Top ten discs of 2001

10. mobilize by grant lee phillips
yes, this guy used to be the singer of grant lee buffalo. yes, you can tell by the name. yes, you can also tell by the music. you my have heard “spring release” pop up on the radio once or twice, but you won’t hear the better songs like “mobilize” unless you get the cd. alternative rock lite. michael stipe loved glb (he sang backup on their last release, jubilee, also definitely worth picking up), and they sound a lot like rem would if they’d never gotten greedy and recorded “stand”.

9. girlology by the kim band
a canadian entry! actually, you needn’t get too excited, there’s another one up the list a bit. ever seen the video for david usher’s “alone in the universe”? notice the hottie guitarist? this is her. kim bingham used to be in a toronto band called mudgirls, now she’s doing her own thing when she’s not in usher’s oxymoronic solo band. imagine matthew sweet with (ironically) more balls…smart lyrics and a good crunch make this unique and almost interestingly boring.

8. love and theft by bob dylan
i don’t know how he keeps doing it. his last disc, time out of mind, was one of the best he ever did, 40 years after he started out. the album switches between old-style folk jazz/blues and the darker, harder stuff that made time out of mind so great (although this one doesn’t compare to time out of mind…that’s one the three best he’s ever done, along with bringing it all back home and oh mercy). the banjo on “highwater” kicked my ass. not the best dylan, but bob at 60% is still better than most musicians can ever hope to be. see ‘tom waits’ under songwriting for more details.

7. brmc by black rebel motorcycle club
i hated the big 70s arena-rock revival you saw in the last year or two, bands like supergrass and sloan and thrush hermit trying to impress on us that the bay city rollers pushed through a fuzzier amp is worth a listen. bullshit. listen to this, or the dandy warhols. it strays into the land of cheesy sometimes, but the dark stuff (“love burns”, “spread your love”, “salvation”) is worth it.

6. hot shots ii by the beta band
i can’t tell if their lyrics are supposed to be cleverly intelligent or just clever. all in all, the music isn’t something i’d call brilliant, but rather so solidly good that the whole cd (with the possible exception of an odd last track) becomes a big 8 out of 10 the whole way through…which actually makes it quite exceptional.

5. dilate by bardo pond
one of the leading members of the psychedelphia music style, these guys are trippy with a capital t. the singer sounds like hope sandoval after taking a handful of the red ones and being punched in the throat. one of their earlier cds, lapsed, is terrific as well, but this one has “inside”, which floored me. if you like instrumental-ish, psychedelic-type stuff, you’ll love this.

4. mass romantic by the new pornographers
the other canadian contribution on the list. this is sort of a supergroup, for lack of a better term, made up of members from other bands like limblifter and destroyer, and with neko case singing on a few songs. while there are one or two skippable songs, there are some really great ones as well: “mass romantic”, “the slow descent into alcoholism”, “centre for holy wars”, etc. it’ll probably take you a few listens to really get into it, but believe me, you will. “letter from an occupant” is one of those songs i listen to over and over again when i’m having a bad day. with the possible exception of the rheostatics (i’m biased; saw them live again last weekend), this is the best canadian band going.

3. amnesiac by radiohead
no doubt i’ll take some flack for depositing this one at #3, just as i did for leaving kid a midway down last year’s list. i actually think amnesiac is a better disc…they’re pretty comparable as far as number of really good songs and throw-aways, but “pyramid song” is the reach advantage that amnesiac has over kid a. as i said, the guys do their usual thing here with spots of brilliance (“Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box”, “You & Whose Army?”, “Knives Out”, “Dollars And Cents”, “Spinning Plates”) and some rot (“Morning Bell / Amnesiac” — the destruction of a perfectly good song, “Hunting Bears”), but the good is *so* good that they get away with more. see bob-dylan-60% rule for more details.

2. asleep in the back by elbow
take radiohead. extract thom yorke and replace him with rob dickinson from catherine wheel. add jordon zadorozny from blinker the star to do some guitar canoodling and maybe even a little bit of gomez‘s pseudo-latin influence, mix well with a bunch of anti-rockstar pixie dust and you have elbow. this was another cd i bought blind, just on a recommendation on some website (’s magazine, i think) and manoman, was i impressed. when the first song (“any day now”) started playing, it was as if i was hearing what would’ve happened if radiohead had kept the weird-meter on 4 after ok computer instead of putting it to 9 and producing kid a. if you’re looking for creativity and long, loud rock songs in the same box, get this. now.

1. agaetis byrjun by sigur ros
i don’t know what i can say about this cd that i haven’t said already. most of you have read my review of the concert. it’s the most brilliant band i’ve come across in…well, maybe ever. i check the website every day for news about the next cd. i’ve downloaded every song i can find from their earlier albums which aren’t available here. i’ve used the words ‘brilliant’ and ‘miraculous’ more than once when describing them. this disc still crushes me every time i listen to it, and it’s surely one of the greatest arguments for rock music to be held up as a true art form.

***should be on the list, but didn’t really qualify***

madonna by and you will know us by the trail of dead
it came out last year and i didn’t get it until a few months ago, dammit. it’d be at #2 for sure.

my father my king by mogwai
an ep, so i didn’t feel right including it, especially since it’s just one song (albeit 20 minutes worth). it’s far better than mogwai’s full-length offering earlier in the year, rock action. the song, or at least the central theme, is based on an old jewish hymn. classic mogwai: no lyrics, whispered, savage, rambling, more than we deserve.

***honourable mentions***

a silver mt. zion (born into trouble as sparks fly upward)
eels (souljacker)
perry farrell (song yet to be sung)
the matthew good band (audio of being)
tool (lateralus)
explosions in the sky (those who tell the truth will die…)
guided by voices (isolation drills)
varnaline (songs in a northern key)
buddy guy (sweet tea)
crystal method (tweekend)

(update: I can’t believe I left Explosions In The Sky down in the “honorable mention” category. If I’d done this list over again after I’d really gotten into the CD I’m sure it would be 4th or 5th. Mass Romantic would likely move up as well.)

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