[16 December 2002]
naccustomed to arbitrarily placing a numerical order to a list of music I like (if you like both apples and oranges, why compare them to each other ?). So what I have done is list the two albums I enjoyed the most this year, then list everyhing else. In an order, but only alphabetically.
Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Nonesuch
2001’s most anticipated album arrived in 2002, and lived up to the hype and more. After a tumultuous year that saw changes both in personnel and record companies, Jeff Tweedy and company released an accomplished work of art, in both scope and texture. Melancholy dirges permeate the entire record, with seemingly bleak, almost apocalyptic overtones. But this isn’t global. The struggle is internal and personal, and Tweedy goes into some dark places. But much like Nirvana’s In Utero, Wilco cannot hide their gorgeous melodies under cacophonous discord, no matter how hard they try. It’s noisy and challenging, and also very beautiful.
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots - Warner Bros.
Though it may be misconstrued as another off the wall, frivolous endeavor from Oklahoma City’s favourite sons, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Under the guise of what seems to be a pseudo-Japanese science fiction concept album is really a meditation on life and death, and everything in between. While this is The Lips’ most electronic sounding record, it may also be the warmest sounding. It is an album of sadness and joy, but still maintains a great groove. Singer Wayne Coyne’s words are heartfelt, moving, and honest; the music lush and almost pastoral. This is The Flaming Lips as medieval players, a chorus-like group revealing the truths behind the action.
Badly Drawn Boy - About a Boy/Have You Fed the Fish? - XL/Beggars Group
Hardly seems fair that one guy can be so prolific. And so consistent. In the early part of year, the soundtrack companion to the film of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy, and in late October released his proper sophomore album. Both showcase the singer/songwriter’s musical prowess as well as his adeptness at writing melodies. The soundtrack edges out the new record, as it is more concise and melodic. And for its’ better use of the brilliant Jon Brion. What is striking is the timeless sound and feel all his music has, as though it could have been written in any the past four decades.
Neko Case - Blacklisted - Mint
That voice. Her fans would be happy to just hear her sing the telephone book, but luckily, we get songs like the ones on her third record, Blacklisted. The dark places visited on her previous release Furnace Room Lullaby are more fully explored here. The sound is southern gothic, with ghostly background vocals, baritone guitars and reverb from here to ya-ya. The result is an exciting chill down the spine, a Twin Peaks-like melancholy freak out. There was no vocal performance released anywhere this year as exhilarating as on Neko’s “Look for Me (I’ll Be Around)”. Shania who ?
David Cross - Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! - Sub Pop
OK, so it’s not a music CD, but it is one of the best things I’ve heard this year. Before Mr. Show took to the road this year, David Cross went out on a solo standup tour. The CD, the first comedy record released by Sub Pop, was recorded in both Portland and Atlanta, and captures the spirit of the tour. Not really a joke teller, his style is more anecdotal, observational comedy (though far from the usual “What’s the deal with . . .” stuff). He’s sardonic and clever and likable and profane and all that is good about comedy. Even the tracklisting is fun.
Steve Earle - Jerusalem - Artemis
In the past 15 months we have seen the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of how artists have responded to the events of 9/11 and it’s aftermath. The Ugly: right-wing bumpkins like Alan Jackson and Toby Keith spewing their ignorance. The Bad: icons Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney and their fumbled earnestness. Which brings us to the Good: Steve Earle emerges with possibly his most thoughtful, musically diverse and world-weary record to date. And it is a watershed moment. This is the Blues, 2002, and Earle is one of few willing to raise questions that have potentially frightening answers.
Aimee Mann - Lost in Space - SuperEgo
After years of record company turmoil, Aimee Mann has been able to do as she likes, and Lost in Space is her first release without any corporate interference. She continues the independence started on her last record, only somewhat less acerbic as before. She still writes sad, evocative pop songs, but this record continues into introspective territory, leaving the anger behind. And her voice is like butter. Though not always as dynamic song-wise as some of her previous outings, this record is solid from beginning to end, and just gets better on repeated listenings.
Rhett Miller - The Instigator - Elektra
Stepping outside the confines if his alt-country/alt-Americana/alt-whatever band, Old 97’s, Rhett Miller stretches his pop muscle with studio wizard/PT Anderson collaborator Jon Brion to produce a solid, assured solo debut. Still present is the singer’s lovesick heart on his sleeve, writing honestly and passionately about all the girls he’s loved before, and presently. Simple arrangements and instrumentation (all played almost exclusively by Miller and Brion) leave a lot of space for the emotional weight of the lyrics to come through. Less twang and a more varied sound, The Instigator succeeds because of the obvious enthusiasm of its’ creators.
Pearl Jam - Riot Act - Epic
Though the band has always been politically active, the events of the past two years have given birth to their most political lyrics to date. Criticized in the past for both his vagueness and earnestness, most of Eddie Vedder’s songs are clear in intent as well as feeling. And a giant leap forward. Whether taking unmistakable aim at the top (“Bushleaguer”) or keeping it personal (the Orwellian outlook of “I Am Mine”), it’s clear not everything is as it seems. Oh yeah, and this is a rock record. Not nu metal, not garage, just a rock record that few make anymore.
Anna Waronker - Anna - Five Foot Two
If I drove a car, this would have been the soundtrack of all my summer driving sing-alongs. Oh well. Anna is the power-pop album of the year, and a real treat for anyone who actually got to hear it. From three-minute pop songs to quiet, introspective ballads, to all-out rock songs, this record has it all and shifts between them effortlessly. While we suffer from throwaway girl pop coming from all directions, Anna Waronker is making ear candy with substance. With crunchy guitar goodness and a swagger and snarl. I wanna be her (that) dog.
Young and Sexy - Stand Up For Your Mother - Mint
Vancouver is pop’s little secret. Showing that The New Pornographers was not some anomaly from the region. Young and Sexy may have one of the most overlooked albums of the year. Subtle, atmospheric acoustic songs give way to driving piano sing-alongs. The groups vocal duo, one female, one male, do not so much duet together as much as mesh together, sharing lead and background duties. And the combination is gorgeous. Both instrumentation and melody are at times so intricate they seem deceivingly simple. Lush and beautiful, Stand Up For Your Mother is an exciting and strong debut.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/best2002-jamieson/