Best Music of 2001 Lists
Björk, Vespertine (Elektra)
The complexities of domestic life are not generally subjects tackled in most rock music, but Bjork takes them on with her characteristic perspective. With sparsely delicate arrangements and fragile vocals, Vespertine is at times barely there, but always passionate. “This time, I’m going to keep it to myself” she sighs on “Pagan Poetry”. You should be thankful that is not what she did with Vespertine.
Ben Folds, Rockin’ the Suburbs (Epic)
Ben Folds remains one of the few musicians who continually gets away with turning a critical eye on his audience, as he’s done in the past with Ben Folds Five on “Underground” and “Battle of Who Could Care Less”. Although Rockin’ the Suburbs’ title track is a dead-on skewering of the empty rage of the rap-metal scene (“girl, give me something I can break” he sings sweetly, sarcastically alluding to Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff”), the album is a surprisingly sympathetic look into modern isolation. While his trademark style of piano playing may not have progressed much since the Ben Folds Five days, Folds proves he can hold his own as a musician and storyteller, creating music that is honest and heartfelt. When he sings, “it hurts to grow up” during “Still Fighting It”, you know that Ben Folds understands you.
Garbage, BeautifulGarbage (Interscope)
Garbage has always made the strength of its technical ability in the studio work for it, crafting calculated music that never came across as cold. In this way, BeautifulGarbage is no different than previous albums. Still, the joyful genre hopping, covering everything from hip-hop to ‘60s girl groups to pure pop, pushes Garbage away from its post-grunge rock, and yet still manages to create an album that feels like the product of this familiar band. Far from the days of declaring, “I’m Only Happy When It Rains”, the irrepressible Shirley Manson is now lamenting, “Free as a bird, wild as the wind, but somehow I could not let you in” as she does on “Nobody Loves You”. Maybe Garbage has grown up.
Boa, Twilight (Pioneer)
Anyone who heard “Duvet”, Boa’s song that was attached to the anime series Serial Experiments Lain, couldn’t forget it. After enough pressure (and enough legal ramblings), Pioneer released the British band’s reworked version of the thier debut, The Race of a Thousand Camels as Twilight. While “Duvet” still may remain the standout, the fierceness in lead singer Jasmine Rodgers’ voice, paired with Boa’s slightly exotic arrangements and lyrics make, Twilight into an album of great strength and beauty.
Tori Amos, Strange Little Girls (Atlantic)
Cover albums are nothing new, but few are as bold as Tori Amos’s Strange Little Girls. She takes on songs written by men and reworking them from a female perspective. The album has its share of weirdness (the artwork features Amos in various wigs and costumes, dressed as the “characters” that sing these songs). Unfortunately, Amos doesn’t push the issues of why men write songs of violence, guns, and women. Strange Little Girls is still the most thought-provoking album of 2001, even if it isn’t the most successful. And anyway, who else would dare to take on Eminem using his own words?
Tool, Lateralus (Tool Dissectional/Volcano)
Lateralus is huge, scary, and demanding, and Tool acts like it doesn’t care if you like it. While the oppressive hypnosis and the inaccessibility may turn away listeners, that almost seems to be the point. Tool wants to be your personal band, speak directly to you, and make you feel like this is something only you understand, even if you do realize that you’re one of millions that understands. Lateralus takes its own darkness and transcends it, and at the end of it all, Tool just makes a really good rock band one that is obscure and strange enough to alienate some, but at the same time, embracing those who are willing to listen.
Duncan Sheik, Phantom Moon (Nonesuch)
When you’re known for being a singer/songwriter, it is a strange choice to make the decision to sing someone else’s songs. But for his third album, Duncan Sheik could not have made a better choice. While the melancholy lyrics of playwright Steven Sater are perfectly suited to Duncan Sheik’s sleepy voice, it is Sheik’s ability as a musician that stands out, creating introspectively complex melodies. Although Phantom Moon, with its restrained beauty, is easy to overlook, it shows a musician’s growing talent. Don’t be surprised if Sheik ends up as a legend.
Radiohead, Amnesiac (Capitol)
Radiohead keeps moving progressively farther and farther from its Pablo Honey days, slowly becoming what may be the weirdest band in rock today. Kid A was obscure, difficult, and Amnesiac may not provide the answers promised, but Radiohead’s remarkable ability to keep listeners interested always shines through. For all that Radiohead can be faulted for, it still remains the most compelling band making music.
Eliza Carthy, Angels and Cigarettes (Warner Bros.)
Only in her twenties, Eliza Carthy is pushing the boundaries of folk music with her penchant for trip-hop arrangements and candid lyrics. While Angels and Cigarettes, her first full-length album, is a bit too bent towards radio-friendliness, Carthy’s elegantly wounded voice always delights and surprises. Carthy may have yet to find her direction as a musician, but her complete confidence in her ability constantly shines through.
Bows, Cassidy (Too Pure)
Bows’ uplifting trip-hop soars up and down like a feather, but don’t let the seemingly airiness of Cassidy fool you. Bows has created a collection of songs that is powerful in its own exquisite ability to remove listeners from the reality they are in. Focusing more on the small joys of life than any sorrows, Bows is escapism of the best kind. Once in its world, you’ll want to stay.
// Notes from the Road
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