This year, a lot of things got put into perspective within the music industry. Of course, September 11 affected the public's appetite for entertainment of any sort, but even before the tragic events of that day, the music-buying public was clearly beginning to embrace less flippant, more earnest sounds. Pop's reigning titans, N'Sync, saw the first-week sales of their latest album, Celebrity, drop by a full million units from what they tallied in 2000, when their last effort debuted. Likewise, Britney Spears saw close to a 50 percent drop from last year in her opening-week sales, while a slew of teen-oriented acts from Blink-182 and Jessica Simpson to 98 Degrees and Mandy Moore underperformed or flat-out bombed.
Who benefited from the ebbing of teen pop? The more sophisticated, seductive R&B crowd. With newcomers like Alicia Keys, India.arie, Musique Soulchild, City High, Tank, Jaheim, and Tyrese all hitting gold or platinum, while vets such as Mary J. Blige, Maxwell, Angie Stone, and Faith Evans continued to post big numbers, 2001 was a banner year for soul.
In rock, the biggest seller was the aptly titled Break The Cycle by the solemn Staind, followed by Hybrid Theory from the equally straight-faced Linkin Park.
The success of these more sobering acts wasn't due to the fact that folks forgot how to smile or somehow got over the pleasure of watching Britney jiggle. Quite the contrary, balancing the saccharine overload of the class of 2000 with a bit more gravity this year made lighthearted records like Sum 41's All Killer No Filler all the more fun. And that's really what music boils down to: fun. With that in mind, here are a few of the records that gave us some good times in a year that was often a bit short on them.
Pop/Rock1. Bob Dylan, Love and Theft (Columbia) -- Its very superfluousness is what makes it an essential Dylan album. Coming after the Minnesota death trip of Time Out of Mind, and in an era when we need Dylan to be at his most playful, its timeliness renders it timeless.
2. R.E.M., Reveal (Warner Bros.) -- Appropriately, this understated album's charms are divulged over time.
3. Björk, Vespertine (Elektra) -- The aural hums tickle your ear, the scratchy thumps caress your skull. It's a massage for the brain and beyond.
4. Macy Gray, The Id (Epic) -- Freaky, squeaky, and cheeky, Gray's sophomore album carries R&B into outer space -- and brings it back, less grounded after the trip.
5. Eve, Scorpion (Interscope) -- "Let Me Blow Ya Mind"? Consider it blown.
6. India.arie, Acoustic Soul (Motown) -- Baby Badu, with more range.
7. Maxwell, Now (Columbia) -- Because he doesn't just want to get you into bed. Or, if we're totally naive and he really does, because his come-ons are so damn clever.
8. Angie Stone, Mahogany Soul (J) -- She's the one sista without a gimmick. Unless singing your ass off counts.
9. Ryan Adams, Gold (Lost Highway) --He's prolific to a fault, occasionally unwieldy, and an unreliable fuckup. But he's also one of our best songwriters. Sharp and tuneful.
10. Alicia Keys, Songs in A Minor (J) -- Subtle, wise beyond her 20 years, and full of potential. -- Michael Gallucci
Hip-Hop1. Buck 65, Man Overboard (Anticon) -- Lo-fi white-boy rap that's introspective and quirky throughout, but not intentionally obscure, like lots of the prolific and buzzed-about Anticon family.
2. Pep Love, Ascension (Hiero Imperium) -- Oakland's Hieroglyphics crew makes a triumphant return by way of Pep Love's insanely on-beat flow.
3. M.F. Doom, Operation Doomsday (Subverse) -- Saturday morning cartoons for backpacker hip-hop heads, and Doom has an ill warbling voice and a strange cadence.
4. Gold Chains, Gold Chains (Orthlorng Musork) -- San Francisco's balls-to-the-wall rapper/punk shouter Gold Chains also makes beats like Timbaland with sand in his drum machine. So tasty.
5. Prefuse 73, Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (Warp) -- With chopped-up instrumentals and a few modulated guest emcee spots, Prefuse pulls off the most convincing hip-hop/electronic music hybrid yet.
6. Princess Superstar, Princess Superstar Is (Corrupt Conglomerate) -- The female Eminem gives tribute to bad baby-sitters and male hoes everywhere. Someone had to.
7. Aesop Rock, Labor Days (Def Jux) -- This Lower East Sider weaves a convoluted web of oblique metaphors and polysyllabic nothingness -- overwhelming, supremely abstract, and worthy of many thorough listens.
8. Cormega, The Realness (Landspeed) -- Just when the whole Queensbridge thug rap thing seemed bankrupt of new ideas, Cormega blindsides doubters with this morose, claustrophobic graphic novel.
9. The Coup, Party Music (75 Ark) -- While the beats are a little lacking, Boots's unwaveringly political and inspirational verses are unparalleled on the nontopical hip-hop landscape.
10. Ghostface Killah, Bulletproof Wallets (Epic) -- What seems on the surface like Ghost's attempt at an R&B crossover is in fact the strangest Wu record yet -- and totally without precedent. -- Darren Keast
Hard Rock/Punk1. Tool, Lateralus (Volcano) -- If confusion is sex, as Sonic Youth once posited, then the monolithic, mystifying Lateralus is an orgy. Should be sold with a pack of cigarettes.
2. Fugazi, The Argument (Dischord) -- Equally understated and ear-splitting, Fugazi once again prove themselves to be masters at balancing opposites -- namely, commerce and art.
3. The Hives, Veni, Vedi, Vicious (Burning Heart/Epitaph) -- Bar none, the most pulse-pounding record of the year; this Swedish garage-rock barnburner is like creatine made audible.
4. Candiria, 300% Density (Century Media) -- Most metal bands that attempt to span genres prove to be about as nimble as a linebacker in a tutu, but this amazing ensemble tears through jazz/hip-hop/metal/hardcore with unparalleled dexterity.
5. Slayer, God Hates Us All (American/Columbia) -- The Slayer boys haven't sounded this pissed since 1986. What? Their Social Security checks bounced?
6. Dropkick Murphys, Sing Loud, Sing Proud (Hellcat/Epitaph) -- Incorporating the mandolin, tin whistle, dulcimer, and accordion into their storming, Guinness-powered punk, these Boston brawlers prove they can do almost anything. Except pass a field sobriety test.
7. Converge, Jane Doe (Equal Vision) -- Rest in peace, Jane; the rest of us should be so lucky upon having to contend with this virulent, avant-grind masterwork.
8. System of a Down, Toxicity (American/Columbia) -- This record plows through neo-metal clichés almost as swiftly as mopey millionaire Aaron Lewis plows through Kleenex.
9. Monster Magnet, God Says No (A&M) -- Magnet frontman Dave Wyndorf promises that "you'll swim in the sweat of a million orgies" on this disc, and he ain't lyin'. God is truly the sound of sex -- all heavy-petting guitars and choruses that hit like a thousand climaxes. You'll be walking funny for a week.
10. Blink-182, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (MCA) -- Get over your small-penises posturing, metal dudes; this is a damn good record. -- Jason Bracelin
Indie Rock 1. The Shins, Oh, Inverted World (Sub Pop) -- Remember how you felt when you heard Guided by Voices for the first time? The Beach Boys? Okay. This is like that. Exhilarating. Infectious. Like crack.
2. Spoon, Girls Can Tell (Merge) -- Finally cementing Britt Daniel as one of Austin's greatest songwriters. Putting the classic back in rock.
3. Superchunk, Here's to Shutting Up (Merge) -- Without whom indie rock would not exist. A bit calmer, invoking the pedal steel, but still going strong -- 10 years and counting. Immortal.
4. Stephen Malkmus, Stephen Malkmus (Matador) -- Delightful rock songs about pirates and stuff. You know, sometimes you can go solo. Rousing. Regal.
5. Mark Eitzel, The Invisible Man (Matador) -- Thoughtful. Poetic. Honest. The ex-American Music Club frontman is the best songwriter since Elvis Costello.
6. Rilo Kiley, Take Offs and Landings (Barsuk) -- Robust indie pop with a girl lead who writes kick-ass songs and doesn't sing like Mary Poppins. Rock.
7. Beulah, The Coast Is Never Clear (Velocette) -- Majestic pop out of San Francisco. Full of horns that don't sound dumb. Triumphant. Breezy.
8. Beachwood Sparks, Once We Were Trees (Sub Pop) -- Psychedelic country rock for a new generation. Hippie cowboys rule.
9. Arab Strap, The Red Thread (Matador) -- Dark, shadowy acoustic pop with lots of mumbly lyrics about fucking, love, and despair. Disarming. Scottish.
10. Various Artists, This Is Next Year: A Brooklyn-Based Compilation (Arena Rock Records) -- Two discs. 42 tracks. Straight out of Brooklyn (see: Clem Snide, Ida, Champale, Nada Surf, Les Savy Fav, the Mendoza Line, Ben Kweller). Ambitious. -- Beth WawernaElectronica1. Zero 7, Simple Things (Palm Pictures) -- Buoyed by rich textures and sly hip-hop grooves, Simple Things is a digest of perfect, organic lounge arrangements crafted from post trip-hop beatdiggers Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker.
2. The Avalanches, Since I Left You (London/Sire) -- Sampling everyone from Madonna to Mama Cass, this Australian sextet crafts a stunning 60-minute brew of warm, slice-of-life dance and ambient grooves.
3. Basement Jaxx, Rooty (Astralwerks) -- Bewitching dance-floor electronica created through a perfect medley of funk, flair, and percussion by Brixton lads Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton.
4. Richie Hawtin, DE9: Closer to the Edit (Novamute) -- Plastikman's Richie Hawtin takes Detroit techno to new levels of minimalism, experimenting with some 30-odd tracks in this turntablist delight.
5. Orbital, Altogether (London/Sire) -- Brothers Hartnoll abandon the abstruse to fuse electronica and pop into cerebral, mainstream techno.
6. Stanton Warriors, Stanton Sessions (Beggars Banquet) -- British garage producers Dominic B. and Mark Yardley wield their mixing prowess, merging two-step, big-beat hip-hop, and acid house into the best mix album of the year.
7. Herbert, Bodily Functions (MVD) -- Using sampled recordings of actual bodily sounds, preset synthesizer effects, and live instrumentation, Matthew Herbert creates sound through environment on this potent ambient and jazz house long-player.
8. Daft Punk, Discovery (Virgin) -- With kitschy disco loops meeting Chicago-style house, Discovery is the ubiquitous dance-floor album of the year -- the second such benchmark by this French duo.
9. Mouse on Mars, Idiology (Thrill Jockey) -- German duo Mouse on Mars hyper-programs this 11-song collection of electro-funk and mechanical quirk into its seventh phenomenal album.
10. Air, 10,000 Hz Legend (Astralwerks) -- Dropping their cheery, electro-pop sounds, French slackers Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel mold gloomy textures and ethereal instrumentation into an accomplished effort. -- Keith Gribbins
Country 1. Various Artists, O Brother Where Art Thou (Lost Highway) -- No, that's not Clooney singing, but many bluegrass and roots luminaries made this one of the year's top sellers and the best country record of the year.
2. Kelly Hogan, Because It Feel Good (Bloodshot) -- Unabashed crooning from the underground's twangiest female voice, plus a Smog cover.
3. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator) (Acony) -- One of America's shining young roots stars keeps the focus on the guitar and her lovely voice.
4. The Sadies, Tremendous Efforts (Bloodshot) -- Yeah, they're from Toronto, but the Sadies' twisted Americana is irresistible.
5. Fruit Bats, Echolocation (Perishable) -- Thoughtful, soulful alt-country from a young Chicagoan and friends from Califone.
6. The Court and Spark, Bless You (Absolutely Kosher) -- A budding Bay Area outfit finds gloomy comfort in drinking and romance on its second disc. Track this one down.
7. Howe Gelb, Confluence (Thrill Jockey) -- More Southwestern and dusty than true country, but a twangy treat nonetheless, and he sings about Bill Monroe.
8. Handsome Family, Twilight (Carrot Top) -- Husband-wife team Brett and Rennie Sparks continue to turn out old-time country narratives that put you on the edge of your seat.
9. Robbie Fulks, Couples in Trouble (Bloodshot) -- Buy Ryan Adams's Gold if you wanna hear about his girl problems, but choose the wittier Fulks for a wider worldview and tunes equally as catchy.
10. Lucinda Williams, Essence (Lost Highway) -- Okay, Lucinda, I'm giving you this one; it wasn't your best album, but you're still cool, and you ain't a slut like Shelby Lynne. -- Richard A. Martin
Jazz1. Jason Moran, Black Stars (Blue Note) -- The brooding muscularity of this dexterous Brooklyn pianist continues to astonish.
2. Miles Davis, It's About That Time (Columbia/Legacy) -- A roaring, previously unreleased 1970 set with Davis in overdrive that ranks with Black Beauty and is warmer than Bitches Brew.
3. Dave Holland Quintet, Not for Nothin' (ECM) -- This is heraldic chamber jazz of high, sprightly order.
4. Bob Belden, Black Dahlia (Blue Note) -- Sparked by a grisly 1947 Los Angeles crime that left would-be starlet Elizabeth Short in pieces, Belden's concept album is vigorous, big-band jazz of cinematic immediacy.
5. Kitty Margolis, Left Coast Life (Mad-Kat) -- The sexy Margolis makes swinging vocal jazz records that blend Beatnik and Betty Boop.
6. Andy Bey, Tuesdays in Chinatown (Ncoded Music) -- Bey's moiré vocals effectively mix the ominous and the erotic. Like the similarly idiosyncratic Jimmy Scott, Bey likely will never transcend cult status, but those who know his work appreciate how deeply he resonates.
7. Marc Ribot, Saints (Atlantic) -- Daring partially because it's a solo work, Saints is free-jazz guitar artistry of open mind, open heart, and open imagination.
8. Phil Upchurch, Tell the Truth! (Evidence) -- Upchurch's seasoned, svelte guitar leaves you breathless, effortlessly spanning Errol Garner, W.C. Handy, and Cannonball Adderley.
9. David Axelrod, David Axelrod (Mo' Wax) -- This consists of rhythm tracks underrated producer Axelrod recorded in 1968. Thirty-three years later, he laid new arrangements over them. Now, anomalies aren't supposed to be this fierce or funky, but this unusually interfaced big-band tour de force is both.
10. The Psychic Horns, The Psychic Horns (Whaling City Sounds) -- Based in the Providence-Boston area, the Horns are academically expert, unfettered by genre, and sonically outrageous. -- Carlo WolffAdult Content