Sunday, April 16, 2017

Flashback to the Oughts: 2002

Music often connects to experience in strange, sometimes unpredictable ways, and its capacity to become vividly associated with times and places is, I feel, a given. In this blog, I have recently referred to these flashes of recollection that arise when listening to music from one’s past as “memory episodes,” but I don’t know that I have ever clearly defined what that means or why I think that it happens. As an organizing principle of this series in particular, it seems like that is an oversight worth addressing.

One could argue that recorded music is a phenomenological abomination. A recording tears music from the musical act and flattens it, which results in only half of a full experience for the listener. I theorize that when we listen to recorded music, the untethered aspects of the musical experience latch on to the things we are feeling, thinking, and doing as we listen. Later, if this tethering is strong enough, listening to music can trigger recollections through this association.  As I reconstructed 2002 for this best-of list, my memory episodes were somewhat painful to travel through.

This was the year that I experienced the end of a marriage and desperately sought out a new path for myself.  As a result, my recollections are a jumbled mess of crushing sorrow, indulgent escapism, and, later in the year, self-discovery tinted with desperation.

10. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven: My introduction to the problematic sub-genre “post-rock” also served as the soundtrack to my inner struggle with a friend’s suicide. Its melancholic mood swings still bring back sadness and rage.

9. Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head: Before they became pigeonholed as the darlings of the new adult contemporary, Coldplay resonated with me as a reinterpretation of what was once good about U2. A Rush of Blood to the Head is brimming over with well-crafted melodies and arrangements.

8. Oysterhead - The Grand Pecking Order: Although the material on the album felt a little slipshot at times, listening to Stewart Copeland lock into a groove with Les Claypool made the whole thing worthwhile. Thanks to the influence to Trey Anastasio, The Grand Pecking Order also marks the beginnings of Claypool’s interest in the jam band format, and laid the seeds for his current work with Sean Lennon.

7. Brendan Benson - Lapalco: Benson followed up his criminally good One Mississippi debut with the merely excellent Lapalco. Jason Falkner’s co-writing presence firmly adjoins Benson to the Jellyfish Family Tree.

6. Glass Hammer - Chronometree: A self-aware and somewhat satirical concept album about the pitfalls of reading too much into concept albums. Glass Hammer has made many recordings since this cautionary tale, but it remains my favorite.

5. Happy the Man - Crafty Hands: For a time this year, I was so emotionally devastated that I could barely listen to music with lyrics without twisting their meaning to suit my addiction to self-pity. This mostly instrumental release was in rotation a lot during that time, and actually served to later inspire me to play the Stick, even though there is no Stick on the album.

4. Rush - Vapor Trails: After a significant hiatus, Rush returned to the studio and produced Vapor Trails, which was a great improvement upon its predecessor Test for Echo. Although the album was slightly uneven as a whole, the band’s playing and concept was stronger than ever.

3. Spock’s Beard - Snow: Neal Morse’s final album with Spock’s Beard ended up being a career-defining rock opera with no small amount of religious overtones. Like any rock opera, Snow has its share of filler, but by and large the material is so amazing and is executed with such exhilarating chemistry that this shortcoming can be easily overlooked.

2. Peter Gabriel - Up: In retrospect, there is the nagging sense that parts of this album seemed geared toward radio airplay. These moments are fleeting, however, revealing Gabriel to be at a creative zenith in terms of orchestration and arrangement.

Album of the Year 2002
1. Porcupine Tree - In Absentia: After the relatively polished songwriting approach that Porcupine Tree had been operating with since Stupid Dream, In Absentia represented the first step in a heavier direction. While the guitar riffs were thicker than before, there was no loss of the nuanced melody and texture that had come to be the band’s trademark.

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