Indie Basement: 20 Favorite Albums of the Year 2000
For people of a certain age, the year 2000 will always sound like the future. The time of jet packs, a potential catastrophic reset when all the world's computers might crash or, as Prince put it, party over. It had an interesting effect on art too, and a lot of the music released that year felt like it was made with the future in mind. Indie bands had discovered jungle, drum n bass, big beat and other forms of club music, and were incorporating it into their style. Other groups wildly ambitious, while others looked back and forward at the same time. Some of 2000's music has aged better than others, and some of the albums in my list were not even contenders at the time (though most were). Far from a definitive list (and probably missing some of your favorites), here are my 20 favorite records of that year and, relistening to these, one thing is for sure -- I spent a lot of time at Other Music back then.
Check out my list, in alphabetical order, below.
The Aislers Set – The Last Match (Slumberland)
Maybe the greatest Slumberland Records band ever, and certainly one of the most underrated American bands of the millenium era, San Francisco's The Aislers Set sounded like a head-on collision between an Austin-Healey carrying members of Belle & Sebastian, The Pastels and The Jesus & Mary Chain, and a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle driven by Phil Spector with Roger McGuinn and Brian Wilson in the back seat. Don't worry, no one was hurt, everyone became friends and formed a band. In actuality, The Aislers set were led by Amy Linton, who had been in the noisier Henry's Dress in the mid-'90s and who wrote wonderful shambolic mid-fi pop that mixed reverb-y guitar squalls with spun sugar. The Last Match was their peak, featuring one memorable song after another and timeless, charmingly messy production.
Badly Drawn Boy - The Hour of the Bewilderbeast (Twisted Nerve / XL)
Are there too many songs on this, Badly Drawn Boy's debut album? Does Damon Gough, who is BDM for all intents and purposes, throw in two too many ideas into some songs? Does it seem like he's sabotaging himself on purpose occasionally? Is The Hour of the Bewilderbeast a wonderful, inventive psych-folk-pop record despite all those things? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Winner of the 2000 Mercury Prize, it remains Badly Drawn Boy's overstuffed crowning achievement.
Bertrand Burgalat - The Sssound Of Mmmusic (Tricatel)
By the end of the '90s, people may have been burnt out on on the whole '60s lounge thing and figured one retro-future French band was enough, but thankfully that never stopped the brilliant Bertrand Burgalat who straddled the line between lush bachelor pad nostalgia and the French Touch disco scene that was pushing things forward at the turn of the century. His debut album, The Sssound Of Mmmusic, is a fully realized sonic world; groovy and glitchy, playful and inviting, endlessly delightful.
Black Box Recorder – The Facts Of Life (Nude/Jetset)
After years playing in indie guitar bands The Servants and The Auteurs, Luke Haines hooked up with former Jesus & Mary Chain bassist John Moore and vocalist Sarah Nixey to make severely subversive synthpop as Black Box Recorder. Their music was so sleek, many listeners didn't really how messed up the lyrics were. Which was the point. On their gleefully twisted second album, The Facts of Life, they actually made it into the UK charts, with the slinky title track reaching #20 on the singles chart. That song had Nixey cooing relationship advice, like suggesting places teenage couples could get time alone such as "a disused coal mine." That's just one of the 11 delicious but deadly poison pop pills in this bottle.
Blonde Redhead - Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons (Touch and Go)
Let's hear it for Blonde Redhead, one of New York's great bands who were around for most of the '90s when there were not very many good bands in NYC. Made up of singer/guitarist Kazu Makino and identical twins Amedeo (guitar) and Simone Pace (drums), the trio's early records were closer to Sonic Youth, but by the late '90s a much wider range of sounds were incorporated into their sonic palette, including electronics, baroque film scores, classical music and shoegazy pop. Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, certainly one of the greatest album titles of all time, was their second time working with Fugazi's Guy Picciotto as producer and where their sound really blossomed. There were still wild screamers like "Mother," but the stunning "In Particular," "This is Not" and "For the Damaged Coda" point to where they'd go on Misery is a Butterfly and 23.
Broadcast - The Noise Made by People (Warp)
After a number of EPs and an appearance on the Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery soundtrack, Broadcast released their full length debut, 2000's best album bar none as far as this writer is concerned. Utterly bewitching, The Noise Made People still sounds like pop transmitted from another dimension, detached from time and space. Every detail is considered, from the eerie synthesizers (part sci-fi, part Italian horror film), to the snap of the snare, the ambient sounds of electricity that hum lowly in most songs, and the artwork that seems to have been made from old computer punchcards. Trish Keenan's beguiling, mysterious voice seals the deal on perfect songs like "Echo's Answer" and "Come on Let's Go."
Cinerama – Disco Volante (Scopitones)
David Gedge put his cultishly loved indie band The Wedding Present on hold in the late '90s and started Cinerama with his then girlfriend, Sally Murrell. Their first album sounded like TWP gone acoustic with synths, but Gedge figured out Cinerama's raison d'être on 2000's Disco Volante: fierce indie rock by way of swinging '60s spy movies, complete with strings, flutes and marimba. Keeping his lyrical M.O. -- love, lust, jealousy and heartbreak -- Gedge reinvented his style, and made trad indie guitars kinda sexy; Disco Volante ties with The Wedding Present's Seamonsters (both were made with Steve Albini) for best record of his career.
The Clientele - Suburban Light (Pointy / Merge)
UK indie trio The Clientele have always been a rainy day kind of band, romanticizing British inclement weather in many songs and through their general air of wistful melodies, brushed drums and frontman Alasdair Maclean's hushed vocals and delicately plucked guitars. The forecast called for weeks of damp weather on The Clientele's magical debut album, Suburban Light, that includes two songs with "rain" in the title and sounds like it was recorded in a cloud, or at least the London fog, with dense layers of reverb surrounding everything. It just adds to the wonderful, wistful atmosphere and you can't help but be swept up in the mise-en-scene of "Reflections After Jane," "We Could Walk Together," "An Hour Before the Light" and, yes, "Rain." Dress accordingly.
Clinic - Internal Wrangler (Domino)
Having released numerous singles and EPs through the late-'90s, Liverpool's Clinic had it all figured out by the time of their debut album, from their look (ahead-of-their-time surgical masks and scrubs), to their sinister sound that combined dubby postpunk, sleazy garage rock, analog synthesizers and motorik krautrock rhythms with Ade Blackburn's acid-dipped vocals. Dark as it was, Internal Wrangler was also kind of a party record, with the throbbing "The Second Line," "TK" (which cribs melody from "Ring of Fire"), and the melodica-soaked "The Return of Evil Bill" -- all surefire dancefloor fillers at any party full of nervous, paranoid people who haven't slept in a week.
The Delgados – The Great Eastern (Beggars Banquet)
Led by singer/guitarists Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock, Scottish band The Delgados were one of the best bands of the 1995-2005 era, making magisterial indie rock that felt both immense and entirely homespun. Their third album, The Great Eastern, is wildly ambitious both in song structure and in arrangements -- songs were prone to left turns of tempo and time signature, and grand orchestration. No doubt influenced by Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs and The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin (both of which were, like The Great Eastern, produced by Dave Fridmann), songs like "Accused of Stealing," "American Trilogy" and "No Danger" remain perfect indie rock symphonies The Delgados feel a little lost to the era, for whatever reason, but The Great Eastern still wows.
The Fall – The Unutterable (Eagle Records)
Following a weird/bad mid-'90s that saw The Fall reuniting with former guitarist Brix Smith briefly and Mark E Smith blowing up what remained of the classic lineup on-stage in NYC, MES recovered with an almost entirely new lineup of the band and some of their best records in years. The peak of that period is The Unutterable, which has Smith in fine cantankerous form (the most together he'd sounded in years) and the group adding current electronic sounds to their garage/rockabilly/krautrock M.O. There are no shortage of classics here -- "Cyber Insekt," "Two Librans," "Octo Realm / Ketamine Sun" -- but the album's worth the purchase for "Dr. Buck's Letter" alone, where MES reads an apparent actual, unintentionally hilarious, letter from an actual Dr. Buck over a killer, dubby groove.
The Go-Betweens – The Friends of Rachel Worth (Jetset)
Australia's Go-Betweens called it quits in 1989 but bandleaders Robert Forster and Grant McLennan remained close friends, at one point attempting to write screenplays together. That never panned out but Forster and Mclennan reunited in the late '90s for one of the best second acts any indie band has ever had. Made in Portland with Quasi (Janet Weiss & Sam Coomes) in the backing band and the rest of Sleater-Kinney on a track too, The Friends of Rachel Worth almost feels as if both songwriters had been saving up some of their best material in hopes of a reconciliation, here delivering some of their most sublime songs, like McLennan's "Going Blind" and Forster's "Surfing Magazines." The understated production, free of any attempt to get them "in the charts," makes this their best-ever sounding album. I would argue you could take the word "sounding" out of that last sentence, too.
Goldfrapp – Felt Mountain (Mute)
Having sung on records in the '90s by Orbital, Tricky, Plaid and Add N to X, Alison Goldfrapp jumped into the spotlight with Felt Mountain, the debut album from her namesake collaboration with Will Gregory. Drawing from sweeping '60s soundtracks and the downtempo scene she'd been involved with for the previous decade, nothing else sounded quite like it (though Broadcast and Blonde Redhead were clearly from the same galaxy). The album opens with the gorgeously unreal "Lovely Head," Goldfrapp's debut single, that plays like an acid-trip Bond theme featuring whistling, harpsichord, freaky electronics, and spine-tinglingly processed vocals that sound like... an ostrich singing opera? It's an unforgettable start to an record still bewitches and surprises today.
Grandaddy - The Sophtware Slump (V2)
Grandaddy really figured out their sound and worldview with their fantastic second album, featuring frontman Jason Lytle's absurdist tales of mundanity and stress in our increasingly tech-reliant world, set to a blend of '90s indie rock, glammy synthphonic flourishes (Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev's influence loomed large in 2000), and twangy country. The concept album imagines a world full of alcoholic robots, sad computer programmers, lost pilots, stuntman Evil Knevil, and forests made of discarded appliances that Lytle makes relatable with his empathetic style and a hard drive full of earworm spacerock pop...somehow it all sounds even more relevant now than it did in Y2K.
The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic (Mint)
They may be the Carl Newman Show these days, but The New Pornographers started off as a true collaborative supergroup, with Newman (previously of Zumpano), Destroyer's Dan Bejar and Neko Case all writing songs, often together, played with a band that also included members of Limblifter and Nardwuar's band, The Evaporators. "How could we lose," Newman told Pitchfork on their formation. "You could just take some interesting elements and put them together. Even taking myself out of the picture, when I looked at the band I just thought, 'This band's got to be great.'" He was definitely right, and their debut album, recorded over a three-year period, is a modern guitar pop classic where every song is a potential single.
Oranger – The Quiet Vibrationland (Amazing Grease / Poptones)
San Francisco's Oranger were popsmiths of the highest order, borrowing the best bits of '60s and '70s psychedelia to create their own brand of sunshine pop. Nicking the title from The Who's Tommy (and drummer Jim Lindsay swiping wild fills from Keith Moon), The Quiet Vibrationland also borrows from The Byrds, Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Turtles and the Kinks, but they do it with panache, punny pop-culture-laced humor and their own fantastic melodic sense. Oranger never really got their due -- they're not too far in sound or style from Fountains of Wayne -- but "Suddenly Upsidedown," "A View of the City from an Airplane," "Texas Snow" and "Stoney Curtis in Reverse" all sound like lost classics.
Primal Scream - XTRMNTR (Creation/Astralwerks)
Like The Fall, Primal Scream svengali Bobby Gillespie has always been able to absorb myriad influences and current trends into his band's own brand of rock n' roll and have it sound like they invented it. They were never more ambitious than on XTRMNTR -- a call-to-arms with revolution (political, musical, everything) in its sights that counted The Chemical Brothers, My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields, New Order's Bernard Sumner, and The Stone Roses' Gary Mounfield as part of their band of rebels. The 'Scream had never sounded so urgent, gritty and alive, and crazed, techno-infected songs like "Swastika Eyes," "Kill All Hippies" and "Shoot Speed/Kill Light" were miles away from the ecstasy-fueled good vibes they began the '90s with on Screamadelica. Gillespie may have lost the war, ultimately, but XTRMNTR remains a helluva battle.
Radiohead - Kid A (Capitol)
What is there to say about Kid A at this point that hasn't been said in a million other places? The band could do no wrong at this point, and going from The Bends to OK Computer, to this -- one of the most thrilling hot-streaks of the era -- it became apparent that the only thing you could expect from Radiohead was to be surprised and usually wowed. To wit: the minimal electronic bent of much of the record (like "Idioteque"); when the horns come in on "The National Anthem"; and the ambient beauty of "Treefingers." When they weren't dismantling the the sound formed on their first three albums, Radiohead showed they could still make powerful rock tracks like "Optimistic" and "Morning Bell." Even with all that's come since, Kid A still feels like an amazing curveball.
Super Furry Animals - MWNG (Placid Casual / Flydaddy)
Radiohead (see above) get the credit for being the biggest rock innovators of the late-'90s and early-'00s, but I'd at least give the silver medal to Welsh band Super Furry Animals who consistently pushed the envelope -- musically, visually, everything -- and were never scared to take wild swings while still working within in the boundaries of pop and rock. Take MWNG, which debuted at #11 in the UK albums chart and is sung entirely in Welsh. Even if you don't understand what they're saying on this one (and I don't), there's no denying the melodies, performances and clever production which are super and furry in any language.
Teenage Fanclub – Howdy! (Sony)
Glaswegian greats Teenage Fanclub have never been ones for breaking new ground, but they have one of the most consistent track records of any group that have been together 30 years. Howdy! is the Fannies' seventh album and one of their most underrated. It barely got released in America -- I bet many fans don't know this one even exists -- but Norman Blake, Gerry Love and Raymond McGinley are still cranking out the jangly hits. Everything you love about Teenage Fanclub is here: stick-in-your-head melodies, great harmonies, and really nice arrangements. They were a much mellower band by this point, but that fits them like a favorite sweater.
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