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Best of 2002: Movies, Books, Music.
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Wednesday, January 01, 2003

The Soundtrack of 2002
In some ways, 2002 was the year I rediscovered music. Until about 13 years ago, music was front-and-center in my life. I was a radio DJ, I spent a ridiculous amount of my meager income on records, and then … I don’t know what happened. I went from buying six records a month to buying six CDs a year. In 2002, I got my groove back, in large part, I must say, from the stylish and enthusiastic music writings in blogs (him, him, him, and him, for example).

So, I’m too out of it to have the confidence to offer a “best of” list, but here are some of the CDs that got me all excited this year. (Note, many of these are pre-2002 releases, but I only discovered them in the last 12 months.) They’re in no particular order.

Madredeus: Electronico. Mostly excellent remixes dilute the sometimes too-clear-to-take purity of Teresa Salgueiro’s voice.
Koop: Waltz for Koop. What’s not to like? A Dave Brubeck album with Swedish guys in dresses on the cover.
Red Hot & Riot: The Musical Spirit of Fela Kuti. I was shocked to realize how many of the “Red Hot” albums I own. This is up there with Red Hot and Rio and Onda Sonora (see below) as my favorites of the series. I just wish they’d fade out the ends of the tracks rather than just drawing to an abrupt halt, which seems to be the house style.
Onda Sonora: Red Hot + Lisbon. Worth it for 1) “Mulemba Xangola,” by Bonga, Marisa Montes, and Carlinhos Brown; 2) General D’s fabulous rap on “Sobi Esse Pano, Mano”; and 3) realizing that although k.d. lang might be a brilliant torch singer, she doesn’t have the chops for fado.
Verve//Remixed. A brilliant concept, unevenly realized, but in most cases managing to put a new and positive spin on material that was already brilliant.
Cassandra Wilson: Belly of the Sun. I don’t even want to hear those endless stupid arguments about whether this is jazz. If you sing a pop standard like “Wichita Lineman” the way Cassandra Wilson sings it, it’s jazz.
Beth Orton: Daybreaker. Overhyped for sure, but it has some lovely moments, like “Paris Train.” (And no, I don’t only like it because it gives me another track to add to a “trains, boats, and planes” concept compilation CD.)
24 Hour Party People: The Official Soundtrack Album. Yipes, a trifecta for 24HPP, making all three of my end-of-2002 lists, but it’s hard to knock a compilation that takes you from “Anarchy in the UK” to “Here to Stay” in just 17 steps.
Gotan Project: La Revancha del Tango. I loved this CD when I finally got it (for some reason it’s still only available in the United States as an import), but now I’m in full backlash mode. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I saw their apparently impressive live show, but my current view is: second-rate tango (just compare the vapid version of “Vuelvo al Sur” on this album to the impassioned interpretation on Astor Piazzolla’s Tanguedia de Amor), with sloganeering masquerading as political content (does a sample of Evita Peron—hardly a progressive icon, whatever Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice would like us to think—shouting “el capitalismo foráneo” really offer any insight?), and excessive reliance on proto-dub.
Don Byron: Arias and Lieder. There are a million jazz-meets-electronica, world-music-meets-electronica, and even classical-meets-electronica and folk fusion (including Blue Note’s deliciously titled Folk’n’Hell) albums out there, but this is the best jazz-meets-classical fusion I’ve heard. Don Byron does things with a clarinet that Acker Bilk never dreamed of.