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Friday, January 11, 2002

Jim Connelly's Faves For 2001

Neumu's Michael Goldberg writes: Hey, what could I do? Just when I really thought we were finally done with the "best-of" lists, what happens? My man Jim Connelly sends one in. So, while I think this is the last list we'll run 'til it's time to consider the albums of 2002, it just might not be. And without further rambling, here is Neumu contributing editor Jim Connelly's take on the music of 2001.

Jim Connelly writes: It was an impossible year to define. It started with the destruction of a virtual country and ended with the destruction of a real one. I think, musically, it was the best we've had in several years, though I'm really not prepared to defend that because it was such a fucked-up year on a personal level: first off, I got caught up in the dot-com wreckage for several months, and just as things were looking up for me, the entire world changed. Literally: I had my first interview at my new job at 8:30 a.m. on Sept 12.

So while I think it was a better year for music, the fact that the zeitgeist was so terrible might have made it seem better: music's always been a comfort and solace, and doubly so during the bad times. So here's my list and some comments.

1. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia): It really isn't any wonder that the old reprobate's best album in 25 years is his funniest and scariest in 35. He's seen the apocalypse, and goddamn, is it funny. Conventional wisdom has always said that almost dying in 1966 is what took the edge from him — that maybe he needed to slow down and see the roses or whatever — so how ironic is it that almost dying in 1997 seems to have given it it back? Message: I used not to care, but things have changed.

2. Whiskeytown, Pneumonia (Napster): What I mean here is the version that was available from Napster: a perfectly sequenced set of songs that flowed from start to finish. (Which, BTW, also "came" with at least a whole disc's worth of outtakes and demos.) The import version, if you will. Imported from the first country ever to suffer a coup d'etat from the RIAA. And there is no question that if the album had come out here in that Napster configuration, all of the lukewarm reviews would have been raves. While comparing it to what happened to the UK Beatles albums in the 1960s is pure heresy, and an imperfect analogue, it hints at what got lost in the final recording. What finally came out on Lost Highway is still full of great songs, but misses key tracks like "All Choked Up" and "Tilt-a Whirl," and just doesn't quite cohere as an album. Too bad. And with Adams concentrating full-tilt on his new music, Whiskeytown will no doubt just end up a sad legend. Which, after all, just might be what Ryan Adams wants.

3. Pete Yorn, musicforthemorningafter (Columbia): While I'm still a sucker for the beauty of songs like "June," "Closet" and "Sleep Better," even a sucker like me is getting sick of all of the promotional firepower Columbia is using to try to foist Yorn on an indifferent public. The low list price is one thing, but the bus stop ads, free T-shirts, live recordings, etc. — it's all too much. Hell, supposedly, they've even gone so far as to introduce him to Winona Ryder. My question: if they actually ever do break him big, will the second album also sell for under $10?

4. Guided by Voices, Isolation Drills (TVT): Robert Pollard's strategy remains the same: record everything that his muse spews up. Lately, though, he puts the songs that were written 15 minutes after they were recorded on his Fading Captain Series of solo projects; while there is the occasional gem ("Pop Zeus!") on those records, they are mostly for the hardcore fans. Because he still has dreams of rock 'n' roll glory, he puts the great stuff on the GBV records, and Isolation Drills is full of it. Songs like "Fair Touching," "Glad Girls," and "Run Wild" are the shit, all full of chunky guitars, rumbling drums (courtesy of ex-Breeder Jim McPherson, one of the great drummers of our time), sing-along melodies, and, as an extra added bonus, lyrics that nearly make sense! It also feels darker then their previous records; when celebrated onstage beer-chugger Pollard stops to ask "How's My Drinking?" you not only get sense that while he still dreams of rock 'n' roll glory, it's also beginning to seep into his nightmares.

5. The Velvet Underground, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 The Quine Tapes (Polygram): As I start seeing 40 dead ahead, I sometimes wonder if my life was more cursed by rock 'n' roll than saved: that the life-long commitment to bohemianism it instilled in me in a early, tender age has made things more difficult for me in the long run. And, every time I hit the wall during that long run, something like this comes along and saves me once again.

6. Ryan Adams, Gold (Lost Highway): Cruising around with my best friend Tim, listening to the extended coda of "Nobody Girl," we were time-warped to digging similar songs by Neil Young and the Rolling Stones during our late-'70s teenage years, and could only wonder if (and hope that) current 17-year-old rockboys will find him past all the nu-metal, emo and hip-hop that dominates their lives. It would be great if his inadvertent anthem actually broke him, but somehow, I doubt it.

7. Old 97s, Satellite Rides (Elektra): Alt-Country purists might decry Rhett Miller's inevitable descent towards writing rock songs even more than Jeff Tweedy's and Ryan Adams' — the former always was a careerist and the latter always a fuck-up (though, this year, it's actually the other way around), but Miller was one of their great hopes, and probably could have continued to ride their early country-punk sound for at least a few more albums. That all changed on 1999's Fight Songs, the rare transition album that was solid from start to finish. Satellite Rides sounds even more confident: it's impossible to deny songs like "Buick City Complex" and "Designs on You," and when Miller stops the album dead in its tracks to ask the "Question," there's no doubt about the answer.

8. Radiohead, I Might Be Wrong (Capitol): I know that most people will pick Amnesiac, and more power to 'em. But I love the focus they bring to the arrangements of these songs, and when the guitar kicks in in "Morning Bell," this takes off, cruising through definitive versions of "Idioteque," "Dollars and Cents" and most especially the ultra-spooky "Everything in its Right Place."

9. The Strokes, Is This It (RCA): Yes, they are too pretty. No, they aren't too hyped (not compared to Michael Jackson or Britney or even Pete Yorn). Yes, the production is awful. No, they don't sound like Television or even Lou Reed. (The guitars remind me of That Petrol Emotion, of all people, and the white-boy rock 'n' roll soul rhythms remind me of late-period Jam.) There is no way, of course, that any band could withstand the hopes and dreams and attention of a million frustrated rockers looking for the next great band to lead us to the nirvana of a pop scene where a great rock 'n' roll band has the attention of the world. The idiots of the year, of course, were the indie purists who dismissed the band without hearing a note, but if 2001 taught us anything, it taught us that purists of any persuasion should be exposed for the narrow-minded idiots that they are. And where does that leave the Strokes? With a debut album that feels like just the beginning.

10. Preston School of Industry, All this Sounds Gas (Matador): It's always sad when an era-defining band breaks up, but at least from the wreckage of Pavement, we get two great solo debuts, each of which is more committed than their next record would have been. While Steven Malkmus got most of the buzz, I prefer this one. "Don't you want to follow the sun?" chants the once and future Spiral Stairs early on, and that pretty much defines the sunny shambling vibe he cooks up here: looser than any Pavement record since Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, while sounding like it could have come after Terror Twilight.

Honorable Mention

R.E.M., Reveal (Warner Bros.)
Steve Wynn, Here Come the Miracles (Blue Rose)
Radiohead, Amnesiac (Capitol)
Stephen Malkmus, Stephen Malkmus (Matador)
New Order, Get Ready (Reprise)
Sparklejet, Bar Guest (DynoGroove)


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