Sunday, May 9, 2010

Top 10 Albums of the Year 2002

The weirdest thing about this list is that looking at it right now, the 10 albums I've selected might be the weakest set out of all the years - and there are a whole ton of really great albums from this year that are not even on this list. Whatever, here it is:

10. Badly Drawn Boy - About A Boy OST

Badly Drawn Boy's debut album "The Hour of Bewilderbeast" was a totally fresh example of what the new decade in pop could be. Pleasant enough vocals, fresh, ever-changing music and memorable hooks. It's a good, if not almost great, album - but I've always preferred "About A Boy" more. This might stem from the fact that the movie in which this album soundtracks is one of my favorite "guilty pleasure that I'll watch and enjoy every single time it is on tv" but the reality is that the songs and sequencing that Damon Gough employ through this album make it a fully realized, unique pop-music vision. Featuring both short and long songs that can be both seriously sentimental and fairly silly, "About A Boy" is responsible for leaving songs stuck in my head for days as much as any other album I've known in my life. It's not perfect, but it is great and it's just pleasant enough to never cringe when it's on. Badly Drawn Boy has gone on to release some pretty decent singles since this album, but not much more, his subsequent albums being a mess, unlike the almost too-clean feel of this release. Not essential, but definitely not a bad way to spend a sunny day.

9. Scarface - The Fix
(Def Jam)

The late 90s / early 2000s Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam domination of hip hop was a truly exciting one. The proliferation of and introduction producers Kanye West, Just Blaze, The Neptunes to name a few were pumping out equal amounts of pop hits and new street anthems every week. When Scarface became the head of Def Jam South, teamed up with Roc-A-Fella and released his most polished solo album of his career, "The Fix" the world of rap critics took notice. Considered by many to be one of the certified classics of the decade, including 5 mics from The Source, the album bridges the world of this new east coast "throwback" style production with Face's constantly engaging voice and lyrical themes. Never one to listen to in the background, Scarface is in top form on this album. Rapping about the things he raps about best - the street, some spiritual themes, some depressing themes, hating people, backstabbers, etc - this is a hip hop album to digest. It mixes hard and soft songs and throws in a couple of brilliant singles along the way ("Guess Who's Back" and "My Block" set me off back when they were on the radio). Some songs on the back side start to drag (maybe too many sentimental numbers) but overall its a great hip hop album now, just as it was then.

8. Andrew WK - I Get Wet
Note: Somehow I never noticed this was a 2001 release. I had it tagged as 2002 and have always considered it so. It just never caught my eye that this is 2001, that obviously changes things and would be on that list instead. Oh well, not going to change it now. What would get substituted in? Probably "Fantastic Damage"

I've never really been paid to dj. I've done it here and there for parties or get togethers and I threw a ton of different dance parties at the youth camp I worked at, but I'm not a real dj. Regardless of that, there is one song that has ended almost every set I've ever done: "Party Hard" by Andrew WK. The ultimate teenage (or fratboy) anthem, overly loud production, an instantly catchy theme you can get behind and just a song in which you are bound to get a terrible case of rock neck with. Play it for kids who don't have much of a concept of what is danceable other than the music they know - and they still go nuts for it. "I Get Wet" and Andrew WK in general divide a lot of people. It's mindless rock, dance, party music. It's probably the single most fun album I've ever known and whether or not the whole thing is contrived, it's irrelevant. The point is that for 35 minutes you can be lost in non-stop party climax after party climax, soaring chorus after soaring chorus. An album to celebrate to. Lose your inhibitions, your taste, and just rock out people. It's of the utmost importance.

7. Boards Of Canada - Geogaddi

We could scour the internet and find reviews long enough to be essays about the brilliance of Boards of Canada and "Geogaddi". The way it transports the listener to far away places in their mind but gives them feelings which are vaguely familiar. It's music that brings up memories - yet somehow leaves you feeling cold. The reviews will say it flows perfectly, that the melodies and the synth lines and samples are placed with just enough space and thought that it is hard to believe this work of art was actually recorded and put to tape by human beings. It's music to take into your soul, live with a while and then baptize the world in its glory. And no doubt, "Geogaddi" is great. It does many of these things and reviews will tell you about these things more eloquently than I, but this isn't an all-time classic the same way "Music Has The Right To Children" is. And for what it's worth, I can't separate the albums and look at them on their own terms. That album is perfect, this album is very good. VERY good.

6. N*E*R*D - In Search Of...

In 2002, Pharrell could fart on a record and it would become a hit. Dude was on top of the world and with good reason. No one had injected so much creativity into pop music in many years and although the Neptunes sound eventually became oversaturated and boring (only to be taken over again by Timbaland who is coincidentally at an all-time low), I can still listen to some of those classic songs (I mean c'mon they made Britney Spears dope) and enjoy them a lot. When Pharrell and Chad teamed up with their buddy Shay for NERD, they released an album different from everything else they were doing. The UK release of this album is just beats and little guitars - the US release though is a whole different story. Punk-Funk-Rap-Soul workouts. The album is best played loud and even though the party tracks like "Lapdance", "Brain", and "Rock Star" are fun as hell, the album really shines on the subdued tracks where Pharrell's awkward voice actually works. Bunch of great pop songs. I still enjoy the Neptunes and Pharrell but this is definitely the high point that isn't Clipse related. (Side note: Like a week after this album came out, for state writing tests in high school I listened to "Bobby James" over and over and interwove that song with some writing prompt I turned into an end-of-the-world story and got really good scores. Thanks Pharrell.)

5. The Notwist - Neon Golden

Along with Dismemberment Plan, Ted Leo and Belle & Sebastian, The Notwist was one of the first "indie" bands that I really "got into". "Neon Golden" is a huge reason why. It was the first album I'd heard up to that point to mix indie pop and electronic sounds in such a pleasant sounding way. Markus Archer's restrained, sad, fey voice really stood out from the unique music that was backing him and I loved it. "One Step Inside..." slayed me the first time I heard it, "One With The Freaks" was my favorite song for about a year, but it's "Consequence" that still kills me now. Maybe it sounds contrived, wussy, whatever. For one album The Notwist perfectly blended "sad bastard" indie music with pleasant sounding electronic beats and other live instruments and put out a great recording. I find it hard that anyone can actively dislike this. I can understand it I suppose, but it is just so pleasant, so reaffirming and inoffensive that I just imagine it takes some work to dislike it. The whole Morr Music sound hasn't put out anything better, either.

4. Beck - Sea Change

Growing up, I always liked Beck. His singles were fun, his videos were funny, he seemed like the kind of dude I would want to hang out with. All this said, I never cared about a Beck album until "Sea Change". Looking back on that idea, I still don't really care about any Beck albums BUT "Sea Change". Creating THE definitive break-up album of my generation by channeling his emotional turmoil into a concentrated sound, rather than careening experimentalism, 2002 allowed for Beck to create the spiritual successor to "Blood On The Tracks" and "Shoot Out The Lights". Sad, somber, beautifully produced by Beck and Nigel Godrich, this album got me through many nights as an overly-analytical teenager. Listening now I just hear an artist at the peak of his powers, proof positive that musical genius doesn't have to come from non-stop forward thinking and taking pop music to places where it hasn't been, but real musical genius can often come down to doing something others have done - just doing it better. One of the ultimate late-night albums.

3. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights

It's hard to believe now that I was at one point in the small group of people who claimed fervently that "Antics" was the better Interpol album. More hooks, louder bass, a bit more upbeat. This is what I wanted - a dark album that didn't sound out of place when the sun was out. What a moron. "Antics" is still a good album, but it doesn't really hold a candle to "Turn on the Bright Lights" which happens to be the best album that sounds the way it sounds of the past decade. What I mean is without trying to mention a certain band that Ian Curtis fronted, that Interpol is (well was) a very good bad. Insanely tight musicianship, intensely dark and depressing lyrics and a competent, pretty vocalist. When they popped up on the NY scene back in 2002 and the forefront of the "good music" scene as the compliment to The Strokes, it was a good time. This album is expertly produced, expertly executed - I just don't really listen to it that much and my love for it is relatively recent considering it's release date. Another band we'll never see reach the heighth of their debut again, which for Interpol is really high.

Note: The next two albums basically flip flop back and forth. One is probably the most important albums in my maturation process as a music listener, the other is one that has maintained it's grip on me since I first heard it 8 years ago - it's only now that I realize it might very well be the best album of the 2002.

2. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

No album was of greater importance in my musical maturation than "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot". Experimental, sonically-inventive music rooted in alt. country and Starbucks-branded soft rock. We could talk about the the history of this album's release, but there is a great documentary you've probably already seen or own that tells the story way better. The fact remains that Wilco became a real force with this album. It's hard to deny how great the production, the singing, the songs are on this album but right now to my ears it doesn't excite me like it once did. It could be because after hundreds of listens over the years, knowing all the words and instrumental parts, the album might just be played out for me. More than likely it's because at this current stage I want something more. I want Wilco (who are still a great band) to go back to sounding like this but then...turn it up. Whatever, historically this will go down as one of the most important albums I'll have known in my life. PS. One good thing about this record is that it is one of those records where your favorite song on it changes constantly. That says something about great songwriting.

1. Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
(Arts & Crafts)

I'll go ahead and say that "You Forgot It In People" might have one of my favorite first halves of any record I've heard, ever. The melancholy intro fading into the anthemic, heart-and-fist pumping "KC Accidental" into a song that is somehow experimental indie rock yet funky enough to work as a dance song with "Stars And Stripes" to a track that goes all over the place and features some of Leslie Feist's best vocals in "Almost Crimes" back to cool down on "Look Just Likes the Sun" just kills me everytime. I love the back half too, but these 5 tracks usually warrant a repeat before I then get to the back half. And then that back half has some classic cuts too. The creepy, sad, "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl" is probably the song most closely associated with BSS and etc etc. This just a seriously great, exciting album that takes a million different influences, musicians and ideas and throws them at the wall where they some how coalesce and form a coherent sound that alternates between messy and clean, riveting and calming. Oh and then the album closes with the beautiful "Pitter Patter Goes My Heart" which Itunes tells me I've listened to approximately 4 billion times more than any other song I have. Every listen is exciting, the way a great album should be.