6. NEW ORDER
Bernard Sumner may be the only British mouthpiece of the past two decades I might consider taking home to meet my sister. Okay, maybe Polly Jean Harvey too, and okay, I don't really have a sister, and okay, I wouldn't let Barney bring his new pals Billy Corrigan and Primal Scream along. But when Sumner's modest dreams of nonconformity ("I don't wanna be/Like other people are" rhymes with "Don't wanna wash my car") lounge atop the U.K.'s sturdiest rhythmic infrastructure, you'll think you've been waiting your whole life for a disco record so perfectly suited to doing the dishes. Choose life!
7. THE MOLDY PEACHES
The Moldy Peaches
Here's the amateurish, lo-fi rendition of "Twee to Be You and Me" that every college kid who owned a Beat Happening cassette and a four-track recorder in the late Eighties foisted on his friends--at long last rendered listenable and with wisdom and pathos, too. And jokes. Like "I'm just an ass in the crack of humanity/I'm just a huge manatee." "Who mistook this steak for chicken?/ Who'm I gonna stick my dick in?" "I wanted to be a hippie but I forgot how to love." "Don Quixote was a steel-drivin' man/My name is Adam, I'm your biggest fan." "I'm just your average Thundercats ho." And much, much more!
8. OLD 97S
Alt country? Them? Nah, that was just a phase--you know how impressionable kids are. This is power pop about women-not-girls, erected from stretches of guitar finesse doubling as hooks. Rhett Miller specializes in the amorous gawk--the kind of lunging verbal advances that seduce and dazzle on disc but will guarantee real-life males plenty of empty space in bed, unless maybe you're as dishy as Rhett himself. (If "Do you wanna mess around?" or "I'd be lyin'/If I said I didn't have designs/On you" get you any skin, drop me a line.) Whaddaya know, a down-home guy who doesn't really want to be free as a bird. Go back to sleep, Ryan Adams. Your work here is finished.
9. MACY GRAY
She still mewls like a cat that deserves to be trapped in a washing machine and isn't half as nuts as she fronts. But before you quip that her title omits the "-iot," groove to the misbegotten lusts and petty resentments of a nutmeg abuser who pulls an AK on a gentleman who prefers blondes. Back when "I'll Try" settled into the Eagle-Eye Cherry Memorial Programming Slot--the airtime reserved by adult-rock program directors to disprove charges of radio apartheid--I'd pegged this kook as a harmless neo-soul token. But now Gray is something else entirely, with Rick Rubin's studio perfectionism acting as superego to her professed lunacy. Couldn't tell you what that "something else" is, though. A Warren Zevon for black gals?
Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
Sympathetic as I am to a generation of Slipknot fans who hope to purge themselves of a catastrophic childhood by immersing themselves in violent gloom, let me assure my fellow depressives that the release that such dour mass catharsis allows also fades quick. Better to follow the lead of these ever-chirpy pop punks, who let loose with one rant against their elders ("If we're fucked up/You're to blame") before unlocking the real secret of teenboy uneasiness--girls just seem way cooler and smarter. But instead of sublimating that fear into misogyny, these older bros sweeten it into a well-deserved respect for freethinking trouble girls who correctly suspect they won't feel this messed up forever. Corporate suckers still rock!
Honorable Mentions: 11. Trailer Bride, High Seas (Bloodshot); 12. Atmosphere, Lucy Ford (Rhyme Sayers); 13. System of a Down, Toxicity (American); 14. Tricky, Blowback (Hollywood); 15. various artists, Josie and the Pussycats OST (Playtone/ Epic/Sony Music Soundtracks); 16. Clem Snide, The Ghost of Fashion (SpinArt); 17. Jah Wobble/Bill Laswell, Radioaxiom: A Dub Transmission (Palm Pictures); 18. Thomas Mapfumo/ Wadada Leo Smith, Dreams and Secrets (Anonymous); 19. Lars Frederickson and the Bastards, Lars Frederickson and the Bastards (Hellcat); 20. Dismemberment Plan, Change (DeSoto).
1. White Stripes, White Blood Cells (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
2. Missy Elliott, Miss E...So Addictive (Elektra)
3. Clinic, Internal Wrangler (Domino)
4. Matmos, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure (Matador)
5. Le Tigre, Feminist Sweepstakes (Mr. Lady)
6. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator) (Acony)
7. Arab Strap, The Red Thread (Matador)
8. various artists, Say It Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America (Box Set) (Rhino)
9. Les Savy Fav, Go Forth (French Kiss)
10. Moldy Peaches, The Moldy Peaches (Sanctuary)
--Melissa Maerz, music editor, City Pages
1. Baaba Maal, Mi-Yeewnii (Palm).
The year's most beautiful, dignified blend of musical peace and sadness was released by an Islamic griot from Senegal three months before 9/11.
2. Macy Gray, The Id (Sony/Epic)
A furry freak sister soused on helium, sense, and purple microdot lays waste to the notion of neo-soul. Free will as kama sutra mind-fuck.
3. Spearhead, Stay Human (Six Degrees)
4. James Blood Ulmer, Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions (Label M)