Critics VS 2002: Rebuilding From Ash

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

1. The Kills, Black Rooster (Dim Mak): VV and Hotel. VV -- she of America and big smoldering voice, drenched with sweat, sex and a knowing quality that belies her 23 years. Hotel -- he of England and bedhead, VU guitar and attitude. The Black Rooster EP, the only material this phlogiston duo has released in its baby career, rocked my ass off from the first listen. A mere 18 minutes of music, Black Rooster smokes from the first second of the first track, with dirty, sexy, fuzzy guitar noise and naughty vocals. While painfully short, it speaks formidably about this forceful duo and what they might do in the future.

2. Danielson Famile, Fetch the Compass Kids (Secretly Canadian): The Danielson Famile consists of real family members and a couple of friends, led by the musical and spiritual vision of Daniel Smith. Smith, the Danielson in the band's name, guides his holy brood through a delirious combination of styles. Imagine if Daniel Johnston were in the Pixies and they played back porch gospels, featuring helium vocals singing praise to God. These people have seen the mandala and they want to spread the joy. Fetch is a Steve Albini-produced wonder -- great harmonies, strange off-balance arrangements, percussive bells, honest spiritual content and a great deal of raw happiness.

3. Local act that went out with a whimper and not a bang: Less Pain Forever: This amazing duo changed its name from Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Product to Less Pain Forever, became a tribute to themselves featuring original members, bought a huge RV, painted it black and took off in search of fame and fortune in locales unknown.

Beck poured on the New Mountain Groan.
Beck poured on the New Mountain Groan.
It ain't pretentious if it's good. Try these at your next house party.
It ain't pretentious if it's good. Try these at your next house party.

They ended up living in Wal-Mart parking lots, playing some triumphant shows in New York and other parts East and came back a year later, slightly burnt. Christopher Pomerenke created the one-man band Lovers of Guts while James Karnes was on the East Coast. Upon Karnes' return, the fire was gone, the psychic chemistry was missing a few notes, and the band quietly dissolved.

4. Gogogo Airheart, Exitheuxa (GSL): A successful fusion of '80s sounds and punky, smart art rock that is electrifying, experimental and mysterious. You may feel like laughing at the unusual musical marriages happening, but by the second time through, it will be love. Michaela Vermillion's elastic high-register voice summons Pornography-era Robert Smith, pre-fame Tom Bailey circa A Product of . . . and Jack White's thin take on Robert Plant. Catchy, scary, spaced-out music with a steel backbone rhythm section and a warbling lead singer.

5. Best Comeback: Morrissey: I am biting my tongue here, but he was impressive at Celebrity Theatre. Grown paunchy men with bald spots clambered onstage and braved the security guards to touch his cardigan. The singer was witty and seemingly happy, making jokes and witticisms naturally. Highlight of his resurgence: Craig Kilborn's inexplicable campaign to get Moz on his show, pleading night after night for Morrissey, only to get him on and ask him banal questions.

6. Daniel Johnston and Harvey Sid Fisher at 15th Street Tavern in Denver, March 9: A celestial event. Harvey Sid of Astrology Songs cable-access fame and Daniel Johnston of the wounded psyche and genius songwriting. Harvey Sid and pickup band earnestly sang such lyrics as "Talk about the Taurus, talk about the Bully Bull Bull" to a confused but enthused audience. DJ played guitar, which he should not have, stared at a music stand containing his lyrics as if catatonic, sang some songs, muttered some third-grade jokes and broke my heart.

7. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.): Not as good as The Soft Bulletin, but what is? The Lips continue their examination of real life in the fun-house mirror, with a lilting, melted pop backdrop. A quiet meditation of disparate concepts macro- and microcosmic. Mortality, good vs. evil, karate and pink robots are filtered through Wayne Coyne's distorted everyman.

8. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch): The album perfectly continues Wilco's defection from Americana. All over the place stylistically, it is a recording that seems to have a storm of sounds around it -- an uneasy beauty like the sound between stations. Though musical to its core, it touches on discord at all the right moments.

9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Yeah Yeah Yeahs: I know this EP technically came out in late 2001, so put down your pen. A noisy arty trio that got grouped with the garage revival, they make a shitload of horny noise. Karen O's sexual vibe is everywhere, backed by guitar and drums. They're another a band with a lot of potential and only two EPs under their belt, with a full-length supposedly due early this year.

10. The Black Heart Procession, Amore Del Tropico (Touch & Go): A continuation of the Black Heart Procession's examination of love and loss and the dark underbelly of life. Amore still features beautiful theatrical weepers based around piano, guitar and Pall Jenkins' brooding vocals, but the album is less spare than past BHP recordings. The lyrics are fragments of a story line, shrouded in mystery and with just enough imagery to tingle the spine. On Amore we are shown, chapter by chapter, a pulp novel, a murder mystery, the narrator backed by rich hypnotic music.

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