The rest of my Top 40, in order of preference
Wu-Tang Clan, The W (Loud); James Carter, Layin' in the Cut (Atlantic); Sleater-Kinney, All Hands on the Bad One (Kill Rock Stars); The Handsome Family, In the Air (Carrot Top); De La Soul, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump (Tommy Boy); Sonic Youth, NYC Ghosts & Flowers (Geffen); The Kinleys, II (MCA Nashville); Billy Bragg & Wilco, Mermaid Avenue, Volume II (Elektra); David S. Ware, Surrendered (Sony); PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island); Elastica, The Menace (Atlantic); Ass Ponys, Some Stupid With a Flare Gun (Checkered Past); Jungle Brothers, V.I.P. (Gee Street); Yo La Tengo, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Matador); U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind (Interscope); Chicks on Speed, Will Save Us All! (Chicks On Speed); Youssou N'Dour, Joko (The Link) (Elektra Nonesuch); The Beautiful South, Painting it Red (Ark 21); Rancid, Rancid (Hellcat/Epitaph); Roni Size/Reprazent, In the Mode (Talkin' Loud/Island); Ghost Dog (Epic/Razor Sharp/Sony); Wyclef Jean, The Ecleftic: Two Sides to a Book (Columbia); Merle Haggard, If I Could Only Fly (Anti-/Epitaph); Suzzy Roche, Songs From an Unmarried Housewife (Red House); Rubén González, Chanchullo (Elektra Nonesuch); Sonny Rollins, This Is What I Do (Milestone); Free the West Memphis 3 (Koch); Capleton, More Fire (VP); Green Day, Warning (Reprise); Mouse on Mars, Niun Niggung (Thrill Jockey)
All That You Can't Leave Behind
BEEN THINKING A lot about leaving Minneapolis lately. Maybe moving to New York, like members of the Cows, Deformo, Lifter Puller, and others before them. Soon as I take care of that -$28 checking balance, it's goodbye frozen nostril hair forever.
Thing is, everyone who leaves talks about coming back. And they talk about the music they left behind. Imagine that: the music. When I first started writing about local rock 'n' roll a few years back, nobody--not writers, certainly not musicians--considered this beat auspicious. Now, from his desk at the Seattle Weekly, onetime Minnesota resident Michaelangelo Matos proclaims Lifter Puller his record of the year. Last week former City Pages music editor Jon Dolan phoned from Spin to insist I reserve cover space in these pages for the new Low album. Dolan hates Low, or so he used to say. Absence makes the heart clean its ears.
So in the spirit of taking stock before cutting losses, I have just visited the Minnesota History Museum's "Sounds Good to Me: Music in Minnesota" exhibit, a thoroughly wonderful display premised on the generous notion that music is a history of audiences above all else. There are welcome tributes to Minnesota rock godfather Augie Garcia and others, but irreverence is everywhere in evidence--no wonder City Pages' Keith Harris got off on "Funkytown" being represented by a karaoke booth with a dinky remix console (Revolutions Per Minute, November 9). What better way to demystify a classic than by giving it to visiting grade schoolers to improve?
The overriding assumption here is that music should be viewed in a way that lets a Hmong discotheque or a rural polka mass or the crowds at the legendary Prom Center ballroom mean as much as Prince or "Surfin' Bird." The museum's faux diner features old-fashioned jukeboxes at each booth stocked with Minnesota songs of every period, from the Andrews Sisters to Astronaut Wife. On each table sit cards for suggested additions to the jukebox, asking the museum visitor to "please add a few sentences describing why your choice is important to you."
I can't imagine an inclusive spirit more contrary to our consumer political culture of polls and focus groups, where dubious experts turn social history on its head by selling first and asking questions later. A few days after hitting the museum, I participated in a television-pilot audience testing where the MC polled the crowd with the question, "What do you think of opinion polls?" then absently repeated it as, "Do you think your opinion counts?" In the exhibit, at least, product is an afterthought. Music is framed as a business, to be sure, but also as a form of memory and an art.
Of course, assessing the year in music is by necessity a noninclusive process--an audience of one writes this sort of history--and in my subjective little realm it barely matters at all that Best Buy bought out Musicland this month. Not that business isn't a critic's business: In the span between Lifter Puller's national release of Fiestas + Fiascos and Low's bizarre new "Little Drummer Boy" Gap ad, the downtown, all-ages Foxfire Coffee Lounge closed its doors. So did the nearby all-ages DJ club Liquid. And in both cases, art has duly suffered. Meanwhile, Lifter Puller themselves split, along with countless others. Mollycuddle's final moments at the Foxfire remain fixed in my memory as the most evocative image of struggling local musicians you could imagine: Tommy Kim trying repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to smash a guitar against a brick wall. The fact that First Avenue just canceled its erstwhile barometer of local music culture, the annual late-December Best New Band Night, is perhaps poetic more than it is unjust.