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A Retrospective Top 15: Best Albums Of 2002

The third installment of A Retrospective, this time the focus is on 2002. The year of rebuilding, so to speak. It was the year I discovered Cider Jack (and did so plentifully) at the local Pullman bar Rico’s, and we all would rehearse Bill Brasky skits (from the SNL spots, and made up on the spot) as twenty feet away the university jazz combo performed excellent renditions of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and various Motown favorites. As we see every year, 2002 saw several real great releases. Here are my favorites.

The Mountain Goats: Tallahassee

15. Tallahassee by The Mountain Goats

Tallahassee is a concept album of sorts, devoted to the fictional married couple always leaning toward divorce. The recurring characters receive tribute throughout the album, which sees The Mountain Goats‘ front-man John Darnielle further defining his pointed vocals and powerful acoustic folk melodies.

Club 8: Spring Came Rain Fell

14. Spring Came, Rain Fell by Club 8

A diversion from their prior self-titled record which found the band dropping in more electronics and bordering on dance tracks, Spring Came, Rain Fell split the band’s loyalties between that sound and one much more along the lines of the indie-pop created by Acid House Kings, another of Johan Angergård’s groups. Club 8 does a good job bridging the two sounds in this viable follow-up. The album went out of print but was reissued last year on Labrador Records.

Desaparecidos: Read Music/Speak Spanish

13. Read Music/Speak Spanish by Desaparecidos

After several mopey records from Conor Oberst under the name Bright Eyes, it was good to hear him take on something more societal and political under Desaparecidos. Songs like the “Man & Wife” pair and “Mall Of America” fit well with the times.

And backing the highly emotive social commentary which made up much of the subject matter of Read Music/Speak Spanish was loud distorted guitars that seemed more fit for Cursive than Bright Eyes. To this day, Read Music/Speak Spanish is, in my opinion, one of Oberst’s greatest works.

Rilo Kiley: Execution Of All Things

12. The Execution Of All Things by Rilo Kiley

Like many, when I hear reference to Rilo Kiley‘s The Execution Of All Things, I immediately think of that one track – the stunning “With Arms Outstretched”. It found a welcome home on the first episode of Weeds: Season 1.

On the album, Jenny Lewis strays between storytelling and folk-worthy narratives backed by pleasant folk-pop melodies that wouldn’t seem too out-of-place were they to be released this year. And that’s something that won’t likely change for years to come.

Okkervil River: Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See

11. Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See by Okkervil River

Okkervil River always seemed a bit odd. At times barely in tune vocals were borderline awkward yet it has worked so well throughout the band’s library of work. With the power of folk-pop sensibilities behind them, and the powerful ability to write stellar lyrics, Okkervil River created an album with easy showstoppers like “Kansas City” and “Red”. And while the first two songs on Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See are the best, most recognized songs on the album, with repeat listens others effortlessly follow suit.

Carissa's Wierd: Songs About Leaving

10. Songs About Leaving by Carissa’s Wierd

Songs About Leaving didn’t quite live up to its two predecessors as a whole. Instead, select tracks like “September Come Take This Heart Away” and “Sofisticated Fuck Princess Please Leave Me Alone” did with ease while other fell slightly flat. Here, Carissa’s Wierd shined brightest when they added the full instrumentation (in other words, ripe with strings) that made You Should Be At Home Here great.

Minus The Bear: Highly Refined Pirates

9. Highly Refined Pirates by Minus The Bear

Highly Refined Pirates was a great album circa 2002 and 2003, and even beyond that. But even so, it paled in comparison to seeing Minus The Bear perform these songs live during the same time period. The band had yet to grow into their current fan-base and that being as it was, they created a masterpiece ahead of its time.

Acid House Kings: Mondays Are Like Tuesdays

8. Mondays Are Like Tuesdays and Tuesdays Are Like Wednesdays by Acid House Kings

I didn’t discover Acid House Kings until the release of their 2005 pop epic Sing Along With The Acid House Kings, but in the brief four years since finding them they’ve become one of my most listened-to bands. Mondays Are Like Tuesdays was an album filled with soft Swedish pop songs like “Sunday Morning” and “Brown And Beige Are My Favorite Colors”. And who could forget “Say Yes If You Love Me”? The band is currently working on their follow up to Sing Along With, claiming they’re working toward creating the perfect pop album. However, in their prior records, they’ve already accomplished that feat several times over, one of them being Mondays Are Like Tuesdays And Tuesdays Are Like Wednesdays.

Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [Album Cover]

7. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

Wilco, for me, is a band that makes an immense impression and then disappears for one, sometimes two years at a time. Returning to the Wilco of old, I’m struck by the senselessness of that statement, especially as it pertains to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This is an album that should have continuous mainstay capabilities; one that should never really leave. I guess that’s why it’s #7 and not higher. Still, when it does return, it wows at full force.

The Polyphonic Spree: The Beginning Stages Of [Album Cover]

6. The Beginning Stages Of… by The Polyphonic Spree

One of my all-time favorite movies is Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. It is beautiful in every way possible, from Joel and Clementine’s odd little quirks to unique use of minimal special effects (watch the commentary). It was with great excitement that I heard The Polyphonic Spree while watching this movie in the theater. Not often do you find a band that could very well be a cult, full with flowing colorful robes and an effervescent leader. Other bands have come close, but in numbers only (I’m From Barcelona, Dark Meat…). These songs all have a joyousness to them, a sunny demeanor. Haha, right? …many are about sun, love, happiness, and light.

The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots [Album Cover]

5. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips are a band capable of releasing one great album after another, and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is just that. “Fight Test” and “Do You Realize??” had the ability to be album toppers, but that pinnacle spot was reserved for “Yoshimi Battles Pink Robots Pt. 1”. Two words to describe the power of this album? Very strong.

The Notwist: Neon Golden [Cover Art]

4. Neon Golden by The Notwist

Meshing electro-pop and a shoegaze-style hypnotism is nothing new; in Neon Golden, however, The Notwist gave it a refreshing makeover. Dark and mysterious, Neon Golden is an album that packs an emotional punch from the opening moments of “One Step Inside Doesn’t Mean You Understand” and on throughout. Even in the more upbeat of moments, The Notwist maintain a mesmerizing and entrancing style. Yet unlike a large chunk of music that fits the description, Neon Golden is also catchy and fully contagious.

Broken Social Scene: You Forgot It In People [Album Cover]

3. You Forgot It In People by Broken Social Scene

Oh man, listening again to “KC Accidental”, it becomes immediately clear why this band is so great. One moment they rock your nuts off with legendary noise and the next it drops into beautiful and romantic lyrical poetry. The songs on You Forgot It In People are at times hardly cohesive, yet there’s an undeniable power behind the tracklist. “Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl” may remain the showstopper with its peaceful infectious melody, but each song Broken Social Scene writes holds weight.

Spoon: Kill The Moonlight [Album Cover]

2. Kill The Moonlight by Spoon

Kill The Moonlight by Spoon was a bit of a sleeper for me. It wasn’t until shortly after Gimme Fiction that it came to be my favorite album by the famed Austin band. Then again, several artists have fit the description, like Stars. Upon release they don’t necessarily hold the weight you expected, or just didn’t catch on right away. But a year, maybe two down the road, and suddenly … BAM … they strike. And the result is phenomenal.

The Decemberists: Castaways And Cutouts [Album Cover]

1. Castaways & Cutouts by The Decemberists

Before all the theatrics and flare came to dominate and embellish The Decemberists music (which has ultimately allowed them to create and produce a unique and wonderful show), there was just a highly educated, smart folk album called Castaways & Cutouts. Sure, hints of the future dramatic stage presence existed in tracks like “California One / Youth And Beauty Brigade” and “A Cautionary Tale”, and even “The Legionnaire’s Lament” but it was also wholesome and, to an extent, the educated innocent. Their follow-up albums saw the band expanding into (more) bizarre tales of ghosts and lyrics seemingly pulled from book-like plots and expanding the instrumentation and group size in general, all of which has been great. But Castaways & Cutouts was not only an introduction, but an introduction to a band on the rise to fame and glory.

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