Badly Drawn Boy, The Hour of Bewilderbeast (Twisted Nerve/XL/Beggars Banquet)
While 2000 will not likely be remembered as a great year for music overall, I cannot recall a year when the best album stood out so clearly. Even after having been impressed by the Badly Drawn Boy (aka Damon Gough) EP I heard several summers ago as well as Gough’s track on the UNKLE record, I was shocked at the undeniable elegance of The Hour of Bewilderbeast. From the opening strains of french horn and cello on “The Shining”, one is unmistakably aware that this is an accomplished record. After the opener, Gough never makes a misstep, clattering through “Everybodys Stalking”, sulking through “Fall in a River”, and hammering out a catchy single with “Disillusion” (with help from his Mancunian mates, Doves, see below). Several listens to Bewilderbeast should be enough to quiet critics who paint Gough as little more than a British Elliott Smith, as Smith for all his success is a great distance from making a record this fine.
Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol)
What more can be said about this album? Perhaps the world’s preeminent guitar band, Radiohead abandon the guitars altogether, ignoring all conventional wisdom to craft a claustrophobic, self-hating, anxious treasure.
Coldplay, Parachutes (Nettwerk America)
Sporting the single of the year, “Yellow”, this debut reaffirms the vitality of British guitars. Yes, comparing frontman Chris Martin’s endless vocal gymnastics to Thom Yorke and the late Jeff Buckley is inevitable, but these kid stars are rather compelling in their own right as well.
Belle & Sebastian, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Matador)
While not representative of B&S’s best work, Fold Your Hands… still displays just how far ahead of the competition these Scots remain. The now more democratic songwriting hurts this album’s coherence, Stuart Murdoch’s works still glisten. The unexpected hooks of “The Model” are uncompromising as B&S continue to connect the dots of The Smiths and The Field Mice on the way to pop heaven. Likewise, the string swept “There’s Too Much Love” is pop at its most promising, as only Belle and Sebastian are currently capable.
Black Box Recorder, The Facts of Life (Nude UK)
This second album from the side project of Luke Haines (The Auteurs), somehow scandalously couldn’t find a stateside release. Haines has always been a champion of the perverse, but he and vocalist Sarah Nixey outdo themselves here. The Facts of Life provides enough sinister sexual fodder to make one feel like an embarrassed elementary school pupil in sex education all over again.
The Delgados, The Great Eastern (Chemikal Underground/Mantra Recordings)
The Great Eastern was one of this year’s most pleasant surprises; while I liked the Delgados’ two previous albums, I didn’t think they could produce something of this much merit and substance. David Fridmann of Mercury Rev produced the record and he convincingly applies converging swathes of sound echoing his work with Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips and Wheat. The production’s renewed purpose allows the vocal tandem of Alun Woodward and Emma Pollack freedom enough to provide lovely yet brutal accounts of misery (“The Past that Suits You Best”) and torture (“Make Your Move”) with little reason for hope.
The 6ths, Hyacinths and Thistles (Merge)
As if The Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Meritt hadn’t already proven that he is among the most prolific songwriters of his generation, these 14 tracks only serve to further up the ante. This, the second album under the 6ths name (his project where he writes songs for guest vocalists) picks up where 1995’s Wasps’ Nests left off, strangely consonant tones delivered by the finest voices (Momus, Bob Mould, Neil Hannon and Sarah Cracknell among them). My only complaint is that this record lacks some of the pop charms of its predecessor.
Primal Scream, Exterminator [XTRMNTR] (Astralwerks)
Gone are the days when Bobbie Gillespie and company sang the praises of ecstasy and bliss, replaced by the sound of pure evil. Thrashing anger vented at turn of the millennium capitalism doused in drugs, drugs, and more drugs. If “Swastika Eyes” did not provide enough paranoia to last the year, “Shoot Speed, Kill Light” certainly did.
Alpinestars, B.A.S.I.C. (Faith and Hope UK)
There is something oddly refreshing about an album that sounds this much like the past. With distinct touches of New Order, Kraftwerk, Devo and Depeche Mode, this throwback disco record has just enough seediness to make it a rather irresistible guilty pleasure.
Yo La Tengo, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Matador)
ATNTIIO is Yo La Tengo’s pinnacle in what has been a lengthy career of critical acclaim for the Hoboken, New Jersey trio. The record is a most startling, fragile meditation on Ira and Georgia’s marriage what great strength they possess in exposing themselves and their love’s highs and lows to the audience. The arrangements work splendidly and the melodies are gripping, even when the lyrics make you recoil in embarassed recognition “Expecting a whisper, I heard the slam of the door / You say that all we do is fight / Gee, I don’t know if that’s true” has been implanted in my head all year.
The best of the rest (in some slightly particular order):
11. The Go-Betweens: The Friends of Rachel Worth (Jet Set)
12. Super Furry Animals: Mwng (Flydaddy)
13. David Holmes: Bow Down to the Exit Sign (1500 Records)
14. Björk: Selma Songs (Elektra)
15. Trembling Blue Stars: Broken By Whispers (Sub Pop)
16. Departure Lounge: Out of There (Flydaddy)
17. Doves: Lost Souls (Astralwerks)
18. Bent: Programmed to Love (Sport UK)
19. JJ72: JJ72 (Lakota UK)
20. Broadcast: The Noise Made By People (Tommy Boy)
21. Mojave 3: Excuses for Travellers (4AD)
22. Aden: Hey 19 (Teenbeat)
23. Automator: A Much Better Tomorrow (75 Ark)
24. Richard Ashcroft: Alone with Everybody (Virgin)
25. Air: Virgin Suicides (Astralwerks)
26. Clock Strikes Thirteen: Ever Decreasing Circles (Drive-In)
27. Cinerama: Disco Volante (Manifesto)
28. Teenage Fanclub: Howdy! (Columbia UK)
29. Thievery Corporation: The Mirror Conspiracy (ESL Music)
30. Photek: Solaris (Astralwerks)
31. The Aislers Set, The Last Match (Slumberland)
32. The Wisdom of Harry: House of Binary (Matador)
33. Her Space Holiday: Home Is Where You Hang Yourself (Tiger Style)
34. Lemonjelly: Ky (Impotent/Fury/XL UK)
35. Red Snapper: Our Aim Is to Satisfy Red Snapper (Warp/Matador)
36. Aix Em Klemm: Aix Em Klemm (Kranky)
37. Mark Kozelek: Rock N’Roll Singer (Badman)
38. Idlewild: 100 Broken Windows (Food UK)
39. The Clientele: Suburban Light (Pointy)
40. Grandaddy: The Sophtware Slump (BMG/V2)
41. Deltron 3030: Deltron 3030 (75 Ark)
42. Blonde Redhead: Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons (Touch & Go)
43. Dimitri From Paris: A Night at the Playboy Mansion (Astralwerks)
44. Asian Dub Foundation: Community Music (London UK)
45. Arab Strap: Elephant Shoe (Jet Set)
46. The Twin Atlas: The Philadelphia Parking Authority Must Die (Tappersize)
47. Chris Morris: Blue Jam (Warp UK)
48. Elliott Smith: Figure 8 (Dreamworks)