Thursday, December 30, 2004

That Time of Year...

Yes, my top-10-albums-of-’04 list. But first, a word about these things...

Not too long ago, The New Yorker ran a profile of Quentin Tarantino, in which the director asserted that the films he loves most fall into one of two categories: films that are “good” and films that are “good enough.” The good films are such expert mixtures of craft and art as (my examples, not his) Citizen Kane or Raging Bull. The good enough encompass those imperfect, perhaps kitschy, works that contain a scene or performance or soundtrack or something that just makes it all worth it.

I’ve been fairly obsessed with this notion -- and how it relates to how I rate albums -- ever since that article came out. There are good albums and there are good enough albums. Sometimes, the good enough albums are better than the good ones: I’d often rather take an album with some amazing, risky highs coupled with some filler tracks over one that does nothing “wrong” because it doesn’t dare to fail or to be stupid.

All this is a rather labored attempt to explain that I do not believe the below ten albums to be flawless listening experiences. They are merely the ten best, or my ten favorite albums I heard this year.

Of course, that’s a problem too. I don’t possess nearly the amount of clout (or money) to hear a genuinely representative percentage of the rock/pop/etc. albums released this year. I can almost guarantee that in 2005 I will hear at least one 2004 album that should be on this list.

So this thing is imperfect. These list things are always imperfect. But I won’t deny that I enjoy putting them together. I usually start thinking about mine in April! My God!

1. Brian Wilson, Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE (Nonesuch)
2. The Delgados, Universal Audio (Chemikal Underground)
3. The Finn Brothers, Everyone is Here (Nettwerk)
4. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Epic)
5. Sam Phillips, A Boot and a Shoe (Nonesuch)
6. Curtis Eller's American Circus, Taking up Serpents Again (self-released)
7. Ted Leo and The Pharmacists, Shake the Sheets (Lookout)
8. Bitter, bitter weeks, Revenge (My Pal God)
9. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (Mute/Anti)
10. Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute)

City Paper’s year-in-rock survey is out this week. I wrote about my number seven here, and my number one here. Additionally, the above list is included with the lists of CP’s other music writers here; see for yourself how idiosyncratic or out-of-touch I am.

In February, the Village Voice’s Pazz and Jop poll of a whole mess of rock writers will be published and I promise to also include a hand-wringing essay here for that as well. For now, why not look at what I gave ‘em last year?

So goodbye to 2004. As for 2005, my album of the year so far is A Question of Temperature (Yep Roc) by The Chris Stamey Experience, which is basically the titular founding member of the dB’s backed by Yo La Tengo. It’s due out on Jan. 25. Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Look at this. It's a review on the CP's new concert blog-but-not-a-blog. Perhaps you're wondering if I just write about the same bands over and over again. Sometimes -- yes. But I think the more obscure artists such as these warrant it. Of course, I have been known to write lots about totally unobscure bands. Perhaps someday you'll be privy to an essay on why I've decided Abbey Road is the best Beatles album.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Perfect Pop

(Three quick ones)

3. "Right Back Where We Started From," Maxine Nightingale (1976)
For the chugging baritone saxophone in the background all Motown-like. Supposedly, this is a disco song, but how many other disco hits swing like this?
4. "New Mistake," Jellyfish (1993)
For having a guitar solo with a completely different melody and chords than the rest of the song.
5. "It's Money That Matters," Randy Newman (1988)
For being really relevant. Also, one of the few Newman '80s songs that works because it's so glossy. The Mark Knopfler guitar, mechanical drums and sports-crowd chorus make this song hurt. They help Newman's snarky cracks about failed, floundering radicals sound as mournful as they do. Because he means it, man.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

And here is a little follow-up regarding Beauty Pill, the subject of an Under the Rock from a little while back.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Perfect Pop

2. "Nails in My Feet," Crowded House (1993)
I can think of no other song that's a better testament to Neil Finn's singular gift for investing such gorgeous melodies with mystery and weird dread. "Nails in My Feet" revels in Finn's stated love of filling his songs with mundane details (houses, stars, beaches) and poking them with dreamlike imagery. The song opens with the words "My life is a house," but it soon becomes apparent that the house in question is not necessarily the narrator's own. Or maybe it is his, but with an intruder entering. Or maybe the intruder is someone the singer wants around.
The music sounds effortless, but this is not background pop. This song benefits the closer you listen, the better to hear the hymnal, sublime vocal melody and the fluid bassline that's equally as essential to the song.
After the guitar solo, a Mellotron enters and the song becomes less languid and more urgent. Stranger and stranger. "I woke up the house/Stumbled in sideways." Who's the house now? Who's the intruder? Finn's vocal rises an octave for the final chorus with a near-perfect simile: "Your skin is like water on a burning beach/And it brings me relief." And then, as the music begins to fade, Finn muses even more tantalizing mystery, back at that house: "In the back row, under the stars/And the ceiling is my floor."
It's nearly impossible for me to listen to this song only once in a single sitting.

More about "Nails in My Feet," where you can find out just how mundane the settings Finn can derive inspiration from are.