Well, rock may not be dead, but it's certainly taken a few major blows in the past few years. Consider the fact that, except for The Strokes, "kids" rarely listen to rock music. Rock, incidentally, officially became a niche market several years back, with record sales--even by industry mega-artists such as the self-proclaimed "King of Pop," for example--falling dismally short of industry projections, especially for artists and groups whose releases were formerly considered money in the bank. With the music industry itself alternately binging and purging--going into signing frenzies over whatever is touted as "the next big thing" in order to score a money-making hit, then ruthlessly dumping both industry employees and non-chart-topping bands in massive downsizing operations--it gets harder and harder to find music worth listening to. And harder still for these artists to make anything close to a living doing it. Of course, the hip-hop and rap industry--the urban market--is prancing around like Rocky Balboa after a hit of pure oxygen. What's it going to take for rock to get back on its feet? Maybe we should buy it a Rascal.
In fact, after receiving hundreds of CDs over the past 12 months, I have the sneaking suspicion I'm starting to dislike music. Well, not all music. But a big fat chunk of the pie chart showing 2001's releases.
Please Go the Way of the Trilobite: Every Slipnot-esque, Insane Clown Posse-lovin', Mushroom Head-style, mask/hoods/makeup/costumes-wearing bunch of losers who had been lapsing in deserved obscurity for years because they couldn't make it on their music.
Boy Bands and Teen Acts: Yeah, people are still buying records by Britney, 'N Sync et al., but the headlines are now more about their addictions and rehab visits (Backstreet Boy AJ's rehab stint or Nick Carter's recent "resisting arrest" kerfuffle), or Britney's struggle to make the transition to womanhood. "I'm not a girl, not yet a woman," she mouths, all the while exposing plenty of her rack, lower abdomen and more, coming on like a ripe cherry begging to be plucked. Who cares if she doesn't dance and sing at the same time? Her heavily treated vocals barely sound human anyway. The only thing riper than Britney's heavily manufactured and pandered Lolita-esque sexuality is this hack genre of "soul" (less) music. Let's hope 2002 sends this entire ouvre to the compost heap.
Fun records: Tenacious D's debut disc (and concert at The Ritz in Raleigh) was one of the high points of 2001 by appealing to my inner frat boy (also big fun: The Gorillaz CD). Kudos to Rhino for the Nuggets Vol. 2 collection and Joy Division's box set. Radiohead continued to do no wrong with Amnesiac, while The Shins's Oh, Inverted World never got old. Honorable mentions to The Beachwood Sparks and The Anamoanan's self-titled disc (Ned Oldham's project). Personal delights: The Langley Schools Music Project--ingenuous and sincere with moments of unplanned brilliance, and Mellow's Another Mellow Spring--frothy French '60s-influenced pop (think Air's nerdy cousins)--and Jay Farrar's (Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt) heartfelt solo debut, Sebastapol.
On the hyped list: The White Stripes' White Blood Cells disc was fun and charismatic, as was their sold-out Cradle show. The Strokes' Is This It was more along the lines of, "Is this really it?" As for guilty pleasures, I loved Idlewilde's 100 Broken Windows and Spiritualized's Let It Come Down. Besides being a smokin' live band, The Faint's stylish Danse Macabre is the best of the keyboard-driven new wave bands. Best lyrics: "Tennessee" or "Horseleg Swastika" by The Silver Jews (aka David Berman). And God bless Stephen Malkmus for releasing a solo disc that was more Pavement-y than Pavement's last two releases.
Local releases: Lots of great music crossing all genre lines, but as yet, no chance of the Triangle becoming the next Orlando (ouch). As far as alt-country, Greg Hawks and The Tremblers, Thad Cockrell, Trailer Bride, Hooverville and more released great discs. Ryan Adams' Gold, however, didn't live up to the hype. Maybe it's because as locals, we know what he's capable of.
Local soul, R&B and hip hop: Besides N.C. artist Petey Pablo (whose single, "Raise Up," introduced the nation to the "Dirty South" and put the Triangle on the map--the vid seemed to be on BET nonstop for a few months), N.C. neo-soul artist YahZarah released a mature debut album, Hear Me, that's bringing her (and her label, Keo music) national interest. And N.C. neo-soul songstress Sunshine Anderson also shone with her disc, Your Woman.
Rock and alternative: The Cherry Valance are the kings of the hill--check out their self-titled Estrus release. On the alternative scene, Superchunk, The White Octave and Sorry About Dresden--as well as expatriates Milemarker--all delivered strong discs. Also worth checking out--excitingly innovative debut releases from Choose Your Own Adventure, Fin Fang Foom and Ben Davis as a solo artist (The Hushed Patterns of Relief).
When I broke down my list of favorite albums, 2001 was revealed to be a year of pairings and even bigger groupings. Nick Lowe and Graham Parker first teamed up when Lowe produced Parker's cracklin' great debut Howlin Wind. A quarter of a century later, both released their best records in years: the former's soulful, open The Convincer and the latter's alternately cranky and paternal Deepcut to Nowwhere. Chris Knight's A Pretty Good Guy and Pat Haney's Ghost of Things to Come are jinx-dodging sophomore efforts from a pair of Kentucky-based graduates of the Steve Earle school of literate, rustic singer-songwriters. Although climatically at odds, San Antonio, Texas' Alejandro Escovedo (the Chris Stamey-produced A Man Under the Influence) and Halifax, Nova Scotia's Joel Plaskett (Down at the Khyber, credited to his outfit The Joel Plaskett Emergency) can be linked by their refusal to be pigeon-holed. Although all the facets of Escovedo's musical makeup aren't displayed on the mostly mid-tempo ... Influence, he remains equal parts Townes Van Zandt, Ian Hunter and Van Morrison, while Plaskett has a similar roots/rock/pop/soul personality crisis.
At the top of this transplanted Yankee's list are two decidedly sub-Mason-Dixon Line releases: Thus always to Tyrants, from ex-V-roy Scott Miller and his band the Commonwealth, and the Drive-By Truckers' ambitious two-disc Southern Rock Opera, both examinations of what it means to have Southern roots. But the largest gathering is the sextet of albums that seem to have sprung from the same late-afternoon-nap dream: the Ass Ponys' Lohio, Centro-matic's Distance and Clime, the Silver Jews'Bright Flight, Clem Snide's Ghost of Fashion, Sparklehorse's It's a Wonderful Life and Varnaline's Songs in a Northern Key. Partly sleepy and partly exhilarating, rootsy in varying degrees, and quirky enough to be interesting without being annoying, all are birds of the same moody-gray and vibrant-orange feather.
The Year That Was
These are a few of my favorite things from 2001
Pop: San Francisco treats Beulah, who put out the year's best pop record The Coast is Never Clear. Amazingly, at their Go! Studios show, they were upstaged by their opening act, the startlingly original keyboard-drums duo Mates of State.
Jude's King of Yesterday: File under guilty pleasures, 'cause this is the last alt-rock song I'll ever like.
Gillian Welch. Dear Gill: Oh my God, girl.
Hope Sandoval? Mazzy Star vixen jumps out of where-are-they-now file and into the frying pan with Bavarian Fruit Bread solo record.
Two words: Pernice Brothers.
Les Sans Culottes. Who? You know, the best--and definitely the most ridiculous--band you've never heard. (The Web, dummy. Look on the Web.)
Soul, jazz and reggae: Johnny Griffin's The Kerry Dancers. Who said jazz and Irish folk tunes don't mix?
Mahalia Jackson's Sunday Morning Prayer Meeting and Bob Marley's Trenchtown Days: Birth of a Legend, two records that will sound just as good 100 years from now.
Neo-soul sisters Sunshine Anderson and Macy Gray. You've probably already feasted on Gray's phenomenal The Id. But have you dug Your Woman, North Carolina native Anderson's overlooked gem from 2001?
Thievery Corporation's Songs From the Verve Hi-Fi. Is the lounge revival dead? Hell, I bet you're wearing a polyester shirt right now!
The locals: "Itchin' For You," the cleverly juvenile Trailer Bride song about love and bugs that should've knocked that Kenny Loggins' kids record out the box.
Ben Folds' hilarious Rage Against the Machine spoof at the end of "Rockin' the Suburbs."
Pneumonia, the Whiskeytown epitaph that finally came out and solidified its place as an underground classic.
P.S. Donde está Clok Lok?
P.P.S. Hey, The Comas: Are you ever putting out another record? God, it's been like a year! What are we supposed to do, watch TV?
Best and Worst of 2001
Best: Ryan Adams (Hate the attitude but dang if he don't make good records); Ol' Daft Punk's "One More Time" video; Peaches' sexxx raps; Gorillaz becoming the first two-dimensional rock band (excepting Creed of course); "Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By" from Lovage; Little T and One Track Mike's single "Shaniquah"; Weezer's triumphant return; The Strokes proving that there was some credence to the hype; Soundtracks to O Brother, Where Art Thou, Ocean's 11 and The Royal Tenenbaums; Tenacious D ascending to their rightful place as "The Greatest Band on Earth"; Pete Yorn's "Music for the Morning After"; Kid Rock's "Cocky" (Call it a guilty pleasure); The Wiseguys' hit with "Start the Commotion" from that catchy Mitsubishi ad (a song originally released three years ago).
Worst: Death of George Harrison; Amnesiac (Am I the only one who just doesn't get Radiohead?); Britney's Vegas fiasco; Moulin Rouge (including that god-awful "Lady Marmalade" cover); Backstreet Boys' A.J. McLean making an idiot of himself on MTV's Cribs then going into rehab; Alltel Pavilion failing to produce one show that looked good enough to attend (even with free tickets!); Jay-Z's various run-ins with the law; Erick Sermon's shady "suicide attempt"; 'N Sync actually getting to appear in the new Star Wars movie (at least they're only on for a second and get massacred by clones); The death of Joey Ramone; Metallica's lineup changes and rehab stints; Run-DMC's Crown Royal; Three words: Mariah, Mariah, Mariah; Elton and Eminem.
Peace, love and soul for you all and a great 2002!
Five Shows That Kicked My Ass in 2001
Crooked Fingers at the Cat's Cradle: The most comfortable show ever, with Eric Bachmann starting the show by asking to "turn on the lights and turn off the PA." Then he and his band came out into the middle of the crowd, one member carried a cello and the other a banjo. Bachmann held a beer and a lit cigarette. They treated the audience to two Crooked Fingers songs and Prince's "When You Were Mine" before climbing back onstage.
Blue Oyster Cult at The Lincoln Theatre: The majority of the show was devoted to cuts from BOC's unconscionably overlooked portfolio, including "Harvester of Eyes," "ME 262", and a 10-minute crank-out of "The Last Days of May." They transposed their affinity for close-up power rock into one enchanted evening that ended way too soon.
The Comas, Kingsbury Manx, and Rodeo Boy at the Cat's Cradle: Both opening bands were excellent, but this night belonged to The Comas. They romped through a bunch of mostly unfamiliar tunes, including the tracks from their wonderful single on the Sit-N-Spin label, and trotted out brand-new material that left everyone drooling for their next release. The show cost $3.
Robert Earl Keen at the Carolina Theatre: A lot of RTP yuppies brought their kids to this show, probably expecting to hear all the John Boy and Billy tunes. Surprise. About halfway through, Robert did a couple of solo acoustic numbers, including one called "Fuck It," which pretty much cleared the children out. By the time the band launched into the last few songs, everyone was dancing in the aisles.
Mogwai at the Cat's Cradle: It took about five minutes for these Scottish lads to peel the paint off the walls and destroy everyone's hearing, and they never let up. One of the loudest, most overindulgent displays ever, distorted devastation escalating into raw beauty. The sound of a million hearts breaking at once.
Ten Great CDs in 2001
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds--And No More Shall We Part
Spoon--Girls Can Tell
Bill Janovitz--Up Here
Ben Folds--Rockin' the Suburbs
Sorry About Dresden--The Convenience of Indecision
Superchunk--Here's To Shutting Up
A Few Selected Favorites from 2001
Excellent modern homestudio electronica from Providence, echoing early-'80s quiet storm mix shows, only dipped in heavy syrup. Delish retro-futuristic sci-fi cover art lends itself well. Dopeness.
P.G. Six--Parlor Tricks & Porch Favorites (Amish)
Tower Recordings charter member Pat Gulber goes solo, thoroughly immersing himself in psychedelic Britfolk sounds. Acoustic, mostly, with lots of sympathetic droning strings and gentle harmonizing. More than a credible genre approximation, he's got songs and sings them well. For your wooly cardigan days.
Destroyer--Street Hawk: A Seduction (Misra)
Third CD by Dan Bejar, sometime New Pornographer Canuck currently in NYC. Obscurist but on point cultural commentary with riffage to match. At turns Bowie and Robyn Hitchcock, with a glammy quiver to his voice and a bit of an '80s sentimentalist touch. But, really, so much better than that sounds!
Poets of Rhythm--Discern/Define (Quannum)
In a year of funk 45-reissue fever (witness the brainfreezing breaks of Slurped and Slurped 2), my favorite may just be a brand-new recording. Recalling the world weary stoner afro-funk of Cymande, this large group from Munich has been active for well over a decade. Clearly particular about recording details, down to a crisply snapping snare and a threatening bass cabinet rumble (the old Dirty South sound of Eddie Bo et al). Not a party band, not a jam band. Vocals (in English) actually add to the vibe, and the drum breaks, oh the drum breaks ...
Erase Errata--Other Animals (Troubleman)
Herky-jerky no wave all-femme trio from Oakland, Calif. Not without its foremothers (I'm reminded especially of this year's important Kleenex/Lilliput reissue, also stuff you know, like the Slits or X-Ray Spex) but a refreshingly acerbic blast of anti-rock rock for today people. Better than Arab on Radar, better than US Maple, maybe even better than the Locust?
Various Artists--Nuggets 2 (Rhino)
This five-disc box set from Rhino met with much ballyhoo, but I'm getting in line with my (qualified) praise as well. Sixties rock/white R&B/beat music from the British Empire, all well beneath the radar of classic rock (well, there is an early Guess Who track, actually). Pilled-up art school dropouts and street punks shred some blues changes in the universal manner, but, unlike American garage, this is mostly big, clean and loud pop, recorded by pros (Shel Tamney, George Martin) and released on major labels. Objects of neo-hype like The Creation and Os Mutantes are included, plus some peripherals you may have heard of if you're a fan of this stuff at all (The Easybeats, Tomorrow, Status Quo, The Move), but the bulk is devoted to groups you'd never afford to hear otherwise.
Various Artists--Hava Narghila (Dionysus/Bacchus Archives)
And speaking of the '60s, here's a collection of Turkish rock ... from surf to prog. Great selection (and generous--almost 30 tracks!), from Erkin Koray to Mogollar to 3 Hurel, but I could do without the typical sleeve art; all hookahs and hos. Now label scans, that would be some real porno! And worst of all are the audio transfers: Did they even drag a wetnap over these dusty grooves? But overall some of these tracks have been my most played of the year, easy. And would you believe this ain't the only comp of its stripe available?
--Frank Kunst, WXYC Program Director