Friday, July 11, 2008

Look Back in Anger #1

Look Back in Anger #1
by Todd Hutlock

What would you do differently if you could do it all over again? The intention of this column is to go back in the ol’ time machine to examine the albums that we personally named the best of a given year and see if we still feel the same way about them. Did they age well? Do we still play them? Did we leave off an album that we’re now kicking ourselves over? These are the questions we will be asking ourselves in this new WWIA? Series.

First up is Todd Hutlock’s look back at his 2002 Pazz and Jop ballot.

On first glance, the most glaring thing about my Pazz and Jop ballot in 2002 is that I only named nine albums. I honestly can’t remember naming less than 10 on any other ballot, so this quickly reminded me of something about 2002: I don’t think I was really feeling it. Personally, I was coming to the end of my tenure as an editor at the soul-sucking Alternative Press magazine, and from looking at my choices, the time there had clearly started to take its toll. Listening to a lot of music is one thing; being required to listen and form opinions on literally endless amounts of music not of your own choosing day in and day out is a whole ‘nother thing. Playing music for pleasure was becoming a chore in and of itself. Think about it: If you had to, say, cut hair all day, would you want to come home and relax in front of the TV and cut six or seven more heads for fun?
Anyway, that was my first thought glancing at the ballot. My second thought was, “How in the hell is it that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is not there?” That’s an easy one: I didn’t even hear it until two years later. But if I could do it all over again, it would be number one with a bullet. Or Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight? I have no easy answer for that… But hey, we can’t all hear everything that comes out in a certain year that same year, right? I just don’t have any explanation as to how I ignored two records that I now love to pieces and most definitely was sent promo copies of at the time. Shit, I didn’t even break the shrinkwrap on Summerteeth until 2005…

Anyway, without further ado, here’s my original 2002 ballot in full:

#1. Clinic – Walking With Thee

If memory serves, I had also highly rated Clinic’s previous album, Internal Wrangler, placing it in the upper reaches of the previous year’s Pazz and Jop (possibly even at numero uno, but I’d have to look it up to be certain). I found Walking With Thee to be a more mature, more diverse follow-up, and so naturally, I rated it rather highly, as well.
Little did I know at the time that it would serve to be their high-water mark and that they would spend the rest of their careers making endless Xerox variants of the first two albums. This takes the shine off of Walking a bit for me, but not much. I would still place this firmly in the top five for 2002, but likely not at the summit.

#2. Super Furry Animals – Rings Around The World

Wow, what the fuck happened to these guys? Again, this was a great pop record, full of modern psych sounds and tunes out the ass. I can’t say that I’ve played it much in subsequent years, but that owes more to the fact that the band haven’t exactly held my attention than to the quality of this album. The title track is a fantastic Beach Boys-style romp, “Juxtaposed With U” is the Beta Band’s great lost hit, and the rest is equally charming if a bit overlong. Again, this still firmly sits in the top five, although likely shifted down a spot thanks to Wilco moving into the penthouse. But yeah, I need to dig this one out soon.

#3. Playgroup – Playgroup

Now this is a record that I think I would actually move up if I could, and if anything rivals Wilco for that top spot, it’s Trevor Jackson’s star-studded homage to the favorites of his youth. I adore this album, and I’m not quite sure how I wound up putting it down at three rather than one in the first place (other than maybe I was on the fence and drew lots or something).

If you aren’t familiar, former Output Recordings boss and perpetual hipster Trevor Jackson assembled a supergroup of sorts (including Edwyn Collins, Roddy Frame, KC Flightt (!), Kathleen Hanna, Kyra, Shinehead (!!!), and Peaches, among others) to make an album of 1981-83 vintage alternative disco punk funk hybrid stuff. Being a huge fan of the sounds he was channeling here, I bit this one hook, line, and sinker, and because it was already retro-minded upon release, it has aged quite well. Of the albums on the list, I can honestly say this one has gotten the most plays in the years since and likely will remain that way. So yeah, number two, but with a bullet. On a given day, I might even give this the pole position.

#4. Sigur Ros – ( )

So now we start to get into the region of the list where I have a bunch of good-not-great albums. It tells me something that this is the Sigur Ros album I go back to the least, and yet it ranked the highest on year-ends for me of all of them. I think this would still finish top 20 for me, but certainly not this high. Nice packaging, though, which honestly may have influenced my ranking at the time. I’m a sucker for a nice package.

#5. Beth Orton – Daybreaker

Another album that just sort of blurs into the artist’s back catalog for me (more to come on the list) that I think I selected because I was at a loss at what to rank and I was looking for something solid, reliable, and uncontroversial. Orton eclipsed this one a few years later with Comfort of Strangers, but I still stand by Daybreaker as one of her stronger efforts. I admit that I had to look up the tracklist on Amazon to see what songs were on this, however, and that’s never a good sign. Any other year, this slides top 20 easy but likely not top 10. For 2002 (which was clearly a down year for me, if you haven’t guessed by now), though, I’d put it in the seven-nine range. I fully admit that my love of this album was also influenced by the presence of my hero Johnny Marr on a few tracks and the Four Tet remix of “Carmella” which I still find to be wonderful.

#6. Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel

See that part above when I mentioned choosing some things because they were from safe, reliable artists that I loved in the past? Yeah, that’s this one all over. I suppose the fact that it didn’t’ suck as hard as some of his other post-Attractions work made me like it more, but in retrospect, this isn’t even a top 10 Costello album, let along the top 10 of 2002. Maybe would scrape the top 20 now. But that’s a big maybe.

#7. Boards of Canada – Geogaddi

A bit of a strange fish here. This album is brilliant and slightly creepy, and I think the uncomfortable sound of it may have made me rank it a bit lower than I should have. It wasn’t the “pleasant” listen of previous BOC records, though I think it stacks up very well in terms of quality. The fact that it didn’t give me good vibes when I played it likely had more to do with my own headspace at the time than anything else. So I would slot this up a few places, even though I do have to be in a certain mood to play it these days. But just because I’m not always in the mood for demented electronic fairy tales doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of my praise.

#8. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Plastic Fang

Wow. Yeah, this would not sniff my top 10 again. I still love the opening depth charge of “Sweet and Sour” and “She Said,” but I can’t even remember any of the rest of the tunes here. I still think JSBX are a fuckload better in their prime than the White Stripes and their ilk will ever be, but this is not one of their stronger efforts. I am pretty sure I don’t actually own this album, save for my original Matador promo in the card sleeve, but again, I love the packaging of it, especially the LP version. So bonus points there. Sadly, I don’t think Spencer has done anything even this good since. I miss him.

#9. Liars – They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top

Another “reaction” choice here, as Liars’ sound here was a giant breath of fresh air compared to the nu metal/kiddie punk/gothy goth bullshit I was forced to endure at work every day. It turned out Liars had much better work in them to come, but I still like the crazed energy and fractured attitude of the debut. Number nine seems about right to me. So I got one right!


1. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

2. Playgroup – Playgroup

3. Spoon - Kill The Moonlight

4. Clinic – Walking With Thee

5. Boards of Canada – Geogaddi

6. Super Furry Animals – Rings Around The World

7. The Notwist – Neon Golden

8. Missy Misdemeanor Elliott – Under Construction

9. Liars - They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top

10. The Delgados - Hate.

Todd Hutlock is an editor at some bullshit website.

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