2001 was an awful year for music (and pretty much an awful year period). Regardless of the fact that I haven't gotten around to buying some stuff that I suspect may have made this list (The Microphones, the Coup, Prefuse 73, Circulatory System, R.L. Burnside, Olu Dara), it still can't cover up the fact that this past year was a major setback from a relatively strong year for output in 2000. 2001 even lacked releases from solid past performers like Tom Waits, Beck, and Elliott Smith, making it even more difficult to put this list together. Sure, I really like the Stokes' CD, but in fairness it wouldn't have been a #4 in previous years. Hell, I can think of a few years in which it wouldn't have made my top fifteen. Here's hoping 2002 delivers a few more musical goods and greats.
1.) White Stripes -- White Blood Cells - The backlash aimed at these guys is confounding because they stayed with their record label (Sympathy for the Record Industry) even though everyone was tossing gold bricks at their front door. Just because John Peel chokes his withered bird to his extensive collection of Stripes bootlegs is no reason to deny that these guys may be the best two-person band ever. Tall Dwarfs, Holy Modal Rounders, Smother Brothers, you name it - none of them ever managed to pull off sounding like a four-piece in concert. Even though I miss stuff like the slide guitar and the overt scratchy blues leanings of their previous albums, this one makes up for it with sheer might and, thankfully, a vast improvement in the quality of Jack White's lyrics. Boom boom boom.
2.) Stephen Malkmus -- Stephen Malkmus - Okay, let's get it out in the open. He's an asshole and his concert tour in support of this CD stunk worse than a pair of Dr. Phil's boxers, but this was better than anything he had released with Pavement since Wowee Zowee. And it just may have been better than that as well.
3.) Jim O'Rourke - Insignificance - My vote for the most shocking release of the year. Here we find Mr. O'Rourke (Gastr del Sol) delivering the easily digestible album Bill "Smog" Callahan has in him, but is too afraid to unleash. And here we have an album you never in a million fucking years thought you'd expect to see "Jim O'Rourke" stamped on it. A work of absolute beauty featuring lush arrangements and a pop sensibility that no one knew Jim possessed. Look for a stab at urban contemporary to follow.
4.) The Strokes -- Is This It - Spoiled brats, blah blah blah, derivative, blah blah blah, CD is too short, blah blah blah, overrated, blah blah blah. You've heard it all and it's all right, except for the overrated part. Only huge negative is that they pulled the best song off of the US release ("New York City Cops") due the events of 9/11. Pussies. Derivative, spoiled pussies.
5.) Fuck -- Cupid's Cactus - Their output with Matador was spotty, but this release recalls their epic Baby Loves a Funny Bunny, one of the best records of the 90's. Like Baby, it takes several songs to kick in, but when it does it sweeps you along for a shambling, codeine-fueled tour of fractured, whispery slop rock. Their last tour had "farewell" attached to it and, if it's true, I'm going to miss these guys.
6.) Jim White -- No Such Place - One of my most vibrant music-listening moments of 2001 was crawling over the Williamsburg Bridge, locked tight in a traffic jam in my rental, and not giving a shit because I didn't want this CD to end. Combine later-years Tom Waits, Beck's Mutations, and Dwight Yoakam's hat, and you're not even close to explaining what Jim White sounds like. But you get a nice hat out of the deal. Raised on gospel, steeped in layered instrumentation, and sewn tight with smart lyrics, No Such Place drips all over you like bacon grease from a drunken angel's skillet. Bonus points: One song is called "God Was Drunk When He Made Me."
7.) The New Pornographers -- Mass Romantic - The first time I soaked this in, its shimmery goody-goody nature turned me off a bit, along with the fact that the Pornographers are being touted as a Vancouver super group (please, try not to laugh or shudder), but in short order I found myself really needing to hear it. A dense mixture of a wide range of influences that work well together. For instance, "The Slow Descent into Alcoholism," my favorite song on here, recalls early Cheap Trick and Armed Forces-era Elvis Costello while not sounding like either of them. Good clean fun.
8.) Wilco -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Not officially released in 2001 due to a record label bailout, but widely circulated via the Internet. It combines the crusty rock of Being There with the ethereal powder pop of Summer Teeth and churns it through Kid A's gym shorts. If Jeff Tweedy is smart, he'll think about expanding this with extra tracks (read double CD) before trying to sell it; if he isn't, he'll be known for releasing a damn fine album that absolutely no one had to buy.
9.) Papa M - Whatever, Mortal - Former member of Slint and Tortoise, Pajo has several releases on Drag City using two different M-ish monikers (Aerial M and, now, Papa M) and he's just unleashed his best. Whatever adds a sheen to his sullen delivery that works on many levels and his songwriting has really evolved, adding a stickiness and distinction to his songs that would have previously been unthinkable. Perfect music for a gray winter morning while you're dragging the corpse out of your kitchen.
10.) Firewater - Psychopharmacology - Here's a band that's been a bargain bin staple for years that I recommend. Featuring the beleaguered, somewhat monotonous growl of Cop Shoot Cop's Tod A, Psychopharmacology is laced with some lovely ditties that pull them away from the klezmer stomp of their previous two releases, but, thankfully, not too much.
• Neil Michael Hagerty's self-titled solo album is challenging as heck and probably requires a deeper immersion to fully appreciate it than I was willing to provide, but it contained my favorite song of the year, "Repeat the Sound of Joy."
• It was a strong year for soundtracks. Ocean's Eleven (David Holmes is easily the best soundtrack composer working today), O Brother Where Art Thou? (you know the drill, you wannabe toothless hick), and Hedwig and the Angry Inch ("Wicked Little Town (Hedwig Version)" may have been the second best song of the year) all shone brightly. Oh, and Moulin Rouge can suck my dick.
• Bob Dylan's Love & Theft was the most overrated release of the year. Don't get me wrong, it's a fun record and I enjoy listening to it, but the genre-hopping seems a little forced, especially when it's committed by someone as legendary as Dylan.
• The biggest disappointment of the year was Rufus Wainwright's sophomore release Poses. Like Love & Theft, a fine offering, but I was expecting a lot more after his groundbreaking debut. This one just lies there sometimes and I can't figure out why it won't get the fuck up.
can't wait to see how many people who are running around blabbing about
the brilliance of Tenacious D will be trying to sell the CD for $2 at
their next tag sale. Folks, it's a comedy album and comedy albums, with
a few notable exceptions, suck.
Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | January 2002 | Issue 22
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