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)
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