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:: 12.28.2001 ::

#03 //best of 200!

It's A Wonderful Life
Capitol Records
MP3: Comfort Me / Piano Fire

"I dreamed that I had me a daughter, who was as magnificent as a horse."

Mark Linkous cleaned up, calmed down and dutifully recorded his third album, It’s a Wonderful Life, with busy co-producer Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips). Even more enamored with singing about animals than ever, the singer/songwriter/producer/Virginian smoothed out the gruffness and rough edges of 1998’s Good Morning Spider, and has presented here a breathtakingly gorgeous set of songs. Using a wide array of instruments (think The Black Heart Procession, but with electronics), Linkous has crafted what I think is the finest alt-alt-country record yet. Sounding like a strung-out Wilco played on a portable windup turntable from the 1920’s, the record manufactures an alternate reality, and successfully brings the listener inside its wonderland.

Helping out along the way on vocals are PJ Harvey and Nina Persson (of the Cardigans), whose sweet but slightly sinister voices compliment Linkous’ whispered delivery, and fit perfectly for lines better suited for innocence. For the most part, the songs are gentle (save “Dog Door,” sung by Tom Waits), like petting a cat somewhere outside on the porch of a country house, except that everyone else in the family are wearing animal masks and lurking around the corner by the old barn. The signature Sparklehorse drum sound is here, straightforward and always a bit distorted (you can hear the same influence in the recent Linkous-produced album by Persson, A Camp). Slide and pedal steel guitar compliment the songs nicely and, as on “Comfort Me,” add a needed swoon. In fact, through most of the songs, you can almost hear Mark falling in love with the world after coming out from years of living under a black cloud.

Sometimes optimism and seclusion go together oh so beautifully.

(12:05 PM) :: (link)

:: 12.24.2001 ::

#04 //best of 200!

Girls Can Tell
MP3: Anything You Want / The Fitted Shirt

After getting signed, kicked around, denied, and ultimately dropped from their major label deal after releasing the solid (but somewhat lacking) A Series Of Sneaks, Britt Daniel of Spoon had a few nasty things to say about his A & R guy. Publicly, he released the lo-fi EP The Agony of Lafitte, detailing the sour taste his former Elektra records contact left in his mouth. “So when you do that line tonight, remember it came at a steep price” he sings, directed as a poison-tipped arrow at his new enemy. The steep price was Spoon’s ultimate major label failure, and the loss of their sacred indie cred they had built through quality releases on Matador and relentless touring . Luckily, Merge Records stepped in to pick up the pieces, get the boys back on track, and release Girls Can Tell.

Somewhat calmer than their previous two releases, album number three for Spoon is their best record to date. Take early Elvis Costello, jack up the sexiness to the extreme, turn down the blues a tad, ooh and ahh and add handclaps, and you have the Spoon magic. Even the drums here are pleasantly reminiscent of Pete Thomas from The Attractions.

Running through an explosive eleven song laundry list put in logical order, Daniel and the band have finally roped in and controlled their hip-shaking energy. Indeed, one of the best aspects of Girls Can Tell is its danceability. You can shake your ass to half the songs, especially “Take A Walk” and “Take The Fifth,” and the head bobbing gets maddening with “Everything Hits At Once” and “The Fitted Shirt.” It’s one of those steering-wheel-drumming albums that still amazes with great songwriting.

In September, I saw Britt Daniel play a solo show in Austin, Texas. Judging from the meager crowd, his hometown hasn’t yet caught on to the Spoon magic. Come to think of it, I can’t think of any other Spoon fans in the Bay Area, so for now, I’ll keep Spoon as my little secret.

(10:41 AM) :: (link)