2002 WAS A YEAR when music lovers did themselves an enormous favor by simply turning off the hype -- about the grim state of the music industry, or how every young artist represented a groundbreaking new movement, or whether or not they were worthy of assuming the mantle of Great Significance (rock or otherwise). It was a year that saw the release of an amazing number of good to great records in a wide variety of genres old and new, created largely by artists who got their music heard in spite of the mainstream media's failure to jump on their bandwagons. Here're some lists -- read 'em, burn 'em.
JAY BABCOCK'S 2002
1. DEBUTS Devendra Banhart, the Black Keys, the Streets, Interpol, the Polyphonic Spree.
2. COMEBACKS Solomon Burke, Wire.
3. OTHER FINE RECORDS Queens of the Stone Age, Super Furry Animals, Brendan Benson, Deerhoof, Radar Brothers, T-Model Ford, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Brother JT, Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man, Jah Wobble & Temple of Sound, Casino Versus Japan, Spoon, Fatso Jetson, Doug Martsch, Sahara Hotnights, Jah Wobble's Solaris, Weird War, Super_Collider, We Regazzi, Tinariwen, Beachwood Sparks.
4. AND AT THE (MORE) EXTREME END High on Fire, Non, John Zorn, Comets on Fire, Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine, Khanate, Circle, Vajra, SUNN 0))), Masami Akita & Russell Haswell.
5. FINE SONGS "When the Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash; "You Know You're Right" by Nirvana; "House of Jealous Lovers" by the Rapture; "So Easy" and "Poor Leno" by Royksopp; "I'm Gonna Kick Your Ass" and "Black Train" by Moistboyz; "Every Season" by Tony Allen with Damon Albarn & Ty; "Time Changes Everything" by John Squire; Robert Plant's cover of "Morning Dew"; the Josh Homme compositions in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys; "Alibi" by Elvis Costello & the Attractions.
6. REISSUES/COMPILATIONS Junior Kimbrough's You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough, James Luther Dickinson's Dixie Fried, Tangerine Dream's Alpha Centauri, Black Sabbath double live Past Lives.
7. LIVE HIGHLIGHTS Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 30-minute show at the Palace was a phenomenal demonstration of shamanistic she-power, a giggling feral art-grrrl fronting the Birthday Party, singing the best Joan Jett songs Joanie never wrote. The White Stripes' spectacular performance in their second night at El Rey; The Who, widowed, at the Hollywood Bowl; Mercury Rev, dark-struck, at El Rey; Acid Mothers Temple turning it up to 28 at the Derby; Tony Conrad, Big Star, Merzbow, Califone and Stooges sets at All Tomorrow's Parties; Lift to Experience seamlessly segueing from "Kashmir" into their own grand, desolate work at the Silverlake Lounge; the Hives, the sharpest band alive, at the Roxy; Saccharine Trust and Fatso Jetson going for broke at a free Sunday-afternoon gig at Liquid Kitty; My Morning Jacket at House of Blues; The Soundtrack of Our Lives at the Roxy, at the Point Loma Quality Inn Cactus Rose Saloon and at the Troub; Future Pigeon, an 11-piece ensemble making live dub music so good it grants audience members telepathic powers; Michael Gira, so very alone, at the Derby; the Datsuns, flying the hair at Spaceland; the Kills' intense VU-country-blues battle at the Silverlake Lounge; the Fire Show doubling themselves on each song at Spaceland; the Greenhornes at Spaceland; Peaches & Queens double feature at the Palladium; the secondmen at Spaceland; Paul McCartney at Staples; Andrew W.K. and his Village-People-of-Oi/Slade-Party-Rock band; Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds' searing encore of "Stagger Lee" at the Wiltern; Arthur Lee & Love's impossibly good comeback show at Spaceland.
8. MUSIC TV Scarface's "On My Block" video; P-Funk NBA commercials; Jay-Z, Lenny Kravitz Band and Beyoncé performing together live on SNL; the Courtney Loveathon on MTV2 (whip-smart, flippant, foul-mouthed and flat-out funny as she was eager to get her tits out -- a peroxide Elvira for the VH1 Classic set); Cee-Lo's whimsical "Gettin' Old" video; Hewlett-Packard commercial featuring the Flaming Lips.
9. BUMMERS The continued escalation of concert-ticket and CD prices; Slick Rick's imminent deportation; R.L. Burnside's retirement; Clear Channel; constant, illegal overcrowding of Hollywood music clubs; gangsta rap coming home to roost; and the deaths of Joe Strummer, Dudley Moore, George Harrison, Dee Dee Ramone, earthlings? member/Rancho de La Luna operator Fred Drake, Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay, Stereolab's Mary Hansen and Popul Vuh's Florian Fricke.
GREG BURK'S OVER-30 TOP 10
Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around (American). At his absolute best, sounding like he's saying goodbye. And there are no more where he came from.
Bob Dylan at the Wiltern, October 17. When they didn't kill this guy along with Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin, they made a big mistake. He's the most dangerous of all.
Leni Stern, Finally the Rain Has Come (LSR), and a coupla live shows at Rocco. Her songs made more emotional connection with me than anything else I heard all year, even Johnny Cash. All she had to do was quaver essential thoughts about love, God and her life, and spin fine lines on electric guitar. Really for real.
Matthew Shipp, Equilibrium (Thirsty Ear). Shipp has brought mystery and vitality to jazz. If it weren't for artists like him, future generations would have to learn American improvisation as a dead language.
Brad Mehldau, Largo (Warner Bros.), and at the Knitting Factory, September 26. Ditto for this other pianist, and Largo is evidence of either Shipp's influence or a groundswell of populist jazz that includes modern electronics. Along with Jon Brion, Mehldau even expanded on it live for an elegant presentation that was beyond impressive.
Kristian Hoffman, Kristian Hoffman & (Eggbert), and live at the Derby, July 10. Thank you, Mr. Hoffman, for reminding me what I used to like about pop music.
Westworld, Cyberdreamer (Crush). Heavy pop that flies. It's all about a world-class singer (Tony Harnell) who happens to be a world-class songwriter with a world-class band (Mark Reale & co.). That's a lot, isn't it?
Ozzy Osbourne, Live at Budokan CD & DVD (Epic), and The Osbournes (MTV). I often admire artists I don't understand. And as long as Ozzy keeps rocking this hard and being this funny, I don't wanna understand him. Bonus: The DVD age means I may never have to go to Ozzfest again!
Black Label Society, 1919 Eternal (Spitfire). Zakk Wylde spent a long time in the studio crafting songs and guitar textures for Ozzy's 2001 Down to Earth. The results were too scary for Osbourne, so Wylde just sang on the tracks himself. Everybody wins.
Danzig, 777: I Luciferi (Spitfire). Controlled, relentless darkness and passion. Great song after great song. Forget the muscles and skulls, this is hard-rock music.
MEMORIES: A DECADE'S WORTH
After 10 years at the Weekly (as of March '02 and still counting), these are among the memories that remain.
1992: Mitsuko Uchida plays Schubert's G-major Sonata. The 80-year-old Rudolf Firkusny captivates a Hollywood Bowl audience with a most eloquent piano recital. Death of John Cage. The Salonen era at the Philharmonic begins with his signature tune, the Mahler Third.
1993: MOMA's Cage exhibition; the Cage tributes extend countywide, including Long Beach Opera's Europeras. Paul Hillier's ensemble sings Arvo Pärt at a Historic Site event. György Ligeti comes to town and is properly honored.
1994: Simon Rattle conducts the Mahler Ninth with the Philharmonic; Gregorian chant makes it to the charts. Handel's Xerxes charms an L.A. Opera audience. Van Cliburn's Bowl engagement falls apart midconcert. Alfred Brendel's eloquent Beethoven series at the Music Center doesn't.
1995: Dana Marsh leads his Paulist Choristers in a fresh, revelatory Messiah; Gerald Levinson's Second Symphony: Has the Philharmonic ever introduced a worse piece of "new" music? At the Opera, Peter Sellars relocates Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande to a Malibu beach house, but Salonen's musical leadership makes amends.
1996: Salonen and the Philharmonic conquer Paris; a cruelly exploitative movie called Shine launches the pathetic (but mercifully brief) career of would-be pianist David Helfgott. The L.A. Opera's Italian Girl in Algiers is, says the Weekly, "a garish, overladen, gross concatenation of self-indulgent biz imposed upon a sweet, mild-mannered bel canto comedy."
1997: Salonen's LA Variations earns (and deserves) an ovation at the Philharmonic; so does Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses at the L.A. Opera; so do the first discs in the Salonen/Sony Ligeti series, which is then lopped off short of completion when the bankroller ends up in prison. Polish minimalist Henryk Górecki conducts his Third Symphony at USC.
1998: Salonen conducts Ligeti's Requiem, his challenging choral masterpiece; many leave early. Willem Wijnbergen succeeds Ernest Fleischmann as Philharmonic honcho. UCLA's Royce Hall reopens, after retrofitting, with the Philip GlassRobert Wilson Monsters of Grace, a fiasco. So is Tobias Picker's Fantastic Mr. Fox, a ludicrous entry in the L.A. Opera's agenda.
1999: Santa Monicaborn David Robertson's superb homecoming concert with IRCAM's Ensemble Intercontemporain: Where's he been all our lives? Salonen leads a Finnish invasion at Ojai, culminating in Magnus Lindberg's knock-'em-down Kraft. Willem Wijnbergen departs.
2000: Virtually unknown, the Italian pianist Marino Formenti makes his local debut with a series of killer new-music programs at LACMA and becomes an instant hero. The Brits carry off a successful series of invasions: Simon Rattle at Ojai, Britten's Billy Budd to end Peter Hemmings' tenure at the L.A. Opera, Britten's War Requiem at the Philharmonic, with the phenomenal young tenor Ian Bostridge. The Long Beach Opera's Puccini-Dallapiccola double bill is one more triumph for Michael Milenski's most enterprising of West Coast companies.
2001: The Long Beach Opera's production of Thomas Adès' Powder Her Face is yet another. The Philharmonic's Stravinsky Festival is a marvel of broad-base planning and presentation. A splendid Lohengrin inaugurates the Domingo era at the L.A. Opera; the season also includes Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, with a Berlin ensemble led by Kent Nagano: Only a concert-form presentation, but who'd have believed that this craggy masterwork would make it to L.A. in any form?
2002: Eclectic Orange brings Osvaldo Golijov's La Pasión Según San Marcos to a mostly cheering audience at Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Hall. Michael Milenski resigns. Marino Formenti's stupendous piano recitals outshine all else at Ojai. UCLA begins a rewarding series of multimedia theatrical productions, with Heiner Goebbels' Hashirigaki (Gertrude Stein meets the Beach Boys) and the Robert WilsonTom Waits Woyzeck so far -- and so good!
ERNEST HARDY'S LIST OF EMINEMS
Imitation of Life: One of the richest details in Eminem's vaguely autobiographical film debut, 8 Mile, is sketched by director Curtis Hanson as a toss-away moment. Jimmy (Eminem) comes home from a hard day of being poor and white in Detroit to find his trailer-park mom painting her toenails, watching an old Hollywood weepy on television. The film on the tube is Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life, the classic melodrama about a fair-skinned black girl who tries to pass for white in 1950s America. An essential text for students of race and representation, Imitation is often referred to as the story of a black girl who longs to be white. But as film historian Donald Bogle writes in his critical overview Brown Sugar, the tale is really about "a woman who does not want to be white so much as she wants white opportunities." The factory-employed Jimmy wants the ä same opportunities. So does the Detroit-born Marshall Mathers/Eminem; that's what drives his music and his well-documented fury. It's the point of connection between him and so many of his fans -- regardless of race or class. They just want white opportunities.
The Home and the World: Detroit is a place where resilience and resignation walk side by side in shaping the city's vibe and personality. It's the most American of cities, where the factory assembly line churned out both the metaphor (the automobile) and the reality (blue-collar jobs that offered upward mobility) of this country's most elusive product: freedom. The riots of the late '60s left Detroit with scars that stretch for blocks on end. The residual violence and despair still soak psyches, inflicting traumas America pretends take place only in spots like Beirut or Afghanistan. After the riots, white folk fled Detroit in droves and didn't look back. Eminem is one of their own that they left behind, one whose white skin wrote a check that couldn't be cashed.
Who Am I This Time?: Marshall Mathers performs as Eminem performs as Slim Shady; autobiography is a blueprint covered in Wite-Out and Magic Marker scrawlings -- not even the artist can be trusted to decipher his own shit. While homophobia and misogyny are played for laughs, the music's a blistering soundtrack for reactionaries and bigots, even as "sophisticates" chuckle at his (yawn) anti-P.C. bravery. Mouthpieces from right-wing queer Andrew Sullivan to the relatively progressive Frank Rich at The New York Times have strapped on kneepads and knelt before him. The Village Voice recently trumpeted the headline that 8 Mile was proof that class trumps race -- a lie that Eminem himself has called out many times, readily acknowledging that, were he black, he'd likely sell far less and definitely have far less industry and media support.
Gold Diggers of 2002: But Em has grabbed his white opportunities, and 8 Mile exists to guarantee them. Aside from a dizzyingly accurate capture of Detroit as a bleak backdrop, and a few scorching freestyle battle scenes that rank as some of this year's best film moments, the movie is boring as fuck, a recycling of every underdog flick ever made. Hanson and screenwriter Scott Silver refine the Eminem persona for future consumption, and every charge detractors have leveled against him is countered point by point. Homophobic? Have him defend a gay co-worker against a bigoted colleague. Misogynistic? Have his onscreen girlfriends lie or cheat on him while he doesn't so much as raise his voice, let alone his fists (at least not to them). He's the doe-eyed big brother who cradles his little sister when violence breaks out in the home; he's the only one who really sees the emotional pain of the dimwit in the posse. It's all impressively thorough.
Things To Come: Now held firmly in the loving maw of the machine, Eminem has arrived. Film and rock critics drool over him; disgruntled businessmen yell "bitch" and "faggot" in unison with him while teenage boys drench their scalps in peroxide to emulate him. Eminem is a compelling artist not because of his art or multimedia conquests, but because no other Top 10 artist is as complicated, contradictory and foreboding a sign of the times.
FALLING JAMES' FAVORITE REVELATIONS OF 2002
OutKast, Big Boi & Dre Present . . . (Arista). Big Boi, on the rueful, jubilant bounce "The Whole World": "We in this to replenish the musical wish list."
The return of Love with Arthur Lee. The judicial system coughs up a bitter-free nightingale, poignantly singing those soap-bubble-delicate ballads. "Served my time, served it well. Made my soul a sale."
Listing Ship, Dance Class Revolution (True Classical). Judicious guitar splangs and tufts of clouds glowing with Heather Lockie's serene lighthouse vocals.
Neko Case, Blacklisted (Bloodshot). The mournful soul-tolling of "Deep Red Bells" hypnotizes, like staring at the wall until it turns to glass from tears.
The Ramainz, Live in N.Y.C. (Sanctuary). Remains of the Ramones. Dee Dee's last stand. Scabrously soulful. R.I.P. it up.
Punk's Not Dead Dept.: The Rezillos instigated giddy delirium at the Garage, while the Orphans left a wake of Germs-like wreckage all over town. The Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, the letter bands (X, GBH, TSOL), the Damned and especially the Adolescents delivered their old tunes at the Inland Invasion prison camp with a powerful immediacy that went beyond nostalgia. Yet the angriest and most topical punk rock moments of the year came from Public Enemy, at House of Blues and on the bitter anti-Bush broadsides on Revolverlution (Slam Jamz/Koch).
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More thrills: Manu Chao's live album, Radio Bemba Sound System (Virgin). The Cynics, Living Well Is the Best Revenge (Get Hip). Wire, Read & Burn (Pink Flag), and at El Rey. The Mission of Burma reunion, also at El Rey. RF7, All You Can Eat, Volume II (Grand Theft Audio). Biblical Proof of UFOs, s/t (SuperFi). Radio Vago, Black and White Photo Enterprise (Buddyhead). The Dictators, D.F.F.D. (D.F.F.D.). The Hangmen, We've Got Blood on the Toes of Our Boots (Acetate). Mekons, OOOH! (Quarterstick).
JOHN PAYNE'S 100 MUSICAL BIASES 2002
Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O., In C (Squealer)
John Luther Adams, The Light That Fills the World (Cold Blue Music)
Add N to (X), Loud Like Nature (Mute)
Alizadeh/Kalhor/Shajarian, Without You (World Village/Harmonia Mundi)
Autechre, Gantz Graf (Warp DVD/CD)
Devendra Banhart, Oh Me Oh My (Young God)
Beck, Sea Change (Geffen)
Black Sabbath, Past Lives (Sanctuary)
The Blood Group, Volunteers (Le Grand Magistery)
Pierre Boulez, Welsh National Opera, Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande (Deutsche Grammophon DVD)
Dan Ar Braz, Made in Breizh (Tinder)
Brazzaville, Rouge on Pockmarked Cheeks (South China Sea)
Brokeback, Looks at the Bird (Thrill Jockey)
Guillermo E. Brown, Soul at the Hands of the Machine (Thirsty Ear)
Franklin Bruno, A Cat May Look at a Queen (Absolutely Kosher)
Precious Bryant, Fool Me Good (Terminus)
Linda Burman-Hall, Lou Harrison: Complete Harpsichord Works (New Albion)
Cafe Tacuba, Vale Callampa (MCA)
Johnny Cash, The Man Comes Around (American)
The Nels Cline Singers, Instrumentals (Cryptogramophone)
Gabor Csupo, Kalmopyrin (Tone Casualties)
Chris Cutler & Thomas Dimuzio, Dust (RéR)
Daedelus, Invention (Plug Research)
Miles Davis, The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions (Sony)
DJ Food & DK, Now, Listen! (Ninja Tune)
DJ Me DJ You, Can You See the Music (Eenie Meenie)
DJ Shadow, The Private Press (MCA)
Doves, The Last Broadcast (Capitol)
Brian Ferry, Frantic (Virgin)
Simon Fisher Turner, Swift (Mute CD/DVD)
Vincent Gallo, Recordings of Music for Film (Warp)
Philip Glass, Naqoyqatsi: Life as War soundtrack (Sony)
Rosco Gordon, I'm Gonna Shake It! (Varèse Sarabande)
Gorillaz, Phase One: Celebrity Take Down (EMI CD/DVD)
Glenn Gould, A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations 1955 & 1981 (Sony)
Neil Michael Hagerty, Plays That Good Old Rock and Roll (Drag City)
Harmonica Frank Floyd, The Missing Link (Memphis International)
George Harrison, Brainwashed (Capitol)
Hawkwind, Space Ritual Sundown V.2 (Demi Monde)
Interstellar Chemistry, Bill Horist & K.K. Null (Beta-lactam)
Djansug Kakhidze & Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra, Terteryan: Symphony No. 3 & No. 5 (Beaux)
Edward Ka-Spel, O'er a Shalabast'r Tyde Strolt Ay (Beta-lactam)
King Tubby, The Originator (2B1)
Leo Kottke, Standing in My Shoes (Private Music)
Languis, Untied (Simballrec)
L.A. Phil's performance of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Foreign Bodies at the Music Center
Larsen, Rever (Young God)
The Legendary Pink Dots, All the King's Horses (Soleilmoon)
Jaki Liebezeit and Burnt Friedman, Secret Rhythms (EFA)
Rob Mazurek, Silver Spines (Delmark)
Mecca Normal, The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars)
Brad Mehldau, Largo (Warner Bros.)
Mimi & Boyd, Angular Island (Phthalo)
Sainkho Namtchylak, Stepmother City (Ponderosa)
Non, Children of the Black Sun (Mute CD/DVD)
Augustus Pablo, East of the River Nile (Shanachie)
Arvo Pärt, Orient Occident (ECM)
Sarah Peebles, Insect Groove (Cycling '74)
Phantomsmasher, Phantomsmasher (Ipecac)
Planet X, MoonBabies (InsideOutMusic/SPV)
Elvis Presley, Roots Revolution: The Louisiana Hayride Recordings (Tomato)
Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf (Interscope)
Rapoon + Black Faction, New Cult of the Sun Moon (Soleilmoon)
The Residents, Demons Dance Alone (East Side Digital)
Gyan Riley, Food for the Bearded (New Albion)
Adam Rudolph & Hamid Drake, Hu Vibrational Boonghee Music 1(MetaRecords)
Ruins, Tzomborgha (Ipecac)
Ryuichi Sakamoto, Derrida (Warner Music Japan)
The Sea and Cake, One Bedroom (Thrill Jockey)
The Silverman, Requiem Settings (Soleilmoon)
Simian, We Are Your Friends (Astralwerks)
Sonic Youth, Murray Street (Geffen)
The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Behind the Music (Republic)
Steroid Maximus, Ectopia (Ipecac), and at the Knitting Factory
Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Music From Tomorrow's World (Atavistic)
Super Furry Animals, Rings Around the World (Epic)
John Surman, Jack DeJohnette, Live in Tampere and Berlin (ECM)
Sutekh, Fell (Orthlorng Musork)
Nobukazu Takemura & Katsura Moshino, Sign (Thrill Jockey CD-ROM)
Tanz! With Dave Tarras and the Musiker Brothers (Epic)
Tarwater, Dwellers on the Threshold (Mute)
Asthmus Teichens & Vidna Obmana, The Shifts Recyclings (Soleilmoon)
Richard Teitelbaum, Blends (New Albion)
Steve Tibbetts, A Man About a Dog (ECM)
Amon Tobin, Out From Out Where (Ninja Tune)
Jannick Top/Utopic Sporadic Orchestra, Nancy 75 (Utopic)
Town and Country, C'mon (Thrill Jockey)
Tristeza, Mixed Signals (Rocket Racer)
Twilight Circus Dub Sound System, Dub Plates Vol. 3 (Mrecords)
Niels Van Hoorn, Colours (Soleilmoon)
David S. Ware Quartet, Freedom Suite (Aum Fidelity)
Various Artists, La Musica Della Mafia (PIAS)
Various Artists, None but the Righteous: The Masters of Sacred Steel (Ropeadope/Atlantic)
Various Artists, Pachuco Boogie (Arhoolie)
Various Artists, The Secret History of Rock & Roll vols. 1-4 (Bluebird)
Various Artists, Total Lee: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood (Astralwerks)
Wire, Read & Burn (Pink Flag)
Otomo Yoshihide, Merzbow, Ryoji Ikeda, others, Xenakis: Persepolis Remixes Edition 1 (Asphodel)
Zemoe, El Gallo Bueno (Aagoo)
John Zorn, iAO (Tzadik)