Top 10 Albums of 2002

Number 10.  –  “Yoshimi Battles Giant
Pink Robots” The Flaming Lips

Yoshimi brings back some of the old playfulness that I loved so much from the early-to-mid ’90s Lips. It doesn’t mark a return to that sound, instead sending through even further towards electronica than the Soft Bulletin did, but thank god, at least we’re having fun again. It’s not that I’m opposed to all maturity in music, it’s just that I’m not sure how well it works for the Lips. Luckily, the first half of this album tells the story of a young girl trying to save the world from robots that eat people. There’s probably some symbolism here, but come on, how cool is that? Robots that eat people? I mean, that’s not even POSSIBLE! But it’s AWESOME! And so is the four-song conceptual doohickey, highlighted by the two-part title track, specifically the first part of the two-part title track. It’s catchy, quirky, goofy, fun, and it makes you feel good – everything I liked about the old Lips in the first place, and everything that had been lost in The Soft Bulletin’s contemplating of the universe. In other words, for four songs, the fun is back. I don’t have much to say about the rest of the album, to be honest – it just seems like a superior remake of The Soft Bulletin to me. Same symphonitra sound (that would be symphonic pop plus electronica – I call infini-dibs on that description), with the same vaguely philosophical lyrics, but lighter, less forced, and a lot more natural. And this is a good album. I refuse to say that either this or the Soft Bulletin is anywhere near in the same league as the Holy Lips Trinity of In a Priest Driven AmbulanceTransmissions from the Satellite Heart, or Clouds Taste Metallic (one day, I will learn to stop making my all-too-common “clouds taste metallica” typo), but they’re still pretty good albums, I’d say. This is the better of the two. At least according to the way I see things.

Number 9.  –  “Up The Bracket”
The Libertines

If you were a stumbling blind half ignorant indie rock fan like I was (we were all young once) and in a particular place (East London) and certain age (16-19) in 2002, and you had spent your youth reading about these mystical heroes of a distant age (Clash, Smiths etc.) then this was the moment – we finally had our band. A band you could see and touch. You could watch them play in their flat in Bethnal Green if you wanted to. Or you could balance yourself on the window ledge singing your heart out as they upped the racket in a tiny pub. Fuck the Strokes; these were three dimensional beings like you and me. Songs full of passion and pain. You would see ’em down the pub and talk of your faith in love and music. Oh the music? It still stands up. It still sounds fresh and urgent. It still hasn’t been diluted by the copious chancers that they inspired. It still makes me feel chipper before I go out. It’s still bouncy and life affirming and fragile and funky and funny. It still has an underlying feeling of sadness and decay within it that gives it the edge over any other album of its kind. It still has Garry being the greatest indie- punk drummer there has ever been, and frazzled, beautific, spindling guitars. It still has Pete’s broken, child like voice. It still invokes images of happy drunken stumbling and fumbling, rude boys and council flats, good time girls and pretty dresses, running from transport police, heated arguments and sex and stress, leather jackets in the sunshine. It’s all there. Of course Pete Doherty turned out to be a newspaper joke and everything fell apart after this and the second album was shit. But it was inevitable. The fact that they were a 120mph storm is what made them feel so alive. And of course, what swiftly killed them.

Number 8.  –  “18” Moby

I consider it a same as Moby’s Play because it is one of Moby’s greats fairly loaded with phenomenal stuff of the pop-tronic/trip-hop+trance/lounge varieties … plenty of quite intriguing sampling of blues, gospel and old-time jazz-roots recordings which several of these tracks are entirely built around in remarkably crowd-pleasing dance-inspiring ways+means.  {At a private club party I’d been invited to, once upon a time in Philly ca November 2006, I had the great sense to be ‘holding’ +fortune to have been able to take over a d.j. booth for a good spell while theirs ran over an hour+half late, and not only got just about everyone of over a dozen in the place movin’ with this album, but kept em pleased as punchy for over 1/2 an hour.  “The Rafters” nearly brought the house down . . . and for a moment one could almost believe the party could only be all downhill from there.  Later, some fine gal even confessed her ‘Philadelphia luv’ for me as one of my rewards! [ ; wry chuckle, but nope, not even close to kiddin’}  Yet there’s plenty of ‘down-beat’ to go ’round on this nevertheless fairly weird and attimes downright peculiar trip.  Those few actually featuring Moby’s own vocals rather than dub-overs or guests, chief amongst them such as “Sleep Alone” & “Look Back In”.  & so it is certainly a moody variety with a great deal of r+b/soulful influence.

Number 7.  –  “Original Pirate Material” – The Streets

Don’t forget how much this music risked embarrassment. Mike Skinner took the sounds of modern club music (2-step, garage, hip-hop) and made them small, chintzy, and unglamorous– no bright lights, no dancefloor, just someone pasting together beats on his computer in a messy apartment. Unlike London’s grime producers, he wasn’t doing it in the service of world-conquering fierceness. Skinner– young, suburban, Northern– rapped in a plainer voice, clowning about his daily life and telling earnest, unabashedly sentimental stories. I’m sure someone, at some point, told him this was embarrassing, cheap-sounding, and way less cool than proper club music– that his beats were shabby and his confessionals corny. But Skinner, good-humored and palpably sincere, followed his ideas where they led. And as it turns out, it’s exactly that sincerity that makes this record so special– something like having a great conversation on a ratty couch, surrounded by empty pizza boxes, stacks of old video games, and the beats from the cars down on the street.

Number 6.  –  “The Eminem Show” Eminem

When The Eminem Show came out, the media was starting to get past Eminem’s provocative lyricism.  This time, the underlying controversy (besides the whole Moby thing) was within Eminem’s family.  And we had a front row seat to witness all the shit that Eminem was going through with his baby mama Kim Scott, his daughter Hailie Jade, and his mommy dearest Debbie Mathers.  Marshall still has problems with Kim, he’s trying to gain sole custody of Hailie, and Debbie is constantly suing him for one thing after another.  Eminem uses The Eminem Show to talk about these things.  This makes the album more personal and serious than his last two albums.  Not to mention that The Eminem Showisn’t as dark and is considerably less misogynistic and homophobic than his last two albums.  But Slim Shady isn’t completely kept away from this album.  His first single “Without Me” is a continuation of Em’s quirky humor at the expense of others.  I know these singles are all just remakes of “My Name Is”, but I love ’em, including “Just Lose It” onEncore.  And the more controversial tracks on this album aren’t controversial in the same way that songs like “Kill You” or “Criminal” are controversial.  Eminem goes a tiny more political minded here with songs like “White America” and he and Dr. Dre dis Canibus and Jermaine Dupri respectively on “Say What You Say”.  BUT, the most controversial and darkest song here is the single “Cleanin Out My Closet”.  For all three of you that aren’t familiar with the song, “Cleanin Out My Closet” has Eminem spilling out his tumultuous childhood out to the world and summing it up by giving a bigFUCK YOU to his mama for raising him the way she did.  “Cleanin Out My Closet” is probably the most damning, unradio friendly song here yet it was a successful single.  I will never wrap my mind on why MTV was so eager to play this song so frequently for their preteen audience, but oh well.  No other rapper would’ve got that kind of generosity from MTV though.  Like I said earlier, Eminem is mostly personal and serious here.  He does a very good job with it and his technical rapping is still in excellent form.  If not for Encore, I would suggest that Eminem was beginning to grow as an artist here and could handle a career with no controversy.

Number 5.  –  “The Private Press” DJ Shadow

And so here we are revisiting Entroducing… again, oh wait it’s The Private Press my bad. Seriously though Shadow did do some progressing from his first to this and it does show, but you still get the feeling that he is trying to please fans of his first. It would take until The Outsider for him to truly move away from his old style, but for now let’s enjoy this underrated album. The album finally dropped in 2002, and it actually did piss off quite a few people. I was going through a huge DJ Shadow kick at the time and absorbed the album thoroughly. As much as I liked it, I definitely got why many people didn’t. The number of differences between Endtroducing and The Private Press far outnumber the similarities. The new album was an aggressive move toward the electronic/trip-hop side of things. A chilled out record that was far less reliant on samples this time around. Yeah, the samples are still there, but with hardly any cuts ‘n scratches, seem barely present (perhaps owing to cassette culture, as is shown by his tape collection in the booklet?). Several of the tracks also carry over to the next with subtle variations. Basically, it’s an album that forges new paths rather than doing retreads. Don’t enter this album expecting Endtro-styled righteousness. That record simply can never be remade. Rather, this is an album that excels at paying homage to Shadow’s other influences. If you have the patience, you will be rewarded with something new.

Number 4.  –  “Reroute to Remain” In Flames

You’d have to absolutley hate all forms of death metal to not get into this I think. Hell, I used to hate it all too…but these guys I can dig, alot. They know how to be loud, violent, heavy, and can do it without making me want to strangle their singer. Reroute To Remain is a remarkable step forward from In Flames ( though it is for the listener to decide if it was for the best or for the worst). This can be heard right away in the opener of the album which is simply titled “Reroute To Remain”. The track kicks off with a weird synth melody but shortly after that guitars and drums arrive. Right away it is seen that this album will be 100% different from In Flames’ other works. The almost metalcoreish riffing in “Reroute To Remain” and the fierce drum beats that mainly consist of double bass, snare drum and cymbal hits are a great deal different from their other works. The “two harmonized lead guitars playing over a rhythm guitar” style is dropped and is replaced by heavy, aggressive riffing and fierce drum beats. The vocalist of In Flames, Anders Fridén, has also changed his singing style. The deep death growls are gone and are replaced by fast, angry shouts in the main parts and with clean vocal parts in the choruses.  Although this album is considered a sell-out by many it is an album that brought In Flames some fame. The change in sound is a very welcome sight because when you produce nine studio albums ( although this was their 6th), they can’t be all alike. Taking a more aggressive, fierce and appealing sound, In Flames proves that they can make something else than just tracks that feature amazing harmonized dual lead guitar melodies and deep death growls. Foremost though, they prove that they are a progressive band and while they did change their sound, it most certainly does not suck; on the contrary, it is really fun and easy to listen to.

Number 3.  –  “You Forgot It In The
People”
 Social Broken Scene

Broken Social Scene have unfortunately become as much a figurehead of indie scenester cool as they are a band in the time since this came out. Little did I know when they were still just an obscure Canadian band formed out of the ashes of By Divine Right and hHead and I picked this up out of curiosity that they would attract so much attention and branch off into a universe of cluttered bands. What You Forgot It In People always struck me as is a ramshackle love letter to the bands that shaped their musical development – Pavement and Yo La Tengo here, Tortoise and My Bloody Valentine there. “Stars and Sons” never fails to captivate me, tape-damaged lo-fi recording mixed together with lush orchestration and a million other things, the driving beat and the chaos somehow registering as relaxing. It is the perfect extension of the BSS ethos – home recordings so wildly excessive and scattered that they find some sort of serendipity in their chaos. Someone grab a trumpet! Leslie, come sing along with Brendan! We need more feedback in here, get closer to the amp! Someone throw a water-effect over this acoustic demo I did! You bought a banjo? Double sweet! More reverb! More! Listening to You Forgot It In People is like listening to the joy of discovery, like being present at the birth of an entire music community. It lives and breathes and it is airy in its lack of restrictions. It reminds me of sixties ‘free jazz’ at its most exuberant and revelatory. Obviously, this is much more constructed in that it takes its cues from Kevin Shields’ use of layered recording as another instrument, but it seethes with the energy of the start of something big.

Number 2.  –  ” Songs for the Deaf”
Queens of the Stone Age

Here’s the secret recipe of how QOTSA’s formula; make songs that’s hard enough for the guys, but sweet enough for the girls so that everyone can have a nice time with their music. Queens of the Stone Age is currently the only Hard Rock band that doesn’t go over the top like every other Metal Bands screaming into your ears trying their best to you’re your world, but remained that classic feel of laidback rock-star status and song writing that I find lacking in rock music today. Throughout the 2000’s Queens of the Stone Age never once made an album that disappoints, but I have to choose their best for this pick and why is “Songs For The Deaf” that pick? Because it’s an extremely rare occurrence that one album will completely vaporize your concept of cool. This goliathan rhythmic melting-pot is the Rock equivalent of a trip out to the desert under a full moon with a lot of firepower, high-powered narcotics, great friends and a muscle car with a big-ass engine. t’s equal parts danger, mystery, fun and a mind-blowing collection of talent providing a massive dose of steroids to the Queens sound. The result was something we’d been waiting for, whether we knew it or not; that first sign of a next evolutionary step in Rock music, like the “Appetite for Destruction” by Guns n’ Roses and “Nevermind” by Nirvana that came before it. This very album delivered a bracing jolt that fused punk and hard rock sensibilities with an artful sense of eclecticism and that aggressive paste that didn’t feel pretentious or generic. Like other Stoner Rock band, Queens of the Stone Age was not afraid to admit where they got their inspiration; sex and drugs. But in order for Queens to ever be this good again is to get Nick Oliveri back in the band and Josh Hommes to get over himself. But regardless, NEVER listen to this while driving if you want to stay under the speed limit; the fast pasted nature of this album will encourage you to move as faster than the music.

Number 1.  –  “The Mantle” Agalloch

Death comes for us all and knowing that always makes us cautious for our lives that we’ve take for granted everyday. It’s normal for all of us to fear death because we really don’t know if its truly our end or we might end up in the afterlife. Agalloch’s “The Mantle” is unlike any album because it tackles the theme of the afterlife. This album is so amazing that saying that it puts you in its own atmosphere does not do it justice; rather it brings you to this new stratosphere of the hereafter that no other album can possibly do as well as The Mantle. And what’s incredible about Agalloch is that they were able to do all of this with only limited instrument effects of black/doom metal and neofolk that redefined a new breed of the metal genre. Agalloch have always been a band that isn’t afraid to experiment and mix many different styles of music in order to produce their own unique sound. Nowhere is this more apparent than on their sophomore album, The Mantle. After their extremely solid debut record, Pale Folklore, the band somehow managed to greatly advance and improve their sound, and produce what many people would say is their magnum opus. This album could easily be the soundtrack to a long, cold walk through the woods at night or a foggy day, as it is easily one of the most atmospheric albums I have ever heard, and I have frequently used this album as a soundtrack for long walks into the snowy wilderness. The production on this album is extremely clear, and the musicianship, while not particularly flashy, is extremely well done, and creates a very lonely and depressing tone. The vocals range from the traditional black metal style growls, to the dark and melancholy, and extremely haunting clean singing. This is perfect songwriting within storytelling with two separate voices telling two different view points of the same story; like two characters in each of the songs. It’s one of Haughm’s trademark styles, but none is more apparent nor more powerful than The Mantle. Just how is it possible that an album could make you feel that spirits are watching you and you can feel like you’re a wandering ghost stranded in a haunted cabin covered in this snow? As the album draw near to its end, you as well can feel that the end of the world approaches. It really makes the listener to feel as if they’re really there while everything around them is a foggy mist where we’re uncovering the unknown. The band members come from Oregon, and they take a lot of inspiration from Oregon’s forests and look at the results! It’s complex, rough, and beautiful all at once; I’d definitely rank it as one of my favorite albums of all time.  Mostly, The Mantle explore the destruction of nature by the human race—In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion tells the story of a man who realizes that we literally live “in the shadow of our pale companion,” nature, (which is pale, as we sucked the metaphorical blood out of it), that it is only the “death of man” that will save the Earth, and commits suicide in the end, his suicide symbolizing the death of man. It’s much more moving when you understand it (though the music itself is great on its own), but the more you understand this album the more you’ll love it. I would cite my favorites as In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion, Odal, and You Were But a Ghost in My Arms. But No song in this album really stands out from one another which makes it perfect for anyone to decide what their favorite song from The Mantle. This is an album that will reflect on your lost ones that you hope that you’ll one day see again; helping those mourners to feel that very out of the body experience from beginning to end, (using their imagination of what the afterlife is like and use their life experiences & memories in the mix) before we leave this world…

 

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