Using Bees To Effect Vengeance

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005
OK, top albums of the year. Pretty boring and predictable on the whole. My primary source of music this year was MP3 blogs, so I listened a much larger variety of music, but often just one or two tracks from each artist. This sea of tuneage meant that an album had to be really special to get many repeat listens...although it almost surely meant that records I would have really loved had I listened to them more never got the chance. All caveats being in place, we can now move on:

1. Sam Phillips -- A Boot And A Shoe

This record shimmers and sparkles like a sequin dress in a diamond mine. Everything here meshes together beautifully -- Sam's warm croon, her impeccable phrasing, her wry but deeply-felt lyrics, her truly timeless melodic sense (see Reflecting Light MP3 below for an example), and some badass musicianship (Jay Bellerose, Jim Keltner, Marc Ribot, and of course T-Bone Burnett...clearly the subject of some of these heartbroken tunes). This record lives with you. Best live show of the year as well.

2. Rilo Kiley -- More Adventurous

I was disappointed with this, after the glory that was The Execution Of All Things. This one seemed a little too polished and a little too self-consciously the songs were a little too straightforward, after Execution's schizophrenic song structures. That said, the record rarely left my CD player and as each song decided in turn to reveal it's essential bad-assness, I eventually had to concede that it's a very strong record.

"It's A Hit" boasts one of those unconventional structures, which somehow is in and of itself a hook in a song jam-packed with them. "Does He Love You?" is a little O.Henry story with a string section, leading into "Portions For Foxes" dumb-but-catchy ear candy...sonically essence du Rilo. There are some hits after that, and some misses...but the title track does something funny to my insides even after all this time, and that's all you can ask of a pop song.

3. Madeleine Peyroux -- Careless Love

Wow, I guess I am getting old, because this is chamber music, like Sam Phillips' record. Yes, she sounds just like Billie Holiday, but she's also got some of Billie Holiday's knack for completely inhabiting the lyrics of a song. Take the version of Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me To The End Of Love" that opens this chorus, no bridge, just one verse after another, but you want it to go on forever because she swings those beautiful words while finding some new twist each time. A haunting version of Elliott Smith's "Between The Bars", smart, thoughful covers of Dylan and W.C Handy, plus classy arrangements and you've got a hugely enjoyable record.

Despite my top 3 records being tame, I actually listened to a lot more rock this year than recently, thanks to my wife's burgeoning interest in teh indie scene.

The Walkmen -- Bows and Arrows; Feist -- Let It Die; Wilco -- A Ghost Is Born; The Arcade Fire -- Funeral; The Streets -- A Grand Don't Come For Free; Graham Coxon -- Happiness in Magazines; Franz Ferdinand -- s/t; A.C Newman -- The Slow Wonder; Bjork -- Medulla; Kanye West -- The College Dropout; Trash Can Sinatras -- Weightlifting; M. Ward -- The Transfiguration of Vincent (I know, 2003, but I finally got it in every sense of the word in the '04); Elvis Costello -- The Delivery Man; Elliott Smith -- From A Basement On The Hill; Robyn Hitchcock -- Spooked; Ken Stringfellow -- Soft Commands

Great singles: Estelle -- 1980; Kylie Minogue -- I Believe In You; Usher/Alicia Keys -- My Boo; The Walkmen -- The Rat; Sondre Lerche -- Two Way Monologue; Fiona Apple -- Extraordinary Machine; The Thermals -- How We Know; Nellie McKay -- David; Franz Ferdinand -- Take Me Out; The Stills -- Lola Stars And Stripes; Wilco -- Theologians

Great shows: John Wesley Harding, Robyn Hitchcock and Ken Stringfellow together at El Sol y La Luna; The Shins @ Stubbs; The Walkmen @ Emo's; Lil Cap'n Travis/Grand Champeen/Moonlight Towers @ The Parish; The Decemberists @ SXSW; The Dears @ SXSW; Big Star @ Austin Music Hall; Sam Phillips @ Cactus Cafe; Wilco @ Stubbs; Midori Umi @ Room 710; The Roots @ ACL; Nick Lowe @ The Parish; Devendra Banhart/Joanna Newsom @ Flamingo Cantina


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