Best Albums 2002 (16-20)

20. Alanis Morissette–Under Rug Swept

Once last time: “pretentious” isn’t necessarily a criticism, and “original” isn’t necessarily praise. “Earnest,” “self-obsessed”–this particular pretentious original gets those a lot too, mostly because she thinks therapy lingo makes for as good lyrical grist as any vernacular. Working through relationship problems weaker souls would rather poeticize, Alanis bashes, forgives, and negotiates with her exes to arrive, by process of elimination, at her list of “21 Things I Want in a Lover.” And with Glen Ballard behind her, the prickly guitars here bear the same awkward, ironic (heh heh) relationship to studio rock that her distended polysyllables have to confessional songwriting.

19. Issa Bagayogo–Timbuktu

Though just two years Youssou N’Dour’s junior, this Malian n’goni player sounds a generation younger sonically, having learned from his worldbeat predecessors’ sometimes graceless 80s Boomer-rock crossovers just how tricky a balance of electronic and acoustic can be. And since Timbuktu is not just post-Immigrés but post-techno, French producer Yves Wernert’s keyboards add more pump than pomp, and the Euro-Malian circular rhythms avoid not just kitsch fusion but also the hippie hodgepodge of electro-ethno. You could even call the results organic, if that’s your thing.

18. Mekons–Oooh!

“Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem” is a vision worthy of the bleakest Blake, a counter-Whig history of British leftism from the Muggletonians to Ken Livingstone inspired by old chum E.P. Thompson, and the thematic touchstone for a twenty-five-year-old punk band that’s wryly skeptical of greatness, leaps, and forward. Whether Sally Timms is waxing eloquent on zombies or Tom Greenbaugh is resurrecting “Lone Pilgrim,” religion hovers above the proceedings to taunt the downtrodden, and war lurks in the background as a bad joke, a way to distract the hapless from their oppression, even a cruel necessity. When our own blip of bourgeois contentment has gone the way of all progress, these will be the songs we’re left to sing.

17. The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever

Synching rap and R&B vocals to indie/ punk tracks is both an ideologically suspect and technologically facile maneuver, true, and so, uh, hi, welcome to popular music. 2 Many DJs’ As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 is probably a better mix overall, but as a snapshot of individual moments of brilliance, including Soulwax’s own “Push It / No Fun,” this comp cuts to the dumb core. MVP Freelance Hellraiser excels whether combining the strength of two great songs (“Smells Like Booty”) or salvaging two adequate ones (“A Stroke of Genie-us”), and Girls on Top, a.k.a. Richard X, even went on to influence the decade’s British totty-pop. You’re maybe sick of this trick already; I’ll probably start hating electric guitars first.

16. Atmosphere–God Loves Ugly

“Emo-rap” is just a fancy way to call Slug a pussy and a white boy, and the hards who sling it are half-right on both counts. But if Lucy Ford was all about ease of narrative flow, here’s where Slug whips out his microphone bona fides. His beloved nemesis “Lucy” may well be a composite portrait, but that doesn’t mean she subs for every woman everywhere, and she allows Slug to not so much fess up to his girl problems, as to present them kaleidoscopically. From the top of Mt. Fiji to the bottom of Christina Ricci, the rhymes split the difference between self-deprecation and self-aggrandizement, and the underground minimal beats Ant juices underline the disc’s message: They’re Atmosphere, and maybe you don’t like ’em.

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  • Pete Scholtes  On April 13, 2010 at 11:04 am

    I guess I have to grapple with why this was the cult-making Atmosphere album. I just remember sitting with Dolan at one of Gretchen’s parties where this was on, long after he wrote about it and I’d decided I didn’t like it, and it kind of sneaking up on us musically–such weird beats, such a weird sound. I think I was already a Slug fan, as far as Atmosphere, but became more of an Ant fan at that moment, and for an album where I was actually less of a Slug fan.

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