In stores? Not likely. Record stores are getting weaker all the time while the Internet becomes more powerful all the time in digging up the good stuff. Many of my favorite records this year couldn't be found in any store.
1. kid606 vs NWA
It may only be one song -- "Straight Outta Compton", and you can't find it in stores (that I know of), but it was my single of the year and you can get it on Napster! Makes one of the toughest songs ever sound even tougher, and highlights kid606's post-DHR style to an insane degree. I listened to this track more this year than anything else, and I played it for most people who wandered through my office -- many of whom got nervous looks on their faces and even covered their ears. Though I've heard it's on a CD-3 somewhere, just get it from Napster -- then send Kid606 one dollar and one of Eazy-E's kids the other dollar. (Napster only)
2. Iarla O'Lionaird
Afro-Celt Sound System doesn't do it for me; rambling, shambling hipster Irish junk. But this record strikes one powerful chord after another in my heart; floating through random moods, which is the beneficial effect of this being a film soundtrack. But you don't need the movie; just the constraints of cinema atmosphere that move it to its inevitable dramatic conclusions. By the time Sinead O'Connor's voice hits the relief is palpable, and she sings as strongly as she ever has.
3. King Jammy Meets Dry & Heavy in the Jaws of the Tiger, title (label)
This Japanese duo wants to make dub the real way, so who do they get? One time Prince Jammy -- now King Jammy -- Good choice. Deep dub, yup. Better than the recent outings by folks like Mad Professor or Lee Perry, but the key is the Japanese-ness that seeps through. The music is just slightly more uptight, more nervous, more . . . Japanese. It's like dub with Japanese subtitles, and it's skewed just enough to be twice as interesting as most other new dub plates out there. (Import only)
4. Robert Pollard / Doug Gillard, Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Dept.
I'll take this one in place of the 100-song Guided By Voices box set. The old box set stuff from 10+ years ago is cool, but Pollar's writing now is sharp as nails, and more developed than it ever gets on the box set -- or most Guided By Voices albums. This website-only album is as catchy as the best GBV records, and while it's casual by anyone else's standards, it's a fully-realized pop monster of a record for Pollard. (Internet Only)
5. Robyn Hitchcock, Star for Bram
The companion piece to Hithcock's Jewels for Sophia (1999). Hitchcock's guitar playing keeps getting better, while people seem to care less and less. While there are a couple of B-side quality tracks here, there are gems as well, especially "I Saw Nick Drake", and "Flower Bomb" which are unexpected shots of joy and optimism. Not too weird, and thankfully not too normal, it's a sweet batch of songs with Grant Lee Philips, Jon Brion, and pals that is just a notch better than Jewels for Sophia. (Internet Only)
6. Aimee Mann, Bachelor #2 (Superego)
Easily the pinnacle of Mann's songwriting career. One song after another, I hit pause, back, then play it again before moving to the next one. The record brims with devastating couplets galore that roll off the tongue with shiny acidity. Music critics go crazy for this thing, and if that makes you wary, I don't blame you, but for give it a listen and you'll be hooked. (Was Internet-only; now available in stores! What a cause for celebration that one of the best albums of the year can be bought in a music store!)
7. John Zorn, Taboo & Exile
Zorn's output of records for 2000 has paled a bit compared to the string of amazing range from 1996-1999. This year for Zorn has been largely concerned with the chronicling of live shows of his Masada project and other Jewish-themed work. But the best Masada works are probably already out, and the series of live records may get to be too much for even the most ardent Zorn follower. Enter Zorn's Music Romance series: Volume 2, Taboo & Exile, which features a dozen works of great scope. Percusion-only pieces (Joey Baron, Cyro Baptista), noise pieces (with Mike Patton), more gorgeous Jewish music, small string selections; somehow they all come together. Though it's tough to rank John Zorn's work right now with 70+ records out and many more to come, this is one of the finest yet. And that is saying a lot.
8. Atari Teenage Riot, Live in Brixton
You think Alec Empire and his band are getting a little stale? Think again. Twenty-six minutes (on a single track) of furious noise that transcends the political rhetoric that ATR fans may have gotten tired of. The band was decimated by arrests, drug-induced psychosis, and other touring demons at the time and the result is this: The sound of a packed airplane crashing into the NYC skyscraper. Don't be surprised if ATR breaks up next year. Nothing by them -- or anyone else -- is going to match this one. (Import only)
9. Kim Gordon / Ikue Mori / DJ Olive, Kim Gordon / Ikue Mori / DJ Olive (SYR)
Sonic Youth as relevant - now? Who'd have thought it. Not me. But last year's Goodbye 20th Century, the addition of Jim O'Rourke, and this beauty makes it all too clear what SY's plan is: Put out junk on Geffen every two years to get a paycheck and supply tour support. Then put out the good records on their own label: SYR. The three women work together so well, combining guitars, electronics, and Kim's still gorgeous voice. . . You just want to call them up and thank them for this music.
10. Droplift Project
Members of this copyright-bustin' collective printed up (very nicely I might add) their own CDs, went into Tower Records stores across L.A. and elsewhere, and "dropped off" their records in the bins. Then folks like myself walked in, tried to buy it, which confused the staff at Tower so much, that they end up giving me the disc for free. I even offered to pay for it. Or you can just walk out of the store with it. You can read the whole story on their website www.droplift.org What's on it: Cut and paste work similar to John Oswald's, with some great tracks, some less so, but the music is generally more than good enough to warrant going to the trouble of getting the record. Most folks here are part of a new generation of musicians who use their computers to stitch together beats, synths, and TV commercials into very cool songs. (internet or shoplift only)
Label of the Year: Blood and Fire
The reggae / dub reissue label now has most of their big names out: Congos, King Tubby, Scientist, etc. So now Blood & Fire have started digging up the tracks by people much less known: The Chantalls, Linval Thompson, Sylford Walker and Cornell Campbell. Just trust them! Head guy Steve Barrow is digging up these classic 1970s Jamaican 45s just for us, and they're worth every penny. Just dig in and enjoy.
Scam of the year: Radiohead's Kid A
More power to them for getting to #1 with that thing. But it's a bad record. You know it is, so stop fronting.