PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Best of 2001: Margaret Schwartz

Margaret Schwartz

Best Music of 2001 Lists

Like all top 10s must be, this is an eclectic bunch, culled from whatever's passed my ears this year. Another inevitability of the top 10 are those who are left behind -- my top 20 would include Mary J. Blige (who makes being sort of contented and centered sound sexy -- plus a great song about PMS!), Weezer (sweeties!) and, if grudgingly, the former S.M (because some of us are still getting over the breakup). If I had to categorize a year that will live in infamy (if not musically), it would go something like this: both twang and pop are getting smarter, and the cultural penchant for pastiche lives on. Britney managed NOT to become a woman but convinced us she was no longer a girl, punk turned 25, and quiet became the new loud.

1. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (self-released)
This is the best album I've heard in years. I can't say enough about it, but here's a go. Number one, the title comes from a shortwave espionage station in the Massoud network. Always an exemplar of subversive communication, the shortwave network has become an excellent metaphor for Wilco's quiet triumph after their label released them from their contract when they refused to make changes to YFH. Now everybody's favorite cowpunk-turned-tunesmith is holding all the cards: Wilco owns the record, they're streaming it from their website, and choosing among several offers to release the album officially. In the process Wilco has done more than we can predict to help artists gain leverage over the tyranny of the recording industry. That's just the paratext, on to the music, which is nothing less than brilliant. I'm not sure why Reprise thought this album was "risky", because it's so damn catchy! Tweedy's knack is to make it sound easy -- a light touch and enough richness of texture to keep me identifying new sounds after umpteen listens. Add to that a cigarette-stained baritone and lyrics both impressionistic and nakedly honest, and you've got the best album of this year, even of recent memory.

2. Clem Snide, The Ghost of Fashion (spinART)
How can you not love a bunch of guys in ultra mod suits and Chuck Taylors playing banjo and upright bass? Though The Ghost of Fashion isn't quite my favorite over Your Favorite Music (mostly because they've upped the snide and jettisoned some clem), Eef Barzeley and friends still deliver with witty, tuneful twang that never once falls into the nostalgia or derivativeness of less intelligent acts. CM are at their best when both wistful and wry -- as on "Joan Jett of Arc", "Don't Be Afraid of Your Anger", and the inimitable "No One's More Happy Than You" -- rather an anthem for the antidepressant generation.

3. The Pernice Brothers, The World Won't End (Ashmont)
This is one of the most intelligent pop albums I've heard in a while -- lush and heart wrenching and toe-tapping all at once. Joe Pernice's got a whole lot of monikers up his sleeve -- the most recent was Chappaquiddik Skyline -- but it's under his own name (and yes there is also a brother) that he achieves full bittersweet deliciousness. Most notable among an album of gems is "Working Girls (Sunlight Shines)" for its soaring string section and unforgettable (for those of us who have leased our brains to the Academy) lyric: "Contemplating suicide / or a graduate degree." The rest of the record follows suit with songs of longing, regret and no small amount of bile, all delivered in Joe's breathy, harmony-laden vocals.

4. Edith Frost, Wonder Wonder (Drag City)
Well, Chicago disowned Liz Phair some years back -- it seems now Edith Frost has come to take her place, albeit in a whole different kind of sound. Frost's smooth alto cuts like a warm knife through butter on minimal, folky tracks that preserve much of her first album's introspection and loose structure while adding a welcome pinch of up tempo bounce. Edith's mostly singing about the geography of loss, both interpersonal and spatial. Check out the awesome 1976-style album cover, too.

5. Jay-Z, The Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam)
The man who took Annie out of the orphanage and into the ghetto is back! It's amazing to me that Jay-Z is so good and so mainstream silly at the same time. The album insert predictably features shameless Roc-A-Wear plugs alongside the artsy, architecturally-inspired design and the equally predictable photos of Jay-Z smoking blunts and looking like a badass. Without the requisite annotated hip-hop encyclopedia I have no idea what he's saying most of the time, but my white-as-the-driven-snow tukus was shaking from the very first track. We all know the H*O*V*A anthem, but other standouts are the handclapping "take 'em to church" "Heart of the City" and the ranting "Renegade" with Eminem. This album was released on September 11, yet the East Coast's best pusher still managed to move some serious vinal.

6. Tenacious D, Tenacious D (Epic)
How long has the world waited for Tenacious D? About seven years, if you've been following the on-screen exploits of Jack and J.C. Finally the only authentic acoustic death metal duo has appeared on the aural horizon, riding rock's straining, sweaty steed to victory. The D wisely recruited fellow pastiche-meisters the Dust Brothers to create a high-production version of their vaudeville act, complete with patter. What I find so awe-inspiring -- besides the cover photo of the boys in their underpants -- is the virtuosity with which the D renders its Journey-meets-Guns'n'Roses-meets-Jesus-Christ-Superstar sound. Instrumental in aforementioned rockin-ness is drummer and Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, whose participation in this, The Greatest and Best Band in the World, confirms what many of us have suspected all along: that the Foos were seamless parody. Songs like "Fuck Her Gently" are not for the faint of heart; though the D may adopt the Marx Brother's wide-eyed sense of fun, their idiom is pure locker room. On the other hand (or perhaps consequently), Tenacious D have succeeded where Radiohead (f-in pansies!) failed: they saved rock and roll.

7. Kings of Convenience, Quiet Is the New Loud (Astralwerks/Source)
Oh yeah, you didn't hear? Quiet is the new loud, just like black is the new black. You knew that dialectic had to swing in the other direction sometime, and whaddya know, these earnest Norwegians are just the ones to take you gently by the hand and whisper sweet nothings into your ear. I'm sure I'm not the first one to cry "Simon and Garfunkel!" but I actually think there's a deftness here that S&G always passed over in favor of those heavy handed lai-de-lai's and soaring Garfunkel sopranos. My personal favorite is the ethereal "Little Kids", for its gorgeous piano refrain, but the album can really be taken as a whole. The lyrics are thoughtful and not the sweet platitudes one might expect -- for example a song like "I Don't Know What I Can Save You From" (okay, they're not native speakers, they don't have that whole don't-end-with-a-preposition thing nailed) explores the ambivalence of a lapsed relationship.

8. Call and Response, Call and Response (Kindercore/Emperor Norton)
Lovely, keyboard drenched cosmic pop from California. Inscrutably simple, deliciously adept. The remixed version has several new songs, for those of you who only have the original, and they are well worth the extra dinero. It's not often you hear a band embrace the good time sound without ending up in an ironic quagmire, but these cute chicks and boffo boys make it look easy. Of special interest is the sublimely goofy (and straight faced) "Roller Skate", and the jubilant "Lightbulb".

9. Pink, M!ssundaztood (Arista)
Right before black became the new black (an interesting fashion spin-off from this fall's events), pink spent some time in that coveted position (after the nineties we were all sick of brown and gray, I guess). At the time it seemed only appropriate to me that there would exist a pop diva named Pink, whose image seemed to embody all the wet lollypop gloss of that recently departed era of excess (remember when people watched Survivor? Like religiously??). She certainly out-wailed Christina on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack cover "Lady Marmalade", but with this album, Pink has become, well, rather a kick-ass neon than a candy-ass pastel. Seems she strategized the diva thing to get her foot in the door, and now she's doing it her way, with oh-so-1982 album art and a bunch of rocking numbers. Turn on the pop radio really at any time in the day or night and you'll hear her propulsive, grandiose "Get the Party Started," and hear Pink invite you to kiss her ass. This is one lady who don't care if you think she's a girl or a woman.

10. Preston School of Industry, All This Sounds Gas (Matador)
Ok, well I had to do it. While Stephen Malkmus brought out a self-titled collection which was the musical equivalent of Chinese food (tasty but somehow not filling), those of us who are still stumbling about numbly in the post-Pavement world were gratified to find that Scott Kannberg came out with his A-game. A comparison to George Harrison is apt if not a bit morbid here: it really does sound as if the underrepresented Kannberg had an arsenal of great material just kicking around after Pavement's swan song Terror Twilight was released. Although PSOI definitely bears the mark of Kannberg's Spiral Stairs contributions (remember the droney "Forklift" and anthematic "Kennel District"?), Kannberg's got a lot more tricks up his sleeve than his Pavement work lets on, including shimmering pedal steel and organ ("A Treasure @ Silver Bank") and a sort of shambling melody that his monotone Pavement songs never allowed. The cryptic "Whalebones" ("Bringing the whalebones home / bringing the whalebones home again / there's thirteen hours to go / bringing the whalebones home") epitomizes the album's air of far flung spaces and implacable signs, as if Kannberg were sifting through the musical artifacts of the past 10 years.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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