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Sunday, December 29, 2002

My Top 30 albums of 2002

My Top 30 albums of 2002

1   IDLEWILD - Remote Part (EMI UK)
For their third album Idlewild are less punky and a bit more accessible without sacrificing any of the ferocious energy and powerful riffs of 100 Broken Windows. The Idlewild trademarks are all here - anthematic choruses, a forceful rhythm section, gigantic hooks, smart lyrics, and lots of guitar. But the Scots have matured and learned restraint, turning in a few slower songs that somehow still deliver the angst and tension of their earlier rockers.

2   ARLO - Stab the Unstoppable Hero (Sub Pop)
Distinctly American meat and potatoes pop rock with a whole lot of oomph. LA's Arlo don't do anything new, they just do it better than most. Muscular guitars, 60's garage styled songs run through the 2002 indie rock machine, and fun, catchy hooks-o-plenty. Amazingly great follow up to a mediocre debut.

3   OK GO - OK Go (Capitol)
On their debut album, Chicago's OK Go merge skinny tie new wave with power pop and glam with a hint of art rock. They excel at energetic rockers with sing-a-long choruses (and verses!), tight harmonies, punchy guitars, and keyboards right off the first Cars album. But they also succeed at songs with more erratic experimental rhythms and on the slower moody pieces. The band takes chances and seems to always be pushing their limits, usually with stellar results. And having the best song of the year ("Get Over It") doesn't hurt either.

4   MODEL ROCKETS - Tell the Kids (The Cops Are Here) (Not Lame)
Model Rockets sound like Sound of Music era dBs if Chris Stamey stuck around to still sing leads on half of the songs. Produced by Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows) and Kurt Bloch (Fatbacks), the album is full of jangley guitars, carefree lyrics, and an overall sense of summery fun. The Model Rockets venture into Americana without getting country and they touch on mid 60's and early 80's pop without sounding retro.

5   HOT HOT HEAT - Make Up the Breakdown (Sub Pop)
This British Columbia quartet sound like nobody else. They make herky-jerky new wave with manic energy like a crazed Wire or a way-over-the-top Go-2 era XTC. Whirling keyboards, eccentric funk basslines, and angular guitars play second fiddle to the erratic drumbeats and wailing vocals that sound like a totally cut loose Robert Smith.

6   TOMMY KEENE - Merry-Go-Round Broke Down (Spin Art)
Tommy Keene is one of pop's most consistently great artists, always delivering high quality songs with killer hooks. In recent years he's turned up the guitars, and this go round the sound is even bigger, dabbling with horns and keyboards and even throwing in a sixteen minute epic in the middle of the album that fits in perfectly.

7   FOOLS FACE - Fools Face (Fools Face)
Letter perfect, by the book, power pop from Springfield Missouri's great-underrated band, returning after a two-decade absence. They pick up right where they left off, with multi-layered harmonies and crisp pop hooks. This album sounds more like a career spanning singles collection rather than an album from a band that's been away for so long.

8   MILES - Structure Vs Happiness (Feel)
German band that brings to mind a more rocking Teenage Fanclub or a poppier Ride or Swervedriver. Miles make energetic guitar pop with big power chords and head bobbing choruses.

9   MYRACLE BRAH - Bleeder (Not Lame)
Myracle Brah originally started out as a side project for Love Nut's front man Andy Bopp, but has evolved into one of the most consistently interesting pop bands around. Armed with a collection of classic power pop songs, Bopp delivers about half of them as straight ahead pop rockers. For the other half he plays around with the arrangements and production, delving into more dissonant moody pop songs on some and loops on another and acoustic guitar and congas on yet another.

10  THE SHAZAM - Tomorrow The World (Not Lame) 
For their third album Nashville's The Shazam have given in to their rock roots. This is an album of meaty hooks that show influences of UK glam, the Move and early Who with the pop-rock sensibilities of Cheap Trick without sounding like any of those bands.

11  APPLES IN STEREO - Velocity of Sound (Spin Art)
Stripping back their sound, the Apples make a hyper bubblegum garage album of bouncy psychedelic indie rock.

12  JURASSIC 5 - Power In Numbers (Interscope)
J5 write smart hip-hop songs heavily rooted in old school rhythms, and for their second album the pace is kept at a midtempo retro-funk groove. It's been a while since a hip-hop record excited me this much (Product Placement, also featuring master mixologist Cut Chemist), but J5 merge great mixing with a positive vibe and top-drawer vocal interplay.

13  SUPERDRAG - Last Call for Vitriol (Arena Rock) 
A return to form for the Knoxville quartet's fourth album: some big guitar radio-ready rockers, some classic power pop gems, and a few acoustic based numbers thrown in for good measure.

14  MULL HISTORICAL SOCIETY - Loss (Blanco Y Negro) 
Lush Scottish pop that has elements of the Zombies, Beta Band, Badly Drawn Boy, and the melancholy late 60's songs of the Beach Boys. While there are many fine upbeat singles, the album works best as a whole piece. And I'm glad to see that someone else has a healthy Olivia Newton John obsession ("Watching Xanadu").

15  MENTHOL - Danger: Rock Science! (Hidden Agenda) 
A totally re-recorded version of the album they made for Capitol 3 years ago that never saw the light of day. Dipping heavily into the early Devo and Cars bag of tricks, Menthol bring their Midwestern rock back to the 80s with a collection of synth filled retro new wave rock songs.

16  FOO FIGHTERS - One By One (RCA)
For their fourth album the Foos are back on their game after the less-than-stellar last album. They rock harder this time, making Dave Grohl's whisper-to-scream delivery even more dynamic.

17  BRYAN FERRY - Frantic (Virgin)
Bryan's best solo album since...well, it's actually his best solo album. He seems to make references to his entire career without blatantly repeating any particular song or era. I had given up hope on Bryan making another great record, so this album was a welcome surprise.

18  POSSIBILITIES - Way Out (Parasol)
The Possibilities are all over the board, going from a lush Phil Spector-ish epic to somewhat sloppy barroom pop. They appear to be most influenced by the heyday of AM radio from the mid 60s through the mid 70s.

19  JETS TO BRAZIL - Perfecting Loneliness (Jade Tree)
JTB rehash a lot of ideas from their first two albums in a small step backwards. The pace is slowed down a bit (emo-core with more emo, less core) and many of the songs start out fine but go on too long. And would it kill them to at least act like they're having a little fun? A really good album that should have been great.

20  PAUL WESTERBERG - Stereo (Mono) (Vagrant) 
Another guy that I had written off that totally floored me! Armed with his best batch of songs since Tim, Paul tosses off song after song in the same seemingly effortlessly fashion he did in the first decade of his career. I love both albums, but prefer the looser recklessness of Mono.

21  BRENDAN BENSON - Lapalco (Star Time) 
Brendan performs just about everything on this sophomore album (Jason Falkner helps a bit), which is filled with simple, catchy and vaguely rootsy pop melodies.

22  COLDPLAY - A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol)
It took the wonderment of "Clocks" to make me continually return to this album and finally realize that there's more to Coldplay than just "Yellow".

23  DOLEFUL LIONS - Out Like A Lamb (Parasol) 
4th album, even more subdued than past efforts. Veering into orch pop at times, Doleful Lions are always challenging alternative conventions by playing songs that don't belong to any era or movement.

24  SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES - Behind the Music (Universal)
Much hyped Swedish band that actually lives up to the hype. 1970 Detroit sound and melded to early 70's Stones, all with psychedelic grooves.

25  ALEX LLOYD - Watching Angels Mend (Nettwerk)
One of the stronger singer-songwriters out there, Alex is armed with a spectacular voice and a well-crafted bunch of songs. He's one of the few new artists that can tackle emotional depths without sounding sappy.

26  FINE CHINA - You Make Me Hate Music (Tooth and Nail)
American band that sound remarkably close to early 80's Britpop (Chameleons, Smiths, etc).

27  HONEYRIDER - Sunshine Skyway (Orange Sky/Dionysus) 
Light hearted pop from Florida that makes a perfect summer soundtrack, sounding a bit like the Primitives meets the Pooh Sticks with an almost cartoony early Beach Boys element thrown in.

28  DOUG POWELL - The Lost Chord (Parasol)
4th album from Nashville one-man-band and former member of Swag (as well as a well publicized co-hort of Rundgren) - lots of ideas and studio effects wrapped around some fine songs, but I wish he spent a bit less time on the studio showboating and put some more effort on the songwriting.

29  SPOON - Kill the Moonlight (Merge)
4th album from Britt Daniels is a disappointing follow-up to last year's Girls Can Tell (my #1 album of 2001). Many great moments, but unfortunately many unfulfilled ideas and apparently unfinished songs.

30  TOOTHPASTE 2000 - Instant Action (Hidden Agenda)
Seattle pop trio that alternates between male and female lead vocals. His songs are great, hers are good. Produced by Adam Schmitt