It’s year’s end, and that means list time.
Most of the listed items are nanoseconds old. And while that’s de rigueur for someone who does that professionally, it has little correlation to the lives the rest of us lead. Gotta job, family, obligations? Then you probably don’t get to listen to hundreds of new releases each year. Good luck then, making an intelligent top 10 list.
Movies? The days of waiting on line opening night are long since gone for this old man. A majority of the films I ended up renting, buying or pay-per-viewing this year were not 2004 releases. Wanna make a helpful list for me? Tell me the best stuff on HBO next weekend; Knowing 2004’s most critically acclaimed Eastern European documentaries is of little use for most people.
OK, rant over. Here’s a different kind of top 10 list; these favorite CDs are what actually got listened to in 2004. While a few of these came out this year, that wasn’t a requirement. These are what actually spent the most time this year on the iPod or in the CD player of a person with a job and an ever decreasing amount of spare time.
The task was made infinitely easier by iTunes, which shows me the chronological order of when CDs were ripped, and purchases made via ITMS, or downloads via a P2P service, as well as the number of plays each song got. Incidentally, the correlation between my downloaded P2P tunes and subsequent CD purchases is extremely high; I’ll bet others have had similar experiences. Don’t expect an RIAA study looking into that phenomenon anytime soon . . .
Anyway, on to the top 10 list:.
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Roman Candle’s debut is a joyful assortment of finely crafted pop
tunes. If FM Radio didn’t suck, this is the sort of music you would be
hearing on it right now. Finely crafted lyrics mated to delightful
melodies delivered by a tight power pop five-some in a surprisingly
slick production. Like nearly all the discs on this list, this one is
really good from start to finish.
Why didn’t you ever hear of these guys? Roman Candle hails from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and signed with an independent label. No payola, no Clearchannel — and no radio play.
Roman Candle Says Pop
Bonus: I discovered Roman Candle through BBC 2’s Bob Harris Check him out.
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The Pretender’s first disc is one of the finest rock and roll albums ever made (and probably the first album to have “Play Loud!” written across the cover). After that startlingly raw and powerful debut, the band never managed to achieve a perfect, complete album again (no surprise). This CD — over 20 years later — is the closest Chrissie Hyndes & Co. has ever come. She is in full voice, with biting lyrics, and a snarling sensuality. Her ever-present anger lies just below the music’s surface, while a reggae beat infuses most of everything else. These are probably the most accessible songs Hyndes has ever written.
Loose Screw (2002)
Bonus: If we’re lucky, someone will make a bio pic of the Pretenders/Chrissy Hyndes, and cast Gina Gershon in the lead.
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I first found Postal Service late in 2003. The euro synth beats sounded like every techno album I ever hated, and I quickly deleted the MP3s. But Ben Gibbard’s vocals were nothing short of haunting (He’s the guitarist/vocalist for Death Cab for Cutie), and the melodies stayed with me. I ended up borrowing the CD, falling in love with it, and had to get one of my own. The peculiar mix of synth pop and melody is not particularly accessible on first listen, but give it a few chances. You will be rewarded with quite a few gems.
By now, the story of the band’s name has become well known: the duo (eventually, trio) swapped tapes via snail mail
as they recorded tracks long distance; They get kudos for not backing
down when the US Postal Service gave them trademark grief over it
(ultimately resolved favorably, leading to a front page NYT story). For a side project, the disc actually sold fairly well after slowly finding an audience.
Give Up (2003)
Bonus: SubPop, Postal Service’s record label ("Celebrating several years of record making") was smart enought to post a 40 minute video of the band performing live in the KCRW studio
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Enough pop: This power duo plays straightforward, blues based rock and roll. Crunchy guitar riffs, soulful vocals over no nonsense drumming sounds like a lot more than two guys from Ohio. The recording is raw and rough edged, but contains surprising nuances and textures. On so many levels, it just works. Every Stevie Ray Vaughn fan I’ve played this for was delighted.
This is what the Strokes or White Stripes hope to be when they grow up.
Bonus: Great driving music (but watch the speedo).
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One of those intriguing albums you wonder how you missed when it first came out. Ambitious and clever, full of wry sardonic tunes. Someone described the music as breaking and “quivering with emotional instability,” and that sums up the moody melodic tension perfectly.
Despite the sarcastic / bittersweet feel to most of the disc, the final cut “Mr Es Beautiful Blues” is one of the most optimistically melodic post-depressive songs I’ve ever gotten stuck in my head. God-damn right, its beautiful day.
Daisies of the Galaxy (2000)
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Cross John Mayer with a Hawaiian surf champion, mix in a little Marcy Playground, and an occasional reggae rhythm, and you get Jack Johnson. He is a straight forward singer/songwriter/guitarist, and plays with a quiet, understated elegance. The disc has a soulful, funky groove not usually heard in a folk rock artist.
Johnson apparently has never heard of the sophmore slump: This charming, must hear album every bit as good as his debut effort, Brushfire Fairytales. Solid from start to finish.
On And On (2003)
Bonus: The next Ben Harper.
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We discussed this concert DVD/CD previously. A terrific performance by an under rated artist. The concert shows off her very clever song writing, which is perfectly in sync with her unique vocals.
Bonus: For the price of a CD, you get a 2 hour DVD of her live concert AND it includes a CD of the show. Is the music industry ass backwards, or what?
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I came across Cullum when a friend gave me a mixed disc. His cover of Radiohead’s High & Dry gave the song a quiet majesty not found in the original. The rest of his disc is a showcase of the young pianist’s vocal stylings. Reminiscent of early Harry Connick Jr. or even Billy Joel, Cullum comfortable switches from big band to jazz to rock and roll. Mixing his own compositions with those by Radiohead, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Buckley and Cole Porter, he convincingly makes each song his own. next year, expect to see him playing much larger venues.
Bonus: His older brother Ben composed two songs and did the arrangements for the album.
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Rock-a-billy/blue grass twang rock with an alt pop sensibility. If you have a rock fan who thinks they could never like country music, this is the disc to prove them wrong. Great songs from the 1st cut to the last.
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Why is this girl doing sitcoms? Get this prodigy back into the studio forthwith. I defy you to listen to her sing Summertime, and not conclude its the best version since — well, since Ella. Oh, and then you find out how old she is (I won’t even tell you), and your jaw drops. Her voice — in turns sultry or world weary — is far, far beyond her years. She has a major set of pipes, and can just own a song like very few modern singers of classic torch songs. Norah Jones and Diana Krall better start looking over their shoulders.
Sure, you can quibble about the song selection (Midnight at the Oasis?) but this is a major talent with a killer voice — and a red head to boot.
Renee Olstead (2004)
Bonus: Makes the wife happy.
Extra Bonus: The genuinely amusing Still Standing makes right wing moralists cringe.
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This year I listened to more mash ups than I ever have before. One you might have missed was The Beastles
If you are Beatles fan or like the Beastie Boys, this mash up is for you. As a huge Beatles fan who thinks Paul’s Boutique is the most interesting rap album ever made — how can I not love this mash up? You will too.
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Finally, a mixed disc: I mixed and played this combo — "Off the Beaten Path" more than any other combo. (If you have trouble finding some of the songs, email me).