The Best of 2002
Mike Hess
12/27/2002 11:03:31 PM

"Source Tags & Codes is -- from first notefall to final chordstroke -- flawlessly devised. "

It feels strange to say, but 2002 was actually a great year for music. And for your viewing pleasure, here are my picks for the best of the best. Itís not a "Top Ten" list, cause I feel thereís no need to make a list into a nice, cuddly even number by adding albums that donít deserve to be there. If youíre one of those pro-symmetry people, go write your own damn list. Better yet, send your list, or any comments to me at


1. ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead -- Source Tags & Codes
Was there ever a question that this was the best album of 2002? Well, for those who are blind to rhetoric -- there wasnít. The only factor going against it is that it dropped in February, therefore, itís being skipped on some ĎBest Ofí lists due to the nearly-a-year-ago factor.

Put simply, Source Tags & Codes is everything that a music purist could wish for in an album. The overall sound never strays away from radiant, as soul-scraping lyrics glisten like laquer atop a masterful foundation of rhythm. If youíve ever wondered why rock bands have/need two guitarists, Source Tags is your answer. Rather than duel, these guitars make love and climax in a reverberent orgasm that leaves a similar tingle and curl in the toes of the listener.

Rooted deeply in punk, there are certainly aggressive moments, but Trail of Dead know just where to pull the plug, and let what looked like an implosion turn into a miracle. Raw emotions fester like moss on a streamside boulder, only to be washed over and decontaminated by clarity. In the movie Natural Born Killers, a key line is "Only love can kill a demon." Trail of Dead know this, as brutality is ultimately slayed by gentle ardor.

Conrad Keelyís lyrics are intricate bursts of poetry. Any music-lover will melt for "Early Morning Stoner", as Keely begs the answer to "Why is it I donít feel the same?/Are all my longings to be blamed?/For not seeing heaven like you would see/Why is the song a world for me?", and the ending statement is nothing short of brilliant hopelessness. "What is forgiveness? Itís just a dream/What is forgiveness? Itís everything," oozes out, and youíre not sure whether to cry, smile, pray, die or just go to sleep knowing that you just ingested magnificence.

Or consider the lyrics from "How Near How Far". Art becomes music with "She stares with arms stretched out/ towards the mountains & the clouds/oil-painted eyes, blind yet hypnotized/I swear I donít know why/those eyes have always left me dry".

Great music is something that you feel more than you hear. It makes you a little nervous as youíre listening to it. You begin to wonder if the next listen will actually make you sweat or pass out. It makes you question everything youíve ever heard or done, and wonder if youíll ever come across anything better. And after the final (and title) track, youíll begin to realize that you just listened to the final tale of a masterpiece. The core of the song ends, and after nearly a 20-second pause, a cello-heavy orchestral finale singes whatever neckhairs might remain. Itís the stuff that gives you the chills and hot-flashes at the same time.

Source Tags & Codes is -- from first notefall to final chordstroke -- flawlessly devised.

2. Queens of the Stone Age -- Songs for the Deaf:
Whatever types of narcotics Nick Oliveri and Josh Homme take when they record out in the desert, they should give their dealers pager number to lots of other rockers. Homme's whimpery falsetto glimmers over insanely dirty electro-core guitar, and welcomes Oliveri's thumping bass. But the key element to Songs: Dave Grohl playing the drums like God intended. KEY SONGS: "No One Knows" " First It Giveth" "Go With the Flow"

3. Mr. Lif -- I Phantom:
Jesus jumped-up Christ, THIS is what hip-hop used to be! I Phantom takes hip-hop by it's ankles and shakes the Cristal-money from it's oversized pockets. And a concept album in hip-hop? Extra props earned for being able to pull that feat off. The album starts with death, then reincarnation and life in its entirety, end culminates in death by nuclear war (can we say North Korea, anyone?). Lif's socio-economical diatribes give System of a Down a run for their money, and his vivid storytelling is something sorely needed in today's hip-hop world. There's not one mention of a wristwatch, a car with rims, a girl with a big ass or any of that. It's thinking-man's rap like Chuck D used to drop, except it's more Orson Wells than Che Guevara. With Lif, El-P and Akrobatik torching the mic, Def Jux is by far the heartbeat of true hip-hop. It's a soon-to-be classic. pick it up. KEY SONGS: "The Now" "Live From the Plantation" "Post Mortem" "Earth Crusher"

4. The Hives -- Your New Favourite Band:
Itís tough to give an import album a Best Of, but all hype aside, these guys fucking rock. Howlin Pelle's Jagger-like swagger is a blessing in the garage-punk craze, and guitarist Nicholaus Arson's tinny three-chord bombs (fully equipped with a Billy Idol sneer) drive home their message of We Rule, You Suck. Sure, it ain't at all original (basically 2000's Stooges), but sometimes even great copies are a hell of a lot better than shitty originals. KEY SONGS: "AKA I-D-I-O-T", "Supply and Demand", "Main Offender", "Hate To Say I Told You So"

5. Sleater Kinney -- One Beat:
As if they didn't have enough critical acclaim and indie-cred already, these three punk gals continue to change like a chameleon with each record. Tracks like "Oh!" and "Combat Rock" are undeniable, and the guitars of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein are an assault on all senses. It's as passionate as it is infectious. but don't get too cozy. The next album will be completely different. KEY SONGS: "Oh!", "Combat Rock"

6. Thrice -- The Illusion of Safety:
Ok, maybe I'm jumping the gun here, but how insanely catchy can punk/emocore get?
Riley Breckenridge's poetic songwriting switches from heartbroken lover to furious revenge artist in the flick of a guitar pick, and Teppei Teranishi not only has the coolest name in rock, but this guy can SHRED! The album loses steam at track 10, but 1-9 are enough to make it a total rocker. If they can score a top-notch producer on their next album, look for Thrice to absolutely scorch the aggro scene. KEY SONGS: "Deadbolt" "Betrayal Is a Symptom" "Where Idols Once Stood"

The Donnas -- Spend the Night: Four hot chicks cranking out AC/DC style power-chords singing songs about getting it on with guys in the back seat. Ainít nuttiní wrong with that, my friend.
Hot Hot Heat -- Make Up the Breakdown: Edgy synth-punk catches a break. and puts out a sick album.
Loudermilk -- The Red Record: What Guns N Roses should have sounded like on their comeback. More addictive than a crack sandwich.
N.E.R.D. In Search Of. Sure, they talk about strippers quite a bit, but The Neptunes experi-rap is fresh and original as hell.
Hot Snakes -- Suicide Invoice: What a beautiful package of skin-peeling noise rock.
Thievery Corporation -- The Richest Man in Babylon: Acoustic. Electronica. Middle Eastern. Noise. They do it all, and do it all very well. Anyone feeling eclectic?

Best Metal/Thrash-core Album of the Year:
TIE: Hatebreed -- Perseverance and Killswitch Engage Alive or Just Breathing
Perseverance is a bar-brawl turned into music, throwing sucker-punches that hit harder with each song, leaving in its path a demolished, drained and shattered feeling of metal-core perfection. Simply put, it's brutal, heavy-ass music.

Alive or Just Breathing is the millenium's Reign in Blood. Sure, there's elements of pop in some choruses, but the overall heft of the album is completely overwhelming. Blistering guitar leads and scathing vocals lie atop chest-caving kickdrum blastbeats, and what's left in the end is highly destructive, yet amazingly precise thrash-core.


"No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age: Every year there's that one rock single that seems perfect. Last year it was "Chop Suey!", and here's this years. Grohl's lock-step drum patterns sync up with Oliveri's thundering bass, and when Josh Homme sings...whew.

"Work It" by Missy Elliot: It's hard to say if there's been anyone in hip-hop over the past 5 or so years that has kept adding new light and promise as much as Missy has. She reinvents herself every album, and even though she borders the druggie-trance element, her singles are always near perfect. And take my word, if not for Dr. Dre, Timbaland would be considered one of the best producers of all time. And he is.

"Lose Yourself" by Eminem: Whether you can accept him or not, his lyrical prowess is something that you have to recognize. And what a fucking single for a movie, huh? Em was getting a bit predictable with his singles until this one, and it's a good thing. He nearly mimicked his release pattern of his last album, with a goofy intro single ("Without Me" this time, "The Real Slim Shady" last time), and a follow-up with a biographical tirade (2002 saw "Cleaning Out My Closet" while 2000 got "The Way I Am"). Atta boy, Marshall.

"You Know You're Right" by Nirvana: Eight years after Kurt's death, his voice has become even more enchanting and haunting. His frustration is apparent, with his yelping screams of "PAIN!" and the deeply disturbing line of "things have never been so swell/I have never failed to fail" is vintage Nirvana. You know I'm right.

"Someday" by The Strokes: I gotta say, overall The Strokes donít do much for me. However, this is a marvelous song. How'd it get onto my list? Julian Casablanca's "I ain't wasting no more time" decrescendo.

*Aggro Songs of the Year That You Probably Haven't Heard, but Should Immediately:*

"Jet Black New Year" by Thursday: Talk about progression and advancement in songwriting for a band! Christ, this song makes their first album's stuff look like Crazy Town. An apocalyptic tale of two lovers' last embrace on New Years Eve, this song is an emo-core masterwork. Pay extra attention to the gripping/disturbing "Twelve Days of Christmas"-style countdown used as a climax.

"Release the Dogs" by BoySetsFire: If someone was going to have the balls to lace into a post-9/11 America, it may as well be BoySetsFire to throw the first verbal Malitov-cocktail. Bad song name, but it's a rocker.


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