Denver Bar Association
December 2004
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“Dear Catastrophe Waitress” and Other Gift Ideas

by Greg Rawlings

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s time again for Happy Greg’s CD Stocking Stuffers. Leave your most discerning friends, family members, yoga instructors and Volvo mechanics forever in your debt with choice sounds and name-dropping opportunities galore.

Among lovers of the quasi-underground, few bands command the respect allotted Wilco. Their 2004 disk, "A Ghost is Born" didn’t make waves like its predecessor "Yankee Foxtrot Hotel," isn’t a masterpiece like "Summerteeth," but all in all it’s another engaging album from Jeff Tweedy and the boys. Especially sharp are the 10-minute Kraut-rock meets Neil Young and Crazy Horse "Kidsmoke" and the poppy closer "The Late Greats." Also memorable are "Hummingbird" and the confessional "Handshake Drugs." The only real clunker is the 11 minutes of ambient noise that concludes the penultimate track, which otherwise is a decent tune. What were they thinking or drinking or whatever?

A slightly better album than "Ghost," Modest Mouse’s latest project stands as their finest (read, least inconsistent) yet. "Good News For People Who Love Bad News," begins with a brief squall from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and never really stops until the last notes of the valedictory "The Good Times are Killing Me" fade into the boozy dawn. Okay, maybe the insufferable "Dance Hall," a music biz joke that falls flat, but everything else is top of the line. Among the many memorable tracks, "Bukowski" and the hit "Float On" stand out the most but not by much. Gnomic lyrics, Tom Waits-ish arrangements, with a touch of the Pixies and Neutral Milk Hotel—Isaac Brock and the band have finally hit the jackpot.

Another wee step up the ladder of excellence bring us to Belle & Sebastian’s "Dear Catastrophe Waitress." I love this album. B&S display a dazzling grasp of songwriting craft and joyous playing, resulting in an album that you’ll play so often that you’ll drive all of your friends around the bend. Then, if they have any taste, they’ll buy it, too. Highlights include the poignant "Lord Anthony," about a boy who probably got dealt the wrong gender card; "Piazza, New York Catcher," which has to be the only song by a Scottish band about, yes, a baseball catcher; and the title track, which explains the photos on the front and rear of the disk package. B&S fanatics may prefer earlier works, but this is my favorite so far by one of the finest bands in the British Islands.

Ah, yes, at the top of the pops this holiday season, a delicious surprise from power pop maestro Matthew Sweet. Meant to be released only in Japan, where he has a rabid following, "Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu," may be Sweet’s best album since "Girlfriend," which may itself be the finest power pop record since the first two Big Star efforts. Killer guitars courtesy of Richard Lloyd (formerly of Television), catchy choruses, inescapable harmonies, the excellent Velvet Crush in support, you won’t be able to free this disk from your player. If you loved Big Star, Cheap Trick, Todd Rungren, more recent bands like Teenage Fanclub or Sweet’s own major works of the 1990s, you’ll love this one.

Finally, quality local bands deserve some mention. Disks by Bright Channel, the Czars and the Moths (featuring the indelible "The Chemicals Keep Us Afloat") all rolled out this fall—give ’em a listen. Until next year. . . .

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