Musical Favorites of 2004
Show that rocked my brains out even though I wasn’t too familiar with the band’s material:
The Cooper Temple Clause at the Gypsy Tea Room (tea room)
-Never have I seen a six-piece band fuse all sorts of styles into one cohesive style. It was heavy like a metal band but it wasn’t cheesy. It was melodic like mid-1990s Britpop, but it wasn’t filled with arrogance or self-consciousness. It was loose and chaotic like a punk show but it wasn’t sloppy. I must say thanks to Matt for suggesting we go to it.
Show that rocked my brains out and I was familiar with the band’s material:
. . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead at the Gypsy Tea Room (ballroom)
-I think this new five-piece line-up is what the band has wanted to do for some time. Two drummers may sound like overkill for most bands but this made it even more powerful. They played some new songs from their forthcoming Worlds Apart and it showed that the band is making substantial growth as songwriters. The ritual of trashing their instruments was an amusing site to see, but the band had already slayed me before such things occurred.
Reunion show that was worth it:
Braid at the Door (Dallas) and at Mary Jane’s Fat Cat (Houston)
-I got into Braid too late when they broke up in 1999. They just couldn’t do a final tour back then. Five years later, they were able to do it and it was worth it. A great sense of closure for such an inspiring band.
Local band keeps releasing good records and still inspires:
Red Animal War
-I’ve been following these guys since they blew me away in 1999. Since then, I’ve seen them play about twenty times in all sorts of bars, clubs and makeshift venues. It’s always an exciting show. They released their third album, Polizida, on local label Ice Planet, this year. While it’s a darker record than their earlier material, this shows that the band is still moving forward instead of backward.
Record that came out in 2003, heard bad reviews about it but then just went ahead and listened to it this year and really dug it:
De-loused in the Comatorium by The Mars Volta
-Since At the Drive-In split, I had favored Sparta’s material over the Mars Volta. Since this year wasn’t filled with “who’s the better post-At the Drive-In band” discussions in the things I read on a daily basis, I was able to just listen to this album. It’s so powerful and crazy, but it’s not a challenge to listen to. Hearing Omar and Cedric do what they’re doing would have had no place in At the Drive-In (and vice-versa for Jim, Paul and Tony in Sparta). I look forward to their next album, Frances the Mute (due out early 2005).
EP that is so good that it is more of a mini-album than a teaser for a full length:
Open by Channels
-J. Robbins is back with a new band that is similar to what he’s done before, but is really moving forward at the same time. The five originals and one cover flow so well together that they may as well be its own album. Robbins’ knack of writing angular melodic tunes is rounded out by his wife Janet on bass and wonderful backing vocals and powerhouse drummer Darren Zentek. The production is so top-notch that you wish more records sounded this powerful and well, open.
Album is good but there is this one song that is sublime:
“Peace Attack” from Sonic Nurse by Sonic Youth
“Light Up Ahead” from Hide Nothing by Further Seems Forever
“Wonderful People” from Power by Q and Not U
“Take Me Out” from Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand
“Let Them Eat War” from The Empire Strikes First by Bad Religion
Follow-up album to a platinum-selling record shows that the band is still good:
Futures by Jimmy Eat World
-Futures is not a return to the style of Static Prevails or Clarity. Nor is it a Xeroxed copy of the 1.3 million-selling album, Bleed American. It’s a whole other album. It’s heavier in spots than their earlier work (not that there’s anything wrong with it) but it shows the band still can rock your ass and have you singing along.
Follow-up album to a number of consistent albums proves this band is almost unstoppable:
A Ghost is Born by Wilco
-Wilco makes a Jim O’Rourke record and it’s incredible. O’Rourke helps the band travel into crazier terrains than before. From melodies and vocals that are just above a whisper to ones that are so raw, loud and jagged, Wilco has another stellar record in their canon.
Supposed “comeback” record proves that that this band never really went away:
Guilt Show by the Get Up Kids
-I’ll admit it: I didn’t care for the band’s previous effort, On a Wire. Not because it wasn’t filled with blast-it-through-your-speakers anthems, but it seemed so inaccessible and simple. When I heard Guilt Show, I was glad to hear some of the oomph back in the band, but I realized how far they had grown with melodies and songwriting. Knowing this, I was able to go back and see that the band was going this way with On a Wire. Now I think both records are some of my overall favorites of their’s.
Cover art that is so simple, but so memorable:
Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand
-Just the band’s name at an angle against a black background sounds like Graphic Design 101, but it works. No glamour. No bull. Just like the band is. Looking at it reminds me of late 1970s and early 1980s post-punk art-sleeves. Maybe that was the intention since the band is so rooted in that era.
Band that I’ve heard about for years but never really listened to until this year:
-Until this year, I had heard “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ in the Years” on the radio, “Black Cow” be sampled in a popular rap song, and Ben Folds Five’s rendition of “Barrytown.” After getting Can’t Buy a Thrill and Pretzel Logic, I now “get” them.
Bands that keep getting better with each release without drastically changing styles:
-Ted Leo’s Shake the Sheets is more of what he’s done in the past with a blasting-down-the-door kind of approach, but it’s still fresh. Sparta’s Porcelain got a lot of flak in the press for not being that far-removed from their first record or At the Drive-In. Well, that’s just the way they write, regardless if they’re in another band or not. Porcelain shows the band expanding with longer songs, trippy effects and atmospheres and sharper hooks.
I can’t believe I found this hard-to-find out-of-print release for so cheap:
Pentagram Ring EP by Chavez
-Mike put track three, “You Faded,” on a mix CD earlier this year and I had been searching for this EP ever since. Just my luck, going on a record store shopping search in Chicago, I found this at the front of a rack for $2.99.
Band that got so much better after two-thirds of the line-up left and were replaced:
Taking Back Sunday
-Yes, I like Taking Back Sunday. I think Where You Want to Be is miles away better (songwriting-wise and production-wise) from their first album, the so-called, “already-classic,” Tell All Your Friends. Judging by the reviews I saw, this album was a disappointment for long-time fans. Well, maybe the fact that I hadn’t been so emotionally-tied to Tell All Your Friends is how I could give this record a shot. Their style is not new to me, but the songs just have these great hooks and a warm overall sound.
Posthumous release that is a great album and not some patchwork of unfinished material:
From a Basement on the Hill by Elliott Smith
-After Elliott died by a supposed self-inflicted knife wound to the heart, I couldn’t listen to his music for the rest of last year. I felt so betrayed and couldn’t concentrate on the beauty of his songs. Sometime in the middle of this year, I was able to listen to his music on the notion that when he made these records (even the final one) that he was in better spirits than on the day he died. From a Basement on the Hill is some of his darkest material but it’s so well done and demands repeat listening. Even though there was enough material recorded for a double album, the fifteen tracks that make up the record leave little room for filler.
Math metal record that I can actually listen to over and over:
Miss Machine by the Dillinger Escape Plan
-From the start of the record with “Panasonic Youth,” you’re either going to love this band or absolutely hate them. When you think the blasts of schizoid metal/punk/hardcore are too much, the band gives the listener breaks with warm melodies, easy rhythms and simple breakdowns. On top of that, you don’t have to be in some pissed-off-with-the-world mindset to listen to it. As ugly and as unlistenable as it may seem to others, this is truly compelling stuff.
Album that Pitchfork Media raved about (and so did a lot of other people) that is actually up my alley:
Funeral by the Arcade Fire
-Those who write for Pitchfork are incredibly picky about every little nuance of every little band and record. It seems like they can never be satisfied. However, when they rave about a record, it’s worth at least checking out. Funeral delivers the goods. Somber and moving, this record is straightforward and doesn’t jerk you around.
Another album that Pitchfork raved about (and so did a lot of other people), but really moved me emotionally more than any other record released this year:
Good News for People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse
-For many people, this record will have the distinction of being Modest Mouse’s “breakthrough,” “blockbuster,” (or in some people’s minds) “sellout” record. For me, the whole package (the melodies, the lyrics and artwork) really moves me. When I heard the lead guitar riff for “Float On” for the first time (and every time since then), it reminded me of being a kid listening to the radio. The undistorted, high-end guitar tone reminded me of the 1980s new wave rock and Top 40. Using that with a Television-meets-Mission of Burma feel and a “no matter how bad things happen, it works out eventually”-attitude, this song has received a lot of play in my car and in my head. The album as a whole is a wild mix of songs with common lyrical themes: frustration (“Life handed us a paycheck and we said, ‘We worked harder than this!’”) gives way to understanding (“As life gets longer/awful feels softer” and “If it takes shit to make bliss/well I feel pretty blissfully”) in particular has been my anthem and chorus this year. It’s not been an easy year but it’s been a very good year. There have been times of restlessness and doubt that seemed to overpower my overall mood. I keep coming back to things I’ve been told for years, but didn’t fully understand until now. After a period of life getting really ugly, there is a time of true happiness and lessons are learned. I’ve been able to find comfort in seeing things in grander scale than just as a series of obstacles and victories. Good News echoes such sentiments.