Saturday, May 6, 2017

Flashback to the Oughts: 2004

2004 was a year of beginnings that were fueled by equal parts confidence and, if I am honest with myself, delusion. At the end of the previous year, I acquired a Chapman Stick, and the practice that I had been using as therapy started to manifest in some real musical output. Determined to master this non-traditional instrument and use it to somehow subvert academia, I began coursework for a Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology. My studies included jazz improv courses and a seminar in global pop music, both of which began to further diversify my listening.

At the same time, I continued to teach out at Krum. The breadth of these new experiences make connecting the dots between my memory episodes and the reality of the calendar particularly confusing. My propensity to listen to older albums or to let albums simmer for a while complicates matters further.  I’ve had to refer to school records, Amazon shipping statements, and even dates on old pictures to flesh out specifics.  Still, after toying around with my memory and all available information, the 2004 list is, like its predecessors, a good representation of what I was into at the time.

This project is making me realize the extent to which memory episodes resist lining themselves up in neat chronological order.  They seem to arise in vivid flashes as I revisit this music, bringing to mind seemingly random events that must then be categorized.  This all might seem to be more trouble than its worth, but organizing my life story by the music that I surround myself with has, in recent years, emerged as a satisfying narrative in this blog.

10 The Drowners - Think of Me: I continued a steady diet of inexpensive power pop albums throughout 2004, many of which were unremarkable. The Drowners’ Swedish identity provided a unique perspective on the style that was slick and compelling.

9 Muse - Absolution: It has been a rare occasion for me to favorably compare any band to Rush. In 2004, however, I discovered Absolution, which earned Muse that distinction for a time by virtue of its accessible songs, impressive chops, and intense energy.

8 Blackfield - Blackfield: I supported Porcupine Tree’s move towards heavier and more identifiably progressive territory, but part of me missed Steven Wilson's relatively straightforward songwriting on Stupid Dream. Blackfield became the place where I could get my fix.

7 The Decemberists - Her Majesty the Decemberists: I saw The Decemberists in Denton on a lark, without ever hearing a note of their music, one night in 2004. Their show was impressive, and within 24 hours, Her Majesty the Decemberists had the dubious honor of being one of the few albums that I uploaded through ITunes in its earlier iteration.

6 Green Day - American Idiot: I saw American Idiot as the 21sy century Tommy - a punk rock opera of resistance for the Bush administration. Alas, within a few years Green Day would jump the shark with this great album and run it as a broadway musical, but at the time it was quite the statement.

5 The Trey Gunn Band - The Joy of Molybdenum: As I was getting more and more into transcription, I started making more of an effort to find other Stick and touchstyle guitar players that I felt a connection with. Gunn’s style was, and still is, a baffling exploitation of the instrument’s affordances, but his melodicism and conceptual adventurousness makes him one of my favorite players and The Joy of Molybdenum remains my favorite of his solo works.

4. Miles Davis - Kind of Blue: I owned Kind of Blue for decades, but in retrospect, I had never really engaged it beyond mere background music. Transcribing solos from it for an improv class changed all that, however, and provided me with a deep appreciation for the clarity of Davis’ ideas.

3 Brian Wilson - SMiLE: Brian Wilson finally released the long awaited follow-up to Pet Sounds in 2004 with compelling results. The tour that followed provided one of the best live shows I had ever seen.

2. Fela Kuti - Zombie: A seminar in Global Popular Music fleshed out my understanding of Fela and his unique political position. I ended up getting several Fela albums this year, but Zombie remains the best of the bunch.

Album of the Year: 2004

1. Opeth - Damnation: Opeth’s one-off experiment in melodic melancholy would, in hindsight, serve to pivot them from their black metal roots into their current progressive rock incarnation. In itself, however, it remains a unique masterpiece in their catalog.

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