To me, there’s no such thing as an objective “best”. Still, here’s what I liked most in 2000
Sigur Rós, Agætis Byrjun (Fat Cat/Bubblecore)
You know how the best movies surprise you as they proceed? How you think it’s a pretty good movie, but then each image and plot twist makes you like it more, until by the final shot you’re convinced it’s the best movie every made? Sigur Ròs’ first album to be released outside of their native Iceland had this same effect on me, and still does every time I listen. But it does even more than that; they map the path between ambient soundscapes and complicated, Radioheadesque rock and manage to find mysterious, uncharted places in between. They take the old adage “there’s nothing new under the sun”, and blow it to smithereens. I don’t know about you, but I follow music because it’s exciting, because there’s always the chance that I’ll come across something completely new and surprising. Well, this is it.
Busta Rhymes, Anarchy (Elektra)
Anarchy is Busta’s energetic attempt to gain more credibility and success with “the streets”. He tries to co-opt the popular hip-hop sounds of today, and stumbles into innovation in the process. Anarchy ended up being not imitative, but downright groundbreaking, with an overall sound unique to hip-hop: a futuristic mix of frantic beats, marching-band rhythms and Busta’s unerringly wild style as an MC. Add hot production from some of the best producers in hip-hop and guest spots from some of your favorite MCs, and you have an underrated classic. This album is all over the place, and every place it goes is right on-point.
Belle & Sebastian, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Matador)
With each album the quiet-pop collective known as Belle and Sebastian add more emotional depth to their (already slyly intelligent) lyrics, make their music prettier and more lush, and congeal more as a group, learning to utilize each member’s talents in full. That’s what they’ve done here, on their best release yet, a shining example of how much can be accomplished within the confines of a simple pop song.
Busytoby, It’s Good To Be Alive (Parasol)
The best melodies of the year were found here, within an autobiographical love story/fairy tale/concept album about figuring out whats important in life. Pure pop, pretty piano, boy/girl vocals and lots of love; what else do you need?
Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek, Reflection Eternal (Rawkus)
Talib Kweli was highly regarded as an MC after he dropped his first track or two; after his part in the duo Black Star (with Mos Def), he became many hip-hop fans’ favorite new MC, myself included. His full-length debut didn’t disappoint at all here he manages to make ear-friendly jams while articulately discussing the important social issues of today, big and small, from the criminal justice system and political prisoners to how we treat our neighbors and loved ones. Thought-provoking hip-hop does not have to be stiff; this is fun, soulful and intelligent music.
Sonic Youth, NYC Ghosts & Flowers (Geffen)
At this point in their career, Sonic Youth have nothing to prove; they’ve earned their status as cult heroes and can rest on their laurels. Right? Um, no. They may have been straddling the line between popular music and “serious” art for a long time, but they sound as inspired as ever. NYC Ghosts & Flowers evokes the mystery and beauty of NYC (and, by association, of humanity) through quiet, spooky poetry (both literal poems and poems constructed out of sound). These days, Sonic Youth seem to be taking their art seriously, and we’re the better off for it. This is a gem of a record, complicated and full.
Godspeed You Black Emperor, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! (Kranky)
Sweeping the streets with stringed instruments, Godspeed You Black Emperor! again use orchestral maneuvers, flittered with aural snapshots of life, to create an expansive soundtrack to the psychology and geography of our mixed-up modern world. Their perspective is both streetwise and gloriously cinematic, and this is their most fully realized work, one that truly captures the group’s power. This rocks more than the idiotic “post-rock” tag would have you believe, yet has more feeling than a truckload of the best rock bands.
The Mountain Goats, The Coroner’s Gambit (Absolutely Kosher)
Against the backdrop of history and geography, John Darnielle tells people’s stories through raw-to-the-bone modern folk songs. The Coroner’s Gambit, by far his best work yet, treads through the darker side of life, from death and despair to more death and despair, and does it in an exhausting but affirming way.
Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol)
Kid A isn’t the experimental statement some make it out to be, or even as sharp a turn in their career as OK Computer, but it’s an intriguing, gorgeous ride nonetheless. Here is where the rock side of Radiohead begins to slowly melt away. And what’s left? Sheer beauty.
Bright Eyes, Fevers and Mirrors (Saddle Creek)
Conor Oberst is an intense little guy; on Fevers and Mirrors he takes all his mood shifts, poetry, fear, romanticism and general curiousness about life and jams it into emotionally churning folk-pop songs that take your breath away time and again.
// Notes from the Road
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