Alternate Tuning

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Location: Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I'm Back - Can I Go to Sleep Now?

Missed me? I'm back, as frazzled as ever, but with thoughts to come on Starbucks and explaining a genre to someone who have no terms in common with.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Kanye and the Arcade Fire

1. Kanye West -- The College Dropout
I've said pretty much everything I have to say about this album on either PopMatters or Stylus, having blurbed it too many times during 2004. Everything I said then still stands, and it boils down to "this record is awesome."

2. Arcade Fire -- Funeral
This one's a personal classic and still gets me every time, especially the opener, "Tunnels" (although I could do without the numbered neighborhood titles). It's not just an emotional burst unlike anything else from 2004 -- which it is -- but it's a very carefully-written and -executed burst. I'm willing to be labeled a lemming-like indie-boy or whatever for loving this one, but that's fine (and at least a quarter of that label, if not more, is true).

Countdown finished, and the big lesson is that I must not spend very much time listening to music I actually like (even if I spend very little listening to music I dislike). Maybe I need to be less concerned with keeping up with every act I might want to listen to, write on, or have interviewed, and more time just rocking for myself. Yeah, but I probably won't.

The other, less useful lesson is that my opinions stayed relatively the same after a year, not that that's a long time. I expected more change in my thinking, but almost nothing occured near the top, and the stuff at the bottom had more to do with number of listens than with anything else.

I'm also glad to see that a proportionate number of fine lyricists made it. As I've changed to spend less time with any one particular record, I feel like I'm being more drawn to exciting music and unusual formal structures, whereas I used to go more for lyric-writing. Now I don't even know the words to lots of songs I like. Some of that change is growth, is de-emphasizing one area of music that I had previously put too much import on, but some of it is just change, and I'm glad to see I'm still getting to some of what is a ... more basic? ... love for me. Coincidentally (at least consciously), I'm listening to Smog's A River Ain't Too Much to Love in the car today. I don't think it would have cracked my top 20 had I paid more attention last year, but I'm curious to see how I'll feel about it after I know the words better (and of course that self-reflexive curiosity will probably affect how much I learn the lyrics as well as how I respond to them).

Friday, January 13, 2006

3 - 6

03. The Streets - A Grand Don’t Come for Free
I'm a sucker for concept albums. I don't listen to this disc as much as I do some of the other albums on my top 10, in part because I like to hear it best when I can take it all in at once, but that doesn't mean Skinner's irregular vocals don't lead to some classic numbers especially "Fit But Don't You Know It." Tops Original Pirate Material, which makes me think looking back over this list that 2004 was a good year for artists not only avoiding the over-hyped sophomore slump, but actually making follow-ups that beat already respected debuts/breakout albums.

04. John Vanderslice - Cellar Door
One of the most perfectly-produced rock albums I own, which alone would make it deserve some credit, but song after song is fantastic, even when he sets Byron to music (usually the rocker using old poems is a bad idea, but here, and on Time Travel Is Lonely Vanderslice makes it work. This is the type of albm -- no, actually the album -- I sometimes push on people. This is my definition of songwriting skill and album-making craft.

05. Iron and Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days
Critics say this one's boring. They're impatient. It's beautiful, smart, poetic, cohesive, full of imagery, and moving. None of that = boring.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

6 - 8

06. Dizzee Rascal - Showtime
Haha -- so it wasn't a mistake when I had Boy in Da Corner down the list. I had forgotten how into this I was when it came out. I still listen to it on occasion, but it doesn't quite excite me like it first did. Even so, it's a top 10 disc. I also associate it with a great vacation I had in the fall of 2004, just to a cabin in the woods. I'm pretty sure it was playing when we first reached the site, and it gets special sentimental points, too.

07. Madvillain - Madvillainy
Ranked this high for pure weirdness if nothing else. Highly entertaining, even if when (sometimes especially when) Doom has nothing at all to say. Even the superhero interludes work, cliched as they've become, making it a record that makes me want to listen to the future of rap and the history of radio all at once.

08. Jim White - Drill a Hole in that Substrate and Tell Me What You See
One of my favorite contemporary songwriters, and this album's his best work by a step-and-a-half. "Static on the Radio" is a song that never, ever, ever gets old, and can instantly set the mood of a room. And even though it's the opener and the album's best song (often a bad combination), this disc never suffers for it. And White's an extremely nice guy. Actually, he's one of several just in my top 10, none of whom I had any contact with until after this list was out, which makes me happy that nice guys don't always finish last.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

9 - 12 (in which they start to get good)

09. Mountain Goats - We Shall All Be Healed
This disc was my introduction to Darnielle and it sent me scurrying for back catalogue. Even though Tallahassee comes close, I didn't think he'd top this album. Until this year, of course.

10. Nick Cave - Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus
This was some of my pre-Christmas music, and I like it even more now that then, I think, and I some point should probably write on Cave's re-consideration of the Orpheus myth, maybe alongside a reading of Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Get ready for love, indeed, when love's this menacing and this loaded, and still this beautiful and divine.

11. Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
I wish his next album would be more like this one, although it seems unlikely. Maybe it's because it's sandwiched in his discography between two baroquefolk albums, but the bareness of this album really carries an impact. It feels more ... honest ... to me, and not in an "authenticity" sense, just that this feels... well, it just feels more to me.

12. Devotchka - How It Ends
I pulled this one out a while back for Mike Powell, and I'm glad I did because that reminded me how good, and how interesting this is, blending its Eastern European, Iberian, and southwest US influences with rock 'n' roll. Not knowing what I have from 1 - 8 on the list (ostensibly), #12 seems like a good spot for this one.

PopMatters News

Big news: PopMatters announces its new book imprint.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

13 - 16

13. Ghostface - Pretty Toney
Like Kilgour's album, this one sent me on a (far more short-lived) quest to track down Wu-Tang solo albums. This is one of the better ones, and "Run" is classic single.

14. David Kilgour - Frozen Orange
I'm pretty sure this was the album that set me down my path of Flying Nun love. For a few months after I heard this, I was buying as much of that label's catalog as I could afford and that I could get my hands on. Kilgour's the king, and this is a worthy album, even if it doesn't match up to the pop-rock genius of A Feather in the Engine.

15. Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks
Wow, I've completely forgotten about this gorgeous album. It also means maybe my Glass pick wasn't tokenist. I'm always wandering about the edge of classical, but never quite getting into it (in part because it seems like a massive undertaking). In 2004, Messiaen also got some considerable airplay in my world, but Quartet for the End of Time wasn't quite eligible for my year-end list.

16. Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat
Not as good as EP and, in retrospect, more impressive than enjoyable. After one listen to this I put it away forever until a friend adamantly convinced me to give it a real listen. I had missed out, but it doesn't warrant a #16 placement. It was Stylus's album of the year, which somehow felt appropriate.

Monday, January 09, 2006

17 - 20

17. Nels Cline Singers - The Giant Pin
His other stuff, especially his live work with Wilco, continues to entertain me as well as this one. I doubt I'll ever get around to it, but he's actually interesting enough that I should track down much more of his work (with any group) and give myself an education.

18. Dizzee Rascal - Boy in Da Corner
Really? Surely I meant Showtime. That's easily the one I prefer. Unless my opinion was different a year ago or I picked this based on its grime-y importance, I think this is a mistake.

19. Wovenhand - Consider the Birds
Dark, scary, and honest. Even when in praise music, Wovenhand keeps the spiritual tied to the physical, primarily by evoking a Flannery O'Connor landscape. That tension -- which sounds like a man re-considering his conversion -- keeps this one interesting.

20. Apostle of Hustle - Folkloric Feel
I remember thinking the indie/electro/Cuban fusion was as fun as it was original, and I still kind of feel that way, but I don't think I ever took this one to heart. Every time I hear it, I enjoy it, but it's not a desert-island-type for me.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

21 - 24

21. The Von Bondies - Pawn Shoppe Heart
The overlooked Detroit garage band. Too basic to get the credit they deserve, the Bondies will likely be remembered more for the beating Jack White gave one of them than for their music, which I listen to more than the Stripes. If nothing else, check the hidden Otis Redding cover, which just screams.

22. Liz Janes - Poison & Snakes
I'm surprised to see this ranked higher than Castanets, whom I've definitely listened to more often and more intently. Janes does a great job blending sounds on this album and is a great example of my interest in formal experimentation within traditional genres. In my world, 2004 was apparently a great year for freakfolk and Asthmatic Kitty.

23. Comets on Fire - Blue Cathedral
Meh. Impressive in its way, but it seems like something that just caught me the right way at the time, and I've pretty much kept it shelved for 2005.

24. Castanets - Cathedral
My respect for Ray Raposa's craft has continued to grow. This album was a real grower, and continues to be. This year's follow-up, First Light's Freeze hit me more immediately but faded more quickly (though I really want to spend more time with it). Spooky, spiritual, and affecting, a nice twist on folk and hymn-singing.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

25 - 28

25. The Velvet Teen - Elysium
The first real WTF pick on my list. It's a bit overdone, but at the time, it was great for the long drives I was making on a somewhat regular basis. Not a bad album my any means, but just not as good as anything else on the list.

26. Wiley - Treddin’ on Thin Ice
I don't think this compares favorably with Dizzee or some of the stuff on Run the Road, but the manic beats and arcade effects do it for me.

27. The Ponys - Laced with Romance
Two albums now, and no one except me and Derek Miller seem to be paying attention. This one's much rawer than the follow-up, and slightly better, but not so much so that the craft in the second album is forgettable.

28. The Walkmen - Bows and Arrows
Still good, and one I find myself often using as a reference point when doing reviews. It doesn't always make it into the article, but it does sometimes make me think, "I've heard this before, and better."

Friday, January 06, 2006


29. Jason Forrest - The Unrelenting Songs of the 1979 Post Disco Crash
Just a blast, and "10 Years After" is the all-time best use of a Who sample, so it's got that going for it, which is nice.

30. Salim Nourallah - Polaroid
My respect for this guy keeps growing. It's a straightforward pop album, but just so well-crafted. I thought he might be a one-albums sort, but this year's Beautiful Noise was even better, cracking my top 10 in the best year for music since I've been reviewing.

31. Philip Glass - Fog of War
Tokenist? Maybe, but token classical soundtrack? It's just a lovely album that made my list before I had even seen the film and could match every thing up.

32. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born
A nice try, but it does fall a little short. It's got a handful of really memorable, affecting songs, but not a stellar sustained album, in part due to the 12 minute, ahem, experimental piece. I had rather listened to these songs as performed on the Kicking Television live album.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Four More From Oh-Four

33. Augie March - Strange Bird
Formalist pop. Augie March, why have I cast you aside for bigger adventures?

34. Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles
I'm really having a hard time remembering why this made the list. It's a good record, but Xiu Xiu's never fully won me over. I just got the live record to see what that does for me.

35. Joanna Newsom - Milk-Eyed Mender
Still a gorgeous record, and it would be even if she didn't have that strange voice and if she played, like, the banjo or something less unusual than the harp. It wouldn't have cracked my top 40, though, if that had been the case.

36. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
I like this one less after listening more to the new one, which missed out on my top 20. I'm still interested in experimental folk, but moreso in experimenting within folk traditions, rather than expanding the sonic palette, as they say. That's why the new Otis Taylor is so successful in my mind.

The recurring theme, apparently, is how little I listen to my favorite records from last year, which is kind of sad. It's due primarily, like most music writers, to listening to too much new stuff. For awhile I was listening to all of every promo I got, and that's stopped, but I still am too interested in too much music to turn most of it off. I probably listen to 6-8 albums per day, and several of those are new releases, and several are new-to-me acquisitions. So in the accumulation of breadth, not enough is taken to heart, maybe. Of course, how many of those albums do you really get anyway?

Still, even that's not enough to make me think I'm doing something wrong. I love my gigs, if only I had more time to actually write...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

American Idiot and Smile

37. Green Day - American Idiot
This one has yet to wear on me, despite its massive airplay. I was a bit shocked to like it, but it's still a good listen. Maybe a bit of the right album for the right time, but I won't say zeitgeist if you won't.

38. Brian Wilson - Smile
Great orchestration, production, etc. I never listen to it anymore, even though I've recently decided I need to own more Beach Boys records.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Best Albums of 2004 (Reissued)

I'm going to go back over my top 40 picks from last year, with no re-listens and give my first response to seeing them on the list. I'm just curious how it plays out a year later.

To start:

39. Dungen - Ta Det Lugnt
I've only listened to this once or twice in 2005. I liked it, and liked the other Dungen stuff that's floating around, but somehow always forget about it. I'm not sure it would make my list again.

40. Jean Grae - This Week
I should have ranked this one much higher -- I just hadn't heard it enough times. This one didn't sink in until this past summer, when I listened to it walking around the neighborhood and on my trolley rides. Intense, smart, and unsual.