It’s been a little while. A few low-key life upheavals, etc. I come here to tell you, dear reader, that I wouldn’t dare missing out on our end of the year date. Here is part one of this year’s list, the releases from years prior to 2010 that I fell in love with over the past 12 months.
Cheap Girls- My Roaring 20’s
There is something inauspicious and almost goofy about how My Roaring 20’s begins. A simple drum mirroring a second hand, a garage sale guitar, that stumpy little melodica, and singer Ian Graham’s voice, a mumble through an amplifier, an actor reading lines before the curtain is all the way up. The band’s songs carry this feeling of sick-bed humor which helps them get through the shit-jobs they work so they won’t have to ask their parents for rent, the non-existent books they would be writing if they weren’t so broke and exhausted, the corrugate on their feet because Chucks aren’t built to last at this point. If an asshole from you graduating college class gets blackout-drunk and belts out “Unsatisfied” on the night they get their degree, Cheap Girls are the ones who feel the same way, but know that one way or another, there’s a living that has to be made.
Bill Callahan- Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle
Bill Callahan would be a sensational fisherman. The patience that runs through the tempo and tone of Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle would be the same patience which would allow him to sit on a rocky shore or a sticky pier and train his eyes on a single length of line for any signs of movement. Despite the pointedly atheist-leaning lyrics of …Eagle’s songs (On “Rococo Zephyr” one of the album highlights, Callahan smirks, “Well I used to be sort of blind/Now I can sort of see”), these songs have the heft and the open-wide feeling of spiritual music. Even when forlorn, as on “Eid Ma Clack Shaw,” which chronicles Callahan’s dual anger at both the ethereal (Dreaming the world’s most perfect song, only to have it smothered and smudged upon waking), and the tangible (Callahan’s waking loneliness), he sounds muted, as if guiding the listeners through a morality play. Callahan’s simple delivery and the subtle arrangements provide a great entry-point for this surprisingly dense album.
Jawbox- For Your Own Special Sweetheart
This one sounds metal. It’s not, though. Jawbox are a punk band through and through, but this one just sounds like clanging. Jawbox are perhaps my favorite of the mid-90s DC punk bands, due in no small part to their gear-driven sound and the way it supports and envelopes singer J. Robbins’ surprisingly tender and clean vocals. This album has guitars filled with industrial grit and the drums used to hold hazardus chemicals. It is just a wonderfully cacophonous punk album.
Jeremy Enigk- OK Bear
Jesus shows up in Spain. It’s late fall and he’s on a beach with no people except a few ant-sized winter coats walking dogs the size of half-ants. He looks around, the wind is strong and Jesus is naked, but he’s got to tell somebody something. Something so important, it was worth coming back for. Rather than waiting for those dog walkers or late fall beach aficionados to show up, he starts writing in the sand. He writes in English, about love, and music, and birds that almost choke on worms flying low-oxygen over a ridge to feed their children. He draws diagrams and figures where needed. He finishes without a full understanding of tidal movements. The next morning, a singer named Jeremy Enigk is suffering through the worst writers block he’s had in ages. He hits his hand against the gurader-rail of the ocean-side road he’s walking on the shoulder of and vents; he’s already flown from Seattle, and booked studio time and now, of all times, he can’t think of the words? He looks down at the beach and notices some writing in the sand. Half of it is covered by mussels and seaweed, but he takes a pen and scribbles what he can make out. After he’s written what he can decipher, he turns around and runs back towards the studio.
Freakwater- End Time
Fifty percent of country music is in the longing. Seventy five percent of the longing is the voice. Fifty percent of the voice is the words. Ninety five percent of the words are hardline advertising, selling something you know to not be true to people so hard, they would think you were born believing it. Sixty percent of selling something that well is linking it to something unrelated, but emotionally vital. Ten percent of having something emotionally vital to link to is from things your parents did, to each other or to you. The other ninety percent is what you’ve done to yourself. Freakwater have clearly done this to themselves.
Bottom of the Hudson- Fantastic Hawk
Here’s the problem, when kids are teenagers, they won’t listen to their parents. That’s not the problem per se, the problem is that their parents were teenagers once, and, if nothing else, know exactly what music would help their kids get up the courage to buy fake IDs or kiss their slow-dance partner at makeout point. Their parents know the exact music to give them something to rage against, the exact song to cry with, and the rare perfectly defiant fuck-off song that might, maybe, make them smile. And, instead, teenagers find Train and The Fray. If I have a kid that pays me the least bit of mind, I’m giving them a copy of Fantastic Hawk. I don’t mean to demean the album by saying it is perfect for teenagers, what I mean is this is the kind of perfect indie rock concoction so simple and so fully realized, and yet so direct that I think they would just get it.
Best albums of the year is coming up soon. Hopefully, before 2011.