Ken Beck  
PoOPlist '04

arcade fire - funeral
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The Arcade Fire - Funeral (Merge)
In 1971, the quirky cult film “Harold and Maude” was released catapulting Bud Cort into the spotlight for his portrayal of a teenage boy obsessed with death. Cort didn’t react positively to the newfound attention and proceeded to turn down offers left and right. Quirky director Wes Anderson rescued Cort from obscurity this year with a small role in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”. Now why all the talk about an obscure actor? Let it be a cautionary tale to these death-mongering Montrealeans by way of Texas. They have a unique opportunity where they are earning accolades upon accolades for this very cohesive, perfect record. Having had the unique experience of seeing a live performance of theirs in a space holding 90 or so people, I can honestly attest to their majesty and eagerly anticipate their Webster Hall concert February 1st. The ball is decisively in their court. They can either stay the indie-cred route with Merge Records or if they’re willing to gamble, license this very record to a major label and try to spread their sermon to a larger audience. The Arcade Fire released this debut complete with a booklet in the shape and layout of a memorial service pamphlet. “When family members kept dying they realized that they should call their record Funeral, noting the irony of their first full length recording bearing a name with such closure.” They also go on to dedicate this album to the memory of not 1, not 2, but 9 persons. Let’s hope that “Funeral” will not suffer the same perils as Cort and come back with a sophomore release to die for.

elliot smith - from a basement
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Elliott Smithfrom a Basement on the Hill (Anti-)
Keeping with the death theme, let’s move on to Elliott. As much as I’d love to make this a light-hearted and uplifting review, there will be nothing but hurt, disgust and rage. We’ve lost what I consider one of the greatest talents this world has ever heard. What the actual circumstances of his violent death are, no one will ever know. Only the hands of Elliott, his suspiciously tight-lipped girlfriend and the bloodied kitchen knife are witness to this atrocity. Like the deaths of Presley and Lennon, I will remember where I was and how I reacted, forever. There was of course shock, but sadly my most predominant response was something akin to “I’m not surprised”. As I’ve had time to reflect further, his untimely death has elicited a much stronger and angrier reaction. Why did you leave me? How dare you! You self-loathing prick. Couldn’t get a grip, could you?!? Don’t you know how many people like me were depending on you?!? Now all we are left with is another god-damned brilliant record, but not the one you would have released if you had your way. Well thanks Elliott… thanks for the big nothing you’ve left in a lot of lives. You’ve robbed us the future of your stratospheric beauty in song craft, melody and lyricism. Sure we have 6 studio albums of yours, but we expected more. This is not a “fond farewell” to you, my friend.

the thrills - let's bottle bohemia
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The Thrills - Let’s Bottle Bohemia (Virgin)
As track 10’s title states “The Irish Keep Gate-Crashing”, you ain’t kidding! “Let’s Bottle Bohemia” comes barreling out of the gate and doesn’t lose any momentum for one second. Both arrangements and production are top-notch and are sheer confectionery for the brain. While 2003’s “So Much for the City” was deeply entrenched in that Southern California 70s vibe, “Bohemia” captures elements but doesn’t hit you over the head with it. This is the sound of a band that knows their strengths and proceeds to build on it until it becomes something wholly their own.

brian wilson - smile
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Brian WilsonSmile (Nonesuch)
”Skeptical” would be the operative word here. I’m sure I’m not alone in that department. I’m sure we’ve all had various incarnations of the Beach Boys bootleg version of this for many years. We were all pretty satisfied with what we had and learned to not expect much more (well, the rational ones of us). Sure it would have been great to have seen what the Beatles would have volleyed back with if this had been formally released and Wilson had been able to keep it together. This Wilson/Sahanaja version is still a pretty damn strange and out of time record. But the U.S. history lesson as told by a savant thread really does work. Sure, some of the new lyrics are a little cumbersome and tame. Sure, Wilson’s enunciation of some choice lyrics is akin to a stroke victims. But come on, what were you honestly expecting at this point in the game? This is 2004 after all, not 1967.

rilo kiley - more adventures
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Rilo KileyMore Adventurous (Brute/Beaute - Warner Bros.)
Well for reasons beyond my comprehension, this record is not a “hit” in the commercial sense of the word. But it is a “hit” in every other manner for my money. “More Adventurous” perfectly straddles the line of not alienating their long-standing fans and something along the line of “let’s go for it”. Recorded and produced by Nebraskan wunderkind Mike Mogis, who was also responsible for Rilo’s previous release as well as records by Bright Eyes and other Saddle Creek artists. Jenny Lewis’ voice soars throughout the record, but especially on “Does He Love You?” and the EVER so sultry “I Never”. Guitar work by Blake Sennett (who also has a fine solo release on Sub Pop under the name of The Elected) has never been better. For those who have an insatiable thirst for anything and everything Postal Service, solace can be found on “Accidentel Death” (featuring Jimmy Tamborello). The album concludes with a farewell to their former L.A. compatriot and supporter Elliott Smith (The Elected’s “Me First” was recorded at his studio on donated time).

Air - talkie walkie
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Air - Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks)
Producer Nigel Godrich’s luck has to run out one of these days. The law of averages would say that he simply can’t continue to have this string of good fortune (Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and “Kid A”, Beck’s “Mutations” and “Sea Change”). If Stanley Kubrick lived to make a follow-up to (and of course was miraculously persuaded to) “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 2004, this without a doubt would have been the soundtrack. While we will never get the opportunity to witness this, some solace can be found in the album’s closer “Alone in Kyoto” which was used very effectively in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation”. There is such a detached, robotic quality to this album, yet an inexplicable warmth and glow that is as mesmerizing as the sound and gentle swaying of a patch of pine trees in the fall.

tv on the radio - desparate youth
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TV On The RadioDesperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch & Go)
I would be remiss if I didn’t fess up from the get go that this album is not note for note perfect. There are no outright clunkers, just occasional lulls. The cumulative effect of this record is unmistakable. It’s dark, foreboding and ominous. It’s almost as if they’ve stolen the play book out of Peter Gabriel’s locker (circa his first two solo albums). It’s downright creepy yet startlingly original and a breath of fresh air. “Staring at the Sun” is without a doubt the chief standout track featuring guitar work (if you want to call it that) by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner. Lyrics like “cover your balls cuz we swing kung fu” would ordinarily not sound out of place on a Beastie Boys record. But sung by Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone with accompanying claustrophobic drum beats and guitars that sound strummed by shards of glass, you get the distinct impression you are being chased down a garbage strewn street deep in the bowels of East New York, Brooklyn.

snow patrol - final straw
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Snow PatrolFinal Straw (A&M/Interscope)
On first listen, it seemed that Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow had been swallowed whole by this Scottish lot and made edible for consumption by the masses. Sadly, unlike Barlow, there’s a much more “generic” lyrical quality to "Final Straw". Maybe in the eating of Lou some of his qualities have passed through their system too quickly? The band was originally signed to Belle & Sebastian's Jeepster label (Stuart Murdoch played on their 2nd record), but aside from that there's very little similarity in sound. Unlike the aforementioned Rilo Kiley’s “More Adventurous”, “Final Straw” doesn’t seek to retain their fans of old (if they had a following in the past, that is). This is blatant commercialism and they make no qualms about it. You simply don’t hire Chris Lord-Alge (Stone Temple Pilots, Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls) to mix tracks 4, 5 and 6 for indie-cred! They are without a doubt the best three songs on the record. “Run” has that big drum sound complete with a gated effects and stadium-sized reverb that must have these lads’ eyes set for much larger venues than Bowery Ballroom. Things sure don’t peter out with “Run”, a song that will have many a lighter ablaze in the stadiums they dream upon. Good luck boys. By the good grace of God go ye.

soundtrack of your lives - origin 1
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The Soundtrack of Our LivesOrigin Vol. 1 (WEA International)
Not even a lawsuit by Dick Clark can stop these deer-eating Vikings! Yes, sweet dear old Dick Clark sued the band for trademark infringement (he has apparently trademarked the phrase “Dick Clark presents the soundtrack of your life” along with the equally witty “America's oldest living teenager”). So in the U.S. they now have to be known as “The Soundtrack of Our Lives (T.S.O.O.L.)“. If Clark does make it back from his stroke, I for one will be praying that that stupid New Year’s Eve ball will fall and come careening straight down at his withering, greedy little body and smush him beyond recognition. The monstrous hooks are all over this record but none more apparent than in “Transcendental Suicide,” which is a near-amalgam of “Beggars Banquet” era Stones and “Quadrophenia” era Who. There is a slight attempt to go after a more garage rock sound that has proved somewhat successful by fellow Swedes The Hives, as evident in songs like “Mother One Track Mind” and “Royal Explosion II”. “Midnight Children (Enfants De La Nuit)” too closely resembles Luna covering a Serge Gainsbourg song. Not their strongest foot put forward, but leagues better than anyone else comparable who released a record this year.

hidden cameras - mississagua goddam
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The Hidden CamerasMississauga Goddam (Rough Trade)
Jeez… nothin’ like showing a little restraint and relying on hidden messages in your songs! Let’s take a stroll, shall we? “I drank from the wine that came from inside the heart of his meat and the splurge of his sweet”. “I believe in the good of life as I kneel for a taste of man”. “Music filled my mug with Vaseline, I gave him a choke… I kissed his ugly gangly greens, he swallowed my pee”. And lastly, John Ashcroft’s favorite line, “I want another enema, nema, nema”. You get the idea. Listening to “Mississauga Goddam” you can’t help but feel dirty and quite visibly squirm in your seat. But if you can get past these graphic lyrics (my suggestion, either throw out the booklet or at the very least, hide it) you’ll be treated to some catchy as all hell songs and lush arrangements that would have Phil Spector loading up his gun.

Honorable mentions:

The Magnetic Fields - i (Nonesuch), A.C. NewmanThe Slow Wonder (Matador), Green Day American Idiot (Reprise), The DecemberistsHer Majesty (Kill Rock Stars), The ElectedMe First (Sub Pop), Zero 7 When it Falls (Elektra), The FutureheadsThe Futureheads (Sire), The Secret Machines - Now Here is Nowhere (Reprise), Ken StringfellowSoft Commands (Yep Roc), M83DeadCities, RedSeas & LostGhosts (Mute), PinbackSummer in Abaddon (Touch & Go), WilcoA Ghost is Born (Nonesuch), Dungen Ta Det Lugnt (Subliminal Sounds)

*God bless Matador for the gift that is “Crooked Rain, Cooked Rain: LA’s Desert Origins” by Pavement. They took an already perfect album and made it SO worth buying all over again!

**Gratuitous plug: Get with the program and stream when you’re at work. Once again I was enlightened to a number of these releases by listening to this outstanding Seattle station (

Ken Beck ,Cranford NJ

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