Well, we’re near the end of the year so I’m grossly behind in this post. I’d love to blame JT, but he’s been ready for weeks now, so the fault is all mine. In my defense, I had my write up complete but then made some last minute changes that took a bit longer than I’d expected. But regardless, let’s jump in…
The year that was 2002 was a huge year for me in a lot of ways with big events happening left and right – some of them great and others the total opposite. By this point I had lost touch with most all recent or “relevant” music, choosing instead to move further back into classic rock, 80s nostalgia and the more experimental veins of post punk and experimental music. I was pretty much only purchasing new albums by artist that I had liked or had been around for 10+ years and ignoring anyone who was, well, younger than me.
And along those lines there was a bit to choose from, but not all of it took me where I needed to go. Chris Isaak released his first studio album in four years, the yawning Always Got Tonight (which I need to give an honest re-listen one day); Pet Shop Boy gave us Release, which had a fantastic lead single (Home and Dry) but failed to capture my attention overall; Sonic Youth delivered Murray Street, their first with Jim O’Rourke, that is quite nice but never asks to be listened to (when you’re putting an album on out of obligation…well, you know); Dag Nasty (sigh...) reunited with Dave Smalley (double sigh…) for Minority of One, full of great hooks and sing-along choruses, but still couldn’t match the power of Can I Say (though it squashes Four on the Floor like a grape) and Belle & Sebastian put out a soundtrack for the movie Storytelling, that I’ve yet to see, and which is pleasant, but soundtracks are rarely ever groundbreaking, much less something that requires repeat spins.
So with a lot of mainstays letting me down a bit, what did I do? Well, I sorta started beginning attempting to listen to new music again. Sorta…
Here’s a bit of all that and then some in no particular order – also, I covered all these albums more in depth on a previous post. And, as always JT goes first…oh wait, I think his are in descending order…
5. Busted Stuff by Dave Matthews Band - After the success of the illegally leaked ‘Lillywhite Sessions’ DMB went back in the studio and recorded many of the tracks from those sessions and the results, while not as good, were amazing none-the-less and comprises the band’s best album to date.
4. One Beat by Sleater-Kinney - More than any of the albums on this list, One Beat screams of living under the Bush Administration in a post 9/11 world...songs such as ‘Combat Rock’ and ‘Far Away’ put to music the way many of us felt during that confusing time period.
3. The Remote Part by Idlewild - Idlewild were one of the most consistently good rock bands of the early 00s. More introspective than their previous two albums, The Remote Part finds the band churning out singable, perfect pop rock songs.
2. Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol - Interpol came out of the box sounding like Joy Division for the new Millennium and launched 100s of new wave revivalist copycats...some that were good (Editors, Elefant) and some that weren’t (She Wants Revenge) but none (including Interpol themselves) that would ever replicate the brilliance of Turn on the Bright Lights.
1. Castaways & Cutouts by The Decemberists- In my opinion, the most brilliant ‘indie’ band to come out of the early 2000 music scene, from Alt-Country to Prog Rock Concept Albums, the Decemberists have rarely made a misstep. With Castaways & Cutouts, the band set the bar high for what has been an amazing career thus far.
Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights – Of all the acts riding on the retro New Wave, this album hit me on a crazy personal level. Virtually every post punk outfit – from the menace of Joy Division to the echo of the Chameleons to the quirky melody of Echo and the Bunnymen – was blended together into something familiar and yet fresh, the logical footnote to a genre whose heyday may have been 20 years before, but continued (and continues) to influence all but the most banal of bubblegum pop.
Rhett Miller – The Instigator – As the second greatest songwriter of my generation, Rhett’s first solo album after the success of the Old 97s left me a little underwhelmed when it first came out. But these songs really, really stick with you and now it’s my favorite of his solo work and even gives a couple of the Old 97s albums a run for their money. As always it’s the catchy hooks and infectious choruses, all oozing with Rhett’s charm, humor and down to earth good nature, making even his weaker moments better than most folk’s stronger.
Tom Waits – Blood Money/Alice – Brother Tom can deliver abrasive, frightening and near comical “rockers” that stomp and howl with post world abandon, or brooding, tender and equally as frightening ballads that wind tiny fingers of sweet pain deep into your heart and soul; and with Blood Money and Alice, released together and yet two entirely different projects, he handles both separately and perfectly. Honestly, with a catalog built of amazing songs and albums, these two may be his best in each of his “sub categories” and you just need to decide which mood you’re in before you choose.
Doves – The Last Broadcast – For me this is one of the greatest albums of all time and a definite desert island disc. I found these guys by chance on a sampler that Tower Records (RIP) was giving out, which included There Goes the Fear. That song is an epic surge of dynamic energy in and of itself and an excellent example of everything this album has to offer. The Last Broadcast is nothing short of a masterpiece by any standards, with highs and lows dabbling in elements of shoegaze and electronica and folk and solid rock, conjuring images that are at once joyous and morose and ultimately darn near holy. Everything comes together in a melodic, emotive and immediately endearing mesh that is nothing short of triumphant.
Neil Halstead – Sleeping on Roads – I’m saying it again, but my boy Neil is the greatest songwriter of my generation, and he makes it seem so simple it’s staggering. This was his first of now three solo offerings outside his Mojave 3 “day job,” and it’s by far the most ambitious. Sleeping on Roads permeates with a sort of satisfied melancholia, realizing that there is beauty in everything, especially pain. That’s not to say it’s a depressing album, but it looks at love and life with a sense that everything we see and experience is just passing, and that’s ok. And what brings it all together are the layered textures, from stripped down and pensive to sweeping walls of atmospheric noise. Through all of it is Neil’s laidback, folky charm and a sense of melody and way of turning a word that brings an easy smile to my face every time.