Best of 2001: David Zahl

Best Music of 2001 Lists

1. The Strokes, The Modern Age EP (Beggar’s Banquet)
Unrelenting, direct, raw, tuneful: the three songs that make up The Modern Age EP are by far the freshest and most exciting sounds of the year. The Strokes rediscovered the brutal, distinctly youthful energy that has always bound rock n roll to its audience. Whether they intended to do so or not is irrelevant; their music stands apart from the silly hype and even sillier backlash. It’s as close to bad-ass rock n’ roll that this generation will come.

2. Nathan Larson, Jealous God (Artemis)
Jealous God is unlike any other record this year, an articulate collection of blue-eyed soul songs specifically about God — with a capital G — devoid of condescension or proselytization. Larson blends effortless musicality with spiritual yearning, something rare, allowing the songs to speak and move with unparalleled clarity. The ex-Shudder To Think guitarist released this immediate and undeniable classic in August.

3. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia)
Love and Theft stands outside of time and space. Dylan’s music hasn’t been this animated for at least twenty years, and his lyrics have never sounded so wise or natural. From behind a veil of hurt and wonder, his reliance on American musical traditions frees him to speak volumes on the human predicament and, more importantly, its consequences.

4. Death Cab For Cutie, The Photo Album (Barsuk)
Though Ben Gibbard sings with an emotional waver, indicative of many indie-rockers, he balances the vulnerability in his voice with equal measures of compassion. This quality enables The Photo Album to transcend the self-obsessive trappings that dampen so much “indie-rock” while maintaining the intensity which invigorates it. It’s a remarkable achievement: fragmented but cohesive, melancholy but hopeful, personal but open-minded.

5. Weezer, Weezer (Geffen)
In perhaps the most self-consciously difficult move of the year, Rivers Cuomo returned to scene, minus all the smart aleck charisma that made Weezer so famous in the early 90s. And somehow, he didn’t alienate anyone; he even gained hordes of new fans. Perhaps this is because the Green Album, despite its lyrical ridiculousness, is the most fun and hard-rocking 30-minute song in years.

6. Pernice Brothers, World Won’t End (Ashmont)
World Won’t End inundates the listener with substance. And the sunny arrangements never obscure the dark subject matter; they enhance it, “Flaming Wreck” and “7:30” being particular highlights. Emptiness and regret never sounded so pretty.

7. Jay Farrar, Sebastopol (Artemis)
One of the year’s highlights was the unexpected rejuvenation of Jay Farrar. The fourteen songs which comprise Sebastopol not only mark his finest songwriting since Son Volt’s debut, they are the best recordings he’s ever done, rustic and authentic, yet daring and entirely modern.

8. Whiskeytown, Pneumonia (Lost Highway)
Gold may have gotten all the press, but Pneumonia was Ryan Adams’ most formidable release in 2001. Songs like “Mirror, Mirror”, “Jacksonville Skyline”, and “The Ballad of Carol Lynn” succeed where Gold failed: ambitious, thoughtful, honest, and beautifully rendered.

9. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
If Harry Potter and the White Stripes tell us anything, it’s that many Americans are nostalgic for the British childhood they never had. Chock full of memorable songs, White Blood Cells sounds like a lost British Invasion record, albeit filtered through the Pixies.

10. Ron Sexsmith, Blue Boy (Cooking Vinyl)
With Blue Boy, the quiet Canadian finally released a record which does his songs justice. Sexsmith’s uniformly impressive compositions sparkle with invention and intelligence, perhaps a result of working with alt-country guru Steve Earle.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Elvis Costello Reissues
  • The Walkmen
  • The Band reissues
  • Rufus Wainwright, Poses
  • Radiohead, Amnesiac
  • Turin Brakes, The Optimist LP