Much like the past few years, 2000 produced few records worthy of the coveted top-10 status. Which is why, as you'll notice, I have listed only nine super-duper, blows-your-glitter-eye-shadow-off, bringing-it-to-the-grave releases, instead of 10. Honestly, I couldn't come up with 10. Could I really, in good conscience, list Toni Braxton's The Heat? Sure, I like those man-hater songs, but are they enough to make the leap from Decent Album by a Commercial Artist to Album Standing Next to Radiohead in Greatness? [ed. note: Uh, sure. Why not?] So, here it is: the stuff I love unconditionally, till death do us part, and even after the artist is exposed for lip-synching onstage.
Nelly Furtado, Whoa, Nelly! (DreamWorks): Sounding like a cross between Lauryn Hill and Rosie Perez, Nelly Furtado's first single, "Party's Just Begun," graced the Brokedown Palace soundtrack last year, and was a foregleam of an entire album of beat-happy, hip-pop songs. On her debut album, the young, multi-lingual Furtado sings, scats, and raps her way through the clever production stylings of a duo named Track and Field. Whoa, Nelly! boasts an ethnic, Latin-tinged flair that goes down smoother than a margarita.
Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol): Not as brilliant as OK Computer, but still emotive and pleasantly strange.
Grandaddy, The Sophtware Slump (V2 Records): Not as brilliant as OK Computer, but close. Grandaddy doesn't want to be Radiohead, but the analogy is inevitable. They both immortalize a fear of technology gone awry, have a finger on the meager pulse of hopelessness, and emerge with sad songs that make you happy. The Sophtware Slump also benefits from the occasional amped-up, Weezer-like riffs that ripple the waves of despair just enough to get you jumping.
Badly Drawn Boy, The Hour of Bewilderbeast (XL Recordings): One British guy (Damon Gough) making folk-pop interesting without being as weird as Neutral Milk Hotel. Badly Drawn Boy's strength is in the clean and catchy arrangements. On The Hour of Bewilderbeast, he sounds a bit like a post-Beatles George Harrison substituting thoughtful introspection for Hare Krishna. In the album's finest, jauntiest song, "Once Around the Block," Gough tells of a girl "running to lose, heart on your sleeve and your sole in your shoes." Pretty clever, I thought.
Bis, Music for a Stranger World (Wiija): Bis seem to make the cut with every album because, well, they just keep getting better. Stranger World is a hip, dance-ready mini-album that never suffers from cloying house beats. It's like the soundtrack to a very spirited, very Scottish video game. Completely synthetic but fun, Stranger World bites you harder than your neighbor's pit bull.
Five Style, live at Good Records, May 15: Five Style's performance at Good Records was a hearty funk fest, made brilliant by four exceptional musicians, recalling Booker T. & the MGs in terms of pure blue-eyed soul, R&B to move your hips. The instrumentalists also incorporate marimba, adding an air of tropicalia to their perfected groove. Filling in for John Herndon, Ryan Rapsys of Euphone kicked and pounded like a funk pro, fast and upbeat. There's nothing lethargic about this so-called "post-rock" ensemble. No egos, no theatrics, but talent by the truckloads--this performance was the best all year.
Euphone, Hashin' It Out (Jade Tree Records): See Five Style. Euphone is yet another member of Chicago's tightly knit post-rock scene--ever notice that good musicians flock together? Ryan Rapsys guest-drummed on Five Style's tour, so why shouldn't Five Style's Jeremy Jacobsen and LeRoy Bach guest star on Rapsys' main project? Hashin' It Out is a pleasant trip through jazzy grooves and up-tempo experimentation.
Pram, Museum of Imaginary Animals (Merge Records): If Tim Burton formed a group it would be only half this sweet and nightmarish. Pram has always been kooky, but Imaginary Animals is exotic and funky, combining wah-wah guitar, vintage organs, Theremin, and the detached, otherworldly vocals of British enchantress Rosie Cuckston. Best summed up with a phrase from "The Owl Service": "Ill-defined, the creatures in your dreams."
Tripping Daisy, Tripping Daisy (Sugar Fix/Good Records) Capping off a nine-year career and eulogizing a lost member (guitarist Wes Berggren), the Daisy produced a self-titled departure from their usual pop offerings. The surround sound, sing-alongs still appear ("Kids Are Calling," "Soothing Jubilee"), but they are tempered with hushed, thoughtful turns like the sleepy, rumbling "Drama Day Weekend." Drummer Ben Curtis deserves a special shout-out for his contribution, "Halo Comb," the most fantastic rock-drummer invention since, well, anything. It's odd: Even though this album was mostly recorded before Berggren's untimely death, it actually sounds like an album about him, in that it confronts the joys of life but hints at impending doom. Until the candid hidden track, that is.
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