The Chinese lunar calendar declares 2003 will be the year of the goat. While this definitely portends danger for many musicians who are currently heroes or heroines in hearts of millions (Kelly Rowland should be very worried), let’s take a moment to look back on what the same calendar called the year of the black horse, 2002. Some musical highlights are described below. In the meantime, let’s all look forward to “American Idol 2”, “Joe Millionaire”, “Star Search: Live!”, “The Bachelorette”, and “Celebrity Mole: Hawaii”, which curiously features no actual celebrities. (Aside to Stephen Baldwin – It’s true. You’re not really a celebrity. Get a real job and leave us alone.)
The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Warner Bros)
Well, it really was the Lips’ year, huh? They followed up the spectacular Soft Bulletin with the artistic, critical and commercial triumph of Yoshimi, an album that explodes like a florescent tube, shattering into a zillion cool facets and handfuls of pixie dust. The band spent summer 2002 co-headlining the Unlimited Sunshine tour, which brought themselves, Cake, De La Soul, and Modest Mouse together for a truly eclectic experience. In the Fall, no less a suzerain than Beck Hansen made the Lips his vassals for an acclaimed jaunt through intimate venues as his support act/back-up band. Finally just this month, rabbit suits and all, the Lips appear in an HP advert with such bizarre luminaries as Penn & Teller, Abe Lincoln, Rachel Hunter, Abe Vigota, and Randy Johnson. Do you realize that in 2002, The Flaming Lips did more than Eminem does in an entire month?!
Mum – Green Grass of Tunnel (Fat-Cat)
Green Grass of Tunnel is reverse-engineered from dream topography. Put it on during nighttime and your bed bugs will hug you. The musings of Icelanders Gunnar Orn Tynes, Orvar Poreyjarson Smarason and twin sisters Kristin Anna and Gyda Valtysdottir, Green Grass is what lies at the windswept junction of IDM Road and Twee Avenue. Bubbling electronics create currents beneath the twins’ cooing vocals; horns and acoustic guitars travel through town occasionally, singing for their supper over laptop rock and Casio loops. The final product is the milky liquid squeezed from a dream, or a gauzy film that grows out of the deck of your CD player, which you gather up and make into a pillow.
Sigur Ros – () (MCA)
In 2002, Christina Aguilera hired assault teams to strafe our culture with her nude image. It was a mission to stop up the bottle and keep the old genie in, so XTINA could burn her own, pierced image on our retinas. Talent? Who needs it. I’ve got tits and I how to use them. Needless to say, Sigur Ros will not be collaborating with XTINA/Christina in 2003. Concerned not with actual images but the after-image, () is an untitled album containing untitled songs, featuring a man singing unknown words in a language of his own creation. It’s music built out of the sunlight that hits your closed eyelid, light which creates hot images of the kind neither Christina or her alter-ego can. Feel the heat? It’s not drrrty. It’s combustion occurring between the soaring heights and cool valleys of ().
The Streets – Orginal Pirate Material (679/Warner Bros.)
Mike Skinner chews up the scenery of his urban UK existence and spits it out as lyrics and flow. While it works within the context of 2-Step, Original Pirate Material just as easily builds rhymes around Drum n’ Bass or the deconstructed percussion of the RZA. It’s an incredible record for its lyrics (“No sales pitch, no media hype/ No hydro, it’s nice and ripe/I speak in communication in bold type”), but also for what it says about youth culture in the 21st century, UK or otherwise. Skinner’s Geezer character – the everyday lout – is as happy getting pissed at the pub as he is playing playstation or boasting about skills. He’s an amalgam of every kid today, and he’s a great character to build a great record around.
Sleater-Kinney – One Beat (Kill Rock Stars)
In a year that saw rock replace pop at the top of the charts, It was the emergence of the girl-with-guitar troubadour may have been the most refreshing shift. Michelle Branch, Avril Levigne, and even Pink picked up guitars and replaced backup dancers with backing bands, to varying degrees of success and legitimacy. In August, Portland’s Sleater-Kinney released One Beat, their finest work yet, and perhaps unwittingly (but certainly more deservedly than some of the others included) were tabbed by Rolling Stone to appear in their “Women In Rock” feature. It was funny. Many of the artists featured might have been known more by a savvy media blitz or for the occasional low-rise hem. S-K’s Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Janet Weiss had already established themselves as defiantly political, uncompromisingly indie, and ultimately rockable. In many ways, all the other girls that picked up guitars in 2002 were only just arriving at the show Sleater-Kinney’s been headlining for over 10 years. And One Beat is their best set yet. A dynamic meeting of power-pop, furious punk energy, and audacious nods to new wave and sixties-style pop, the record is shatteringly powerful vocally even before you listen to Weiss’ inventive drumming or the twin guitars of Brownstein and Tucker. Sheryl and Shakira may be strange fellow travelers for a band on Kill Rock Stars, but there’s no doubt this girl group deserves every accolade they receive. And besides, when all those other girls go to sleep at night, they cower in fear knowing that Sleater-Kinney is a better band than they’ll ever be.
The Mooney Suzuki – Electric Sweat (Gammon)
They toured through my town twice in 2002, which means you likely had a chance to see them where you live, too. What’s the matter, you stayed in that night because you were the only one besides Matt and Ben to watch the premiere of “Push, Nevada”? You made a mistake, captain. “Push” is over. The Mooney Suzuki has only just begun. Coming out of New York City with a signature cocktail of raucous garage energy and spectacular showmanship, The Mooney Suzuki does not disappoint with their recorded output. Electric Sweat finds the band crawling into a young man’s mind and finding – what else? – a simple world populated by rock and roll music and a lot of girls. They channel Buddy Holly or the Everly Brothers on “Sweet Susanna”. And they mash up early Who with Them for a few instrumentals, captured perfectly by Jim Diamond at Detroit’s Ghetto Recorders. Looking for the soundtrack to your next Twister party? Electric Sweat‘s your bag.
Mirah – Advisory Committee (K)
Liz Phair chose to take another year off in 2002. Lucky for us, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn is around to happily take her place. Like Phair’s, Mirah’s music is a trembling mixture of love, longing, kiss-offs, and most of all, sex. Unlike Liz’s rock chick posturing, Mirah’s instrumental surroundings lean more towards toy pianos, folky strums, and tasteful forays into low-rent electronica. But it’s her voice that grabs you. On Advisory Committe, it’s an instrument all its own, portraying fragility or NC-17 notions of doing the deed without pretense or the need to play dress-up. To be sure, it’s an emotionally arresting album, as we are listening to a woman’s thoughts and desires laid bare, without the security blanket that a less talented producer would erect between she and us. Luckily, Advisory was produced by The Microphones’ Phil Evrum, who understands where reverb does and does not belong. It’s to both Evrum and Mirah’s credit that the record never overwhelms the listener with emotion; rather, its’ pretty, often playful melodies further endear us to Mirah as she lets it all hang out.
Spoon – Kill The Moonlight (Merge)
Toiling in obscurity and/amidst major label jerk-arounds since their 1996 debut, Austin’s Spoon in 2002 finally garnered acclaim outside the conjoining circles of critical back-slapping and fawning indie snobbery. Kill The Moonlight is a spectacular pop album, entirely accessible while it presents its intelligent, often ascerbic bursts of songcraft. Comparisons to The Pixies or Wire have hounded the band since its inception, and they still hold true on Moonlight. But main Spoonman Britt Daniel has really started to get his Jonathan Richman on lately, with his heartsick growl and witty, biting lyricisms that sound like everything you wish you would’ve said after slamming the door and leaving her apartment.
Singles of the year
Eminem, “Lose Yourself”
There was Eminem, as embattled, conflicted, aspiring Detroit rapper Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith, staring at the camera with his lucid blue eyes. “If It’s gonna happen, it has to happen now.” You didn’t have to see 8 Mile to recognize the urgency in the statement. The ad for the film continued, building to a shot of Rabbit on stage at The Shelter, a sea of faces and hands grooving in the music, the moment. “Lose Yourself” is a classic single that captures the urgency of the song’s lyrics with its menacing guitar line. Eminem’s alternately self-flagellating/empowering rap drives pedal to the metal. Verses jump all over choruses, words tear at each other, fighting for time on the mic. In its portrayal of a man driven against the wall by his own desire for success, “Lose Yourself” is a masterpiece of not only 8 Mile marketing, but as a mirror for Eminem’s own bruised and battered battle to the top of the Hip Hop heap.
DJ Sammy ft. Yanou & Do, “Heaven”
Whenever I see images of the enormous beachfront dance clubs in Ibiza, Majorca, or other exotic locales, I can’t help but think of the action as occurring on another planet. The club is always a sci-fi production designer’s wet dream. Bubble machines, swirling lights, aquariums, and queen-sized waterbeds dominate; platforms hang from the vaulted ceilings, adorned with humanoid beings who pogo madly to mind-numbing Eurohouse at 138bpm. It looks like the dance club on Andromina: The Pleasure Planet, with balloon animal fashions that suggest prom night, 2029. Keep ’em coming, Gleep-Glop. This is the DeepSpace nightmare that washes before my eyes each time I hear the creepy synth intro to DJ Sammy’s Trance cover version of Bryan Adams’ simpering 1983 power ballad. I swear DJ Sammy has attached some sort of evil dance of death tractor beam weapon to his synthesizer, and has discovered the evil method by which he can transpose its beam through our radios and into our cars, as we sit in gridlock with nowhere to run. Damn that evil genius DJ Sammy, and his monosyllabic collaborators Yanou and Do. Damn them!