Sunday, January 02, 2005

One Last Listen Back
I'm not really feeling a "year in review", in part because I want to speed away from the wreckage of 2004 as fast as I can, and in part because I think my looking back on the year in entertainment would be only marginally more useful than having Larry Bowa discourse on the evolution of media theory. Over the last couple weeks, I've looked at list after list of the year's "best movies", and I've generally only seen one or two of them. For what little it's worth, the best two new movies I saw last year were "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Kill Bill, Volume 2." Most everything else slotted in between mediocre and suck.

I don't generally buy new books, so I can't really discuss the year's best writings either. Check back with me when The Strand gets them on sale, probably this spring or summer...

Which leaves us with music. I did probably buy more new music in 2004 than in any year since my flaming youth, thanks in part to the re-emergence of several favorites from said flaming youth, and in part because some enlightened corners of the music world seem to be figuring out how to use the internet as a marketing mechanism: I streamed the entire Wilco and Elvis Costello LPs online before buying them. A couple free, legal MP3 download sites I found toward the end of the year--3hive and Better Propaganda--probably will help perpetuate this happy trend into 2005.

So without further ado, here are my favorite 5 albums of the year--not necessarily "the best," just the ones I enjoyed the most--and a few additional notes:

5) Interpol--Antics. Yes, their debut "Turn on the Bright Lights" is even better, but this is a pretty excellent second album and gives me hope that these guys will do good work for a long time to come.

4) Modest Mouse--Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Never liked these guys before, but this album has about five songs on it that are just amazing. I don't know if they got better or my tastes just changed. Having seen them on "Saturday Night Live" last night, however, I don't regret my inability to catch them live last summer...

3) Guided by Voices--Half-Smiles of the Decomposed. A very solid final bow from the greatest band since Husker Du, probably their best album since the mid-90s glory days. They evidently played their last show on New Year's Eve.

2) Camper van Beethoven--New Roman Times. One of my very favorite bands as a kid reunites after 15 years doing other stuff, and not only was it like they'd never stopped, it was actually more like they returned to a direction they'd gotten away from even before they broke up. Cranky, pretentious, self-indulgent, totally inventive and sounds great. Also an amazing live act.

1) Wilco--A Ghost is Born. I saw Wilco live in 2002 after they released the universally hailed "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and was not impressed. I figured YHF was a classic case of a so-so band somehow writing an amazing album, the musical equivalent of Brady Anderson's 50-homer season. Wrong wrong wrong: "A Ghost is Born" actually has better playing, better production and better songs. Believe the hype.

Honorable mention: TV on the Radio--Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes; Mission of Burma--ONoffON; Elvis Costello and the Imposters--The Delivery Man.

Best reissue: Talking Heads--The Name of this Band is Talking Heads.

Bands I'll probably wish I'd included on this list after I get the albums: Pilot to Gunner, The Walkmen.

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