Friday, April 04, 2003
Top 10 albums of 2002
I love and hate end-of-year best-of lists in almost equal measure, both consuming them and constructing them. Finding hidden gems in obscure lists by people you don’t know, being reminded of pre-spring LPs you’d loved briefly but forgotten once the sun emerged, being able to look at a year’s cumulative releases juxtaposed and ruminated upon rather than considered quickly and in isolation; these bonuses easily outweigh the negative exasperation of being confronted with identikit lists from a host of predictable outlets and publications, the trauma of seeing easy, lightweight albums being lauded by people who should know better (hello, NME), or the anachronistic, ostentatious-hipster choices proffered by arenas concerned with indie-kudos and alt.rock-cred over actual musical appreciation.
Construction of these damn things is a different matter, though. It’s an ego-war, making lists, a naked statement of self; you assert your opinion in the face of all others as superior, affirm your level of musical consumption as wider and deeper than anyone else’s. To make a list is to say “I have listened to more music than you and what’s more I have understood and assessed it better than you could and now I’m going to judge it and rank it and my opinion is absolute and final and rooted in truth and certainty…” And really these rankings are just arbitrary, political constructs, value judgements given textual authority, compromised overviews and half-assed summaries, as if you can understand a record, an artist, something as intangible as a year, just by making a list of it. Foolery.
Of course, being an arrogant and vain individual, and also a contributor to Stylus, I composed a list in late November, fretted and fussed over it’s content and context, revised and reviewed it and submitted it to be both displayed on the site and amalgamated with the lists of other writers into One Big List, one final musical authority for the year 2002. And, of course, being fallible and lazy, I neglected to actually hear many of the most wonderful records of the year 2002 until well after the list had been submitted, and even well after the new year had rolled into and then back out of sight one more time. And so, as usual, the real list of the best albums of 2002, my favourite albums from that year, doesn’t get composed properly until we’re into the next year’s spring. So here it is, finally, eventually, as accurately and honestly as I can muster; the 10 records from the 12 months between January and December of last year that I enjoyed most. Some of them are reviewed elsewhere on this blog at length, some of them aren’t; for the sake of democracy and fairness, I’ll blurt out a cursory sentence or so about each one here whether they’re looked at elsewhere or not.
And so, on April 4th, 2003, in no particular order, here are my absolute, positive favourite records from last year (at least until I listen to the as-yet-unheard copy of Susumu Yokota’s The Boy & The Tree which is newly arrived this morning from Amazon). There are plenty more records I liked, but these are the ones I really loved…
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
I’ll admit that I’d never heard Wilco before this record, and that they’ve now found themselves a place in my heart that doesn’t look likely to shift or shrink for a fair old while. Supposedly this is their greatest record because of it’s mildly experimental leanings; I say balls to that. It’s Wilco’s finest record because Tweedy’s voice of drunken sadness and honesty here finds itself wrapped around songs and arrangements that are better than anything they’d done before. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart sent elegiac shivers down my spine the first time I heard it and it still does now.
Micro-house wasn’t something I’d heard of before I came across internet whispers about this record, and it’s still not something I’m gonna claim to understand. All I know is that since I was 18 I’ve had the idea that it’d be great to cut-up sound into tiny bits of noise and then reassemble it over rhythm so that it becomes artificial melody, and that Canada’s Akufen does just that. The fact that he also pastes the most glorious, ass-wibbling house beats and bass-lines underneath his snippets of piano, guitar, static and voices makes this record all the more fabulous.
Sunshine Hit Me
I love eclectic, upbeat oddpop with a definite reggae lilt. Not surprising then that I love Sunshine Hit Me. Anything that gets close to recapturing the feeling I got back in 98 when I first heard The Rock by Delakota, that warm-sand and cool-sunshine swoon, is a good thing, and The Bees were the only group in 2002 who managed it. They managed it very well indeed.
You can take The Strokes and shove them up your arse; this is the sound of underground New York that I want to hear, a sound rooted in disco and post-punk rather than style magazines and dates with Drew Barrymore. Dub bass rubs up with edgy guitar and a sense of righteous fury at not knowing your hometown anymore when you’ve never even left it. A kinetic masterpiece in thrall to Gang Of Four and PiL.
Turn On The Bright Lights
Did I say post-punk? Did I say New York? Yes, I love the Interpol record too, and I’ve never even listened to Joy Division. Sad and powerful at the same time; hard to believe it was just a debut.
I don’t think what El-P and Cannibal Ox are doing is that important. I don’t think they’re really changing perceptions or forging new ground. Hell, I don’t even really like The Cold Vein that much, and I’m not prepared to give it a level of grudging respect just because of it’s ferocious accomplishment. Fantastic Damage is a different matter though, because although El-P can’t rap for shit, he sure can fucking produce, and he’s not afraid here to show that he knows his way around a beat either. A positively overwhelming journey through underground hip-hop; not necessarily a pleasure, but always worthwhile. (Three in a row from NYC…)
Is A Woman
The songs are all 7 minutes long and about his dog, but Kurt Wagner’s gloriously fucked-up downbeat alt.country-soul collective turned in possibly their best record with Is A Woman, a wonderfully understated and subdued swoon of elegant piano and intricately arranged ambience. We wondered how they’d follow-up the magnificently lush Nixon, a modern soul masterpiece from the most unexpected quarter; we didn’t expect this graceful foray into beguiling, redemptive depression, but we were glad we got it.
In Search Of…
Re-recorded with live guitars and percussion to give it the potential for D’Angelo-style crossover success (“what the fuck?” – “no, really, that’s what the label said…”), N*E*R*D actually managed to create the only album to ever do the rap-rock thing properly, combining the kinetic/sonic slam of rock with the intricate and dynamic aesthetic of mainstream hip-hop. Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo would’ve been everywhere even if they hadn’t released their own record, given the amount of production work they keep so splendidly churning out, but In Search Of… was their biggest achievement. Quite possibly, this is the sound of the future of pop music.
Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man
Out Of Season
It arrived late in the year but it bled such quiet, intense quality that people knew it had to stand high in the myriad lists it made it into, even though really it’s a grower of an album rather than an immediate hit. My own review for Stylus was basically an excuse to rant about why Mariah Carey is and always will be inferior to Beth Gibbons, partly because I think that, but mostly because this odd, gossamer record does it’s best to defy description. Even now I can’t pick out individual moments, and it still doesn’t get played often, but when it does it’s undeniable. An autumnal hybrid of Talk Talk and Portishead; how could I not love it?
I almost feel guilty choosing this because I generally really don’t get anything out of indie anymore, but the quality of these bittersweet Scottish pop songs is undeniable. Syrupy and orchestrated to death, certainly, and produced by a David Friddman seemingly on autopilot ever since The Soft Bulletin, but The Delgados stomped all over The Polyphonic Spree and The Flaming Lips, who both tried to make the same record. Emma Pollock’s voice remains a lovely thing, especially in the album’s softer moments. To all intents and purposes this was The Great Eastern Part 2, but it’s a quiet triumph nonetheless.
4/04/2003 11:46:00 pm