The Top 19 Obscure-Ass Records That I Loved in 2002
Stuff I loved but you probably didn’t hear, which doesn’t mean I think I’m all cool or something, just, y’know, whatever.
I reviewed a whole lot of records this year, but the paunchy self-satisfied capitalists who run this damned site would only let me put 19 albums on my Top 19 list. So I went another way with it and tried to give some heartbeat props to the stuff that flew under the radar this year, the LPs and EPs that critics passed on this year so they could write another story about how “garage-rock is going to save us all” or “Ryan Adams isn’t just a whiny counterrevolutionary catfish” or “Beck.”
So here are 19 of the best records I heard all year that got horribly, criminally ignored by us bottom-feeding media jackal types. I only had four rules for this list: a) The records have to be good; b) They didn’t get reviewed by Ink19.com for some reason; c) I had to have actually heard them this year; d) Norah Jones is HOTT. (Okay, that last comment wasn’t technically a rule per se, but still, come on, you know it. I just saw that video and I’m all like damn!)
1. El Gran Silencio, Chuntaros Radio Poder (EMI Music Mexico)
Okay, so it didn’t come out this year, but I didn’t hear it until this spring, and I just want to go on record as saying that this was the best album of 2001. It’s cumbia, it’s hip-hop (with human beatboxes and kazoos!), it’s reggae, it’s electronica, it’s punk, it’s norteqo –ain’t nothing that these five dudes from Monterrey, Mexico, can’t do. Brilliant.
2. Pepito, Migrante (This Record Label)
This record is so incredibly good I can’t stand it: it’s hard to believe that this is their debut. Pepito is a man-woman duo trafficking in post-rock, electronic pop, abstract experiments, and shoegaze rock, and they do their political and love songs in three different languages and with a wicked sense of humor. I really couldn’t say enough nice things about it. They are the future.
3. Desoto Reds, Preppy Freakout Vol. 1 and Preppy Freakout Vol. 2: Odds and Reds (Fogsnob)
Alex Sterling writes some great twee-pop songs, but with a difference: his songs don’t suck. Vol. 1 is “the real album,” with tales of being both an “Asshole Boyfriend” and a “Quiet Kid.” Odds and Reds is an out-takes disc, packed with great songs like “Driving My Escort” and the GBV-style “Airmasks.”
4. Frank London, Loren Sklamberg, and Rob Schwimmer, The Zmiros Project (Traditional Crossroads)
Two of The Klezmatics team up with a friend to do a selection of beautiful haunting Jewish religious songs in an arty/jazzy/classical format. Sklamberg is the greatest singer in America right now. You will weep.
5. Gilberto Gil, Kaya N’Gan Daya (WEA International)
Brazilian stud Gil (who has just been appointed to be the Minister of Culture in the new government) busts out with a loving tribute to Bob Marley. Sometimes he plays it straight (“Could You Be Loved”), sometimes he turns Jamaica into Bahia (“Three Little Birds”), and, on “Table Tennis Table,” he pens an original reggae future classic.
6. Fussible, Odyssea (Sonic 360).
One of the founding members of the Nortec scene in Tijuana issues a single and a bunch of remixes that sound nothing like the original and a couple of B-sides and it turns out to be an hour-long joyfest that sounds better than most “albums.” It’s as funky and classic as the station wagon taxi on the cover.
7. So’ Forest, Bikutsi Pop (Naxos World)
So’ Forest is a young dude from Cameroon who blends every form of music I’ve ever heard into his music. He writes, he sings, he plays guitar, he works the computers and programs it all — bloody hell, he’s the African Brian Wilson! And his tunes (“Shambada,” “Wake Ya”) are ace. Oh, and the kiss-off song of the year in “Girl.”
8. Nate Ruth, Whatever It Meant (Soundless)
Wow. Ruth writes these totally pretty songs with elusive but down-to-earth lyrics, then covers them up with approximately ten squizillion layers of guitar fuzz and drum n’ bass pounding and new wave synth. MBV meets IDM.
9. Celso Piña, Barrio Bravo (Warner Music Latina)
Another great Monterrey album of 2001 that I didn’t hear until 2002. He’s a middle-aged legend in Mexico; they call him “the rebel of the accordion,” and he’s got the chops and the bravery to back it up. Great tough/tender songs, with help from members of King Chango, Café Tacuba, and Control Machete. My hero.
10. Celso Piña y su Ronda Bogota, Mundo Colombia (Warner Music Latina)
This was Piña’s 2002 LP, and it’s also really great, with cameo appearances from the sultry nerdy wonder that is Julieta Venegas and norteqo stud Leonardo “Flaco” Jiminez. Better, because this features his band with two of his sons in it. Worse, because it follows the same pattern as Barrio Bravo without being as strong.
11. Kare Joao, Sideman (Jester)
Born in Brazil, raised in Norway, founding member of weirdonavians Kare and the Cavemen, who were also known as the Euroboys, Kare Joao Pedersen is a complete lunatic. His songs are immensely tuneful and completely all over the place and you’ll love them; he is, as he says in the chorus of “Frank Furius,” “Blowin’ minds out with a hose!”
12. Frank London and the Klezmer Brass All-stars, Brotherhood of Brass (Piranha)
London’s second appearance on my list. This great trumpet player (he did the solo on L.L. Cool J’s “Goin’ Back to Cali”) leads his nimble band through classic klezmer songs, with some unexpected backup from Hungarian and Egyptian brass bands.
13. Lucid Nation, Nonpoetic Rain: Live on KXLU (Brain Floss)
I reviewed Lucid Nation’s epic Tacoma Ballet earlier this year, and leader Tamra Spivey and I got to be e-mail buddies, and she sent me this disc of a 2001 show on the Loyola Marymount radio station. (Try it yourself: http://www.lucidnation.com.) Damn, do they ever rock; the nine-minute “Kerouac” is hall-of-fame material.
14. Kinky, Kinky (Sonic 360)
Okay, so they’re not exactly unknown (they were on Letterman, for chrissakes). But I didn’t see anyone taking this record seriously, really, and they should; these five guys (again, from Monterrey) go all Latronica on our asses, and make us like it. Too safe, but their next one won’t be.
15. Patrick Bruel, Entre-deux (RCA)
Almost 80 minutes of classic French chansons from the 1920s through the 1940s, done perfectly by singer/actor Bruel and a cast of collaborateurs including Charles Aznavour and Kahimi Karie. If you like this stuff, you’ll be in love; the melodies are so beautiful, and the singers are perfect. If you need things more “modern,” they throw in weird touches on every song for you.
16. Various Artists, When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll (Bluebird)
In a year of great reissues, this one took the metaphorical cake. Four discs of classic blues and jazz and country from the Bluebird vaults, tracing all the sexy funny stunning lovely ugly perfect music that led to the crap we listen to. Not exactly p.c. or “enlightened,” but this put the “buy it now” in “essential.”
17. Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O., Absolutely Freak Out (Zap Your Mind!!) (Resonant Frequency).
Technically, this was also a 2001 release, but only on vinyl and only 5000 copies worth, so I’m counting this as the acid-rock freakout masterpiece of the year. Two discs’ worth of the ugly brawling side of Japanese psychedelia, and not for the fainthearted.
18. Migala, Restos de un Incendio (Acuarela)
This emo-drone band from Spain revisits and beefs up songs from their first three albums. Their excellent tunes carry the day, and although their lyrics (mostly in heavily accented English) can get a bit overwrought, it all sounds really great anyway. Sigur Ros should take notes.
Okay, so here are my ten favorite records of the year, in reverse order: Trio Mocoto, Samba Rock; Buffalo Daughter, I; Cee-Lo, Cee-Lo Green and his Perfect Imperfections; Gomez, In Our Gun; Stella Chiweshe, Talking Mbira; Jaguar Wright, Delusions, Decisions, and Denials; Tabla Beat Science, Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove; The Negro Problem, Welcome Black; Stew, The Naked Dutch Painter and Other Songs; Blackalicious, Blazing Arrow; and Common, Electric Circus. Okay, so that was eleven.
I just heard that Joe Strummer died. This has been a hard year. Maybe 2003 will be better. Happy New Year, people.