Best Music of 2001 Lists
Athenaeum, Athenaeum (Atlantic)
A welcome return for the North Carolina rockers with an album that gets more outstanding with every listen. The undeniable hooks from the band’s 1998 debut album Radiance still remain, but the production of Phillip Steir and Peter Collins has added a more mature, rough-around-the-edges vibe this time around. The songs may take a little longer to register, but great tracks like “Frozen in Time”, “Suddenly”, and “Comfort”, prove that it’s well worth the effort and once registered, they cement Mark Kano’s reputation as a real songwriting talent.
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Time* Sex* Love* (Sony Nashville)
With critics unfairly lambasting her previous effort, A Place in the World, Carpenter was obviously determined to pull out all the stops to make her next record a success. And boy, on Time* Sex* Love*, does she manage it. A Mary Chapin Carpenter album is never short on lyrical inspiration, gorgeous melodies or sublime vocals, and songs like “The Long Way Home”, “The Dreaming Road” and “Swept Away” are among the best she’s ever recorded. Absolutely essential, especially if you’d rather be deaf than listen to anything out of Nashville with Byron Gallimore’s name among the production credits.
Killing Heidi, Reflector (Universal/3.33)
Teenage Aussie siblings Ella and Jesse Hooper found massive success down under with this, their debut album, but unfortunately failed to set the US charts alight. With an astonishing vocal performance from Ella and a refreshing sound that is part sublime pop, part alternative rock, top songs like “Weir”, “Mascara” and “Astral Boy”, certainly deserved a better reception Stateside. Shame on you, America, for ignoring them.
The Tories, Upside of Down (02)
No, it’s not the ailing UK political party, but a criminally underrated band from LA that certainly gets the vote of discerning power pop fans. This fine sophomore effort is boosted by the powerful production of Stuart Brawley and the infectious nature of an album’s worth of quality tunes, the highlights which include “Would You Notice”, “Superconductor”, and “Time for You”, the theme song from the sitcom Jessie.
Bliss 66, Trip to the 13th (Epic)
Another candidate for the “Should Have Been Huge” award 2001. One of the best debut rock albums to surface this year, Trip to the 13th had the songs (“Fly Away”, “Crazy World”, “Paramount”), the voice (Cheyenne Goff) and the producer (Glen Ballard) to theoretically guarantee success. The reality was that bands like Creed sold millions while Bliss 66 didn’t. Here’s hoping they get another shot to endear themselves to the masses in 2002.
Glen Phillips, Abulum (Brick Red)
This solo album by the former Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman, together with the album Near Tonight by former guitarist Todd Nicholls’ new band Lapdog, is ample evidence to suggest that the break up of the popular college-rockers wasn’t necessarily such a bad thing. While Lapdog impressively continued the band’s rock tendencies, Phillips’ album is a superb blend of mellow, beautifully crafted acoustic Americana. From first bar to last, songs like the delicately emotional “Train Wreck”, the vibrant “Professional Victim”, and the quirky “Fred Meyers” reveal Phillips as a storyteller of some repute and with plenty to say.
The Clarks, The Clarks Live (Razor & Tie)
After over a decade of wowing Pittsburgh audiences with a brand of no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll, The Clarks came close to national acclaim in 2000 with the single “Better Off Without You” and the quite brilliant album Let It Go. As the band gears up for the release of a new Justin Niebank produced studio album in 2002, Razor and Tie released this re-mastered version of The Clarks’ self-issued live CD. With minimum studio tweaking and maximum emphasis on memorable songs, one listen to the three new tracks and 14 old favourites here is all the persuasion required to find out when their next show is.
Smartbomb, Yeah. Well, Anyway! (Razor & Tie)
Bursting energetically out of Washington, D.C., Smartbomb definitely hit the target with an album brimming with brilliant pop-punk tunes. Slightly more cerebral than most bands of their ilk, Smartbomb manages to sound modern without mimicking the host of similar bands that surfaced over the past 18 months. The quartet’s cover of Faith Hill’s “Breathe” was rather predictably released as a single, but the album boasts plenty of self written tunes more worthy of such status, such as “Movie of the Week”, “Acetylene”, or “50 in My Wallet”.
The Feelers, Communicate (Warner Music New Zea)
Communicate is not yet released in the US, but New Zealand’s finest look set for big things if this album of intelligent, highly melodic contemporary pop-rock is given a world-wide push. The band’s first album, Supersystem, did enough to catch the eye of producer Gil Norton and the end result of their collaboration is an album of superb, solid songwriting and beautiful sonics. With a multitude of great songs ranging from the hook-filled, poppy title track to the poignant re-mix of “As Good As It Gets” and the haunting “Fishing for Lisa”, it appears The Lord of the Rings is not the only thing made in New Zealand this year that’s worth shouting about.
Danger Danger, Cockroach (Sony Music Special Products/Low Dice)
Along with what seemed like a thousand other bands, Danger Danger landed a deal back in the day when Axl Rose actually released records (yes, that long ago). But D2 always were a class above the raft of no-hopers A&R execs hastily snapped up during the heyday of hard rock in the late 1980s, and Cockroach proves it. The band’s third album has gathered dust on Sony’s shelves since 1993, thanks mainly to a bitter legal feud between former vocalist Ted Poley and remaining band members Steve West and Bruno Ravel. That dispute prevented the band from releasing it with the re-recorded vocals of new singer Paul Laine. Now a two-CD set (with both vocal versions) has been released, and although its combination of huge gang vocals, Mutt Lange-esque choruses and screaming guitars belongs to a byegone era, Cockroach is a tremendously entertaining and enjoyable trip down memory lane, nonetheless.
// Notes from the Road
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