1. Richard Ashcroft, Alone with Everybody (Virgin)
Most of Aschroft's solo album functions as a morose lullaby, meaning that this is the kind of record that I listen to when I need a vacation from my own thoughts. His voice manages to be both understated and powerful, wrought with restrained emotion that never fails to creep into my black heart and remain firmly rooted there. A Rolling Stone reviewer said "Ashcroft has superhuman levels of sullen charisma" and that is perhaps the most on-target description of a musical artist I have read all year. Sure, there are whiffs of trademark Verve sounds (strings, horns and echoing vocals) lingering on this album, but that is of course, a "good thing". Sublime.
2. Hooverphonic, The Magnificent Tree (Epic)
Yes, they gained popularity this year by providing their track "Renaissance Affair" to the limited edition Volkswagen Vapor commercial, but that is the tip of the iceberg for a band often described as "wintry". This Brussels-based trio redefine the term atmospheric melody with sweeping orchestral arrangements and ethereal vocals provided by Geike Arnaert that left me feeling as if everywhere I was my livingroom, the El, the Laundromat was a living daydream. This CD was the soundtrack of my life this year. The Magnificent Tree is utterly contemporary and as cool as a breath mint.
3. The Cure, Bloodflowers (Elektra)
Critically well-received but Cure fans just didn't seem in the mood for Robert Smith's brand of fear and loathing this year. I sure was. Bloodflowers was angry in the ways I always want Smith to be, backed by echoing vocals, sweeping guitars and well placed keyboards. In March, Mojo magazine compared this album to "classic Cure" with a respectful nod to Disintegration, an album I was compelled to revisit after listening to Bloodflowers. This album was a perfect antidote to any of the boy band oops I did it again white noise cluttering up the radio this year. Early on in the album, Smith asks, "will we really remember how it feels to be alive?" The answer, of course, is Yes.
4. Delerium, Poem (limited) (Nettwerk)
Delerium's third full-length offering from Nettwerk is a gorgeous pastiche of electronica, chant and vocals that is everything Enigma and even Deep Forest wishes they could be but aren't. On the more limited 2-CD version of "Poem" look for Delerium featuring Sarah Mclachlan on "Silence", one of the most haunting, mesmerizing tracks produced this year. Other highlights include samples from Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance) and the Baka Forest Pygmies, Matthew Sweet (surprise!), and Johanna Stevens of the Solar Twins. We have everything here: jazz, country, gothic and classical influences which infuse this CD with a power and grace that make Poem a must have for everyone's CD collection.
5. Doves, Lost Souls (Astralwerks)
This album is one of those rare, secret finds that makes you feel extra cool because you're sure no one else knows about it but you. This debut album, crafted by three lads hailing from Manchester, England is ripe with eerie, heart-wrenching guitar sounds that are perfectly complimented by Jimi Goodwin's aching vocals. The band cites Talk Talk's Mark Hollis, Scott Walker and Morrisey as vocal influences. Doves' previous incarnation was Sub Sub, a dance band formed in 1993 that scored a number three UK hit with "Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)". Sub Sub even featured guest vocals from the likes of Tricky and New Order's Bernard Sumner, but those tracks were lost in a studio fire. Taking the fire as a sign, the band decided to redirect their focus to more "serious" music, and thus Lost Souls was born. I know everyone else and their dingo considers Kid A to be the best thing out this year. (To say Kid A is annoying, is the kindest thing I can say about it.) If you want innovative music, and not just a bunch of creepy sounds posing as music, tune in to Lost Souls.
6. Fatboy Slim, Half-way Between the Gutter & the Stars (Astralwerks)
Norman Cook is a mad-scientist genius, pouring just the right amounts of gospel here, funk there and house music everywhere to create one of the most original productions of the year. Macy Gray, Bootsy Collins and Jim Morrison help breath human life into, over, underneath and in between Cooks' quirky machinations. This one will be on most top 10 lists this year, as it deserves to be.
7. Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Groove (Kenetic/Reprise)
A film attempting to capture the drama and glamour of San Francisco rave scene had better have a kick-ass soundtrack, and this compilation lived up to all expectations. West Coast dance fixture Wish FM a.k.a. Wade Hampton, who served as the film's music supervisor, presented a worthy collection of dance music that served as a primer for all those not in the know. Highlights included Orbital's classic "Halycyon+on+on and "Heaven Scent" by John Digweed. Not the largest collection of dance music out there (59 minutes) but a good collection of (edited) modern dance floor classics.
8. Sasha and John Digweed, Communicate (Kenetic/Reprise)
This is a continuous-in-the-mix CD that, in the words of a reviewer for CMJ "shows off the duo's tougher side, forging tender, angelic melodies in favor of grittier, more menacing tunes". "Communicate" is a coat of many colors, made up of patches and scraps from all over the place. Over here, the duo samples Eric Clapton. Over there, the Orb, Breeder, and Chemical Brothers. This whopping 22-track CD is tight, stylish and completely danceable.
9. Various Artists, Ibiza Euphoria mixed by Alex Gold and Agnelli & Nelson (Phantom)
A two-CD compilation that should be the soundtrack for every fashion show, art gallery opening and early morning club scene in the country. Usually with compilations like this, you find yourself politely tapping your foot waiting for the next track and then the next track and then the next...until you find the one track that really turns your crank. Dance music is a tricky genre because quite often, like a vampire, it just can't stand up to the light of day. It needs darkness, drugs and beautiful ones to make it come alive. Ibiza Euphoria is this year's exception. Look for great mixes from Chicane, Solar Stone, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, BT and Afterburn, to name but a few.
10. DJ Skribble, Essential Dance 2000 (Atlantic)
Let's start off by saying this is not a dance compilation like selections eight and nine. This is a collection, which means that the selections are not MIXED TOGETHER. They fade into one an another, and that can be annoying for die-hard dance music fans. Nevertheless, this collection offers some of the best dance music singles released in 2000, and since I haven't compiled a singles' 10 Best of 2000, this is more or less the same thing. Highlights include an extended vocal remix of Michael Moog's "That Sound", a nifty remix of miss Ultra Nate's "Desire", a white-hot Jonathan Peters remix of Paula Cole's "I Believe in Love", and the smash remake of 10cc's "I'm Not in Love", by Olive (remixed by Skribble and Anthony Acid). All of us gay boys have scrambled throughout the year to locate and collect these hard-to-find remixes, and now they are here for the masses on two tidy, little CDs.