I should point out that 2002 saw some classic albums. A number of these can be considered pinnacles for the careers of their respective creators, and many of them would make my all time favorite albums list, if such a list existed (I do have a top ten list).
Trail of Dead -- "Source Tags and Codes"
This is the greatest record Trail of Dead have ever produced, although I'm sure they don't think so. I have since fallen out of love with this band as they seem to be writing the same record over and over again. But this album is unbelievable. Plenty of math rock hooks and catchy vocals with the occasional punk rock angst. You listen to "Another Morning Stoner" and tell me this isn't some brilliant songwriting.
Foo Fighters -- "One by One"
This record is oft-maligned (even by the band itself) and I'm not sure why. I could go into a big break down of all the things I love about this album, but I will focus on the last track, which is truly one of the best songs the Foo Fighters have ever recorded. "Come Back" is heavy and melodic and full of urgency and the return of the chorus at the end if phenomenal.
Matt Pond PA -- "The Nature of Maps"
The first Matt Pond PA song I ever heard was "Fairlee," which is the first track on this record. I've been a fan every since. And while "Fairlee" alone makes this a great album, "The Party" is just fantastic, moody and driving. Add "Closer" right after it and, further down, "Summer Is Coming" and you have a classic record, full of rich, layered songs and urgent, heart felt vocals. A winner from start to finish.
Minus the Bear -- "Highly Refined Pirates"
Album of the year? Quite possibly. Minus the Bear is one of my favorite bands, but with the variety of
Nada Surf -- "Let Go"
Okay, I might have jumped the gun when I called the last album the best of the year, because "Let Go" is probably one of the best albums I've ever heard. I am biased, of course, as Nada Surf is one of my favorite bands, if not number one. "Let Go" is how I was reintroduced to the band, a statement that is probably true for a ton of people. "Happy Kid" became a sort of anthem for me. I saw them play an extended ending to "Paper Boats" and it gave me goosebumps. If there's an album on this list that everyone should own, it's this one.
The Party of Helicopters -- "Space and How Sweet It Was"
Full disclosure: I know a bunch of these dudes. I went to high school with them. Honestly, that doesn't color my opinion, particularly since I'd long since left my hometown by 2002. If you still think I'm biased, just listen to the first two songs on this double release and tell me they're not great. "Bastard Motherfucker" may have great riffs, but it's the earnest vocal delivery that takes it over the top. "Slowdance" is crazy infectious with some fantastic, frantic drumming. PoH released a lot of great songs, but this could be their single best album.
Pretty Girls Make Graves -- "Good Health"
Remember that album of the year award I keep handing out? Consider this another contender. While this album hasn't stuck with me the way "Let Go" did, it almost perfectly encapsulates a certain period of my life. This is easily Pretty Girls Make Graves' best album. It is so full of energy that it's like aural cocaine. The raging duel guitars, the driving rhythm section who weren't afraid of some odd time signatures here and there, and the absolutely cathartic vocals -- it's all just about perfect. This is an absolutely classic album.
In 2002 I moved to Los Angeles. It was only the second time I'd ever been to California and the first time I'd ever been to the City of Angels. Queens of the Stone Age are from Palm Desert, a bit over 100 miles east of L.A., which led me to believe that they were more popular in Southern California than anywhere else -- not that they lacked for popularity when this album came out. But I will forever associate this album with my first few months in Los Angeles, for this conflicting view I had of the city, from the meth heads in the desert, to the rock stars in the city, to all the regular folk in between. In a lot of ways, this album is the perfect encapsulation of Southern California. Eleven years later, and two years removed from the city, I think this record still hold ups, and still speaks to the complexity of the area.
Weezer -- "Maladroit"
I'm going to let you in on a little secret: "Maladroit" is my favorite Weezer album. Oh, sure, I enjoy "Pinkerton" as much as the next guy (although I ultimately think the Blue Album is better), but in my heart of hearts, I want giant riffage. Is that so much to ask from a rock and roll record? And "Maladroit" provides those big riffs on a level that Weezer has never accomplished on any other album. "Take Control" could be a Slash outtake. "Burndt Jamb" is probably the last inventive song Weezer has written. And songs like "December" and "Keep Fishin'" are classic pop Weezer. It is the greatest of all worlds, and while everyone else sits around waiting for Weezer to release another "Pinkerton," I'm waiting for another "Maladroit."
Wilco -- "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"
Good goddamn, 2002 was a great year for music.
Funny enough, this is not my favorite Wilco album (that would be "A Ghost is Born"), but this is probably the album that introduced a whole ton of people to this band. And while the battle with records labels and the documentary about the making of this record were great for publicity, it would have meant nothing if the songs weren't good -- and they are. "Jesus, Etc." and "Ashes of American Flags" back to back? Forget about it. That's classic Wilco right there. The drug use seems to have gotten a little out of hand on a few of the tracks, but I think we can forgive that.
Okay, let's see, if I'm going to pick a top 3 for the year, I think this is it, in order:
3. Minus the Bear -- "Highly Refined Pirates"
2. Pretty Girls Make Graves -- "Good Health"
1. Nada Surf -- "Let Go"
It would not be overstating it to say that I think all three of those could end up on my all time top 20; that's how great 2002 was for music.
Honorable Mention: The Vines - "Highly Evolved," Spoon - "Kill the Moonlight," Sleater Kinney - "One Beat," "Buffy the Musical," The Promise Ring - "Wood/Water," Karate - "Some Boots," Interpol - "Turn on the Bright Lights"