1. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
2002 was a year that I spent more time contemplating what it meant to be an American, than I had in the previous 25 combined. This album helped me through that process. A brilliant combination of beauty, intricacies, contradictions, open space, and Jeff Tweedy’s down but not out vocals seemed to sum up the American experience in a way not seen since Bob Dylan’s salad days.
2. Doves, The Last Broadcast (Capitol)
While no album will ever match the Stone Roses self titled debut, The Last Broadcast is the closest anyone has ever come.
3. Blackalicious, Blazing Arrow (MCA)
One part social commentary, one part block party, Blackalicious issued Blazing Arrow to serve as a reminder of the true power of hip-hop. The one album that can get any wallflower to stop playing the wall and shake their thang on the dancefloor.
4. Sigur Ros, ( ) (MCA)
Sigur Ros are easily the most ambitious and creative band around today. Listening to ( ) is the kind of album that will stop you from doing whatever it is you were doing and pay attention to the music.
5. The Roots, Phrenology (MCA)
For years I’ve been waiting for the Roots to release an album like Phrenology. Maintaining their penchant for sonic exploration, the Roots have finally learned they don’t have to sacrifice funk for brains.
6. RJD2, Dead Ringer (Def Jux)
Imagine if DJ Shadow had a sense of humor or Moby was more into hip-hop. Or, you can buy RJD2’s superb Dead Ringer and not have to use your imagination at all.
7. Superdrag, Last Call for Vitriol (Arena Rock)
Last Call For Vitriol is a rock record in the truest sense. If there was any justice in this world, Casey Cassum would be counting down to a song by Superdrag instead of Justin Timberlake.
8. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol)
In 2002 Coldplay proved that they are more than your average Britpop band. Eschewing the road frequently traveled, the band chose to imbibe their hooks a less straightforward method of songwriting. A Rush of Blood to the Head is a record that grows and breathes with you as you listen to it.
9. Mum, Finally We Are No One (Fat Cat)
Mum make electronic music that sounds so organic you almost expect that it was written for a pagan ritual set in the hillsides of Ireland. One of my most cherished discoveries of 2002.
10. Neil Halstead, Sleeping on Roads (4AD)
While Neil Halstead’s solo work was not a stretch from Mojave 3, Sleeping on Roads is brilliant because it distinguishes itself without radically altering his method. It is one of the few records created for listeners to dream to.
Toughest Omission: The Streets, Original Pirate Music (Vice/Atlantic)
Best of the British rappers—easily. But, is that alone enough to put someone in the top 10 records of the year? While his cockney slang was infectious, he does not measure up to the best rappers on American shores. Similarly, while his beats were fantastic, there are better trip-hop beats to be found. And while his production is commendable he’s no Prince Paul or Premier. At the same time he is doing something no artist has done, and his record shows true talent, not just a pioneer spirit. Which is why I’m torn on where this album ranks. I suppose you’ll have to just buy the record and make up your own mind.
Best Re-Issue: Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted (Matador Records)
To tell the truth, this is easily the best album released this year, however there is some rule that critics have to abide by that says you cannot put a re-issue in your top 10. However, 10 years ago this album blew my mind, ten years later it is doing it all over again. Alone Slanted and Enchanted should be in any music lovers collection, the extra Peel Sessions, demos, live recordings and the Watery Domestic EP that accompany it are just gravy.
Best EP: Interpol, S/T (Matador Records)
Classic EP, three wonderful songs that highlight one of New York’s brightest stars, that was reminiscent of a time when the Lower East Side was teeming with exciting young bands. This EP was so good, I had to leave Interpol’s full-length Brighten the Lights off my Top 10 list because, as great as it was, it just couldn’t measure up.