The Best Albums of 2002
This year had to be one of the best years in the past decade to be a list freak.  So many good releases in the artistic world.  You know, sometimes, pop culture doesn't seem as pathetic as it really is... you just have to look a couple layers deeper than is comfortable... past the Kid Rocks, the O Towns, XXX, reality tv, monster truck rallies, and that stuff blaring out of your neighbor's car.  Long live the search for art.  
1.  Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Essentially a folk album that collided with Jim O'Rourke's studio tweekery.  Outcome: Tweedy's melodicism and broken lyrics outdo with just two chords.

2.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor - U.X.O.
Godspeed continue their masterful post-rock work on this three track gem.  15 minute, slow-building, rock concertos that pack as much tension as they do cathartic release.  U.X.O. shows Godspeed sticking true to formula while expanding their sound and musicality.

3.  Pedro the Lion - Control
David Bazan has mastered storytelling in an almost Springsteenesque way.  Sharp, poignant, and shamelessly concise.  If storytelling truly is as much what you leave out as what you include then Bazan's Control, which smacks of authentic literate posturing, deserves to be studied in college English classes right next to Flannery O'Connor and Shakespeare.  While countless other artists have promised to deliver "concept albums", Bazan's trilogy (of which Control is the 2nd installment) actually holds together marvelously.  Ladies and Gentlemen, this is not just more artsier than thou message board fodder... this is the real thing.

4.  Okkervil River - Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You Meet
The most unassuming, diverse, and down-right fun americana/folk album I have heard in quite some time.  Will Robinson Sheff's voice alternates between frail Bright Eyes and confident Josh Ritter while probing the depths of dead dogs, bad days, and the river we all grew up next to.
5.  Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
I tried so hard to deny this band, but they charmed their way into my heart with an amazing album.  Spoon can fill a song up with minimalist instrumentation like no other, making piano, bass, and drums sound as full as something Jon Brion had ornamented with a week at the mixing board.  At their root, regardless of the material they are presented with, these 12 songs are catchy and uniquely real.

6.  Liars - They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a   
                                               Monument on Top
Although they would have you believe that their success as a band is due solely to hard work and determination the Liars are clearly the type of genius amalgamation of artists that only come along a couple times each decade.  They are tight, inventive, and they just plain rock (in a decidedly non-buzz band manner).  They Threw Us All... is the record that all of those Rolling Stone critics think they are hearing when they listen to the Stokes and the Vines.
7.  Vigilantes of Love - Resplendent (Audibly Live)
For a live album to make it onto anyone's top ten list the reader deserves an up-front explanation.  Live albums have been relentless at painting themselves as cheap versions of the real thing... namely, studio albums.  Resplendent has revived my faith in the live album.  It is an audio record of a band unleashed... a band firering on all cyclinders and meaning every note of it.  This is the way that Americana was meant to be played.

8.  Patty Griffin - 1,000 Kisses
No album this year felt as thrown-together or as magical as 1,000 Kisses.  Basically, 7 typical Patty pieces, 1 Bruce Springsteen cover, 1 foreign character piece, and 1 instrumental reprise; 1,000 Kisses wasn't thick with substance (especially considering all of the possible material from Patty's benched Silver Bell album) but it was rich with the untouchable voice, delivery, and haunting lyrics that graced Ms. Griffin's earlier albums.

9.  Tom Waits - Blood Money
Ok, so confession.  I never heard Alice (the Waits disc that was the slightly more congenial twin to Blood Money).  In all truth, Blood Money was enough to digest on its own without another set of music vying for attention.  Without speaking for Alice, Blood Money is another shockingly stark and beautiful album from the drunken piano crooner... brimming over with enough dark devil's cabaret tunes to depress even a concentration camp prisoner... like staring at a recently deceased  loved one and understanding the inherent beauty of the situation.  And we love Tom all the more for bringing it to us.

10.  Steve Earle - Jerusalem
It is reassuring to hear an album that is equal parts political and artistic.  Perhaps Jerusalem gets more credit than it deserves for being a political statement, from the hype surrounding the sympathetic "John Walker's Blues", but songs like "Ashes to Ashes", "Amerika v. 6.0", and "Conspiracy Theory" pack more punch than any album in my recent memory.  And I'd almost thought that songwriters had given up on working for social change...