Best of 2001: Mark Desrosiers

Mark Desrosiers

Best Music of 2001 Lists

1. Butchies, 3 (Mr. Lady)
I'm just gonna come right out and say it: lesbian power trios have saved rock and roll. You know who I'm talking about: the Gossip, Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre, Butchies. All the pomo boys who think they're remaking rock by getting random, squalid, feckless, and lo-fi -- they'll get tossed out of the game at 50 miles per hour when the dyke punks roll into town. To my mind, the Butchies are the best band rocking across the states today, and their latest album -- a sublime hybrid of emo and power-pop as intertwined forces of recent musical history -- squashes the competition. They know what melody and solidarity and principle are really all about. And as far as power-pop goes, they have no peers. Lead singer Kaia Wilson (who made her mark on music history in Team Dresch) has a beautiful, slightly reedy, melodic voice that is in utter contrast to the subtle menace of her appearance. Just cue up tunes like "Anything Anthology," (which namechecks Traffic and Zeppelin) "Forget Your Calculus," (which every bored math student should hear on their walkman as the teacher chalks the parabola), and "I Hate.Com" (about hating the sun) -- these are exploding with unforgettable melodies and anger. I wish I could describe it to you: hell, just buy it. My favorite tune is called "Mandy (1985-2000)", a melodic, bitter, blurry, loud, angst-ridden track propelled by the amazing sticks of Melissa York (the best drummer of the century so far) , and Kaia's blistering riffs and vox. Step back and take a breath, 'cause maybe Hüsker Dü is among us again. The Butchies take the soap operas and tragedies of their lives, and make them compellingly political. Can popular music serve a nobler purpose in the 21st century?

2. Peaches, The Teaches of Peaches (Kitty-Yo)
A shuffling, bumping bullybag of kraut beats and musky lyrics, this willfully explicit robo-diva dares us to check her out. "Fuck the Pain Away", "Diddle My Skiddle", "Cum Undun" -- she's got sex on the brain, and it ain't a metaphor. Senile geronto-hipster critics like Robert Christgau wasted no time dissing her as emblematic of the web-porn age, showing once again that you should never trust a rock critic who sounds like your dad. Having attended too many pomo gigs where the horn-rim-glasses brigade stands motionless and stares, I eagerly embraced an autonomous, loud woman who gets the hipsters to start doing the boogaloo like Prince on the pipe. The album is even better than the show, and it has exterminated the dumb-ass fungal puritanism of the in-crowd pretty quickly.

3. Atom & His Package, Redefining Music (Hopeless)
Henny Youngman took the stage with a fiddle and a secret file of one-liners. Atom takes the stage with a tennis ball, a sequencer, and some really funny jokes. It's all part of the same tradition. Every song on this album is hilarious, hooky, and topical, so good you just keep on replaying it. His liner notes set up the plot, and the song itself is the punch line. For example, "If You Own the Washington Redskins, You're a Cock" is a blistering tune about naming sports teams after Native American stereotypes. And "Shopping Spree" is about a crappy band whose only good tune is called "Shopping Spree". And don't miss his cover of the Mountain Goats' "Seed Song" because it'll have you rending your garments in existential angst. It's no accident that he's on one of the best punk labels around, 'cause his kinetic tunes keep the beats-per-minute and words-per-minute at a fever pitch. Impressive, imaginative, unique, loud, and geeky.

4. Dropkick Murphys, Sing Loud, Sing Proud (Hellcat)
Hmmm, let's see: Irish jigs and reels. Oi! Working class Boston kids. Shane MacGowan cameo. Am I in heaven? A loud, gruff, anthemic album that comes barking off the turntable like a pack of righteous dogs, Sing Loud, Sing Proud will put you back into Trotsky-land no matter how moderate you think you are. Ace politics, fist-pumping tunes, and the best version of "Which Side Are You On?" you'll ever hear.

5. The Gossip, That's Not What I Heard (Kill Rock Stars)
A sweaty, loud, bracing power trio whose songs simultaneously evoke Wanda Jackson and the Troggs, the Gossip have conquered garage rock and claimed it for the underdogs. The lyrics are righteous declarations of dyke lust and femme revenge. The wild-eyed singing and playing will yank you out of your seat. Shake dat fat ass, baby!

6. Iffy, Biota Bondo (Foodchain)
Here's what happens when a buncha nifty punk-rock stoners put a glide in their stride, a dip in their hip, and step on to the mothership. Funky, ecstatic, and hilarious, this is the party album of the year.

7. Ike Reilly, Salesmen and Racists (Republic/Universal)
Bursting out of nowhere, ex-Drover and doorman Ike Reilly is equal parts Marshall Crenshaw, Nick Lowe, and Grandmaster Flash. He built his reputation on legendary live gigs, and the disc captures the magic. The hooks will pull you in by your lapels, but the lyrics will really repay your attention. The magical ditty "Put a Little Love In It", for example, features a gory self-immolation. Retro-irony and sexy selfishness for a post-ironic age.

8. Chitlin' Fooks, Chitlin' Fooks (Hidden Agenda)
No, I didn't know Belgium made honky-tonk angels either. But Carol van Dyk (ex-Bettie Serveert) steals this album from her putative equal partner Pascal Deweeze (ex-Sukilove etc.) with her gorgeous voice and astounding songwriting. This is one of the few great albums where the original tunes are better than the covers. Don't believe all that Gram-Emmylou claptrap you hear when the highbrows review this album: this is Kitty Wells and Dolly Parton territory. Two of the album's original compositions -- "How Many Times" and "Seen it All" -- should become country standards if all the country thrushes had a voice like Carol's. Alas they don't anymore.

9. Beulah, The Coast is Never Clear (Velocette)
Beulah is a strange, wispy band whose heritage includes the Beach Boys, Shoes, Woodentops, and Belle & Sebastian. Pure pop for impure people. Their newest album doesn't sound much different from their last, but somehow everyone in the world is catching on this time. And this is a good thing. The lyrics are pretty dull, so you're forced to sink yourself into sound. And what a sound they have! Their trademark is an infectious melodic tag like pollen buffeted by oxygen molecules. The horns are the best part: totally unfunky, devoid even of ska training, they sound like a high school marching band about to break into reveille. Yet they make every song sound like magic.

10. Shuggie Otis, Inspiration Information
For some reason the hipsters jumped all over this reissue of Shuggie's 1974 sleeper, while I still catch hell for the multiple Con Funk Shun and L.T.D. albums in my collection. Ah well. It is pretty great, though. Imagine waking up in the morning, saying hello to the garish sunbeam through your window, and seeing three little birds dipping rhythmically through the wind in the distance. That's what this album's like, really! This Shuggie really knew how to put together some nice mellow, optimistic, vaguely funky tunes, and the groove is druggy, understated and heartfelt. The way it all underscores a chilled-out time in U.S. history no doubt explains the reissue's adoption by techno-raver dj types as a hidden treasure. The liner notes compare Shuggie to Prince and Sly, though I think the comparisons are way off ‘cause Shuggie can't sing. He's obviously a folkie at heart. The best comparison is Bill Withers, who also had an understated voice, big heart, and some high-quality mush in his brain. As an added bonus, if you buy this album you can hear Shuggie's original version of "Strawberry Letter 23," which actually sounds far ahead of its time considering it was recorded in 1970. (Beware the thirteen-minute chillout-room vial of crystal sap called "Freedom Flight," though.)

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