The best music albums of 2000
1. Come To Where I’m From Joseph Arthur
Album Of The Year
Peter Gabriel was prescient when he signed this sulker-songwriter to his label several years ago. The characters in Arthur’s songs are a generally shell-shocked lot, reeling from romantic turmoil and staring at photos of former lovers: ”There’s just too much time to kill between all my mistakes,” Arthur sings, in the bedraggled voice of a weary busker. But with his tape loops, roughshod rhythms, and foggy, static-drenched tracks, the Ohio-born, New York-based Arthur is a troubadour very much of the electronic age, and both his delicately shambolic melodies and piercing lyrics are as gripping as any this year. (”Now Jesus he came down here just to die for all my sins/I need him to come back here and die for me again” is one of many sharp lines.) Arthur’s inky mop and pale visage — he’s a leftover scarecrow from the grunge era — make him look as if he just woke up, but his music is charged with emotion. Digesting his second album is like listening to someone successfully overcome depression with music. These sad songs say so much.
2. All That You Can’t Leave Behind
Just when the idea of a traditional rock band playing things called songs seemed hopelessly passe, along comes this unexpected bounce-back. Leaving his wraparound sunglasses at home, Bono aims to counsel and console, while the Edge and the boys aim for a middle ground between their old gravity and their latter-day sardonicism; all achieve their goals on an album of assured, stick-to-the-ribs rock & roll.
3. Bachelor No. 2 Or, The Last Remains Of The Dodo
The ice princess of introspective pop has left me icy-cold in the past. But on this set of anthems for spiteful outsiders and caustic exes, she warms up. The craft and subtle elegance combine to make for the kind of music Burt Bacharach hasn’t cut since the ’60s; the album is so supple it’s easy to take it for granted. The cult heroine earns her cult.
4. The Man Who
These Scots have been dubbed Radiohead Lite, and with good reason. Still, why do I find myself playing their second album far more than the deliberately abstract Kid A? Attribute it to the insinuating pull of the songs, Fran Healy’s buttery voice, and the beautiful flow of the band’s muted Britpop, which seems to float above ground. Wimpiness never sounded so honorable.
5. Gung Ho
We expect self-righteous harangues — and we get them, don’t worry — but we’re also treated to bewitching love hymns, guitar riffs that cut like switchblades, and a messianic uplift that, sadly, has grown all too rare in rock. (Also recommended: PJ Harvey’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, which at times recalls Smith.)
6. Like Water For Chocolate
He may not be ”freaky like Marv Albert,” as he boasts, but this rap veteran knows how to make one helluva free-flowing album, even when he’s blending Fela-inspired Afrobeat with urban rhythms. Dissing money-worshipping rappers and taking the industry to task for fostering short careers, he’s as high-minded as Lauryn Hill, and like her, he delivers in numerous ways: ”The Light” is that rap rarity, a love song.
7. The Hour Of Bewilderbeast
Badly Drawn Boy
Against all odds, these days have been good ones for thoughtfully tormented singer-songwriters who don’t dance or rhyme (at least, not in public). On this ambitious and quietly penetrating song cycle tracing the ebb and flow of a relationship, British one-man-band Damon Gough wanders from wintry musings to crackling indie funk. It’s the introspective-loner masterpiece Elliott Smith keeps trying to make.
8. American III: Solitary Man
He’s been there and back — just ask his surgeons — and he’s not afraid to sing about it, whether the tunes are his own, traditional, or courtesy of such Goth legends as Nick Cave and the original darkman, Neil Diamond. Songs about death, dying, and visiting heaven (albeit briefly) have rarely sounded so authentic, thanks to arrangements that are spare but never colorless and a voice that’s deep in more ways than one.
9. Installation Sonore
From Mirwais’ crafty work with Madonna to the weightless beauty of Air’s Virgin Suicides score, French techno hit many high notes this year, and this commune-style band of house-music sharpies was at the head of la classe. By blending organic sounds (flutes! rock guitars!) with their club-smooth grooves and textures, they don’t just humanize electronica; they put a sly, crafty grin on its often dour face.
10. Whoa, Nelly!
Like much contemporary pop, this impressive debut doesn’t limit itself to one genre. But the way this Canadian-by-way-of Portugal singer hopscotches between hip-hop, bossa nova, hippie vibes, and TLC-influenced phrasing feels far more natural than what comes from many of her chart-topping peers. The 21-year-old is precociously talented and knows it; assuming the music industry gives her a chance, it should be fascinating to hear where she ventures next.