The Best Music I Heard All Year, 2005 Edition.

In alphabetical order:

The Carter Family, In the Shadow of Clinch Mountain (2000)

A few weeks back a reader of this blog wrote to tell me that I was the only other Filipino he knew that was a fan of American folk music. I don’t understand it either; certainly it stirred up no strands of any sort of racial memory! American folk, in short, was the music that was most culturally alien to me; I never heard it growing up, or on the radio then and now. But there was something about the Carter Family that spoke to me in ways I can barely articulate — these rough-hewn, gorgeous voices calling from a faraway time and land, singing of the curt brutality of an interrupted life, the innocence of souls in love, and a faith in an incorruptible future.

M.I.A. & Diplo, Piracy Funds Terrorism, Volume 1 (2004)

Boomf boomf. Are there banlieue in London? I don’t think so. Choco slick and a kick in the teef. Chika chika. Tamil tiger daughter. Jungle guerrilla graphics. Hip pop history, Bangles and Pepa remixed. Hip hop is all de tournament anyway. Galang galang. You could be a follower but who’s your leader? Crank it up. Break that cycle or it will kill ya.

Robert Pollard, Zoom (2005)

It’s been a good year for the fans of the Robert Pollard Experience: a concert DVD, a band biography, three side-project albums, a soundtrack for a Steven Soderbergh film, an art chapbook, an album coming out from Merge next year, a nationwide concert tour, a box set with a hundred new songs — and this absolutely delightful four-song EP, sourced from some alternate ’70s pop universe.

Puffy, Nice. (2003)

Let’s get this clear: the vaguely Orientalist TV show on the Cartoon Network has nothing to do with their music. With that out of the way, let me talk about Nice. There are, of course, frequent moments of genius scattered all throughout their discography, but Nice. — an all-Andy Sturmer affair, but that shouldn’t scare you — is simply bursting with pop sweetness: the clap-your-hands-say-yeah! joy of “Long Beach Nightmare” (sheer perfection), the irrepressibly happy “Atarashii Hibi” (Brand New Day). Naysayers will say that every other riff seems to be stolen from somewhere else, but that’s part of the genius: a reclaiming of an international musical vocabulary that transcends all borders.

Teenage Fanclub, Songs from Northern Britain (1997)

Like most people, I first heard Teenage Fanclub when the cheerfully discordant anthem “The Concept” hit MTV; like most people, I (erroneously) figured they had more or less sunk without a trace as (again, erroneously) Glasgow’s response to grunge, cranking out similar-sounding albums from then on; like most people, I rediscovered the band through Nick Hornby’s Songbook, for which Hornby picked two songs.

Songs from Northern Britain is an album of transcendent beauty; the fact that it’s composed of the simplest four-minute love songs makes it even more of a marvel. (Which makes it a different kind of transcendent beauty than that of, say, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, but I digress.)

I will cop out and quote instead some anonymous music fan, who wrote this review on

Part of the grandeur of this record is a point which nearly everyone has missed: many of these songs are hymns to God. Listen to the first line of the record: “I don’t know if you can hear me, I’m feeling down and can’t think clearly….” This is not written for a girlfriend; it is written to God; a bare human call to his creator. And they are beautiful songs. There are none about drugs, none about being in Teenage Fanclub; but all are about what it is to be a spiritual being on this earth… If you think it is about girlfriends, you miss the point and much of the majesty. “I can’t feel my soul without you.” I could go on–this record brings tears to my eyes. It is staggering and epic.

I don’t necessarily agree with all of it — of course it’s about loved ones too — but the writer perfectly captures the spiritual core of the not-incompatible pulls of yearning and contentment throughout the album’s teenage symphonies to God. Musically, Teenage Fanclub draws from the three B’s (the Beatles, the Byrds, and Big Star), and they stand with those three on the strength of this album alone.

In any case, Teenage Fanclub’s Songs from Northern Britain was my favorite album of this year. Sometime this summer I started living with it, listening to it before I went to sleep, or when I woke up in the morning, I went running with it, I played it in the car and sang at the top of my lungs, all with an ache and joy in my heart. It must be what it’s like to be in love again.

TsuShiMaMiRe, Pregnant Fantasy (2004)

More details here. Key phrase: hair flying everywhere.


TsuShiMaMiRe / The Amppez / Red Bacteria Vacuum / All Ages, SF, 11/8/05.

Let me cut to the chase: for about 45 minutes last night (more if you count the drive home), TsuShiMaMiRe (or Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re, or Tsushimamire) seemed like the greatest band in the world. Go out and look for their 2004 Benten album, Pregnant Fantasy — one of my favorite listens of the year. (You can preview/download it from the iTunes store; just do a search on the album title.)

All Ages was the opening band — I didn’t pick up their merchandise, so their name is near-unGoogleable — and they played good basic power pop, though I think they’d be most remembered as “that band with the goofy Japanese guy with the big mouth and the mohawk who stripped down to his boxer briefs.” (Later he would start a mosh pit, into which I was dragged at some point against my will.)

And then onto Japan Girls Nite proper: Red Bacteria Vacuum — self-described, I think, as “a Monster Girls Rock band who plays Pop to Hard core with amazing performance” was first up. Headbanging hardcore, lots of screaming, with (I think I used this phrase to describe Om in a previous entry) hair flying everywhere.

Red Bacteria Vacuum.

ranran from red bacteria vacuum
Ranran from Red Bacteria Vacuum. (Later she would bonk her head pretty hard on my shoulder while dancing to Tsushimamire’s set.)

Akeming and Ikumi from Red Bacteria Vacuum
Akeming and Ikumi from Red Bacteria Vacuum.

Marie from the Amppez
Marie from the Amppez.

The Amppez‘s set was unfortunately marred by a ridiculously loud fuzz guitar; I couldn’t hear what sounded like rather pretty melodies over the guitar chaos (and no, I don’t think it was a My Bloody Valentine move).

And then, TsuShiMaMiRe:

TsuShiMaMiRe in full nudge-nudge wink-wink Orientalist mode.

Mizue and Mari from Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re
Mizue and Mari from Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re.

Yayoi from Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re
Yayoi from Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re.

I don’t have very good pictures, simply because I was jumping around too much, as was everyone else, to bother grabbing the camera. It’s hard to describe how damn good (and fun) this band is; style-wise, they run the range from Japanese disco-funk to hardcore to and yes, hair flying everywhere. Sometimes, in the space of one song (like the marvelous “Tea Time Ska”), a death-metal vocal interlude gives way to a pop ska chorus. They didn’t have much material to draw from — one 32-minute album and a CD of demos — but they sure played the hell out of it. With, uh, hair flying everywhere.

J-Lu’s making me and her friends wait for over an hour outside Studio Z.Tv paid off: one of the best things about being front and center — other than being right there — is that you get to yell your requests and actually make them heard. For the seemingly unplanned encore (it wasn’t on the setlist), TsuShiMaMiRe played the song we were yelling out, the epic “Manhole” and “Lingerie Shop.”

And so J-Lu’s friend Kenny caught one of Mizue’s drumsticks, J-Lu got her CD signed by all the band members, and I shook hands with them, got my CD signed by Red Bacteria Vacuum, got my chin “signed” (long story — Akeming wanted to do it), and got asked if I was Japanese (Ikumi then grabbed my hand and yelled “Firipin!”).