Best of 2000: Devon Powers

For a music whore like myself, even a good album can be a little like a one night stand. There’s that lovely moment of courting, checking out the object of your soon-to-be affection, seeing if you’ve got what it takes to make the move and bring it home. (In the case of music versus lovers, it’s usually cash over gumption, though you know as well as I that those lines can definitely blur. I digress.) That moment, when your new-found honey is the only thing in your life (err, stereo) has an angelic perfection. Next step: incessant caressing and thick, frenzied love, the kind where the two of you could be left to your wonders for weeks on end and never need another living soul. But then, something happens — your mood changes, the weather changes — and as swiftly as it took over your life, you’ve moved on. So, for 2000, I’ve got no definitive “Best Of” list, but here’s some albums that stuck around a little longer than others, for which I’ve still got those twinges of reminiscence.

1. Badly Drawn Boy, The Hour of Bewilderbeast (Twisted Nerve/XL)
There’s something inexhaustibly sublime about the beginning of The Hour of Bewilderbeast, by all accounts a nearly perfect album. During that first, breathtaking moment, simultaneously you hear the sound of timelessness, the breath and beat of the age, and the cooing that for innumerable tomorrows will stir you with its renewable ingenuity and flabbergasting wonder. Damon Gough finally delivered his all — elegiac rock songs like “Another Pearl” and “Everybody’s Stalking”, sweet legends like “Once Around the Block” and “Stone on the Water”, organic instrumentals and natural, bittersweet ditties like “Fall in a River”. There is so much ground — earth — in this album, so many pure and plodding instruments, so much mesmerizing, luscious, beautifully awkward singing. This Bewilderbeast’s hour is positively orchestral and terrifyingly stunning.

2. Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol)
Radiohead did what today’s music business machine generally deems impossible — released an album after three years out of the market, neglecting promotion, touring and singles, and debuted on Billboard at Number One. In the age where 100-hour marathon cross-continental publicity stunts and grinding out two albums before you’ve had one birthday is the norm, that’s a startling and commendable achievement in itself. But that they did it with Kid A, one of the most difficult and risk-taking albums of recent history, is little shy of poetic justice — and the epitome of Radiohead. And with the agitated “Idioteque”, mystical “Everything in Its Right Place” and others that make up this ingenious album, they’ve created a palette that will color this age indefinitely, without fade.

3. Coldplay, Parachutes (Nettwerk America)
Coldplay — a band that whose debut catapulted them from anonymity British superstardom — prove, like their album’s last track says, that “Everything’s Not Lost.” That everything — the beauty of songwriting, the triumph of the underdog, the goodness of humanity — seemingly disappeared from nearly all other ranks of pop music this year, but Coldplay embody it, and lobby its tenets with a vengeance. Their signature tool: “Yellow,” the infectious single, is both gloriously simple and the stuff of unfathomable genius, like any plan of conquest or colonization. And with it, and their other remarkable tracks, Coldplay have colonized the UK. And soon, the world.

4. PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (Island)
PJ Harvey fans, welcome home. This sturdy release from Ms. Polly Jean & Co. is possibly the best they’ve ever done. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea negotiates the fiery torment of adolescence with the tired resignation of adulthood into a product that is at once dignified, insolent, lovelorn, stable, crazed. And fucking brilliant. Expect your knees to shake through the strung out “Horses in My Dreams”, bold “Good Fortune”, and sastifying, perverse “This Is Love”, among others.

5. Primal Scream, Exterminator [XTRMNTR] (Astralwerks)
Thank god for this album — a noisy, reveling protest that seems the soundtrack to the activism that has embroiled the world over the past 13 months. It’s a riot, an explosion, and totally an undoing. Insane songs like the “Swastika Eyes” remix (which sounds like the act of running away) or the litanies of “Exterminator” or “Insect Royalty” form a sound that years from now critics will look to as The Beginning of Something. That something may not have a name yet, but I’ll put money on that with the onslaught of the era of Bush, continuing globalization, and exhaustion of power pop, more and more bands will join Primal Scream’s chorus.

6. David Bowie, Live at the BEEB: The Best of the BBC Radio Session 68-72 (Virgin)
After a less-than-spectacular year with his album hours, David Bowie went back to what he did best and opens the millennium with a vast collection of truly great live radio sessions at the BBC. Everything from tried-and-true favorites, never-before-released songs, Lou Reed covers are tied together here, in epic glory. This is one Bowie album that definitely should not be missed.

7. Broadcast, The Noise Made by People (Tommy Boy)
Imagine those times when the body is completely outside reason or thought, when its functioning derives from a place that seems external—like moments of blind faith, or drugged hallucinations, or self-propelling experiment. The Noise Made by People an odyssey through those moments, paradoxically situated between the palatial and the nervous, a jumbled and trembling mélange of noise and effect. Spooky, nearly otherworldly songs like “Until Then” and “You Can Fall” sit delicately with traditional cadence numbers like the poignant “Come on Let’s Go” or sinister “Papercuts.” This album will try and try again to hypnotize you. Do yourself a favor and let it.

8. Björk, Selmasongs (Elektra)
Music may not be what Björk will be remembered for this year, since her understated but powerful performance in Dancer In The Dark gave the singer/songwriter/producer another worthwhile moniker to add to the list. But Björk, always innovative, with Selmasongs also became—again—the purveyor of a new genre of music, as she joined elements of the stage musical, the factory, and the dance club in a way no one could have or should have done. The album’s balance of tone, emotion, and mood is fierce, ambitious, and important step. And fun, too.

9. The Doves, Lost Souls (Astralwerks)
“It goes on and on and on…” so sing the Doves, and so goes the smooth grandeur of Lost Souls the band’s first full length release. It was only a few years ago that lots of bands were fighting to produce this kind of sound: the reeling, waxing flow of 100% British rock. Well, without any irony and lots of verve, “Here it Comes” — that onomatopoeic, punctuated storytelling in songs like “Sea Song”, “A House”, and “Melody Calls”. Succulent and wonderful.

10. Elliot Smith, Figure 8 (Dreamworks)
Three cheers for Figure 8, a twinkling little album that’s sweet without being saccharine, sad without being sappy. On his newest release, Mr. Smith certainly gone somewhere: and that somewhere is the heart and soul of earnest, prosaic songwriting. Songs like “I Better Be Quiet Now” and “Everything Means Nothing to Me” have the somber tone of pathetic love letters — and will be the perfect soundtrack when you’re writing yours. Other numbers like “LA”, “Happiness” and “Somebody That I Used to Know” bleat truism and rhetoric against the overture of deliberate, meaty guitar or piano. They’re more than songs, they’re meals. And there has to be a cranny in your heart for an album that can so passionately spell out the rollercoasters of emotions and observation that come with just trying to be a good person.