Best of 2001: Dave Heaton

Dave Heaton

Best Music of 2001 Lists

For me 2001 was the year when everything opened up, when sonic pleasures awaited me around every corner. Oh wait . . . that's the story of every year, actually. Ignore the inevitable "this year wasn't as good as such-and-such year" talk; there's always more great music being made than we would ever have time to listen to. Here's some of what dazzled me this year . . .

1. My Morning Jacket, At Dawn (Darla)
My favorite album of each year is usually the one that I find hardest to describe, the one that has taken me to a brand new place which is supremely special and sublime. My Morning Jacket's At Dawn is a masterpiece of indescribable beauty, a creation which uses traditional rock 'n' roll, country and R&B as a jumping-off point, but transforms these influences into something unique. Jim James' voice gets my vote for "most likely to send chills up my spine," with the way it soars about everything and pierces your very being. I could write about At Dawn for days and still never come close to hinting at its essence. It stirs in me a pure sense of awe.

2. Michael Franti & Spearhead, Stay Human (Six Degrees)
This year's most adroit fusion of music with sociopolitical critique (and one of the best soul albums in recent years), Stay Human presents Franti's humanistic vision for the future while moving hips through music that's based off of every great soul, R&B and reggae album every made yet still sounds fresh. Franti pulls no punches in describing today's U.S. society, criticizing our current criminal justice system, drug policies, political parties, military-industrial complex and economic structures, yet he does so in a way that goes beyond the specific issues to look at the implications and ideas lurking behind them. He presents a hopeful counter-message of love, nonviolence and freedom, and does it in a upward-looking, friendly manner, through the subversive sounds of sweet soul. In the grand tradition of rebel musicians from Bob Marley to Public Enemy, Michael Franti carves out his own place, crafting an album which works both as ear-pleasing, beautiful music and as a heartfelt message of inspiration and motivation directed at anyone wishing for a new societal outlook which favors peace over war, equality over hierarchy, justice over retribution, and altruism over selfishness.

3. Guided By Voices, Isolation Drills (TVT)
With Isolation Drills the astoundingly prolific rock 'n' roll poet Bob Pollard has finally succeeded at what he's been trying to do since around 1995, taking his blend of weird art-rock and Who-ish arena rock to the masses. No, the album wasn't the hit he so obviously wants to have, but it, more than any other GBV album, bridged the gap between art and accessibility by being instantly pleasurable without sacrificing that mysterious something that makes GBV so special, the quality that has made their fans so obsessive. Isolation Drills is one hell of a rock record, with never-to-be-forgotten hooks and power chords, but it's also an imaginative, touching trip into the human soul, a vivid portrait of loneliness and confusion.

4. The Lucksmiths, Why That Doesn't Surprise Me (Clover/Drive-In)
Each year's top 10 list must have a place for the album that made me hit "repeat" the most times, the album that I just had to play again and again. This year that was the latest album from the Lucksmiths, witty purveyors of heartfelt, melodic pop. Why That Doesn't Surprise Me is loaded with catchy hooks, plus lyrics that adeptly use wordplay and humor while drawing a bittersweet picture of everyday life which encompasses both big emotional themes (love, heartache) and small snapshots of day-to-day existence (road trips, broken bones, etc.).

5. Aesop Rock, Labor Days (Def Jux)
The enigmatic Aesop Rock travels universes with his words, spinning a mind-blowing web of images, stories and ideas on his Def Jux debut Labor Days. A sublimely poetic hip-hop album, it sets hyper-articulate bursts of lyrical creativity to atmospheric musical soundscapes that rock your world while sparking synapses in your brain. One minute he's pondering the way our capitalist system suppresses personality, the next he's transporting himself into other dimensions, sci-fi style. A truly complicated MC, he's crafted a brilliant, layered work that stands out among this year's releases (in hip-hop or outside it) for its imagination and depth.

6. Superchunk, Here's to Shutting Up (Merge)
I don't care what other people say, to me Superchunk gets better with each album they release. Their latest, Here's to Shutting Up, continues their recent foray into a more diverse sound, one driven as much by melodic string and keyboard arrangements as by their usual guitar-rock attack. That extra sense of beauty gives their music even more emotional weight than usual, which says something considering that they've always come about as close to channeling feelings in their rawest form as anyone possibly could.

7. Mark Mulcahy, Smilesunset (Mezzotint)
Whether it's with Miracle Legion, Polaris, or on his own, Mark Mulcahy is continually creating fantastic pop-rock music that never gets the credit it deserves. He takes a soulful, slightly jazzy approach to pop singing, writes lyrics that are emotionally affecting yet hard to pin down, and in general has his own personal approach to music which is hard to describe but never fails to produce intriguing works of beauty. Smilesunset might be his best work yet, a gorgeous, involving portrait of love, longing and obsession.

8. Wolfie, Tall Dark Hill (March)
As Wolfie's songs mature from catchy bursts of pop energy into heartfelt pop-rock anthems which meld rock brashness with pure feeling and imagination, the band seems to get less press attention, which is a crying shame, as their latest album is remarkable on every front. Delightfully pop but always ready to rock the house, Wolfie is an American treasure, a group of gifted musicians who aren't afraid of expressing their own point of view, not caring that their style of heartfelt sensitivity and optimism isn't appreciated among "adults" in our modern times.

9. The Coup, Party Music (75 Ark)
Staunch critics of capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and all forms of institutionalized inequity, The Coup use hip-hop as a form of activism. It helps that their message is driven home through some of the most poetic, vivid hip-hop lyrics you'll hear, nimbly delivered over powerful, funk-and-soul-drenched tracks. With Party Music they've knocked the funk quotient up another notch, while tackling the key social issues of the day and encouraging listeners to help them tear this mutha' up and make the world a better place.

10. E*Vax, Parking Lot Music (Audio Dregs Recordings)
With a sound matching electronic otherworldliness with earthbound melody, E*Vax is on to something truly unique. To listen to Parking Lot Music is to enter a fully realized sonic universe, a world crafted from a musician's vision. Both pop and experimental, E*Vax is an artist to watch, someone whose creations are unforgettable from the first listen on.

I also loved:

Dear Nora, We'll Have a Time (Magic Marker)

Of Montreal, Coquelicot Asleep In the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse (Kindercore)

The Caribbean, Verse By Verse (Endearing)

Old 97's, Satellite Rides (Elektra)

Mark Robinson, Canada's Green Highways (PulCec)

Jonathan Richman, Her Mystery Not of High Heels and Eye Shadow (Vapor)

Son, Ambulance, Euphemystic (Saddle Creek)

Dilated Peoples, Expansion Team (Capitol)

Radiohead, Amnesiac (Capitol)

Mogwai, Rock Action (Matador)

. . . and so much more.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.