’02 was a crazy year in American history. Still reeling from 9/11 the country banded together for a short while rallying around our president and our flag only to find our leaders take advantage of the good will patriotism and go to war under false pretenses. ’02 was my first full year as a married man and my last full year living in NYC. My wife and I were in Williamsburg, Brooklyn during perhaps the peak of its music scene. Things were hectic as my wife was teaching at a failing school and getting her masters degree at the same time while the music industry seemed to be collapsing due to their inability to deal with the rise of Napster. This was pre Apple store & pre-ipod. It was the “wild west.” Though music still sold in huge numbers, no one seemed to know what would happen next.
Strictly from an artistic standpoint ’02 was a helluva year with boatloads of great indie-rock and rap releases, along with the beginnings of a sea change in both pop and dance music. Some years are filled with tons of great tunes and even albums, but lack more than 1 or 2 stone cold classic albums. ’02 had both. Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, Interpol’s “Turn On The Bright Lights”, Flaming Lips “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” and perhaps Sleater-Kinney’s “One Beat” and The Trail Of Dead’s “Source Tags & Codes” are worthy of the classic billing and there were plenty more very good to great albums as well. Each of those five albums in its own way captured the confusion, anger, heartbreak and post-millennium tension of the time.
Anyone who lived in New York City in the late 90’s pretty much agrees that the rock scene in the city was all but dead or very stale at the very least. Artists were being driven out of the Village in droves due to skyrocketing rent. Many of those artists wound up in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Williamsburg, Brooklyn was just a 5 minute subway ride from the East Village and though several of its main streets off of the first stop of the L train were very quaint and pricey in their own right, the majority of the rather large neighborhood was made up of no longer in use industrial spaces where artists could live on the cheap in large loft spaces. I had moved to the neighborhood in ’97 and saw the number of venue spaces probably at least quintuple between ’97 and ’02. The breakout of the Strokes in late 2001 led to the somewhat over-hyped “return to rock” movement. Williamsburg was thought of as the major hub even though the vast majority of rock music’s best bands in ’02 did not reside there. The scene was already flourishing but it was mostly due to D.I.Y. dance groups like LCD Soundsystem and Fischerspooner than any rock bands making a major dent outside of their own insulated scene. But the seeds were sewn and Williamsburg would remain a cultural force for much of the decade to come. Some great indie-rock that did come out of non-Williamsburg NYC in ’02 was the aforementioned Interpol, whose debut album “Turn On The Bright Lights” remains their best record. The dance/art punk Liars released their debut album (actually released with minor distribution in late ’01) “They Threw Us In A Trench And Stuck A Mountain On Top”. The Walkmen, formed from the ashes of the once heavily hyped Jonathan Fireater also released their very strong debut “Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone”. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs also released their first EP’s. They would go on to become one of the most important and loved groups of the scene and actually were a Williamsburg band- however briefly. And several other lesser NYC bands enjoyed a brief moment in the sun, releasing at least one or two great singles like The Mooney Suzuki, Radio 4 & the French Kicks.
Though New York City got much of the hype there were great rock scenes and bands popping up all over the place. The aforementioned Sleater-Kinney and theatrical folk-rockers the Decemberists represented Portland, Oregon. And You Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and the great Spoon held it down for the liberal oasis of Austin, Texas. The Montreal collective Broken Social Scene released their great debut “You Forgot It In People”. Montreal was another strong music scene. Some other great American groups were not as much part of a scene. The Oklahoma institution the Flaming Lips enjoyed perhaps the peak of their popularity with the “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” album. Queens Of the Stone Age”, residing in the California desert, released their breakthrough album “Songs Of the Deaf”. Some great bands were finally emerging across the pond in England besides Radiohead. The romantic but ramshackle punkish band the Libertines came out with their excellent debut “Up The Bracket”. The mellow, ready for radio Coldplay, soon to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world released their second and still best album “A Rush Of Blood To The Head”. Other English bands like Doves, The Coral, the Delgados & Supergrass kept the English rock scene diverse and interesting.
If the year seemed to be totally dominated by bands, there is usually a counterpunch to the zeitgeist. ’02 also saw the beginnings of a quiet folkie movement. At first it was very underground, led by artists like Devendra Banhart, but it became a bigger cultural force by mid-decade. ’02 saw the release of the great Iron & Wine’s debut album “The Creek Drank The Cradle” along with North Carolina “band” the Mountain Goats breakthrough album “Tallahassee”. Both bands were really vehicles of one person- Sam Beam and John Darnielle respectively. Though Darnielle had been releasing albums under the MG’s since the mid-nineties “Tallahassee” was his first to make a major cultural dent and both artists would continue to grow in stature throughout the oughts. Though not strictly falling into the folkie category per se, some other great solo records of ’02 include “Sea Change” by Beck, a lovelorn mellow album seemingly the antithesis of all of the music he has released previously, “Blacklisted” a country-tinged album by New Pornophrapher’s star Neko Case and “Lifted or the Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground” by the ambitious if a bit precocious Omaha native Bright Eyes (real name: Conor Oberst). The biggest selling album of the year, and by a wide margin, was the pleasant but musically unambitious debut album “Come Away With Me” by Norah Jones. It caught lightning in a bottle, perfect as background or coffee shop music for aging baby boomers while appealing to her own mid 20’s age group as well. Other huge rock albums of ’02 were Bruce Springsteen’s answer to 9/11 “The Rising”, which was maybe his last album to really appeal to the masses and make a huge impact and “Home” by the Dixie Chicks- certainly a country album rather than a rock album and their last album released before pissing off many of their original fans by badmouthing President George W. Bush during a concert in England.
Though there were no monumental rap albums releases in 2002, outside of maybe the debut by white London rapper Mike Skinner with his great debut “Original Pirate Material” as The Streets, which has as much to do with U.K. garage music as it does with hip hop. West coast group Blackalicious made a great indie-rap album with “Blazing Arrow” and Philadelphia The Roots had a breakout hit with “The Seed 2.0” off of “Phrenology”. El-P, the head of NYC’s influential indie-rap label Def Jux released his debut solo album “Fantastic Damage”. Missy Elliott came out with one of the songs of the year with “Work It” off of her stellar “Under Construction” album. Though it was still a far cry from “Illmatic”, Nas’s “God’s Son” could definitely be called a comeback, featuring the awesome single “Made You Look”. Eminem was still a major force in rap. He starred in the feature film “8 Mile” more than loosely based on his own life. The cut “Lose Yourself” from the movie became a massive hit and probably remains his signature cut. In Harlem, Cam’ron had two huge crossover rap hits with “Hey Ma” and “Oh Boy”. Lil Jon’s “Get Low” was a massive single and proved very influential is moving the dirty south’s crunk scene more mainstream. Down in Virginia Beach, Va, along with Missy Elliott & Timbaland, the Neptunes (made up on Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), became one of the best and biggest production teams in the business. They had already been running strong since the 90’s but by ’02 they seemed to had a hand in creating or producing an enormous amount of hits- just a few of them from ’02 include Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful”, Nelly’s “Hot In Herre”, Jay’Z’s “Excuse Me Miss (La La), Beyonce’s “Work It Out” and Birdman’s “Whatever Happened To That Boy”. In addition they released their debut album “In Search Of” as N.E.R.D., produced the entire debut album “Grindin” of Va. Beach’s great rap duo Clipse & the majority of the hits off of former N’Sync member Justin Timberlake’s debut solo record “Justified”. Many of their great pop rap crossover hits would lead to a resurgence of awesome pop & R&B on the radio by mid-decade.
AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD- SOURCE TAGES & CODE
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THE STREETS- ORIGINAL PIRATE MATERIAL
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NEKO CASE- BLACKLISTED
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THE DECEMBERISTS- CASTAWAYS AND CUTOUTS
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THE MOUNTAIN GOATS- TALLAHASSEE
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IRON & WINE- THE CREEK DRANK THE CRADLE
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BECK- SEA CHANGE
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BLACKALICIOUS- BLAZING ARROW
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THE LIBERTINES- UP THE BRACKET
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CLIPSE- LORD WILLIN’
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SLEATER-KINNEY- ONE BEAT
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COLDPLAY- A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD
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EL-P- FANTASTIC DAMAGE
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THE FLAMING LIPS- YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS
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SPOON- KILL THE MOONLIGHT
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INTERPOL- TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS
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WILCO- YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT
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QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE- SONGS FOR THE DEAF
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BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE- YOU FORGOT IT IN PEOPLE
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MCLUSKY- DO DALLAS
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