Monday, January 04, 2021

Best of 2000, 20 years later

My friend Aaron Brophy likes to revisit his year-end lists from at least a decade back, and alternately either boast about his amazing, timeless taste, or wonder what the heck he was thinking.

20 years ago I was hired by Philip Bast at the Kitchener-Waterloo Record to write a weekly CD review column. I did that until 2019, reviewing three to six albums a week.

In 2000, I was living in Guelph, working at Exclaim, writing for Eye Weekly, and working on a book called Have Not Been the Same

In 2020, I'm writing a book about events 20 years ago, so I've been living in a bit of a time warp.

Here’s the 10 albums I submitted to Eye Weekly’s year-end poll in 2000. Commentary is new.

1. Sarah Harmer – You Were Here (Cold Snap)
A classic record, to this day. I knew that the day I heard it, after buying a copy from her after a show at Ted’s Wrecking Yard on College Street, a copy that was a CD-R with a hand-drawn cover. I was a huge Weeping Tile fan and was thrilled that Harmer finally got her due. Is it the best album of 2000? It’s one of my favourite albums of all time, so there’s that. Will have a lot more to say about this in the book.

2. The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving (G7). O hell yes. I first saw this band a couple of months before this album came out, at Exclaim’s anniversary party, and these songs blew me away. So did songs from 1997’s Fallow, which everyone in the room but me seemed to know by heart. I bought a copy from Soundscapes before my own band played a show at… Ted’s Wrecking Yard. The year 2000 was very much about Ted’s Wrecking Yard for me. I wrote an essay about this album’s anniversary here.

3. Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Matador). I listened to this album more in 2020 than I had since the year it came out. That had nothing to do with its anniversary, and everything to do with therapeutic listening during enforced isolation. 

4. Bettie Serveert – Private Suit (Parasol). I have a lot to say about this, one of the most underrated rock records of the last 30 years, and one I revisit annually. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the world who feels that way. Wrote about this here.

5. Sleater-Kinney – All Hands on the Bad One (Kill Rock Stars). This isn’t even among my top three favourite S-K records now, but it sure sounded great in 2000—in part because so much other rock music was terrible. “You’re No Rock’n’Roll Fun” still gives me chills. I have never seen this video!

6. PJ Harvey – Stories From the City, Stories From The Sea (Island). I had some kind of hipster hang-up at the time about whether this was the best PJ Harvey record to date or whether it was just the PJ Harvey record you were most likely to put on when other people come over for dinner. Does it matter? Still sounds amazing, top to bottom.

7. Neko Case – Furnace Room Lullaby; Carolyn Mark – Party Girl; The Corn Sisters – The Other Women (Mint). It’s amazing to me that these three albums came out the same year as New Pornographers’ Mass Romantic. I still know every lyric to each of these songs. In the political climate of 2020, I re-latched on to Neko’s “Mood to Burn Bridges.” Feeling disconnected, I found solace in “someone singing my life back to me” in “Guided by Wire.” For 20 years leading up to my midlife crisis, I’ve had a Corn Sisters lyric by Mark in my head: “Is it a groove? Or is it a rut?” In April, I watched an online hootenanny hosted in isolation by the incredibly social Carolyn Mark, during which she played Party Girl’s “Don’t Come Over, Baby.” It was perfect.

8. Crooked Fingers – s/t (Sonic Unyon). Much like Sleater-Kinney, this is nowhere near my favourite album by one of my favourite artists of all time. But again, like Yo La Tengo, this one sounded particularly good in 2020: “Crowned in Chrome,” “New Drink for the Old Drunk,” “Broken Man,” “Black Black Ocean,” “Under Sad Stars”—because it was just that kind of year.

9. Jess Klein – Draw Them Near (Slow River/Ryko). This is the one album on this list where I thought: really? I remember liking it, but I don’t remember loving it and I definitely haven’t listened to it in 20 years. But guess what? It’s pretty great. Really solid songs, great voice, great band. In the same vein as Harmer, but American. 2000 might have been the last year I listened to a lot of roots rock, which is why Klein would have fallen off my radar. She’s still active, and new stuff sounds pretty good.

10. The Gruesomes – Cave In (Tyrant). This might have been the first of my favourite bands from my high school years to reunite and not suck, and so the surprise element no doubt vaulted this onto my top 10. Listening to it now for likely the first time in 20 years, it is a great record, and probably even the Gruesomes’ best. The songs and performances are all killer (and there’s finally a studio version of “You Were Not Using Your Head”). I just don’t listen to garage rock anymore; I barely did in 2000, either. But if you do, and/or if you were ever a Gruesomes fan and have somehow never heard this, I highly recommend it.


Other favourites I wrote about in my year-end column for the K-W Record:

Asian Dub Foundation – Community Music (London/Polygram). I’d totally forgot this band until two years ago when I wrote a book about the Tragically Hip—which is a weird connection, but I read an article where drummer Johnny Fay talks about rocking this record on the tour bus. It also came to mind when I dug the Melt Yourself Down record this year. In many ways this record sounds either of the moment or incredibly dated, depending on your POV. I still think it sounds great. I had no idea they were still active; they put out a new record this year, and haven’t changed a bit. If Rage Against the Machine can have a revival, this band sure as hell can—and should. It’s not like what they were singing about has improved one iota. 



Bjork – Selmasongs (Warner). I was in a deep Bjork period of my life. Does this oft-forgotten soundtrack to Dancer in the Dark hold up? Probably much better than the movie, I’m guessing. After hearing about the antagonistic working relationship she had with notorious sadist Lars Von Trier, I reconsidered all portrayals of extreme suffering on film (not the first or last time in my life Bjork changed my worldview). The production is a delightful blend of the digital clicks and cuts she’d soon dive into and the orchestration heard on much of Post. I often forget that in the same year Kid A came out, Thom Yorke duetted with both PJ Harvey and Bjork on their albums, both of which are better than Kid A.

Blue Rodeo – The Days in Between (Warner). I loved this band for about 10 years of my life (1987-97), but have followed only from a respectful distance since. This album was probably the last one I enjoyed—or listened to more than thrice—and revisiting now I can see why. Was this the last time Keelor and Cuddy brought their best work to the band instead of their solo records? Trina Shoemaker’s production brings just the right amount of atmospherics. It sounds great today. Still: best of 2020? This was a nostalgia vote for me.

Deltron 3030 – s/t (75 Ark). The sound of the future? Nope, but definitely the sound of 2000, when Dan the Automator seemed to be everywhere (Gorillaz, Primal Scream, Handsome Boy Modeling School). Del the Funky Homosapien has great flow as always, though I don’t know about this as a concept album: the main appeal for me, then and now, is the music. (And yet: I’ve never listened to the accompanying instrumental album.) Kid Koala features prominently. His own Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is not on this list; it baffled me at the time. Now it’s clear he was charting his own path. I don’t think I’ve listened to a new Dan the Automator record since 2001, though I had a soft spot for his 2006 Mike Patton collab Peeping Tom (which I haven’t listened to since).

DJ Serious – Dim Sum (Sound King). This was a Toronto DJ whose debut featured MCs Brass Munk, D-Sisive, Arcee, Asicks and Lil Jaz. This being Canada, with a woeful hip-hop infrastructure, it came out on the same label that put out rock bands Danko Jones and Bionic and promptly got lost. Musically, it’s on the same wavelength as California’s Quannum crew, a mix of ’80s electro funk and early ’90s jazz-influenced tracks. It was definitely out of step with the Choclair and Kardinal crowd, and is now out of print and unavailable to stream except on this YouTube rip. I’m sure I haven’t listened to this in 20 years; it totally holds up. DJ Serious released a follow-up, Cold Tea, in 2005; I’ve never heard it. His studio output has been silent since.

Steve Earle – Transcendental Blues (Artemis). I don’t think Steve Earle gets enough credit for his five-album run between 1995-2000: Train a Comin’, I Feel Alright, El Corazon, The Mountain and finally this one. It’s flawless. Dozens of killer songs in that run. Where’s the box set? It should be mentioned in the same breath as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Prince, you name it. He’s released at least nine albums of original material since, but I’ve only paid sporadic attention—maybe because it’s hard to measure up to this, which still sounds fabulous, especially loud. “All of My Life”—what a goddam anthem. “Another Town” is the greatest song the Pogues never wrote (see also: “The Galway Girl”). There’s too many more here to list. I’m not sure Earle’s production skills have ever sounded better. No idea why this wasn’t in my top 10.

International Noise Conspiracy – Survival Sickness (Epitaph). I put “Smash It Up” on so many mix CDs for years, but did I ever like this whole record? None of these other songs sound remotely familiar—although the title track certainly hits home these days. Garage rock was not my thing; I was posing, craving a political rock band so much that I imagined this was this one for me. It wasn’t. Little did I know at the time that this band’s predecessor, Refused, would prove to be so influential on a lot of the aughts’ aggressive music. 

Jurassic 5 – Quality Control (Interscope). I saw this band open for Femi Kuti’s North American debut at the Roxy in New York City in 1999: one of the most unforgettable nights of music in my life. This band was maligned at the time, considered some kind of retro hip-hop Sha Na Na or some bullshit, at the time of Timbaland and Jay-Z, but I loved it. Still do: I’m a sucker for genuine interplay between MCs, which is all but unheard of in this day of one-off collabs. (Quick: try to name one modern rap act with more than two MCs and not named Migos.) Related: Cut Chemist put out a good record a couple of years ago that I only just discovered.

King Cobb Steelie – Mayday (Ryko). One of my favourite bands of the ’90s, for both musical and personal reasons. This was a final bid for glory on Rykodisc, with pop songs and guest vocalists (Michelle McAdorey, Tamara Williamson), before they resurfaced four years later with an indie instrumental album before fading away. Produced by Laika’s Guy Fixsen, Mayday sounds amazing—though definitely dated. There’s something textbook turn-of-the-millenium in the drum machine sounds here, as heard on the title track; it’s a post-triphop groove that was ubiquitous for a while with the KCRW crowd and then vanished. There’s an entirely unnecessary scratch solo (by DJ Serious! see above) on “Below the Stars”—remember when rock bands felt they needed turntable solos to be somehow relevant? “Home” is still a great single, with a synth bass squiggle that now reminds me of Charanjit Singh’s Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat. Weirder moments like “Fast Money Blessing” have aged very well. This is an album ripe for rediscovery—or at least half of it. This band’s discography would be served well by a collection of greatest non-hits. And there have been rumours of a reunion.

Paul Macleod – Close and Play (independent). This one hurts. Paul Macleod was one of the most brilliant performers and songwriters I’ve ever known; he was a staple in the Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph area, where he was never short a weekly gig. He performed often with Danny Michel, collaborated with the Rheostatics, and joined the Skydiggers as a sideman (at a time when he was writing better songs than they were). He always seemed poised for great things, which never materialized—a common story for hometown heroes everywhere, but I truly believe Macleod was exceptional. This was his first of only three proper studio records that I’m aware of (2007’s Bright Eyes Fade came out on Busted Flat; I’ve never heard 2014’s Gauge). He made it with Hawksley Workman, and it’s full of the same energy Workman brought to his own material as well as early records by John Southworth, Serena Ryder and Tegan and Sara. The songs are perfect Beatle-y pop. Macleod was an amazing singer. But no one heard this record unless you bought it from Macleod at a show. That’s not as big a tragedy as the fact that the Macleod I knew is no longer with us. I only knew him as an acquaintance and have very fond memories; I didn’t know his demons, which eventually took hold of him, hurt someone else, and landed him in court shortly before he died by suicide in 2016. It’s an awful story. I wish I could listen to his music now without thinking about it. I can’t. Hopefully someone can.

Listen to “Cruelty.” I mean, holy shit, what a song. 


Or “Giants.” 

New Pornographers – Mass Romantic (Mint). Kind of shocked this didn’t make my top 10, though it was released in November so maybe hadn’t fully sunk in. I was definitely in love with “Letter From an Occupant,” because who wasn’t? I wrote about this anniversary here.

Outkast – Stankonia (BMG). 2000 might have been the last year I felt remotely connected to mainstream hip-hop. I do love Outkast because they’re genre-busters, game-changers and genuinely odd. I also can’t love Outkast because I’m too much of a white Toronto prude. But this album is bloated: way too long, populated by skits, and dragged down by tracks like “We Luv Deez Hoez.” And as much as “B.O.B.” still slams (musically), the chorus is downright gross: “bombs over Baghdad” is not a great metaphor in any context, least of all as a pre-9/11 sentiment for not finishing a fight or not following through on a challenge.

Radiohead – Kid A (EMI). I don’t know that I ever loved this album—but not for the reasons people hated it. I like it just fine. If anything, it wasn’t weird enough. The fact that it was remotely divisive speaks to the intense conservatism of the time. (I’m debating whether I even care enough to read Steven Hyden’s new book about it.) I probably put it on my list so that I wouldn’t seem out of touch. Total posturing on my part.

The Salteens – Short Term Memories (Endearing). This was when I still had great affection for peppy indie pop populated by handclaps, trumpets and bop-ba-da’s. Come to think of it, I was in a band not unlike this one at the time. This Vancouver band had really catchy songs, heavily influenced by Sloan, and a really strong rhythm section. This is a really good record, better than most of its peers other than the New Pornographers. Not one I’d listen to today, though given the chance I’d probably join a band like this in a heartbeat.

Amon Tobin – Supermodified (Ninja Tune). Pretty sure I was a complete poser when I put this on my year-end list. Some of it is great and totally holds up—sexy, even; some of it sounds like a dial-up connection.

Travis – The Man Who (Sony). Woof. Really? I’m glad working for Brave New Waves saved me from becoming a guy who likes Travis.

Records that should be on this list that I got into shortly afterwards:

Belle and Sebastian – Fold Your Hands

Destroyer – Thief

Be Good Tanyas – Blue Horse

Gonzales – Uber Alles

White Stripes – De Stijl

And Royal City’s At Rush Hour the Cars, made by some good friends of mine, and which I might have left off the list for nepotistic reasons.

Albums I should have appreciated more at the time, relevant to current research:

Dears – End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story

Godspeed You Black Emperor – Lift Your Skinny Fists...

Peaches – The Teaches Of 

Album all my friends loved and I still don’t get: 

Blonde Redhead – Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons.