Octopus Hat
We have the technology!

Friday, January 02, 2004  

2003 Octy for Best Album!
Let me preface this award by saying that the music category is both the most difficult from a logistics standpoint and the most influenced by personal preferences. SO MUCH music was released in 2003 that it is totally impossible for me to evaluated even the small group of disc that were critically lauded. If you take a look at MetaFilter's Best of 2003 page you can see how many different CDs have made it into the various critic's top-10 lists. There are some albums that I didn't get a chance to hear that could easily be my next favorite album. Things like the Black Eyed Pea's "Elephunk," and the eponymous Liz Phair disc are things that I've been meaning to get a hold of all year but never did. The new Outkast double album is easily one of the best rated albums of the year, but I just got it for xmas and haven't truly had a chance to evaluate it yet. So take all this into consideration as I present the Octy.

The runner up this year is the White Stripe's "Elephant." A wonderfully produced take on the duo's distinct Detroit blues-rock. The album was recorded across the pond at Toe-Rag Studios (an ancient all analog studio), and there must have been something in the air in London, or perhaps it was all the breaks for tea, but the disc has a very distinct feeling that separates it from their earlier offerings. Which isn't to say that their sound is any different; it is still all about Meg White's "Minimalist Drumming" and Jack's frenetic abuse of his Gibson, but the arrangements on Elephant are a little deeper and more refined. The song writing is top-shelf material; every song is a gem and I would be hard pressed to name only a few highlights. But the quote-unquote epic "Ball and Biscuit" ranks as one of my favorite songs of 2003. If "White Blood Cells" was the White Stripe's attention grabbing "pop" album then Elephant is their dark and challenging album that looks to shake-off the Johnny-come-lately fans and succeeds in proving that the band is no one-trick pony.

I actually find it easyer to write about the runners-up than the actually Octy winners, and this Octy is a particularly difficult case because the Band has worked so hard at deifying categorization. But here goes. The 2003 Octy for Best Album goes to:Radiohead's "Hail to the Thief". Radiohead has fought against the media and the industry's attempt to pigeon-hole them, first as a one-hit wonder then as the new sound of Brit-pop. After "OK Computer" became one of the most critically lauded albums of the Nineties nobody suspected the bizarre and often inaccessible techno-rock-opera of "Kid A." It is a love-it or hate-it disc that served to dichotomize Radiohead fans. Those fans in the "bring back the damn guitars" camp were disappointed by the hastily issued follow up to Kid A: "Amnesiac." Made up primarily of B-sides from the Kid A sessions and is, predictably, a little uneven. But even where the disc doesn't work as a cohesive album (not in the way OK Computer of Kid A do anyway) it still contains some of the best songs by the band. The long awaited "Hail to the Thief" achieves the near impossible feat of satisfying those wanting "old Radiohead" and those (like myself) that want the band to puch forward further into the uncharted with each album. (Sorry for the little "A History of Radiohead, as Told by John," but I feel that it was necessary to discuss what has come before "Hail to the Thief" before I tackled what I think of the disc.)

Hail to the Thief (hereafter HttT) is perhaps Radiohead's first album for their fans and not just for Radiohead. It skillfully blends the "modern guitar rock" of their early catalog with the purposefully difficult electronic textures and soundscapes of the Kid A period. To quote the All Music Guide review, "Guitars sound like guitars more often than not; drums are more likely to be played by a human; and discernible verses are more frequently trailed by discernible choruses. ...there is a certain return to relatively traditional songcraft." But there are still the delicious moments of electronic freak-out (most notably on "Backdrifts" and my favorite cut on the album "The Gloaming") that made Kid A and Amnesiac so wonderfully scary. The album was officially released on June 10th, just two months after US forces entered Baghdad and during a period of mounting US casualties and it seems to perfectly reflect our uncertainties and insecurities during the troubling summer months making it an eerily well suited soundtrack to 2003. But the thing that cemented HttT as the Octy winner for 2003 was seeing the band play live at the Hollywood Bowl in September. It was a long time dream of mine to see them live and the show was a near religious experience for me. And by this I mean that after the show I felt a profound sense of peace and awe and felt like I was given a certain new perspective; like one who is devout would feel after a moving sermon or mass. The set list was primarily material from HttT and the show really gave me a new perspective on the album, and there were two important points that became clear to me after the show. First Thom York is the glue that holds the band together, but each member is a brilliant musician capable of many splendid things. And secondly Radiohead fucking ROCKS. And by this I mean "rocks out" in the traditional way that the iconic gods of rock and roll have always rocked: with a jumping around, trashing, theatrical stage presence that electrified the crowd as if a high voltage spark had been transmitted through The 20,000 people at the Bowl that night. It reminded me that Rock and Roll isn't dead, and that it can be new, exciting, and electric. (Best. Birthday present. Ever.)

The Honorable Mention for the Octy this year is Natalie Merchant's "A House Carpenter's Daughter." I had a review of this all written up, but I can't find it now. And my head hurts after writing the White Striped and Radiohead portion of the post so you'll just have to trust me on this one until I get around to posting why.

posted by JMV | 1/02/2004 01:27:00 PM
Octopus Hat
Pics From Flickr
Other’s Blogs
Me, Elsewhere
Buy John Beer
Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com