This list is necessarily compromised because I'm writing it the day after the 4th of July, which means that towering psychedelic beast stuff like Sleater-Kinney and Caribou lost out to T.O.K. and Fannypack, possibly because T.O.K. and Fannypack make better barbecue material - for the barbecue in my head, not the one I went to, where they played the same goddam Gram Parsons record over and over again.
1. The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday. Well yeah. Months later, the pick-slides and cheesed-out piano riffs and Blooz Hammer guitars sound even better, and the story still hasn't gotten old. And that part on the last song about "They wrote her name in magic marks / On stop signs and subway cars" still gives me chills. This album has made me look around at Baltimore parties, trying to figure out where certain people would fit into these songs - almost all of them would fit into them somehow. I've written and thought so much about this band and this album that it feels like spinning my wheels to even talk about it anymore, so I'll just say that I'll be shocked if I hear a better album all year.
2. Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree. This album isn't perfect. If you're half-listening, it's a nice-enough singer-songwriter record with a few nice melodies an occassional jarring strings and a dude with a rough and likeable voice. If you're listening fully, it's an absolutely harrowing experience, a blurred stagger through the worst parts of anyone's life. I'm not going to get into the specific personal resonance that the album has for me - figure that one out yourself - but I can say that the first five songs had me so numb and damaged the first few times I heard the album that I couldn't even the album's most wrenching song, "Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod?", for a while. When I did finally notice it, I couldn't breathe. I just kept hitting repeat over and over again on the CD player, sitting there in my apartment by myself and trying to keep myself together. "Song for Dennis Brown" took even longer; it finally got through to me about two thirds of the way through the long-ass drive from Asssateague Island. Maybe I'll never get around to hearing "Pale Green Things". I go back and forth on whether I'm happy Darnielle included a conciliatory song at the end of the album. Right now I'm glad he did.
3. Supersystem: s/t. It's a damn shame that the Second-Best Dancepunk Album Ever (First Best = Echoes) dropped like a year after the whole dancepunk thing up and died, so nobody even noticed. I never gave half a damn about El Guapo, the band that would become Supersystem, but oh my God they knocked it out of the park when they started trend-humping. If every indie-rock album had readily discernable house and dancehall jacks and savage, monster hooks and DC post-hardcore jagged ferocious intensity and nonsense nature-freak lyrics and fake Middle-Eastern drip-painted winding guitar lines and a tangible sense of jerky, ridiculous, insane abandon from end to end, the world would be a better place. Also: it ends with the best psyche-folk song of, like, all time.
4. T.O.K.: Unknown Language. First off: no songs about lighting gay dudes on fire! Awesome! Better than the first album just on that alone! Second: Pitbull says, "Call me Richard Gere / Is it cuz I run through Pretty Women? Yeeeuh." (If I ever interview Pitbull, which I certainly hope to do, remind me to ask him if he knows the Richard Gere Gerbil Story.) Third: "Wah Gwan" sound like a euphoric homeland-pride anthem at first but turns out to be about how utterly fucked up Jamaica is. Fourth: the singer guy with the high voice sounds all longingly desperate and tragically sad even when he's just urging you to dance. Fifth: every song has about 247 hooks. Jesus, I love this album, even with the lameass fluffy lite R&B jams and the boring middle third and everything.
5. Fannypack: See You Next Tuesday. The first Fannypack album was a sloppy, glorious mess, so it's almost shocking how focused this one is: martial clap-stomp beats, cold unemotional raps, hard confidence where the last album was all self-conscious goofyness. They don't sound like L'Trimm anymore (much). There's still joy and life and frothy exuberance here. But I love how they've gotten stronger and fiercer, like everyone involved realized that they were really on to something here, like a hobby became a dayjob. The male stripper song flips the Ying Yang Twins paradigm beautifully, and the line about hating trucker hats makes the back-cover photo of pencil-moustached production dork Fancy that much funnier. There is absolutely no reason for Fannypack to remain not-huge besides Tommy Boy marketing idiocy.
6-10: Sleater-Kinney: The Woods; Caribou: The Milk of Human Kindness; Maximo Park: A Certain Trigger; White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan; Lungfish: Feral Hymns.
1. Sufjan Stevens: Chicago. Is this even a single? I'm going to say it is because it's too good to not be a single. Those weeping Motown strings and watery vibraphone plunks and sad twee emo choir vocals will never ever get old. This thing just builds and builds and swirls and piles on heartfelt hook after heartfelt hook until you're dazed and sunstruck. The day my promo of Come On Feel the Illinoise arrived, I drove to Radio Shack to buy a new remote and kept hitting repeat on the car CD player and almost got into about five accidents; Bridget was pissed. The album isn't even all that great, but DC Comics better get its mind right and stop squandering its post-Batman Begins goodwill so people can hear this thing.
2. Damien Marley: Welcome to Jamrock. I love that his name is Damien. Isn't that perfect? Like he's really this devil-born demon and Bob fucked around and died trying to stop him like Gregory Peck? I said on Pitchfork that I liked this at least as much as anything Bob ever recorded, and now I'm starting to think that this was faint praise; the only Bob songs that come close are "Redemption Song" and "Burning and Looting". This is just such a furious, righteous slice of oppressed rage and incoherent, wounded pride. I mean, isn't Damien rich? How does he manage to sound like death squads just killed his entire family? And why am I such an asshole to be making snarky jokes about such an amazing piece of work?
3. R. Kelly: Trapped in the Closet. I was going to list all five parts individually, with like Part 1 here and part 4 at #10, but that eventually just seemed ridiculous. This was such an amazingly fearless bit of cultural event-making that it's hard to just judge it as music, but the music is great. The way Kells wraps his voice around the police siren in part 4, the way the strings saw away all paranoid at the end of every installment - I wish A Grand Don't Come for Free had actually sounded anywhere near this great. And the story, ridiculous as it is, had me holding my breath through the first couple of installments. Even as it got stupid, it never stopped being completely entertaining, and now at least I know why he included that bit about the cop.
4. Missy Elliott ft. Ciara and Fatman Scoop: Lose Control. That "music makes you lose control" part - that's from Les Rhythmes Digitales, right? Has Missy been reading Generation Ecstacy? Does this song even have a chorus? Why is Ciara rapping? Does this have any right to be as great as it is? Of course it does.
5. Kanye West ft. Jay-Z: Diamonds (Remix). It's nice to hear Kanye conflicted about the ice in his stupid fucking Jesus piece, but this song would be nowhere near the top ten without Jay. That part where the music drops out and they Jay comes in is possibly the single most thrilling moment on any song this year; dude knows how to make an entrance. And his verse is like a particularly revelatory XXL cover story, except a minute and a half long and rhyming. Too bad he doesn't explain the Lebron thing!
6-10: B.G. ft. Homebwoi: Where Da At; Mannie Fresh: Conversation; Common ft. Last Poets: The Corner; T.I.: U Don't Know Me, Juelz Santana: Mic Check 1, 2.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005