too much typing—since 2003


the advantage of noise (2004)

What makes people interested in reading something? A clever lede, one that draws readers in and keeps them intrigued to continue.

In other words, something utterly unlike the above.

At any rate, here's my wrap-up of the year in music, 2004. Curiously, two of the best albums released in 2004 were released in slightly different versions in 2003 (and in fact, both made my 2003 list). The Fall released its 5,372nd album...for the second or third time; the US version (on Narnack Records) adds a couple tracks, subtracts another one or two, and alters the mix slightly. Between this version, the British version, and the version originally intended for release which Mark E. Smith scotched (widely available online), I'm not sure which I like best. But as a registered Fall Geek, I of course have them all.

While Lilys' discography is nowhere near as chaotic as that of the Fall, main Lily Kurt Heasley did his best in 2004 to confuse everyone, by releasing an album called The Lilys (the band name has no article; the album title does), which is last year's Precollection with a few tracks remixed or with new parts added, plus three new tracks. So far it's available only as a British import, on Rainbow Quartz.

Onto the top CDs, sans asterisks. These are grouped in tiers of quality, alphabetized within tier:

John Cale Hobo Sapiens
Interpol Antics
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists Shake the Sheets
Macha Forget Tomorrow
A.C. Newman The Slow Wonder

At this point, it was surprising that John Cale could put out a solid song-oriented release. I wasn't that impressed with his previous effort, 1996's Walking on Locusts. And it's still more surprising that Cale could put out a release incorporating sampling and ProTools and sound like neither a dilettante nor a desperate old fart trying to keep up with them kids these days.

The Arcade Fire Funeral
The Magnetic Fields i
John Vanderslice Cellar Door
Wilco A Ghost Is Born
Brian Wilson Smile

Yes, that Arcade Fire album is getting raved about everywhere. And yes, it's overrated...but that's mostly because, to read a lot of reviews, it'll cure Jesus's acne and alter the earth's rotation so it's summer year-round everywhere. What it is is a fine, impressively passionate and intricate debut album. Speaking of impossible expectations, Brian Wilson finally got around to finishing Smile (perhaps you'd heard...). True, his voice isn't what it was, and some of the lyrics are...well, if you didn't know the terrible toll of bicycle riders on Native Americans, here's your chance to find out. Still: what's brilliant about the album is the way it emphasizes musical relations among tracks that were originally released on several separate albums - such as the rhythm that shows up initially in "Heroes and Villains" and continues on through "Child Is Father to the Man" and culminates in the bassline to "Good Vibrations."

All Night Radio Spirit Stereo Frequency
Björk Medúlla
Elvis Costello & the Imposters The Delivery Man
Franz Ferdinand [s/t]
Guided by Voices Half Smiles of the Decomposed
Robyn Hitchcock Spooked
Mission of Burma ONoffON
Modest Mouse Good News for People Who Love Bad News

The Björk album is probably more admirable than listenable: I'm still not sure what to make of it, except that the variety of sounds and textures she achieves using primarily voice (her own and those of others from a multitude of styles) is pretty astonishing, and ambitious as well. I was a bit disappointed by Mission of Burma at first...but mostly because at their peak, they were only one of the best rock bands ever. This is just a very fine album. I really shouldn't complain, should I.

Honorable Mention:

Air Talkie Walkie, Blonde Redhead Misery Is a Butterfly, Statuesque Choir Above, Fire Below, TV on the Radio Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes.

CDs I Would Probably Like Better If I'd Had More Time to Listen to Them:

Clinic Winchester Cathedral, Sam Phillips A Boot and a Shoe, Chris Stamey Travels in the South, Ken Stringfellow Soft Commands.

I didn't buy many EPs this year, but two are worthy of mention: William of Orange by The Caribbean, and Bliss Descending by Jason Falkner.

Finally, a special category for Excellent CD I Can't Be Objective About Because I'm Friends with the Guy Who Made It: John Sharples' I Can Explain Everything. Sharples has been around for a while (read: he's even older than I am) and is best known as a drummer, but on this record, his solo debut, he also plays guitar and the occasional keyboard and takes a turn at the mic. He's roped a cavalcade of talented friends into writing songs for him (he's also a lawyer, did I mention? I'm sure there's no connection), such as Matt Keating, Jules Verdone, Paula Carino, and Bradley Skaught.

As much as I still believe in the album as a format for presenting songs in a complementary context, the proliferation of mp3 websites has made it way easier to hear songs without either plunking down fifteen bucks or risking the wrath of the RIAA (well, maybe). My favorite sites are listed in the links at right, and from them (mostly) I've drawn the following list of top "singles" from 2004 (or at least, that I first heard in 2004):

Boyskout "Back to Bed"
The Chap "(I Am) Oozing Emotion"
Nimbus Coleman "Who Is the Governess?"
Great Lake Swimmer "I Will Never See the Sun"
I Monster "Who Is She"
Momus "Jesus in Furs"
The Owls "Air"
Andy Partridge "I Wonder Why the Wonderfalls"
Popsicle Thieves "Touch You Natalie Jane"

The Andy Partridge song is, of course, the theme for the late, lamented TV series Wonderfalls (but - complete series DVD out in March!) and certainly deserves to be more widely heard than that show was viewed. And that Popsicle Thieves song (they sometimes record as the Bicycle Thieves)? Yet another proof that from nowhere at all, with utterly marginal acclaim, perfect songs can spring forth. The band is primarily the project of a guy named Brian from New Orleans, and this track showed up on a compilation of music featuring musicians subscribed to the Robyn Hitchcock mailing list. But damn - it's nearly a perfect pop song: melody, clever chord structure, witty lyrics, and wonderful, compelling arranging. A lot of the rhythms seem developed from the sound of the name "Natalie Jane," for example - and listen to the way the drum part develops over the course of the song to increase momentum and tension. Oh, can't really hear that, because the song's not generally available and I don't currently have mp3 hosting space. Sigh...

In the interests of completeness, and of proving how out of it I am - or rather, further proving - the following is a list of CDs that I'm quite likely to like but either hadn't purchased until a few days ago or haven't bought at all yet - and therefore, I can't really judge how well they'll eventually stack up in a long-term ranking of 2004's best:

American Music Club Love Songs for Patriots, Camper Van Beethoven New Roman Times, PJ Harvey Uh Huh Her, McLusky The Difference Between Me and You Is That I'm Not on Fire, Elliott Smith From a Basement on a Hill, Sonic Youth Sonic Nurse, Tom Waits Real Gone.

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