Best Album of the 2000s: 2001

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Best Albums of 00 | 01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09

It’s not easy to pick the best album of a particular year. Music is the soundtrack to our lives, and it means different things to individuals depending on where they’re at when an album is released. Over the next few months I’m gonna tell you what albums we liked each year over the past ten years and I’ll also talk about your collective choice for best album each year. Anytime you narrow down entire years music down to 10 choices, you’re gonna miss some great music, and I know some of you think these types of articles are a waste of time. To you I say this:

  • Get over it. It’s my time I’m wasting. If you don’t wanna waste your time, don’t read.

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  • PMA will still cover the latest music as it comes out, so you’re not missing anything there.

  • We see value in remembering great music from the past. Some of our readers may have missed these albums the first time around, so it’s still exposure to new music, even if it’s from 10 years ago.

I hope you enjoy this segment while it lasts, and get into the dialogue. We’ll probably nail some of your favorites and dreadfully miss others. Let us know what you think of the choices in the comments, and tell us what changes you’d make.

In the meantime, here are the winners for The Best Album of 2001. Enjoy!

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Reader’s Choice – Daft Punk: Discovery

Before writing this article, I don’t think I’d ever read a review on Daft Punk’s Discovery. I don’t know why either … I guess I figured I didn’t need to. I mean, I love the album. You love the album. My uncle loves the album. Everybody loves that album, right? Well… everybody hasn’t ALWAYS loved the album. From 2001 reviews:

  • The Village Voice: “Merely an annoying novelty stateside… there are better beats on the damn Jadakiss CD.”

  • Pitchfork: Daft Punk focus on fusing mid-80’s Kool and the Gang R&B beats with post-millennial prog flourishes and more vocoders than you can shake at Herbie Hancock.”

  • The AV Club: “Funk hasn't sounded this resoundingly stupid since Bootsy Collins' squiggly solo work.”

  • Rolling Stone: “It's not old-DP funny, nor is it new-DP transcendent; it's just workmanlike… Not enough of this album delivers on the promise of ‘One More Time.’”

Uh… yeah. Taking a look at those reviews after the fact almost feels sacrilegious. It makes me wonder… would I have picked up Discovery if I had read those on the way to the record store (in 2001 we still bought albums J)? Would you have bought it? Well, it doesn’t matter because Discovery became epic despite the critics. You remember that scene from Gladiator? The one where Proximo teaches Maximus how to become free of the emperor? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should really watch the movie, but for those of you that missed it, the takeaway lesson is this: “”Win the crowd, and you will win your freedom.” By creating the most catchy, fun, danceable songs on earth, Daft Punk won the crowd. By winning the crowd, they didn’t need the critics.

In 1997, Daft Punk released Homework which became an overnight success. Sales spiked, distributors had difficulty filling demand, and production amped up. “Da Funk” and “Around the World” drove sales and helped the album land at #1 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play Billboard Chart. It hit gold status later that year in the U.S., and became a dance classic. This was legitimate House music on full mainstream display. It was one of the first warning shots to those that thought electronic music was nothing more than a dude & a sequencer. With their freshman outing, these two costume clad Frenchmen hit a home run. And then they went away for four years.

In 2001 Daft Punk faced the challenge of releasing a new album that could compare with their own genre-changing classic. The safe route would’ve been to continue where Homework left off. But rather than sticking to the same model, they used significantly more synths, sampled their brains out, and pulled in (at the time) unique elements like autotuner. What came out the other side surprised fans and critics. The critics overwhelmingly resisted the move and cared very little for anything other than “One More Time.” Fans, though, rallied around the album (and group), propelling Discovery past Homework and launching Daft Punk into superstardom.

The dichotomy of opinion is the most fascinating storyline of this album… how could fans and critics be so divided? Well, that’s a product of the music. Daft Punk is a duo of House musicians. House, like many genres, is one that blends various sub-genres: electro, progressive, dream, acid, etc. The unifying feature of the micro-house genres are the electronic elements. Electronic music has always been the future. It’s forward thinking, sleek, and young; the hoverboard of music. More traditional genres are entrenched in history, with most of their musicians trying to mimic the greats that came before them. Pianists practice Chopin & Mozart; guitarists transcribe Hendrix & Zeppelin. Conversely, House musicians don’t typically spend a lot of time practicing old music (unless they’re sampling), and the fans are okay with that. Discovery putdistance between Daft Punk and Homework, and that’s exactly what fans wanted: the future. Critics were judging them on past work, and although fantastic, Daft Punk had moved forward without them.

The futuristic elements of Daft punk weren’t the only reason the fans loved them. The bottom line is that Discovery is every DJ’s best friend. The album is full of killer loops, strong backbeats, and catchy music. Speaking as a DJ, it’s practically plug & play. It can mix into everything and sound fantastic. That means since 2001, Discovery has been on every dance floor throughout the world almost nightly. People dance, they feel good, they associate that good with what they’re hearing, and they buy the album. They share it with their friends, and suddenly, years later, Discovery hasbecome one of those records that has gotten so popular that it has infused itself throughout pop culture! It has become almost inseparable from the music scene today. From Kanye’s sampling of “H,B,F,S” in “Stronger” to LCD Soundsystem’s “Daft Punk is Playing At My House.” It’s there… staring at us. It has won over fellow musicians and fans alike. Without a doubt they won the crowd, and now can do no wrong. I’d say they have their freedom.

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PMA’s Choice – The Strokes: Is This It

I’ll be honest. I liked The Strokes' music more in 2001 than I do in 2009. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what they’ve done for rock, but until today, I don’t think I’ve touched the album since the early 00’s. Still, despite what I do with the disc in 2009, it made enough of an impact back then for us to include it at the top of this list today. Is This It changed music by stripping out all the bells & whistles that had attached themselves to rock in the early 2000’s, and delivering basic, honest, garage rock.

Eric, one of our insightful readers, left this comment on the 2001 poll:

“‘Is This It’ … saved rock music from the Limp Bizkit/Korn garbage and ushered in the “garage-rock revival.”… While each song on the UK release of ‘Is This It’ is perfect, the record and its supporting tour had a much greater affect on today’s music than the other 10 albums.

‘Is This It’ opened the doors for bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon. Each of those three bands have stories about listening to The Strokes’ first record (Alex Turner, specifically) or checking out the supporting tour (Kings of Leon) and deciding to try to create something like The Strokes had (and continue to have).

The only bad thing about ‘Is This It’ is that it briefly made shit bands like Jet popular.”

Not only is his Jet observation completely awesome, but Eric is right on regarding the saving nature of The Strokes. In the late 90’s, mainstream rock had slipped. Kurt Cobain had passed, and with him went an industry’s sense of being. Grunge had become the genre in America and its abrupt end (after Cobain’s death) created a vacuum for music. American labels began desperately searching for the next big thing. While Britpop made its grand reemergence in Europe, America spent those years falling in and out of love with different sounds. Post-grunge filled the void for a time, but it lacked the character and staying power to develop into a major movement. This was a time filled with alternative music, but no overarching genre to belong to. The lack of any one power-genre gave acts like Limp Bizkit, Staind, and Papa Roach an opportunity to gain traction, a foothold, and (almost suddenly) dominance. It became what we now  call Nu metal, and it a force to recon with. It was despondent, angry, and the young audience that had associated itself with grunge had another group of bands to rally around. Soon, this bastard child of hip-hop & rock WAS the present and eminent future of rock music. By the time the early 2000’s had come, record labels were signing Nu Metal bands faster than Silicon Valley could IPO tech companies. You couldn’t turn on a rock radio station without hearing somebody rap-screaming lyrics over a power-chord laden record scratch.

Then Is This It was released. It was markedly different than the mainstream rock that was being churned out by the Nu metal groups, and it created a paradigm shift in music. Suddenly the Emperor’s clothes were removed from Nu metal and it was almost like music fans collectively remembered that rock didn’t necessarily need a DJ. It didn’t need lyrics rapped and screamed at you. It didn’t need all the effects that Nu metal had introduced as standard operating procedure. The Strokes produced a record that proved all a band really needed to rock was a few guitars, a drum kit, and a mic. The Strokes stripped it down and we fell in with the simplicity of rock.

Is this It was such a strong statement that it gave a full stage to garage rock throughout the world. Bands in Europe (The Hives), America (The White Stripes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and Australia (Jet, The Vines) gained commercial backing and mainstream success. The post grunge rock era finally had found an identity again, and it was in back-to-basics rock and roll. Since that time, almost every gritty, garage type band can trace some sort of root back to The Strokes, and because of that profound influence (on American rock in particular), Is This It will be included on almost every “best of” list from now until forever. It’s on The Observer’s list of “The 50 Albums that Changed Music,” Spin ranked it as 100 on its list of “100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005,” and Q rated it as the 21st album in “21 Albums that Changed Music.”

There are more lists, and there are more reviews, but without a doubt, The Strokes saved us from ourselves in the early 00’s. It doesn’t really matter that I don’t listen to that particular record anymore because (in a way) every time I hear an independent or alternative rock band today, I'm listening to bands that have been made better through the influence of The Strokes.

Vote for your favorite album of 2002.

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