J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem - alternate Friday mornings 10 AM - 12 PM EST at 90.9 FM!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

j’s indie/rock mayhem – 22nd december 2004

[and here we are at last: the annual top 25 albums show. when the wheat finally separates from the chaff. when the adults are separated from the children. when crab-men roam the earth as gods. this is what we’ve been waiting for. this list is a compilation of the best music you’ve heard on j’s indie/rock mayhem during the year of ’04. the final list was trimmed from a haughty group of 57, originally compiled by diligently searching the j’s indie/rock blog archived play lists. i knew this blog was going to come in handy.

included next to most all of these entries is a link to purchase that album from amazon. by clicking through those links and purchasing, you are helping the triad health project, a remarkable HIV/AIDS outreach program right here in greensboro. if you want to purchase these albums, i ask you do one of two things:

a) click on the links and purchase. a commission of each purchase goes to the THP through this blog. or:

b) purchase these items at your local independent music store, like gate city noise here in greensboro. they need your support in order to bring you the best in music that big-box stores don’t touch. then, make a direct donation to the triad health project. karma is such an awesome thing.

next to each entry is a listing for what song i played from that album on the show. it will be updated after the show tonight. at the bottom of the list, i’ve listed the also-rans of this year’s list and some other fun comments as well. feel free to add your own to the comment post at the end.

i’ll be back next week with the best of the rest ’04 and then we start racking up the music for next year’s list.]

25 (tie). Wovenhand - Consider the Birds : David Eugene Edwards is one of music’s most unique songwriters. He stands alone in his brilliant and haunting mix of rustic Americana, old-time, puritanical religion and caustic, memorable imagery. Consider the Birds, the third album by his Wovenhand solo endeavor, further differentiates itself from his normal place at the helm of the band Sixteen Horsepower. Some of Edwards’ most truly convinced and ethereal songs grace this album. Even if you don’t believe in the same god Edwards does, his conviction, and the words and music with which he expresses it, is worth the price of admission. (Buy it!) - Played :

25 (tie). The Finks - Exit the Planet : In North Carolina this year, a whole crop of excellent bands sprang up, especially here in the Triad. Tiger Bear Wolf, Dawn Chorus, All Astronauts, Bella Fea, Des_Ark, Filthy Bird and many others gave a whole new meaning to rock here in Greensboro. The Finks were the standout for me. It might be my love of the band X, to which the Finks have drawn many comparisons. Then again it might just be that they have one of the most unique sounds. Exit the Planet sounds like a blissful Elysian field where post-punk, rockabilly, alt-country and hipster cool all cavort slyly among the flowers. - Played :

24. Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News : This album makes the list based nearly on the strength of the surprise hit-single “Float On” alone. Modest Mouse have been the indie-rock stalwarts for years, forever the badge of honor for those truly in the know. Now they’ve gone and done it: without sacrificing an inch of credibility, they’ve created an album that fits within the pop landscape in a way no one had quite touched before. This is what American independent musicians strive for: the breakthrough success on the back of some serious payment of dues. Bully for you, boys. (Buy it!) - Played :

23. Hot Snakes - Audit in Progress : There are reasons people worship the ground Drive Like Jehu’s two albums stand on. Visceral, alive punk rock that detonates on impact with some of the most fist-pumping, gut wrenching guitar licks you’ve laid ears on in years. Hot Snakes, a continuation of the main members of Jehu, is no small potatoes. Light speed rock that leaves you breathless. Three albums in, there’s no sign of slowing down. (Buy it!) - Played :

22. The Roots - The Tipping Point : The criticisms of this album were immediate and swift. On the heels of their previous album Phrenology (#12 on the J’s Indie/Rock Top 25 of 2002), there was a lot at stake. The Tipping Point is not a return to early form, although the jams are plentiful and the feeling much more loose. Nor is it a reaction away from the almost conceptual feel of their last two albums. Rather, it is a consolidation of strengths, ones that don’t work as well together as they have separately in the past. Even on their worst day, the Roots are one of the very best hip-hop bands in America. This album is just another star in their ever increasing sky. (Buy it!) - Played :

21. Paul Westerberg - Folker : Paul Westerberg found what he’d been missing back in 2002 with Stereo/Mono (#1 on the J’s Indie/Rock Top 25 of 2002). Since then he has been plowing through a holding pattern. While this music is heads above some of the lesser moments of earlier solo albums like Eventually, his innovation is missed. That criticism out of the way, Folker is a grand record. Paul has never sounded this loose and this confident in his direction. His songwriting has always been his strength (which is why the stripped down feel of Stereo worked so damn well), and Folker plays to that. His lyrics are as disarmingly self-effacing as ever and “My Dad” is one of the most touching he’s ever penned. Here’s to you, folk star. (Buy it!) - Played :

20. McLusky - The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire : McLusky are sometimes an acquired taste. Their raw, apocalyptic brand of post-punk has been lauded up and down but is rarely in danger of breaking the pop charts. (see their #25 entry in the J’s Indie/Rock Top 25 of 2002) However, as sometimes lacking in sincerity as they are, they have put together a record of even parts fire and ice. “1956 and all that” roils in jackhammer punctuations. “She Will Only Bring You Happiness” is actually delicate, bordering on the sentimental before burying all notions at the end. This is end-of-the-workday, driving-out-of-your-high-school-parking-lot-with-the-windows-down music. Long live such things. (Buy it!) - Played :

19. Joseph Arthur - Our Shadows Will Remain : Seeing Joseph Arthur on stage is a revelation in itself. Alone, accompanied only by a recording device to loop sounds and create beats around his often mystic songs, he is a sight to behold. His latest album, given its rather haunting atomic-warfare-referencing title, is equally as mystifying in parts. His songs surge with intensity, sounding as if every word delivered is the most important one, each instrument the most insistent. I’m usually awash at the end of a Joseph Arthur record. It’s not a bad way to feel at all. (Buy it!) - Played :

18. A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder : The main songwriter behind the New Pornographers (#10 on the J’s Indie/Rock Top 25 of 2003), Newman is a craftsman. He is slowly climbing the ranks of great North American pop songwriters and this solo album is in no way a setback. Of a piece, despite being 11 very separate songs, The Slow Wonder moves as a whole. By the time you’re finished listening, your day is brighter, no matter what the subject matter of Newman’s songs. By the end, you’re at least tapping along, drumming on your legs and humming a new favorite tune. (Buy it!) - Played :

17. Tom Waits - Real Gone : There’s not a whole lot one can say anymore about Tom Waits. When one begins their fourth decade in music with an album as unconventional as Real Gone, little really can describe what it’s like to experience your art. Tom Waits shared an album aspect with Bjork, using vocal sounds to comprise beats and soundscapes as ragged and as frightening to rival some of his work on Bone Machine Since the mid-80s, one doesn’t listen to a Tom Waits album anymore, one experiences it. (Buy it!) - Played :

16. Hayden - Elk-lake Serenade : Hayden became somewhat pigeonholed after his brilliant debut back in the mid-90s, but ever since 2002’s Skyscraper National Park, the Canadian has been re-investing his music with the murmuring energy that his best work showcases. Twinges of country and his brilliant knack for writing short songs pepper themselves throughout this low-key affair. There’s nothing breathtakingly new here, but what is there is stronger than ever. (Buy it!) - Played :

15. Dangermouse - The Grey Album : Litigation is the buzzword for this album. If you don’t know the story by now, add the following ingredients up: 1 DJ + Vocals-only copies of Jay-Z’s The Black Album + Beatles samples from The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) + 3,000 copy limited pressing / 1 cease-and-desist order lawsuit over uncleared samples = this year’s biggest word-of-mouth success. The Grey Album became the cause du jour for supporters of samples as an art form and internet file sharing alike. After the hype, how is it? Brilliant. Dangermouse’s interlacing of Beatles songs and the very, very good MC work of Jay-Z makes for an invigorating and downright infectious listen. - Played :

14. The Arcade Fire - Funeral : Funeral wins the award for most fellated album of the year. Critics in the indie-press bent over backwards to give this record a wet, sloppy one. But after repeated listens even I am forced to admit the true beauty of this album. There is very little that sounds like the Arcade Fire at this moment in time and even if their brilliance is a flash in an otherwise currently dark indie music world, it will have been worth it. I don’t need to say much more. I’m sure you’ve heard it already. (Buy it!) - Played :

13. The Damnwells - Bastards of the Beat : Subtle. The Damnwells are not the band that will club you over the head. It took me, literally, months to go from thinking that this album was pretty good to thinking it absolutely belonged on this list. The Damnwells are catchy, clever, romantic and every day people. There’s not a bad song on this album, not a moment that you won’t find enticing or intriguing or just plain rockin’. The Damnwells are what good rock and roll is all about. (Buy it!) - Played :

12. The Maroons - Ambush : During the often unbearable pauses between albums by great artists, in this case Blackalicious, it is sometimes necessary to seek out other works by people involved. This year saw two such offspring from the Blackalicious family. MC Gift of Gab dropped his first solo album and it suffered for the lack of master DJ Chief Xcel. Gift of Gab’s flow is nearly unmatched in hip-hop, so it wasn’t his rhymes that were the downfall. The Maroons, side project of Lateef and Chief Xcel, however, hits on all marks. It is one of the most charismatic, infectious, uplifting and thought provoking hip-hop albums of this year. Yet it is tossed off in such a loose, momentary manner that you almost get the feeling that the Maroons don’t have to think twice about cranking out this kind of gold. In a year of somewhat disappointing music, the Maroons were firmly atop Mt. Ararat, away from the fray and feeling the light of day. (Buy it!) - Played :

11. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born : Wilco is not to be taken lightly. Witnessing the tour for this album, I couldn’t help but wonder if seeing Wilco was akin to having seen the Grateful Dead, Led Zepplin, or even the Beach Boys in their prime. Is this what great rock is made of? Nobody doubted that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (#4 on the 2002 Top 25) was made of sterner stuff. But could it be followed? A Ghost is Born is every bit as good. The krautrock drone of “Spiders (Kidsmoke);” the pleading noise of “At Least That’s What You Said;” the bouncing sunshine under the unsettling lyrics of “Theologians.” All are mini-masterpieces for a future time. We’re just lucky enough to witness them in the now. (Buy it!) - Played :

10. Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse : People flipped out over Sonic Youth’s last album Murray Street (#9 on the 2002 Top 25). For good reason. The conventional wisdom about Sonic Youth was that they were still interesting, but that their heyday was long past. Now, in 2004, it’s another brilliant lightning strike. Sonic Nurse is nearly, note for note, every inch as good as Murray Street. Almost. I’m not even sure I can explain to you why it’s not every bit that album’s equal. But, being in the same league as Murray Street automatically puts it in the top 5 list of Sonic Youth albums of all time. For a band hovering around 25 years in the business, that is no small feat. Jim O’Rourke continues to define himself as, seemingly, the missing link for the past decade of the band. His presence is remarkable. This album is amazing. (Buy it!) - Played :

9. Dizzee Rascal - Showtime : How does one describe Dizzee Rascal to people who have never heard him? British hip-hop, as an adjective, usually leaves people either looking bewildered or snickering slightly. Hints of electro-clash beats and video game sounds, a nearly indecipherable East London accent. What does it add up to? One of the best albums of the year, simply for the sheer chutzpah evident in every moment of Showtime. I wish people could hear Dizzee freestyle rap. When I saw him this summer, he performed a freestyle that left me breathless. His flow, his sharp wit and insight, his self-effacement of his own braggadocio; every bit of it is mesmerizing. Are we seeing a similar British invasion to the one that knocked lazy, indolent American music out of its slumber back in the 60s? Only time will tell. (Buy it!) - Played :

8. The Delays - Faded Seaside Glamour : This album slipped by me earlier this year and then fell into my lap thanks to my friend’s attendance at the Franz Ferdinand show in Chapel Hill. The Delays opened and upon first listen of Faded Seaside Glamour I said: “Wow, so that’s where the Byrds went.” Every inch the sunny, 12-string soaked pop music of yore, the Delays are composers without many peers. One listen to “Nearer Than Heaven” or the absolutely perfect “Hey Girl” and you will feel it too. Driving down the Coastal Highway, breeze in your hair, sun in the sky, all sense of possibility before you. This is what pop music is all about. (Buy it!) - Played :

7. Jolie Holland - Escondida : This record set on my shelf for some time gathering dust. I had picked it up to give it a listen for the station, then noticed that another copy had made its way into rotation and promptly forgot about it. Flash forward to an October evening as I make my way to Asheville. I place Escondida into my player and am transported. Smooth, delicate, solitary horn lines sailing effortlessly through a heady mix of smoky jazz, folk and americana music. Landing squarely on the shore of America’s musical landscape unscathed. Holland’s voice is the Sirens’ lost sister, finding her way through a world that moves too quickly to be seduced. (Buy it!) - Played :

6. The Emergency - How Can You Move? : Out of nowhere (well, West Virginia to be precise) came the Emergency. Full of hooks, catchy, sometimes funny and slightly melancholic lyrics, this band does everything right. Not a misplaced note, not a riff too many, not an overblown vocal. Just straight up rock that will not leave your head for months. This is absolutely one of the most solid and complete records of this year. (Buy it!) - Played :

5. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter - Oh, My Girl : I used the phrase ‘haunting’ to describe Wovenhand’s work, but it also applies equally to the brilliant Jesse Sykes. Her previous album, Reckless Burning, caught my ears something fierce in 2002, but Oh, My Girl goes places that album didn’t and the result is incredible. “Tell the Boys” is the song that leaves me flat, unable to move every time. The soaring, harmony chorus and the dusty guitar solo is picture perfect country. The title track is equally affecting, leveling any room in your heart for anything but longing and a deep, unrepentant sorrow. This is bone shaking music. (Buy it!) - Played :

4. Q and Not U - Power : In my mind, Q and Not U are one of the premiere post-punk bands in America today. There was little left to say after the unreal presence of 2002’s Different Damage (#5 on the 2002 Top 25) dispelled any rumor of collapse following their bass player’s departure and subsequent non-replacement. Instead, they’ve become one of the most original, catchy, dissonant and memorable bands in the realm of indie-rock. Moments of sheer chaos give way to steamroller songs that leave you sweaty, shouting and feeling that every thing is possible with one more pump of your fist. This is American music. “Wet Work” ought to be our national anthem. (Buy it!) - Played :

3. Jim White - Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See : Jim White deserves to be a superstar. Not only is he routinely one of the nicest persons I’ve ever met, but his music climbs to greater and greater heights with each subsequent album. Witness his latest. Jazz, blues, country, folk, soul, hip-hop and every thing in between finds its way into one of the maddest of the mad genre-benders making music today. His music ends up mostly appealing to alt-country fans thanks to his brilliant and ethereal Southern Gothic songwriting style, but Jim White goes so far beyond any idea of genre or label that one of these days the man is just going to disappear into thin air, refusing to even be defined by his body any longer. This is his best work yet. (Buy it!) - Played :

Alright. I admit it. I wussed out. I absolutely could not pick one of these albums as my number one. I actually had one picked out last week, but my conscience got the better of me. Let me explain: While this is certainly my show, my list and therefore, my choice, I can’t help but feel I have an opportunity to share a bit of insight and potentially expose you, the listener, to something you may not go out of your way to hear otherwise. What does it matter if it’s not number one? Well, I feel it came down between these two for the following reasons: a) one of them is the one I listened to more than any other record this year by a ratio of nearly 2:1. b) the other is the album I felt was the most forward thinking in terms of amazing songwriting (something I value above nearly all other aspects of an album) and inventive craft. I couldn’t choose between them, so we have a tie. Here they are:

1 (tie). The Streets - A Grand Don’t Come for Free : How dare Mike Skinner think he can get away with a flippin’ concept album! The Streets’ previous effort, the marvelous and un-deniably fascinating Original Pirate Material (#10 on the 2002 Top 25) was a hodge-podge of weird electro hip-hop and talk-rhyme story telling that left one simultaneously scratching your head and laughing, even occasionally somberly reflecting on a similar moment in your own time on this earth. Then he drops A Grand... on us. A story telling album in the grandest style, A Grand... stretches out its story of love gained and lost and a thousand quid (pounds, i.e. money) lost and regained through eleven tracks that refuse to be pulled out to stand alone from the rest of the record. From straight-up garage style guitar raves (“Fit But You Know It”) to flowing, house-flavored, pulsing dance numbers (“Blinded by the Lights”), from clever and layered bouncing back-and-forth narratives (“What Is He Thinking?”) to possibly the most moving and sad song you’ve heard all year (“Dry Your Eyes”), A Grand Don’t Come for Free is a modern musical epic. Absolutely no one is making records like this and Mike Skinner has my eternal devotion for simply trying to make a simple, hum-drum story become one of the most enthralling tales of the year. (Buy it!) - Played :

1 (tie). The Drive-by Truckers - The Dirty South : The Truckers have ranked higher and higher on every subsequent J’s Indie/Rock top 25 list ever. From #20 in 2002 for Southern Rock Opera to #3 in 2003 for Decoration Day, they have been climbing and climbing as their albums have gotten better and better. Hence, with the release of their best album ever, they have achieved the highest they can go. American music has long focused on the storyteller, on the narrative. It is in no way surprising that if there is anything that my two #1 records have in common, it is insightful, inventive and enthralling story telling. The Drive-by Truckers have inherited so many mantles from critics that it’s hard to assess them all: neo-southern rock, alt-country and so on. Here’s what The Dirty South’s greatness boils down to: three extremely strong songwriters (Hood, Isbell and Cooley), a penchant for tapping into American mythology like nobody else (“The Day John Henry Died,” “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” “The Boys From Alabama,” “The Buford Stick”), songs that rock like a torrential downpour (“Where the Devil Don’t Stay,” “Never Gonna Change,” “Lookout Mountain”) and some of the most beautiful and disquieting songs I’ve ever heard (“Tornadoes,” “Goddamn Lonely Love”). It’s hard to explain exactly why the Truckers connect to me so much. It could just be that I finally have a band that celebrates an intelligence I can appreciate, an obvious love of the literature and storytelling of my homeland and a fierce pride in the troubled, dual-headed beast of a birthplace we call the South. That is more than enough to give them their due place on the list. (Buy it!) - Played :

Bands that Nearly Made It: Matthew Sweet, Patti Smith, Mutual Admiration Society, Azita, Steve Earle, and the Beastie Boys.

Bands that Were In the Running: Jesse Malin, RJD2, Talib Kweli, Oakley Hall, the Nein, Kingsbury Manx, the Coral, and the Avett Brothers.

Other Nods: Destroyer, the Six Parts Seven, American Music Club, Painted Saints, Rogue Wave, Gift of Gab, Devendra Banhardt, Helio Sequence, the River Bends, Morrissey, the Tragically Hip, Bad Religion, Mission of Burma, Division of Laura Lee, Rocket from the Tombs, and Andrew Octopus.

Thanks for reading! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season. Don’t forget to purchase any of these items you may want, or anything else by clicking on the Amazon link and help donate money to the Triad Health Project. All you do means so much. Thanks for supporting J’s Indie/Rock Mayhem and WQFS Greensboro and all supporters of original, inventive and thoughtful music everywhere.

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