American Music Club
Songs for Patriots
reunion overshadowed by the Pixies, but no less significant.
The kind of terrible, unflinching, gauzy beauty that could
only come from Mark Eitzel and co.
timeless and warranting comparisons to everything from Bacharach
to the Velvet Underground to classic Disney tunes to Appalachia,
this is an album so beautiful it takes your breath away by
The Arcade Fire
lot of artists are making nods to New Order and the Cure lately,
but this incredible Montreal outfit only use that as a starting
point, transmuting their influences into a turbulent, grandiose,
precocious and utterly original album.
Ga Suki * Raifu
released two albums this year, but this dynamic burst of guitar-fueled
power pop (intended as a love letter to his Japanese fans
and recorded in his home studio) is the better of the two—and
his best since 1991’s Girlfriend.
from lo-fi New Zealanders the Clean, released an album full
of oddball prettiness, chiming guitars and melodic euphoria.
keeps plugging away—and here he returns to the quality of
his ’90s work. He’s a little more lyrically obtuse, but the
songs are sharp and pretty and dotted with affecting little
touches, such as minimal piano figures (a la John Cale) and
some stropping drums by Butthole Surfer King Coffey.
single “Vaccination Scar” is a blistering statement—not a
return to form, but rather a pronouncement that they’ve never
gone away. This Canadian juggernaut is shamefully underestimated
in our country.
Iron & Wine
Endless Numbered Days
Nick Drake on a Southern Gothic trip, Florida film professor
Sam Beam has turned out another cryptically beautiful, stripped-down
never bought the White Stripes (that horrendous drumming),
but Jack White’s alliance with Loretta Lynn puts all of those
MTV-melodrama albums by Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin to shame.
Lynn is one of the great songwriters of the past 30 years.
Told Me” was the most fun single of the year, winning over
dance clubbers and alt-rockers alike with its cheeky, youthful
update on New Order.
title track blasts like the Who’s “I Can See for Miles” and
Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and the album hangs
together tough and tuneful. Who woulda thunk these SoCal surfer
punks would craft a disk so polished and political? Green
Day lent its talents to John Kerry. Too bad he didn’t transmit
Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett on vocals and guitar and mandolin
craft extraterrestrial flapper music. “Walk or Ride,” “Pale
Yellow” and “Ooh La La” bespeak a surreal, beguiling sensibility
that gives a deliciously creepy feeling. A Mitchell Froom
the closure alone, the arrangements and Van Dyke Parks’ inspired,
weird lyrics. Decades after Wilson lost his mind, he’s glued
himself together enough to craft the best pop album of 1966.
Never has time caught up with itself so rewardingly.
Mathers is a man of many voices and strong focus here, and
he’s writing better than ever. “Yellow Brick Road” is the
last word on high school, “Rain Man” is deliciously arch,
“Mosh” is a fantastic anti-Bush song (and video—too bad it
was so late in the campaign) and Dr. Dre’s beats are his best
since The Chronic.
Mob leader-trumpeter Bernstein and X alumnus DJ Bonebrake
power an eccentric quintet melding Hebraic melodies and the
sharkskin cool of ’50s West Coast bebop. This is one of the
best from John Zorn’s Jewish mystical jazz label.
cheeky Scotsmen are everything Oasis ever wanted to be and
more. They bang the tunes out one after another, the playing’s
tight, the energy never flags. “Jacqueline,” “Take Me Out”
and “Cheating on You” snap more than others, but professionalism
and joy carry all the tunes.
Patience spans the great dance cut “Amazing” and the rueful,
autobiographical “My Mother Had a Brother.” His first album
in eight years proves Michael is still a great singer.
over, Norah Jones. Peyroux’s first disk in eight years only
deepens her mystery: How does such a modest woman express
such complex emotions? The writers help: Leonard Cohen, Bob
Dylan, Hank Williams, W.C. Handy. So does the exquisite backup,
particularly keyboardist Larry Goldings, and production by
Larry Klein. Don’t let this get away.
it’s a rare Waits album. Because of songs like the infectious
“Metropolitan Glide” and the waydown “Sins of the Father.”
Because he’s an American original who refuses to sugarcoat
Long 2nd Street: Free Country II With David Binney
blends traditional tunes, originals and Jimmy Webb for an
unclassifiable, new hybrid. Harrison, an expressive vocalist
and extraordinary guitarist, fronts a strong jazz-based group
who swing and twang like nothing else.
the first time in her career, Lynn wrote all the songs on
an album, and these are great ones, covering a lifetime of
emotion and experiences, from the joy of her rural childhood
to her sadness from losing her husband. Producer Jack White
plays it all perfectly, knowing when to call in the hired
garage-rock guns for the rave-ups and when to keep the accompaniment
as simple as a mournful pedal steel.
free pass to play with Queens of the Stone Age gets attention,
but Mark Lanegan earns scant recognition in the United States
for his post-Screaming Trees solo work, although the intense
songwriter is often lauded by the British rock cognoscenti.
Lanegan is joined by PJ Harvey and his QOTSA bandmates on
some of these shiver-inducing, late-night tracks. Bubblegum
this is not. Nicorette, maybe.
Bobby Bare Jr.’s Young Criminals’ Starvation League
the End of Your Leash
Bobby Bare Jr. is serious on this one, singing, for instance,
about an out-of control friend with a harrowing cocaine addiction,
it’s heartbreaking. When he’s joking on a song like “Visit
Me in Music City,” which pokes fun at his hometown of Nashville,
it’s pretty heartwarming.
Eagles of Death Metal
Love Death Metal
J. Devil, who sports a red handlebar ’stash and a black leather
captain’s cap, is about as campy as a straight boy gets. Josh
Homme from Queens of the Stone Age plays drums for these self-proclaimed
“boogie pirates.” Their debut, a blatant pastiche of classic
rock riffs gussied up with some gaudy rockabilly flourishes,
may not be for everyone. But I dug it.
Ted Leo + Pharmacists
an earnest guy, Ted Leo, in a good way. Shake the Sheets
is full of fervent right- is-wrong politics about leaders
making false excuses for war. These excitable tracks are so
catchy and well-written, though, they uplift and energize
rather than depress, which is exactly what we need right about
band weren’t kidding when they named their album. When I first
heard this on my home stereo, the speakers crackled with the
raw production and overamped guitar and I could barely listen.
Later, when I played this on the already blown speakers in
my car, the lo-fi no longer bothered me and I was able to
pay attention to the great, great songs that Greg Cartwright
(Memphis songwriter formerly of the Oblivions) writes. The
CD stayed on repeat for days.
big hit, “Take Me Out,” is a catchy little thing. For a while
I dismissed the rest of the album; the Glasgow band just seem
too perfect with their angular new-wave haircuts and skinny
suits. Then I realized the rest of the album is just as good
as the hit, and I got hooked, big time.
by famed garage producer Jim Diamond, this album by Chicago’s
the Ponys has a fuzzy feel at times, courtesy of some swirling
Farfisa organ and aural recorded-in-a-missile-silo echoes.
That’s not to be confused with warm and fuzzy though. This
is garage punk at its best: dirty, dysfunctional and vaguely
Newman from heralded indie band the New Pornographers has
gone solo for a spell. Without marquee singer Neko Case at
his side (though she does add vocals here) you might write
this off as a side note. It’s actually surprisingly good,
a near-perfect power-pop album, full of tremendous hooks and
songs with emotional range, although wistfulness seems the
everybody, let’s sing along with the Briefs: “I hate terror
alerts, stupid jerks, land of the free, idiocy. I hate bills
that are new, drinks that are blue, I hate myself, and I hate
you. Destroy the U.S.A., hey hey. George started anyway, OK!”
one up for the goat lord.
Subliminal Verses, Vol. 3
curiously introspective, complex disc from one of the big
Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed
a stateside record deal. Watch your backs.
heavy metal, one CD at a time.
Great Day for Up/Solace
roiling, bruising doom. Two great tastes in one.
Coheed & Cambria
Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth
threw CoCa’s first CD in the garbage and then they blast out
this epic. A master stroke.
Got Your Orders, Vol. 2
toast to Jason Zeimniak’s brazen, incorrigible strangeness.
The High Socks
the High Socks
five ’o clock shadow of local rock.
fossils somehow still push the might.
what you will. The man can play.
News for People Who Love Bad News
playing the same tune for the last seven years, they finally
found a way to balance their eccentricities with pop sensibilities,
producing the album of their career—and the album of the year.
Is a Butterfly
moving, otherworldly song cycle; as difficult to shake as
this year’s flu. Also, the best album title of 2004.
on his worst day, old man MacManus is one of the greatest
living composers of pop music. The Delivery Man is
his best in quite some time. Do the math.
Ted Leo + Pharmacists
album to move both butts and brains. Whether discussing the
politics of dancing or the dancing of politics, Leo and company
have finally served up (on record) a whole that’s greater
than the sum of its parts.
Vincent Gallo appeared on the Howard Stern show a few months
back, a caller thanked him for “screwing over” PJ Harvey,
exclaiming, “Her new album is awesome because of you!” Couldn’t
have said it better myself.
Ghost is Born
what could have been a post-Jay-Bennett bust, Jeff Tweedy
reveals a brave new Wilco. Excusing the self-indulgent spots—10-plus
minutes of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”?—this is a mighty fine album.
the soulful (“Through the Wire”) to the spiritual (“Jesus
Walks”), the playful (“The New Workout Plan”) to the sensual
(“Slow Jamz”), this album defined hiphop in 2004. A bit heavy
on the skits, but anyone with a “skip” button can get around
a Basement on the Hill
between medicated bliss and the D.T. shakes. Elliott Smith
always had the goods, and his absence will be felt for some
Twin meets Kurt Weill on the set of Sesame Street. Way cool.
stunningly ambitious outing from a band who easily could have
phoned in a platinum seller. As admirable for its failures
(the nine-minute mess “Homecoming”) as its successes (almost
W For Watkins
Are the Quarry
is the Wind That Blows It Out
fun romp through rockabilly and roots-rock terrain—fueled
by tight, top-notch musicianship and a guest turn by Bill
gets stark and weird on this one. Not an easy listen, but
a strong, barebones album that finally warrants all of those
Will Oldham comparisons.
Not Think About It
little dated in terms of where the Sixfifteens are creatively
at the moment, but a couple of the tracks here represent the
group’s current apocalyptic, dazzling post-rock direction.
Bob Carlton is a dynamo in concert.
Kamikaze Hearts get stronger and stronger with each passing
year, and they still roll out an utterly original, uncanny
flavor of Americana. The poetically charged, dynamic “Lubbock,
TX” just might be the finest song to emerge from our area
Cracker Boogie” b/w “Tomahawk Stomp”
In true retro fashion, and in deference to those fervent rockabilly
fans, this is a vinyl 45. On this debut, Tichy proves himself
a strong instrumental composer and a mind-blowing guitarist.
finally figured out what grabs me about Bassett: He’s in the
spirit of power-pop tunesmiths from another age (Tommy Tutone,
the Records). A brand of unadorned, straight-up love rock
uncluttered by pretension and perfectly out-of-step with his
great Americana band from our region. “Devil’s Throne” got
a lot of spins in my house this spring—returning to it now
it still sounds great.
Mitch Elrod/ CountrySoulHouse
one gets my vote via a couple of top-notch songwriting efforts,
the gorgeous “Lies About Your Shadow” and “Mother of Pearl.”
blues-rocker Cummings is still enjoying the collaborative
company of Double Trouble’s Tommy Shannon, and makes a strong,
soulful statement with this effort.
Hector on Stilts
on Stilts EP
cousins’ duo make their artistic home in Pittsfield, and produce
sophisticated, powerfully melodic modern tock. The swelling,
harmony driven Winterland was another favorite for
me this year.
Are Already in Hell
few months back, Stephen Gaylord and I had a virtual discussion
over whether this album was his Darkness on the Edge of
Town (his point) or Fables of the Reconstruction
(mine). Both arguments are valid. Quite good.
beats good, old-fashioned rock & roll, played by a group
of top-notch musicians. Here’s proof.
step back toward the starker, less-refined sound of the first
knotworking album, and a big leap forward for some of Gorch’s
finest—and most harrowing—songwriting moments.
sound quality is just this side of terrible, but no worse
than some of the early SST releases, and that fits fine with
the Shirt’s angry-indie spirit. Drew Benton is one of our
area’s most inventive guitarists; plus, he rhymes dulcet
with bullshit. Right on.
extended meditation on mass hysteria and childbirth. Be sure
to also download the companion piece, Spy Love Box,
from Thomas’ Web site.
does the supersized pop-rock thing right, and with studio
help from ex-Wait guy Ryan Barnum, plus a fine mix by Dave
Cook, his second record just sings. (Full disclosure: I play
in Bassett’s band from time to time, but I had nothing to
do with this record, and that’s probably for the best.)
you somehow managed to avoid catching this guy live this year,
you at least caught his CD pumping out of the jukebox at a
local tavern. You nodded your head a bit, then asked a friend
if they knew who it was. In case they were unaware, it was
the soul-funk machine known as Sean Rowe. So now you know.
between the barroom bash and pop of Uncle Tupelo and the Band’s
controlled chaos. Thankfully, they left us with this album
just going on extended maternity leave. Catch them live when
they return . . . sometime soon, hopefully.
their third release, the newly stripped-down trio take the
sounds of On the Beach Neil Young and Heroes
Bowie, and mix in the challenging atmospherics of My Bloody
Valentine and Brian Eno’s Ambient series. You gotta
love it. Well, maybe you don’t, but I do.
is hip to be square after all! Shtick-rock usually
comes with an expiration date, but these guys have bought
themselves some time by making music that will still be great
fun to listen to long after their days are done.