I know people tend either to love or to hate year-end best-of lists. If you hate them, skip this post.
I love music. Over the last 15-20 years, I have accumulated a large collection of CDs, and my 40 MB iPod is totally filled to bursting with tunes ripped from my CD collection. (Damn it, Apple, can't you come out with a 60 MB iPod that doesn't cost $600?) The 40+ GB of AAC files in my iTunes library on the iMac in my office stream over our LAN to my lab and that of my partner, where researchers listen to whatever they want from it all day. The secretaries are even starting to ask for the password to access to my collection over the network. Given my love of music, my music collection, it shouldn't be surprising that I'm a music critic wannabe, particularly given the ego that comes with being a surgeon. Naturally I have to conclude that people will be interested in the sorts of music I like. (Whether that is true or not, who knows? It doesn't really matter, though, does it, as it's my blog.) I also think you might be surprised at what sort of music this surgeon in his early 40's listens to. Certainly it's very different from any of my colleagues of similar age (or even younger).
Against all hope, 2004 was a great year for new music. In fact, a couple of years ago, I had almost given up on new music and started to concentrate my CD-buying habits on filling in the gaps in my collection and to the joys of discovering Frank Sinatra. (I think it must be mandatory in this country that, upon hitting 40, you muststart to appreciate Sinatra. It seems to be the law, particularly around where I live. I did, even though I had never given him a second thought up before last year. Wonderful stuff, particularly the 1950's era stuff.) However, this year, I've found a lot that I've really liked. Here are my picks for the best albums of 2004 (I'm hoping to get through them all again in my car during the many hours of driving I'll be doing through the snow over the next week and a half):
And the best rereleases of the year were, without a doubt:
- Funeral (The Arcade Fire). Soaring, melodic, elegiac, at times bombastic, this gem was made during a winter in Montreal, and it's infused with all of the sadness its title implies, tempered with hope and gorgeous melodies. I expect big things from this band. This one has not left my car CD player even once since I bought it a couple of months ago. Buy it. Buy it now. You won't regret it.
- Secret Machines (Secret Machines). Clearly inspired by Led Zeppelin, but not slavish in their devotion, Secret Machines released a pummeling, tuneful debut full-length CD of 1970's style hard rock, updated for the new millenium. Best tunes: "Nowhere Again" (catchy, clever, and heavy) and "Sad and Lonely" (their most obvious homage to Zep).
- Antics (Interpol). Not as dark and not as obviously mining the darkness of their chief influence Joy Division, Interpol's sophomore effort is their best yet. They're starting to develop their own voice.
- How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (U2). Not quite as good as their comeback All That You Can't Leave Behind, but still damned good. Vertigo starts things off with a rousing rocker, and things continue from there. U2's above average efforts are better than most bands' absolute best, and this is no exception.
- Hot Fuss (The Killers). OK, a couple of critics I've read say that these guys sound like Duran Duran. I just don't hear the resemblance. What I do hear is brooding, slick rock with amusing lyrics. I only wish the pretty boys in Duran Duran had sounded like this.
- Hopes and Fears (Keane). Hailed by the British press as the next Coldplay, these guys can stand on their own without comparisons. Their brand of piano-based pop-rock is timeless.
- Franz Ferdinand (Franz Ferdinand). Buoyant 1980's new wave-style dance rock, played straight ahead, with addictively catchy melodies.
- American Idiot (Green Day). A concept album from those punk-pop Clash wannabes Green Day, who seemed to have been washed up before this??? Unbelievably, against all expectations otherwise, it actually works. In fact, the "Jesus of Suburbia" medley and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" almost make me take back all those snide comments I used to make about these guys.
- Blue Cathedral (Comets On Fire). Mind- (and ear)-melting acid psychedelic rock that defines the word heavy, done in the style of Blue Cheer and other heavy acid jam-rockers from the late 1960's and early 1970's. I didn't think anyone even made this kind of music anymore. But Comets On Fire does. Thank heaven. They even added an organ. Careful, or you'll melt your speakers.
- Heroes to Zeros (The Beta Band). I fell in love with the Beta Band when they were featured in the soundtrack of High Fidelity (perhaps the most effective tune placement ever in a movie). They've had a couple of misses since then, but this album is highly listenable, a mixture of electronica, pop, and random jamming.
Left of the Dial (Various artists). An awesome collection of 1980's alternative rock that ranges from hardcore punk to the electronic, to rather pop-sounding stuff, all of which made its home on college radio stations during the 1980's (hence the name) and some of which made it to the mainstream, producing big stars (like R.E.M. or Depeche Mode, for instance). It's a four CD set, and it's worth every penny.
London Calling [The Legacy Edition] (The Clash). London Calling is one of my all-time favorite albums, bar none, and arguably one of the top ten (or even top five) best rock albums ever recorded. This mammoth rerelease includes previously unreleased demos (The Vanilla Recordings) and a DVD on the making of the album, in addition to pristine remastered sound.
And, CD's I want to buy that might have made the list if I had bought them before today:
I promise not to subject my readers to these things too often, but sometimes the inner music critic in me must come out. Perhaps a few weeks (or months) from now, I'll talk about some of my favorite bands. (Godspeed You Black Emperor!, anyone?)
- Seven Swans (Sufjan Stevens)
- Bows + Arrows (The Walkmen)
- Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Modest Mouse)