1. The New Pornographers – Electric Version (Matador)
In my book, 2000’s “Mass Romantic” was a force to be reckoned with. Hooky song followed by an even hookier song and Heavens to Betsey, followed by an even catchier song! I would have been happy with a follow-up half as good. “Electric Version” delivers with a wallop on the par of an 18-wheeler rolling over a dozen eggs. My only hope for album 3 is for part-time pornographer Dan Bejar to get more than 3 songs on the record.
2. The Wrens – The Meadowlands (Absolutely Kosher)
Magnet Magazine published back in Summer of 2003 their picks of most significant albums of the past 10 years. Amongst their usual faire (Radiohead’s “The Bends”, Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, Yo La Tengo’s “ I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One”) was this little anomaly. Could they have been referring to the band that put out records on Grass Records with not even a whimper? And even more bewildering was the fact that this record at the time of printing HADN’T EVEN BEEN COMMERCIALLY RELEASED YET!!! My first thought was of course “yeah… right!” Then came the 9.5 rating (out of 10) from the indie-rock snob web-zine Pitchfork Media. Then came the accolades and recurring airplay on KEXP. I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Remember how fondly you look back at records like Pavement’s “Slanted and Enchanted” or Built To Spill’s “Keep it Like a Secret” and continue to sing their praises while hoping that one day something will join those ranks? This is that record. Not billed as a concept record, but an argument can be made for it. Themes of disappointment, disenchantment, frustration and false hopes all manifest themselves here and they don’t just sit back, shrug their shoulders and sigh. This is the ultimate cathartic release, done which such grace that it really send those “emo” bands back to their mommy and daddy’s paid for pads.
3. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Pig Lib (Matador)
Why on earth is Sting still releasing records? Does the world really need to hear another Billy Joel record? Even the hearing-impaired are complaining over his last release. The same argument I’d imagine can be made for Steve Malkmus. The difference of course is that Malkmus is releasing better albums than Pavement ever did. Want proof? Cue up “(Do Not Feed The) Oyster” or “Vanessa From Queens.” Sure they’re stupid song titles, but that isn’t anything new, as any Pavement historian would tell you. Guitar playing is at an all-time high for him on da “Lib”. Tom Verlaine has been sighted frantically pulling out his Mel Bay books after hearing “1% of One”, all 9 minutes and 11 glorious seconds of it. And speaking of Sting, Andy Summers has contacted a legal team to look into “Dark Wave” and “Dynamic Calories” riffs. The later song was only available on the initial pressing of the disc in digipak form. For those who snoozed on this, I’m afraid you lose and lose big time.
4. The Long Winters – When I Pretend to Fall (Barsuk)
Lets do the ol’ laundry list first for this review. Ex-Posies’ Jon Auer & Ken Stringfellow; Peter Buck of R.E.M., Scott McCaughey of Minus 5 & R.E.M. fame; Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie; Blake Wescott of Damien Jurado’s band and a slew others. Main man John Roderick obviously must know where the bodies are buried out in Seattle cause he sure has some connections. But to be honest, I think he could have made as good an album without enlisting this star-studded cast. Hankering for a good melody and lyrics to be rolling around in your head for the next 3 weeks or so? Try on “Shapes” with a line like “So you melt chocolate hearts. Well I can forestall the sun. When two of the raiders come. I’m counting on you to throw more than shapes.” Then right afterwards you’ll be coated in “Cinnamon” where you’ll be hollering down the block “They said, ‘do you remember when you saw her last’ I said, ‘her skin is cinnamon, her skin is cinnamon.’” The best 47 minutes and 54 seconds you’ll spend with an album this winter, as long as you take Dr. Beck’s medicine. Remember when they were called albums?
5. Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism (Barsuk)
To anyone who knows me, this can’t come as all that much of a surprise. This is probably the 3rd time I’ve had D.C.F.C. on my list. At this point, anyone who regularly submits to PoOp cannot claim they haven’t heard of this group. You can’t ignore the acclaim this band has steadily accumulated leading up to this top-shelf release. I know I’m going to be disappointed seeing all of the lists The Postal Service will inevitably show up on while the real deal is neglected. Don’t get me wrong, The Postal Service’s “Give Up” is a very nice and cute record. But let’s get real, shall we? It’s like the difference between a cup of watery, diner coffee and a pot of Turkish coffee. And again it’s worthy to note: “Transatlanticism” is another release on the Barsuk label. Don’t look to the majors for a satisfying brew.
6. John Cunningham – Happy-Go-Unlucky (Parasol)
Ah… the glory of those early McCartney solo albums. Remember them? “Maybe I’m Amazed”, “Every Night”, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, and “Heart of the Country”. What the hell happened to that Paul McCartney?!?! Good news, I found him…
7. Nada Surf – Let Go (Barsuk)
NO! Not that band! Are you friggin’ kidding me? And I was just starting to get “Popular” out of my brain from 8 years ago. Settle down Beavis… deep breaths. Trust me, my skepticism was running rampant on hearing of the resurfacing of this one-hit-wonder that was mutilated by MTV and AltRock radio overkill. But wait a minute, this is on Barsuk??? Hold the phone! Now you’ve got my attention. “Blizzard of ‘77” immediately strikes a chord and takes me back to that place in time of my childhood. Who could resist a morsel such as this — “I’ve got Blonde on Blonde on my portable stereo.”
8. Beulah – Yoko (Velocette)
Record #4 from this very fine San Franciscan outfit. 2001’s “The Coast is Never Clear” always struck me as this very uplifting, celebration of life sorta record. Well apparently something went awry as “Yoko” is its antithesis. But herein lies the genius of Miles Kurosky. He has somehow captured the melodic sanguinity on “Coast” and seamlessly blended it with some very anguished lyrics. And by doing so, one can walk away from this album with either a skip in their step or, conversely, a bit misty-eyed. Methinks the album title does not refer in a loving way to Lennon’s lady, but about someone else who must have caused some significant friction within Kurosky and co. The track “Me and Jesus Don’t Talk Anymore” landed the band on NPR a few months after its release. Hopefully a few balding, latte-drinking guys picked up on them. Not to further instill hatred toward this PoOp-ster, the online store Insound.com offered a lovely little “value-added” pre-order promotion back in the fall of ’03: a four-track CD containing “Yoko” demos and UK singles. Notably a wholly different mix of “Fooled with the Wrong Guy” that would not be all that out of place on The Flaming Lips’ “Soft Bulletin.” I’m open to bribes…
9. Ween – Quebec (Sanctuary)
First and foremost, I must vent. My only complaint with “Quebec”: the opening track “It’s Gonna Be A Long Night” shouldn’t be there. Though my guess is that they’re doing it for sheer shock-value to break the stupor of their Phish-loving fan contingency. That or it’s a sign of reverence to their new label’s metal history. From track 2 forward, get ready to laugh your buttocks off. You don’t even need to put the disc in your player to accomplish this. Shall I illustrate? “Zoloft”, “Happy Colored Marbles”, “Hey There Fancypants”, “Chocolate Town”, Christ, even look at the name of the album title! Ok, try to regain your composure. But as with “White Pepper” and “The Mollusk”, there are some great moments of true songwriting and musicianship. “Transdermal Celebration” will appeal to the Built To Spill loving crowd. “Among His Tribe” or “Chocolate Town” could easily slip in on Beck’s “Sea Change”. Set aside your pre-conceived notions, sit back and inhale…
10. Andrew W.K. – The Wolf (Island)
Sure, you may think to yourself, “Boy… you got your work cut out for yourself in trying to justify this one!” Just do me a favor and try not to take yourself so seriously. There’s an element of comedy on this! Parallels can be made with the Tenacious D record. It’s just so preposterously over-the-top. Others have tried to sell me on the virtues of The Darkness’ “Permission to Land.” It doesn’t hold a bic lighter to this. Sure, he comes close to being a Tony Roberts motivational speaker. You’re either with me or against me on this one.
The Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music (American/Lost Highway),
The Thrills – So Much For The City (Virgin),
The Tyde – Twice (Rough Trade),
Super Furry Animals – Phantom Power (XL),
The Pernice Brothers – Yours, Mine & Ours (Ashmont Records),
Cat Power – You Are Free (Matador),
Oranger – Shutdown The Sun (Jackpine Social Club),
The Notwist – Neon Golden (Domino),
Evan Dando – Baby I’m Bored (Bar/None),
The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop),
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Hearts of Oak (Lookout Records),
Josh Rouse – 1972 (Rykodisc),
Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (LaFace/Arista),
Rufus Wainwright – Want One (DreamWorks),
Year of the Rabbit (Elektra),
Papas Fritas – Pop Has Freed Us (Minty Fresh),
Sun Kil Moon – Ghost of the Great Highway (JetSet),
Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Rough Trade)
- Give me a frickin’ break ma’an! (i.e. get back in the oven, you ain’t through cooking yet!)
Sloan – Action Pact,
Jay Farrar – Terroir Blues,
My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves,
Kings of Leon – Youth & Young Manhood,
The White Stripes – Elephant,
Longwave – The Strangest Things,
The New Folk Implosion
Gratuitous plug: Get with the program and stream KEXP when you’re at work. I was first exposed to a number of these fine releases by listening to KEXP-FM’s “John in the Morning,” 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EST www.kexp.org