Best Albums I Heard in 2002

The best albums I heard in 2002:

  • Guided By Voices: Universal Truths and Cycles (2002)
  • Sonically, it’s leagues away from their lo-fi classic Bee Thousand; the production is wholly beefed up, and the usual song fragments now get the full Who treatment. But Robert Pollard’s amazing songwriting still shines through.

  • Diana Krall: Live in Paris (2002)
  • Her last two albums were profound disappointments — too much gloppy strings and not enough swing — as they relegated her piano-playing to the background. But on this live album, Krall acquits herself very nicely, with long, almost fiery solos, and on the DVD the groove within the band is crystal-clear.

  • Jacques Louissier Trio: Bach’s Goldberg Variations (2000)
  • I became obsessed with the Goldberg Variations (and Glenn Gould) over the past few years or so, and so it was a lovely surprise to hear jazz interpretations of the pieces. There is little room for the band to fling itself into the material, jazz-wise, as it conforms very strictly to the pieces’ original durations, so they make do extremely well with those time constraints — a bass solo here, a samba rhythm there.

  • Puffy: AmiYumi Jet Fever (2000)
  • The best pure pop rush of the year. I don’t know much about Puffy — do they write their own songs, even? — but if there was some pop candyland realm out there somewhere, Ami and Yumi would be the reigning queens. Makes my previous pop favorites, the Cardigans and Girlfrendo, seem indie-rock by comparison. Puffy cribs from a whole slew of different genres, and steals riffs from the Beatles, and puts them all together into a too-sweet power-pop lollipop. Or something like that.

  • Swans: Soundtracks for the Blind (1996)
  • I got turned on to the Swans fairly late in my musical listening life, and it’s a wonder I wasn’t into them earlier. Soundtracks distills industrial clang, gothic death strum and nihilistic wallow into a sonically bleak and adventurous double album.


It's Top Ten Time Again

Just posted this on the Zorn list, after what looked like lists and lists of discs by Anthony Braxton and Dave Douglas and Polwechsel and the Ruins and what have you.

I probably have the poppiest and shortest of all the year-end lists so far — kind of makes me wonder what I’m still doing on this list…

The best things I heard all year (including some oldies):

– Guided By Voices: Universal Truths and Cycles
– Diana Krall, Live in Paris
– Puffy: AmiYumi Jet Fever
– Swans: Soundtracks for the Blind

I went to exactly two concerts this year (this is what happens when you have a kid) and both were totally unforgettable:

– Boredoms, with Jackie-O Motherfucker opening, Slim’s, SF
– Marilyn Crispell Trio, with the Susie Ibarra Quartet opening, Yerba Buena Theater, SF

And I barely saw any videos this year, much less see any films on the big screen (though in a few days the babysitter arrives so my wife and I can watch Lord! Of! The! Rings!), but here were two excellent ones:

– Lantana
– The Deep End

And the absolute worst movie this year — indeed, one of the worst I’ve seen period, even if I saw it with already lowered expectations:

– Star Wars Episode something-or-other: Attack of the Clones

And I’m going to the Gerhard Richter show at the SF Museum of Modern Art tomorrow, so that’ll be up there with the Yoko Ono show earlier this year, if not better.

And is Missy Elliott’s “Work It” an amazing single or what?


Princess Diana and King Richard; or, Two Royal Disappointments.

Diana Krall‘s The Look of Love ups the ante on her previous When I Look In Your Eyes album: more strings, more mush. Krall’s voice — cool, even cold, with limited range but nicely expressive nonetheless — sounds just about perfect in an intimate, small-group setting (check out the wonderful All for You), but it just isn’t strong enough to compete with the forced grandiloquence of a string orchestra. (Madeline and I saw her in concert with Tony Bennett at the Hollywood Bowl last year, and she was okay with the orchestra — but not like Bennett, who simply brought the house down.) Here, the humor and life are just about sucked out of the songs, with Krall left to slaughter “Besame Mucho” — perhaps she should get lessons from her idol Nat King Cole on how a non-Spanish speaker is supposed to sing the song. The booklet’s gauzy shots (click on the “gallery” link) of her cleavage, her pouting lips and her legs — combined with all the fussy string arrangements — betray a sad lack of faith on the part of her handlers in her ability to smolder just as well in a trio. We want the old Diana back.

For another utter disappointment, Aphex Twin‘s new double album, Drukqs, vividly illustrates the sad state of electronic music. Or maybe it’s my tastes that have changed, but this sounds so 1998. Richard D. James cranks out 30 interchangeable and sometimes undeveloped tracks of stale drill-‘n-bass, piano pieces right out of Satie’s “Gymnopedies,” a prepared piano tune here and there. And the unpronounceable titles, the sampled unintelligible mumblings, the nursery-rhyme melodies are all still here — just buried underneath the heavy sameness of it all. It’s like he burned his laptop leavings onto a couple of CDRs and mailed it off to Sire.