My Favorite Shiny Silver Discs of 2002
by Paul Jaissle
1. Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things (Saddle Creek)
Laid back, sunny, country-tinged rock one moment, sharp-witted, guitar-driven indie rock the next, Rilo Kiley are currently up for the Most Interesting Band award (in my book, at least). On The Execution of All Things, slide guitars and banjos are nestled among synth touches and angular guitar work, while singer Jenny Lewis' voice alternates between angelic and venomous (often in the same song). It's quite a balancing act, but this LA quartet pull it off with surprising grace with the help of Saddle Creek's über-producer Mike Mogis. Saddle Creek may be the hippest label on the planet right now, and this release certainly gives the critics (and hipsters) good reason to continue singing Omaha's praises.
2. Pedro The Lion, Control (Jade Tree)
Dave Bazan's best offering to date. The guitars are bigger and louder, but it's Bazan's baritone and cynical lyrics that are at their best here. Control is easily the heaviest set of tunes released by Pedro, but not volume-wise; Bazan stretches his melodies over dirge paced rhythms topped with biting lyrical stabs at infidelity. Even when the pace picks up ('Rapture,' 'Indian Summer,' 'Penetration') the guitars and synths never let the mood lighten. Special mention must be given to the guitar break on 'Second Best,' which is no doubt the most metallic Pedro the Lion have ever gotten.
3. Desaparecidos, Read Music/Speak Spanish (Saddle Creek)
Connor Oberst's straight forward rock outfit. It's easy to point out the differences between Desaparecidos and Oberst's day job Bright Eyes, but it would be better to let this disc's angry, critical lyrics over 'Trompe Le Monde'-era Pixies style guitar rock speak for itself. The social commentary nature of the lyrics may seem forced at points, but Oberst's earnest delivery make up for that in spades. More desperate and heartfelt than rock usually gets.
4. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
Strikes a perfect compromise between experimental sounds and folk-rock sensibilities. Jeff Tweedy really does love noise, and there certainly is a lot of that on this disc. But behind the bells and whistles, there are all sorts of beautiful melodies waiting to ensnare your mind and make you hum along after just one listen. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is an album that just begs for repeated listens: every moment contains elements that reveal themselves to the listener while creating a sonic collage that is as forward-thinking and envelope-pushing as it is timeless. A lot of the critical praise this album received may sound like hyperbole, but honestly, it is pretty amazing. And it only gets better with each listen.
5. Guided By Voices, Universal Truths and Cycles (Matador)
The 653rd Guided By Voices release. Buy it or continue living a lie.
6. Radio 4, Gotham! (Gern Blandsten)
Among the latest batch of New York rock acts critics are foaming at the mouth over, one band that is criminally over-looked is Radio 4. It would be easy to name-drop the legendary Gang of Four (which Radio 4 resemble both in name and sound), but that would be selling the band short. Gotham! is a well organized piece of dance-punk that serves as a perfect tribute to NYC: gritty, angular, and funky. Utilizing solid grooves along with chicken-scratch guitar and synth washes, Radio 4's brand of danceable punk is much more urgent and desperate than most music being made today.
7. Superdrag, Last Call for Vitriol (Arena Rock)
Simple, catchy power-pop alongside more country influenced mid-tempo ballads. Superdrag showcase some of the best rock songwriting since the Replacements' hey-day. The group also pulls off some surprisingly touching melancholia ('Extra-Sensory,' 'Way Down Here Without You,' 'Baby Goes to 11') while retaining their Knack (get it?) for muscular power-pop ('I Can't Wait,' 'Stu, 'Remain Yer Strange'). Sure, 'Her Melancholy Tune' is simply Revolver-era Beatles, and 'Drag Me Closer to You' is the best AC/DC rip-off since Cheap Trick's 'High Roller,' but Superdrag certainly sound sincere. Oh, and 'The Staggering Genius' is a pretty amazing song.
8. godspeed you! black emperor, Yanqui U.X.O. (Constellation)
There is something painfully pretentious about an album 75 minutes long that only has 3 songs, but gy!be are able to pull it off. Everything this band has done has been epic, and Yanqui U.X.O. continues that trend: extended musical expressions that are at once dark and forbidding, yet gy!be always seem to acknowledge that there is a silver lining around even the darkest storm clouds. The highlights on this Steve Albini-produced set include 'Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls,' which builds to numerous extraordinary heights while buffered by horn and clarinet arrangements. gy!be also get the award for years best song title for 'Motherfucker=Redeemer.'
9. Low, Trust (Kranky)
Following up their masterpiece, Things We Lost In The Fire, Duluth's heroically slow Low stretch their sonic palate a bit this time around. Filled with the distinctively haunting harmonies of Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk, Trust features production bells and whistles that only add Low's incredible sound (the fuzzed-out bass on 'Canada' and the phantom banjo picking on the incredible 'In the Drugs,' for instance). While a few of the songs run a little long ('The Lamb,' 'John Prine'), there is no denying the simplistic beauty that Low captures with their glacial pace. The most effective songs on Trust are the ones that pick up the pace a little like 'Canada,' 'Last Snowstorm of the Year,' and 'La La La Song.' They may be a little faster, but these songs still hold Low's melancholy charm that Trust displays perfectly.
10.Andrew W.K., I Get Wet (Island)
Say whatever you want, I love this disc. Without a doubt, I Get Wet is the dumbest, most bone-headed thing ever recorded, but honestly, how many albums simply make you smile from just the first note? Andrew W.K. is big, loud, sweaty, and most importantly, fun: all the qualities one could ever hope for in rock and roll. Working on the 'so dumb it's brilliant' level, AWK takes it one step further by making everything sound ridiculously HUGE. Does he really need 20 tracks of guitars all playing the same thing? Of course not, but he does. Why? Because he loves rock and roll, and so should you.
Some other discs that made me happy in 2002:
Elf Power, Creatures (Spinart)
Here's hoping that 2003 provides us with even more musical joys.