In case you haven't noticed, I've been procrastinating. No journal entry this week, until K gets back on Friday there's not much to write about. And I'm going to wrap up the end of year list in one big post here, rather than splitting it into two. I've got to get on with cleaning the apartment, etc.
10. Six By Seven – 04
This one hurts
. Specifically the fact that it's not higher. I realise it's silly and even insulting to claim that nine of the twelve tracks present here are the "real" album - especially considering the band is now on their own label and thus face no pressure from those higher up to do things a certain way and so this is arguably the way they wanted things to be, but my instincts keep leading me that way.
As long as Six By Seven continue to never catch a break, I'll continue to be a staunch defender, and the vast majority of 04
makes vividly clear why I'd bother. It's the sort of record that actually makes me go back and re-evaluate their back catalog and decide that maybe it was The Things We Make
I liked best after all. Part of my reaction to the music here is predicated on the unspoken quasi-narrative I've constructed out of what they've done so far, but during "Ready For You Now" and "Bochum (Light Up My Life)" especially I feel this weird upsurge in pride towards the band. Which is ridiculous. I imagine it's kind of similar (although smaller in scale, given issues of time, severity etc) to how Nick Southall reacted to the new Embrace record
. Not only have they perservered, they've made the best record of their career.
But as much as I'll continue to skip "Lude I", "Lude 2" and "Hours", they'll still be there. Without them, this would be at least top five, probably top three. No, definitely number three. The smallest gaps from us to perfection are also the hardest to tolerate. So for now I'll await the trio's next album with more than a little hope that they'll finally have made the perfect album they've always threatened to, and until then I've got the sheer hellish grind of "Sometimes I Feel Like...", the weird uplift of "Say That You Want Me" (as in "it's easy to") and "Catch The Rain", and the sheer impacability of "Leave Me Alone".
I just hope their next album comes out in North America - I can't afford to visit the UK every time Six By Seven puts out a new album.
9. Raising The Fawn - The North Sea
In one of those little moments where you discover odd connections amongst the stuff of your life, "The News" from The North Sea
invariably puts me in mind of Simon from Firefly
(my favorite character, incidentially). There's no logical connection, but there's some sort of parity of feeling there, and every time John Crossingham begins the song and the album with "Get down off your fence / And let me have this dance" I feel quietly devastated.
The song also
brings to mind Spiritualized from the very first wordless female vocals, and again I couldn't say why (the two bands have very different sounds). The North Sea
is my favorite rock album this year of the type that I once listened to almost exclusively in my adolescence, and if I can't quite give that not-quite-genre a name, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
, OK Computer
and Cast Of Thousands
are all examples of the form.
Of course, they're all from the UK and Crossingham and the rest of Raising The Fawn are Canadian, but I want to emphasize that at no point does this little nautical adventure sound like it's trying to be British. There is, as with many albums of the type, the sense (especially during the elongated second half) that there's a story being told in here, but only part of it; the whole is tauntingly elusive but evocative. As long as "Drownded" and "ETA" remain compelling enough for me to sit through all twenty-some minutes I'm not complaining. That Crossingham manages to sneak in a bouncy love song ("Gwendolyn"), a touching tribute to Richie Lee of Acetone (similarly memorialized by Jason Pierce after his suicide on "The Ballad Of Richie Lee", which is even more devastating than Crossingham's "July 23rd") and the best death chant rock music has seen in a while ("Top To Bottom") is mere gravy, though exceptionally tasty.
Interestingly enough the program I use to listen to CDs on my computer cuts off the extended outro/intros at the end of "July 23rd" (about a minute and a half) and "The North Sea" (a whopping three and a half minutes, nearly half the track). I actually think the album is improved by the editing; the sudden, dramatic shift from "The North Sea" to the drum of "Top To Bottom" works much better than the originally planned slow rise.
Look at me, I'm just all over this second-guessing bands thing today. In any case, I suspect one of the reasons for my relative lack of interest in albums like Funeral
by the Arcade Fire and Blueberry Boat
by the Fiery Furnaces is that The North Sea
already plays the role in my life that those albums do in others. Although I still plan on taking a closer look at Blueberry Boat
, just to be sure.
8. My Chemical Romance – Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge
Man, do I wish this record had come out when I was, say, seventeen. I love it now, but I would have immediately declared My Chemical Romance my favorite band back then. This is one of those records where every single song goes through a period where it's not only your favorite from the album but the Best Song Ever, the one that makes you want to build a giant stereo and blast for all the world, because if they could just hear
it, they'd surely fall in love.
Gerard Way is easily vaulted into the ranks of my favorite frontmen of all time with this record, managing to work within a fairly small topical and emotional palette (the undead, hate, love, guns, high school (metaphorically at least), suicide pacts, lust, sarcasm, fate, black leather, among other things) without ever exhausting it, in fact leaving you wanting more. Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge
kicks more ass than all but a very few records in the past decade, and every single song is both a sugar high and the bitter, stomach churning comedown from same. Plus, My Chemical Romance have the best song titles in the business:
"You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison"
"I'm Not Okay (I Promise)"
"The Jetset Life Is Gonna Kill You"
"Thank You For The Venom"
"It's Not A Fashion Statement, It's A Deathwish"
"I Never Told You What I Do For A Living"
The black humour and no-kidding romanticism of their song titles sums up the band pretty well, actually; Way is probably so painfully self aware that I don't envy him his life, but it makes for fucking good rock and roll. And the video
for "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" is the best video of the year. Not the original version, that's just (relatively) boring concert footage. You want the one below it that's structured like a trailer. I'd buy tickets for that movie in a heartbeat. If you've got a young relative or friend who loves crappy emo, this is the record to get them onto.
7. The Futureheads - The Futureheads
While there's plenty of non-overlap, William B. Swygart
and I agree about bands more often than not. And although I think the primary aspect of our kinship when it comes to music is the Delgados (of which more later), I'm forever grateful to him for introducing me to the Futureheads.
I think this might be the most brilliant record of the year, the one that most set me back on my heels thinking "wow, I've never quite heard that
before". And yet at the same time it's as juicy a record to sink your ears into (sorry) as Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge
. The two are comparable length as well, but possess entirely distinct senses of humour and misanthropy, which is kind of interesting.
I'm fond of saying that if I hadn't known otherwise I could have easily been convinced that The Futureheads
was an unearthed artifact from the first wave of British punk - these guys don't sound like studious disciples of Wire, they sound like contemporaries
, brothers in (to possibly plagiarize myself again) spiky, restless intelligence. And yet they sound utterly modern, to tout a cliche that's a cliche for a reason.
And the songs are fan-fucking-tastic. "Carnival Kids" is already an unheard modern classic, yes, and obvious highlights like "Decent Days And Nights", "A To B" and "Stupid And Shallow" zing along mightily, but who expected the genius Kate Bush cover ("Hounds Of Love", as good as the original but in a totally different way
, which is rare genius) or that even tracks like "Alms", "He Knows" and "Man Ray" are as crucial as the poppy ones. The first time I heard this album (on a train to Swindon, incidentially) my mind whirled as I tried to follow where the songs were going and never quite succeeded. But unlike so many records that offer similarly giddy thrills it only gets better once you're used to the songs. It's more, not less exciting to listen to those vocals veering and intersecting all over the place with other voices and guitar, drum and bass. God only knows if they can do as well (or, touch wood, do better) in the future, but this is the very model of a classic debut.
6. Headphone Science - We Remain Faded
My review's a bit shit, but like the Woven album from Part 3 of this list, I've found myself popping Headphone Science in far more often than I would have expected. It's a hard album to describe; Mike Paradinas circa "Burst Your Arm" and "The Motorbike Track" (Pete knows what I mean, knock that shit off for real, know what I'm sayin'? Keep on fakin' the funk) after listening to too much Prefuse 73, only not nearly as fragmented as the latter nor as classically IDM as the former. "Games" and "Larcenous" are menacing and sound maybe like dark comments on the current state of hip hop, while "To Dine In Distance" is effectively mournful and "Life Struggles Constant" manages to have an uplifting, "we made it after all" type feel with its sad little beep.
Only the whole thing is just perfectly stuttered beats and vocal samples, impeccably chosen keyboards, and lots of space. The ingrediants are simple, Dustin Craig is just better at putting them together than most. And how did a guy from California get onto a tiny Montreal label? Technically this came out in 2003, but it's not as if everyone was raving about this then. But they should have been.
5. Clinic – Winchester Cathedral
Fuck the haters, quite frankly. Not being able to tell this from Walking With Thee
or that one from Internal Wrangler
means that you haven't really listened to any of Clinic's albums; preferring the older stuff is infinitely more defensible, but less understandable. To me, at least. If you want to dismiss Winchester Cathedral
after a few listens, fine, but don't go on to complain about it; Clinic made one of the best albums of the year, it's up to you to put the time in (I'm not talking about dozens of listens here, mind you). If they used guitar/guitar/bass/drums instead of guitar/melodica/clarinet/drums/organ/bass, do you really think this level of "repetition" would be noticed, let alone questioned? I suspect a good number of the people who say "yes" also complained my Antics
review gave too low a mark. Which kind of proves my point.
The fact that nobody else sounds like Clinic doesn't mean they have to radically overhaul their sound each time out, but it seems like most want them too. If all the songs sound the same to you, then either you need to listen again, or you just don't like Clinic. Which is fine, but quit ruining it for the rest of us.
4. Zeebee – Chemistry
Seeing as how my review of this one consisted most of fragments that popped into my mind as I listened to Chemistry
near obsessively for a few weeks, I don't have too much to add here. This is one of many very short albums that I liked this year, which I don't think is conincidental; sixteen, eleven, and eight to three inclusive (six in a row!) of this list are all less than forty minutes, and plenty of others are just over forty.
I was really worried the charm of Chemistry
would wear away over the course of the year, but as you can see it hasn't; the best stuff here ("Race" and "Tender" especially, but it's all good) still rank among my favorite songs of the year, and this really deserves to be heard on headphones, Zeebee crooning softly in your ear while the flawlessly arranged backgrounds provide just the right support. Any record that makes me want to give its maker a big bear hug is doing something right.
3. The Hives - Tyrannosaurus Hives
Bad! Baaaaaaad! They tried to stick a dead body inside of me! So now you understand why I'm a wanted man. Best keep quiet - You don't listen to me anyway. You're gonna lose and it's gonna show. Its far to late to avoid so. See the idiot walk. See the idiot talk. They say it's new but I had to doubt it. So you look for authenticity - Only to find what you wanted in me.
But it's all the same: You don't get the picture you're getting framed. You took the bait and now it's too late. You didn't turn out right, just look at you. You had the biggest plans but no way to carry through. It was all an act and now you can't stick to the facts. Oh no! It ain't myyyyyyyyyy HollyWOOD
But if you do it, do it good, Brutus: REAL GOOD. Like a little man SHOULD. Rewind and look at what you got: Had ambition but you lost the plot. Judas/Brutus, quisling time has come
WHAT'S EXPECTED OF YOU.
I know what you're thinking. You got a mind and it's stinking. You know why? You got a transparent cranium, a see through head
Said it's just a diabolic - Diabolic scheme! (Diabolic scheme!
) Ooooooo-oooooh! Alive! Dead! I was inside your head! And now you get a lot of work done but you don't get a cent you wake up in the morning and do it all again your landlord's coming down on you and you can't pay the rent and then
I thought this time what we had you and I... said I'm LOSING MY MIND, yeah I got bit all the time, and I'm BETTER OFF DEAD, cause it was all in my head. This time you've really got something, it's such a clever idea. But it doesn't mean it's good 'cause you found it at the library.
Yes they were smart but they are dead
And you're repeating all that they said. You know it don't make you clever like you thought it would
THE DEAD QUOTE OLYMPICS
You want antidote I got the poison.
(best rock album by a punk band strangely infatuated by Kraftwerk's rhythms, ever - “You can tell if [a track] is good if a 3-year-old nods his head to it”, says drummer Chris Dangerous, and if that isn't the smartest thing said about rock this year, you're wrong)
2. The Delgados – Universal Audio
Interestingly enough Alun and Emma appear to have flipped songwriting roles entirely from Hate
(the Delgados' second-best album, now that this is around): There Alun was all "If This Is A Plan" ("then I'm dead where I stand", remember), "Child Killers" and "The Drowning Years", with Emma kind of injecting some hope into the proceedings via "The Light Before We Land" and others.
But Alun's life must be going better (or at least I hope so; he's a nice guy), the songs here are not only the best things he's ever written (I mean, the combination of "Is This All That I Came For?" and "Get Action!" alone puts everything else in the shade, and I like his old stuff), but they are songs of resilience and hope. From songs about living through shitty jobs ("Is This All That I Came For?") and finally writing that symphony ("Get Action!") to the incredibly uplifting closer "Now And Forever" (I think "if we fail we won't fall" might be my new motto), everything he does here with the exception of little oddity "Bits Of Bone" (which I love fiercely) seems designed to buck up the listener.
Which might even be of relief to Emma, since she's always been best at the darkly gorgeous, and incongruous but lovely single "Everybody Come Down" aside (like Swygart, I'd gladly pay money just to hear her sing "Mafia") that's what she does here. "The City Consumes Us" is gobsmackingly affecting, at least if (like me) you have ambivalent feelings about the city/town/whatever you come from, and while on first listen I thought "Come Undone" and "Sink Or Swim" were the weak spots here they've grown on me, and after I heard them live I can't imagine the album without them. But her key song is "Keep On Breathing"; After posing the question "Are you gonna sink or swim?" midway through the album, with each singer clearly taking the role of advocate for each choice, she finally weighs in with this:
"Life is just a list of consequences of things that we do
Just another hit of happiness that we have to live through
In and out of all the reasons and the whys and wherefores
We just want to keep on breathing"
Now, the first few repetitions of the chorus have "happenings" instead of "happiness", but the most appropriate version is this one. Why? Well, you can parse the second line in one of two ways: Either she's saying that happiness is a burden, something to put up with, or else she's saying that when happiness happens, as with all happenings, we have
to live through it; we have no choice. We keep going forward, whether we like it or not.
So in other words, you can view "Keep On Breathing", and Universal Audio
, and the Delgados as small-minded and depressing, or as liberating and positive. I'm sure you can guess which side of the fence I'm on.
And of course the glory of Universal Audio
is that the stuff I've left out could fill a whole separate entry of this sort (how wonderful it is seeing Stewart Henderson doing the backing vocal bits live is, for example). You owe it to yourself to hear this album.
1. Jens Lekman – When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog
This one too. This one moreso, maybe. The top few records are always agonized over, of course, but this year #s 1 and 2 switched places more times than I'd like to count. I think I made the right decision, but I couldn't justify it if I had to.
I also can't find much more to write about this album; go read the review, read my blurb for the Stylus list
at #13 (or hear it
, if you'd like to hear Todd Burns read out my blurb and get my name slightly wrong, and if you read this before the MP3 is taken down), go to his record label website
and download everything you can get your hands on.
Even more so than Zeebee, this was a record I fell in love with in a way I haven't since my highschool days, and it was a wonder to rediscover that feeling of wanting to hear just one album for the rest of your days. I've been careful not to overdo it, as I don't want to burn myself out, but I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll still love this one as much in a few decades. Moreso than with the other great debuts this year, I'm more than a little scared for the sophmore album, as I simply don't see how it'll measure up.
Still, I can see the point of the anti-blurb from our little snarkfest
(I wrote the blurbs for Joanna Newsom and Xiu Xiu, incidentially; feel free to start hating), though: "I see: so he’s a singer/songwriter whose—no, really—lyrics and arrangements have that special something? Next." They do have that special something for me, but this is music; your mileage may very well vary.
Which may as well be my real
motto, I suppose.
Anyway, happy 2004 everyone, and may you all have gotten as much out of music as I did this year. Now if only I had more spare time...