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Monday, January 23, 2006  

The Final Countdown
The Octy! for Music is always the toughest for me to award. Between there being SO much music that I have liked, so much that I know I would like but didn’t get around to actually listening to, and my personal biases it is a pretty anguishing decision. 2005 was a banner year of sorts for music. I counted over 27 2005 releases added to my iTunes library: 20 of which I’ve listened to enough to feel that I can pas some-sort of judgment. I never gave the critically acclaimed Sufjan Stevens album, or the new Kanye West disk that was produced by Jon Brion much of a listen. The “Inkys” of the bunch are pretty easy to pick-out. The Madonna dance album was only passably interesting and suffered from some painfully bad lyrics and one song that I would rather pour hot-wax in my ears that have to listen to again. Mike Doughty, the front-man of the defunct Soul Coughing, saw an official solo-album not only released by a LABEL but produced by Dave Matthews. And I was so disappointed. Matthews suck all the edge and bite out of Doughty’s sound and replaced it with insipid frat-rock licks and shiny production. The Sheryl Crow album was so generic that I can’t recall a single thing about it. Another example of edge being dulled.

It was all for naught though. There were many bright lights. From Beck’s return to his more funky and electronic roots with Guero to the crisp and earnest sound of Bloc Party I can count 7 albums that I considered for the top-prize. Franz Ferdinand’s sophomore LP just missed the spot. Tori Amos’ “The Bea-e Keeper” is dense and marvelously produced and the we finally got to see her play live in support of it, but it lacked something. It suffers for getting compared to 2002’s “Scarlet’s Walk” which is in my top-5 all-time favorite albums. I’d love to give the Octy to “Get Behind Me Satan” by my beloved White Stripes, and their show at the Greek theater was better than I even hoped it could be, but I can at-best mention it honorably for taking the Stripes’ tried-and-true drums-guitar-vocal formula and filling it out with piano, marimba, and mandolin. Jack just keeps writing awesome fucking songs, and the man can melt-your-fucking-face with his playing.

Just in writing this post I’ve gone back-and-forth on which of my two favorites would get the prize, and I’ve decided to just award an Octy! to both. It is, after all, my party. Anyway, the first Octy! to an album 5-years in the making. An album that was leaked on the internet months before its release in an unfinished form and was adored by fans even in that imperfect version. Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine,” when it was finally released in October, surpassed all expectations. It took everything that made the early Jon Brion sessions so great and turned up the volume. It had all the emotion and pain of Tidal, all the exuberance of “When the Pawn…” but was more refined; more adult. They way she moves from victim to villain, from wistful to brash, and then back on the album is inspired. If you dismissed Fiona after her debut as another singer-songwriter of the Lilith Fair generation I urge to get “Extraordinary Machine” a listen, and I think you’ll discover that she is so much more than that.

The second Octy! recipient for 2005 makes history as the first cartoon band to win the award. At first I was weary of the Gorillaz “Demon Days,” since they had lost many of the original collaborators including Dan the Automator and Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. But the sophomore album cemented the concept of the virtual-band as a revolving-door of personalities behind the group, and addition of Dangermouse as producer to Fill Del the Funky Homosapien’s shows was brilliant. The www.allmusic.com review makes a comparison to Frankenstein at one point, and I think this is a particularly adroit observation. As any crazy doctor with a hacksaw, a suture kit, and the head for grave digging could sew-together a hodgepodge of parts, it took a genius and a bit of magic to create life from dead parts. “Demon Days” is that one in a million 2nd lighting strike. The Gorillaz’ first album dropped in April of 2001 and was a sort-of soundtrack to that summer. It meshed perfectly with the kind of heady optimism that prevailed during the Californian summer. 5 months later everything had changed, and the world was a much darker place. “Demon Days” echoes how I feel about living in world torn by strife, war, and sickness, it doesn’t shy away from the darkness but neither does it dwell in it. It takes a step into the shadows, but only so that it might dispel the fear of what lurks there. It is the quintessential optimist album; it’s all about finding the happiness even when it seems there is no point in being happy. It also sounds fucking AWESOME. Pop-y and electronic at times, rock-y at other. Folk, hip-hop, and garage tossed with mash-ups and killer hooks that burrow deep into your sub-brain and sit there humming. and it features a spoken-word story/poem/song performed by Dennis Hopper that doesn’t come off cheesy or silly. It is a breathtaking album by a cadre of brilliant musical minds and colossal personalities.

So there you go. Sorry it was so long in the making.

posted by JMV | 1/23/2006 12:51:00 PM
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