College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 32 and 31

death by chocolate
32. Death By Chocolate, Death By Chocolate

Becoming reacquainted with the popular peaks of college radio in 2001 meant learning a lot of new terms. Sadcore? Yeah, that was a real thing. With some dismay, I came to terms with the idea that music was being subdivided up endlessly, with each minor deviation assigned its own term. Something that my cohorts and I may have once referred to a sweet pop music, offering no further explication of its minute particulars, could now be termed “twee” and a little legion of fans would swarm to it, seemingly with almost no interest in approaching it with discerning ears. It was named as part of the subset and that was good enough. That concern of overly welcoming fandom isn’t meant to imply that the self-titled debut by the band Death By Chocolate isn’t a good record. I think it’s charming, bright and warm. And it’s certainly unimpeachable in its choices when it comes to cover songs. Still, I had a strong sense that for most who embraced the record, it was because it fit properly and snugly into the right category (the sweet, head-rocking lead vocals of Angela Faye Tillett practically achieve that all on their own) rather than because it stirred them in any way. At least this version of blind, deaf zealotry had an endearingly precious soundtrack.

pj stories
31. PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

Amidst the larger numbers of the chart, I speculated on which album may have been (and still be, I suppose) my pick for the best of 2001. I’m absolutely certain what record I think is the finest of the prior year. PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea came out in the fall of 2000, making it one of the few albums in the relative upper reaches of the chart that is clearly there by virtues of its staying power. The album extends the evocative majestic and intricately detailed songwriting that had come to the forefront with 1995’s To Bring You My Love. Harvey had once gotten her music across through sheer force, but was now mastering a more elegant, more alluring style. By verifying that earlier transition, this arguably became the album the fully established Harvey’s transition from cult favorite to a vital titan of modern music, at least in the eyes of the larger establishment (her win of the distinguished Mercury Prize can be seen as partial evidence of this). Beyond what it may or may not have meant for Harvey’s ascendance, the music on the album is uniformly excellent.

An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

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