Best of 2001: Kevin Mathews

Best Music of 2001 Lists

1. The Pernice Brothers, The World Won’t End (Ashmont)
The World Won’t End is a document of gorgeously textured pop as Pernice and cohorts (including ace producer Thom Monahan) successfully marry the diverse strands of jangle and chamber pop to dizzying effect. Hence, the influences of Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Brian Wilson, ELO, Zombies, Byrds, Big Star and Teenage Fanclub are clearly discernible in choice gems like “Let It Show”, “She Heightened Everything”, “Our Time Has Passed”, “Flaming Wreck” and “The Ballad of Bjorn Borg”. Pernice’s fragile larynx — reminiscent of Colin Blunstone (Zombies) — narrates tales of loss, regret and melancholy to counterpoint the pop joys of the songs themselves: magical moments.

2. Steve Wynn, Here Come the Miracles (Blue Rose)
Steve Wynn had the strange experience of competing with himself as his new double album tour-de-force Here Come the Miracles went head-to-head with the re-issue of the classic Dream Syndicate debut Days of Wine & Roses. To his immense credit, Miracles has proven strong enough to stand up on its own as a truly remarkable effort. Representing Wynn’s sixth solo release, Miracles is a masterpiece of incendiary psychedelic folk rock blues mojo as Wynn and his crack band channel Wynn’s obvious Bob Dylan/Lou Reed/Neil Young influences into a heady brew.

3. Guided by Voices, Isolation Drills (TVT)
GBV’s second album on the indie TVT label is possibly a hi-fidelity return to the archetypal GBV sound of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes with its steady regimen of classic/alt-rock and powerpop flourishes. Guitarist Doug Gillard is the lynchpin of this gritty resonance, equally adept at serving out slabs of molten riffs (“Skills Like This”) as power chord majesty (“Chasing Heather Crazy”). Isolation Drills also finds Pollard at a personal crossroads and for a songwriter who brought oblique lyricism to new heights, he presents some confessional moments here, especially with “The Brides Hit Glass” and “How’s My Drinking”. Pollard is the archetypal late developer (he quit his day job in his 30s) and he is certainly making up for lost time and how!

4. David Mead, Mine and Yours (RCA)
David Mead released his sophomore effort, Mine and Yours combining a classic pop bent with a distinctive ethereal vocal style which brought double blessings upon fans of well-crafted emotional pop-rock that touched the heart and soul. The presence of Adam (Fountains of Wayne) Schlesinger served to reinforce the pop smarts of the entire undertaking and Mead’s future output will be eagerly watched in the years to come.

5. Electric Light Orchestra, Zoom (Sony)
Pop fans were fortunate enough to witness the comeback of the year with the Electric Light Orchestra’s first album of new material in 15 long years, the accomplished Zoom. ELO leader Jeff Lynne had in that interim period released a low-key solo album (Armchair Theatre), participated in a wildly successful supergroup side-project the Travelling Wilburys and more importantly perhaps, worked with his musical heroes: Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Roger McGuinn and in a fashion, the Beatles. Surprising many disbelieving critics, Zoom finds Lynne refreshed and re-invigorated, proving that his melodic gifts have not abandoned him and better yet, his guitar skills have been honed with a fine craftsmanship. Premium material like “Ordinary Dream”, “Alright”, “Just For Love” and “Lonesome Lullaby” provides the perfect riposte to the album’s detractors.

6. Splitsville, The Complete Pet Soul (Airmail)
Splitsville is currently in a state of transition since their last US label Big Deal went belly-up after the release of its Repeater album. Currently without a US record deal, the trio of Paul Krysiak, Matt and Brandt Huseman added tracks to a 1996 four-track EP bumping it up to The Complete Pet Soul album that was released by the Japanese Airmail Recording label. Moving way beyond the original pastiche objectives of the EP, The Complete Pet Soul (recorded by fellow Baltimore popster Andy “Myracle Brah” Bopp — underground pop legend in his own right!) the new tracks demonstrate Splitsville’s encyclopaedic grasp of the classic pop-rock tradition topped with a healthy irreverent attitude that prizes the spirit over the letter of the form. Really, folks, it’s that good.

7. The Heavy Blinkers, Better Weather (Brobdingnagian)
The problem sometimes with orchestral pop is that the emphasis on technique and instrumentation comes at the cost of arresting melodies. Case in point, The High Llamas and Eric Matthews. That’s an accusation no one can make against the Heavy Blinkers’ third outing, Better Weather, with tunes that will melt the heart even of the most cynical angst-ridden rap metal skateboard punk. Songwriters Jason MacIssac and Andrew Watt have surpassed all previous expectations with the song sequence of “Baby Smile”, “Far As You Are” and “Heartstrings” that has no peers this year. None. In that company, the rest of Better Weather appears to pale but in isolation, tracks like “I Used to be a Design”, “Lazy in Love” and “Malmo” more than distinguish themselves.

8. The Rosenbergs, Mission: You (DGM)
The Rosenbergs created a bit of brouhaha with their turning down a spot on Jimmy (Iovine) and Doug’s (Morris) due to unfavorable contractual terms in favor of a more progressive deal with Discipline Global Mobile, the label co-owned by Robert (King Crimson) Fripp and David Singleton. Mission: You, The Rosenbergs’ debut album proper treated the astute pop-rock listener to 11 tracks of the very best that modern power pop can offer. The Rosenbergs create perhaps the perfect examples of how power pop should really be delivered: instantly hummable tunes, deft guitar work, dynamic performances and odd tangential instrumentation to keep things always interesting. “Sucking on a Plum”, “Paper and Plastic”, “Little Lie”, “In Pursuit”, “Fast Asleep” and “Soaked in Polyester” could only come from wide-eyed optimism and a youthful perspective, something every pop fan will savour, whatever age you might be.

9. Starflyer 59, Leave Here a Stranger (Tooth & Nail)
Starflyer 59’s main creative force, Jason Martin, has been writing and recording for close to a decade with the superlative Leave Here a Stranger his tenth entry in an impressive discography. His unique blend of the “shoegazer” aesthetic and rustic melodic classicism mark him as a important contributor to the ‘real’ pop revival that is slowly but surely sweeping music scenes the world over.

10. Lift to Experience, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads (Bella Union)
Suffice to say that no other band or album quite comes close to capturing the sound and fury of Lift to Experience’s bible-quoting apocalyptic space-rocking passion. Taking a decidedly British sensibility to guitar textures — Syd Barrett, the Edge, Guy Chadwick and Kevin Shields are liberally referenced and provide the sonic backdrop for singer Josh T. Pearson’s ramblings on God, country and the end of the world. I have said it once and I will say it again, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads is the perfect soundtrack for these troubled times.

Honorable mentions