The Monthly Hitlist:
October 2002
Albums Songs
30 ALBUMS
(in no particular order)
BECK – SEA CHANGE (DGC)
Will the real Beck Hansen please stand up? He just did, and it turns out he's sitting down, singing the blues – like he means it. Love 'Lost Cause.'

FUZZ TOWNSHEND - FUZZ TOWNSHEND (Stinky) Read Full Review

RADIO ZUMBIDO - LOS ULTIMOS DIAS DEL AM (Six Degrees)
Yes, I do keep placing Six Degrees' releases in my Hitlists: that's because it may well be the most innovative label on the planet right now. Radio Zumbido is the project fronted by Guatemalan musician Juan Carlos in which all manner of modern dance styles (dub on 'Aparicion', techno on 'Lo-fi Chicken Bus') are placed in the context of Central American rhythms and radio samples. As difficult an album to define as you may hear all year - and all the better because of it.

DROPLINE – YOU ARE HERE (Reprise)
While I'm a committed fan to straight-ahead rock and pop, most of what comes out on majors at the moment is firmly aimed for radio programmer's lowest common denominator. Dropline is a rare exception: this band of all-Americans sounds like it means it.

SONDRE LERCHE – FACES DOWN (Astralwerks)
Nineteen year old Norwegian singer-songwriter from the Ed Harcourt school of friendly melody and mild introspection.

PRIMAL SCREAM – EVIL HEART (Columbia UK)
First album since writing the embarrassingly prescient 'Bomb The Pentagon' finds Gillespie's boys in surprisingly fine form: somewhere between the adrenalin techno of XTRMNTR, and the under-rated Vanishing Point. On tracks like 'A Scanner Darkly', there's even a hint of Screamadelica. Only a hint, mind. No news yet on an American release.

COLDPLAY – A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD (Capitol)
As good as you've heard it is: that's assuming you haven't already bought it. The songs take time to settle in, but the conviction is apparent from the beginning. Bedwetter's music? Not Coldplay.

OASIS – HEATHEN CHEMISTRY (Epic)
Noel may have gotten all democratic and let others pitch in on the songwriting, but the tracks worth listening out for are all his. In 'Stop Crying Your Heart Out' and 'Little By Little', he gives us not one, but two great ballads. The fact that both songs reference "stars fading away," however, suggests either a lack of imagination, or a surprising confession.

UNDERWORLD – A HUNDRED DAYS OFF (V2) See interview

DOUG MARTSCH – NOW YOU KNOW (Warner Brothers)
Built To Spill front man gets down to rustic blues basics, playing open tuning slide guitar on a cheaply-recorded, easily enjoyed, one-off solo project. Curiously, the most impressive track, 'Woke Up This Morning (with My Mind on Jesus)' is the only one Martsch didn't write.

BT - 10 YEARS IN THE LIFE (Warner Strategic)
BANCO DE GAIA - TEN YEARS (Six Degrees)
Read double review

BOWLING FOR SOUP – Drunk Enough To Dance (Silvertone/Jive)
Unapologetically entertaining power-pop-punk songs about the important things in life: getting girls, losing girls and 'Running From Your Dad.'

THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON – THE ISNESS (Hypnotic)
It took persistent playing before the jazz-funk prog-rock fusion of the original ambient-dub act took hold in the conscience. It's an ambitious record, overly so I feel, but if you've more time and inclination to devote to it, you may get better rewards than me.

PORCUPINE TREE – IN ABSTENTIA (Lava)
Talking of prog rock, I would never have expected this most ardently underground of psychedelic-ambient-prog rock acts to make it onto a major after all this time, but here they are, and it's quickly apparent why: they've toughened up over the years. The 1967 influence is still apparent on 'Heartattack In A Lay By', but tracks like 'Wedding Nails' and 'Prodigal' are seriously hard rocking – and possibly even radio-friendly.

BEN NEILL – AUTOMOTIVE (Six Degrees)
This denizen of downtown New York (and inventor of the ultra-cool midi-synched mutantrumpet) was in between record deals when he got hired to make music for Volkswagon ads. The segments provided an inspiration for longer pieces and were so successful they invited a deal with Six Degrees. The modern music world works in odd ways, doesn't it? By the way, this is as good an 'intelligent' electronica album as you'll likely hear this year. And the more you think about it, it's a great title too.

SING-SING – THE JOY OF SING-SING (Manifesto)
Released a whole year ago on Pop Tones in the UK, but only out this month in the States, the debut album by former Lush guitarist Emma Anderson and singer Lisa O'Neill is full of slightly askew but ultimately upbeat pop songs. Imbued with a healthy nod of respect to the sixties but given 21st Century arrangements, the likes of 'Tegan,' 'I'll Be,''Panda Eyes' and 'Feels Like Summer' are precisely what Saint Etienne should currently be striving for.

DOUG POWELL – THE LOST CHORD (Parasol)
Psychedelic leaning singer-songwriter pal of Jules Shear and Todd Rundgren has bounced around labels over the years; on The Lost Chord he appears to have discovered his true voice – and while it's powerful, the songs are purposefully off-kilter.

MARIANNE FAITHFULL – KISSIN TIME (Virgin)
Personally, I preferred 2000's lower-profile comeback Vagabond Ways, which was more self-composed (literally and literarily). Kissin Time feels too much like the product of its collaborators: you know within the first few bars of 'Sliding Through Life On Charm' that it was written by Pulp. That said, you also know from its title who 'Song For Nico' (co-authored by Dave Stewart) is about, yet it's no less wonderful for its lack of ambiguity. Plus, Beck's Mutations-era 'Nobody's Fault' is a perfect choice for Faithfull's ever-doleful voice.

SQUAREPUSHER – DO YOU KNOW SQUAREPUSHER? (Warp)
The first of two CDs from the famously obtuse techno iconoclast is surprisingly listenable, especially the heartfelt rendition of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart.' The second album, recorded Live in Japan, is more like you'd expect, with the frenetic rhythms accompanied by hilarious rabble-rousing: "You'll have to make some more fuckin' noise than that, otherwise I'm going fuckin' 'ome." You tell 'em, Square.

AUTECHRE – GANTZ GRAF (Warp)
Like label-mate Squarepusher, the Autechre duo operate in a techno vacuum: it's difficult and demanding, but ultimately rewarding. Comes with a DVD too.

PAUL WELLER –ILLUMINATION (Independiente UK; no US release yet)
Comes roaring out of the gate, of that there's no doubt. 'A Bullet For Everyone' is appropriately angry and raucous; 'It's Written In The Stars' is his best single in a long time. But quickly enough, Illumination meanders back into the Heavy Soul territory that's never done it for me – though the instrumental 'Spring (At Last)' and the penultimate 'Standing Out In The Universe' keep hopes high. Though it doesn't make a completely reborn fan out of me, there's a sense of reborn adventure from him. And that has to be welcomed.

KOMPUTER – MARKET LED (Mute)
Somewhere between Orbital and Squarepusher lie Komputer, two techno heads whose day job is setting up and taking down the market stalls in Spitalfields, East London. For Market Led they created new instruments out of sampled sounds off the vinyl they found on the ground and then attempted to construct house music out of them. It sounds exactly like you'd imagine - and if you can't quite imagine it, that's part of the attraction.

SOL – LOCAL UNDERGROUND Vol. Two (Vitamin)
With mix CDs having finally reached saturation level, the future of the genre is likely to be localized, as in this consistently pumping collection of mid-tempo cuts assembled by LA's 'Latin Lady of House,' Sol. And yes, there's a couple of her own productions in there too.

HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT – THE WHOLE BLOODY 1990s CATALOGUE (Probe Plus)
Read Full Overview

BURNING BRIDES – FALL OF THE PLASTIC EMPIRE (V2)
Re-release of the Philly-based trio's self-recorded album of last year. Like …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead and Queens of The Stone Age, Burning Brides are one part metal, one part punk, and one part primal rock'n'roll. Oh, and one part pure pop too. More than the sum of their parts? Precisely.

FROU FROU – DETAILS (MCA)
A new British duo with a perfect set-up for success. Guy Sigsworth is an acclaimed producer of female singers (Lamb, Mandalay, Bjork and Madonna to name a few) which means the velvet-larynxed Imogen Heap is an ideal front-person for his own songwriting. But don't mistake Frou Frou as a diletantish side-project any more than Garbage was for Butch Vig; this is a cohesive album with a slew of songs that should have been hits already: 'Maddening Shroud' and 'It's Good To Be In Love' are just two of many dandidates. A delight for anyone who likes any of the artists Sigsworth has worked with – and just possibly a Eurythmics for the new decade if they can capitalize on Details' quality.
Layo & Bushwacka – Night Works?

WILCO – YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT (Nonesuch)
Sure it's been out a year; sure the story of the band being dropped by Warners (then re-signed by another department) has occasionally overshadowed the music. But I've just got my own copy and I love it. Further proof that the majors have lost the plot.

DIVISION OF LAURA LEE – Black City (Epitaph)
Yet more primeval Swedish rock'n'roll. Opener 'Need To Get Some' nods towards the Strokes, 'Access Identity' is closer to pure punk; 'I Guess I'm Healed' shows some welcome restraint.

SAHARA HOTNIGHTS - JENNIE BOMB (Jetset)
What is it with Sweden right now? Perhaps it's the fact that, away from British and American airwaves, bands have to work hard to catch a break. It took the all-girl Sahara Hotnights almost a decade to get known, during which time, usefully, they've not only passed through pubescence and into something barely approaching adulthood, but they've learned to rock so hard that they make predecessors like The Runaways and The Donnas sound like nice girls. Jennie Bomb trades gleefully on the girls' sexuality: 'Fire Alarm' and 'With Or Without Control' tease lyrically and kick ass musically.
10 SONGS
I'm a sucker for themes. Last Christmas, I gave my friends a mix tape of songs about New York. (Guess why.) There's a few more to add this year, but I think I'm likely to expand the subject from city to country. Here's some of each. They all rock in their own way, and they're all relevant - even, no especially, the old ones.
NYC Cares - INTERPOL
Save Our City - RADIO 4
My City Of Ruins - BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
America - AU PAIRS
Stuck In America - SUGARCULT
America - STEPPENWOLF
America - SIMON & GARFUNKEL
America v. 6.0 - STEVE EARLE
America Mean - SUICIDE
We Americans - THE BRIEFS
Home Of The Brave - APOCALYPSE (had to throw that one in!)
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