2004: A look back

My feelings about the musical landscape of 2004 so far can best be summed up using a quote from Noah Baumbach’s 1995 film “Kicking and Screaming.” A recently graduated Max looks around the table at his friends and muses, “I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I’ve begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I’m reminiscing this right now.”

Ah, March of 2004. Spring was in the air. Air was on every turntable. Every ex-punk was a b-boy, and people were finally starting to realize how stupid those limited edition Nike Dunks really were. It was a time of hope and excitement, and the music was something grand. Let’s reminisce for a moment and take a look back at the best and worst music of early 2004.

Best reason to forgive the frogs

Air’s Talkie Walkie, the lush and varied follow up to 10,000 Hz Legend is a departure from the scattered down tempo drone we’ve grown to love. On Talkie Walkie, Air loses the plethora of guest vocalists and creates an album that sounds like it belongs to a real band. It still has a very French feel to it: dreamy floating organs meet reverb-y banjos. But, as a whole, it feels more coherent and less ironic than previous albums. The single, “Cherry Blossom Girl,” is exploding and definitely the best track on the album.

“Why won’t you just die already” album of the year

Matthew Sweet has to be about 300 years old. At least his new record, Kimi Ga Suki*Raifu, feels like it. Originally slated as a Japan-only release, somehow, someone somewhere thought that bringing it stateside would be a good idea.

The album is full of the signature Big Star rip off numbers and goes to show that even if your sound hasn’t evolved since 1993, you can somehow keep putting out records. If Matthew Sweet has one talent, it’s that he can even make feedback sound wussy. I don’t know why the Japanese still love him, and I don’t know who in America is going to buy this album, but please, please, please don’t let it be you.

Best album you’re going to find at Target

Kayne West, best known for his work behind the boards for the Rocafella family has finally taken the step up to the mic on his new record, College Dropout, with amazing success. Jay-Z may have finally taken his final bow, but Kayne’s sense of timing and perfect humor could easily develop into a reasonable replacement.

College Dropout may not have the epic qualities of the Blueprint or Black Album, but his love for underground and witty twists give this album a solid old school feel. My only advice: lose the skits, there are just too many. That shit gets old fast.

Number two “why won’t you just die already” album of the year

Courtney Love’s America’s Sweetheart: Give me a fucking break.

Best reason admit you love Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass

Scott Herren can do no wrong. Last year was all about the scattered choppy blip hop of Prefuse 73’s One Word Extinguisher. And this year, he does an about face under the pseudonym Savath + Savalas and releases the Brazilian light jazz infused Apropa’t.

I have to admit that I was tentative at first, having waited for four years for a full length follow up to Heron’s first Savath + Savalas Folk Songs for Trains, Trees and Honey. And where Folk Songs sounds like the evolutionary descendent to Brian Eno’s ambient series, Apropa’t sounds more like the bastard child of Sergio Mendes. It took me a couple of tries to really give myself over to tweaked-out bossanova and roomy vocals, but if Folk Songs echoed the lonely lines of modern design, then Apropa’t is this summer’s number one reason for getting drunk at noon outside.

Number one reason to call tedium by its true name: the remix

I have no idea why you people like the Notwist so much. Their combo of shitty bland electronic and poorly translated English is an embarrassment. The fact that they sell out shows is an embarrassment. The fact that my housemate won’t stop playing the atrocious Neon Golden is an embarrassment and the fact that this year’s Different Cars and Trains is being treated like a real album is the most embarrassing at all.

I have to give the Notwist respect for trying to release as many albums as possible while people are still dumb enough to buy them, but this collection of b-sides and remixes is like having your teeth pulled out one at a time by a monkey with arthritis. The shaking only makes it worse.

Number one reason to still love hip-hop

“Money Folder” b/w “America’s Most Blunted” is the first 12-inch from the upcoming Madlib and MF Doom collaboration (called Madvillian), Madvilliany. If this single is anyhow indicative of the quality of the full length, we are looking at the sickest album of 2004.

MF Doom’s awkward, jumbled flow is one of the best in hip hop today and Madlib … well, what is there not to say about Madlib? Whether he’s revisiting and reworking jazz classics in the Blue Note catalogue, rapping under the helium-infused Quasimoto persona or playing every instrument in the Yesterday’s New Quintet, Madlib releases nothing but quality. He’s like the King Midas of hip-hop; it’s all gold.

The choppy beats he lays down on America’s Most Blunted compliment Doom’s vocals perfectly, and who else but MF Doom could rhyme about weed and still get a bead on the paranoid mindset of the country today. Both of these guys are coming off a huge year in 2003 and Madvilliany is just frosting on the cake. Do not under any circumstances sleep on this album.

Why it’s okay to admit you hate hip-hop

cLOUDEAD’s debut on Mush records a couple years ago made some pretty impressive waves in the hip hop community. The lo-fi abstractions of MCs Dose One, Odd Nosdam and Why? were just strange enough to make the ambient beats and spaced-out samples interesting.

It was a novelty album, but what it spawned is what many consider the last nail in hip hop’s coffin. Each of the cLOUDEAD members has gone onto to do a handful of solo projects, the best being Dose One’s collaboration with producer Jel under the guise of Themselves, and the worst being anything Why? has ever put out. But now they’ve reunited for a sophomore cLOUDEAD album and the new sound is … just the same. Same tired beats, abstract sing song lyrics and hyper-personal constructs. It’s boring, insipid crap and the reason people can’t say “Anticon” without wincing.

Best reason to illegally download music

When Jay-Z released an a capella version of his brilliant Black Album, I doubt he could have ever anticipated it falling into the hands of someone so devious as mash up DJ Danger Mouse. He took Jay-Z’s opus and put it in a blender with The Beatles’ White Album and came out with the best hip-hop album you’ll never hear.

We get Jay-Z’s rapid flow cut to shreds and chasing a landscape of George Harrison riffs and hyperactive beats. It is absolutely amazing. Even some of the Black Album’s weakest tracks, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “99 Problems,” are given new life through John Lennon’s broken croon and wailing solos.

Thanks to the fine people who own the Beatles catalogue (Yes, Michael Jackson, the dirty, dirty, little man) every remaining copy of this small run album disappeared, but thanks to the creeps on the Internet you can still hear it. And my advice to you: do so.