I’ve heard approximately 100 new albums this year, many of them for Splendid, many of them crap. I had to put my illustrious rock critic career aside as I started to feel burnt out and, worse yet, jaded. No more subpar CD-Rs! No more self-indulgent indie-rock near-misses! No more mind-numbing mediocrity! (well…)

Fortunately, as I scan this list, I can’t deny that I’ve heard a lot of worthy new music this year. If you look at my top three albums, you could assume (to paraphrase an earlier album from the guys at # 2) that quiet really was the new loud in 2004. Of course, one can’t possibly sum up a full year of buying, burning, borrowing, downloading and reviewing CDs in search of that next one to fall in love with in seven words or less. Sometimes, I think that search makes a life packed with disappointments, setbacks, random annoyances and right-wing victories a little easier to take.


20. FRANZ FERDINAND Franz Ferdinand
Refreshing and exciting when it came out nearly a year ago. Now, is it too much of a good thing or just a fabulous guilty pleasure? I wouldn’t mind not hearing half of these songs ever again but the other half are still way more tolerable than 95% of anything you’ll hear on commercial radio at the moment, including their biggest hit, the cheeky, danceable, unstoppable “Take Me Out”.

19. BEBEL GILBERTO Bebel Gilberto
No radical stylistic departures from her last album, Tanto Tempo (2000)—Gilberto’s wise enough not to mess with such a scintillating template. What keeps it from placeholder status? She sounds more assured than ever. Her voice, tunes (both originals and covers) and arrangements all soothe and occasionally astonish, so why isn’t she a household name like Norah Jones?

18. MORRISSEY You Are The Quarry
Back from the dead at last—you always knew he’d eventually attempt a grandiose comeback, but who ever expected it to be so smashingly angry, defiant and (intentionally) hilarious? The titles alone (“I Have Forgiven Jesus”, “The World Is Full of Crashing Bores”) earn this a B; bon mots such as “I like you / because you’re not right in the head” and “it’s just more lock-jawed pop stars / thicker than pig shit” and the sharp hooks that go along with them firmly propel it onto the A list.

17. NEKO CASE The Tigers Have Spoken
Eons away from her cameos with power-poppers The New Pornographers, this siren’s solo work is often too long on atmosphere and attitude and skimpy on the actual songs, so this ‘tween proper albums live set is a revelation. Rapidly running through an eclectic queue of originals and covers (Loretta Lynn you’d expect, but The Shangri-La’s?), it proves the old axiom that you never really know an artist’s worth until you’ve seen (or in this case, heard) her live.

16. TV ON THE RADIO Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
After last year’s bold, original Young Liars EP, this surprise Shortlist winner feels like a comedown at times. Still, it’s full of crackling, scattered brilliance, melding doo-wop, hip-hop, new wave and stone cold funk—not that you’d recognize any of these designations (apart from the pure a capella doo-wop of the genius “Ambulance”). More like mutations, really, and they make this in all likelihood transitional work worth coming back to.

15. PJ HARVEY Uh Huh Her
Harvey’s got the blues again, and not necessarily the 12-bar kind, either. Adhering to her polished, radio-friendly album followed by a weird, fucked-up album trajectory, this record’s dark, insular pull put off some fans of 2000’s Stories From The City, Stories From the Sea while delighting those who thought that record was a tad too safe. I don’t think it’s necessarily stronger for being more daring, but I suspect that years from now, it’ll age as well as her last fucked-up record, the beguiling Is This Desire (1998).

14. TEGAN AND SARA So Jealous
A gargantuan leap forward for this formerly folkie Canadian lesbian twin sister daring duo. But forget such labels; you could say they buffed up their songs with louder guitars, new wave keyboards and a lot more raucous energy, but you’d be more accurate to note that they buffed up the actual songs. Practically all of ‘em brim with an overload of big, juicy hooks that either pierce upon impact (“Walking With a Ghost”, “Speak Slow”) or gradually ingrain themselves to you in dazzling succession.

13. THE FUTUREHEADS The Futureheads
Can you feel the universe shifting away from the angst-ridden, no-fun “complaint rock” (to borrow a line from Clueless) of Radiohead and Coldplay and towards more bands like this gleefully deranged quartet? Yes, they may have listened to All Mod Cons or Black Sea one too many times, but when did you last hear a debut from a band of young Brits emit so much breathtaking, unadulterated spazzy joy—not to mention one containing a cover as cool as their version of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love”?

Surely a lesser record than those that came before, my initial disappointment with this comparatively workmanlike effort dissipated as soon as I realized how durable these songs proved. It may lack a track as flat-out stunning as “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?” or “Timorous Me”, but you can tell it was crafted for the ages, regardless of how the November elections would turn out. Which is why the key lyric, “I’m worried for my tired country” sounds as impassioned and vital as ever.

11. LORETTA LYNN Van Lear Rose
I felt like such a poseur purchasing this without much knowledge of Ms. Lynn’s essential and vast back catalogue, but I didn’t let that keep me from simply enjoying it, despite the hype. More than just a logical extension of (or conclusion to?) her classic work, Lynn really pushes herself to transcend genre and legend while also remaining true to herself. With amicable help from admirer Jack White (who’s not as much of a poseur as many people think), she leaves us with something both newfangled and timeless.

Although it suffers from “all the really great songs are on the first volume” syndrome, this continues to chart Wainwright’s evolution from precocious prodigy to iconic, otherworldly diva. Often more delicate and stranger than its predecessor, it could be his own twisted version of a Leonard Cohen album. Somehow, it didn’t even occur to me how outlandish and flamboyant a few of these songs were at first (like “Crumb By Crumb”, a wistful, laid-back yet vaguely sinister shuffle). Perhaps, Wainwright’s greatest achievement here is how successfully he entices his listeners to want to see the world through his lenses.

9. JUNIOR BOYS Last Exit
Wonderfully out of time, like a long-lost cassette tape recently discovered in a secret capsule with no record or trace of when it was planted. Falling somewhere between classic synth-pop (particularly Yaz and New Order) and contemporary hip-hop (beat-wise, anyway), these unassuming Canadians must have spent days and weeks in their makeshift bedroom studio, crafting minimalist mini-epics packed with both seductive mating calls and urgent, muted cries for help. Try not to feel moved when the penultimate track, “Teach Me How To Fight” threatens to surface through all the ice.

Speaking of bedroom musicians, Stephin Merritt has the good sense not to even try to top 69 Love Songs (1999) on this long-awaited one disc follow-up. With an increasingly acoustic tableau and an even archer concept in hand (all the titles begin with the letter “I”, and all are sung by Merritt himself), he’s come up with a slight but rewarding gem of an album. Focusing on the usual quirks (operettas, bad boyfriends, and evil twins) with the usual dry wit, his talent seems so persistent and effortless that the cumulative effect of his obsessions and emotions (best heard on the closing “It’s Only Time”) is quite staggering.

7. PAUL BRILL New Pagan Love Song
In retrospect, I overrated this guy’s last album, Sisters (2003). A fine, eclectic, far-reaching set, it now feels like a mere warm-up to this one (which I hope I’m not underrating). Usually, it’s not too promising when a primarily guitar-based musician fiddles around with electronics (see Neil Young and Bob Mould), but Brill folds them supply into his progressively more difficult-to-categorize blend of alt-country, coffeehouse folk and Beatles-esque pop—to the point where they service the songs without overpowering them. David Gray attempted a similar fusion a few years back, but it really pales in comparison to this, excelling Brill into the upper echelon of unsung contemporary singer/songwriters.

6. BJORK Medulla
A bigger Bjork fan than I once considered how in the world she could possibly surpass Vespertine (2001). While I had trouble warming up to that introverted, subdued album, I understood what he meant. Well, this excursion into uncharted sonic waters flies right by it while providing more fuel for the fire for those who can’t stand her voice (or that infamous swan outfit). I find it weird, but engagingly so. To get the full impact of Medulla’s accomplishment, listen to it on a sense-surround stereo system, or better yet, headphones, where you can hear, feel, and virtually touch all of the carefully constructed layers. Plus, “Triumph of a Heart” and “Who Is It” prove she hasn’t lost her sometimes hidden knack for catchy, arresting melodies.

5. A.C. NEWMAN The Slow Wonder
Nothing here but infectious, smart little pop songs. Upon contact, you’ll fight the urge to smash your radio because you know you’ll never find them there. Using his band The New Pornographers as a high standard, you wouldn’t expect anything less from Newman, but this solo debut graciously lives up to its title. A tad cozier and more economical than his previous work, it suggests potential for canonical greatness right on the first listen and realizes it by at least the fifth. And I love how it alternately resembles the soundtrack of a vintage Scooby-Doo cartoon and an endearingly bratty cast recording of a long-lost counterculture rock opera.

4. NELLIE McKAY Get Away From Me
No one bought this album except rock critics, the friends they enthusiastically played it to, and those lucky enough to see her perform live. Precocious, ambitious and possibly imbalanced, this talented twenty-year-old might’ve found a wider audience (or secured at least one Grammy nomination, geez) had she toned down this album’s ADD sequencing (from the Blossom Dearie-like “Manhattan Avenue” to “Sari”, which earns her that Doris Day-meets-Eminem tag, in one full swoop) or cut down its unyielding two disc, eighteen track length. As with Ani DiFranco, however, I’m guessing compromise wouldn't wear well on her. The debut of the year, possibly the decade.

3. SAM PHILLIPS A Boot and A Shoe
One of the truly superb live performances I’ve seen, this veteran chanteuse (much tinier in person than I expected!) appeared at the perfectly intimate Paradise Lounge last June. Simultaneously warm and spooky, humble and commanding, fragile and fiery, she had no trouble proving that axiom I mentioned earlier regarding Neko Case. Phillips was promoting her strongest, most complete album since Martinis and Bikinis (1994). Much in the same vein as Fan Dance (2001), only, as one track puts it, more “open (to) the world”, it’s all smoky, sultry cabaret bliss. Deliberately understated and quiet, its slightest, most unexpected, intermittent shifts in tone possess a gorgeous, rare, surging power.

2. KINGS OF CONVENIENCE Riot On an Empty Street
After a three-year layoff and an interim remix album, these two lovable, soft-spoken Norwegians finally return. From the very first nylon-stringed guitar of “Homesick” through the plaintive, inconclusive strums of “The Build-Up”, it was like they never left. Some dismiss these guys as Simon and Garfunkel imitators. While no one can deny the influence, do you think an S&G reunion album of new material would ever sound so pure, sparse, unaffected and devoid of ego or self-importance? Every song flickers with the glow of a fading, autumnal sun, but they’re so much more than just pretty pictures; they’re equal parts gleeful abandon and pensive hesitation. It’s a combination that rarely fails to intrigue.

Taking a break from his fascinating, absurd plans to record one album for every state in the union (he’s already done Michigan (see below)), Stevens released an unassuming collection of songs that didn’t fit into that project. Most of them are centered on themes of love and faith and the primary instrument here is the banjo. It’s the only new thing I’ve heard this year that I would call, without any reservations, a masterpiece. At this point, I cannot say what the definitive key is to this album's worth. It could be arrangements that transform from simple, unadorned beauty to ringing, multi-tiered intensity or lyrics with multiple, ever-shifting inferences or Steven’s fragile, haunting tenor or his absolute refusal to mimic or borrow from anyone else. Even though I wrote an enthusiastic review of it days after my first listen, I’m still piecing Seven Swans together, and I remain rapt in awe on every attempt.

(in alphabetical order):

BOBBY BARE JR. From The End of Your Leash
DELAYS Faded Seaside Glamour
FEY RAY I Wanna Be New and Perfect


K.D. LANG Hymns of the 49th Parallel
MEKONS Punk Rock
S PRCSS Taste Like Daughter
JILL SOBULE Underdog Victorious
THE STREETS A Grand Don’t Come For Free
SUNSHINE FIX Green Imagination
SALLY TIMMS In The World of Him
TAMAS WELLS A Mark on the Pane


TOMPAULIN Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt
Direct your disposable income towards anything you can find by this alternately sweet and acerbic, nearly cinematic UK outfit. I have to thank Splendid for giving me this singles collection to review back in March, otherwise I would’ve never heard of them, either. Precious little would make me happier than if their forthcoming album Into The Black was to get a stateside release next year.

Released in 2003, but first heard by me this year:

THE SHINS Chutes Too Narrow
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE Transatlanticism
SUFJAN STEVENS Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lakes State
CALEXICO Feast of Wire


Belle and Sebastian’s “Your Cover’s Blown” on my Top 40 Tracks of 2004? Mouths began salivating as soon as NME called this the indie-rock equivalent to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I personally did a 180 when I first heard what I can aptly describe as the band’s first disco song… with a mid-section that abruptly shifts into something resembling “Paint It, Black”. One of my co-workers simply called it “lame”. But, long after the initial shock wore off, I think it’s silly and shallow and moving and magnificent all at once. Here's to more of that in '05.



By the way, Ten Thousand Words is finally done. Don't expect a follow-up sub-blog counting down, oh, I don't know, my one hundred favorite films or books or breakfast cereals. Leave it to AFI and VH-1, I say. Everything I write for myself is going right here from now on.

Heading off to Iowa on Thursday, coming back to Boston on Monday. Don't think there will be any more posts until next week, unless I feel so moved to write about some of the films I've recently seen (the best of which is an uplifting feminist tale about female circumcision in a remote African village! Really!). I will attempt to get to The Year in Music before the end of it. The Year in Film (have to capitalize these things, y'know) will probably follow the first week in January. Have a peaceful, cozy holiday.



As of today, just one more to go on my countdown. To whet anticipation as to what album it will be, here's an idea of what # 101-200 would look like. Please note that it was cobbled together in a mad, sugar-enhanced rush, and it contains nothing I've acquired in the past year. As for positions, don't pay too much attention to each individual one. I can't really say that I value Erotica significantly higher than Electric Version, but you can bet that I pull it off the shelf a hell of lot more often than Pretzel Logic or Play.

101. JOHN COLTRANE A Love Supreme (1964)
102. IVY Realistic (1994)
103. SAM PHILLIPS Fan Dance (2001)
104. SAINT ETIENNE Smash The System: Singles and More (2001)
105. DARLING BUDS Erotica (1992)
106. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS Electric Version (2003)
107. XTC English Settlement (1982)
108. PJ HARVEY To Bring You My Love (1995)
109. JONI MITCHELL For The Roses (1972)
110. PAUL SIMON Paul Simon (1972)
111. SLEATER-KINNEY Dig Me Out (1997)
112. SOUNDTRACK Trainspotting (1996)
113. JILL SOBULE Jill Sobule (1995)
114. LOUIS PRIMA Capitol Collector's Series (1991)
115. TORI AMOS Boys For Pele (1996)
116. ERASURE I Say I Say I Say (1994)
117. MEKONS OOOH! (Out of Our Heads) (2002)
118. BELLE AND SEBASTIAN The Boy With The Arab Strap (1998)
119. TV ON THE RADIO Young Liars (2003)
120. SOUNDTRACK The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
121. CIBO MATTO Viva! La Woman (1996)
122. STEW Something Deeper Than These Changes (2003)
123. XTC Nonsuch (1992)
124. SUZANNE VEGA Nine Objects of Desire (1996)
125. THE CRANBERRIES Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? (1993)
126. SOUNDTRACK Waking Life (2001)
127. SHAWN COLVIN A Few Small Repairs (1996)
128. THE B-52's Cosmic Thing (Reprise, 1989)
129. ANI DIFRANCO Little Plastic Castle (1998)
130. VINCE GUARALDI Greatest Hits (1980)
131. PAUL BRILL Sisters LP (2003)
132. FIONA APPLE Tidal (1996)
133. NEW ORDER (The Best of) New Order (1994)
134. CONCRETE BLONDE Recollection (1996)
135. KATE BUSH Hounds of Love (1985)
136. MORRISSEY Bona Drag (1990)
137. VARIOUS ARTISTS Jesus Christ Superstar: A Ressurrection (1994)
138. TOM WAITS Beautiful Maladies: The Island Years (1998)
139. SHERYL CROW Sheryl Crow (1996)
140. SARAH McLACHLAN Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (1993)
141. MADONNA The Immaculate Collection (1990)
142. LUSCIOUS JACKSON Fever In Fever Out (1996)
143. BEN FOLDS FIVE Ben Folds Five (1995)
144. SUPER FURRY ANIMALS Phantom Power (2003)
145. NINA SIMONE Ultimate (1997)
146. STEVE WYNN & THE MIRACLE 3 Static Transmission (2003)
147. STEREOLAB Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1996)
148. DEEE-LITE World Clique (1990)
149. SIMON AND GARFUNKEL The Best of... (1999)
150. ELLA FITZGERALD First Lady of Song (Box) (1993)
151. BASEMENT JAXX Kish Kash (2003)
152. BADLY DRAWN BOY The Hour of Bewilderbeast (2000)
153. SOUNDTRACK Big Night (1996)
154. STEVIE WONDER Songs In The Key of Life (1976)
155. SAM PHILLIPS The Indescribable Wow (1988)
156. THE KINKS The Kinks Kronikles (1972)
157. BJORK Post (1995)
158. TRICKY Maxinquaye (1995)
159. MASSIVE ATTACK Protection (1994)
160. SOUNDTRACK Velvet Goldmine (1998)
161. ANI DIFRANCO Not A Pretty Girl (1995)
162. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT Poses (2001)
163. PULP Different Class (1995)
164. LAMBERT, HENDRICKS AND ROSS Twisted--The Best of (1992)
165. SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES Behind The Music (2001)
166. THE BEATLES Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
167. R.E.M. Out of Time (1991)
168. KD LANG All You Can Eat (1995)
169. DREAM SYNDICATE Tell Me When It's Over--The Best of (1992)
170. THE WHO Sell Out (1967)
171. VELVET UNDERGROUND Best of--Words and Music of Lou Reed (1989)
172. SAINT ETIENNE Finisterre (2002)
173. SEAL Seal (1991)
174. MORCHEEBA Big Calm (1998)
175. THE BEATLES The Beatles (1968)
176. NATALIE MERCHANT Tigerlily (1995)
177. DJ SHADOW Endtroducing... (1996)
178. R.E.M. Life's Rich Pageant (1986)
179. PET SHOP BOYS Release (2002)
180. TOM LEHRER That Was The Week That Was (1965)
181. EMM GRYNER Girl Versions (2001)
182. THE SMITHS The Queen Is Dead (1986)
183. STEELY DAN Pretzel Logic (1974)
184. JANE SIBERRY Maria (1995)
185. PHISH A Picture of Nectar (1991)
186. CAROLE KING Tapestry (1971)
187. GILLIAN WELCH Revival (1996)
188. KD LANG Drag (1997)
189. SOUNDTRACK Next Stop Wonderland (1998)
190. PET SHOP BOYS Bilingual (1996)
191. BEBEL GILBERTO Tanto Tempo (2000)
192. MEKONS Fear and Whiskey (1985)
193. NICK DRAKE Pink Moon (1972)
194. UTAH PHILLIPS and ANI DIFRANCO The Past Didn't Go Anywhere (1996)
195. FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS The Raw and The Cooked (1988)
196. MOBY Play (1999)
197. SUZANNE VEGA 99.9F (1992)
198. ERASURE Chorus (1991)
199. CONCRETE BLONDE Concrete Blonde (1987)
200. SOHO Goddess (1990)



Rather unexpectedly, I saw a preview screening of THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU last week. I've really wanted to post a review, but my feelings about the film are still in gestation mode. I need to see it another time and jot some notes down afterwards before I can give you an acceptable review (as opposed to the usual half-assed one).

So for now, I'll say my feelings are similar to what I thought about THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS after one viewing: I enjoyed it and was moved by it, but I didn't think it was a masterpiece or quite as affecting as Wes Anderson's previous efforts. Keep in mind that, three years later, TENENBAUMS is currently my all-time favorite film.

Bill Murray is fine, although in the highly unlikely event that he'd win the Oscar for this, it'd be like awarding Russell Crowe for GLADIATOR when he deserved it so much more for THE INSIDER. The character Steve Zissou seems a close cousin of Royal Tenenbaum, only more pathetic and whinier. Willem DaFoe has never been funnier and Cate Blanchett has rarely been more grating.

The tone bounces around a little too wildly and occasionally surges into melodrama. The film's at least 15 minutes too long, although I can't think of any obvious scenes to cut, and one of the most unnecessary is my favorite.

I loved the Bowie-drenched soundtrack (and interpretations thereof). The montage introducing us to Zissou's ship, the Belafonte, tops Max Fischer's extracurricular activities and Margot Tenenbaum's investigative file. Anderson's usual quirky asides, throwaway lines and insane attention to detail are all still there, and they service the film rather than stilt it.

THE LIFE AQUATIC is the same film Anderson's already made only at a grander, more ambitious scale. It will win few converts (considering the across-the-board mixed reviews it’s already received) and will likely disappoint some admirers. I'll probably grudgingly find a spot for it on my top ten (as I did with TENENBAUMS in 2001); only time and additional viewings will tell whether it really resonates. Check back with me in another month.


In this modern-day take on Verdi's 16th century opera "Rigoletto", Rick O'Lette (Bill Pullman) is a rotten jerk of a corporate middle manager. He has an even more obnoxious boss half his age (Aaron Stanford) who unknowingly pursues Rick's teenaged daughter, Eve (Agnes Bruckner) on an X-rated Web chat room. In the film's opening sequence, Rick thoroughly humiliates Michelle, (Sandra Oh) a young woman applying for a job. She curses him, and he eventually gets the karmic retribution he deserves (sort of).

With a snarky, acerbic screenplay written by Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler, RICK is wildly uneven. I'd argue that Sandra Oh is even better here than she was in SIDEWAYS, even though she disappears after the first ten minutes. Pullman has been more convincing elsewhere (see ZERO EFFECT), but some of his scenes with Bruckner are so surprisingly touching and refreshingly subdued that by the film's tragic end, you almost believe Rick's capable of rehabilitation--almost.


Many of these come from my twenty favorite albums of the year (to be published in the next few weeks), so I'll just comment on the top ten.

1. THE DELAYS Nearer Than Heaven (from Faded Seaside Glamour)

I first heard this on WERS one morning. Instead of hitting the snooze button on my clock radio, I sat still, enraptured, pulled into this song's mesmeric uplift. I couldn't wait to hear what woman that voice belonged to. It turns out the singer's name is Greg Gilbert. His higher register resembles Liz Fraser (of the Cocteau Twins). His lower register comes eerily close to Stevie Nicks.

2. A.C. NEWMAN On The Table (The Slow Wonder)

This New Pornographers leader seems to always have one brilliant, unshakable gem in him for each album. I'll be stunned if he ever puts out a more perfect one than this. Although it wasn't a crossover hit as I had speculated/dreamed, it did make an episode of The O.C.

3. THE FUTUREHEADS Hounds of Love (The Futureheads)

Betcha never thought Kate had much in common with XTC or The Jam, huh? This punked-up cover of one of her most exuberant hits works because it's faithful in tone, spirit, and vocalese, not to mention a lot of fun.

4. TAMAS WELLS Even In The Crowds (A Mark On The Pane)

Seems plucked from an alternate universe where Harry Nilsson and Nick Drake were as influential as Jimi Hendrix. This ode to not letting yourself get bogged down over a failed relationship is ineffably sweet, sad and gentle, like a lullaby without any schmaltz.

5. SUFJAN STEVENS To Be Alone With You (Seven Swans)

Hushed acoustic love song with simple, effective chord changes. Regarding the lyrics, is this an ode to a woman, a parent, another man, or a higher power? Stevens chooses his words so carefully and with such subtle shifts in meaning that they could apply to all of the above. This also made The O.C., whose producers probably didn't read nearly so much into it.

6. SAM PHILLIPS Reflecting Light (A Boot and A Shoe)

This one begins "Now that I've worn out / I've worn out the world", but she sounds, um, reflective more than she does wary. A tender, gorgeous waltz with a lovely string solo and the absolute antithesis of a Diane Warren power ballad.

7. BJORK Triumph of a Heart (Medulla)

Listen to this on headphones or a Sense-Surround stereo system. Hear all the delicately arranged voices rush by you as if they were in 3-D. Fall in love with the melody, possibly her most immediate since "Big Time Sensuality".

8. NELLIE McKAY Clonie (Get Away From Me)

A transcendent little throwaway less than two minutes long, with lots o' great lines about being the most "lovable thing since fucking Eminem" and being more benign than "old Phil Spector". She's so convincing, you're left questioning whether her apparent mental instability is much of an act.

9. THE MAGNETIC FIELDS I Thought You Were My Boyfriend ( i)

Succinctly sums up the love life of the gay everyman circa 2004, with Stephin Merritt's distinct blend of wit and longing, all dolled up in an irresistible New Order/Depeche Mode rip.

10. SCISSOR SISTERS Take Your Mama (Scissor Sisters)

Yes, sounds exactly like early Elton John, but the world's been ready for a song about coming out to your mother and going clubbing with her for at least a decade, and unlike most club music, it rocks.


11. FRANZ FERDINAND Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand)
12. LORETTA LYNN Little Red Shoes (Van Lear Rose)
13. KINGS OF CONVENIENCE I'd Rather Dance With You (Riot on an Empty Street)
14. THE COCKER SPANIELS The Only Black Guy At the Indie Rock Show (Withstand the Whatnot)
15. NELLIE McKAY Ding Dong (Get Away From Me)
16. HELLO GOODBYE Pussycat (Heart Attack)
17. MORRISSEY First of the Gang To Die (You Are The Quarry)
18. THE MAGNETIC FIELDS I Don't Believe You (i)
19. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT The One You Love (Want Two)
20. BJORK Who Is It (Medulla)
21. TED LEO AND THE PHARMACISTS The Angel's Share (Shake The Sheets)
22. TV ON THE RADIO Dreams (Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes)
23. JILL SOBULE I Saw A Cop (Underdog Victorious)
24. KINGS OF CONVENIENCE Homesick (Riot on an Empty Street)
25. BEBEL GILBERTO Simplesmente (Bebel Gilberto)
26. CALEXICO Alone Again Or (Convict Pool)
27. SAM PHILLIPS All Night (A Boot and A Shoe)
28. VELVET CRUSH The Connection (Stereo Blues)
29. TEGAN AND SARA Walking With a Ghost (So Jealous)
30. PJ HARVEY The Letter (Uh Huh Her)
31. IQU Dirty Boy (Sun Q)
32. RON SEXSMITH From Now On (Retriever)
33. NEKO CASE If You Knew (The Tigers Have Spoken)
34. THE M's There Is Work (The M's)
35. THE SUNSHINE FIX Statues and Glue (Green Imagination)
36. CALIFONE Cluck Old Hen (Shanti Project Collection, Volume 3)
37. FEY RAY I've Been Fighting My Own War (I Wanna Be New and Perfect)
38. SPRITES Maybe We Should Move To Canada (Bionic Hands)
39. S PRCSS Look: Explosion! New Spring (Taste Like Daughter)
40. MARY LOU LORD Cold Kilburn Rain (Baby Blue)



Or at least that's what this morning's Grammy Nominations would have you believe. Ray Charles was a given. Usher, Norah Jones and industry darling Alicia Keys I understand. Even Maroon 5 and The Black Eyed Peas I understand. But "The Reason" for Song of the Year? Los Lonely Boys for Best New Artist? Instead of Franz Ferdinand or, worse yet, the totally ignored Nellie McKay? (She's just too good for this party).

Fortunately, Kanye West received ten nods, and Bjork's challenging, worthy Medulla gleaned at least two. Basement Jaxx's glorious "Good Luck" is up for Best Dance Recording, Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose got a lot of love in the country categories (how could she not?) and Best Alternative Music Album has at least four out of five decent contenders.

Still, to see how much mainstream music really sucked this year, open the link above and scroll down to Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. Yeesh.


As May, the titular character in this button-pressing psycho-sexual character study, Anne Reid is graceful and believable--certainly a worthy candidate for this year's (so-far) slim Best Actress list.

May and her husband travel from the suburbs to London to visit their children and grandchildren, but the husband dies abruptly. Her distant and rather unpleasant, self-centered family offers her little solace as she tries to make sense of her life as a sheltered housewife. She ends up confiding in Darren (Daniel Craig), a studly yet married carpenter working for her son and sleeping with her daughter. I have to admit that when their friendship took a sudden sexual turn, it felt surprisingly natural.

However, I had other problems with this film. Too many of the characters were lazily written, especially the whiny, single-mum daughter who had little to say to May apart from the usual "you don't understand me / you never encourage me" drivel. Fortunately, May clearly learns a few epiphanies about herself via her attraction to Darren and its repercussions. The whole older woman/younger man sexual pairing is also something you don't often see onscreen. Still, a few sensationalist plot twists co-exist awkwardly with the film's more contemplative moments. THE MOTHER is quite different from director Roger Michell's subsequent film ENDURING LOVE, right down to its sparse, unobtrusive score. If the latter was an ambitious but flawed Hitchcock pastiche, this is more like a cross between middle-class Mike Leigh and an above-average daytime soap.


As compiled for a survey for Chlotrudis

1. Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico, 2001)

Name another film that’s a raunchy sex comedy and a Godard-ian deconstruction of regional social mores--but that’s irrelevant when ecstatic joy and anguish commingle as sinuously as they do here. Maria expresses the film’s joie de vivre most succinctly: “Life is like the surf, so give yourself away like the sea.”

2. BEAU TRAVAIL (Claire Denis, France, 1999)

Transporting Billy Budd to a French foreign legion post in North Africa, Denis creates a gorgeous Rubik’s Cube of a movie that is a paean to kinesis of the male form—especially in its surprising, euphoric final scene.

3. THE 400 BLOWS (Francois Truffaut, France, 1959)

As much as I admire Godard, this film is the most important one to come out of the French New Wave, with 14-year-old Antoine Doinel a touching representation for anyone struggling to be understood or even heard.

4. YI YI (Edward Yang, Taiwan, 2000)

A three-hour epic about a contemporary Taipei family where nothing happens, but everything shifts and rearranges itself as Yang completes his familial tapestry. A study on urban alienation, yes, but also human kindness.

5. TO LIVE (Zhang Yimou, China, 1994)

The first foreign language film I ever saw. I was suitably swept away by its ambitious scope, but it’s all the intimate, neorealism-derived vignettes that remain etched in memory, like the little boy exacting some spicy noodle-enhanced revenge for his teased sister.

6. PLAYTIME (Jacques Tati, France, 1967)

Possibly the most challenging film on this list, and probably the most rewarding after multiple viewings. Envisioning (and realizing) a modernist world made almost entirely of glass and steel, Tati took physical slapstick to cerebral heights with this meticulously-crafted confection.

7. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Wong Kar Wai, China, 2000)

Simply the most devastatingly romantic film ever made, thanks to a swooning score, attention to detail worthy of Wes Anderson (all those vintage costumes Maggie Cheung wears!) and of course, the ineffably poignant idea that the romance is never fully acted upon.

8. WHAT TIME IS IT THERE (Tsai Ming-Liang, Taiwan, 2001)

A worthy successor to Tati, Tsai has developed just as unique an approach. His fifth, finest feature is a cinematic ballet that explores bereavement and desire as pure symmetry while never ruling out divine intervention in the grand scheme of things.

9. THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (Jacques Demy, France, 1964)

Has any locale, real or imagined, ever appeared as breathtaking and heavenly as Demy’s vibrantly-colored Cherbourg, omnisciently accompanied by a Michel Legrand score and embodied by an adorably young Catherine Deneuve?

10. WILD REEDS (Andre Techine, France, 1994)

Probably the most honest coming of age film slanted towards gay youth that I’ve seen, but even that component’s only a fraction of this complicated, nuanced narrative set in early ‘60s rural France.

11. SPIRITED AWAY (Hayao Miyazaki, Japan, 2001)

I admit that most Anime gives me the willies, but this animator’s masterpiece transcends the genre. Exploding with painterly detail, this is a brilliant movie whose all-ages appeal stems from the utmost respect it lends its characters.

12. MY LIFE AS A DOG (Lasse Hallstrom, Sweden, 1985)

In the darkest tragedies he will probably ever face, a young misfit finds himself. It could’ve been cloying or maudlin, but Hallstrom’s film is engagingly off-kilter and at times, hilarious.

13. PIXOTE (Hector Babenco, Brazil, 1981)

Babenco revives post-war Italian neorealism for an arguably much crueler time and continent. So undiluted and unflinching that it makes CITY OF GOD look like FANTASY ISLAND.

14. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (Carl Dreyer, Denmark, 1928)

A well-known tale told almost entirely through facial close-ups and oblique, statuesque angles. Nothing matches Maria Falconetti’s purely physical, enthralling performance.

15. OHAYO/GOOD MORNING (Yasujiro Ozu, Japan, 1959)

I love TOKYO STORY, but this one’s in color (notice what Ozu does with that), a hell of a lot funnier, and in the end, just as endearing. Oh, and a few of the jokes revolve around farting.

16. THE WIND WILL CARRY US (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1999)

No other contemporary director has done so much to reinterpret how we perceive film as a participatory experience. This is also where he wrenches poetry out of something as mundane as poor cell-phone reception.

17. THE RETURN (Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia, 2003)

What’s in the box? That would seem to be the key question in this masterful debut feature, but when the credits roll, it’s merely part of a string of intriguing details where the journey is far more relevant than the destination.

18. BAND OF OUTSIDERS (Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1964)

I considered a half-dozen Godard films for this list, but I think this one sticks out because I saw it in a theater, and like Kiarostami, Godard sought to alter how people actively view a movie. This one also engages us as if we were co-conspirators.

19. AU HAZARD BALTHAZAR (Robert Bresson, France, 1966)

Bresson seemed fascinated by the choices his characters made and their inevitable, if not always predictable consequences. A shlepped-around donkey stands at the center of this graceful, brutal morality tale, and there’s no other film remotely like it.

20. SHOW ME LOVE (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden, 1998)

Before he got really, really pissed off, Moodysson was disarmingly warm and funny, and his tender, totally plausible teenage lesbian romance is the kind of film you just want to hug and protect from any destructive or cynical force.

21. THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATIKURIS (Takashi Miike, Japan, 2001)

Delightfully strange cross between a gory slasher film and an all-singing, all-dancing episode of THE LOVE BOAT. With sudden, gleeful forays into Claymation.

22. TALK TO HER (Pedro Almodovar, Spain, 2002)

Most of this film is exposition, like a superb novel that takes time to gradually establish itself. By its climax, you really feel the cumulative effect of it all--the passion, the warmth, the gentility, the quirky plot twists.

23. THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE (Leos Carax, France, 1991)

Juliette Binochet and Denis Lavant play not-necessarily star-crossed lovers in this daunting, opulent film that romanticizes as much as it documents. Don’t miss the astonishing fireworks sequence (or its collage-like soundtrack).

24. DELICATESSEN (Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, France, 1991)

I own a cherished copy of AMELIE, but Jeunet’s best film is still this absurd, dystopian fantasy that plays like a post-apocalyptic Monty Python as imagined by Dali.

25. METROPOLIS (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927)

This ridiculous, magnificent slab of art-deco expressionist sci-fi is surely one of the most visually dynamic and articulate of all silent films. Love Brigette Helm as she effortlessly vacillates between heroine/ingénue and sexpot/robot.