College Countdown: CMJ Top 50 Albums of 2001, 8 and 7

bleed
8. Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American

There is probably no album that better measures the distance between the college radio station I left in 1993 (or 1994, depending on how you look at it) and the one I joined in 2001 than Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World. It was the fourth album by the hard-rocking Arizona band, and it garnered them significant attention, eventually achieving a certification of platinum. The second single, the crazy-catchy “The Middle,” was especially huge, breaking into the Billboard Top 5. It was exactly the sort of big, slick guitar-rock record that we would have been all over at my alma mater. In fact, while I have no proof of such, I’d confidently wager that Bleed American probably was one of the biggest albums of the year at that station. At my new radio home, however, the album was barely touched, presumably because it was too popular and too commercial, damning descriptors that could sink any new record (unless it was by Radiohead, whose capability to regularly debut at the top of the Billboard album charts didn’t seem to cast the same pall). That observation isn’t meant to cast aspersions on either approach, even if the nostalgic tug for my original central Wisconsin broadcast center is mighty indeed. If there’s a tiebreaker, it’s maybe the album itself. If that’s the case, my honest opinion of it is that it’s markedly dull. At least in this case, the snobbier kids are right.

vespertine
7. Björk, Vespertine

If Bleed American illustrates the aesthetic divide between my two radio tours, then Vespertine suitably drives home the passage of years. When I first landed at 90FM in the fall of 1988, DJs who wanted to talk about Björk still had to wrap their tongues around the daunting last name of Guðmundsdóttir, and the only real frame of reference was her stunning vocal performances on Life’s Too Good, the debut album of her band the Sugarcubes, which stormed college radio that spring. The album may have edged its way out of our station’s active rotation by the fall, but there were still singles having their way with the college charts. By the time I arrived at WPRK, Björk was a widely acclaimed solo artist prominent enough to have a Best Original Song Oscar nomination to her credit. Vespertine, her fifth solo album, came out that summer to the sort of rapturous response that was, by that time, fully expected. The ingenue had become the old guard. Miserably enough, the same could arguably be said of me. As for album, it was Björk all right: angular, inventive, challenging, deliberately odd. It’s the sort of music that may have gotten modest, appreciative attention in other quarters, but it was also unique enough to practically justify the continued existence of college radio all on its own. Only brash, musically enraptured kids toiling with low-wattage transmitters on the noncommercial end of the radio dial would be foolhardy enough to think material like this deserves a prominent place on the public airwaves. Bless ’em.

Previously…
An Introduction
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas
28 and 27: U2 and Cake
26 and 25: The Living End and Spiritualized
24 and 23: Ladytron and New Order
22 and 21: Air and Mercury Rev
20 and 19: Daft Punk and Idlewild
18 and 17: Travis and Tricky
16 and 15: Rainer Maria and Ani Difranco
14 and 13: The Beta Band and the Strokes
12 and 11: Low and Tortoise
10 and 9: Death Cab For Cutie and Gorillaz