domingo, 31 de janeiro de 2010

Os Melhores Discos de 2002 - Pitchfork

Last year, we bullshitted you guys. "There's no such thing as a bad year for music!" was just rhetoric that, frankly, betrayed our optimism. The more we look back on it, 2001 sucked. Maybe it's just that 2002 saw such a steady influx of Top 20 contenders that we never had a moment to come up for air. At no time in the last year did our staff feel "on top" of music; it was constantly kicking our collective ass. It took almost as much time to narrow this list to just 50 records as it did to write about them. Honestly, we debated going with a Top 100, but figured that might be overkill. Regardless, we can say with absolute, bald-faced honesty that each of these records own, and though no one person will dig all of them, we think anyone could find enough greatness here to take them through the next year.

50: Comets on Fire
Field Recordings from the Sun
[Ba Da Bing!]

Comets on Fire's breakthrough second album may be the year's most psychedelic dirty bomb. This American quartet came armed with MC5-grade vocalist bravado, a half-dozen amateur percussionists (read: "drunk friends") and a multi-pronged guitar attack: Ethan Miller knocked axes with guests Ben Chasny and the Fucking Champs' Tim Green on "electric destruction guitar," "floating guitar," and other effects-laden, imaginary instruments, all detonated through Noel Harmonson's omniverous, sound-stretching Echoplex, erupting with a bloat-free intensity in a blast radius of exactly 5.43 miles. --Chris Dahlen

49: Dälek
From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots

Phil Spector's wall-of-sound was never this thick or intimidating. Dälek's music is dense, literate, often abrasive, a challenging entry into an increasingly impressive underground hip-hop canon. "Voices of the Ether" fluttered, then faltered; "Black Smoke Rises" assaulted spoken word convention with a brutal sound collage that would do Nurse with Wound proud; "Spiritual Healing" cracked open religion and racism with a single strike. Through it all, Dälek never forgot the listener-- and there were enough incredible beats and textures to cover a few albums, all combined with a deft hand. His filthy tongue has the power to cleanse, challenge, and inspire. --Joe Tangari

48: Tom Waits
Alice and Blood Money

Midyear, as the phrase "inured to the horror" became a conversational-- then journalistic-- cliché, Waits emerged from his cabin-tomb with a disc to cover each ear. Alice is more of a piece, and was the free world's favorite of these two ugly twins: it got away with the searing sap of "Fish & Bird." The rollicking Blood Money's unflappable bulldoggery was the ideal complement; Waits comes across like a town crier during an abortive evacuation, yelping, "Don't go down that road!" even though it's the only road. Both platters boasted musicianship that reached into our European ghost-past, underplaying every exotic instrument: crepuscular riffs here, exilic swoon there, as if jazz were invented by pirates. It's amazing what Waits milks from a conceit on par with some hippie's epiphany: What if the normals are the freaks, and the freaks the normals? --William Bowers

47: Songs: Ohia
Didn't It Rain
[Secretly Canadian]

Jason Molina's music has always been a whole lot of bleak to take; with his sparse guitar and mournful howl, Songs: Ohia albums have always had the power to conjure up a dark cloud around any listening environment. But on Didn't It Rain, the presence of bluegrass duo Jim & Jennie took some of the lacerating edge off of Molina's moans, particularly the harmonies of Jennie Benford, who proves yet again that every dark-eye-ring Folkie sounds better with an Emmylou perched on his shoulder. Mind stuck on the night sky and the industrial wasteland of Chicago's stockyards, Molina turns in his strongest effort to date, including the stirringly concise "Two Blue Lights" and "Blue Factory Flame," the best song On the Beach-era Neil Young never wrote. --Rob Mitchum

46: Blackalicious
Blazing Arrow

To celebrate their first record on a major label, Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel threw a party-- and you could get lost just checking out the guests: some backup vocals from Gil-Scott Heron, a tour-de-force rap by Saul Williams, ?uestlove's smooth soul contribution to "Nowhere Fast"... The list goes on, yet it's the men of Blackalicious who show up with their best work yet. While not as conventionally hip-hop as its predecessor, 2000's Nia, Blazing Arrow's side-trips through decades of soul and funk show the breadth of Chief Xcel's intricate productions. Meanwhile, Gift of Gab's rapid-fire staccato rhymes veer from the show-off virtuosity of "Chemical Calisthenics" to the lighter-hearted, bouncy title track. And the single, "Make You Feel That Way," sums it all up, cutting straight to the positive vibe that pulls this far-reaching material together. --Chris Dahlen

45: Acid Mothers Temple
In C

In an era when ambient music, via clicks, cuts and glitches, threatens to consume a generation obsessed with synthetic bliss and too much information, a modest Japanese noise commune delivered the goods with indigenous instrumentation. Acid Mothers Temple's take on Terry Riley's 1964 minimalist classic wasn't the most faithful ever performed, but it may very well be the most immediate. Like a distant, off-kilter cousin to Boredoms' Vision Creation Newsun, In C thundered quietly, phasing its rhythmic drive to the background to make way for a raw mixture of steel drums, sitar, and surprisingly, not much guitar at all. And just in case you thought this band couldn't swallow its pride, "In D" stripped away the stomp for a 20-minute TM exercise. Nirvana: It's not just for Maharishis anymore. --Dominique Leone

44: Hrvatski
Swarm & Dither
[Planet µ]

Keith Fullerton Whitman made quite a splash this year: Playthroughs gets its just desserts later in the countdown, but for the best in overstuffed digitry, this album/compilation/resumé was one-stop shopping for the discriminating, detail-obsessed consumer. The keen breaks here are instant entertainment for anyone who thinks Squarepusher just isn't manic (or intelligent) enough, though the more lasting impressions emit from 21st Century tone poems like "Paint It Black" and "Anesthetize Thineself." What makes this record so extraordinary isn't the amount of work that went in or tumbles out, but that it makes clear we have come to a point when the most interesting sounds in the world come not from a guitar, sampler or laptop, but from a spontaneous, unexpectedly natural fusion of the three. --Dominique Leone

43: Pretty Girls Make Graves
Good Health

I told them emo was over; they beat me over the head with a backpack full of bricks until I was forced to admit that, yes, it could be rehabilitated. I tried to reason with them: it's mathematically impossible, I said, to cram that many guitar hooks into a single song, much less repeat the feat over an entire album. They shoved my abacus down my throat, made me shout along to "Bring It On Golden Pond," and then physically etched the melody of "Sad Girls Por Vida" onto my brain with a crochet hook. I appealed to history: rock critics know it's impossible to reconcile technical perfection with emotional depth. They swooped in, garroted me with guitar strings, and plunged a drumstick through my still-beating heart. As my effervescing soul wafted away, I watched Andrea Zollo humming serenely as, sure enough, she dug my place of eternal rest, and I realized that, for a rock critic, I sure am wrong about a lot of things. --Brendan Reid

42: Beck
Sea Change

Few albums released this year were as divisive as Sea Change, the album that saw a matured, more sophisticated Beck discovering his sensitive side. On one side you had those that championed the album's majestic Godrich orchestra, and Beck's ability to summarize so much emotional depth with seeming non-sequiturs; on the other were those who perceived the lack of eccentric mischievousness as critical acclimation. The Pitchfork staff found itself as evenly divided, trading shouts of "virtuoso!" and "diva!" across our desks. I'm somewhere in the middle myself, but this is how I figure it: Beck is the closest our generation has come to a David Bowie multi-personality, and if Midnite Vultures was his Young Americans, Sea Change is undoubtedly his Station to Station: a searching crooner's epic, punctuated by paranoid, lovelorn poetry, and production radiant enough to illuminate the most minute details. --Ryan Schreiber

41: Talib Kweli

Five years after changing the hip-hop landscape with his group Black Star, Talib Kweli dropped his incredible solo debut, Quality, to near universal acclaim. For this one, Talib parted ways with longtime collaborator Hi-Tek and enlisted the considerable production talents of Kayne West, DJ Quik and the Souliquarians. The fresh blood gave Talib a funkier, more polished sound that suited his ever-expanding fiat of subject matter. Kweli's lyrics managed to speak to both the personal and the political, and did so in a manner that was alternately joyful and mournful, but always optimistic and honest. --Sam Chennault

40: Derek Bailey

Derek Bailey is probably one of the only improvisers in the world who has made a career of consistently putting himself in uncomfortable situations. In the past decade alone, a drum-n-bass DJ, a jazz funk band, and a certain Japanese prog-rock duo have all collaborated with the 70-year-old guitarist. But despite all of this work, any notions of conventional melody or harmony have always remained somewhat taboo to Bailey. An album of jazz standards, therefore, comes largely as a shock to many of his fans. Yet, Ballads sheds light on all of Bailey's prior releases-- maybe the sweet and lyrical approach has always been gurgling beneath the shards of harmonics, plucks, and resonances that are emblematic of all of his work. It's an album that adds another page to Bailey's self-redefinition, and he handles it with a particularly affecting voice. Ballads suceeds as a gorgeous balance, where menacing dissonance and painstaking melody come together in a sense of scorched nostalgia and stark honesty. --Matthew Wellins

39: Kevin Drumm
Sheer Hellish Miasma

How would the Mego label follow Fennesz's Endless Summer? By splintering all expectations with the beautiful (Jim O'Rourke's I'm Happy and I'm Singing), the abstract (The Return of FennO'Berg) and the brutal. Composed of accordion, synthesizer, turntable, and guitar working beyond their normal sonic capabilities, the third album from the Windy City's Kevin Drumm was singular in focus, right down to the austere black metal cover art, and produced a powerful blast of white noise that bled plasma from the speakers and tested the ears. Literally deafening at high volumes, this assault on the senses is the thing that should not be, the monster that only technology could create, the harmonious wail of a million overworked dot matrix printers slowly decaying in a Tronscape battlefield of the future. --Andy Beta

38: Eminem
The Eminem Show

Pitchfork wanted to hate the latest phase of this one-man three-way: Eminem's been pulling a train on his alter egos so long that our minds should have wandered away from his pasty glower and onto less predictable prisms. The fawning of every mainstream presswad only fueled our dissentience. Yet here his scrappy ass smirks from our year-end roundup, as we're caught in the flow of his arch-parody/manifesto. Eminem's pathological self-spotlighting teetered on the line dividing logorrhea from a talking cure. His no-brow lunges forced his listeners to superimpose highbrow notions on his shoulders: Is he a chiaroscurist, obsessed with the play of the light and the dark, in terms of spirit, tone, and complexion? Is he a lost Kafka character, whose two compulsions are to build idols of himself and then tear them down? Is he not one of us, but the king of us? The Eminem Show wasn't quite the powerhouse of his Fork-ignored Marshall Mathers LP, but we'd be kidding ourselves if we said it wasn't further proof that he's got this rap game beat. --William Bowers

37: Secret Machines
September 000
[Ace Fu]

Okay, so no one will be able to reverse the damage perpetrated by a certain former Texan this year, but in a karmic sense, the former Texans in Secret Machines restored our faith in exports from the state Polk stole. A bouncier Built to Spill who would rather practice wankery on keys and drums than their molten axes, Secret Machines dangled us in the dense, trippy spaces between their sweetly thunderous songs, like Puritan ministers hosting a ride on hell's monorail. The band moodswung on a dime from the forlorn stomp of "It's a Bad Wind That Don't Blow Somebody Some Good" to the second half of the second half of their hand-clappy indie hoedown "Marconi's Radio." Another elliptical bullseye from the year Brian "Soft Albini" Deck became a titan. --William Bowers

36: DJ /Rupture
Minesweeper Suite

On the face of it, this was just a guy with three turntables playing his favorite records. But what a selection: eschewing flashy turntable tricks for a seamless blend of music, DJ /Rupture effortlessly mixed the most disparate musics: hip-hop, dub and avant-jazz collided with sounds from around the world, from the inspiring mix of Mahmoud Fadl and J-Boogie, to explosive collisions like Aphasic's spastic blasts undercutting Shinehead's "Rough and Rugged." Every source track was listed in the liner notes, letting the listener follow along and draw his or her own conclusions, and /Rupture's vision is open enough to encourage just that. Though /Rupture is far from the first American to explore world music, he applied no sentimentalism to the African tracks, and no exoticism to the Middle Eastern ones; to further de-romanticize the mix, he knocked it around with wildly dynamic, explosive shifts. This was a world vision that knew where the clubs were, and could handle the local cops, not the vision you get at Starbucks, dreaming about the veldt. --Chris Dahlen

35: Hot Snakes
Suicide Invoice

Within about thirty seconds of the vicious bass wreckage of "I Hate the Kids", Hot Snakes released enough bile-encrusted, vitriolic rage to kick your ass up between your teeth, which pretty much set the tone for the rest of Suicide Invoice. Thirty minutes later, you were reduced to a broken, bloody mess by a relentless onslaught of rock'n'roll aggression, yet it was hard to suppress a toothless grin. Suicide Invoice outstripped its predecessor, Automatic Midnight, by a mile, showing the Snakes leaner and meaner than ever before. The guitars stabbed with lunatic precision over the echoing thud of colossal bass/drum frenzies and Rick Froberg sung with bulldozer-force, and yet, with an uncertain vulnerability. The result was nothing less than the essence of rock, beautiful to behold. --Eric Carr

34: Tim Hecker
Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again

Tim Hecker's magnum opus was an old house looming from the top of a hill. It was creepy, foreboding, and all the more intriguing because of its spectral aura. Each of the (titled) tracks formed rooms, built from the bare essentials of drones and freeform static, yet they unfolded in surprisingly personal ways. You wandered through these memory-stained chambers, acquainting yourself with subtle gradations between cold isolation and warm embrace, claustrophobic and expansive terrain. They were joined by short passages of humming synth, ringing belltones and the eerie susurrus of voices whispering. The word "haunt" still carries the sense of its original Middle English meaning, "to frequent," and Hecker's invitation is one I'll take up again and again. --Christopher Dare

33: Rjd2
[Def Jux]

The Private Press may have given us what DJ Shadow needed to give us, but Rjd2 gave us what we wanted Shadow to give us: a diverse amalgamation of breaks, blues samples, jazzy loops, mournful raps, sci-fi kitsch, and retro-psych freak-outs. Deadringer was a masterpiece, constructed with both beautiful nuances and broad, epic strokes; the result was an amusement park of pop culture references. In the year of the producer, Deadringer was hip-hop's most expressive and fun instrumental album, but more than that, Rjd2's unique brand of sampling made this an essential album for any fan of instrumental hip-hop. --Sam Chennault

32: Philip Jeck

Loop after loop and a hundred patterns in, it's clear that minimalism is alive and skipping on Stoke. Jeck, along with Fennesz, Ekkehard Ehlers and Otomo Yoshihide, exposed the relatively untapped possibilities of gorgeous sound produced merely from a phonograph plexus caressing aged vinyl. The music on Stoke wasn't so much a mantra as it was a microcosmic sample of the beauty of a passing moment: "Vienna Faults" evoked the never-changing landscape of wintry Europe, viewed from the passenger seat of a bullet train; "Below" captured the distant toll of a church bell (transposed from a hobbled sitar sample), and fractured vocal transmissions; "Pax" isolated the underwater croon of a blues singer as he drowned under the clang of the earlier train and his own morose helplessness. If half-remembered imagery of dreams is the closest we can get to the next world, Stoke provided fleeting notes of the trip. --Dominique Leone

31: Isis

If any medium can get away with heavy-handedness, it's heavy metal. Though its nautical theme is one of the most tired fetishes in underground rock, Isis' second full-length, Oceanic, is a tyrant, using time and weight as weapons to dash galleons against cliff walls, reducing them to foam. Aaron Turner's bellowing shouts ride along a tidal wall of distorted guitar to one-up The Melvins' classic Houdini; like the latter album sans its sense of humor, or a grindcore single played at 33 1/3, Isis has a stranglehold on sludge. Backed by a drummer that nails down tempos with railroad ties, their anthems slam against your ears again and again, before receding into pensive breakdowns whose undertow should never be underestimated. With more depth than its touted predecessor, Oceanic proved Isis a venerable, storied destroyer in a sea of lesser battleships. --Chris Ott

30: Mr. Lif
I Phantom
[Def Jux]

On his Emergency Rations EP, Mr. Lif conveyed a persona so splintered it brought to mind multiple personality disorder more than range: one minute he was a culture-critiquing visionary offering insights about Bush's nebulous war and TV-saturation, the next he rapped from the perspective of a video-game addicted stoner fantasizing about killing other blacks. The EP closed with an authentically moving portrait of the nowhereness of being an American prole. I Phantom further developed this concept: the songs told the story of a young man who dies a violent death, lives a dream-life as a b-boy, then wakes up in a mundane job with a wife and kids; the plot thickens until a nuclear war wipes out most of the planet. Lif's presentation of workplaces as paddocks, and his insights about a culture in which "ads are dads, and sitcoms are moms" and the purpose of life is to "work and consume" were spot-on. Something stank up in this utopia, and Lif brought some much-needed ire and doubt to an artform stifled by complacency and absurd self-assuredness. --William Bowers

29: Sigur Rós

If you're walking through your local record shop and catch a whiff of gimmicky pretentiousness, you may be in the vicinity of Sigur Rós' latest, ( ). One of the more willfully obscure albums to see release in the naught decade thus far, ( ) ran through eight tracks in a presumptuous seventy-two minutes. It provided no song titles or information in the useless CD booklet, and it contained no dramatic departures from Ágaetis Byrjun. So why give a shit? Because when a band is at the fore of musical innovation, they can get away with this kind of absurd tripe, and probably a whole lot more. Those who found it in themselves to look past Sigur Rós' monkey business were rewarded with another gem from the best gibberish-singing band working today. In summation, ( ) is like Radiohead without Thom Yorke. What could be better? --Brian James

28: Missy Elliott
Under Construction

Under Construction was a disappointment insofar as it was flatter than Missy's other records: more consistent, fewer highlights. But when the good bits are as fancy-free as "Work It" and "Gossip Folks"-- tracks that sound magnificently unconcerned with anything else in the universe, as if they were even more of a blast to record than they are to listen to-- what's the point in complaining? The beats, often nodding to late-80s old school, are as lovely as ever, the R&B is even better than the hip-hop, and the block-party groove of "Back in the Day" is almost good enough to make me think there might actually be a point to Jurassic 5. Missy spits syllables forward and back, tongue untied in a stream of "brrlagh!"'s, "ding-da-ding-ding"'s and "ooohwee"'s. Who else raps like this? May Missy forever sound as if she's having a thousand times more fun than anyone else. --Nitsuh Abebe

27: The Walkmen
Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone

What should have been a nauseating confection-- Pavement meets U2 in a sexy Gap commercial drenched with bratmosphere-- ended up being one of the best reasons to heart New York in the post-Strokes drool-off. This album's spoiled-rotten-in-the-Big-Apple pleasures were menagerie: dig the string wind-down of the title track. Dig the world-weariness that reeked, contradictorily, of privilege, an urgent distillation of leisure-class angst. Dig the flummoxed reactions of the uninitiated: "What are they doing, making fun of opera?" The perfectly named Hamilton Leithauser sounds bothered by his skin-bag, unimpressed with being the answer to that irksome question: What if Axl Rose went to Prep-- I mean Art-- School? Tell your superstitious children that the murk-pulse pianos appeared mysteriously on a haunted track. Tell the world that American Britpop is just punk hyperventilating, on Quaaludes. --William Bowers

26: GZA
Legend of the Liquid Sword

Not too many people could get away with calling themselves The Genius, but then, not too many people have the lyrical skills of Gary Grice, aka The Genius, aka GZA. Whether chronicling the beginnings of the Wu-Tang Clan on "Auto Bio," punning off celebrities' names on "Fame," or rhyming about the politics of the jungle on "Animal Planet," Legend of the Liquid Sword proved that GZA is still one of the most creative MCs in the game. His crunchy flow is utterly unique, his mastery of words one of hip-hop's greatest treasures. Respect is due to Wu lyrical assassin #1, and with this album, he has permanently secured it. --Sam Chennault

25: Neko Case

The votes are in: five for "chanteuse," three for "witchy woman," two for "alt-country crooner," and one for "trailer-park diva." Whichever she is, Neko Case is gigantic and growing, her roots probing past the topsoil, around the inert clods of contemporary C&W, reaching for those buried archetypes of Americana. Blacklisted's reverb-wrapped heart was as deep and dark as Johnny Cash's, but it couldn't help being lifted up on the dusty shimmer of these arrangements, and the constant stream of bloodied roses issuing from Case's confident, cavernous throat. It was obvious, with a perfect sketch like "Outro With Bees" alongside a cross-continent epic like "Deep Red Bells," that Case's abilities as a songwriter matched her abilities as a singer, but that fact isn't particularly relevant when you're steeped in the boiling honey of that voice; it's best to tread this water, and go with the exquisite ache. --Brendan Reid

24: McLusky
McLusky Do Dallas
[Too Pure/Beggars]

Though regularly compared to other noise-punks like the Pixies, this Welsh trio is neither confrontational nor experimental. Mostly, they're daft, and fun as hell, turning out a tight, noise-stricken record where buzzing power chords, catchy lead lines and Andy Falkous' ferret-in-a-leg-trap shouting combined with lyrics to balance the offensive with the absurd. "To Hell with Good Intentions" was their standout single ("sing it!"), but the screaming weirdness of songs like "Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues" sold the band. And in case they don't sound any smarter than the crass power-punk we have in the States, dig their wit, which hit its driest on the self-piss-take "Fuck This Band." --Chris Dahlen

23: Ekkehard Ehlers

He's lumped in with the endless glut of laptop IDMers, but the highly refined compositional sense and brilliant conceptual ideas exhibited on Plays showed Ekkehard Ehlers was working in the upper echelon. These ten tracks found Ehlers offering musical interpretations (not covers) of artists such as Robert Johnson and John Cassavetes, and combining digitally sculpted sounds with recordings of guitar and cello. The range of moods varied widely, according to subject: some tracks were defiantly abstract, and impenetrable, others were serene and meditative; there were even hints of melodrama. There's just so much here; it's the kind of record you could listen to for several years and hear something new each time. --Mark Richardson

22: Fire Show
Saint the Fire Show

The Fire Show embodied the true spirit of punk, relentlessly pushing the boundaries of their music, never afraid to issue themselves a challenge. Unfortunately, they've disbanded now, but Saint the Fire Show lives on as a towering testament to what made them special. Busted hymns and desolate anthems mingled with the rhythms of post-punk, conjuring the ghosts of The Pop Group and Alternative TV, without ever sounding like them. Filtered through the cracked lens of producer Brian Deck, Saint the Fire Show was gripping proof that there's still plenty of room for originality to thrive in rock music, so long as it's made courageously, and with total disregard for expectation. --Joe Tangari

21: Wire
Read & Burn 01 & 02

Wire's mid-80s reunion was met with critical incredulity and easy comparisons to then-successful electro-pop masterminds New Order; though a number of great tunes lurked beneath a questionable veneer, their reputation suffered increasing stab wounds until, following the acrimonious departure of drummer Robert Gotobed, the group released what could be the biggest dud of the nineties: 1991's The First Letter (billed as Wir). When they rolled out the classics on a 2001 reunion tour, we cheered, but the ensuing Read & Burn series still had a lot to answer for. Though only two of the three volumes were released in 2002, they've already silenced all comers: harking back to their undocumented last wave of post-punk material, Wire infused their sound with memories of the coke-fueled, mid-80s heyday of Industrial music. From "The Art of Stopping" and "Read and Burn"-- screeching updates of the harsh version of "Our Swimmer" from Turns and Strokes-- to the silky chorus of 154 leftover "Trash/Treasure", the eight tracks on these EPs prove Wire are still versed in the art of restarting. --Chris Ott

20: Hot Hot Heat
Make Up the Breakdown
[Sub Pop]

It's possible 2002 will be looked back on as the Year the Indie Kids Started Dancing Again, what with dance-beat influences seeping into the recipes of many a buzz-band, and 24 Hour Party People reminding folks that the gulf between Joy Division and rave culture is only about an hour-and-a-half wide. Other bands might've assimilated disco theory more deeply, but Hot Hot Heat were the ones that truly met somber head-nodders halfway. Tracks like "Talk to Me, Dance With Me" (more cowbell!) or "No, Not Now" sutured power-pop and emo-punk approaches to rhythms that precluded shoegazing, while singer Steve Bays' Dexy's-like yelp ratcheted up the spaz levels to uncontrollable, limb-flailing territory. It might not have been fitting source material for DJs mixing at velvet-rope clubs, but it fit nicely into the playlist at every repression-shedding indie sock-hop this year. --Rob Mitchum

019: Deerhoof
[5RC/Kill Rock Stars]

Shaking off labels isn't an easy feat for any band, but with the release of Reveille, Deerhoof finally freed themselves from the "crazy, Japanese chick band" tag. Upon initial listens, Reveille registered as a beautiful but unmanageable mess of a record-- a seven-decker sonic sandwich you consumed carefully for fear of drenching yourself in condiments. Closer inspection revealed, encoded in the unending and occasionally unsettling barrage of sound, some of the greatest simple pop hooks to grace any record this year. Deerhoof didn't sound "crazy" because they didn't try to work against any convention-- they simply built unconventional, frenetic, and often gorgeous music from the ground up. And it's hard to imagine anything making much more sense than that. --Matt LeMay

018: The Streets
Original Pirate Material

Mike Streets is the Morrissey of rap. Not since Viva Hate has a record so clearly communicated as bleak, pompous and witty a British psyche. The Streets cut-and-paste digital pentameter with careless aplomb, stomping over two-step garage beats and laughably imprecise loops. Original Pirate Material is drunk, high, smart as shit and irrepressible, an audio snapshot of nights done down the boozer: lost cellphones, filthy toilets and half-mile ATM queues. "Don't Mug Yourself", in particular, is the finest tribute to a hangover since The Young Ones filmed Time. History lessons abound, from the dawn of time opener "Turn the Page" to the Rick Astley-by-way-of-Paul Oakenfold keyboards that lend a stately metropolitan pomp to "Has It Comes to This?" and "Weak Become Heroes". Original Pirate Material is an assured synthesis of house, garage, and hip-hop, but it's the vital, working-class poetry within that should mandate reexamination at the end of the decade. --Chris Ott

The Return of FennO'Berg

Jim O'Rourke is perhaps one of the only true geniuses left in modern music. Segueing seamlessly from performer to producer and all points in between, O'Rourke's diverse work with the likes of Sonic Youth, Eddie Prevost, Faust, and Wilco have established the Chicago native as a true renaissance man. And his recent collaboration with avant-garde composers Christian Fennesz and Pita yielded some of the most exciting improvisational music the Austria-based Mego label has released. An album as caustic as it is beautiful, The Return of FennO'Berg captured the volatility and kinetic energy of this laptop trio while adding yet another formidable chapter to the brilliant O'Rourke canon. --Isaiah Violante

016: Black Dice
Beaches & Canyons

Boldly going where no hardcore band had gone before, Black Dice proved in 2002 that you didn't have to be passive to be pretty. It's not that the music on Beaches & Canyons was necessarily attractive, but there was a certain allure to the quartet's futuristic nature hymns and war cries. Most striking was the metallic impressionism of "This Will Never Be the Same," where swelling cymbals and rippling, milky synth battled what sounded like a drowning victim in the left speaker. "Endless Happiness" juxtaposed power drumming and a small army of chirping electro-beasts with the sounds of an ocean meeting the sands at a faraway beachfront. If it wasn't new age, it would be no-wave, and if it weren't for this record, I'd have thought it was near impossible. --Dominique Leone

015: Enon
High Society
[Touch & Go]

Enon's official sophomore outing (after two self-released discs and half a dozen singles) proved to be John Schmersal's most versatile effort yet, bolstered by the addition of Toko Yasuda on bass and additional vocals. High Society showed Enon in top form, effortlessly slaughtering Guided by Voices ("Old Dominion"), Clinic ("Pleasure and Privilege"), and the Dismemberment Plan ("Carbonation") at their own game. But it was Schmersal's artful use of vintage synths and samples that truly distinguished Enon's unique brand of spazzy rock, making for an album as consistently inventive as it was entertaining. The paradox of time travel notwithstanding, the dizzy rhythms of "Disposable Parts" seemed to have been accidentally beamed in from 2084, yet none of these sounds postdate the halcyon synthscapes of Vice City. Beck, watch your back. --Will Bryant

014: Sleater-Kinney
One Beat
[Kill Rock Stars]

A brief history: the first three critically acclaimed albums were raw, political, genitals-to-the-wall rock. All Hands on The Bad One was sophisticated, catchy, and fun! One Beat is all of the above, with horns. It would have been exceedingly easy-- and satisfying-- for most fans had Sleater-Kinney retired to a comfortable pigeonhole with grandmothers-of-indie pensions in hand. Instead, this record expanded their sound dizzyingly, each song sounding like the perfect example of some new ass-shaking, Platonic ideal. "Oh!" was the impossible Carrie Brownstein sing-along, while "Light Rail Coyote" and "Step Aside" elbowed each other reaching for the rock crown. Where literally every other band failed, Sleater-Kinney stepped up and wrote the finest evocations of life both during and after an American tragedy ("Far Away" and "Combat Rock", respectively), and who said they couldn't? Years at the top haven't dulled their willingness to take risks, and that's just what they do, spectacularly, on One Beat. --Brendan Reid

013: Keith Fullerton Whitman

Like Fennesz' Endless Summer, Playthroughs created a chasm: on one side stood people who heard and loved it; on the other, those who found it boring. The odd thing was, an equal number of proper Hrvatski fans could be found on each ridge. The complaints were consistent: There are only, like, five notes. It's so quiet and static you have to listen closely to hear what's happening. It barely changes. All true. But: the five notes happen to be the correct ones. It's good to listen closely. And the changes, though tiny, are heavy with meaning, dense like a dwarf star. Playthroughs was, by one measure, one of the year's slightest albums, but no other drone or ambient release could touch its emotional heft. --Mark Richardson

012: Max Tundra
Mastered by the Guy at the Exchange

Max stepped out of his last record's shell, a hyperkinetic IDM experiment, and suddenly wound up "pop," in some unimaginably mind-bending sense of the word. Parts of this album sounded like... XTC and Squeeze collaborating on an 8-bit video game soundtrack? If it were that simple, it probably wouldn't have made this list. Mastered by Guy at the Exchange was the geek cousin of Original Pirate Material: one man with a singing sister and a magpie skill for collecting brilliant ideas, writing childlike, magic-realist pop songs about temp work and the guilt of having stolen his best friend's girl. And it came out sounding like Max Tundra had reinvented music without realizing it. --Nitsuh Abebe

011: El-P
Fantastic Damage
[Def Jux]

Al-Qaeda, Enron, John Ashcroft, Saddam Hussein-- it's a cold motherfuckin' world out there, kids, and if you're feeling a little frosty as of late, you are not alone. While other MCs spent the year paralyzed by over-analysis and experimentation, or transfixed by the bling of their diamond chains, underground icon El-P stepped back up to the mic on Fantastic Damage, confronting the chaos with an epic solo debut containing all the cacophony, confusion, and complexity of America today. El's dense, intricate production served as the perfect backdrop for a wall of words that was alternately oppressive and transcendent-- the encapsulation of the Def Jux sound, and a landmark release for independent hip-hop. --Sam Chennault

10: Liars
They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top

Liars didn't hate you, just your preconceptions. Their hardwired, mesmeric rhythms collided with jarring, serrated blasts of noise, remaining just out of reach, threatening the listener to come closer. Liars fought their way out of every corner with overpowering post-punk surges; every time you began to lock on to a groove, they slipped away. Beyond the nerves, the confidence, the beats, and the sheer blast of the music, the conscious denial of the listener's expectations made They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top enthralling. As a final reward for your attention, after five minutes of "This Dust Makes That Mud", Liars hit on a consistent drum trance. We thought we'd finally nailed them down, but the locked-groove loop ran on for another 25 minutes. Art-funk luminaries, men of uncompromising artistic vision, or simply four guys who do whatever the hell they want? It doesn't matter: Liars have already moved on. They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top dared you to do the same. --Eric Carr

09: Sonic Youth
Murray Street

Every review said the same thing: "Sonic Youth has released their most accessible album in years! " Yet with guest appearances from several members of Borbetomagus, carefully paced songwriting, and plenty of the Youth's exploitative, NYC-bohemian lyrics, Murray Street is a bit more multifaceted than you may have been led to believe. It's also more than just homage to Mountain and other 70's rock icons, as the band would have you believe. It's a document proving that old age does not always equal burning out, that moms and dads shredding on prepared guitars can indeed create beautiful, fiery rock epics, and perhaps best of all, that Sonic Youth are, after all these years, as powerful a unit as ever. --Ray Suzuki

08: Boards of Canada

In a world teeming with idiot savants (emphasis on idiot) sporting Richard D. James samples and pirated copies of Reaktor, IDM has been inundated with lifeless, derivative attempts at electronic pathos. In February, Scottish duo Boards of Canada released a truly breathtaking album that stirred the stagnant soil. Part downtempo, part ambient, part electronica, Geogaddi harnessed all of the inherent beauty-- and intelligence-- of IDM in a singularly poignant collection of material, encapsulating melancholy, paranoia, and disquiet in a deft masterstroke. With soundscapes ranging from the cosmic to the aquatic, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin's reflectively nuanced work captured one of the most inspired and indelibly haunting albums of 2002. --Isaiah Violante

07: Notwist:
Neon Golden
[City Slang]

Maybe it's got something to do with German engineering, or Markus Acher's moonbeam of a voice, but it was endlessly thrilling to see the canvas of electronic music stretched to the frame of guitar-pop, and so perfectly. Neon Golden made it difficult to believe the two genres were ever separate, and not just because of its supple fusion of strings and silicon on tracks like "Pick Up the Phone" and "This Room." For once, electronics weren't employed to create a futuristic sheen, but to celebrate and explore what emotional overtones these computerized sounds might be capable of communicating: the title track sounded as old as fluorescent dirt; "Off the Rails" could've been a childhood memory. Neon Golden is the past and the future, electronic music android's inner human awakening. --Brendan Reid

06: Spoon
Kill the Moonlight

Fans can argue whether this one beat or carried water for Girls Can Tell, but it's easy to see why Kill the Moonlight was, on its own terms, a fantastic record: every song was expertly crafted and melodic, the instruments pared to an absolute minimum under Britt Daniels' warm, tuneful vocals. It houses too many should-be singles to list here, but the piano line on "The Way We Get By" is pure gold, and "Jonathon Fisk," the album's flat-out rocker, matches its riffs with killer lyrics. Unlike past Spoon releases, Kill the Moonlight was more melodic than hard-hitting, with Daniels proving he can lay it on the line as nakedly as anyone-- it's a truer throwback to rock and roll than a New York boroughful of garage revivalists. --Chris Dahlen

05: Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
[Warner Bros]

Rather than retread the golden luminosity of The Soft Bulletin, the Flaming Lips once again confounded expectations with this ambitious paean to defeating adversity and living for the moment. From the opening call-to-arms "Fight Test" to the starry-eyed ruminations of "All We Have Is Now", Yoshimi proved a persistently engaging listen for newbies and diehards alike. It was also a catalyst for an all-around incredible year for the Lips, including lavish reissues of the band's first four albums, an appearance on the WB's witches-with-cleavage drama Charmed, a Hewlett-Packard commercial, and tours with Modest Mouse and Beck. And though they may not have surpassed their masterwork, Yoshimi's dense, innovative production still somehow manages to raise the bar for orchestral pop, something both celebratory and deeply heartfelt. Awww, Wayne, you had us at "Yoshimi." --Will Bryant

04: The Books
Thought for Food

The Books came out of nowhere and... well, they're still kind of nowhere, actually. It's clear that Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong, the two men behind The Books, are content to play the DL and let Thought for Food speak for itself, which it does, beautifully. Some people called it IDM, but to me, Thought for Food seemed much closer in spirit to early 90s four-track folk, The Books adding their considerable skill with rhythm, collage, and sonic juxtaposition to the organic mix. Each track seemed fully conceived and very carefully laid out, with guitar, violin and samples engaged in constant conversation. But the record's greatest accomplishment was to make the familiar seem new: nothing released in 2002 sounded anything like it. --Mark Richardson

03: And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Source Tags & Codes

At some point, I wondered if Pitchfork had made a mistake in awarding this album a 10.0. But each time I go back to Source Tags & Codes, I hear the same things that drew me in the first time, and what became exponentially louder with each listen: this album takes everything one can learn from indie rock and applies it to such a broader spectrum, where it can reach rock fans of all ages and tastes, where it can open the door for teenagers who aren't ready for Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, and make the rest of us realize why we love this music to begin with. It's not a groundbreaking record. It's not even an original record. But you can draw a line to Violator, Siamese Dream, and Automatic for the People-- albums that indie snobs just could not understand in the early 1990s, but that spoke volumes to the rest of us, ready for something with more to offer than commercial pop. This is that kind of an album: tormented and juvenile, but god, what a fucking record. Trail of Dead are fooling no one: they came of age to these albums in the 1990s, and like the bands they grew up with, drew from the best of counterculture rock to create one of their own, for the kids. Their influences are not Berlin-era Bowie and New Order, not Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, not Woody Guthrie and The Flying Burrito Brothers: they're Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Drive Like Jehu and Jawbox. And when I listen to it, I feel as though I'm 15 years old discovering this world for the first time. --Ryan Schreiber

02: Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Wilco's "2002" album elicited distinct, disparate responses: rock critics dusted off their "art in the face of industry" rants, plugged in the relevant proper nouns, and slapped a gold star on it, while reactionaries decried the album as a forced, half-hearted try at experimentation. We can only hope that, in some distant future, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot will shed its hefty baggage and be appreciated for what it really is: a Beamon leap forward for an already excellent band. Where Summerteeth played off of grandiose overdubs, YHF was more concerned with subtraction, as on the breathtaking verse of "Ashes of American Flags", when the wheels leave the ground, and nothing but ashtray vocals and feedback remain. The album's thesis is clear: take standard Tweedy folk material, rip it to shreds, and tape it back together, slightly askew. Its inspiration is even clearer (cough, cough, Big Star, cough), but the success with which Wilco pull it off is exhilarating. Call it dad-rock if you must, but if the day comes when Dads are mowing lawns to the death rattle of "Radio Cure", I won't complain. --Rob Mitchum

01: Interpol
Turn on the Bright Lights

Turn on the Bright Lights was a captivating, fully-formed album, powerful enough to excuse these art-house darlings' skinny ties and terrible hair, their tired Helvetica packaging and concert bills. Unlike last year's hottest ticket, Interpol didn't make it on looks; by all rights, appearance was their most embarrassing aspect. They didn't make it on controversy, hype, or connections. They made it on work ethic and a killer record: Turn on the Bright Lights rearranged the post-punk icons people had been namedropping since the late 90s into an astute, agitprep debut. Interpol could have been shot by both sides-- rejected by garage rock fashion victims and the aging guardians of the pantheon-- but their seamless blend of Echo and The Bunnymen, Mission of Burma, and yes, Joy Division was a rarified treat for obsessive record collectors the world over. Impossibly young, full of shit and living the dream, these kids are lording over cool with a laundry list of influences so artfully incorporated as to dislodge any memory of their comparatively slight precursor. --Chris Ott

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