September 27, 2002

They say that listmaking is the last refuge of the unoriginal (or something) -- but the blogosphere is so solipsistic that regular editorial rules are either ignored altogether or swiftly chucked through a plate-glass window with great aplomb. Freezing to Death aims to be nothing more than a good read and an occasional source of information, and I'm not being aw-shucks humble here -- I consider blogs very ephemeral and temporary, and I do my blogging with the knowledge that I might one day pull the plug and delete everything I've posted.

Anyway, it's Friday night and I just cracked open a bottle of Knob Creek bourbon, and I'm enjoying some of that on the rocks while I do a little last-refuge listmaking in my head.

I promised I'd sit on my 2002 Best-of So Far until the end of the year, but there doesn't seem to be much point to that anymore, and withholding that information REALLY isn't any skin off anyone's Crunch-sculpted hindquarters. That said, here are the top five as of right now:

1) Sonic Youth, Murray Street
Strange summer here. Miserably, oppressively hot, humid, rainy... rude, pushy people, power failures, a creaky overburdening of the metropolitan infrastructure, one that I haven't felt since Koch was mayor. New York is usually nice in the summer months. And when I look back at June-September 2002, I'll always associate it with Murray Street. Like New York itself, Murray Street sounds like a band buckling under the pressure of its wheres and whens, but forging ahead instead of drowning in hopelessness --playing around on the monkeybars of the end times because what the hell, no one's looking anymore, and let's just burn ourselves out in the scorching sun until the sky zippers open and shakes itself off in gratuitous splotches over the entire tri-state area.

2) The Walkmen, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone
Meanwhile, the Walkmen's debut album is kind of a testament to brushing the worms and the dirt off your shirt and exhuming yourself from a long winter depression. It moves very cautiously, like it's just getting the hang of walking again (hence their band name? or is that stupid?). When the Walkmen (three of 'em) were Jonathan Fire*Eater, they sure didn't sound this pretty. Fire*Eater was its own magical steam-engine, awash in organ noise and delirious lyrical schizopoly, but they were so goddamn self-assured, so up-front, so much a crowd-pleasing rock band in addition to everything else layered underneath. But the Walkmen are a more world-weary model of same. They're cynical, and in the good, interesting way -- they're the ones in the semi-empty, semi-upscale sidestreet bar, huddled around a dimming votive candle, drinking to the sublimely cruel ironies of life, maybe singing along quietly with the bartender's Kinks album. Hamilton Leithauser's "I'm a modern guy..." (the opening line of "We've Been Had") isn't the druggie bravado of Iggy Pop's "Well I am just a modern guy," it's the opening line of a monologue, a shared philosophy from the mouth of a slightly older fellow whose youthful pain-in-the-ass go-go-retro hipster prescriptives have failed him ("See me, age 19, with some dumb haircut from 1960 / Movin' to New York City") -- and now what? Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone tries to answer that question. And it's helping me broach similar questions for myself.

3) The Hot Snakes, Suicide Invoice
Suicide Invoice's leadoff track, "I Hate the Kids," is a great companion piece to "We've Been Had" -- it begins with the sarcastic indictment "Nobody does anything
wrong / Nobody is a dilettante / Everybody does everything, everything they want." Like the Walkmen, the Hot Snakes' cynicism isn't a kitschy, adorable pose, it's a well-earned purple heart for active duty in a trench full of fertilizer. Unlike that band, this is full-throttle punk rock, not hesitant about its intentions, loud and fast and melodic but not in that irritating, goofy NOFX manner -- more Wipers-ish, with a slightly intellectual bent. Records I like tend to have some combination of passion, backbone, and musicality. Suicide Invoice is as sturdy and taut as a locked safe, as intensely passionate as an Islamic militant with dynamite strapped to his chest, and possibly the most resolutely songful album I've heard all year.

4) Kylie Minogue, Fever
The problem with the mainstream music of the past several years is that as focus-grouped and youth-conscious as it purported to be, there were only a couple of singles (I'll
grant you "Baby One More Time" and Madonna's "Beautiful Stranger" and TLC's "Waterfalls") that were imbued with the sense of ecstasy and presence of mind that defined the things I'd always associated with the best hit records and MTV videos. Fever is remarkably lithe, limber vanilla-pop-soul -- futuristic without being alienating, alternately past-referenced and here-and-now. I'd thought "Can't Get You Out of My Head" was amazing (is that the riff from Roxy Music's "Love is the Drug"?), and then I heard the breezy Italodiscopop of "Love at First Sight," a shot of cool pink lemonade in a hot wet American summer, and in no time at all my defenses were toast.

5) Liars, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top
Released on Gern Blandsten in 2001, not properly promoted or distributed, finally rereleased on Mute/Blast First a month ago, to much fanfare. I experienced one of my only "I was there" moments with this Brooklyn band -- having attended one of their very first gigs, at NYC's Brownies in early 2001. The person I was with kept saying "What's with that fake British accent? Who does he think he is? That's the worst excuse for a Brit accent I've ever heard!" Show ends, and he goes over to talk to the singer, Angus Andrew, and compliment him on a really stellar performance. My friend comes back to our table. "Oh, I get it now. He's Australian." The Liars are weird like that -- they fake you out, they deceive you, they puzzle the shit out of you. They say they have their "finger on the pulse of Americaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh," but in Liars-code that simply means they've got our name, they've got our number, they've got a line on us. There's an unrepentantly big-balled funk-bass thud here, something somewhere between the Fall's This Nation's Saving Grace and the Beastie Boys' Ill Communication, and a post-disco danceability that runs counterpoint with the band's sinister agenda. Creepy, intriguing, flabbergasting, and absolutely marvelous.