01 November 2010

Top Albums: 2002

{ In April of 2002 Avril Lavigne announced her psuedo-punk presence with her massive hit single "Complicated" and then released "S8kr Boi" in October for her second number one single. Graham Coxon left (kicked out?) Blur. Kelly Clarkson won American Idol, Christina Aguilera went "Dirrty," and R. Kelly was charged with 21 counts of having sex with a minor. But, in spite of these pop-culture horrors, there were some fantastic albums released in 2002. }

The first obvious thing about this list is that I'm going to miss a few major albums that were released in 2002.

I've grown to love Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips but I don't really remember giving the album much love (aside from the singles) until a number of years after 2002. Same thing with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco. I didn't get into Wilco until much later (and I'm glad I did).

A shocking - depending on whose side you're on - omission on this top five list might be ( ) by Sigur Ros. This could be a controversial statement to some, but I didn't have a huge desire to listen to them after their brilliant record Ágætis byrjun. And, quite honestly, I haven't really gotten into ( ). I'm sure it's a great album but I haven't really put in too much time with the record. Yet.

Here are my top five albums of 2002:

5. Thievery Corporation - The Richest Man In Babylon

This album was released on my birthday but this is only part of the reason why I love this album.

The Richest Man In Babylon is the perfect soundtrack to hot, humid summer days. And even in the dead of winter, you can raise the temperature by a few degrees.

I've waxed a bit poetic in a previous post.

But this isn't just a background music album, there are some wonderful soundscapes created by the Washington D.C. duo. The record blends jazz, reggae, hip-hop, Indian and Middle Eastern vibes and creates a sexy downtempo album.

4. Coldplay - A Rush Of Blood To The Head

Sure, sure, by now you're sick of this Coldplay record.

Songs like "In My Place," "The Scientist" and "Clocks" have permeated every inch of pop and rock radio, music television stations, films, commercials, and mix CDs to sweethearts.

But there's no question that this record rocks.

Rocks? Well, relatively speaking, this is a rocking record for Coldplay. In fact, I keep wishing that Coldplay could make an album that rocks like this.

Their debut album Parachutes was a fine record but a bit too mellow for my tastes. On A Rush of Blood to the Head Coldplay kicks it up the notch and puts a bit more punch, power and pace to their soft-rock tunes.

"In My Place" probably does have one of the best hooks in rock 'n' roll and if you hear some live versions of this song, lead guitarist Jonny Buckland really puts some grit and overdrive into the riff.

I have mixed feelings about their subsequent records (X&Y and Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends) but A Rush... is still a favorite of mine. Even if it is played out.

3. The Streets - Original Pirate Material

In March of 2003, NME declared that Original Pirate Material was the 46th best albums of all time. In 2009, NME announced that the album was the 9th best album of the decade. Observer Music Monthly hailed Original Pirate Material as the best album of the decade.

English rapper Mike Skinner's debut is indeed an amazing album.

Not surprisingly, this record went over the heads of much of the American audience. Let's be honest here, the album is a bit too English for many American hip-hop lovers. Skinner's observations and rhymes are just as clever as the Jay Z's and the Kanye West's of the world but I'm not entirely sure that American audiences can really take Skinner's accent seriously.

And I'm not sure that the two-step vibe of UK Garage really translated well with American audiences either. And, besides, Americans probably already got their fill of UK Garage anthems with Craig David's hit song "Fill Me In" back in 2000.

No matter. Original Pirate Material does indeed stand as one of the best albums of 2002.

2. The Libertines - Up The Bracket

Ignore all the drama and hubbub surrounding lead singer/songwriter Pete Doherty (did you know it's pronounced Dock-her-tee? It's Irish.). His problems have been well-documented but if it wasn't for his lifestyle and his collaboration with the amazing Carl Barât, we wouldn't get a masterpiece like Up The Bracket.

Like Original Pirate Material, this Libertines record does suffer from being far too English for American audiences.

It also suffers from the fact that to American audiences, The Libertines seemed like it was just riding in on the garage-rock revival wave behind The White Stripes and The Strokes. So, perhaps the true class of this album was overlooked.

To me, Up The Bracket easily surpasses Is This It in quality.

The Libertines music is just more "punk" to me which is why this record always appealed more to me than the hipster-cool of Is This It or the blues/country-based inspiration in White Blood Cells. The Libertines and Up The Bracket conjures up images of working-class lads, downing pints of lager, taking copious amounts of drugs and writing about love and life in a raw effort reminiscent of The Clash. Not surprising considering Up The Bracket was produced by Clash guitarist Mick Jones.

I don't want to start a class war here, but let's be honest here, the kids in The Strokes are rich and the lads in The Libertines weren't necessarily from wealthy backgrounds.

That's why Up The Bracket just feels more "real" to me and the blend of aggressive energy, beautiful melody and smart and even poetic lyrics have made Up The Bracket an incredibly influential album in my own creative life.

1. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights

Only Turn On The Bright Lights could keep Up The Bracket from being the best album of 2002.

I remember buying this album at Tower Records in San Diego soon after this album was released. It was a classic way in which one stumbles upon an album at a record shop. Even at a mega-chain like Tower. It was the days when I still browsed rows and rows of albums to find one where the artwork or the name of the band looked cool. It was a time when employees (ones that you felt actually knew what they were talking about!) would scribble recommendations and paste them on to the plastic name-cards that divided the artists.

And purely based on that recommendation (it probably said something about Joy Division), I bought Turn On The Bright Lights.

I don't think a lot of people buy records like that anymore.

{ Interpol - "PDA" }

What filled my ears was simply stunning. The Ian Curtis-esque baritone of Paul Banks and the thick wash of reverb from guitarist Daniel Kessler and the steady and powerful rhythm from Carlos D (bass) and Samuel Fogarino (drums) was jaw-dropping.

The mix is just right. The open atmosphere of the record is reined in nicely without losing any of its open and epic quality and the tight, punchy rhythms from the bass guitar and the drums ties everything together and creates steady foundation for the thick layers of guitars and riffs.

Turn On The Bright Lights is probably one of the best American indie-rock albums of all time. Certainly one of the best indie-rock albums released since the beginning of this decade.

I had the pleasure of seeing Interpol at a tiny show in Santa Monica and the songs from this album still sound just as good and feel just as fresh.

This record still gets regular spins on the Pet Bear Sounds hi-fi and - eight years later - Turn On The Bright Lights truly stands the test of time.

2002 Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
  • The Chemical Brothers - Come With Us
  • Doves - Last Broadcast
  • Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  • Oasis - Heathen Chemistry
  • Royksopp - Melody A.M.

{ Give this incredible reverb-drenched album a listen.
It's one of the best American indie-rock records of all time. }

Please be sure to read my post explaining this little project and, more importantly, the criteria that I'm using. Thanks!