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[whitespace] Best of 2004

The listy thing you love to hate to read

By Sara Bir

End-of-the-year top 10 lists drive me nuts. That's usually because I disagree with them. But I always read the dang things--it's a compulsion. There's something satisfying about seeing crummy records on a top 10 list and thinking, "Geez, this hack simply does not know what she is talking about."

This year, that hack is me. For a change of pace, here--in no order whatsoever--is a real-life list of 10 things that made me glad to be alive and listening to music in 2004.

Every single damn thing about Loretta Lynn's 'Van Lear Rose.' "Portland, Oregon" = single of the year. Jack White's production = new trick for one foxy old dog. Loretta's dress on the album's cover = what you know you would wear if you were the most ass-kickin' country music superstar in the world.

Cinephiles and rock nerds had cause to rejoice. The rambunctious Rodney Bingenheimer documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip, the Ramones tutorial End of the Century, the Metallica group-therapy love/hate-fest Some Kind of Monster and the deluded ego-tripping of Dig! were all as compelling and catchy as brilliant albums are addictively listenable.

So far, I've seen the Velvet Teen's 'Elysium' on two top 10 albums of 2004 lists . . . and one of those lists was from The Onion! I may not love top 10 lists, but I love The Onion. Witnessing the Velvet Teen's evolution from a pop band making bedroom recordings to a pop band capable of moving from orchestral swells to intimate fragility in one fell swoop is gratifying enough; that many other people are noticing as well only makes it that much sweeter.

The entire world fell in love with Joanna Newsom. The Divine Miss N: voice of a mini Melanie, fashion leanings of a Renaissance fairgoer and the lyrical slant of a writer of grown-up nursery rhymes snared the hearts of the hipster set. A story: my friend Schuyler walks into a club where Ms. Newsom prepares to take the stage. Eyeing her huge acoustic harp, he says, "It's going to start sounding all angelic and shit in here pretty soon."

Mr. Bir Toujour finds a cassette tape of Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark's first album in our garage. While the rest of the world celebrated the talents of neo-new wave bands (if there are such things) with foppish haircuts and designer ties, I rocked out in my car to OMD's self-titled 1980 debut. Those of you who associate OMD with the fluffy hit song from Pretty in Pink should check out their earlier stuff, which synthesizes the gloom of Joy Division with their own distinctive brand of experimentation.

Electro Group's EP finally came out. This Sacramento trio, whose fuzz-and-crunch take on shoegaze is more like shoegrunge, is easily one of my favorite bands--especially to see live, as they have a penchant for squabbling onstage that harks back to CBGB's-era Ramones. I had to wait almost three years for the follow-up to their debut album. Was it worth it? Methinks so.

The Macha show I got dragged to turned out to be really, really good. The Athens, Ga.-based Macha put out a string of solid albums in the '90s, infusing pop with the exotica of world music without pandering to clichés. When Macha mastermind Joshua McKay returned after four years with a new album and tour, I was skeptical, but the show silenced any remaining doubts. The touring band, featuring members of the Mercury Program and Maserati, deftly traded off dulcimers, marimbas and steel drums without batting an eye. It made me remember how mesmerizing it can be to watch skilled musicians perform.

Sanctuary reissued the Kinks' 'Village Green Preservation Society.' That I listened to this every day for a solid month totally solidifies my rock-nerd status.

Oneida released a new album and an EP. Possibly the noisiest, heaviest, most psychedelic group active today, if not ever. These Brooklynites have mutated from a sloppy party acid-rock band to a blissfully nightmarish, pulsating, audio art installation with a feverishly prodigious output of material.

Brightblack's 'Ala.Cali.Tucky.' Slowcore for rednecks, real and true and easy-drinking, with all the yawning, poetic laziness of the life we dream of living.

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From the December 29, 2004-January 4, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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