I debated making a Top 10 list for 2002. It’s exactly ten years after the records’ release, and that amount of time seemed like long enough to come up with something comprehensive, something that laid out cleanly what was the best of the best. I thought about not doing it simply because there is so much good music from that year: Beck, Isis, Missy Elliott, Sleater-Kinney, El-P, And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, the names could go on. But I did it anyway because these ten records are truly something special, to me as a music critic, and to the whole state of music since the start of the decade. There are records here that truly slay and transcend; records that helped to define a generation. The countdown will last a few days, so be patient. This is as concise a list as I could make, so here you go:
10. Sigur Ros: ( )
Sigur Rós’s third studio record is an elegant mess: a titanic cloud of tension and energy and hooks that finds strength in its open spaces and poise in suppression. Those qualities exist on every Sigur Rós record, who in a decade-plus-long career became masters of the slow-build, but nothing cuts loose quite like ( ), an album fit for long sequences of blinding beauty, but can also move mountains. Here they experiment with slower tempos and pulsating bass, thickly-layered angelic harmonies and icy effects. The result: the album’s centerpiece “Untitled #4 (Njosnavelin),” which has to take a breath before it starts, but once it opens up, man, I swear you’re opening the gates to heaven.
But what might be most impressive is the more melancholic Side B: the bleak vocals on “Untitled #5 (Alafoss)”; the pitch black tone of that guitar in “Untitled #6 (E-Bow)”; the demonic tribal ceremony of “Untitled #7 (Dauoalagio)”; everything about closer “Untitled #8 (Popplagio),” where as it so often happens on bits of this album, something so frightening is cloaked in exuberance, the Big Bang and the Apocalypse all at once; the stuff of gods.
09. Spoon: Kill the Moonlight
When Spoon first appeared in the late ‘90s with a string of under-the-radar singles, one of the comparisons that came up was “Pixies.” This was generally meant as high praise, especially when the comparison is from a band as pop-leaning and bizarre as one of the greatest bands ever, but this one sort of didn’t fit, at least not at first. Frontman Britt Daniel’s had grit and soul but the heart was missing, the passion for experimentation that a band like the Pixies practically perfected. Of course, until Kill the Moonlight. Whatever the influences, from garage to R&B to post-punk revival, it was a well-built sound for an act that came from Texas (Austin, Texas, but still), then Kill the Moonlight happened and that 32 minutes blew every other small town indie rock band out of the water, gaining considerable buzz, finding itself in Rolling Stone’s Top 10 of 2002, and solidifying whatever strengths Spoon already had.
Kill the Moonlight is exactly the sort of record that a band around for five or six years needs to make, but it’s the little surprises that elevate the thing. What appealed to me about Kill the Moonlight was that it felt like a self-contained world. These 12 tracks were perfectly sequenced with no filler, the production streamlined to make Kill the Moonlight feel whole. The song arrangements, though, are truly stellar. The record succeeds because Spoon know how to use space, how to add and subtract sound while still keeping the essential ingredients of a song for it to succeed. There’s a killer riff on “Something to Look Forward To’ with ping-pong drums and that’s it; ‘Stay Don’t Go,’ has beat-boxing, one guitar and Daniel’s voice, done; ‘Paper Tiger’ loops a disjointed drum loop with tiny crescendos of piano and string, then it’s over; ‘Back to the Life’ has saturated strings in the background while an echoing tribal beat with handclaps slowly takes over; each track is stripped down to its bare bone, and the songs still work, the melodies are still intact. And there’s a consistent grit and weariness to Daniel’s voice, even as he moves from confident (‘Small Stakes’) to wounded (‘Vittorio E.’) to passionate (‘Jonathon Fisk’). For all the focus on cutting-edge craftsmanship, it’s that voice of raw passion that lingers; at the beginning of the album, he shouts, “The big innovation on the minimum wage is lines up your nose but your life on the page.” Masterful arrangements, great production, universal voice, and complex lyrics. No band can have their cake and eat it too.