Unlike some of my colleagues, I haven't always written about music. To be exact: I started writing pointless reviews of old punk albums in high school after discovering Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, The Jam, and The Clash, then only sporadically wrote record reviews throughout my 20s. Most of those were for tiny zines, and I'd go a good two years at a time without even thinking much about music criticism, let alone participating in it. Consequently, I don't have a sprawling body of year-end best-of lists. In fact, I think I've compiled about five of them my entire life. I can vaguely remember doing one in 1995 for Denver's semi-legendary snotrag The Hooligan, and I'm pretty sure Supergrass' I Should Coco and Rancid's …And Out Come The Wolves were pretty high up there. Probably because they reminded me of The Jam and The Clash, but still.
While poking around on the Internet (read: Googling my own name) this morning, though, I came across something funny: my half-assed best-of list from 2001, as posted online that year by Skyscraper Magazine. I used to submit tons of stuff to Skyscraper, and they graciously printed most of it–including one of the worst things I've ever written, a five-page, Hofstadter-esque breakdown of Owls' self-titled album that tried to outdo Tim Kinsella at his own postmodern shenanigans using, like, algebra and crap. (Pray you belong to the 99.9999999999 percent of the human population that has never seen this article. If not, my belated apologies.) In the interest of historical shits and giggles, I've decided to revisit my 2001 Skyscraper list. The original didn't include any commentary on the discs themselves, so I've written up some quick notes attempting to explain why I chose them at the time. How many hypotheses does this list draw about the pop-culture gestalt of 2001? None. Parallels to the tragic events of 9/11? Zip. (Please note: Recalling my state of mind at the end of that year, I probably concocted this list in three minutes while drunk.)
Top 10 Albums Of 2001 Jason Heller, Contributor, Skyscraper Magazine [listed in no particular order]
Strike Anywhere, Change Is A Sound An old band of mine once opened for a Richmond punk outfit called Inquisition. None of us had ever heard of them. They absolutely blew me away: In an era where Fat Wreck-and Epitaph-type bands ruled the roost (hell, Guttermouth was also on the bill that night), Inquisition was crusty, crudely melodic, and full of righteous bile. Leader Thomas Barnett formed Strike Anywhere after Inquisition's breakup, and while the group's output feels more redundant with each release, Change Is A Sound was one hell of a debut LP.
Comets On Fire, Comets On Fire I worked in a mom-and-pop record shop when Comets On Fire's debut came out. It was a vinyl-only album with a splattery, silk-screened cover, and I was intrigued enough to throw it in my hold-box. Later that day I put it on the store's record player, and I think I still have the shit stain somewhere: Comets On Fire tore a hole in the air between the speakers and my face, and the band's hellish, reverb-corroded rock 'n' roll remains amazing. (Even if they've turned into hippies since then.) The record was eventually reissued on Alternative Tentacles–but without the gut-trawling version of "Back In The U.S.S.R.," which remains one of my favorite Beatles covers ever.
The Flaming Stars, Ginmill Perfume The drummer of Gallon Drunk–a Bad Seeds-sounding band perhaps most famous in the States for having toured with Morrissey–stepped up to front The Flaming Stars, a band that crafted a really unique kind of jangly, twangy rock. I don't think I've listened to this record since, oh, New Year's Day 2002. Apparently, though, I once thought it was the shit.
Kill Creek, Colors Of Home Scott Born is one of the unsung geniuses of American music. I mean it. His band Kill Creek made two of the best rock albums of the '90s–St. Valentine's Garage and Proving Winter Cruel–but turned into one of that decade's many victims of major-label idiocy and internal combustion. Kill Creek touched on everything from SST and Dischord to alt-country and alt-rock during its initial run, but when the band quietly reconvened for Colors Of Home, everything was boiled down to a sharp, melodic punch that still warrants a re-listen every few months. (Look for a Permanent Records entry on Proving Winter Cruel as soon as I can gather and sort all the emotions and memories that record has germinated in me over the past 11 years.)
Limp Wrist, Limp Wrist Los Crudos was one of the greatest hardcore bands of the '90s (um, I mean, ever), and it was a sad day when the Chicago stalwart broke up. But mouthpiece Martin Sorrondeguy popped up soon after in Limp Wrist–a raging band that mocked hardcore's lingering machismo with a thrashy, aggressively sexy, pro-queer stance. This record still fucking rules. In fact, I need to listen to it right now.
The Strokes, Is This It In addition to my horrible Owls article, Skyscraper ran a three-page (!) review of The Strokes' debut I wrote in 2001. If you'll remember, the backlash against Is This It was practically instantaneous–but the disc was a blast of fresh air to me, and it stands as an immaculate, exhilarating pop record. Who knows how history is going to judge this one; in my old review I pegged them (favorably) as the Duran Duran of the aughts, but that prediction didn't quite pan out, did it?
Planes Mistaken For Stars, Fuck With Fire Since "going pro" with this music-writing thing, I've come to discover it's in pretty poor taste to include your friends' albums in your year-end lists. (I still do it on rare occasion, of course–the only difference is, I feel really guilty about it now.) Planes Mistaken For Stars, in my opinion, deserved every slim scrap of critical acclaim they ever received, but that opinion is surely colored by the fact that I've, you know, slept in the same bed with all of them. Geez, I think my face is actually lurking somewhere in the background of this record's artwork. Journalistic integrity? Uh… In any case, this disc still holds up as one of the most excruciatingly honest, sickeningly sludgy expressions of post-hardcore circa the early 21st century. Rest in peace, Planes.
Hood, Cold House This British band has always intrigued me, ever since I stumbled across them and fellow Leeds noise-popsters Boyracer in the mid '90s. But Hood–no doubt spurred by Radiohead–evolved into something much more ethereal and glitchy by 2001, and I just couldn't get enough of this record. I interviewed the band's Chris Adams around this time, and he couldn't have been more unassuming about this spectral, amazing music he was making with his brother Richard. I also got to see them live in '01, when they toured the U.S. with cLOUDDEAD (who contributed vocals to Cold House). It was a jaw-dropping show; all the backpackers were there for the Anticon guys, and the crowd seemed politely puzzled by Hood's ambient film projections and icy reserve. But when Why? and Doseone crept onto the stage–their voices preceding them–to deliver their lines from "Branches Bare," the gap was bridged, and the vibe in the theater morphed into one of stunned reverence.
The Mercury Program, All The Suits Began To Fall Off I honestly can't remember much about this album, except that it seemed to tap into the more aggressive end of all that melodic post-rock stuff that had crept into the emo scene at the end of the '90s. (Cough, Tristeza, cough). I really need to dig this one out, along with my Pele and Fin Fang Foom records.
Lost Kids, Belle Isle Is On Fire Like The Go, Lost Kids was an astounding garage-rock band that brought true songwriting verve to the genre–and hence wasn't dumb enough to get on any beer commercials. The band was previously (and is again) known as The Starlite Desperation, and apparently they're still kicking out the jams. In concert, Lost Kids fucking killed: Picture Love swapping spit with an amputated Television.
The omissions from the above list, of course, are far worse than the inclusions. Uh, where's Clinic? The White Stripes? The Shins? Ted Leo? Converge? Fugazi? Wilco? Radiohead? (In my defense, I wasn't being sent free copies of everything back then, and didn't quite have the resources to jump on everything as soon as it was released. In addition, I didn't take this list very seriously. Also, I'm lazy.) But enough about me–how about you guys? Any past year-end favorites of your own that you're embarrassed (or at least surprised) to recollect? Anything you still kick yourself for sleeping on?