Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (Kranky)
My obligatory "Wow, I'm cool 'cuz I dig an avantish Canadian band on a tiny indie label" entry. A vibrantly technophonic, stereodelic excursion into the cinema of the mind: Harry Smith Rock for the Millennium.
Almost Famous Soundtrack (Dreamworks)
True story: A chick came in the record store where I work and asked if we had any records by Stillwater, and I was less amused by her naiveté--it's a fictional band with several cool songs in the Cameron Crowe movie--than by the sheer rock 'n' roll power of suspended disbelief. So by default, Almost Famous becomes the standard-bearer for this annum's theme: 2000 was The Year The Rock Geek Broke--with additional mainstream validation of collectors 'n' critics arriving by way of the High Fidelity film and a biography of late rock journo Lester Bangs, Let It Blurt. This soundtrack makes it OK to admit that you always loved Elton John's "Tiny Dancer."
Kid A (Capitol)
Postmodern, postliterate post-Aphex Twinesque whimsy that circumvents agitprop for artistry' [insert generic but heartfelt accolade]. And the band is able to pull off those icily vertiginous soundscapes live, too, as anyone who saw R-head's appearance on Saturday Night Live will testify.
Stories from The City, Stories from the Sea (Island)
By soaking up the artistic atmosphere of NYC for six months and concentrating on poetry and lyric writing, Polly Jean emerged with the most honest and direct set of her career, from fiery/jangly opener "Big Exit" and the Patti Smith-meets-Echo & The Bunnymen "Good Fortune" to the troubling duet-conversation with Thom Yorke ("One Line") and the grandly waltzing "You Said Something." Harvey casts moonshadows and sunbeams with the assuredness of a music veteran having thrice her experience. Anger and angst slowly dissolve in the face of a Zen-like fortitude, yet she didn't wind up making a mature/adult Sting record, either.
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.
The Delta 72
000 (Touch & Go)
Even with 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!
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. How many of you caught the Rainer Family & Friends show at Solar Culture last month? Not only did hearts melt as Kris McKay paid her tribute to Rainer in song, we were privy to the extraordinary sight of Giant Sand's Howe Gelb and a full mariachi band onstage with Calexico, and in my mind, this perfectly summed up what the Arizona musical melting pot experience is all about.
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."
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 over of "Compared to What" into the realm of the metaphysical.
Chore of Enchantment (Thrill Jockey)
A long time in the making, and an album that drug Howe Gelb across lakes of fire and great expanses of psychological quicksand. But it was worth it, as he delivered a set that perfectly encompasses his eclectic, multi-genre vision without compromise while still, amazingly, representing his most stylistically and commercially accessible release to date. Dedicated to the Old Pueblo's fallen soldier Rainer--who turned up this year himself, posthumously, on the import-only Alpaca Lips--it's an intensely soulful, spiritual collection of songs.
Thirty Days: The Ultimate Get Back Sessions Collection (Vigotone)
A massive 17-disc (pro-CD-R) box--get back, Jojo! The Vigotone label has ascended to the top ranks of contemporary bootleggers not only by ignoring conventional wisdom that claims collectors are satisfied just to hear the music but by indulging outrageously elaborate--and costly--productions that far surpass the efforts of other bootleggers and the major labels as well. Here, you get close to 20 hours worth of the Beatles' January '69 sessions that gave the world Let It Be, and it's fascinating to get a sense of what the album might have become, in its original incarnation of Get Back prior to Phil Spector's unfortunate involvement in the project. Much of this has already made the rounds of collectors' circles; Vigotone itself has covered the '69 material to an extent on previous titles. Still, the label has done an impressive job in terms of selecting the most interesting and significant moments, remastering the (mono) studio tapes, and packaging Thirty Days in a handsome 11-by-11-inch box complete with an exhaustively annotated 50-page book. Price? You don't even want to know.
Funhouse Sessions (Rhino Handmade)
Released two days after Christmas last year, this stupendous seven-CD box set (available only through Rhino's mail-order website and limited to 3,000 copies) includes all 142 over-amplified versions recorded during the rehearsal sessions for the Stooges' phenomenal 1970 album. With the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop, commanding center stage, his influence on a generation of bands that followed can be heard in every subtle nuance of every skull-shattering take. Amazing!
The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (Columbia/Legacy)
Armstrong is recognized as the father of jazz and these important recordings from 1925-29 epitomize his resourcefulness, creativity and knack for improvising. This magnificent four-CD box set is the ultimate Satchmo collection, at last comprehensively representing his seminal recordings of the 1920s. Essential.
Forget the over-hyped Radiohead. Those sniveling wimps cannot, for one moment, compete against the extraordinary electronics-meets-punk pop sound collage meticulously constructed by these British bad boys. This is the future of tough, disjointed and uncompromising politically and socially oriented rock-and-roll that demands your undivided attention. Kill the hippies, indeed.
March To Fuzz (Sub Pop)
The true saviors of grunge (sorry, but Pearl Jam always sucked) are gloriously recognized in this splendid two-disc set examining the group's sometime hits, punk-heavy cover songs, and over-the-top rarities. For Mudhoney, those often dismissed battle-scarred fuzz busters of the mighty Pacific Northwest (who are coming out of retirement early next year), Kurt Cobain would proudly salute you.
A South Bronx Story (Universal Sound-UK import)
The first to bridge the gap between soul/funk/hip-hop and punk/new wave, four teenage sisters (and a male cousin on percussion) from the South Bronx in 1981 melded this dynamic dichotomy of divergent inspirations into a balanced minimalist dub-disco dance attack. Resurrected in recent years, their raw, stripped-down sound has been sampled by everyone from Public Enemy to LL Cool J. Feeling moody, yeah-yeah.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore
One Endless Night (Windcharger/Rounder)
The best album in years from this Texas singer-songwriter places him at a meaningful metaphysical peace where his sad-sounding voice takes subtle command, overwhelming every emotional secretion from your mind and body. Gilmore is an intriguing, sensitive interpreter of songs with a voice as succulent as golden honey, whose versions of "Mack the Knife" and the Grateful Dead's "Ripple" will reduce you to tears.
Mud City Manglers
Heart Full of Hate (Stolen/Aussie import)
Trio of beer guzzlin' gorehounds from the Pittsburgh area who crank out 11 blasts of shit-kickin', raw-as-venison punk rawk unmatched since the New Bomb Turks burst out of the garage a dozen years ago. Seek and destroy.
Live at the Paradise Garage (Strut/West End/Garage)
Who is Larry Levan, you might ask? He was the house DJ at NYC's infamous underground gay discotheque the Paradise Garage from 1977 to 1987 (Levan died at 38 in 1992), who revolutionized the then under-recognized art of record spinning. This deluxe two-CD set recorded one early morning in 1979, at the height of Levan's master mixing skills, showcases a bona fide pioneer whose turntable finesse and knack for turning a dance crowd into an undulating mass on any given night is captured on these marvelous archival tapes.
Poultry in Motion (Norton)
A chicken cacklin' concept album from that crazed, lithium-gulpin' hayseed from the backwoods of West Virginia screams fowl from the first note to the last. Finger-lickin' good rockabilly psychosis spanning five decades that KFC and Col. Sanders might not appreciate. Shut up and pass a drumstick.
And This Is Maxwell Street (Rooster Blues)
Vital and historic Chicago street recordings from 1964 featuring blues masters Robert Nighthawk, Carey Bell, Johnny Young and Big John Wrencher, among others. An astonishing three-CD set that captures the gut-wrenching you-are-there feel with compelling and gritty exuberance.
1000 Hurts (Touch & Go)
From the clever titular pun to the songs about squirrels, this album should be on the Top 10 list of anyone who can't get enough of that "Steve Albini feeling." Oh, and for vinyl purists (read: total geeks), the CD comes free with the LP.
Pimp to Eat (Ground Control)
Kool Keith and Ice-T albums landing in the same year would be exciting enough. But puttin' 'em together? That's downright sick. Cooler than Freddie Jackson sippin' a milkshake in a snowstorm. Note: Don't listen to this record in front of feminist girlfriends; if you are a feminist girlfriend, don't listen to this record at all.
Kid A (Capitol)
Contrary to popular belief, the only thing "difficult" about this record is getting all the frigging packaging off of it. I mean, Captain Beefheart or Eno, they're difficult. Radiohead, not so much. It's excellent.
Loveways EP (Merge)
Laffitte single (Saddle Creek)
The agony and the ecstasy. After being bent over by its A&R rep (that's "Asses and Reaming"), Spoon decided to make it known how its members feel in the form of a poison-pen letter to one Laffitte who had signed them to Elektra. Loveways is the band's first effort for Merge, and has the buoyancy of rebirth on all five tracks.
The For Carnation
Self-Titled (Touch & Go)
Ah, that Chicago sound. This album couldn't be more "post rock" if it were buried in the ground holding up a fence. That doesn't make it any less beautiful.
Believo (SeeThru Broadcasting)
Quit your day job, don't pass go. Hyperkinetic "new rock" that blows New Wet Kojak and ilk off the stage. Hold on to your wigs and keys.
The Hot Rail (Quarterstick)
See Fred Mills
Self-Titled (Sub Pop)
The talented and velvet-voiced singer of the Pernice Brothers indulges his side project, which sounds like, well, the Pernice Brothers. Awesome cover of New Order's "Leave Me Alone."
Asylum Street Spankers
Spanker Madness (Spanks-A-Lot)
WEED! Fun guide for kids: Play this record for your parents, pretending it's from the '20s. Then wait for them to notice all the drug references, and watch the high-larity ensue! Then steal a car and go to Las Vegas.
Stankonia (La Face/Arista)
This album is so chock full of nuggets, I'm still prospectin'! It makes me feel fresh and clean and dirty all at the same time. Some might call it "amazing" if they're inclined to use that word.
1956 (Five Minute Walk)
Who would have thought that a trio of white guys from SoCal (one formerly of San Diego noiseniks Truman's Water) could make a Christian hip-hop album that would be the best damn thing released in 2000? Unlike most modern Christian bands, Soul=Junk never forsakes the medium for the message. Spiritual, no matter what god you pray to.
The Moon & Antarctica (Epic)
The trio of Washingtonians trade in their trusty interstates for outer space this time around, and the results are stunning, as usual. At this point it's becoming entirely believable that Isaac Brock is incapable of writing a bad song.
Stankonia (La Face/Arista)
Here's a concept for ya: A hip-hop album that's not just a few killer cuts and a bunch of filler. Plus it's genuinely uplifting--none of that playa hata shit going on here. "Ms. Jackson" is the jam of the year; have I used the words "funky, fresh" yet?
The Sophtware Slump (V2)
Gurgly psych-pop from this Modesto, Calif. band with one ear stuck in the past, and the other cocked toward the future--trends be damned! A concept record that dares ask the question of technology: What will happen to our sad little machines when we're done with them?
The Covers Record (Matador)
The ultimate irony is that a songwriter as great as Chan Marshall couldn't sound more at home wrapping herself around a collection of covers both infamously familiar (the Stones' "[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction") and obscure (Michael Hurley), reworking all until unrecognizable.
Chore of Enchantment (Thrill Jockey)
See Fred Mills
Fevers and Mirrors (Saddle Creek)
This third full-length sees Conor Oberst's (often quiet) angst translate into excellent songwriting skills, with clean production to boot. Anyone who caught the show at Solar Culture knew they were watching something important happening before them.
White Pepper (Elektra)
After a couple of quirky concept albums--country songs and songs about ocean life, respectively--the brothers Ween come up with the best concept of all: an album chock-full of beautiful psychedelic-tinged pop tunes that retains the boys' juvenile sense of humor. The ultimate collision of lowbrow and highbrow.
Pound For Pound (Drag City)
I've sworn that I've hated these guys for years based on a couple of live performances I witnessed nearly a decade ago; TW contributor Brian Mock finally persuaded me to give them a second chance, and hot damn! I'm glad I did. The most intelligent boogie rock you'll hear this side of Thin Lizzy.
Self-titled (Sub Pop)
See Curtis McCrary