[ilb]'s top 40 bands in america

Kyle over at [information leafblower] was kind enough to invite me to contribute to the 2004 edition of his The Top 40 Bands In America Today list. I tried not to base my top ten picks on who's got the most buzz or whose album just dropped or who are my favorites, but instead attempted to base them upon some other vaporous definition of "best" that is hard to explain. Am I totally lacking for originality when my #1 is the same as what was #1 on last year's list? Perhaps, but I have my reasons. Here's what I sent over to Kyle early Monday morning, just before his stated deadline:

10) Tom Waits
He may be the coolest man on the planet, a lyrical genius, bizarre & wonderful, and still going strong after all these years. For me, to get on this list you have to put on a helluva show, and Waits has to be on the top of my must-see-in-concert list. He may not be in his prime, but he's still doing his thing pretty damn well & there isn't really anybody out there that can do the same.

09) TV on the Radio
Their debut LP was a disappointment for many (after the Young Liars EP), but I dug it. Any disc that opens up with "The Wrong Way" gets the benefit of the doubt IMO. These guys are bringing a unique & dense sound to the "indie" rock scene, and it's f**king intense - especially in-concert. I finally got to see them earlier this year & I was converted on the spot. Yes they've got huge potential, but they're also doing plenty of damage right now.

08) Spoon
Things may have been a bit quiet for Austin TX's Spoon, though they were featured on The O.C. and it's accompanying soundtrack. Britt Daniel is an amazing songwriter, and each Spoon album is an indie rock treasure. My pal JRDN is predicting a breakthrough 2005 for the band when their next album gets released, but their body of work & live acumen already speaks for itself.

07) The Decemberists
Speaking of amazing songwriters, Colin Meloy of the Decemberists is likewise in an elevated class that I like to call the REAL "american idols" (along with Daniel, Stephen Malmkus, James Mercer & others). Meloy writes beautiful songs about pirates - I mean, who does that? In 2004, Meloy & his bandmates stretched their musical muscles on the 5-part, 18+min The Tain EP, which covered a lot of ground, making some surprisingly metal-esque pit-stops along the way. Next year will bring the band's next LP, something to look forward to indeed.

06) Ted Leo/Rx (whose new site is up)
"Our generation's Billy Bragg." [Kyle] said that last year, and it's even more true today after the release of the highly political (yet, more on a human-level) Shake The Sheets LP during this contentious election year. It may not be as "good" an album as his earlier albums, but it's the right album for the time (and may be the album to fall back on over the next four years of W). And as per usual, it's full of pop-punk licks & heady lyrics that make up great songs. Ted's shows are a blast, as he is an explosive ball of energy & clever quips throughout. Thank god for Ted Leo.

05) The Fiery Furnaces
Put aside the genius that is their 2003's blues-pop rocker Gallowsbird's Bark. Nevermind the Kid A-esque stylistic leap that is this year's gargantuan & sprawling Blueberry Boat. Don't even think about the fact that when they release a "single" they totally re-do the damn thing & make it even more incredible (see "Tropical Iceland"). Just go see Eleanor & Matt Friedberger's live show - a non-stop rawk-fest that spirals in-&-out of songs left & right, intensity spewing out their respective ying-yangs - and you'll know why the Furnaces deserve the praise & the buzz & a place on this list.

04) Outkast
The Beatles of hip-hop.

03) Bruce Springsteen
The Boss is still keeping it real after all these years, and he has to be given his due. The man puts his heart on the line every nite, and his shows go on forever. He's a legend, and he's still willing to put his neck on the line for what he believes. In 2004, he headlined the Vote For Change swing state tour, and he appeared in-person with candidate John Kerry at several massive rallies during the final days of the now-failed campaign. Despite the unfortunate election results, it was inspiring. Much respect, Bruce.

02) Beck
Beck Hanson is the consummate showman, the uber-hipster, almost beyond reproach. He doesn't make bad albums, and his next Dust Brothers-produced affair is due out next spring & should be a good one, though I doubt it will be what anybody actually expects it to be. Beck is ahead of the curve, and we should all just be pleased to be playing catch-up.

01) The Strokes
The Strokes were #1 on this list last year, though that was on the heels of the release of their sophomore LP, Room on Fire. One year later, Julian Casablancas & company haven't provided us with anything new beyond a couple new videos ("Reptillia" was notably great) & a b-side or two, and of course some damn great concerts. But if you're asking me for the best band in America (which you are), I would still have to name these overly-"cool" NYCers as my top choice. Casablancas is a first-rate songwriter (another REAL "american idol" IMO), creating pop-rock gems while maintaining an indie aesthetic/gritty edge that's easy-to-fake yet hard-to-capture - & the Strokes do it all so effortlessly (which makes them such an easy target to scoff at). They're the best America has to offer IMO, and they don't even seem like they're trying. How 'bout that?

As 2004 continues to draw to a close, you can probably expect to find more annoying-yet-somewhat-intriguing year-end top ten lists coming your way here at The Big Ticket, so be prepared to call me on my bullsh**. Tally-ho!

ETA: Attn NYC folk! Drop by Pianos tonite around 8:30pm to catch a set by Brooklyn upstarts Sam Champion, who are opening for fellow-locals The Head Set (who have a November residency). SC's Noah says to "expect hot licks & even hotter flare, & maybe a tribute to baby jesus." Don't miss out.
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Blogger Pat @ 11/18/2004 09:37:00 PM:

Springsteen "has to be given his do" ? Did you write this on Toosday? I caught one of his pro-Kerry performances on C-Span and I thought he was awful. He made "Thunder Road" (a classic song) sound like a funeral dirge. Don't you think he contributed in some small way to Kerry's defeat? I certainly due.    

Blogger mr gilbert @ 11/18/2004 10:29:00 PM:

thanks for the spelling correction, and the snarky response taboot. i wrote the list up late on sunday nite/early monday morning & no, i don't think a lackluster performance of "Thunder Road" lead to the eventual Kerry defeat. c-span just doesn't get the ratings it used to, but you never know...    

Anonymous Anonymous @ 11/19/2004 04:43:00 AM:

It was this very blog that got me into the The Decemberists. Thanks, went to see them the other day in London (UK) absolutely amazing. Keep up the good work Mr G. But saying that even though they seem to only have one playlist at gigs The Shins have to be the best band to come out of America for some time, stick em in at number 1. Cheers, dx*    

Blogger mr gilbert @ 11/19/2004 05:10:00 AM:

i do luv the shins & james mercer is an amazing songwriter, but i think the band is only okay live, an area that was extremely important for me & how i made my picks. plus, the bassist/keyboardist talks too much & is kinda annoying.    

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