Music News

Critical Mass 2000

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4. PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island) Likewise, see intro listing. Anger and angst slowly dissolve in the face of a Zenlike fortitude, yet she didn't wind up making a mature/adult Sting record, either.

5. Steve Earle, Transcendental Blues (E-Squared/Artemis) Nor did Earle, despite his showing all the impending signs of maturity and adulthood: political activism, a book of essays and poetry en route, hanging out with Sheryl Crow, etc. This is a classic, "deep" rock 'n' roll album, one that some wag described as the record a '90s Beatles reunion might've spawned -- not that far-fetched.

6. The Delta 72, 000 (Touch & Go) Despite At the Drive In nipping at its Motor City wheels, the D72 takes the full-on rock gold medal by virtue of its channeling skills (it's the best Stones album in a decade), furrowed-brow soulful intensity, and sheer onstage athletic ability. Boy howdy!

7. Calexico, The Hot Rail (Quarterstick) Lower Sonoran Desert Rock? Mariachadelica? Huevos Ambientos? The Cinema of the Relleno? Tucson's ambassadors of cool are beginning to defy description, but one thing's for sure: They perfectly sum up the Arizona experience.

8. Brian Wilson, Live at the Roxy Theater (Brimel) Available only at www.brianwilson.com, this is the Beach Boys album you always dreamed about but knew would never come to pass. Saint Brian brings Pet Sounds and other gems to life on this two-CD live set, and wait'll you hear him do the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," which he introduces as his "very favorite record in the universe."

9. David Holmes, Bow Down to the Exit Sign (1500) A massive multi-sensory impact. You can practically taste guest vocalist Bobby Gillespie's cocaine shot on the back of your tongue in the pulse-pounding hard-rock centerpiece "Sick City," while Jon Spencer's voodoo-sexual anguish in the Dr. John-meets-Can "Bad Thing" is gut-wrenching. And Carl Hancock Rux's soul-on-ice mofo vocals help push a throbbing, psychedelic cover of "Compared to What" into the realm of the metaphysical.

10. D.J. Shadow/Cut Chemist, Brainfreeze (Slurrp) Ace DJ mix (actually, a rehearsal for a live turntable session) of obscure but essential funk-soul grooves. As the duo's liners suggest, the collection is "served chilled to just the right temperature."

Artist of the Year: John Lennon. Clearly, the Beatles were on a lot of people's minds in 2000, and even though the random accusation of milking a cash cow is not necessarily off-base -- in the wake of that massive Anthology book and the 1 singles compilation, even the bootleggers got into the act with an exhaustive, exhausting 17-CD boxed set, Thirty Days -- one could do far worse than fan the flames of Fab Fourdom. Near the end of U2's rendition of its "Beautiful Day" single on Saturday Night Live, Bono restlessly began intoning snatches of Lennon lyrics from "All You Need Is Love," confirming the notion that even if it was 20 years ago today a monster stalked the streets of NYC, spirit is something that can never be assassinated.

Happenin' of the Year: The Boxed Set. I mean, who cares about Napster vs. Metallica, Britney Spears' bikini fuzz, the woes of music-related dot-com companies, or even the nettlesome ubiquity of homophobic, filth-spewing rappers like Eminem and Jay-Z? It was a fantastic year to be a Rock Geek, as collectors took to the streets to huzzah the arrival of sets from Faust, Free, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Monkees, Jimi Hendrix, Electric Light Orchestra, Van Der Graf Generator, Dusty Springfield -- don't even get me started on all the fantastic work in the single-disc reissue field! Extra respect to Rhino for its five-CD Brain in a Box collection of vintage sci-fi themes and assorted related cultural detritus. It was, in a word, Box-o-riffic!

Darren Keast

1. Quasimoto, The Unseen (Stones Throw) Despite what BET or its new parent company MTV/Viacom will tell you, great hip-hop almost always comes without the glittery wrapper of fish-eye lens videos and race-hating thug posturing. The music's most underexposed genius is Madlib, the Oxnard, California-based producer for the subterranean group the Lootpack, and no, he isn't backed up by hordes of crotch-rocket-riding hangers-on or groupie ho's. He's down with Quasimoto, an off-kilter rapping ne'er-do-well whose nasally flow sounds suspiciously like that of a sped-up Madlib, who often exchanges verses with him. The Unseen, like other classic rap albums such as De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising, the Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, and the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, is far more than an assemblage of great beats and rhymes -- it's a journey through a self-contained, imaginary wonderland. Madlib's fantasy version of everyday life sounds like a Fat Albert episode scored for sampler and drum machine --cartoonish footsteps shuffle to the beat, nostalgic flutes loop off into infinity, and the weasel-voiced main character takes a pull from his joint and invites you to come back next week.

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