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Sunday, December 23, 2001

My Top 30 albums of 2001

My Top 30 albums of 2001

1. SPOON - Girls Can Tell (Merge) - Spoon make smart, innovative pop songs that sound like nobody else. They merge hauntingly beautiful melodies with jagged riffs and spooky arrangements, topped off with odd, instrospective lyrics. I cannot get these songs out of my head.

2. IDLEWILD - 100 Broken Windows (Capitol) - Idlewild make aggressive, powerful pop songs with lots of noisy guitars the way Husker Du did in the 80's, only updated for modern times and coming from the other side of the Atlantic. I swear this album spent over a month on my car's stereo before I finally started worrying I'd kill the speakers if I kept playing it (it works best loud).

3. MOODS FOR MODERNS - Loud & Clear (Doghouse Records) - This Detroit power pop trio's debut blew me away on the first listen and hasn't let up yet. All the songs have that extra oomph missing in so many recent pop albums. Big guitar chords, stripped down arrangements, powerhouse drumming, and more hooks than a tackle box.

4. SLOAN - Pretty Together (Murderecords) - Sloan are obviously music nerds with a million rock and pop reference points that they can effortlessly infuse into every song. And they do it without sounding derivative of anyone - they just sound like Sloan. This is my fave Sloan album since One Chord To Another, which was one of my favorite albums of the 90s.

5. THE NINES - Properties of Sound ( ? ) - After a three plus year wait, these Canadian popsters return with a diverse album of remarkable pop songs. Imagine Andy Partridge fronting the Velvet Crush, throw in some Beatles For Sale era McCartney and a little Ben Folds Five and you have a good idea what this sounds like.

6. NEIL FINN - One Nil (Parlophone/EMI Australia) - As one of my favorite songwriters ever, Neil is about as reliable as they come. This time the songs are more subtle; low-key numbers rich in texture that seem to grow with each listen.

7. THE ORGONE BOX - The Orgone Box (Minus Zero Records) - Full blown British psychedelia with Sgt Pepper type production and ringing Rickenbackers. It's like the Dukes of Stratosphere times three, Martin Newell times ten.

8. TIM FINN - Feeding the Gods (What Are Records) - When he's focused, Tim Finn makes some incredibly great music, but I don't think he's ever been focused for an entire album - until now. Half the album is comprised of sharp, upbeat guitar driven rockers with monster hooks. The other half is an eclectic mix of odd pop numbers and ballads that bring to mid his earlier solo records and even a bit of Crowded House.

9. ROSENBERGS - Mission: You (Discipline) - Text book power pop in the tradition of 20/20, the Records, Shoes, Posies, Fountains of Wayne, and Sloan. Strong harmonies, punchy arrangements, instantly lovable choruses, and enough Cheap Trick-like muscle in the songs to keep them from becoming precious.

10. COSMIC ROUGH RIDERS - Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine (Poptones) - These Scots sound very West Coast circa 1970 - the more hippy/psychedelic side of country influenced pop scene. You have to mention the Byrds, but I also hear a little CSNY, Jimmy Webb, late 60's Beach Boys, and even a touch of the Las.

11. BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Virgin) - 60% Love and Rockets, 40% Jesus and Mary Chain.

12. THE STRAWBERRY SMELL - Odorama (Rainbow Quartz) - Pyschedelic mod pop from France that sounds like a mix of every era of Britpop, starting with the Who and ending up at Supergrass. Fun, fun, fun!

13. WEEZER - Weezer (Geffen) - The most economical record of the year - not a single wasted riff, melody, chorus, or moment. Ten hook-filled gems in under thirty minutes. Always leave 'em wanting more.

14. NEW ORDER - Get Ready (Reprise) - Good god, did I put a New Order record in my top 20?!? Without deviating much from the "New Order sound", this is their best record since Low-life. It sounds more like a latter day hits collection than a regular album.

15. THE FLETCHER PRATT - Nine By Nine (Rainbow Quartz) - Chunky, high energy 60's style rock out of Detroit  that sounds a bit like the Creation. The vocals and guitar are pure pop rock, but the driving rhythm section gives them a garage edge.

16. YOU AM I - Dress Me Slowly (BMG Australia) Quite simply, You Am I are an Australian rock band that play catchy, potentially mainstream pop rock. But what makes them so special is that they are super tight and the songwriting is consistently stronger than most band's best song.

17. GORILLAZ - Gorillaz (Virgin) - Damon Albarn makes up for two consecutive shakey Blur albums with a brilliant side project with Dan the Automator. One of the few hip-hop/rock/pop mergers that actually works, namely because it actually has a whole album worth of ideas. The fun songs are actually fun, the moody songs really are moody, and I've been told that you actually dance to dancey stuff.

19. THE AUTUMN DEFENSE - The Green Hour (Broadmoor) - Sixties-ish light pop from Wilco bassist John Stirratt. This is a great lazy summer album full of gentle melodies that vaguely bring to mind Love.

20. LINUS OF HOLLYWOOD - Let Yourself Be Happy (Franklin Castle) - 2nd album from one-man band LOH - soft pop/lounge pop recalling everything from Supertramp to Sgt Pepper to Nilson to Peter Ivers to early Todd Rundgren. Extra points for two great covers: a faithful reading of Ozzy's "Goodbye To Romance" and a Smoking Popes song that sounds like it came right out of a mid seventies Holiday Inn lounge.

21. ADAM SCHMITT - Demolition (Parasol) - American pop rock with an emphasis on big guitars and anthematic choruses. After seven years of waiting, Adam delivers.

22. LAPTOP - The Old Me vs the New You (Trust Me Records) - A smart ass with a plethora of synth pop references - like a less funky Beck or a more danceable Eels. His monotone take on Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide Word" gets my vote for coversong of the year.

23. SUPERCHUNK - Here's To Shutting Up (Merge) - The first listen was a little weird - Mac singing, not so much angst, and a pedal steel (!?!), but now it sounds right at home with rest of the Superchunk catalog. They were always about the songs first, and they still deliver solid songs.

24. WEBB BROTHERS - Maroon (Mews 5) - Jimmy Webb siblings mix up catchy retro rock with downbeat hangover ballads. This record would much higher up if there were a one or two more upbeat numbers. Extra points for making the best summer song in ages ("Summer People").

25. DAVID BYRNE - Look Into The Eyeball (Virgin) - I lost my enthusiasm for David Byrne after Little Creatures, but this new one has rekindled why I loved him all those years ago.. He finally gets the right balance of pop melodies, assorted world influences, smart lyrics, and an unrestrained sense of fun. And I just love hearing him sing. This is his most comfortable album ever - nothing seems forced.

26. LIQUOR GIANTS - Up With People (Elastic/BMG Australia) - What kind of screwed up world is it when you have to go to Australia to get an album from one of America's finer pop bands? Americana pop that delves into, jangle, glampop and the three B's of pop (Beatles, Big Star, and the Beach Boys).

27. BURNING AIRLINES - Identikit (DeSoto) - 2nd album from former Jawbox frontman J Robbins - one of the few guys that can consistently make dissonant noise catchy. Sort of an American indierock Catherine Wheel.

28. GUIDED BY VOICES - Isolation Drills (TVT) - GBV manage to continue their long line of seemingly endless little musical gems. Musically they never forge new ground, but they put the chords together in just the right order to always keep my toes tapping. And the lyrics are as whacked as ever.

29. MANIC STREET PREACHERS - Know Your Enemy (Virgin) - I've never cared for the Manics, so I expected nothing from this album. I thought the first song or two were flukes since I enjoyed them, but the next thing I knew the album was over and I really liked the whole thing. Message-wise I don't agree with them most of the time, but musically I right with them this time.

30. PERNICE BROTHERS - The World Won't End (Ashmont) - More fine rootsy pop, but Joe Pernice may be in need of an FTD Tickler gift basket and a hug.