Gonads and Heart

List-making be damned, here’s some cool stuff from the past year, all with style and substance

When I started thinking about my favorite records of 2001, I was convinced that they were all pop-ish. This year I decided that I’m tired of brains, and I deliberately avoided Radiohead and Björk for that very reason. Instead, I spent hours with my Josie and the Pussycats disc.

But then as I separated the music I liked this year from the piles of crap, I found out that it wasn’t sugary, power-chord pop that moved me (said as Jack Black would). I may be tired of brains, but I don’t crave an intentional lack of them either. So upon reviewing this year’s music, I discovered that I was drawn to what I’ve always been drawn to: gonads and heart (which, incidentally, will be the title of my autobiography).

I said this last year, and I’ll say it again: making lists of albums can be a bad idea. What matters more is what you take away from those albums—the little snippets and moments of rock ’n’ roll that make a chill run down your back. I don’t know if The Strokes can make another great record, but that moment in “Is This It?” when the bass line enters will always make me happy. So instead of a top 10 or 20 list, I’ve put together a bunch of music-related good stuff. This is in no way exhaustive; it’s just bits and pieces that made up 2001—like a yearbook collage.

Good stuff from 2001

Basement Jaxx, “Where’s Your Head At” video, from Rooty (Astralwerks) Monkeys with Basement Jaxx’s faces playing noisy house music. Yep, seems about right.

Gorillaz, Gorillaz (Virgin) One of the most interesting “bands” of the year is really a pseudo-supergroup invented by Blur singer/songwriter Damon Albarn and Tank Girl animator Jamie Hewlett, with beats by Dan the Automator. The music is dopey lo-fi trip-hop that subtly seeps in, and part of the whole vibe is that there is no group of real people, just Hewlett’s bizarre animated crew. His videos are fantastic, video-game-like science fiction.

A Camp, A Camp (Stockholm import) In 1999, the previously sugarcoated Cardigans released a criminally overlooked record, Gran Turismo, that was dark and robotically clean. Amidst the cold keyboards and controlled drums was Nina Persson’s voice sounding grown-up and sexy, no longer childish. Those who discovered the record have probably wished for more like it. And to no fanfare, Nina released a “solo” record this year as A Camp. The songs are mostly slow and sad—not as dark and alien as Gran Turismo, but more personal.

Stereolab, “Captain Easychord,” from Sound Dust (Elektra) A jaunty lite-rock number that pitches forward on oddly timed electric piano chords for 2 minutes and 45 seconds before transforming itself into a groovy outer space chillout tune riding the cosmic surf. The best of Stereolab in one track.

Daft Punk, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” from Discovery (Virgin) Easily the highlight track of Daft Punk’s second album. It’s now selling Palm Pilots or something.

Daft Punk, Alive 1997 (Virgin) A live album from a dance group. It may seem odd, but Daft Punk toured their first record Homework by doing something akin to a live remix of tracks from the disc—an improvised rearrangement of drum pattern, bass line and synth. I saw them in London the week Alive 1997 was recorded, and this brings back the excitement of that evening.

Daft Punk, “Digital Love” Gap commercial with Juliette Lewis It’s the only time I have ever been able to tolerate Juliette Lewis’ presence.

The Causey Way, “Te Como Vivo,” from Causey vs. Everything (Alternative Tentacles) In a contest for best opening track on an album, Causey may win. Paired with gaspingly sexy Spanish vocals, the (excuse me) throbbing beat zeroes in on your hips. The simple keyboard riffs only add to the fun. It ends too soon, but just right.

Idlewild, “Sleep (next to the mirror),” from 100 Broken Windows (Capitol) This is the best kind of pop music—dreamy and heartbreaking. The first minute and 21 seconds are a pure rush of great melodies, and then, after a breath, it starts again. The rest of the record is excellent as well.

The Strokes, Is This It? (RCA) Here’s the deal: The Strokes play an urgent kind of rock ’n’ roll, but it’s all youthful urgency. Like being in a hurry to get to the food court at the mall (or in their case, to get to the thrift store), The Strokes’ music is meaningless. It’s just dance music. And that’s why it’s good.

French Kicks, Young Lawyer EP (Startime Records) If you want that New York savoir faire but want something a bit deeper than The Strokes, French Kicks are it. There’s the urban pulse in their drums and bass, the city grime in their guitar, Rhodes piano and coffee- and nicotine-stained voices. Every one of the six tracks on the richly textured Young Lawyer EP has something that will hook you; this is a record you can spend hours listening to and getting something new every time.

Super Furry Animals, Rings Around the World (Epic import) Without exaggeration, I say that Super Furry Animals are the GREATEST ROCK BAND IN THE WORLD. This Welsh group continue to put out fantastic album after fantastic album; they’re so good at being like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Why American critics don’t eat them up is beyond me. There’s none of this “Look, I made a poopy” attitude of Radiohead in SFA. “Sidewalk Serfer Girl” seamlessly shifts from trip-hop beats to loud pounding guitars and drums. “It’s Not the End of the World?” is something like a Paul McCartney sing-along. “Juxtaposed With U” sounds like ’70s soft rock till the vocodered voice comes in. And like the rest of Rings Around the World, it’s all smothered in alien sounds, blips, bleeps and fuzz.

This piece appeared in the Nashville Scene