Best of 2001: Devon Powers

Best Music of 2001 Lists

Music for a Divine Moment

In these days of crusades, jihads, and God-Bless-This-Lands, I’ve been wondering why so much music writing is riddled with religious imagery. Let’s first discard all the obvious answers: the obsessive worship of dedicated fans; deification of the musician by the service (stage), the holy text (name your publication) and the gospel (music itself or PR, depending); and the virtue-less legends of pop music’s history (hey, ain’t it the truth that Hendrix, Karen Carpenter, Kurt Cobain, Tupac, Janice Joplin, et al. died for our sins).

And, come on — as long as music’s playground is the marketplace, drawing a parallel with humanity’s need for faith will be a kneejerk and workable tactic, from Madison Avenue to Sunset Boulevard. It’s not just coincidence that the rockstar/groupie paradigm echoes that of the prophet/proselyte — it’s a market tested, demographically researched, and moula-making venture. And adding dollar-dollar bills to an institution as old as humanity itself just reeks of Deleuze-ian grandeur, doesn’t it? You need that album. This band will save you. What’s-her-name is a goddess. And so on.

But cynicism aside, there’s something fundamental about music that really makes the comparison between it and religion tenable — and that nub isn’t found in the concert hall or the church. For true lovers of the form, whichever form it may be, it’s all about where and how you’re reached. Both enter in during your most personal moments — they are a salve when you are wounded, a comfort when you are weak. In those moments of jubilation, they are the catalyst and the carrier. In those moments of reflection, they offer a conduit to transcendence.

This top ten list is dedicated to a few of those records that this year offered me a shot at experiencing those divine moments

1. Radiohead, Amnesiac (Capitol)
Two albums in two years, a sold out multi-national summer tour, and a premiere at the pinnacle of the Billboard charts. Is there really a difference between Radiohead and *NSYNC? When history writes that story of Radiohead, they might call out the Oxford lads this way: unrelenting risk-takers who balked at celebrity, sage wizards who made simple instruments speak complex languages, and modest humanitarians who delivered a 2001 tour of ineffable magnificence. Radiohead, Amnesiacis not an album to be forgotten. Thank you.

2. Liars, They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (Gern Blandsten)
Liars play guitar like toy guns in a game of shoot-’em-up; the bass foils every strategy, like a surprise, bloody checkmate; the singing outdoes any screaming match you’ve ever witnessed. They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top is nothing short of the ultimate opponent — the kind that smiles while winning, the sort you rival over and over again, hoping to defeat. But you never will.

3. Starsailor, Love Is Here (Chysalis, Capitol)
Right now, there’s no telling whether Starsailor are In It For The Long Haul or simply It Boys. But what’s impossible to deny is the unabashed way in which they musically wear a bleeding heart on their sleeves. The best moments on this album are those when singer James Walsh sounds like he’s got no audience, and doesn’t need one — when the music that accompanies his private wailing could just as easily be a projection of an angst-ridden imagination. Open yourself fully to their aural wonder, because there are songs on this album that will absolutely make you shiver.

4. Björk, Vespertine (Elektra)
There once was a magical land of sprites and angels, where girls were safe and vulnerability was the ultimate sign of strength. Björk has always come from this land, but she’s finally perfected its folklore. If only childhood music boxes played songs like this! Whether Vespertine is Björk’s best has yet to be seen, because it seems as if only she has enough imagination to envision how she might top herself.

5. Turin Brakes, The Optimist LP (Astralwerks)
Infinite listenings couldn’t undo the potency of “State of Things”, the fragility of “Feeling Oblivion”, or the sheer loveliness of “Mind Over Money”. This record is gonna live forever, its versatility and diversity making it adaptable to countless permutations of life experience, personal hardship, and historical drama. I can only dream what their sophomore effort will be like.

6. The Charlatans UK, Wonderland (MCA)
Wonderland is the type of sweeping, arena-worthy record that British rockers just don’t make anymore. It’s sleazy glam and slinky groove set free by falsetto-with-attitude and instruments that seem descended from outer space. And what’s better is that it comes from The Charlatans UK, a group that have sometimes been dismissed as too softcore to play tough among groups like Oasis or The Verve. But Wonderland is to The Charlatans as Achtung, Baby was to U2, and from here on out, you’ll never look at the group the same way.

7. Pulp, We Love Life (Island)
This is Au Natural. This modest record — without even a proper stateside release — is the most touching and earnest material to come from the band to date. It’s “Something Changed” (from Different Class plus “A Little Soul” (from This is Hardcore) on a fourteen mile hike through the woods. Or, in plain speak, it’s Jarvis Cocker the way you never thought it possible to see and hear him –unadulterated, vulnerable, and even (dare I say it) cleansed. A remarkable experience no fan of Britpop, past, present, or future, ought to miss.

8. LiLiPUT, The Complete Recordings (Kill Rock Stars)
In a nutshell, entertainment meets education. German LiLiPUT (a.k.a Kleenex) have always occupied a prominent place in the punk tradition, and finally here, the group receive the retrospective they’ve long deserved. Two discs and 46 songs cover the bulk of their material from 1978 to 1983, encapsulating the many incarnations of Klaudia Schiff’s brainchild/labor of love.

9. Spiritualized, Let It Come Down (Arista)
Within the first 20 seconds of the record, Spiritualized climb 10,000 feet then quickly reverse directions, catapulting downward at lightning speed. By the album’s middle, the mood is stately and majestic, like an overture, with a drama that sparks gasps. By the album’s close, it is simply thoughtful and reflective, bare and unfiltered. Ready for such a trip? You’d better be, because Spiritualized are aching to bring you along — not just around the world, but out of it.

10. Clinic, Internal Wrangler (Domino)
Anonymous gibberish, safari beach music, buzzing-and-humming-and-honking-and-bleating-and-ticking — and then some. The best thing is, unless paying absolute attention, I can never quite tell how many songs there are on this album. Clinic unleash the freedom to be methodical in one’s chaos, to sing songs about nothing, and to violently wiggle — or should I say, wrangle — out of any categorization.