Yeah, yeah, we know. Another round of year-end top-10 lists born of a hack rock-journo tradition that should have gone south by the time Jon Cusack opted that Nick Hornby book into a movie. It’s true. The thing is, we are, oh, just at tad bit navel-gazy and self-serious around here to enjoy such things. So shut the hell up, crack a beer and read the best from a year that for the most part gave new meaning to the words “cheese-whiz.”
1) Departure Lounge — Too Late To Die Young — (Nettwerk): A graceful travelogue rife with spare and aching melodies whose topmost point is the wonderfully simple and unironic “What You Have is Good,” the best four minutes all year. The Kid Loco-produced Too Late is a peerless backseat aphrodisiac that simply hums and breathes.
2) Candy Butchers — Play With Your Head — (RPM/Sony): CB singer Mike Viola’s personal anthems juxtapose a kind of snotty choirboys’ voice with tales of redemption and sadness, all veiled behind a deceivingly singsongy fascia. The juxtaposition is similar to good fiction; lyrical subtext purrs like a 60-cycle hum throughout. Viola finds beauty in the grimiest minutiae; goth tragedy in suburban existence where, somehow, the mundane becomes interesting, the perverse acceptable. And, best of all, songs on the aptly titled Play With Your Head bounce between your ears for days.
3) Marianne Faithfull — Kissin’ Time — (Virgin): The grandmother and has gone from waifish pop angel to street junkie to miraculously re-emerge as a kind of pop grand matriarch. Mostly co-written or co-produced by Billy Corgan and Beck, with contributions by Jon Brion and members of Blur and Pulp, the songs on Kissin’ are at once acidic and sweet, uncompromising and desperate. Faithfull’s potholed croon is self-possessed and sullied, and she can still discharge the hard-nosed authority of a woman who knows all the routes to the bottom.
4) The Sights — Got What We Want — (Fall of Rome): Frothy-mouthed Euro journo hacks are rightfully trumpeting Detroit as the rock ’n’ roll capitol of the world again. And this — with its Humble Pie-cum-Zombies sound (and the occasional Journey riff, natch!) — is the best rock ’n’ roll record out of Detroit all year. Too musically smart for their own stained, just-past-teen britches, the Sights kick up the musical bongloads with aplomb. The band’s next record could own the world.
5) Dictators — Manifest Destiny (Japanese Reissue) — (Elektra): For those of you who discovered music in the late 1970s the Dictators were either a joke, a group you never heard of or one of the few rock ’n’ roll bands on earth that could actually redeem you. I was of the latter. Picture getting jarred out of sleep by a concussion of thunder, awakened by a photoelectric light so intense all the color has been drained away, toss in 1970s-styled pop-song balladry and smart-ass-disguised-as-a-dumb-ass lyrics and you get the picture. As much as Manifest Destiny (here, the first time on CD) was the ’Tators sellout that didn’t sell, it still held steadfast with its own tradition; a proletarian’s sonic ode to sleeping with the TV on, pizza and the naive hope that rock ‘n’ roll could actually save you.
6) Ed Harcourt — Here Be Monsters — (Capitol): At 23, the tender-voiced Ed Harcourt has constructed a record that is weirdly mature, full of beautiful pop that is at once brooding and narcotic, chaotic and tense; a sonic venture peppered with trumpets, piano, acoustic guitar and occasional nods to Burt Bacharach and Tom Waits. The melancholic “Hanging With The Wrong Crowd” is a autumnal stunner that Rufus Wainwright would kill to have written.
7) American Mars — No City Fun — (American Mars): A pedal steel-laden, song-driven disc rich with gentle sadness, melodic acumen and knotty wordplay whose reference points fall somewhere between Yo La Tango, Calexico and the Flying Burrito Brothers. It’s lines like “Nothing gets me down like watching you lose” and the lovely-yet-coarse pop of “Over the Gun” (second-best song of the year) that make No City Fun a constant companion. In a just world, American Mars would be huge.
8) Brian Ferry — Fanatic — (Virgin)
From Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” to the near-power-poppy “One Way Love,” Fanatic is the best thing Ferry has whispered up since Roxy’s Avalon.
9) Todd Snider — New Connection — (Oh Boy)
Too bad Todd Snider never sells any records. Hate to see him have to get a day job. As a singer/songwriter Snider can out-John Prine John Prine, and offers up narrative moments reminiscent of Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Jeff Walker and even Bukowski. In short, Snider is a master of the ramshackle who can write about love without coming off maudlin or mushy. Brave stuff.
10) Gin Blossoms — New Miserable Experience (deluxe reissue) — (Universal): I was in a room once with songwriter Doug Hopkins just before he formed the Gin Blossoms. Hopkins had just written the song “Found Out About You.” He strummed the tune carefully on an unplugged electric guitar with lyrics scrawled on the back of a crumpled show flier. A pawn shop had his amp. Hopkins himself had nothing. Electricity came via an extension cord that ran in from the apartment complex’s laundry room. He sat on a filthy mattress. The floor was all beer bottles, spilling ashtrays and dirty dishes. Hopkins’ girlfriend had just left him, had recently bashed in the side of his head. He was broke, unemployed and heartbroken. He had tried suicide. “Found Out About You” is all that. It’s all about the girl, the loss, the drinking. So honest. So open. It’s funny, all Hopkins ever wanted was a hit song that was potent enough to be tinged with a sadness like Badfinger’s “Day after Day.” He succeeded. Too bad he killed himself before he could see “Found Out About You” spend week after week in the Billboard top 40.
1) Antibalas — Talkatif — (Ninja Tune): The Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra of renegade funkateers hijack George Clinton’s Parliament mothership for an ethnodelic, polyrhythmic journey into the steamy jungles of Mama Africa. Roll over Dark Magus, and tell Fela Kuti the news.
2) Steve Earle — Jerusalem — (E-Squared/Artemis): What makes a man start fires? He clearly knew what sticks he was rubbing together when he recorded “John Walker’s Blues.” But the album as a whole is suffused in the sort of deep sadness that only those artists who feel life so much that it hurts are able to convey. By balancing an empathetic lyrical outlook with musical arrangements that rank among his edgiest since Copperhead Road, Earle’s crafted the year’s best Sept. 11-themed album.
3) Sigor Rós — ( ) — (MCA/Universal): Like a lover so skilled at delaying orgasm that the holding back becomes the center of gratification, Iceland’s prog torchbearer Sigur Rós is all about caressing the G-spot and prolonging the moment into infinity. The group flits near the free-soaring folk/jazz of Tim Buckley, the aquatic ethereality of the Cocteau Twins and the oceanic post-rock of Mogwai, practicing sustain and near-release — ecstasy, by any other name.
4) Ed Harcourt — Here Be Monsters — (Capitol): With arrangements as trippingly dark and orchestral as the Flaming Lips’, cerebrally provocative lyrics on par with some of Tom Waits’ or Randy Newman’s and a general production ethos descended from Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren and Sir George Martin, Harcourt’s debut is the bravest, most compelling UK export since OK Computer.
5) The Cynics — Living Is The Best Revenge — (Get Hip): Pittsburgh garage-punk kings are back, whipping up stellar covers of the Electric Prunes, the Satans and the 13th Floor Elevators alongside a slew of primo originals that slam Yardbirds-style raveups into Alice Cooper Group skree while doing the interstellar choogle.
6) Out Hud — S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. — (Kranky): Post-rock? Post-punk? Post-puh! We don’t need no steenkin’ post-whatever. Brooklyn’s O.H. channels everything from A Certain Ratio’s punk-funk to New Order’s electro throb to the classic On-U Sound dub-hop stylee to Can’s vintage prog-jazz fusion, simultaneously freeing the proverbial ass and mind.
7) Fanny — First Time In A Long Time — (Rhino Handmade): An all-female outfit from the mid-’70s, Fanny now gets the box set treatment, four albums’ worth along with a ton of live and unreleased recordings. This blues-etched, glam-punk garage pop clearly foreshadowed what was to come with the Runaways, Bangles, Go-Gos, Hole, Babes In Toyland, L7, Sleater-Kinney, Donnas and more.
8) Patti Smith — Land 1975-2002 — (Arista): As an artist, Smith isn’t much concerned with fucking with the past – just with the future, and plenty of that. Observes Susan Sontag, in the liner notes, of Smith, “Women were sassier, and felt sexier. Because of you, precious friend. The music spread everywhere. In the mouth. In the armpits. In the crotch.”
9) Flaming Lips — Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid 1983-1988
The Day They Shot A Hole in the Jesus Egg 1989-1991 — (Restless/Ryko):
The Lips’ quest to paint their fans’ minds in Technicolor didn’t simply materialize out of thin air with The Soft Bulletin. Recorded evidence stretching as far back as to 1984 suggests the Lips had already mastered the rudiments of unscrewing noggins and ladling in the Day-Glo goop. The then-now contrast is like the difference between the Beatles playing amped-up R&B at Hamburg’s Star Club and crafting Sgt. Pepper’s in a London studio, but the thrill of discovery is sublimely visceral.
10) Lou Reed — Live Take No Prisoners — (Arista/BMG Heritage): While the rest of you are spuzzing in your jeans over the concurrent reissue of Uncle Lou’s legendary ’72 glam-fag opus Transformer, I’ll be content to hang around the trailer and beat my girlfriend while the provocateur-punk of his 1978 live album spins. Its first time ever on CD in the US, you get Reed’s wildly extemporaneous flights of lyric improv and his “fuck you/no, fuck you!” style of stage patter alongside scorched-earth renditions of classic material, from “Sweet Jane” to “Street Hassle” to “Walk On The Wild Side.” ’Nuf said.
W. Kim Heron
1) Andrew Hill — A Beautiful Day — (Palmetto)
2) Dave Holland — What Goes Around — (ECM): It was a brassy blast of a year for big bands with these two leading the way. The Holland disc — which may wind up being the most acclaimed instrumental record of the year — is superbly recorded, and exponentially builds on the dynamo at its core, the aggressively swinging and mainspring-tight group that Holland has been perfecting these past several years. Still, I’m even more impressed by the Hill disc. Recorded live, it falls short of the ECM studio’s crisp sound, and the band isn’t polished to quite the same sheen, but Hill’s compositional wild cards fly, and the instrumentalists play them with cunning verve.
3) Wayne Shorter — Footprints live! — (Verve): Shorter’s recent anthology The Classic Blue Note Recordings captured the cream of his ’60s and ’70s work as a young Blue Note session leader and sideman-composer. This live recording presents the saxophonist today as a true jazz lion in his winter years. A record of quick wits, high drama and grand gestures.
4) Keith Jarrett — Always Let Me Go — (ECM): “There’s a love affair going on, there’s a drunkenness, a diving in, and rapture, an ecstasy,” the bassist Gary Peacock once said of the trio of himself, drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Keith Jarrett. At their best, they convince listeners that they’re sharing the same wine.
5) Jason Moran — Modernistic — (Blue Note): The covers of “Planet Rock” and “Body and Soul” are uncanny. The treatments of stridemaster James P. Johnson and Robert Schumann are downright canny. And the young pianist’s bold originals hold up among the highfalutin company. One of the bright talents on the horizon.
6) Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory — Song for My Sister — (Pi): It’s been 40 years since Ornette Coleman invented the double-quartet format, and few leaders have done so much to develop it as Mitchell has with the various incarnations of this group. Together they can coast in mellow grooves, kick up grooveless maelstroms or meditate on sonic mysteries.
7) Tom Varner — Second Communion — (Omnitone): A fitting tribute to the late Don Cherry, who virtually invented the out-jazz medley with his records Complete Communion and Symphony for Improvisers.
8) Andy Bey — Tuesdays in China Town — (N-Coded): Yes, young, sweet-voiced songbirds are the rage, but here’s Andy Bey’s baritone gravitas to help balance the cosmic scales.
9) Burnt Sugar — That Depends on What You Know: Fubractive Since Antiquity Suite — (Trugroid): Burnt Sugar’s three amazing records this year reveled in influences from hip-hop to P-Funk to post-Bitches Brew Miles Davis. This is the jazziest, in which the band pays a squalling homage to Lester Bowie and stretches out in one of the loopiest renditions of “Round Midnight” ever.
10) Susie Ibarra — Songbird Suite — (Tzadik): Bright, delicate, chamber-style jazz played by a trio of percussion, piano and violin with washes and splashes of sounds from a laptop computer. Like nothing else on the list. Like little else in jazz.
1) Sleater-Kinney — One Beat — (Kill Rock Stars): In a year when presidential skepticism was deemed as un-American as al Qaida, no one rocked the vote quite like Sleater-Kinney. “Combat Rock,” “Faraway,” “Step Aside” and “One Beat” — these were calls to arms to shake a tail for peace and love, to dig us out of 2002’s pit of political hopelessness.
2) Kylie Minogue — Fever — (Capitol): No longer livin’ la vida “Locomotion,” Kylie Minogue was the year’s comeback queen with the hella skull-sticking “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” Not that there was much of a choice, given that the Aussie la-la-la-lassie was so ever-present in pop that even the haters were forced to submit to Fever’s dance floor free-for-all. Pop at its most perfect, the album was light years better than anything else down at the discotheque and made fools of Whitney and Mariah, both of whom unveiled their own comebacks and won permanent trips to the diva has-been bin.
3) Pink — M!ssundaztood — (Arista): Rewriting hip-pop’s hook books by ditching prefab R&B for abfab R&R, Pink crashed 2002’s tired teen-pop party with the so-great-it’s-shocking M!ssundaztood. Cribbing notes from former 4 Non Blondes Linda Perry, the faux-hawked hellion sealed the deal this year as MTV’s MVP by making angst sound profound (“Don’t Let Me Get Me,” “Just Like a Pill”) and the radio sound fun again (“Get the Party Started”). Neither exclusively rock nor pop, ladies and gents, Pink is punk.
4) Mary Timony — The Golden Dove — (Matador): While Beck made waves with his breakup breakdown, the snooze-inducing Sea Change, former Helium head Mary Timony embarked on a far more touching, tearjerking journey through the riptide of heartbreak. On The Golden Dove’s dozen funeral-pop dirges, the renaissance woman finally decoded the infamous medieval metaphors that had become her stock-in-trade, opting for pointed, poignant confession: “You showed me pictures of your ex-girlfriend on the beach without her shirt on/And it made me sick and I didn’t tell you it did.” Consider him told, and consider us touched.
5) No Doubt — Rock Steady — (Interscope): As her band genre-jumped from the mirror ball whirligig “Making Out” to “Underneath It All”’s reggae sway, glamazon Gwen Stefani wore her heart of glass on her sleeve and documented, dear-diary-style, her every concern, care and kiss with hubby Gavin Rossdale. The result? Pure radio rapture. Single of the year: “Hella Good.”
6) The Reputation — The Reputation (Initial): She’s the girl with the bad reputation: During her tenure in the fast-as-Fastbacks trio Sarge, Chicago’s Elizabeth Elmore made a name for herself by insightfully, incisively cutting through people’s games and fucked-up grade-school gossip. With the emo arena rock of The Reputation, Elmore further fine-tuned her bullshit detector, taking to task deceptive lovers, fair-weather friends and the Windy City’s indie rock elite with an audacity that’s both refreshing and rare.
7) N.E.R.D. — In Search Of... — (Virgin): It’s getting hot in here all right, but it was N.E.R.D. — not Nelly, and certainly not that chaps-clad, dirrty dancin’ Xtina Aguilera — who offered up 2002’s best reason to take off all our clothes. With the hip-hot rock of In Search Of..., the Neptunes’ Chad Hugo and infinitely fuck-able Pharrell Williams plus pal Shay unleashed one helluva bump ’n’ grind good time that screwed the brains outta anyone in earshot. “I got an idea,” Williams sweet-talked on one slinky-sexy number; “Let’s fuck.” Here’s another one — let’s dance.
8) Comet Gain — Réalistes — (Kill Rock Stars): “Now is a good time ... to dance more and oppose more,” David Feck declares on Comet Gain’s fourth near-masterpiece of petulant pop and subcultural commentary. A hip-shaking mélange of politically minded mod, Motown, punk and ’60s girl-group harmonies, Réalistes offered the perfect opportunity to take Feck up on his suggestion: From achey-breaky anthem “I Close My Eyes To Think of God” to Kathleen Hanna’s turn on the mic in the gnarly aggro-disco “Ripped-Up Suit!,” the Brit-brilliant band more than lived up to their promise to deliver “little messages of rebellion and romance.”
9) Shakira — Laundry Service — (Sony): She’s the bottle-blonde belly dancer responsible for making chain mail hip for the first time in, like, centuries, but Colombia’s Shakira isn’t just a trend-setting fashionista. The predominantly English-language Laundry Service was a blatant bid for American approval, sure, but its Spanish-sung songs were even better — and bigger than any language barrier. Bonus points for the year’s best tour name: Tour of the Mongoose.
10) The Quails — Atmosphere — (Inconvenient): A Molotov cocktail through the black hearts of all the dot-commers who bulldozed over the Bay Area a few years ago, Atmosphere is what San Francisco’s queer-punks listen to when taking back their freaky city streets. Thirteen folky politico-punk explosions that wonder who still gives a rat’s ass about their community, the album was 2002’s most enticing open invitation to fuck shit up. Plus: You can dance to it!
Khary Kimani Turner
1) Common — Electric Circus — (MCA): This is the bravest hip-hop album of the year. Common departs from traditional hip-hop production styles, subject matter and musical instruments and makes Electric Circus his most personal, and most consistent, album since 1994’s Resurrection.
2) Talib Kweli — Quality — (MCA): Kweli’s album goes in a few different directions, but his lyricism becomes the thread that connects the changes in mood. “Get By” and “Good to You” are two of my favorite singles of the year. These tracks celebrate life, for all that it is, and all that it can be.
3) The Black Bottom Collective — Stay Low, Keep Movin’ — (Self-released): Yeah, so, I’m biased. This would be my band. But, hell, Stay Low successfully attempted something that no independent release managed. It combined seven artistic elements — poetry, hip hop, soul, rock and reggae, plus live and programmed music — without appearing schizophrenic or preachy.
4) De La Soul — AOI: Bionix — (Tommy Boy): I considered the R&B flavor of Mosaic Thump a low point for De La. Bionix represented a return to their creative production, provocative lyrics and whimsical skits. Dave’s verse on “Trying People” is one of the most heart-wrenching of the year. Cee-Lo kills “Held Down” and Reverend Do Good provides just enough comic relief that De La doesn’t come off as melancholy as they’re normally accused of being.
5) Charlie Hunter — Songs From the Analog Playground — (Blue Note): This actually dropped in late 2001, but it is the first disc in years that maintained a spot in my CD deck long enough for the Earth to make a complete revolution around the sun. The former Disposable Hero of Hiphoprisy’s avant-garde jazz album often picked me up, helped me jam, and got me through frustrating times.
6) Sean Paul — Dutty Rock — (Atlantic): It’s not that Sean Paul is my favorite dancehall artist. But much of dancehall reggae seemed to be going the same route as commercial hip hop this year. That ain’t cute, ’cause if you take the roots out of reggae, the last bastion of musical integrity goes to shit. Sean Paul is today’s Super Cat, which makes me remember Terror Fabulous, Buju Banton, Chaka Demus and Pliers. Not to mention, the video for “Gimme The Light” is pure poetry, in a nice, sexual kind of way.
7) Nas — Stillmatic — (Sony): Nas brought his sound back to the streets, battling Jay-Z, Prodigy of Mobb Deep, and former friends Cormega and Nature in the process. He also dropped the sublime “One Mic” which, though lyrically schizophrenic, has a beat that everyone sounds hot rhyming over. Check Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” remix for proof.
8) Cassandra Wilson — Belly of the Sun — (Blue Note): This CD, like Hunter’s, refuses to get out of my system. Wilson’s team converted an old boxcar into a studio, a move of pure genius that created the most heavenly acoustics I’ve heard on a recording in years. Belly, complete with its wide array of down-home blues, jazz and spirituals, has the sound of a record produced in the ’50s. Wilson again does her part to keep jazz edgy and innovative.
9) Keiko Matsui — The Ring — (Narada): I am not a Keiko Matsui fan. I won this record in a raffle. I listened to this to pass the time and, while it was on, it became time. Nothing else mattered. It’s beautiful. Matsui’s piano is elegant and passionate, intelligent but not cerebral. The Ring seeps in through the pores like aromatheraphy. Hell, I’m playing it right now.
10) Lauryn Hill — MTV Unplugged, 2.0 — (Sony): Let’s be clear. I did not enjoy this album. It’s raspy, sappy and preachy. L-Boogie gets personal in a way that I find exhaustive, and I want her to deal with her issues through prayer, not at the expense of my $17. Still, fans spent most of the year debating the album’s merit, as well as Hill’s dramatic departure from convention. They’re still talking. 2.0 was arguably music’s biggest conversation piece this year. When said debates rage, it means that Hill is still very important.
1) Etta James Live at the Detroit Opera House: Simply put, Miss James held court. Swearing like a sailor, spinning yarns like she’s been and seen and done as many places and people and things as she has and, not the least, singing like, well ... like Etta James.
2) The White Stripes Live — MTV Music Awards, Royal Oak Music Theatre, Saturday Night Live: They gave me chills: When the giant American flag unfurled behind them at ROMT and the opening chords were ripped open; when dozens of extras go-go danced like confused monkeys on a peppermint stage; when they hushed a party at my house and the “SNL” crowd simultaneously with “We Are Going to Be Friends.”
3) Wilco — Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)/Flaming Lips — Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots — (Warner Brothers): Yeah, yeah, these are both critically lauded, brilliant-and-flawed works of enviable genius. But, more importantly, let’s get this straight: The Wilco record was too weird for Warner Brothers subsidiary Reprise, so it was eventually put out by a “smaller” sub-company of Warners. The Lips, on the other hand, got to put out a brilliantly bizarre concept record about a little girl who acts as a surrogate for humanity battling evil robots on Warner Brothers itself? Ain’t corporate hegemony grand?
4) Neko Case — Blacklisted — (Bloodshot); Caitlin Cary — While You Weren’t Looking (Yep Rock); Cathleen Irwin — Cut Yourself A Switch (Thrill Jockey): It was a great year for she-voices in country music — regardless of the evidence the Dixie Chicks presented.
5) Chuck Klosterman — Fargo Rock City — (Fireside): Klosterman’s fine, fine memoir/rant about the relevance of hair metal (and other related pop-culture topics) was issued in paperback this year. A 12-pack of Stroh’s and multiple spins of Andrew WK’s I Get Wet and 25 Suaves 1938 later, I had finished my first run through the book and was working up a rant of my own. But then I passed out.
6) Enon — High Society — (Touch & Go): I didn’t have to make a “Best of the ’80s” mix tape this year because John Schmersal and company did it for me. Remember when radio could surprise you?
7) Sleater-Kinney — One Beat — (Kill Rock Stars): Bruce who? Sleater-Kinney makes the only honest post-Sept. 11 reaction/protest rock record that matters. Figures. Simply, the one record that made me cry one minute and giddy the next.
8) Wolf Eyes — Dead Hills — (Troubleman Unlimited); Saturday Looks Good to Me — Love Will Find You — (Whistletap): Ann Arborites Aaron Dilloway and Nate Young (of dubby-electro-noise pranksters Wolf Eyes) and Fred Thomas (the man responsible for SLGTM’s irresistible pop indie-Motown symphonies) were once in a band together called Galen. This piece of trivia is just an excuse to list two records for the price of one. Sneaky, huh?
9) Koufax — Social Life — (Vagrant): The pitch? Little do they know, but we replaced listeners’ Ben Folds with Koufax Brand Piano Pop. They preferred Koufax Brand 4-to-1. Less pretentious than a record so smart, desperate and tuneful should be.
10) Interpol — Turn on the Bright Lights — (Matador): I’m sorry, I just don’t get what the big fucking deal is with this record. I tried. I did. I know it sounds hypocritical in light of my love for Enon. Could somebody e-mail me and tell me how this record transcends the Frankenstein’s monster of references from which it is cobbled? Thank you.
1) Eminem — The Eminem Show — Aftermath/Interscope): No, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as The Marshall Mathers LP and it didn’t make up for the fact that 8 Mile was more like The Crow meets Purple Rain than the real Eminem show of his rhymes. But in a year when hip hop became a one-hit hook-fest and pop music’s wallowing sucked up even sing-along punk rock and down-tuned angst, The Eminem Show still penetrated with sales and its soapbox-slash-confessionals — even if both the record and movie left out the part about living with his mom until he was 26.
2) Morel — Queen of the Highway — (Yoshitoshi): Forget the ’80s revival “electroclash” bullshit, this D.C. leather queen became the dance floor’s Leonard Cohen with an album of heartbroken road-trip blues and churning shimming guitar bliss that was as subversive as it was good. Like the best New Order or Love and Rockets, Richard Morel can write a tune, then supercharge it for 4 a.m. consumption, as evidenced by the death dirge disco of “True (The Faggot Is You),” the best deep, dark house anthem to show up on John Digweed mix CDs and Bally’s gym rotation (seriously, it is).
3) Clipse — Lord Willin’ — (Star Trak/Arista): With the Clipse, two thugged-out street dealers also from Virginia, the Neptunes put their egos back in their pants and lost the cheesy karaoke hooks to deliver the most rugged, raw, back-to-basics rap record of the year. And all head ’Tune Pharrell, used to stealing the spotlight and singing hooks, could do in the video for the drums-only “Grindin’” was mouth the track’s coconut-shell percussion. Oh, word.
4) VHS or Beta — Le Funk EP — (On!): A former art-damage band from Louisville outgrows their indier-than-thou Sonic Youth bullshit and sees the light — and it looks a lot like Daft Punk circa ’95. The catch is it’s all live — at last, a go-go band for the indie rave kids and a heartland New Order for the rest of us.
5) The Streets — Original Pirate Material — (Vice/Atlantic): Brits can’t rap for shit, but they do make a helluva dance record. Mike Skinner did both.
6) The White Stripes — White Blood Cells — (V2): Jack and Meg’s Americana snapshot stomp finally found a real, MTV-driven audience outside of the nerd critics who got tired of jocking the Strokes made them the most important hyperbolic blues-cartoon since Zeppelin.
7) Underworld — A Hundred Days Off — (V2): The record Moby should have made, the Undies balanced aching anthems and feel-good kinetic energy.
8) DJ P and Z-Trip — Uneasy Listening Volume One — (djpmix.com): This DJs-only mix of ’80s prom favorites and hip-hop staples (Phil Collins into Del tha Funkee Homosapien; Pat Benatar and The Pharcyde) was so far ahead of its time when it came out in 1999, it took three years for Rolling Stone and the rest of America to finally catch on to the best office party-slash-underground party rockin’ mash-up of all time.
9) Cornell Campbell — Original Blue Recordings 1970-79 — (Moll-Selekta): The “Sam Cooke of reggae” comes off as much like a lovesick Marvin Gaye, higher than a witch doctor but meaning every word, 30 years later as he did back then.
10) Andrew WK — I Get Wet — (Island): A karaoke-metal joke that went too far into air-guitar arena rock. The best thing out of Ann Arbor since Laughing Hyenas.
1) David Bowie — Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars (reissue) — (EMI): Everyone’s fave androgynous glitter gang never sounded better. Mick Ronson’s shimmering guitars skyrocket brighter then ever. A variety of petite surprises slither out of the mix and the bonus tracks and exquisite packaging properly bring this timeless masterpiece up into the 21st century.
2) The Fevers — Gaan Daar Waar De Meisjes Zijn — (Alien Snatch): This Minneapolis trio’s take on power pop is a much-needed source of musical bliss for those who have forgotten how to smile and have fun. Bubble gum as it comes, roller skates not included. Do you remember rock and roll radio?
3) The Hellacopters — By The Grace Of God — (Universal): Sweden’s finest Detroit-fueled rock import continues to evolve in an enormously ear-pleasing manner. Gone are the distorted angst-driven vocals and squealing guitars in favor of a more studied, ’70s boogie rock slant with the intermittent ballad (gasp!) thrown in.
4) Wilco — Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — (Nonesuch): While not as solid as Being There, and after wallowing though irritating soundscapes and overly artful loops, one will still find an abundance of admirable songs on this long-overdue album.
5) Tommy Rivers and the Raw Ramps — Self Titled — (December): Where did this guy come from? This album is so out of place and time, it’s wonderful! Bless their trashy hearts.
6) The Rolling Stones — 40 Licks — (Virgin): Sure, it’s a greatest-hits package comprised of many songs that we may never need to hear again. But with the clear, large-room remastering of the classics and some fine new tunes thrown in as well, it’s the perfect album to break in those new speakers. Besides, “Brown Sugar” never sounded better.
7) The Superbees — High Volume — (Acetate): Though hailing from LA, these revved-up rockers kick out more Detroit jams than most Detroit bands. With hooky riffs that stick to you like so much motor oil and a live show that rattles your brainpan (in 30 minutes or less!), the ’Bees deliver the goods.
8) Peter Wolf — Sleepless — (Artemis): A nice surprise from one of Motown’s beloved adopted sons. Poignant storytelling propped up with a few godlike guest players (Steve Earle, Mick Jagger). Not many of the barnburner rockers you’d expect from one-time Faye Dunaway nupital, but the double dose of soul gives this album certain healing powers.
9) Sahara Hotnights — Jeanie Bomb — (Jetset): Proof that there is more to the current state of power-chord “chick rock” than the Donnas; in fact, in a schoolyard scrap, the Sarah Hot Nights would womp all over the D’s asses.
10) Jason Ringenberg — All Over Creation — (Yep Roc): Former Jason and the Scorchers front man delivers an album that is chock-full of good-time tunage. Collaborations with everyone from the Wildhearts to Steve Earle to Todd Snider give his roots-rock style a nice variation of colors.Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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