Alternate Tuning

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Location: Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Help Me Figure Out

which of these albums to go for first. These are the discs I missed in '04, but I've gotten interested in during all the year-end fussing:

Darren Hayes -- The Tension and the Spark
De La Soul -- The Grind
MIA/Diplo -- Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1 [I liked Florida, but I'm only so-so on "Galang"]
A Girl Called Eddy -- s/t
Michael Mayer -- Touch
Saint Etienne -- Travel Edition, 1990-2005
Bark Psychosis -- Codename: Dustsucker [despite BP's Hex being an earlier pick of the week for me]
William Shatner -- Has Been

So what should I spent my post-holiday money on, and what should I put in the over-hyped/avoid pile?

Most Anticipated Releases of 2005

Now that I'm almost done with blurbs, list-making, reflections, debating, etc. for 2004, let's jump right ahead to the new year with the albums I'm most looking forward to:

Bloc Party -- Silent Alarm
Broken Social Scene -- Windsurfing Nation
Elbow -- Station Approach
The Flaming Lips -- At War With the Mystics
Grandaddy -- ??
LCD Soundsystem -- LCD Soundsystem
Lemon Jelly -- 64-95
M83 -- Before the Dawn Heels Us
The Mars Volta -- Frances the Mute (the unfinished version has leaked and is incredible)
The Rapture -- ??
Spoon -- The Beast and Dragon Are Adored
M. Ward - Transistor Radio
Kanye West -- Late Registration
The Who -- ?? (!!! - Finally! [also, I'll believe it when I see it])

Get a good preview of rock at DJ Martian's site.

I've also heard a few impressive albums already, including the new one from Stars (available now in Canada) and one from Crooked Fingers.

Links Updated

I've finally gotten around to updating my links on the left. There's a new mp3 section and a few blogs in the regular section. I'll post some more today, but since it'll be sporadic for the next week or so, enjoy the writing at these other places, and enjoy the holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Best Album to Make You Think It's Summer

Best Album to Make You Think It's Summer: Freezepop's Fancy Ultra-Fresh

This award is in honor of our coldest spell of the year (which seems to be warming a bit). I've seen very little written about Freezepop this year, but their new album's as fun as anything else out there. The synthpop music comes from a little box the band totes around with them, while vocalist Liz Enthusiasm throws in some great lyrics. Highlights: "I Am Not Your Gameboy" (for its maturing middle-school feminism), "Chess King" (for its smart satire), and "Bicycle Thief" (for general bopping-aroundness). Nearly every track on here sticks in your head like, well, a melted freezepop on your fingers, and it's a very good thing. Fancy Ultra-Fresh just barely missed being on my top 40 of the year list (it's probably around 50), but I wish more people were listening to it. I'll have it in the car for the holiday-trekking -- it'll be better than turning up the heater.

Pick of the Week 12/21/04

Scritti Politti - Cupid & Psyche 85 (Warner Brothers) 1985

Calling it '80s synth-pop seems unfair, because it's more than that. Vaguely political and completely danceable, Cupid & Psyche 85 stands out now even if you (like me) missed it the first time around.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Shopping for Music: My First Special Section

I'm excited. Today my first special section at PopMatters went up here. It's the first of two parts of a collection of essays on shopping for music. I'm really proud of it - the writers did a fantastic job on a variety of issues.

Yes, Matt, I'm jealous.

Stylus Albums of the Year

Stylus starts its countdown of the year's top 40 albums today. So far the Mountain Goats are the only act from my top 40 to make the list (although American Music Club was the last to get cut). I wonder if my favorites are no one else's or bunched higher up.

Friday Stylus will put up its individual writers lists, and you'll get to see what a rockist, masculinist jerk I truly am...

Sunday, December 19, 2004

PopMatters Named DiS Website of the Year

Drowned in Sound's editors have named PopMatters the website of the year.

Congratulations to all my fellow writers and editors!

Friday, December 17, 2004

On Snoop

You should go read this discussion (including the comments). It's not quite new, but definitely worth a visit.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Best Album That No One Heard

Best Album That No One Heard: Polaroid by Salim Nourallah
I've written about this one twice this year -- once for a PopMatters review, and once for our Fate of the Album feature -- so I'm not going to go into too much detail here. I do want to draw attention to this disc, though, because it's smart and lovely, and it's fun and moving, I've seen very little press on it.

I described it once like this: "The thoughts on each track are accessible, but as they draw together on Polaroid, they create a bolder, less resolvable image. It's only one picture, but it bears steady viewing." Nourallah's created an album in which each track is necessary to understanding the others, bouncing between youth and adulthood as well as the past and the present. I didn't start to appreciate this album until midway through my first listen, until I started to realize some of themes and some of the subtle work that Nourallah was doing.

Maybe that subtlety has kept the album out of the spotlight, but there are enough good pop songs that something -- probably "1978" or "Everybody Wants to Be Loved" -- should be getting radio play. The music's an update on '70s AM radio, and I mean that in the best possible way; it's completely enjoyable without being bubblegum at all. But I don't need to keep explaining this to you when you can just go check out the downloads.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Subject of the Year

Okay, so my first award wasn't particularly cared about, but Stylus revealed its own labels of the year today, and they agreed with me (and, no, I didn't vote for that article). On to the awards...

Subject of the Year: John Vanderslice
He wouldn't quite be my artist of the year (Kanye) and didn't quite produce my top rock album of the year (Funeral), but he's been the most interest artist I covered in 2004. I started with a review of the outstanding Cellar Door, and later reviewed a show he did with Pedro the Lion. I also wrote on Time Travel Is Lonely for PM's feature on the state of the album.

Besides creating his own excellent albums, he's also been a top-notch producer, running his own studio, Tiny Telephone, and working with artists like the Mountain Goats and Death Cab for Cutie. If all that isn't enough, he's got plenty of his music available free at his website, including nearly all of his MK Ultra stuff.

After 2004 had a new album, a remix of the new album, a tour with Pedro, and a tour with the Mountain Goats, JV is back in the studio already working on the new MG album as well as a solo disc.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

PopMatters Big List

The PopMatters top 100 albums of the year is up today. I haven't had time to go through nearly all of it, but it's pretty fantastic. Special props to the staff for picking the same #1 and #2 that I did (although such discoveries are always a bit unsettling -- I enjoy knowing that other people are hearing what I'm hearing, but then does that mean I have mundane tastes? Have I been sucked into the crowd and away from forming my own independent ideas? Probably not. Probably it just means that two albums really stood out this year).

Another thing I'm ambivalent about -- after listening to 100s of records this year, I suddenly feel like there's so much I missed out on and must now track down... :)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Pick of the Week 12/13/04

Brendan Benson -- Lapalco (V2) 2003

A change from my usual picks of older or newly released music, but you might have missed this great power-pop album from last year, with the possible exception of "Tiny Spark," which did get some airplay.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Quote of the Day

"Originally my mother was Spanish, then she became a Jehovah's Witness."
--Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Label of the Year

Primarily for my own amusement, I'm going to be handing out awards in categories I make up as I go along. Whoever gives a name to this award will receive a prize that I'll also determine later. Now to start things off...

Label of the Year: Merge Records
It's an easy call this year. They have a head-start on the field with the release of the Arcade Fire's staggering Funeral, but they backed that up with strong outings by David Kilgour (my #14 of the year), Lambchop, Richard Buckner, American Music Club, and Destroyer, as well as a quality album from Camera Obscura. On top of that, they had what's possibly the comp of the year, Old Enough 2 Know Better (the DFA #2 offers quite the challenge), as well as the 15 year anniversary festival that I can't believe I missed despite having an opportunity for a ticket. All in all, it's hard to imagine them having done much better.

Basement Galaxy's Countdown

Critic Adrien Begrand has a smart and enjoyable year-end countdown going on at Basement Galaxy. I recommend it, despite Adrien's love for Anniemal.

The Stylus Singles List

Stylus has finished its top 40 singles of the year list. Tomorrow, I think, we'll get the individual writers' lists.

It's a phenomenal feature -- looks great and the writing's incredible. Now if only #1 wasn't such a disappointment...

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Brian Wilson Video Contest

Make a video for "Heroes and Villains" and enter it in the contest. Sounds like a fun idea for fans, and I think I'd be more interested in seeing the ones that don't win.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Grammy Nominees Announced -- They Got a Few Right

The Times has the run-down on the Grammy nominations here. The big news from my perspective is my favorite artist of the year, Kanye West, getting 10 nods. He should win rap album of the year in a walk, although Jay-Z's The Black Album isn't half bad.

The nominees for rock album of the year are a joke. Only Green Day's American Idiot is even in my top 50 of the year.

For pop vocal album, let's give it to Smile, even if I haven't heard the other ones.

Look for Loretta Lynn to take home at least a few awards, probably for Van Lear Rose and "Portland, Oregon." She's fallen off my radar, but I still respect the new release. It's been way overrated, but it's quite good.

Lil' Jon gets a less-than-yeah

Lee Henderson, who's becoming one of my favorite writers, tears into Lil' Jon and his new album on PopMatters today.

New Releases This Week

Eric Clapton -- Sessions for Robert J. CD/DVD (Warner Brothers)
The Cure -- Three Imaginary Boys [Deluxe Edition] (Rhino)
Morrissey -- You Are the Quarry [Deluxe Edition] CD/DVD (Sanctuary)
William Shatner -- The Transformed Man (Varese Saraband)
Simon & Garfunkel -- Old Friends Live on Stage CD/DVD (Warner Brothers)

It's a slow and elderly week...

Monday, December 06, 2004

Pick of the Week 12/6/04

John Adams -- On the Transmigration of Souls (Nonesuch) 2004

Too early to tell, but this piece could become the definitive work to come out of 9/11. It's certainly the definitive work by a minimalist classical composer. Incredibly moving, and notable for the way that the spoken words (mostly names and descriptions) shift between literal, rhythmic, and ambient uses.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

25 Top Singles of 2004

After two rounds of voting for Stylus, album re-visits for PopMatters, and a bunch of year-end listens, here are my top 25 singles of 2004:

1. Kanye West - "Jesus Walks"
2. Arcade Fire - "Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)"
3. LCD Soundsystem - "Yeah" (crass mix)
4. The Streets - "Fit But You Know It"
5. Jason Forrest - "10 Amazing Years"
6. The Mo - "Nostalgia Locomotive"
7. Mountain Goats - "Palmcorder Yajna"
8. Sufjan Stevens - "The Dress Looks Nice on You"
9. Jim White - "Static on the Radio"
10. TV on the Radio - "Staring at the Sun"
11. The Walkmen - "The Rat"
12. Dizzee Rascal - "Stand Up Tall"
13. John Vanderslice - "Pale Horse"
14. The Ponys - "Let's Kill Ourselves"
15. J-Five - "Modern Times"
16. Jay-Z - "99 Problems"
17. Estelle - "1980"
16. Rilo Kiley - "It's a Hit"
17. Xiu Xiu - "I Luv the Valley OH!"
18. Joanna Newsom - "Sprout and the Bean"
19. Madvillain - "All Caps"
20. Franz Ferdinand - "Take Me Out"
21. Twista - "Slow Jamz"
22. Ghostface - "Run"
23. Girls Aloud - "The Show"
24. Ratatat - "Seventeen Years"
25. Usher feat. Lil' Jon and Ludacris - "Yeah!"

Friday, December 03, 2004

Find of the Day: Matthew Shipp

I just listened to my first album by (and the latest from) Matthew Shipp, Harmony & Abyss. Before I heard this disc, I had only the loosest sense of what he was all about, and I'm happy to have given Harmony a spin. It's a blend of free jazz and electronic elements that works well. The electronics often fade to the back, letting Shipp's stylish piano playing hold center stage, and that's enough to be interesting. When the synths and electronics assert themselves more, it really makes for an intriguing and entertaining sound.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Vice Records Tour

My thoughts on last night's Vice Records show (Vietnam, Death from Above 1979, and the Panthers) are up at Stylus.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Lemar's Cover of "Vertigo"

You need to hear it. The BBC has a stream up (for now) here.