For a year thick with reissues and cover albums, 2000 yielded some damn good music. There wasn’t always the time or space to review it all, but we here at Manhattan Music tried to keep tabs even as our significant others became enraged at the amount of precious apartment space our CD collections were occupying.
Well, with the new year looming (cue the Starbaby!), we’ve searched through those precarious piles of cracked plastic jewel boxes one more time to find our favorite discs of 2000. The criteria were threefold: The picks had to be album-length works of new music that had been released in the year 2000. Once the choices were compiled, they were broken down into two lists. The first contains 15 albums that defined the year in music. Here, an effort was made to represent a wide spectrum of sounds encompassing rock, rap, soul, electronic, dance, world, jazz and country music.
The second, “The Rest of The Best,” is an alphabetical list of more personal choices from the writers who have contributed to Manhattan Music over the last year. If you can’t find something you like in this list, then may we suggest Peristaltic Sounds in Gastrointestinal Obstruction (Hot Air, UK), which is an actual recording of the gaseous goings-on in some human guinea pig’s stomach. Actually, it would make a great holiday gift for the critic in your life.
15 Discs That Defined 2000
Björk, Selma Songs (Elektra): Björk is one of those naturals, like RZA, for whom everything she touches turns unnatural. (Or, as she would put it, supernatural.) On this soundtrack to her star turn in Dancer in the Dark, Björk’s pitch, cadence and enunciation are so unpredictable you could start a drinking game around them. She’s the anti-Sinatra, and one weird pixie.
Broadcast, The Noise Made By People (Warp/Tommy Boy): An eerie formation of Moog, chimes, echoey fuzz guitar, gloomy organ bits and, for all I know, Gamelan gongs that marches on relentlessly and addictively. It’s the kind of music the Droogs might have zoned out to in the Korova Milk Bar-the kind that says, “Resistance is futile, you boobs.” -Jay Stowe
D’Angelo, Voodoo (Virgin): He of the much-discussed torso got down with get-down soul music in a big way, resurrecting the spirit of old Al Green and Marvin Gaye records and giving them a 21st- cen-tury studio makeover. Voodoo is a deep soul dive, brushed all over with smoky surfaces and heated with bongwater steam. -Andy Battaglia
Ghostface Killah, Supreme Clientele (Epic/Razor Sharp): This year’s Wu-Tang Clan reunion, The W, might contain more of the off-kilter shape-shifting that suggests spiritual breakthrough, but member Ghostface Killah’s solo album is nothing less than profound. It’s shot through with a feeling of tragic passion, and so lyrically dense that David Foster Wallace couldn’t parse it. Yes, that’s a compliment. -D.S.
Rubén González, Chanchullo (Nonesuch): Ever since the Buena Vista Social Club recordings brought the pianist out of his box three years ago, he’s been chewing up the international stage. On this, his second album, we get the now familiar Cuban forms -danzon, son, cha cha cha-with, at moments, a not-so-familiar modernist abandon. -Joseph Hooper
David Gray, White Ladder (ATO): Sure, I’m tiring of seeing David Gray’s jughead bobbling to “Babylon” every time I turn on the late-night shows, but nothing will put me off this melancholy and seductive album. Mr. Gray’s voice, which conveys emotions where words fail, his knack for layered arrangements and his talented percussionist, Clune, all make this the makeout album of the year for sweaty-palmed white boys. -Frank DiGiacomo
Lambchop, Nixon (Merge): Lambchop have been accused of taking their 60’s Countrypolitan middle-of-the-road bent a little too seriously. But front man Kurt Wagner will never be mistaken for Barbara Mandrell. For one thing, his deep understanding of guilt is what separates the artists from the session men. Besides, the Oliver Stone–ian fervor of this big-band, alternative-country concept album should dismiss the nattering nabobs of negativism. Nixon really is about our 37th President; just don’t ask me to explain how. A lot of shame is involved, and if you wish to know more, the liner notes include a bibliography. -D.S.
Luomo, Vocalcity (Forcetracks): Finnish phenom Vladislav Delay basically owned 2000 in terms of minimal techno. He put out four albums under different names, making a sizable splash in the dubby end of what has come to be known as the “clicks and cuts” school. As Luomo, though, he got all elemental and cut straight to the groove vein. He applied his dub techniques and astounding sense of atmosphere to soulful dance beats and created a deep-house masterpiece that works as well at home as it does in the D.J. booth. -A.B.
Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne (Mercury): Not to knock Shania Twain or Faith Hill, but onetime Nashville thrush Shelby Lynne could have tried to grab the same “Nash Vegas” brass ring they did. Instead, she crafted the Y2K version of Dusty in Memphis. From the sweeping Spectoresque wash of “Your Lies” to the stark lament “Leavin'” to the Hi Records-iffic “Why Can’t You Be,” I Am … is a strong, strong showcase for her strong, strong voice. -Rob Kemp
Medeski Martin & Wood, Tonic (Blue Note): The lads’ latest, The Dropper (Blue Note), might be a little too electronic, chilly and ‘out’ for some tastes, but Tonic, released earlier in the year, is the ticket. Modernist and postmodernist by turns, it’s an acoustic romp so inventive, it actually comes across as … fun. Mr. Medeski, in particular, reveals himself to be a marvelously resourceful pianist, offering up boppish single-note runs or raging block chords as the moment requires. -J.H.
OutKast, Stankonia (Arista/La Face): I had always assumed that the unanimous applause for OutKast’s previous releases was some sort of affirmative action for Southern rappers. But the melodic hook to “Ms. Jackson” is undeniable, as are most of the lures and snares found on this album. Stankonia manages to rescue the past-due P-Funk obsession from the G-funk banalists. Its polished-and, perhaps, too immaculate-immersion into first-term George Clintonism renews our faith in the genre, and the generosity of their world vision, also borrowed from Mr. Clinton, is a necessary contrast to the adolescent narcissism not just found in most pop hip-hop, but in everyone from Christina Aguilera to that little dick Fred Durst. -D.S
Queens of the Stone Age, Rated R (Interscope): The kids may be alright, but they’re slow on the uptake. If only they would go for a tuneful hard-rock band that combined economical song stylings, vicious grooves and an (un)healthy attitude toward recreational substances. Then, Queens of the Stone Age would be rightfully recognized, on the basis of this major-label debut, as the best rock ‘n’ roll band of the moment. I could effuse more, but I’m starting to hyperventilate. -R.K.
Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol): It was the most unlikely No. 1 album of the year 2000, and by far the most interesting. Turning their backs on the guitar-based rock with which they’d established themselves, these five arty English misfits embraced the sounds of left-field techno, ambient and European prog-and, for a few weeks at least, brought those sounds into the mainstream. -Mac Randall
Oumou Sangare, Ko Sira (Nonesuch) This album, her second, was originally released in Europe seven years ago, but chronology is beside the point. Oumou Sangare sings in the wassoulou style about the wrongs that seem to be a woman’s eternal lot back home in Mali. Her voice is so bracingly resonant, you can’t help but feel uplifted, even if that’s not exactly the point, either. – J.H.
Jimmy Scott, Mood Indigo (Milestone): The genre hasn’t been invented that could contain Jimmy Scott. Due to a congenital hormonal condition, his voice is pitched between the conventionally masculine and feminine ranges. On Mood Indigo, his androgynous mojo works wonders on a set of tunes sung more like incantations than jazz standards. -J.H.
The Rest of the Best…
Beachwood Sparks, Beachwood Sparks (Sub Pop) California’s Beachwood Sparks makes country-fried pop sound smart–but not too smart. Songs like “Desert Skies” elevate jangly guitars and sad lyrics (“It seems to me you’re missing the things that used to make you shine”) to the status of art rock, without Stephin Merritt’s neurotic touch. -Ian Blecher
Belle & Sebastian, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Matador) Glasgow posse in the house! Bring the love. -J.S.
Blackalicious, Nia (Quannum Projects): Blackalicious is T. Parker and X. Mosley, a Bay Area hip-hop duo who go by their noms de rap, the Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel. Nia is their statement of purpose, an exercise in consciousness-raising “funk for the future” that takes so many lyrical twists and turns over the course of its 19 cuts you’ll have to peel your tongue off the roof of your brain by the end. Don’t let that word “exercise” scare you, though. With Xcel manning the controls (occasionally aided and abetted by the likes of D.J. Shadow, D.J. Ice Water and D.J. Quest) and the Gift of Gab living up to his name, Nia flows like a big, two-hearted river of soul. Whether throwing verbal raspberries at Sisqó in “Deception” or “mentally shitting the wisdom of centuries,” they get their message across. -J.S.
Bright Eyes, Fevers & Mirrors (Saddle Creek) At a mere 20 years old, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst is one of the best songwriters of his generation. His emo-folk is the stuff of fevered dreams. Tortured and dark, with lyrics that grope, thrash and float, Mr. Oberst’s songs seek salvation in the glories of language. “There’s this dream in my brain that just won’t go away / It’s been stuck there since it came a few nights ago,” he sings. “I’m standing on a bridge in the town where I lived … and then the bridge disappears and I’m standing on air, with nothing holding me / And I hang like a star, fucking glow in the dark / For all starving eyes to see.” -A.B.
Thomas Brinkmann, Rosa (Ernst): Thomas Brinkmann, one of the fertile German techno scene’s brightest stars, is the rare electronic musician who cuts across party lines in the ever-contentious politics of dancing. More than most, he marries minimalism’s scientific detail-obsession with rhythm-heavy techno’s sense of purpose. But the startling accessibility of his tracks marks a major transgression from ascetic aestheticism. Rosa is an ear-opening electronic album that can grab hold of those less than enamored with dance music as well as those who have long since written off guitars as ancient relics. Mr. Brinkmann is as much a mathematician as a D.J., but his ordered systems hover in space like number theory, where weird literary strains brush up against clinical abstraction. Rosa is science with a story to tell, and that story is bound to be a classic in the annals of electronic music, right up there with landmarks by Derrick May and Aphex Twin. -A.B.
The Clientele, Suburban Light (Pointy Records): Thirteen of the softest, sweetest Brit-rock lullabies ever nestled into one album -I.B.
Dave Douglas, Soul on Soul (RCA/Victor) Downtown trumpet eminence Dave Douglas proves that it’s possible to go home again. Mr. Douglas, who, in his Tiny Bell Trio, has mined Balkan sadness and metrical complexity as well as anyone, here assembles a hard-swinging septet to pay homage to the Swing Era piano titan Mary Lou Williams. The arrangements strike a winning balance between composition and arrangement. Mr. Douglas’s team of downtown irregulars, including trombonist Joshua Roseman and pianist Uri Caine, offer up some of the year’s hardest-blowing, more or less straight-ahead jazz. -J.H.
Eminem, The Slim Shady LP (Interscope): The Observer’s own Ron Rosenbaum has the term for those who tut-tut the golden-haired gadfly’s Don Rickles routine: “Nanny Culture.” Those offended by The Slim Shady LP just haven’t rented the right Pasolini flicks-this stuff has a history, you know. What offends me is the wack-ass music and lazy beats, for which Eminem gets to share the blame with Dr. Dre, who has obviously been spending a little too much time studying labelmate Marilyn Manson’s marketing techniques. No important album this year was more deserving of a remix. -D.S.
Everclear, Songs from an American Movie, Vol. One: Learning How to Smile (Capitol): Playing the role of aging guitar god has got to be a real bitch, but Everclear front man Art Alexakis managed his passage with grace, insight and power pop. Beneath the “Mr. Big Stuff” hooks, Songs … Vol. One showed a man absorbing the triple-punch combination of fatherhood, divorce and middle age, as well as the uppercuts of nostalgia, dread and self-absorption that inevitably arrive with the follow-through. You can hear Mr. Alexakis trying to reconcile who he was with what he has become. As the child asks his parent on the haunting “Wonderful”: “I just don’t understand how you can smile with all those tears in your eyes.” Isn’t that the key to adult life? -F.D.
Giant Sand, The Chore of Enchantment (Thrill Jockey), Giant Sand leader Howe Gelb could be speaking for most of New York when he sings, “The spine waits to feel the shiver / But right now deals with a great lack of it.” But there’s no lack of slow shivers-sidewinding guitars, plodding bass lines, spectral effects, etc.-on this disc of desultory desert music. -F.D.
Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! (Kranky) The liner notes say it best: “This tape recording was a broken road. And in the end, it was just a tentative stagger towards the pale and holy FADING light …. We dedicate it to empty streets at dawn.” For all its ye-gods-have-pissed-on-me Sturm und Drang, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists … is a remarkable, cathartic album. Built on symphonic movements, it surges from pastoralia through seemingly random field recordings (a sad-sounding evangelist, a man named Murray remembering the Coney Island of his youth) to ecstatic freakouts, the whole assembled horde of guitarists, cellists, glockenspiel players, drummers, violinists, trumpeters and cymbal crashers (10 musicians came together on this recording) going for broke. There’s no singing, but there’s no need, really; just lift your skinny fists in the air and wave ’em like you care. -J.S.
Green Velvet, Green Velvet (F-111) This man loathes you almost as much as he wants you to dance. I’d indulge him if I were you. -D.S.
P.J. Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (Island): In which little Polly Jean moves to New York, finds romance, gets all touristy, loses romance, finds wistfulness, moves back to England and records a bunch of songs in which she makes like Patti Smith, only better. -M.R.
John Hiatt, Crossing Muddy Waters (Vanguard),-This is John Hiatt’s Nebraska, a collection of spare, acoustically performed songs that resonate on both a human level-the title track is about the suicide of his first wife-and as an analogy for the fall of the South. -F.D.
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette, Whisper Not (ECM): Although the line about jazz being America’s classical music sounds like boilerplate, this two-CD set of jazz standards has a cut-glass precision that we often associate with a Mozart chamber piece. Pianist Jarrett has found his balance point between a once-profligate virtuosity and a rediscovery of melody for its own sake. -J.H.
Joan of Arc, The Gap (Jade Tree): It takes a certain immaturity to appreciate the brashness of emocore: It’s music for brainiac boys to look back upon with shamefaced fondness eight years from now, just as teenage girls will someday recall Britney Spears. But Joan of Arc, who’ve played the anger game in the past, have made a record in which the allusions to adolescent growing pains are felt instead of barked. The tracks they laid down may have once resembled rock music, but they went sort of batty with the Pro Tools and so the sound is as hesitant and fractured as the perspective. – D.S.
Chris Lee, Chris Lee (Misra): Singer-songwriter Chris Lee’s self-titled debut is a curious mix of unassuming earnestness and presumptuous appropriations of soul music’s mythic back story. “Where have all the Dan Penns gone?” Mr. Lee asks in the album’s liner notes, pining for the white Memphis songwriter who penned classics for Aretha Franklin and helped blur race lines during soul’s golden age. Mr. Lee’s soul side, though, is only part of the story. His delivery owes more to the balladry of Alex Chilton and the honest vulnerability of Tim (and Jeff) Buckley. He bares all on confessionals like “The Sexual Politics of Me” and plays lovesick on the Yeats-biting “(Please Don’t Be My) Maud Gonne.” Musically, Lee makes feasts of dense, open-tuned guitar chords, quasi-bebop drumming and tight intra-band dynamics. The result is a romantic tribute to music history that adds its own footnotes along the way. -A.B.
Madonna, Music (Warner/Maverick): Her best full-length since Like A Prayer, on which she was trying to come to terms with not being a teenager. She’s still trying-but thank goodness that, unlike most teens, she prefers continental producers to continental philosophy. -D.S.
Aimee Mann, Bachelor No. 2, or The Last Remains of the Dodo (Superego): No one does plainspoken melancholy better than Aimee Mann. The sad-eyed lady of La-La Land made us feel her pain with Bachelor No. 2, and not even Jason Robards moaning the lyrics to “Save Me” in Magnolia (for which many of the songs on this album served as a soundtrack) could ruin it. -F.D.
Morphine, The Night (DreamWorks): Coming out of Boston in the early 90’s, Morphine attracted a lot of attention with its smoky boho sound and unusual instrumental format: voice, two-string slide bass, baritone sax and drums. But the style that sounded so fresh on 1993’s Cure for Pain began to calcify on the series of releases that followed. Aware of his band’s predicament, leader Mark Sandman struggled to find a new direction for its fifth album. He brought numerous guest musicians into his Cambridge loft/studio and instigated lengthy jams, which he wouldn’t record until he heard something he liked. He’d write part of a song, rewrite it, scrap it, then revive it. Finally, after two years of work, Sandman declared The Night complete. And, from the Leonard Cohen–channeling title track to the organ-driven party groove of “Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer” and the Arabic overtones of “Rope On Fire,” the album was a triumph. Tragically, Sandman died of a heart attack while playing on an Italian festival stage in July 1999, thus ensuring that his band’s bravest and best work would also be its last. -M.R.
Mouse on Mars, Niun Niggung (Thrill Jockey): Earlier this year I essentially called this the pop music of the future, but I was just looking to get blurbed. Having failed at that (again), I’ll simply observe that this German duo manages to take whirs, clicks and nothings and make beautiful art that’s remarkably melodic. -D.S.
Sinéad O’Connor, Faith and Courage (WEA/Atlantic): In which the beguiling Irish Pope-hater returns from exile transformed. She’s gay! She’s got hair! And she’s traded in her sexy-but-passé anger for sexy-and-chic enlightenment. Throw in some trip-hoppy production techniques and it all adds up to her best album since I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. -F.D.
Matthew Ryan, East Autumn Grin (A&M): While everyone was watching Jakob Dylan grapple with the shadow of his dad, Matthew Ryan snuck in under the radar with this killer sophomore album. And as much as I hate to burden him, East Autumn Grin puts Mr. Ryan on the fast track to claim the rock singer/songwriter mantle that everyone thinks Jakob should inherit from guys like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and his father. Mr. Ryan has a good feel for the dark corners and light spaces of our country and culture, and perhaps most importantly, he knows how to integrate these two opposing forces in a song. On the track “I Hear a Symphony,” Mr. Ryan sings: “In the subway of a slow dark pain / I hear a symphony / In the eyes of an old Polish woman on that train / I hear a symphony.” But as he reveals in the chorus, that symphony is about empathy: “You are not alone / I swear this burden is not your own,” Mr. Ryan sings, sounding like his shoulders can bear the weight. -F.D.
Sade, Lovers Rock (Sony): This album is like mist, fitted with gauzy sheets of sound and a lot of barely-there there. Good luck finding a less-than-perfect note. -A.B.
Six Organs of Admittance, Manifestation (Ba Da Bing): The psychedelic hippie folk revival that first bore fruit in the early 90’s-via such bands as Tower Recordings, Ghost and the No-Neck Blues Band-shows no sign of abating despite an almost total press blackout. Golden Boy of the moment, from Eureka, Calif., is 26-year-old Ben Chasny, a.k.a. Six Organs of Admittance. His one-sided, limited-edition vinyl-only work, Manifestation, may seem like a perversely obscure choice for a best-of list, but it epitomizes the genre. Manifestation is a 20-minute acoustic-guitar-and-chanting freakout that would appear drawn from the raga guitar of Sandy Bull, After Bathing at Baxter’s–era Jefferson Airplane and Sufi poetry. It will take you back to a time when there wasn’t any brown acid to avoid, and Donovan was considered an intellectual. -D.S.
16 Horsepower, Secret South (Razor & Tie) Salvation and damnation, staves and serpents, burning bushes and wayfaring strangers-they’re all here on what is essentially a Christian rock record. But the Christianity that David Eugene Edwards and his Colorado band espouse is rooted in the deep, grim hymns of America’s darkest backwoods and loneliest plains, and tempered by an obvious love for the Echo & the Bunnymen back catalog. Pretentious? Sure. Gripping? From start to finish. -M.R.
SND, Stdiosnd Types (EFA) For those who like their minimal techno really minimal. The step after this is turning off the stereo and plugging your ears with cotton. -D.S.
Britney Spears, Oops! … I Did It Again (Jive): The songs written for this record by Swedish production Svengali Max Martin, such as the title cut and “Lucky,” will constitute a nice chunk of the backbone of oldies radio 40 years from now. -R.K.
Sunny Day Real Estate, The Rising Tide (Time Bomb): In a pop era ruled alternately by the staged tantrum and the knowing wink, SDRE is one of the few old-fashioned rock bands bothering to make serious, high-minded music-the kind U2 used to make before the royalty checks got too big. Up until recently, they were an indie outfit (signed to Sub Pop) and they sounded like one, with dry, lackluster production bogging down a group sound that strove for the heroic. But for their first major-affiliated release, they’ve made the massive mainstream rock album they always had in them, with help from seasoned producer Lou Giordano. Tracks like “Disappear,” “Tearing In My Heart,” and “Faces In Disguise” don’t sink; they soar. -M.R.
Tin Hat Trio, Helium (Angel) This young San Francisco–based trio of conservatory-trained smarties is leading the post-jazz exodus into the ethnic warrens of the rest of the world. With this, their second album, the threesome have pulled off an elegant trick, taking a bunch of musics now in fashionable circulation-Balkan gypsy, Piazzollan New Tango, Frisellian bluegrass-and melding an original voice. This music is more about texture and mood (often melancholy) than the rhythmic drive and solo virtuosity that have traditionally defined jazz. In fact, in a college-lit mood, I’d say Tin Hat represents the loss of American musical innocence and the embrace of a gorgeous Old Worldly ennui. -J.H.
Underworld, Underworld Live: Everything, Everything (JBO/V2): The sound of how we live now-piped cell-phone conversations, transient random noise bursts with announcements, bleeps, zorps and that crooked, crooked beat-caught live, in glorious, cacophonic stereo; the group high up on whatever astral plane they’re cruising, and the crowd cheering from somewhere far down below. -J.S.
Robbie Williams, Sing When You’re Winning (Capitol): Not that anybody in the U.S. knows this, but the ‘N Sync of 1993 were England’s TakeThat. Imagine then, that after ‘N Sync broke up, it was the group’s fat guy, Joey Fatone, who became the huge star: a versatile, enormously appealing all-around entertainer. Something like that happened with Williams, and this, his third album, is a particularly appealing Whitman’s sampler of British pop music. -R.K.
XTC, Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Part 2) (TVT): Now that their spiritual followers, Blur, have voluntarily relinquished the title of Best Clever English Pop Songwriters Alive, it’s time for Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding to take it back. And so they do, with a collection that comes about as close as they’ll probably ever get to recapturing the joyous guitar clangor they summoned 20 years ago on Black Sea and English Settlement. -M.R.