Wednesday, December 15, 2004

MC MC'S TOP 50 NEW ALBUMS OF 2004: PART IV

Nos 20-11

20. DANI SICILIANO Dani Siciliano Likes…
Matthew Herbert’s missus managed to outdo her husband on this terrific debut album. The radical mutation of "Come As You Are" would have justified the purchase price in itself, but the main events are the opening and closing bookmarks of "Same" – in a better world, as big a hit single as "O Superman" – and the ineffably sad "Remember To Forget 1." For fuller comments, readers are directed to my review in the January 2004 issue of Uncut.

19. THE NECKS Drive By
The Bad Plus and Brad Mehldau trios got all the coverage, but here was where the real radicalism was taking place. "Drive By" comprises one hour-long improvisation which sees the Australian keyboards/bass/drums trio gradually mutate their starting figures and rhythms, moving from ambient via jazz, deep house and trip hop to arrive at…Joy Division. Sad, hypnotic, panoramic and intimate; Bill Evans plays the KLF’s Chill Out (which come to think of it he once did – check out his 1972 Living Time collaboration with George Russell, sceptics).

18. DIAMANDA GALAS Defixiones: Will And Testament
Out in late 2003, but too powerful to overlook, this exhausting but cathartic 2CD set is Galas’ most important musical statement since her Plague Mass of the mid-‘80s, dedicated as it is "to the forgotten and erased of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek genocides that occurred in Asia Minor, Pontos, and Thrace between 1914 and 1923." Comparisons with Guantanamo Bay and Palestine are not overlooked. Beginning with the painful, excoriating, 35-minute exorcism that is "The Dance" (a literal portrait of torture and murder of the women of Armenia) towards an icily passionate reading of "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," the listener is spared none of the grief, rage and pain which Galas communicates with phenomenal brilliance. The world’s greatest singer? The noun does not even begin to do her justice.

17. CURSOR MINER Cursor Miner Plays God
Sadly and disgracefully, nobody seemed interested in the genius of Cursor Miner apart from me, so this is a reminder of the wonder of his second great album which represented everything that post-New Wave skinnier tie insolent electro-pop should be. "Man Made Man" and "Gizmo Kid" are hit singles for a future and fairer age; "Library" is the best song about going to a library ever written, and the instrumental "The Sport Of Kings" uncannily and unexpectedly resuscitates the promise of pre-"U3" Simple Minds.

16. BLONDE REDHEAD Misery Is A Butterfly
A beautiful, damaged record from the long-established NYC female trio. The vocals of Amedeo Pace and Kazu Makino are among the most affecting in current pop, and the opening four or five tracks to this album – "Elephant Woman," "Messenger," "Melody," "Doll Is Mine" and the title track – are the saddest opening tracks to any album this year, full of overtones of lives long since gone. The blood remains sufficiently visible, and its pulsing course through the bodies of Blonde Redhead are made palpable by the remarkable closing two tracks, "Pink Love" and "Equus."

15. LEONARD COHEN Dear Heather
I quite enjoyed that Christgau review appended to the comments box on my piece about Dear Heather – of course, the joke lies in the option that the sly old fox Cohen is getting away with murder, with doing next to nothing, with recycling old texts and older songs. But the wider Leonard’s smile, the more we are willingly taken in, because it’s the wink which heightens the overall poignancy of this deserved septuagenarian’s look back at a life evidently still far from spent.

14. AIR Talkie Walkie
If nothing on Talkie Walkie quite achieved the poignancy of "Playground Love" from their undervalued soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides, the album as a whole found Air at their most touching. Listen to their pronunciation of the title of "Universal Traveler" as "you need a soul traveller." Everything’s far away, unattainable ("Cherry Blossom Girl") or biologically impossible ("Biological," "Venus"). At times they invite the lonely listener to stroll sadly towards nothingness ("Another Day," "Alone In Kyoto"). Or, as was the case in my case, they aided the lonely listener to crawl away from nothingness.

13. ARTHUR RUSSELL Calling Out Of Context
Another one I talked about in Uncut (April 2004), and it remains the best ‘80s pop album there never was; too bad that 12 years had to elapse between the artist’s passing and the music’s availability. "The Platform On The Ocean" invents Underworld. "That’s Us/Wild Combination" is feather light and sexy as hell – why don’t more people recognise the punctum of a voice which belongs to Jennifer Warnes? "You Can Make Me Feel Bad" shows us what Billy Bragg remixed by MBV would sound like. Also, passim, the best sustained use of the trombone in pop music (ex-Roswell Rudd student Peter Zummo), Dexy’s notwithstanding.

12. TODD RUNDGREN Liars
His best record in over 25 years, and still sounding 25 years old, Liars was a typically barbed commentary on the State of the World – the heartbreaking meditations on a future never achieved on "Future" are soundtracked by drum n’ bass, "Truth" is the best Ibiza trance anthem never made, "Sweet" and "Past" are exquisite white soul confections, "Mammon" goes operatic metal (in 2004!). As with Cale and Buckingham, the fact that it was still the old geezers pushing any envelope might be rather depressing, except that I now give you several young geezers (and gals) who are also doing their best to push it, real hard.

11. INFINITE LIVEZ Bush Meat
People talked of the latest renaissance in British rap, and few of them bothered to mention the gloriously insane Infinite Livez, complete with his one-eyed teddy bear Barry Convex, and his debut album which somehow contrived to demolish every barrier of taste and rationality, from "The Adventures Of The Lactating Man" via "Drilla Ape" to the bewilderingly outrageous "Pononee Girl."