My Favorite 20 Albums of 2001

Just about the time I think I'm starting to get a grasp on things I want, I discover 3 new labels and 5 new artists and all that gets blown out of the water. 2001 was no different, as I feel it was the year that I branched out the most and found tons of great things coming out on smaller labels. It was also a year in which electronic music made sort of a resurrgance for me, after a somewhat down year in 2000. As I've done the past couple years, albums are listed in the order of how much I've found them in my CD player, and may not completely line up with my numerical ratings in the reviews. As always, feel free to curse my name, agree with me, or simply suggest something that I should have heard via email.

1. Fridge - Happiness (Temporary Residence/Brainwashed)
I've been trying to follow this group for a couple years now (although they've made it somewhat difficult, only releasing albums on import), but this album brings their sound together into something warm and beautiful. A mix of organic instrumentation and digital trickery blends together almost seamlessy into their most cohesive release yet. It's one of those releases that if I was in a band, I'd want to have done something half this good. full review

2. Avalanches - Since I Left You (Modular People)
If you haven't heard this album, then you need to get with it, and if you've heard it and didn't really care for it, then you're just a big party pooper. Just about the time that I thought dance music had crossed over into territory that it too dumbed-down for me to enjoy it, although comes this album and blows all that out of the water. Sure, a song that mixes samples of horses, a mariachi band, and completely daft sound samples (probably the single of the year "Frontier Psychiatrist") might sound stupid on paper, but this album is clever and it's something your head and booty can agree on. full review

3. Múm - Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is Okay (Thule)
After the craze with harder and faster wore itself out, along came this foursome from the new musical hotbed of the world (Iceland) and offered up an electronic album so warm it felt like your favorite blanket you owned as a child. Subtle rhythm programming and more pretty melodies than you can find in 100 music boxes, this quiet release proved that you didn't need to be weird or noisy to make your point. full review

4. Denver Gentlemen - Introducing... (Absalom)
Although the label that put out this release just closed down (unfortunately, as it was starting to make a fine name for itself), they snuck this release out earlier this year and it's a twisted carnival ride of tunes. A mix of deranged country and twisted folk music, it's a release that lurks in the dark alley shadows, but is still a lot of fun. full review

5. Mice Parade - Mokoondi (Bubble Core)
If you're not sure what a Cheng is, you'll know after you hear this release, and you'll feel all-the-better for it. Largely the work of one person (Adam Pierce), this strange hybrid mixes organic and electronic instrumentation for one of the most refreshing releases that I've heard this year. If you were disappointed by the Tortoise release this year (of which some comparisons can be made), this album will make you feel a whole lot better. full review

6. DNTEL - Life Is Full Of Possibilities (Plug Research)
2001 showed a big ressurgence of electronic music in my year-end list, and part of that reason is because of an amazing creative outburst of American artists. Jimmy Tamborello (DNTEL) is one of them, and his 3rd (I think) full-length release works amazingly, showing that vocals and electronic music can be done in a breakthrough way. full review

7. Prefuse 73 - Vocal Studies And Uprock Narratives (Warp)
Scott Herron somehow managed to skewer hip-hop and show his reverence for it at the same time with this release. Whether you call it glitch-hop, click-hop or something else alltogether, it's definitely a fun release, and one that shows Herron hitting his stride on his third different project in the past couple years. full review

8. Lift To Experience - The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads (Bella Union)
Okay, so these fellow might be taking themselves just a bit too seriously, but there's something about talk of fire and brimstone mixed with music that rocks and sounds beautiful at the same time that had me hook, line, and sinker. A rather audacious double-CD debut that leaves me wondering what this trio from Texas will do next. full review

9. Plaid - Double Figure (Warp)
Ed Handley and Andy Turner have been cranking out music as Plaid now for almost 10 years, but as far as I'm concerned, this is their finest moment (and supposedly the final in a trilogy of albums for the group). With 19 tracks of electronic music that is sort of all over the place, this release feels surprisingly cohesive and outshines releases by many bigger name artists on the Warp label. full review

10. Manitoba - Start Breaking My Heart (Leaf)
Dan Snaith came out of nowhere (well, Canada actually) and surprised the heck out of me with this excellent little release. Although the statement "dude, i'm screwed" is printed on the inside of the digipack (perhaps because he figures there will be a future lawsuit in the work for the photo with the golden arches on the cover), that's hardly the case with this release. Warm tones, bubbly melodies, and slick programming make this release one to search out. full review

11. Four Tet - Pause (Domino)
Kieran Hebden makes his second appearance in my top 20 with this solo release as Four Tet. After a relatively interesting debut album, he comes back strong with this release and encorporates live instrumentation and awesome programming into a pastoral audio stew that sounds as good in the morning as it does any other time of the day. full review

12. White Stripes - White Blood Cells (Sympathy For The Record Industry)
In a year in which rock music didn't actually rock that hard, this duo released an album that didn't let anyone forget the power of simplicity. Scratchy vocals, growling guitars, and ragged percussion is about all there is to the White Stripes, but they do it so damn well that I'm not going to complain. full review

13. Monolake - Cinemascope (EFA)
People have been doing minimal electronic music for quite some time, but Monolake is creating some of the most amazing in the genre as proof with this release. Dark, washes of sound and rumbling beats that will keep you glued to your speakers and enveloped in sound. full review

14. Sparklehorse - It's A Wonderful Life (Capitol)
Besides one song that sticks out like a sore thumb, this album is Mark Linkous's most cohesive recording to date. While there's something to be said for the erratic nature of his last disc Good Morning Spider, there's something comforting about him cleaning up and actually naming an album by this title. Of course, it's not all pretty still, but it's a great release, and far from boring. full review

15. Amy Annelle - A School Of Secret Dangers (Hush)
In a year in which pro-tools ruled the scene and glitch found its way into nearly mainstream, Amy Annelle recorded this quiet gem on microphones from around the era of World War 2. With backing guitar and her amazing voice (and the occassional field recording), this release feels like a timeless recording you'd stumble onto with your AM radio dial while driving through under some wide-open skies, then for fear of losing the station, simply stop and soak it in. full review

16. A Silver Mt. Zion And Memorial Tra-La-La Band - Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward (Constellation)
After many people probably wrote them off as simply another Godspeed You Black Emperor side-project (god knows there's a lot of them), this group comes back with a name change, a larger lineup, and a more full sound. Some of the most sad and beautiful moments I've heard on a recording this year, and in one where hope was needed after a period of despair, this album came out at just the right time. full review

17. Kammerflimmer Kollektief - M”ander (Temporary Residence)
Although this group released three albums this year stateside, this is the first, and the one that inspired me to seek out the other two. Even though this is only the work of one person (whereas a group was brought in on the latter two), it's the most interesting, taking a much more electronic route instead of an abstract jazz one. Dark, rumbling beats and well placed noise make this a multi-layered release worth having. full review

18. Matmos - A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure (Matador)
When I first heard this disc, I figured it was the novelty quality that made it so interesting. The surprising thing about the release is that besides the initial curiosity factor (if you don't know, read the full review), it's also a very varied and well put together. Absolutely strange, yet very engaging. full review

19. Lali Puna - Scary World Theory (Morr Music)
Like the first line of the album says, "There's no reason to complain, it's all been candy cream." This is pure pop, with a heady mix of electronics and almost cold, detached lyrics. If only one one-hundredth of top 40 music were this smart, I might find myself actually listening to the radio again. full review

20. Low - Things We Lost In The Fire (Kranky)
With "Dinosaur Act," Low has probably written one of their first true pop songs, but they're hardly shooting for the Billboard charts. With this, their 6th full-length release, the group has gone about their fairly subtle ways, but once again they've created something of beauty. With several songs inspired by the birth of a new child by Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, I can't think of a better show of love. full review

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