Best Albums 2000 (16-20)

20. Lifter Puller – Fiestas + Fiascos

Instead of firing a warning shot across the decade’s bow, the best Twin Cities punk band blew its wad on these densely spastic Midwestern low-life miniatures. Both the wiry guitar grind and the narrative pothole’s eye view are less grand than what the Hold Steady would offer–not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you think one Roy Bittan is plenty.  And Craig Finn’s methed-up ravers got a lot of shit to yet live through before they can glimpse his latter band’s morning-after redemptive element. Drive past 15th & Franklin in Minneapolis sometime and try to imagine a secret drug-funded after hours nightclub there. Then be grateful that somehow Finn could.

19. D’Angelo – Voodoo

Never trust a critic’s “you’ve gotta see ’em live” response to your own well-conceived skepticism. But for true, only after witnessing this chiseled lunatic leap headlong into ?uestlove’s drums at the Orpheum did I wonder what was churning underneath the murk. And sure enough, dive past the flurries of falsetto demons and you’ll sink soul-deep into a bass dank enough to make the creepiest Bristol nightmare-merchants sleep with their lights on. Where their too-cherished ’70s forebears often settled for soundtrack schlock, the Soulquarians jam like Motown session men reconfiguring Agharta from scratch. And if “Untitled (How Does It Feel?)” still postpones climax long past all reason, that’s just ’cause D wants to drive the ladies as crazy as he is.

18. Steely Dan – Two Against Nature

Aging, affluent reprobates have feelings too, you know. Well, not really, but they do have sex, which, like the pristine, accomplished jazz-funk here, serves as some minor compensation for their late-life discovery of their own soullessness. “They” may or may not refer to Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, or the plurality of NARAS voters who identified more strongly with the sour personae here than with Eminem’s, or even “you.” I’m not saying the two-timer angling to get his wife committed doesn’t have his reasons, or that the Strand shelver isn’t wise to turn down that nooner with his glamorous old flame. But who’d have thought that fucking teens in Spain could sound so–well, so spiritually unfulfilling?

17. Wu-Tang Clan – The W

I love Ghostface lots, and like Supreme Clientele fine, but Tony Stark’s third (fourth?) best solo joint is also only the third best Wu of ’00, closely trailing RZA’s seamlessly spooky Ghost Dog OST and knocked clean out the box by this gang’s-all-here assault on coherence and cohesion. Nine voices compete for the mic (one long-distance from the Cali pen), but the real action broils underneath, where box-cutters go click-click-click, strings stumble over bottomless bass, tripped landmines explode, and the restless spirits of dead chattel rattle their chains.  Junior Reid, Isaac Hayes, even Snoop Dogg–not a one sounds out of place.

16. The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic

Name a less rebuttable argument against the self-expressive lack of constraints a solo career brings. Neko Case belts with an immediacy that would sound boorish on her tastefully arranged torch-roots records, and don’t get me started on Dan Bejar’s Destroyer, consecrated to the neurotic proposition that Bowie’s career was all downhill after “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud.” (I actually Carl Newman’s solo record OK–his constraints come built in, I suppose.) What the indie kid means when he says pop: insistently bouncy, formally taut, its rules of conduct as untouched by Afro-American tradition as curling. And done right for once.

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