The Best Records of 2002 

Our critics pick the top crime rhymes, Galway fiddlers, plaintive indie rock, neo-soul, and good ol' rock 'n' roll.

CHRIS BATY

Desaparecidos

Read Music/Speak Spanish

Omaha's Desaparecidos (Spanish for "the disappeared") tore 2002 a new one with this unrelenting and magnificent rock polemic. Weezer's bootprint is all over it, but the lyrics -- an imaginative attack on American consumerism -- sound more like Ralph Nader than Rivers Cuomo. Yes, the band features Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst. And yes, that boy can scream. (Saddle Creek)

Freestylers

Pressure Point

Jean-Paul Sartre had it right when he wrote that hell is interesting electronic music. England's Freestylers make the kind of super-clean, super-bouncy dance music that's become an endangered species in this age of smarty-pants techno. Pressure Point is basically Fatboy Slim with a dancehall twist -- a heaping helping of big beat spiced with ragamuffin rapping and salty drum 'n' bass. A true slice of rump-shaking heaven. (Mammoth)

Hank Dogs

Half Smile

Ahoy, ye British folkies! Hank Dogs land a genre classic with this acoustic platter. Notes bounce and ring in fingerpicked rolls, and vocalists Joanna "Piano" Price and Lily Ramona sing introspective, earthy melodies haloed with an ethereal warmth. This is what the Cranberries would sound like if they added Suzanne Vega to the band and stopped with all the rock histrionics. You like folk music? Go buy this now. (Spin Art)

Mary Lou Lord

Live: City Sounds

Girly-voiced street busker-turned-Sony-almost-ran-turned-busker-again Mary Lou Lord drags a portable DAT down into a Boston subway station and records herself playing to commuters. Simple-as-a-whisper covers of Richard Thompson, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, the Pogues, and others. Brave and comforting music for days of missed connections. (Rubric)

Mendoza Line

Lost in Revelry

Ironic and alcoholic, Brooklyn's Mendoza Line sounds a little like the Replacements covering Dave Eggers. With three songwriters in the group, the material achieves a truly impressive level of unevenness, but when the band lands its punches ("Red Metal Doors," "Mistakes Were Made," "Whatever Happened to You?"), you can't help but be knocked out. Yee-ouch. (Misra)

Emily Sparks

What Could Not Be Buried

An absolute party-killer, the twee, autobio folk debut from Emily Sparks can turn a room of boisterous revelers into a contemplative, weeping mess by the end of the first track. Recommended for late-night drives and other cinematically lonely experiences. (Wishing Tree)

The Streets

Original Pirate Material

Birmingham Brit talk-raps over guilty-pleasure house synths and garage beats. It sounds square, I know, but after five listens you feel like Mike Skinner (aka the Streets) is your best mate. Original Pirate Material is the Buena Vista Social Club of lower- middle-class British stoner clubgoers -- a colorful, impressively ethnographic tour of musicmaking and rabble-rousing, love, and disappointment. (Vice)

Ugly Casanova

Sharpen Your Teeth

Stuck in the realm between epileptic fit and epiphany, this hillbilly side project of Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock would be totally scary if it weren't so fucking beautiful. Brock's clipped poetics tumble at the listener in torrents of loose associations, and the junkyard music jigs like Tom Waits at a hoedown. Fly that freak flag, Isaac; you are doing God's work. (Sub Pop)

Various

Amos House Collection, Volume 2

A top-notch package of unreleased sensitive indie rock, with offerings from big-name contributors such as Elliott Smith and Wheat alongside frighteningly good songs from unknowns like Drew ]O'Doherty (whose otherwise-unavailable "One Way" will leave Richard Buckner and Mark Eitzel fans crowning a new king). One-stop shopping for wuss-ophiles everywhere. (Wishing Tree)

Tom Waits

Alice

The hipster king finally sits down and records the fantastic score from the musical he wrote back in the early '90s. His most consistent record since Rain Dogs, Alice captures Waits at the top of his game: dirty, nostalgic, sultry, drunk, and utterly, utterly blessed. (Epitaph)


ERIC K. ARNOLD

Donnie

The Colored Section

Neo-soul has been criticized for its blandness, but this cannot be said about Donnie. This debut is a Songs in the Key of Life for the post-hip-hop generation. Inspirational anthems like "Cloud 9" and "Do You Know?" provide much-needed positivity in a world that appears more negative by the day. (Giant Step)

DJ Jazzy Jeff

The Magnificent

Will Smith's onetime sidekick steps out from the background and delivers a solid underground-oriented album with some superdupa dope production work. JJ mixes pregnant drums and deft scratches with jazzy flourishes, as well as soulful nuances and expressive vocal contributions from J-Live, Jill Scott, Freddie Foxx, and Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men. (Beat Generation/BBE)

E-40

Grit & Grind (The Ballatician)

Had E-40 run in the November election, he would have made a more flavorful gubernatorial candidate than the smarmy politrick-ians who waged multimillion- dollar mudslinging campaigns. Few are as qualified to address inner-city problems, even if he speaks from the standpoint of a Blackhawk homeowner. In addition to being a nifty linguist, the charismatic rapper clearly has a grip on economic issues -- electable? Fa shizzle. (Sick Wid It/Jive)

Goapele

Even Closer

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