Clinic’s Internal Wrangler (2000)

Internal Wrangler

Album: Internal Wrangler
Artist: Clinic
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #9 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000, #43 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: The Return of Evil Bill, Internal Wrangler, Distortions
Their Grades: NME (6/10), Pitchfork (9.3/10)
My Grade: 85%

For a band hailing from Liverpool, Clinic sounded to me at first like a group who had to be from Brooklyn. There’s something so New York City about their sound, so urban in its anxieties, strengths and diversities. The opening drum slaps on “Voodoo Wop” make you think David Byrne before any of The Beatles come to mind. In their execution, they’re clinically precise, as you would expect, but also untameable and unpredictable. Beethoven melody lines show up alongside harsh beats (“DJ Shangri-La”) and classicism wrangles constantly with chaos.

The guys from Clinic dress in surgical scrubs and masks when performing. Ade Blackburn’s singing is, thus, masked and muffled but you still want to hang on to every mumble. Whether he’s frenetic (“The Return of Evil Bill,” “Hippy Death Suite,” etc.) or collected (“Distortions,” “Earth Angel,” etc.), you know he’s got just the medicine you need. Not to mention, the keyboards herein are some of the most unique pads you’ll find and, particularly on “Distortions,” some of the most calmingly anesthetic. This is the kind of record you think you’re dreaming of the entire time, complete with rapid eye movements and rejuvenating rests and pauses.

I’ve known about Clinic since discovering them on MySpace back in high school. Back then, I found them intriguing and original and my opinion remains the same. For some reason though, they’ve never become a band I return to on the regular for the alternating soundtracks of solaces and freakouts they so admirably provide.

Smog’s Dongs of Sevotion (2000)

Dongs of Sevotion

Album: Dongs of Sevotion
Artist: Smog
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #10 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000, #27 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Dress Sexy at My Funeral, Distance, Permanent Smile
Their Grades: NME (8/10), Pitchfork (9.3/10)
My Grade: 83%

Bill Callahan (i.e. Smog) brings up teeth a lot in his lyrics. Teeth smiling, biting, etc. Considering this is the kind of record you’ve really got to chew on to enjoy, the dental metaphors work. This meal may not be the spiciest, adventurous offering on the indie rock menu but, like that fabled banana on the cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico, it’s nourishing, bruised, ripening, organic and natural.

On the first track, “Justice Aversion,” Callahan sings, “I could stay up all night talking / About animal nature / And a universe hesistant / To grant us grace.” That’s precisely what he does for the next hour. His baritone singing and lyricism are as colored by Lou Reed’s smirking portraits of the more streetwise members of our species as they are by Leonard Cohen’s romanticized spirituality. Case in point: “Dress Sexy at My Funeral,” where you get an honest, funny ode to the powers of love, sex and death all at once. If that wouldn’t make Leonard and Lou proud, nothing would. But with all the benefits of their style of songwriting come their weaknesses too. Smog can head too deep into monotony and meaninglessness as the songs just go on and on and on. Ironically, the longest song on here “Distance” is also one of the most engaging.

The record closes with “Permanent Smile,” wherein Callahan deadpans, “Oh God, I never, never asked why.” For a record so caught up with talking about animal nature and a universe hesitant to grant us great, it seems like a weird signoff. Until you realize Dongs of Sevotion isn’t about asking why, it’s about standing back and letting it all be. If that’s what you’re looking for, Callahan’s a great conversation partner.

Not available on Spotify.

King Biscuit Time’s No Style EP (2000)

No Style

Album: No Style EP
Artist: King Biscuit Time
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #11 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: I Walk the Earth, I Love You, Time to Get Up
Their Grades: Pitchfork (7.2/10)
My Grade: 85%

The Beta Band’s been on my must-hear list for a really long time but if this spin-off solo project is any indication, they probably deserve all the acclaim they get. Upon researching Steve Mason (frontman of both aforementioned projects), it surprised me he’s something of a depressive. The music on this EP is triumphant and quirky, pointing toward someone with a starry-eyed lease on life.

“I Walk the Earth” hit me right in the gut for mashing up Peter Gabriel/Paul Simon/Sting’s best moments of secular spirituality with Beck-style slacker production. It’s an anthem for early mornings, as old-fashioned inspiring as it is lazy, the perfect way to get yourself out of bed. Songs like “I Love You” and “Time to Get Up” prefigure the style of lethargic folk which’d become more popular as the aughts went on (Sea Change, Oh, Inverted World, Jose Gonzalez’s first couple albums, etc.). Plus, the former’s chorus is as basically pretty as any of Noel Gallagher’s self-sung melodies.

The only problem on this EP is a common one: the conventional songs are all beautiful but the experimental moments seem like they’re reaching beyond themselves when they don’t even have to. If you’re going to release an EP, you don’t need any filler. Luckily, none of the less impacting songs on here are just plain bad and most are actually pretty alright. Mason’s echoing voice is enough to carry just about anything and even the instrumental tracks (“Untitled” and “Niggling Discrepancy”) are interesting enough. Closing out with the accessible Yes sounding “Eye O’ The Dug,” (I can’t be the only one thinking of “I’ve Seen All Good People” when I listen to this) King Biscuit Time’s first EP is a great way to spend half an hour.

Gas’s Pop (2000)

Gas Pop

Album: Pop
Artist: Gas
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #12 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Untitled #4
Their Grades: Pitchfork (9.0/10)
My Grade: 66%

Brief confession: as Gas’s Pop came to an end, “Turn It On Again” by Genesis was next on my iTunes tracklist and I enjoyed it more than anything on the record. All to say, if you’re sold out for ambient music, you can now consider me an unworthy opponent in the field of musical debate. I am, after all, a fan of some post-Peter-Gabriel Genesis songs so how could I be expected to understand the sonic swim sessions of Wolfgang Voigt (recorded here under the name Gas).

The album title is, of course, ironic. There’s not a pop element in sight here. Take “Treefingers” off Kid A, extend it out to 65 minutes and you have Pop. To say it isn’t soothing would be a lie but to say I’ll listen to this again would be too. All the tracks here are untitled and nondescript in their sound. It’s over an hour of synth pads which’ll give you the same ethereal buzz as hearing rain fall or waves crash. But, if that’s what you’re looking for, why not just listen to the many, many recordings of rain falling and waves crashing?

I don’t want to write this off too harshly. Far be it from me to suggest Voigt is devoid of talent or ingenuity. Music doesn’t have to go anywhere so my rating of this has less to do with objective criticism as it does with personal preference. I like music which allows me to wander and wonder but this just isn’t where I’d go for it. Some of my friends refer to me as “the shoegaze guy” so it’s not that I have a problem with music which emphasizes soundscaping over singalongability. Additionally, I love Brian Eno and Sigur Ros, both of whom dabble often in the ambient, but I’ll always enjoy their more structured wanderings. Perhaps it’s just the way my brain functions. I like things solid, others like Gas.

Not available on Spotify.

Crooked Fingers’ Crooked Fingers (2000)

Crooked Fingers

Album: Crooked Fingers
Artist: Crooked Fingers
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #13 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Crowned in Chrome, Man Who Died of Nothing At All, Juliette
Their Grades: Pitchfork (8.4/10)
My Grade: 71%

Let’s start with the good news. The first track on here, “Crowned in Chrome,” is awesome. The delicate guitar harmonics (or is that a keyboard?), wanderlust lyrics, staccato pairings of violins and guitars all prime you for the great things to come next. The bad news is: nothing great does come next. And then you start wondering if the first song was even that good in the first place.

This self-titled debut frustrates me because it sounds like an album Eric Bachmann (who made his name fronting the very different and awesome Archers of Loaf) wanted his listeners to be able to cling on to in times of strife. But the inner tube he throws out to the drowning masses is deflated and useless. Hence all the attempts at bar-side Bukowskian pithiness which end up coming across as boring platitudes, the adoption of a Tom Waits/Jakob (not Bob) Dylan kind of grizzled voice to give these songs more “feeling,” the incorporation of emotive strings, etc. For a record which keeps returning to drink as a means for inspiration, all of its edges are straight, narrow, predictable and stiffly sober.

Besides the opener, “Juliette” stands out in its blurry storytelling about a girl burning to death on her living room floor. It’s haunting in its instrumentation and lyricism, traits which don’t join hands with many other tracks here. The bouncy cadence of “Man Who Died of Nothing At All” is intriguing enough to make it less of a slog. But, as a whole, it’s really hard to stay focused on this album. Eric Bachmann split off from one of the defining nineties indie-rock bands to record an album which sounds like Sun Kil Moon for Dummies as sung by  the world’s most noncommittal Tom Waits impersonator. I can’t say I think that was a good career move.

Super Furry Animals’ Mwng (2000)

Mwng

Album: Mwng
Artist: Super Furry Animals
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #14 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000, #11 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000, first Welsh-language album to enter the Top 20 best-selling albums in the UK
My Favorite Songs: Dacw Hi, Pan Ddaw’r Wawr, Ysbeidiau Heulog
Their Grades: NME (8/10), Pitchfork (8.2/10), Rolling Stone (3.5/5)
My Grade: 87%

For an album recorded in Welsh, Mwng is pretty immediate and relatable. The band said that, despite the language barrier, this was a record about their appreciation for Anglo-American pop culture from the 60s to the 80s. Unlike another acclaimed language-besides-English album from 2000 (Sigur Ros’s Agaetis Byrjun), Super Furry Animals doesn’t dip many tracks too deep into the pool of experimentalism. For that matter, tracks like “Y Gwyneb Iau” and “Y Teimlad” have more in common with Burt Bacharach than they do Jonsi and company.

Of course, this isn’t an album which rests on convention either, as should be apparent from the Welsh lyrics, spooky album cover and band name. “Sarn Helen” opens with some chimey, plucked instrument sounding more like a sitar than a guitar and “Pan Ddaw’r Wawr” is a brassy march into the spirit of primal impulse. But the thing that makes Mwng stand out is how none of its weirdness sends you reeling. It’s so rooted in pop structures that even its most bizarre moments are accessible on the first listen.

This was the Furries’ first release after the coked-out collapse of their former label Creation Records. Indeed, my first exposure to their work came through watching the Creation documentary, Upside Down. It wouldn’t have fit Creation’s aesthetic since it wouldn’t have fit anyone’s but their own.

Enon’s Believo! (2000)

Believo!

Album: Believo!
Artist: Enon
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #15 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Rubber Car, Believo!, Come Into, Get the Letter Out, World in a Jar
Their Grades: Pitchfork (8.0/10)
My Grade: 90%

I got into Brainiac last year so I feel like it’s only appropriate I get into the band which rose from their ashes this year. Suffice to say, I like this as much, if not more, as the Brainiac stuff I’ve heard. Where Brainiac succeeded in creating a uniquely synthesized take on punk in particular, Enon manages to bring all sorts of elements together to create a cohesive and unpredictable sound. On Believo!, they incorporate every slick sounding trick indie rock had come up with in the previous decade and most of the ones it would come up with in the new one.

There are falsettos and baritones, industrial beats and bass mixed with whistling keyboards, and that’s all just on the first track (“Rubber Car”). “Cruel” sounds like it could’ve been on the Fire Walk with Me soundtrack, Tom Waits’ Bone Machine and Portishead’s Dummy all at once. “Conjugate the Verbs” starts out as prototype Postal Service but gives way to more aggression than Ben Gibbard has ever allowed for himself to express. “Believo!” shows them producing a Kid A style track before it was historically possible to rip off Kid A. “Come Into” may be the most conventional indie rock song on here but it’s still got its own edge.

The first three quarters are out of this world and the final fourth is coming back into the atmosphere for a safe landing (but, then again, “Biofeedback” has that more-human-Kraftwerk thing going for it which makes it such a kickass way to close out a record). So none of it’s bad and most of it’s on the same level of the groups they borrowed from or predicted coming into existence, whether that be Brainiac or anyone else. What I’m trying to say is: this may be the greatest sampler of everything cool about rock in the nineties and early 2000s to ever be recorded by a single band. In other words, you could show someone your favorite tracks from Beck, Nine Inch Nails, Massive Attack and so on or you could just throw on Believo! and they’d still get the point.

Sleater-Kinney’s All Hands on the Bad One (2000)

All Hands on the Bad One

Album: All Hands on the Bad One
Artist: Sleater-Kinney
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #10 on The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Poll for 2000, #16 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Ironclad, All Hands on the Bad One, You’re No Rock and Roll Fun, #1 Must Have, The Professional, Was It A Lie?
Their Grades: Rolling Stone (3/5), NME (8/10), Pitchfork (8.3/10), Robert Christgau (A-)
My Grade: 93%

Nowadays, if you bring up Sleater-Kinney, at least someone you’re talking to is bound to say, “Wasn’t that the girl from Portlandia’s band?” Carrie Brownstein does, indeed, hail from this set of indie-rock ladies and it’s funny looking back on All Hands on the Bad One with the IFC series in mind. For one thing, it’s proof the revolution Sleater-Kinney was calling for worked. Carrie is as much a creative and comedic force on the show as Fred, just as we’re also living in an era where Skyler White and Claire Underwood hold as much weight as their husbands in their respective series’. Riot grrrls aren’t in the underground anymore, they’re in the mainstream.

But though this record works as a successful feminist and/or political statement, it’s primarily a blast to listen to. The lyrics are characterized by clever cultural analysis and strong femininity but never comes across as heavy-handed. The main message isn’t “gender equality,” although that factors in. It’s “rock and roll.” Corin Tucker’s hiccuping vocals pair up perfectly with her and Carrie Brownstein’s dueling guitar setup. This is the indie rock sound of Pavement, Slint and Built to Spill percolated inside three brilliant female minds and made their very own.

I knew as soon as I hit “Play” that this would be an album which continually grows in my estimation. From the opening guitar twinkling of “The Ballad of a Ladyman” to the mysterious swampiness of “The Swimmer,” I was never bored for a second. Here comes the groan-worthy pun: how am I supposed lay all hands on the bad one if there isn’t one here? Every song on here could’ve been put out as a single and gone to number one in a perfect world. For that matter, the only one that did get released as a single (“You’re No Rock and Roll Fun”) is so fun it’ll go on almost every mix CD you make after hearing it. After a long string of reviewing albums close to or over an hour, it’s refreshing to hear an album just under forty minutes which arguably packs a greater wallop than any of those attempted epics. This became a favorite for me as soon as I heard it, here’s hoping the same goes for you.

Summer Hymns’ Voice Brother & Sister (2000)

Voice Brother & Sister

Album: Voice Brother & Sister
Artist: Summer Hymns
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #17 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Mr. Brewer (Cackle, Cackle), Stick Your Tail in the Wind, Half Sick of Shadows, Knock Louder, I Shall Miss Missing You
Their Grades: Pitchfork (8.8/10)
My Grade: 82%

If you like your music wispy, this album’s a great place to set up camp. Voice Brother & Sister is for anyone who’s been haunted by the pleasant ghosts conjured up by Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” Every inch of the instrumentation is breathy and awakening. It’s like first opening your eyes after the sun’s all the way up in the sky but still feeling no rush to get out of bed. This record isn’t a thunderhead demanding your reverential awe nor is it enveloping, cumulous and atmospheric. Instead, these songs float around like cirrus clouds. They come and go, paper thin and without curves or edges, sometimes long, sometimes short, different shapes to different people.

This sort of sound isn’t unique to Summer Hymns. You hear it on The Decemberists’ first record, Castaways and Cutouts, also released in the early years of the new millennium, and in most Flaming Lips and Clientele songs. The giraffes on the album cover look like they’re walking on water, probably because the music contained within makes you feel lighter than air. They come across like a quieter Neutral Milk Hotel (both bands came from Athens, Georgia; the town is most famous for producing The B-52s and R.E.M.), consistent in their gentleness.

Some of the shortest tracks on here are the ones that stick with you the longest. Both “Knock Louder” (an aggressive track if you’re allowing Gandhi to define aggression) and “I Shall Miss Missing You” (a chilled out song if you’ve ever heard one) are less than two minutes long yet both pack some sort of catharsis even within 120 seconds. Hints of Brian Wilson show up on “Half Sick of Shadows” as do the spirits of anyone who pushed melody to the front of their artistic prerogative. It rocks, even though it’s over in two minutes. As far as the ones of more conventional length, “Mr. Brewer (Cackle, Cackle)” boasts a banjo riff which would’ve sounded just as in style on Mutual Benefit’s Love’s Crushing Diamond (2013). The chromatic percussion on “Stick Your Tail in the Wind” situates you in whatever your given happy place may be. The longest track on here, “New Underdressment,” is a bit of lethargic mesmerism, attempting to stay intriguing for seven minutes but losing out on that battle midway though to over-repetition. Basically, Voice Brother & Sister is a soundtrack for daydreams, sometimes interesting, sometimes bizarre and sometimes boring. But such is life.

Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast (2000)

The Hour of Bewilderbeast

Album: The Hour of Bewilderbeast
Artist: Badly Drawn Boy
Year: 2000
Reason Featured: #18 on The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Poll for 2000, #18 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000, #4 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000, Winner of the Mercury Prize for 2000
My Favorite Songs: The Shining, Everybody’s Stalking, Bewilderbeast 2, Pissing in the Wind, Disillusion, Say It Again
Their Grades: NME (7/10), Pitchfork (8.6/10), Robert Christgau (A-)
My Grade: 86%

The Hour of Bewilderbeast is an hour well-spent. It’s fitting this record arrived in 2000 given how well it typifies a kind of music I’ll always associate with the new millennium’s first decade. Damon Gough’s debut fits right into the same comforting crannies of folksy alternapop where you’ll find Elliott Smith’s oeuvre, Coldplay’s Parachutes and Beck circa Sea Change. 

Damon Gough (alias: Badly Drawn Boy) may include some ill-advised sound experiments within his otherwise clear-eyed songcraft but that’s about the worst thing you could say. I fell under most of the spells Gough casts here: the lilting strings haunting the background of album opener “The Shining,” the bendy riff anchoring “Everybody’s Stalking,” the sentimental-montage-in-an-indie-movie-trailer guitar + banjo swirl in “Cause A Rockslide,” the get-you-gyrating, 70s AM groove on “Disillusion.”

I guess it makes sense I’d get cozy with an album indicative of the first full decade I ever lived through. This isn’t the folk revival as it would come to be after 2005. In other words, these songs wouldn’t fit in that well on a Twilight soundtrack but Zach Braff really missed the boat by not soliciting any to back up some scene in Garden State. Speaking of cinema, my only knowledge of Badly Drawn Boy until today was that they (yes, they, because I didn’t know the name is to Damon Gough what Bon Iver is to Justin Vernon, I admit it) scored the About A Boy soundtrack and, after listening, I couldn’t help but think “Of course.” Gough’s got that Nick Hornby sense of what it means to be a man with a penchant for crying with Nick Drake warbling in his headphones. Hey, I can relate.

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