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Music

The Fate of the Album

Music critics have been bemoaning the death of the album format ever since the heyday of Napster, and the subsequent dawn of music related digital technology in the late 1990s. The music staff at PopMatters have put their collective heads together and compiled a list of albums released since January 1, 2000 to illustrate the continued relevance of the long-play format. The death of the album has been greatly exaggerated.

THE FATE OF THE ALBUM 2000
forward to 2001 >

22 February
YO LA TENGO
...And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Matador)

Who says marriage and rock 'n' roll are a bad combination? After 1997's brilliantly schizophrenic I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One, Yo La Tengo came back with a much quieter, introspective album than they'd ever done before. A meditation on love and married life, ...And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out has husband and wife Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley engaging in a 77-minute lovers' conversation (third member James McNew plays a strictly supporting role on this album), filled with gentle humor, quarrels, reminiscences, and moments of great tenderness. On songs like "Our Way to Fall", "Last Days of Disco", "The Crying of Lot G", and "From Black to Blue", Kaplan pours his heart out, voice quavering, singing quietly, as if he's embarrassed at baring his soul, while Hubley sounds comforting and loving on "Tears Are in Your Eyes" and the cover of "You Can Have It All". Throw in the pop genius of "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House", the euphoria of "Cherry Chapstick", and the majestic, 17-minute closer "Night Falls on Hoboken", and you've got one of the most genuinely happy albums to come out in years.
      � Adrien Begrand :. original PopMatters review

29 February
AIR
The Virgin Suicides (Astralwerks)

One of the most beautiful modern movie scores of our day, and setting a precedent for Sophia Coppola's taste in haunting movie music, The Virgin Suicides, showcases French duo, Air's ability to vaporize any feeling into a misty melancholy. The album actually takes influences from 1970s lounge music and movie orchestrations, since the movie takes place in the same era. Air creates sexy, mysterious and bright songs, rolled smoothly together, but pinpointing contrasts, like the Lisbon sisters themselves. Songs like "Playground Love" and "Ghost Song" infuse wispy, beautiful arrangements to compare and contrast the futile radiance of these young girls, existing at times only to breathe and leading into their own demise.
      � Nicole Schuman

28 March
AIMEE MANN
Bachelor #2 (Super Ego)

Years of cult fan worship and insider hype finally realize into a classic '70s-style pop album with Aimee Mann's third full-length, Bachelor #2. She had hobnobbed with the likes of Elvis Costello and the Squeeze, carried '80s pop singles heavyweights Til Tuesday to momentary fame, but here Mann's distinctive voice weaves seamlessly across an entire album. The results are stunning. Often quoted as an early fan of Elton John's Madman Across the Water album, Mann has crafted a work to rival her mentor. Backed by lush arrangements of guitar, strings, horns and percussion she muses on life over some strawberry licorice ("Red Vines"), discusses feelings of isolation ("How Am I Different" and "Just Like Anyone"), shows vulnerability in tales of broken relationships ("The Fall of the World's Own Optimist" and "Calling It Quits"), and questions the burden of human emotional dependence ("Deathly", which provided the central theme for P.T. Anderson's film Magnolia). With its 13 tales of the human condition, Bachelor #2 assists Mann in making the necessary jump from anticipation to realization, all the while bringing the '70s singer-songwriter album format back into vogue.
      � Jason Korenkiewicz :. original PopMatters review

28 March
COMMON
Like Water for Chocolate (MCA)

A gifted lyricist and hard-working artist, Common comes with a rare confidence and self-knowledge. Lots of MCs assert their prowess on the mic, but Common almost seems to be sneaking into your psyche, at once convincing and, as his name once proclaimed, sensible. Maturing, he maintains both his self-respect and openness to new ideas (an unusual combination, no doubt). DJ Premier produced the first single "6th Sense", a reminder of hip-hop's political challenges ("We gonna help y'all see clear / It's real hip-hop music, from the soul, y'all"). He raps real life stories, with "Song for Assata", "A Film Called (Pimp)", featuring MC Lyte, and "Funky for You", with Bilal and Jill Scott. If you can forgive his occasional and unfortunate phobe-posturing (he, of all people, you wish, should know better), Common shows himself as that hip-hop rarity, a man of compassion.
      � Cynthia Fuchs :. original PopMatters review

18 April
ELLIOTT SMITH
Figure 8 (Dreamworks)

The unfortunate early death of this talented guitar strummer can be found within the melancholy roots of his music. Figure 8, although not the first amazing album by Smith, certainly showed the most promise within the polish and complex layering of his gritty piano stylings and additional harmonies. This album was certainly the most focused of the bunch. Now, Figure 8 seems to mean so much more as the last full album to be released by Smith before his death. His low esteem is portrayed and calls out through songs like "Everything Means Nothing to Me", "Easy Way Out", "I Better Be Quiet Now", and "Can't Make a Sound". That soft nothingness was also telling in the power-crackling cynicism of "Junk Bond Trader" and "L.A." The arrangements provided a coming-of-age for Smith, unfortunately too late and too soon. But thank goodness for the honest music he left behind, proving not everyone is alone in their life's crisis.
      � Nicole Schuman :. original PopMatters review

2 May
PRIMAL SCREAM
XTRMNTR (Astralwerks)

Much as they had a decade before with Screamadelica, on XTRMNTR Primal Scream launched a full-on manifesto that brilliantly and ruthlessly encapsulated the atmosphere of the times. Only now the post-Cold War, ecstasy-fuelled euphoria had given way to turn-of-the-millennium hysteria. It wasn't clear exactly whom singer Bobby Gillespie and company were mad at, but boy, were they mad. Song titles like "Kill All Hippies" and "Swastika Eyes" said it all, and the songs themselves delivered the message with a pummeling assault of guitars and electronics. As with Screamadelica, XTRMNTR mobilized much of the hottest, most influential British indie players of the day, including ex-Stone Rose Mani, My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields, New Order's Bernard Sumner, David Holmes, Adrian Sherwood, the Chemical Brothers and Dan the Automator. Not since the height of punk had such an uncompromising statement been made with such visceral music, and XTRMNTR did it with an album-length focus that punk could rarely muster.
      � John Bergstrom :. original PopMatters review

16 May
SONIC YOUTH
NYC Ghosts and Flowers (Geffen)

Sonic Youth entwined the poetry and art of New York City past with the associations we make among people, places and times throughout NYC Ghosts and Flowers. This is one of the most absorbing albums from a group who nearly always uses the album format to create at an overall feeling or perspective (from Bad Moon Rising through to their latest album Sonic Nurse). Picture yourself on a New York City street feeling haunted by everyone who's been on that street before. On NYC Ghosts and Flowers Sonic Youth tie that very human feeling to the idea that they're following in the footsteps of the Beat Poets and visual artists that they admire. It's an album where all of the ideas and feelings circle back to themselves; in a way that makes sense for a work of art that has so much to say about memory, loss, and perspective.
      � Dave Heaton

29 May
GRANDADDY
The Sophtware Slump (V2)

The first 90 seconds of Sophtware Slump perfectly illustrate the album's overarching theme. It opens with a simple banjo-and-guitar melody, birds chirping in the distance. Then a break, a voice in the background asks "are you ready?," and in come the synths and Vocoders while singer Jason Lytle welcomes a lost and adrift "2000 Man" back to solid ground. Each song on Sophtware Slump incorporates the ages-old conflict between man and his machines musically, lyrically or both. Lytle and his friends build "Jed the Humanoid," who becomes a poet and dies drunk, neglected and alone. Witness the brilliance of "Broken Household Appliance National Forest", where "meadows resemble showroom floors / Owls fly out of oven doors", and even the most natural-sounding guitar solo becomes an exercise in repetition and electronic mutation. There have been countless albums about the conflict between nature and technology, but Grandaddy elegantly takes it to a purely human level.
      � Matt Wheeland

13 June
MODEST MOUSE
The Moon & Antarctica (Epic)

As expansive as the universe it so frequently references, yet almost claustrophobically personal in its immediacy, Modest Mouse's first album for a major label is a cavernous song cycle on mortality. Dialing back the punked-up dissonance of previous records, the band sires a singular branch of reflective livewire spasms, aided by oodles of arresting studio trickery. Singer Isaac Brock crafts an elliptical road diary through life's desolation, using recurring motifs of planets, stars, isolation, and increasing futility: "Everyone's life ends / But no one ever completes it / Dry or wet ice, they both melt / And you're equally cheated". Listening to The Moon & Antarctica in its entirety is a hike up an existential Everest. As the air gradually thins and clouds comprehension, obscured truths are revealed: "It's hard to remember / That our lives are such a short time / It's hard to remember / When it takes such a long time" ("Lives").
      � Zeth Lundy :. original PopMatters review

5 September
DANDY WARHOLS
Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia (Capitol)

File this one under Underappreciated Future Classic. Before they went all Simon LeBon on us with 2003's Welcome to the Monkey House, Portland, Oregon, indie stalwarts the Dandy Warhols submitted their finest hour back in 2000: Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia. Their most cohesive album, Thirteen Tales proved Courtney Taylor-Taylor and co as master purveyors of both narco-pop (the five-minute-plus, gauze-wrapped opener, "Godless") and snarky power pop ("Solid", and of course the uber-satirical anthem, "Bohemian Like You"). On paper, this doesn't amount to much, but given that the album was released in the nascent days of nu-metal and managed to survive that era and (quietly) thrive four years later is no small feat. And besides, Taylor-Taylor provided the disheveled stoner/flake frontman template from which Julian Casablancas, Craig Nicholls and countless others were formed. That's gotta count for something, right?
      � Steve Haag :. original PopMatters review

5 September
RYAN ADAMS
Heartbreaker (Bloodshot)

With his band Whiskeytown imploded and its legacy as alt-country's answer to the Replacements cemented in the annals of rock, Ryan Adams was free to become a superstar -- feud with Jack White, date Parker Posey. But before all that ever transpired, Adams released his 2000 gem of a solo debut, Heartbreaker. While his following albums would be spot-the-influence parlor games, Heartbreaker is pure Adams through and through. Looking back, the album may very well have been both the swan song of the '90s Uncle Tupelo-led alt-country revival and a touchstone for the current spate of sensitive roots singer-songwriter-types (Pete Yorn, ex-punker and Adams buddy Jesse Malin). Heartbreaker bridges the divide between both camps: "To Be Young" and "Shakedown on 9th Street" lean towards the former; and two of Adams' best-ever songs, "Come Pick Me Up" and "O My Sweet Carolina" for the latter. As a whole, the album is haunting, spare and consistent. Too many critics gets riled up over Gold and Rock N Roll's spells of near-brilliance followed by maddening retreat, forgetting that Adams already released his masterpiece.
      � Steve Haag :. original PopMatters review

12 September
AT THE DRIVE-IN
Relationship of Command (Virgin)

Relationship of Command arrived at a pivotal time when two of the most groundbreaking bands to emerge of the '90s, the Smashing Pumpkins and Rage Against the Machine, called it quits. Teen pop and hip-hop saturated the airwaves and modern rock radio was itching to find a proper replacement. At the Drive-In emerged as the critic favorites, unabashedly challenging fans at live shows to surrender to an ensuing dose of punk rock and emo with an artistic edge. Since 1994, the El Paso, Texas band released a series of vital records (1996's Acrobatic Tenement and 1998's In Casino Out) but neither album comes close to the gut-wrenching onslaught of Relationship of Command, an album rife with blistering anger towards the disappearing women of Juarez, the federales, and jaded authority. At the Drive-In never lived up as heirs to the modern rock throne, but Relationship of Command is a testament of what music might have been like if they had.
      � Cesar Diaz :. original PopMatters review

12 September
THE HIVES
Veni, Vidi, Vicious (Burning Heart/Epitaph)

This album is nothing less than a 29-minute manifesto proving that rock and roll will never die. Released in 2000, but below-radar til the Great Garage Revival of 2001, Veni, Vidi, Vicious is so sleek and note-perfect as to be practically aerodynamic. And, hell, they've got the best band bio going these days, too: They were constructed, boy-band-like, by an unseen guru named Randy Fitzsimmons, given badass names like "Dr. Matt Destruction" and boast an impeccable sense of fashion in their matching black and white outfits. But what does that all mean, in terms of this list? Well, "Fitzsimmons" "wrote" great songs for the band -- "Main Offender" and "Hate to Say I Told You So" both surely have slots reserved should Rhino ever release a garage revival box set a la Nuggets, though pretty much every track is worthy (though I'll pass on their cover of "Find Another Girl"). Hate to say I told you so now, but in 20 years, we'll look back on Veni, Vidi, Vicious as revival garage's crown jewel.
      � Steve Haag :. original PopMatters review

3 October
RADIOHEAD
Kid A (EMI)

Three years after hitting the big time with the classic OK Computer, Radiohead returned in 2000, determined to try and turn rock music on its ear. At the time it was the boldest move of the new decade, as one of the world's most popular rock bands came out and did the unthinkable: challenge the listeners. Heavily influenced by the glitch beats of Autechre, modal jazz, and the soundscapes of Brian Eno, it's not an easy listen at first, but over the past four and a half years, it's proven to be a remarkably resilient record, improving the more you hear it. Underneath the band's multilayered music is a harrowing emotional journey led by singer Thom Yorke, a trip that begins with nightmarish surrealism ("Everything in its Right Place"), mounting paranoia ("Kid A", "The National Anthem"), and total emotional collapse ("How to Disappear Completely"). After the moody interlude "Treefingers", Kid A's second half kicks off with Yorke assessing the world around him, his resentment beginning to rise ("Optimistic"), but the feeling quickly dissipates, as he begins to feel more and more overwhelmed ("I'm lost at sea"). After one final, panicked attempt at redemption in the climactic "Idioteque", Yorke surrenders completely ("The lights are on but nobody's home"), allowing himself to be overwhelmed by his environment, as he concludes the album morosely, "I will see you in the next life." Like Roger Waters's "Goodbye Cruel World", which concludes the first half of Pink Floyd's The Wall, Yorke completely shuts himself off from the outside world, but unlike that album, Kid A ends right there, a most unsettling end to a masterful record that Radiohead has not topped since.
      � Adrien Begrand :. original PopMatters review

17 October
DOVES
Lost Souls (Astralwerks)

The debut from this trio of Mancunian house music survivors exuded such an epic, blanketing atmosphere that it was difficult to imagine any of the songs out of context. Greatly influenced by the destruction of the band's studio and demo recordings in a fire, Lost Souls was a beautiful, swooning meditation on the fragile nature of the human condition, and individuals' struggles to rise above it. Coming on the heels of both Britpop and the electronica explosion, it was also a welcome return to the brooding, rain-soaked art-rock of bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and their Mancunian forebears Joy Division and The Smiths. At heart, Britpop bands like Oasis and Blur had been about singles, while electronica acts like Orbital and Underworld made albums that often exchanged storytelling and melodic resonance for atmosphere. Lost Souls was proof positive that a long-player could inhabit the best of both worlds.
      � John Bergstrom

17 October
SUPERDRAG
In the Valley of Dying Stars (Arena Rock Recording Co.)

John Davis opens Superdrag's third LP with a wailing lament: "Insects have launched an invasion... Poison in my vaccination." Fresh from a major label shakeup (Elektra regarded 1998's ambitious Head Trip in Every Key with inexplicable indifference), Davis also found himself mourning the sudden loss of his grandfather. Death haunts Dying Stars' very core: family lost; ideals dashed; the band fodder to a Soylent Green record industry. The result is a seething, ferocious rock record that derides resignation ("Keep it Close to Me"), spits up the sucked-out venom ("Gimme Animosity"), confronts disbelief ("Unprepared", "Ambulance Driver"), and vows to keep pushing forward ("Lighting the Way"). The weight of the record, ceremoniously baptized in the rawest amplified aching of their career, cannot be diluted into a single song. After slogging its way through the muck of grief and dissatisfaction, the band is reborn at the record's end. In short, they had the antidote to what was infecting rock.
      � Zeth Lundy :. original PopMatters review

17 October
PJ HARVEY
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (Island)

Polly Jean Harvey greatly matures through the turbulences of this album. She's got the same moxy as on other albums, but this one is slicker, more thorough and well thought out. This flair caused critics to declare it one of the best albums of 2000. Hell, she even made it to MTV2. The title, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea says it all. Harvey spent a year traipsing around New York City, just clubbing, listening, creating and living life. She used her vagabond experiences and NYC as a muse for the album. The songs take you through the winding alleyways and rooftops of the city, nightly escapades climaxing in Harvey's brazen vocals. Each song is blessed with an emotion and passion and unavoidable anger the city invokes. The dark ballads and light plateaus compliment the nature of the urban atmosphere.
      � Nicole Schuman :. original PopMatters review

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