2001 was a huge year. It was the year that the hangover from the 1990s officially ended. The hopes and dreams that the previous decade had promised of the new millennium were obliterated as soon as the first plane hit the Twin Towers. Moving forward, the new millennium, the new decade and the new cultural epoch was set on a completely different path than what many had hoped.
In many ways, 2001 was a total melting pot of a year. We got the last hurrah of the ’90s, a confluence of rap, metal and everything in between, and by the end of the year, music had taken a much darker turn, given the events that had rocked the western world. After 9/11, Interpol penned their bleak masterpiece Turn On the Bright Lights, which dropped in August 2002; the idea for My Chemical Romance germinated in the mind of Gerard Way as he watched the burning towers from his morning commute, and culture at large ingested a colossal shot of reality.
On both sides of 9/11, 2001 was a massive year for music. It saw a whole host of artists releases, ranging from hip hop pioneer Redman to the freewheelin’ troubadour Bob Dylan — even Victoria Beckham knocked out a record. The fluidity and variety that the ’90s had enacted had truly arrived, and it was here to say via technological advancements such as the early internet. It was so much a boom period of pop culture that today, in terms of music and fashion, we are still collectively inspired by 2001. Dickies trousers are back in, Y2K fashion is all the rage, and you’d be sure to see a host of new metal band t-shirts at any of your local hipster watering holes.
This isn’t a bad thing at all; it just shows how exciting the year was, running up to the cultural catastrophe that happened in the ninth month of the year. Nu-metal, pop, dance, punk — there was something for everyone readily available in the mainstream back then, a facet that is entirely different to today. It was the era of American Pie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the year that the young magician under the stairs, Harry Potter, would start his decade long quest to save the wizarding world.
So for the year that Bill Clinton served his last days in office, where Shrek first hit our screens, and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman finally called it quits, we’re listing the 20 best albums that were released within its momentous 12 months.
So, kick back, and reminisce about idly spending your days in HMV and Woolworth’s browsing for the hottest new album slapped with the iconic ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker. There’s even a playlist collating our top picks, and you don’t need Limewire to hear it.
The 20 best albums released in 2001:
The Argument – Fugazi
The last album post-hardcore icons Fugazi released, The Argument, is perhaps the most underrated release in their entire discography. Personally, I’d say it’s in the top three.
It saw them really augment the art-rock edge they’d always had and expand on the massive steps taken on Red Medicine and End Hits. The band spent more time writing and recording, and would even pick apart old songs and reform them. A cerebral album, it showed the band’s class, and 20 years later, it’s as fresh as the day it was released.
Live at L’Olympia – Jeff Buckley
The second best Jeff Buckley album after Grace, on Live at L’Olympia, you could really hear the power and magnetism of Jeff Buckley’s live performance more than on any other piece of footage or live album.
His guitar work is heavy and dynamic, his voice cuts you profoundly, and the covers of MC5’s ‘Kick Out the Jams’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ provide insight into the late icon’s musical library. A compelling album; have the tissues ready.
Gorillaz – Gorillaz
The album that introduced everyone’s favourite 2D band to the world, Gorillaz was hailed as an instant classic upon release.
Celebrated in the Guinness Book of World Records as the ‘Most Successful Virtual Band’ after release, that’s a title the band have not yet relinquished. Singles such as ‘Clint Eastwood’ and ’19-2000′ made Gorillaz one of the year and the decade’s most iconic releases.
The Green Album – Weezer
Alright, we hear you, The Green Album is not the best Weezer album by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a bloody good one. Depending on personality and/or mood, The Blue Album or Pinkerton is the best Weezer entry, but The Green Album comes close behind in third.
The only album by the band to feature late bassist Mikey Walsh, it spawned classics such as ‘Hash Pipe’ and ‘Island in the Sun’ and augmented by the production of Ric Ocasek, it’s like a mature sister to The Blue Album.
Bleed American – Jimmy Eat World
Basically a Jimmy Eat World greatest hits album twenty years after its release, the band’s album, Bleed American, is a classic.
There can be no denying it. Blending emo with post-hardcore and power pop, Bleed American is a paradox. It’s so of its time, but also timeless. ‘The Middle’, ‘Bleed American’ and ‘Sweetness’ are about as nostalgic as you can get. There is riff after riff on this record destined to keep your knuckles white. Simply put, it’s a hell of a ride.
Old Ramon – Red House Painters
Mark Kozelek has been routinely accused of sexual misconduct over recent years, meaning there’s a tough call over art or artist on this album. However, Red House Painters had four other members, and all of their work is incredible. What a way to bow out Old Ramon was.
Featuring what is arguably their best song, ‘Cruiser and the swirling guitar classic ‘Between Days’, Old Ramon is a thrill from start to finish and is the perfect antidote to those winter blues.
Iowa – Slipknot
A Slipknot fan favourite, it’s generally a fight between Iowa and their 1999 self-titled debut album for the title of the Des Moines band’s masterpiece. Iowa is brilliant. Building on the darkness of their debut but with a sleeker production edge, guitarist Jim Root also saw more creative input.
It spawned enduring fan favourites such as ‘Disasterpiece’, ‘The Heretic Anthem’, ‘People = Shit’ and ‘Left Behind’ and confirmed Slipknot were not a gimmick and that they were here to stay.
Leaves Turn Inside You – Unwound
The final album by post-hardcore heroes, Unwound, Leaves Turn Inside You is one of the definitive albums in the genre. It saw the Washington band perfect their arty formula and was recorded at their own built studio, MagRecOne in Olympia, Washington.
One of the most important art-rock records of the era, tracks such as ‘Look A Ghost’, ‘Terminus’ and ‘Below the Salt’ make us wish that Unwound will return to us one day.
10 000 Hz Legend – Air
Often overlooked in favour of the band’s debut masterpiece, 1998’s Moon Safari, 10 000 Hz Legend is as luscious as its predecessor and the EP that bridged the gap, The Virgin Suicides. Released in May 2001, there’s no doubt that Air knew they were releasing an incredible summer album.
Tracks such as ‘Radio #1’ and ‘How Does It Make You Feel?’ make you wish you were on a beach somewhere drinking a bucket of cold ones, rather than stuck at home in dreary November-time UK.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Wilco
The fourth studio album by Jeff Tweedy and Co., Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, has been a staple of any indie musician’s record collection since its release on 18 September 2001.
Fusing art-rock with country and folk, it’s cut from the same cloth as In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, just no way near as Christian. There is no real downside to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and without it, there would have been no Happyness, Yuck and even Mac Demarco.
Amnesiac – Radiohead
For me, Amnesiac vastly outweighs Kid A in almost all respects. Where Kid A finds Radiohead painting with the primary colours they cultivated in escaping the guitar-based rock sound of their previous studio ventures OK Computer (1997) and The Bends (1995), Amnesiac is defined by subtle, almost indefinable shades.
At the time, Amnesiac may have felt a little bewildering to some Radiohead fans, but in retrospect, it contains some of the finest examples of the group’s songwriting to date. From the puzzle box rhythms of ‘Pyramid Song’ to the lush expanse of ‘You And Whose Army’, Amnesiac is surely an album that will continue to ignite the imagination another 30 years from now.
Is This It – The Strokes
The album that made New York cool again, The Strokes’ Is This It, marked a defining moment in the life of indie rock and music at large. much of this century’s finest groups can be traced back to this LP.
There were a whole host of reasons why The Strokes really shouldn’t have been able to get away with their straight-to-the-point garage sound. The fact that they all grew up on a diet of ski holidays and private tuition not being the least of them. But, it’s pretty much impossible not to like this absolute gem of an album. It is a record that continues to teach spotty teenage boys the way of the cool all these years later.
Quiet is the New Loud – Kings of Convenience
One of the most enduring offerings of the hangover-friendly nu-folk boom that welcomed in the post-Britpop era, Quiet Is The New Loud was something of a black sheep when it was first released. Blending bossa nova rhythms with close-miked recording techniques and soft-boy lyricism, nobody quite knew what to make of Kings Of Convenience back in 2001.
20 years down the line, however, and the duo’s debut offering appears to have cast a rather long shadow, essentially defining the sonic palette of every independent coffee shop from Mayfair to Manhattan.
It’s A Wonderful Life – Sparklehorse
Sparklehorse’s third studio effort is possibly the most focused and mesmeric of all their albums. With the expertly crafted vintage textures of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and the poignant lyrics of ‘Gold Day’, it’s really hard to find something bad to say about this record.
It has also come to be imbued with a sense of tragedy, following the suicide of bandleader Mark Linkous in 2010, something which has made listening to this selection of bittersweet gems all the more poignant.
White Blood Cells – The White Stripes
The White Stripes ‘ third record was produced in less than one week. It was an album that made it unignorably clear that rock and roll lives and breaths at a different speed. The end result, which contains pretty much all of the duo’s most infectious material, showed the world that you don’t need Marshall stacks to rock really damn hard.
Between fuzz-driven numbers like opener’ Dirty Leaves On The Ground’, tracks such as ‘Hotel Yorba’ and ‘I Think We’re Gonna Be Friends, offer a welcome dose of jangly garage-folk, making White Blood Cells an album of two halves; one that brings you up and another that sets you back down again.
Hot Shots II – Beta Band
Anyone who’s seen the version of High Fidelity in which John Cusack leaves Beta Band’s ‘Dry The Rain’ spinning on his record store’s LP player and waits for customers to beg for a copy of the album, will understand the mammoth effect the Scottish group can have on the frontal lobe.
With their second album, they honed their knack for inducing dope-smoker euphoria to an even finer point, absorbing esoteric electronic and trip-hop influences to create something cerebral and psychedelic.
Drukqs – Aphex Twin
Arguably one of the most important albums of the 21st century so far, Aphex Twin’s incredible Drukqs defies all categories, theories, and expectations.
As well as being a masterclass in production, it also offers an insight into the way Aphex Twin managed to bring together the opposing worlds of electronica and classical avant-garde, drawing expertly stitched threads between prepared piano tracks and epilepsy-inducing glitch freakouts with effortless grace.
Things We Lost In The Fire – Low
Another band spouting Low’s brand of funeral march slowcore would likely have fallen below the wayside long before they reached their fifth album. However, with the help of producer Steve Albini, Low continued to forge new avenues for their sound.
From the opening bars of ‘Sunflower’ it’s clear that this is a record whose strengths lie in fundamentals: well-crafted harmonies, tender lyrics, and cyclical chord progressions.
Run Come Save Me – Roots Manuva
Witness the fitness indeed. Roots Manuva’s Run Come Save Me is an astonishing feat in musical dexterity. Switching from heart-wrenching string arrangements to virtuosic proto-grime raps in a matter of minutes, Manuva constantly leads us into new and unfamiliar territory so that we are always in the palm of his more than capable hands.
Half poet, half town crier, Roots Manuva’s unflattering portrait of English life lay the foundation for a whole generation of British rappers. Few have managed to outdo the sheer magnitude of his creative scope, however.
We Love Life – Pulp
The 2000s may have marked the end of Britpop, but Pulp marched ever onward. With the sound of Oasis audibly scraping the barrel on Standing On The Shoulders of Giants still ringing in the public’s ears, there was a lot of pressure on Pulp to keep the flame alive. Buy, rather than shooting stadium rock arrows into the wind; they decided to move with the times and release something that might cure the blistering wine and cocaine headache ravaging post-’90s Britain.
From the trip-hop meanderings of ‘Weeds’ to the pastoral irony of ‘Birds In Your Garden’, We Love Life made it clear that Pulp had outlasted their brasher contemporaries.