The Re-review Worthy
A year’s best from a fellow music-loon.
Look out! Yet another critic waxing sub-poetic on what he or she thinks you should listen to. Patience.
So you can have faith in what I put forth, I am only going to write about the very best albums I listened to and wrote about throughout 2004.
Yes, this is not definitive, merely honest. You can trust the choices.
*A Drumroll for the Slayer, Demolisher, Killer, and Destructive Force!*
1. Destroyer – Your Blues (Merge)
Dan Bejar, super-Canuck, like his pal and New Pornographers bandmate, AC Newman, is an ultra music nerd. He puts more work, energy, and outright mania into every song than virtually anyone else today. An equal urgency from personal expression and a need for universal connection ties the blues together with shimmering ribbons of synth glory. When Dan whispers, “It’s gonna take an airplane to get me off the ground/I don’t blame anyone who isn’t hanging around/Because when you stick around, when you stick around/People like to stick things in the ground”, you believe it.
2. Jon Rauhouse – Steel Guitar Rodeo (Bloodshot)
A field recording of musicians in their natural habitat having as much fun as they possibly can, this near-perfect rodeo is chock full of splendid takes on “Powerhouse” and “Perry Mason” as well as equally rousing originals from “orchid fingers” Rauhouse. Harkening to Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant’s 50’s blending of country and jazz, a litany of guests perfect the proceedings: Kelly Hogan, Sally Timms, and ol’ Blacky Ranchette himself, Howe Gelb.
3. Hugh Masekela – Grazing in the Grass (Verve)
Fela Kuti before his time, Masekela blended jazz, soul, and R & B in an almost immeasurably inventive, soulful, and influential fashion. Amid the grief and riots of the late Sixties, which is when most of this collection is from, the listener feels the defiant joy brimming from Hugh’s voice and trumpet.
4. Frankie Yankovic & His Yanks – Best of (Sony Legacy)
Tickle them drums with something new. Cleveland’s biggest star before Meatloaf, Frankie pioneered the synchronous use of organ and accordion, creating something of a power-pop for the polka genre. Skyrocketing to the top, and beloved by all blue hairs, it is important, especially in this season of family and opening hearts and minds to realize that just because your grandma dug this, it doesn’t mean you can’t.
5. The Divine Comedy – Absent Friends (Netwerk)
File under: flourish. Ol’ Neil Hannon hasn’t lost his penchant for drama, just his bandmates. But he kept the name...and grew up as evidenced by this, sung to his child on the brilliant final track: “When I hold you in my arms/I know that this is a charmed life/a charmed life”. Anyway, the uber-Scott Walker orchestral thrill swooping all around: “Oscar Wilde was a lonely child...they drove poor Oscar to his grave!” is worth ten times the price of admission alone.
6. Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down: The Best of the Mississippi Sheiks (Sony Legacy)
Charlie Patton & Memphis Slim played in various incarnations of this once immensely-popular string band, and this may make you pick up this perfect gem of Thirties blues. But you’ll stick around for Walter Vinson’s sharp vocals perfectly coasting atop Lonnie Chatman’s crisply expressive fiddle as they whip out the single best version of their very own “Sitting on Top of the World”. Buy a dozen copies and pass them out.
7. Sondre Lerche – Two-Way Monologue (Astralwerks)
Nearly too perfect. Gorgeous Norwegian luminary, Lerche stares out at you from behind a scarf on the cover. You toss the sucker in. Out comes beautiful Bryter Layter-style orchestrated folk-pop. You try to resist. You are powerless. He’s phenomenal live, too.
8. Sloan – Action Pact (BMG)
I think I said it well a few months ago: “Nova Scotians Sloan have been fulfilling a trajectory toward power-pop perfection for the last fifteen years. But rather than de-rigueur Big Star imitation, this band named after the “bathrooms of the future” has fused the best elements of everything from AC/DC to The Who with sloppy heaps of tasty Beatles hooks, college radio cleverness, the intelligence and professionalism necessary to hold it all together, and tongue-in-cheek 70’s superstar fan club posing thrown atop to make them irresistible”. Or given the exposure, maybe Sloan would say: “Hi. We’re still here. Still about the same as when you college radio jockeys went nuts about us 6 years ago. Please see ‘Backstabbing’ for the best riff of the year. Thanks”.
9. Graham Parker – Your Country (Bloodshot)
Welcome back, Graham! Seems like the old punks and pub rockers need country to bring them around again. Labelmates Langford, Timms, Case, et al. would attest. However, Elvis Costello’s archetype isn’t just donning his cowboy suit in fun. He’s got a firm hold on his genuineness even to the point where he’s retained his incongruent British-ness; in his “Nation of Shopkeepers”, “and you can’t expect me too/Put up a fight/No I’m just sitting still/My eyes are all over you/But my hand remains in the till”.
10. Rogue Wave – Out of the Shadows (Sub Pop)
Folk rock did not have a right to sound anywhere near this good in 2004. Chunks of promise as well as a beautiful shimmering tone reminiscent of label mates (and one of 2003’s best album makers), the Shins, beautifully fills these paisley-wisp shadows. A break-up album on par with the best, beginning with “I used to think of you and I forever” and ending with “Oh no”, is this the Something/Anything? for the college radio set? It’ll be a hell of a lot of fun to follow Zach Rogue and find out, that’s for sure.
Blues genius similar to the Mississippi Sheiks, Crazy Blues: The Best of Mamie Smith, Are You Bound for Heaven or Hell?: The Best of Reverend J.M. Gates, Shave ‘em Dry: The Best of Lucille Bogan, Hello Central: the Best of Lightin’ Hopkins, and The Best of Leroy Carr are all stunning blues compilations covering the need for vicarious expression in the arenas of loneliness, God, dirtiness, and that brand of classic blues that expresses it all for you, respectively.
Bobby Conn’s The Homeland, where Chicago’s best glamrocker takes a stab at Bush and creates a surprisingly compelling listen. Dr. John’s, N’Awlins...could have been much better if a couple of phoned-in celebrity appearances had been struck, but the album is still quite amazing. Follower, Tom Waits, Real Gone is really good, but almost redundant for a man who’s recorded so much like it—however, quite interesting vocal percussion and a fine album nonetheless.
Dizzee Rascal’s grime-rap curiosity Boy in Da Corner showed great promise that the same year’s follow up only slightly improved upon. He wrote, performed and produced these insectine intricacies. Expect great things.
AC Newman’s Small Wonder seemed like the year’s best album the first time I heard it, but it’s too damned perfect, an ultimately boring listen. All Night Radio’s Split Stereo Frequency managed to blend the best of the Mamas and the Papas, Oddyssey & Oracle, and any number of rare 60’s psychedelic nuggets into one utterly compelling listen. Iron & Wine’s Our Endless Days are Numbered is just gorgeous and intimate as expected even though Sam Beam shocked everyone when he bought a 4-track.
Montreal cut-ups The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? is every bit as compelling and confusing as the title. Great, crisp, snarky twee-punk, though. And their live battles onstage are the stuff of...legend.
Finally, Jimmy Dean gets a decent collection of his best era of his particular brand of gritty story-county.
The Clash’s London Calling reissue may just be Christmas present of the year, with its bonus demos disc and making-of DVD were it not for Happy Birthday Newport! 50 Swinging Years the 3-disc soundtrack of the festival that legitimized jazz that ain’t too hard to listen to, what with generous dollops of Louis, Ella, Billie, Brube, Muddy, and especially that stunning Webster-Strayhorn duet. Patricia Barber’s A Fortnight in France captures the mad scientist live alchemizing that Monk/Ellington spastic piano plunking into husky, intelligent, vocals, and allowing her superb band plenty of time to stretch out and create.
Just to prove I’m no “hipper-than thou”, Andrew Bird’s Weather Systems would have been this year’s number one, except it came out in late 2003 and did not get to me until 2004. Same deal for Paula Kelley’s The Trouble with Success or How to Fit into the World.
What a year. Let’s hope 2005 is half as good.
Kick Me Back to Kicks