Let’s face it, the year 2000, the start of the new century and the new millennium, has not been an auspicious one for music. Disposable, throwaway pop music, bland and formulaic alternative (no term has changed meaning so much since when it was first used on groups like REM and Nirvana), and dumbed-down, bombastic rap-metal all rule the airwaves and pop charts. Still, there are usually diamonds buried among the rubble, and this year was no exception. Here are our choices for the best albums of the year:
1. Primal Scream, XTRMNTR (Astralwerks)Who would have thought one of the most exciting, powerful, and aggressive albums to come out this year would have been made by a group of 40-year-olds? On XTRMNTR, Primal Scream perfects the blend of electronica and rock that it started working with back in the early ’90s with Screamadelica. This is one of the rare albums you can put on and play the whole way through without skipping a track. From the death-disco beats of Swastika Eyes to the white-noise rage of Accelerator, the acid-jazz madness of Blood Money to the hypnotic drone beauty of Shoot Speed Kill Light, and all points in between, this album is simply amazing.
2. BT, Movement In Still Life (Nettwerk)
Some techno purists may argue there were other better electronica albums released this year, but on this album BT was able to branch out of the corner he started to paint himself in and prove his standing as one of the main innovators of trance (arguably the most popular form of techno in America today.) On Movement In Still Life BT expanded his style to include rock-tinged sounds, ballads and more of a pop sensibility that could introduce non-techno fans to the sound and get them interested. Of course he still keeps the diehard fans happy with the trance trio of Dreaming, Godspeed and Mercury and Solace, perfect songs for the late-night rave in your car or in your home. An added bonus, BT is a hometown hero from D.C. and his father name? is a GW music professor.
3. Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol)
This is probably the most obvious choice, but hey, when you’re good, you’re good. And Radiohead is without a doubt one of the best and most influential bands of the decade. Kid A continues the journey of innovation and beauty started with the psuedo-grunge sound of the band’s breakthrough single in America, Creep. With its throwaway of conventional rock sounds and forms, Kid A is not as accessible to mainstream audiences as songs on the first album such as the epic OK Computer. The band’s experimentation with electronic sounds and beats shows it is willing to always move forward and – on songs like the desolate How To Lose Yourself Completely – can move ahead and still make beautiful music at the same time.
4. Travis, The Man Who (Epic)
The music scene over in the England always seems to be fixated on the next Big Thing: bands hyped up for a bit and then quickly forgotten. Travis, though, has what it takes to be a true big thing. On The Man Who, Travis brings back an irony-free romanticism and emotion that has been unfashionable in rock for way too long. Switching back and forth between gorgeous romantic ballads (anchored by singer Fran Healy’s tenor) and soaring rock songs reminiscent of early U2, this is a band that still sees rock as music for the people.
5. Robbie Williams, Sing When You’re Winning (Capitol)
Sometimes you want a gourmet meal, and sometimes you just want fast food. Robbie Williams makes perfect pop fast-food music. This album continues the beachhead of his (1999??) American debut, The Ego Has Landed – an album that makes a strong argument for Williams to be the new King of Pop. This fun, catchy pop music that still has attitude and an edge. As one critic called it Williams creates thinking-man’s pop music. All the boy bands should take notice. Robbie Williams proves that is possible to start with humble roots and go on to make real music.
6. Arab Strap, Elephant Shoe (Jetset)
This is the perfect album to put on late at night; after you just found out your lover had cheated on you and is going to leave. As singer Adian Moffet put it: I wanted to teach kids about the fucking and the fighting. Dark, bitter and heartbreaking, Moffet sings in a near-indecipherable mumble over the band’s haunting sound. While this is music best taken in small doses, Elephant Shoe is one of the darkest and most powerful albums released, not just this year, but in a long while. If you’ve ever had you’re heart broken, this album is essential.
7. Yo La Tengo, And then nothing turned itself inside-out (Matador)
In the film, I Shot Andy Warhol, Yo La Tengo portrays the band the Velvet Underground in a scene set at Warhol’s Factory. This is perfect casting, as Yo La Tengo, a band at its peak, has perfectly stepped in the shoes of prior legends. Haunting, moody, dark, gentle; Yo La Tengo is all these things capped off with the cold beauty of their singer’s voice (a near-perfect match of the Velvet Underground’s Nico.) This album is filled with love songs for adults that delve into love far more complexly than the boy-meets/loses girl of most rock songs. This album creates a world of its own.
8. godspeed you black emperor!, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (Kranky)
Any band that ever thinks that it is a good idea to mix classical and rock should take a good look at this album. While most bands that attempt it end up looking silly and pretentious, godspeed you black emperor! pulls it off admirably on this album. Mixing the feedback and drone sounds of groups like My Bloody Valentine with strings and tympani drums, the band keeps it all interesting and powerful by throwing a punk attitude on top. The soundscapes on this album are worlds unto themselves that are mysterious and gorgeous (listen to Sleep to hear the best representation of pure sadness ever recorded) and combine the energy of rock with the lushness and power of classical. Enigmatic, the band shies away from the press, opting to let the music speak for itself. When you’re this good, what more do you need?
9. The Cure, Bloodflowers (Elektra)
This album is the parting shot from a band that, for the past 20 years, has been idolized by any kid that ever went through a period of teen-angst (namely, all of them). While The Cure is often seen as a dark, depressing goth band, the group manages to keep it all from getting silly with an unmatchable pop sensibility. Bloodflowers is a worthy successor to The Cure’s masterpiece Distingration. It’s epic and depressing and gorgeous – everything fans come to expect from The Cure – but with some surprising touches of emotion. Robert Smith’s spine-tingling scream on Watching Me Fall fills the song with anger. Most bands don’t go gently into that good night, releasing mediocre after mediocre album until fans forget them. The Cure left on a high note, and maybe 10 years from now we’ll see Kyle on South Park cry out Bloodflowers is the best album ever!
10. Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure re-released (Virgin)
Technically, this album didn’t come in 2000 but in 1973. In a stroke of brilliance, though, Virgin Records decided this year to re-release all of Roxy Music’s albums to expose this too-often overlooked band to a new generation. In the glam holy trinity (Including David Bowie and T-Rex), Roxy Music was the most overlooked, never matching its English success in the United States. Roxy Music always put the glamorous in glam with singer Bryan Ferry’s lizard-croon and the sci-fi futurism of the sound, thanks in part to electronic music legend Brian Eno. For Your Pleasure is the band’s climax, where all the parts come together. It’s an album that evokes the sinister side of cocaine and champagne nights, but no matter, you still want to get past the velvet rope to get into the party. And, on In Every Dream Home A Heartache, the most chilling ode a man ever sang to a blow-up sex doll.