By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Good music is like good food - you have to develop your palette. As my colleague Nate Buchik recently pointed out, the majority of people are content indulging in the likes of Ashlee Simpson (grilled cheese on moldy white bread), Korn (pasta with ketchup) and Nickelback (day-old glazed donuts). Clearly, anyone with more than an elementary school appetite wouldn't eat that shit, so why listen to it?
If you're still wondering how to find this delicious music - aside from the Arizona Daily Wildcat - I still recommend a trip to www.pitchforkmedia.com. For the meantime, here are 10(ish) albums that ruled this year and make for a well-balanced musical diet. Bon appetit.
1. Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary
This album is a new, delightful twist on the childhood favorite macaroni and cheese; there's something familiar about it yet it's still found a way to recapture your love for eating noodles and cheese. This band has two five-star chefs in Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, and each manages to serve up similar fare (indie rock) each with their unique twists. Krug's "I'll Believe in Anything" is a wonderful chirpy, electronic antipasto that builds into a full meal, while Boeckner's "Shine a Light" is a rocking, propulsive filet mignon that completely satisfies. What makes this the year's best album are the condiments, from the Dijon mustard (lyrics) and Tabasco (music) to the soy sauce (emotions) and horseradish (range) this album packs them in.
2. Okkervil River: Black Sheep Boy
Will Sheff has always been a great cook, but Black Sheep Boy stands out as his finest dish to date. Dashed with equal parts folk, country, emo, punk and rock, Okkervil River brings everything to the table. It doesn't hurt that Sheff is the poet laureate of the underground. Whether he's tossing violent imagery with anguish on loud-to-soft rockers like the heartbroken "For Real" or stirring sadness with acceptance on the swelling country ditty "So Come Back, I Am Waiting," Sheff is the essential wooden spoon in indie rock's kitchen.
3. The Decemberists: Picaresque
This album eats like a rich, six-course meal. Colin Meloy is one of music's premier songwriters, and his lyrics are sharpened and bountiful throughout Picaresque. From saucy, (anti-)military anthems "16 Military Wives" to accordion pumping cutlets "The Mariner's Revenge Song," Meloy serves up top-notch material. This album plays like a layered cake stuffed with tales of barrow boys, prostitutes and lovers' suicide pacts. It's a dish best served frequently.
4. The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday
Separation Sunday is manna from heaven. Craig Finn and his booze-hound buddies in The Hold Steady have made a concept album about a punky, druggy girl (Halleluiah) who goes through the gutters to find redemption. The ideal bar band The Hold Steady have made the perfect bar meal of an album. "Banging Camp" is a handful of crunchy guitar peanuts, "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night" mixes horns and guitars like Budweiser and whiskey and "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" is a boogie-rock burnt crunchy steak that's still bloody on the inside.
5. My Morning Jacket: Z
These Kentucky rockers are the superfluous wine metaphor and Z finds them tasting riper than ever. MMJ serves up country-rock "Lay Low" with a side of Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar-rock "Off the Record" and a generous smattering of experimental-rock "Into the Woods." Despite adding two new ingredients (guitarist/keyboardist) for this album, Z makes for one of the most satisfying and repeatable meals of the year. It doesn't hurt that Jim James' honey vocals smother even the most oblique and scary lyrics and turn them into your favorite snack.
6. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Initially, I treated this album like escargot and caviar. It was something the highfalutin indie scenesters loved dining on, but I wasn't buying. Too bad I waited so long as I now frequently dine on this album, but binging is OK and inevitable when the offerings are as good as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Although Alec Ounsworth and crew truly do sound like a (more) modern Talking Heads, they're still fantastic and surprisingly unique. This band's great whether they're serving up indie rock a la carte on "In This Home on Ice," spiced with ethnic flavoring on "Is This Love?" or dipped in bourbon and honey on "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth."
7. Spoon: Gimme Fiction
If other bands are food, Spoon is the drinks and Gimme Fiction was 11 of the best ways to get smashed this year. "Sister Jack" is a bouncy glass of Brit-pop ale, "I Turn My Camera On" is a thumping, disco-beat laced gin and tonic and "I Summon You" is a jittery, acoustic ballad that rings of last call. Britt Daniels' lyrics remain sharp round after round, meanwhile his guitar solos are the best drunk ever: They start one place, skip the middle and end someplace else.
8. Bright Eyes: I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Finally, indie-emo's poster boy, Conor Oberst, made his finest album to date, with something for all appetites. For those craving emo, there's the dark-lined, acoustic "Poison Oak," which builds to epic proportions. Those who like country-fried things got the mandolin-spiced ballad "We Are Nowhere and it's Now." And those who love the slow-sizzler of a rock freak out got "Road to Joy." Put that all together with the occasional bourbonized vocals of Emmylou Harris and it makes for one tasty dish.
9. Eels: Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
E can't make one meal without screwing something up, and that's a good thing. Intent to make a feast, E offers up two albums and 33 tracks of goodies, and its all pretty damn good (a bit salty, but good). E tracks a life from birth, the wide-eyed sparkling midtempo "From Which I Came/A Magic World" to a begrudgingly accepting lap-steel goodbye "Things the Grandchildren Should Know." In the fray are spicy, upbeat electro-rockers "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living) and whiskey-soaked ballads "The Last Time We Spoke" and "Railroad Man." While E's well-cooked offerings (happy tunes) are surprisingly nutritious, it's the raw items (sad, sad, sad tunes) that will have customers returning again and again.
10 (through 14). Doves: Some Cities, Bloc Party: Silent Alarm, Sleater-Kinney: The Woods, Architecture in Helsinki: In Case We Die, The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan
Screw you. I know exactly what you're thinking, but any musical fan who can chop down the year's best music into a mere 10 choices is either pandering or lying. So, here's the final party platter. Doves released their finest album to date, stuffed with sautéed rockers ("Black and White Town") and strained U2-esque ballads ("Ambition"). Bloc Party was the perfect sous-chefs for Gang of Four with five-alarm guitar rockers ("Helicopter") and atmospheric, glazed numbers ("Blue Light"). The ladies of Sleater-Kinney revealed that their latest ambition was to deep fry with crispy guitar squealers ("Rollercoaster" and "Entertain") and seared, psychedelic rock ("Modern Girl" and "Let's Call it Love"). Austtralia's Architecture in Helsinki was, in itself, a party platter of cheese balls (the twee pop of "It'5"), jerk-flavored treats (the tropicali of "The Cemetery") and things stuffed into things (the funky, poppy, electronic, weird "Do the Whirlwind"). And Jack and Meg White proved they just can't stomach the same meal twice as they added a twist of lime to their garage-rocking ways and made the piano snap ("My Doorbell"), the mandolin crackle ("Little Ghost") and the electric guitar pop ("Blue Orchid").