Music

Best of 2001: Rob McLaughlin

Rob McLaughlin

Best Music of 2001 Lists


1. Sparklehorse, It's a Wonderful Life (Capitol)
In a word, heartbreaking. Leader Mark Linkous reflects on his checkered past and current life with humor, hope, anger, regret, and above all, a profound sense of sorrow. Not that he tells you all that directly. The lyrics are abstract and strangely unsettling, and when combined with the lush, warbled, and mostly gentle musical arrangements, well, it all adds up to what could be the definitive artistic statement on melancholy. Once again, Linkous has made an album that ever-so-slowly reveals itself to the listener. With each successive spin, you hear something that wasn't there before � faint electronic crackles, twangy countryish guitars, hi-fi produced keyboard strums, PJ Harvey's voice. The other thing that sets in after repeated listens is the sense of complete emotional devastation that permeates throughout the whole record. A very moving work of art.

2. Windy & Carl, Consciousness (Kranky)
The Michigan masters of ambient drone return with another slow, creepy, and beautiful piece of music. For those of you with little patience for experimental space rock, I urge you to give this duo a listen � their work mesmerizes from the get-go, never veering into the indulgent territories that so many other practitioners of the style wander off to. Great music if you're looking for artistic inspiration.

3. Rufus Wainwright, Poses (Dreamworks)
The long, long wait for this one was so worth it. The life-of-the-party musician took over three years to deliver the follow-up to his first album, and he's come up with a work that not only avoids the sophomore slump, but goes above and beyond what he accomplished on his debut. The diversity is striking � he hasn't lost his affection for Tin Pan Alley pop and Broadway melody � but he has developed a newfound taste for electronics, folk, Middle Eastern vibes, and Led Zeppelin-esque dramatics. Poses manages a tricky feat: it's fun AND smart in equal measures.

4. Clinic, Internal Wrangler (Domino)
For those of you who are already looking for the next Radiohead, here ya go. Screw heir apparents Travis and Coldplay, this intense Manchester art-rock ensemble pack more invention and creative restlessness into their second album than either of those mushy bands could aspire to in their lifetime. The influence of Martin Rev and Alan Vega (aka Suicide) runs deep, but never takes over. You're in for a treat.

5. Paula Frazer, Indoor Universe (Birdman)
Many people think I am this artist's PR man. I'm not. I'm just a rabid fan who still doesn't understand why she hasn't exploded in a big way. Formerly the frontwoman for the great alt-country band Tarantion, Frazer strikes out on her own with a long-awaited solo album that's lush, romantic, and deeply personal. She has one of the greatest voices in popular music. That's no exaggeration. If you buy this album and don't agree, email me and I'll refund you.

6. Various Artists, Colonel Jeffrey Pumpernickel: A Concept Album (Off)
Here's the one that no one's heard of. What a shame. New, weird, and awesome tracks from Guided by Voices, Stephen Malkmus, Ann Magnuson, Quasi, Mary Timony, Howe Gelb, Lou Barlow, Poster Children, The Minus 5, Grandaddy, Macha, Minders, and Weird War. Each song flows directly into the next while standing distinctly on its own. If you're looking for variety, look no further. And yes, that really is Stephen Malkmus on track three.

7. Liliput/Kleenex, The Complete Recordings (Kill Rock Stars)
Absolutely incredible. The obscure Swiss art-punk band's early material gets the much-needed re-release treatment. There's an astonishing display of creativity here. Each song contains either a bizarre sound effect (kazoo, squeaky toys), a punchy guitar line, or a female yelping noise. This compilation grabs you from the beginning and doesn't let go, managing to be boldly experimental while undeniably poppy, too. Kathleen Hanna has learned tons from this group.

8. Low, Things We Lost in the Fire (Kranky)
The masterful slo-core band's most beautiful album yet, and that really is saying a lot. This album is a great starting point for newcomers, for in addition to being their most beautiful, it's also their most accomplished. I don't really know what else to say. Their music is really good at leaving me speechless.

9. Tortoise, Standards (Thrill Jockey)
The Chicago post-rock act, one of the most exciting bands in all of music today, continues to push various genres through new hoops in innovative ways. Jazz, electronica, rock, avant-garde, pop, and even R&B clamor for attention throughout the work. It's the densest and messiest affair of the band's career. It's also their most fascinating, making "TNT" look like child's play.

10. Boards of Canada, In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country (Warp)
Some day this lovely ambient act will release a full-length follow-up to the awesome Music Has the Right to Children. This should tide fans over 'til that day. A gorgeous, mysterious, and wondrous four-song EP that recalls Cluster and Aphex Twin at his gentlest. This is great music for internalizing. Why don't more people know of this band?

Honorable Mentions:

  • Kristin Hersh: Sunny Border Blue (4AD)
  • Mercury Rev: All is Dream (V2)
  • The Clientele: Suburban Light (Merge)
  • Hem: Rabbit Songs
  • Ghost World Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Shanachie)

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.