Sending off the Decade: Best of 2002
This post is part 3 of a 10-part series on the music of the past ten years. In Sending off the Decade, Matt Poindexter talks about his ten favorite albums from each year in the 2000’s. For March, he is covering music released in 2002.
Top Ten Albums: 2002
- Songs: Ohia – Didn’t it Rain
DiR should be the first stop for anyone looking to get into Jason Molina’s extensive career: some of the early Songs: Ohia are difficult to start with, and the present-day incarnation of Magnolia Electric comes off as Neil Young karaoke at times. This Steve Albini-produced set of songs is the pinnacle of a strong career. Made up of seven songs that average six minutes a piece, Didn’t it Rain is a study in dark country minimalism and simplicity, full of space. Molina rarely uses more than four chords on his strophic songs, yet they never dull. Easily one of the strongest and most unique records of the past decade.
Favorite song: “Blue Factor Flame”
- The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas
The best set of character studies by popular music’s most talented character creator. All Hail West Texas is as much a collection of short stories as it is an album: In “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” we fall in love with two boys in correctional school. Next, a high school football star is arrested for dealing drugs. A girl falls in love with a boy who rides a yellow and black Kawasaki. These are the people we all went to high school with and lost touch with when we went to college. What are they doing now? Living in John Darnielle’s greatest album. Never before has a set of recordings that it would be gracious to call demo-quality been so loveable.
Favorite song: “Jenny”
- Sigur Rós – ( )
When you’re in music, a gimmick is usually not the best way to have staying power. If you aren’t already, you’ll probably be making fun of Kanye and T-Pain’s autotune in five years. However, occasionally the gimmick allows an artist to get people’s attention before showing the audience what is truly worth seeing beneath it. This is that case. An album with no name, no track names, that is sung in a made up gibberish language. Sigur Rós called attention to themselves in 2002 by removing the things that people usually use to get attention. The end result is a powerful, if critically divisive, album that features some of the most beautiful music (tracks 1 & 3 come time mind) of this Icelandic band’s career.
Favorite song: “Untitled #1 (a.k.a. ‘Vaka’)”
- Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
For the most part, when I hear the name ‘Wilco’ I answer with a resounding, “meh.” The band doesn’t do a whole lot for me, especially most of their post 2002 output. Many think it is sacrilege to leave this album out of the top spot on a list that says, “Best Albums. Ever.” I may not worship at the altar of YHF like some, but I still appreciate it quite a bit. Thanks to Jim O’Rourke’s mixing, the embattled record finds a way to exist as a surprising experiment piece while still sounding enough like pop music to sell over 500,000 copies.
Favorite song: “Poor Places”
- Minus the Bear – Highly Refined Pirates
Combine some guys from from a famous mathcore band with some emo/indie musicians and a producer. What do you get? Minus the Bear’s first record! Never before were fingertapped guitar lines so catchy and danceable. I have a serious love affair with this record – every summer I’ll throw the record on, open the windows, have some drinks with friends, and just enjoy living. Thirty years from now, I’ll be fifty and hear “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” and remember being sixteen and jumping a fence with friends at night to go swimming. It will be a great memory.
Favorite song: “Get me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo”
- The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
The record that finally made Wayne Coyne and his strange band famous. A bunch of dudes from Oklahoma writing songs about robots, Japanese supergirls, lost love. “Do You Realize??” has to be the most wonderful love song to come out of indie rock in the past twenty years. Yoshimi v. Robots is the album Cat Stevens would make if he hit his prime in the late-90’s and started listening to lots of electronica. Yes, that would be a good thing.
Favorite song: “Do You Realize??”
- The Mountain Goats – Tallahassee
The second John Darnielle album of 2002, and the first Mountain Goats studio album, as long as “studio” means “not recorded on a Casio boombox” to you. Since All Hail West Texas is the greatest lo-fi record ever, it makes sense that JD would make some changes for his followup. And if AHWT is like Dubliners, then Tallahassee is like Joyce’s Ulysses. Darnielle’s first album for 4AD finishes the long running story of the Alpha couple, a pair of once happy lovers who now hate each other and only refuse a divorce because they desperately want to make the other break. The beginning of the second great era of The Mountain Goats.
Favorite song: “No Children”
- Pedro the Lion – Control
David Bazan’s 2002 album is eerily similar to John Darnielle’s Tallahassee in many ways. The difference is that Darnielle is wry and employs plenty of dark humor – Bazan is just dark. At least the Alpha couple want something (to break the other person). Much of Control sounds like a dirge, and the most ecstatic moment comes when one song’s character talks of how much he enjoyed cheating on his wife. The bleakness is best represented in the lyrics to the opening track, “Options” – “I would never divorce you / without a good reason / and though I may never have to / it’s good to have options.” And that is before anything has actually happened. Easily 2002’s most depressing (and still great) record.
Favorite song: “Rapture”
- Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle
2002 – the year Sam Beam jumped onto our collective radar with his first full album. Beard-folk was forever changed. I don’t hear the Southernness in Beam’s music nearly as much as most fawning critics do (and I’d like to think I’m a better judge than someone writing from Brooklyn), but Iron & Wine’s early music definitely brings its own aesthetic hard. The best thing about this record – Beam lulls the listener into thinking what is happen is very simple; one take recordings. It is only through multiple listens that the full impact of the self-harmonies and five-time-overdubbed instrumental parts is realized. To make an album that delivers on the first listen and is still revealing little secrets months later is nearly impossible. Beam did it on his first try.
Favorite song: “Bird Stealing Bread”
- The Books – Thought for Food
Another debut release to make the best albums of 2002. Describing The Books is difficult – it’s more than just aleatoric; too much feeling and emotion comes out to be a product of chance. Acoustic guitar and cello mix with samples from across the spectrum. There are elements of classical music, popular culture, hip hop, folk, and noise. Usually, putting all that together would result in a mess. Thought for Food is the exact opposite, feeling calculated and meticulously planned. The feat is as impressive as anything else done during the year.
Favorite song: “All Bad Ends All”