Pretty Vacant

New Times' panel of critics searches for musical gems in a disheartening 2001

8. New Order, Get Ready (Reprise): Why and how the band rediscovered its inner rock 'n' roll child -- more accurately, its inner Power, Corruption and Lies -- one can only speculate. But by allowing the natural playfulness, cynicism and tunefulness that has marked its finest moments in the past to newly resurface on tracks such as the mighty sequencers-and-riffs "Crystal" and "60 Miles an Hour," well, New Order arrived at the only comeback this year (not counting Leonard Cohen's) that didn't, um, suck.

9. Truby Trio, DJ-Kicks (!K7): I dunno, maybe it's the still-lingering 911 psychic hangover, but somehow, a reduced-stridency musical diet suits me best for now. Freestyle jazzbos/postrockers the Truby Trio hit all the right notes on this mix disc, from their own "High Jazz," a shuddery, kinetic slice of Afro-funk and atmospheric soul, to the minimalist diva-house of Korova's "Some People (Waiwan Remix)" to the hedonistic trance-funk of Voom Voom's "Ginger & Fred" (Voom Voom is a Truby Trio/Kruder & Dorfmeister spin-off). The perfect cure for postapocalyptic anomie.

10. Mink Lungs, The Better Button (Arena Rock): Not only did this Brooklyn band serve up the year's thumpingest tune ("Think of Me," a cynical but jangly kiss-off number that marries Flamin' Groovies and Byrds to Moby Grape and Guided by Voices), it's got the stage show to back up the album. Prog-rock, power-pop, Hula-Hoops and a grand finale that's equal parts Alice Cooper, fundamentalist tent-revival shtick and the bloody prom scene from Carrie -- ladies and germs, I give you the Mink Lungs.

Austin trio Spoon came of age with its 2001 release.
Austin trio Spoon came of age with its 2001 release.


Related stories:
Valley of the Drolls
New Times presents its first-ever Doofus and Darling Awards

Year in the Headlights
Carey Sweet's Spice column

Retro Grading
Robert Wilonsky's picks for the Top 10 movies of 2001

Honorable Mentions: Buddy & Julie Miller (Hightone); Beatless, Life Mirrors (Ubiquity); White Stripes, White Blood Cells (Sympathy); Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones (Nonesuch); Björk, Vespertine (Elektra); Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O., New Geocentric World (Squealer); Alejandro Escovedo, A Man Under the Influence (Bloodshot); Radiohead, Amnesiac (Capitol); Jah Wobble and Bill Laswell, Radioaxiom: A Dub Transmission (Axiom/Palm); Spiritualized, Let It Come Down (Arista).

Jimmy Magahern:

1. Various Artists, The Blank CD-R: Forget all the major-label releases. Nothing sold better in 2001 than the blank CD-R. With everyone from kids to seniors finally mastering the weird science of downloading MP3s and recording their own discs, the CD of the year was the one that came with 80 minutes of sweet nothing.

2. 'N SYNC, Celebrity (Jive): With their images showing up on everything from bobblehead dolls to toy cell phones in 2001, 'N SYNC practically begged serious rockers to kick their candy-coated butts. But their third album kicked off with a killer defense: the single "Pop," loaded with gimmicky scratching and stutter-edits that gleefully exposed its own manufacturing and G-rated rapping that somehow sounded tougher than anything else on the air this year.

3. Nelly Furtado, Whoa, Nelly! (DreamWorks): With her Portuguese roots lending a vague Brazilian feel to the eclectic mix of folk, hip-hop and rock influences scattered throughout her impressive debut, Furtado emerged as a refreshingly original voice and an upbeat presence with a hard-to-categorize style.

4. Gorillaz, Gorillaz (Virgin): In an era of prefabricated pop, Gorillaz are as pretend as you're likely to see: a band shown only as cartoon images (courtesy of alt-animator Jamie Hewlett), even, apparently, in the live shows they've done around Europe. But their videos and Web site rock -- who needs reality?

5. Alicia Keys, Songs in A Minor (J): With her whatever-you-want-it-to-be neutral complexion and cool-looking braids, Keys set the fashion standards for a new multi-ethnic look aped by every teenage girl in America seeking a no-limits style. Musically, her CD did the same thing, blurring the lines between pop, hip-hop and even, occasionally, classical.

6. Various Artists, What's Going On: Begun as a superstar effort to aid AIDS relief in Africa but overtaken by the September 11 events before its completion, the all-star remake of Marvin Gaye's still-potent anthem wound up sounding like a mishmash of well-meaning sermons. But it somehow managed to sum up our need to say something/anything in 2001 better than any of the other 911 tribute attempts. Plus, it finally got Fred Durst to stop whining and put forth the best peace messages from any hard rocker in history -- a remarkable transformation.

Editor's note: In the interest of brevity -- and for lack of four other choices -- Jimmy Magahern chose to make his Top 10 list a Top 6 list.

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