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2004: Another View

Guest Post by Dave Danglis

The making of "best of" lists should be left to those who expose themselves to a lot of music. Let's least...I don't know, maybe 50 new releases per year?

I've said that to say this: I'm not qualified. If I know myself at all, I know that I'm pretty finicky about music, and I keep maybe half the music that enters my house. I also know that it doesn't take a lot of music to satisfy me. What the heck does this mean? I guess it means that I'd be happier with two incredible new CDs per year, than with 50 that are so-so, having maybe one decent song per disc. I'm not the sort that goes out of his way to hunt down every possible new album that might be worth mentioning. I'm probably missing out on a lot. So again I say: I'm not stinkin' qualified!

But there are still those who like to know, so this is what my year sounded like:

The Top Two CDs of the Year:

Laika & The Cosmonauts, Local Warming. I know there are those who think I'm crazy. I'm of that opinion myself. But I can't argue with the fact that no other 2004 release found its way into my CD player as much as this one. Surf rock, but so much more -- and it's the "much more" that pushes this one over the top -- a mix of The Ventures and any number of other sound-alike surf bands, with a healthy dose of Combustible Edison. The result is a blend of surf, space pop, jazz, and even some hard rock. Every song is distinctive -- the CD is never boring. My gosh, just buy a copy so I'll shut up.

Keane, Hopes & Fears. For some reason, a comparison to Sparks comes to mind. I know there are those who think I'm crazy. But this stuff is what might result if those Sparks guys lost the sarcasm and gained hearts and emotions. Check out the similarities: high-pitched lead vocalist, lots of keyboards, tons of melody. Eh? Huh? Do you see what I'm talking about? Hopes & Fears is a tremendous debut for this band; here's hoping they don't suffer too much of a sophomore slump. Because there may be no where to go but down from here.

Best of the Rest (in alphabetical order):

Air, Talkie Walkie. There's a five-song stretch that's almost perfection -- I'm talking about tracks 2 through 6. Beautiful, quirky, strange and poppy.

Collective Soul, Youth. I was afraid that I might be padding my list by adding this one -- so hard to come up with that 10th "Top 10" disc, you know. We're straying awfully close to the mainstream for my tastes, but...there are some excellent songs here. Great melodies and great sentiments. Strip away that Collective Soul style, and the songs would still stand up.

Dogs Die In Hot Cars, Please Describe Yourself. You really do have to wonder if Andy Partridge had anything to do with this CD. "I Love You 'Cause I Have To" is almost maddeningly catchy -- dang thing was stuck in my brain for days.

The Finn Brothers, Everyone Is Here. I've been on a Finn binge for the past few years, so this was a natural. In retrospect I'd have to admit that this one might not be as satisfying as some of their earlier output, but Tim and Neil still "have it."

Jeffrey Foskett, Stars in the Sand. Mainly a compilation of pre-2004 songs, this one is on my list for purely personal reasons, as opposed to all these other titles -- which are on the list for non-personal reasons, I guess.

Tears for Fears, Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. I've never been much of a huge TFF fan, even though I've appreciated most of their hits and have owned a few of their CDs over the years. Therefore, it will sound hollow if I say that this is probably their overall best release. So I won't say that.

They Might Be Giants, The Spine/Indestructible Object/The Spine Surfs Alone. Can we all admit that maybe we're a little "over" these guys? Can you remember when a new TMBG release would be greeted with whoops and shouts of delight? So what has happened -- is their new stuff really that much inferior to their earlier work? I'm not so sure. Okay, the older stuff is better; it's about time They started running out of ideas. I'm not playing the new material all that often, and yet every time I do play it, I can't help but notice how good it is.

Brian WIlson, Smile. There is little that I can add to what's already been said about this CD, except for my admission that I don't appreciate it as much as I should. Brian Wilson has obviously influenced almost everything I enjoy, but -- I heard all that other stuff first. And I also admit it feels a little weird hearing a 60-something singing these songs.

Some Disappointments:

Still no Self CD. I heard "Grow Up" and thought "My gosh, it's going to be a great album." But I'm still waiting. Or was it released and I missed it somehow?

Fluid Ounces, The Whole Shebang. I wonder if Seth Timbs spent himself on 1999's In The New Old Fashioned Way. He hasn't topped it since. Track one ("Paperweight Machine") promises a return to brilliance, but the rest of the album fades into forgettableness.

U2, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. I know there are those who think I'm crazy, but if Tony Shore can include the Al Franken Show on his best-of list, then I guess we're not shunning controversy here. I've tried -- heaven knows I've tried -- to enjoy this disc. And yes, there are great statements here. It's just not an album that calls out to me, demanding that it be played again and again. I don't crave it, and that's what really matters. Okay, "Vertigo" is a classic U2 track. But...sigh...I don't know. I've been kinda done with these guys for several years now.

Songs of the Year

Keane: "Somewhere Only We Know," "Your Eyes Open"

Dogs Die In Hot Cars: "Apples & Oranges"

Finn Brothers: "Won't Give In"

Tears for Fears: "Who You Are"

Collective Soul: "General Attitude"

Laika & The Cosmonauts: "Crosstown Canyon"

Air: "Surfing on a Rocket"

U2: "Vertigo" ("But...didn't you just say..." Yes, I know, but this is undeniably a great song and I do crave it sometimes.)

They Might Be Giants: "The Spine Surfs Alone"

Best Media of 2004

Normally the focus is mostly music here at ObviousPop, but we're all media junkies, and books, movies, DVDs, magazines, radio and TV aren't far behind for me. So here are my pics for the best of 2004 in those categories. It really has been an incredible year in all categories, so lets get started...

Best Movies of 2004

Spider-Man 2 - I liked it better than the first. Is that possible? I'm not a fan of sequels at all, but this is one of the only franchises that has the possibility to keep getting better and keep us coming back for more.

The Incredibles - Amazing. One of the greatest action-adventure superhero movies of all time, and it's animated! Visually stunning with an incredible story line. Great message too. It's okay to be different!

Napoleon Dynamite - One of the funniest movies I've ever seen. Easily a classic for me. The only problem is, if you didn't grow up in the 70's and 80's, and you don't have a weird sense of humor, you're probably not going to enjoy this one.

Shrek 2 - I can't believe 2 of the best movies of the year were sequels, but it's true. Shrek 2 was just as good as the first in almost every way, and better than the first in one major way, Antonio Banderas! To see him mocking himself and his other characters with his role of the cat Puss-N-Boots is well worth the price of admission.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow - Panned by critics everywhere that don't enjoy escapism...kind of the opposite of a Schindler's List and The Passion of the Christ movie. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has exactly what I look for in movies. Some people like blood, death and gore, and enjoy reliving some of the most tragic events in our history. I don't need to see a big budget Hollywood movie to know that the Holocaust and the Crucifixion of Christ were horrific. I've read about those events in much greater detail in actual "books" than could ever be depicted on screen. Which brings us to what I do enjoy about movies, imaginative, fun, escapism. Sky Captain wins in those categories hands down. I like sci-fi too, so that helps. But this movie is so beautiful to watch and so innovative that I was completely lost in it.

Best Books of 2004

So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star - Jacob Slichter - This is the best book ever written about the music industry. Get inside what it's REALLY like to hit the big time in a band.

I read so many other books this year, mostly novels and political rants. One of the best novels was the new Nelson DeMille - Night Fall. The best political humor book was America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Inaction.

Best DVD's of 2004

Keen Eddie - The Complete Series - In the slew of new TV shows that get canceled and then dropped, and the even bigger slew of TV shows being released on DVD, this is the best. Well, it's my favorite anyway. You've never heard of it, I know. You'll like it, trust me! I'm a doctor for Pete's sake! It's a comedy that started on Fox, got dropped after 6 episodes because it was good, and aired in a horrible time slot that changed every week. Then it was picked up by Bravo, but was dropped, because nobody knew it was picked up by Bravo. With me so far? Then, finally, it was released on DVD. Thank God. It's a New York City Detective that is sent to London to work with Scotland Yard on some type of cop exchange program. So, it's the American fish out of water detective show...boring, right? Not at've got to see this show! Eddie, the main character, has the feel of Bruce Willis' character from Moonlighting mixed with Jim Rockford from the Rockford Files. This is an artsy, edgy show that's more comedy than drama, which is probably why I like it so much. The DVD release is a bit disappointing, as they could have done more with it, but it's nice to be able to finally see all 13 shows!

Anchorman - Most major releases on DVD these days tout hours of extras...with stickers on them that say: "OVER 4 HOURS OF EXTRA FOOTAGE!" Then you realize that four hours includes 10 "making of" specials that you couldn't pay someone to sit through and a bonus featurette on the films location that they dubbed off of the travel channel. No thanks! We want outtakes, alternate endings, completely different versions of the movie, etc...Well, Anchorman delivers better than most. Not only is there 35 minutes of additional footage, it's actually GOOD stuff, that probably should have been in the film in the first place! Will Ferrel is so funny, the outtakes and deleted scenes made me laugh harder than the movie itself.

Spider-Man 2 - Good extras, a fast release and a great freaking movie.

Best Magazines of 2004

These are my favorite magazines anyway, and each year they all just keep getting better!

Best Radio - The Al Franken Show - He's funny, he's different, and he's from Minnesota! Finally a talk radio alternative for those of us that care more about other people than the almighty dollar.

Best Blog -

Best online music column -

Best comic strip -

Wait! There's more! CD's of 2004

Just how good was 2004 for new music? Absolutely unbelievable. There were so many great releases this year that I forgot a few of the best on my initial list. I jumped the gun a bit and didn't dig back far enough in the collection. I'm embarrassed to say I forgot some of the best... How good could they be if I forgot them you might ask?! Well, if you know me, you won't need to ask that question... So read my previous post and then add these to the list...

Muse - Absolution (Warner Bros.) - This one is their best so far. They've gotten the unfortunate label of being a Radiohead knock-off band, but that's an unfair assessment, unless you consider the records Radiohead SHOULD be making as follow-ups to The Bends and OK Computer. This *could* be that record. Needless to say it stands on it's own as one of the best of the year.

Snow Patrol - Final Straw (A&M) - This is a fun record. Not a top ten for me this year, but a good one. Definitely top 20. Cool alt-pop for the kids.

Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand (Sony) - OK, I had to come to grips with why this didn't make my top ten or even my initial top 20 this year... I guess it's because of all the critical hype and the fact that I actually got a little tired of it, but in the long run, it's still a great record, and one that I will always enjoy. It deserves top 20 status despite the hype!

Spymob - Sitting Around Keeping Score (Ruthless) - The funny thing about this one is, I'm the one that turned most of my friends onto this band, it even made some of their year end lists, and then I forget to include it in my own! I really like this CD, I just didn't listen to it after the first couple weeks as much as some of the others. Cool power pop influenced rock for the modern-age. Hows that for a description?

Best CD's of 2004

This has definitely been a great year for new music. I love going through my favorite CD's of the year and putting together a top 10. Check out my list below and then please click on the "comments" link at the bottom of this post to leave feedback, or more importantly, to leave your own best of lists or top tens for the year.

Top Ten of 2004

1. Brian Wilson - SMiLE (Nonesuch)

This is far and away the best album of the year. Brian Wilson’s unfinished masterpiece is finally recorded and finished…to near perfection. Put on a pair of headphones and listen to this one beginning to end. Not just one of the best albums of the year, but one of the best albums, period.

2. Dogs Die In Hot Cars - Please Describe Yourself (V2)

This is the album that XTC should have made. A brilliant alternative Brit-pop CD that’s full of quirky hooks, twists and turns. Sounds like Andy Partridge singing. The song “Apples & Oranges” is one of my favorite songs of the year.

3. WiselyGo (Franklin Castle)

I’ve raved about Wisely before on this list. Suffice it to say, he’s working on a new one that’s even better, but this one is a must if you like great power pop ala Self.

4. Keane - Hopes and Fears (Interscope)

There’s something in the water over there across the pond in England. Beautiful piano based pop with hooks galore and then some.

5. Caviar - The Thin Mercury Sound (Aezra)

It’s too bad most people haven’t heard this record. This CD is very reminiscent of the groups Bicycle and Self. If you like either of those bands do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

6. The FutureheadsThe Futureheads (Sire)

This is the other album that XTC should have made sometime in the past 10 years. It’s easy to compare The Futureheads and Dogs Die In Hot Cars because of their obvious affinity towards XTC, but they really are unique in their own ways. Think new wave, power pop and the Talking Heads.

7. PinbackSummer In Abaddon (Touch & Go)

I love this album. It’s new wave, it’s alternative, it’s power pop and it’s hooky. You’ll notice this theme with many of my picks for this year’s best!

8. Collective SoulYouth (El Music Group)

You probably just rolled your eyes in disgust at seeing Collective Soul listed. Yesterdays news, not hip, etc…But then you probably haven’t heard this CD. Do you like The Cars, Cheap Trick and Daniel Amos? Because this album takes some of the best elements of those bands and combines them to make what is easily their best work to date. What’s sad is that so many people have written them off or won’t give them a chance. This album is hooky, quirky and extremely melodic rock. Give it a chance.

9. Air  - Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks)

Air does it again! While not as brilliant as 10,000 Hz Legend, Talkie Walkie is a great album with some of their best songs.

10. Panurge - Throw Down The Reins (Nettwerk)

I don’t even think I know anyone else that has heard this record. This is hooky, quirky, keyboard driven new wave. I love it!

and the rest…

  • Matthew Sweet - Living Things (Racm/Superdeformed)
  • Doug Powell - Day For Night (Parasol)
  • Tears for Fears - Everybody Loves A Happy Ending (New Door Records)
  • U2 - How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (Interscope)
  • Marillion Marbles (2-Disc Version)(Intact)
  • Lost DogsMutt (Lo-fidelity)
  • ChumbawambaUn (Koch)
  • They Might Be Giants - The Spine (Zoe)
  • Jeffrey Foskett Stars In The Sand (The Pop Collective)
  • The Fiery Furnaces Blueberryboat (Sanctuary)
  • Finn Brothers - Everyone Is Here (Nettwerk)
  • Neal MorseOne (2-Disc Version) (Radiant)

Best EP's of 2004

  • Jason Falkner - Bliss Descending EP (Wreckchords)
  • Aireline - Winter Song EP (independent)
  • Mute Math - Reset EP (Teleprompt)

Cover Tunes

Is it just me, or have there been a lot of cover songs popping up lately? It seems like there have been more and more cover tunes, especially as bonus tracks and exclusive online downloads. There are also tribute albums, like the upcoming Cars tribute from Not Lame, which is really quite good. Soundtracks are the other main source of covers. It’s fairly common for soundtracks to feature hits from the 70’s and 80’s, redone by current artists. I really enjoy a good cover tune, but covers are so subjective, even more so than original songs, because you come in with pre-conceived notions of what it should sound like. There’s a very fine line between a good cover and a bad cover.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite covers, and some of the new ones that I’ve heard. Please post your feedback on these and list any you have. Just click on the Comments link at the bottom of this post.

Great Covers (in no particular order):

Hallelujah - Rufus Wainwright (Leonard Cohen)

Whipping Post - Frank Zappa (Allman Brothers)

No Matter What – Jellyfish (Badfinger)

Ballroom Blitz - Surf Punks (Sweet)

Good Vibrations - Phil Keaggy (Beach Boys)

Day after Day - Neal Morse (Badfinger)

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - R.E.M. (The Tokens)

Blinded By The Light - Manfred Mann's Earth Band (Bruce Springsteen)

Video Killed The Radio Star - Presidents of the USA (The Buggles)

America – Yes (Simon & Garfunkel)

Hallelujah Chorus - The Roches (Handel)

Jump - Aztec Camera (Van Halen)

Candy-O - Doug Powell (The Cars)

Peace Train - 10,000 Maniacs (Cat Stevens)

Mrs. Robinson - Charlie Peacock (Simon & Garfunkel)

Mrs. Robinson – The Lemonheads (Simon & Garfunkel)

Owner of a Lonely Heart – Eclipse (Yes)

I Live For the Sun – Jeffrey Foskett (The Sunrays)

I Live For the Sun – Surf Punks (The Sunrays)

Give A Little Bit – Goo Goo Dolls (Supertramp)

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Devo (Rolling Stones)

Money (That’s What I Want) – The Flying Lizards (The Searchers? The Kingsmen?)

Hazy Shade of Winter – The Bangles (Simon & Garfunkel)

Against All Odds – The Postal Service (Phil Collins)

Der Kommisar – After The Fire (Falco)

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – Negativeland (U2)

Please Please Me – Barnes & Barnes (The Beatles)

Here are a couple of links to some other cool covers lists: