Spoon
Kill The Moonlight
Imagine the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” over just the left speaker: the purest essence of rock and roll still pulsing with both swagger and reckless beauty, punctuated with the lyrical bite of a drunk and maniacal Elvis Costello. I listened to this until I could sing every note, and then I kept singing.

Yo La Tengo
The Sounds of the Sounds of Science + Nuclear War EP
The Sounds finds Yo La at their most ambient, staging music to an underwater film, and bringing in elements of Tortoise and Godspeed You Black Emperor with plenty of genius+love, YLT-style. The Nuclear War EP was just as unexpected and pleasurable, delivering 4 unique versions of the Sun Ra politico-stomp. You can kiss that ass goodbye, goodbye

Super Furry Animals
Rings Around The World
SFA are psychedelic pirates of sound. MWNG was creatively varied, but Rings pilages the spectrum, killing us softly with georgeous harmonies, then plowing in our skulls with raging waves of overdriven beats and synths. This is victory by way of furious eclectecism, like Enon, but with songwriting that is consistently engaging. I expected huge barbarians toting nipple rings the size of my head, but in concert I found they’re just a scrawny bunch of guys from Wales.

The Aluminum Group
Happyness
Finally giving in to curiosity I was rewarded with this impeccable little gem of retro cool and utterly urbane pop. And this is precisely why I had yet to give them a try. But the austere sound succeeds on the foundation of brilliant melodies and a parade of Chicago’s finest, including the vocal caress of Rebecca Gates and deft touch of John McEntire.

Badly Drawn Boy
About A Boy
At once sweet and playful, gentle and funky, this soundtrack never runs short of ideas. Damon Gough offers songs of earnest folk, orchestral pop, and camp bolstered by twee background vocals as well as his understated voice. Like Mac’s Looking For Leonard soundtrack, this album floats on the grace of eclectic but connected themes. It makes me want to get up and press play again whenever it finishes.

  • The Flaming Lips
    Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
  • Wilco
    Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  • Beck
    Sea Change

When a band I really like release an album, I’m ecstatic. When three such bands release records in the same year, I’m praising my astrological good fortune, I make the sign of the cross over my heart – I am overcome with happiness. When these three bands, or artists as it may be, release records that are profoundly good, I lock myself away in my room. I am under the sheets with the headphones, supine, overwhelmed by the psychic shiver of art working its way in to my system. Such was the case this year when Beck, The Flaming Lips and Wilco each put out autumnal, melancholic albums of agonizing beauty. Where The Soft Bulletin soared through a solar Spector soundscape, Yoshimi is more tempered by washes of electronics and wistful lyrics. “Do You Realize??” underscores the splendor of this new horizon. Sea Change resonates with the soul of the man, rather than the chameleonic magician we’ve heard on prior albums. Beck offers several of his simplest and most intimate songs like “Lost Cause”and “It’s All In Your Mind”. Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a long time coming. Knowing the background behind the making of the album, as seen in I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, brings clarity to the timbre of YHF. Tracks like the eerily timely “Ashes of American Flags” usher Summer Teeth’s manic pop sweetness to a more contemplative electro-folk, drifting through the ethers of Tweedy’s cigarette haze.
These are each touchstone artistic statements for bands that seem only to get better with time. I was glad to carry their songs with me throughout the year.

Doves
The Last Broadcast
Carrying the torch of grandiose British rock a la the Verve into the 21st century, the Doves’ new one might better their excellent debut. Like most of the albums on this page, there is a gravity of heart and plaintive yearning informing the mood of this record; a reflection of the time, perhaps. Somehow it just feels right. Oh, and the bonus disc has an excellent supersonic rip-off of “Werewolves of London”

Neko Case
Blacklisted
Neko could sing the pants of a southern baptist and make him praise God for it. Blacklisted is distinguished with a stronger, singular songwriting voice than its predecessor. It’s the sound of a woman out of control, hair on fire with wind, but a strong grip on the reins.

also!!
LowTrust
Archer PrewittThree
Sigur Ros( )
ClinicWalking With Thee

other favorites picked up this year, but released prior to 2002
Paul BurchWire to Wire
Jim O’RourkeInsignificance
Starflyer 59Leave Here A Stranger
Portastatic Looking for Leonard
The Langley School Music Project
The Lassie FoundationEl Dorado

l i v e
some of the most engaging shows i’ve ever seen were this year, even if they were all larger clubs/theaters

Sigur Ros – The Warfield
Low – Great American Music Hall
Wilco – The Warfield
Beck & The Flaming Lips – Paramount Theater
Bob Dylan – Greek Theater

 

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