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  • thekrueg1
    Dec 30, 2003
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      It's been a busy, crazy season for me so this will be even less
      coherent than usual, but I did sneak some time in over the weekend to
      do my annual rambling, self-indulgent writeup of my favorite things in
      the past year in music.

      1. OutKast - Speakerboxx/The Love Below. A winningly ambitious and
      audacious collection, with one CD each from the remarkable hip-hop duo
      of Big Boi and Andre 3000. Even though it doesn't all work, that's
      part of its loopy charm and the batting average is remarkably high.
      It's like listening to wondrous free-form radio station – there are
      ferocious beats linked to inventive rhymes, beautifully soulful r&b
      tunes evoking Prince and Stevie Wonder, funk breakdowns worthy of
      George Clinton, inventive and intricate soundscapes for thoughtful
      messages, and even a leftfield fusion of traditional jazz with
      drum-and-bass. On top of that, no other new record I heard this year
      had a higher number of memorable hooks. The irresistible singles "Hey
      Ya" and "I Love The Way You Move" are just the tip of the iceberg.

      2. The New Pornographers - Electric Version. A stellar record that
      harkens back to that brief window in the late 1960s and early 1970s
      when "pop" music really was popular. The melodies are brilliant, and
      the arrangements are rich and tuneful without becoming too fussy or
      perfect. This second record from the "supergroup" side project
      featuring vocal powerhouse Neko Case and members of several Vancouver
      indie-rock bands features song after shimmering song that could have
      sounded right at home blasting out of transistor radios on the beach
      along with the Grass Roots, the Raspberries, Badfinger, the Rascals,
      and all those Tony Burrows studio concoctions (Edison Lighthouse,
      First Class, etc.).

      3. Various artists - Livin' Lovin' Losin': Songs of the Louvin
      Brothers. I'm a sucker for duet vocals, and the Louvin Brothers were
      masters of the form. This collection assembles a virtual wish list of
      country vocalists in well-chosen pairs to perform songs written and/or
      made famous by the Louvins. The generally unadorned, sympathetic
      arrangements highlight consistently top-notch vocal performances that
      seem to reflect a genuine love and feeling for the material. There's
      simply not a bad track in the lot, which is in itself a remarkable
      achievement.

      4. Grandaddy - Sumday. I'm also a sucker for psychedelic pop songs,
      and Grandaddy continues to do them as well as anyone this side of the
      Flaming Lips. While this record isn't as musically or lyrically
      ambitious or varied as their last record "The Sophtware Slump," the
      melodies are even stronger and more memorable this time around.

      5. Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic. It was a tragic year for the
      Portland, Oregon musical community. While the suicide of the brilliant
      singer/songwriter Elliott Smith was widely covered, the van accident
      that wiped out 3/4 of the Exploding Hearts earlier in 2003 drew far
      less notice. Be assured that their debut album isn't placed here as a
      sympathy vote, though. The Exploding Hearts invoke the sound of
      punk/new wave bands of the late 70s without slavish imitation and
      without losing the sense of spirited fun that I loved in pop/punk
      pioneers like the New York Dolls, Buzzcocks, Jam, and Clash (in their
      lighter moments). There's nothing too fancy or pretentious here, just
      short, catchy tunes performed with great verve and charm.

      6. The Postal Service - Give Up/The Postal Service - Such Great
      Heights EP/ Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism. The Postal
      Service is a mostly-by-mail collaboration between Ben Gibbard of Seattle
      indie-rockers Death Cab for Cutie and electronica artist Jimmy
      Tamborello. Gibbard's sharp, evocative lyrics are matched with
      quirky synth-pop melodies that make Give Up sound like a Pet Shop Boys
      for the 2000s (and in case you're wondering, that's meant as high
      praise). The EP reinforces the strength of the duo's songwriting by
      handing off two of the stronger songs on the record to be covered by
      two great, but quite different, indie-rockers – pop masters The Shins
      and brooding neo-folkie Iron & Wine – yielding two of my very favorite
      tracks of the year. On top of that the Death Cab for Cutie CD is their
      best yet – a lovely, moody, beautifully detailed exploration of the
      territory where, as Gibbons puts it so well, "disappointment and regret
      collide."

      7. Macy Gray - The Trouble With Being Myself. Her sandpaper rasp of a
      voice isn't to everyone's taste, but to my ears she's as soulful and
      sexy a singer as there is in contemporary soul or r&b. Her songs have
      a goofy exuberance and playfulness – and funkiness – that remind me of
      Sly Stone's glory days. I think this is her most consistent record to
      date, mixing lovely, lush ballads with varied and instantly appealing
      classic uptempo soul arrangements and even touches of hip-hop beats
      and ska into a distinctive vision.

      8. Pernice Brothers - Yours, Mine & Ours. The band's m.o. isn't
      dramatically different on their third CD -- Joe Pernice's breathy,
      conversational vocals are backed by almost impossibly pretty pop songs.
      This time around the record rocks a little more, the orchestration is
      pared back a little bit, and the lyrics are a bit more upbeat at times
      -- though still picturesquely forlorn enough to provide a nice contrast
      to the sweet sounds behind them. While this record may not be as
      uniformly brilliant as the first two records, it's still full of
      hum-along treasures.

      9. Suzy Bogguss - Swing. Backed by a small and spirited band, veteran
      country singer Suzy Bogguss applies her rich, smooth voice to western
      swing versions of a nice mix of old chestnuts and new songs. The
      setting seems to agree with everyone; the record has a nice, relaxed
      feel and a great, infectious sense of fun.

      10. Bettie Serveert - Log 22. After gathering attention for their
      1993 debut "Palomine," this Dutch band seemed to gradually drop off
      the radar screen. Ten years later, they seem reinvigorated. This record
      highlights Carol VanDyk's forceful, emotive vocals and a band that
      seems to be simultaneously consolidating its strengths (catchy riffs
      and turns of phrase, effective use of dynamics to build and release
      tension) and experimenting successfully with new sonic textures.

      11. Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress. I've always liked
      this Scottish band more for its gently detailed and highly melodic
      rockers than for its quiet melancholy, which means I haven't really
      been knocked out by their last several records. On this CD, producer
      Trevor Horn helps emphasize the catchy, (relatively) uptempo side of
      the band and the result is an appealing pop record that still retains
      the band's quirky charm.

      12. Opeth - Damnation. This is one of the most beautiful, absorbing
      progressive rock records I've heard in many years, and it comes from a
      Swedish death metal band. The interplay of the guitars is intricate
      but never distracts from the haunting, carefully-layered melodies.

      13. Patty Loveless - On Your Way Home. While I slightly prefer the
      more acoustic setting of her last record "Mountain Soul," Patty
      Loveless has one of the great voices in contemporary country music and
      a knack for choosing songs that suit it perfectly. Few singers can
      convey emotion or tell a story so immediately and effectively, and she
      inhabits a wide variety of songs with a clear, powerful voice rounded
      off with just the right touch of grit.

      14. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow. The follow up to their marvelous
      debut "Oh, Inverted World," shows that if anything, this Albuquerque
      band (now moved to Portland) has even further refined their ability to
      write strikingly catchy songs. While this record didn't connect with
      me as strongly or immediately as the last one, it's still a pleasure to
      hear.

      15. Various artists - Hideout Workers' Comp. Chicago's little bar
      that could produces a compilation CD where the artwork, performances,
      recording and mixing, and liner notes are all the work of people who
      work (and play) there. The bar nurtures and cheerleads for many
      elements in the vibrant Chicago music scene, and they're
      well-represented here. There are dreamy country duets, torch songs,
      traditional Irish music, garage rock, bluegrass, art pop, folk ballads,
      arias, power pop, fiddle tunes, and even some impenetrable noise
      (mercifully located at end). The performances show the strength and
      depth of our local music and convey the enthusiasm and generosity of
      spirit that the Hideout is known for.

      Honorable mention (in very approximate order): Nappy Roots - Wooden
      Leather; Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham - L'Avventura; Calexico -
      Feast of Wire; Neptunes - The Neptunes Present ... Clones; Salteens -
      Let Go Of Your Bad Days; Pretty Girls Make Graves - The New Romance;
      Jay Farrar - Terroir Blues; Decemberists - Castaways and Cutouts; The
      Mavericks - The Mavericks; Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever To Tell; Black Keys
      - Thickfreakness; Joe Henry - Tiny Voices; Damien Jurado - Where Shall
      You Take Me; Virgil Shaw - Still Falling; Sleepy Jackson - Lovers;
      Spearhead with Michael Franti - Everyone Deserves Music; Kelis -
      Tasty; Fountains of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers; Pink - Try
      This; Scott Miller - Upside/Downside; Tricky - Vulnerable; Marty
      Stuart - Country Music; Ted Leo/Pharmacists - Hearts of Oak; Vince
      Gill - Next Big Thing; Ed Harcourt - From Every Sphere; Caitlin Cary -
      I'm Coming Out; Longwave - The Strangest Things; King Crimson - The
      Power to Believe; Warren Zevon - The Wind; Lucksmiths - Naturaliste;
      Bangles - Doll Revolution; Liz Phair - Liz Phair; Amy Rigby - Till The
      Wheels Fall Off; Thrills - So Much for the City; Todd Steed and the
      Sons of Phere - Knoxville Tells; Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros -
      Streetcore; Mink Lungs - I'll Take It; Shelby Lynne - Identity Crisis;
      Buddy Guy - Blues Singer; Rosanne Cash - Rules of Travel; Bubba
      Sparxxx - Deliverance; eels - Shootenanny; White Stripes - Elephant;
      Al Green - I Can't Stop; Rufus Wainwright - Want One; Go Betweens -
      Bright Yellow Bright Orange; Bryan Sutton - Bluegrass Guitar; Dwight
      Yoakam - Population Me; Joan Armatrading - Lovers Speak.

      Might have made the list if I'd heard them (or heard more of them):
      Bottle Rockets - Blue Sky; Oh Susanna - Oh Susanna; Graham Lindsey -
      Famous Anonymous Wilderness; Long Winters - When I Pretend to Fall; You
      Am I - Deliverance; Lynn Morris - Shape Of A Tear; Frog Holler -
      Railing; Del McCoury Band - It's Just the Night; Mike Marshall and
      Chris Thile - Into the Cauldron; T. Graham Brown - The Next Right
      Thing; Jon Langford and his Sadies - Mayors of the Moon; Decoration
      Day - Drive By Truckers; Minus 5 - Down With Wilco; Manitoba - Up in
      Flames; Neil Young - Greendale; Constantines - Shine A Light; Kinky -
      Atlas; TV on the Radio - Young Liars; Lyrics Born - Later That Day;
      Jason Moran - Bandwagon; Anthony Hamilton - Coming From Where I'm
      From; Grand Champeen - The One That Brought You; South San Gabriel -
      Welcome Convalesence; Downpilot - Leaving Not Arriving; Aesop Rock -
      Bazooka Tooth; Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People; A.R.E.
      Weapons - A.R.E. Weapons; M. Ward - Transfigurations of Vincent;
      Nadine - Strange Seasons; Rhonda Vincent - One Step Ahead; Dressy
      Bessy - Dressy Bessy; Centro-Matic - Love You Just the Same; Wheat -
      Per Second Per Second Per Second Every Second; Doyle Lawson &
      Quicksilver - Thank God; Some Girls - Feel It; Jason Ringenberg -
      Farmer Jason; Ballboy - A Guide for the Daylight Hours; Legendary
      Shack Shakers - Cockadoodledon't; Stratford Four - Love & Distortion;
      Daniel Lanois - Shine; Fruit Bats - Mouthfuls; PuffyAmiYumi - Nice;
      Juana Molina - Segundo; Defari - Odds & Evens; Fleshtones - Do You
      Swing?; The Shazam - Tomorrow the World; Owsley - The Hard Way;
      Splitsville - Incorporated; Prefuse 73 - One Word Extinguisher; Josh
      Ritter - Hello Starling; Chris Knight - Jealous Kind; Visqueen - King
      Me; Grandpaboy - Dead Man Shake; Grand Drive - Grand Drive; Four Tet -
      Rounds; Prince Paul - The Politics of Business; Kid Koala - Some of My
      Best Friends Are DJs; Goldfrapp - Black Cherry; John Cougar Mellencamp
      - Trouble No More; John Cale - HoboSapiens; Bettye Lavette - A Woman
      Like Me; Geoff Muldaur - Private Astronomy; Fiery Furnaces -
      Gallowsbird's Bark; Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez - The Trouble With
      Humans; Lisa Germano - Lullaby for Liquid Pig; Cherrywine - Bright
      Black; The Kills - Keep On Your Mean Side.

      best wishes for a wonderful, peaceful 2004.

      Tom
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