1. Static-X, Wisconsin Death Trip (Warner Bros.)
Static-X offer stentorian vocals, distorted guitars and jarring synthetic rhythms, all wrapped up in the guttural under-rumblings of death metal. Their jaw-dropping and perfectly produced debut disc, Wisconsin Death Trip, defines parameters within which a whole panoply of powerful new metal music could breed and thrive, if we just could get Limp Bizkit out of the away.
2. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication (Warner Bros.)
Prodigal guitarist John Frusciante returns to prove that chemistry really can make a band greater than the sum of its parts. Need proof? Replay the guitar-as-extension-of-projectile-vomit-reflex work offered by Dave Navarro on 1995’s One Hot Minute to hear how bad a good band can get–and then to be reminded how fast they can recover once the chemistry is restored.
3. Mindless Self Indulgence, Tight (Uppity Cracker)
Aphex Twin, Devo, Adam and the Ants, Iggy Pop, House of Pain, Neurosis, Marilyn Manson and the Urban Dance Squad could all be said to cast shadows upon Tight, although the totality of MSI’s rudimentary guitar, skittery programs, offensive lyrics, delirious samples and octave-jumping vocals is something completely different altogether. All aboard for funtime!
4. Robyn Hitchcock, Jewels for Sophia (Warner Bros.)
Robyn Hitchcock’s latest offering is indeed a jewel-laden crown that sits comfortably atop the English eccentric’s creative canon. The fact that Jewels for Sophia is an unabashed rock & roll record with lots of helpers participating has a lot to do with its success, as the revved-up, rhythm section-fortified Hitchcock seems more challenged and challenging than he has in years.
5. Beck, Midnite Vultures (DGC)
So I liked “Loser” and some of Odelay, but I hated Mutations, thereby leading me to conclude that I didn’t really like Beck at all, but instead liked the Dust Brothers (Beck’s producers) for making this very annoying artist (not to mention Hanson) occasionally tolerable. Then this wonderful, mostly Beck-produced disc showed up to really annoy me. Damn you, Beck!
6. Chemical Brothers, Surrender (Astralwerks)
Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons move forward by looking backwards, bringing the sounds of Silver Apples, Kraftwerk and New Order into the ’90s, then pumping them through their magical, musical time portal in order to show us what tomorrow might bring. If we’re lucky.
7. Honky Toast, Whatcha Gonna Do, Honky? (Sony 550)
AC/DC have pretty much monopolized the market on unsubtle, puerile, misogynistic, laddish, riff-fired shrieker music for most of the past two decades–but Honky Toast give ’em a great run for their dirty money on Whatcha Gonna Do, Honky? The perfect gift for the perfect idiot in your life.
8. Black Crowes, By Your Side (Columbia)
On their latest slab of sound, the Black Crowes return with a vengeance to the sorts of wham-bam-see-ya’-man musical mojo that defined the band before their unfortunate foray into the Dead-Phish-DMB zone. The result? Just the best driving-too-fast-to-care album of the year, if not the decade.
9. Citizen King, Mobile Estates (Warner Bros.)
“I’ve seen better days/I’ve been the star of many plays” may well be the worst lyrical couplet ever written, but damned if I can’t help singing along to it. Citizen King offer high potency, middlebrow, low expectation music that charms in part simply because you expect it to be worse than it is. The musical equivalent of finding the perfect velvet Elvis at a trailer park garage sale.
10. Yes, The Ladder (Beyond)
Easily the best work these critical whipping boys have produced since their early ’70s heyday, in large part because producer Bruce Fairbairn actually got Yes’ unquestionably talented players to work together as a band, making The Ladder their first aurally democratic effort in at least 20 years. So listen with an open mind, not with 30 years of prog hate in your heart.