1. PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island) Harvey's last disc, Is This Desire?, spent so much time in my car I was beginning to feel like her chauffeur. While that album found her exploring every kind of lonely, this time she's brought along an accomplice for her sex in the city crime spree. As half of "some modern day Bonnie and Clyde," it hardly matters if breaking the law means armed robbery or shagging on a rooftop, since Harvey's not expecting to be alive in the morning.
There was not a more thrilling record in 2000 than this one, especially on the opening track, "Big Exit," where Harvey's cry of "Baby, baby/Ain't it true? I'm immortal when I'm with you/And I want a pistol in my hand" had me reaching for a concealed weapon to give her. Other highlights include the homage to Patti Smith's birthplace on "Good Fortune"; the way the disembodied voices merge together in "This Line"; and the droning reverb guitar on "Horses in My Dreams" that saunters like a loping equine.
When her Romeo/Clyde finally opens his mouth on "This Mess We're In," it turns out to be Radiohead's Thom Yorke. The way the two come together literally and figuratively on the chorus -- with Harvey describing the sweat on her skin like a commercial for Calvin Klein's Obsession -- is sheer beauty. I'd like to think it was her wordless gasps on this song and her expressed wish to "chase you around a table, want to touch your head" that won this record the "Parental Advisory/Explicit Lyric" sticker and not the throwaway "fuck" buried in "Kamikaze."
2. Marah, Kids in Philly (Artemis/E Squared) Why would anyone want to be in a band anymore, when bands aren't drawing the crowds, the prestige, the perks or the airplay they used to? This album explains why. You get to hang with your buddies, crack open a few beers, play and record music on seven functioning tracks of an eight-track mixing board, have Steve Earle fall in love with it and put the damned thing out. Marah's Bielanko brothers are the kind of guys who can still get excited about a Phil Spector record, an undiscovered fishing hole or Philly DJ Hy Lit with equal zeal and the desire to chronicle each burning new obsession before they forget it. Perhaps the shortest record in recent memory but one that crams in as much information as Sandinista! did in three albums.
3. Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol) Like everyone else, you've probably made up your mind whether you think this is a work of art or a piece of crap. The fact that I still can't decide after two months has gotta account for something. Of course, the way I pronounce the album's title gives you some idea of which school of thought I'm from. This is a put-on, as most avant-garde records are. Even our precious Beatles engaged in such chicanery, the let's-throw-this-in-because-the-pseudo-intellectuals-will-love-it school of random recording. Sure, there are a lot of infuriating touches on Kid A -- the multi-page artwork destroyed countless trees but still fails to come up with one image you could put on a tee shirt, Thom Yorke slicing up his voice into meaningless syllables and putting it through a vacuum cleaner nozzle to sound like Francis the Talking Mule -- but it's all a glorious clusterfuck my eyes and ears can't quite forget.
You have to admire, if not revere, a band willing to freeze out guitars and song structure for an entire album. And there are genuine moments of beauty in this bleak and unforgiving landscape. Kid A comes to you from a long line of eerie, extraterrestrial British space rock. Like Joe Meek's I Hear a New World, Radiohead is making music that sounds as if it hasn't been invented yet. Like the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, they're playing catch-up to the Beatles and playing the blues in outer space. And like Ummmagumma or Dark Side of the Moon, there are plenty of moments you can't hum -- when was the last time you sang "On the Run" in the shower? At a time when Now THAT's What I Call Music Volume 5 sits at the top of the charts, maybe you should opt for non-music items like this. And speaking of Dark Side, mark my words that Kid A will join its ranks as primo Lysergic fare.
And is it me, or is the album's opening line "I woke up sucking on a lemon" a dig at U2's failure to bring the avant-garde into K mart first?