\ Hip Displeasure: December 2004

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An independent music and pop culture commentary collective.


Thursday, December 30, 2004

Best of 2004: #1 -- Hayden Elk-Lake Serenade (and Another Dozen Worth Discussing)

Throughout his career, Hayden has specialized in acoustic intimacy. And while he's very good at it, the promise of so much more has always been right there lurking beneath the surface. With Elk-Lake Serenade, Hayden finally showcases the full range of his abilities by expanding his sound above and beyond the brooding comfort zone he's been content to occupy on previous albums, in favor of pacing and instrumentation never before heard in his work.

If the steady driving "Home by Saturday" provides the first hint that perhaps Hayden has decided to try and break out of his shell, the vibrant "Hollywood Ending" and brash "My Wife" are the sounds of that shell being shattered to bits. This is not to say Hayden has completely abandoned what he does best. "Don't Get Down," a simultaneously inspirational and bittersweet ballad, is his best song to date, and Elk-Lake Serenade is his best album. In fact, it's the best album of the year.

Another Dozen Worth Discussing:

Though many would disagree, I truly believe 2004 was an outstanding year for new music. I had a much more difficult time than ever before paring down my favorite albums to a Top 20. Every single one of the following albums could very easily have made my Top 20, and if I were asked to re-do my list a month (or even a week) from now, quite a few of them probably would. So, without Freddy Adu (I've never cared much for soccer), here are another dozen albums worth discussing (listed alphabetically by artist)...

Burning Brides Leave No Ashes
Many found this sophomore effort to be inferior to their debut, and so did I...at first. But I eventually came around, and you should, too.

David Byrne Grown Backwards
The head Head finally puts together a complete solo effort comprised of everything that makes him American music's best-loved eclectic icon.

Drive-By Truckers The Dirty South
This is the sound of asses being kicked to the left and the right. No other band has either the balls or the chops to pull off a trilogy of songs about Sheriff Buford Pusser, nor should they try...lest they wanna end up with a two-by-four upside their skull.

Nicolai Dunger here's my song, you can have it...i don't want it anymore
The new Van Morrison rebounds from his last subpar effort with this catchy cache of classic sounds that just may be his finest effort to date.

The Hives Tyrannosaurus Hives
Although the garage fad seems to be losing steam, America's most beloved Scandanavian music import since ABBA successfully manages to keep their brand of garage rock alive and well by incorporating more of an '80s element to this underrated release.

Hop On Pop As Drawn by Ethan, Age Two
Chicago has produced many outstanding D-I-Y indie rockers over the years, and this local club circuit supergroup are doing a fine job of continuing that tradition with their unique brand of catchy quirk, led by musical mirthmeister Todd Leiter-Weintraub.

Landspeedrecord! Intermission
The standout track on this typically devious album says it best: "There's a flavor for every taste." It's definitely an acquired taste, but pays off in spades for anyone who manages to acquire it.

Now It's Overhead Fall Back Open
Urgent synth-driven pop-rock from Andy LeMaster and crew, with a little help from such friends as Michael Stipe, this is a nice improvement over their solid debut record.

Robert Pollard Fiction Man
Leave it to Bob to one-up himself by blowing his band's final album (Guided by Voices' Half-Smiles of the Decomposed) out of the water with one of his best-ever solo outings.

Darden Smith Circo
Smooth country-tinged folk rock from a consistently overlooked talent worthy of much more attention, which just may be forthcoming with more quality efforts like this.

TV on the Radio Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
This is probably the all-time textbook definition of the term "grower," based on how many people (myself included) didn't get into it until after repeated listens. It was well worth the repetition, because these guys reward the listener with a groundbreaking sound that's like nothing else out there today.

Zero 7 When It Falls
Like Burning Brides, here's another album generally considered to be a drop-off from their debut, yet I disagree once again by throwing my full support behind this soulful second helping.

Best of 2004: #2 -- Jim White Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See

The first Jim White album I ever heard was 2001's No Such Place, which had a couple of really good songs, but was an otherwise uneven effort that left me wanting more. Based on that experience, I was not planning on buying his latest album, Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See. But a few months after its release, I decided to give it a listen during a free trial to Real Rhapsody, mainly as background music for a late night at the office. It quickly leapt from the background with "Static on the Radio," a spooky duet with Aimee Mann, and remained at the forefront for the entirety of the album.

White brilliantly fuses folk with funk throughout Drill a Hole..., especially on standout tracks "Combing My Hair in a Brand-New Style" and "If Jesus Drove a Motor Home," both of which are among my favorite songs released this year. And his versatility shines through on the gorgeous ballad, "That Girl from Brownsville, Texas," a touching waltz that you won't be able to get out of your head for quite some time. More than almost any other album this year, this one continues to get better with each listen. As the title suggests, even more layers are revealed the further down you drill.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Best of 2004: #3 -- John Vanderslice Cellar Door

Unlike America's favorite two-ton trollop, Anna Nicole Smith, I don't have to go on a Trimspa and Smirnoff bender to determine whether a musician is a freakin' genius. My declaration of such toward John Vanderslice is based solely on his unblemished track record. Cellar Door, JV's fourth post-MK Ultra solo record, further solidifies his position as the single most relevant singer-songwriter of the 21st century.

Once again, JV doesn't shy away from the weighty topics dominating today's socio-political landscape. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Heated Pool and Bar," which tackles the barbaric nature of America's current military conflict: "I’m a guard in Guantanamo / I bring the prisoners in / The hoods come off and torture slowly begins / The screams I’ve overheard / It’d fuck up a weaker man / But I’m cold, I’m so untouchable." Lyrics that soul-piercing coupled with flawless musicianship make Cellar Door 2004's most important album.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Best of 2004: #4 -- Sunset Valley Goldbank 78 Stack

After waiting three years for a new album from Sunset Valley, I had just about given up hope, when I just happened to stumble upon news of their latest release while surfing the Barsuk website one afternoon between my fourth and fifth meals of the day. Even though the album was being self-released by the band, Barsuk was still kind enough to offer online distribution, so I decided to take the plunge and cough up the money I had been saving for my desperately needed breast reduction surgery. While I'm still lugging around these double-Ds, I still have to say my cash was wisely spent.

Goldbank 78 Stack is relentless in its objective to rock your ass off, coming out swinging with a 1-2-3-4-5 punch of full-throttle songs to start the onslaught. The second of these, "Grubby Cartoon Hands," has an uncompromising elastic riff that just might make it THE song of the year. And just because the album starts amazingly strong doesn't mean there's a letdown from there, as evidenced by such irresistable bizarreness as "Mr. Extreme Jeans," which scores bonus points for managing to reference the single most underrated Looney Tune, Foghorn Leghorn. I say, I say it's a travesty this album has gone virtually undetected. If they would just let the chicken hawk handle promotion...

Best of 2004: #5 -- Of Montreal Satanic Panic in the Attic

Listening to Of Montreal's latest album, Satanic Panic in the Attic, is the audio equivalent of touring the chocolate factory with none other than Wonka himself. There's excitement, mischief, whimsy, and even a little danger around every turn. And once you start, there's no turning back until you've completed the entire trip. Fortunately, Kevin Barnes and company are better singers and musicians than the Oompa-Loompas, though both are brilliant lyricists.

There really isn't a weak moment to be found anywhere on Satanic Panic in the Attic. Even the album's only detour from frenzy, "City Bird," is a gorgeous ballad complete with fluting much more sublime than Wonka's repeated calls for damage control. The highlight here is the psychedelic hoedown "Erroneous Escape Into Erik Eckles," which really sums up the entire experience in the line, "Watch out, the music will complete the change in you." Who needs a golden ticket, when you've still got wonderful albums like this being made?

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Best of 2004: #6 -- Eagles of Death Metal Peace Love Death Metal

If I were Linda Richman, this review would pretty much write itself: "Eagles of Death Metal are neither The Eagles nor Death Metal. Discuss amongst yourselves." So, the mystery of how Timothy B. Schmit manages to work in his falsetto while covering Cannibal Corpse's "Hammer Smashed Face" will have to wait to be solved on another day. As for Peace Love Death Metal, this one-of-a-kind gumbo of glam, garage, and blues sounds like it just might have been recorded in a studio that doubles as a meth lab.

It only took a couple of listens in my '79 Oldsmobuick to discover this is the perfect driving album. Peace Love Death Metal is overflowing with killer riffs and some of the most unorthodox, yet effective, drumming you'll ever hear. The inordinate amount of false starts and studio banter between songs gives this an extremely casual feel, but the tunes are simply too good for this to be considered a half-assed effort. Songs like "I Only Want You," "So Easy," "Whorehoppin'" and a cover of the Stealer's Wheel classic made famous by Michael Madsen and a straight razor (appropriately renamed "Stuck in the Metal") beg to be replayed over and over again. Hopefully, we won't have to beg for a second album from this Queens of the Stone Age side project.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Best of 2004: #7 -- The Libertines The Libertines

Of all the albums I heard in in 2004, none made more of an immediately favorable impression on my hair-stuffed ears than the self-titled second release from the U.K.'s mercurial Libertines. Having not ever listened to their 2002 debut, Up the Bracket, I really had no idea what to expect, other than to brace myself for what some reviewers had termed a sloppy trainwreck of a band fronted by a self-destructive psychotic.

But what I hear whenever I listen to The Libertines is not wretched chaos, rather glorious and unbridled musical shenanigans. Everytime I spin "What Katie Did," I can't help but visualize a rowdy pack of drunken groomsmen staging a coup and overthrowing the house band at a wedding reception, in order to perform their own tipsy toast to the blushing-with-embarrassment bride. Perhaps the moment that best defines The Libertines is the final third of "Campaign of Hate," which chugs along faster and faster until it finally careens off the rails completely. Just like that song, the rest of The Libertines is a white knuckle thrill ride you'll want to take again and again.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Best of 2004: #8 -- Elvis Costello & The Imposters The Delivery Man

Though there are many ways to distinguish among the only two Elvii that matter (with apologies to Peacock, Grbac, and Stojko), the easiest is by comparing their fluctuations. Presley is best known for his fluctuations in weight, and while Costello obviously hasn't been adhering to a low carb regimen of late, his most identifiable fluctuations are in mood. The Delivery Man, his best album in nearly 20 years, is a perfect encapsulation of Costello's many moods.

Here we find Angry Elvis ("Button My Lip"), Yearning Elvis ("Country Darkness"), Manic Elvis ("Bedlam"), Reverent Elvis (the title track), Mischevious Elvis ("Monkey to Man"), and Penitent Elvis ("The Judgement"). And as if that weren't enough, there are a handful of duets with rodeo sweethearts Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris, the highlight of which is the second pairing with Harris ("Heart Shaped Bruise") which sounds like Burt Bacharach gone country. From start to finish, ol' Nerdlinger really delivers with this album.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Best of 2004: #9 -- Belleville Demos 2004

On the heels of their first two fantastic full-lengths, Belleville recorded and then scrapped what would have been their third album, due to concerns that their change in sound might be too jarring for their devoted No Depression fanbase. Thankfully, they didn't erase the master tapes, because Demos 2004 is an absolutely magnificent pop gem. Truth be told, their change in sound is really more subtle than jarring.

Belleville are once again led by the immensely-talented Mark Caputo, who not only shares the same musical sensibility as Joe Pernice, but has an eerily similar voice. In many ways, the transition from their previous album to Demos 2004 is also similar to the evolution from Pernice's early work with the Scud Mountain Boys to the gorgeous pop of last year's Pernice Brothers album Yours, Mine & Ours. But make no mistake about it -- Caputo isn't merely a Pernice clone, he's definitely his own man with his own superb band. Even though Demos 2004 may never be released, I can only hope Belleville's official third album is even half this good whenever it finally sees the light of day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Best of 2004: #10 -- Neko Case The Tigers Have Spoken

I generally find live albums to be about as useful as a fishnet condom. More often than not, they serve no purpose other than to chronicle an endless parade of poorly-executed drum solos and drunken crowd renditions of the hit song's chorus. The Tigers Have Spoken is a refreshing exception to that rule, as it showcases the magnificent versatility of Neko Case's glorious voice.

She performs a wide range of songs, from the rip-snortin' roadhouse rocker "Loretta" to Loretta Lynn's catty country classic "Rated X." The highlight of this set is the title track, a poignant pop paean that leaves you with a feeling of inspired melancholy. Whether she's belting out a traditional standard, like "This Little Light," or wearing her heart on her sleeve waiting for "The Train from Kansas City, Neko's in her natural habitat.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Best of 2004: #11 -- Sondre Lerche Two-Way Monologue

Upon learning that Sondre Lerche had released an album this year, my first thought was that it shouldn't have taken 25 years for Clint Eastwood's '70s shack-up to finally parlay her role as Lynn Halsey-Taylor in the Philo Beddoe trilogy into a recording contract. But then I remembered two things: (1) There were only two movies in the "Right turn, Clyde!" series; and (2) Sondre Lerche is a fresh-faced Norwegian lad, not a Botox-faced Paternity plaintiff.

Improving upon the formula of whimsical introspection previously demonstrated by the likes of the underrated Ron Sexsmith, Lerche displays a relaxed confidence throughout Two-Way Monologue. He references this in "On the Tower" when he sings, "I'll throw a melody / That is as serious as it is simple." The songs here are upbeat, but not sunny; catchy, but not sugary. Lerche is intent on not watering down his music with lightweight subject matter, yet he is careful to avoid overanalyzing his lyrics. As he sings in "Stupid Memory," "Thinking about writing it down seems pretentious." Lerche just wants to get it done any which way he can.

Best of 2004: #12 -- The Futureheads The Futureheads

British angst is a wonderful thing. It's spawned tons of bloody good music over the years, the latest of which is the gloriously spastic self-titled debut album from The Futureheads. Melding New Wave and Post-Punk with a dash of British Invasion, The Futureheads do much more than merely mimic their producer Andy Gill's touchstone band, Gang of Four. Though their sound does owe a tremendous debt to U.K. rockers of yore, The Futureheads are also just as influenced by the artists of today. "Danger of the Water," for one, would sound right at home on a Beta Band album.

The Futureheads manage to distill their litany of influences into a uniquely original sound, even when performing the album's only cover song, Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love." No less an authority than noted rural Maine DJ frostingspoon, who loves Kate Bush so much he had the restraining order professionally framed, must agree that The Futureheads have done his stalkee justice. This entire album is not so much a tribute or homage to British angst, as it is a celebration of every rambunctious Limey ever to step on stage with a chip on his shoulder and a pick in his hand.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Best of 2004: #13 -- Mark Knopfler Shangri-La

It's been 10 years since Mark Knopfler ended the two-decade run of Dire Straits, but he still hasn't lost any of his trademark flair and wit. He's certainly in fine form on Shangri-La, his best solo effort to date, which plays like A&E's Biography set to music. There are plenty of riveting tales about such enigmatic icons as Ray Kroc ("Boom, Like That"), Col. Tom Parker ("Back to Tupelo"), Sonny Liston ("Song for Sonny Liston"), Lonnie Donegan ("Donegan's Gone"), and even Knopfler himself ("Don't Crash the Ambulance").

Throughout Shangri-La, Knopfler frames these fascinating subjects with his one-of-a-kind guitar virtuosity and soothingly familiar voice. While many of his contemporaries are losing steam (and credibility), Knopfler continues to produce relevant music, while showcasing his legendary skills. Shangri-La is, without question, one of the most satisfying listens of the year.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Best of 2004: #14 -- Ted Leo + Pharmacists Shake the Sheets

I like Ted Leo, because he's a Notre Dame alumnus, and I'm a huge Fightin' Irish fan. However, simply being an ND grad doesn't guarantee greatness in and of itself, as evidenced by such self-important douchebags as Regis Philbin and Phil Donahue. You see, Leo does something much more significant with his platform than interviewing diet gurus for an audience of hippo-sized housewives. He transmits his politically-charged missives through Marshall stacks with conviction and showmanship.

After hearing just a couple of tracks on Shake the Sheets, it becomes readily apparent that Leo is a blue state guy. But while his distain for the Bush administration is quite obvious, he manages to convey his message directly, without the type of heavy-handed bludgeoning issued by the likes of Michael Moore. And even though Leo has a definite agenda behind his music, he still brings the rock. This time out, he forgoes the varied instrumentation and eclectic genre mixing of previous albums in favor of straightforward guitar-bass-drum rock. With Bono shifting his focus from relieving third world debt to lining Steve Jobs' pockets, Ted Leo's brand of socially-conscious rock is needed now, more than ever.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Best of 2004: #15 -- Franz Ferdinand Franz Ferdinand

When you're a 6'5", 315-lb., 38-year-old Caucasian like me, dancing is strictly an involuntary proposition. I'm just not really out there actively seeking an opportunity to shake my midsection Michelin. It takes an album full of infectious grooves and addictive riffs, like Franz Ferdinand, to send me into the type of faux epileptic seizures typically reserved for the likes of Elaine Benes. And though it certainly isn't a pretty sight to witness me indulging my inner Rerun, it's an absolutely magnificent sound.

But Franz Ferdinand isn't content to merely offer up an album full of good beats that are easy to dance to; their lyrics also incite full listener participation. The ending refrain of "Darts of Pleasure" is single-handedly responsible for causing more Americans to sing along in German than since Nena and Falco comprised 90% of Martha Quinn's playlist. Not only are these lyrics catchy, but they're also rather provocative. Who's to say the uncomfortable eroticism of "Michael" isn't really an ode to John Boy's mom from The Waltons? Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Best of 2004: #16 -- Paul Westerberg Folker

This excellent follow-up to last year's spectacular Come Feel Me Tremble finds Paul Westerberg embracing his role as troubled troubadour with gusto. He grabs dysfunction by the guitar neck, replacing hand wringing with toe tapping throughout Folker's briskly-paced 52 minutes. While there are a couple of ballads to be found, such as the maudlin reflections of "23 Years Ago" and the incredulous plea "How Can You Like Him?," head bobbing definitely takes priority over head hanging here.

Without question, the highlight of Folker is "As Far As I Know," easily one of the catchiest tunes in the entire Westerberg oevre (including his years with the legendary Replacements). When he sings, "I'm in love with a dream I had as a kid," you know he's not giving in to the resignation of middle age anytime soon. Just because he's somewhat mellowed since he was a bastard of young doesn't mean he isn't still an onry Folker when he wants to be...and that's why he's as relevant as ever, 'Mats or no 'Mats.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Best of 2004: #17 -- French Kicks Trial of the Century

There's tons of '80s-sounding stuff being peddled these days by your neighborhood Rob, Dick, and Barry. But just because something sounds like the '80s doesn't automatically mean it sucks. A prime example of this is Trial of the Century, the latest release by French Kicks. In fact, despite the de-evolution implied by a reversion to Me Decade soundscapes, this album actually marks significant growth by French Kicks. They've added quite a few new elements to their sound, which would have greatly benefitted their decent debut, One Time Bells. Songs like "Oh Fine," featuring the smoothest use of handclaps in years, show they've really raised their game.

Giving Trial of the Century a spin leaves you longing for the days when John Hughes ruled the multiplex. Close your eyes while you listen, and you will be taken over by the glorious visage of Sloane Peterson zipping through Shermer in her daddy's Beemer with the top down and the Blaupunkt blaring. Yes, Virginia, there was upscale suburban teen lust before American Pie...and this is the soundtrack as played through the stylus of not-so-revisionist history.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Best of 2004: #18 -- Shearwater Winged Life

Is Shearwater a side project of Okkervil River, or is Okkervil River a side project of Shearwater? Both are very good bands, but based on Winged Life, I'd have to say Shearwater now has all the momentum. The slow burn of opening track "A Hush" makes it clear this isn't just some sadcore sobfest. Winged Life is filled with understated arrangements and sublime instrumentation, containing more subtly-placed organs than a Neverland Ranch sleepover.

Shearwater also connects lyrically throughout Winged Life, as evidenced by such personally affecting songs as "The World in 1984," which I found to be of particular interest, having graduated high school that very same year. There are no throwaway lines here, only soul-searching directives, like "What do you think you're gonna do with your life?" It's 20 years later, and I still don't have the answer to that question.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Best of 2004: #19 -- Daryll-Ann Don't Stop

I've been a fan of Dutch indie rockers Daryll-Ann since stumbling upon a couple of free downloads from their album Happy Traum at epitonic.com a couple of years ago. When I learned of their new release, Don't Stop, earlier this year, I began what became a multi-month quest to find a store that actually carried this album. None of the obscure indie record shanties stocked Daryll-Ann, nor did any of the well-stocked online stores. Eventually, as I was just about to give up, I finally found Don't Stop at an obscure Netherlands-based website called smokeandapancakerecords.com (or something equally Goldmemberesque).

Though Don't Stop was harder to find than a T-cell in David Gest, it was certainly worth the effort. These harmonious Hollandites continue to impress with their versatile sound. From the ominous "Freeway" to the rollicking "Movin' Men," this album's got more changes in mood and tempo than Howard Dean on a defective Stairmaster. There's just about something for everyone here...the only trick is finding someplace you can buy it.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Best of 2004: #20 -- The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me

My first exposure to The Hold Steady was on an outstanding mix CD I got from my buddy shiv on a visit to Beantown earlier this year, featuring masterfully Photoshopped cover art of John Ashcroft accepting a package at the service entrance from a male stripper in fireman's garb. When I heard arena rock power chords interspersed with such I Love The '80s-inspired speak-singing as "She said my name's Neil Schon, but some people call me Nina Simone" -- not to mention more references to partying in Ybor City than you can shake a Thai stick at -- I knew I was in the aural presence of something transcending mere retro revivalism.

I didn't pay close enough attention to the band name at the time, because just two days later on a swing through NYC at a watering hole called HiFi, me and my pals OPA, tthorn, and Gordo were served by a bartender who told us he was in a band called (you guessed it) The Hold Steady! After connecting my Hestonizing synapses shortly thereafter, I realized I had no choice but to pick up Almost Killed Me immediately. If you haven't already done so, that would be my recommendation to you, as well...especially if you've always wondered what it might sound like to hear Fastway fronted by Ken Jennings whenever his balls finally drop.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Hip-D's Top 20 of 2004

OK, even though we're not "officially" launching until 1/1/2005, it wouldn't be December without yet another ridiculous year-end "Best of" list. So, in order to be considered legit, we felt it was important to do our part to clutter the online landscape with a Top 20 of our own.

So, starting this Sunday (12/12), we will post our #20 album of 2004 and continue posting one per day, concluding when we reveal our #1 on New Year's Eve! Wasting time is fun!!!

See you Sunday...