It's Not Too Late to Hope for Next Year at a Record Store Near You





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2001 was a let down year only insofar that it did not prove to be the expected monumental milestone. 2001 lacked irreproachable outstanding achievements: no sonic revolutionaries, no audio visionaries, and no dreamtrack soundweavers. Anticipated records at best fulfilled the minimal requirements necessary to satisfy diluted expectations. Lacking were yesteryear's blockbuster "artists" that enthused both college radio station DJs and corporate marketing strategists. Instead was a list of products that made regular headway in sound experiments but nothing by way of outstanding.

2001 was a year of impressive starts lacking follow through. Some records released last year, like Tortoise's "Standards," Mouse on Mars' "Idiology" and The Shins' "Oh, Inverted World," began with standout explosions, but lost momentum as their sound expanded on additional tracks. Much like a concept-driven novel whose motivating premise lacks the force to keep an audience interested in the exchange between cookiecutter characters, the sounds turned boring and ultimately evolved into a mere distraction from the more captivating sensory receptors competing for attention.

Yet despite such failures, a series of rough gems were released in 2001. The following is a list these stones. These albums are actually far from perfect. In fact many of them are severely flawed. Nevertheless they all prove interesting enough to at least garner commentary. I have organized these albums in arbitrary categories so that readers can use the genre descriptions as entrypoints.

THE BALLADIES

This reviewer has a guilty pleasure for stodgy, overproduced, orchestral, melodramatic balladeers. Despite inane lyrics and big-top musical arrangements, I find myself returning for repeat listens of these unique stories of the unloved and lost.

Nick Cave - "No More Shall We Part": For his first effort in five years, Cave offers "No More Shall We Part" on which the macabre troubadour presents twelve new additions to his established series of call and response gospel pew chanting Dark Knight Cantos.

Rufus Wainwright - "Poses": Poses is Wainwright's sophomore effort. While I don't think that the album is as good as his debut (some songs on the album are annoying mistakes), it does include some outstanding tracks. He continues with an entertaining, campy baroque-pop infatuation while singing about his naive, theatrical fancies.

Nick Lowe - "The Convincer." Lowe's voice sounds like the smooth drag of the Gauloise he is smoking on the cover. While stylistically diverse (soul, jazz, country), Lowe's sky-blue, loungie afternoon, lackadaisical charm palpably drips all over these tracks.

AVANTBEATS

Perhaps the absence of new worthwhile music icons has to do with the fact that the industry has splintered in a way where the avant-garde has shed all of the enjoyable elements of music: harmony, tunefullness, and danceable beats. The more innovative sect in music are Powerbook composers who focus on nuance and subtlety in the form of difficult synthetic bleeps over asymmetric beats. This permutation of the techno explosion (sometimes called glitch-pop sometimes called IDM [intelligent dance music]) offers the most rich and complex compositions of the music industry.

Prefuse 73 - "Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives": With hip hop as its premixed source, Vocal Studies is the most accessible of the following albums. The samples on are so severely cut that the original is no longer decipherable. Words are mixed so that only syllables are isolated and used as individual notes. Both beats and rhymes are sliced to create original textural play. One part remixed urban MC ethos, one part Amon Tobin, and one part Tortoise math rock arrangements, Vocal Studies is my favorite album of the year.

Fennesz - "Endless Summer": A reimagination of the Beach Boys sound by European avant-electrician Fennesz. On this album Fennesz attempts to create a sound that hints at the beauty of the Beach Boys sound with the use of interlacing sonic atmospherics. The album, however, lacks the paperback simplicity of the original sound. Instead the revision allows for a more complicated gesture that in many ways runs antithetical to the naivete and purity of the Beach Boys' sound. Fennesz works with dissonance to create a comparable tenor of striking beauty.

Autechre - "Cornfield": Both challenging and entertaining. This album is the rare example of an group that succeeded in meeting its audience's expectations for a follow up album. This is familiar territory for the ambient Aphex Twin fan. Nightmare cloud fantasies diced by stutter beats, Autechre's Cornfield is more harrowing than North by Northwest. Autechre is the genre's poster group. The veteran glitch poppers harvest a hauntingly delicious and crisp serving of aggressive, off-kilter, unbalanced ambient introspections and schizophrenic reflexivity. It sounds like falling.

THE EPICS

The more amplified projections came from the post-rock contingent. These epic sea storms of stress and crescendo offered the most dynamic departures from expectation. These are the concept-driven albums. The albums that wear conviction on their blood-stained sleeves.

Lift to Experience - "Texas Jerusalem Crossroads": This is a sonic crusade. Creating a nonsense mythology with Biblical phrasing and the language of the prophets to trumpet the Texan resurrection, reinterpreting the parade that blasted down the walls of Jerico as a guitar that's bigger than Jesus Christ, "Texas Jerusalem Crossroads" is a sonic fantasy adventure/epic quest whose both lyricism and instrumentation prove fitting for the dramatic gesture.

Unwound - "Leaves Turn Inside You": This double album of dark semi-psychedelia is a severe departure for Unwound. It is the end result of a three year process of exploration and reinvention. This is not a straight rock album. Along with the expected distortion are both sinewy synth elements and guitar filters that produce an epochal sound. The album laces of synth textures with kinetic power rock. (Also the best album art of the year).

Acid Mother Temple - New Geocentric World": Noise. So much fucking sound. Strictly Dionysian. The stuff blown out speakers are made of. The opening track is a 21 minute dolby digital "Is the audience listening" surrounding the sound experiment. Acid Mothers Temple is a Japanese psychedelic noise band whose tsunami sound is so deep...but not consistently interesting. A test of patience. It is the most flawed on the list.

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