Friday, January 09, 2004

Everybody's Doing It, So Why Not Me Too?

I think this has become a part of my physical fabric, the intellectual makeup, the absolute NEED to make a Top Ten Best Bits of Music list at the end (or in this case, beginning) of the year. I blame it on having been a radio geek for a really, really long time. I was in the radio club in high school and wrote music pieces for the school paper, and then moved on to 10 years of college radio (it took me a long time to get out of school). I also did some writing for the fabulous Snackcake! zine in Berkeley (which went on to become DIW) and bits and pieces for the weeklies up there in the Bay Area. When you've been immersed in music like that, people expect you to give 'em tips. And who am I to refuse those requests?

So without further delay, Mo's Favorite Music for 2003 - the best being at Number One, of course.

10. Various Artists - Femmes de Paris, Volume 2 It's that goo-goo go-go 60's ye-ye stuff, all cutesy and mod and fun. Jaqueline Taeb is one of my favorite vocalists from this period because she sounds so bored with the world, yet somehow still poppy too. Not as many covers on this as Vol. 1, and Petula Clark makes an appearance. Très fabuleux!

9. Lyrics Born - Later That Day... Lyrics Born has been on the scene for nearly a decade as part of the Solesides/Quannum collectives spawned in Davis, California, but this is his first full length. It's a voice you've probably heard, rapping for other people as part of those mentioned collectives, but his growly banter has loads of soul and his beats are groovy as shiza; if "Callin' Out" doesn't make you shake your ass, something is wrong with you. Great guest spots from Cut Chemist and Lateef the Truth Speaker, too.

8. Various Artists - DFA Records Presents: Compilation 1 Well, I was a child of the 80's, so it only stands to reason that I felt much guilty pleasure when the whole electroclash thing came 'round, but these producers (James Murphy & Tim Goldsworthy) were able to make it sound not quite like such a novelty. So they started a label. This comp is the cream of the rock/dance/electro crop, in my little ole opinion anyway. You got your dance jam, "House of Jealous Lovers " from the Rapture (taking the best from noisy Gang of Four) and the snooty "Losing My Edge" from LCD Soundsystem (he WISHES he could be Mark E. Smith) along with a bunch of other great tracks... If you liked that stuff then and the "comeback" of the sound doesn't offend you, grab this. Like I said, guilty pleasure.

7. The Clean - Anthology This is one of the best pop bands you may have never heard. Unless you know me (or my pal Tim Scanlin) because I happen to love music from New Zealand. Take the NZ heroes Split Enz - whom you most likely have heard, especially after they became Crowded House - and go visit their slightly warped and most likely coked up cousins, the Clean. Shimmering, sparkling melodies that run just a little too fast or a little too slow, this band is the reason why New Zealand experienced a renaissance in pop music in the 80's, and the amazing Flying Nun label was quick enough to realize that. Getting heard in the States though, is always tough, so God bless Merge for putting out this amazing collection. You haven't lived if you haven't heard "Diamondshine."

6. Kristin Hersh - The Grotto She is my hero. Has been for years. This insanely sparse and beautiful acoustic album is just as gritty and melancholy as she always is, despite it's prettiness. Howie Gelb and Andrew Bird add to the mystery.

5. On the Speakers - s/t EP Formerly of Creeper Lagoon, vocalist/songwriter Ian Sefchick moved from SF to LA and found a bunch of super talented and friendly guys to make beautiful music with. Ian is one of the few kings of truly catchy indie hooks, I think, and this 5 song EP is full of 'em. You can't help but sing along, and I'm excited for the future full length.

4. Various Artists - Bay Area Funk Ubiquity (and it's sub-labels) is one of the truly great labels, in that everything they put out is chosen with such care and so lovingly compiled that it's always an educating as well as entertaining experience. So is this comp, which gathers a wonderful selection of artists from the Bay Area - a hotbed of funk and soul in the late 60's and early 70's - and makes some ridiculously hard to find tracks available for all to boogie to. Sugar Pie Desanto, Marvin Holmes (who became a musician because he lived on the same block as Larry Graham while he was playing with Sly & the Family Stone, and saw all the chicks that came along with the gig), Little Denice... but it's all worth it for Rodger Collins' ode to the ladies, "Foxy Girls in Oakland." Oh yea, keep on struttin' down East 14th, baby!

3. Martina Topley-Bird - Quixotic You may know her best as the vocalist on the Tricky albums, but she has finally put out a really beautiful album all by herself. Well, with a little help from her friends. Sometimes she's in that mellow trip hop place that you may be expecting, but then she'll get all rowdy on your ass too. No one else sounds like her, since she has a lovely voice that tinkles and moans oh so well. And the lyrics? Genius. "Lying" is a wonderful slow groove about being the other woman, and the rocker, "Need One," was coaxed along with Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), while my favorite - a growly blues tune called "Too Tough to Die" - was produced by David Holmes. An amazing album, through and through, only put out as an import but you can probably track it down. And my brother knows her ex-boyfriend.

2. Throwing Muses - s/t They came back, and they came back strong, I tell ya! I guess that's what having kids did to them. Fronted by Kristin Hersh and, once again, Tanya Donnelly for the first time in a zillion years, the Muses hooked up with longtime drummer David Narcizo and bassist Bernard Georges and did a "reunion" album that was way wilder and aggressive than anything they'd ever done before. Kristin Hersh is an amazing lyricist, but she really wails on the guitar, taking it into a noisy meandering melodic place and back again. And with Tanya back on vocal duties, the sisterly harmonizing that made them cult favorites in the late 80's/early 90's proved just as beautiful this time around too. I can't believe they've all known each other since high school. Pretty and loud, that's how this CD was. "I'm so sorry I'm cardiac baggage, I'm so sorry you feel so bad...I'd do anything to fix you again, I'm so sorry you feel so bad... Is everything fading away?" Thing is, she doesn't mean it. Go, girls!

1. The Twilight Singers... play Blackberry Belle One of the most wicked and beautiful albums I've heard in forever. But there is backstory here.

Back in my KALX radio days, I had an indie rocker boyfriend who liked the Afghan Whigs. I was caught by their cover of "The Temple," because Jesus Christ Superstar frikkin' ROCKS and is terribly groovy to boot, and I thought it was pretty ballsy of some band to do a fairly straight up cover from it. So I bought Congregation and later Gentlemen (since deemed by many critic types to be one of the best albums of the 90's), but then the Whigs sorta fell off my radar.

In 2001, I moved to LA, and met Greg Dulli, singer, songwriter, producer, guitar/piano/mellotron/etc. player for the Whigs. I worked at a record store at the time and he'd come by to shop and we'd chat. As I got to know him since then, I started to feel bad because he'd tell me these stories (and that boy does tell some good stories!) about recording this song or that song, and I didn't even have any of his records. Well, just those two I mentioned. So anyway, I started picking the rest up. And holy shit - why did I not notice how damn genius they were then? There's a lot of music out there, and sometimes it just takes a while for it to reach you, I guess. So, being a bit of a completist, I now have a ridiculous collection of Whigs stuff. And the Twilight Singers are just as incredible.

So... Blackberry Belle... It's an album that you can't stop listening to from start to finish. Each song is strong, and while you're on the ride (preferably with headphones) you're treated to some crazy shit. It's haunting and beautiful, catchy and sad. Greg likes to say he's a functional schizophrenic, and it's so very evident here. There are lots of images that pop into mind from these songs... A hooker boogies in a dark alley for "Decatur Street," a rough, stormy sea for "Martin Eden," a twisted canyon night ride for "Teenage Wristband..." And the words will either cause you to smirk or cringe, because YOU KNOW. You just won't go there. In search of that light, the one we all reach for... that's how this album is.

"never - no one
I wait - ever...
I feel - this light
but I conceal
no one complete
this mess, replete
perfumed in mud
christened by a wave
this is neverlasting love"

There you go, Mo's Top Ten of 2003. There were some other titles that skated around the fringes... the OutKast CD (of course!), the Rapture, Mark Lanegan's new EP, Luv N' Haight's Inner City Sounds comp., the Iron & Wine EP. And there were some really fun singles this year too: Lovin' that "Milkshake" from Kelis, equally sexy was Goldfrapp's "Train," the ever present "Dance to the Underground" from Radio 4, the Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" still doesn't let me down, Cat Power's "Free" was totally addictive, "Frontin'" from Pharrell is the BOMB as well as Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" (my pal Kitaytay says it's the summer jammy jam to end all summer jammy jams... and it lifts the Chi-Lites "Are You My Woman" to give it that retro feel). My guilty pleasure of the year? Junior Senior's "Move Your Feet." Makes me giddy every time I hear it. And let's not even get into the phenomenon that is "Hey Ya." Wow.

So get left of the dial, surf that internet, see some bands... what will we find next?