Best Albums 2001 (1-5)

5. Basement Jaxx — Rooty

Remedy strained house’s formal constrictions; these drunken two-step beats stagger and swerve with an ingenuity far dafter and punker than the competition. Techno Jawas scavenging Euro-soul droids from the scrapheap of 20th century club life, Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe trafficked in self-aware sleaze like the full-blooded Prince fans they are with none of the snotty epater that electroclash would jizz itself over. “Romeo” sets the bar impossibly high, “SFM” is an overdue feline answer to “Atomic Dog,” and “Where’s Your Head At?” out-yobs Norman Cook at his own game. “A slide show of the past they think is missing from the now,” Sasha Frere-Jones called it in the Voice. Still missing now.

4. Manu Chao — Proxima Estacion: Esperanza

As worldbeat heroes go, Chao’s first impression is a touch lightweight, both in the buoyancy of his melodies and the skip-lilt of his reggae. But that’s just your inner puritan dictating aesthetic terms–effervescence this wholly felt can’t be earned, only snatched as a birthright, and this Paris-born Barcelona resident (dad Galician, mom Basque) comes by his rootless cheer honestly. Sun-baked, smoked-out, tuned-in, his frisky lope allows the ten-piece Radio Bemba Sound System to roam from ska to Europop to whathaveyou as blithely as Chao drifts from Arabic to English to French to Galician to Portuguese to Spanish. And if “Next Station: Hope” strikes you as a hokey title, it’s named for an actual Madrid metro stop.

3. The Coup — Party Music

Funk not “beats,” politics not “protest,” the former a livelier variant of the Oaktown bounce that Dre profitably deflated, the latter as staunchly leftist and militant as PE, but a quantum more humanist. Oh, and did I mention the jokes? Integral to the funk and politics both. Capital and its attendant ism may have plenty to offer hip-hop superstars, but consumers who suspect the excess ain’t trickling down to them anytime soon are directed toward “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO,” which does not include hijacked commercial flights (and doesn’t explicitly exclude execs in do-rags). Long-distance dedication to my niece: “Princesses are evil/ The way they got there was they killed people.”

2. The White Stripes — White Blood Cells

Maybe Jack White’s lyrics didn’t specifically address the non-sibling drummer he divorced, but the more he faked his past the more likely we were to hear them that way. White’s shaken faith in old-fashioned monogamy raises the question left unsolved ever since: Is the Edmund Burke of garage revivalism a principled romantic bucking slippery modern mores or just a prematurely old fart who fetishizes artistic and philosophic limitations? Answer as you will–I’m not about to second-guess the greatest rock singles act of the ’00s, a minimalist art project disguised as an arena rock band and pretending to slowly metamorphose into the reverse.

1. Bob Dylan — “Love and Theft”

Oh, he saw it coming all right — if by “it” you mean a generic American vision of apocalypse as gnomic slapstick, a gag he’d run with ever since he pretended he was faking the folk. The aural shadow play into which Bob crept on Time Out of Mind was a masterful impersonation of “Dylan” the canonic wise man; L&T’s one-liners, shored up imagist shards, and quick-stepping blues shuffle resurrected Dylan the comic wise ass, the true incarnation of his genius, and made good on his ’90s foray into roots archaeology. “You’ve always got to be prepared/ But you never know for what”?  That would’ve been good advice even if 9/11 had just been another release date.

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  • Richard Cobeen  On March 20, 2010 at 12:48 am

    Basement Jaxx. Makes sense. An album I forget about.

    I love Party Music. I’m a fourth grade teacher in Berkeley, and last year at the African-American history month performance my students performed “Wear Clean Draws.” I had to cut the curse words and the line about how “it doesn’t matter who you do it with,” but kept the rest of it. It was a perfect song to teach certain truths, and the students really enjoyed performing it. It also reminds me how lucky I am to teach in Berkeley.

  • usefulnoise  On March 20, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    That is awesome! (And 4 for 5 is pretty impressive–makes me feel predictable.)

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