Sunday, September 13, 2009

2004 In Music: Recap

I'm hoping that everyone is keeping up with the almost daily music reviews at Aught Music, recapping the best tracks of our waning decade. 2005 is kicking off this week! Since this is a joint project involving several people, there are much more prolific, well-versed folks submitting their picks. Here are the reviews I submitted for 2004. Click on the links for a free listen.

1.) "How We Know" by the Thermals (from the album Fuckin A):

You spoon water like love and I will take it if you can take it...

"How We Know" is one of those infectious songs that can get stuck in your head very easily. Giving it a careful listen, however, I realize that it's probably not one of the greatest songs ever. The lyrics fill in as repetitive space holders for the throbbing beat, occasionally erupting into what feels like a jam session. There's nothing earth-shattering about this, but goddamn, it's a great song to rock out to from time to time. Hutch Harris' voice is perfect for this, and the rock-out parts sound much bigger than a trio would normally sound. One of the heavy criticisms of mainstream pop is that it's mindless and packaged to sound the same. A song like "How We Know" shows that indie rock can also have its share of mindless jams. Every genre has its share of music that simply boils down to "fun," and this song is no exception. The Thermals have written better songs, but this one always puts me in a good mood.

2.) "Soulful Shade Of Blue" by Neko Case, covering Buffy Saint-Marie (from the album The Tigers Have Spoken):

Case is one of those rare artists who can blend original material and cover songs effortlessly, with said cover songs working more as homages than new interpretations. Given her status as one of the best live performers of today, "Soulful Shade Of Blue" works on all of these levels. It's a very simple, almost quaint tale of lost love and redemption.

Dressmaker, dressmaker,
I'm singing at the hall next saturday night and he'll be there.
He's been gone for so long, I want him back again,
Make me the sweetest dress you can.

Make it a soulful shade of blue with a ribbon at the hem,
A ribbon white for loyalty to show that I remember when
A soulful shade of blue looked into my eyes
And tell him I want him back again.

Originally recorded by Buffy Saint-Marie, Case sings "Soulful Shade Of Blue" in a virtually identical arrangement, albeit with backup vocals and at a faster pace. Case's own songs are complex, metaphor-laden looks at love and life in both urban and rural settings, and this cover feels like a minimalist version of her own material. It's intentionally old-fashioned, catchy, and highlights the amazing legacy of Canada's musical history. I've seen Case perform this song twice, and it has always been one of her best staples. Everything that she stands for can be found in these two and a half minutes.

3.) "The Dark Of the Matinee" by Franz Ferdinand (from the album Franz Ferdinand):

Before Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, it's safe to say that no band truly exploded on the scene like Franz Ferdinand, all hyberbole necessary. Their self-titled debut album did not have one throwaway track on it, with each one worthy of consideration for the best of the Aughts. I've been listening to this album for five years, and every track has gone through a spell as one of my favorites. "The Dark of the Matinee" wins, since it combines both of their sounds: hard rocking and a soft, almost ballad-like style. The lyrics are full of both meticulous detail and enough "wiggle room" to leave parts open for interpretation.

I charm you and tell you of the boys I hate
All the girls I hate
All the clothes I hate
How I'll never be anything I hate

This song came awfully close to being overplayed a few years back, and listening to it for the first time in quite awhile in preparation for this writing, I was reminded of how Franz Ferdinand combines great sounds that anyone can appreciate with subtle hints of elitism and bravado. This song has an addictive chorus, amazing lyrics, and was a hint of things to come. They've matured with their last two albums, but at the same time, this debut was pretty hard to follow.
(Note: This was part of a music roundtable with fellow blogger Rich Thomas.)

4.) "Bukowski" by Modest Mouse (from the album Good News For People Who Love Bad News):

Yes, yes, yes. The obvious choice would be "Float On," and while that is one of the great songs of this decade, I've always had a soft spot for "Bukowski." When I first listened to this song, I immediately assumed it was a fun homage/criticique of the notorious author, but in fact, it's much more. Charles Bukowski is merely an example in the lyrics, which are much more profound than they appear at first. The song is an open-ended question of problem of goodness combined with human nature. In essense, nobody is spared, not even God:

If God controls the land and disease,
keeps a watchful eye on me,
If he's really so damn mighty,
my problem is I can't see,
well who would wanna be?
Who would wanna be such a control freak?
Well who would wanna be?
Who would wanna be such a control freak?

Issac Brock's scratchy, guttural voice is pitch-perfect for the tough questions of this song. The music is somewhat jarring, at times sounding like a mash of notes that get jumbled, but right themselves just in time. It's not a particularly easy listen, since the lyrics are sometimes rushed and mumbled, and the instruments (especially the banjo sequences) almost sound angry in some way. However, despite appearing cynical, the song works as an almost metaphysical query. If this is true, then it works like a Bukowski short story: underneath the hard exterior, there are some intelligent ideas and sympathetic questions.
(Note: This was another roundtable with Rich Thomas.)

2005 kicks off this week. I'm very excited about reading the submissions, since I think that 2005 was arguably the best year of the Aughts. Keep reading and supporting everyone in this endeavor!

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