19 Albums I Wish I Had Reviewed in 2004
… in alphabetical order (by album title)
A lot of good music was released this past year. This is a cursory (and hopefully somewhat exegetic) recount of some of the brighter moments from the last twelve months. I guess you could consider what follows a “best of” list. Ever since I took over editorial duties here at Ink19, I haven’t had much time to focus on my own writing. I am too consumed with annoying the rest of the staff about the difference between there and their, or how you should never end a sentence with a preposition. It’s the proverbial “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” that all editors are faced with. Needless to say, the more tyrannical I become, the more I miss out on hearing good music. I read about it, but I seldom have the chance to hear it. As the last days of 2004 approach, I hurriedly listen to each and every CD in the ever-increasing pile that has been collecting dust on the shelf since last January. Some of it is bad, really bad. But a lot of it is good, REALLY good. So without further ado, I present to you The 19 Albums I Wish I Had Reviewed in 2004 — or, my best of list.
The Good Life, Album of the Year (Saddle Creek) • Its title might be a slight (though not too far off) misnomer, but any album that begins with a lyric like, “The first that time I met her, I was throwing up on the ladies’ room floor,” is all right by me. There is no such thing as too much self-deprecating indie pop.
Mates of State, All Day (Polyvinyl) • Kori and Jason make me feel good, REALLY good. The sappy notion of warm and fuzzy comes to mind. Nick Hornby once wrote that the best music doesn’t connect with the brain, it connects with the heart. As music critics (god, I hate that label), we tend to over analyze things. With Mates of State, such an exercise in intellectual futility is unnecessary. It just feels right. Not because the brain says so, but because the soul does.
Green Day, American Idiot (Warner Brothers) • By now, everyone has written a song or two about the current state of affairs. From redneck, quasi-nationalistic these-colors-don’t-run country odes to post-9/11 disco punk party anthems, we have been bombarded by both sides. What Green Day sings about is nothing new: things are fucked up and they aren’t happy about it. The only difference is that the kids are actually listening to Green Day. And we need the kids to listen, and subsequently stand up and take action — the elders have already proved ineffectual. This rock operetta is not Green Day’s best work, but it’s their most important — an epoch marker, if you will.
Camera Obscura, Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi (Phantom) • Glasgow’s “other” pastoral pop darlings craft smart, breezy and infinitely catchy pop songs, embellished with lush string arrangements. Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi abounds with the same richly textured, baroque compositions and wispy boy/girl vocals that one would expect from Belle and Sebastian. Yet, there’s an intimacy here that is often lost in the grandeur of their Glaswegian compatriots’ brand of pop.
I Am the World Trade Center, The Cover Up (Gammon) • It’s nonstop pulsating, sinuous indie electro-pop that is sure to put the boogie in your sweater wearing, geeky bespectacled bones. It’s an updated Blondie — Amy Dykes’s voice sounds remarkably like Ms. Harry’s — done on a laptop, without the kitsch of New Wave, and infinitely more infectious. Their cover of The Jam’s “Going Underground” has got to be the most contagious song of the year.
Mascott, Dreamer’s Book (Phantom) • Definitely the most appropriately titled album of the year. Kendall Jane Meade’s sweet voice is utterly charming. It’s soporific but never dull; it’s girlish without being annoyingly cute. The album’s dreamy soundscape, featuring cello, violins and trumpet, melds naturally with Meade’s treacly vocals to create wondrous, understated compositions.
Matt Pond PA, Emblems (Altitude) • When these guys passed through town one Sunday evening several months back, I convinced myself that I was too tired to check them out. What the fuck was I thinking?! Emblems is more of that lush yet delicate chamber pop one would expect from Matt Pond PA. You know how good The Green Fury is? This is better.
Saturday Looks Good to Me, Every Night (Polyvinyl) • This is some of the best, sun-shiniest pop I’ve heard in a while. Every Night is dance music for the indie set. No, not more of that annoyingly frenetic disco-punk dreck that is uber popular these days. Rather, SLGTM revive the warm feel of ’60s pop, a la Phil Spector, Berry Gordy and Brian Wilson
Architecture in Helsinki, Fingers Crossed (Bar None) • This is definitely the quirkiest pop album of the past twelve months. If Australia ever had its own version of the Elephant 6 Collective, this octet would be at the fore. While the infusion of electronic with indie pop became somewhat hackneyed in 2004, Architecture in Helsinki managed to keep it fresh. They use samplers, glockenspiel, recorder, tuba and even tap dancing without being over ironic. These songs are bound to make your soul smile.
Maritime, Glass Floor (Desoto) • Ex-Promise Ring joins forces with ex-Dismemberment Plan. Trust me, ignore the scowl of your hipster boyfriend. He probably listens to Franz Ferdinand anyways.
The Album Leaf, In A Safe Place (Sub Pop) • Occasionally, a record is released that is so gorgeous mere words barely get at the essence of its intrinsic beauty. Jimmy LaValle has crafted some of the most fragile, achingly beautiful music of the year. His technique is spare and understated, but the resulting sound is vast.
Joan of Arc, Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney and Mark Twain (Polyvinyl) • Definitely the most peculiar title of the year; I’m still not really sure what it means, but these arty snobs probably want it that way, right? The music itself is a deft infusion of the indie rock ethos with jazz aesthetics. It is pretentious, inaccessible and outright brilliant. Genres shift from song to song, and in some cases within each song. Yet, somehow this stream of consciousness approach works.
Brian Wilson, Smile (Nonesuch) • Can you believe it’s December 27th, and I am just now listening to Smile in its entirety? Shame on me! Over the course of the year, I have more or less heard most of this album — a song here, a song there. But not until now have I listened to it as a whole. People, believe the hype! This is a pop masterpiece! One that only took 37 years to realize.
Sonic Youth, Sonic Nurse (Geffen) • Sonic Youth aren’t a bunch of old, decrepit wanks after all. They do remember their Daydream Nation roots. Is it any coincidence that that album was released during the harsh days of the Reagan regime, and that Sonic Nurse is the product of the Reagan Era Redux — same plot, different players? After all, someone once said that oppressive political times breed brilliant artistic statements.
Cub Country, Stay Poor/Stay Happy (Future Farmer) • What’s the saying? You can take the boy out of the country, but you can never take the country out of the boy. Or, something like that. I’m incredulous that this album came from a band that calls Brooklyn home. It’s just not possible. Gently strummed acoustic guitars, lightly brushed drums, the occasional wail of the pedal steel and softly sung lyrics about leaving and longing. Such humility doesn’t exist in Brooklyn. Does it?
The Roots, Tipping Point (Geffen) • Proof that hip-hop can be inventive, non-materialistic and intelligent. Unfortunately, this is the only proof of such.
The Delgados, Universal Audio (Chemikal Underground) • This is THE flawless pop album. The impeccable hooks, the lush melodies, the soaring harmonies … oh my! Much more intimate than its predecessor, Hate, Universal Audio is no less ambitious. Never mind all this Beatles-worshipping, The Delgados make them irrelevant.
Volcano I’m Still Excited, Volcano I’m Still Excited (Polyvinyl) • VISE is one of the best bands that you’ve probably never heard of (and you definitely should hear them). Their Casio-driven pop is so simple and infectious, bearing a slight resemblance to Weezer, if Weezer knew how to lose all their feigned pretentiousness and have some fun. Their lyrics are self-deprecating and bittersweet: “Even when you’re sleeping next to me, all I can think is that you’ll be gone tomorrow / I miss you.” How charming!
Wicker Park Soundtrack Mates of State, Mogwai, The Shins, Postal Service (covering a Phil Collins song), Mum, Death Cab, +/-, Mazzy Star (Lakeshore) • … Do I really need to explain why I wish I had reviewed this one?
…If only we weren’t named Ink 19; instead, maybe Ink 24… if that was the case, these additional five albums would be included on my Top 24 Albums I Wish I Had Reviewed in 2004:
Owen, I Do Perceive (Polyvinyl)
Midnight Movies, Midnight Movies (Emperor Norton)
Rogue Wave, Out of the Shadow (Sub Pop)
AC Newman, Slow Wonder (Matador)
IQU, Sun Q (Sonic Boom)
I can only hope that their mention here is some sort of consolation.