J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

j's indie/rock mayhem - 17th december 2003

[the annual Top 25 Albums of 2003 list show: instead of laying this out the traditional way I would a play list, I'm going to instead include my Top 25 list, along with my personal comments on each one. i'm listing them in ascending order so that those who did not hear the show can read them in the order they were played. at the end of each description I will list the song that I played on the show. thanks to everyone who nominated albums, it was great to hear from you. if any of these albums caught your ear, check out how purchasing them at Amazon can help raise money for the Triad Health Project this December. I'll be gone for a couple of weeks, but plan to be back on the air friday january 2nd from 10pm - 12am. see you then!]

25. Idlewild -The Remote Part : The first of two bands to make the list despite the fact that the last time I saw them live I was hit by a car immediately afterward. Now, that's impressive. Idlewild is one of Scotland's finest exports (alongside Del Amitri and Travis, of course) and their new record is no exception. Big, catchy rock hooks and soft, plaintive ballads. Nothing really leaps out, rather, the record is just consistantly very good. In this day and age, a rarity indeed. - Played : "The Modern Way of Letting Go"

24. Sea and Cake - One Bedroom : One of post-rock's most important bands comes roaring back with a creeping, slowly addictive killer. There's a fascinating cover of Bowie's "Sound and Vision" that caps off the record, but the songs that come before it are the reason for the laurels. Skittering electronic elements, creative and fluid guitar work and the high, pleading vocals all make this a sleeper record to bring home to mother. Played : "Hotel Tell"

23. Verbena - La Musica Negra : The second of the 'car accident' bands. Verbena is probably responsible for costing me about 20 dBs in my hearing range from just two shows in the last year. They are a deafening live performance. It took them quite awhile to cobble together this, their first new album in about 4 years. But it was well worth the wait. The grunge elements remain, but a bluesier, thicker sound prevails and the songwriting is up notches. I, personally, think Verbena should only get better for the next couple of albums at least. This is the first stop. Played : "All the Saints"

22. Pretty Girls Make Graves - The New Romance : Different, but the same. They expand on the sound that made Good Health such a rollicking good time and take it into overdrive. It didn't rank as highly on this year's list simply because it lacked the driving, pounding riffage that made me play "Speakers Push the Air" over and over last year. Still, they're a hell of a band. Played : "The Grandmother Wolf"

21. The Cash Brothers - A Brand New Night : Take good, classic roots-rock songwriting and combine it with some of the most consistantly gorgeous harmonies this or that side of the Great White North and you've got the Cash Brothers. Akin to Idlewild's entry in that there are no immediately stand out tracks. There is no all-time anthem like "Nebraska," but instead they tweak their sound just enough to make their time-after-time greatness shine even brighter. Played : "It's Too Late to Say Goodbye"

20. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Pig Lib : Less catchy and immediate than Malkmus' previous solo outing, but far more rewarding. Pig Lib seems like more of the proper expansion on Pavement's Terror Twilight that seemed lost on his self-titled release. The guitar heroics are back in droves and what we might have taken for granted now seems that much sweeter. The Jicks are one tight band and this is one tight record. Played : "(Do Not Feed the) Oyster"

19. Ryan Adams - Love is Hell pts. 1 & 2 : Four words: Best Record Since Heartbreaker. Yes, I'm a bit of a purist and very biased towards his folkier side, but Ryan Adams is a capable songwriter, which explains why precisely half of Gold was worth the investment, while the other half floundered. It also explains why my initial listen to his other 2003 release, Rock 'n' Roll, consisted mostly of me rolling my eyes. Love is Hell brings out the style of songwriting where Adams truly shines. Not to mention a (and I'm not kidding) brilliant reading of the Oasis' gem "Wonderwall." Played : "Avalanche"

18. Jay Farrar - Terroir Blues : Time to own up; I'm a shameless fan of Jay Farrar. I worship all three Son Volt records. For years I actually carried around some sort of prejudice against Jeff Tweedy. (Well, until the first time I heard Being There. Then that nonsense ended.) That said, this record is one of the best things Farrar has put together in quite awhile. Yes, Sebastopol was quite good. But this is the record that seals the deal. It makes sense, since I believe the Son Volt record that it holds the closest kin to is Straightaways, which is also, secretly, my favorite Son Volt album. But don't tell anyone, cos people laugh if you say anything but Trace. Whatever. Stripped down arrangements that bear witness to one of the greatest American songwriters of the past 20 years. Played : "Hard is the Fall"

17. Blur - Think Tank : Blur minus Graham Coxon seemed like a shakey proposition. What am I to make of one of the sole survivors of brit-pop's legacy ditching one of their founding, and most important, members? Well, apparently I shouldn't worry so much, cos Think Tank could very well be Blur's best album since Parklife. Seriously. It will seem like a radical departure on first listen, but truly it is the direction they've been heading since they 'woo-hoo'd their way into their self-titled album back in the late 90s. People don't all agree with me (this album has been trashed as much as it has been praised) but I think time will prove me right. Played : n/a

16. Grandpaboy - Dead Man Shake / Paul Westerberg - Come Feel Me Tremble : Last year, Paul Westerberg was my #1 album of the year. The Stereo/Mono album was a triumphant ascension to form. So unlike, yet so like, anything/everything he had written in his day, it was a cinch for my top spot. That stated, these two aren't as good. Why? Dead Man Shake (under his Grandpaboy pseudonym) is bluesier, more interesting, more diverse; despite a handful of really good covers (John Prine's "Souvenirs," Hank Sr.'s "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") and originals, there just isn't anything to match the power of Mono tracks like "Silent Film Star." The Paul Westerberg album is a touch more forigvable since it's the soundtrack to the documentary DVD of the same name. So, why on the list? Cos anything Paul Westerberg does is 9.999 times out of 10 above and beyond 95% of music that you hear in a given year. My real money is on his forthcoming solo record, Folker, which is due out in the spring. Played : "MPLS" / "What a Day (For a Night)"

15. Fountains of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers : What is with this band and their ridiculous (or is it genius?) propensity for picking the most base, ill-representative singles off of each of their last two albums? "Stacey's Mom" is easily one of this album's throwaway tracks. Yet despite all this, it's catchy. And further cements Fountains of Wayne's growing legacy as one of America's premiere pop purveyors. For every jock yelling "Milf!" at his car radio, there's someone cruising along to the snowy beauty of "Valley Winter Song," the sheer rock surgence of "No Better Place," and the jangle/folk simplicity of "Hey, Julie." Fountains of Wayne have had a hard time topping the pop-perfection of their self-titled debut album. Wisely, instead of trying to top it, they've just set out to evolve it. Good choice, guys. Played : "Valley Winter Song"

14. The Handsome Family - Singing Bones : I've heard enough Kafka meets the Carter Family references to fill a lifetime. (I'm even guilty of making that comparison to people who really have no clue what I'm trying to describe.) The fact of the matter is this: no one sounds like the Handsome Family. They are one of the handful of American bands that can truly lay claim to sounding like no one, and no one sounding like them. Singing Bones is another fine collection of beautiful worded odes to the world as it is: a weird, horrid and truly magnificent place. The instrumentation takes some chances and spaces out more than it has in the past and it only serves to further cement the Family's legacy. Played : "The Bottomless Hole"

13. Deathray Davies - Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory : Rock. The Deathray Davies own guitars. And they use them. This is a big hook cd like nobody's business. Creative, cagey, inspiring and rocking. I can say little other than go hear it and be glad you did. Played : "The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower"

12. Supergrass - Life on Other Planets (2003 US release) : One of brit-pop's oddest emergent artists who just never quite cut it here in the states (save the exceptions of "Caught by the Fuzz" and "Pumpin' on Your Stereo"). They have put album after album after album of great music out. This, their fourth, is no exception. In fact, it comes damn close to topping their so-far masterpiece, In It For the Money. Played : "Brecon Beacons"

11. The Jayhawks - Rainy Day Music : Another album on my list that has caused some consternation among critics. Some have panned it, some have praised it. It's obvious what my feelings are about it. There are some great, great, great songs on this album. This is a single's album if there ever was one. Where as my favorite Jayhawks record, Sound of Lies, works as a piece, this is the album that in an alternate, lovely world would spin off six or seven top ten singles. "Angelyne," "Save It for a Rainy Day," "Tailspin," "Stumblin' Through the Dark," "Eyes of Sarahjane." On and on and on. Played : "Angelyne"

10. New Pornographers - Electric Version : Not a sleeper album. But rather, the one that steamrolled over you from note one, track one. A little less flourish than their first album, nothing is missing here. This is a masterpiece of pop/rock songwriting. There is little room to argue how hot the New Pornographers are right now. If you don't find yourself getting jazzed up listening to this album, you are Mr. Freeze. Played : "Out From Blown Speakers"

9. Nicolai Dunger - Tranquil Isolation : Pop quiz, hot shot. You're an avant-garde Swedish songsmith who sounds uncannily like Van Morrison. Your previous album, Soul Rush, cops Astral Weeks to a tee. So what do you do next? If you answered team up with one of them Oldham brothers, head out to some farmhouse and record an acheingly beautiful album of music even more mired in the blues and country than any of your previous work, then you are correct. Dunger is the great, Scandinavian hope for alt-country now a days. I predict that he just gets better. Played : "Hundred Songs"

8. Moving Units - Moving Units EP : Wow, hi. This year's Top 25 member that obviously took the most influence from Public Image Ltd. is Moving Units. Last year was the club-me-over-the-head-with-PIL's-influence Radio 4. This year it's that shimmering, tearing guitar all over again. Moving Units are a ferocious live entity. This is just an EP. Their debut full length is due out in January and I predict all hell will break lose. Played : "Between Us & Them"

7. Josh Ritter - Hello Starling : Speaking of Idaho. Damn. Josh Ritter already made me a fan for life with his previous record, The Golden Age of Radio, but this album just about floored me from the get go. From brilliant, not tacky, Dylan tribute ("You Don't Make It Easy, Babe"), to breathless word play ("Kathleen," "Bright Smiles, Dark Eyes") and shimmeringly perfect pop ("Snow is Gone") this record has it all. My main complaint? That he's never played in North Carolina. I'm personally working on changing that. Played : "Snow is Gone"

6. Radiohead - Hail to the Theif : Radiohead is an entity all its own. At this point, it's obvious, they make the rules of the game. They do so by doing two things: one) selling records. two) doing so without compromising their artistic vision. It takes a lot to get to that point. REM did it. In a way, Pearl Jam did it. Every record evolves, every record seems unique and distinct. People have started backlashing against Radiohead since Kid A. Get over it. People will say: 'Now, Josh. You have that kind of backlash to the Strokes.' Well, when the Strokes write something even approaching "Just," "Climbing the Walls," "Paranoid Android," "Pyramid Song," or "There there," then we'll talk shop. Played : "Stand up. Sit down."

5. Josh Rouse - 1972 : Simpler lyrics, stylized music, an ode to a year. Josh Rouse slips a measley two spots from where Under Cold Blue Stars landed him last year. Josh Rouse equals one of America's greatest songwriters and he just gets better as he goes. He is a gift to American music and by the time people really start paying attention, I hope it's not too late to follow along. Played : "Flight Attendant"

4. Lucinda Williams - World Without Tears : "Those Three Days" may be the best song Lucinda Williams has ever written. World Without Tears doesn't come across the bow the way Car Wheels on a Gravel Road did. Nor does it strip things back, both lyrically and musically, the way Essence did. Rather, for one of the first times in awhile, Lucinda takes herself and the same three others into a studio to cut an entire album. The same band plays on each song and the result is subtle perfection. Arguments abound about a few of the tracks on this album ("Atonement," "Righteously") but you guys can eat it. Miss Williams does what she wants. She's at the peak of her game and isn't going anywhere. Played : "Those Three Days"

3. Drive-by Truckers - Decoration Day : Another repeat offender from last year's list. This time though, having witnessed them play live twice, they climb upward. Decoration Day is proof that the Truckers are one of the last true rock and roll bands in America. Pretension, style, disaffection still rule the definition of 'cool.' Instead, you get 5 guys (and 3 hellaciously good songwriters) who get up on stage and look like they're having a hoot every moment they're there. And when they sing about the desparation, you believe it, mister. Believe it good. Played : "(Something's Got to) Give Pretty Soon"

2. The Minus 5 - Down With Wilco : This album blindsided me. I picked it up because I knew Wilco played on it. Instead, I was introduced to the genius of Scott McCaughey's songwriting. Witty wordplay, devilish humor and a whole palatte of scenes bring this updated co-opt of everything you ever loved about the Beatles and the Beach Boys into clear, contemporary focus. This is a pure pop record and it is a jaw dropping listen. There was scarcely anything better this year. Played : "Retrieval of You"

1. Kathleen Edwards - Failer - Except for this one. The moment I put this in my cd player, it didn't stop playing until it had cycled through five times in a row. It is immediately ingratiating, hooking, emotional music. The opening song, "Six O'clock News," is a heartbreaking story hidden amongst some amazing vocals and instrumentation that drives along at an ever growing, surging pace. There is no song that is not worth picking over again and again. Edwards' songwriting seems to have arrive nearly fully formed. She is only 23 (maybe 24 by now?) but is already poised to be on of the best songwriters of my generation. If her second album is anywhere near as good as Failer, her fate is set. Americana music has rarely sounded this complete and good in one sitting. Played : "Six O'clock News" and "Westby"

Thanks for listening and reading! Have a happy holiday season and we'll see you in the new year!


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