This is the first year in several that I have heard enough good new music to make it worth worth creating a top five or top 10 list. Mainly because several of my old favorites finally got something out this year, but there are some noteworthy newcomers as well. This is my top-somewhere-between- five-and-10 list:
1. Poe, Haunted (FEI/Atlantic)
When Hello came out in 1995, it stayed in the CD player for weeks. When Poe went on tour with the full band, I wondered how she would adapt her trippy electronics and loops to the stage, and she did it by not trying to do it; her touring band was a basic four-piece alt-rock band playing arrangements that bore only passing resemblance to the originals from Hello. Five long years later, she has finally released Haunted, an homage to her father, musical compliment to her brother's book House of Leaves, and a perfect blend of the Hello's electronica and the alt-rock spice of her touring band. A shame Cameron Stone and his amazing electric cello is nowhere to be seen, though.
2. BT, Movement in Still Life (Nettwerk)
The UK release of this was in 1999, but the 2000 US release is different in both order and choice of tracks (four here are not on the UK version; four on the UK version are missing here). Regardless, it is an amazing work. BT started as a progressive trance musician, producer, and mixer, but his tastes range widely, and Movement proves it, from the trance groove of "Dreaming" to the breakbeats of "Hip-Hip Phenomenon" to the rocking "Never Gonna Come Back Down". Even better, he has mastered every style, so the dabbling doesn't degrade the quality.
3. Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol)
Radiohead are to the late '90s, early 2000 what Pink Floyd was to the late '70s, early '80s. Like Floyd did, they are putting out concept albums with little intrinsic commercial appeal, yet which manage to be immensely popular despite it. With luck Thom Yorke does not have the delusions of grandeur that Roger Waters had, and the band will not put out a Final Cut-style self indulgence followed by the destruction of the band. (Face it... today's Pink Floyd is a mere shadow of its former self.)
4. Björk, Selmasongs (Elektra)
She didn't write them, but she performs these songs from the van Trier film Dancer in the Dark, thus they have a sound that only Björk can give them. These songs are the soundtracks of the dreams Selma has as she retreats from the real world, influenced by the movie musicals she loves. Thus, they are a beautiful and bizarre twist on old movie musical styles, reminsicent of "It's Oh So Quiet" from her second CD, Post.
The remaining CDs in this list are unranked because their ranking depends on my mood, but they are still in my top... er... whatever.
XTC, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol 2)
Part two of the comeback of one of the UK's best post-punk power-pop bands. The acoustic Apple Venus Vol. 1 was filled with beautiful, lush string arrangements and soft singing that sometimes betray the bitterness beneath ("Your Dictionary").
Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne
The fifth record from this country singer is more delta country blues (with Memphis strings) than straight country. It's definitely not that awful "new country". It's music to sit on the porch swing and sip your lemonade to. You'll need to move to Alabama for full effect.
Hybrid, Wide Angle
A friend of mine got me to listen to some songs from Hybrid to help him decide exactly which of the many subgenres of electronica they fall into. After listening to some Napster-downloaded tracks, I declared it cinematic in feel -- like a film soundtrack -- and bought the CD as soon as I found it..
Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, Beatin' the Heat
I just love his style. The remake of "I Scare Myself" is not quite as good as his original version, even if it does have Rickie Lee Jones. For that matter, it's not quite as good as Thomas Dolby's version from his second LP. Doesn't matter. Dan Hicks is where the Squirrel Nut Zippers and, to an extent, the Asylum Street Spankers come from musically.
Joan Osborne, Righteous Love
Another release that is way too long in the waiting. After having two previous versions of her record refused by Mercury (neither of them had anything nearly as commercially viable as "One of Us"), the label dropped her and she was picked up by Interscope. It's a small disappointment that the material is not as bluesy as her live shows are, but it's still very satisfying all the same.
P J Olsson, Words for Living
Mocean Worker, Aural & Hearty
Squirrel Nut Zippers, Bedroom Bedlam
Belle and Sebastian, fold your hands child you walk like a peasant
Sven Vath, Contact