Shaken and Stirred
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lala, 16 music ses (and a PLEA!)
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Music, 2003. I feel especially guilty and ill-prepared to make this list, but the one useful thing about it is that it makes me actively think about all the albums I havenít heard or purchased or fully absorbed yet. But will. Many of my favorite bands put out new records this year that I just didnít get around to picking up yet. (Offerings by Cat Power and Yo La Tengo two that send me into immediate self-recrimination; why donít I own these?) Yeah, Iím a dinosaur; I buy CDs or rely on the kindness of people of impeccable taste sending them to me in the mail. Albums that leap to mind as having come out in 2003 or toward the end of 2002 or that I listened to a whole helluva lot in 2003 were declared eligible for this one. (An alternate, excellent and more inclusive list from NPR, which has the brilliant Rachel Rodger and Juana Molina on it, so must be right.)

1. UP and THE LONG WALK HOME, Peter Gabriel. Yeah, Iím one of those people. Itís nothing I think about too much, but Iíve always loved Peter Gabrielís music. Every album he puts out seems to be the right sonic landscape for at least some portion of my right-then life, and I still like it years later when I find it and put it on. Both of these albums were good writing albums for me this year; they have space for your thoughts in them. I like open-ended music to write to, mostly. Most of THE GIRL GANG was written to UP. RABBIT-PROOF FENCE provided ambience for lots of other things, and um, came out in 2002 (as did UP now that I think about itĖ oh wellÖ).

2. TALLAHASSEE, The Mountain Goats. Christopher and I discovered The Mountain Goats (and the Baptist Generals, who are not on this list but could be and are well worth checking out) at the prodding of Michaelangelo Matos, now music editor for the Seattle Weekly. He wrote me a cryptic email that pretty much said: you are planning to go see The Mountain Goats at High on Rose, right? I said: of course, itís a block away. The songs on this album are wonderfully spooky and funny by turns. And you have to love any band that can make addictively singable lyrics out of things like, ďOur love is like a Cuban plane/ flying to Havana/ up the Florida coast through the glades/ Soviet made/ Our love is like the border between Greece and Albania/ trucks loaded down with weapons/ crossing over every night/ moon yellow and brightĒ or my favorite, which we constantly sing to each other at strange times in public places: ďI hope I lie/ and tell everyone you were a good wife/ I hope you die/ I hope we both die.Ē

3. RABBIT SONGS and IíM TALKING WITH MY MOUTH, Hem. I rely on Ms. Link for a good deal of hey look over there or gifts of CDs pointing me toward new music, especially in years like this one where the $$ for CDs does not abound, or the ones Iím looking for are MIA at the stores. Our taste usually dovetails or sings like swans, or what have you. We have similar taste in music. She sent us this album (twice, actually, I think) and itís probably the album I adored most this year. Beautiful, sweeping music full of grand moments on a tiny scale. Love it.

4. THE TRANSFIGURATION OF VINCENT, M. Ward. Ditto above, mostly. A sad and poetic and rocking album. The helicopter song is brilliant, but I also love the dead man song. But that makes it sound like the whole thing isnít brilliant, which it is.

5. GHOSTS OF THE GREAT HIGHWAYS, Sun Kil Moon. I actually got this album for Christmas, by request, and have given it a few listens now and itís just what I wanted. In fact, Iíll probably use this as the soundtrack for the writing of the new script. Lots of space for projection. If there are any Red House Paintersí fans out there, this is Mark Kozelekís new band. Itís kind of a cross between Son Volt and the sonic wall parts of The Pixies.

6. FEAST OF WIRE, Calexico. I want to write a movie for this to be the soundtrack to every time I listen to this record. Iíve loved this band for years and this really is their best album yet. (Ugh, almost caught myself using the word effort there, which I hateóďbest effortĒóstab me with a knife and be done with itÖ) Just a great fucking album.

7. MAKE OUT, The Rosebuds. Again, just got a copy of this record from Barb and Richard not long ago but it just burns the whole house down. I know that my stereo will be happiest set to pop/rock on this one, but really, this is straight ahead rock and roll. One of the simpler pleasures in life.

8. THE MAN COMES AROUND (America IV), Johnny Cash. A sentimental choice to be sure but an honest one. I never thought anyone could redeem ďA Bridge Over Troubled Water.Ē The only problem with this record is that itís almost too good, almost too beautiful and heavy with meaning. Itís one unbelievably strong, heartfelt song after another after another until youíre almost exhaustedóbut in the best possible way. And then it leaves you with a cheerful goodbye.

9. THE GROTTO, Kristin Hersh. Yeah, there was a great new Throwing Muses album but I havenít gotten it yet, only heard bits and pieces. I always, always rush out to buy Hershís (and Donnellyís for that matter) solo albums, which are never the same and never boring. THE GROTTO is darker and quieter than her last few albums have been, but no less strong for that.

10. 89/93: AN ANTHOLOGY, Uncle Tupelo. All right, so this isnít new material, but it is a new collection of some of the best of Uncle Tupeloís material. Uncle Tupelo were my favoritest band in the whole world for about two years in high school, pushing aside The Replacements, The Pixies and, even, Concrete Blonde. And this is an ass-stomping collection, whether you missed out the first time around or not. This is Americana, or alt.country or whatever-the-hell-label-you-prefer getting born, walking and learning to run. An added bonus: you can also hear Wilco and Son Volt being born, in the wildly disparate styles of songs toward the end of band. Did I mention I probably wouldnít have made it back out to my parentsí on Christmas night if I hadnít had this to drive along to? Great driving music. (And yeah, this one technically 2002 as well, but I listened to it a lot in 2003.)

11. JUST BECAUSE IíM A WOMAN, SONGS OF DOLLY PARTON, various. A beautiful package with a lovely painting of Ms. Parton and her guitar; there are some fantastic versions of DP standards on here. And let me tell you, whatever you might think, Dolly Parton is one hell of a songwriter. (And unlike Bruce Springsteen, it doesnít actually take someone else doing her songs to make you noticeÖ like it did me anyway. But it does make me appreciate them more.)

12. CLOSE COVER BEFORE STRIKING, Luna. I pretty much completely adore everything Luna does, ever. One of the few bands that I regularly just randomly pick an album from and throw it on and remember all the words to every single song. (Catherine Wheel being the other one that immediately pops to mindóno new Catherine Wheel this year.) This suffers only from brevity (and like many things here, may have actually been released in 2002).

13. RED DEVIL DAWN, Crooked Fingers. Oh, how I miss Archers of Loaf. This is different, but still highly enjoyable and not the least bit nostalgic because itís something different entirely.

14. THE THORNS, The Thorns. Yeah, they got me. The supergroup got me. And Iíll tell you somethingóI never even really think I like this album very much, but every time I put it on, happy, bouncing around, poppy joy. So, I guess I admit the supergroup got me (Pete Droge, Matthew Sweet and Shawn Mullins, for the uninitiated).

15. TEMPO DE AMOR (SONGS OF BADEN POWELL), Smokey and Miho. My favorite mellow, bliss out listen of the year (Thanks, Richard!), by lengths and lengths. The perfect background music to cook, or read, or eat dinner by. Warm, sultry, lovely tribute to music of Brazil I wish I could say I was more familiar with.

16. WELCOME INTERSTATE MANAGERS, Fountains of Wayne. I put this on here even though I donít own it yetóthe killer radio station Iím about to talk about played it widelyójust because it cracks me up that Fountains of Wayne are considered a ďBest New ArtistĒ by this yearís Grammys. I love FoW and itís only a matter of time before I find this used and snag it.

And now, a plea!

Iím asking for your help, because our great public radio station, WRVG, who tried too big and grand for the small-minded, greedy idiots in charge of it is going away. Rumor is they are in negotiations to sell it to a religious chain. Yuck. This was godís own radio station. Like your best friend sending you the best mixtape of new and old stuff, every freaking day, for free. And the djís loved the music, loved the mission, loved what they were doing. Unfortunately, when the university made the (terrible) decision to sell the radio station they also decided to pink slip all the staff immediately, except the station manager who basically loaded a bunch of music into random play and for the next three months thatís it. (Itís still good, but sad sad to listen to.) The other morning this brilliant, rocking pop or rock, Iím on the fence, came on and I fell in instant love with it and have had no luck whatsoever locating the song or artist or album in my random searches. Itís a girl group, or at least the only voices I remember are womenís voices. The main voice is a woman whose voice sounds like Nena (99 Luftballoons) and thereís a part that repeats ďso cinematicĒ and the chorus repeats the words ďclose upĒ over and over. This song fucking rocks. Please write me email or post in the comments if you have any idea. It sounded recent to me, but I only heard the last half, and only once and only early in the morning. Help! Iíll love you forever.

earworm: "Jackson," Hem version

random rec: Mouton Cadet Bordeaux 2000

namecheck: Christopher "You Made This Year Rock" Rowe


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