February 03, 2004

If music be the food of love, here are my 20 favorite foods. Of love.

No, it's not just a ploy to get a prominent link in A List a Day, it's my usual end-of-the-year best of list. It's just that this year, I have a blog. I'd been holding off on the list because I'd been slow about picking up some 2003 releases (Fire Theft, Belle & Sebastian), and figured they'd make the cut when I finally got them. They did. There are other CDs in the same position, but I'm impatient.

So, then, here are my 20 favorite CDs of the year (although the positions of CDs in near proximity to each other are pretty fungible depending on my mood). Comments on individual CDs and endless other music-related reflections on the year past await you beyond the "continue" link.

1. Fountains of Wayne -- Welcome Interstate Managers
2. Cafe Tacuba -- Cuatro Caminos
3. Broken Social Scene -- You Forgot It in People
4. The Shins -- Chutes Too Narrow
5. Belle and Sebastian -- Dear Catastrophe Waitress
6. The Postal Service -- Give Up
7. Imitation Electric Piano -- Trinity Neon
8. Stephen Malkmus -- Pig Lib
9. Regina Spektor -- Soviet Kitsch
10. Jonathan Coulton -- Smoking Monkey
11. Manitoba -- Up in Flames
12. Paul Weller -- Fly on the Wall (b-side compilation)
13. Menomena -- I Am the Fun Blame Monster
14. The Fire Theft -- The Fire Theft
15. David Byrne -- Lead Us Not Into Temptation
16. Bill Frisell -- The Intercontinentals
17. Radiohead -- Hail to the Thief
18. Yo La Tengo -- Summer Sun
19. Liz Phair -- Liz Phair
20. The Rapture -- Echoes

Comments on the CDs I felt like commenting on:

1. CDs that inspire obsessive listening are the ones that make it to the top 20, and this year Fountains of Wayne put out the CD that we cannot stop playing.
2. If you like fucked up experimental shit in other languages, but you like it to be really really catchy, this album is for you. (As is "Team Rock" by Quruli, but this one is sure as hell easier to find.)
4. Also the best graphic design of the year.
5. Belle and Sebastian made me happy by finally following up their string of tepid albums with a really good one (only one song, "Lord Anthony", made my attention wander).
7. Imitation Electric Piano is a side project by Stereolab's Simon Johns. Similar in execution to your average Stereolab album, but much more memorable than any of the Lab's recent output. They should let him co-write some songs.
9/10. Regina Spektor and Jonathan Coulton are local artists (though Regina is going to be huge within a year or two).
12. The Paul Weller selection is a 3-CD set that collects his b-sides and rarities. If you recall that anecdote about scoring the new Cure set, you'll already know I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.
14. The Fire Theft consists of people who used to be in Sunny Day Real Estate, although never all of them at the same time. Their debut is by no means far removed from the last SDRE album...which is fine with me.
16. Bill Frisell finally put out an album that doesn't consist solely of slow, melancholy American folk music, yay!
19. I did put Liz Phair's album at #19, and you can just shut up about it. Like if a pop album this good was released by someone else, you wouldn't be all over it in that hip contrarian way.
20. The Rapture might've finished higher except their otherwise fine album contains the worst song I've heard in years, "Open Up Your Heart", which plays right into Luke Jenner's weaknesses -- an inability to stay on pitch, and an ability to write crappy lyrics. Those traits somehow work fine on their Gang-of-Four-style dance numbers, but you put them on top of an interminable piano ballad and suddenly the wavering pitch and the repetitive verses become too much for any man to bear.

But wait, there's more!

CDs that would probably be on my top 20 if I had bought them yet:
The Decemberists -- Her Majesty the Decemberists
The Fall -- The Real New Fall LP
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists -- Hearts of Oak
David Sylvian -- Blemish
Robert Wyatt -- Cuckooland

CDs I liked quite a bit but that didn?t make the top 20 (what we in the biz* call "honorable mention"):
The Bad Plus -- These Are the Vistas
Andrew Bird -- Weather Systems
Blur -- Think Tank
David Bowie -- Reality
Brave Combo -- Box of Ghosts
Terry Hall & Mushtaq -- The Hour of Two Lights
Paddy McAloon -- I Trawl the Megahertz
The New Pornographers -- The Electric Version
Rufus Wainwright -- Want One
Warren Zevon -- The Wind

Album that might have made the list if the spoken-word interludes didn't make listening to it such an incredibly painful experience...worse than the Rapture, because the problem is not confined to one track only:
Outkast -- The Love Below/Speakerboxxx

Best CDs I bought last year that were released kind of a while ago:
Badfinger -- Wish You Were Here
The Colour Field -- Virgins and Philistines
Crowsdell -- Dreamette
Neil Finn -- Try Whistling This
Scritti Politti -- Songs to Remember
Slapp Happy -- Ca Va

CD I could have skipped:
Elvis Costello -- North

Oh my god, don't even get me started on this. It's like Elvis went back to "Painted From Memory" (one of my favorite albums) and removed everything that was good about it. The only song I actively like from the "North" sessions is the UK bonus track, "Impatience". God forbid he should've put a song with a melody on the album proper.

Best concerts:
1. Regina Spektor/The Dismemberment Plan
2. Stephen Malkmus

Regina Spektor was not actually supposed to be the opening act for concert #1; there was another act (Miss Spice and the Malenium Band) about which the D-Plan had made a special point of saying "These guys are incredibly awesome, they don't play outside DC very often, you have to see them." So naturally that band cancelled. Even though we'd never heard Miss Spice, the hype had gotten to us, so we were a little tepid about this random woman playing instead. But as it happened, within minutes of her spacy "I lost my set list in the bathroom" intro, she had the entire audience's full attention. We're hooked now. Hooked enough that I can feel glad for her that she got to open for the Strokes, instead of jealous. (The D-Plan part of the show was also excellent...but that wasn't a surprise.)

Stephen Malkmus put on a terrific show (for free, in Prospect Park), but the thing that made it especially memorable was that there was a torrential downpour during his entire set. We decided our umbrellas were doing us no good and just decided to give up on them. Cathartic. The only drawback was the Shakespeare script I had in my so-incredibly-not-waterproof bag, which got so drenched that, when I squeezed it, huge gouts of water came pouring out of it.


*That is to say, the business of "people who know a lot of two-word phrases".

Posted by Francis at 06:18 AM

I would have put FoW higher on my list (see http://thedan.livejournal.com/2004/01/21/), but I find a lot of the second half a bit slow and plodding. It was still good enough to make my #4 though.

I keep putting off getting that Postal Service disc... all I've heard is "Such Great Heights" and I *love* that song. Going to go listen to it now, in fact.

Posted by: Dan at February 3, 2004 08:37 AM