music index

Granite and Tumble: volume 8

Subtitled: 2004 a review of music


Recorded Music  

Prior to commenting on my favorite releases of this year, I must discuss my philosophy on album reviews.   I firmly believe favorite album compilations should lag by two years for two primary time constraining reasons:  to address the staying power of the album and to acquire a suitable number of fine albums.  Finally, I must also add in order to be considered for top album awards, I must own the album. 

Now with the philosophy behind us, let's go back to 2002.......

2002 was great year for singer songwriters with distinctive vocals.   Many of the ten albums are driven by one singular musician.   In addition, many albums that did not make the list were also driven by singular voices (e.g.  John Danielle of the Mountain Goats with All Hail West Texas, Ben Barnett of Kind of like Spitting with Bridges Worth Burning, Ben Gibbard of All Time Quarterback, and Doug Martsch's Now You Know.     It also saw three of my favorite singers (Jason Molina, Will Oldham, and Ali Roberts)  united together in the Amalgamated Sons of Rest - a great album that missed the top ten.   

There were some other great releases that missed the top ten that are worth checking out, Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (a monster on top tens in 2002); John McEntire went to the studio with Dianogah for Millions of Brazilians, and Enon delivered some great quirky pop with High Society.   The year was probably most dominated by Matt Pond PA with two releases in the top 10.   From a record label stand point, Polyvinyl and Sub Pop  ruled the top ten, dethroning typical stalwart Drag City which was shut out this year.    I had many great releases to pick from.   Here is the list of 43 albums (released in 2002) that I bought.

With that said, the albums included in the favorite ten are nothing short of brilliant.   All of these albums are not simply excellent additions to any music lover’s album collection, they are necessary additions.   Fortunately, they can be bought at Insound, the premier online music store.

  Buy it at Insound!  

1    Iron & Wine's The Creek that Drank the Cradle (Sub Pop) - Sam Beam's debut.   An awesome album that contains poetic lyrics over acoustic guitar with hushed vocals.  
2 Matt Pond PA's The Green Fury (Polyvinyl) - The first of two great albums from Matt Pond released in 2002.   Matt Pond PA is lush chamber pop with pronounced cello provided by the Rachel's Eve Miller.   
3 Owen's No Good for No One Now (Polyvinyl) -  The strongest release to date from Owen, the moniker for Mike Kinsella.   Mike plays all the instruments and recorded the album with his own equipment.    The album is primarily driven by lyrics and acoustic guitar with splashes of electric guitar and drums.    Fans of Elliott Smith or Mark Kozelek will love this album.  
4 The Mountain Goat's Tallahassee (4AD) -  The Mountain Goats debut on 4AD has a much more polished feel to it.   Gone is the typical tape hiss from boom box recordings, however, there is no need to worry about the lyrical stories with John's emotive delivery; they remain intact.
5 Matt Pond PA's The Nature of Maps (Polyvinyl) -  The second great album from Matt Pond PA this year.   Very similar to the Green Fury, more great chamber pop music with pronounced strings and Matt's vocals.
6 Songs Ohia's Didn't It Rain (Secretly Canadian) -  The album was recorded live but does not sound like a live album.   The album is stripped down to minimal guitar, mandolin,  and light drumming.   The power remains with Jason's unique vocals.
7 Richard Buckner's Impasse (Overcoat) -  Another singular voice in the top ten, Richard's distinct vocals drive this release.   Richard plays all the instruments on this recording minus the drums which he enlisted his wife to perform.   If you like the singer/songwriter style, you will love this album.
8 Ugly Casanova's Sharpen Your Teeth (Sub Pop) -  The front man of Modest Mouse, Isaac Brock, takes a spin at the solo outing.   The songs were written by a crazed Modest Mouse fan, Edgar Graham, and then put to music by Isaac.    On the CD he partnered with Brian Deck and Tim Rutili of Califone.
9 Kyle Fischer's Open Ground (Polyvinyl) -  The guitarist from Rainer Maria put out this solo gem.   He still invited his band mate Caithlin to sing on a few tracks.  He also recruited Mike Kinsella to play drums and Matt Turner to play cello.  The results are truly outstanding.


10 Damien Jurado's I Break Chairs (Sub Pop) - In the year of the singer songwriter, it is only fitting to conclude the ten with another.   However, Damien choose to rock this time, breaking free from his quieter acoustic albums.  


Despite my earlier comments about music needing age to properly evaluate, I will still offer my best guess at my favorite releases from the current year (2004).    

Shrimp Boat's
Something Grand

 (AUM Fidelity)

Iron and Wine’s 
Our Endless Numbered Days
(Sub Pop)

Mountain Goat’s 
We Shall All Be Healed

Bonnie Prince Billie’s
Greatest Palace Music
(Drag City)

Heron King Blves
(Thrill Jockey)

Modest Mouse’s  
Good News for People Who Love Bad News

Jason Molina's
Pyramid Electric Company
(Secretly Canadian)

Popcorn Box
(Carrot Top)

Live Music

A solid year for live shows, I did not see as many shows this year as I had many personal issues.   However, I still saw enough to have many good memories.   This year saw the temporary closing of the First Avenue in Minneapolis.   However, it is already open again.  I saw the Silver Jews perform one of their very rare concerts.    If they played more than three songs it would have made the top ten, particularly since Will Oldham also sang with Berman.   The poetry reading was still pretty cool, with director Harmony Korine and Bill Callahan among the poetry readers.   You know its a strange night, when a poetry reading sells out at the Bottle.     The year saw the Pixies and the Coctails reunite.  They even made it a shared reunion  for one show.   We also heard about the Slint reunion which is scheduled for 2005.    I saw Pedro the Lion put on a couple great shows, one where he ranted about the importance of voting and the second where he drank straight form a fifth of jack all night (I guess the election did not go his way).   I saw Modest Mouse perform a few times.   However, the crowds were so large and annoying the shows could not qualify for top billing.   

All in all another great year, filled with countless other great memories.  New bands are emerging, old ones are leaving; but the music continues.   Anyway, enough of this folderol, to the top concerts of the year.   I saw 33 concerts at 18 different venues in 2004.    The most commonly hit venue was the Go Studios Room 4 (7 times).      

1. Joanna Newsome, Bonnie Prince Billie
    at the Open End Gallery (Chicago)

A new venue in the top ten.   Open End Gallery is an art studio on the third floor in a building on West Fulton.   They had a big parachute covering the stage and audience to prevent sound dissipating to the 40-50 feet ceiling. Joanna opened acapala then played with a massive harp, compete with pedals. Literally the harp was over 7 feet tall, she had to lean it back to play it.   For the connoisseurs, the harp was a  Lyon and Healy Style 15 Harp.  Will opened with a few solo numbers then was joined by another guitarist for a few then a full band.  One of the opening songs was Little Boy Blue.   Great show concluded with the new version of new partner.
2. Azita, Iron and Wine
     at The Abbey (Chicago)

Azita was not very good.   She played by herself on the piano.   Iron & Wine was awesome at this sold out show.   After the awesome set, Sam made a joke about playing the game when saying this was his last song but have no fear he would be out shortly for an encore.   The encore included Such Great Heights, the Postal Service cover.
3. Velcro Lewis and His 100 Proof Band, Slick 57, Split Lip Rayfield
    at The Abbey (Chicago)  

Velcro Lewis was terribly loud, and just plain terrible.   Slick 57 sounded like a Green Day cover band. They did have some good songs, and did a cover of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind".  Split Lip kicked ass.  They played without their mandolin payer as he had a family emergency.
4. Dolorean, Damian Jurado, Richard Buckner
    at the Schubas (Chicago) 

Dolorean was touring on a new album. They had two great songs, "Second Chance & St. John". Damian played about 60% solo acoustic & 40% with a band. He went acoustic, band and closed with acoustic. Richard played with 6 digital pedals. He used them to create layers of sound for all of his songs. He was 40% through his set before anyone clapped because there was always sound.
5. Coctails, Pixies
    at the Fireside Bowl (Chicago)  

The Coctails were awesome.   They took the stage dressed in mechanics uniforms.   Upchurch played a different instrument or new take on a similar instrument for the first seven songs.   He started with a saw, moved to a sax, to two saxes at the same time, to a banjo, to a distorted banjo with screams into the strings, to guitar, to harmonica and closed with vocals all in one set.   Greenberg played base, xylophone and drums.  Prewitt played drums and guitar.  Pixies were good but the crowd was a little rowdy.  They closed with Kim Deal's Gigantic.   Something must have soured after this show as the Coctails were asked not to open up for the Pixies at planned dates in NYC.
6. Manishevitiz, Mountain goats
    at the Empty Bottle (Chicago)

Another outstanding performance from the Mountain Goats.   Touring on the strength of this year's outstanding "We Shall All Be Healed,"  the Mountain Goats delivered again.  
7. Troubled Hubble, Head of Femur, Manishevitiz
    at Gunther Murphy's (Chicago)  

Strangely Manishevitiz made it twice in the top ten.   Again, they played second fiddle to a different strong act.   Although they were the headliners tonight.   I was more impressed by Head of Femur.  Head of Femur is a Chicago based indie rock orchestra with each musician playing several different instruments.  A very cool show to check out.   
8. Damnwells, Old 97s
     at the Metro (Chicago)  

The Damnwells show ended with back to back people fainting and having to be carried out.    Talk about a tough way to end a set.   I felt bad for the musicians who were literally flabbergasted.    They tried to make a small joke about the faintings, but its tough to pull-off without appearing insensitive.   The Olds 97s were touring prior to the release of their new album, Drag It Up.   Surprisingly, however they only played 3 or 4 new songs.
9.  Smog
    at Go Studios Room 4 (Chapel Hill)


Solo Bill Calahan show, although it was still billed as a Smog show.   Apparently, it was the first tour where Bill brought his own guitar stand.   He ensured the crowd knew this and described it with two words, "pure class".    For the encore, he said he would play one request.   There were many people screaming (or speaking - Go is not that big) out Smog Hits.   I offered up Chosen One, one of my favorites.    John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats who happened to be in attendance tonight, jamming right in the front I might add, asked for I Break Horses -another solid choice.    The winner was Cold Blooded Old Times, which I felt was very weak for a request.    Its an OK song, but not extra special request material.  
10. The Narrator, Perfect Panther, Make Believe 
      at The Empty Bottle (Chicago)

Three Chicago bands performing for free at the bottle and one being a household name.   The Narrator opened.   They had their moments.   I would have enjoyed the show more if it was not so loud.   Perfect Panther put on a good set.   However, the show was placed in the top ten because of Make Believe.   Make Believe is latest Tim Kinsella project.    Make Believe continues down a path similar to other Kinsella projects, the Owls, Joan of Arc, Cap'N Jazz with unorthodox pacing and vocal delivery.   That said, they put on a great show.



Music combined with love will surely pave the road to paradise.


Your self-proclaimed music critic  

  W. C. HUB

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