Ten Records & Ten Shows of 2002 (Nathan Hogan)
1. Michael Gira – Solo Recordings at Home / Living ’02 (Young God) - A tie. I could just as easily have included his Angels of Light We Were Alive but I will stick to just these two. The first is Gira (ex-Swans) with a guitar, his voice, a stereo microphone, and a handful of songs. The second is many of the same songs, all recorded to a mini disc player in someone’s lap in Lisbon, Portugal. These songs are stripped so bare that they cut to the marrow. Space is already set aside on next year’s list for the forthcoming Everything is Good Here / Please Come Home.
2. Young People – Young People (5RC) - How did this one slip under everybody’s nose? It continues to completely bowl me over. This trio from Los Angeles invents a completely new musical language by revisiting Appalachian folk from a noisy and unstructured punk aesthetic. Sort of like Sara Carter singing over sheets of distorted guitar and a Confederate fife-and-drum brigade, these songs shamble out of nowhere, crawl down your spine, and dissipate almost as quickly as they arrived. One sloppy, haunting, epiphany of a record.
3. Low – Trust (Kranky) - I’ve heard complaints about it being too “all over the place,” but Trust goes very few places that I’m not immediately willing to follow it. Their sixth full-length reminds me most of my other favorite Low record (well, at least my favorite on certain days) The Curtain Hits The Cast, which similarly manages to squeeze dark, lengthy dirges next to more melodic and accessible songs, making them cohere effortlessly. Low are incredible in the way that they’ll have you forgetting about a particular song or two on a record until months later when they’ve suddenly become your favorites of the bunch.
4. Songs: Ohia – Didn’t It Rain (Secretly Canadian) - This is a quiet and understated little masterpiece, and I promise never to underestimate Jason Molina again. Melancholy blues from the rust belt of Middle America -– these songs are sparse and eloquent like a good James Wright poem.
5. Mecca Normal – The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars) - I’ve long been pretty oblivious to Jean Smith and David Lester. I always liked what I knew of Who Shot Elvis? but not enough to bother digging into their vast discography of full-lengths and 7”s. Anyway, long story short, I fell hard for Mecca Normal after a few listens to this record over the summer. Jean Smith’s voice operates on some kind of divine frequency. Like that bell in The Polar Express I suspect that it starts sounding completely unbearable when you get old and stodgy and stop believing in indie rock, but in the meantime it’s totally life-affirming. Songs like “Ice Floes Away” should be distributed free of charge to smart female teenagers everywhere, as anodyne for suburban malaise.
6. Windy & Carl – Introspection (Blue Flea) - A sprawling three-disc set of rare and unreleased material, it’s an absolutely essential purchase unless you’re one of the lucky fifteen or so people who the drone rock duo gives hand-colored 7”s to as Christmas presents. I’m reviewing this shortly, so I’ll save my gushing for the longer format.
7. NoahJohn – Water Hymns (Kill Deer) - Water Hymns is one of those records you might read about and inevitably think you’ve heard already, but NoahJohn manages to twist the familiar into something I’ve enjoyed returning to all autumn. A record so packed full of affecting little vocal turns, lap steel, cello, and harmonies that I can’t see any way around loving it. The best way I can think to describe it is Bonnie “Prince” Billy on a Watership Down kick.
8. Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle (Sub Pop) - I dedicated a pretty crummy Dusted review to this humble collection of four-track recordings, but in the end I couldn’t really communicate what was so wonderful about it. I saw Iron & Wine play days later – the record is just one man, but at the show there were five people, and with no one playing percussion and two or three people at a time just singing hushed back-up, they matched the volume of most solo acts. I got the feeling that no one else could quite put their finger on what it was about them either, but you could have heard a pin drop in the place.
9. Cynthia Dall – Sound Restores Young Men (Drag City) - Much of this record hovers around one fuzzy guitar chord and a fairly monotonous vocal styling. I can see how it wouldn’t work for everybody, but it’s kind of crept under my skin since I first heard it and now I can’t shake it. What emerges upon repeated listens is an incredible depth of nuance – everything begins to feel perfectly placed, and little things like slow trumpet lines will leave you completely in awe. Dall’s lyrics and delivery are phenomenal.
10. Deerhoof – Reveille (Kill Rock Stars) - Reveille, because it rocks and because my list can use a bit of a kick in the pants. I’m glad to have had the chance to “see” them this year, even if it was in a sweltering room with no stage, and my view was completely blocked by the crowd. Both Satomi Matsuzaki’s singing and the way that Deerhoof stop and start on a dime, never going where you think they’re headed but making it sound better than it would have otherwise sounded, are incredible. Completely spastic / fantastic.
The Shows (in chronological order)
1. Country Bar House Band - Moscow, Russia (March 2002) - With a voice like Kelly Hogan and more shoe-pounding energy than Nikita Khrushchev, how can a handful of Patsy Cline covers be much better? John Wayne + fur hats + drink specials = good times.
2. Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Copenhagen, Denmark (April 2002) - Just another night at the office: a random stop on their thousand date, consecutive-night romp through Europe and the Montreal-based collective plays like it’s the final show of the tour. Besides for being completely mind-blowing, I don’t know how they manage to find the energy. I left reluctantly at some point during the third encore to catch the last train home.
3. The Fall - Copenhagen, Denmark (May 2002) - Mark E. Smithhhh-uhh delivered roughly twenty-six minutesssssuhh of unbeatable Fall songs. Then he got tired and went to go look for his money. Seven months later I’m still reeling.
4. Low w/ Mark Eitzel - Brookline, MA (October 2002) - Low made a long drive on a Tuesday night totally worth it. I saw them tour right before Things We Lost in the Fire but this was somehow much fuller – their lengthy opening of “Shots and Ladders” was tremendous. I concur with Devendra Banhart’s impression: “gemgemgemdiamonddiamonddiamond truly.”
5. Terrastock V - Boston, MA (October 2002) - Much of Terrastock was phenomenal, and even when my ears started painfully ringing again, something great would happen – The Lilys would stop fucking around and play “Claire Hates Me,” Sonic Youth would finally decide what song was next – and it would make it all wonderful again. I choose Windy & Carl as the set of the weekend: one hour, one dreamy composition that managed to overcome even the crappy video art of naked cyborg women pulsing above them.
6. Acid Mothers Temple - Brattleboro, VT (November 2002) -Watching Japanese Space Rock in an organic restaurant in Vermont was surreal, especially when the hippies started slam-dancing with innocent bystanders. Anyway, “Pink Lady Lemonade” and all the rest were as good as I might have hoped, which justified a terrifying two-hour long drive home through the foggy mountains.
7. Semiautomatic, Young People, Hella, Deerhoof - NYC (November 2002) - I thought it might be all over when one of the members of the Slits put a hex on the audience during the Semiautomatic set, but the 5RC crew made good, proving that they’re among the most underrated and overstocked labels working.
8. Michael Gira - NYC (November 2002) - See my records list. This was like listening to what some guy in Portugal recorded onto his mini disc player, only in the flesh and that much better.
9. Jeff Curtin of The Minstrels - Middlebury, VT (November 2002) - On the first leg of his single date solo tour, my friend from high school earned his 12-pack of beer payment many times over. With a handful of Galaxie 500 covers and originals featuring lyrics like “your pheromones rise like steam / from cartoon apple pies,” all ten people in attendance, I’m sure, thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
10. (Smog) w/ Brother JT3 - Middlebury, VT (November 2002) - The perils of organizing a show (i'm still waiting for that twenty dollar reimbursement on the dressing room fruit and vegetable tray) at a college where a step-team dance performance will always massively overshadow an indie rock concert’s popularity are many, but this one turned out pretty okay. Besides for being one of the world’s greatest songwriters, Bill Callahan is also the single best below-the-knees dancer on the planet, hands fucking down.
By Nathan Hogan