, cultural criticism, and random bubble-bursting, is now devoted solely to the exploration of consumerism. The current issue features ad spoofs alongside writing about how toy marketers induct tiny, diapered pawns into a lifetime of brand loyalty and character fetishism.

6) Rolling Stone's "Women of Rock" 30th-anniversary issue Yes, that's women of rock, not women in rock. Gerri Hirshey's history of the XX chromosome in the male musical treehouse rocked like it needed to, but the interviews throughout the rest of the issue found a surprising number of women unwilling to expand the definition of the word "feminism" to include their own groundbreaking selves. That done, the magazine scrambled to fulfill its naked-women-on-the-cover quota before year's end; the underwear-clad "Girls of Scream 2" foldout followed shortly after.

7) Matthew Sweet, Blue Sky on Mars Cynical lyrics and starry-eyed, synth-heavy arrangements ("Where You Get Love"; "Behind the Smile") reappear on this record about love that's not of this Earth. This is pop music for the people, especially when the people are watching The X-Files in syndication, following Hale-Bopp across the sky, and obsessing about alien autopsies.

8) Cleavage TV Between Tori Spelling, Kim Fields, Cybill Shepherd, Kirstie Alley, and Kathy Najimy, prime time's women are putting the boob back in boob tube. Russ Meyer employs more subtlety, but it's somehow gratifying to see zaftig women -- particularly older ones like Alley, Shepherd, and Najimy -- flaunting their natural bounty amid sassy one-liners. Spelling, whose ill-placed silicone rises ever chinward, just looks like a train wreck in a tanning salon.

9) Helium, The Magic City The lavender-hued, unicorny lyrics and song titles ("Lullaby of the Moths"; "Lady of the Fire") of The Magic City's retro-prog-rock are thoroughly belied by singer/guitarist Mary Timony, a tree goddess in high dudgeon fucking shit up in the court of the Crimson King.

10. The Spice Girls Currently rivaling smoking as far as guilty pleasures go, with everyone protesting that they only do it socially. Can't wait for the movie.

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