Sunday, December 26, 2004

COLUMN: Albums of the Year

It's something I came to terms with long ago: I'm a music nerd, and proud of it.

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to learn to play an instrument. Drums, keyboard, guitar... I tried them all. Only problem? As a musician, I suck. But as a music fan, I'm one of the elite. When I'm not working or sleeping, you can usually find me haunting the stacks of every record store in town. It's so bad that sometimes when the employees at Borders can't immediately answer a music question for a customer, they look to see if I'm lurking around... that is, if I haven't already barged in and attempted to help the customer first. Yes, I'm THAT annoying.

My unhealthy obsession with music has led me to become a weekend club DJ (at 2nd Ave. in the District,) run a website for music nerds (, and become an entertainment correspondant for the Dispatch/Argus/Leader. And every year, I've had to sit green with envy because Sean Leary, our entertainment editor, gets to write a year-end column where he gets to unveil his picks for the top records of the year. Me? I just get to tell my cat, and frankly, I don't think she cares as much as she should.

So this year, I can finally throw down my trump card. Ha ha, Sean Leary, you're no longer the only nerd around these parts with a column! So please indulge me as I bid the year adios with a list of the 10 records of 2004 that you really, really ought to own.

10. THE TRASH CAN SINATRAS - Weightlifting - In 1990, the perpetually unknown Trash Can Sinatras put out my favorite album ever. 14 years later, they're back with their fourth, and it rings with the same intelligent austerity that makes this Scottish pop band a mainstay on my favorites list.

9. EMMA - Free Me - Could this really be the same Emma Bunton who five years ago was better known to the free world as Baby Spice? Yep, and her new solo record is a mature throwback to 60's pop that wouldn't sound out of place in an Austin Powers flick.

8. OF MONTREAL - Satanic Panic in the Attic - Ignore the title; as with everything the band does, it's tongue-in-cheek. Easily my favorite band today, these art school kids from Georgia routinely re-create "Sgt. Peppers"-era psychedelia in their lo-fi basements.

7. TEARS FOR FEARS - Everybody Loves a Happy Ending - The duo reunites for a comeback album that's equally as good, if not better, than the records that made them such a powerful force in the 80's. I just hope it's not really an ending.

6. LORETTA LYNN - Van Lear's Rose - If somebody told me five years ago that Loretta Lynn would make my year-end list, I'd have thrown myself off to the dogs. But along comes Jack White of the White Stripes, who wrote and produced most of this record, recreating the Coal Miner's Daughter as a gruff, blues-rock tour de force.

5. KANYE WEST - College Dropout - Wait, a rap album that's not about thug livin' and big pimpin'? Jay-Z's right-hand man comes out with a solo debut of jaw-droppingly honest lyrics on the struggle and triumphs of the common man, without all of the posing and faux glamour of today's rap scene.

4. THE KILLERS - Hot Fuss - While most of today's bands were mired in garage rock and an unhealthy love for the Velvet Underground, the Killers took their love of Duran Duran and 80's new wave and snuck out the year's most confident debut record.

3. BRIAN WILSON - Smile - The most famous album-that-never-was finally gets its due. Intended for a 1968 Beach Boys release, "Smile" was shelved in the haze of Wilson's unsteady mental state. 30 years of therapy later, Wilson (with the help of some talented young musicians) finally gets to exorcise his demons and re-record his lost masterpiece. Had this come out as intended, it would have changed music history.

2. THE LIBERTINES - The Libertines - One of the top bands in England but strangers to the U.S., The Libertines spent 2004 making UK tabloid covers that Britney could only dream of. The group managed to squeak out their 2nd album in 2004 before calling it quits in a maelstorm of drug abuse, legal trouble, and band strife. The record, produced by The Clash's Mick Jones, is the powerful diary of a band on the edge of greatness, then falling wildly off the precipice. A must-own zeitgeist of an album.

1. THE POLYPHONIC SPREE - Together We're Heavy - And the best record of the year goes to a 28-piece, robe-clad group of Texan rockers who sing anthemic orchestral odes to the Sun. Sound crazy? It's borderline, trust me. But the end result is an album that swells with life, optimism, and gives hope to mankind's effort to prevail over adversity. Don't believe me? Go buy it, I dare ya.

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