The Year in Music 


Music 2001 was a bountiful thing: another avalanche of records and shows, bringing numerous gems, loads of trash and several tons of hype on it all. Musicians and the critical corps did seem to agree that this year was good time to reassess music’s presumed essential values. I.e., it was an excellent time to think for ourselves, hence the disparity in our attitudes toward the year’s musical high- and lowlights.

― John Payne

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Falling James’ Best of 2001

Manu Chao, Proxima Estacion Esperanza (Virgin). An utterly mesmerizing found-ghost-voice collage, underlying yearning (love) songs of freedom.

The Detroit Cobras, Life, Love and Leaving (Sympathy for the Record Industry). Meet the state of the art in explosive R&B girl-group reinterpretation: foul-mouthed fireball diva Rachael Nagy.

The Come Ons, Hip Check! (Sympathy for the Record Industry). Meanwhile, fellow Motor City chanteuse Deanne Iovan is calmer, cooler: the queen of serene.

The Clean, Getaway (Merge). More songs about celestial sunsets.

Backbiter/Elope, split CD (Man’s Ruin). More great classic (hard) rock you won’t hear on classic-rock radio.

Ex-Girl, Back to the Mono Kero! (Ipecac). For all their elaborate costumes, it’s the spooky a cappella harmonies that dazzle.

Vice Squad, Lo-Fi Life (Sudden Death). Turns out Beki Bondage was right about the war machine.

The Now Time Delegation, Watch for Today (In the Red). Another fireball diva, Riverside-meets-Austin chapter: the BellRays’ Lisa Kekaula, in a soul-satisfying side project with Poison 13 guitarist Tim Kerr.

The Beautys, Thing of Beauty (Cheetah’s). Bratty, Muffs-style punk rants contrasted by poignantly pretty surf instros.

The Dickies, All This and Puppet Stew (Fat Wreck Chords). It was only a matter of time before celebrity psychologist Leonard Graves Phillips focused his malicious attention on Courtney Love, abetted by Stan Lee’s insidiously catchy guitar figure.

Grandest Piano Rambles About Sitting on Sandwiches, World Peace and How There Once Was a Fuh King: Brute Force’s sublimely silly recital at Scramarama, November 3.

Biggest Don’t-Care-Who-Sees-Me-Crying-in-a-Nightclub Moment: When the reunited Tex & the Horseheads whipped out that exhilarating hush of maternal recrimination, "Oh Mother," at the Blue Café.

Another Reason To Keep Breathing: Urinals ("Skygrifter") and Cheap Trick (title unknown; the creepy ballad with the curiously plucked upstrokes) both debut in concert haunting new songs that rival their early best.

Worst Tragedy: The breakup of Tijuana No.

Best of the Newer New Wave Bands: Radio Vago, Von Steins.

Best Vacant-Seeming Lead Singer Fooling With His Bandmate’s Amp Settings Onstage During What Turned Out To Be a Thrilling If Atypically Punk Rocking Show: The Fall’s Mark E. Smith at the Knitting Factory, November 14.

Best Blondie Tribute CD: How Many Bands Does It Take To Screw Up a Blondie Tribute? Especially modish twists by The Space Surfers, The Kirby Grips, Trinket, The Come Ons, L’Alouette, The Short Fuses, The Excessories, Fur, The Kowalskis, Buck, Third Grade Teacher and Skrap.

Best Wild New Punk Combo Likely To Be Dead (Literally), Maimed or Hugely Famous by This Time Next Year: The Orphans.

Sad To See You Go: Joey Ramone, Bianca Butthole, George Harrison, Al’s Bar.

Glad To See You Come Back: Arthur Lee.

Guiltiest Pleasures: The Shakes’ Kinks-y version of "Oops, I Did It Again" and those cute Britney Spears stickers in the Ralphs vending machines.

Weirdest Pro Football Lyric in a Mini-Orchestral Love Ballad: "Sentimentally attached to the AFL rules, which do not come back but sporadically in April-time," from W.A.C.O.’s A Game of Cards CD.

Alec Hanley Bemis: Shit Year. Good Music.

In 2001, I thought about music as much as I listened to it. Is it what we build our identities upon, a lure for sex, the sound of the cosmos, something we leave behind after death, or just aural trash that makes the hours pass? It’s all of these things. In no particular order, 10 examples:

Silence. After 9/11, Enya’s 10-month-old album A Day Without Rain experienced a surge in sales that pushed it into the upper reaches of the Billboard chart. I wish people looked elsewhere for respite. Memories are better than New Age pop. I recall with pleasure the clarity and quiet of the day after Tuesday morning. For a moment the distinctions between good and evil were clear. No planes. And, among my friends at least, lots of brief, heartfelt emails. No small talk.

Erick Sermon (featuring Marvin Gaye), "Music" (J Records). Gaye’s overlapped, sampled voice sounds as beautiful from beyond the grave as it did in life: "Musi-Mu-Mu-Mu-Music." When that stops, he fronts like Plato: "Music is the soul of the man."

The Strokes, "The Modern Age" maxi-single (Beggar’s Banquet). The Strokes are a Frankenstein of great N.Y. acts that never broke big as pop bands (Velvet Underground, Television, Ramones). To enliven its bodily fluids, this monster has shot up with adrenaline instead of the heroin that left their predecessors so languid. The full-length is a dinner of Pixie Sticks — it leaves me as exhausted as the band look in their video — but this EP is a catalog of the youthful ennui, spontaneous imperfections and roughshod intangibles that make pop great.

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