My Top 50 Favorite Singles of 2004 (part 2)

Friday, December 31, 2004
1. Britney Spears - "Toxic"
I'm usually not that into spybeat or Britney hits in general, but this is just such pop perfection it just feels right at #1.

2. Jay-Z - "99 Problems"
I had no problem with Jay going after modern rock radio after "Hey Ya" already tapped that market, because unlike the Outkast and Eminem hits that have crossed over to rock radio, "99 Problems" actually sounds like the early Beastie Boys tracks that are staples on those stations. I don't know if anyone went more nuts for it than rap stations, though; I remember driving home from picking up The Black Album on the release date and hearing a DJ play it like 5 times in the space of an hour, howling with joy.

3. Big & Rich - "Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy"
I'm kind of over the whole Muzik Mafia is saving country thing, and I haven't liked any of the Gretchen Wilson singles, but this was just the jam.

4. T.I. - "Rubber Band Man"
The way the beat does a busy hi-hat pattern for 2 bars and then a relaxed ride cymbal pattern for 2 bars is just genius.

5. Terror Squad - "Lean Back"
Remy's verse really did kill it. And the way Joe going "HUH" filled in all sorts of spots within the beat.

6. John Mayer - "Clarity"
I just could not get enough of this song, which is unfortunate, since it didn't perform very well at all for a John Mayer single. But it really is beautiful, especially that intro: the 4-note piano figure, the tapping rhythm, the horn swell, the percussive guitar chords. Last week when my brother was visiting, he let me mess around on his iPod and I found Heavier Things and listened to this 2 or 3 times.

7. Lloyd Banks f/ 50 Cent - "On Fire"
I'm not generally a big fan of monolithic G-Unit singles, but I couldn't resist Kwame's bubbling liquid metal percussion and Lloyd's perfect punchlines. The greatness of this track is only reaffirmed by the fact that it's already being emulated on inferior songs like Joe Budden's "Roll Your Backyard" and 50's own "Disco Inferno".

8. J-Kwon - "Hood Hop"
Top 5 things I love about "Hood Hop":
1. the coughing, barking Trackboyz production
2. the line "and fuck your fuckin' '4 and your roof, clown/I got shit that'll turn your fuckin' coupe 'round", which the first few times I heard it I thought he was saying he was gonna turn your poop brown
3. the way him and Chingy make eating cereal look like some kind of really unsavory activity in the video
4. the fact that Jermaine Dupri's 2 most notable video cameos this year were (a) cuddling with Janet and (b) mouthing the words "fuck a bitch"

9. Yellowcard - "Ocean Avenue"
At first when I started hearing on the radio I thought it was another whiny twee pop-punk tune, which I guess it still is, but I didn't get into it until I noticed the ridiculously powerful drumming, and that chorus is pretty huge, especially coming from the bridge.

10. Young Gunz f/ Rell - "No Better Love"
Hands down, best rap/R&B love jam of the year.

11. Juvenile f/ Soulja Slim - "Slow Motion"
As soon as I heard this I knew I'd be hearing it all summer, and that I'd never get sick of it.

12. Wacko, Skip and Juvenile - "Nolia Clap"
I think the best thing about this song is Skip's verse, because he's wearing glasses in the video and he's got a squeaky voice and he says silly things like "dog doo doo", but then he's all talking about how dudes who wear vests deserve to get their face slashed. Also, the "(look) look at my face (look!), this how death look (LOOK!), if ya deaf, look (look), I won't play witcha" part is pretty amazing, just for how many times he doubles up his voice to shoehorn the word "look" in there.

13. Twista - "Overnight Celebrity"
Twista and Kanye were unstoppable and inescapable this year, and this was their finest moment together.

14. Anthony Hamilton - "Charlene"
I don't really buy it when Matt Cibula tries to say that Anthony Hamilton is a country singer (or that T.I. is a singer/songwriter), but I see what he's getting at.

15. Jadakiss f/ Anthony Hamilton - "Why"
I love Jada's voice, and it sounded better than ever this year, and I love the way he says "beer" so it sounds like "bear". I want him to hold a WHY LIE I NEED A BEAR sign.

16. Lostprophets - "Last Train Home"
Dude looks like Zoolander trying to sound like Mike Patton, but this really was one of the best alt-rock hits of the year.

17. Mannie Fresh - "Real Big"
I didn't really feel a lot of Mannie's beats for Wayne or Juve lately, so I wasn't really expected him to come hard for the solo single, but he did it, with essentially a fast, fun Big Tymers jam without Baby around to slow him down.

18. Kelly Clarkson - "Since U Been Gone"
Girl singers who don't play an instrument can rock too, pt. 1: I have a soft spot for a few Pat Benatar jams, so I'm always happy when someone with a real strong voice tries on something that rocks this much, albeit in a pop-rock way.

19. Ashlee Simpson - "La La"
Girl singers who don't play an instrument can rock too, pt. 2: after a couple insufferable 'autobiographical' singles, shorty got down to business with some corporate rock stomp and nonsensical lyrics.

20. Nelly - "Na-Nana-Na"
In the past 6 months, Nelly has released 5 singles/videos, and after he flubbed the club anthem attempt with "Flap Your Wings", the Suit singles took off and it left Sweat eating its dust in sales. So outside the lower half of the 106 & Park countdown, this song, which is easily one of Nelly's best singles ever (and Nelly is nothing if not a singles artist) and my favorite Jazze Pha beat ever, is being pretty much ignored. But it's not too late! Blast this shit! Request it everywhere!

21. Lloyd - "Hey Young Girl"
I already pretty much summed up what I think is great about this song in a Gov't Names post.

22. Paula Campbell - "Take You Home"
OK, I might have actually liked "Tipsy" if there wasn't a local hit rocking Baltimore around the same time that had almost the exact same kind of booming "Grindin'"/"We Will Rock You" drum track, but with much better synth burps and a big R&B hook.

23. Comp - "Harder"
The Baltimore/Def Jam connection is just starting to warm up and will hopefully kick into full gear in '05, but for now, Comp's introspective vocal-sample-snatch jam was one of the best street heaters of '04.

24. Ghostface f/ Jadakiss and Comp - "Run"
Even though my boy Comp got robbed when they didn't put the version with him on the Ghostface album, this song is great, with or without him.

25. Norah Jones - "Sunrise"
Even though her album was once again huge this year, the single was really slept on and not nearly as omnipresent as "Don't Know Why" was. But it's really lovely, wordless "ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh" chorus and beautiful relaxed ambiance.

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My Top 50 Favorite Singles of 2004 (part 1)

Wednesday, December 29, 2004
26. Beanie Sigel f/ Peedi Crakk and Twista - "Gotta Have It"
Following a series of blazing guest spots, this was set to be the first single from Peedi's solo album, but after that got pushed back to '05, they threw Beans and Twista on the song and made it the single off The B-Coming, but it's still clearly Peedi's song, with his singsong flow running circles around everyone else. And Chad Hamilton is quickly living up to my prediction, based on his work on the Young Gunz album, that he would be the next Roc producer to look out for.

27. Korn - "Word Up"
After a brief flirtation with the concept of fun at the peak of their popularity (like that song with the "get your boogie on" bit and the McG video), Korn quickly left the funk/hip hop posturing to Fieldy's solo album and their pals in the Bizkit and went back to making absolutely dreary, grinding, groaning psychotherapy rock (even the tongue-in-cheek "Y'all Want A Single", which was great in concept, sounded like all the other shit they do). So it was kind of a shock when they decided to kick out a Cameo cover for a greatest-hits package, and even moreso when it turned out to be perfectly executed and almost deliriously fun. Especially when he does that "do your dance, do your dance" part.

28. My Chemical Romance - "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)"
I already wrote a post that summed most of what I like about this, but I really have to comment on how well this song is constructed. All the tension and breakdowns, the tempo change for the solo, the cliche'd moment where the music drops out for a second, it's all executed perfectly.

29. Lil Whyte - "I Sho Will"
Ethan went on a rant on Gel & Weave recently about people overrating Lil Whyte (I don't really know since I haven't heard much besides this song), but the part where he said that he sounds like Michael Rapaport just makes me want to like him more.

30. Fabolous - "Breathe"
It's kind of crazy how slept on Fab was before this song. Shit, he had tighter lyrics on "Can't Let You Go", but still, he deserves some credit for finally putting out a song this hard as a single and collecting on some overdue respect.

31. Alicia Keys - "If I Ain't Got You"
There's something I find distasteful about songwriters like Alicia Keys who seem to be intentionally writing new standards by virtue of being so boringly reverent of tradition and history and being popular enough to be compared to the greats they themselves look up to. But I'm willing to look past my hangups when she makes something that I can hear on the radio day after day for months and not get sick of like this.

32. Prince - "Call My Name"
Sometimes Prince gets tired of being one of the weirdest, funniest, most creative people ever, and just wants to wear a suit and sing nu-soul. But even his earth tone-y ballads are about the best there is.

33. Houston f/ Chingy, I-20 and Nate Dogg - "I Like That"
Those wonderfully lush and bouncy Trak Starz beats were the best thing about those Chingy singles, and this one has the best yet, with an agreeably smaller slice of Chingy and a big wonderful Nate Dogg hook to boot.

34. T.I. "Bring Em Out"
Nu-Swizz turned out to be kind of a divisive issue this year, with some heads loving his manic new production style, and others defending his stiff, monochromatic late 90's hits. Plus people hating on the 'king of the south' for selling out to NY standards by having Swizz Beatz and a Jay-Z sample on his lead single. But fuck it, this song is so good it made me jump on my bed the first few times I heard it.

35. D12 - "My Band"
I'm no big fan of Em's lead single clowning general, and a few months after this dropped it was played out as hell and the horror that is "Just Lose It" came to pass. But I got some serious belly laughs the first time I heard it. "Lose Yourself video? I was in the back. Superman video? I was in the back!" It's kind of sad how true this song is, though. I saw them perform this song (WITHOUT Eminem) on Conan, and it was the most pathetic thing I've ever seen. I feel bad for those guys. They'd be stupid not to take advantage of their situation and make a living off of it, but the fact that they have to make money going on tour without their famous friend and playing for their friend's fans, who are all disappointed that their friend isn't there, is just depressing on so many levels.

36. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Maps"
Horrible shots of a motionlessly jaded hipster audience watching them aside, this is really a great performance video. I don't really know much about what they sound like besides this song, but this is pretty undeniable.

37. Good Charlotte - "Predictable"
Even the blogosphere's #1 GC cheerleader Anthony Miccio didn't seem to think much of this song, and it registered as a disappointment at first after I enjoyed 3 of the 5 singles off their last album ("Lifestyles" and "Hold On" didn't do anything for me), but I eventually got really into this one, mainly for the jangly guitar in the chorus, and the weird screaming at the end.

38. Busta Rhymes f/ Chingy, Fat Joe and Nick Cannon - "Shorty (Put It On The Floor)"
Just Blaze had a pretty amazing run of ghetto house-inspired beats last year, with Joe Budden's "Fire (Yes Yes Y'all)" and Rah Digga's "Party & Bullshit 2003", culminating in this amazing slept on gem from the soundtrack from the Cannon/Milian vehicle Love Don't Cost A Thing. JB seems to have retreated from this direction since then, but it was a good fun.

39. Method Man f/ Busta Rhymes - "What's Happenin'"
Meth has always tried to take his crossover success for granted and have it both ways, and this year he didn't have it either way, with his sitcom getting cancelled and his album flopping. And even if it is his fault, it's kind of a shame that people were too busy writing him off as a Right Guard pitchman to notice the fact that his lead single was grimy as hell.

40. Sleepy Brown f/ Outkast - "I Can't Wait"
There's this weird thing that my head does with certain songs, where they're in a perfectly normal 4/4 rhythm, but something about the nature of the beat disorients me and makes me feel like the 1 is on the 4 and that it's completely weird. I heard this about a dozen times before I realized how I was supposed to hear it, and i think I liked it more when I was confused.

41. Ashanti - "Only You"
Even aside from the fact that 7 Aurelius had stopped working with Murder Inc. a couple years ago, I was surprised that the man responsible for the Inc.'s fluffiest hits was capable of something this heavy. That riff, which I guess is a guitar but sounds like it could be a distorted cello, is just bananas.

42. Blink 182 - "Down"
"Always" probably would've been a much bigger hit if it was released as a direct follow-up to "I Miss You" instead of this, but I fucking love this song.

43. DJ Kay Slay f/ Three 6 Mafia - "Who Gives A Fuck Where U From"
TV show theme songs are kind of standard source material for hip hop hits these days, but noone seemed to notice that one of the most evil beats to come out of the south this year was a Transformers sample.

44. Elephant Man f/ Twista, Youngbloodz and Kiprich - "Jook Gal (Head Gawn remix)"
I really think people were giving props to the wrong crossover Coolie Dance hits this year. The boring Nina Sky one and the annoying Mr. Vegas and Pitbull ones don't hold a candle to the one with the crazy Twista verse and the huge Ele chorus.

45. Black Eyed Peas - "Hey Mama"
This was more enjoyable fake dancehall than a lot of the real dancehall i heard this year.

46. John Mayer - "Daughters"
I love this song for the same reason that my favorite lyric on The College Dropout is "so I promise to Mr. Rainey that I'm gonna marry your daughter/and you know I gotta thank you for the way that she was brought up". I'm a sap and I honestly do wish there were more songs that appreciated the simple, corny truth that good people are a product of good parents.

47. Kelly Clarkson - "Breakaway"
I noted in a post on here the similiarity to "I'm With You" before I even knew that Avril actually co-wrote the song (they both have the same gorgeous way of winding down from the choruses; "and breeeeak aaaaaway" = "I'm with you-ooo"). The icky Dave Meyers video almost ruins it but I'm a sap for this one too.

48. Nickelback - "Figured You Out"
Lyrics that force me to imagine that guy with the two-tone hair/beard in any sexual situation is unforgivable, but this does kinda rock, especially the drums on that bridge bit that goes "now I did, you wonder why".

49. Destiny's Child f/ T.I. and Lil Wayne - "Soldier"
Coming from Rich Harrison, a man with both a background in Go-Go and "Crazy In Love" on his resume, this is disappointingly stiff, but there is something I like about the vox (especially Michelle's verse), and the dirty south pandering is a good look, even if it happens to feature the 2 MC's who get compared to Beyonce's boyfriend more than anyone else in the south. The part where Wayne goes "call him Weezy F. Baby, please say the baby" sounds so wonderfully sleazy, but there's a whole added element of creepiness to it considering that the guy he has weird daddy issues with is called Baby.

50. Nas f/ Olu Dara - "Bridging The Gap"
I wonder if Shawnna is kicking herself for not thinking of this first.

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top 5 shows I saw in 2004

Tuesday, December 28, 2004
This could've been a top 10, but I didn't really see nearly as many shows as I have in other recent years. I've only had the advantage of both living in/around Baltimore and having my own car for the past 3 years, and I took full advantage of it and went to probably 30 shows each in '02 and '03, compared to maybe a dozen this year. I just worked a lot this year and had less and less time and energy for standing around for a few hours at the end of a long day just to see some live music. This year was the first time I found myself passing on a lot of shows I wanted to go to and could've. My passion just dwindled a little, mainly because I've seen all my favorite live bands one too many times or spent too much time at all the local venues. But I still saw some good ones:

The 92Q End of Summer Jam @ the Towson Center, 9/10/04
The acoustics were terrible, the performances weren't always top shelf, but a bill full of some of the year's biggest hitmakers (Jadakiss, Fat Joe, Nina Sky, Ciara, Shawnna and local hero Bossman) and a hyped crowd made it a memorable occasion (my Gov't Names post about it).

Travis Morrison / Karmella's Game / Beauty Pill @ the Talking Head, 11/9/04
2 of the artists from my top 10 albums list in better form than when I saw them at seperate shows earlier in the year, and a surprisingly good local band fronted by a girl who I didn't realize until a week later that I met once a few years ago (my Narrowcast post about it).

Kanye West / Young Gunz / Paula Campbell @ the UMBC Field House, 4/22/04
The man of the year right at the crest of his wave, album still in the top 10, great energetic set of back to back hits, with ok labelmates and another local hero (my ILM thread about it).

Jonathan Richman @ the Ottobar, 6/8/04
Not quite as consistently smile-inducing as his show at the same place a couple summers before, but still there's maybe noone I'd rather see perform with an acoustic guitar.

The High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music @ the Theatre Project, 10/3/04
I'm not in general a huge fan of noise music and improv, but I'm proud that such a rare kind of festival has been able to establish itself here in Baltimore (6 years and running!), and so I make a point to check out at least one night of it every year. And the last night of this year's festival was no disappointment, especially with Andrea Parkins doing amazing things with an accordian and effects pedals.

Honorable mentions to people I see almost every year who did some decent shows in '04: Ted Leo, Sonic Youth and Cex.

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my favorite pre-2004 albums that I heard for the first time in 2004

Monday, December 27, 2004
Steely Dan - Citizen Steely Dan box set
I owe a lot of my taste for dad rock to, well, my dad, and since growing up listening to Steely Dan in my dad's car, my jones for the Dan has slowly grown. A few years ago I had Pretzel Logic on vinyl and my roommate at the time had a couple other albums, and then this year I found one of my dad's old tapes that had Gold on one side and PL on the other and played it in my car over and over. So the other day when I saw this box set, which collects all 7 of the original 70's/early 80's era SD albums, for less than $40, I had to snap it up. I've heard most of the albums at some point before, but this still a lot that's new to me and I'm real excited about finally getting to delve into the catalog.

Big Punisher - Capital Punishment
Over the summer this hot indie rock girl I used to work with was selling a bunch of old CD's when she needed money, and I snapped up a bunch of late 90's rap CD's she had no use for anymore, including this classic (and Busta's ELE, which is almost as good). I loved all the singles at the time and it's great to finally hear the album. Dude really was one of the G.O.A.T.'s. "Dead in the middle of Little Italy/little did we know that we riddled some middle man who didn't do diddly"!!!!

Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks
I never really had any curiousity about Dylan before, he was just one of those guys whose place in the canon I was willing to accept, but he didn't have any joints on classic rock radio that I loved like, say, Springsteen. But after I heard and fell completely in love with "Simple Twist of Fate", I realized that a couple of the only other Dylan songs I'd ever really liked ("Shelter From The Storm" and "Tangled Up In Blue") were on the same album, and that I had to have that album. It may be years before I'm enticed to check out any more Dylan, but for now this is good for me.

Talking Heads - The Name of This Band Is The Talking Heads
I'd been hearing about this and glancing at old vinyl copies on eBay for years, but by the time it finally got the huge reissue this year, my interest in the Heads was on a down cycle, so I was quite as hyped about it. And while I don't think it toally deserves its mythic status, it is a pretty good document of the era and there are a few tracks that totally kill the studio versions, "Drugs (Electricity)" especially.

Pulp - His 'n' Hers
I copped This Is Hardcore and Different Class in the late 90's, and their value to me seemed to grow with each year, so this year I finally checked out the one that gets hyped by fans as better than DC. And while it's not quite that, there are some pretty incredible moments, like "Babies" and "Acrylic Afternoons".

Prince - 1999
I've been down with Purple Rain and the pre-superstardom albums for a while (one of these days I'm going to dedicate a post to the underrated self-titled album), but I'd never gotten around to checking out the bridge between those 2 eras until a few months ago. While it's not as amazing as that other double album (duh), it's still the man near at his peak with some choice LinnDrum action.

Blink 182 - Blink 182
Just barely not this year, but if it was, it would definitely be in my top 10 for '04. "Josie" aside, I was never much into their early singles, but after loving the singles from this one (especially "Down") I snapped it up from a pile of promos that a friend who worked at DC101 let me pick through. It's a completely awkward, conflicted attempt at 'maturity' from a band that has spent most of its career pretending to be 19 to appeal to 14-year-olds, but they manage some great moments in spite of themselves. Travis Barker is perhaps my favorite drummer that isn't in a band I pariticularly love.

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My Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2004

Friday, December 24, 2004
Making these lists is always weird for me. I remember in high school I was way more hyped about it, maybe because I was just younger and less self conscious about my taste than I am now. It seems like I've dreaded the listmaking time of year ever since 2000, the year that I briefly worked for Pitchfork. I was real broke that year and didn't buy many albums at all, and they wanted a top 20 albums list from everyone (they didn't have the singles poll yet), and I don't think I even had 10, which was one of the reasons I was more relieved than anything else when they fired me shortly before doing the year-end poll. And this year they asked for a top 50 from their staff! Holy shit! I mean, I'm sure if I downloaded constantly or had a steady stream of promos being mailed to me or made more than $7/hr, I'd have a lot more albums to put on my list. But as it stands, I heard less than 30 albums this year, and more than half of them were by artists that I'm loyal to and bought in good faith and was disappointed by (including, to some degree, some of the artists in the top 10). I just happened to digest music in a lot of different ways this year, through radio, through mixtapes, especially writing for Government Names (though I did manage to cough up my top 10 hip hop albums for the GN poll). But I still do listen to albums all the time and I'm a big nerd about the sanctity of the album form (I never skip tracks, etc.) And this year did have some albums I really enjoyed. So without further ado, here's the 10:

1. Kanye West - The College Dropout

I feel a little corny putting this at the top, because it's kind of become this year's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, the token hip hop album that people who aren't really up on it rally around, while a lot of people whose opinions I respect have hated on it, or have chosen to damn it with faint praise, slipping it in the lower half of their lists or not at all. But fuck it, I love this shit. In 2003 Kanye went from being one of my favorite producers to becoming one of my favorite MCs too. I collected every single mixtape he dropped, every track that leaked, following every release date delay, knowing that with Roc-A-Fella's release schedule it might never come out at all. I figured that if it ever did drop, it would get some nice reviews and sell modestly, like all super producer pet projects. As much faith as I had in Kanye, I didn't expect multi-platinum sales and hit after hit single and 10 Grammy nominations. It's not a perfect album (I tend to find reasons to leave the room during the block of three (three!) skits surrounding "School Spirit), but there's far more good than bad or played out. He did it. And I was there first, and I've got bragging rights, so fuck you, he earned his spot at the top.

2. Spymob - Sitting Around Keeping Score

Spymob got screwed. Most people have only heard of them because of N.E.R.D., and they were mainly resented for their role in the inferior 'live' version of In Search Of. Then they kept getting mislabelled as "funk metal" or whatever because of that and the unrepresentative song on the Clones comp. And, like all Neptunes-affiliated artists, label troubles hounded Spymob, to the point that this album (which was recorded mostly before they even met Pharrell) kept getting delayed until long after any residual interest in them from N.E.R.D. had dried up, and the album was finally released in April of this year, quietly, 3 years after it was recorded, and not on Star Trak (although, oddly enough, on another rap label, Ruthless Records). But it's hands down the best rock albums I heard this year. Alt-rock records with a total absence of any resemblence to indie rock tend to do one of 2 things these days: either get some VH1 exposure and sell a ton like Maroon 5, or go absolutely nowhere, like Spymob. The most flattering comparison that's popped up in most reviews has been Steely Dan, and while that's maybe too kind and a little misleading, it does a good way toward understanding their appeal. There's an element of perverse humor here, like "It Gets Me Going", which is written from the perspective of a dog, but there's also "National Holidays", which is the catchiest and most touching song I've ever heard about child custody battles. I really can't reccomend this album enough to people who aren't too cool for it.

3. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Shake The Sheets

Ted Leo is the kind of singer/songwriter whose essentially meat-and-potatoes punk and rock is informed by a diverse enough set of influences that it seems like he's in constant danger of the inevitable slide into either dreaded 'maturity' or hopelessly indulgent experimentation, determinded to make his own Sandanista. But, knock on wood, that hasn't happened yet, and instead he continues to deliver his 3rd solid rock album in a row, and it's the most no-frills and straight-ahead yet, stripping away the touches of keyboard and violin from the last one and narrowing his pallette down to just the core power trio, which his biggest recording budget yet for the wonderful hi-fi sound that Hearts of Oak's songs deserved instead of that horrible fuzz bass and weak drum sound. By comparison, this record stomps, especially on "Little Dawn", which begins with a spiraling guitar figure that reminds me of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck", and builds to a glorious crescendo before winding down with Ted repeating the hypnotic mantra of "it's alright" 151 times (I counted). The first 5 songs are maybe his best run since the first 5 songs on The Tyranny of Distance (he has a tendency to frontload his records with the good stuff), but "Walking To Do", ends the record beautifull with some perfectly executed a-little-bit-softer-now, a-little-bit-louder-now dynamics.

4. Trick Daddy - Thug Matrimony: Married To The Streets

Daddy Dollars has always had a gruff papa bear voice, and he's been running it long enough now to be an elder statesman of the new South. But he doesn't just sit back and collect features and follow the new style. There's some crunk, yeah, but there's also his classic mix of bass, sex jams, and tough guy songs, along with a block of songs to reaffirm that Trick luvs the kids, especially the wonderful "I Just Wanna Sang". Six albums deep and he's still deeper than anyone in the deep South.

5. Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse

I'm a bigger fan of SY's output over the last 10 years than most, but after the nadir of NYC Ghosts & Flowers, even I was caught off guard by the low key grace of Murray Street, after which the almost as good Nurse feels a little anticlimactic. Steve Shelley is about as slept on as a member of such a canonical band can be, and he's the biggest reason that the ever mellowing tempos of the aging Youth aren't a bummer. He may not pummel the toms like he did on Sister or bring thunderous fills like on Dirty, but he's got a way with those relaxed midtempo grooves that just kills me. Much has been made of Kim doing something other than screeching or mumbling nursery rhymes for the first time in too long (although there's still the Mariah screed, which is slightly less annoying than the Britney screed from the last album, but still essentially just a sluggish version of Dirty-era Kim jams). But as far as I'm concerned, it's all about Thurston's creaky hippie vox (although I can do without some of the "electric guitar strings buuuuury flowers" lyrics) and long instrumental midsections. I'm very happy with the fact that "Wildflower Soul" seems to be the blueprint for most of his songs on the past couple albums. I really do want Sonic Youth to keep making albums like this of varying quality for as long as they're physically capable, and there aren't many artists I can say that of.

6. Travis Morrison - Travistan

Pitchfork shat on Travistan from atop the same perch from which they once praised the Dismemberment Plan to the heavens, and the backlash followed elsewhere without much opposition. Albums like this don't have fans, they have apologists, but I'm more than happy to be in that camp. I kind of have to forget my sentimental attachment to the Plan (and ignore how much better the Plan versions of "Angry Angel" and "Change" were) to really enjoy this, but it's far from the disaster it's often cast as. Breaking with the D.C. indie/punk tradition of strident politics and sloganeering, Travis uses and humor and warmth while taking shots at white male privelege ("Born In '72") and the liberal impulse (the amazing "Che Guevara Poster") while everyone else spent the past year firing off witless "fuck Bush" tirades (all respect due to Ted Leo, who made a better record with political commentary, but all I hear when I listen to him is the hooks and riffs and vocabulary-enhancing lyrics, whereas Travis is doing something much more interesting than preaching to the converted). It's just a shame that he didn't package some of the best lyrics of his career in an appealing spazz-dance-punk package to make the kids listen.

7. Beauty Pill - The Unsustainable Lifestyle

Like Travis, Chad Clark is the ex-frontman of a 'weird' 90's D.C. post-punk band (Smart Went Crazy) who's moved onto something gentler, if not kinder. His increasingly delicate, homespun production style and naggingly memorable melodies are wrapped around maybe his most barbed lyrics and jaundiced worldview yet. And while the languid tunage is more appealing than some of Travistan's downright awkward attempts at similiar terrain, Travis's lyrics have a sense of purpose and viewpoint that gets lost in some of Clark's cheap gags and cheaper cynicism. But when he gets properly fired up, talking about Mark David Chapman or "those countries where they come up and starve right in your face", his black humor becomes black anger and Beauty Pill's pastoral tones become much more compelling. At first the album registered as a disappointment, but I don't think there's any other album I reached for more often late at night throughout the year.

8. Nas - Street's Disciple

Complaints about how it's not Illmatic or it could've been better as a single album are wasted breath. If you're listening to a new Nas album, you have to be up for all of it, the less than ideal beats, the weird pretentious song concepts, the gross sex talk. So if you can deal with that, you'll get a huge, comprehensive statement from one of the most opinionated, hypocritical, greatest motherfuckers of all time. God's Son did a lot of the same things, but the sheer bulk of this gives it more force. There's a bunch of songs for his wifey, a bunch of songs for his family, a bunch of songs dissing other rappers and the industry, a bunch of songs paying tribute to the old school, hitting everything he wants to talk about from multiple angles. And like Trick Daddy or Jadakiss, Nas's voice gets better every year, thickening and deepening into a grandpa voice to match all his "back in my day" rants.

9. Cam'ron - Purple Haze

I loved last year's Diplomatic Immunity, which was an absurd statement of epic proportions from Cam's crew, and as Cam's next album continued to be delayed for over a year, my passion for it slowly dwindled, figuring that all the best tracks were the ones that had already leaked to mixtapes ages ago. But then, a couple weeks ago, it finally dropped, and I was blown away with how consistent it is. Label complications and bad single choices will probably stop it from being the peak it was hyped up to be, but the album itself is fire.

10. The Nels Cline Singers - The Giant Pin

Nels Cline's stock as a hired gun may have shot up this year with his drafting into Wilco, but he's not one to build his sideman resume at the expense of chasing his own muse. So 2004 saw yet another windfall of his own projects as a composer, collaborator and improviser, chief among them the 2nd album from his latest stable touring unit, the Nels Cline Singer. While I still carry a torch for the original 90's incarnation fo the Nels Cline Trio and have been slow to warm to the Singers, this album gradually won me over with a cohesive collection of lovely ballads and effects-pedal-crazy noise workouts.

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Thursday, December 23, 2004
The Top 10 Christmas Songs I've Actually Been Happy To Hear This Holiday Season

1. The Jackson 5 or Bruce Springsteen - "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"
2. Grand Buffet - "Stocking Stuffer"
3. Prince - "Another Lonely Christmas"
4. The Waitresses - "Christmas Wrapping"
5. Mariah Carey - "All I Want For Christmas Is You"
6. De La Soul - "Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa"
7. Travis Morrison - "My Two Front Teeth, Pts. II & III"
8. U2 - "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"*
9. The Posies - "Christmas"
10. The Ramones - "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight"

* possibly the best thing from the Rattle and Hum era.**

** I realize that is not a terribly bold statement.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Mons - "Castor"

The above MP3 is from my friend Mat's new record, Stimulus Frequency for the Localization of Sound in Space, which you can buy (and hear other sound clips) on CDBaby. "Castor" is one of the only songs on the record with vocals, which have been vocoded to the point that they're indecipherable anyway. It's also one of my favorites, serious LinnDrum action (Mat's a big big fan of Prince and 80's drum machines in general) and constantly changing patterns and sirens and squelches of synth. Stimulus is the 3rd Mons album, and he's been working on it forever, I have a CD-R of rough mixes he gave me in the summer of 2001. All this time, he's been adjusting and adding things, getting it all in order, and now it's finally here.

Mat's been getting his label Olympus Mons Records together for a while now, and so far the only releases have been reissues of the first 2 Mons albums, and now the new one. But next year hopefully there'll be more stuff coming out, including my album. I've also been helping out with the label itself, mainly writing text for the website and promotional materials. I'm also in charge of distributing promos, so if any of you freelancers and bloggers out there like what you hear and would like a copy to check out and maybe review, go ahead and get at me.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Last week CBS named Craig Ferguson as the official replacement for Kilborn as host of "The Late Late Show", which I didn't know until I saw him last night as a guest on Letterman. He's the Scottish guy who played the boss on "The Drew Carey Show" (although I think his character on there was English or Welsh or something), and I don't think I've seen him in much else besides stray appearances on shows like "I Love The 90's". But judging from that stuff and the Letterman interview, he's a pretty funny guy and I'm interested to see how he handles the gig, which starts on January 3rd. I didn't see much of his guest host spots over the past couple months as CBS was trying out various other people (the most entertaining of which was Johnny Witherspoon, although it would probably get old if he hosted all the time), but I'm definitely glad they went with him instead of that fucking Damien guy from TRL.

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My Top 10 Favorite Country Singles of 2004

Tuesday, December 14, 2004
1. Big & Rich - "Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)"
Bigger summer jam than "Lean Back", nuff said.

2. Sara Evans - "Suds In The Bucket"
I think she has my favorite accent in all of current country music. She's from Missouri, right? I wonder if she says "herre" like Nelly too.

3. Terri Clark - "Girls Lie Too"
One of the things that really got me paying attention to mainstream country the past couple years (besides my cable provider reorganizing the channels and putting CMT next to the other video channels I've always watched, which is what really did it) was the realization that a lot of it is basically power pop, with the big shameless choruses and winking wordplay, and this is basically the best power pop song this year that had just enough twang to pass as country. Plus there's the completely bizarre video featuring Wayne Newton and a Johnny Depp impersonator in full Captain Jack Sparrow garb, a storyline with no apparent connection to the lyrics.

4. Josh Gracin - "I Wanna Live"
This is basically the same song as Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" except with a much bigger hook and no extreme sports metaphors or cutesy shit about a bull named Fu Manchu. Aside from a couple Kelly Clarkson singles this is the best thing I've heard from anyone involved in American Idol so far.

5. Montgomery Gentry - "If You Ever Stop Loving Me"
Better than a lot of their tough guy songs, and worth it just for that opening verse's "my old man's/backhand/used to land/hard on the side of my head/I just learned to stay out of his way".

6. Brad Paisley featuring Alison Krauss - "Whiskey Lullaby"
It's a bit melodramatic and the video (directed by and starring Rick fuckin' Schroeder) is hilariously over the top, but it has that gorgeously sad "lie-la-lie" refrain that reminds me of "The Boxer" in a good way.

7. Cledus T. Judd - "I Love NASCAR"
I hesitate to call Cledus the "Weird" Al Yankovic of country simply because he's nowhere near on that level of quality control with his parodies. But to take that comparison to its logical extreme, Toby Kieth is to Cledus as Jacko is to Yankovic, as Cledus's best singles (this and "How Do You Milk A Cow") are based on Toby's best singles ("I Love This Bar" and "How Do You Like Me Now", respectively). The best part is when Toby himself pops up for a cameo at the end, and brings an unexpected touch of emotion to a silly satire with a heartfelt tip of the hat to Dale Sr. ("just to see Big E on the track again would put a smile on every face/noone drove a car/quite like Earnhardt").

8. Loretta Lynn and Jack White - "Portland, Oregon"
This is kind of a guilty pleasure for me because I don't think I've ever really liked a White Stripes song, and I don't really know much LL either, but this is undeniably good, no doubt in no small part due to the fact that Jack didn't write it and Meg didn't play drums on it.

9. LeAnn Rimes - "Nothin' 'Bout Love Makes Sense"
Another great soaring chorus melody and more power pop-worthy cheesy wordplay ("a jumbo shrimp or a baby grand" etc).

10. Reba McEntire - "He Gets That From Me"
This is basically the same song as John Michael Montgomery's "Letters From Home", at least in terms of melody and structure, and they're both tearjerkers, but this one edges it out by being a really well constructed lyric that builds up to the sad part foreshadowed by the early verses.


Monday, December 13, 2004
OK, last David Foster Wallace post (for now), I swear, but someone went to the trouble of scanning his recent Gourmet Magazine piece, Consider The Lobster.

More geeking out on David Foster Wallace:

- a review by DFW of a Borges bio that appeared recently in the NYT, which includes a variation on my favorite coinage of his, "blucky" (from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again)

- by far my favorite review of Oblivion so far, by Wyatt Mason of the London Review of Books, who mainly uses it as a forum for an extended riff on one of my favorite DFW pieces ever, "Tense Present" and some interesting theories about DFW's relationship with language and the reader, some of which hold more water than others

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Newsflash: Moby is a herb. He put the above image on the intro page of his website, probably not realizing it's a fake from a photoshop contest, and that the original picture is from a submarine's maneuvering room. Unless he's in on the joke. Which I somehow doubt. Apparently the picture was also mistakenly used in a keynote speech by the CEO of Sun Microsystems. (Credit to my brother Zac for filling me in on this from deep within the bowels of 1337 webgeek culture)


Friday, December 10, 2004

These "e-jector" jewelcases are funny looking but novel. I kinda wanna put out albums in those cases. Maybe after my label gets its first plaque.

Thursday, December 09, 2004
John Mayer Has A TV Show, and it may be my new favorite thing on TV. In the first episode, he dons a bear suit and goes out into the parking lot before a concert and hassles his own fans with anonymity, constantly calling himself "John Meyers" and ridiculing them for listening to him ("did you know that John Meyers pees sitting down?"). He also interviews Trick Daddy and pays a man a thousand dollars to shave his eyebrows. I find there's something infinitely more entertaining about a cuddly frat-rock king doing this sort of thing as opposed to, say, Steve-O. I don't think there's a single other figure in popular music right now who's as self-aware (and funny about it) or as likable for reasons completely seperate from and not accurately conveyed by their music or image. I mean, nobody has better jokes about "Your Body Is A Wonderland" than he does, and he's probably heard all of yours, too.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Holy shit! Is this for real? Tiger Mates With Lion, Gives Birth to "Liger" Cub in Siberian Zoo.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Tis the season for making wishlists, especially for me, since my birthday is less than 2 weeks after Xmas. I haven't really been able to think of much that I want besides all the TV series on DVD that I covet. My top 10:

1. Seinfeld
2. Home Movies
3. Kids In The Hall season 2 (I already have season 1)
4. Freaks and Geeks
5. Sports Night
6. Homicide: Life On The Street
7. The Wire
8. The Simpsons
10. Boy Meets World

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Monday, December 06, 2004
Out of curiosity, can anyone tell me who does the covers I'm hearing on rock radio lately of Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man"? The latter mainly so I know whose name to mutter under my breath as I shake my fist and curse whoever totally butchered the one Skynyrd song I really liked. And the former because in retrospect I'm surprised noone ever thought of a hard rock version of "In The Air Tonight" before, it translates pretty well.

Also, I'm usually pretty wary and dismissive towards indie-ish stuff that comes out of nowhere and suddenly gets rotation on MTV. Not so much because I have any hangups about cred or selling out but because it's either from a subset of indie I don't usually dig and/or stuff that to my ears doesn't have any serious crossover potential. It just seems like they've been putting too much indie/emo stuff into the buzz bin lately that isn't really set to blow, they're just grasping at straws. That said, I'm really enjoying "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" by My Chemical Romance, who I'd never really heard before. Fast and energetic and big-sounding, hook filled chorus, with over the top screamy performance by a singer with some crazy goth eyeliner, and an entertaining video that pulls off the teen-sex-movie-trailer concept pretty well. I don't know if I'd buy the record, but that's a hot single.

Sunday, December 05, 2004
Last night I went to Frazier's to see my friend Mat's new band, Communist Bakesale. It's funny, we've been friends for years and years now, and have always had a lot of common ground based on the fact that we're both drummers, but I've never really seen him play drums before. A saw a few shows by his last band, the Silver Sessions, but he didn't play drums in that, and we've done a lot of studio work together, but that was basically him producing my stuff. So it was nice to finally see him and his bad-ass little kit from the corner of the studio in action. He just joined his neighbor Eric's band a couple months ago, and they've changed their name and kind of started fresh with the new lineup, I think this was their 2nd show. They've got kind of a jam band thing going on (I think there was even a Dead cover), but it was good varied stuff, sometimes it reminded me of mid-80's era Meat Puppets.

Most of the people in the place were sitting, but there was this one middle-aged guy who kept coming right up in front of the stage and dancing in this really weird way. The only way I can really describe it is the way toddlers dance, where they don't really move their legs but just kind of bend their knees and bob their upper body up and down with their arms out. It was very strange. At one point this older guy got up and started dancing to, and they did this bizarre dance together where they were both gripping each other's right arm while kind of pulling away from and rotating around each other. A couple times I thought they were going to stumble and fall right on me. Situations like that are very awkward because it's so ridiculous, but you kind of have to hold back from laughing right then and there because it would be in poor taste.

They did 2 sets, but had to cut the 2nd short because Mat was I guess a little dehydrated and sleep-deprived and was getting worn out. It's been a rough week for him, he just had a death in the family. But he was a trooper and still played a good show, they probably played about 2 hours of music by that point anyway. I'd never seen a show at Frazier's before, but I'd been there for their karaoke night once or twice, which is a pretty lively affair. The singer for my band likes to go down there a lot and belt it out.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2004
My 15 Favorite Albums In The Nels Cline Discography (well, not all necessarily most favorite but what I think is his best work)

1. The Nels Cline Trio - Ground (Krown Pocket)
2. Mike Watt - Contemplating the Engine Room (Columbia)
3. Thurston Moore & Nels Cline - In-Store (W.D.T.C.H.C./Father Yod)
4. Destroy All Nels Cline - Destroy All Nels Cline (Atavistic)
5. Scarnella - Scarnella (Smells Like Records)
6. Nels Cline / Gregg Bendian - Interstellar Space Revisited: The Music of John Coltrane (Atavistic)
7. Nels Cline - The Inkling (Cryptogramophone)
8. Carla Bozulich - Red Headed Stranger (DiCristina Star Builders)
9. The Geraldine Fibbers - Butch (Virgin)
10. Nels Cline / Andrea Parkins / Tom Rainey - Out Trios Volume 3: Ash and Tabula (Atavistic)
11. Mike Watt - Ball-Hog or Tugboat? (Columbia)
12. The Nels Cline Singers - The Giant Pin (Cryptogramophone)
13. Gregg Bendian's Interzone - Myriad (Atavistic)
14. The Nels Cline Trio - Sad (Little Brother)
15. Nels Cline & Devin Sarno - Buried On Bunker Hill (Ground Fault)

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