[17 December 2004]
|60|| THE PONYS |
Laced with Romance (In the Red)
There’s nothing fancy about this Chicago quartet’s debut album, which is precisely what makes it so fantastic. So what if basically the same riff is recycled throughout the record? That’s one killer riff. So what if you can barely make out what lead singer Jared Gummere is saying in his Joey Ramone-meets-Richard Hell yelp? The confidence and energy in his voice more than makes up for it. So what if The Ponys aren’t exactly breaking new ground with their guitar-based garage rock? Innovation is overrated, and sometimes you just need a damn good rock song. And The Ponys give us a dozen of them, including the deliriously great “Let’s Kill Ourselves”, which was surely just a Seth Cohen plug away from being a hit. Rock ‘n’ roll rarely sounds so effortless yet impassioned as it does here.
David Malitz :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
|59|| THE LIBERTINES |
The Libertines (Sanctuary)
Libertines by name, libertine by nature, the bruising ego games played out by songwriters Carl Barât and Pete Doherty have become the NME‘s longest running soap opera. With drugs a jarring sub-text, the tale has been fast and florid embracing burglary, offensive weapons, mystical therapies and Doherty’s own stay in prison after that break-in at his band-mate’s flat. This sustained public display of misbehaviour has not been without its fall-out—literally. Doherty has been sacked, come back, been sacked again. Yet in the midst of the feud, a second album has emerged from this gang of post-punk apostles, whom Alan McGee, one-time Oasis svengali, now oversees and even compares to the Sex Pistols at their best. The record is a spiky, spiteful yet still spirited affair, touching upon, in songs like “Can’t Stand Me Now” and “Narcissist”, the themes and threads that have scarred the group’s recent times. Let’s hope this apparently doomed romance has a happier ending than that.
Simon Warner :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
Perhaps not since the heyday of Britpop, when the Gallagher brothers bedded nearly every pop starlet in England and spit on American awards show attendees, has a rock band been such ripe tabloid fodder. Most of the coverage involves guitarist/songwriter Pete Doherty’s drug-addled escapades-from his frequent trips to exotic rehab programs to his no-shows for gigs. With all the documented mayhem, it might seem impossible for the Libertines to come up with a coherent follow-up to their highly-praised debut, 2000’s Up the Bracket. And that would be mostly correct. Unlike the typical sophomore effort, which refines the vision or spruces up some of the rougher edges of its predecessor, The Libertines takes a rather unconventional view of progress, almost entirely deconstructing the first record. Whatever you may think of the album on a purely aesthetic level, it’s hard to imagine a record more perfectly capturing the Libertines at present: the band as tabloid concept. And therein lies its genius. In falling of short of their ambitions and living to tell the tale, the Libertines have paradoxically achieved their potential. They have cemented their identity as the perpetual underdogs, the certain fuck-ups. Call it survival of the fortunate.
Jon Garrett :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
|58|| THE VON BONDIES |
Pawn Shoppe Heart (Sire)
“Pawn Shoppe Heart”, aside from being the title track on one of the greatest rock and roll albums to be released this decade, is perhaps the best rock song put on tape since all of us were concerned about Y2K. From its lopping bass intro through front-man Stollsteimer’s screamed plea the to mounting guitar wails at the song’s climax, the track is a virtual primer in how to construct music that is as timeless as it is immediate. The rest of the album, which serves as introduction to its eponymous closing track, is every bit as good as well: “C’mon C’mon” is hard rock distilled into pop candy; “Broken Man” is the best song written about Detroit since Kiss; “Maried” makes you wonder why Dick Dale’s surf tones were never wedded to more compelling music; and “Fever” answers affirmative the question, “Can a great rock song pull off a three-part round?” If most people only heard about Pawn Shoppe Heart because they heard about Stollsteimer’s non-violence in the face of Jack White’s fist, they are nonetheless continuing to listen to music that continues to hit the ear like a most pleasant sock in the jaw.
Seth Limmer :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
|57|| MARK LANEGAN BAND |
Bubblegum (Beggars Banquet)
The Man in Black is dead, but the Man in Black can never die; he’s too important both as myth and as music. Of the triumvirate continuing the legacy, Mark Lanegan is probably the most authentic survivor of the American Dream. Improbably grizzled at 40, he sings whiskey-laced blues with total, wearie conviction and a deep-burning flame born of satisfaction and an irrepressible lust for life. Backed up by members of QOTSA, PJ Harvey and his ex-wife (on the Cash-referencing “Wedding Dress”), his fantastic songwriting covers ripsnorting rockers (“Sideways in Reverse”), lysergic poetry (“Bombed”) and elegiac beauty (“One Hundred Days”), his fantastic voice the lilting sprawl of fallen grandeur. Another American songbook of heartbreak, regret and redemption; exciting, sexual, sentimental, timeless. You might complain that some of the songs burn too rough around the edges, and you’d be missing the point. Like the man himself sings, woohoo.
Stefan Braidwood :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
|56|| THE HIVES |
Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope)
Another flawless collection of thundering punk jives from Sweden’s garage machine. Yes, they wear suits and no, they’re not innovators, but damn, do they rock. Tyrannosaurus Hives picks up the micrometer of slack left from the irrepressible Veni Vidi Vicious, and showcases some killer ditties along the way. The steely guitars slice and dice while Pelle howls like his sex life depends on it—and you know that movie The Machinist, it really should’ve been a documentary about drummer Chris Dangerous. This album is so infectiously fierce that it should come with an air band advisory sticker on the cover. The hooks make for more ravenous consumption than a fudge sundae would require, and despite the synthesized cherry on top, The Hives haven’t added any artificial colour or flavour. Just pure rock decadence here. I double dare you.
Liam Colle :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
Thank God the Hives never got the memo that bands don’t swagger and wear matching costumes anymore. Over the course of Tyrannosaurus Hives’ 30 minutes, the five Swedes who make up the Hives prove that they’re funnier, better dressed and just plain cooler than nearly every other band on the planet today. Though they could have churned out Veni, Vidi, Vicious 2 and landed a spot on this list, the Hives expanded their sonic palette and added Krautrock (“Love in Plaster”, “Walk Idiot Walk”) and string flourishes (“Diabolic Scheme”) to their already-impressive garage-rock arsenal. Lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s vocals strut out of the speakers on every track (especially on the urgent opener “Abra Cadaver” and the union anthem “A Little More For a Little You”) and the rest of the band is lockstep right behind him. Bar none, these guys are the kings of neo-garage. Tyrannosaurus Hives, indeed.
Stephen Haag :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
|55|| THE FIERY FURNACES |
Blueberry Boat (Rough Trade)
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was somewhat shocked and confused by this record for a good two weeks before the fever finally broke. Seventy minutes worth of mini-rock operas about girls in the tops of trees, lost dogs, co-workers, kidnapping, steam trains and a heartbreaker named Jenny were far more than I had bargained for. But given time the record revealed itself to be as charming and welcoming as anything released this year. When Brain Wilson produced his long-awaited Smile a few months later I couldn’t help but see a similarity in both records’ celebration of the grand beauty and strangeness of rock music. If anything, this record secures my faith in rock’s loving acceptance of a bizarre trip off the deep end.
Jon Goff :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
|54|| THE MAGNETIC FIELDS |
As the plebeians wondered where one moves from recording an a record as monolithic as 69 Love Songs, principal Magnetic Fields songwriter Stephin Merrit provided his own answer: sideways. Though i lacks the sweeping denouement of releasing 69 love songs together in one package, it more than redoubles its worth by accomplishing everything Merrit’s best at in miniature format. The highlights are predictably myriad: “I’m an Operetta” and the winking Duran Duran impression “I Thought You Were My Boyfriend” especially shine. But it’s the relatively straight-forward acoustic—as in banjo, cello, acoustic guitar—“I Don’t Believe You” and “I Don’t Really Love You Anymore” that evince a master songwriter at the top of his game. Concept or not, there’s precious little more thrilling than that.
Eric Seguy :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
|53|| DELAYS |
Faded Seaside Glamour (Rough Trade/Sanctuary)
Southampton’s Delays conjured up the perfect pop combination of sunny, seaside melodies, La’s-inspired giddiness, and sun kissed vistas on their debut album, Faded Seaside Glamour. Frontman Greg Gilbert’s angelic vocals are the highlight here but his Liz Fraser meets Lee Mavers singing benefit mightily from the consistently excellent songwriting. Like so many classic albums, Delays equip Side A with impeccable pop symphonies like “Nearer Than Heaven” and “Wonderlust”, while lulling the listener into the most satisfying of revelries on the flip side with the gorgeous “Satellite’s Lost” and the closer, “On”. To say Faded Seaside Glamour is 2004’s most beautiful record would not be overstating matters. A real gem.
Michael Beaumont :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
|52|| ALLISON MOORER |
The Duel (Sugar Hill)
Allison Moorer was on the fast track to being a Nashville star: she had the looks, the voice, and the tragic pedigree to succeed. But she couldn’t stand it any more, and she walked away. This album is the sound of her footsteps away from the Big Fat Empty Dream. But she doesn’t do anything halfway. The record is not just about leaving Cashville, but about leaving all the rest of it behind too: Moorer walks away from God (“Believe You Me”, “The Duel”), from jingoistic rush-to-war America (“All Aboard”), from sobriety (“One on the House”). It’s all dirty-sounding, like mid-period Neil Young, but if you listen closely the melodies are still there, still as lovely as ever. Then, on the last song, after teaching us the way things really are, Allison Moorer dies quietly. It’s the bravest record of the year.
Matt Cibula :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
|51|| MISS KITTIN |
You could be forgiven if you had dismissed Miss Kittin—known to her mother as Caroline Hervé—as a gimmick. Certainly, when she first appeared on the scene at the turn of the century, dressed in a vinyl nurse-costume and breathing sweet nothings over tracks by producers such as Felix da Housecat, Goldenboy and the Hacker, it was tempting to do just that. But just when it seemed like she was on her way to becoming a one-trick pony, she quit doing the breathy-voice thing. She stopped wearing the nurse outfit. She started touring and in very short order built herself an international reputation as one of the most skilled and eclectic DJs to hit the scene in quite some time. And just in case you didn’t get the hint that she was trying to put the sex-kitten phase of her career behind her, she also shaved her head. Electronic music as a whole is at something of a low-ebb in terms of domestic popularity, but not in quality. I.Com is sexy and dramatic, melancholy and hilarious, but most of all it’s catchy: an album chock full of star turns from a perennial collaborator. Whether she realized it or not, Miss Kittin came along right when techno music needed her most, an avenging angel of lustful wrath, a surprising feminist icon for a notoriously sexist genre. I have a feeling she will find it much more difficult to hide behind collaborators from here on in.
Tim O’Neil :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop