Critics VS 2002: Rebuilding From Ash

2002 spent the year in a 9/11 hangover. Through the confusion, notable and amazing works still arose

6. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight (Merge): If last year's stellar Girls Can Tell suggested a latent affection for the Zombies, then Kill the Moonlight is the post-punk Kinks record that Ray Davies himself could never make. Britt Daniel is not only the best singer in rock at the moment -- sandpaper gritty, tuneful and acerbic, all at once -- but he also has a rare knack for building hooks from the most minimal material.

7. Anna Waronker, Anna (Five Foot Two): California pop royalty by birth (daughter of producer/record exec Lenny Waronker) and marriage (wife of Redd Kross bassist Steve McDonald, and sister-in-law to Go-Go Charlotte Caffey), Waronker has seen the full scope of the L.A. pop dream, and she wants the whole shebang: the literacy and sophistication of her dad's pal Randy Newman (is it a coincidence her solo debut begins, like Newman's, with a song called "Love Story"?) and the rock abandon of Redd Kross. And when she tauntingly sings "Baby I'm your perfect 10," she makes you believe it.

8. MC Paul Barman, Paullelujah! (Coup d'Etat): It's tempting to think of this hip-hop novelty as a cross between the early Beastie Boys and the lighter side of Eminem. But the young Beasties were wild, unrepentant slobs, and even in his most cartoonish moments, Eminem clings to a certain street-toughness. By comparison with either, Barman is all horn-rimmed, Ivy League geekdom, cerebral enough to quote Winston Churchill and juvenile enough to claim himself as a "Cock Mobster." In Barman's world of fantasy sex, a line like "I would jizz early in Liz Hurley" actually qualifies as seduction.

Smile! People like you again.
Smile! People like you again.
Hey, look, we're avant-garde: Everybody loves Wilco.
Hey, look, we're avant-garde: Everybody loves Wilco.

9. Bob Dylan, Live 1975 (Columbia/Legacy): No period of Dylan's career has been more poorly served than his mid-'70s Rolling Thunder Revue. Live 1975 finally delivers the goods, with Dylan bringing a welcome, grown-up huskiness to classics like "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" and a reggae/country "It Ain't Me Babe."

10. Beck, Sea Change (DGC): This mopey collection of lost-love ballads was inevitably overrated by critics who have a hard-on for confessional songwriter fare. From where I'm sitting, the campy falsettos and funky beats of Midnite Vultures were just as revealing -- and a lot more fun -- than this collection. But even if Beck makes a better Morris Day than Nick Drake, Sea Change proves that he's better at wimpine.

Darren Keast:

1. The Streets, Original Pirate Material (Locked On/Vice): The tsunami of hype on which English riffraff Mike Skinner rode into America -- billing him as Britain's first great MC -- mostly overlooked his most glaring quality: This guy's a wanker. Original Pirate Material has some juicy two-step beats and a few haunting images woven into the lyrics, but this is some silly shit (whether Skinner realizes it or not).

2. DJ Shadow, The Private Press (MCA): Who knew that after driving past 110th Street into Harlem and then through late-'60s acid-freaking London, one would arrive at Mill Valley, California, home of DJ Shadow? The Private Press is like a secret history of hipster, collector-culture obscuria packaged as a heat 'n' serve box lunch. Save the two decades going to record fairs -- the Nuggets compilation and David Axelrod sound better when combined through Shadow's mixer, anyway.

3. DJ /Rupture, Minesweeper Suite (Tigerbeat6): Just when people are finally sick of DJs, a few emerge who are actually worth something. Based on the same ideas of recontextualization and kitsch that Kid606 and DJ Spooky dabble in but executed far more entertainingly, this is a can't-believe-no-one's-done-it-before mix of smoothed-over lowbrow fare (Sade, Aaliyah) and The Wire-approved noisetronica (Cex, DJ Scud).

4. Andrew W.K., I Get Wet (Mercury): An unapologetic one-trick pony, Andrew W.K. gave the arena-size overindulgence of cock rock one last spin so that we can finally (hopefully) lay it to rest forever.

5. Various Artists, This Is Tech-Pop (Ministry of Sound): Most of the electroclash stuff isn't even as good as those '80s kitschmeisters Berlin, but the handful of gems (most of which are collected here) make for really great fuck tunes. Fischerspooner's "Emerge" was the club track of the year.

6. The Sea and Cake, One Bedroom (Thrill Jockey): Xanax in aural form. All the least challenging bits of jazz, Krautrock and post-rock synthesized into something with enough kick so you don't feel like one of those neo-lounge weenies for liking it.

7. Atmosphere, God Loves Ugly (Fat Beats): Indy hip-hop, mired in its reactionary attachment to bland boom-bap production, seems destined to progress only by exploring more intimate lyrical material. God Loves Ugly is the best recent example of this tension -- unimpeded by the fairly boring beats, rapper Slug is able to push the art forward by dealing with the subjects that we expect mostly from rock songwriters: love, regret, boredom and nostalgia.

8. Manitoba, Start Breaking My Heart (Domino): Boards of Canada should have made this record -- lots of pretty melodic washes and intricate drum-machine jitters, almost totally pretension-free.

9. Brooks, You, Me & Us (Mantis): You, Me & Us blends many of the best qualities from across the electronic music spectrum into one very slick aesthetic. There are sultry house-style vocals, complex sonic textures from IDM, the starkness of techno, and the choicest disco breaks extracted from 25 years of gay dance tracks. And yet the songwriting's really strong.

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