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Best of 2002
Critic: Ann Morrow

1. Opeth

Defying the laws of probability, Stockholm’s Opeth have followed last year’s doomy masterpiece, Blackwater Park, with yet another incomparable epic of blackened prog rock. Lying in wait to ravish unwary death metallers, Deliverance hails allegiance to King Crimson, yet all other inspirations are pure, enigmatic Opeth—meaning these phantasmagoric vamps take the twining of guitar brutality and compositional beauty to its furthest extremes.

2. Korn

It’s strafingly apparent that the kings of rap-metal have made the jump to a higher elevation of visceral songwriting. Dispensing with rap rants, the politics of victimization and all the other trademarks that have dominated the genre in the wake of Peachy, Untouchables is a landmark of blistering lyrics and song structures, scored by the newly mature and diversified vocals of Jonathan Davis, who soars from guttural yowls to a freaky falsetto. Untouchables undoubtedly will have the rest of hard rock playing follow the leader for years to come.

3. Iron Lung Corp
Ditch the Attitude, Pally

A collaboration between Dan (Clay People) Neet and members of Acumen Nation, Iron Lung Corp combine elements of both bands into a techno party platter of subversive wit, self-deprecating defiance, and atmospheric weirdness. More addictive than crack, Pally rampages from eerie drum’n’bass to full-bore industrial with each and every song electrified by a power surge of sly originality.

4. Acumen Nation
The Fifth Column

The sister release to Pally, The Fifth Column finds Chicago’s brazenly innovative, criminally underappreciated Acumen at the top of their ambient-industrial game. The hypnotically melodic “Demasculator” and the hypnotically grinding “Rally and Sustain” are as good as cutting-edge techno gets. As always, singer-guitarist- programmer Jason Novak proves himself a studio wizard on a par with the biggest names in the biz.

5. Queens of the Stone Age
Songs for the Deaf

Driven by the megalithic twin engine of drummer Dave Grohl and guitarist Josh Homme, Songs tells the Nuggety saga of a posse of mood-enhanced amigos (including Screaming Mark Lanegan and guitarist Dean Ween) riding the strange tension of their juxtaposed talents to a self-indulgent and sonically jaw-dropping conclusion. A mega-ton jumping bean of a song, “No One Knows” is the feel-good hit of the winter, while the California dreamin’ of “The Sky Is Fallin’” is a decades-spinning head trip.

6. Nile
In Their Darkened Shrines

To say that Nile’s pulverizing death-metal is inspired by ancient Egyptian rhythms (imaginatively colored by tablas, sitars and kettledrums) doesn’t begin to convey the godly compositional power of their latest opus. The roaring vocals invoke the rage of a desecrated pharaoh, but what’s most impressive about Shrines are the windstorms of momentum achieved by the mercilessly grinding guitars.

7. Thursday
Five Stories Falling

The angsty racket of these New Jersey postpunks has been compared to Joy Division, but Sonic Youth at their most Joy-ful is a more accurate description. On this live EP (including the previously unreleased and essential “Jet Black New Year”), the band’s discordant meters, crazed accelerations, jangling guitars, crashing choruses and searingly honest lyrics are shot full of adrenaline and urgency.

8. Various Artists
Queen of the Damned: Music From the Motion Picture

In a year chock-full of rock soundtracks that were better than the movies they appeared in, Queen held sway over all others. Most of the songs were specially written for the movie, and all of them are catchy, crushing, and blacker than Anne Rice’s hair dye. But what makes this satisfyingly vampiric mood piece a must-have are the five tracks written by Korn’s Jonathan Davis (with studio keyboardist Richard Gibbs), which coax surprising vocals turns from the frontmen from Static-X, Disturbed, Linkin Park, Orgy and Marilyn Manson.

9. Sentenced
The Cold White Light

Unabashedly beautiful doom-metal from Finland (with a tip of the kick drum to Judas Priest) that occasionally achieves the overused but rarely earned adjective of haunting, thanks to the impassioned vocals and wild flourishes of Scandinavian folk music.

10. Ours

The second coming of New Jersey troubadour Jimmy Gnecco isn’t quite as ravishing as his 2000 major-label debut, but as far as soaring lyricism and multi-octave emotive power goes, it’s a stunner.

Best of 2002
Critic: David Greenberger

1. John Hartford
Steam Powered Aereo-Takes

The loss of John Hartford last year is made all the more acute by this second posthumous release. These dozen and a half songs are outtakes, demos and alternate versions from his groundbreaking 1971 album Steam Powered Aereo Plain. This set takes the No. 1 spot by dint its emotional tug on me (this is my list after all).

2. Los Lobos
Good Morning Aztlan

The sound of family, history and vitality: Timeless songs evoking a sense of place as well as inviting you to dance. Music for the head, the heart and the body. This a perfect and complete album experience.

3. Tom Waits
Blood Money/Alice

Linked because of their simultaneous release, these two albums are like a set of twins, forced to dress alike in childhood, but then one grows up to become a pastry chef and the other a demolition consultant.

4. Elvis Costello
When I Was Cruel

This album contains elements and insights that Costello could have created at no other point in his life, making him one of the most consistently engaging and restlessly creative artists in popular music.

5. Peter Wolf

Direct and genuine, these songs would have sounded at home in any of the past four or five decades, which also bodes well for their journey into the future.

6. Jenny Toomey

An erstwhile member of Tsunami, Toomey here sings a set of songs written by Franklin Bruno. The compositions and arrangements evoke the rich songcraft of the Gershwins, Cole Porter and Noel Coward. However, they’re free of any backward-looking nostalgia, celebrating the traditions of cabaret and art songs while locating them all comfortably in the present day.

7. Solomon Burke
Don’t Give up on Me

With his first hits four decades behind him, one of the finest soul singers of the ’60s gets to keep his crown with this powerful return.

8. Arto Lindsay

Lindsay continues to know the only route connecting the downtown New York scene of the ’70s (DNA, Lounge Lizards, etc.) with the magic and allure of Brazil.

9. Michael Hurley

Hurley stands nearly alone in his cross-genre land of mountain ballads, oblique yarns, sly humor, and timeless paeans to love and hope. He sings with a voice that moves easily between world-weary bluesiness and giddy near-yodeling.

10. Thea Gilmore
Rules for Jokers

This 23-year-old Brit is a folksinger at heart, but don’t hold her to it. With a rambunctious and flexible band, the results are something like what Billy Bragg has achieved with his Blokes. Gilmore gets the Newcomer of the Year Award, and not just because she managed to rhyme “tarmac” with “Bacharach.”

Best of 2002
Critic: Shawn Stone

1. Aimee Mann
Lost in Space

How many ways can someone be broken into pieces? As many ways as Aimee Mann can chronicle, in her oddly distanced way. Whether intended or not, she makes addiction seem as much lifestyle option as social problem in this ennui-drenched disc. Does it have post-9/11 relevance? You bet.

2. Mekons
OOOH! (Out of Our Heads)

Shit is falling from the sky: Rights crumble in the name of “security,” and we’re all supposed to pull together against “them.” That scabby-looking bunch over on the sidelines, muttering inconvenient truths (with irreverent sarcasm) to a rock & roll beat . . . they’re Mekons. And they should be heeded.

3. Missy Elliott
Under Construction

Half the tracks have high-profile guests (Jay Z, Ludacris, Method Man et al.), but these ringers are absorbed in Elliott’s (and producer Timbalake’s) universe, almost without notice. Elliott can outsing, outrap, and outwit just about anyone—and she keeps getting better.

4. Amy Rigby
18 Again: An Anthology

Love and sex and aging and rock & roll. Being “alt-country” without sending out a press release. Singing about “Beer & Kisses,” and watching some guy try to hit on your not-yet-of-age teenage daughter. Keeping your sense of humor while remaining clear-eyed about your prospects. And not being discouraged—that’s Amy Rigby.

5. Mary Prankster
Tell Your Friends

Like Alice Cooper, once a band, now an artist. It’s Ms. Prankster’s personality and vision that have always dominated anyway, and are in full effect on her angry, rocking, intelligent sexual manifestos (“Irresponsible Woman,” “Darlin”). Like Missy Elliott and Amy Rigby, she’s not offering any apologies.

6. Various Artists
24 Hour Party People: Original Soundtrack

It’s the ’70s and ’80, and you’re in Manchester, England. You’re on some drug they haven’t yet had the chance to ban, and are dancing like a lunatic. This music is what you’re dancing to. It presents Joy Division and Happy Mondays like they were the Stones and the Beatles. Which, to the true believer, they were.

7. The Breeders
Title TK

Cryptic, affecting and spare. When Kim Deal sings “I am the autumn in the scarlet,” I believe her. Whatever she means. Recent stuff recorded with the latest incarnation of the band, however hard-rocking, vies for interest with cuts recorded by the Deal sisters, sans help. They don’t sound like they need any—musically, anyway.

8. Dee Dee Bridgewater
This Is New

Jazz great Bridgewater presents Kurt Weill’s Weimar and Broadway songs side-by-side in a convincing context. The Latin jazz stylings help, but her smooth, devil-may-care attitude is just as important. “Bilbao Song,” a 10-minute Brechtian reminiscence of better, more decadent days, stands out, as does “My Ship,” showy Ira Gershwinisms and all. Smart and pleasurable.

9. Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Americana art rock. The sound is more compelling than the content, which is good for Jay Bennett’s résumé, but bad for the short-term future of Jeff Tweedy’s band.

10. The Beach Boys
Classics Selected by Brian Wilson

Giving equal space to the surfin’ heyday and the Boys’ later, lesser-known songs, Brian Wilson stakes his claim to being the tragic genius everyone from Paul McCartney to John Cale tells him he is. And when I hear “Time to Get Alone,” “Surf’s Up” and “Sail on, Sailor,” I agree.

Best of 2002
Critic: J. Eric Smith

1. The Residents
Demons Dance Alone

On which the venerable, yet vulnerable eyeballs assess loss, longing and fear in a post-9/11 world, and make a lasting, haunting elegy in the process—without ever mentioning the events of that landmark day.

2. Max Eider
Hotel Figueroa

Once and future Jazz Butcher guitarist finally gets around to making his sophomore disc, and man is it a doozy. Throw out your Combustible Edison records now, and replace them with this.

3. Pere Ubu
St. Arkansas

The Cleveland legends just keep getting stronger as they go, releasing one of their most clangorous yet hardest-rocking records since Modern Dance days.

4. Mindless Self Indulgence
Alienating Our Audience

A live document filled with crucial early tracks and choice new songs, guaranteed to make you grab your chair to stop the room from spinning.

5. Wire
Read and Burn 01/02

Two separate EPs and one very focused band, returning to their spiky roots without losing the benefits gained by three decades worth of arty pioneering.

6. Various Artists
Rise Above

The Rollins Band cover two dozen classic Black Flag tunes with guest vocal turns from every influential screamer in modern metal, all to benefit the legal defense fund of the West Memphis Three. The music’s as good as the cause.

7. System of a Down
Steal This Album!

As my friend Russell noted, “How can their leftovers still be better than what everybody else is doing?” It’s a mystery, but he’s right.

8. Check Engine
Check Engine

Weird skronky sax and guitar music with emo vocals so the kids can sing along.

9. Peter Gabriel

His most challenging and claustrophobic work since his landmark third album, a welcome return to vintage form.

10. Butthole Surfers
Humpty Dumpty LSD

A tape-cleaning exercise from the ’80s that gives yet another datapoint into how magical this band can be when they’re playing at the top of their game.

Best of 2002
Critic: Carlo Wolff

1. Solomon Burke
Don’t Give up on Me

For the persistence, poetry and depth.

2. Prick
The Wreckard

For the anger, persistence and daring.

3. Tom Waits
Blood Money

Part, with Alice, of a nearly perfect pair.

4. Badly Drawn Boy
Have You Fed the Fish?

Improbable, eccentric pop that melds the unpredictability of a Van Dyke Parks with the acute observation of a Ray Davies.

5. Eels

Trailer-trash narratives with furry disco beats. Count on Eels to make the heart of darkness go down easy, like a valentine from Wes Craven.

6. Corey Harris
Downhome Sophisticate

The blues as revelation from a master of mojo, not just technique.

7. And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Source Tags & Codes

These Texas kids play like a hurricane, like a meaner baby U2 sans the sentiment.

8. Ralph Stanley
Ralph Stanley

Grand Ole Opry legend Stanley sings and plays banjo to ring wondrous changes on tradition.

9. Brad Mehldau

Pianist Mehldau pushes the jazz envelope with Radiohead, Jobim, the Beatles and his own unique originals.

10. The Donnas
Spend the Night

Metal lives, wanton and sexy. We’re talking ‘tude, not nü.

Best of 2002
Critic: Kirsten Ferguson

1. Queens of the Stone Age
Songs for the Deaf

The Queens had a potent blend of peyote-fueled desert rock before they took in ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and added the whiskey-throated Mark Lanegan, formerly of Screaming Trees. Now, they’re poised to take over the world.

2. Clinic
Walking With Thee

Insidiously catchy, sinister yet melodic, these British rockers merge decadent organ-driven beats with thrashes of art punk.

3. Sahara Hotnights
Jennie Bomb

“Here’s my fist, where’s the fight?” is the opening salvo on Sahara Hotnights’ charged sophomore album. The quartet of Swedish femmes (some would say hotties) rocks out with the energy of the Ramones and the attitude of Joan Jett.

4. The Greenhornes
Dual Mono

Infectious garage rock of Nuggets-era vintage.

5. The Mooney Suzuki
Electric Sweat

Infectious garage rock inspired by MC5.

6. Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

It’s been proclaimed a masterpiece, but Foxtrot falters at times under the weight of Jeff Tweedy’s increasingly depressive tendencies. Still, the album has its transcendent moments.

7. Bruce Springsteen
The Rising

If anyone could make a 9/11-themed album without seeming maudlin and opportunistic, it’s the Boss, our long-anointed artistic voice for the working class. Give the guy some credit—you can tell that he truly feels this.

8. Sleater-Kinney
One Beat

Hyper-literate riot grrrl punks have grown up and turned into a damn fine, full-blown rock band (replete with horns) without losing the art-punk flourishes and the lyrical rallying cries.

9. Spoon
Kill the Moonlight

Few rock bands make use of space and instrumental-interplay as well as Spoon. On Kill the Moonlight, their stylized song-sculptures are lean and modernistic, yet bristling with energy and anticipation.

10. Neko Case

Blacklisted’s stark minimalism serves as backdrop for Case’s beautiful torch-twang crooning. Refreshingly lowbrow, Case’s haunted vocals reveal a morbid streak—imaginings of plane crashes and Interstate murders coexist alongside her heartfelt, lonesome musings.

Best of 2002
Critic: Bill Ketzer

1. Queens of the Stone Age
Songs for the Deaf

Clearly a band at the peak of their powers. Life in the desert, death in the afternoon.

2. Various Artists
Rise Above

A historic hardcore band paying homage to . . . er . . . themselves, with help from Lemmy, Hank Williams III, Tom Araya, Exene Cervenka and a host of other heavies in this collection of 24 Black Flag songs to benefit the West Memphis Three.

3. Burning Brides
Fall of the Plastic Empire

As we used to say at Colonie High, this is golden, dude. Check these guys out before the industry whelps them like staffordshire terriers.

4. Orange Goblin
Coup de Grace

Living proof that there are still legions of people who still listen to Sabbath’s Volume 4.

5. Audioslave

Way, way better than I ever expected.

Best of 2002
Critic: Erik Hage

1. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. III

Binds together generations of musicians and strands of American music (folk, blues, country, bluegrass, gospel). Features guests such as Doc Watson, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Del McCoury, Alison Krauss and a host of others.

2. The Bigger Lovers
Honey in the Hive

This Philadelphia power-pop band know their Move and Soft Boys as well as its Big Star. “Bought Your Ghost” is my favorite rock song of the year.

3. Guided by Voices
Universal Truths and Cycles

The Who tackle Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds on a four-track in the garage. Some drinking implied.

4. Kelly Willis

Her follow-up to 1999’s drop-dead-perfect What I Deserve. My love for Kelly Willis continues unabated.

5. The Roots

While lesser talents give tours of their “cribs” on MTV, the Roots continue to redefine the parameters of hiphop. This is an often-hard-edged album fueled by funk, punk, soul and smarts.

6. Hayseed
In Other Words

This Capital Region transplant’s 1998 debut had the levelheaded Lucinda Williams comparing his time-transcendent muse to that of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. On this album, he primarily covers tunes by songwriters from the Nashville underground. And oh man, what a voice: Emmylou Harris risks getting lost in it on their duet together.

7. Say Zuzu
Every Mile

One of the great post-Uncle Tupelo roots-rock bands. They blew out of New Hampshire in the mid-’90s, developed loyal followings in the American South and Europe and called it quits a few months ago.

8. And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Source Tags & Codes

The most barbaric yawp of the year. Sounds like mid-’90s Pavement swallowed the Stooges. Or vice versa.

9. Drive-By Truckers
Southern Rock Opera

It’s about Lynyrd Skynyrd, the “Southern thing,” George Wallace, Neil Young, ‘70s rock and Zip City. (Rock operas are supposed to be indulgent.)

10. Caitlin Cary
While You Weren’t Looking

Ryan Adams’ big-sister figure from Whiskeytown quietly released a great album while we weren’t looking.

Best Local Recordings of 2002
Critic: J. Eric Smith

1. Bryan Thomas
Ones and Zeroes

A record that makes your heart go pitty-pat while your toes go tap tap tap. Awesome soulful pop decorated with gorgeous arrangements, just so.

2. Kamikaze Hearts
Kamikaze Hearts

Porch music that reminds you how less can so often be more, when it’s delivered with poise and grace and heart and style.

3. Blackloud
Octave Drops

Bassist Jimbo Burton has recorded five full-length demo discs since leaving Small Axe last summer, covering all sorts of stylistic ground in the process. This one is most atmospheric of the bunch, a radically original work by a player working way outside the box, and doing it extremely well.

4. Rob Skane

Skane’s sophomore disc offers thoughtful, catchy tunes arranged in a spacious style, fully belying their home-studio origins.

5. The Wait

Another winning EP from our region’s greatest pop hope, a disc where all the little songs have great big hooks.

6. Marlow
White Out

Bitter tales delivered sweetly, and sweet tales delivered with tang, leaving a most interesting taste when you’re done.

7. Wetwerks
What’s Been Done

Three Filter-ized tunes recorded by Rae DiLeo plus two homegrown numbers, any one of which would sound fabulous on your radio.

8. SpineCar

Smart metal, crunchy yet capable.

9. 50 Man Machine
50 Man Machine

You’ll never listen to world music the same way again once you hear what those Celtic, Caribbean and hi-tech instruments can sound like when they’re all played together.

10. Pale
The Ubergoth Demo

You heard it here first: Doane Stuart School senior Steve McDonald makes some audacious Aphex Twin flavored electronic auditory art that’s gonna be rattling your teeth in concert halls before you know it. But not before I knew it.

Best Local Recordings of 2002
Critic: John Rodat

1. Gaven Richard
Live From Restaurant Island

Imagine source material from a precocious suburban teen’s darkest flights of fancy run through a mill of black humor and spacey garage rock—a la 13th Floor Elevators—and underscored with the bloody morality of Perrault’s fairy tales. Jason Martin’s production brilliantly highlights the songs’ grit, their shifting currents and ambiguities, and still manages to maintain a sensible sonic cohesion; and Aindrea H.B. Richard’s strikingly melancholy cover-art suggests we need more categories for Best Of awards. Live From Restaurant Island is a complex and rewarding multisensory accomplishment.

2. Brent Gorton
San Diego

Chill the Rolling Rock. The lo-fi indie-rock songwriter genre, thank God, is not dead; some day the sleeping giant will awake and—clad in Converse All-Stars and a thrift-store cardigan—walk the Earth again. Become friendly with Brent Gorton now, because when that tide turns, he’ll be surfing its crest.

3. Gay Tastee
Gayest Hits

Hey, I’m no brain surgeon, but I feel comfortable with my diagnosis that a steady diet of independent media, transgressive literature, Steve Albini, malt liquor and ephedrine have made of songwriter Steve Gaylord something worthy of extensive study. And here’s two full discs of symptomatic action to back me up.

4. Kamikaze Hearts
Kamikaze Hearts

I know that you know how I feel about the work of the Kamikaze Hearts; I know you’re thinking, “Enough already”; I know you think I’m obsessed or something; I know you want me to pass over the Kamikaze Hearts and pick something else for the sake of diversity or novelty—a jam band, a rock opera, a reggae group—for this list, just for once. No.

5. The Users
The Users

I don’t know whether they’re even a band anymore. Rumors reach me secondhand: They’ve got a new drummer; they’ve found a rehearsal space; they’re buying new strings as we speak. Whatever the case, the brief self-titled Users disc that reached me bubbles with enough unabashed twee glee and mopes with such charming self-pity that it winds up here, with or without a band to back it.

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