My top 10 records of the year included five major-label acts and five indies. Out of those, seven made career records, while one, Sonic Youth, charted a whole new direction.
1. OutKast, Stankonia (LaFace) These ATLiens got jokes, concepts, and funk galore. They’re also the truest Sons of the P to come along since Digital Underground, and here they take on a hip-hop scene d’void if not of funk, then at least of vision and valuesall while staking out a stanky, Clintonian realm all their own. Added bonus: This time around, the beats are more insistent, the synths more wigged-out, the axwork higher up in the mixin short, more funkadelic.
2. PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island) The Joy of Sex meets The Art of Loving. This is desire, and in a world where guitars still signify. Inspirational couplet: “I can’t believe life is so complex / When I just wanna sit here and watch you undress.”
3. Ass Ponys, Some Stupid With a Flare Gun (Checkered Past) Epic both sonically and spiritually, this smacks of The Band’s Music From Big Pink filtered through Pere Ubu’s Dub Housing. Chief Ass-man Chuck Cleaver populates his universe with losers and oddballs, only to sort tenderly through the clutter of their desperate, yet somewhere noble, lives. “This is sadness / And here’s what you can do with it / Tie it to a cinder block / And shove it in the lake,” he urges. It’s the quintessential post-whatever answer to “The Weight,” and with those surging guitars fortifying his every word, you’d swear it just might work.
4. D’Angelo, Voodoo (Virgin) “But the songs don’t go anywhere,” griped a friend after playing this one. He’s right; they don’t, and that’s just the point. Taking its cue from feminine rather than masculine sexual energythat is, from pleasure’s ebb and flow rather than climax or consummationVoodoo is all bump and grind, all about getting deep inside a groove and riding it, rather than trying to go anywhere. Which isn’t to say that getting there ain’t good, just that there’s no reason to hurry when the goin’ feels this fine. Marvin Gaye would have understood.
5. Lambchop, Nixon (Merge) In which Kurt Wagner, the putative frontman of Nashville’s finest, steps out as a crooner (and one in command of a stunning falsetto) and the rest of the band finds a voice to match. Or make that voices, a dozen or so beating as one, able to create sonic weaves as shimmering as those of their country-soul heroes.
6. Marah, Kids in Philly (E-Squared) Flashing banjos and guitars as if punk never happened, Marah come on like an effusive Brooce cataloging just about every dirty nook and cranny along E Street. They’ve even got his shuffle down. But instead of making their escape, the way the Boss did when he was their age, this Philly crew burrows deeper: They strive to get inside those streets that “teem with beats that reverberate fear” in hopes of conquering their own.
7. Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne (Def Jam) The obvious touchstones here are the records made at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, and at Hi and American in Memphis, during the ’60s and ’70s: Aretha’s churchy surges, Teenie Hodges’ snaky guitar lines, the desire-drenched strings of Dusty in Memphis. Lynne’s detractors say the album sounds pieced together, and it is, though why that should matter is beyond me. For her part, Lynne seems content to revel in the fact that it’s a quilt of her own making. “It’s mine, oh it’s mine,” she purrs on “Where I’m From,” her humid drawl oozing the blessed assurance of a child who’s got her own.
8. Sleater-Kinney, All Hands on the Bad One (Kill Rock Stars) At this point, it’s easy to take this grrl trio for granted, especially since, as tastemakers would have it, they’re not breaking any new formal or thematic ground. But I wouldn’t have it that way: Their galvanic caterwauling, riffing, and analysisnot to mention that straight-for-the-spine kick Janet Weiss detonates with her kitstill make them the most thoughtful and visceral band on earth. That, and here they betray their pop finesse.
9. R.L. Burnside, Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down (Fat Possum) Fat Possum’s trifling “new beats” approachdeejay scratches and sampled beats grafted to Hill Country bluesfinally pays off. Ironically, the payoff is the stentorian Burnside sounding like a cross between Muddy and Hook at Chess, minus the echo, circa 1950.
10. Sonic Youth, NYC Ghosts and Flowers (Geffen) The great noise-rock avatars trade the cathartic release of their guitar anthems for ambient tone poems that stress process and tensionin the, um, process proving just how intimate and seductive their playing can be. The whole affair owes more to freeform improv and Eno (or at least Eno-like shadow member Jim O’Rourke) than anything else. Which isn’t to say there aren’t a few doses of expressway-to-yr-skull skronk here. But coming as it does on the heels of Goodbye 20th Century, the group’s self-released tribute to the modern experimental composers they dote on, it would appear these lifers have moved on to the next phase.
11. Roni Size/Reprazent, In the Mode (Talkin’ Loud)
12. Madonna, Music (Maverick)
13. Common, Like Water for Chocolate (MCA)
14. Amy Rigby, The Sugar Tree (Koch)
15. Le Tigre, self-titled (Mr. Lady)
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Mr. Pink- I'm added that to my netflix right now.
Wonderful! We're hoping Knoxville puts something like this together, too. It's a fantastic concept!!