December 31, 2004

What separates man from the apes? Apes don't make lists of their favorite CDs.

As some of you will recall, I celebrate New Year's in the traditional fashion -- by compiling a year-end list of my favorite CDs.

First, my top 20:

1) Mission of Burma -- ONoffON
2) The Futureheads -- The Futureheads
3) Ted Leo and the Pharmacists -- Shake the Sheets
4) Mouse on Mars -- Radical Connector
5) Robyn Hitchcock -- Spooked
6) A.C. Newman -- The Slow Wonder
7) Brian Wilson -- Smile
8) The Arcade Fire -- Funeral
9) Bill Frisell -- Unspeakable
10) The Magnetic Fields -- i
11) Loretta Lynn -- Van Lear Rose
12) Bjork -- Medulla
13) Todd Rundgren -- Liars
14) Rjd2 -- Since We Last Spoke
15) Los Lobos -- The Ride
16) Frank Black -- Frank Black Francis
17) Brad Mehldau -- Live in Tokyo
18) Tom Waits -- Real Gone
19) The Beauty Pill -- The Unsustainable Lifestyle
20) Elvis Costello and the Imposters -- The Delivery Man

Comments on most of those follow.

1) I wasn't planning on buying the new album by the reunited Mission of Burma at all. I had heard most of their old material many years ago on a Ryko compilation (which I had bought on the basis of the overlap between the members of Mission of Burma and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic) and thought it was, you know -- fine. A little thin, abrasive, and uncatchy. Not so much my thing. But someone at the office had a copy of the new CD, so I borrowed it out of curiosity and was stunned at how much I loved it. It made me want to reexamine their entire oeuvre. Which is easy to do, since 99% of it is on that Ryko CD! And that CD is, in fact, much better than I remember, though the sound really is kind of crappy.

2) The Futureheads remind me of the Jam, XTC, and Wire, though not necessarily simultaneously. They are the band on this list that it seems like it would be the most fun to be in.

3) The new Ted Leo isn't as good as "Hearts of Oak", but it's still pretty great, and it fulfills my top 20 dictum, which is, can I stop listening to it? I cannot. So there you are.

5) Robyn Hitchcock shook off a string of pleasant if not especially memorable albums (Luxor, Robyn Sings) with "Spooked"; Gillian Welch and David Rawlings delicately flesh out the spare songs, producing arrangments that fairly twinkle in the distance.

7) "Smile" is possibly the best album of 1967, but still fares pretty well this year.

8) I've heard the Arcade Fire CD only once, but I can already tell it deserves a spot on the list. I'm ranking it conservatively because I haven't had enough time to really assimilate it.

9) Bill Frisell's new album is even further than his last from the Lake-Wobegon-friendly folky jazz he'd been stuck on for years. Yay! This time Hal Willner (compiler of the beloved collection of Disney covers "Stay Awake") is on board to weird things up, playing turntables.

10) Some people have griped about the new Magnetic Fields album sounding too slick. Come on, people. Hasn't Stephin Merritt paid his frickin' dues? Let him have his chamber orchestra.

11) I only liked the White Stripes' "Elephant" okay, but I'm glad its success gave Jack White the clout to produce the new Loretta Lynn album, which kicks ass.

12) Is Bjork, like, the most successful performer to ever be so totally uncommercial? "Medulla" is a freaking a cappella prog album. Sweet.

13) The new Todd Rundgren CD turned off a lot of fans who would rather he played guitar than synthesizer. But the songs are great, and I'd be saying that even if the big finale didn't call George W. Bush a big liar.

20) Elvis's "The Delivery Man" has one too many indistinguishable slow, pensive songs (not to be confused with the handful of quite good slow songs), but when it rocks, it does not fuck around.

CDs I considered for the top 20, but that didn't quite make the cut:
Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer -- Music for Two
Nellie McKay -- Get Away from Me
Laura Viers -- Carbon Glacier
Viktor Krauss -- Far From Enough
TV on the Radio -- Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (also receives a demerit for not spelling "Bloodthirsty" as one word, or at least hyphenating it)
Wilco -- A Ghost Is Born
They Might Be Giants -- The Spine
Morrissey -- You Are the Quarry
Sonic Youth -- Sonic Nurse
Fiery Furnaces -- Blueberry Boat
Beta Band -- Heroes to Zeros
Stereolab -- Margerine Eclipse

Albums I haven't heard yet that might very well retroactively make this list when I do hear them:
Green Day -- American Idiot
Ken Stringfellow -- Soft Commands

Best compilations:
The Cure -- Join the Dots (box set)
Crammed Global Soundclash 1980-89 Part One: World Fusion

Best expanded reissues:
Talking Heads -- The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads
Pavement -- Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Elvis Costello -- Kojak Variety

Best CD I bought totally at random:
The Richard Leo Johnson Trio -- Poetry of Appliance

Best albums from a long time ago that I finally bought this year:
The Go-Betweens -- Spring Hill Fair
Wilco -- Summerteeth
Neil Young -- On the Beach
DJ Shadow -- Endtroducing...

Best singles:
Pixies -- Bam Thwok
Belle & Sebastian -- Your Cover's Blown

On second thought (CDs that should've been on my top 20 last year):
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists -- Hearts of Oak
Andrew Bird -- Weather Systems
The New Pornographers -- The Electric Version

I can be forgiven for "Hearts of Oak". I hadn't bought it yet. But Andrew Bird and the New Pornographers only on the honorable mention list? What was I thinking?

Well, the Andrew Bird was very quiet and atmospheric, and didn't stand out from the pack right off the bat, the way "The Swimming Hour" did. After seeing him perform some of the songs from "Weather Systems" in concert, the album just sort of clicked for me, and it's been in heavy rotation since. And I guess I downgraded the New Pornographers album for being too similar to their first album, but not as catchy. But even so, it still completely trounces the Fire Theft. I mean, come on.

So: Ted Leo in at #2, Andrew Bird at, oh, let's say after Belle and Sebastian, and the New Pornographers after Paul Weller. The Fire Theft (clearly overrated for having just been bought) and the Rapture are definitely bumped off the list, and who else shouldn't have been there? Hmm. I still like that Liz Phair CD unreasonably, and I'm thinking I might have underrated Yo La Tengo's "Summer Sun"...but I haven't listened to that Radiohead CD in ages. Away with it.

Ah. Much better.

Posted by Francis at 04:15 PM | TrackBack

What about Fountains of Wayne's "Welcome Interstate Managers"? Or did that not make the list because they left in just a little too much B-side material?

Posted by: Debby at December 31, 2004 07:11 PM

No, I liked that album very much...seeing as it was my #1 pick for 2003.

Posted by: Francis at December 31, 2004 08:55 PM

I found American Idiot to be not worth the hype. Though to be honest I haven't made it through the whole thing yet.

A lot of my top picks for this year are probably too poppy for your delicate indie sensibilities. You might like the Secret Machines album though.

Posted by: The Dan at January 1, 2005 06:39 PM

I thought the difference was that apes download music from the Internet because they don't know it's wrong.

Posted by: elton john at January 3, 2005 02:43 AM