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BEST OF 2004
Worst Year Ever? Whether it was the number of funerals I attended, or the
sense that the whole world is spinning wildly into apocalypse, 2004 managed
to make me feel like I was in that one movie where Tim Robbins comes back
from Vietnam and everything is a total nightmare, and then it turns out he's
actually dead? Except in my nightmare purgatory, there's no kindly chiropractor.
Can someone direct me to a kindly chiropractor? I can't even find one I can afford. So to summarize: Tim Robbins' bad-weed-induced hallucinatory hell is actually better than my 2004.
Of course, this
is not to ignore the good things this year: my radio show, the Sixx Mixx,
has kind of taken off; some of my goofball mashups seem to make people happy;
club Bootie had a good year; and of course I couldn't have made it through
the year without the friends and family who somehow manage to put up with
to a tough year, the music I listened to was a little... weird. I didn't feel
much like being "challenged" by "difficult" albums, and
the music that stayed in my CD player ended up being more soothing, introspective,
slightly wonky stuff, more about private enjoyment than a sense of earth-shattering
innovation. Accordingly, I may have missed some of the year's best albums:
give me a few months to listen to local bands Deerhoof and Comets on Fire,
adventurous hip-hop LPs from Kanye West, M.I.A. and Madvillain, emotional
imports from Embrace and Kasabian, alt-Americana from Rilo Kiley and Wilco,
nutball-rawk from McClusky and Eagles of Death Metal, and indie rock like
Earlimart and Pinback; I may end up with a whole new 2004 top 10. But in the
interest of honesty, here are the albums, singles, live shows, and mashups
that gave me the greatest pleasure this year.
BEST OF 2004: ALBUMS
BLONDE REDHEAD Misery is a Butterfly
A bit of an exception to what I just said: this is the one album this year
that really did challenge me. I had never really been a fan of Blonde Redhead;
everybody said they were just Sonic Youth imitators, and while I love practically
everything Sonic Youth have ever done, I just never got interested in the
Redhead. When I got Misery, I listened to it with that in mind, expecting
Sonic Youth-style feedback freakouts and oddball dissonance. That wasn't what
I got, and it took me a few more listens to let go of those expectations and
take this album for what it is: a cinematic masterpiece, like Portishead jamming
with Serge Gainsbourg for an Italian movie soundtrack, blending electronics
and guitars with the otherworldy voices of the two singers for an album that
seems like a dream from another era.
2. FRANZ FERDINAND S/T
A close contender for #1. Anchored by the majestic "Take Me Out,"
a song that made me realize there are still ways to do something new with
rock music, and filled out with Gang-of-Four-y tracks like "Dark of the
Matinee," that harken back to the excitement of early-80s post-punk.
The snazzy suits and cute haircuts, along with the hot man-on-man action of
"Michael," didn't hurt either.
3. KOMEDA Kokomemedada
I seem to be alone in my appreciation for this Swedish band: roundly ignored
by critics who may think they're just Stereolab Lite, I think they're art-rock
in the best sense: experimental and playful, pop with an edge. An album I
always felt like listening to.
4. AUTOLUX Future Perfect
Failure have a lot in common with My Bloody Valentine: legendary amongst the
few who know about them, the ache of wishing they had made 20 more albums
is assuaged only by the perpetual greatness of the music they did make. Thankfully,
Failure member Greg Edwards reemerged with Autolux, who, coincidentally, actually
sound quite a bit like My Bloody Valentine: dreamy, fuzzy, muffled vocals
and extended song structure. Take that, On.
MOUSE The Grey Album
Surprise surprise, Party Ben likes mashups, right? Well, actually, I didn't
get this at all, at first. Because of my radio show and the nightclub, I'm
focused on finding mashups that are easily-accessible, A+B creations that
make you go "wow" right away. This album does not do that at all:
rearranging and looping excerpts of The White Album, it could probably stand
on its own without Jay-Z, as a DJ Shadow-like masterpiece of sampling. However,
the melancholy tracks that result give a whole new perspective on the Jay-Z
vocals, only increasing my appreciation for The Black Album as well. Mashups
are getting a lot of stupid hype right now, but Danger Mouse deserves all
6. AIR Talkie
Another album I didn't expect to make it to the finals this year. I'd almost
given up on my favorite French Band after 10,000 Hz Legend, but Talkie seems
to combine the best aspects of Moon Safari with a quirkier, more electronic
sound, and it has the songwriting to back it up. I got to interview Air for
LIVE 105, and they said they wrote this album as a gift to their friends,
to make them feel better. It's an honorable, unappreciated talent to make
music that can be soothing, and Air may be the best at it.
7. THE STREETS A Grand Don't Come for Free
After making Original Pirate Material, an album that was like a book of short
stories about the life of English youth, it makes perfect sense to take it
to the next level: an album that's more like a novel, where every song stands
on its own, but combine into a high-concept plot, complete with double ending.
Plus: one of the nicest guys in the "biz."
8. TV ON THE
RADIO Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
Disco Shawn was a little unsure whether to mention this when he did his top
10 for LIVE 105, but he was right to bring it up: most of this band is African-American,
and their take on New York indie/dance/rock/whatever has a hard-to-put-your-finger-on
but unmistakable black influence, which means this sounds like nothing I've
ever heard before, although the vocalist often has an eerie sonic resemblance
to Peter Gabriel (!). A testament to the greatness of New York City.
9. DEATH FROM
ABOVE 1979 You're a Woman, I'm a Machine
Runners-up in the Best Album Title of 2004 category (losing to McClusky's The Difference Between Me and You is that I'm Not On Fire), this Canadian
two-piece is like an anti-White Stripes: no guitar, only bass. Put out by
New York uber-hip (anti-hip?) magazine/label Vice, this embodies the spirit
of that magazine: post-ironic, from the gut, urgent and necessary. Plus they
kind of sound like Queens of the Stone Age.
An appropriate album title for a year like this, and an album that may go
higher on my list as I listen to it more. More Canadians, like 7 or 8 I think,
although they kind of remind me of Neutral Milk Hotel in their kind of timeless,
BEST OF 2004: SINGLES
FRANZ FERDINAND "Take Me Out"
I loved this song, and then I read an article in Spin that mentioned
as an aside that the song is about asking someone to kill you, as
in "take me out, with a gun," not "take me out on the town,"
because if they leave you, you don't want to live any more, just shoot me,
get it over with. And I went, "whoa," and this song went from my
favorite song of the year to being a song I want to shoot into space on a
rocket to prove to aliens that human beings are capable of greatness.
2. JAY-Z "99 Problems"
From last year's "Black Album," this song got released this year
and managed to bridge the rock-hip hop gap in a way that was kind of unprecedented
since "Walk This Way." Plus it sounded great mashed up with almost
3. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM "Yeah"
Like the Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" before it, this is
the high point of another great year of New York dance-punk, whatever that
is. The combination of the deadpan, repeated chant of "yeah" combines
with the ecstatic buildup of the music (reminiscent of the heyday of the Chemical
Brothers) to make something very unsettling and great.
4. NINA SKY "Move Your Body"
Apparently in Jamaica, music producers make backing tracks which they then
sell to different vocalists, so that at any given time there could be five
or six different songs in the charts with the same background music. I think
that is so freaking cool I can barely stand it, and now it's happening here
in Amurrca, and this was my favorite of the two bongo-tastic tracks that hit
the charts here.
5. M.I.A. "Galang"
This track exemplifies all that I hoped for from the "grime" genre:
dirty, squelchy beats mixed with vocals that hint at a multicultural new world:
this is the music that science fiction predicted we'd be listening to in the
new millenium and I couldn't be happier that it's here.
6. TV ON THE
RADIO "Staring at the Sun"
Somehow manages to be a great dance song without really having any drums.
Elegaic and majestic.
7. SNOOP DOGG
FEAT. PHARRELL "Drop it Like It's Hot"
Another even more minimalist production from the Neptunes (check out how the
staticky hiss goes back and forth on your speakers, or how the bass drum is
tuned to three different notes in the chorus), combined with the perfectly-calibrated
drawl of Mr. Dogg, who may be the best rapper ever at sounding casual and
conversational while utilizing a whole range of musical intonations. A masterpiece
masquerading as a throwaway.
8. FAITHLESS "Mass Destruction"
On an incredibly disappointing album, this was a gem: moving and urgent lyrics,
and a deceptively jaunty backing track. A surprise hit.
9. ELTRO "Motorboat"
A song I barely understand, but I was shopping in H&M in New York and
this came on the in-store video, and stopped me in my tracks, between the
racks of $40 suits and weird orange underpants. It's a vaguely electronic,
swampy-sounding, eerie track with model-like ladies singing something about
rowing a motorboat. I love those! I looked it up and it turned out to be on
East Bay label Absolutely Kosher. Anyway. Boats!
10. ERIC PRYDZ "Call on Me"
Oh, god, yes, I know, but I'm a sucker for well-chosen samples, looped and
filtered over a house beat. Steve Winwood!!
BEST OF 2004: LIVE SHOWS
THE PIXIES Coachella
2. KRAFTWERK Coachella
REDHEAD Bimbo's, SF
4. FRANZ FERDINAND The Grand Ballroom, SF
5. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM Coachella
BORN The Independent, SF
7. LOW Great American Music Hall, SF
8. SOFT PINK
TRUTH Mighty, SF
9. THE STREETS BFD, The Shoreline, Mountain View
DERBY Folsom Street Fair, SF
BEST OF 2004: MASHUPS
GO HOME PRODUCTIONS "Rapture Riders" (Blondie vs. The Doors)
2. DJ ZEBRA "Take Me Out (Saturday Night)" (Franz Ferdinand vs. DJ Zebra)
HOME PRODUCTIONS "Hella Good/Lola's Theme" (Shapeshifters vs.
4. DJ EARWORM "The Night of Kittin's Messy Dream" (PJ Harvey vs. Miss Kittin vs.
Human League vs. Corey Hart)
5. JAY-ZEEZER "99 Luft Problems" (Jay-Z vs. Nena)
6. GO HOME
PRODUCTIONS "Jet Lady Joe" (Jet vs. The Beatles)
7. A+D "Decepta-freak-on" (Le Tigre vs. Missy Elliott)
8. RX "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (U2 vs. George W Bush)
9. DJ ZEBRA "C'mon Fuck Me" (Von Bondies vs. Fatboy Slim vs. Princess Superstar
10. LOO AND
PLACIDO "Kids Rock" (Queen vs. some reggae and kids singing)