Personal Best

What the world needs now is a wholly subjective, occasionally snarky awards ceremony

For 11 months out of the year, music writers drift along, listening to new albums, thumbing through old ones, poking around for something odd, exciting, different. Then comes December, and we're suddenly called upon to put the musical experiences of the past 334 days into perspective. Is what seemed hot in January, not in November? Is either Snoop Dogg or Fatboy Slim still relevant? Why on earth weren't the Moles huge? Has Cher heard that cover of her song using a touch-tone phone for a keyboard?

I could go on. But instead, I've put together my version of the Year in Review Awards (the Yearies), complete with official categories for each song, album, or genre. It's my attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff, the rock from the roll, the Bert from the Ernie. What do the winners get? A little free publicity, a reminder that their efforts have not gone unnoticed, and -- if I had their addresses -- whatever bellybutton lint I could summon forth.

Here then are some of the best, weirdest, and most perplexing releases from the year 2000, arranged in a very particular order with no readily discernible pattern -- like hand-me-down furniture. Start at the beginning, start at the end: It will all start to make sense eventually.

Local Group the Aislers Set: Past perfect pop songs.
Chihaya Kaminokawa
Local Group the Aislers Set: Past perfect pop songs.

The Perfect, Pre-dot-com-era Graduation Gift Award

Vehicle Flips -- For You I Pine (Magic Marker) Believe it or not, there was a time when recent high school and college graduates moved to the Bay Area to make lattes instead of fortunes. They spent their days loafing around, trying to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives, drafting bad poetry about how hard the bohemian life is. For You I Pine, by a Pittsburgh/ Albany/Chicago indie rock trio, is the perfect soundtrack to that era, when twentysomethings looked for love and ended up with empty futons. Leader Frank Boscoe creates metaphors for romantic dissolution out of odd occurrences like map-making, watching ice jams crack, and riding the bus. Boscoe even wrote some lyrics for the current dot-com bust: "There is no money here, that much is clear/ Go where the capital flows."

Those Who Remember the Past Are Destined to Repeat It Award

The Aislers Set -- The Last Match (Slumberland) While the Aislers Set's first LP was certainly full of great songs, it was also a rather bald tribute to its influences: '60s mod, '70s power pop, and '80s indie rock. On this follow-up, main songwriter and daytime architect Amy Linton puts her vast musical knowledge to greater use, erecting winsome songs that sound fresh rather than familiar. Perhaps it helped that the rest of the live band played on most of the songs this time, with organist Jen Cohen a particularly welcome addition. The brash rush of the tunes is even more impressive when you learn that the instrumentation was laid down part by part in Linton's tiny garage studio.

It's Pronounced Kwasont Award

V/A -- Ultra Chicks (Ultra Chicks) The French are usually quite happy to pontificate on any subject -- love, cinema, how to be occupied by an invading army -- unless the topic comes around to '60s music. Then they defer to their supposed American and British betters -- which is a shame, since France produced a wealth of great rock during this period. Often, it is left to a foreigner to stand and deliver the goods. As such, from Montreal comes the Ultra Chicks series, five volumes of bootlegged, previously lost classics by garage-rocking, go-go dancing French girls of the '60s. Jeez, another reason for the French to crow.

Best Hoax That Might Not Be One

The Steps -- The Steps (Time Stereo) Supposedly, Warn Defever of Michigan indie rock band His Name Is Alive found this Indonesian group's single at a garage sale and pressed up a bunch of CD-Rs. However, it seems more than a little unlikely that a '60s instrumental band from Indonesia would cover songs by both the Bee Gees and French cartoon music composer Andre Popp, or that those songs would sound nearly identical to the Steps' originals. While the album may be more Defever's vision of a South Seas combo than a real release, the Steps' ambling guitar riffs, metronomic cymbal taps, and surfy leads are striking enough that it doesn't matter.

Best Hoax That Wasn't a Hoax

Lolita Storm -- G F S U (Digital Hardcore)The advance word on Lolita Storm was that a British trio of grrls had transformed Atari Teenage Riot's harsh beats and silly political ranting into something sexy. It sounded like a good idea -- until I heard the CD, which was slick Mexican Top 40 from start to finish. Apparently there was a mix-up at the pressing plant, and horny, drum 'n' bass-in-your-face songs like "(I Wanna) Meat Injection" and "Hot Lips -- Wet Pants" were replaced with overwrought Spanish vocals and seriously schmaltzy keyboards. Eventually, the faulty discs were replaced, and the world got to hear grrl power lyrics like, "She's not dumb, she knows that guys'/ Brains are found behind their flies."

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