Thursday, December 30, 2004

Time to wrap this baby up. I think I'm not going to reach a top 10 at this point either. I'll leave it at 9 with the previous 6 selections plus these final three picks.

Needless to say the Arcade Fire disc is my top pick for the year. Iwon't bore anyone with the reasons why. If you haven't heard them by now you haven't seen me since June.

Also making the list is another Canadian act that dare we say received slightly less attention than Montreal's finest. Royal City's "Little Heart's Ease" took its own sweet time winning me over and that's primarily because it's not a record that jumps up and down trying to grab your attention. They certainly aren't part of any musical movement of the moment, I assume they're not that cute and there's not even a song as catchy as "Spacy Basement" that their first record had. All reasons for them being completely overlooked perhaps.

Final record selection is from a couple of oldtimers, one of whom is no longer with us. At the time of recording Billy Higgins was 64 and Charles Lloyd 62. Higgins, primarily known for his drumming, died within 6 months of recording the music on this double CD, "Which Way is East". Judging by the elegiac nature of much of the music and the liner notes Higgins must have known that his time was short. The urgency in the music puts the noodling of many younger jazz artists to shame. If this is the legacy that these two class jazzmen are leaving for today's young lions they've set the bar awfully high.

Some other thoughts re this year's music:

Critically acclaimed albums that still haven't found my wheelhouse: Bjork's "Medulla", Madvillain's "Madvillainy", The Sadies' "Favourite Colours" and TV on the Radio's "Desparate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes".

Albums that I could come to love with a bit more time: Devendra Banhart's "Rejoicing in the Hands", Joanna Newsom's "The Milk-Eyed Mender" and David Murray's "Gwotet".

Best reason not to believe anything a 19 year old NOW scribe has to say: "Red Tape" by Brooks.
(this disc will be first up for bids if we reprise our CD swap)

That's it for the music. Looking forward to listening to some of the discs I picked up at Soundscapes last Monday. Didn't leave much for you Brian but if you were in the Kinks section buddy then there was no fear of us crossing paths.

Thought I would throw in my favourite films of 2004 since we're doing that sort of thing:

Triplets of Belleville
Eternal Sunshine
Before Sunset
Le Cou de la Girafe (film festival pick)

Two to avoid, regardless of what the critics have to say: Million Dollar Baby and Distant.

Happy new year to y'all.
OK, my top ten list has slowed to a crawl. Truth is, I think I've only really liked about seven records released in 2004. But I've probably only bought 15 or so, so percentage-wise it doesn't suck. Nevertheless, a very mediocre (at best) year, I think.

My number one favourite at this point is definitely the final (?) Elliott Smith record. See my earlier outpouring for details on why.

The Panda Bear record continues to grow on me and gets honourable mention, as does the Sonic Youth (but I'm a total sucker for them). And GBV's Earthquake Glue (2003) is magnificent (whereas this years' s "Half Smiles" is much less so) but I've decided to take the high ground and stop breaking the non-rules re choosing previous year's stuff.

A few songs that I liked and haven't mentioned:
The Black Keys - 10 a.m. automatic. Great retro sixties sounds on this tune, but the album sounds too much like coherent Jon Spencer (blues riffs...yippeee) meets White Stripes. Solid enough but ultimately unoriginal.

Death Cab for Cutie - A Lack of Colour. I know Derek likes Passenger Seat from this record, which is a goody (in the same vein), but for me Colour's clean bittersweet melody and simple folky arrangement caught my ear first. Unfortunately the album is spotty - often these guys are embarrasingly commercial sounding (in an eighties/early nineties indy rock way, sounding like Guadalcanal Diary meets The Odds), sometimes the songs are good enough to work in spite of that.

Camper Van Beethoven - The Gum You Like is Back in Style. Great to hear one of my fave late eighties' bands playing again, and this song is vintage sarcastic, intelligent, rhythmic CVB. Their new record has four or five equally memorable tracks/perfomances, but overall was disappointing. Since when did CVB play minute-and-a-half prog-rock guitar solos - I thought I'd bought a King Crimson reunion record after the first couple of tunes.

I scooped up a bunch of records at Soundscapes sale the other day (the ones Derek rejected, presumably); ended up with a lot of re-issues - the Kinks "Village Green", the Pretty Things "Emotions" and The United States of America eponymous and only record, all from '68, being the highlights. The fact that I spent a lot of the year looking back in history for pop gems (and finding some.....hmmm, can I mention Nico again) is a good indication that this wasn't a stellar year for me and pop music.

Happy New Year y'all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The only other disc I think worthy of the list for me is Max Richter's "the blue notebooks"....
Unfortunately I bought it a few months ago and lent it to Derrick immediately after purchase..(stupid stupid stupid) I only listened to it once , but thought it potentially great....Fortunately Derek returned it to me after only a few weeks, but unfortunatly it was immediately misplaced again with all our construction stuff going on at our house ( we are living out of 3 rooms and a hall)... I remeber it being moody piano and with spoken word --I know that is pretty much all anyone needs to hear from me to turn off and not finish reading my review, so Ill have to turn it over to Derek to ask him to comment as he has at least listened to the disc more then once... I realise putting a disc up for best of the year after only one listen is risky but hey ...what the fuck... So Derek do you even remember the disc?
Final album is the year is The Walkmen's 'Bows + ....wait, Derek already talked this one up, quite well I thought. So I'm gonna have to go with Elliot Smit...actually I haven't listened to it as often as my wife has so I can't really make that call.

Instead, let me go with Bebel Gilberto, whose self-titled album washes over me with its warm vocals, lush production, and fluttery bossa nova beats. Just noticed that all my faves from 2004 are ones that comfort me. Is this my reaction to the cold weather or do I have deep-seated womb issues? This is a rhetorical question so don't answer please.

One album that won't comfort me is the new Fiery Furances disc that you raved about, Derek. I've only listened once so I'm willing to give it many listens and chances and hope that it rewards me as it has you. However, jarring does not begin to describe my reaction to it on first play, particularly because I've listened to some tracks off of their EP and they are markedly different.

If I don't talk to yall tomorrow night, have a bitchin' christmas and may santa leave you many presents.

Topic for next week: discs I got for christmas or purchased at boxing week sales!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I forgot to post a song of the year......this week it'll be Arcade Fire's "Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)", (also known as track 2). I will say that I'm not entirely smitten by the whole AF package (yeah yeah, we all know that); too much self-conscious eighties sound-alikes that pulled me out of the musical moments and reduced the impact of their simple, strong songs. Regardless, there are some magnificent, completely successful works here, and Laika is my favourite of the bunch. Great lyrics, great Pixies-like angst and energy.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Well, Derek (the bastard) has scooped me on the Vanderslice disk, so I'll just add a couple of points. I agree with most of what DM said, and the after hours (OK, 7:14 pm) quasi-poetic tone which he used to describe the disk is very appropriate. Vanderslice is working in an ambitious and earnest - at times pretentious, at times melodramatic - voice, but while some of it feels unconvincing, the good stuff is very good. And it would likely be a different batch of songs for each listener - personally I think "They Won't Let Me Run", "Promising Actress" and "Lunar Landscapes" are the highlights.

My other notable 2004 record for this week is a Charles Ives collection featuring a selection of his songs performed by Susan Graham, and more importantly (for me), a superb rendition of his Second Piano Concerto (the Concord) by Pierre Laurent Aimard. This is a magnificent piece of work, which kept me stuck to a listening post for thirty minutes when I came across it in the summer. Very twentieth century, with all of the good and bad things thereby connoted, but with a central beauty (amid the chaos) that enthralled me. The performance is equal parts dreamy and high octane. Quite a revelation, and precipitated a headlong plunge into learning more about Ives and his contemporaries (primarily Elliott Carter).

I will be purchasing the Iron and Wine disk, owing to its universal belovedness. I downloaded "Naked as We Came" in the summer and am a fan.

Am I allowed to rant and rave about Nico as a 2004 experience? Though it's from the late sixties early seventies, it's my numero uno discovery of the year, but outside the bounds of these list. Damned unfair. Maybe I'll do a "best re-issue" list (though actually her music wasn't even re-issued in '04, goddamn it).

Saturday, December 18, 2004

I love the epic nature of the opening opus of the most recent Destroyer disc. Stuart was rather concerned about the over abundance of synthesized sounds on this track, "Notorious Lightning" and others on "Your Blues" but I've never let the presence of various Rolands and Kurtzweils deter me from wholeheartedly embracing a record. So Brian you've been warned.

The album really kicks in for me on track 3, "An Actor's Revenge", a melancholy piece laden with a plethora of sing-a-long "ba da ba da ba das". Dan Bejar's biggest strength for me is that he writes songs that deal almost entirely in metaphor. I now own three Destroyer discs and the lyrics to almost every song fall in to the oblique category. Compare this to the latest Elliott Smith record where he leaves one in no doubt whereof he sings. I admire practitioners of both styles but its so easy for straightforward lyricism to become trite in the hands of a less than proficient songsmith.

So perhaps Bejar is singing nothing but nonsense but I was a kid raised on Ogden Nash and the short-lived television show "Tomfoolery" which delighted in nonsensical verse. So please never give it to me straight. Don't bore me to tears with the facts. Give me Robin Hitchcock, the Jazz Butcher and Destroyer. The depressingly factual times that we always seem to live in cry out for the poets, the slanted viewpoint. God knows we wont find them in a blog.

Suffice to say a lovely piece of work and looking forward to the next crazy turn in direction he takes in 2005.

On to album number six of the year, although none of this is in any sort of hierarchal order. John Vanderslice's album "Cellar Door" took it's sweet time working it's way into my subconsciousness. And I am thankful that it did. Nothing worse than a record that grabs you by the balls on the first listen and dumps you without fanfare a week later. Think most of Franz Ferdinand or the Real Tuesday Weld.

Vanderslice is working in the same dark unnoticed corner of the music world as Dan Bejar. Neither one of these gents is likely to make much more than your average CFL lineman off their artistic endeavours. Unlike Bejar I think Vanderslice's music is much more personal. Still not in a straightforward manner but I get the sense that he's relating tales here of an intimate nature.

"Wild Strawberries" comes in at under 2 minutes, and it's no power pop song. It almost has a Ben Folds Five feel to it as it tells in consummate succinctness the tale of a man who has his own self-interest at heart: "still light follows, the same rules that I do, reflecting off the water, never making it down to the bottom."

Track 5, "Heated Pool and Bar" relates the stories of what can only be various internationally far flung enlisted men of the United States army tracking down such "villains" as members of the Sendero Luminoso. Its a political song with no political message at least not one that beats you senseless with its lack of subtlety.

"White Plains" is probably the most conventional guitar-drum song on the album until about the halfway mark where the strings and piano come in once again and lend more melancholy to an already world-weary track. Vanderslice can hardly be accused of having a fine singing voice but it's all the more resonant for it.

And lets give credit where credit is due. If not for the wonder of downloading music gratis I would never have heard of (or heard I suppose) this fine musician. The few tracks I downloaded about 3 years ago enticed me to seek out this latest disc. I read in the Guardian lately an author's thanks to our Scottish grannies for indoctrinating in us a disdain for authority. So on that note let me say fuck the RIAA and their petty lawsuits.

And in the spirit of the season should I not see you gentlemen this week have a wonderful Christmas and may Santa bring you all the wonderful music you so sadly overlooked in the last 12 months.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Listmania we've got NME whose choices for number one is a tad overgenerous, methinks.

i like boogie but it's out if you shorten it to boog, for obvious reasons.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Miles disc "ESP" is in fact mine. If it makes you all feel any better, espcially Boogie Phillips, I just counted the number of unopened discs residing on my shelves and it comes in at a rather mediocre and disappointing 19. Needless to say Soundscapes 15% boxing week sale will see me jack these numbers up to their usually healthy state.

Marc I also have your Tinkertoys CD which you should consider for you top 10 of the year becasue as far as I can tell you've only picked one so far.
Was the disc opened (ie. out of its wrapper)? If so, that probably rules out Derek.

Had to get in a dig at somebody since i can't think of any discs I purchased that I want to diss here. Is this because I've gone soft and will only purchase albums that I'm almost 100% certain are going to be good? Have I just been lucky? Or have I grown less cantankerous in my dotage? [Note: With such silly, self-amused rhetoric, I thus present myself for swift castigation]

Agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the Snow Patrol disc, Marc. I enjoy listening to it, even though it borders on modern rock territory at times. The lyrics are fine but the overall production is unnecessarily smooth where it could be a little grittier. I guess I find it more authenic when I can sense desperation or urgency in what I'm hearing. My favourite track, "Tiny Little Fractures" is a notable exception, recalling the voice and jangly guitar of Sebadoh's Lou Barlow on 'License to Confuse'.

Thanks for the link to the Jazzland site, which points out that Buggee Wesseltoft's first name is, "...conveniently prounced 'boogie!'". Why can't my name be conveniently pronounced something fun like that? [Again, this one's right down the middle of the plate]
BTW I seem to have 'borrowed' someone’s Miles Davis at the last listening party but don’t know who to return it to…Derek? I apparently lost track after all the margaritas…did I lend anything out…anything I might want to put on my favourite list of almost my favourites?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

If I could only manage to get this dyslexia under control (or simply learn to read a tape measure) I might actually find time for leisure activities such as contributing insightful yet meaningless fluff to the blog.

Be forewarned that that I have not yet made it into my stack of favourites yet, but am currently working my way through the runners up/ the would be favourites if only….

First off… “To the Five Boroughs” is the Beastie Boys first effort in six years and is heavily influenced by the thick layer of post 9/11 dust that settled on the island. The boyz have used the voice of popular urban music in an attempt to bring a worthwhile message to their well established audience, and for that I applaud them. “Right Right Now Now”, “It Takes Time to Build”, and “An Open Letter To NYC” are powerful highly political songs that speak out against the insanity of the Homeland with a style that is crafted, catchy, melodic and accessible. Somebody had to say it and I am glad the Beasties had the courage to stand up for what it truly sounds they believe in. What stopped the Boroughs from reaching the top of my top 10 is that a large minority of the album is crap! The Beastie boys bounce back and forth between meaningful tales of injustice and unsophisticated rappa rhymes dissing fellow mc’s. wha da fuck’s up wid dat? Well worth the listen…”cause we got the power to make a change”

The Jazzland label brings us Bugge Wesseltoft ‘New Conception of Jazz / FiLM iNG’ (sic). The work blends Bugge’s smooth Scandinavian interpretations of 60’s – 70’s funk and jazz and fuses it with modern techniques and concepts and a little cross border ethnicity. I have had this one for a while and it’s still growing on me but I occasionally find it a little hard to get over the moodier sides of the music. Look out for Jazzland! I keep hearing stellar pieces from the label. Bugge also brought us ‘Moving’ a few years back. No regrets from either of them.

The girls of Organ released ‘Grab That Gun’ with much fanfare from the indie press earlier this year. The sound is post/post punk all gurl band with a slightly cloying sweetness to the sound that disturbs at times. Think Blondie without the edge…just a little too much GoGo’s. The songs are at times strong, the problem with the album being that the sound is tiresome, unrelenting. “I could care less if people bred themselves to death” …I wish the album were more than just an also ran.

Franz Ferdinand – yes Kyle, it’s so much better on holiday! This almost made it into the top 4. Nice to hear what might be a new face to Brit pop? Clever, boppy, catchy, fresh; but in the end, the latter part of the album drags and does not have the legs it needs. The package is, at times, passionless….”so if you’re lonely/ you know I’m here/ waiting for you” …now that’s conviction! … I love the change ups though, they’re so cheap.

Antibalas picks up the torch where they left off and bring it all home to the Bronx with ‘who is this America’ More politics from the streets of NYC and it pulls no punches. The sound of Antibalas has always been big and has followed the afro beat roots of Kuti’s soul, but in “America” it on occasions breaches the levies that have, to date, contained it. Check out Stuart Bogie’s ‘Indictment’ for a swift kick in the head. Think Tom Waits meets the wholly father of afro funk himself in an alley and everyone done gets beat up! Want to hear these fuckers really rock? Head down to the Shoe next time they are in town. Five thumbs up for the show and four for the album because it fails to “push the boundaries” towards the end of the album. Again, it almost makes it into the top 5.

Snow Patrol – ‘Final Straw’ The biggest surprise of the year for me is how I am craving the sound of guitar driven rock…(witness next weeks picks) Final Straw’s sound is big and lush, diving and feel good, straight forward and well crafted, beautifully engineered if a little shallow. Will it be on the top of my cd player next year or back in the stax? Only time will tell. Final Straw has its introspective moments but always comes around. Again, it almost makes it into the top 5. ok ok, maybe it IS #5.

Lastly, Jolie Holland ‘Escondida’ might well have made it into the top 5 but I have not bought it yet and besides, I’m sure Stuart will tell us all about it.

I've heard the voice of Hamilton Leithauser from The Walkmen described as 'Rod Stewart, if someone were pulling on his testicles'. That I think this is accurate in no way detracts from my admiration for this album and my decision to include it in my top 5 as well (so what the hell am I going to post next week?) I downloaded two tracks from the Fiery Furnaces recently and liked them...perhaps a trip to Soundscapes is in order. Or maybe I should wait until Boxing Week to do some disc shopping...

Stuart, I borrowed the Lekman disc from Marc (note that I did not put quotes around the verb, meaning that permission was granted for me to take the disc), so I'm not in any position to whine about wasted caja. Marc, on the other hand, has every right to take one of your cds in reparation and it's quite possible that he has already done so.

Also, while Feist may have it going on, I can't say I'm digging her music. Perhaps I need another listen, or perhaps a private performance from Feist herself. Actually, I can't recall what she looks like so instead I'll ask for a private performance from Natalie Portman.

I was hoping that the Onion would list their Least Essential Albums of 2004 today but it appears as though they've either abandonned this tradition or are waiting until next week. In the spirit of schaedenfraude and the continued smackdown of the Lekman disc, does anyone want to add their most disappointing/hated discs of the year? I'll think of some and then try to think of some really clever putdowns to add as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I'm not sure that I loved either of these discs but they were fairly solid and in a year that left me vastly underwhelmed where popular music was concerned that was far more than enough. The first disc is "Bows and Arrows" by the Walkmen. Not as strong as "Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone" they're still a band who's next record I will look forward to with some degree of anticipation unlike say Franz Ferdinand, Clinic, Interpol etc who I think may have reached the limit of their creative powers.

There's no doubt that Track 2, "The Rat" was one of the best songs of the last 12 months. Visceral (love that fucking drummer!) and plaintive and schizo all in one song. One minute he's pissed off at someone re-entering his life, next minute he's lamenting his sad and lonely existence. Ah the tightrope of life that we all tread summed up in a beauty of a 4 minute pop song.

There's a bit too much shimmering guitar shit going on and not enough pedal to the metal which is where I might find the album a bit weak but tracks like "Little House of Savages" (kick-ass circa "Crocodiles" Echo and the Bunnymen vibe), "The North Pole" and their homage to the Pogues "Hang On, Siobhan" make it all worthwhile.

I think what holds it all together for me where the Walkmen are concerned is Hamilton Leithauser's "yet to have that first coffee after a hard night of drinking" vocals. The 21st century's answer to Rod Stewart and I mean that with the utmost respect.

My second pick for this week is "Blueberryboat" by the Fiery Furnaces. According to the album liner and my Denon CD player there are only 13 tracks on this 76 minute opus but I the first time I listened to this on the Walkman I swore there were at least 3 times that many. This can produce two reactions. Initially, extreme annoyance at the constant mid-song readjustments, then over time and with a bit of patience the pleasure of discovering something new within each 60 second segment of music. The album starts off with a 10 minute track so its obvious from the getgo that this brother and sister combo aren't out to conquer commercial radio.

I found it rather hilarious (especially since I wasn't there) to read in Now's live review of their September concert that they played for almost an hour without a break and the crowd were getting pissed off because they had no opportunity to go "whoo" or "whaa" which lets every true fan know they've been part of a history making gig.

I really haven't got a clue how to describe this record and I suppose for me that's its major strength. It's got very little to do with lyrics or even the bizzare array of instruments on display. Its all about the flux of emotions that the music induces. I'd be tempted to call it a concept album but I couldn't begin to say what the concept is.

Suffice to say that some of my favourite songs of 2004 come some 5 maybe 7 minutes in to these songs. I've got an inkling that if Guided by Voices and Fiery Furnaces hooked up not only would we have one helluva cool band name but the music that the necessary compromise, between focus and blur, would produce would be life-altering.
First off Id like to extend a heartfelt apology to all those that bought the Jens Lekman CD, I bought the cd a few months back when it first came out and gave it a good review after listening to it the first few times. This may have been a factor for Marc and Kyles purchase, and if so all I can say is that - yes it is completely tiresome and suitable only as a frisbie after 3 listens.....
As for next selections I am afraid I am following Kyle again ( we both picked Arcade Fire) with this next round with the Iron & Wine's disc. It has atypical melodies and a killer bit of instumentation w banjo that I never tire of even though I have listened much to it. His voice is never over the top emoting but somehow his understated mutterings seem very intense.
Im afraid Kyle was wrong with his second choice, sadly , and what he really meant to pick was Feist , because frankly shes hot... Lets face it.... Ok I like the eurobeat meets Burt Backarach sound much and I found this album to be the perfect summer album...Sauvinagn Blanc , Italian Cheese , black olives, Feist nakid.....ahhhhh
Unfortunatley I dont seem to focus on just songs anymore so Ill pass on that catagory.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Okay, I'll step up to the plate. Here's what I was going to post on Wednesday before I got caught up in actual work:

'Our Endless Numbered Days' by Iron & Wine, a beautiful, lush album despite its relatively spare instrumentation. The lyrics are intelligent and heartfelt without being clever or maudlin, conveying the hitherto discussed and lauded sincerity with elegance and seemingly without effort. The perfect accompaniment to those cold winter mornings when I'm sitting inside with a coffee and the newspaper and want to feel at once insulated from the world and connected to it . He has one of those rich, warm voices, like Nick Drake's, that seem to reassure with each note. Highly recommend, as the disc gets better with each listen.

'Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts' by M83, which goes 180 degrees in the opposite direction, cranks out a massive, swirling wall of sound, that channels My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless", and at times, Sigur Ros. The melodies build slowly and patiently before exploding into a hammering yet blissful crescendo. What the hell am I talking about? I don't know. But I can say that for all its colder, electronic harmonies, I find it puts me in that same cosy state of being as the Iron & Wine disc.

So to sum up: Quieter record + immediate, soft vocal = intimate whereas Louder record + barely discernable vocals = intimate.

Rather than slowly trotting these out as if they were manna from Heaven, here are the rest of my songs of the year:

'Float On' by Modest Mouse, which can get a wee bit tiresome in spots, particularly its military drum beat, everybody-join-in-with-the-chorus denouement, but the syncopated beats more than atone

'Take Me Out' by Franz Ferdinand, starts off like a great Strokes song, switches gears and gets even better, and which should be the single of the year though I'm willing to replace it with 'Jacqueline', if only for the kickass chorus, "It's always better on holidays...that's why we only work when...we need the money!"

'Check it Out' by the Beastie Boys for that pow-pow-like sample in the verses that packs a whallop and puts an extra little spring in my step. Used to great effect in an episode of 'The OC', to a series of quick edits of characters walking through the lobby of a casino.

'Surfin' on a Rocket' by Air, which pairs a sweet poppy harmony of overlaid vocals with a souful catchy ambient sound that most critics would call 'ethereal'. Sometimes that's not a good thing but in this case it is.

Honourable mentions include: 'The Love Song' by K-Os, 'Fallen Angel' by Elbow, 'Run' by Snow Patrol, 'Train from Kansas City' by Neko Case, 'Fit But You Know It' by The Streets, 'Sommersault' by Danger Mouse and Zero 7, 'Loosen Your Hold' by South, 'Little House of Savages' by The Walkmen, 'Retour a Vega' by the Stills and 'Farther On' by Vetiver. more album to post next week...

OK OK let me belatedly break the ice on week two of the much ballyhooed (but reluctantly posted) Top Five/Ten/yeah whatever countdown for 2004.

Some more albums:

Frog Eyes - The Folded Palm. Victoria BC-based band's second release - it's intense without being loud, mostly due to the eyes-bulging-out-of-the-head vocal style of singer Carey Mercer, whose lyrics are paradoxically (given the aforementioned vcoals) poetic and ephemeral, though at times they do embrace a more direct angst-ridden style. Reminiscent (vocally, at least) of eighties other times it's more like whacked out Bowie. As a whole, it's powerful stuff, but not an easy listen, and it's possible it would just be exhausting if it weren't for the underlying songs - sympathetic and inventive organic instrumentation, melodically and musically rich arrangements, and they grow and grow.

Eric Friedlander - Maldoror. Mentioned this one before, and you kind of have to hear it to have a discussion about it. It's ten improvised cello (solo) tracks (first takes, no overdubs) referencing and drawing inspiration from a series of surrealist poems by Comte de Leautremont called Les Chants des Maldoror. Not really difficult listening ultimately, certainly not as atonal as it might be - he has a beautiful tone and is a spectaculalrly inventive player, and has crafted a gorgeous, flowing, synesthetic, mood piece. Groovy cool. Top two or three of the year for me.

Songs - well, how about something from Modest Mouse? I originally was loving "Float On" big time, but the more I listened to the record the more "Ocean Breathes Salty" was the one for me. A great song, very similar really to Float On, but I love the verses with their sloppy, vaguely hip-hoppy rhythm and his over-the-top singing. Great driving song.

OK, who's next?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

My posts to come later today but first, The Onion's Best of 2004 .

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Ja, ja ich kenne that both the albums I picked to review were released in 2003 but I promise the 8 remaining album choices will adhere to the very stringent rules that herr burkhalter (aka kyliep) has laid down. I only slipped initially because I noticed that Exclaim had slipped in both Jim Guthrie and Ulrich Schnauss in their best of 2004 and I purchased both of those last year. I also find it extremely difficult to come up with 10 albums released in any year that could possibly be labelled "best of", case in point being Marc. Don't worry though I will not include Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" in forthcoming installments.

Some notes on your posts...

The Spring Heel Jack sounds intriguing given the band members but I'm not sure if I'm sold on your review of it, Derek. Aimlessness? Abrasion? Anti-tortoise? Sounds terrible, which of course means I'm really interested in hearing it and will in all likihood come to rave about it. Damned if I can locate anything more than a 20 second stream must bring it to the next cd club.

I may have to pick up the American Music Club disc...I've been digging the tracks I've downloaded recently...still hate the name of the band though...reminds me of Dick Clark or Columbia House...

Marc, wouldn't you say that the Hiorthoy disc represents an audacious claim to the vanguard of exceptional neo-minimalist experimentation? No? It's just shit, then? Ah, well. They all can't be good purchases. Which reminds me that soon the Onion website will be posting its yearly 'Least Essential Album List', which is always good for a cathartic giggle or two. Hope it comes out this week.

And did it feel good for those of you who have thus far listed discs which weren't technically released in 2004? Feel you're entitled to choose any goddamn disc that has crossed your path in the last twelve months? I guess there are no real rules here but if raging against these imaginery contraints has inspired you to passionate expression, so much the better.

I went with the idea of choosing five and then choosing my favourite 'singles' to highlight songs that were great on albums that were only just good. If you guys want to include more than 5 discs or any number of noteworthy songs, go for it. Or actually, don't. You're not allowed. Don't even try it! It is verboten. That's German for step off.

Since I'm out of the office Thursday/Friday I will post my picks tomorrow.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Interesting choices Derek. I've been reading about, and had on my list, the S/Heel Jack one for sometime now. Your review makes it sound pretty intriguing. Raises a discussion topic in my head, which I'll save for a rainy day.

And as for Ted Leo, I had just come across him a couple months back and finally downloaded some last week. I agree it's got a ton of elements I like, still trying to decide if I love the overall package - as much as some of the reviewers do, anyway. I haven't heard "Ballad of the Sin Eaters", so I'll seek it out.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Admittedly I've played neither of these discs at a CD club but for two pretty good and different reasons. The first disc entitled simply "Live" by Spring Heel Jack came out about mid-2003 but I purchased it late in the year and only now am I succumbing to its charms. With only two tracks on the album, running each close to 40 minutes, the allure of this album is far from being readily apparent. One might be tempted to simply switch off after the first 6 or 7 minutes of track #1 (entitled descriptively Part I) finding little to hold on to other than abrasion. This might be described as the anti-Tortoise. Some might flee at the rather aimless flight of take-off but with Coleman, Shepp, Ayler and others taken head on it would take a bit more than seeming pointlessness to scare me off. Unlike some of the aformentioned Spring Heel Jack and friends give you plenty of room to come up for air and this is where the wonders of the record come to the fore.

With Han Bennink on drums, Evan Parker on sax, William Parker on bass, Matthew Shipp and J Spaceman (ex of Spiritualized) on guitar there's plenty of talent here and they all get their chance to shine. It's still not something you'll want to play first thing on a Sunday morning but the music ebbs and flows and changes directions in a myriad of ways, that allows the listener to discover a bit more with each listen. And this is music that demands that you do listen to it. No dish-washing background noise this.

Also on my year-end list and regretfully an album I have never purchased (thanks to the TPL) is "Hearts of Oak" by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Ted and the boys always seem to garner the good reviews which obviously I've always skimmed because up until recently I was under the impression, due to the band name, that they were purveyors of electronic music. To my delight nothing could be further from the truth. I have no idea if they receive much in the way of commercial airplay but if I was 17 again and looking to kick out the jams this is what I'd want to hear on my radio. Its hard poppin, briskly played but still erudite music. They've taken some of the best of the Posies, Elvis Costello, and the politically savvy Jam and turned it into something that College stations would find hard to resist. "Ballad of the Sin Eater" might be the best summing up of the mood in America post 9/11 that could be captured outside of a lengthy article in Harpers: " didn't think they could hate you now, did ya?". Time to invest some coin in their just released CD.
Mark Koselek's sun kil moon project- "Ghosts of the Highway". Ok this was released in November 2003, but I listened to it throughout 2004 as well as picking up another 3 of his cds. This is the one that started it all, and still seems the best of the bunch but they are all pretty great. The quality of the songwritting and the pacing of the album (mixing crazy horse like rockers w acoustic ballads) is pretty much perfect, (unlike his live show at the shoe). The etherial sound of his voice and his wash painted lyrics are a blend made in heaven. IT gets rave reviews from other friends who I haver played it for. If you have any of his other stuff and love it, dont miss out on this one, (on sale now for the low price.......)
The other pick would have to be Arcade Fire . Derek and I have been discussing how maybe this band will usher in a new era of sincerety and heartfelt passion in pop music. I cant handle the ironic tonge in cheek bullshit most bands push out any longer....They managed to capture a sence of the live showin the disc and the show for me had to top the list for concerts last year (but thats another list topic....) These kooky looking freaks are the real deal I think, no poseurs would choose this geeky a look..... The range of material on the album is something I hope they continue rather then honing in on one aspect of their sound...I never new eighties influenced rock could sound this great,( it helps not having that stupid production w the big drum bash). These 2 albums are polar opposites , but both have honesty rarely seen these days.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Marc. Sorry man.

Like you, an annual top ten is often a little daunting for me these days, as I rarely buy enough music released in the year in question, but for 2004 I think I can muster up a few options.

For albums, I'll start with......American Music Club's "Love Songs for Patriots". Great to see these guys back at it, and depressing as hell to think that it's been ten years since their last record. Frig, I say. This one is consistently good - their songs are so intelligent and emotionally complex (I hesitate to curse any band by labelling it "mature", but...), and musically rich as well. The sense of the dramatic reminds me that AMC started out in the eighties and worked through the grunge years, but it still sounds contemporary to me, and satisfyingly, uniquely them as well. The album opener "Ladies and Gentlemen" is an absolute stunner - but wait! I'm not choosing songs of the year yet, and will not be so gauche as to double dip (at least until I begin to run out of ideas next Friday).

Second album, released in 2002 but fuck off, is John Cunningham's "Happy-Go Unlucky", a gorgeous update on Beatle-esque songwriting (meets Elliott Smith, but more on him later), without a weak track on the record. At times it can be too reverntial, but mostly it is beautiful beautiful beautiful. Chamber Pop at its absolute best. I particularly love "Invisible Lines", "It Isn't Easy" and "Here it is" . Highly recommended and available only at Soundscapes I believe.

Now for a song. Since we're splitting songs from albums, which is fine, I'm more tempted to choose tunes I like to play in the car, quick hitters as it were. At least that's what my first choice is - it's Ben Kweller's "I Need You Back". I blew my brains out on this one all summer - light as candy floss, and in a way it's very cheesey (hmmm, two food metaphors, OK snack break) with BK's pretensions of naivete, but ultimately it works great because of its energy and angst, and his great singing. I remember driving back from my CFA exam in June, convinced I'd failed, and screaming this one at the top of my lungs (look out ma, I'm turning forty!).

Kyle, thanks for the metacritic site - it rocks.

The end of another year and the start of a season of top ten lists (or is it five)…a chance for reflection on where our musical choices have taken us…the same old predictable meaningless drivel or down new and inspiring avenues of discovery.

Starting off my top 10 list of favs. would be Kim Hiorthoy, "For The Ladies". Now the only reason this could make it onto my top ten is that I purchased less than ten albums released in 2004. This album, for lack of a better term is the greatest disappointment I have ever picked up in my life (music, that is)….EVER. I had heard some of Kim’s work on Denise Benson’s show and really dug it. A smooth Scandinavian blend of jazz and electronica, soulful and cool but pushing the limits of what I have heard…just a bit. So I walk into soundscapes not having done my research and pick up his latest release….not a song on the album…barely even a note. 10 tracks of ambient noise, much of it barely audible at normal listening levels, which is ok with me since it’s all shit! Often I might find myself being generous, embracing such an experiment as art, but not this time….sorry Kim. The only reason I am not throwing this one into the Michigan landfill is that I want the ultimate example of how absurd the record industry is. Will I ever pick up the Hiorthoy I was really looking for? I don’t know! Will I ever implicitly trust Soundscapes again? Not bloody likely. Caveat emptor! This sucker was born on a day long, long ago.

No. 9 on the top 10…Jens Lekman “when I said I wanted to be your dog”…I just don’t get It!...highly rated by the critics? Not sickly sweet but rather tastes of sacrine…has no nutritive value and leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. Ixnay on the Lekman eh!
...a dog indeed!
good god men! it's friday afternoon and no one has offered at least two of their five discs of the year for others to contemplate/congratulate/annihilate?

fine. then i'll offer up two of my choices:

'Cast of Thousands' by Elbow, an album that doesn't really push any boundaries, channelling, from track to track, everyone from Coldplay to Catherine Wheel to Primal Scream to Spiritualized. But hey, since I dig all those influences and since this is one solid album I can listen to and enjoy all the way through, and since, even after I've played it over 20 times I'm still not tired of it, into the top 5 it goes.

My other choice, 'Funeral' by Arcade Fire, is probably up there at the top of the top five, for the sheer energy and intensity of the music and the vocals and for the fact that it conjures up good feelings about the music I liked in the 80s.

as promised, here is one of my top 5 songs of the year:

'What are you afraid of?' by West Indian Girl. If you don't recall it from the cd club (we were probably 5 or 6 drinks in at that point), you can preview a copy at the new Itunes store, the Canadian version of which opened yesterday (meaning for a mere 99 cents, you can also purchase it, all legally.

Itunes is a free software program that you can download from apple's website and I use it to burn all my cds and organize my music. Recommended if you like to listen to music on your computer and necessary if you wish to purchase music from the itunes music store. Enough promo for apple!! (I've got my own software to sell!)

But one quick other note, in regards to the reviews topic last week, there is a site called Metacritic that compiles, among other things, reviews of cds from various sources. There was a reference to this site in an article I read today at that echoed statements made by those of you who own the Brian Wilson disc. The writer can't understand why it's the highest rated disc of the year. (Note: to read articles at Salon, you have to watch a brief commercial).

Okay, back to selling career exploration and planning software...