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. :)
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 2000. Enjoy!
Reader’s Choice – Radiohead: Kid A
I was more than a little surprised that Kid A took PMA's vote for best of 2000. It’s not that I don’t like the album… I do… it’s just that having been a fan of Radiohead and having experienced everything leading up to the release of this album, the vote feels a little revisionist. Not because it was a bad album, it’s just that in 2000, it didn’t seem that good. At least not Radiohead good. Still, to be discussed as the “Best of” almost ten years after the fact, and then to have actually won the vote in such a decisive manner clearly shows Kid A really is worth writing about.
I remember when The Bends was released, and I remember loving it. It was amazing and anyone that gave it a real listen knew it was amazing. Radiohead had created something memorable. A few years later, Thom Yorke and the boys did it again with OK Computer, but this time they created a band, decade, and genre-defining album. It didn’t stop at Britain’s borders, but traveled the world. It was an album that, once heard, changed the way you thought about and listened to music. It was magic. Critics loved it. Fans loved it. Everyone loved it, and it was the second time the band had done it (three times if you count Pablo Honey). Radiohead was a serious band with serious musicians and they were changing music history. With a few guitars and a whole lotta awesome, OK Computer and The Bends solidified Radiohead’s greatness and the media crowned them the saviors of modern rock.
Well… until three years later when Kid A came along. The album was released after months of writer’s block (for Yorke), tour fatigue (for the band), and success stress for anyone associated with OK Computer. Fans were foaming at the mouth for something new, and the band was about to deliver. For Radiohead, they needed a new direction. They found it by pulling lyrics from a hat, using Thom’s voice as an instrument, and using more sequencers and electronic instruments than guitars. They released the album without liner notes and called the politically charged album Kid A. People expected rock, and they got bastardized electronica. How’s that for new?
It was almost like Radiohead wrote this album to polarize the audience. Critics were split. Many applauded the band for having the guts to wander from their tried and true methodology, and some (Pitchfork and The Wire) gave it perfect scores. Other critics gave it mediocre ratings (Q Magazine, New Musical Express), and some hated it (Mojo, Resonance). On the fan side, people overwhelmingly disliked the album initially. Radiohead fans (in general) liked guitar based rock, not electronic music. It was a great record for any other band, but because it came from Radiohead, it came as a massive shock. To many, Kid A initially felt that likethe end of an era… and that’s why having fans rate it as number one nine years later feels revisionist.
Looking back, Kid A contains some of Radiohead’s best work. Now, songs like “Optimistic” and “How to Disappear Completely” ring as true Radiohead to me as “Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was.” Maybe that’s all Kid A needed… a little time to marinate. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and part of me feels like now that In Rainbows has been released and we see that Radiohead can still produce the same mind blowing rock we saw in OK Computer, we can really appreciate the risk that Kid A truly was. How many other bands- at the apex of their careers… of THIS kind of career- have the guts and ability to completely change their music styles? Very few. I wonder if this vote was taken when Amnesiac was released (when people were still feeling betrayed) would Kid A still be the favorite album of 2000? I’m not so sure. But it wasn’t taken then, it’s taken now, and I think all of us can collectively agree that Kid A was a great risk. It gives additional depth to the Radiohead discography.
PMA’s Choice – Modest Mouse: The Moon and Antarctica.
When critics (including myself) talk about Modest Mouse’s defining moment, we typically give a tongue bath to Lonesome Crowded West (“LCW”). That was the album that made me fall in love with American indie rock, and that was Modest Mouse’s true coming out party… but it’s not the album that showed the recording industry that the northwest sound (and other music alternatives) were viable forms of revenue. That was The Moon and Antarctica (TMaA).
Modest Mouse began their recording career on K Records, a little Olympia, WA anti-corporate, pro-indie house featuring other acts like The Halo Benders and Dub Narcotic Sound System. K’s motto was "exploding the teenage underground into passionate revolt against the corporate ogre since 1982" and Modest Mouse represented that motto well. Their music was anything but corporate; screaming vocals, violent guitar riffs, and lyrics about space travel, cockroaches, & all night diners. It was strange, fresh, and different. Modest Mouse got better and expanded. From K, the band bounced around to other indie mainstays: Sup Pop and Up Records. They released various EPs and LPs, but nothing substantially stuck until Up’s Lonesome Crowded West. Critics were positive and fans loved it.
With the critical success and fan support associated with Lonesome Crowded West, enough critical mass was gathered to getModest Mouse an opportunity with a major label (Epic Records). This was new ground for MM. Here’s a band that had lived entirely within their own sphere. Being a home grown indie act, Modest Mouse had complete creative control on their small labeled albums. But with a legit label backing them, they had pressure to produce. Fortunately, MM rose to the challenge and released The Moon and Antarctica. Isaac Brock, toned vocals down some, married his eccentric and impressive lyric writing ability, to the bands erratic and ever-changing melodic pace, and they produced a record that many considered better than LCW. As Brent DiCrescenzo of Pitchfork Media said, this was “the first time, Modest Mouse craft(ed) an album, not a collection of songs.” In essence, they took the main stage opportunity Epic gave them to showcase their best to a broad audience. Songs like "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" and “Gravity Rides Everything” became commercial successes (one being covered by Mark Kozelek and the other –for better or worse- used in a minivan ad), and the band’s cult following turned into a legitimate fan base.
Some have looked at the commercial accomplishment of TMaA and have been disappointed. They felt that as the band’s exposure and success increased, so did the sellout quotient. To a certain extent, I get that. It was hard for me to see a band with roots in anti-corporate soil end up starring in a minivan commercial. Still, the signing at Epic, and the subsequent release of this album paved the way for other independent acts to succeed in the industry. Isaac Brock may have chilled things down for TMaA, but just under the more polished surface were the same screaming vocals that existed on "Cowboy Dan" and "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine." The corporate machine needed to know that they could make money with these bands, and The Moon and Antarctica helped them realize the genre’s potential. American indie had finally found a mainstream niche and a place at the recording industry’s table. This niche has ended up shaping the musical landscape of the 2000’s for the better, and for that I give Modest Mouse the best of 2000 honors.
So, 2000 is in the books. Vote for your favorite album of 2001.
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