The Best Albums from 2002


Sam Coll, Music Columnist

As many of our seniors graduating this year were born in 2002, it can be fun, and a tad nostalgic to look back on pop culture from that year. 2002 is important not only because it was our birth year, but because the early 2000s were a surprisingly great time for music. When the counter-culture explosion of the 90’s died down, it was hard to see just how much further modern art could be pushed. But even as once-groundbreaking bands such as Pearl Jam or Radiohead settled into their spots at the top of the rock world, a new wave of artists was inspired to shake up the music world. The seniors born in 2002 are reaching a huge milestone with graduation looming, and it’s time to take a look back and hear the sound of the year in which they were born.

(Stay tuned for more top 10 albums from all the birth years of our student body!)

1.”Yankee Foxtrot Hotel” – Wilco

The fourth studio album from alternative rock band Wilco was first released via a stream through the band’s website in 2001. After the album garnered some support from fans, Wilco signed to Nonesuch Records, and the album was officially released in April of 2002. Yankee Foxtrot Hotel was praised by critics and fans alike after its official release and is still regarded as one of the greatest albums of the 2000s. Across its 52 minute runtime, listeners will hear both the lasting influences of 90s rock and the groundwork upon which the alternative sound of the 2000s would be built. The praise for this album is truly staggering, and the music mostly lives up to the hype. Yankee Foxtrot Hotel has been called “Americana’s Kid A,” a reference to the groundbreaking album from British rock band Radiohead. In terms of originality and artistry, one can certainly understand the comparison upon hearing this album. This masterpiece is a blend of captivating sounds that only gets better the more you listen to it.

2.”Tallahassee” – The Mountain goats

The story of a couple traveling down a dark path, “Tallahassee” is both one of the greatest and perhaps the darkest release from the indie giants known as The Mountain Goats. For this release, the mastermind behind the project, John Darnielle was finally given a studio in which to record his seventh album with The Mountain Goats. Before “Tallahassee,” the group recorded projects on cassette tapes and released them through small labels. This time, the label 4AD gave Darnielle the resources to truly bring a project to life. Without getting into too many spoilers, the story follows a couple (known to fans as “The Alpha Couple”) on the edge of divorce who move to Florida where their ruined marriage sinks to new lows. From Darnielle’s iconic voice to his sense of humor, to the dark and stripped-down feeling of the recordings, “Tallahassee” is a showcase of the things that The Mountain Goats do best. Despite the story-like nature of the album and the chronological order of the songs, I’d like to personally recommend that listeners start this album with the tracks “No Children” or “Alpha Rats Nest.”

3.”Turn on the Bright Lights” – Interpol

Rounding out the top three, Interpol’s debut album is a masterclass in combining influences. The layered, distorted, dream-like sound of My Bloody Valentine meets the poppy momentum of the Strokes on tracks like “Obstacle 1” and “PDA.” The album has swing to it, but beautifully incorporates the ethereal effects seen mostly in Shoegaze. The vocal delivery of Paul Banks has the dark Baritone sound that again hearkens back to Shoegaze, but also has a manic energy to it that could have been inspired only by David Byrne of the Talking Heads. This combination of light and dark laid the basis for indie-rock with a mainstream appeal that really blossomed in the 2000s and ushered in the post-punk wave that hit New York in those same years.  From “Say Hello to the Angels” with obvious influences from The Smiths and The Cure, to the spaced-out and slow-paced “NYC,” Interpol shows both their incredible range and their ability to turn the sounds of their influences into something wholly original.

4.”Let Go” – Nada Surf

Nada Surf’s landmark pop-rock album takes number four on this list, not for any particular innovation, (although the project’s sound is extremely fresh) but because the work as a whole is one of the most cohesive albums of 2002. 12 extremely well-put-together tracks carry a unique sound on Nada Surf’s third studio album in a way that few other albums did in its year of release. Echoes of grunge and the alternative sound of the 90’s flavor this work, but do not force the project to stray from the course it charts. “Let Go” feels like it has a direction and a purpose. Its themes, while touching, rarely rise above sentimental feelings about love and relationships, but the album doesn’t need to aspire to more. It is made for radio, easily digestible songs for wide audiences. The difference between “Let Go” and any old corporate cash-grab album, is its cohesion. This album is a collection of pop hits, sure, but it is a collection that fits together seamlessly. The songs aren’t clones of one another, either. Each track could be a hit, and yet each is unique from another. When it comes to pop-rock, the stripped-down indie feeling of “Let Go” is the perfect album for 2002.

5.”Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” – The Flaming Lips

“Weird” doesn’t do justice to the unique genius of The Flaming Lips’ tenth studio album. It was set up to be a concept album, but “Yoshimi’s” story really only carries through the first four songs on this work. This project is more about the atmosphere than any specific story. Inspired by the “robotic” sound of synthy, Japanese experimental rock, The Flaming Lips create a soundscape that opens a door to the fantastical world of “Yoshimi.” It works perfectly, and with this album playing, it isn’t hard to imagine the titular character in her fight against “those evil robots.” On the title track, the feeling of the project is fully realized. Layered vocals, wild synths, and the whimsical vocal delivery of lead singer Wayne Coyne combine to paint a wonderfully weird picture. “Yoshimi” is no masterpiece, but it shook up the music world in a way that will go down in history. It is American and Japanese, industrial and whimsical, beautiful and abrasive, and is a perfect example of the power that a soundscape can hold over the imagination.

6.”Yanqui U.X.O” – Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Speaking of soundscapes, few do it better than post-rock legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor. GY!BE for short, the band’s third effort and by far their most political. It is admittedly hard for instrumental, experimental music to make any sort of clear political message, but the marketing around the project sheds some light onto the albums core concepts. Where their  previous albums were grand and orchestral, portraying themes through atmospheric crescendos, “Yanqui U.X.O” feels raw, angry, and to the point. Gone are the medleys of strings and brass. Screaming guitars with heavy effects make the message of this project very clear: the government is wrong, and GY!BE are very, very mad about it. The albums material largely centers around the post 9/11 conflicts that the U.S. military engaged in as part of its “war on terror.” Godspeed do their best at mirroring the sounds and emotions surrounding missile eastern conflict throughout the hour and 15 minute run-time of “Yanqui U.X.O.” While they don’t always deliver the most coherent message, the emotion is certainly present, and this album is an excellent summation of the anti-war attitudes that pervaded the early 2000s.

7.”Songs for the Deaf” – Queens of the Stone Age

Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of the polished, classic sound of Queens of the Stone Age. As with many bands in this style, it tends to all sound a bit the same to me. “Songs for the Deaf” breaks out of this mold in my eyes. Really, it isn’t a left-turn for Queens, it falls in line with the sound that fans know and love. That said, it rises above other albums in its style because it has a unique flair and a passion behind it that truly makes it a perfect blend of classic sounds and early 2000s sensibilities. The whole album is framed as a radio broadcast (a concept which would perhaps go on to inspire MCR’s “Danger Days”) in the Californian desert regions. This hot, arid setting is reflected in the sound of the project in a way that can hardly be put into words. The tracks feel dry, not in a bad way, but more in the vein of other recordings from the early 2000s which sought to achieve a stripped-down, indie style. “Songs for the Deaf” is far from stripped-down however. It is still indulgent in it’s adherence to the classic rock style, but uses it’s concept to create an experience that fits perfectly into the sonic landscape of 2002.

8.”The Eminem Show” – Eminem

While, like with Queens of the Stone Age, I’ve never been Eminem’s biggest fan, I would be remiss if I didn’t go back to “The Eminem Show” in preparation for an article about the greatest albums of 2002. While my ranking is of course based on personal opinion, it is hard to argue with the impact of Eminem’s third studio album. Originally, I had thought to include the 8 mile soundtrack as the Eminem entry on this list, but I felt a more personal connection to “The Eminem Show.”  Every track, from the overtly political “White America” to the braggadocious “Without Me,” the record is filled with the anger and malice that in large part brought Eminem to fame. However, unlike previous releases, “The Eminem Show” is mostly free of blatant sexism and homophobia, showing ostensible growth from the Detroit rapper. Perhaps his finest work, this rock-rap project is a perfect showcase of urban (particularly in Detroit) attitudes in 2002.

9.”Tell All Your Friends” – Taking Back Sunday 

Equal parts sincere and witty, “Tell All Your Friends” is maybe the best indicator of where emo was as a genre in its second wave. Taking Back Sunday vocalist John Nolan’s delivery represents the raw emotion of an emotional youth culture and pairs perfectly with the biting lyrics of every track that manage to bring on the sadness that can come with being young and confused, while at times satirizing the very same concepts. More accessible songs like “Cute Without the ‘E'” incorporate elements of pop-punk (a sister genre to emo), creating unforgettable hooks that still drip with the pain that is ever-present in Taking Back Sunday’s work. Other cuts like “There’s No ‘I’ in Team” try to stay truer to the spirit of emo, with unfiltered screams and heavy guitar work that blend into a frenzy of pure emotion. Fans of later waves of pop punk and emo will hear in every track the groundwork that Taking Back Sunday laid for future bands. “Tell All Your Friends” is more than effective at bringing emo into the 21st century in way that is both fresh, and true to the original spirit of the genre, with a playfulness that offsets the pain in this project perfectly.

10.”It Ain’t Safe No More” – Busta Rhymes

Finally, filling out the top ten albums of 2002, is a really excellent rap album that is rarely talked about. Before his career began to fall off in 2009, Busta Rhymes released several showcases of his mastery of the art of rapping. By far the best of these mid 2000s efforts, Busta shows that he has a firm grip on what makes him great. The album at times tries to do too much and falls flat, which it was heavily criticized for. Despite a few misses, songs like “What Do You Do When You’re Branded” prove that the New York rapper is still capable of delivering excellent verses and even signing a captivating chorus. It was released to mixed reviews, but tops most other rap projects released in 2002. While it isn’t perfect, “It Ain’t Safe No More” marks a time in rap when innovation was needed. While Busta manages to try some new things, it was 2003 when early 2000s rap really started getting interesting, and Busta creates the perfect set up for that era on this project.