Friday, December 31, 2004
Sure, I could have included albums I don’t actually own in my list, but if I don’t own them, I don’t know them well enough to say a damn thing about them. (Heck, I don’t know enough about some of the ones I do own to say a damn thing about them.) And I could have ignored the proscribed criteria and come up with some of my own, like “Top 10 Albums I Translated into French in 2004” or “Top 10 Albums of My 2004 Red Sox Soundtrack,” but I’m a sucker for tradition.
So, here goes. My “Top 10 Albums of 2004,” more affectionately known as “The Only Blasted 2004 Albums I Own.” And, yes, they are in order of “musical excellence,” which roughly translates to “ability to please Sarah in sundry and utterly random ways.”
1. 50 Foot Wave – S/T
For those who know me, this is a supremely obvious pick. Well, I’m sorry. But I don’t have it in my blood to put anybody above Kristin Hersh. Call it Ocean State prejudice. Call it irrational love. I don’t care. This six song masterful debut rocks from the opening wrenching guitar chords of “Bug” to the reverb closing of “Dog Days.” Come on, the opening lyrics to “Clara Bow” are “I didn’t use you/but I wish I had/I never liked you/but I wish I did” and Hersh’s bitching about “another stupid summer” is part of a perfectly jerky chorus that keeps you off balance and entranced. And if there’s a better song than “Long Painting” to shriek along to while bobbing your head and jumping up and down, well, I haven’t heard it yet. Plus, Hersh, Rob Ahlers, and Bernard Georges cater to the people. Their show in April at First Ave. was all about the music; Hersh barely said hello. No unnecessary banter, no breaks between tunes, just straight punk rock for the kids. The Catholic Church just might regain my respect if they ever canonize this woman. [That’s a joke, y’all, the respect is gone forever.]
2. The Butchies – Make Yr Life
So, given my KH bias, you can consider the Butchies’ fourth album to actually be my number one selection for 2004. I have a ridiculous amount of memories associated with this band – and this album in particular – and I was only introduced to them in April of this year. They played in DC the night before the March for Choice – a show I kick myself daily for not attending. After the March, I returned to Minneapolis and was invited to their upcoming May 9th show at the Dinkytowner Cafe while I was in the process of buying 50 Foot Wave concert tickets. Clearly, it was destiny. Of course, they rocked that little Mpls venue to death, complete with Howard the Duck/Melissa York antics and Kaia looking all hot and stuff. I bought Make Yr Life (and a very spiffy pin) that very night and never looked back.
Oh, but there’s an album to discuss too. Does anyone do pop rock better than the Butchies? “Send Me You” could stand as the quintessential missing-my-lover/ wanna-be-with-her/ him-all-the-time love song. And I could listen to the verse that happens right around the 1:00 mark of “Second Guess” over and over: “...but you’re not like the rest/you’re not the fucking rest/you’re not like anything/ i’ve ever seen...” God, and what happens at the 2:00 mark is even better. Trust me. “She’s so Lovely” is another superb devotional ditty that makes you really not want to believe Kaia when she sings “Grab my hand baby/I just wanna talk...” [Emphasis mine.] Oh, but wait, she wouldn’t be “talking” with you anyway. “Everything + Everywhere” is blatant and beauteous flirtation and their cover of the Outfield’s “Your Love” is perfect in its whispered slowness. When are they coming to DC again?
3. Rufus Wainwright – Want Two
One of the few men who will appear on this list, Rufus Wainwright quite frankly just makes me happy. I know a few Rufus fans who have grown bored or disillusioned with his recent output, but I’m continuously impressed and pleased. I could fall asleep to the gorgeous “Agnus Dei” every night (which, perhaps, isn’t the best recommendation for a song) and then wake up to “The One You Love” every morning: “I’m singing ‘Oh, Jerusalem oh, Jerusalem/See what he’s picked up in the park’/Let’s fuck this awful art party/Want you to make love to me and only to me in the dark.” While I can’t decide if “Peach Trees” is pretty or boring, and if “Little Sister” is a cute or ridiculous tribute, “The Art Teacher” and “This Love Affair” are two amazingly beautiful songs. While most critics probably harp on the meaning of “Gay Messiah,” I prefer to just sit back and smile at it. “Old Whore’s Diet” completely blows me away and is a perfectly epic, crescendo-to-diminuendo way to end Rufus’ fourth oeuvre. [Pardon the use of the word “oeuvre,” but you know it fits Rufus and what he does.] And if the album wasn’t satisfying enough, there’s a full-length concert DVD included that is also, oh, wonderful.
4. The Soviettes – LP II
I don’t know much about the Soviettes’ punkstory – they’re another recent addition to my musical collection. But I do know that this Minnesota group provides super fun shows and sing-able, dynamic songs on their albums, particularly on LP II. The call-and-response gimmick works to perfection in “Pass the Flashlight.” “Goes Down Easy” is a tune many drinkers will understand. The opening bars of “Angel A” are painfully naked, but work well with the song’s tale of disappointment. “There’s a Banana in My Ear” earns them a “liberal rocker” gold star. Ditto for “Winning is for Losers.” “Love Song” is too awesome to explain. I have no idea what the hell “Come on Bokkie” is about, but it works. At an average of a little over 100 seconds a track, these 14 songs bring quick and hard pleasure.
5. The Reputation – To Force a Fate
As mentioned previously, Elizabeth Elmore is well on her way to solidifying herself as a younger, childless, and less guttural Kristin Hersh. Less guttural, but her songs certainly have the same bitter, “Tar Kissers” element to them. Take, for instance, the awesomely fun “Bottle Rocket Battles”: “it was once before you noticed and twice before i cared/three times and we’d both had it for the year.” And “Face It” is a great song directed at plenty of people I know, especially in DC: “go join the neophytes and haunts/philistines and dilettantes/the new Elmer Gantrys in one feverish race to the bottom/it’s what you wanted/ it’s what we’re all doing here.” I love “Senseless Day,” if only for the talk about burying everything in sleep. Sounds like my ideal world. But my favorite track is “The Ugliness Kicking Around” because it’s another one of those epic, unnecessarily long-and-drawn-out songs that always seem to appeal to me. [After letting a friend borrow kd lang’s Ingenue album, she accused me of liking “overly dramatic” music. Rufus and Mandy Patinkin ... yeah, guilty as charged.] To Force a Fate has been firmly integrated into my regular CD playlist.
6. Le Tigre – This Island
Given a longer period of ownership, it’s possible that this album could have earned a higher spot on my list. But, I don’t know it very well yet, so it’ll have to rest easy at #6. I enjoy fun albums that you don’t need to pay attention to – this is certainly one of them. You can focus in on the lyrics if you want, but it’s definitely not necessary. “Seconds” is one of the many anti-tributes to G.W. Bushies to have come out in the past four years, and it’s probably one of the more caustic ones: “Your dad’s money’s too base to mention/His coattails are looking worn/You’ve had a nice ride that’s for sure/Better thank your brain-dead clientele/For all the money that you’ll spend in hell/You make me sick.” Other highlights: a brash “Nanny Nanny Boo Boo,” the spacey “T.K.O.” and the hysterical butch anthem “Viz.” I’ll agree with the Washington Post critic who said that the political collage “New Kicks” was unnecessary. Oh yeah, and did I mention the irresistible cover of the Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited”? That song alone is worth the price of the album. Lucky for us, there are 12 other tracks.
7. Drive-By Truckers – The Dirty South
I’ve seen 7 out of the 10 bands on this list live. In terms of putting on the best overall live show, Drive-By Truckers lapped every single one of them – a couple times over. [Yes, they were even better than 50 Foot Wave. As far as being meaningful and all that crap, the L’~ show wins hands down, but DBT’s 3-plus hours of near non-stop quality performing were something I’ve never before witnessed.] I bought The Dirty South because I felt I owed the band more than the price I paid for the concert ticket, and I was curious if I could get into a country-ish record. Well, the experiment kind of worked. I genuinely like the album. I’m just never in the mood to listen to it. Patterson Hood’s “Puttin’ People on the Moon” is a ridiculously awesome song. Mike Cooley’s a genius, evidenced by “Daddy’s Cup,” among others. I could do without most of Jason Isbell’s tracks – “Danko/Manuel” is an exception, “Never Gonna Change” is certainly not. I guess I’m glad I own the album, but my ears would never know it.
8. Dropkick Murphys – Tessie
The Red Sox won the World Series. The Red Sox won the World Series. The Red Sox won the World Series. The Red Sox won the World Series.
“Don’t blame us if we ever doubt you/You know we couldn’t live without you/Boston you are the only only only...”
9. Ellis – Evidence of Joy
Ellis, much like Rufus, knows how to make a gal happy. Seeing her live and witnessing her self-conscious stage presence, goofy laughter, adorable telling of anecdotes, and sweet voice is an experience I hope to have again some day. But, after receiving my personally autographed, pre-ordered copy of Evidence of Joy, I’m not sure those things come across so well on a live album. [Or maybe they don’t always come across well in person either; an audience member does tell her - and I'm paraphrasing here - to "shut up already and just sing."] The songs are of usual Ellis quality (interpret as you will), but when interspersed with her banter and laughter and audience noise, her act is less charming and music less enjoyable. Still, I love her and there are some great songs on the album. Among them, a reprise of Bobby Llama’s “Angel,” a sincere “Lovesong,” and a fine rendition of “Sacred,” a song that really never fails. “I’ve Gotta Thing for You” is a new and experimental tune that is hysterical – but only the first couple times you hear it. Surprisingly,even after those first couple times it still stands up as a high quality track. But, if I want to reminisce about my Minnesota days, I’m definitely more likely to pop in Ellis’ earlier Soft Day or Tigers Above, Tigers Below than Evidence.
10. Go Betty Go – Worst Enemy (EP)
Pretty basic punk by four talented womyn. Not overwhelming, but worth listening to every now and then. Especially the last track, “C’mon.” Hopefully, they’ll figure out a way to distinguish themselves from similar groups (like the Soviettes have expertly done) by the time they make a full-length.
Resolution #1 for 2005: When I go to buy new music, actually buy new music.
No, strike that. The past year has seen me add an amazing number of "new" bands and a fair number of oldy-but-oh-so-goody albums to my collection. (Five must-haves by the Pixies being pretty good examples of what I mean). So, if I end up with a similarly lame Top 10 list next year, it’ll only be because I was too busy continuing my musical late blooming to investigate what those modern kids are up to.
[P.S. Does the trade mean 2005 will not see Pedro and Manny featured on a Mighty Mighty Bosstones album? At least we still have V-Tek around to sing with Aerosmith...]
Thursday, December 30, 2004
But, to start the drumroll, I offer several lists that have already been posted.
Here's a hint: Some of the albums on my list are on some of these lists too.
Another hint: Absolutely none of these lists mention my #1, even the ones that name 100 albums.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Taking the destabilizing effects of sugar to an extreme is the tunnel-of-fudge cake. "It is so deadly, you can't believe how deadly it is," she said. "We are deliberately doing a cake with way too much sugar."
Sugar, she explained, binds to the flour proteins, preventing them from forming the structural lattice. "Glutenin runs off with sugar," Ms. Corriher said. "Gliadin runs off with sugar, and you don't get much gluten."
When baked, the outer portions reach a high enough temperature that they harden, but the cooler inner part remains soft and gooey.
"We've eaten a whole cake, the two of us," Ms. Corriher said.
Her husband interjected, "Over a period of time."
"It was a very brief period of time," Ms. Corriher said.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Moving to the head of the class is William Dunlap's Panorama of the American Landscape and a small sample of Dunlap's other works (including Dear Head Into Infinity, below).
Dunlap's treatment of war is unique and powerful. It's too bad plenty of people probably walk into the room, take a quick glance around, and promptly walk out of the room (which I did see happen). As with that of Van Gogh, Dunlap's work is most rewarding when you stand smack dab up against the painting and look intently at the purposeful paint lumps, subtly hidden words and numbers, and seemingly arbitrary patches of canvas.
Other treats at the Gibbes include their permanent collection of miniature period rooms and some fascinating works by Linda Fantuzzo and Manning Williams. [Registration required for the Fantuzzo/Williams article.]
All that said, who thought the Museum's "Size Matters" promotion was a good idea?
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Monday, December 20, 2004
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Now, I'm not saying I'm ready to sandwich-board myself with these posters and take my fury to the streets, but I certainly understand the sentiments underlying the Christmas Resistance Movement.
But if you are going to buy presents this holla! day season, you might as well Buy Blue.
Monday, December 13, 2004
My hair, as already mentioned, is standing on end, and no setting lotion there, which could force it to firm up again. No firmness in myself either. Not on me, not in me. When one’s on the sidelines, one always has to be ready to jump a bit and then another bit to the side, into the empty space, which is right next to the sidelines. And the sidelines have brought their sideline pitfall along with them, it’s ready at any time, it gapes wide, to lure one even further out. Luring out is luring in. Please, I don’t want to lose sight now of the way, which I’m not on. I would so like to describe it honestly and above all truly and accurately...
...And this dog, language, which is supposed to protect me, that’s why I have him, after all, is now snapping at my heels. My protector wants to bite me. My only protector against being described, language, which, conversely, exists to describe something else, that I am not - that is why I cover so much paper - my only protector is turning against me. Perhaps I only keep him at all, so that he, while pretending to protect me, pounces on me. Because I sought protection in writing, this being on my way, language, which in motion, in speaking, appeared to be a safe shelter, turns against me. No wonder. I mistrusted it immediately, after all. What kind of camouflage is that, which exists, not to make one invisible, but ever more distinct?
--Elfriede Jelinek during her Nobel Lecture
Dear Lord, please tell me this lecture on the life of a writer made more sense when delivered in German...
Saturday, December 11, 2004
There are very few people as mesmerizing on stage as Kristin Hersh. [For those of y'all who want to see for yourself, she's playing some solo dates and some shows with 50 Foot Wave in the coming weeks.] But let me tell you this. Elizabeth Elmore of the Reputation is well on her way to evoking the same guitar-grinding, dominant womyn rock star sensibility that has thrilled so many Hersh fans, and I'm grateful for having been introduced to her discography.
The Reputation's show at Black Cat on Thursday was full of high energy and fast music, all buoyed by Elmore's sweet-but-tough vocals and nose-to-the-grindstone guitar work. The other band members did more than their fair share of contributing to the energy and tone of the show, but it was obvious who the star is here. Elmore's self-deprecating banter and beer guzzling further endeared her to me, especially when she forgot some lyrics, lost her guitar (briefly) to a power surge, and then quipped that it was their last show of a two and a half month tour, but that it must have seemed to the audience like their first. Nope, not at all.
This group knows how to play together on stage - and in the studio, as evidenced by their new album "To Force a Fate". [I've heard some tracks from their s/t debut, and it's more of the same greatness.] Though Elmore seems a bit bitter about the circumstances of Sarge's break-up, "not my choice - for the record," she's moved on to another respectable and crowd-pleasing ensemble. Let's hope Elmore rocks on in whatever form she chooses for many years to come.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
- An entertaining series of essays on a range of subjects: performing as a combination tuba/bells player in a high school marching band; driving lessons with Ira Glass; love affairs by mix tape; the Trail of Tears; her dad and his cannon; visiting Disney World as a cynical adult; and, yes, cannoli. Better than her buddy Sedaris.
Black Hornet by James Sallis
-Sallis' Lew Griffin series must draw the inevitable comparisons to Walter Mosley and his Easy Rawlins novels, and if it does, that's a shame and lazy book reviewing. These characters, both fascinating, intelligent, and likeable despite their flaws, are remarkably different, as are the authors' styles and angles of attack. Sallis is much more overtly political and knows how to divert from the current action to allow Griffin to offer up anecdotes from his past and/or future. [Um, was that just comparing the two?] Check out an excerpt from the first chapter. Good stuff.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Each time I peruse the CDs at Revolution Records, I'm intrigued by a used copy of Northern State's All City album. I've never bought it because somehow the cover picture led me to believe that it would be a feeble attempt at hip hop. Perhaps I was turned off by the fact that one of them was wearing a pink one of those long sleeveless shirts that is tight on top and wide on the bottom. (Check out the album cover to see what I mean. Plus she's wearing flip-flops.)
I admit that's a lame excuse not to be a CD in support of a female hip hop group, but there you go. After reading an interview with N.S. in this issue of Bitch, however, I'm beginning to think I was guilty of succumbing to immature superficiality and that I should scoop up their album the next time I visit Revolution, if I'm lucky enough to still find it there. With assistance from producers like Cypress Hills' Muggs and the Roots' ?uestlove, as well as a guest performance by Har Mar Superstar [yup, that's him in the above pic], the album may be a surefire hit. Has anyone heard it?
Check out the new Women Teaching in the Sciences website, co-hosted by Women's Prerogative and the National Women's Law Center. They only evaluate science faculty at some of the big research universities, but the results are telling nonetheless. Read the entire report or check out how your favorite school stands on the main website.
Here are the results for the U. of Minnesota:
Percentage of Professors Who Are Women 17% (2 out of 12)
Percentage of Professors Who Are Women 10% (4 out of 39)
Percentage of Professors Who Are Women 13% (4 out of 31)
Percentage of Professors Who Are Women 3% (2 out of 69)
Percentage of Professors Who Are Women 3% (2 out of 68)
Percentage of Professors Who Are Women 6% (2 out of 35)
Percentage of Professors Who Are Women 10% (3 out of 30)
Percentage of Professors Who Are Women 10% (4 out of 41)
Percentage of Professors Who Are Women 10% (1 out of 10)
Percentage of Professors Who Are Women 26% (33 out of 125)
Maureen Dowd's op/ed on the white male network news anchor paradigm raises some interesting points. I think she shot herself in the foot by ending her otherwise decent column with her ridiculous friend's comment:
Women like to read books about men and go to movies about men. But men don't like to read books about women or go to movies about women. The only way this is going to change is if women refuse to watch men. And the problem is, women like watching men.
Finally, read some of the absurdities that are being taught as part of "abstinence-only" curriculum around the country in an article from today's Washington Post.