2001 Year-End Summary
What a difficult year to summarize. As I’ve read the various year-end essays, some of which were probably written in October due to ridiculously long magazine lead times, critics have struggled to gauge the relevance of music in the face of real world strife, crashing economies, terrorism and war. In a sense, none of the music last year really has much to do with what has happened since September, since it was all written and recorded long before then. Everyone experienced a bit of vertigo as their reality shifted a bit. The world changed slightly, and our perception and awareness of reality changed dramatically. How this will affect music won’t be apparent for probably another year. The initial reaction was generally encouraging, with many musicians organizing and participating in many benefits to help survivors and their families. And as expected, there was a small amount of self-serving flag-waiving. Then there was the censorship, and the Bush administration’s “Youse guys better watch what youse says” type threats to television figures like Politically Incorrect’s Bill Maher, showing just how thuggish our leadership is. In times like this, the government would like us to think our civil liberties are merely luxuries. The threat of censorship has been scarier than any year since the peak of the P.M.R.C in 1986. The label for proto-Marxist hip hoppers The Coup changed the cover art they nearly had for their album Party Music, (which depicted, months before September, an exploding World Trade Center) against the group’s wishes. Artists may find it more difficult last year to get music as politically outspoken as The Coup, N*E*R*D, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Rage Against The Machine and System Of A Down past their labels. Time will tell.
Overwhelmingly, the most popular genre last year was spice metal, or nü metal. Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Staind were in the top ten bestsellers of the year, with Creed, Godsmack, Fuel, Disturbed, Nickelback and Incubus not far behind. From what I’ve heard, these bands have the same musical and visual impact as eighties hair metal (Ratt, Poison, et al.), but with whinier lyrics focusing on their stunted emotional growth. It was a relief to hear that System Of A Down is a group of intelligent, outspoken Armenian-Americans who have a far more worldly lyrical vision than their cartoonish brethren. Even the mask-wearing Iowa natives Slipknot revealed they had at least half a brain, conducting halfway intelligent interviews, and blowing away their competition with a grindcore influenced sound.
Flitting down from her icy burrow like a fairy godmother to provide healing comfort, Björk bestowed upon us a sparkling gift in Vespertine, the best album of the year. A much more intimate, introverted album than normal, no one could deny her greatness, but not everyone was patient enough to let its subtle charms work their magic. Its alien beauty might be less accessible, but ultimately resulted in her best album.
Much more controversial was The Strokes. It’s hard to imagine why such an enjoyable batch of top tunes would inspire such petty, snobbish backlash. I suspect it has less to do with the music, and more to do with the overwhelmingly immediate success The Strokes enjoyed by releasing their album in the U.K. first, and playing a bunch of ecstatically-received shows. Anyone who’s read Michael Azzerad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From The American Indie Underground 1981-1991 knows that this is not a new tactic. Bands like Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Dinosaur Jr and Mudhoney learned long ago that it’s much easier to make an impact there. Geographically it’s a fraction of the size of the United States. The music scene is much more compact. A small handful of weekly music papers reach a huge readership, so if something catches on, it happens quickly. Musically, The Strokes are not startlingly original, but neither are they redundant. Their music is more vital than anyone comparable — Elastica, Guided By Voices, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Perhaps The Cars suffered from similar treatment way back when. Whether The Strokes become an “important” band or just another Weezer, only time will tell. To a lesser degree, The White Stripes have gone through the same thing. Already working on their fourth album for a major label debut, I think the backlash will be forgotten long before they are.
Now if only the wildfire success of those bands could be shared with some more deserving artists. Labels seem to have little faith in the tastes of the American market. Some of the best albums of 2001 were not even released here. Ideally, the concept of “imports” should be irrelevant. Nothing is ever really unavailable. Thanks to the Internet and e-bay, we live in a truly global economy. Anyone can avoid paying inflated import prices by ordering through the Canadian hmv.com, which offers U.K. and Canadian releases at domestic prices. Unfortunately, outside of well-informed music nerds and the lucky readers of Fast ‘n’ Bulbous, this doesn’t make much of an impact. Nevertheless, I have decided to only count releases that were first released last year, as it drives me nuts to pretend an album by a favorite artist I’ve been listening to all year doesn’t “count.” Eight albums in the Fast ‘n’ Bulbous top 20 were not initially released in the U.S. — Sparklehorse, Ed Harcourt, Pulp, Hawksley Workman, Super Furry Animals, Elbow and Nitin Sawhney. No need to wait for their belated U.S. release dates. On the downside, I’m not ranking critic favorites Idlewild and The New Pornographers, because they came out in 2000. As much as I’d like to include extraordinary electronica imports like Isolee, Leila and Múm, they all came out in 2000.
While everyone made a big production the past few years of writing the obituaries of indie rock, when they weren’t looking, we had an indie renaissance. For a while, after the major label feeding frenzy of the 90s, things did look dire. Bands were routinely leaving indie labels to majors, and routinely got screwed and left with huge amounts of debt. Steve Albini famously spelled it out in a very useful financial spreadsheet in Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, but he was preaching to the converted. Since then, some bands have wised up and learned to work frugally and maintain a decent relationship with their majors, like Mercury Rev, Eels and Built To Spill. Meanwhile, Fugazi has proven that success is possible independently — to date they have sold over two million albums, more than your average major label band. There are now more indie releases than ever, comprising exactly half of the Fast ‘n’ Bulbous top 50. The problem is that it’s just harder to get noticed. The 80s was literally a wild frontier, to be pioneered by mavericks in stinky vans going from hick town bars to big city loft dives. The few bands that existed made a far greater impact. Now, a band can easily outsell Black Flag, but there are hundreds more like them. The market has expanded, the message diluted. In a cultural context, this makes the music less ‘important’. No one will be writing books about The Dismemberment Plan. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy their album as much as or more than, say, old Sonic Youth and Big Black albums. Long live Bella Union, Dischord, De Soto, Sub Pop, Barsuk, Matador, Mr. Lady, Merge, Ashmont, Warp, Drag City, Thirsty Ear, Quarterstick, Touch & Go, Broadmoor, Carrot Top, Hellcat, Epitaph, Tiger Style, Thrill Jockey, Cavity Search, Tugboat, Murder, Artemis, Misra, 75 Ark, Troubleman, Overcoat, Perishable, Velocette, Checkered Past, Bloodshot, Kill Rock Stars, spinART, Kranky, Bobsled, Jagjaguwar, Gravity, and many, many more. R.I.P. Grand Royal, Man’s Ruin and EMG (Esoteric Music Group).
Electronica, Techno and Dance music had an unexceptional year. The new music isn’t so new anymore, and the groundbreaking has diminished to refining formulas, on the part of Autechre, Mouse On Mars and the like. While Matmos audaciously sampled sounds from a real plastic surgery operation, the results weren’t all that fun compared to their work with Björk. Aside from mainstream ambassadors Björk and Radiohead, electronica has barely tapped into the creative potential were it to leave the safety of their computer labs and jump into the dirty pop cultural fray. Prefuse 73 did just that, topping the category by kidnapping hip hop, dissecting it and splicing it back together. Popular dance albums by Daft Punk, Air and Basement Jaxx nearly made my most-overrated category, but I figure I’d leave them alone and let them have their fun. The “Asian Underground,” as Talvin Singh dubbed it in the mid-90s, failed to take off. Despite new albums by Singh, Karsh Kale, Badmarsh & Shri and Joi, even the strongest album by Nitin Sawhney failed to capture imaginations, possibly because his lush, eclectic productions confounded people’s cliché’d expectations of what he should sound like. The rest of the pack’s techno hybrids were redundant and uninspired. However, it is seeping into pop music, best exemplified by the ragga beats in Timbaland and Missy Elliott’s “Get Yr Freak On.” I wouldn’t count them out just yet. Asian Dub Foundation just might be ready to uncork something big (please ADF, save us!).
Global music nearly found their Bob Marley in Manu Chao. He’s a huge superstar in nearly every country but the U.S. The problem is that Chao rarely sings in English. Until American schools made bilingualism mandatory, no non-English singing artist will truly cross over. The boundaries between Western, African, Arabic and Indian cultures continue to be crossed with fine releases by Natacha Atlas (UK/Egypt), Femi Kuti (Nigeria), Rachid Taha (France/Algeria), Trilok Gurtu (India with African musicians), Temple Of Sound & Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali (U.K. former Transglobal Underground with nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) and Radio Tarifa (Spain & Morocco).
Hip Hop, Rap, R&B and Soul enjoyed a very lucrative, but artistically substandard year, with only Roots Manuva, Cannibal Ox and N*E*R*D really succeeding in pushing the envelope. It’s the first time a British artist topped the hip hop heap. Seemingly everyone stumbled over themselves to give Jay-Z props for being the biggest, baddest, best MC in the biz. While The Blueprint may have been his best album, it was not much different from his others. While it made it number five in the hip hop & rap list, it was only 131 overall. On the strength of Dan “The Automator”, the mainstream cartoon project Gorillaz, featuring Damon Albarn of Blur, snuck into the top 13. One of the most surprising coups of the year was the ultra slick production team The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo). Known for their multi-platinum production jobs with Mystikal, Jay-Z, Britney Spears and No Doubt, they assembled a down-and-dirty electro-rock band called N*E*R*D (No one Ever Really Dies). Ironically, they created the most edgy black music of the decade so far aside from Outkast. The re-recorded album, to be released in the U.S. in January, is even better. Bilal made a promising debut, while Missy Elliott came out with her third and best album to date. The rest (Macy Gray, Ursula Rucker, Mary J. Blige, Angie Stone, Maxwell, Jill Scott) was more of the same.
In a potentially confusing move, I placed Papa M, David Pajo’s rootsy folk project, at the top of the Country & Folk list. While he has avant-garde credentials with Slint and Tortoise, I consider his music folk. His guitar playing certainly challenges the idea of what is folk, but Whatever, Mortal doesn’t really blend in any rock, soul or blues elements like most New Americana artists. Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch produced winning low-key country/bluegrass folk albums, while Shelby Lynne pushed the boundaries between country and pop with an album that is in many ways stronger than her more acclaimed previous album. Anyone confounded by my New Americana and Wimp Pop categories can read more in the Rants section.
The most overrated award goes to the geezers — Bob Dylan, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Leonard Cohen and Mick Jagger. Contrary to John Strausbaugh’s Rock ‘Til You Drop, an indictment against “colostomy rockers” I don’t deny anyone the right to rock. But in criticism, one must be able to filter out nostalgia. Many critics have been guilty of awarding these artists critical accolades far greater than they deserve, and I believe much of it is due to the great work they have done in the past. Wake up people, the past has passed! Just because Bob Dylan was once the greatest songwriter around, doesn’t mean his new album is the best of the year! While I don’t care at all for the new albums by most of the geezers listed above, I won’t deny that Dylan’s album is vital, charming and funny. But it doesn’t hold a candle to the godlike genius of his best sixties albums. Whatever creative energy he was burning, he spent it. Even by the time of one of my favorites, 1975’s Blood On The Tracks, Dylan wasn’t the same person. It was brilliant and passionate, but not otherworldly like Blonde On Blonde. He admitted in interview that he had no idea how he wrote the stuff he did in the sixties. Whether it’s because he burned out on too many drugs or not, the truth is that Dylan will never reach that peak again. I ranked Love And Theft at a very respectable 95 in my list. But top five? Hell no.
The biggest disappointments last year are Tricky and Ryan Adams. Least surprising is Tricky, who has been fumbling about for a number of years with albums that don’t measure up to his initial brilliance with 1995’s Maxinquaye. Now he’s going for the big time inviting boring mainstream guests into the studio like members of Bush, Live and Red Hot Chili Peppers. After hearing his excellent collaborations with Björk and PJ Harvey, this just sounds wrong. It’s sad to see an artist who had so much potential fall so far down. Ryan Adams seemed to have been on a roll, with his third release in less than two years. Unfortunately, Gold was not the grand statement it was meant to be. He has yet to fail as spectacularly as Tricky has yet, so there’s still hope for him. The most welcome comebacks are Steve Wynn and Joe Strummer. Strummer has finally struggled his way back into relevance with his inspiring multi-cultural and The Mescaleros. Wynn, known by a dedicated cult following as the leader of The Dream Synicate, leading band of the early 80s Paisley Underground, very well may have just released the album of his career.
Probably the best thing aspect of 2001was it was a banner year for new artists. In addition to The Strokes, there were the hugely talented Ed Harcourt and Hawksley Workman, The Czars, Elbow, N*E*R*D, John Vanderslice, Cannibal Ox, Bilal, Thalia Zedek, The Tyde, The Shins and many more, as listed in Best New Artists of 2000-01. Nestled within the top 100 may very well be hints toward music’s future. From the new psychedelic direction of Japan’s The Boredoms to Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire crossover from jazz to pop to avant auteur Jim O’Rourke’s experiments in accessibility to the fertile mix of old and new in The Tyde, The Shins, Beta Band and The Avalanches, there is more variety now than ever. The number of releases was scaled back for the first time in years, due partly to the economy. Yet with at least 400 albums worthy of hearing (if you have as wide a range in taste as mine), there’s still more good music than we have time to fully appreciate. Enjoy.
Björk, Vespertine (Elektra)
How do you find a diamond in the snow? Walk barefoot until it cuts you. Retrace the bloodstained tracks to the source and you might find the subterranean Icelandic pixie-headquarters where it sounds like Björk has been hibernating and creating (actually San Pedro, Spain and New York). With Vespertine (which means “of the evening”), Björk has created a bravely unfashionable nocturnal misfit dream. No dance rhythms, no bombastic showbiz productions, Vespertine, is profoundly intimate and personal, with whispered secrets and passionate declarations of devotion. Björk evokes themes of solitude and isolation (“Threading the glacier head/Looking hard for moments of shine”) while realizing her coziness is best shared (“I thrive best hermit-style/With a beard and a pipe/And a parrot on each side/Now I can’t do this without you…I never thought I would compromise/Let’s unite tonight”). In contrast to the unsettling, dramatic strife of 1997’s Homogenic, Vespertine finds Björk in a much calmer space, a Zen-like reverie. It feels lighter, but is more concise and focused, much like the e.e. cummings poem used for “Sun In My Mouth” — “I will wade out till my thighs/Are steeped in burning flowers/I will take the sun in my mouth/And leap into the ripe air alive.” Clearly influenced by cummings, her lyrics often distill vivid images of sensuality, like “Swirling black lillies totally ripe” (“Pagan Poetry”) and “I fill my mouth with snow/The way it melts/I wish to melt before you” (“Aurora”). Björk has words of wisdom to offer — “Unthinkable surprises about to happen/But what they are/It’s not up to you/Well it never really was” (“It’s Not Up To You”) and “It’s not meant to be a strife/It’s not meant to be a struggle uphill/You’re trying too hard/Surrender/Give yourself in” (“Undo”). She has proven that it is possible to grow as a mature, worldly adult, but still retain a childlike wonder. Indeed, her voice varies from a shy, if sexually charged, girl (“Cocoon”) to an ancient, wailing elemental spirit (“Aurora”). The music chimes, clicks, chirps and bleeps like a symphony of serenading cybertronic bugs in frozen trees. While Radiohead’s experiments are exploratory like finding their way through an unfamiliar home in the dark, Björk struts through the house of electronica like she’s owned it for a decade, as indeed she has. No single artist has navigated the nexus of accessible songwriting and edgy electronica with as much authority and consistency as Björk. Part of her success has been the seamless integration of impeccably chosen collaborators, from Nellee Hooper and Tricky to Leila and Howie B. This time she enlists Matmos for beat programming duties (“Aurora” and “Unison”). On the latter, she also includes sample of “Aero Deck” by Germany’s Oval. Björk learned how to use Pro Tools and self-produced the album. The crystalline production is focused and sharp. Vespertine is so beautiful it hurts.
The Strokes, Is This It (BMG)
What would happen if members of The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, The Voidoids and Television were thrown together in a small room to collaborate? Probably the bloodiest catfight in pre or post-punk history. It would take the youthful exuberance of some early twenty-somethings to approximate the world-devouring lust for life those bands fleetingly had and quickly lost. On the strength of their live show and the fact that the Is This It was released three months previously in the UK, The Strokes’ notoriety precedes the release of their US debut. It’s tempting to write off the hype, but this time it’s totally justified. The rabid passion inspired by those touched by The Strokes is something all too rare in the days of niche marketing and bloodless trends in new metal. The arty intelligence of the band comes across without the usual pretentiousness of other locals. It’s a nice surprise, when you expect a band that is high in irony and low in humor, and instead wake up the next morning with liquor-breath, a hickey and a rugburn. The Strokes have dangerously cool record collections, and they’re not afraid to use ’em. Anyone who denies this New York band’s influences is high. Especially on the tightly-wound Lloyd & Verlaine- guitars on “Barely Legal” and Quine & Julian on “Alone Together” (courtesy of the talented Valensi & Hammond Jr.). “The Modern Age” sounds like a great lost hit single from the formerly lost fourth Velvets album, VU. It’s probably the best extrapolation of a New York moment since The Feelies’ classic 1980 debut, Crazy Feelings. Elsewhere, the sounds are pure Strokes. “Someday” is the kind of insanely catchy ditty that you haven’t heard since the days of, well, insanely catchy ditties (“Walking On Sunshine” anyone?). Not to trivialize it — “Someday” is probably their greatest song, and just might make The Strokes bigger than Nirvana or, hell, Michael Jackson. While the lyrics aren’t genius, they exude the best kind of rock ‘n’ roll cool while still packing an emotional whallop – “i see alone we stand, together we fall apart/yeah, i think i’ll be alright.” Just try not to sing along with “Barely Legal” – “i didn’t take no shortcuts/i spend the money that i saved up/oh, mama, running out of luck/they like my sister don’t give a fuck.” The aforementioned songs, plus “Last Nite” and “Hard To Explain” are impossible to get tired of. The remaining six songs are ‘merely’ great. The vocals of the fabulously named Julian Casablancas are distorted and mixed a bit low, providing one of two things in common with equally celebrated garage rockers The White Stripes (the other being a smidgen of Kinks influence). But all is forgiven when you can’t stop pogo-ing, air-guitaring and running red lights. You know it’s an instant classic if you try to pick a song to put on a mix tape and want to dub half the damn album. Awesome.
Mercury Rev, All Is Dream (V2)
It was disconcerting to hear Jonathon Donahue’s voice on Mercury Rev’s 1998 comeback, Deserter’s Songs. The clear production recalled the weedy voice of Big Bird covering Jiminy Cricket in a Fantasia gone awry. With the eerie sounds of off-kilter flutes and bowed saws, the fantastical child-like dreams revealed phantoms underneath, more like The City of Lost Children. Mercury Rev certainly had their monsters to battle, when fighting and substance abuse pretty much broke up the band in the mid-90s. After breakdowns, a stay in a monastery, and regrouping in the Catskill Mountains, the band was reborn in cinematic splendor. For All Is Dream, they initially hired Jack Nitzsche on the strength of his work with Phil Spector, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young and particularly his soundtrack for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the original inspiration for their use of the bowed saw. Unfortunately Mr. Nitzsche died in August 2000 before production could get started. Once again, Mercury Rev were on their own. Well, not quite — T. Rex producer Tony Visconti did lend a hand on some arrangements and orchestration. The follow-up to the orchestrated Deserter’s Songs could have been over-the-top bombastic. An attempt to employ a gigantic boys choir was a sign of how overblown an affair it could have been. Perhaps in deference to what Nitzsche would have done, Mercury Rev kept things relatively modest, with the bulk of the orchestral blast concentrated on the opening track, “The Dark Is Rising.” Donahue sounds more comfortable with his wavery voice, which is higher than ever, complementing the fragile songs with delicate titles like “Tides Of The Moon,” “Nite And Fog,” “Little Rhymes,” and “Spiders and Flies.” Not to say these songs are happy, exactly. Most involve yearning for connections they can’t have — “I hope you see your ship come in/May it find you an’ never lose it’s way/But I would make a poor captain/Nite an’ fog are my days.” Some reveal something approaching terror — “Pharoahs an’ kings…When they lived they loved complete/But in their tombs, I hear them scream.” The nightmarish apex would be “Lincoln’s Eyes (A Cruel Black Dragon Lurks)” — “What appears like an’ angel/Stabs like a dagger/Fills you with lite/An’ Bleeds you of matter.” Even the most innocent child’s dreams can sometimes be ghoulish. The dream reaches a well-earned romantic respite with “A Drop In Time” and “You’re My Queen.” Donahue summons the moonlight to play at his lover’s feet “An’ softly linger there.” He’s rewarded in the next song — “Seven times I kissed you on th’ mouth/Every nite I let you conquer me.” “Hercules” closes the album, starting with an acoustic guitar, building to a tumultuous guitar-driven peak, and then tapering off with dwindling strings, like a lover’s lingering touch — “Drifting as you go but you row…’til it seems/All is One, All is Mind, all is lost and you find, all is dream.” Mercury Rev have consistently striven to achieve a sound that is not of its time, but of all time. While it lacks anything as forcefully engaging as “Opus 40” or “Goddess On A Highway,” All Is Dream is half a step closer to timelessness, and is a fine progression for a great American band poised for a long gliding career.
Sparklehorse, It’s A Wonderful Life (EMI/Capitol)
The name “Sparklehorse” conjured the image of a scruffy, self-deprecating, cutesy indie rock band of little consequence. Due to that error in judgment I missed out on the West Virginia band’s first two scintillating, albums of substance and wonder — 1995’s Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot and 1999’s Good Morning Spider. It’s A Wonderful Life, lighter on catchy hooks, mostly crawls at a snail’s pace, like slo-core pioneers Seam and Low, but with an extra dimension in sound due to a greater variety in instruments and arrangements. In its quiet, sincere intensity, it is also the best of the three albums. Linkous’ singing is similar to the hushed, pillowy style of Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan. Except that nestled amongst the feathers are rocks, broken sticks, worms and frogs resulting in a rustic beauty exemplified by the likes of The Dirty Three and Tom Waits, who generously offers tools from his musical shed on “Dog Days” — “pitchfork/crowbar/clawhammer/hot tar!” Polly Jean Harvey contributes vocals to “Piano Fire” and “Eyepennies.” But the real stars here are the songs. Even Engineer Dave Fridmann, who’s strong-willed influence usually stamps his unmistakable sound on every client, bends to Linkous’ own unique vision. “Gold Day” is a sunny declaration of good will that is convincingly earnest — “hold skinny wolves at bay/
in silver piles of smiles/may all your days be gold my child.” The gentle “Sea Of Teeth” is perfectly economical poetry — “can you feel the wind of venus on your skin?/can you taste the crush of a sunset’s dying blush?… can you feel the rings of saturn on your finger?/can you taste the ghosts who shed their creaking hosts?/but seas forever boil, trees will turn to soil.” “Apple Bed” is even prettier, but more unsettled, with Linkous wishing he had “a horse’s head/a tiger’s heart/an apple bed.” “King of Nails” adds some well-placed guitar squalls reminiscent of early Flaming Lips. All is not puppies and kittens and sunshine however. The fantastic imagery often borders on morbid, from “the toothless kiss of skeletons” to “circus people with hairy little hands.” Dirt, clay, hair, nails and teeth are strewn throughout the lyrics, as if Linkous was wallowing in a ditch, or perhaps scratching his way out of his own grave. Just like how fellow songwriter extraordinaire Mr. E. arrived at an upbeat album with the Eels after recent deaths of loved ones, Mark Linkous’ life-affirming outlook is hard earned after his own near-death. Frank Capra eat your heart out.
Ed Harcourt, Here Be Monsters (Virgin)
On 23 year-old Ed Harcourt’s full-length debut, he outperforms Rufus Wainright, and Jeff Buckley, and uncorks more great songs than Elliott Smith’s entire career. Before they’ve even heard of him, the competition is eating his dust. What sets Harcourt apart is his apparent knack for flawless arrangements worthy of Randy Newman/Van Dyke Parks. No doubt his good taste in choosing control-room assistance from Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev producer Dave Fridmann and Tim Holmes of Death In Vegas didn’t hurt. In the face of the new wave of depressingly anemic and conservative troubadours like David Gray, Harcourt breathes life into the maligned singer-songwriter genre with his eccentric melodic style that cannot be pinned down with any specific influence, other than a slight hint of early 70s Bowie. Within just the first three songs, Harcourt covers as much emotional terrain as Van Morrison did between his despairing Astral Weeks and ecstatic Moondance. The opener, “Something In My Eye” begins modestly as a strummed acoustic number, but gradually builds into an inspiring orchestral yearning. “God Protect Your Soul,” starts with an ominous growl that bears resemblance to Mark Lanegan. The music is barbed by thorns of slashing guitars and pounding drums. The infectuously poppy “She Fell Into My Arms” is shockingly sunny after the previous song’s anger. Summer skips to winter in the funereal “Those Crimson Tears,” accented by muted horns like perfect snowflakes. The album peaks with the epic “Beneath The Heart of Darkness” that betrays Fridmann’s knob-twiddling. Who else could transform an off-kilter beat inspired by a rattling central heating boiler in Harcourt’s house into a masterful opus of claustrophobia that would turn Thom Yorke green with envy? Here Be Monsters suffers from not a single weak song. This is a stunning work of enduring beauty by someone who’s too young to remember the early 80s, yet seems to have absorbed more musical wisdom than any of his contemporaries. More please.
Pulp, We Love Life (Island)
While even the crème de la crème of the mid-90s Britpop scene (mainly Blur) already sounds dated, Pulp always stood slightly apart and above the rest, possibly because they had been around far longer, having lived through the previous British pop invasion of the early 80s. Surviving obscurity and several incarnations since 1978 has added extra layers of depth perception that their peers lacked. 23 years later they have demonstrated the same kind of staying power as their producer Scott Walker, with their seventh and best album. While 1998’s This Is Hardcore was a dark, cynical reaction to their experiences with celebrity and decadence (when Pulp’s popularity peaked in ’95 with Different Class they were celebrated practically as national heroes), We Love Life is a lush romp in the garden. Walker defiantly undermined his massive mainstream popularity in the 60s and early 70s by recording a series of intense, difficult solo albums, culminating in the impenetrable Tilt (’95). Given Pulp’s past flirtations with the artier side of Roxy Music and Bowie, it would not have been surprising if they’d taken the same path. We Love Life, however, is surprisingly inviting. The sound is rich and expansive, ambitious yet easy to grasp. This doesn’t mean that the album is a placid walk in the park lyrically. Jarvis Cocker still has plenty of bile to serve up with his tossed salad of nature (embattled yet resilient) metaphors. The album opens with a two-song suite, “Weeds” easing gently into a lumbering acoustic number. “Weeds II (The Origin Of The Species)” segues smoothly into psychedelic guitars, building into a symphony of stately vocal choruses. The core of the song addresses, with barely contained rage, the condescending way the music industry treats its product (“C’mon do your funny little dance.”) “The Night That Minnie Timperley Died” features power chords reminiscent of Ziggy Stardust, while the melancholic romanticism of “The Trees” is centered around a funereal organ solo. The eight-minute long “Wickerman” revisits Neil Young’s tragic themes from “Down By The River,” but with Cocker talk-singing in a buttery, sensual croon. After the centerpiece, the album lightens up with few slighter songs, and then picks up with “Bad Cover Version,” a brilliantly cheeky comment on decent artists who’s work inevitably turns to shit, a dilemma Pulp are probably aware that they’ve successfully avoided so far. “Sunrise” is the stunning grand finale, with a choral buildup that recalls “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” ending with a refreshingly balls-out rocking climax. Too smart and prickly to appeal to the fans of Coldplay and Travis’ damp sentimentalism, it’s hard to say if We Love Life’s uncompromising artistry will be rewarded the same way Radiohead’s recent albums have. I hope so, for it would be just desserts for a veteran band just arrived at its peak.
Hawksley Workman, (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves (Isadora/Universal)
Hawksley Workman is a flamboyantly eccentric young Canadian cabaret troubadour, a poetic soul (he’s already published a book of poetry called Hawksley Burns For Isadora), Prince-like one-man band (he records his albums in his home studio and plays nearly every note) and spinner of tall tales. On his fictionalized bio, Workman claims he went from shining shoes at a tap-dance academy to becoming their top dancer, as chronicled on his debut album For Him And The Girls. (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves is the latest chapter in his fantastical life story. Here we have young Hawksley losing his romantic innocence when he learns his favorite tap-dance instructor is also another sort of dancer who “moves without the mind” in “Striptease.” While he retains his roots in early Bowie, Sparks, Harry Nilsson, David Ackles and Tim Buckley, Workman expands his palate to include early-80s Prince in the playfully funky “Striptease.” The city writhes with misplaced desires, and our protaganist is compelled to dance and joyously revel in his newfound lust in “You Me And The Weather” and “Dirty & True,” which dresses up Tom Waits in platform heels, sparkles and heavy metal riffs. Workman has a strong voice with incredible range, a worthy successor of Jeff Buckley, formidable competition to Rufus Wainright and Ed Harcourt. His rough home-spun John Vanderslice-like edges on his first album has been smoothed out for a more complex, original sound on Delicious Wolves. Workman’s lust for life is infectious. Anyone unaffected by this uninhibited music could only be dead from the shoulders up and the waist down.
Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart (Mantra/Beggars Banquet)
While most Americans have not heard of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, the wild-eyed Welsh band has been kicking around since 1990. Their quirky and sometimes impenetrable blend of sixties psychedelia, seventies prog rock and druidic Welsh-sung folk ballads have kept them under wraps as cult favorites. Their seventh album, How I Long To Fell That Summer In My Heart could, and should, be their breakthrough. The more prickly experiments have been left behind, as they expand upon the pastoral acoustic vibe from their Blue Trees EP. The album arrives at the perfect time to evoke the melancholy one feels when summer is all-too-soon over. Rather than bucolic splendor of sunshine and butterflies, this quiet, folksy music is definitively autumnal. There is a strong country presence that would be surprising if it weren’t for the foreshadowing offered by “Faraway Eyes” in 1999’s Spanish Dance Troupe. The laid-back “Honeymoon With You” sounds like an outtake of early-70s (ex-Byrd) Gene Clark, accentuated by a Hammond organ and Morgan Childs’ fiddling. Richard James’ and Euros Childs’ feather-light harmonies on “Easy Love” reference The Everly Brothers, while “These Winds Are In My Heart” resembles a celtic-flavored Fairport Convention, with exquisitely mournful cries of slide guitars and squeeze boxes. This is not really a rootsy hoedown, however. The sound retains a subtle post-psychedelic sheen that is more Mercury Rev than Palace Brothers — sublimely earthy details like Sparklehorse mixed with Kingston Manx and Pinetop Seven’s brand of orchestral Americana. “Cân Megan” gets more showy with a swaying horn section. Next to the understated beauty of most of the album, the beguiling “Christina” is practically grandiose, with a full eight piece string section and choir vocals. Among an embarrassment of riches of soft-spoken chamber pop albums this year, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci stand out by offering one indispensable emerald-hewed gem after another.
Super Furry Animals, Rings Around The World (Epic)
There must be something in the water in Wales. Two of the most ambitious, quirky, 21st-century psychedelic bands are Welshmen Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals. Like Gorky’s, SFA have been around for a while — creating bold psych-pop gems with little notice, at least from North America. 1999’s Guerrilla was their OK Computer, experimenting with electronica without the hyperbolic hype. Last year, when third-rate Radiohead copycats Coldplay were celebrated, SFA quietly confounded and charmed the lucky few who heard the lovely Mwng, sung entirely in Welsh. With their fifth album, Rings Around The World, SFA have reached an extravagant peak. The songs are tied together by some vague theme of global communication and information pollution. However, the less-than revelatory lyrics are not the main attraction. It’s the wealth of sounds and trippy melodies that make this 2001’s update of The Flaming Lip’s opus, The Soft Bulletin. The first five songs are minor pop classics, an astounding cornucopia of Beach Boys choruses, killer hooks and studio wizardry. They rush by so quickly that you want to hear them again before carrying on with the rest of the album. The pace slows to the erotically sinister “[A] Touch Sensitive,” an instrumental mix of Orbital, Clinton and Gary Numan complete with digitized female panting. “No! Sympathy” begins as a languid, acoustic ballad that could have come from The Small Faces’ mod psychedelic opera Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. But after the final kiss-off line, “You deserve to die,” the song explodes into the most vicious techno fury heard outside of Alec Empire’s brood of Digital Hardcore cronies. The single “Juxtapozed With U” provides light-hearted relief, with Charlie’s Angels violins and Peter Frampton-style vocoder. Here Gruff Rhys sounds oddly like Elvis Costello fronting a Vegas showband. “Presidential Suite,” gets a little too fluffy, like a Muzak remake of The Style Council. After the album’s sole weak track, SFA introduces “Run! Christian, Run!” with a forlorn melodica, with an insistent two-note electronic blurp leading you towards release in a guitar-heavy climax. The album closes with the gentle synthesizer-tinged ballad, “Fragile Happiness.” The ride is over, and I never even noticed where the heck heavyweight guests John Cale and Sir Paul McCartney came in, nor do I care. If you have a DVD player, the fun goes on, with twelve film shorts in full surround sound. More accessible than countrymen Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, and heavier than Mercury Rev, Rings Around The World is a perfectly balanced headtrip.
The Czars, The Ugly People Vs. The Beautiful People (Bella Union)
While The Czars hail from Denver, Colorado and are often labeled New Americana alongside fellow Denver natives 16 Horsepower, this band is as unique as they come. The country and folk roots are buried within their lush arrangements, and are as difficult to pinpoint as the orchestral soul of Lambchop and Pernice Brothers. Their music has a melancholic, cinematic quality of the Tindersticks, mixed with the mournful atmosphere of Ennio Morricone. They boast an extraordinary singer in John Grant, whose clear, strong multi-octave voice echoes that of Tim Buckley. Not surprisingly, they contributed a stunning cover of “Song To The Siren” to Sing a Song for You: A Tribute to Tim Buckley. And if you’re not confused enough, there’s also a slight Radiohead vibe (partially due to Thom Yorke’s obsession with Jeff Buckley, Tim’s equally talented but lesser accomplished son). Like last year’s debut Before…But Longer, The Ugly People Vs. The Beautiful People was produced by The Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde and engineer Giles Hall, for their label Bella Union. Like labelmates Lift To Experience, The Czars strive for a sprawling, grandiloquent statement. They succeed swimmingly. Ugly People… flows gorgeously like a giant iceburg, occasionally encountering oceanic storms like the rocking “This” and the dramatic organ-drenched crescendos of “Side Effect.” Pianos and acoustic guitars are augmented by trombone, trumpet (Ron Miles contributes an impressive improvisation on “Caterpillar”), pedal steel, violin and occasionally electronics, not unlike recent Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. The Czars’ overall sound, however, is quite simple and uncluttered, everything in its place. “Killjoy” is pure joy, a timeless country-pop melody with a thoroughly modern sound, assisted by Tarnation’s Paula Frazer. “Lullaby 6000” is another major highlight, an epic slow-burn ballad that peaks with Frazer and Grant harmonizing beautifully. The rest of the album is less immediate, a sort of decorative psychedelia that hangs nicely in the air like suspended flowers which ultimately enhance the impact of the peaks. Meet The Czars, future rulers of your mash mixes.
Eels, Soul Jacker (Dreamworks)
Soul Jacker is the fourth set of brilliance by the L.A.-based songwriter known as “E.” Previous albums have dealt with harrowing personal tales of angst and grief, set to eccentric yet incredibly infectious hooks. Eels albums have always exuded a British feel in their layered pop fussiness, which is why Soul Jacker was released in the U.K. months previously. Soul Jacker, named after an American serial killer who thought he could steal his victims’ souls, has a much different feel than last year’s Daisies Of The Galaxy, which was an exercise in lovely, upbeat pop simplicity. Much like Sparklehorse’s It’s A Wonderful Life, this album explores darker themes with image-rich creativity, while avoiding self-pitying pitfalls of common miserabilists with wry humor. The sound is rawer, crunchier, dirtier, with tattered edges rather than a polished gleam. This sonic change is due in part to production by John Parish (PJ Harvey), and guitar assistance from Joe Gore (Tom Waits). Much like PJ Harvey on To Bring You My Love, they recycle and modernize the blues with “Soul Jacker part I,” an update of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.” “Dog Faced Boy” starts out with a low, gravelly guitar that continues the Harvey-circa-’95 influence, mixed with the woozy, low-tuned guitars of an old Nirvana song, “Blew.” The derivativeness ends there, as the rest of the album is bracingly original. On “That’s Not Really Funny,” E berates his lover for making fun of the size of his penis to a schizophrenic mambo and punk background. Hilarious. “Fresh Feeling” hearkens to the positivity of Daisies. It’s an affecting love song with a swooning chamber string section, guaranteed to make it onto many a mash mix for 2002. “Woman Driving, Man Sleeping” is a subtly powerful mood piece, with laid back acoustic guitars. “Looking straight ahead into the black…there’s no radio to play/sitting with the map/laying crumpled on her lap/looking for the toll money to pay.” “Friendly Ghost,” “Teenage Witch” and “Bus Stop Boxer” are character studies of misfits, accompanied by fresh, imaginative arrangements. “Jungle Telegraph” pulls off the unlikely synthesis of Tom Waits tin pan alley pastiche with a danceable funk groove. “World Of Shit” (“in this world of shit/baby you are it”) is possibly the most deadpan love song ever, in which E proposes (“baby, I confess/I am quite a mess”) he and his mate get married and “make some people/more than equal/in this world of shit.” Music this brilliantly messed up simply must make the Eels famous. Soul Jacker is not as ambitious as Electro-Shock Blues or as entertaining as Daisies, but it’s just as haunting, funny, beautiful and unique.
Steve Wynn, Here Come The Miracles (Innerstate)
In the nineteen years since The Dream Syndicate’s drop-dead classic The Days Of Wine And Roses, Steve Wynn has consistently produced workmanlike music that was not nearly as inspired as his stunning debut, but far from embarrassing. Talk about a comeback, wow. I don’t know what they were slipping into the goat meat tacos down there in the Tuscon desert, but Here Come The Miracles nearly rivals The Days…. I only say nearly because The Dream Syndicate’s magic in their time and place in musical history is hard to compete with. Miracles is a double album featuring 19 songs, one for each year Wynn had to confront the possibility that he’d never measure up to the benchmark he set first time in the studio. It measures up not only to that, but also to George P. Pelecanos’ outrageous claim that this is Wynn’s Exile On Main Street, his Zen Arcade, his Physical Graffiti. Pelecanos is a successful crime-fiction writer in the tradition of Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy and Jim Thompson, who’s writing has often made references to Wynn’s music. Fittingly, the album is an epic series of hard-boiled pulp noir tales. Assisted by a crack band comprised of Chris Cacavas (Green On Red), Chris Brokaw (Come, Pullman), Dave DeCastro, Linda Pitman and producer Craig Schumacher (Calexico, Giant Sand), Wynn paints expressive, expansive grooves loosely based on blues riffs. The raw distorted garage sound owes much to fellow Velvet Underground/Neil Young acolytes Eleventh Dream Day. However, while Eleventh Dream Day’s recent albums mix shimmering beauty with oblique experimentalism, Wynn holds things together with timeless hooks and epic lyricism. The album is so consistent, it’s hard to pick highlights. It starts with three intensely memorable psychedelic pop songs in “Here Come The Miracles,” “Shades Of Blue” and “Sustain,” and loosens up on the twisting, rambling “Crawling Misanthropic Blues.” The second disc is even more freewheeling, as the peyote, mushrooms or whatever was hidden in the spicy goat meat kicked in. Wynn has not quite reached geezer status, and this album sounds familiar, yet avoids retreads. Instead, it’s a fresh, raw, vital shot in the arm, a vaccination against cynicism that rock ‘n’ roll is dead.
Fugazi, The Argument (Dischord)
Fugazi’s previous albums, Red Medicine (1995) and End Hits (1998) maintained a sort of holding pattern. While relatively experimental, they were also somewhat predictable. There were the dubby excursions, the quiet art-rock, the tricky rhythms, the obtuse lyrics and the occasional explosive screams and crunching chords. Reviewers didn’t have much to say about them other than, this is Fugazi, they’re original, and they’re good. But it’s been a while since they really grabbed you by the heart with the urgency of “The Waiting Room,” “Turnover” or “Face Squared.” Tortoise-inspired jazzy noodling was refreshing back in ’94-’96, but it’s still good to be electrified. One would never expect Fugazi’s latest, The Argument to be chock full of fist-shaking anthems, but it is certainly their most cohesively satisfying since 1993’s In On The Kill Taker. It is also their most lush, exemplified by the airy production, and use of piano and cello on the “Strangelight.” Full Disclosure” and “Life And Limb” even feature breathy “oooing” female backing vocals. Not to say Fugazi have gone orchestral pop on us. There are plenty of jagged guitars, both noisy and clean. The chorus with a sing-songy guitar line on “Full Disclosure” is cut short by a shrieking guitar siren that Public Enemy would have swapped their clocks for to sample back in the day. There are also more melodic moments, such as the sing-a-long chorus of “Full Disclosure,” and the almost folky refrain at the end of “Epic Problem.” “The Bill” is nearly lilting, with a mournful guitar line that recalls a similar moment from Talking Heads’ Remain In Light. The result is one of the most hauntingly unique songs in Fugazi’s oeuvre. “Strangelight” begins quietly, with Guy Picciotto’s vocals soft yet menacing, building into a charging, flaming dragon of a song with spiraling guitars as sharp as scales. On “Ex-Spectator,” Ian Mackaye unleashes the fury of his powerful voice in a riveting revisit to the Fugazi sound of twelve years ago. “Nightshop” is another pleasant surprise, with a chorus accompanied by an acoustic guitar that could almost be compared to Led Zeppelin. The album closes with the fascinating “Argument,” where Mackaye sings tunefully and restrained to a spare, Slint-like rhythm. The song all-too-briefly segues into a tasty patch of electronica before concluding in crashing chaos. One can’t help wanting more, perhaps one last slashing barnburner. That can be found on the simultaneously released EP featuring the blistering “Furniture” that recalls Shellac’s early singles; the viciously rocking instrumental “Number 5” and the hardcore fury of “Hello Morning.” Fiercely independent, prickly, iconoclastic, Fugazi is not a band that comes off as eager to please. But they never fail to inspire and impress.
Rock & Pop
1. The Strokes * Is This It (BMG/RCA)
2. Sparklehorse * It’s A Wonderful Life (EMI/Parlophone)
3. Ed Harcourt * Here Be Monsters (Virgin)
4. Pulp * We Love Life (Uni/Island)
5. Hawksley Workman * (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves (Isadora/Universal)
6. Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci * How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart (Mantra/Beggars Banquet)
7. Super Furry Animals * Rings Around The World (Epic
8. Eels * Soul Jacker (Dreamworks)
9. Steve Wynn * Here Come The Miracles (Innerstate)
10. Fugazi * The Argument (Dischord)
11. Elbow * Asleep In The Back (V2)
12. The Dismemberment Plan * Change (De Soto)
13. Built To Spill * Ancient Melodies Of The Future (WB)
Avant Rock & Out Pop
1. Björk * Vespertine (Elektra)
2. Mercury Rev * All Is Dream (V2)
3. Radiohead * Amnesiac (Capitol)
4. Mogwai * Rock Action (Matador)
5. The Boredoms * Vision, Creation, Newsun (WEA)
6. Jim O’Rourke * Insignificance (Drag City
7. Foetus * Flow (Thirsty Ear)
8. Stereolab * Sound-Dust (Elektra
9. Fridge * Happiness (Temporary Residence)
10. The Beta Band * Hotshots II (Astralwerks)
11. Tortoise * Standards (Thrill Jockey)
12. Hector Zazou & Sandy Dillon * Las Vegas Is Curved (First World)
13. Various * All Tomorrow’s Parties 1.0 (ATPR)
Hard Rock & Metal
1. Rocket From The Crypt * Group Sounds (TVT/Vagrant)
2. Tool * Lateralus/Systema Encephale (Volcano)
3. Isis * Celestial (7)
4. Godflesh * Hymns (Earache)
5. Ché * Sounds Of Liberation (Man’s Ruin)
6. Clutch * Pure Rock Fury (Atlantic)
7. Zeke * Death Alley (Tee Pee)
8. System Of A Down * Toxicity (American
9. The Dictators * D.F.F.D. (Dictators)
10. Cutthroats 9 (Man’s Ruin)
11. The Dictators * D.F.F.D. (Dictators)
12. Sea Of Tombs (Gravity)
13. Nebula * Charged (Sub Pop)
- Opeth * Blackwater Park (Koch)
- Entombed * Morning Star (Music for the Nations)
- The Haunted * …Made Me Do It (Earache)
- Warhorse * As Heaven Turns To Ash… (Southern Lord)
- Converge * Jane Doe (Equal Vision)
- Thorns (Moonfog)
- Akercocke * The Goat Of Mendes (Peaceville)
- Anaal Nathrakh * The Codex Necro (Mordgrimm)
- Neurosis * A Sun That Never Sets (Relapse)
- Old Man Gloom * Seminar II (Tortuga)
- Cathedral * Endtyme (Earache)
- Slayer * God Hates Us All (Mercury)
- My Dying Bride * The Dreadful Hours (Peaceville)
1. Tindersticks * Can Our Love… (Beggars Banquet)
2. Pernice Brothers * The World Won’t End (Ashmont)
3. The Autumn Defense * The Green Hour (Broadmoor
4. The American Analog Set * Know By Heart (Tiger Style)
5. Rufus Wainright * Poses (Dreamworks)
6. Kevin Tihista’s Red Terror * Don’t Breathe A Word (Blanco Y Negro)
7. Trembling Blue Stars * Alive To Every Smile (Sub Pop)
8. Her Space Holiday * Manic Expressive (Tiger Style
9. Ida * The Braille Night (Tiger Style)
10. Spain * I Believe (Restless)
11. Julie Doiron * Desormais (Jagjaguwar)
12. Low * Things We Lost In The Fire (Kranky)
13. Hope Sandoval & Warm Invention * Bavarian Fruit Bread (BMG/Sanctuary)
Electronica, Techno & Dance
1. Prefuse 73 * Vocal Studies & Uprock Narratives (Warp)
2. Fennesz * Endless Summer (Mego)
3. Autechre * Confield (Warp
4. Daft Punk * Discovery (Virgin)
5. Four Tet * Pause (Domino)
6. Mouse On Mars * Idiology (Thrill Jockey)
7. Talvin Singh * Ha (Island)
8. Karsh Kale * Realize (Six Degrees)
9. Badmarsh & Shri * Signs (Nutone/Nettwerk
10. Joi * We Are Three (Real World)
11. Air * 10,000 Hz Legend (Astralwerks)
12. Labradford * Fixed::Content (Kranky)
13. Basement Jaxx * Rooty (XL)
- Otto * Condom Black (Trama)
- Max De Castro * Samba Raro (Trama)
- Nitin Sawhney * Prophesy (V2)
- Moreno Veloso +2 * Music Typewriter (Hannibal/Natasha)
- Tom Zé * Jogos De Armar (Trama)
- Gigi (Palm Pictures)
- Manu Chao * Proxima Estacion: Esperanza (EMD/Virgin)
- Natacha Atlas * Ayeshteni (Mantra)
- Femi Kuti * Fight To Win (MCA)
- Rachid Taha * Made In Medina (Mondo Melodia)
- Trilok Gurtu * The Beat Of Love (Blue Note)
- Fanfare Ciocarlia * Iag Bari (Piranha)
- Krishna Das * Breath of the Heart (Triloka)
1. The Czars * The Ugly People Vs. The Beautiful People (Bellaire)
2. Mark Lanegan * Field Songs (Sub Pop)
3. Handsome Family * Twilight (Carrot Top)
4. Shannon Wright * Dyed In The Wool (Quarterstick)
5. Thalia Zedek * Been Here and Gone (Matador)
6. Jim White * No Such Place (Luaka Bop)
7. Joe Henry * Scar (Mammoth)
8. Beachwood Sparks * Once We Were Trees (Sub Pop
9. Willard Grant Conspiracy * Everything’s Fine (Rykodisc/Slow River)
10. Old 97’s * Satellite Ride (Elektra)
11. Jay Farrar * Sebastapol (Artemis)
12. Califone * Roomsound (Perishable)
13. Whiskeytown * Pneumonia (Universal)
Country & Folk
1. Papa M * Whatever, Mortal (Drag City)
2. Lucinda Williams * Essence (UNI/Lost Highway)
3. Gillian Welch * Time (The Revelator) (Acony)
4. Shelby Lynne * Love, Shelby (Island)
5. Bob Dylan * Love And Theft (Columbia)
6. Tim Easton * The Truth About Us (New West)
7. Kelly Hogan * Because It Feel Good (Bloodshot)
8. Howe Gelb * Confluence (Thrill Jockey)
9. Buddy & Julie Miller (Hightone)
10. John Hammond * Wicked Grin (Virgin)
11. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy * Ease Down The Road (Palace Records)
12. Ani DiFranco * Revelling: Reckoning (Righteous Babe)
13. Trailer Bride * High Seas (Bloodshot)
Hip Hop & Rap
1. Roots Manuva * Run Come Save Me (Big Dada)
2. Cannibal Ox * Cold Vein (Ozone Music)
3. The Coup * Party Music (75 Ark)
4. Dilated Peoples * Expansion Team (Capitol)
5. Timbaland & Magoo * Indecent Proposal (Virgin)
6. Jay-Z * The Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella)
7. DJ Krush * Zen (Red Ink)
8. DJ Swamp * Never Is Now (Decadent/Lakeshore)
9. Aesop Rock * Labor Days (Def Jux)
10. Bigg Jus * Plantation Rhymes (Sub Verse)
11. Busta Rhymes * Genesis (J Records)
12. Gorillaz (Virgin)
13. Dungeon Family * …Even in Darkness (Arista)
R&B & Soul
1. N*E*R*D * In Search Of… (Virgin)
2. Bilal * 1st Born Second (Interscope)
3. Missy Elliott * Miss E . . . So Addictive (WEA/Elektra)
4. Macy Gray * The ID (Epic)
5. Ursula Rucker * Supa Sista (Studio !K7)
6. Mary J. Blige * No More Drama (MCA)
7. Angie Stone * Mahogony Soul (J Records)
8. Maxwell * Now (Columbia)
9. Jill Scott * Experience (Sony)
10. Kelis * Wanderland (Virgin)
11. Aaliyah (Blackground/Virgin)
- Jump Tomorrow
- Waking Life
- Donnie Darko
- Minority Report
- Hedwig And The Angry Inch
- Fellowship Of The Ring
- Ghost World
- Down And Out With The Dolls
- The Royal Tenenbaums
- When Brendan Met Trudy
- Human Nature
Amores Perros (Love’s A Bitch)
The Man Who Wasn’t There
The Closet (La Pacard)
Things Behind The Sun
The Anniversary Party
Josie & The Pussycats