2000: The Recap

By shane

The end of the year column is always sort of a pain in the arse to do, 'cause (a) it's easily the longest column I write every year, and (b) it's a tough column to put into words. I'm not a music critic - that much is self-evident. What I am is a music FAN. And when I hear something I like, it's really tough for me to justify that inner "like" about a record. I simply like it, and that's that. The joy of music isn't a joy that can easily be put into words, otherwise we'd be a Book of the Month website... music brings an inner joy - something that's a couple shades outside the realm of normal thought processes. And what I'd really like to do is simply force all of you guys to listen to all of my favorite records, and, of course, force you to like them as well. It'd make my job a lot easier... cause essentially what I have to do now is not only talk about the 25 records that really made 2000 happen for me, I also have to sell you on them. You already know these are gonna be positive reviews... all I have to do is make my pitch as to why you should go buy them, listen to them, and snag some pretty good emotions from 'em. Sounds easy, right? Well, wish me luck...
But before I turn into Casey and do my countdown, a couple words about the Year In Music 2000:


There, did it. Those are my couple words. Normally, that might elicit a laugh or two. But it actually turns into something a bit deeper in 2000... because those two words contradict most other critics thoughts about this year. You can't turn a page in a music magazine this month without seeing some critic talk about how crappy 2000 was for releases. Well, brothers and sisters, I'm here to tell you those critics are dead wrong.

If you're talking "crap year" strictly from the standpoint of the Billboard charts, then, yup, 2000 sucked rocks. Hell, even Limp Bizkit, who redefine everything I hate about music, made a crappy album by their standards. The charts in 2000 were dominated by either (a) testosterone-fueled bullshit like Bizkit, Rage, Korn, Godsmack, and my personal favorites, Kittie (at least I can turn the sound down and stare...), (b) the lollipop kids - Justin, Ricky, Britney, Christina, Jessica, and a million other manufactured pop divas and dodos, or (c) nameless, faceless R artists and tracks that merge together into one big (drum-n-bass influenced?) bore.

The alternative genre is dead, folks. Only the absolute upper eschelon (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, and, in a final blaze of exasperation, the Smashing Pumpkins) scored mild success this year. In its place is this utterly creepy contemporized alterna-schlock of Creed and Matchbox 20 - this stuff is edging closer and closer to late-80's rock, and the charts are starting to get seriously spooky. If you don't believe me, folks, go have a little look-see at www.billboard.com - take special note of the fact that Bon Jovi has a Top 50 album. BON JOVI, for fook's sake.

So what do we self-respecting fans of GOOD music do? Turn away. We turn away from the charts and never look back. Because out there... somewhere... is a world that still innovates... a world that still captivates... a world of our own. Five little letters: INDIE. Who cares if the music's not popular, gang, it's still ours and it's there for the taking. Sure, you've gotta do a little more work navigating the realms of DIY and mail-order, but you can find it. And it's some of the best stuff I've ever heard. If you know where to look, 2000 was a very good year. So if you hear another critic tell you this year sucked, smile the knowing smile of someone who's ABOVE all that. And listen to me tell you about 25 records that ought to change your life....


25. The Mooney Suzuki - People Get Ready http://www.themooneysuzuki.com
Sometimes it's nice to run this place. As one of the EO administration, I'm one of the four folks privileged enough to get to read all the year-end polls sent in from all of our members. Had it not been for somebody on our mailing list beating me to the punch on his poll with these guys, I'd have never heard this record. And good gravy, does it SMOKE. A classic garage rock sound mixed with a smattering of punk - it's like the entire history of CBGB's rolled up in one band. Imagine the Dave Clark Five mind-melding with the Clash and you'll be close. In this year of mellowed-out watery schlock rock (Travis & Coldplay, I'm calling you out,) a nice arseburst from this NYC band is exactly what the world's waiting for.


24. The Dandy Warhols - 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia www.dandywarhols.com
What's the deal with this band? I keep reverting from loving 'em to hating 'em. Admittedly, it's pretty easy to hate the Dandys - the posturing, the interviews, the hungry-for-headlines faux nature of their outward lives. But then their albums come out, and, dammit, they're always good. This one's no exception. Starting off like a classic shoegazing record (and yes, you elitist UK critics, some of us CAN use the words "classic" and "shoegazing" together without feeling bad,) the record does an about-face at the halfway mark and gets all fun and shouty. It makes for an interesting dichotomy betwixt sides, but it also seems to spoil the record for me a bit - I'm usually only in the mood to listen to one half and not the other. Still, a worthy effort, and should serve nicely to push their egos higher than they already are. Great.


23. Turnerjoy - Hope www.turnerjoy.com
The first time I heard Turnerjoy, I totally flipped out. I was in Chicago to see the Candyskins play what would be one of their last shows, but when push came to shove, it was the opening band I walked out of there more excited about. Turnerjoy have the youthful confidence of a band unafraid to sound like they want, and the friendship of a wonderful producer (Paul Mahern) to keep them in check. The result is the astounding debut album, "Hope." A paeon to the classic days of college rock (think "Fables"-era REM or Guadalcanal Diary,) but with a firm grasp of both (a) the reality of Corgan-ized Chitown rock and (b) the added power of nu-psychedelic/space-rock guitars and keyboards. The result sounds like everything you've liked about indie rock for the past two decades.


22. Damien Jurado - The Ghost of David www.subpop.com/bands/jurado/website/
And you thought the Red House Painters were depressing. Damien Jurado revels in depression. This is, after all, a fellow whose last album was a music-less, lovelorn compilation of answering machine messages and cassette tapes pulled from pawn shops. For "The Ghost of David," the eclectic singer-songwriter retreated to acoustic home recording, resulting in his most intimate, heart-felt release to date. Small in sound but epic in darkness and hope abandoned, this isn't what you'd call a "pick-me-up" record... more of a "throw-me-down-ten-flights-of-stairs-cause-there's-really-no-point-to-it-all" record. And just when you want to turn it off and c'mon get happy, he strikes the right chord yet again and you're drawn back in. If you're in a good mood, this album can be great. If you're in a bad mood, this album is monumental.


21. Papas Fritas - Buildings and Grounds www.papasfritas.com
And then from an album that's clinically depressing to one that's so happy you fear for your safety. Papas Fritas live in a world of hula hoops, Hot Wheels, and handclaps - a world where nothing can go wrong if you just listen to the right music. And there's just something so wholly, so indescribably likeable about this band, you can't help but be in their corner. "Buildings and Grounds," their third full-length, is a step in maturity for Papas Fritas - they're gelling better on record this time, the songs are a bit slower and more heart-felt, and the production's a lot better as well. But at the end of the day, it's the same old Papas Fritas - fun yet strangely wistful, always optimistic, and altogether delicious.


20. Bright Eyes - Fevers and Mirrors www.speakeasy.org/~pjohnson/bright/bright.html
If I was this talented when I was 20 years old... sheesh. (Instead, I find myself a diehard music fan with a penchant for the usage of the word "sheesh" in reviews... ah well, I'll take what I can get.) But it seems like talent isn't the only thing Conor Oberst brings to Bright Eyes - he's also one tormented dude. What seems like an innocent little album ends up being perhaps the most emotional record of the year, and it's honest emotion, to boot. Too often there are singer/songwriters who seem transparent ("woe art me that there are no lovely ladies in the house to meet me backstage,") but there's no compromising to be done on "Fevers and Dreams." Oberst's phenomenally tormented lyrics meet the sort of lo-fi sonic experimentalism one expects from bands like Neutral Milk Hotel or Of Montreal (it's no coincidence that members of both bands have contributed in the past to Bright Eyes records.) All that and he's from Nebraska to boot. Sheesh, indeed.


19. Jayhawks - Smile www.thejayhawks.com
What a pleasant surprise this record turned out to be. I've never been one for the rootsy-adult-alternative angle, but there's no denying the greatness of the Jayhawks. It started off innocently enough - I was walking through our local Borders when I heard a song being played on the overhead that stopped me cold after two minutes - it was epic in scope and as grand as anything as the Beatles ever realized on Sgt. Pep... that track was the title cut on this album, and as you'll read later, it ended up my pick for Song o' the Year. The rest of the album is pretty decent as well, though the latter half starts to get a little bogged down in modernization (just cause you use a drum machine doesn't mean you're "hep.") All the same, it's the sort of record that makes you step back and respect the art of four-minute songwriting. Even the sad ones make you smile a bit.


18. Self - Gizmodgery www.spongebathrec.com
When I was 10, I got a pair of Mattel Synsonic Drums for Christmas... my parents certainly got their fair share of ba-rum-pa-pum-pum's THAT holiday, I tell you what. Little did I know that two decades later, I'd be proclaiming my love for an album that uses that very instrument as the backbone of most of its tracks. If you haven't heard, "Gizmodgery" is recorded ENTIRELY, and we're talking 100%, with children's toys as the only instruments. And it's not just a fun novelty - it's a GREAT record. I've admired the warped genius of Matt Mahaffey since seeing Self open for Cast in Chicago (any band that takes the stage with lifesize Star Wars cutouts is a band for me...) It's Mahaffey's amazing knack at tongue-in-cheek kitsch that makes Self the perfect band to release an album of this magnitude. It works. It really does work. All toy instruments, and it sounds bloody brilliant. In fact, it's Self's best album to date - half the time you're listening, you don't even notice the plastic guitars... or the talking dolls... or the Synsonic Drums. Then you hit the Doobie Brothers cover ("What a Fool Believes," as performed by what sounds like an army of plonky toy pianos,) and you have no choice but to dance around your bedroom like an idiot. The revolution's not coming, it's here - and it strangely somehow involves kazoos.


17. Marshmallow Coast - Marshmallow Coasting www.angelfire.com/myband/marshmallowcoast/
Andy Gonzales has got to be a pretty busy guy. Besides fronting the eclectic Marshmellow Coast, he also double-duties as guitarist for fellow Athens, GA natives (and perhaps my current favorite band) Of Montreal. With both bands hard at work on recording and touring, it's surprising that the new Coast record is as fully realized and captivating as it ends up being. It could be, in fact, the best indiepop record to come out this year. Incorporating the poppier edges of the lo-fi sound of the Elephant 6 collective with Gonzales' nasal, amateur-yet-strangely-charming vocals, the record feels like the warmth of an innocent summer breeze as it glides along from track to track... The greatest part of "Marshmellow Coasting," however, is Andy's rapid improvement as a songwriter and arranger - acoustic guitars open into multi-part harmony vocals, clarinets, organs, strings, xylophones, and an all-around world of pleasantries. It's no surprise to learn that much of the backing instruments were played by Gonzales' bandmates in Of Montreal (as well as some other names familiar to fans of the Elephant 6 extended world.) As opposed to many indiepop releases that just shimmer with pretension, the Coast - like Papas Fritas and many before them -- give off more of an "indie-for-the-common-man" appeal. This is music for everyone - all you've got to do is listen. Not bad for a bloke who advertises on his website that he'll write you a custom song for 0...


16. Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven brainwashed.com/godspeed
Hey, speaking of pretentious... we land at the new GYBE! record. And, as usual, it's a headfuck. The band wouldn't want it any other way. Normally, I'd be the first to take heed at a band notorious for half-hour tracks, ambient insanity, the dreaded "now it's quiet, now it's LOUD" effect that so many bands use poorly, and, of course, the total and complete lack of vocals, save for the occasional creepy sample. But this time (as opposed to last year's critically-acclaimed-except-for-THIS-critic Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada EP,) it comes out okay. Four suites spread over two discs, this one's a bit of a challenge to get through, but if you can make it, it's a worthwhile endeavor. Why? Because packed away in this megalithic release are elements of everything you've ever liked about dreamy ambient rock - from Eno-ian (I like that word) soundscapes to Gilmour guitar lines to the sonic maelstrom of early Spacemen 3, it's all here... you just have to have the patience to sift through all the bizarre segues (though I must admit, this is the first record I've ever heard wherein a sampled sermon actually works) to get there. Changing in tone, you roll a die when you go to sleep to this one - you'll either wake up surrounded by aural bliss, or get jolted to consciousness somewhere in the fifth realm of Hell.


15. Delgados - The Great Eastern www.beggars.com/us/artists/bio_pages/Delgados/
Well, this is the one I've waited 'til the end to write about, in hopes that divine inspiration could help me tell you why I like this album. No dice. It's simply beautiful music with an honest, homey feel to it. Sort of like Teenage Fanclub's drugged-out neighbors in Scotland, the Delgados are like a more comfortable Spiritualized. Laid-back and dreamy, but with more warmth than you'd expect from one record. That's honestly about all I can say about this one... other than this band deserves a FAR wider fanbase than they've got. I've yet to play this record to someone who didn't immediately fall in love with it... and I've got some pretty fickle friends, folks...


14. Super Furry Animals - Mwng www.mwng.co.uk
I'm not supposed to 'get' this record. It wasn't made for me. It was instead made as a cultural celebration to the Furries' dear Wales. And, to be quite honest, I know very little about Wales, other than everyone who lives there talks like they're reading Chaucer... all the time. And "Mwng" is entirely sung in Welsh, which all in all makes the record just slightly less sensical than their previous English offerings. But why should this record appeal to me? I'm a Midwesterner and don't have easy access to my handy Welsh-English dictionary. (Actually, that's what the website - www.mwng.co.uk - is for.) Yet, for as incomprehensible as the language may be to me, the music speaks volumes. Heading back into less commercial territory than the band's last album, "Guerrilla," "Mwng" showcases a band at the pinnacle of their creativity. Jumping from punk to pop to the avant-garde and unclassifiable, "Mwng" remains a pleasure with each and every listen. SFA OK? You betcha.

13. Bluetones - Science and Nature www.bluetones.co.uk
Consistency is a wonderful thing. It's always good to have at least one or two bands hiding in your list of faves that you can ALWAYS rely on. Lucky for me, The Bluetones are one of the most reliable bands out there, and it's truly a privilege to be a fan. The REAL stars of Britpop, as it turns out, were the Bluetones. Why? Because they're the only band of the entire throng that's managed to live through the scene with their sound and their integrity intact. The band can sidestep the media backlash simply because they're that good. You can't argue or condemn a band like the Bluetones - it's just not possible. This is pop music the way God intended it, kids - frolicking, heartfelt, casual, melodic. It shimmies in greatness, especially on cuts like the gorgeous "One Speed Gearbox," the haunting "Emily's Pine," or the perfect pop of "Keep the Home Fires Burning." Here's hoping they'll always be a part of my world.

12. Apples in Stereo - Discovery of a World Inside the Moone www.applesinstereo.com
If it wasn't for this band, I'd still be hating American music to this day... See, I've had a bit of a musical epiphany over the past couple years, wherein my Anglophile self has discovered there's more to music than just a few choice British bands. UK rock, with the exception of the few artists here that made my Top 25, pretty much sucked in 2000. Especially when you compare the current UK 'scene' with that of the newest bastion of musical creativity in the world - namely, the Elephant 6 Collective out of Athens, GA, and the few renegade bands that have relocated to Denver and beyond. It was the quintessential releases of Elephant 6 - Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, and the Apples in Stereo - that made me jump up and take notice of this new psychedelic American scene. And, when push comes to shove, there's but one guy in control of the whole operation, and that's Robert Schneider. Beyond playing producer for a good chunk of the E6-related bands, somehow Schneider found the time in 2000 to record and release a new album with his own band, the Apples in Stereo... and it's easily one of the highlights of the E6 catalogue thus far. Coming across as a far more professional effort than previous albums, the Apples really could have a go at mainstream radio with a few of the tracks on here. Any fan of three-minute pop gems needs to own this. Simple.

11. Badly Drawn Boy - The Hour of Bewilderbeast www.badlydrawnboy.co.uk
I've spent the year perplexed at how Damon Gough reached the level of popularity that he did in 2000. Now, I'm not slagging Ol' Wonky-Hat in the slightest here; rather, I'm trying to figure out how the general public was actually able to latch onto something GOOD for a change. Granted, he's a bit of a nutter when he plays live, but this album was everything the critics could want and then some. Engaging in both quality and sheer quantity (this is one LONG player indeed,) "The Hour of Bewilderbeast" sounds nothing like a debut record should. It's already oozing with the confidence and poise of a critically-established artist... which, by about now, is exactly what he's become.


10. Starlight Mints - The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of www.seethrubroadcasting.com
From the first ten seconds of this record, I knew it would make my year-end list. Do you know what it's like to hear a band that's too good for their own good? They're too polished to be hanging out the tiny indie label that they are, but they're too avant-garde for the mainstream, and that'd have to suck for this band... because they deserve greatness. Churning out track after track of Flaming Lips-inspired madness, this is easily the cleanest production I've heard on a disc all year. The only thing I find a bit weird is to look inside the liner notes and discover that the album was recorded in 1997-98. Why so long of a delay getting it out? And, if this is what the band sounded like BEFORE the wave of Dave Fridmann-produced gems in 1998-2000, I'd be quite intrigued as to what they sound like NOW... the Starlight Mints appear to have mastered the sound of the Flaming Lips a good two years before "The Soft Bulletin" even came out...

9. Beachwood Sparks www.subpop.com/bands/beachwood_sparks/
The warmest record of the year. Before I wax poetic about Beachwood Sparks, let me first congratulate Sub Pop Records on becoming totally kickass again -- Saint Etienne was a good signing, Beachwood Sparks are a GREAT one. This California band... and let me interject by saying that all you have to do is listen to a few moments of this record to realize they're a California band... make the sort of laid-back acoustic country-tinged folk rock that just makes you want to be out on a festival lawn somewhere, basking in the sun and listening to these guys warm up the second stage. Let's face it - any band that uses a steel guitar and can still hold my respect MUST be bloody well genius.


8. Aislers Set - The Last Match www.aislersset.com
Every time I listen to this record, I get something new out of it - and that alone is a worthy accolade. I honestly know very little about Aislers Set, other than it's the new project from wot's-her-head who used to be in a band called Henry's Dress that I also know very little about. What I DO know is that "The Last Match" is one of the hardest records of the year to attempt to pigeonhole. What you've got is a release that's part Primitives and Darling Buds, part Phil Spector wall-of-sound girl-group, and part Velvet Underground. Pretty messed up, eh? But it comes together beautifully, and what you get is a record that's politely dark, charmingly noisy, and sort of all-around hazy. This is a band that I never want to get discovered by a major, because any form of professional recording would ruin the DIY muddiness of this band, and that's honestly half the appeal. A record you could get lost in for ages.


7. Teenage Fanclub - Howdy! www.teenagefanclub.com
The return of Teenage Fanclub is as familiar as your favorite blanket on a cold winter day - always reliable, always comfortable, never a complaint. The Fannies first post-Creation record certainly isn't a change, and this is one of those bands that you honestly don't want to see change. Why not? Because they do what they do so damn well (like Slowdive, for instance) that if they did change, you'd likely hate 'em (like Mojave 3, for instance.) Instead, you find yourself totally happy, lost among the three part harmonies that are half Byrds, half Chilton. I've always considered Teenage Fanclub to be among my shortlist of "security bands" - groups you can always count on to get you through an otherwise crappy period of music. The Fannies aren't interested in trends, they're not interested in staying on top of whatever 'new sound' is in vogue each year - they know they're damn good at writing four minute jangle pop tunes that can bring out the sentimental sap that's lurking in us all. Respect.

6. Einstein's Sister - Humble Creatures www.einsteinssister.com
2000 has definitely been the year of the killer micro-indie releases, and this one about tops the cake. Why these guys aren't signing record deals, appearing on Regis, and backing Gap ads is simply beyond me. Instead, they're local boys selling cd's off their own website while generating accolade after accolade without somehow being discovered. Carrying the powerpop torch into the new millennium, Einstein's sound runs the gamut - "Dandelion Heart" is pure Squeeze-pop, "Mermaid Parade" sounds like an outtake from "Magical Mystery Tour," "Hey Napoleon" is the best song the Finn brothers never wrote, etc. If I ever get married, this is the band I'd want playing my reception - but hopefully by then, they'll be too busy selling out the Palladium.

5. Brave Captain - Go With Yourself: The Fingertip Saint Sessions Vol. 2 www.bravecaptain.com
Ah, brave Meltin, how do I love thee? Let me count the albums. I've made no attempts to hide my idolation of the Boo Radleys in the past. This is a group that I even had the gall to unashamedly call "my Beatles" in one of my past columns. I meant it then, and I still do today. When Martin Carr broke up the Boos at the beginning of '99, it scared the hell out of a lot of us. When Martin announced he'd be starting a solo career, it scared us even more. When I got the first solo recordings in the post, I gave it a good 30 second prayer of "Please don't suck, please don't suck..." before putting it in my CD player. Well, I don't know if it was my prayer or not, but it most certainly didn't suck. The adventurous first EP had some hits and some misses, but in the end it proved to all of us that Carr remains one of this generation's finest songwriters. The album that followed sealed it. Far more focused and studio-graced than the EP, "Go With Yourself" is the confident sound of a fragile man stepping into the solo spotlight for the first time. The patented Martin Carr quasi-personal lyrics reflect an artist both elated and scared to be on his own, while the music is a post-Boo juggernaut of futurepop - as if the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Stereolab, and Jimmy Webb all dropped round for tea in the studio. If there's one fault to be had with the Brave Captain project, it's in Martin's not-nearly-as-gifted-as-Sice vocals, but that's easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things (and besides, compared to other guitarists-cum-frontmen like ol' Bernie Butler and a certain Mr. Coxon, he sings like Pavarotti.) This is the foundation of greatness, folks. He's just getting warmed up...

4. Belle & Sebastian - Fold Your Hands, Child, You Walk Like a Peasant www.jeepster.co.uk/belleandsebastian
Okay, let's get this out of the way right off the block: To all the people who whine on about this record being crap: Piss off. Seriously. You're dumb. Seek help. I've never seen an album more deserving of greatness get SUCH a bad rap as this fabulous record has received from critics and fans this year. And here's another one for you: I hate Belle and Sebastian. I hate the twee, ethereal, proper world they come from. I hate the pretentiousness that oozes from the pores of Stuart Murdoch's tender brow. I hate that their explanation for a lack of a proper tour this year was something like, "That's part of the magical nature of Belle and Sebastian." I have never in my life seen a band in more need of a stiff drink and front row tickets to a KISS show in my life. That said, this album is great. Knock-yer-boots-off kinda great. The kind of great that made me utter "DAMMIT!" when I heard it. I wanted to hate this record SOOO much. I wanted to write a column shredding the very fabric of this absurd band. But I can't. I have to praise it. And that sucks. So damn you, Belle & Sebastian, for making an album so good I can't even fake my way into a bad review. And, of course, now that they made a good record, all the twee purists hate it. Go figure.

3. Doves - Lost Souls www.doves.net
God bless that fire. The catastrophic fire that destroyed the studio of corny techno outfit Sub Sub resulted in the most exhilarating record of the year. That fire was the impetus for Sub Sub to regroup under a different name with a different mission plan, and "Lost Souls" turns out to be far more than one group making a calculated change in sound. What the Doves end up doing on "Lost Souls" is taking elements from everything I've ever liked about British rock and swirling it into a blender of almost perfection. Take the classic shoegazing sound of Chapterhouse and Swervedriver, mix it with the harmonic light rock of Teenage Fanclub and the Delgados, and top it all off with the tripped-out, Bristol-fueled drum tracks that only a former chart-topping dance act could muster up. "Oh, man," was my first utterance upon hearing this album. "Oh, wow" came shortly thereafter, leading up to a life-affirming "Holy sh*t!" by the time it was done. The surprise of the year, and one of the few British releases that really made an impact in 2000.

2. Sigur Ros - Aegetis Byrjun www.sigur-ros.com
This settles it... Iceland IS officially a f*cked up country. Does this place even MAKE any normal music whatsoever? Is there an Icelandic Bon Jovi? Because everything I've ever heard ever from Iceland sounds like the entire country chose not to stay away from the brown acid... and I bloody well LOVE it. Sigur Ros is the latest export to make a pretty sizeable splash on the rest of the world, and no band this year is more deserving. Picking up the torch from whence Slowdive dropped it in their transformation to Mojave 3, Sigur Ros make ambient soundscapes that defy description. If there's any record on this entire list that you simply need to LISTEN to, it's this one. Words can't even begin to describe. "Well, let's see, there's a polite little plink, then another plink, then what sounds like a sonar whistle, then this whacked out bass line just sort of drifts in, then all of a sudden there's a guitar holding an ambient little chord, then that chord gets run through enough effect pedals that it sounds like it's 24 guitars, then someone comes on and sings falsetto over the top of it all in Icelandic. And really, it's quite lovely." See, it doesn't work. You've just got to hear it. And when you do, you'll SHINE.

1. Radiohead - Kid A www.radiohead.co.uk
So it comes to this. Perhaps the most obvious choice to top most critic's end-o'-year lists. And, indeed, I'm buying in wholesale. Let's pretend for a moment that you're Thom Yorke. You've had plenty o' time to master your possessed-but-loveable-Wonky-Eyed-puppydog schtick down, and it's starting to pay off. You've got a devoted fanbase of alienated nerds, and you've just written their Bible -- the oppression Almanac known as "OK Computer." Things are looking up. Then it all goes just a bit weird: The album rules most parts of the hemisphere, whether it deserves to or not. The Winona Ryders you've been looking for in the front rows of your shows have turned into James Van Der Beeks. Your world tour turns into a fiasco, and though you're happy that the most tormented and oppressed side of your soul has been captured in a painfully obvious manner (the "Meeting People is Easy" tour documentary,) you find yourself in a seriously awful position once the dust settles. You now have to follow up this eclectic headf**k of an album with something else. Suddenly it dawns on you: You can write an album about pretty much nothing, art the whole thing up, and listen as it becomes a true masterpiece in the studio. Is "Kid A" a calculated effort at coolness? You bet it is. But here's where it turns spooky: It actually works. It's a claustrophobic symphony of everything Thom so obviously wanted it to be, which is pretty much... nothing. A few disturbing phrases here, some freaky song titles there, and it's done. But for the lack of words, this album speaks entire encyclopaedias through its tone. Half cold and paranoid, half warm and inviting, but ALWAYS full of emotion and true musical epiphany. The bottom line is this: I didn't think this band had this much talent. And I bet they actually didn't, either. I don't give a toss what their motives were on this record - the end result is simply stunning.


1. Of Montreal - Horse & Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed): The Singles & Songles Album www.angelfire.com/ga/ofmontreal/
If I'm on one kick right now, it's this band. I've spent the last two years telling everyone within earshot that I'm casting my vote for Of Montreal as my favorite band currently recording, American or no. Athens' Of Montreal consistently mind-meld The Beatles, The Kinks, and Blur into one delicious cesspool of mind-altering lyrics, sugar-coated harmonies, and more key changes than your average Tru-Value hardware store makes in a year. As evidence to their greatness, this record -- despite being a compilation of out-of-print singles, b-sides, and covers - comes across as a more signifigant complete album than most of the records I've listed above. Trust me when I tell you that their new record, due this April, should change the boundaries of time and space for all eternity (or something like that...)

2. Bikeride - Summer Winners, Summer Losers

3. Various Artists - Caroline Now: A Tribute To Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys

4. Olivia Tremor Control - Presents: Singles And Beyond

5. Various Artists - Kindercore 50


1. Koala - Feels Like You're Falling In Love Again www.koalaworld.co.uk
"There's this band that you HAVE to check out." Somewhere on the Grand Master Lists of All Things Spoken To Me, this phrase has to rank in the top five. All the time people are telling me to listen to this, listen to that... And I live for it. Quite frankly, there's nothing more exciting to me than hearing a new band for the first time. And this time it paid off... when a friend of mine uttered those words to me, little did I know that the band she was talking about - a little unsigned British band called Koala - would make the song that WAS the soundtrack to my summer. Conjuring up images of Slade and Sweet hanging out in a studio together with Beck and the Boo Radleys, "Feels Like You're Falling In Love Again" takes the sound of classic glam rock and modernizes it out for Y2K. As a testament to the power of this cut, I'll leave you with one final story: On the weekends, I spin records at a small club in my hometown. This club attracts some fairly cool people, but it's mostly populated by drunken frat boys and hippy kids aplenty. One night, I was in a particularly naughty mood, so I threw on Koala in-between sets. Not only did I have two people come up to me afterwards to find out what the track was, I had people bloody well singing along... to a song no-one had ever heard before. That's just how good this track is. By this time next year, Koala will likely have a record deal and be preparing for the release of their debut album. In the meantime, all we've got of the boys is a couple of public domain singles on mp3.com - but trust me, that'll be quite enough to keep you rockin' out til the day that album arrives.

2. Jayhawks - Smile

3. Belle & Sebastian - Women's Realm

4. Bluetones - Favorite Son

5. Blur - Music Is My Radar

6. Bluetones - One Speed Gearbox

7. Apples In Stereo - Go!

8. Animalhouse - Sunday Driver

9. Bikeride - Here Comes The Summer Again

10. Teenage Fanclub - I Need Direction


Primal Scream - Exterminator
I realize this will be a less-than-popular choice, but only an album this awful could make me go against the grain of the rest of the free world. Every story about Primal Scream that's run this year has included words like "revolutionary," "ground-breaking," "innovative," etc. Well, I dunno what album they were listening to, because "Exterminator" at its most base level is a redundant, cold-souled retread of everything Chicago Wax Trax was nearly two decades ago. If you think "Exterminator" is, indeed, "revolutionary," go put on a record called "Big Sexy Land" by the Revolting Cocks. It came out in 1986, and it pretty much closes the book on the "innovative" sound of "Exterminator." The Scream's last record, "Vanishing Point," was an amazing melange of funk, dub, and soul that took the listener on a moody ride to Never-never-land. "Exterminator" is a totally soul-less affair, offering little to the emotions other than, "Erm, I strangely feel like I'm being crushed by a faceless capitalist empire. Guess I won't order anything from Ikea today after all." Between Mani, Kevin Shields, and Bobby Gillespie, I expected no less than devastating genius from this record. Well, I got the "devastated" part right, because XTRMNTR FCKNG SCKS.


Of Montreal
(a) The opening act on their tour is essentially themselves backing their guitar player as the Marshmellow Coast. (b) The intermission involves a play acted out by the band members, complete with scripts handed out to the audience. (c) Costume changes aplenty. (d) Kevin's brother David, who not only designs their artwork, he also dresses in a tux to announce the band, then dresses up as Death to sporadically come after Kevin onstage. (e) The songs... the wonderful songs.

With that, I cast the phrase "Y2K" back to the depths from whence it came and strangely start humming "Also Sprach Zarathustra"... Have a good year, all...