Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Annual Report: 2001

I was tempted to talk about '69 and '71, but thought it might be better to spread out the years more. So let's hit a year in more recent memory, when– admittedly – both Charlie T and myself were in our "music-listening primes." I guess by "prime" I mean the time when you have sort of graduated from what you grew up listening to and moved into a new phase (at least for me, that's how it worked. I was less fixated on the Zeppelin-led classic rock of junior high and two-pronged jamband/alt-rock of my high school days). You listen with different ears. Whether they are more refined and less jaded is debatable, but at the time you sure think they're authoritative.

So, 2001. We survived Y2K, Ricky Martin, and boy bands. 9/11 happened. It will always be a banner year for a billion reasons unconnected to music. But the music also happened to be really great.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (free release) // Wilco
Time (The Revelator) // Gillian Welch
Two of my favorite albums of all time. I'm fortunate because I felt the same way when I first heard them, mind blown, ears appeased, heart filled. But, unlike some of the other albums that have since been demoted to bins like Overhyped, Failed The Test Of Time, and worse, these have stood strong. That they are both approaching America from such different angles and yet still seem somehow related (strong writing maybe? pure singing? nostalgia?) is a testament to the strength of 2001. Welch's "I Dream A Highway" might be the only 15-minute song featuring just 2 guitars and 2 voices that I ever wished was twice as long. And Wilco's entire album has survived time, which a lot of "glitchy production, studio experimentation" albums fail to do. With songs like "Jesus, Etc" and "Radio Cure", it's no wonder. The production wasn't veiling bad songwriting, it was adding texture to amazing songs.
Is This It? // The Strokes
White Blood Cells // The White Stripes
Oh, Inverted World // The Shins
Gold // Ryan Adams
Agaetis Byrjun // Sigur Ros
Debuts or not, these were the albums that buzzed, that introduced us to new voices in American music. Disaffected NYC hipster elite. Mondrian-inspired minimalistic, raw blues rock from Detroit. Smart, melodic indie rock. A prolific singer/songwriter who embraced his influences and excesses. Glacial soundscapes with an angelic voice sung in the supposedly made-up language of Hopelandish. There were better albums this year, but not many buzzier.
Amnesiac // Radiohead (I don't dare add to the superlatives. Let's just say it's still great.)
The Blueprint + Unplugged // Jay-Z
Love and Theft // Bob Dylan (I'm more of a Time Out Of Mind guy. Sue me.)
It's A Wonderful Life // Sparklehorse (RIP)

The Argument // Fugazi
Things We Lost In The Fire // Low
Maybe 2 of the albums I go back to most? Two great, smart, trend-oblivious bands at or near the peaks of their creative output.

Bleed American // Jimmy Eat World

musicforthemorningafter // Pete Yorn
One Nil // Neil Finn
I love a good pop song. Melodic and memorable. If the words are great too, then it's legendary. Some of these split the difference. Pete Yorn's album blew me away for awhile and was a nice patchwork of pop and indie rock and singer/songwriter and more. Neil Finn was just going about his usual business of spitting out great melodies. And Jimmy Eat World? Well, there's nothing cool about liking Jimmy Eat World. But I still love this album– its dramatic builds, its dreamy and desperate vocals, its drums, its college heartbreak. I remember going to lunch with a friend in 2001. Her much-hipper friend shows up and we're talking music and, before I know what I'm doing, I ask what he thinks of the new Jimmy Eat World. My stupid "hipster filter" kicks in and I try to control-Z, but it's out and it's even clearer how cool I'll never be. But, in the loudness of the restaurant, this guy thinks I asked about the Jim O'Rourke album. And he starts going on and on about it. And my friend shoots me a look and I sorta wave her off like, "It's not worth clarifying." The guy still thought I wasn't cool, I guess. But I never had to try to sell him on Bleed American.
Field Songs // Mark Lanegan
Old Ramon // Red House Painters
What's Next To The Moon // Mark Kozelek
My two favorite Marks. Kozelek closed the chapter on Red House Painters and opened up a whole new can of worms (a whole album of Bon Scott-era AC/DC covers?) and basically wrote his own license to do whatever. Lanegan, meanwhile, continued to do what he does best, which is write harrowingly, sing hauntingly, gargle gravel, and be one of my favorite odd rock icons. Plus, he contributed to the cactus weird of Desert Sessions.
Green Album // Weezer
Hot Shots II // Beta Band
Two quirky iconic bands say goodbye. Wait. What? What's that you say? Weezer kept making albums after the Green Album? Really?
Stephen Malkmus // Stephen Malkmus
Ancient Melodies of the Future // Built To Spill
Girls Can Tell // Spoon
Isolation Drills // Guided By Voices

Songs In A Minor // Alicia Keys

Aaliyah // Aaliyah (2x platinum, RIP)
No More Drama- //Mary J Blige
Apparently 2001 was a year where female neo-R&B struck a chord (A minor perhaps?) with me. Blige's voice, maybe our greatest contemporary R&B singer, and persona have always resonated with me and her song "Family Affair" is undeniable. I wish she'd make a record with Mark Ronson & The Dap Kings because it would be insanely great. Joe Henry producing would come in a close second. And of course, Alicia Keys and Aaliyah's hits were unavoidable. As a sidenote, pop/R&B legend Michael Jackson released what no one would've guessed was his final album (Invincible) in 2001
Souljacker // Eels
Gorillaz // Gorillaz
Vespertine // Bjork
The Photo Album // Death Can For Cutie

Songs from the West Coast // Elton John

Poses // Rufus Wainwright
Rockin The Suburbs // Ben Folds
It was a good year for piano men. Elton had a temporary revival with is best batch of songs in years. Poses still sounds amazing with standouts like "Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk", "In A Graveyard" and the title track. And Folds' debut sounded an awful lot like BF5 minus the kind of editing/filtering that a band provides. Still, it spawned at least 4 classic Folds' tunes.
Brushfire Fairytales // Jack Johnson
Room For Squares // John Mayer
It was also a good year for guys with guitars. Campuses across the country were flooded with fratboys in pooka shell necklaces scraping to learn "how to play some Jack" for the ladies. Bodies were wonderlands. Banana pancakes were made. Actual songwriters on college campuses were a little bit bummed. Clearly not my cup of tea, but deserving of mention, I suppose.
Amelie soundtrack // Yann Tiersen
Rock Steady // No Doubt (set up Gwen for megastardom)
10,000 HZ Legend // AIR
End of Amnesia // M Ward
Lateralus // Tool

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