A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Friday, December 21, 2001

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR - 2001

List Note: The list is in no particular order--I didn't get organized enough to present them that way, so don't be alarmed if you think a certain disc is "better" than one that is higher up on the list.

1)Tool; Lateralus/Tool Dissectional-Volcano Records: The "thinking fan's" metal band re-surface after five years of legal wrangling and a Maynard side-outing ("A Perfect Circle"). The music dominates on this one instead of the lyrical content like on their past albums ("Undertow"/"AEnima")...and much has been said about Maynard using his best lyrics in A.P.C. but I think that works to the band's advantage. The lyrics are more oblique, with references to various colors and phrases like "watch the weather change"--while the rest of the band create near-ambient soundscapes to fill in the gaps. Oh sure, they've provided some of the old piss n' vinegar/skull-crunching power chords so the old fans can still follow the plot ("The Grudge" and "Ticks And Leeches"--my vote for the album's weakest track) but then it veers off into King Crimson territory, which I'm positive didn't set well with the baseball cap/goatee/mook set. That's alright, though, they still have Linkin Park and Cold and that shite for their mindless testosterone-fuelled adventures. Tool are still going to do things their way, no matter how many mooks decide they don't want the records or to go to the shows, and that's cool with me.

2) Kate Rusby; Little Lights/Pure-Compass Records: Folk is a genre that I can't listen to for hours and hours and still hear something new in the music, because acoustic guitars have a strange habit of sounding the same after a while. Folksingers, no matter how different their pitch of voice or lyrical content, start sounding the same also. I always liked that David Lowery/Cracker lyric "...what the world needs now is another folk singer/like I need a hole in my head...". Kate Rusby is an English folkie who is credited with nearly single-handedly reviving the genre in her homeland over the past five years or so--this is good or bad depending on your opinion. I like Kate's records because I like her voice and she really keeps her repertoire honed down to the basics--traditional English and Irish folk songs given a good dusting with her voice and gee-tar. They sound as I would imagine they sounded when first performed, that's how authentic this bird's voice is. Her originals, though not as lyrically deft as the trad. stuff, still have an appeal of their own and she performs a stunning cover of Richard Thompson's Withered And Died, that almost sounds more melancholy than the original (though Richard and Linda still hold the crown). She keeps things in a trad. vein and doesn't try to get too topical or too current, so the material won't sound dated in a few years (not a "Free Mumia" lyric in sight). "Little Lights" is her latest--but I would also recommend Sleepless (from 1999) and Hourglass (from 1997), both are excellent.

3) Orbital; The Altogether/FFRR-London Records: You knew this would be here, dintcha? The Hartnoll brothers return with another set that lacks the epic scale of their last one (The Middle Of Nowhere) but is a winner nonetheless. The press reviews were mixed and some of the criticism was deserved. Still, this is a dance act that construct albums like a guitar/bass/drums band does--then they pack up their home studio and bring it on the road for live shows! They conceive albums as a whole, not a collection of dancefloor hits or a continuous DJ mix--virtually no-one else is doing that, aside from The Orb or Electric Skychurch. I'll be sad when Orbital finally calls it quits, but 'till then, I can savor another album by them. The highlights are Tension, with it's "Surfin' Bird" sample and wiggy keyboard riffs. Oi!, a funky "git-down" jam with an Ian Dury sample and Tootled, an hommage to the hard-edged Detroit techno sound with a sample from Tool's 1993 cut, Sober. Doctor ? is a breakbeat version of the classic Doctor Who TV theme and Funny Break (One Is Enough), the single culled from the record. If you waited for the domestic version, you got a bonus disc of B-sides and unreleased tracks. I bought the import, then hit the store again for the domestic one--just for the bonus disc. It pays to wait sometimes but I'm an Orbital junkie and I had to score--and score I did!! If you want more info on Orbital, check out their website.

4) The Beta Band; Hot Shots II/Astralwerks-Regal Records: I thought these guys were finished when a whole year went by and not even an EP from them. They crashed into cult status with The 3 EPs (Dry The Rain, one of the tunes, was featured in High Fidelity) and with their self-titled full-length debut (which the band reportedly hated after hearing the final master recording). They released one further single, For You Alone/Sequinsizer, and then nothing...and more nothing (aside from a one-off project, King Biscuit Time). Then in April of this year, they drop "Hot Shots II" and almost hit the bleedin' mainstream! It's a good record--the arrangements are tighter and they sound like they're having fun in the studio again. I like the first record too and I wouldn't say this one's better--just different. They hired a hip-hop producer to man the soundboard and the production has a cleaner, crisper feel to it. But even with that, it's still the wacky Beta Band at heart--with lyrical references to pizza pies and lines like "..miles and miles of squares/where's the feeling there.." and those medieval/Gregorian chant vocal breaks. Last but not least, the album title, sharing honors with a lame Charlie Sheen action-movie spoof. My favorite track is Human Being, which combines the best of the first album and "Hot Shots.." It's got the pastoral, mellow beginning--all the twists and turns of a Betas jam and ends with a full-on electric wall-of-sound. The Scots and Welsh are out-quirking the English this year--and it's a good thing, too!!

5) Gorky's Zygotic Mynci; How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart/Beggar's Banquet-Mantra Records: Speaking of Welsh quirkiness--my fave Welsh psych/prog/folk-rockers released a new one this year, too. "How I Long..." continues their folk-rock forays like their previous couple (Spanish Dance Troupe and The Blue Trees) of albums. New Musical Express gave it a thrashing, calling Gorky's "hobbit botherers" and lamenting the fact that the lyrics avoid the harshness of reality. Well, I love the Gorkys and I'm definitely buying into their particular brand of escapism--you know, all the ethereal, pastoral stuff along with a healthy dose (pardon the pun..heh heh) of luv luv luv. If that makes me a "hobbit botherer", so be it. I just wish they could synthesize their older, zany psych/prog incarnation with their new, maturing folk-rock selves--that would be heavenly! Still, songs like Her Hair Hangs Long and Megan Childs' (Megan Childs...yum yum..(drool)...) showcase tune, Can Megan are instant Gorky's classics in my book. Some guy calling himself "Gorky Critic" on their website complained of plagarism, specifically that "Can Megan" had ripped-off an obscure Monkees tune. Um...O.K., she stole a Monkees tune...yup, I'm waiting for the Davy Jones/Mike Nesmith lawsuit. Anyway, this is one of my favorite records of the year--so go buy it already!!!