CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

2002 Pazz & Jop: Party in Hard Times

The worst one-two finish in the history of the Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll couldn’t have come in a worse year, and it’s my sworn duty to tell you why. The year was so bad it quashed a worthier worst one-two finish and continued on to a worst one-two-three, so bad that a worse finish yet could come in a worse year yet — namely, the 2003 this worst year sets up. But hey — rock and roll, big deal. If next Presidents’ Day Annan has snookered Wolfowitz and Sharon is on a leash and the worst son of a bad man has failed to slip another quantum of GNP to the one percenters, I won’t care if Pazz & Jop does go to early favorite Daniel Lanois. Meanwhile, history sucks, and headed by two of the dullest works of well-turned semipopularity ever to contemplate their own impotence, our 29th or 30th poll sucks right along with it.

One way or another, artists can’t help responding to current events. The question isn’t whether, it’s how —with denial always an option. From Tweedy and Beck to Cee-Lo and Karen O, from Charles Aaron to Shannon Zimmerman, almost all our finishers and the vast majority of our respondents are dismayed if not outraged by September 11’s fallout: the imminent attack on Iraq, invasions of privacy bleeding into curbs on expression, the arrant escalation of the class war initiated by Reagan. But that doesn’t mean they know what to do about it, and this old artistic dilemma is further snarled in reactions to September 11 proper that go deeper than outrage and dismay: mourning, disorientation, uncertainty, fear. While the oligarchs in Washington jumped to arrogate more power to their cohort, the rest of us grieved, seethed, tossed and turned, worried about right and wrong, and tried to reclaim our lives. Recall if you will how brave and weird it felt to go to a club or celebrate a birthday in the early autumn of 2001. Then realize that a lot of the apparently apolitical music honored by our critics this year was created under comparable emotional circumstances.

And then add the complication that a lot of it couldn’t have been, because it predates that pivotal day. Eight of our top 40 got votes in last year’s poll: Hives, Drive-By Truckers, Super Furry Animals, Andrew W.K., Soundtrack of Our Lives, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, an earlier version of the N.E.R.D. album, and our winner (do the words “back story” mean anything to you?); so did several of the information thefts expropriated for the illegal-times-two Best Bootlegs in the World Ever. Linda Thompson’s return is a life project, and many early-2002 releases — Streets, Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, Doves, Clinic, Cee-Lo — were begun if not finished before the world changed. Even Steve Earle’s Jerusalem, with its focus track claiming John Walker Lindh is a human being, was mostly written by August 2001. And except for Jerusalem, which insisted, and our winner, so redolent it wrapped any meaning its admirers hung on it in a haze of regret, none of these albums was burdened with ex post facto relevance. All registered as getting-on-with-our-lives records, background music for a party in hard times.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692774″ /]

These before-and-after distinctions will seem overly fine to two camps that concur on little else: the hedonists who scoff at any politicization of pop discourse and the moralists for whom pop discourse is never political enough. Both find that music post-9/11 was as down with its own program as ever. Even our critically sanctioned kind is escapist on the singles chart, where the artistic action is bright of plumage and light of foot to compensate, and self-involved on the album chart, where blue brontosauri, hoary anodynes, great-headed shows of significance, and other protected species still rumble across the plain: Solomon Burke’s latest comeback, which has him trading backslaps with once-famed songwriters in a push-me-pull-you bacchanal the Grammys understand too well, or Sigur Rós’s deliberately incomprehensible attempt to bring Debussyan tone color to their gray-green land. But other bands demonstrated that formalism needn’t be ponderous to be self-referential. Austin’s Spoon jacked up their groove and pared down their sound on an album that accentuates keyboard yet announces its intentions with the opening words “small stakes”; Dakar’s Orchestra Baobab ended the long retirement that followed their climactic final LP with a masterful encore CD whose four best tracks improve songs from their first life. These were spirited and resilient records that had zero to do with the world situation they helped the world survive. Career albums topping career albums, they were music for music’s sake, down with their own programs.

Which brings us — God have I been dreading this — to our underwhelming winner-by-a-mile and surprise runner-up. Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Beck’s Sea Change didn’t amass near the support of Dylan and the Strokes in 2001 or OutKast-Harvey-Radiohead-Eminem in 2000; with voting up 12 percent to 695, they pulled markedly fewer points. But they’re Pazz & Jop albums of the year regardless, and I wish they were easier to tell apart. Remember folk-rock? Well, this is folk-rock — evolved folk-rock, postmodern if you must, but folk-rock nonetheless. The giveaways are (a) pedigree and (b) drumming. Beck has long served as celebrity spokesperson for an antifolk movement long turned pro, and while alt-country turned out to be where songwriting adepts Ryan Adams and Rhett Miller shored up their popcraft against the roil of grunge, Wilco chose a different kind of genius move — channeling Woody Guthrie for Billy Bragg. Beck is also the white-funk trickster of Midnite Vultures, and although I’m truly sorry about his girlfriend, his groove there was knock-kneed enough to kick off a mutation into string-swathed crooner of sad songs all by itself. Wilco’s drummer is Ken Coomer — you could look it up, and I bet you’ll still have to. His most prestigious side credit is an inert track on Jerusalem, which rocks high-octane when Will Rigby is driving.

How I tell them apart is that Wilco is the one I tried to hate and ended up respecting and Beck is the one I tried to like and ended up walking around the room until it could get home on its own. As I relistened, it happened again: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was so passive-aggressive I wanted to throttle it, Sea Change so pretty I wanted to tell it I was sorry, only then Beck’s songs vaporized as Wilco’s took on a weathered solidity. Clearly, though, the two share a genetic code: diffident vocals, winsome tunes, contained tempos, affectless rhythms, and, above all, texture as aesthetic signifier. Nothing wrong with texture, which as timbre, melisma, “microtones,” etc. is a prized delicacy in almost every kind of music; in rock and roll, it’s been sticking out its tongue at “classical” canons of tonal purity since 1955. But note that its present vogue privileges what once would have been called sound effects, and that these proceed from the sampler and hence hip hop, though in England they say techno. Most would rate Radiohead’s OK Computer the apogee of pomo texture, well ahead of Beck’s Odelay, but before those two I fell for Latin Playboys. Where OK Computer’s sound effects are also alienation effects, all dystopian gloom, fractured groove, and hate-love relationship with technology, on Latin Playboys, David Hidalgo and Louie Perez conjure places and people past and present from Tchad Blake’s audio treasure chest, blending them in with a hip, swinging, hip-swinging sense of time. My view of our dystopian prospect is that if I change my mind now about who was right, bin Bush has won.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692652″ /]

As a token of their transcendent genius, Wilco split the difference. Our winner is temperate rather than warm or cold, reticent rather than sociable or disaffected, and barely sampled at all — more “treated,” or just plain arranged. The way Jeff Tweedy’s tunes seep through shifting strata of complication recalls Beck’s in Odelay, but Odelay was a lot jollier than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and also than Sea Change, which signals a retreat by abandoning the sampler for sour strings, gobs of reverb, and passably parsable lyrics. Both records make a virtue of their entanglement in disconnected sound, their depressive inability to control an encroaching environment — a defeatism familiar enough from slacker days, only slackers were hyperactive, funny, or at least ironic about it. Wilco’s and Beck’s integrity comes down to a stubborn determination — distinctly American in its folksy affect and go-it-alone-ism — to tell the world how very ineffective they feel.

There’s honor in this. But right below Beck, a better way glints through yet another pokey piece of soundscape Americana, the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, where the psychedelic nutballs joke, cope, hope, and okey-doke with a lot more life than on 1999’s The Soft Bulletin. I might have A-listed it if the pink robot was Dick Cheney instead of a stock sci-fi villain. But not even the guy I had penciled in above Beck found a way to get that specific. Had The Rising been half what it intended instead of a quarter, I could have nattered on about the matched insufficiencies of broken field run and power play, aestheticism and moralism, shards of sound and great gallumphing truckloads of good old rock and roll. But it wasn’t. It was a failure, magnificent or pathetic or tragic or self-important or merely insufficient. Consider Bruce Springsteen’s politics, as left-decent as any in the music. Then ask yourself how left-decent a reaction he got. And then try to imagine what better album might have radicalized his return. Should he have adopted the Mekons’ “Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem”? Earle’s “Jerusalem”? Would it have made a damn bit of difference if he had?

What, us effective? Of the finishers who responded directly to September 11, and there were several, only Earle seemed at all programmatic, a folkie without apology now. Elsewhere, politics were personal. If Sleater-Kinney and the Mekons were jolted upward pollwise, that’s because they’d been jolted themselves; if Missy Elliott name-checked the World Trade on her way to Aaliyah’s funeral and Eminem warned his army to stay out of Rumsfeld’s, they were doing what came naturally. Sonic Youth recorded at Ground Zero without getting literal about it, chalked up survivor credit, and were propelled back onto our chart by the musical machinations of fifth member Jim O’Rourke (also all over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and since I prefer the late-’90s Kim-and-Thurston Pazz & Jop snubbed, assume I don’t get him). Three “conscious” rap albums — by gabby Blackalicious, esoteric Common, and the perennial Roots — could have been recorded in 1997 for all the social science they dropped: career name-namers Zack De La Rocha and Gil Scott-Heron, for instance, contribute only righteous generalizations to Blazing Arrow, which burrows its aspersions on patriotism so deep John Poindexter will never notice. The opposition was out there. Be-Afroed Mr. Lif rhymed against the bombing of Afghanistan and finished a respectable 89th; conscious godfathers Public Enemy rhymed against Bush and won the support of a single cross-dressing punk rocker. But the voters preferred Common at his uncommon worst, dripping keyb-enhanced rectitude.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692648″ /]

It’s conceivable they had no way to know better. Strangely or not, all of our “alternative” hip hop albums are copyrighted information products of UniMoth MegaCorp, while Koch signee Public Enemy is now an indie act no less than Mr. Lif and his Def Jux labelmate, 41st-by-a-tiebreaker RJD2. (41–50, available online like the rest of our results: soundscaping RJD2, O Dixie Chicks Where Art Thou, third-with-its-2001-points White Stripes, AYWKUBTTODLAMF, Friends of Karen O, Tom Waits’s unbloodied Alice, she-has-my-2001-points Pink, Avril fans Boards of Canada, Boards of Canada fans Black Dice, state-of-the-union address Red Hot + Riot). Although the majors continued to bleed quality to small businesspeople less burdened by debt service, support for indie albums among our expanded electorate slipped slightly. Granted, exact counts are impossible, especially with every distribution and capitalization deal hiding its own wrinkle and the sign-’em-up farm-team model making a comeback (see Hives, Drive-By Truckers, Andrew W.K., Blackalicious, Houston ghetto boy cum former Rap-A-Lot recording artist Scarface, and soon Yeah Yeah Yeahs). But really, how was MCA’s Blazing Arrow a drastic improvement over Quannum Products’ NIA — music or promotion? Duh.

Also major-friendly is one of two significant European movements — not mashups, as indie as it gets even when 2 Many DJ’s gets permissions, but what I’ll designate Eurosemipop because Europop already means anything from ye-ye to Abba to *NSync to Coldplay itself. It would be willful to deny the tunes and sonics of Coldplay, Super Furry Animals, Doves, and Soundtrack of Our Lives, and they’re of their own culture. Stateside semipop like Spoon and (O Neko Where Art Thou) New Pornographers is altogether quirkier and more intense; the few American bands who aspire to a comparable sound — prominent melody textured with worked harmonies, whitebread emoting, and arrangements that mix trad and pomo — end up beefcake or cotton candy. Which is why only a cowboy like me could call Coldplay or Doves semi-anything — although they’re less laddish about it, in the land of Blurandoasis they were conceived to go for the gold. Gothenburg’s Soundtrack and Cardiff’s Furries are somewhat more boho. But all four distinguish themselves from, let us say, Clinic and the Hives by simple virtue of being dead on their feet — even Soundtrack, Stones fans though they may be. They hire drummers who could beat Ken Coomer within an inch of his life and then put that power in the service of the Antifunk. They aim for stasis even when they rock. Stasis is beauty. And beauty is…well, everything, innit?

Lyrically, let’s say that the Swedes and Welshmen favor alt-style allusion where the English bands cultivate well-meaning commonplaces. I feel Coldplay’s and not Doves’, but both clearly whispered radio-video to whoever was running Capitol at the time. Funk, Antifunk, what’s the diff. Just keep it vague, er, accessible — universal. When that’s the name of the major-label game — which it needn’t be, just ask such holdouts as Flaming Youth, Sonic Lips, E. Costello & His Amazing Gall Bladder, younger please, er, Queens of the Impending Stone Age, Scandinavia’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band, Shadow Knows, Norah Jones is too all-ages — stasis is neither here nor there. If there’s a market for beats, business schools, it’s your job to provide beats.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692643″ /]

For those who favor corporate support of the arts, this has long been a piece of luck. And in 2002 the voters finally offered clear statistical indication that great-headed shows of significance weren’t the only evolutionary success in a music that remains blues-based historically whatever its chords. For the first time since “Sun City” edged Little Creatures in 1985 — after “The Message” and “Sexual Healing” whipped Imperial Boredom in 1982 — more respondents listed our No. 1 single than our No. 1 album. With a third of the electorate still standing moot on singles, this makes Missy Elliott’s “Work It” pretty universal — hoisted aloft by 46 percent of the voters in her category where Wilco limped along at 29. For some voters, radio is a vast wasteland, the record business in its death throes. But for many others, pop innovation is at a historic peak, with artist-of-the-year beatmasters Timbaland and the Neptunes come to slash and burn the extinction-bound ponderosas on the album chart.

This old argument has never had more weight. Tim and the Neps have placed 12 records by 11 different artists on our singles charts over the past two years, with the Tim-and-Missy combo twice No. 1 in a landslide and “Work It” ’s Neptunes-Nelly preamble “Hot in Herre” third by a single vote in 2002 — behind “Lose Yourself,” Eminem’s rock song about the rap agon. For purposes of argument I wish two-three had reversed — Eminem got respect by becoming less interesting and less hip hop in 2002, and “Lose Yourself” isn’t even the best 8 Mile has to offer (especially 8 Mile the movie). Inconveniently, however, I never connected with “Hot in Herre”; for me the Neps’ great triumph was the sly funk they fashioned in tandem with Tim and 127th-place Justin Timberlake. If they’re the future, as Sasha Frere-Jones isn’t alone in believing, maybe I’m just showing my age. But hear me out.

The producer as auteur is an idea whose time has come and then some; having gotten to where what are called beats sometimes reject, sometimes exploit, and sometimes just are what are called hooks, we need figureheads with more rebop than Jeff Tweedy. But it’s one thing to insist that musicality in a rhythm music doesn’t equal songcraft plus sound effects, another to explain how any kind of pure musicianship, rhythmic included, signifies in pop, which achieves meaning by any means necessary. I should have voted for the backward-unmasked “Work It,” which grabbed me right after our deadline — it’s a surreally inventive novelty, so eventful it would take thousands of words to describe (love that jackass, or is it an elephant?). But even more than “Hot in Herre,” a novelty is what it is, a novelty about the liberating power of sex — especially if you think liberation involves oblivion, an ancient idea in people’s music.

[related_posts post_id_1=”692640″ /]

This is a myth whose efficacy is well-known at Pazz & Jop’s anti-pop extreme, in the only alt movement of moment: the Brooklyn bohos who successfully declared themselves a scene in the wake of 9/11, embracing the soft-core porn deceptively trademarked electroclash before shape-shifting toward an alienated DOR (“dance-oriented rock,” we called such earlier overrated bands as the Bush Tetras, ESG, and Liquid Liquid) best understood by the DFA label. Result: three charting singles, the dominatrix tongue-in-chic of the squeaked-on Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP, and the well-chilled eroticism of half-Brit Interpol’s top-20 album. Right, the sexualization of pop has been accelerating for many years — since MTV, maybe disco. And as usual — here come da “Sexual Healing,” now tell me where da “Message” — black musicians do it better. Still, this is a party in hard times however you slice it. Everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day. But before we let that happen we’ll fuck our lives away.

A believer in sex myself, I voted for Tweet-and-Tim’s “Oops (Oh My),” where Tweet strokes herself in the mirror after a hot date, a consummation much preferable to Interpol’s “You’re so cute when you’re frustrated dear/You’re so cute when you’re sedated dear.” But I’m not convinced anyone should feel obliged to get naked at the drop of a hint, and wish Missy was autonomous enough to differentiate between sex-positive and boy-crazy; when she offers to “put my thing down flip it and reverse it,” well, I like the way the image matches the music, but as a procedural guideline it seems a bit on the fancy side. I love the track, and in general prefer Tim’s gnarled beats (every one a swamp, with old sneakers, interesting deadwood, and empty Henny bottles set out like folk sculpture) to the Neptunes’ sleek, efficient ones (more like airports: strong franchise coffee, moving sidewalks, fluorescent lighting everywhere). But for me the most gratifying surprise of this poll was the Neptunes d/b/a N.E.R.D.’s In Search of…, which I now love for the same reasons I panned it in July: Obscenely wealthy, obscenely catchy thugs-by-association rationalize their ethics and throw their dicks around, only they’re consumed by doubt and hence honest enough to make themselves look like jerks. As conflicted as Biggie or Ghostface and more self-examined, they’ll be ready for the orgiasts whenever it cools down in therre — which is not to claim the orgiasts will be ready for them.

There I go, trumping a single with an album like I always do. Sorry, that’s how I hear, and how I want you to hear. I’ll never dis beatmastery, been pumping it forever, but even in hip hop I see bigger future in the Roots and Cee-Lo, both of whom chose this year to humanize their formal commitment with injections of singing and guitar. Up against my fellow citizens over in Williamsburg I’ll take the Drive-By Truckers’ underclass regionalism — or the alt logorrhea of Omaha’s/Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Brixton’s/the Streets’ Mike Skinner, one texturing with an 11-piece band featuring bassoon and cello, the other with low-end electronic junk. And when I want to escape — which I often do, music is great for it — I have plenty of living options. Heading my fuck-what-you-say Dean’s List, the longest ever, are the worldly, faithful, Muslim/Catholic, catholic/pagan Afrosalsa of Orchestra Baobab; the self-sufficient, ears-everywhere, middle-class microcosm of DJ Shadow; and the mad, bitter, guarded, indomitable truth-telling of the Mekons. I’m proud they all finished, never mind where. Jon Langford, who’s managed to put out four albums since last March including one against the death penalty, is my artist of the year, and I intend to follow his example. The world won’t end, you know. It will just get worse.

[related_posts post_id_1=”572924″ /]

Top 10 Albums of 2002

1. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)

2. Beck: Sea Change (DGC)

3. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.)

4. The Streets: Original Pirate Material (Locked On/Vice)

5. Sleater-Kinney: One Beat (Kill Rock Stars)

6. Bruce Springsteen: The Rising (Columbia)

7. The Roots: Phrenology (MCA)

8. Eminem: The Eminem Show (Aftermath/Interscope)

9. Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol)

10. Missy Elliott: Under Construction (Elektra)

[related_posts post_id_1=”697296″ /]

Top 10 Singles of 2002

1. Missy Elliott: “Work It” (Elektra)

2. Eminem: “Lose Yourself” (Aftermath/Interscope)

3. Nelly: “Hot in Herre” (Universal)

4. The Hives: “Hate to Say I Told You So” (Sire/Burning Heart/Epitaph)

5. Eminem: “Without Me” (Aftermath/Interscope)

6. The White Stripes: “Fell in Love With a Girl” (V2)

7. Kylie Minogue: “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” (Capitol)

8. Nirvana: “You Know You’re Right” (DGC)

9. Rapture: “House of Jealous Lovers” (DFA)

10. Tweet: “Oops (Oh My)” (Elektra)

—From the February 12–18, 2003, issue


Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.



Little Boots

Though the music of Little Boots easily sits alongside the likes of Kylie Minogue and Katy Perry, her ’80s jams are also delivered both a bit more earnestly and with a bit more complexity. In other words, she’s the dancefloor version of the girl-next-door, hashing out her heartbreaks and obsessions within a gem-like framework of shiny synths, her glittering soprano and plenty of edgy beats. Her initial single, “Stuck on Repeat,” was a collaboration with Joe Goddard of Hot Chip, and like any good bubblegum it’s still sticking five years later.

Tue., May 7, 9 p.m., 2013


‘Saved Records Presents Nic Fanciulli+Stacey Pullen’

Like his big-room Brit forebears, Saved Records’ Nic Fanciulli likes to broadcast dance music’s full spectrum, from the accessible (he’s worked with Kylie Minogue and Underworld) to the underground (he’ll throw, say, Ronaldo into a set). He’s proved himself a big fan of Detroit classics, so it’s fitting that tonight he hosts one of that city’s big names: under Silent Phase, Kosmik Messenger, Black Odyssey, and other aliases, Stacey Pullen has created an ever-expanding library of techno that’s both innovative and soulful. With Ralph Berr.

Sat., May 14, 10 p.m., 2011


Kylie Minogue

There’s a reason Kylie Minogue is a gay icon. Functioning as a less power-crazed, super-sexed Australian Madonna, she began with “The Locomotion” and ended with “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head,” an infectious ode to hardcore crushing with the best bass line of the ’00s. Expect tonight’s showcase to deliver the costume changes, light show, and footwear selection of Cher as Kylie holds court as the most un-diva-like diva around.

Oct. 11-13, 8 p.m., 2009


Nick Cave’s New Novel Is No Birthday Party

Nick Cave’s disappointing second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, is a Bad Seeds record in book form with all the wit stripped away. Cave’s music is misanthropic, but even in a song like “No Pussy Blues,” you kind of root for the sex-crazed narcissist. Door-to-door women’s-beauty-product salesman Bunny Munro, however, is contemptible from the very first page of the novel, and only becomes increasingly tiresome as the book trudges clumsily along.

It goes like this: Following a brief rendezvous with a hooker, and another one with a waitress shortly after, Bunny gets in his car and jerks off thinking of, among other things, Kylie Minogue in gold-lamé hotpants, a perennial fantasy. After finishing, he wonders if his wife will be up for it. He returns home to find that his wife has hanged herself in the orange nightgown she wore on their honeymoon—and Bunny’s infidelity is to blame. So he hits the road with his encyclopedia-reading nine-year-old son, Bunny Junior, who blindly idolizes his father. The father hardly knows his son exists as he sells his beauty products and fucks the memory of his wife out of his mind.

Cave spends the entire novel threatening to redeem Bunny, only to reveal, all too gradually, that he has no soul to save. Bunny continuously feels the ghost of his wife begging him to show remorse, and Cave throws all kinds of possible salvation his way, but each prospect is stymied by Bunny’s penis. It’s a tedious read, and Cave’s stygian sense of humor, a driving force in his music, causes the novel to drag on as a series of insulting dirty jokes: Bunny retreating to a church restroom to beat off while a priest reads his wife’s eulogy; raping a dying junkie in a heroin den because she resembles, vaguely, Avril Lavigne; seeing a three-year-old in “gold hipster hot pants” and thinking, Maybe in a few years.

Cave juxtaposes Bunny’s hedonistic road trip with the journey of a roaming serial rapist who wears plastic devil horns, paints his body red, and stabs women to death with a pitchfork. It’s the most compelling image in the novel—Bunny’s foil, undeniably—and yet the connection that Cave ultimately makes between the two is as superficial as all of Bunny’s relationships. Even worse, the murdering doppelgänger is far more likable than our supposed “protagonist.” Stick to music, Nick.


Studio’s Yearbook 2 and Low Motion Disco’s Keep It Slow

While global climate change might be making the western coast of Sweden noticeably warmer with each passing season, it still doesn’t quite explain how the Gothenburg-based duo Studio elicit out of their analog equipment such warm, beachy tones. But their chillaxed brand of beat-making sounds decidedly better in the sun than in club shadows. On last year’s Yearbook 1 and Out There, the duo of Dan Lissvik and Rasmus Hägg drew heavily from Madchester and Robert Smith’s mascara’d mewl, with just enough of Durutti Column’s spangle to brighten up such corners.

Yearbook 2 chronologically compiles the duo’s remixes for the likes of superstar Kylie Minogue, indie-popsters Shout Out Louds and Love Is All, and beatniks like A Mountain of One and Brooklyn’s own Brennan Green; there’s even a Tangerine Dream cover. Studio’s strategy is pretty simple: to make languid and sun-kissed even the tersest of pop singles. For “2 Hearts,” Kylie sunbathes out on la islas Baleares, the nylon-stringed guitars and hand claps rippling toward the horizon. The duo unmuddies AMoO’s epic “Brown Piano” so that each keyboard squiggle and snaking gypsy-guitar line rings out. Even the noir of Green’s “Escape From Chinatown” grows lighter, although the opening FX of thunder and rain sync up perfectly with the gray of an afternoon downpour right outside my window. Summertime is here!

In Low Motion Disco, the spirit of Robert Earl Davis Jr. (a/k/a DJ Screw) slurs on, a cough-syrup-friendly concoction perfect for dehydrating pool parties and kidney-punching tar-paper roof-toppers. At first pass, the Keep It Slow mix—by the duo and “friends”—seems too similar to the sleazy-listening (and copyright-ignoring) pastiche made a few months earlier by Quiet Village. Yet right around the time a kid yips “Oooh, let me get a lawn chair!”, Low Motion Disco’s novelties grow dizzier, funkier: The wafting strains of “Oooh Child” (on “Things Are Gonna Get Easier”), “At Last I Am Free,” and—am I crunked?—”Gangsta’s Paradise” melt like Tangerine Dreamsicles.

After a hairpin curve of ARP arpeggios and blitzed Berlitz tapes on how to order “champagne,” Keep It Slow peaks with the only deployment of Brattleboro beardo-folk on the dance floor ever, as Matt Valentine and Erika Elder croon tunelessly about rolling another number for the road. Go figure—LMD then speed things up for “People Come In Slowly,” no doubt echoing a sentiment first voiced earlier in the mix: “The crowd I want to reach is out at night.”


No. 1 Fan

I was never a fan of Kylie Minogue—until she gave me her fan. Sure, I couldn’t get “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” out of my head, but she’s really a European sensation. Then I met the wee lass at the Hiro after-party for the Scissor Sisters‘ show last week, hosted as always by those cuckoo kids the Trinity.

Jake Shears (a/k/a Jason Sellards, a/k/a my old friend), receiving admirers— including another pop royal, Cyndi Lauper. Wearing her hair short from the radiation treatment she was undergoing for breast cancer (it’s in remission, thank goodness), she bounced her famously bodacious behind in the booth to house music. The collection of sweaty shirtless men on the dancefloor and the club’s lack of air conditioning made Hiro resemble a gay sauna. “I’m soooo hot!” I whined like a baby. Kylie to the rescue: She dug into her purse and produced a fan. Now that’s a lady. “My sister gave it to me” (that would be Dannii Minogue), she said, as she fanned me. Oh, Kylie, “I’m So High,” I’m “Under the Influence,” I “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.”

The next day she was in the studio with the Sisters, who are finishing up their second record, due out by the end of summer. I tried to pawn off my extra ticket for Jamie Lidell on either Shears or Babydaddy (hottest bear ever, by the way), but they both had a date with Elton John at the Lestat premiere. Elton—it turns out—is a fan of Lidell and had passed on his Multiply CD to the Sisters’ boys.

Too bad they couldn’t come, because they missed another showstopping Lidell concert, where he—as my friend, writer Will Hermes, put it—”single-handedly made up for 10 years of boring electronic-music performances.” Part ’70s soul tribute, part experimental improv, part sampling lesson, the concert showcased Lidell’s talents as a comedic performer, a smooth crooner, and a freaking genius with more charisma in his pinky than all the indie-rock bands playing Pitchfork’s Intonation Festival combined. Also, did I mention he’s hot? I’m his number one fan. I’ll fan him—and feed him grapes too.

Hopefully, after they fix their floors, Lidell can return to Rothko, which he once played. The club was shut down after last Thursday’s Blues Traveler show, when the buildings department determined that the two-year-old venue’s floors needed reinforcing. Owner Rory Maher is renovating the club for the next month or so and diverting his bookings to other spots around the city. A new, improved Rothko will arrive just in time for summer. “I need a vacation,” Maher quipped.

Me too—especially after this week. On Wednesday, I dipped my toes into the Tribeca Film Festival—with a party at the Time Warner mall thing, ostensibly an event for Across the Hall, a short featuring Entourage‘s Adrian Grenier (who also popped up Thursday at the Soho Grand and Saturday at the Bowery Ballroom with his band, Honey). It turned out we were really just vessels for Samsung advertising and bad hors d’oeuvres. I fled to the newly opened Buddha Bar in the meatpacking district with DJ Shoe, the first DJ I ever heard, who spins at Little Buddha in Las Vegas. The simple, unassuming exterior of the Paris-based chain’s local outpost didn’t hint at the flamboyant decor inside. The piéce de résistance was a giant, black, floating Buddha that loomed over the diners as they enjoyed pricey, mediocre sushi and listened to fine French import Sam Popat play Enigma.

We headed across the street to Cielo, where we found the Roots party, thrown by Blaze‘s Kevin Hedge and Louie Vega, in full throttle. It felt like a celebration, and that’s ’cause it was a birthday party attended by Cirque du Soleil bigwig Guy Laliberté for Vega’s gregarious sweetheart of a wife, singer Anané, who plied me with drinks. She didn’t have to. I was already a fan.


Agricultural Ravers and Poppers Smack Their Kiwi Up

Country music thrives under authoritarian governments. Explicitly politicized bands like Prodigy, KLF, and Stone Temple Pilots were massive in England in the early 1990s when farmers there invented mad cow disease by feeding their livestock MDMA. The only “law” the Prodigy would appear to respect would be agrarian communism of the Mao/Khmer Rouge variety, which is hardly worse than ghetto astrology like Sharia or a slave-owners’ circle jerk like the Constitution. “Smack My Bitch Up” rewrote “Stand By Your Man” for the Rural Sports Network, but the peasant uprising was crushed by the “law” of copyright, making Britain safe for boring rock bands who all sound like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The Finn Brothers’ native New Zealand was the first country to grant women the vote, usually a disaster because politicians get all Cabaret Voltaire and nag nag nag, making laws against speeding and smoking and smacking your bitch up. She Will is songs by the Brothers’ bands Split (“CSNY”) Enz and Crowded (“CSN”) House, plus some solo Tim, covered by antipodean women on their time off from smashing into you with their backpacks on the subway. Natalie Imbruglia is still hot and “Six Months in a Leaky Boat” is funnier when you consider that most people associate the maritime life with buggery and sex tourism. Absent from She Will: Madison Avenue, Kylie Minogue, Germaine Greer. Absent from Their Law: “Baby’s Got a Temper”.

Prodigy play Nokia Theatre March 22.


Ikea Techno That’s Best When You Can’t Distinguish It at All

I’ve always had an attraction to music produced in bulk, music that cares more about obeying genre rules than expressing individuality. So when I first read about techno back in high school (1988–1990), its anonymity was immediately appealing in theory. But exploring the genre properly would have required buying vast numbers of singles (plus a turntable), just so I could spend hours I didn’t have making mix tapes of the stuff I wound up liking. Since I didn’t have an informed guide to help me spend my money wisely, this was a daunting project on a Dunkin’ Donuts cashier’s wages.

So I stuck with album-oriented genres like jazz and metal. But in recent months, I have discovered the Total compilations—exactly what I’ve always wanted techno to be, uniform right down to their covers, and conveniently within my price range. I bought the most recent volume in the series, the double-disc Total 6, and enraptured, snapped up the five prior volumes less than a week later. More recently, I found Kompakt 100, another double CD, this one featuring remixes of 12-inch tracks by other label artists. All 107 tracks now make up a 10 1/2-hour iPod playlist I shuffle through, never listening to just one compilation from beginning to end. The parts aren’t the point; the whole is.

Kompakt has a roster of about three dozen artists, and a very definite “house style.” Beats are strong but not oppressive or even particularly dominant, which suits non-dancing me just fine. The synths are ultra-smooth, almost never noisy or glitchy. The tracks that stick out are the ones with vocals, and they’re slightly disappointing: a cover of Brian Eno’s “Baby’s On Fire” that simply repeats the first two lines over and over for five minutes, a cover of Kylie Minogue’s impossible-to-improve cyborg love-dance “Slow.” But the best of this music could soundtrack a Michael Mann movie about men who crack safes and drive empty, rain-slick freeways in black BMWs with tinted windows, not talking.

Or you could play it in an all-white apartment as nanobots eat the dust off the furniture. A friend who knows more about electronic music than I ever will (makes his own, in fact) scoffs at my enthusiasm, calling Kompakt product “Ikea techno.” But that’s the point. I want mass production and predictability. In this era of micro-niche indie labels, Kompakt rewards brand loyalty more than most.


Caught in the Web

Like Howard Dean and Andrew Sullivan, Norwegian new-wave-dance-pop singer Annie and California hearth-pop duo Fisher both owe some of their success to Internet support. Way back in 1999 Fisher put their “I Will Love You” on The song, written for but excluded from the movie Message in a Bottle (which sucked just fine without it), found favor with bargain-mad fans of overwrought ballads, and has reportedly been downloaded 3 million times. Annie, big in Norway, midsize in England, hit stateside record shelves accompanied by Web-driven brouhaha. The same blogs and websites that earlier big-upped Dizzee Rascal and M.I.A. have noted and reiterated the transcendent blah blah blah of Annie’s by turns bubbly and melancholic music. Some of those folks helped her “Chewing Gum” and “Heartbeat” place 31st and 32nd on last year’s Pazz & Jop singles list, impressive showings for import-(download)-only specimens of continental girl pop. Pitchfork even named “Heartbeat” 2004’s single of the year. “Haven’t heard of it,” retorted Usher.

Praise for Annie from the blogosphere (surely some of these people are shills) has been intemperate—likewise from British record reviewers, who are paid by the hyperbolic adjective. But let’s not punish Annie for being overrated. An overrated good record is still a good record, and “Chewing Gum” may well have been last year’s 31st best single. “Oh no, oh no, you’ve got it all wrong,” she sings, “You think you’re chocolate but you’re chewing gum,” a memorable hook written by Hannah Robinson and producer Richard X (an exception; Annie co-writes most of her material). Robinson and X are savvy retrofitters. For Rachel Stevens’s “Some Girls” they underscored the kinship between ’70s glam rock and ’00s lady pop with a lemon highlighter. On “Chewing Gum,” they hotrod the “Cutie Pie”-“Genius of Love” beat, wrap it in a sigh, and correctly surmise that some boys always go mad for dating songs centered on oral metaphors, even those involving mastication, expectoration, and trampling.

“Chewing Gum,” proudly cute and disposable, is also singing to itself. Which isn’t to say it won’t sound fine in five or 20 years. Anniemal‘s “The Greatest Hit” is from 1999, and still parties as if it were. The song samples from and betters young Madonna’s “Everybody,” employing the reefer-toking cymbal from the original for the new tune’s Puff the Magic Dragon conceit. “Greatest Hit” was co-created by Annie and her then musical and romantic partner Tore “Erot” Kroknes, who died of heart complications in 2001. If you’re inclined to conjure it, Kroknes’s ghost will haunt Anniemal and lend gravity to songs such as the wistful “Heartbeat” and the forlorn “My Best Friend.” Unfortunately, neither Annie’s singing (puerile, glassy, something like a less expressive Kylie Minogue, also something like the red Teletubbi) nor her lyrics (bland, hard to make out, occasionally charming) live up to the album’s tragic subtext with any regularity, though “My Best Friend” is indeed a heartbreaker. And Kylie comparisons notwithstanding, Anniemal isn’t long on gay-disco abandon, either. The double-time section of “Heartbeat” gets close, but the forced club epic “Come Together” sounds more like faking it alone.

Still, small pleasures are abundant here: the bent synth-bass on the great title track; the dub-style delayed snare on “Always Too Late”; the quavering mope-funk of “No Easy Love,” written and produced with Röyksopp’s Torbjørn Brundtland and an effectively slowed-down variation on that group’s “Remind Me.” If much of Anniemal isn’t vibrant enough to move physically or resonant enough to move emotionally, its peaks suggest a worthy midway state. To expand on an image from “The Greatest Hit,” this is music for moonlight drives with friends in rented convertibles, during which a certain baseline of despair is mutually understood and even savored. Or this is music for a car commercial depicting such a scene.

Speaking of which, “Beautiful Life” by Fisher is surely the finest song ever written for Toyota. Expanded into legitimacy for The Lovely Years, the song remains an outstanding jingle, irritating and irresistible. Its chorus harmonies are rich enough to sell or buy yachts. Kathleen Fisher is an affected but not humorless vocalist, while husband Ron Wasserman is a junior Lindsey Buckingham hiding in broad daylight. I’m an even bigger fan of “Biggest Fan,” narrated by a likable star-stalker and given another textbook chorus, this one complete with horns imported from “Penny Lane” by Howard Jones. After that it gets dodgier—squishy new-parent ballads, something inspired by Sylvia Plath. But download “Life,” “Fan,” and the sweet “Be Here” and you might have the alt-MOR three-song EP of the year. For three bucks!

Annie plays Hiro Ballroom June 28 and Scenic June 29.