August 1, 2015

Best of 2002

As I look back on my life and the influence that music had on it, there are a few transition years that stand out. 1995 was the biggest one, and then 2002 is probably next; 2004 and 2014 are also important. Each of these years are marked by major moves and changes in my life.

One of the first digital photos I ever took; Heathrow Airport, London, UK, 11/2002
In 2002 specifically the geographical and cultural transitions I experienced were massive. I lived in Birmingham, AL during the months of January and February, then moved to Orlando, FL in March. In August I moved all my stuff back to my parents' house in Franklin, TN for the first time in seven years. I spent the months of September and October in Richmond, VA, and then finally in November moved across the Atlantic to Lusaka, Zambia. So yeah, quite a whirlwind year.

I met tons of new people, made close friends, lost contact with old friends, heard a ton of new music, and went to an insane amount of concerts. 2002 was really the last of my crazy concert years that began in 1995. In addition to commenting on each album below, I am also going to list when and where I first heard the album, and if I saw the artist in concert in 2002.

This list also brings my blog full circle, in a way. I began this blog in December of 2003, and the first "best of" list I posted was the top albums of 2003. That was before I started fleshing out the lists though, which I started in 2006. So my next posts like this will be new versions of 2003, 2004, and 2005, which will include comments for the first time instead of the simple lists they are currently. That will give me detailed lists from 1991 to the present. Then maybe I'll go back to 1990 and work my way into the past. (By the time I'm 70 maybe I'll actually be able to write a best of list for the year 1970!)

Top 20 albums of 2002:

1. The Gloria Record- Start Here
First heard album:  Summer 2002  in Orlando, FL
Saw in concert in 2002? Spring in Nashville, TN at the End

I ranked this my number one album of the decade for the 00's, and I still feel that way. I am a huge fan of everything Chris Simpson has ever done--Mineral's The Power of Failing is probably my favorite of his lyrically--but sonically this album is perfect. (For years I actually daydreamed of what it would be like for The Power of Failing to be re-recorded in this style; silly yes I know.)

Two or three of these songs I heard in advance as demos were circulating online (I found them using Audiogalaxy, not Napster). But nothing could have prepared me for how mind-blowing the album would be as a whole, and I have vivid memories of listening to it as I drove around Orlando that summer. Sadly, this was it for The Gloria Record, and this was it for Chris Simpson's rock career (In my interview with him a few years ago he calls his Zookeeper project "rock", but it's not to me--I call it folk).

There is an unfinished Gloria Record album out there; based on interviews with Chris and other band members, the music is 99% finished, Chris just never finished the lyrics and vocals (Read about it these two 2014 interviews here and here). With the Mineral reunion (that is still going on!), I once again have hope that maybe they'll revisit it. And even if that album remains unfinished, I will now hope for new Mineral or new Gloria Record music. And worse case scenario, if none of those things happen, Chris told me personally when I saw Mineral in Italy in January that the reunion shows have reignited his love for electric guitar. He hadn't owned one in more than five years!

2. Pedro the Lion- Control
First heard album: Spring 2002 in Orlando, FL
Saw in concert in 2002? Summer in Orlando, FL at The Social, and July at Cornerstone Festival.

In March I wrote a pretty detailed post about my love/hate relationship for David Bazan over the last 15+ years. Thankfully the hate part of that relationship has ceased to exist. Now I will call it more of a love/confused relationship.

Simply, Control is Bazan at his best. Musically aggressive and experimental, and lyrically never more challenging and thought-provoking. I recently learned on a podcast that he wrote the drum part for the song "Magazine", which is my favorite Pedro the Lion song of all time. I of course knew he wrote the song, but I didn't consider how much of the music he also composed (all?). He was a drummer of course for years before he started his own songwriting.

3. Poor Old Lu- The Waiting Room
First heard album:  Fall 2002 in Richmond, VA
Saw in concert in 2002? Multiple times in and around Cornerstone Festival in July.

Poor Old Lu is my favorite band of all time. Obviously there are plenty of other great bands I love, but the thing that sets Poor Old Lu apart is that 100% of their output is awesome. There are no throw-away tracks, no missteps. They are faithful to their one and only line-up: Scott Hunter, Aaron Sprinkle, Nick Barber, and Jesse Sprinkle. Every Poor Old Lu song ever is a collaboration of these four guys, which is important considering every one of these guys writes songs, sings, and plays guitar.

This, unfortunately, was the final Poor Old Lu album. They have released two "singles" since (The Great Unwound in 2013 and The Brightest Star in 2014), and all four of these guys have been very active in music for going on 25 years. While I love most all the music they have released individually since, they reach another level when they record together.

4. Sixpence None the Richer- Divine Discontent
First heard album: Fall 2002 in Richmond, VA
Saw in concert in 2002? At Cornerstone Festival in July, and possibly/probably one other time in Atlanta (I saw them at the Cotton Club I just can't remember when)

I have written so much about Sixpence this year it is hard to know where to begin. Probably the most important thing to share about this album is that there are two radically different versions of it. What I call Original Divine Discontent was mastered in October of 2001. Here is a screenshot from my iTunes:

I'll do the math so you don't have to: The original version of this album had 14 songs, and the final version that was officially released in 2002 had 13. But there are only 8 songs that appear on both albums. That means there were 5 new tracks on the publi release, and 6 mostly unreleased songs (some became B-sides on singles) from the original (19 total songs for this release if you combine). If you have never heard the following songs and are a fan of this band, please hunt them down. They are among some of the best songs the band ever recorded: "Deeper", "Don't Pass Me By", "Loser Like Me", "Northern Lights", "Too Far Gone", and "Us".

5. Blindside- Silence
First heard album: Fall 2002 in Richmond, VA
Saw in concert in 2002? Before the album was released I saw them in a super-tiny, super-sweaty club with a very low ceiling in Orlando. Conditions were miserable but band was amazing.

This is the album that put Blindside on the map, and for good reason. They expanded upon their sound greatly, and added a ton of melody and hooks while not sacrificing their intensity. I prefer A Thought Crushed My Mind because of its originality, but there is no Blindside album I have listened to as much as Silence. Just this month the band announced a 10th anniversary show in NYC in which they will play the album in full...



6. Thrice- The Illusion of Safety
First heard album: Summer 2002 in Orlando, FL
Saw in concert in 2002? Did not see until Thrice until 2007.

In August I will see Thrice for the fourth time. The first three times were in Atlanta, and this time it will be in a radically different setting: at Hevy Fest in the UK. It's pretty funny to think back on the summer of 2002 and listening to this album driving around Orlando. I really enjoyed it, but I could have never comprehended or imagined the band that Thrice would evolve in to. Of any band that released their first album 2000 or later, Thrice is my #1.


7. The Anniversary- Your Majesty
First heard album: January 2002 in Birmingham, AL
Saw in concert in 2002? No, but in 2001 at 40 Watt in Athens, GA.

This album was a big departure from Designing a Nervous Breakdown, and took me awhile to grow into it. In fact, if this album had been released in today's music climate, I probably would have never given it the time to grow. One of my main oppositions to streaming music is that one has access to so much one never takes the time to truly invest in an album. Buying an album, especially in physical form, is an investment that commits one to listening to it much more, allowing it to grow, and becoming much more attached. That is what I had to do with this album. Upon initial listen I was disappointed it was not as melodic and energetic as the band's debut. But a few months later I developed love for it.

8. Rilo Kiley- The Execution of All Things
First heard album: 2014! Can't believe I waited so long.
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

One of the most notable things about this album is that I didn't buy it until last year. I was aware of Rilo Kiley in the early part of the 2000's, but for some reason never heard much. That was definitely my loss, as this album is fantastic and my favorite thing Jenny Lewis has ever been involved in. Here is a YouTube video I just discovered of the band playing my favorite song from the album, "Spectacular Views". There are better sounding live versions of this song on YouTube, but they are all from 2007; this one is actually from 2002:



9. Logh- Every Time a Bell Rings an Angel Gets its Wings
First heard album: Unsure, but in 2002. It was included as a "freebie" with an order I placed from Deep Elm Records. Had never even heard of the band.
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

I know almost nothing about Logh except that they are from Sweden. I got their next two albums after this, but neither had the vibe or intimacy that this one did. The album is haunting in a way--minimalistic, atmospheric rock music--which is very different from everything else I ever heard from Deep Elm.

10. The Flaming Lips- Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
First heard album: 2003?
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

While living in Zambia thankfully I had friends send me mp3s of music I had never heard before. This was one of those bands; while the Flaming Lips had been around forever, I had never heard more than one song at a time. Needless to say this full album blew me away. I am a mild Flaming Lips fan, I have four albums, and this one is my second favorite behind The Soft Bulletin.

11. Brandtson- Dial In Sounds
First heard album: Early 2002, Birmingham, AL
Saw in concert in 2002? Early 2002 in Birmingham, and then the last concert I saw in November (at The End in Nashville) before moving to Zambia.

"I'll call you on the phone (!)
And probably hang up before you say hello
Goodbye. I won't speak to you for days
Unless you pretend that it's all okay
Don't talk to me that way"

I saw Brandtson SO MANY times in concert from 2000-2002; maybe even as much as a dozen in those three years. I don't know how that was possible, but they were always on tour, always played in the towns I lived in, and I really, really liked them. The song "Guest List" (lyrics above) they played at least a year in advance of this album coming out, and I knew it backwards and forwards well before I heard the recorded version. While this was Brandtson's fourth release (two LP's and one EP prior), it was the first time Brandtson's sound and style was captured in the studio correctly.

12. The Beautiful Mistake- Light a Match for I Deserve to Burn
First heard album: Fall 2002 in Richmond, VA
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

This band was short-lived and this their debut album was the highlight of their career. I initially discovered them through a bunch of demos they posted free online (MP3.com?), and I enjoyed those enough to order this CD a year later. The album far exceeded my expectations though-- it is a diverse, interesting mesh of hardcore and rock. The artwork is spectacular, and there is also a gorgeous vinyl release on orange vinyl.

Interesting story I just remembered after writing about Brandtson and The Beautiful Mistake back-to-back here... In August of 2003 I saw Brandtson play in a tiny pub in Frankfurt, Germany. Jared Jolley (drummer, co-lead singer-songwriter) was sitting at the bar and I sat down beside him and introduced myself. We talked about all kinds of things, and somehow the conversation led to Brandtson's contract ending with Deep Elm. Jared told me that they had decided to sign with the Militia Group, a label I don't think I was familiar with at the time. The reason they decided to go with that label is because of what a great job the Militia Group did on this, the debut album for the Beautiful Mistake. Jared quoted some absurd number of records they had sold. I don't know how many albums Brandtson sold for the Militia Group--and I am guessing not many--but at least the union did result in Send Us a Signal, my number one album of 2004.

13. Mates of State- Our Constant Concern
First heard album: Summer 2002 in Orlando, FL
Saw in concert in 2002? Saw for the first time in Paris in August of 2003.

This album was my introduction to Mates of State, and I heard it around the time it was released. I was immediately intrigued as the instrumentation was so simple and radically different than all the other music I listened to (no guitars). They have been one of my favorite bands ever since, and my kids have also really gotten into them. My 7-year-old son just two days ago asked to listen to the new Mates of State EP, You're Going to Make It.

If you haven't watched this video yet, I HIGHLY recommend it, as it discusses the band's primary instrument, the Yahama Electone, and how Kori and Jason built a career around it:



14. Demon Hunter- Demon Hunter
First heard album: Late 2002, Lusaka, Zambia
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

It was the first of these...



15. GRITS- The Art of Translation
First heard album: Late 2002, Lusaka, Zambia
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

This is the only hip-hop/rap album you'll find any any of my lists for the last 25 years. Definitely not my genre of music, but this is probably my number one hip-hop album ever. I love the melodies and hooks. Just last week I actually bought my first hip-hop album in about a decade, Lecrae- Anomaly. Haven't listened to it enough yet to really have an opinion, but my wife is very excited.

Albums ranked 14, 15, and 16 here are three of the first CD's I got after moving to Zambia. I don't know if I bought them new before I left, or had someone ship them to me, but my first memories related to listening to Demon Hunter, GRITS, and Coldplay (how's that for diversity!) were sitting in my first apartment in Lusaka.

16. Coldplay- A Rush of Blood to the Head
First heard album: Late 2002, Lusaka, Zambia
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

I did not like Coldplay at all when they hit the radio waves. The only song I knew for at least a year was "Yellow", and it drove me nuts (I actually enjoy the song now). I never gave Parachutes a chance, and it wasn't until all the positive reviews of this, their second album, that I decided to truly check out Coldplay and listen to a full album straight through. I loved it.  Not really much else to say about Coldplay except that I enjoy every album they have ever released, and are one of my favorite mainstream bands.

17. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
First heard album: Late 2001, as Wilco streamed it free on their website months before it was officially released in April 2002.
Saw in concert in 2002? 2004 I think? It was a free outdoor show in Nashville, TN. I can't really remember when or who I went with. It was near here, and if anyone has a clue when this show was I would appreciate it.

This was not planned, but as I scrolled down to this album today to write something about it I happened to be listening to Wilco's new album Star Wars. They released it free a couple weeks ago, and is now only the second full Wilco album I have. I am enjoying it, but it pales in comparison to YHF, which is masterpiece. So you might be thinking, if this album is a masterpiece, why is it ranked #17? Mainly because Wilco just isn't my style. Final comment: I was so happy when I saw the Marina City Towers for the first time (album cover photo) in mid-2002 during a visit to Chicago.

18. Chevelle- Wonder What's Next
First heard album: Fall in Richmond, VA
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

Chevelle has seven full length albums. That is crazy to me. The first time I heard them was on a Christian underground radio show in Birmingham (not my own show as it had sadly ended a year earlier), and I heard this band that sounded like Tool. I remember even calling up the show and requesting: "play the band that sounds like Tool!" That song was "Point #1", the title track from their 1999 debut, and the video is amazing. I don't expect you to watch all four minutes, but please at least check out the last 20 seconds of the song and video:


Chevelle hit their peak of creativity and originality with their second album, Wonder What's Next. Unfortunately the last 5 albums all sound almost exactly the same to me; but I'll admit I've never really given any of them the time they deserve. I am impressed Chevelle has continued as band for now 17 years.

As you can see on the cover of the album there is a glass shattering. That image points to my favorite few seconds of this album; listen to the last 40 seconds of the song "Closure" and you'll know what I am talking about. For the first year this album was out I listened to it at least once a week. The first month it was out I probably listened to it 3 times a week, and I know it backwards and forwards.

19. Pearl Jam- Riot Act
First heard album: 2013!
Saw in concert? Never seen

As I have mentioned a few times recently on this blog, I never took the time to explore Pearl Jam's body of work as a whole until the last couple years. One of the prompts for doing this was Cameron Crowe's outstanding documentary on the band. And then I was able to get every album in their discography for about $2 each on CD.

As most people already knew, the band is incredible and has stayed consistently creative and innovative their entire career. This is one of the albums I need to spend more time with. I really wish that I would have followed Pearl Jam closely since the first time I heard them in the early nineties, but for about 15 years I sort of forgot the band existed.

20. Patty Griffin- 1000 Kisses
First heard album: 2005
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

My wife and I had a friend that lived in the same building as us in 2005 that loaned us some CD's; the primary two artists we were introduced to were Patty Griffin and Sandra McCracken. We have gone on to follow both artists very closely in the decade since and own nearly all of their releases. I prefer Griffin, and she is at her best when her songs have simple, acoustic instrumentation. She is a great storyteller, and this album opens with one of my favorites from her, "Rain."

I have to mention...
Nada Surf- Let Go 
Until researching this post, I could have sworn this album was released in 2003. It was released in the USA that year (February 4, 2003), but turns out it was released on September 17, 2002 in Europe. I was in Zambia, which has no release dates, and had it shipped to me mid-2003 I am going to leave it as a 2003 release for now, and it is in my top 5 for that year. The fact that I could have theoretically heard it in 2002 is really messing with my mind; and I just can't accept it!

Moss Eisley- EP2
2002 is the year EPs began a more rapid decline, and to this day EPs are way less common than they were in the 80's and 90's. Rather than make a list of EPs like I have for other years, I just want to point out one: Moss Eisley's EP2. Eisley originally had "Moss" at the beginning of their name, but Lucasfilm got upset (despite the intentional misspelling), and the band briefly changed their name to Neverland in early 2003 before settling on just Eisley. They released EP1 in 2001, and EP2 in 2002, which I bought at Cornerstone that year (both were band-produced CD-Rs). I sold both of these CDs for about $70 before moving to Germany last year. EP2 contains my favorite Eisley song ever recorded--"Mister Pine"--and the entire EP is spectacular.

Other 2002 albums I own and enjoy:

All Things Bright And Beautiful- Lamentations
Arcade Fire- Arcade Fire EP
Avril Lavigne- Let Go (crazy to think about it now, but I honestly liked her first two albums)
Bright Eyes- Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground
Camber- Wake Up And Be Happy
Counting Crows- Hard Candy
Cush- Spiritual EP - One
Denali- Denali
Desaparecidos- Read Music/Speak Spanish (just now bought in 2015!)
Donnie Darko Score and Soundtrack
Halo Friendlies- Get Real
Havalina Rail Co.- Space, Love & Bullfighting
Holiday Runner (Jesse Sprinkle & Ryan Beatty of Serene)
Juggernautz (Weird side project from Jyro)
Lovedrug- Lovedrug EP
mewithoutYou A to B Life
Morella's Forest- Tiny Lights of Heaven
Mortal- Nu-En-Jin
Neko Case- Blacklisted
Nickel Creek- This Side
No Doubt Rock Steady
No Knife- Riot For Romance!
Norah Jones- Come Away With Me
Over the Rhine- The Cutting Room Floor
Rainer Maria- Ears Ring EP
Rocking Horse Winner- Horizon
Rufus Wainwright- Poses
Serene- Serene
Spoon- Kill the Moonlight
Starflyer 59- Can't Stop Eating EP
Stavesacre- Stavesacre
Superdrag- Last Call for Vitriol
The Blamed- Give Us Barrabbas
The Reputation- The Reputation
The Spirit That Guides Us- 24 Winters EP

2002 albums I don't own but wish I did:

Beck- Sea Change 
Isis- Oceanic (I bet this band wishes they could change their name now)
Sleater-Kinney- One Beat
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead- Source Tags & Codes 
Low- Trust

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