Thursday, December 30, 2004

My Top Ten CDs of the Year

1) Mark Lanegan Band - Bubblegum

I was never a fan of his former band Screaming Trees, and know nothing of his previous solo records (this one's his sixth). All I know is that this is the Tom Waits record that Tom can't seem to muster anymore, a whisky and amphetamine soaked session that is perfect for after midnight. Plus it has the wonderous miss PJ Harvey (too bad her own release this year kinda sucked).

2) Deerhoof - Milk Man

Art rock that doesn't suck. I saw these folks on the first date of their tour for this record and was blown away by their spiky intensity. Their record tells a fractured fairy tale about a creature who kidnaps children to a castle in the sky, but singer Satomi and crew never seem fey or pretentious. Like a candy apple with a bomb inside.

3) Camper Van Beethoven - New Roman Times

An old fan of the band, even I didn't expect their new reunion record to be this good. An oblique and funny commentary on today's current Red State Blue State divide during wartime, Camper Van maintain their lightness of touch and willful eclecticism, delivering their trademark Balkan ska, prog epics, country hoedowns and even some Camper Van disco.

4) Jon Langford - All the Fame of Lofty Deeds

My favorite country record of the year is by a Welshman. Langford, the insanely prolific member of the Mekons, tells the story of a fictional musician that is used and abused by the industry (Hank Williams? Kurt Cobain?). This framework gives Langford latitude to spit out sharp witty lyrics that bemoan the way that Americans throw their icons on the scrapheap when they're no longer useful. Includes an offbeat version of Procol Harum's Homburg, the last song you'd think a 77 punk vet like Langford would cover.

5) Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse

Not quite the pleasant surprise that 2002's Murray Street was, but a little more varied. No band brings the noise like the Youth, but here it's tempered by a welcome sense of melody (stay away from the lyric sheet 'tho, it's still bad beat poetry). I wish they'd give Lee more than one shot per record.

6) Robyn Hitchcock - Spooked

An unlikely collaboration between Hitchcock, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, this stripped down acoustic set tempers his sometime randomly goofy surrealism with a bit of appalachian melancholy. A love song to a television, a Dylan cover and an ode to those who live in the trees.

7) Wilco - A Ghost is Born

A hard record to warm up to, but I keep going back to it. Introverted and rough in a way that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot wasn't, Wilco keeps fucking with their musical vocabulary (krautrock beats, noise experiments) almost as a challenge to their audience, at the same time never forgeting the song. I can't wait 'til avant master Nels Cline gets in the studio with them for the next record.

8) Azita - Life on the Fly

Formerly of the noiseniks the Scissor Girls, Azita Youssefi plays off kilter piano driven jazz pop. Think a female no-wave Steely Dan and you won't be too far off. Azita's sarcastic wobbly vocals aren't to everyone's taste, but I can't get enough of 'em.

9) Elliot Smith - From a Basement on a Hill

A very beautiful suicide note. His songs here owe much to the Beatles, but Smith's melodicism came from a troubled emotional core that other modern popsters can't touch.

10) Brian Wilson - Smile

Speaking of troubled melodicism, here's a record we never expected to see. Wilson's voice isn't what it once was, but with the help of Van Dyke Parks and the Wondermints, this reconstruction of Wilson's legendary lost song cycle is an amazing piece of work.