Granite and Tumble: volume 5

Subtitled: 2001 a review of music


Recorded Music

Prior to commenting on my favorite releases of this year, I must discuss my philosophy on album reviews.   I firmly believe favorite album compilations should lag by two years for two primary time constraining reasons:  to address the staying power of the album and to acquire a suitable number of fine albums.  Finally, I must also add in order to be considered for top album awards, I must own the album. 

Now with the philosophy behind us, let's go back to 1999.......

1999 was the album of the side project or solo musician.   Many of my favorite releases this year are projects championed by a single great mind:   Tom Waits, Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia), Sam Prekop (Sea and Cake), Jim O'Rourke (Gastr Del Sol), Ben Barnett (Kind of Like Spitting), and Bill Callahan (Smog).  Drag City continues its strong hold on top ten albums with two more this year.   Check out all the albums considered for 1999.

It also worth pointing out that seven of the eight albums that I predicted would be great albums in 1999, are still in fact great albums.   The only exception is Sonna's The Eventual Bow Travels in Constants, which I still think is a great album.  I knocked it off the list however for its duration, the entire album is only 17 minutes long.   

With that said, the albums included in the favorite ten are nothing short of brilliant.   All of these albums are not simply excellent additions to any music lover’s album collection, they are necessary additions.   Fortunately, they can be bought at the premier online music store.

  Buy it at Insound!  


1    Beulah's When Your Heartstring Break (Sugar Free Records) - An utterly amazing release from this San Francisco quartet that features an additional 18 musicians playing accompaniment with:  violins, violas, cellos, clarinets, saxes, French horns, accordions, and even a sarngi.   For fans of like minded artists Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control, this is a must buy.
2 Rainer Maria's Look Now Look Again (Polyvinyl Records) -  For those of you who are fans of male/female duets delivered with raw emotional power laid over catchy guitar and bass rhythms, you will love this album.
3 Tom Waits' Mule Variations (Anti- Epitaph) -  One of the most diverse Waits albums since Rain Dogs.   This album is filled with Waits' typical heart-felt ballads but also contains many songs with his unique percussion arrangements.  Interesting to note that this is Waits' first ever independent release.  
4 Songs: Ohia's Axxess and Ace (Secretly Canadian) - Jason Molina's second album for Secretly Canadian features an outstanding Chicago lineup including members from Pinetop Seven, Rex, and the ever present Edith Frost.   A great pick-up for Palace fans.
5 Sam Prekop's Sam Prekop (Thrill Jockey Records) - A dreamscape album perfect for relaxing on a summer day.   It is jazzy at times, but always containing Prekop's penchant vocal arrangements that breath effortlessly along with the music.   If you are into the Sea and Cake, you clearly should have this album. 
6 Jim O'Rourke's Eureka (Drag City) - If you get past the strange album cover, you will be treated to a great melodic pop album (a true breakthrough for the always avant-garde O'Rourke.  This album features Jim's multi-instrument talents, he plays bass, guitar, piano, lap steel, and synthesizers.   There is even a Burt Bacharach cover on the album.
7 Kind of Like Spitting's You Secretly Want me Dead (Hush) - How could I ignore Ben Barnett's first of four releases for four different labels in a one year period.   This lo-fi pop album has two parts Lou Barlow, one part Elliot Smith.  If you like the lone acoustic guitar with emotive songs about loneliness, depression, and guilt, this is definitely your album.
8 Smog's Knock Knock (Drag City) -  Bill Callahan's seems almost happy on this album.  The king of quiet and contempt delivers an upbeat album with quicker tempos and a fuller sound than ever before.  Smog fans will still be pleased to hear songs like River Guard and Teenage Spaceship, dealing with a warden watching the prisoners swimming and the lonely, awkward feelings of youth.
9 Pele's Elephant (Sing Language Records) - This is an upbeat instrumental album borrowing Jazz styling but is better categorized as pop.  This album features less of the synthesizer and more guitar layers to create its aura of sound. 
10 Elf Power's A Dream in Sound (Arena Rock/Elephant Six) - Elephant six bands are the bookends for this year's top ten.  Elf Power is probably more on the psychedelic side than pure Beatle's revisionists, as a prime example the outstanding, "The Bird with the Candy Bar Head."  Fans of the Olivia Tremor Control will definitely enjoy this album.


Despite my earlier comments about music needing age to properly evaluate, I will still offer my best guess at my favorite releases from the current year (2001).    

Even My Sure Things Fall Through


Red House Painters’ 
Old Ramon
(Sub Pop)

Rainer Maria’s 
A better version of me

(Jade Tree)

The New Year’s 
Newness Ends
(Touch and Go)  

The Mountain Goats’  
The Coroner's Gambit
(Absolutely Kosher)

Clem Snide's
The Ghost of Fashion

The Coast is Never Clear

Live Music

The first year post Lounge Ax was not as bad as Chicago may have feared.   The Abbey has consistently started to pick up some of the Lounge Ax old shows.  Dan the Doorman and others have even begun working at the Lounge Ax north.   The Abbey is no longer just a place to watch Soccer or Irish music, but now an indy rock haven as well.

In other random rock news of the year, I saw the loudest acoustic show imaginable.   J Mascis at the empty bottle (yet another show that Pinebender opened).  J was so loud he even blew a speaker at the empty bottle, fairly impressive on an acoustic show.  Why he feels he needs to play that loud is still a mystery to me, he must be loosing his hearing as he get older, because every show is louder than the last.    

In an Uncle Tupelo update, Jay Farrar disbanded Son Volt, and started Sebastopol.  I saw him perform at the Park West to a packed house.   This could prove to be an interesting beginning.  Meanwhile, Wilco was dropped from their major label, but still mustered out a tour for their album in limbo, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.   The show was at the San Francisco major studio venue, The Fillmore.  It also was sold out, so I got a free poster for the show.  As Farrar and Tweedy, stumble down, Columbia has decided to release an Uncle Tupelo greatest hits due out early 2002.

Another memorable moment, when Doug Martsch was coming out for encore at Slims; the crowd was screaming for Cowboy Dan.   A surprised and surely annoyed Martsch, quietly but into the microphone explained, "Sorry folks but that is a Modest Mouse song."   I heard a similar request at the Modest Mouse show at the House of Blues, only it was for "The Plan" and voiced by fans not quite as loud.

All in all another great year, filled with countless other great memories.  New bands are emerging, old ones are leaving; but the music continues.   Anyway, enough of this folderol, to the top concerts of the year.   I saw 40 concerts at 18 different venues in 2001.    The most commonly hit venue was the Schubas (11 times).  


1. David Singer & Sweet Science, Mates of State, Beulah
    at the Abbey (Chicago)

San Francisco was making a strong showing tonight in Chicago.  Mates of State provided an outstanding starting point, a husband and wife duet that proves you don't need a guitar to rock (keyboards and drums being their only instruments).  These guys remind me of Rainer Maria without Guitars.   Beulah was fantastic per usual.   Interesting points of this show, they had a so-called groupie who had been following the band play flute with them on one song and they invited everyone on stage with them for the encore.   Literally there were 25 people on stage singing and dancing, quite an impressive encore.
2. Mike Kinsella, Pinebender, Rainer Maria
     at the Empty Bottle (Chicago)

Kinsella and Pinebender are solid opening acts, Pinebender put on a particularly strong effort this night, still predominantly playing songs off their debut Things are about to get weird.   However, Rainer Maria ruled the stage.   The balance between Kyle and Caithlin was perfectly harmonious.   This balance is the catalyst to display their perfect collection of power, emotion and harmony.   This was truly a great show.
3. White Octave, Unwed Sailor,  Pedro the lion 
    at The Fireside Bowl (Chicago)  

Unwed Sailor originated as a side project of Pedro the Lion front man, David Bazan, however, he no longer plays with the band.  This show however he did provide the rhythm section for what was a great instrumental set.   Pedro the Lion is simply a great live act, proving that slow, and occasionally depressing music can still rock.
4. Rock-a-Teens, Papa M
    at the Schubas (Chicago) 

The majority of the audience was their to see the Rock-A-Teens.   While they were entertaining, in my opinion Papa M catapulted this show into the top ten.   David Pajo had a great cast of musicians with him tonight including Cynthia Nelson from Retsin, whom shared the singing responsibilities.   They played a number of songs on the upcoming release of Whatever Mortal and several from Papa M sings.   Interestingly, he chose to only play one instrumental. after which he joked, "We are actually an instrumental band!!"
5. Pinetop Seven, Stephen Malkmus
    at the Vic (Chicago)  

A great double billing.   Pinetop was touring on their tour only, "Lest We Forget".   Absent Charles Kim, who has been taking the Sinister Luck Ensemble as a full time gig; Pinetop barely missed a beat.  Pinetop has definitely matured over the years, now featuring elements of jazz and post rock into their insurgent country act.   They are definitely a great live band.   Stephen Malkmus put on a great set, he played most of the songs off his two solo albums.  Sorry folks no pavement songs, but he did do a Led Zeppelin cover.  Ouch!
6. L'altra Jim O'Rourke & Sean O'Hagan, Smog
    at the Double Door (Chicago)

L'Altra opened the set with a serene instrumental set.   They are yet another post rock group from Chicago, with roots in Jazz but better classified as Slow-Core.    For the uninitiated, Sean O'Hagan is the front man for the High Llamas.   This show was particularly blessed to have O'Rourke playing guitar with Sean.  They played predominantly acoustic High Llamas songs.   Bill Callahan had the full band backing him, with Smog down right rocking this evening.   A great show, with a strong triple bill.
7. Detachment Kit, American Heritage, Pele
    at the Empty Bottle (Chicago)  

Pele is an instrumental three piece from Milwaukee.  However, they avoid the unfortunate post-rock tendency of turning rock, jazz, and electronic music into an indecipherable and indistinct soup by avoiding electronics and nearly eschewing rock (outside of some moments of conventional beat-keeping), while turning the rhythmic interplay into the reason for and reward of the music.  Interestingly enough, Detachment Kit is critic's choice this week in the reader.  I personally think Pele blew them off the stage.
8. Designer, Bride of No-No, Nobukazu Takemura, Tortoise 
     at the Metro (Chicago)  

Designer is the alias of Chicago engineer Casey Rice.  If you are into DJ'ing or drum'n'bass you may dig it, unfortunately, I am not.  Bride of No-No characterized by a group of woman in mummy outfits play punk rock - more gimmick than great.  Takemura is a Kyoto based electronica musician.   Tonight he played solely with his Macintosh computer and a string of computer generated images.   It goes with out saying, post rock legends Tortoise is what catapulted this show into the top ten.
9.  Paul Newman, Dianogah, Archer Prewitt
    at Schubas (Chicago)

Paul Newman, the band,  has no ties to Butch Cassidy, they are a more punk oriented post rock band from Austin, TX.   Dianogah are one of my favorite live acts.  Their lack of a guitar never seems to prevent them from creating melodic sounds of power.   They have great interchange between the musicians, and simply must be seen to be fully appreciated.  Archer Prewitt had the full band with him tonight, performing his almost folk songs complete with brass sections and strings.
10. Runner, Pinebender, Dianogah 
      at the Empty Bottle (Chicago)  

Pinebender and Dianogah both appear twice in the top ten this year.   Apparently Runner was blessed with a strong bill, but did little to assure them a spot on future top lists.   This was Dianogah's last show before a long European tour.   In a rare move asking for fans comments on how they could be better, Dianogah handed out pens and paper to everyone in the audience and asked them to write down some concrete things that they could do to improve their live set.   The great are always trying to improve.



Music combined with love will surely pave the road to paradise.


Your self-proclaimed music critic  

  W. C. HUB

February 17, 2002

Email me your thoughts.