Agony Shorthand

Friday, December 31, 2004

For the past 5-6 years I've been unable to make a Top 10 year-end list of music, mostly because I haven't heard enough new material pleasing enough to enshrine it on a public list for all eternity. That's a bitter, overly cautious curmudgeon for you. But if you throw in reissues -- well jeez, even I can squeeze out a list that includes those. Here's what I liked the best in 2004, potential hipster credentials be damned:

1. FIERY FURNACES : "BLUEBERRY BOAT" (new) -- Simply put, one of the craziest and most satisying new bands I've heard in ages. "Blueberry Boat" is a pop experimentalist's dream record, full of soaring nooks and perplexing crannies to get lost in, with a dozen new things to discover every time I play it. It does not introduce itself gently, and thus this band turns off many before they'd had a chance to really dig in deep. Here's what I recommend, since this is precisely how I got hooked on the band this year: Download track #2 from this CD, "Straight Street", as an introduction. It's 99 cents at the "iTunes store". If you think that this schizoid Velvets-meet-Patti-meets "A Quick One While He's Away" technoid number is to your liking, proceed gently into their first CD "Gallowsbird's Bark". If ya like that, well then you're hooked, pal. You'll then be calling their second CD your favorite record of 2004, like I just did.

2. VETIVER : "VETIVER" (new) -- We said on November 30th, "...stupendous, often jaw-droppingly gorgeous moderne folk music...His debut offering arrives fully formed and supremely confident, like he'd been writing sad, lyrical near-masterpieces for decades. Awash in cello and gently-plucked guitar, Vetiver's debut sounds like something Townes Van Zandt might've come up with in his darkest hours...."

3. FLESH EATERS reissues -- Both "No Questions Asked" and "Hard Road To Follow" made it to CD this year, loaded with extra tracks and helping many to realize why this punk/roots/metal/voodoo-conuring band might've been the single best rock band the late 70s/early 80s had to offer.

4. DAVIE ALLEN & THE ARROWS : "DEVIL'S RUMBLE" (reissue) -- We said on June 21st: "....the missing link between heavy-reverb surf music, early garage punk and psychedelic acid rock. This is all by virtue of one incredible set of fuzz pedals and a guitarist who at times was able to out-Link Wray LINK WRAY as he strode for new sonic vistas in heavy, loud, parent-scaring instrumental sounds..."

5. MONOSHOCK : "RUNNIN' APE-LIKE FROM THE BACKWARDS SUPERMAN" (reissue) -- We opined on September 14th about this fuzz-monster reissue of early 90s 45s and rare tracks, "...This CD conveys their unrestrained powers far more cohesively than even most of their live gigs did, and with a far better mix than any of the vinyl that preceded it. It’s one that’s worth playing repeatedly and which’ll deservedly make them a whole lot more friends in the afterlife than they garnered in the here and now..."

6. MIDNIGHT CIRCUS : "RICHARD, RODNEY, RASTUS, RAOUL, RODERICK, RANDY, RUPERT" (reissue) -- We had this to say on December 22nd regarding this great reissue of 1980-83 cassette & EP recordings : "....(Midnight Circus were) way tuned in to the rhythm & the motion of the times: recording on the dirt cheap, pushing ahead with boundary-breaking rock music despite a lack of native talent, sending out homemade cassettes of their practices & 4-track sessions to fellow travelers for the price of a blank, plugging into the most primitive synths imaginable, and firing off multiple attacking rounds of very aggressive, choppy guitar..."

7. REIGNING SOUND : "TOO MUCH GUITAR" (new) -- We said on July 9th: "....This is a lineup that you stealthily head to the world series with – not stacked up with the big boppers, just a bunch of .275-hitting grinders. And when I say multifaceted, I mean you get 60s teen rock anthem sounds (“Your Love is a Fine Thing”), you get harder-edged & croaking punkers like the hot opener “We Repel Each Other” and “You Got Me Hummin’” and some partytime sock hop boogie in the mix to boot. And even a couple of “tear in my beer” near-weepers, too...."

8. CAMERA OBSCURA : "UNDERACHIEVERS PLEASE TRY HARDER" (new) -- We said on September 1st: "....full of clever lyrical puzzles on love and the human condition...their singer Tracy-Anne Campbell delivers her lines with a shy and even kinda sexy set of nuances, winks and smiles. What could easily come off as wimpy and foppish instead delivers the sensitive strum-pop goods like nothing since those first few tracks on MAZZY STAR's great 1989 debut....."

9. JOANNA NEWSOM : "THE MILK-EYED MENDER" (new) -- We said on May 18th: "...I’m totally fascinated by this woman’s beguiling blend of baby-voiced vocals, fantastic/poetic wordplay, and off-kilter harp strumming and piano plinking. That’s harp as in HARP, the big golden thing that you sit down to play while wearing dark flowing robes....Newsom comes across as a classically-trained, well-read, wide-eyed naïf who loves spinning grandiose, big-hearted shanties and romantic tales of kooks and old-timers..."

10. THE SILVER : "DO YOU WANNA DANCE / POPPER" 45 (bootleg reissue)-- We said on April 21st: "....It’s nice to hear something so perplexingly and genuinely wacked for a change. “Do You Wanna Dance” is a foaming-at-the-mouth, ultra-homemade take on the Beach Boys/Ramones “classic”, with what sounds like children being horribly crucified at the end. In fact I’d swear one of the two vocalists here is an 11-year old girl. Poor lamb! The feel is not unlike the pleasurable discomfort produced by Florida’s TEDDY & THE FRAT GIRLS a few years later – and if you don’t like it as first, you’ll learn to love it...."