Shelf Life

As the music industry struggles for secure footing in the loose gravel of the computer age, one thing remains certain: Quality continues to be overlooked, even at a time when artists claim they can better control their destinies by selling their own products over the Internet. While this is true, it's also not accurate. Radio play and marketing are still the main reasons albums sell; without either, many talented musicians remain adrift in the vast ocean of new releases.

But that's why we're here. The year 2000 may have been all about Britney and the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, but there were many other acts -- even some without personal trainers -- who deserved your time and attention. In alphabetic order, we'll tell you about 22 of them.

No Solace in Sleep

Jon DeRosa, the force behind Aarktica, creates soundscapes that evoke images of the frozen north: eerie stillness, the swirl of wind (listen to "Inebria") or pulsating waves upon ice. It's a meditative drone, the low rumbles of the earth. At its best, drone celebrates inventiveness: The clicking sounds on "Indie" mimic the rotation of a vinyl record. On the other hand, drone often fades to ennui with repetition and loops, but Aarktica simply arouses a centered peace. The music is quiet and slow, almost ambient. In this context, no vocals are needed. -- Sande Chen

Beach Boys
Sunflower/Surf's Up

Sunflower and Surf's Up were two of the best albums of the '70s, but they were quickly forgotten by all but the most die-hard Beach Boys fans before being reissued last summer as a twofer. The sessions contain some of the group's most potent material: ballads, ethereal numbers no one else ever could have conceived, rockers that fit on any classic rock station and, of course, those oh-so-heavenly harmonies. The biggest misconception about the Beach Boys is that the group ceased to produce relevant and ambitious music after the failed Smile project in 1967. Sunflower/Surf's Up is 63 minutes of irrefutable evidence to the contrary. -- Paul J. MacArthur

Kasey Chambers
The Captain

Kasey Chambers's solo debut, The Captain, earned a 1999 ARIA (Australia's version of the Grammy) for Best Country Album. The record was released stateside this fall and is one of those projects that makes your ears perk up immediately. It has none of the pop pretensions of contemporary country, yet it doesn't use its old-school influences (Hank Williams, a whiff of Loretta Lynn) as a crutch. Then there's that voice: equal parts Lucinda Williams grit and haunting Iris DeMent Appalachia. Add Chambers's precocious lyrics, and you've got a scrappy Aussie poised to kick Shania's glossy ass. -- Melanie Haupt

Corrosion of Conformity
America's Volume Dealer

America's Volume Dealer is certainly COC's most "commercial" release to date. There are moments of full-on acoustic rock and funk. Each of the tracks stands up on its own, and complements both the number that came before and whatever follows. What's more, one doesn't have to listen for long to realize that even though the whole may be somewhat more accessible, the individual parts are still most definitely the same old COC. Ignore all of the alternative wanna-bes. This is still what guitar rock is supposed to sound like. -- Chris Smith

A.J. Croce
Higher Octave

There were plenty of surprised looks at the Mucky Duck last year when Croce and band performed in support of this record. Expecting the roots/blues sound of his previous efforts, the audience instead got a heavy dose of pure pop. Influenced by the Beatles, the Zombies and Squeeze, Croce emerged with a radically different and buoyant sound. Croce and David Zemen's piano/ multi-organ work swirl throughout, and his scratchy voice recalls a young Don Henley. Creative, yet criminally overlooked, Croce nonetheless made a record of which power-pop fans and even his late dad, Jim, certainly would be proud. -- Bob Ruggiero


Making soul records has become too easy. A synth beat here, a sample there, and -- presto! -- you've got the "Thong Song." Luckily D'Angelo has a flair for the old school, yet he doesn't overly rely on the sounds of yesteryear. His music, in fact, sounds like a new strain of funk. From the haunting opener, "Playa Playa," it's apparent that he's paving new ground. Primitive, stripped-down rhythms mesh with an uptown attitude, while ethereal voices meld with D'Angelo's erotic delivery. It's a hypnotic collection of primal R&B, loaded with fresh grooves and a rare sense of originality. -- Mike Emery

Earth Crisis

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