2000 in Music

My list of music from 2000 that I reviewed and rated.

1. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Lift Yr. Skinny Fists like Antennas to Heaven! (10/10)

This GY!BE at their most ambitious, more epic and most inaccessible and, despite that (or, perhaps, because of it), it is their greatest achievement. This is the record everyone thinks of when they think of GY!BE or, really, any ‘chamber’ post-rock. Really, it’s the definitive ‘chamber’ post rock record; it’s the record that put the band on the map but also this style within the genre. It has no equal within their catalogue or this subgenre. It is an immense, complex rewarding work that could easily be the work of some “Modern Creative” composer, instead of something dreamed up by rock musicians.

It’s probably my favourite post rock album of all time, and it’s among the very best. It’s really the definitive post rock album of its era.

Okay, I’ll stop.

2. Pearl Jam: Binaural (9/10)

For years, this was tied with No Code as my favourite Pearl Jam album. It’s still in my top 3, but I’ve given up maintaining it’s some kind of forgotten masterpiece. It’s just one of their best sets of songs and it features a little bit of everything they do well. It features one silly Vedder indulgence but that’s all, and the rest of it is the band firing on all cylinders. I guess you can gripe about the sequencing (as you can with most PJ albums) but I think that’s nitpicky. It’s one of their best and it’s a shame that it gets so little attention.

3. Badly Drawn Boy: The Hour of the Bewilderbeast (9/10)

A friend of mine lent this to me in maybe first or second year university. I didn’t want to like it because the melodies were too accessible. (It was the time of my life that I was trying really hard to listen to difficult things.) But I grudgingly accepted it was well-produced.

Time has made me wiser (I hope). Despite my limited experience of the “bedroom pop” genre, I have to say that I think this is the gold standard; the songs are great, the arrangements are creative but far from willfully difficult. The whole thing is rather immaculate.

It’s a great, great record and I’m sorry I was immature enough not to understand that when I was young.

4. Kid Koala: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (8/10)

Read the review.

5. Ween: White Pepper (8/10)

This record may mark the point where the parodies started getting so good that it began to get confusing as to whether they were being serious or continuing the satire. But I don’t mean that as a criticism. As usual, the musicianship is impeccable – and we’re now expecting great production, too, instead of that DIY haze of the early records – but the songs, though still jumping from genre to genre, appear to be getting more serious. And I don’t know if that was a deliberate attempt at improving that aspect of their writing, or if it was just a natural progression of emulating so many different songwriters over years.

In either case, this record contains perhaps their most accurate satire ever (or among their very best), “Bananas and Blow,” which should have caused Jimmy Buffet to explode if he ever heard it. And there are plenty of other good ones, even if I have a harder time playing spot-the-target this time.
Probably my third or fourth favourite Ween album.

6. Joanne Brackeen: Popsicle Illusion (8/10)

Read the review.

7. The White Stripes: De Stijl (8/10)

I feel like this is the “true” fans favourite, a record that was released before they broke, and so it’s cooler to like this the most.

I think the problem with that view is that the songs are a little weaker than on their breakthrough – it should be no surprise to us that White Blood Cells made them stars. It’s still a strong record and remarkably out of step with the time. But it’s not their best.

8. Andrew Hill: Dusk (8/10)

I’m not sure what I was expecting but at first I was a little disappointed by this. I guess I was expecting it to be a little more out than it already is.

But I have moved passed that and realized that attitude was a little silly. This is very solid stuff, but it doesn’t exactly change how I think or feel about this type of music. I like it, I appreciate it, but I’m looking for something to grab me a little bit more in 2000. That’s not to say it’s bad by any means. It’s very good, it’s just not mind-blowing and I guess reading a little too much about Andrew Hill before I ever heard him set me up for a bit of a fall.

The band is solid, Hill’s compositions are wacky and the whole thing is very well done.

9. Do Make Say Think: Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord is Dead (8/10)

Though still very much under the shadow of Tortoise – at times perhaps even more so than on their debut – this is a lot more focused than the first album, and I think it is more successful as a result.

Again, their incorporation of horns makes them sound less like Tortoise than they otherwise would, so that’s a good thing.

Very solid.

10. Queens of the Stone Age: [Rated] R (8/10)

I said the following in 2005:

This is a pretty great record.  The more I listen to it the more I like it.  It’s lack of compelling riffs and the generally weak lyrics are very well compensated for by the inventive arrangements, which often marry unconventional (for hard rock) instruments to fairly loud songs.  It makes the whole thing way more interesting than it has any right to be.

I don’t disagree with this assessment now. And I will maintain this is their best record until I finally get around to listening to Songs for the Deaf.

11. The Weakerthans: Left and Leaving (8/10)

Samson’s voice is way too pop punk. Way too pop punk. And this record is way too ‘pop punkers getting serious’ / ‘middle of the road indie rock.’ But it doesn’t matter, because the songs are so strong. I always feel like some people have “it” and some people don’t, and on the basis of this record, I feel like Samson might have “it.” (“It” being the ability to write songs that connect with the audience regardless of subject matter.)

Not my thing, musically speaking, but I can’t help but admire the craft.

12. Morphine: The Night (8/10) 

I think I first heard Morphine in a Homicide episode and I was like “what was that?” I guess it felt novel to hear a guitarless, saxophone-driven alternative rock band in the ’90s. Anyway, I put them on my list.

It just so happened that my university radio station had this record, and this is the one that I ended up listening to, even though it’s their last. Like with so many other bands, I have meant to check out the rest of their catalogue, but haven’t made it tat far yet.

Anyway, without context, without knowing what the rest of their output is like, I gotta say I love this. Sandman’s songs are stronger than necessary – an odd thing to say, perhaps, but have you have a gimmicky lineup like this, you get some leeway – and even when they deviate from their sound, by adding guitar or piano, or what have you, they still sound unmistakably like Morphine. It’s a rare thing for a band to sketch out a unique sound.

Anyway, this is good stuff and I really should get around to listening to the rest of it.

13. Dieselhed: Chico and the Flute (8/10*)

I have a really hard time being objective about these guys. For some reason, I found them at exactly the right time, when I was looking for something – I don’t know what – and this band fit the bill.

Though they are extremely earnest at times (weird, given their live show), they play with enough edge that the earnestness is usually quite easy to take. (Shaw has become one of my favourite underappreciated songwriters.)

And their commitment to the Alt Country aesthetic was second to none, I’d say. But this is different (well, different from Tales anyway), as stylistically they touch on a number of genres you wouldn’t expect.  And that (relative) stylistic diversity is rather refreshing.

Anyway, I cannot be objective.

14. Modest Mouse: The Moon and Antarctica (8/10)

I wrote the following in 2008:

Some of it is better than the first few albums. I want to like it more, at least the first half. But things kind of get a little weak later on. It may contain some of their strongest material but the trendy stuff they were trying to do on their next album rears its ugly head here, just a little bit.

Hilariously, I wrote the following in 2016 without reading that 2008 comment:

For me, this is the record on which Modest Mouse fully emerges from the shadow of The Pixies. (Not entirely, of course.) Maybe that’s being cruel, but it does feel like to me that there’s a greater depth to the songs and a greater variety to the arrangements.

It’s been so long that I couldn’t tell you if this is their best or my favourite, but I feel like it’s both. If only my memory was better.

This review is probably unfair to their other records from this period. Ah well.

Which is it, Riley?

15. Radiohead: Kid A (7/10)

It’s hard to separate an album like Kid A from the hype that surrounds it. We were told by many at the time of its release that this was some kind of revolution and there was so much of that going around that it’s sometimes hard to think independently about it.

I mean, it’s obviously a drastic, drastic change from OK Computer, that should go without saying. But despite it’s obviously drastically different approach and sound, I’m not sure it’s entirely successful. And I feel the same way about Amnesiac at this point though, at the time – and likely just to be contrarian – I claimed I like Amnesiac more. Between the two records, they have some of my favourite Radiohead songs and a “best” of the two records would probably be a great record indicating a drastically new career direction (that they never followed through on).

But even though Kid A was, one must assume, meant as the curated finished product and Amnesiac was sort of the ‘b-sides,’ it doesn’t sound that way to my ears. Instead, I think there’s tracks that I don’t really ever need to hear again on both records. And that’s a shame because two of the songs hear are among their very, very best – I am referring to “The National Anthem” and “Idioteque” – and there’s other good stuff.

But I feel like just because a band drastically changed their sound (an drastically changed their dominant influences, as that’s what’s going on here), doesn’t mean they should be acclaimed without criticism. They have to make that change well, and I don’t think they quite did it as well as the reputation claims. Neither this or its sequel are in my Top 5 Radiohead records. They’re just better at their regular sound.

16. Giant Sand: Chore of Enchantment (7/10)

This is some very idiosyncratic stuff. I don’t know the band at all and don’t know if this is typical, but their songs dally in all sorts of styles and though there is definitely a similarity from song to song in terms of theme and especially tempo, stylistically these are all over the palace.

There is a definite Lou Reed influence on Gelb’s singing – and his writing to some extent – and that’s appealing.

But I am having a little trouble at the sheer scope / range of all of this, some of which feels like filler. Some suggest this is kind of a survey of modern Americana; maybe it is. As such I guess it’s mostly successful.

Still a lot to digest. Interesting though.

17. Bad Livers: Blood and Mood (7/10)

Alt Country was very much one thing when it emerged and most Alt Country bands that I’ve heard exist within that paradigm: country plus punk (or alternative rock). And given that I love both those genres, I’m good.

Bad Livers don’t do that. They do something really different from that, and it’s something that, when I initially heard it, I didn’t like. But it’s funny what time can do.

I mean, if any form of Alt Country has been influential on contemporary “country” music, it’s stuff like this, which utilizes foreign production and arrangement ideas from all over the place. Sure, none of the awful “country” that’s popular today really sounds like this, but you can see some kind of intellectual similarity.

The songs aren’t really my favourite (though I like a few of them), but this band found a really unique take on the genre and, without hearing other records of theirs, I must say I respect it, even if I don’t love it as much as regular Alt Country.

18. Johnny Cash: American III: Solitary Man (7/10)

There’s a combination here of really famous songs and not so famous ones. And, maybe it’s just me, but I think the lesser known songs are more successful. I’m particularly glad to see Cave and Oldham songs here, but I could do without the Petty cover, or the Diamond, or the U2 – I just don’t need to hear these songs again if he’s not going to reinvent them.

I mean, it’s a fine record. It’s very similar to the other ones he made with Rubin and as late period Johnny Cash records go, it’s good.

19. Unified Theory (7/10)

I wrote the following in 2005:

This album’s got nothing on the two Blind Melon albums, but it’s still a good album and way better than most of stuff labeled “modern rock.”  The two ex-Melons really expand their instrumental palettes here and it makes for cool, somewhat dense sound (especially the baritone sax parts).  These guys aren’t revolutionizing anything, but the songs are good and the arrangements are better.  Shinn’s voice is somewhat annoyingly similar to Hoon’s at first listen, but I now don’t feel that way at all.  It’s a shame this band didn’t work out because this debut holds a lot of promise.  I would have been nice to hear another album.  Does anyone know anything about the breakup?  My favourite songs are probably the last two tracks.  Good stuff.

I don’t entirely agree with all of that any more. For one thing, I believe they reunited in 2006 (so that’s funny). Listen, I like this a lot. More than I should – I was some desperate for some more Blind Melon back then – as it’s just middle of the road rock music (albeit well-produced MOR rock). But I’m not sure this is going to convert anyone who didn’t come to this band hoping to hear some kind of trace of Blind Melon.

20. Bill Frisell: Ghost Town (7/10)

This is all very pleasant: a subdued and kind of idiosyncratic take on Americana with a vague jazz bent. (I can’t really decide is this actually qualifies as jazz.)

I had never heard Frisell up until this point so it was news to me that he doesn’t normally sound like this (or that he usually records with others). And honestly if I had never heard another album, I might never have bothered. Because this music is just pleasant. It makes for good background music but it’s hard to get really excited about something this mellow – it’s practically sedate.

21. A Perfect Circle: Mer de norms (6/10)

Well this is tough. Read the review.

22. In Flames: Clayman (6/10)

Read the review.

23. Neil Young: Silver and Gold (6/10)

This is a Neil Young album in the tradition of Harvest and Harvest Moon. The songs are fine – there are only two that I would even think of including on a list of his best songs – and the arrangements are well suited to the songs. But this is slight, for him. It’s certainly a decent record, but it’s not ever going to connect with me like his best work. It’s fine as these things go, but he has many better albums and even one or two late period ones that are superior to this.

24. King Crimson: The Construkction of Light (6/10)

I initially liked this album a fair amount – I felt it was more proof of their willingness to try to stay current (musically, at least), unlike the other Big Six. I didn’t really get bothered by the super self-referential lyrics.

But as I got older, those lyrics started to bother me. As did the “sequels” to “Larks’…” and the reimagining of other old material.

The band can still play extraordinarily well but, with reflection, this feels like the first time they’d run out of new ideas since, say, 1972. And that’s too bad.

25. Apocalyptica: Cult (6/10)

Their first album of almost all originals (there are still a few covers) and an attempt at a more varied sound (more distortion, percussion, vocals). It’s basically just not as good as the first two albums. I appreciate some of the originals here, but this is, at bottom, a very cool gimmick. And I guess it just gets tiring. But I’d still rather listen to this than a lot of other stuff.

26. Marilyn Manson: Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) (6/10)

This is definitely rawer than Mechanical Animals and so it’s easier to take. But there are more ballads; a disturbing trend. And his lyrics are getting worse and worse (or maybe the music is becoming less interesting and I am paying too much attention to the lyrics). But I still prefer it to Mechanical Animals and everything else post-Antichrist Superstar.

27. Patti Smith: Gung Ho (6/10)

Patti Smith is one of those artists whom I supposed to love but I can’t. I’ve never figured out quite why but the fact that this was the first Patti Smith album I’ve ever heard probably has something to do with it.

Yes, her lyrics are better than average. And she has a unique and compelling voice. But I’ve never really connected with those lyrics. And the music behind her is just okay. She also appears to be doing the same thing, musically, she has for her career. And, unfortunately, I’m not a fan of that.

It’s better than I remember it being when I first reviewed it for my university paper lo those many years ago, but it’s still just middle of the road rock music with decent lyrics. Meh.

28. Tony Levin: The Waters of Eden (6/10)

Tony Levin is an incredibly talented musician and one of the great rock bassists of his era.

But on his solo records, he makes music that I don’t particularly like. The over-use of dated synthesizers is a big problem for me, as is his tendency to lapse into cliche whenever he brings out that fretless.

Of the two solo records I have heard, this is the lesser. Pieces of the Sun, though it contains monumental amounts of cheese, at least has moments of brilliance. Those are harder to come by here.

Extraordinarily well-played, but way too cheesy.

29. Rachel Stamp: Hymns for Strange Children (6/10)

There are a lot of cliches on this album – excluding the often horrible lyrics – but somehow they make these cliches seem less cliche. There is an underlying inventiveness that only occasionally rises above the surface but that still manages to distinguish it from so many other albums. The theatricality helps as well.

The lyrics are mostly terrible and some of the songs make me cringe a little but it’s all arranged very well and the playing is better than competent. Though I hate to say it, this is better than a lot of what is on the radio.

30. Ian Anderson: The Secret Language of Birds  (5/10)

Ian Anderson has always been prone to certain amounts of what you might call pastoral tweeness in some of his lyrics. However, when presented in Tull, these lyrics were (usually) saved by either the muscular rock backing of Tull, or the particularly folksy song was surrounded by rock songs. Either way, I never had much of a problem with them in Tull. (Though, as I get older, those late ’70s albums become harder and harder to take.)

But here the lyrics and music match. And I guess that would be a good thing in many cases. Unfortunately, this whole record feels like a rich, old British man abroad with everything that connotes. Anderson brings the civilizing influence of British folk music and imposes it on the world (and world music) inspiring his lyrics and music and we are left with lots of decent melodies and the sneaking feeling that I really don’t like this man very much.

Not Ranked: The Jimi Hendrix Experience (8/10)

Read the review.

Not Ranked: The Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely: Marnie by Bernard Herrmann (7/10)

Marnie is considerably more traditional than Herrmann’s most famous works from the ’60s, but that doesn’t make it bad. The score is highly memorable (i.e. catchy) and features not just a compelling main theme but some other pieces that really get in your head.

There’s nothing innovative here. It’s just a pretty good score by one of the great American film score composers. Worth checking out if you’re into Herrmann, or Hitchcock, but certainly not among his very best.

Not Ranked: Various Artists: Ives: The Symphonies, Orchestral Sets 1 and 2 (7/10)

Read the review.

Not ranked: The Tea Party: Tangents (5/10)

An adequate compilation is marred somewhat by the overly self-congratulatory liner notes, wherein the band members seem to be utterly oblivious to the fact they have spent their entire career ripping off other, better bands.

Not Ranked: Two Classic Albums by Gordon Jenkins (4/10)

Music for people who don’t like music. Read the review.