My 20.02 favorite records of 2002. Because I couldn't narrow it down to ten.
By daniel levin becker
20.02 for 2002 (Daniel Levin Becker)
I've found that, at any given moment, I am nine to twelve months behind new music. If this were a list of my favorite records of 2001, I'm sure it would be a little more interesting and a little less predictable. But here, for the sake of trying to keep with the times, are twenty albums (and one song) that are awesome.
1. Pedro the Lion – Control (Jade Tree)
Control is the longest sustained smirk David Bazan has given us yet, a surprisingly cohesive indictment of the various things that are wrong with people, society, and especially storybook romance. This is also Bazan at his most badass, with volatile yet languid songs that make you feel kind of dirty but still sound amazing.
2. Bright Eyes – Lifted, or the Story is in the Soil Keep Your Ear to the Ground (Saddle Creek)
We all know how insufferable Conor Oberst can be, and the first eight minutes of Lifted look to be another reminder. But then it starts to rock, and doesn't really stop until the last Dylan-worshipping track is over. Oberst is possessed of a smart cynicism and an overtly poignant view of human nature, and when he stops whining and lets them talk for themselves, he stands as one of this generation's finest songwriters.
3. Rjd2 – Deadringer (Def Jux)
Certainly the best instrumental hip-hop album of the year, if not since DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..... Rjd2 has an acute musical sensibility beyond even Shadow's, and an ear for the unexpected perfect sample. Everything he touches turns gold, or, failing that, damn good.
4. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
Predictable, but for a good reason. It was intended to be for the ages, to have "classic" written on it in big stupid letters, and it worked. Not even considering the Reprise/Nonesuch fiasco, this is a superbly made (and probably very important) album. Sam Jones's documentary, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, is also excellent.
5. Andrew WK – I Get Wet (Island)
I buy every word. Even if twenty percent of those words are "party."
6. Sage Francis – Personal Journals (Anticon)
Evocative spoken word poetry with backgrounds by some of hip-hop's most talented producers. The things he can do with words are beyond impressive. See "I am/ More than two-faced; I've got at least six, with cheap tricks/ To hide my not-so-pretty side while accentuating cheeks and lips/ I use battlin' rouge to battle crews who don't like the remix/ And y'all just act confused by the way I choose to fuck with the double helix."
7. Jets to Brazil – Perfecting Loneliness (Jade Tree)
With their third record Jets to Brazil finally sound comfortable being Jets to Brazil rather than Guys From Influential Punk Bands. Loud and obtuse has been replaced with soft and sad, but they don't lose any edge. They haven't actually perfected loneliness yet, but they're getting there.
8. The Anniversary – Your Majesty (Vagrant)
Granted, the Anniversary's debut Designing A Nervous Breakdown fell somewhere between the Get Up Kids and Devo. But since then a coup has been staged, and now King Moog and his loyal army of shaggy-haired 70s warriors have banished earnest Casio-emo back to Kansas. Stately, indulgent, and fun, Your Majesty rollicks through lush hooks and strangely mythical lyrics, not even losing points for its increasingly prevalent similarities to The Dark Side of the Moon in the latter half.
9. Hot Hot Heat – Make Up the Breakdown (Sub Pop)
10. Lawrence Arms – Apathy and Exhaustion (Fat Wreck Chords)
Equal parts Jawbreaker and Slapstick, half emotional and half snotty, but all punk. With an attention span that short and song titles like "Abracadaver" and "3 AM QVC Shopping Spree Hangover," it's hard not to be charmed. And to think, they went to Parker, archenemy of my own alma mater in the half-assed rivalry of Chicago high schools.
11. Aesop Rock – Daylight EP (Def Jux)
Between the first track, one of many highlights from 2001's Labor Days, to "Alchemy," featuring the only decent verse from Blueprint in memory, to the ever-building instrumental "Forest Crunk," Aesop complements his hyper-literate lyricism with little extras that keep his robotic delivery and abrasive production from getting monotonous. And conceptually, the coupling of "Daylight" and its (even more) sinister counterpart "Nightlight" is something few other artists could pull off like this.
12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Yanqui U.X.O. (Constellation)
13. Phantom Planet – The Guest (Epic)
They're models and actors. They make gleefully catchy pop. Like it or not, I am completely vulnerable to their transparent charms. OK Television.
14. Neil Halstead – Sleeping On Roads (4AD)
Almost everything about Neil Halstead is artfully understated, to the point where he doesn't finish half the words he mumbles. In the tradition of Mojave 3's great Excuses for Travelers, Halstead gives us more sloowww lullabies with the odd country twang and the underpinning sense that (a) everything's going to be alright or (b) nothing will ever be alright again.
15. Blackalicious – Blazing Arrow (MCA)
I saw a Blackalicious show this summer. Halfway into the first song, Gift of Gab stopped, sat down, muttered a cursory excuse about a foot problem, and lit a frightfully large blunt. Ingesting some of it, he then passed it into the audience, resumed the show, and proved that his rapid-fire rhymes transcend altered mental states. As such, Blazing Arrow is almost too much to digest at once, but its multifaceted production and veritable who's who of guest MCs make it one that still demands to be heard.
16. Sigur Rós – ( ) (MCA)
Worth hearing for the end of track six alone. Soundscapes beautiful enough to make me want to forgive Iceland for Björk. Why sing in English, or, for that matter, any real language? Why title your album or songs? If this is the first sign of another Dadaist movement, at least it's going to have a damn pretty soundtrack.
17. Hey Mercedes – The Weekend EP (Vagrant)
This makes it to number seventeen mostly because of its bonus track, an inspired cover of When In Rome's "The Promise." The four other songs are predictably good also, vaguely weekend-themed (gosh) and rendered with the technical togetherness that Hey Mercedes has and Braid didn't.
18. Beck – Sea Change (DGC)
It's not what we would have expected from Beck, but heartbreak is a fickle mistress. Taking a big ol' cue from Knife in the Water's Red River (which in turn takes cues from Lee Hazlewood), Mr. Do-The-Robot-In-White-Seersucker grabs Nigel Godrich and a bottle of Southern Comfort and pours his heart out. What it lacks in innovation it makes up for in earnest melancholy ("Lost Cause" is simply lovely), and since Elliott Smith didn't release anything exquisitely depressing this year, Sea Change does nicely.
19. N*E*R*D – In Search Of... (Virgin)
Given the Neptunes' stranglehold on music this year, it's good of them to make an album that condenses the things they do well (make that bastard child rap-rock somewhat respectable, use lyrics like "I think I've loved you since high school" credibly) to offset the sameness that comes with their sheer ubiquity. Without alienating anyone, they manage to mock the mainstream with which they've become synonymous ("I'm just straight ill!") and sound refreshingly novel at the same time.
20. Atmosphere – God Loves Ugly (Rhymesayers)
Slug, tortured soul that he is, shares his insecurities with us again. Not quite as revelatory as Overcast! or the Lucy Ford EPs, but endowed with enough candor and wit to make it a strong album and keep Atmosphere at the top of the emo-hop heap (come on, there's even a song called "Saves the Day"). It's not easy to make vulnerability sound this good.
20.02 Jimmy Eat World "Sweetness" (Dreamworks)
I know, I know. Shit, Bleed American didn't even come out this year. But what's important is that this little bundle of joy, which only reached the masses this summer, is the best song ever. Playing it once a day, as I found, is a double-edged sword: now everyone loves this song; now everyone hates me.
By Daniel Levin Becker