Y2K1's Best Albums

I use "best albums" pretty lightly this year: a varied year, but unfortunately not much in what I'd call "transcendant" albums, guaranteed a spot in the top 100 of the decade eight years from now. 2000 was a prime example of such a year, with the Golden Quartet of Radiohead, OutKast, Sigur Ros and Eminem. It was a fragmented year, what with the deaths of Beatles legend George Harrison and rising star Aaliyah, along with the tragic attacks on September 11. It was a weird year; let's hope for something better in 2002.

25. MJ Cole - "Sincere"
Technically released last year in the UK, it was dropped here making small waves within the elite dance groups: an exquisitely produced album from a suburban, classically-trained white man with a deep connection to the underground garage scene in Britain. Every song here could stand on its own as killer dance tracks, yet the album flows together with the unity of an all-night rave. Thankfully, Cole mixes things up every now and then, switching from ragga workouts "Slum King" and "Bandelero Desperado" to smoother tracks like "Tired Games" and "Free My Mind" to the pure disco of "Crazy Love" and "Rough Out Here", throwing in strings and prominently featuring the champagne smooth vocals of diva-in-waiting Elisabeth Troy. A supreme album that you can throw on at a party or just listen to by yourself at home, enjoying the strong song structures. Chill the Cristal, it's gonna be a long night.
24. Michael Jackson - "Invincible"
It would seem that Michael's career is now cold. After unanimous dislike by critics and consumers alike, his costly ($30M, to be exact) album was left in the cold, and will likely stand as the one that finally broke his career. Which is a shame, because there are some genuinely good songs and positive messages here. Unfortunately, his image is so distorted that nobody can listen to them with a straight face anymore and his past genius (best-seller or not, "Thriller" was a masterpiece) has now been relinquished. Rodney Jerkins does an admirable job on the first three banging tracks: minimalist, swaggering R&B with edgy vocals. Unfortunately, instead of being ahead of the pack as was the case throughout his career, Mike is lagging behind with insipid ballads and an unfathomable album length. Is it a good album worthy of his monumental career? Not really. Is it a sad eulogy for a fallen star? Sadly, it looks like it. But don't count him out. Come back, Michael. Show us why you were the King of Pop once.
23. Gorillaz - "Gorillaz"
Perhaps the quirkiest marketing idea in music since Ziggy Stardust landed, this animated band featured Blur's Damon Albarn, Dan the Automator and Jamie Hewlett starring as 2-dimensional cartoon characters featuring a 10-year old Japanese guitar whiz (who happens to be a girl). Seems too good to be true? It almost is, as there is more than a fair share of wanking around meandering basslines. But releasing some great music ("Clint Eastwood" and "19/2000" are killer tracks), and a way to avoid direct publicity is certainly a masterful idea. Not to mention brilliantly creative.
22. Cannibal Ox - "The Cold Vein"
Call them the kings of anti-bling-bling. This cold, brutal opus's production is so unique, you almost forget MC's Vast and Vordul are actually rhyming over it: it sounds as powerful as Public Enemy a decade ago, the apocalypse on plastic. This is the dark underbelly of the NYC romanticized by the likes of Jay-Z, all big pimpin' and blunt-smoking. It's a lumbering, discordant and aggro-electro sound, with dark rhymes on death, hunger and comparisons of people to pigeons. A snapshot of a seedy world that is all too real, this album is a milestone in underground hip-hop. The rap equivalent of "Iowa".
21. Incubus - "Morning View"
Never ones to fall too easily into a category, Incubus contines to mash up genres on the follow-up to their mainstream breakthrough "Make Yourself". This album is as refreshing a hybrid as the cover appears. A sensitive singer, a DJ that tosses in ambience at every possible time, and a band that knows their way around a seriously time-challenged groove, this is an album that's perfect for whatever you're doing in your day. Songs like "Nice To Know You" and "Have You Ever" switch time-signatures like Lil' Kim switches wigs, while softer, more expansive songs like "Mexico" and especially finale "Aqueous Transmission" slow the pace down pleasantly. Strange styles, but great nonetheless.
20. Jimmy Eat World - "Bleed American"
'Emo' music is all about emotions. After all, said genre is the root word of emotion. Or is it? Anyways, JEW seemed destined to wither away needlessly in obscurity, another hugely talented band without a break. Thankfully, blink 182 are big fans of theirs and now they are here, enjoying some well-deserved accolades. "Bleed American" is an album for punk fans who appreciate cheezy, insipid lyrics (can't get around that fact) and tight, killer melodies all done in 45 minutes. Better listening in solitude than in the mosh pit.
19. Slipknot - "Iowa"
Nu-metal is still a relatively young (and hopefully short-lasting) genre, but no band could ever improve upon this album made by nine Des Moines-based ?men?: listening to ?Iowa? is like being forced to beat yourself over the head with a Smirnoff bottle, then rolling in the shards while poking your eyes with a white-hot iron, all for 66 unbearable minutes. It is a throughly exhausting, emasculating and brutalizing listen, yet somehow it still maintains the slightest bit of song structure and barely distiguishable melodies. After the brief intro ?515? and the blitzkrieg of ?People=Shit?, you are already in a dazed stupor. This is the angriest (though not as articulate) American rock since a certain blonde-haired deity decided the bullet was the only solution. If you have rage, this is the album for you. Nothing will be the same again.
18. Jamiroquai - "2001: A Funk Odyssey"
Call Jay Kay a shameless hipster who wants to be the ultimate Soulquarian, a hip party cat who can always make the room shake, rattle and roll. But when he has the balls to call his album "A Funk Odyssey" and then actually takes us on a genuine funk odyssey throughout it, you gotta recognize his genius. Jamiroquai may be a Gap band: somewhat sterile and with not too much substance, but in the current atmosphere, if you just wanna get down with killer, simple tracks, no frills, you can't do much better than this freaky, disco-ified funk odyssey. Bless Mr. Kay.
17. Travis - "The Invisible Band"
The grass is green, the sky is blue, and Travis is about the tunes: simple, enjoyable facts of life. Thankfully, this album is just that. Travis aren't gonna depart from their sound soon, and you're not gonna like them any less for it. Fran Healy knows his way around a good tune and it shows here with an impressive list of songs to add to an already great canon. Everyone with a soft spot in their heart will have a spot for Travis' songs. Not groundbreaking, but a solid, likable, intelligent album all the same. And the one you'll sing along to when you're feeling good on hootch.
16. Destiny's Child - "Survivor"
It begins with a run of three of the best songs you heard on the radio this year: "Independent Women Part I", "Survivor" and "Bootylicious": all testaments to a woman's power while still sounding sexier than a chocolate-covered love whip. This album will shake, rattle and roll, while blowing the fuck out of your speakers. Beyonce, the over-rated lead singer, also decided DC's business is hers, and takes over this album, co-writing and co-producing all the songs. And if they had a revolving door of previous members? Bono's a fan, and when an album packs a big glamorous punch like this one, you don't ask questions: you just get your ass on the dancefloor (big up to Mary J!)
15. Basement Jaxx - "Rooty"
Everyday should be a party, according to these South London producers. Of course, you should all know the Jaxx after their classic genre-bending debut "Remedy". On their follow-up, they mostly raise the ante with sassier vocals, sharper productions and even more fun (as if that was possible)! Some people call them ironic (though I don't understand why) and others call them the Pied Pipers of the generation that just wants to get down and have a good time. And if an album is this wild, if anytime you hear it you're tossed in a mad carnival of blinding colors, head-rattling beats and sexy good times, what more could you ask for except another 15 minutes to add to the 43 you're given?
14. *N Sync - "Celebrity"
Don't check my forehead, I'm not delerious yet. Although I almost was when I heard this CD. Maybe it was psychosomatic, but was this *NSync? I mean, really? Those manufactured puppets actually made (or sang) this album? Already susceptible to the charms of garage through MJ Cole, Artful Dodger and Craig David, this album hit me like a sack of bricks: UK garage galore! And whatmore, it was decent garage! "Pop" blew me the first time I heard it, "The Game is Over" was sheer madness and "The Two of Us" was pure pop heaven. Maybe it's deleriousness talking, but I really like this album. People can condemn me, but in the summer when everything seemed so weird, tiring and wrong, this was the best form of escape and as joyous as it got. Bless those kind sirs!
13. The Beta Band - "Hot Shots II"
Return of the best British band in the world? That was the sentiment shared in the British press when the Beta Band, arguably the most quirky, hyped and powerful band of the last three years finally released the follow-up to their woefully misappreciated debut album (even band members called it "absolute shit") with a return to their "3 EPs" sound: rich acoustic guitars, wacky instrumentation, and their best harmonies since "Dry the Rain". However, there is a dash of the off-the-wall experiments that peppered their "Beta Band" album and made it such a head-trip for anyone who wasn't turned off by mainly negative press. Every song here is alive with humour and that wonderful Beta sound. Welcome back, Betas. Glad to see you're packing heat again.
12. Bran Van 3000 - "Discosis"
An album whose guest list includes Eek-A-Mouse, Dimitri from Paris, Youssor N?Douf, Jean Leloup (?) and the late Curtis Mayfield could only be this hodgepodge, a wild mish-mash of pop, punk, reggae, lounge, soul, spoken word and God knows what else. Sexy, blasphemous and oozing with creativity. Too bad they had to be Frenchies from Quebec ... Masterful fun.
11. Weezer - "Weezer"
Comeback of the year, no doubt. 5 years after disappearing off the face of the planet in the wake of the unfairly overlooked "Pinkerton", Weezer returned with their second self-titled album (however, this one is green), and a lean, mean 28 minutes of the highest order of punk/pop/rock. Crunchy guitars and sweet harmonies of psychsexual drama and adolescense run amok on the album, then finish before you even knew what happened. The best American album from the ultimate American band of the year? Oh yes, believe it.
10. Aaliyah - "Aaliyah"
It's sad when artists die. You can either mourn their achievments, or dote over what they could have done with more time. Aaliyah's passing in a plane crash in August was the latter mourning. Only 22, yet establishing her name as a full-fledged superstar musician and actress. This album was a stunner upon it's release, but somehow ghostly now. Aaliyah refused to scream when a whisper would do, seamlessly blending her voice into the instrumentation instead of strutting on top of it. It's haunting now, and it'll be a long time before we can listen to it comfortably again. Rest in peace.
9. Jay-Z - "The Blueprint"
As he imagines himself to be, J-Hova has some mighty big shoes to fill: if he's not Biggie, he's the best since. At least as he says so. However, he can be as blasphemous as he wants to be: he's held the hip-hop crown for the longest out of all of them, and he's still sicker than most. He keeps the producer list exclusive, the guest list even more so (only Eminem is admitted on the head-splitting flows of "Renagade"), and he still spins flows as effortlessly as a spider spins webs. "The Blueprint" is arguably Jigga's strongest album since his classic debut "Reasonable Doubt": a deft, subtle mix of said album's gritty hip-hop and the flashly bling-bling that defined his latter efforts. Maybe his samples are highway robberies; maybe Eminem could out-do him in a war of words; but Shawn Carter is still the best MC still Chris Wallace and deserves his proper kudos for still keeping it real. That's the anthem, get your damn hands up!
8. Craig David "Born to Do It"
You knew it was only a matter of time before UK garage would take off in the US. After riding an unprecendented wave of acclaim in the UK thanks to mega-producers like MJ Cole and the Artful Dodger, Craig David's debut finally ripped the radio up with it's edgy rhythms and soulful ballads, all sung with a ripe, warm, mature voice that had women quivering with anticipation: what would he sing next? David shows off his ragga MC skills on hardcore tracks like "Can't Be Messing Around" and "Rewind", while he lights candles and almost whispers on the romances of "Rendezvous" and "Key to My Heart". Perfectly balanced, skillfully executed and a killer live performer to boot. And talk about sex appeal...
7. Bjork - "Vespertine"
Bjork has always been a step ahead with her avant-pop leanings, her emotional extremes in her pushing-the-envelope music. Which is why this album is a somewhat mixed blessing. Some people will dismiss it as "Bjork-lite", an easy album that doesn't challenge the listener like past triumphs "Post" and "Homogenic". Maybe some people don't want to be challenged so much these days. The best rock albums were all stripped down to its basics: maybe the best electronica album should be too. Bjork manages to make her unusual voice sound even sexier, more intimate and comforting on this album: perhaps she's found a new love? Love's the message on warm tracks like "Cucoon", "Pagan Poetry" and "Hidden Place". Rarely have electronic instruments emoted such warmth and comfort. All you need it love, who'd have thunk it?
6. Missy Elliott - "Miss E...So Addictive"
She was not kidding around in the intro. Nor in the liner notes, claiming Timbaland and herself must be aliens. No matter how many producers try, they will always be a step behind Timbaland, who is arguably the greatest hip-hop producer since... well since ever, it would be safe to say. Dr Dre may have made rap cinematic in its scope, but there's nobody on earth who can touch Timbaland in terms of staying a football field ahead of the competition. Have you heard "Get UR Freak On"? Like, seriously? Who would have the balls to try and pull that off; traditional Indian percussion and 24th century hip-hop that sounds so sultry, you start to rip you pants off by the first minute. How about "Dog in Heat"? Or "One Minute Man"? Or any track, for example? Hotter than hell. Of course, it wouldn't be the same without Missy: only she can sing, rap, scream and whisper with such sexiness and precision. If "Da Real World" was about her staking a claim in the hip-hop community, this is the album to keep everyone bouncing while keeping them dumbfounded. Briliant is the only word that can describe it.
5. The White Stripes - "White Blood Cells"
Aah, the exhilarating rush of rock 'n roll, how I've missed thee! The unfiltered sound of drums, guitars and angsty vocals! No-frills production and real emotions! These Detroit garage blues rockers have been labelled the new Nirvana (and hopefully it's right) and have singlehandedly made Detroit the new "city to scour for bands to exploit and abandon." However, the White Stripes can ascend such harshness, as this album is a savage display of random precision, heart-on-sleeve confessionals and confidence only mainstream salmon would have (color-coded uniforms and deliberately pop-arty packaging, anyone?) . What a wonderful album, and what bright prospects. Here's to the future of rock 'n roll.
4. Alicia Keys - "Songs in A Minor"
The headlines were a little weird: "Alicia Keys hits #1" What the fuck? Who?! Or maybe that was just me. Anywho, upon it's release (of which I was completely unaware of), it debuted at No.1, a testament to Clive Davis' marketing savvy. Thankfully, I was able to discover that it wasn't a flash in the pan album: it was a cohesive, mature (considering some songs were written when she was in high school; she's only 20) and career-sparking album, a debut most R&B gurls would kill to make. Some only lack one thing: talent. Keys writes her own songs and instead of complicated dance routines, she practices butterfly fingers over ebony and ivory. However, the main thing she possesses that almost assures her a lenghty career is a God-sent voice: roaring one minute, a hurt whisper the next. Well, a quadruple platinum debut with glowing cred doesn't hurt either.
3. Radiohead - "Amnesiac"/"I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings"

Three albums from these British rock gods in the past 12 months? Too good to be true maybe. But after all, "Amnesiac" was recorded at the same time as its big brother, the magnificent "Kid A". So instead of the return-to-basics Radiohead album we were expecting, we got another dense, magnificent album! Yay! Some of us have all the luck. That said, this album does have more accessible moments than "Kid A": the melodically electronic opener "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box", the brilliantly haunting "Pyramid Song", the slow-building and tension-packed (but still only 3 minutes long) "You and Whose Army?" and the dizzying "Like Spinning Plates." Their densest, most rounded and complete album. But not quite their best. On the other hand, Radiohead had time to release a live album which could have been fleshed out with some "Bends" or "OK Computer"-era tracks. Nevertheless, we get a new dimension on the studio-oriented last two albums, as they strip away the electronics of tracks like "National Anthem", "Idioteque" and "Everything in its Right Place". In their place, we have the core of the songs: psychic distress and not much sense. The standout track on this live CD is "Like Spinning Plates", which is turned from a backwards-running track off "Amnesiac" into a haunting piano elegy with only Thom Yorke's voice supporting it. Another is the heretofore unreleased acoustic lament "True Love Waits" from 1995 which shows Radiohead at the top of their game. Two brilliant studio albums and deconstructed versions of those songs in a live setting? Radiohead are at the top of their game.
2. The Strokes - "Is This It"
Believe the hype! Riding a wave of critical acclaim Jesus would be envious of in Britain, this scruffy quintet from NYC wears their influences proudly on their sleeve and you don't hate them for it. Singer Julian Casablancas (what a name!) sounds like a young Lou Reed, there's more than a hint of Television and Velvet Underground in their choppy, lo-fi sound, but what a sound it is. The Strokes stripped rock and roll down to its basics and churned out the best rock album of the year: a rollicking, drunken good time all done under 40 minutes. It's like picking a fight in a bar, losing, and still taking the hottest girl home to be dumped the morning after. Pass the speed.
1. The Avalanches - "Since I Left You"
Somewhere along the way, music lost its sense of fun. With Hanson?s ?MMMBop? an effervescent memory, music became ironic, sarcastic: everything that made it melodic, but not memorable. Australia?s cut-up geniuses the Avalanches remember that time of innocence. You heard a good song, and five years later you would still remember it well. ?Since I Left You? will be remembered in five years for its staggering proportions: a heady, non-stop, hour-long mix tape of well over 900 samples which range from ridiculous to sublime to angering. It is similar to DJ Shadow?s masterpiece ?Endtroducing.....? in that it utilizes different samples to create something fresh. But while Shadow?s album had a dark tone and sombre soundscapes, ?Since I Left You? is brimming with creativity and a sense of euphoria, an utter joy like a bright, hopeful Australian summer day. Where the hell did these guys come from? (Australia) How in the name of Sweet Jehosaphat did they create this album? (through blood, sweat and tears) Am I asking too many questions? Who cares! When it?s this invigorating, you can?t stop the bum rush.

Honorable Mentions
India.Arie - "Acoustic Soul" The new R&B artist to look for. A bright prospect, and a wonderfully assured debut.
Zero 7 - "Simple Things" Call them the British Air, but no Americans could pull off R&B this soulful and smooth.
Aesop Rock - "Labor Days" One of the jewels in Def Jux's new undie-rap crown, Rock drops an album and actually says something! Not to mention superb production.
System of a Down - "Toxicity" Ironically No. 1 during the week of 9/11, this abrasive Armenian metal band go rhythm-challenged and mess with your mind.
Staind - "Break the Cycle" The new poster-boys for emotionally-scarred, suicidal teens. Yay.
Maxwell - "Now" One of the finest R&B singers since Curtis Mayfield, he lights the candles and charms you just by taking a breath.
Usher - "8701" Nothing groundbreaking, and not too cohesive, but talk about the hits.
Sum 41 - "All Killer No Filler" A healthy dose of that special "punk" style, with some Slayer riffs. And they're from Canada.
Blink 182 - "Take Off Your Pants and Jacket" The title is all you need to know.
Tool - "Lateralus" 5 years, and it was worth it. Majestic, math-rich and kinda sexy metal to satiate us for another five years.
Bob Dylan - "Love and Theft" Cementing his worth after "Time Out of Mind" all over again. Still a vital force after so much contributions to music.

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