It was almost impossible to narrow this list to 10 recordings. My sincere congratulations to all of the artists listed here. The recognition is truly deserved. To anyone viewing this list, any of these recordings are worthy investments of your money and time.
1. The Masticators, Masticate! (To M’Lou)
I said this early in 2000, and I will say it again: “The one sentence description is this: if a band had a frontperson who sounded like a combined Ronnie Spector, Sheryl Crow and Tracy Ullman and had a look that was sexy without insulting women; if a band could write songs of any pop variety and rock as hard as great bands such as The Pretenders, The Who, and Cheap Trick but had the taste and style of a late ’70s Linda Ronstadt or rockin’ Sheryl Crow; if the band had a killer live show; if the band had the whole package, AND could save rock ‘n’ roll from Boy Bands and Celine Dion, this would be The Masticators. One of the best releases of 2000.” If I am forced to pick one CD, this is my pick for recording of the year.
2. Jupiter Affect, instructions for the two ways of becoming alice (EggBERT)
If you like power in your pop, if you like pitch perfect vocals (Michael Quercio, formerly of The Three O’ Clock), and if you are interested in a recording that is equal parts Zombies (Odyssey and Oracle), Queen (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) and the Beatles (Revolver), this one is for you. The songs are all rockin’ melodic gems culled from the widest variety of influences. Michael Quercio is a master of the hook. A great recording.
3. Elliott Smith, Figure 8 (Dreamworks)
Figure 8 is a collection of excellent songs and great performances. Smith is a rare artist who can pen and perform songs with sparse instrumentation and pull it off. On Figure 8, I invite you to experience the phosphorescent brilliance of the bare songs “Somebody that I Used to Know”, “I Better Be Quiet Now”, and “Easy Way Out”. But these tracks are not even the highlights. “Everything Reminds Me of Her” is a beautiful track that brings you into Smith’s world. Simple heartfelt lyrics like: “…so if I seem a little out of it, sorry…but why should I lie…everything reminds me of her”. It doesn’t rhyme. It’s not classically clever. Just real, like all of Smith’s best stuff. A triumph for him, and another step in this artist’s exponential growth.
4. Bettie Serveert, Private Suit (Parasol)
BS exploded onto the world music scene in 1992 with the absolutely classic Palomine, one of the ’90s defining moments in music. Palomine resembles in part the sound on Private Suit: Ms. van Dijk, the lead singer, mesmerizes you into a hypnotic state with her understated, soulful vocal delivery, while Visser, the guitarist, provides a riffing, melodic guitar undertow that builds on almost every song to an aural climax. Indeed, that description is overtly sexual; however, this is a very sexy band. I challenge anyone to listen to any Bettie Serveert recording and conclude that they are not the alternative pop equivalent of Luther Vandross or Barry White. Private Suit puts you in the mood. BS is one of the greatest bands of the modern era, and this recording is part of that legacy. Hyperbole? Not to me.
5. Michael Carpenter, Hopefulness (Not Lame)
This recording is a heartfelt, melodic gem that is equal parts Sunflower-era Beach Boys, Beatles and other masters of the three minute hook. Carpenter, who hails from Australia, is one of the best kept secrets in the world. This recording is the unknown nugget of gold that you might want to unearth from my list.
6. Damon and Naomi, With Ghost (Sub Pop)
If you are intelligent, buy only the best recordings in the alternative pop genre, and you are not easily impressed, this CD is for you. And everybody else too. Majestic, swirling mellotron and strings fuel the simple acoustic guitars and piano arrangements on most of the tracks. The lyrics are the most literate of 2000. You could hold these lyrics up as significant poetry. The real stuff. You know…Whitman, Byron, Shelley. Not Pete, but Percy…the English guy from hundreds of years ago, not the guy from The Buzzcocks. Seriously, Sub Pop should submit the lyrics to whomever judges poetry as literature. This pair, along with their Japanese friends, Ghost, are writing lyrics in another league here. A superb recording.
7. Mark Johnson, Last Night on a Roller Coaster (Radio Ghost)
Johnson is a recently transplanted L.A. pop songwriter who gained a sizable reputation in New York with his release Twelve in a Room, a warm, personal scrapbook of material expressed mostly with basic guitar and vocals. This is a path few take because of the exposure laid to the bare structure of the songs. Like Twelve…, this release is done sparsely because the songs require nothing more than the melody, chords and vocal. Johnson is in the truly professional songwriting class of Jules Shear and Marshall Crenshaw, to give you a frame of reference. A unique, personal, touching recording by a songwriter’s songwriter.
8. Myracle Brah, The Myracle Brah (Not Lame)
Do you remember how you you felt the first time you heard, “Strawberry Fields Forever”? How about “Baby Blue” by Badfinger? Or “Across the Universe”? Some pretty spine tingling material there. Andy Bopp, in essence, the heart of the band Myracle Brah, has the ability to capture the classic rock ‘n’ roll vibe. I won’t use the word Lennon because expectations are a bitch, but Bopp is dog spelled backwards. Get this today.
9. Kasey Chambers, The Captain (Asylum)
Kasey Chambers sounds Old Nashville. This recording is a very impressive release by a young woman who may soon, along with Kelly Willis, hold the co-throne of queen of female country. Ms. Chambers, in all her pierced glory, writes and sings from her heart, a heart that seems as big as the areas of the Australian outback where she grew up. Her material is well written, and her lyrics point to a woman with a strong personality. She appears to have a certain self actualization uncommon for an artist this early in her career. My educated guess is that Chambers will be a star in America, and rightfully so, for all the correct reasons. A fine recording.
10. Riptones, Buckshot (Bloodshot)
Elvis may have been King, but his guitar player, Scotty Moore, was a major contributor to the kingdom. The “sound” of those classic Elvis singles catapulted his career, and the guitar sounds and chug-a-lug rythyms whipped the world into a frenzy. The Riptones: Buckshot sounds like an Elvis jam with Johnny Cash on lead vocals and Scotty Moore on guitar. Believe it or not, this recording has that airy, light Sun presence making Jeb Bonansinga and Company worthy heirs to the rockabilly/roots crown worn by Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and all the rest who used to hang out at 706 Union Avenue. The finest roots recording of 2000.