So many records, so many listmaking fans
The nice thing about year-end music lists is that, unlike lists of Top 10 Movies or Top 10 Horrifying Things Your President Did, almost no two are alike. There are simply too many diverse records released in a year, and too many eccentricities of taste, for any two music lovers to agree on such a slim canon. Almost any list worth reading stands a good chance of containing at least one disc you’ve never even heard, making January a great month for running to the record store and catching up on the previous 12 months. I’m happy to add fodder to that shopping list:
The Mountain Goats
The Sunset Tree (4AD)
The most spellbinding record I heard all year, a memoir’s worth of family drama, teenage bewilderment, and the desperate, phermonal hope that can spring from the right slab of “Dance Music.” John Darnielle, the songwriter and sole constant member of the band, made a huge leap here, finishing his transition from boombox-recorded, low-fi masterworks to a tightly produced record in which every song relies upon its neighbors.
Gimme Fiction (Merge)
Saying that it isn’t as fantastic as Kill the Moonlight isn’t much of a slam. We won’t even hold it against frontman Britt Daniel that he’s reportedly in the process of leaving Texas behind — moving to Portland for, of all things, a girl. Hey Britt, who’s singing “I summon you here, my love,” you or her?
Strange Geometry (Merge)
Melodies dripping with melancholy, strains of ’60s British pop as filtered through ’80s revisionism and then tweaked a bit beyond that, Strange Geometry wasn’t exactly the least affected LP of the year, but it was one of the most beautiful.
The Mouse and the Mask (Epitaph)
Danger Doom, aka MF Doom and Danger Mouse, were this year’s answer to Dr. Octagon — only without the horror-show pornography and with more cartoon characters. Does hip-hop have to hide behind alter egos to be this much fun?
Her London/Sri Lanka/Madras take on political hip-hop made Maya Arulpragasam a critics’ darling months before Arular was even available in the U.S. Happily, the record lived up to the hype — slangy, beat-tastic, and such a rich stew of stylistic influences that it could keep a pop musicologist busy for months.
Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella)
Teaming up with strings-happy producer Jon Brion was a smart move. Dissing Dubya was a nice touch. But Late Registration would be a killer record if West had done it himself and stayed off national TV the whole year.
Run the Road
by Various Artists (Vice)
If Grime isn’t yet a household word, it got a lot closer thanks to this collection of some of the most eccentrically gritty rap stars to rise up from Britain’s streets. Some of the disc’s discoveries, like Kano and Lady Sovereign, have seen some limelight Stateside by now; here’s hoping others like Ears and No Lay get a shot in 2006.
Twin Cinema (Matador)
How perfect do the New Pornographers have to get before the supergroup’s members are forced by fans to abandon all their other bands and commit to this one full-time? I’d hate to never get another Destroyer album or see Neko Case have a stage all to herself again, but it might be a reasonable price to pay.
Get Behind Me Satan (V2)
No surprise here, right? They’ve still got it, and folks who thought they were a fad are looking pretty silly. Such a strange combination of styles rarely holds together as well as it does here.
Black Sheep Boy (Jagjaguwar)
The second Texas act on the list got a mountain of press this year, including a spread in The New York Times that any band would kill for. More power to them, even if the attention should have come their way two records back. Then again, Black Sheep Boy saw some changes in the band’s lineup that brought their studio output and their live performances into closer alignment. •