The Year in Albums, 2000
The New Millennium. Same as the old millennium.
Whatever happens when 2000 becomes 2001 (happened by now), whether the Supreme Court realizes just how ridiculous George W. looks up there and awards the presidency to Regis Philbin, or the World Wrestling Federation assumes control of municipalities nationwide, it can't be any more cataclysmic than what happened last New Year's Eve when all those nines became zeros. You see, contrary to popular belief, Y2K did post some serious casualties -- besides good taste and common sense, that is -- and none of them more sobering than the long-trumpeted death of rock & roll.
Oh sure, pundits, music editors, Nostradamus have been reporting its demise every year beginning in 1958, the day Elvis Presley went into the army, their cries getting louder the following year when a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper crashed on the icy plains outside Mason City, Iowa. Liverpudlians might argue "The End" arrived more than a decade later, 1970, when the Beatles broke up, while some modernists extend the expiration date almost a full quarter-century to 1994 and Kurt Cobain's ill-fated home-remedy plaque-removal plan.
Truth is, we finally stopped caring in 2000. Gave up. All those End-of-Decade and Best-of-20th-Century lists last year put one indefatigable truth into sharp relief: The Rock & Roll Era is Over. Dead as Ronald Reagan. Died approximately the same time said Republican actor was cast in the role of President, 1980. That was also the year John Lennon was murdered -- no coincidence there. How's that for an end to the rock & roll era? The peacenik musician whose Fab group opened the doors to the cultural revolution of the Sixties gunned down by a megalomaniac at the dawn of these culturally empty modern times. Shooter might as well have been our beloved demagogue, Bonzo.
Several years before Lennon's death, the Sex Pistols told him to stuff his "Revolution," calling for "Anarchy in the U.K." instead. Within five years of his martyrdom (bigger than Jesus, remember?), bands like Duran Duran, A Flock of Kajagoogoos, and Haircut 100 ruled the roost. By 1991 and the advent of Nirvana, at the crossroads of the Beatles and Sex Pistols (sorry Oasis), Eighties hair metal bands had beaten back punk and New Wave with leftover, late-Seventies sludge glammed up for a new generation. "Grunge" stemmed the tide of Axels, Izzys, and Slashes for a while, but by the time Cobain got himself a permanent divorce from Courtney Love, "alternative rock" revealed itself as REO Speedwagon and Styx all over again.
And yet, back in that hot NYC summer of 1980, while the Clash were in Lennon's adopted hometown recording Sandinista!, they heard a new sound coming from ghetto blasters on the street. Although Public Enemy's Nineties-defining trilogy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988), Fear of a Black Planet (1990), and Apocalypse '91 ... The Enemy Strikes Black is an obvious high watermark in the rise of hip-hop nation, the shot heard round the clubs sounded almost a decade earlier in 1981 with Grandmaster Flash's seminal "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel." When Afrika Bambaataa teamed with James Brown on "United" the following year, hip-hop staked its claim as the next great musical movement, the natural evolution of, in order: gospel, jazz, blues, R&B, funk, and soul music.
And really, what modern musical revolutions haven't been about "race" music? Elvis was trying to sound what? Black. The British Invasion bands were aping who? Bluesmen. Rock & roll descends from where? Jazz. While a nation of lily-white music critics might have you believe the best album of 2000 was Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP, don't believe the hype. Puerile crap having little to do with music and everything to do with the old, X-rated albums black comics like Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor used to traffic in, The Marshall Mathers LP brings to mind Pat Boone covering Little Richard -- black music for whiteboys. Just 'cause Detroit trailer trash can out-curse Busta Rhymes don't mean he dropped the bomb (actually, bomb may be the perfect word in this case). Sorry 'M, Vanilla Ice done cashed your 15 minutes years ago.
Instead, two Atlanta homeboyz calling themselves OutKast delivered The Big One, Stankonia, which blew up like Hiroshima. The most explosive hip-hop album since those early P.E. detonations, Stankonia douses its "Gasoline Dreams" with enough body-rocking, "bombs over Baghdad" beats to make rave kids Sasha and John Digweed (Communicate) "illbient" indeed. In fact, considering the most notable release from the DJ set might have been a warm, fuzzy hits collection, Mobysongs, 1983-1998, and perhaps Paul Van Dyk's Out There and Back and St. Germain's Tourist (though, really, South American electronica on the order of Suba's Sao Paulo Confessions and the Brazilian Caipiríssima, Batucada Electronica comp are the wave of the future), OutKast's Big Boi and Dre proved studio wizardry is only as dope as its MC.
The Third World Cop soundtrack, modern reggae's bookending of Jimmy Cliff's classic The Harder They Come film companion, lit up with the same combustible energy as Stankonia, rolling both DJs and MCs into a massive spliff almost equaled by Massive Attack toaster Horace Andy on his righteously old-school Living in the Flood. The Oscar-worthy Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai -- The Album, one of hip-hop's big logs in 2000, was another masterly effort doubling as cinematic tie-in, other contenders including: the left-right Latin/hip-hop combo Girlfight, spacey, soulful Lanois/Bonoisms of The Million Dollar Hotel, indie-rock snarl from Crime + Punishment, classic oldies rote-rocking on Almost Famous, and yet another well-smoking Spike Lee joint, Bamboozled.
Speaking of Bamboozled, in reality, hip-hop had a pretty dead year (Big Pun, R.I.P.). Other than Common's uncommon Like Water for Chocolate and perhaps Nelly's undulating St. Louis skank on Country Grammar, disappointments outweighed triumphs, LL Cool J's G.O.A.T Featuring James T. Smith the Greatest of All Time, Wyclef Jean's The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book, and even KRS-ONE's Retrospective not really sticking to the ribs.
Rather, like Bamboozled, new fashion soul music made groovy inroads (don't call it a comeback). D'Angelo's smoky Voodoo and Erykah Badu's sultry Mama's Gun eschewed the tight, Seventies AM radio sound of their debuts, and settled into sinewy, late-night FM booty moves. Jill Scott (Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1) and Sade (Lovers Rock), newcomer and old soul respectively, kept their end of the bargain.
The impassioned soul cry of deceased Nigerian activist Fela Kuti, meanwhile, found on a dozen or so midyear catalog throwdowns (try The Best Best of Fela Kuti), took its rightful place on the American funk continuum alongside everyone from Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder to George Clinton and Sun Ra. Senagalese soulman Youssou N'Dour made a welcome comeback with the African heart of Joko (The Link), while renowned Brazilian tropicalianist Caetano Veloso demonstrated South American soul on the rousing live Prenda Minha.
Hallowed Cuban soul-stirring son contingent, the Buena Vista Social Club, quietly delivered heartfelt musical manuscripts of another time from Ruben González (Chanchullo), Omara Portuondo (Omara Portunondo), and the inimitable Eliades Ochoa (Tribute to the Cuarteto Patria). Their American counterpart, the decades-long overlooked and underappreciated Jimmy Scott, brought a jazzman's soul to popular standards with his otherwordly croon on Mood Indigo.
Like its unruly offspring hip-hop and rock & roll, jazz also had a relatively low-key 2000. As with Duke Ellington in '99, Louis Armstrong dominated the scene with his centennial, Sony Legacy's 4-CD The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings being the Rosetta stone of modern music. Veterans like alto saxman Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd (Monk's Dream) and Port-Au-Prince pianist Andrew Hill (Dusk) performed as you'd expect from seasoned pros, while next generation hornman Dave Douglas (Soul on Soul and A Thousand Evenings) and tenor saxist Ravi "Yes, My Dad Was" Coltrane (From the Round Box) proudly bore tomorrow's standard.
Forward-looking albums from the burgeoning jam-band side of jazz included Medeski Martin & Wood's mega-mature The Dropper, the Jazz Mandolin Project's rocky mountain Xenoblast, and Sex Mob's aggressively hip Solid Sender. Like Jimmy Scott, Bay Area re-imaginesse Ann Dwyer jazzed up the Beatles' Revolver on the superb Revolver -- A New Spin.
Gang Starr Guru's third and best installment of his Jazzmataz series, Street Soul, is jazz only in the sense that hip-hop sprang from its womb, but kissing cousin the blues made no bones about its sanctified heritage. R.L. Burnside's huffing, haunting Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down, Shemekia Copeland's Wicked get-down, and ex-Roomful of Bluesman Ronnie Earl's outstanding Healing Time, which manages to boil the revelatory Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble 3-CD box set down to one disc, were reminders that the blues will never die. Unlike rock & roll.
Contrary to the classic rock format, it's not a good sign when three of the year's best rock & roll albums were produced by the old guard: B.B King & Eric Clapton's smooth-riding Caddy convertible, Riding With the King, Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes' Herculean Live at the Greek, and Neil Young's year-end, hard-terrain live vehicle, Road Rock VI (as opposed to the flat Silver & Gold). That's particularly salient when younger old farts like U2 (All That You Can't Leave Behind) and Radiohead (Kid A) are busy deconstructing their anthemic arena rock in favor of soul-pouring pop.
Nice boys Travis beat both at this game with The Man Who, but not so of Coldplay, another bigger-than-Christ, across-the-pond teaming of Jeff Buckley and the Smiths, whose Parachutes didn't open all the way. Ween's tangy White Pepper, crossing Brian Wilson with the Tubes, was a good bet in Yank pop's deep, dark horse('s ass) category.
Portland's Dandy Warhols (Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia) duked it out with Primal Scream (Xtrmntr) for supremacy of the post-electronica age, the former turning their garage party into a rave, while the latter went digital hardcore, but neither out-gunned El Paso's At the Drive-In and their screaming Relationship of Command. Like the Delta 72's terrific mod wallop OOO, At the Drive-In's Seventies recidivism brought the spirit and firepower of the MC5 back to stinky punk rock dives, Sub Pop's new roster (Vue, the Go, Murder City Devils) being devoted to just such an endeavor. Le Tigre (Le Tigre) and Sleater-Kinney (All Hands on the Bad One), for their parts, were estrogen fierrrce.
Naturally, none of these acts were any match for the heavy metal barf-boy bands of 2000, Limp Bizkit (Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water), Deftones (White Pony), and Papa Roach (Infest), but at least Queens of the Stone Age (R), Nashville Pussy (High as Hell), and rap-metal originators Rage Against the Machine (Renegades) gave non-lobotomized head-bangers pause for thought. Anything was better than the Queensrÿchian "classic" metal sound of A Perfect Circle (Mer de Noms), which out-ed singer Maynard Keenan as a perfect tool.
On second thought, maybe old-schoolers like Patti Smith (Gung Ho) and her young lady-in-waiting PJ Harvey (Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea) rocked enough for everyone -- girls and boys. Liberated vulnerability played across different generations, Smith and Harvey made the most commercially compelling albums of their respective long and short careers, the same of which cannot be said for the arthouse pretensions of Yo La Tengo's aptly named And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out or Sonic Youth's ultimately rewarding NYC Ghost & Flowers.
Arab Strap, with its deliberate indie rock sloth (Mad for Sadness and Elephant Shoe), are worth keeping a close eye on, as are spiky trio Blonde Redhead, whose career-high Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons was all that and more. S.F.'s Mermen, often called the Sonic Youth of surf music, cut a psychedelic classic on The Amazing California Health and Happiness Roadshow, a dreamy, Wes Montgomery-loving prize.
If rap/metal's better half did it smoover with soul, so did rock & roll. Country music, better known as white soul, had a good year if only because Willie Nelson (Milk Cow Blues), Merle Haggard (If I Could Only Fly), and Johnny Cash (American III: Solitary Man) are still making rekkids. Sadly, it's probably time for the Man in Black to go lie down (hear that Rick Rubin? leave him alone), especially when folks like non-hat hat act Dwight Yoakam (Tomorrow's Sounds Today) are thriving on the scene. Just when real country music fans thought the cowboy turned Newton Boy couldn't do any better than 1998's trip to bountiful, A Long Way Home, 2000's Tomorrow's Sounds Today managed a Cheap Trick cover and still killed.
With her stunning breakthrough I Am Shelby Lynne, the Nashville burnout made a statement that transcended its genre, while her younger sister Allison Moorer (The Hardest Part) stuck closer to the hardline, and Bloodshot gals Neko Case (Furnace Room Lullaby) and Kelly Hogan (Beneath the Country Underdog) were "alt" mostly by default. Amy Rigby relocated to Nashville and wrote yet another great batch of mod housewife tunes on The Sugar Tree, even as Sally Timms, whose Cowboy Sally's Twilight Lament ... For Lost Buckaroos last year on Bloodshot was anything but lamentable, scored big with her day band, the Mekons.
On Journey to the End of the Night, Mekons Timms, Jon Langford, and the rest of these English expatriates continue to do for country music what the Clash did for reggae: Synthesize it for nonconformists. Whereas Journey is elegiac, a romantic stroll through London fog, Langford's cowpunk band the Waco Brothers stampeded through the streets on Electric Waco Chair.
Kurt Wagner's Nashville collective Lambchop keeps getting woolier and woolier with its shambling indie rock twang laying down with Seventies R&B (Nixon), but then so's desert-dwelling Howe Gelb and his forever-ambling Giant Sand (Chore of Enchantment). Other Nashvillians had a good 2000; UPS driver and mandolin maven Johnny Staats burned on Wires & Wood, while Texpatriate/old-hand Steve Earle made burnout sound like Transcendental Blues.
Oklahoma's Woody Guthrie made yet another comeback on the shoulders of Billy Bragg and Wilco (Mermaid Avenue Vol. II), who continue converting folk-rockers into "roots"-rockers. Genre godfathers the Jayhawks took Byrd-like wing on the lollipopalicious Smile at that same time that L.A.'s Beachwood Sparks managed some of that long-fabled, rarely heard Roger McGuinn/Gram Parsons hybrid on their sparkling, sad-eyed Sub Pop debut.
Good place to segue into Austin, because our congested little paradise produced its usual quota of Grade A roots music, beginning with the stone soul Texas country music of Doug Sahm's swan song, The Return of Wayne Douglas. Posthumously, sometimes painfully poignant, Wayne Douglas isn't the late Austin maverick's best album, but its downhome groove guarantees it a perennial sentimental favorite status.
The same could be said for many in this year's flood of local releases, because now more than ever, one gets the sense that no one outside Central Texas is gonna know about them or care. The ongoing consolidation of labels (and basically all media) means corporate overhead is leveraged by instant hits, and if instant hits were as easy to manufacture as Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boyz, that's all you and your lowest-common denominator pals would be choking on. In Austin 2000, fortunately, at least there's still a menu.
Unfortunately, besides The Return of Wayne Douglas, local country music pickings were slim. The Doug Sahm Hoot was just that, but if both Don Walser and Dale Watson hadn't each put out a deuce, The Texas Plainsman w/ "Yodelin'" Donnie Walser and I'll Hold You in My Heart vs. People I've Known, Place I've Been and Christmas Time in Texas, we might as well live in Branson, Missouri. Ted Roddy's Tearjoint Troubadors burned down the honky-tonk and broke some hearts on Tear Time, just as Damon Bramblett's self-titled debut found well-deserved redemption in its re-release.
It was a downright wallflower kinda year for the local gals, with only the fiesty Marti Brom (Feudin' and Fightin'), dreamy Susanna Van Tassel (The Heart I Wear), and New Age convert Kimmie Rhodes (Rich From the Journey) using those pipes the way God intended. Perhaps the two best pure country discs outta Austin in 2000 came from outside the city limits, but honorary locals Ray Price (Prisoner of Love) and James Hand (Evil Things) did their best Tony Bennett and Hank Williams tributes, respectively.
In the broader roots category, there was harvest a-plenty, Beaver Nelson bringing in his full-grown Little Brother, the Gourds laying in another hootenanny on Bolsa de Agua, and the Asylum Street Spankers getting lit-up on Spanker Madness. There was Jimmie Dale Gilmore getting a little fuzzy around the edges on One Endless Night, while Gurf Morlix finally stepped out from behind all those singer-songwriters with Toad of Titicaca, and Joe Ely put on another barn-burner Live@Antone's. Slobberbone, for their part, rocked through any disillusionment they may've experienced on Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today, and Hot Club of Cowtown staged another primetime hoedown on Devlish Mary.
Austin singer-songwriters stopped sprouting up like weeds in 2000, leaving Slaid Cleaves' thoughtfully well-crafted Broke Down as the people's choice. Mike Rosenthal's self-titled debut, on the other hand, was Austin's singer- songwriter sleeper. Lookin' Out the Screen Door brought young Adam Carroll into better focus, while ex-(gone to)Wild Seed Michael Hall made a long overdue comeback with his cleverly heartfelt wordplay on Dead by Dinner.
Local heart-throb Bob Schneider surprised many with his solo smarts on Lonelyland. The girls with guitars, Tish Hinojosa (Sign of Life), Terri Hendrix (Places in Between), Sara Hickman (Spiritual Appliances), Eliza Gilkyson (Hard Times in Babylon), and year-end fave Barbara K (Ready) all demonstrated hard-won confidence through their tried-and-true songcraft. Jean Caffeine, a seasoned songwriter herself, rocked just a little too hard (Idée Fixe) to be polite, but then in Austin, believe it or not, it was a banner year for Bob Seger's old time you-know-what.
First off, the rock & roll albums that should have been better: Fastball's The Harsh Light of Day, Meat Puppets' Golden Lies, and Goudie's Peep Show. All three were solid and dependable, but that's only good in a Ford truck. Dexter Freebish's A Life of Saturdays was commendably commercial "alt.rock," while Soulhat's neo-classic rock (Experimentation on a Flat Plane), Vallejo's Santana groove (Into the New), and Ian Moore's new palette on And All the Colors all belonged in heavy rotation on KLBJ-FM.
Dynamite Hack's Superfast racked up decent sales on the strength of their "Boyz-N-the Hood" cover, but since that and the surefire "Anyway" were the only two songs on the LP, it fell short of Fastball numbers. Fastball numbers two years ago. Spoon's Love Way EP was just a tease before their Merge full-length later this January. "The Way" Left Field Hit: Macha Loved Bedhead, a deeply imbedded song-swap between NYC's noodling Macha and Dallas' now-defunct lo-fi laureates Bedhead. Out of the park.
Sixteen Deluxe (Vision Take Me Make Me Never Forsake Me), Grand Champeen (Out Front the Van), Kissinger (Charm), Spiders (Sex Is Thicker Than Blood), Sexy Finger Champs (Trash Hits the Rock), Sir Finks (Instrumentals in the Key of ... BOSS!!!), Household Names (The Trouble With Being Nice), Subset (Overpass), Knife in the Water (Red River), Deep Sombreros ("Quien es el Pinche' Hombre"), Sister Seven (Wrestling Over Tiny Matters), Ron Flynt & the Blue Hearts (Big Blue Heart), the Love Supreme (The Love Supreme). There's your Austin rock & roll Class of 2000, graduates all.
In fact, from the inspired goofiness of Ethan Azarian's Orange Mothers (Big Blue House) and David Bebe's kitschy El Orbits (The El Orbits) to Rob Halverson's wild 'n' weird Robinson Ear's Little Whirled of Sound and Zulo As Kono's raging freakout (II) -- don't forget Honky's frightening Attacked by Lesbians -- there was enough shake, rattle, & roll to keep local dives slinging booze.
Steel player Bill Elm's phantasmagoric Friends of Dean Martinez was hard to classify, but the dark grandeur of their A Place in the Sun was nothing short of visionary, eclipsed only by their invisible local and national profile. Whereas A Place in the Sun was fumbled by too-hip NYC jazz/experimental indie Knitting Factory, Adult Rodeo's fierce, feral Texxxas was buried by its sister spinoff Shimmydisc. Criminal. Hard to imagine two better, more unique "modern rock" albums, the latter being the next best thing to a new Butthole Surfers/Talking Heads song-swap.
Graham Reynolds' Golden Arm Trio, they of the local postmodern classical movement, are just the sort of chamber indie jazz Knitting Factory courts, but then again, the briny Why the Sea Is Salt did just fine buoyed by local and regional labels. Li'l Cap'n Travis, the most insidiously catchy pop band to come outta Austin since the Reivers, put their self-titled debut out themselves. Smart.
Refracted through the Church's pristine, sometimes soaring stained-glass pop, the Swells' Yesterday's Songs glows with the same lush warmth found in the force-field around Palaxy Tracks' The Long Wind Down. Monroe Mustang lead the field in such comfort sounds, both of their EPs, I Am the Only Running Footman and live De Avon 091099, hopefully cozying up to a double album in 2001. Futuristic rave-age bachelor pad music landed on planet Aquatica -- Electric Sounds From the Silicon Hills several months prior to local keywhiz Laura Scarborough blasting off into inner-consciousness with her churning Chapter One: Desire.
Save for a couple notable mugs, Ian McLagan (Best of British) and Ronnie Lane (Live in Austin), these were the many faces of Austin Rock 2000. Da blues survived in Barbara Lynn (Hot Night Tonight), Steve James (Boom Chang), Guy Forsyth (Steak), and Eric Johnson's Alien Love Child (Live and Beyond), while local jazz held on with Brannen Temple's Blue Note-worthy Blaze, and Tina Marsh's Out of Time vocal prowess. Correo Aereo, Austin's Buena Vista Social Club, know a cajon-ful about bewitching harmonies, the local duo's Mexican and South American folk ballads as enchanting as they are exotic (Lo Que Me Dijo el Viento). Ruben Ramos' A Class Act, meanwhile, took some pointers from El Gato Negro's other posse, Los Super Seven, expected to go nationwide once again this spring.
Whoop, dere it iz. The Year in Albums, 2000 -- give or take some 20,000-30,000 national releases, and another 200-300 locals. If nationwide is where hip-hop resides in 2001, here in downtown ATX, it still dwells underground. Not that there weren't beat boxes busting out rhyme in our capitol hood; try Tee Double's TX Resident or Smackola's Verbal KunKushEnz. Nevertheless, in this embarrassed former home of Dubya, no Grandmaster "Wheels of Steel" have dropped. Neither have any Outkasts gone off -- nor, for that matter, any Marshall Mathers. Or teeny-bop queens, boy bands (well, besides Schrödinger's Cat), or Limp Bizkits.
Mercifully, Austin still marches to the beat of Eeyore's drum circle. What choice is there? Take a look across 2000's Top 10s -- any medium. There is no consensus. Consensus is dead. (Robert Plant: "Does anyone remember consensus?") Used to be we all got our media, music in particular, from the same sources: the radio, TV, the local record shop. In 2001, there's Napster, Amazon.com, and soon, satellite radio. Then again, music today is easier to record (home 4-tracks), cheaper to manufacture (CDs), and one touch away from worldwide distribution (Internet). It's what you want it to be whether you make it yourself or purchase it on eBay.
Any student of music history will tell you another music revolution will soon shark along and swallow all this jailbait doubling as tomorrow's nostalgia, but remember this: As our capitalism-out-of-control society dumbs itself down with bad music, adapted-from-TV movies, and newsstand literature, your own consensus is all the trend you'll ever need.
End of the millennium, end in a series.