New York City, baby.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Blubox's Top Ten Albums of 2004

1. Keb' Mo': Keep It Simple

Somebody could get the wrong idea about the state of the world listening to Keb' Mo's latest effort -- an album some might argue is less accomplished than his Grammy-winning Just Like You, but is a more fitting album for a long sunset drive, perhaps the real scale that all Keb' Mo' albums should be judged. They would hear him singing with offhanded wisdom about that one friend that gets him through his day, they would hear him dreaming about a romantic trip to France, they would hear him waving the blues goodbye as they slip out of town. The message rolling from his gently upbeat blues-pop melodies is simple: there's never been a better time to grin wide. In a year when war raged in the Middle East, George Bush was re-elected and that trip to France wasn't in the budget, it was cool to get a reminder.

Monday, January 10, 2005

2. Drive-By Truckers: The Dirty South

Duane Allman is in heaven scratching his scruffy chin -- how can a Southern rock band trafficking in raucous highway stomps not jam? Isn't that the whole point? To become the next outlaw guitar-hero? To take your high-as-a-kite fans on an epic 16 minute excursion to long-haired transendence? Why do you think the power chord was invented, for God's sake? But to a new generation of bands — My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon and Drive-By Truckers — it's not about mind-expanding noodling, it's about borrowing the mystical passion and energy that comes from jam rock heroes like Neil, Greg and Jerry to express a mythic South where the magnolias are that much more intoxicating and the moonlight that much more haunting. Meet the new jam band. Southern-bred, whiskey-drenched and epic rock riffing. The best 16 minutes -- scratch that -- five minutes of your life.

Friday, January 07, 2005

3.The Garden State Soundtrack: Various Soundtrack

In a just world, people would be issued one friend with a knack for making mixes that felt improbably custom-made for them. In my case, such a friend would resemble Zach Braff. After all, the soundtrack to his trippy suburban romp Garden State could have very well been hand-picked by a close compadre -- one with designs to launch me out of a hectic reality and into a revelatory state. And while the eclectic nature of the mix -- folk icon Nick Drake alongside chill-soul outfit Zero 7 -- could easily lead to accusations of self-indulgence (indie auteur = prime suspect), Braff feels genuinely concerned with conveying a mood rather than establishing hipster cred. Oh, and, Zach, please send Mix Tape Winter '05. Thanks.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

4. U2: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

Trust me, if you were lucky enough to find yourself in a divey, kitschy magical bar in Barcelona and the people at the bar included you, a friendly Spanish bartender, and a beautiful girl (or you were that girl) than you would beg -- I mean, BEG -- for this album to come on. That hopelessly and heroically in love voice soaring: "And you feel like no one before. You steal right under my door. I kneel 'cause I want you some more. I want you some more, I want you some more..." If Bono will just keep repeating those words and she can just keep talking long enough for you to do something inspired, this could be the best night of your life. And knowing you you'll forget to thank U2 for making it possible. Once again.

5. Sondre Lerche: Two-Way Monologue

Buying this album was the year's best recommendation from a music seller working in a chain bookstore. (Courtesy of the bad boys of Barnes & Nobles. Sorry, Borders.) While it's usually a good move to be skeptical of advice given to you by a man wearing a laminate, after slapping on the listening station headphones, I found myself having a recreation of that scene in Garden State when Natalie Portman transports Zach Braff into a chill headspace by making him listen to a song on her headphones. Well, minus the view of Natalie Portman's angelic smile.

6. Scissor Sisters: Scissor Sisters

To survive so-called adulthood, each year we need one amazing dance album. Something for summer nights drinking cocktails with friends or cruising around the city with too many people in the backseat. In past years, hip-shaking saviors included Daft Punk's Discovery, St. Germain's Boulevard and last year's dancefloor thriller Kish Kash by Basement Jaxx. In 2004, the Scissor Sisters, a group of electrosleaze disco warriors, did the job of spooning out gleeful portions of perverse, hedonistic dance pop to the overworked and underpaid masses. Embrace their over-the-top theatrics or not, a band that can emerge out of the L.E.S. to garner the royal blessing of Elton John and the scorn of Pink Floyd fans must be doing more than just wearing the right shade of eyeliner.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

7. The Arcade Fire: The Funeral

Blog girl hype aside, the Arcade Fire did us a favor by falling to earth from the same distant dreamy mournful planet where The Flaming Lips once came. The songs here race ahead on grown-up legs, trying to catch up with an innocence that can never be recaptured. Foolish hope is not the worst of crimes, after all. And yet the inspirational cry of the singer's little boy vocals makes us take pause: maybe you can't go back, but you can comfort those still around.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

8. The Delays: Faded Seaside Glamour

Long after the apocalyptic blast that annihilated the Gallagher brothers, amidst the rubble of guitars and vintage jeans, the bodies of underfed pale lead singers strewn across the city, four young Southhampton boys appear out of nowhere. What's that I hear? A sublimely melodic hook? An unashamedly aching falsetto voice? Gorgeous shoe-gazing guitars? In 2004? It's a miracle. A bloody miracle.

9. The Streets: A Grand Don't Come For Free

You wouldn't think UK homeboy Mike Skinner could top his breakout album Original Pirates Material and he hasn't. Believers won't lose faith with the new album, which in many ways shows off Skinner's artistic maturity, but it won't get your adrenaline pumping or your gut busting like his last disc. Nevertheless, I liked the move of incorprating more singing into his brilliant (both in the British and American sense of the word) hip-hop rants. Skinner's use of a clever cinematic narrative scores on a header, taking you back down to street level with pissed-off geezers, shady blokes and potent ectasy. Can't we all relate to that?

Monday, January 03, 2005

10. Jamie Cullum: Twentysomething

Sure, I could have started out with a sexier, cooler selection. But why pick an album that didn't truly light my Arcade Fire. If I learned anything in 2004 it was that life was too short to run away from yourself. And so it is Mr. Cullum, a scratchy-voiced Brit who resembles a Hobbit, who starts off the list. Why he succeeds on this album, despite how easy it would be to write him off as a jazz-pop cheezeball, is that he's so comfortable in that role. A kindred spirit to Billy Joel, you can hear the unpretentious fun he's having as he whips off a zany number like some pseudo-intoxicated lounge singer in a smokey West End bar. And like Papa Piano Man, he contemplates complex, bittersweet emotions with an attention to honesty. Sure, Cullum is not going to get a kiss from Ultragrrrl anytime soon, but let's give the guy some credit, covering a Radiohead song is the kind of move that only a dude with loads of talent and just enough disarming charm can pull off well.