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My Top 20 Albums of 2002

As someone who's obsessive about music, I not only seem to find more things every year that I love, but things also undoubtedly slip under the radar no matter how hard I try. Like last year, it seems that some of my favorite releases this year are ones that have taken elements of both electronic and organic music and blended them into something sublime. As with the lists of the past couple of years, the order of the albums is based on how much I've listened to them since I discovered them, and it may not completely line up with the numerical ratings in the reviews. Feel free to call me names, agree with me, or simply suggest something that I should have heard via email. Also, I'm running a Readers List again this year, so contribute!

1. Notwist - Neon Golden (City Slang)
After starting out with proto punk and showing a remarkable amount of progression over the course of their last few albums (Shrink was the final piece of the pre-puzzle), The Notwist created a beautiful album that I don't think anyone was ready for. An almost baroque-sounding electronic pop album, with the perfect amount of digital manipulation and trickery, this is one of those albums that came out of nowhere at the beginning of the year and has staying power to keep it in my head and CD player for the remainder. full review

2. The Books - Thought For Food (Tomlab)
A release that came out of nowhere, this is a disc that sounds like a really bad concept on paper (sound bites mixed up with digitally manipulated cello and acoustic guitar), but worked near-flawlessly on record. Some of the best 'pure' moments of sound that I heard on a release this year, this is one of those bizarre little releases that I keep coming back to. full review

3. Do Make Say Think - & Yet & Yet (Constellation)
Another group that seems to be getting better and better with each release, Do Make Say Think are one of those bands who are just starting to get the press that they deserve. After being written off by many as a Tortoise-clone after their first release, this group has blossomed into a full-fledged instrumental rock outfit that blends jazz and post rock and a myriad of other elements into a beautiful mixture of cinematic sounds. full review

4. Sigur Ros - ( ) (PIAS)
Not as immediately accessible as their previous album, this one found the group unfurling their wings even more. 8 tracks that take their time burrowing into your head (but refuse to leave once there), the album plays almost like one giant crescendo, ending with a bombastic few minutes that's worth the price of admission alone. Hopefully we've just seen the start of this young group, as they seem to just keep getting better. full review

5. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Yanqui U.X.O. (Constellation)
While their political statements have made them sort of a lightning-rod for criticism from some people (how can you be political when you play instrumental music?), there's no denying that this group still makes passionate and wholey involving music. 3 hugely epic tracks fill a CD to its capacity and despite a name change, this 10-piece once again proves that they're still the best at what they're doing. Moments of fragile beauty juxtaposed with moments of frenzied musical molotovs. full review

6. Mum - Finally We Are No One (Fat Cat)
Like a couple other groups on this years list, Mum are musicians who seem to have mastered the perfect blend of both electronic and organic sound. Although this release took on a slightly more song-like orientation than their debut release, it still drifts along with the same (and even more in many places) amount of sonic warmth and joy. If I could only pick one album to fall asleep to for the rest of my life, this one would rank near the top. full review

7. Boards Of Canada - Geogaddi (Warp Records)
After releasing some serious duds over the course of the past couple years Warp Records seemed to start taking on some serious flak from longtime followers, but this sturdy release from Boards Of Canada hushed the naysayers for awhile anyway. A bit darker than previous releases, the duo again came back and showed that they're some of the best at what they do. One of the rare electronic groups that can be counted on release after release. full review

8. Tanakh - Villa Claustrophobia (Alien8Recordings)
I'd never heard of Jessie Poe before this release came out, but I won't forget his name now that I've heard it. A mixture of middle-eastern and Appalachian sounds, this is an involving release that works well during both instrumental and vocal passages. So many amazing sounds and voices to hear. full review

9. Manual - Ascend (Morr Music)
At 20 years old, Jonas Munk has no business making music so fully realized, but the fact remains that he is. A huge step up from his debut album, this is another release for the earliest and latest hours in the day, mixing lovely guitar melodies with amazing programming and production so layered that it will make your head spin at times. full review

10. Decemberists - Castaways And Cutouts (Hush Records)
This is a band that hails from Portland, but writes songs like they've been around the world on a pirate ship, seeing foreign lands and fighting battles and feeling for the destitute. One of the most literate albums of the year (if you understand all the references and words, you get a gold star), it makes you feel like a journeyman, yet it's a load of fun as well. Nothing that hasn't been done before, this group just does it better than most. full review

11. Max Tundra - Mastered By Guy At The Exchange (Tigerbeat6/Domino)
Ben Jacobs must be one of those people who can make an omelete while surfing the internet or vaccuum the house while reading a book. With the amount of ideas that come flying out of his releases, his mind simply has to be some sort of high-order multitasking machine. Even more poppy and immediate than his debut release (mainly because of the addition of vocals), this is the most off-kilter and goofy pop record that you'll hear this year. Lots of ideas, and most of them stick. full review

12. Shalabai Effect - The Trial Of St-Orange (Alien8Recordings)
After a 2CD debut of mind-bending psychedelic proportions, The Shalabai Effect return with another solid outing. This time, they're exploring even more musical crevasses, but don't stretch themselves thin and come up with some new genres in the process (psych-jungle?). For those that want world music without all the cheese and muck that it mostly entails, hunt down either release by this group. full review

13. Monster Movie - Last Night Something Happened (Clairecords)
While it never really went away, it seems that dreampop/shoegazer music made a serious comeback in the last 12 months alone. While numerous artists churned out releases with plenty of fuzzy guitar textures or nice programming, many of them seemed to forget that for all the bells and whistles, you still need to have a solid song behind it all. This release by Monster Movie is one of those that didn't, and this release is imminently hummable and sticks in your head immediately upon hearing it. Hunt it down if you're a fan of the above and still haven't. full review

14. Out Hud - Street Dad (Kranky)
A fun, raucous release from none other than the Kranky label, this New York outfit channels a live energy and a rambling, genre-smashing style into one of the more fun releases I've heard this year. Hypnotic for both your head and your butt, it packs more into one short release than many other discs with twice the length. full review

15. RJD2 - Deadringer (Def Jux)
Although the old record sample/thick beats trick has been pulled many a times before, I haven't heard a record pull it off so effortlessly in quite a long time. A solid, (mostly) instrumental hip-hop debut album from an obvious talent to be reckoned with, this is an album that makes you want to rock the funky beat, but doesn't insult your intelligence in doing so. full review

16. Doves - The Last Broadcast (Capitol/Heavenly)
Although I enjoyed their debut album, I didn't really pay attention this follow-up until some time after it had come out. After finally giving it a chance, though, it became firmly implanted in my CD player and has made regular visits since then. While some of their contemporaries unfortunately get loads more press, the Doves are probably one of the best bands in the UK right now. full review

17. Aidan Baker - I Fall Into You (Public Eyesore)
After months of hearing his name mentioned on different releases, I finally heard something by Aidan Baker, and it didn't let me down. Easily one of the best ambient/drone records that I've heard this year, this is an excellent disc from a prolific artist who it seems will only be making more waves in the future. full review

18. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
Everyone likes an album with a feel-good story behind it, and after all the crap that Wilco went through with their latest full length, it's no less than fitting that it's so great. With a pre-release turn of events that's so crazy it sounds like the basis for a film (and actually was with I Am Trying To Break Your Heart), it's a release that marks a turning point for a band that caught the attention of many again, and even more for the first time. full review

19. Amon Tobin - Out From Out Where (Ninja Tune Records)
Although it's not quite as solid as some of his past releases, a good effort from Tobin is still better than a majority of other stuff released out there. Taking a more mid and downtempo turn, this is another stewing entry in thick-ass beats and lush production. You'll hear new things every time you listen. full review

20. Blanket Music - Move (Hush Records)
Easily one of the most downright fun albums that I heard in the past year, Blanket Music creates sounds for a breezy summer day and fruity mixed drinks. Light music without being fluffy, it also had some of the most clever lyrical turns of the year, and in a year with so many uncertainties, it's nice to have an album like this to return to when you need a little cheering up. full review