Enigmatic and enveloping, Radiohead’s Kid A may not exactly satiate those expecting a repeat of 1998’s Pink Floydesque OK Computer. In many ways, the success of Kid A rests heavily on confounding these expectations by replacing the components of alternative rock with heavy synthesizers, eerie slide guitar feedback, random loops of nonsensical noise and obscured lyrics. When Thom Yorke sings on the opening track “Everything/is in its right place,” the ironic tone of Kid A is set, since nothing on the album is in the right place—at least in the places where we’d expect them. On the surface, Kid A may seem as desolate and spare as driving across eastern Montana, yet the album invites you to go deeper than that—perhaps more like the soundtrack for living under Eastern Montana in a missile silo. But don’t let that scare you. Once you let Radiohead violate your expectations you’ll find yourself digging in and getting lost.
Yo La Tengo And then nothing turned itself inside-out Matador
If Kid A is the most aurally confrontational album of 2000, then Yo La Tengo’s And nothing has to be the most comfortable. Like Radiohead, Yo La Tengo isn’t afraid to throw synthesizers into the alternative rock algorithm, but here the effect is far less obtuse; it’s more loungey than challenging. The tracks breathe effortlessly into one another, creating a slow, somnolent atmosphere not unlike watching fireflies from the back porch in the summer. Even on the 18-minute final track “Night Falls on Hoboken,” the trio resist the temptation to let the song become unrestrained, reeling themselves in from the caterwaul of feedback before it destroys the song.
Built to Spill Live Warner Bros. Recordings
Live albums can sometimes appear to be an excuse to twist the tired “greatest hits” concept, but Built to Spill pull it off with panache. While Live doesn’t exactly break any new ground for the Boise trio, the album does capture the ragged brilliance of guitarist Doug Martsch in fine fashion. For the most part, Live is a reprise of the best of BTS’ studio discography, however it’s damn near magical how Martsch and Company rev up some of the band’s most tepid songs. The album’s highlight, though, is a near 20-minute cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” that has such a complex timbre it nearly bleeds color as the song disappears in feedback like Cortez’s galleon into the fog.
While many bands have made attempts at fulfilling the avant garde guitar legacy laid down in the late ’70s and early ’80s by the Glenn Branca Orchestra, the Minutemen and Sonic Youth, most have stumbled upon the formula with a few songs but never a whole disc. Montreal’s nine-piece rock orchestra godspeed you black emperor! not only succeed as rightful heirs to the drone rock throne, but they pull it off in a near flawless grand fashion on skinny fists. What is most compelling about this album is the tension it creates as a whole work—from the mellow Sketches of Spain-era Miles Davis influenced introduction to the simultaneously ambient and driving finale. Amongst the more compelling parts of the disc, an overdriven guitar is made to sound so deceptively close to a soprano opera singer that it requires multiple listens to realize it’s not someone’s voice. It’s nice to find a band like godspeed, who can maintain such a brilliant sense of catharsis sans lyrics for nearly 90 minutes without resorting to the testosterone posturing so prevalent in a rock world dominated by rap rock a la Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock.
Death Cab for Cutie Forbidden Love E.P. Barsuk Records
By and large the E.P. is an arcane and often irrelevant recording practice reserved for either one-hit-wonders or banal remixes of a band’s earlier work. With Forbidden Love, Death Cab craft a taut five-song disc that makes perfect sense from beginning to end. From the sensitive and whimsical “photobooth” to the rockling and lyrically vivid “song for kelly huckaby,” Death Cab subtly hint at a love of The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr without going overboard in replicating Morrissey’s saccharine pandering.… And The Disappointments
At the Drive-In Relationship of Command Grand Royal
Even an appearance of punk grandfather Iggy Pop can’t save the youthful ATDI from falling into the “this sounds exactly like” nebula. Despite feisty guitar hooks and excellent drumming, ATDI get caught in the mire of their own influences. The cadence of front man Cedric’s (all band members are only identified by first name) delivery smacks so obviously of Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye and Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha that it’s almost embarrassing. On the rock map, we’ve been here before folks, and it looks a lot like Dischord Records circa 1988 with just a bit of MC5 imagery thrown in for marketing purposes. When Cedric bellows “labor concentrated/in this sheepless chapel/they call it a wasteland” he wants desperately to be taken as an intelligent revolutionary, but instead comes across as maudlin, transparent and ultimately unbelievable.
Eleventh Dream Day Stalled Parade Thrill Jockey
Eleventh Dream Day has been milling about in near anonymity for the better part of a decade—and for little reason. When this Chicago quartet is at their best, they are capable of crafting magnanimous songs rich in complexity. Case and point is the title track, “Stalled Parade,” a ferocious dirge of guitar that marches perfectly in step with the song’s conclusion “If you save yourself/You might save me.” But from here, the parade does indeed stall from vapor lock endemic of too much Velvet Underground in the tank. Now this isn’t to say that this is an atrocious album—it’s just that Eleventh Dream Day is capable of crafting more magnificent and effecting rock horizons than this.
Badly Drawn Boy The Hour of the Bewilderbeast XL Recordings
Across the pond in England, hoi polloi and the critics have been getting all lathered up over Badly Drawn Boy a.k.a. Damon Gough. The influences at work here are so broad, ranging from the Police to the late-’80s Manchester “sound” crafted by Stone Roses et al. The biggest problem is that the album never quite emerges beyond the self-indulgent, bouncing around from genre to genre so whimsically that it’s hard to take Gough seriously; he spends 50 minutes searching for his own voice without ever really articulating it.
Modest Mouse The Moon and Antarctica Epic Records
Although the lyrics are still cryptic and the song structures remain punchy, Modest Mouse fails (albeit only slightly) to show up for the entire duration of their major label debut. Now, this isn’t to insinuate that the switch to Epic has somehow diluted the trio’s effectiveness—in fact much of the amped up studio production actually serves Modest Mouse quite well. But what sinks The Moon and Antarctica is the lack of atmosphere and cohesion between the songs—a persistent quality of the band’s three earlier studio works. It’s almost as if each track has been so micro managed; so meticulously detailed—that producer Brian Deck took his eyes off the more important bigger picture and allowed the band to stop paying attention. Maybe some Ritalin could help.