by Michael Goldberg
Monday, December 23, 2002
Goldberg's Fave Recordings Of 2002
Moved by sounds of the present and the past
In years past, I felt a bit on the defensive as I put together my Top 30 fave albums of the year. "I'll show 'em," I thought. "Sure the charts are loaded with crap, and if you didn't know any better, you might think [plug a year in here, choosing from 1998 through 2001] was a lame year for music, but I know better. And I'm gonna prove it by listing not 10 great albums, not 20 great albums, but 30 great albums."
In the wake of a million-seller from The Strokes, magazines with The Hives and the White Stripes on their covers, and, literally, dozens upon dozens of worthwhile albums being released by the indies and the majors (and with a rock revolution threatening to, finally, break on through), I no longer need feel defensive. By now, anyone who cares at all about rock knows what's up.
Of course my listening wasn't restricted to "rock" during 2002. It never is. This was the year I discovered the awesome '60s British folk artist Bert Jansch (who influenced everyone from Neil Young to Jimmy Page to Hope Sandoval) and got deep into the blues of Sleepy John Estes (whose amazing recordings made in the late '20s and early '30s impacted Ry Cooder and many others). There was a side trip into the work of the late blues guitarist Michael Bloomfield as well. And there were those weeks when I dived headfirst into the music of John Martyn, not just his classic Solid Air, but Bless the Weather Inside Out and others. And, as always, I kept finding myself coming back to Bob Dylan, be it a five-CD bootleg set of "Basement Tapes" recordings, or John Wesley Harding, which I find myself playing early in the morning or at the end of the evening, lately.
While I dabbled in electronic sounds (Boards of Canada, DJ Shadow, Tujiko Noriko), most of what really moved me fell into the rock, folk-rock or blues-rock areas. So be it. I never look at these lists as the "best" of the year, but rather, the music that moved me the most. What follows is my annotated Top 10, and then another 10 or so albums that I dug the most during the past 12 months.
10 That Moved Me
1. Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man, Out of Season (Go Beat): The sound of life out in the country, way away from the urban hustle. You could think of this as Portishead, minus the samples and technology way sadder, and way prettier.
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Machine EP/ Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP (Touch & Go): If that old phrase "the shock of the new" has a sound, this is it. Yeah, I know this early-'80s no wave post-punk rock could be seen as a trip back in time, yet, thanks to Karen O's way-over-the-edge vocals, guitarist Nick Zinner's Link-Wray-meets-Ornette-Coleman corrosive guitar work and Brian Chase's thunderous drumming, it sounds, instead, like a terrifying glimpse of what's ahead.
3. Guided by Voices, Universal Truths and Cycles (Matador): Perhaps Guided by Voices' best album since 1995's Bee Thousand, Universal Truths and Cycles finds Bob Pollard and company bashing and crashing through rock 'n' roll anthems including the transcendent "Everywhere With Helicopter" and the epic Storm Vibrations. And you thought they didn't make rock like this anymore.
4. Wilco, YHF Demos (bootleg): Found as MP3s on the Internet, burned onto disc and mailed to my P.O. box, these not-as-yet intended for public consumption demos trump the official disc, at least around my house. If you can get your hands on them, lucky you. If not, I feel your pain.
5. Mekons, Oooh! (Out of Our Heads) (Quarterstick): If you got Richard Thompson drunk, tossed him into a room with a bunch of other semi-loaded British, Irish and Scottish folk singers and rock 'n' rollers and a couple of Pogues albums, the result might sound like the latest from the wonderful and always challenging Mekons. Then again, if you've heard the group's previous albums, all you need to know is that this one is even better. The best post-9/11 album yet.
6. The Minus 5, Down With Wilco (Yep Roc): It's not due out until the end of February, but since I haven't been able to remove it from my CD player since the advance arrived last week.... Hearkening back to the kind of experimental work The Beatles and Beach Boys did in the late '60s (perhaps with a nod to Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers), Down With Wilco a collaboration between Scott McCoughey and his usual crew of Minus 5 guys and gals (including Peter Buck and Ken Stringfellow), and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche is simply the best old-school smart pop record I've heard in years. Sounds like it should sell a million copies. It won't, of course.
7. Cat Power, You Are Free (Matador): Really, it's not that there weren't plenty of great albums actually released in 2002, it's just that, well, this upcoming release from Cat Power (the name under which Chan Marshall records) did indeed reach me in 2002 and it's gotten some of the heaviest play so... So put it on your list to pick up when it's released on February 18. Marshall's voice hits me these days the way Joni Mitchell's did when I was 19 and attending college at U.C. Santa Cruz. This is rock, but it's also folk-rock and, at times, there's a strong blues quality in Marshall's voice. Some of this really rocks and some of this is sad, walking-by-yourself-in-the-woods music.
8. Bob Dylan, Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue (Columbia): In 1975, Bob Dylan was at the top of his game. With an amazing repertoire of songs he'd written during the previous decade and a half, a voice that contained the fury of one not willing to settle for anything short of truth and justice (yet able to express love, tenderness and humor when appropriate) and a band full of wild-cards (from ex-Byrd Roger McGuinn to ex-Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ronson), he went on the road playing theaters on the East Coast. Nearly 28 years later we finally hear some of what went down, and it was worth the wait.
9. Frank Black, Teenager of the Year (Elektra): Sure it came out in 1984. And so what. This was one of the discs that rocked my world in 2002. If you're familiar with Teenager of the Year, then you know how amazing it is. If not, no time like now to find out. Building on a sound he architected while leading The Pixies, Black explores the universe, beginning by asking the question "Whatever Happened to Pong?" and wrapping things up 22 magnificent songs later by declaring, "Now listen carefully to me/ Desert your quarters/ Behold the pie in the sky/ And that's an order."
10. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight (Merge): In which one of the world's best rock combos proves that you can rock just as hard without the guitars (well, with less guitar, anyway). If you thought Girls Can Tell was dope power pop, get a load of this one, in which Britt Daniel indicates that rather than maintaining the status quo, he's taking his bandmates on an adventure with an unknown outcome. Point being, no telling what could happen next to the sound of Spoon.
10 More Keepers
11. Sleater-Kinney, One Beat (Kill Rock Stars): It's not the politics that will keep you coming back to One Beat. It's the sound. The sound of the music played by Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss, and the often-otherworldly vocals of Tucker and Brownstein. It's an angular, tough sound with lots of sharp edges, like the feel of cold corrugated metal. It's an apocalyptic sound, the sound of change, the sound of marching feet. And in the "uh oh!"s and hiccups of Tucker and Brownstein one hears something almost alien, as if they were members of an evolved species of human.
12. Rhett Miller, The Instigator (Elektra): This and Tom Petty's The Last DJ were the kind of perfect pop albums that rockers in the late '60s used to make. Only it's 2002, and they're still making them.
13. The Flatlanders, Now Again (New West): Three ace singer/songwriters reform the band of their youth and record a flat-out masterpiece of country, country-rock and honky-tonk.
14. Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.): Continuing to evolve a sound that began in rock but now incorporates electronics seamlessly to deliver pop songs of exquisite beauty. "War of the Worlds" for a new era.
15. The Black Keys, The Big Come Up (Alive): It may sound a big tired, the idea of a couple of young white guys playing what sounds like old blues, but all you gotta do is hear it. Guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney know exactly what they're doing, and they get it right every time. No wonder Fat Possum will release their next album.
16. Beck, Sea Change (Geffen): Beck has been trying out new sounds and poses since before "Loser" put him on the map. Just when he seemed to be turning into more of a party animal, the breakup of a long-term relationship sent him into the vaults. Here he takes the sounds of Nick Drake, Neil Young and others from the late '60s/early '70s folk-rock scene and remakes it as his own.
17. Bangs, Call and Response (Kill Rock Stars): The Bangs are keeping alive the sound of simple, loud and brainy riot grrrl-style punk. "I Want More" is a punk anthem for the ages.
18. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Source Tags and Codes (Interscope): Perhaps the best alt-rock album of the year. A perfect record from start to finish.
19. DJ Shadow, The Private Press (Universal): While for me nothing has quite topped the early '90s single, "What Does Your Soul Look Like," this is one of the most interesting (and listenable) albums of the year.
20. Boards of Canada, Geogaddi (Warp): Like Shadow, these guys are having a tough time topping their earlier work. But also like Shadow, Boards of Canada came up with something new, way back when, and there's nothing like more of the real thing. When I first heard it, early this year, Geogaddi felt like a meditation, a journey to the center of one's being. These many months later, it remains a trip into the soul.