2001 in Music

Here are all my music reviews for 2001. Most of them are for records originally released in 2001.

1. Fantomas: The Director’s Cut (10/10)

This is, in my humble (and probably misinformed) opinion, The Best Covers Album of All Time.

It lures us in with a straight-up cover of The Godfather theme, but then things go crazy. Rarely, if ever, has a a band so drastically reinvented so many famous and not so famous tracks while sticking so close to its sound. It’s just utterly incredible.

Though I love everything (save the first track), the themes from Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and Charade are probably the absolute highlights for me.
Just an absolute classic.

2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: No More Shall We Part (9/10)

One of his best sets of songs in his career, it’s immaculately arranged and, despite the full sound of the band, it never feels over-produced. I think I lean more towards The Boatman’s Call in terms of which of these sort of austere turn-of-the-century records of his appeal to me more (to my ears there’s a significant difference in the sound of the Seeds both before The Boatman’s Call and after this record) but it’s still one of their very best records and is probably as good an introduction to the (relatively) kinder gentler seeds that have existed since the late ’90s.

3. Tool: Lateralus (9/10)

I find it hard to critically appraise this particular album because I love it so much. It’s just basically exactly what I want out of my metal – the riffs are there to grab you but there’s a lot going on underneath. To pick one example, I think their rhythm section is among the very best in metal – nobody else really plays like them, and the result is far more interesting music than just good riffs.

Anyway, this is progressive, groovy, intelligent metal. And I find this stuff far more captivating than bands that just try to pummel, pummel, pummel.

4. The White Stripes: White Blood Cells (9/10)

Though it’s their third record, this is the record with which the world discovered that a duo could make great rock music. It played a huge part in the “garage rock” revival that took place in the early ’00s, that had numerous publications proclaiming that rock was indeed back. (After a good half decade of post grunge, nu metal and boy bands I guess we were ready.)

Of all those “The” bands that were supposedly saving us from the evils of pop music (and over-produced, far too serious rock music), The White Stripes have always appealed to me most. They were the most reverent for previous rock traditions while also seeming to be the loudest (despite only being a duo).

And this is probably the closest to perfect a distillation of their (early) sound as exists. Elephant is more polished, and De Stijl is probably the record of the “real” fans, but this is the one that you give your friends (back when that actually happened) if you’re trying to convince them to listen to this band. And as “punk blues” recordings go, well, this is it (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

5. Tomahawk (8/10)

Almost a streamlined, less ambitious, more “alternative” Faith No More, albeit with a significantly different sound given the change in primary songwriter.

But I guess if you were mourning the demise of FNM at the time, you could do a lot worse than this record. It’s certainly better than the last FNM album – less diverse, but with stronger songs and performances.

When I think about early ’00s alt metal, this is what I think about. And it’s a record I could listen to constantly, which is relatively rare for me. The only thing keeping me from giving it higher marks is that the sequel is somehow better.

6. System of a Down: Toxicity (8/10)

The idea that the music contained in here has much at all to do with “nu-metal” seems a little preposterous; I think it mostly relies on a Rage Against the Machine comparison that doesn’t really stand up. (These guys are much more musically interesting than Rage.)

Though this music has little in common with, say, the first wave of punk, something this angry and this loud can’t help but remind me of the things that are usually missing from the music we continue to label “punk.” (Hey, it’s Ramones revivalism; we must call it “punk”)

I feel like System of a Down’s Toxicity has as a legitimate claim to the potential of punk music – in the sense that punk is accessible and politicized rock music, rather than in the sense that punk is amateurish, or reviving ’50s rock and roll, or reviving ’60s garage rock – as Refused’s near-classic The Shape of Punk to Come from the previous decade.

This is vital, it is angry, it is loud. What more do we want in life?

Well, maybe a little variety would be nice. That’s the only thing keeping me from rating this higher.

To answer my own question it really isn’t carrying on the tradition of punk, because obviously nobody really gets on the radio with this stuff any more…

7. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum: Grand Opening and Closing (8/10)

SGM’s debut is an idiosyncratic mix of metal, ‘modern creative,’ and some other disparate genres (prog for example) with a heavy dose of theatricality.

Part of the idiotically named ‘Rock Against Rock’ sub-genre – the standard-bearer of said genre? – Sleepytime Gorilla Museum sound like a less chaotic, less Zappa-obsessed Bungle at times. But don’t be mistaken by the oft-made comparison, this is an entirely different beast – in part because they clearly like different weird things from the weird things Bungle liked.

Perhaps their most distinguishing feature is their use of homemade instruments and effects, which makes some tracks even less accessible than they would be played with conventional instruments. But this is band that is not influenced by video game music or ska, so they’re not really much like Bungle.

I must say I prefer their later stuff slightly, if only because the lyrics are better and the overall concepts have been improved. (As someone on RYM said, this ‘feels’ like a debut; it’s a little rough around the edges.)

But this is still pretty awesome.

8. Granfaloon Bus: Exploded View (8/10)

This record is on the lighter side of alt-country, what you might call the “indie rock” side of alt country. But the songs are really strong (though I feel like they are clearly indebted to the Virgil Shaw school of California alt country songs, whether or not that’s fair). The arrangements (also reminiscent of Shaw’s solo work, though that influence may be the other way around…) are idiosyncratic enough to elevate the weaker songs, too.

This is a hugely under-appreciated record from a hugely under-appreciated band.

9. The Strokes: Is This It (8/10)

So I avoided this like the plague when it came out: it was too trendy for me, but I also didn’t like Casablancas highly affected voice (it’s not that I dislike his voice, it’s more that I dislike the way he uses it most of the time), and, when picking between the “The” bands, I was firmly on the side of the blues rock-influenced one over all the others.

Read the full review.

10. Oysterhead (8/10)

Though I do not know Phish well, my guess is that this is far closer to Primus than Phish, in terms of its overall sound. (It’s sure far closer to Primus than The Police.)

The playing is impeccable, as you might guess. And Claypool’s humour (and, to a lesser extent, Anastasio’s sense of whimsy) pervade everything meaning that this is art rock with enough tongue-in-cheek that it’s not pretentious.

This is the rare one-off side project which I wish had continued on, as I have always quite liked this record, and it’s different enough from Primus that it doesn’t feel like it’s just another Claypool thing.

11. Radiohead: Amnesiac (7/10)

Kid A got a lot of hype. (That’s an understatement.) And a naturally hype-averse person like me was apt to ignore it as long as possible, even though I was already a Radiohead fan by that point. So I think it was natural that I was, at least initially, drawn to defending its poor sibling, the “outtake” record.

I guess one reason for that is that this one has a few more conventional songs. Whether or not Kid A is as daring and as revolutionary as we were told when it came out, I think most of us can agree that Amnesiac is more accessible, even without prior knowledge of Radiohead. And this is a blessing and a curse.

There’s good stuff here, but it all seems a little schizophrenic, much like its sibling. One might wish that Radiohead had released a “best of the sessions” record instead of two, until one realized that that’s likely what the band believed they had in Kid A.

Don’t get me wrong: I like this. But Radiohead had a rather high standard for nearly a decade and this just doesn’t quite reach that standard. It feels like they really were trying to find themselves, perhaps a new version of themselves. And the results are a little all over the place. But that’s okay.

12. Bela Fleck: Perpetual Motion (8/10)

This is nice stuff: performances of various Baroque and Romantic (and, occasionally, more modern) pieces on the banjo and other instruments they were not intended for. (All performances are duo or trios, except the odd Fleck solo, but most of these pieces were written for solo piano/keyboard or violin). If ever there was a record to show off Fleck’s incredible (and diverse!) technique, this is it. He’s clearly not just a bluegrass or fusion player. And all the other performers acquit themselves exceedingly well too.

The issue, for me, is simply the conservatism of the adaptations. That’s what keeps this from being a classic. These adaptations are as straight ahead as banjo adaptations of “classical” music could be. And that’s why I don’t rate it higher.

13. Whiskeytown: Pneumonia (7/10)

The gospel – at least the gospel that I read – has it that this is Whiskeytown’s big attempt at a statement beyond alt country; that this is their do-everything pop rock album that puts them in the canon of great bands…or something like that. This rep definitely comes more than a little from the fact that the album was recorded well before it was released – allowing hype to build up – and because only half (or less) of the original material recorded made it on record.

The (released) results certainly show some versatility on the band’s part that may have been lacking with previous releases, and that is certainly admirable. But, much like Stranger’s Almanac, this album is over-produced. It also has more in common musically with Ryan Adams’ solo career than it does with the original version of Whiskeytown, who once put out the best alt country album ever.

By focusing on Adams’ hooks and his love of other genres beyond punk and country, they have abandoned their roots. The ambition is admirable but the results are just okay. I miss the old band; the band that turned me into an alt country fanatic.

14. Bob Dylan: Love and Theft (7/10)

The second album into Dylan’s “comeback” (and it’s hard for me to know if that’s true, since I’ve avoided Dylan between ’77 and ’96, just like most other people) is a strong set of songs performed in this sort of ragged style that Dylan seems to have adopted for the last couple decades of his career.

Like so many people, I bought into the comeback narrative hard when it began. But, frankly, as I remember Dylan the revolutionary, these songs still pale in comparison to his peak. And though his lyrics are still richer than most, they’re not as rich or as thought-provoking as they were at his peak. And the music is also a little less varied. And so I find this decent, and worthwhile to listen to, but hardly among the great records of the year.

15. Modest Mouse: Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks (7/10)

Remember when EPs were, well, EPs? This “EP” is the length of an LP but that’s the CD age for you. Anyway…This collects the vinyl version of a previous EP (that was a little closer to traditional EP length, I understand) with some outtakes from The Moon and Antarctica so it’s essentially a brief rarities album and as such things go, it’s pretty good. I have always have lower standards for rarities collections because at some point the band usually decided that the songs were not up to snuff. And listening to these, it’s kind of hard to understand why a bunch of these were deemed not up to standard. It’s pretty characteristic modest mouse, but the songs and performances are good. Some of them are, in my opinion, among their better work. So it’s worth it, even if you’re not that into the band yet.

16. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros: Global a Go-Go (7/10)

I definitely like this more than their debut. There’s more of my kind of music; less focus on the groove. That being said, this is a pretty big mess. Anything that concludes with a nearly 18 minute vamp on a traditional folk song probably is. And that’s not the only thing that really overstays its welcome. If I weren’t such a fan of folk, I might have trouble stomaching it. But the fusion is more broad this time out, and that is impressive. And there are less awkward lyrics (no “Brownie McGee” cringe lines here). So even though the execution is a fair bit less focused, I can’t help but like it more.

17. Abandon Jalopy: Mercy (7/10)

In 2005, I wrote the following:

Abandon Jalopy is former Blind Melon-bassist Brad Smith’s solo project and, for my money, it’s the best post-Melon release by any of the former members’ bands. It definitely has a recorded-in-the-basement feel to it. But that doesn’t detract from the record. You can see how integral Smith was to his former band’s sound on these songs.

You probably can’t tell by that paragraph but I think I really, really wanted to love this record, because I missed Blind Melon so much. But upon a decade plus of listening to this record, I don’t like it as much as I used to.

Smith’s songs are decent at times – other times not so much – but they are dressed in these dense arrangements that almost feel over-produced. And that’s not really a surprise – I think with a lot of “bedroom” music comes the temptation of overdubbing to extremes. (I think that’s borne out by listening to lots of “bedroom” records.)

And I guess I just find it wanting: in songs and in production. But, that being said, it’s still pretty decent. It’s a unique little record that doesn’t sound like Blind Melon and doesn’t really sound like too many other bands either.

18. Drive-By Truckers: Southern Rock Opera (7/10)

This was the first DBT record I ever heard and, for a while, it was my favourite just because it was the first. But though it is their most ambitious album it is significantly more flawed than some of their others.

Like any DBT record, this has a bunch of great songs (including my personal candidate for their very best, “Zip City”). The problem for me is twofold: First, this is more of a song-cycle than a rock opera. It get that this is a nitpicky, semantic quibble, but it’s annoying nonetheless. But the second half of the problem is far more serious: in the cause of the “rock opera” there is just way too much spoken word from Hood.

And that’s too bad because, as I said, there are some pretty strong songs here in addition to “Zip City.” But finding them takes more effort than it should. And I’m glad to know that they’ve abandoned such bold-faced ambition for collections of songs going forward.

19. Pearl Jam: Live in Toronto [date unknown] (7/10)

I have only ever heard three of these “official bootlegs” and this is probably my favourite. And no, that’s not because I live here. It’s because the album was recorded on the [i]Binaural[/i] tour and contains more of my favourite music. Also, compared to the other two I’ve heard, there’s less obnoxiousness from Vedder (though there’s still some – a key reason why I’ve never gone to see them).

But I can hardly recommend it to people who aren’t fans. I mean, once you get into the “official bootlegs,” you’re getting into obsessive territory.

20. John Hiatt: The Tiki Bar is Open (6/10)

I can’t remember where I heard of Hiatt. Maybe somebody covered one of his songs and I liked it. Maybe I saw him on Treme. I think that was it.

The band has a lot of energy, which is good. But I am a little wary of the songs. A couple of them remind me of better songs by other songwriters. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s that they’re not amazing, and it’s hard for me to get super excited about this when the songs aren’t great.

The biggest problem is the final track, which sees them attempting (and failing at) psychedelia. It’s completely out of character for the album, at least to my ears.

But though it may sound like I’m being negative, I’d still rather listen to this than the radio.

21. Wellwater Conspiracy: The Scroll and its Combinations (6/10)

I think one reason why I struggle to like this record is that I had certain expectations of it. Sure, those expectations were not fair, but they were there. I guess I was expecting some kind of Soundgarden/Pearl Jam fusion thing. And, to their credit, that’s not what’s here.

But both of those bands have great songs. Cameron has helped write some of those, but not that many of them. And McBain doesn’t appear to be a great songwriter either. They’re just not that good.

And the sound’s a little too revivalist for me. It’s not Brian Jonestown Massacre revivalist, but it’s still pretty revivalist. And so there’s just nothing that really grabs me. Ah well.

22. Buddy Guy: Sweet Tea (6/10)

The record is introduced as Guy dealing with his age, a nice solo performance. But the rest of the record is significantly different. It sounds like an attempt to use modern production to make something “authentic.”

That’s definitely better than that other trend in the blues – to mix it up with soul and R&B and other genres, which can be really annoying – but I’m not sure how necessary it is. The opening sets you up for one thing and the rest of the record is significantly different.

As someone else noted, a couple of the performances go on forever for no apparent reason. They are all strong performances, but I don’t really know why this is preferable to something earlier.

I would have preferred a whole, folky blues record about age, personally, or a whole over-produced “authentic” blues record. Not some of both.

23. Steve Earle: Transcendental Blues (5/10)

I can’t say I know Earle’s oeuvre enough to judge how much of a departure this is for him, but it sure sounds like one compared to his early output.

This album is filled with the sounds of pop rock and alternative bands who have embraced “eastern music.” Sometimes these touches are subtler than others – and there are a couple songs where they are totally absent, and not coincidentally those are the strongest – but for the most part this record reeks of “expanding” his sound. So much so that on the title track his voice is nearly unrecognizable (and not in a good way). There’s backwards guitars, tablas (?), synthesizers and other things.

Frankly, I think the album is the lesser for these touches. But there are a few strong songs and performances that nearly makeup for the weird “experiments”, so that’s something.

PS I blame this record (and any others he recorded like it) for Earle’s version of “Down in the Hole” being the weakest of The Wire theme songs.

24. The Tea Party: The Interzone Mantras (5/10)

The Interzone Mantras by the Tea Party gets off to a decent start with “Interzone,” a track which suggests they are about to go to a place they have never gone (of course, not quite, because the angularity of the track is heavily flattened out to make it more accessible, and the lyrics are the usual crap).

But the rest of the album, though it is relatively stylistically diverse in terms of influences, is very much watered down, radio friendly “modern rock,” which lacks much of the energy that drew people to this band in the first place.

It is all very, very professional, but it is also clean, boring and flat sounding.

25. Weezer (5/10)

The idiosyncrasy of Pinkerton is gone.

The bad producer returns.

It’s ridiculously short.

If Cuomo really has a ton of extra songs he either writes lots of shitty songs, or he doesn’t know how to pick the good ones.

Yes, the singles are decent.

And it’s competent.

But at times I think I’m listening to Blink. Not a compliment.

26. Deep Dark United: Zettel (4/10)

I have listened to music since before I can remember. My mom recently reminded me of a Big Bird record I had as a toddler which taught me about the different instruments in the orchestra. I have been listening to music seriously – as a snob – for at least half my life. So by this point I have standards. I can’t sing, I can’t play guitar, and I could never do what any of these musicians do, but I do know what good music sounds like and I think the thousands of albums and works I have heard in my life entitle me to have standards and opinions.

Read the full review.

27. Chris Colepaugh and the Cosmic Crew: Trip (4/10)

When I was 19 and 20, I used to watch this guy come play at the Lion d’Or. Apparently he enjoyed himself in Lennoxville so much, the rumour was that he always started and ended his tours there. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but I do know that he came to play a lot around the time this record came out, and that’s when I bought it, one night after really appreciating his playing.

Make no mistake, Chris Colepaugh is an extremely talented musician: he is an excellent guitarist, a decent keyboardist and a decent drummer. His band are good too. If you’re looking for a band to give you massive nostalgia for the late ’60s or early ’70s, this is the band for you. They replicate the sound extremely well, both live and on record. And Colepaugh’s songs recall classics from the era, be they by Santana (perhaps the most glaring influence on this record), Hendrix, Cream, The Beatles, and so forth.

The problem is that this record exists in another time. There’s nothing original about it. It’s a series of pale imitations of classic songs, where the arrangements ape Colepaugh’s favourite ’60s hard rock and psychedelic, right down to the effects on the guitars. (The most glaring example of this is the bonus drum solo which, at one point, quotes Ringo’s solo from “The End,” nearly beat for beat.)

There’s a part of me that feels like a jackass for being so critical of people I have met and supported in the past, of real human beings who are working their asses off to (successfully) entertain people in bars – a lot of male students, no doubt – throughout Canada. I mean, how dare I?

But, as I religiously went to see him whenever he came to the Lion d’Or, and got to watch his fantastic playing and live in Classic Rock Heaven, I also was getting exposed to all sorts of other music. I was slowly coming to learn that there is a lot of music out there, and the very best of it is almost always music that struggles against received notions of what’s good. My favourite music now is almost always music that was radical at it’s time, that broke down barriers and that opened up new avenues for expression. This record is the enemy of that music.

There is, and I suspect always will be, a place for bands that make people feel good, that remind them of their past – or, in my case, the music they grew up with, even I wasn’t alive when it was made – and that put on a good show while doing this. And that is often a fun experience to have live, especially while consuming copious amounts of alcohol, as I did when I used to see The Cosmic Crew.

But on record, this experience is not a rewarding one for me personally. I’d rather listen to the genuine article.

Not Ranked:

Compilations, archival releases and new performances of old music.

London Sinfonietta, Oliver Knussen, Cynthia Buchan, Lisa Saffer et al.: Higglety Pigglety Pop!; Where the Wild Things Are (9/10)

Perhaps the best children’s music since Peter and the Wolf.

Read the review.

Thomas Ades et al.: Piano Music: The Diary of One Who Disappeared; 15 Moravian Folksongs by Leos Janacek (9/10)

Read the review.

Belcea Quartet: Debussy / Dutilleux / Ravel: String Quartets (9/10)

It’s rare, I think, to come across such a successful program of music from different composers across nearly a century, so I like this a lot.

Read the full review.

Lukas Foss et al.: Piano Concertos; Elegy for Anne Frank (8/10)

This is an odd compilation in that it combines performances of Foss’ work by others with two by himself. I don’t really know why they aren’t all by himself, but whatever.

Read the rest of the review.

Miles Davis: Young Miles (8/10)

For die-hard fans of Miles, or for people really interested in how Cool came out of Bop, this is probably pretty near essential.

Read the rest of the review.

English Baroque Soloists: Water Music; Music for the Royal Fireworks by Georg Friedrich Handel (8/10)

Read the review.

The Smashing Pumpkins: Rotten Apples Deluxe Edition (8/10)

Note: this is a review of both discs and the rating reflects that.

The first disc is a good compilation. It showcases most of the band’s best known songs, and a cover that has become fairly famous (though it is pretty straightforward). The only problem with it (aside from it being a “greatest hits” album) is that there are two songs on it that clearly don’t belong. As with so many of these things, someone has stuck on some “new” material in the hope that this too becomes successful. Oops.

The second disc is less consistent, but that is obviously to be expected since it is a rarities comp. About half of it isn’t new exactly, so that sort of defeats the purpose. And it’s hardly complete. But it’s still solid for what it is.

Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg: The Snows of Kilimanjaro / 5 Fingers by Bernard Herrmann (6/10)

This is a compilation of two of Hermann’s 1950s scores, one for a famous Gregory Peck drama (based on a Hemingway story), and one for a long-forgotten spy TV series. Because both works have been arranged for symphony orchestra for this release, it’s a little hard to assess them.

Snows is a pretty conventional score, at least as presented here. There are lots of obvious emotional cues and big themes. As these things go, it’s pretty and memorable at times, but it’s not the kind of thing that makes you think.

I was hoping the TV show score would be a little zanier, but it’s not. I guess because it predates Bond, it’s not got that sixties-ish spy vibe (but that’s hardly fair on my part).

On the whole, both scores are nice. Having seen neither the movie nor the show, I cannot comment on whether or not the original arrangements made them sound a little more risque/non-traditional. This is hardly the place to start with appreciating Hermann’s immense influence on film scores, but both are fine for background listening.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely: The 3 Worlds of Gulliver by Bernard Herrmann (6/10)

This is among the most traditional scores of Herrmann’s I’ve heard. It’s downright classical in its overture. I mean, shockingly traditional music for Herrmann. Not having seen this particular film, I don’t know how deliberate this is. (I assume, because it’s Gulliver’s Travels that the music is trying to sound like 18th century music.) But as a standalone score, it’s really conventional, even when it begins to resemble more of a score later on.

Don’t get me wrong, the music is fine, but it’s so conventional as to not be worth your time if you’re looking for landmark scores.

Not Ranked: Modest Mouse: Sad Sappy Sucker (6/10)

I wrote this in 2009:

It’s clear this is early in the band’s history. It’s all over the place and totally unfocused. There is some appeal in and it’s an interesting listen. They obviously needed a better (or different) producer and a (somewhat) different approach to writing.

I believe it was recorded in 1994 and you can really tell.

Not ranked: The Best of Morissey (5/10)

Read the review.

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