Hey y'all. This here page is packed with four, yes, FOUR wonderful pieces written by my new favorite reviewer: Ms. Stephanie Duncan. This stuff is not only great and useful and fun to read, but it's a promise of great things to come. So, after you finish, stop by again real soon for more. -the "ed."

Stepanie Duncan's Top Ten of 2004

Well, 2004 has rolled around again and it is time for my favourite thing. A year end top ten list!
I will start by saying this: I had a hell of a time picking out my top ten for 2004. Sadly, not for the same reason as last year. Rather because I found that there were a lot of decent albums but nothing that really stood out. Hence the inclusion of a few old failsafes; not because they were spectacular but rather because I knew I would like them simply for what they were. There were also a few amazing albums as well as new and pleasant surprises. I've since learned that even if someone has consistentcy with good albums, they still have much room to disappoint you. I won't go into that. Onto my next point.

Let's face it-- I loved Franz Ferdinand at first. It's great for what it is, a solid dance rock record. I fell out of love with it fairly fast despite being incredibly infatuated. However, it made it onto my top ten list. And almost everyone elses. It showed that even if something is commercially viable, that doesn't make it bad. But I find the inclusion of it in my choices an indication of the lack thereof.

Onto some consistent artists that were included. The only record that I have listened to the year round is Iron & Wine's effort, Our Endless Numbered Days. I can't say enough about it. It far surpassed any expectations one might have had upon listening to past recordings. Sufjan Stevens. Oh Sufjan Stevens. What can't I say that I've already said? Stronger than his past effort. I think Iron&Wine and Sufjan Stevens just really made the beginning of the year for me. Then good old Mozz. I was hardpressed to find someone to round up my top ten and come on, I like the Smiths. In my opinion, it was a really good thing that didn't surpass anything he'd done before but yeah, it was good. Finally, finishing up this category is Air and Modest Mouse. Modest Mouse has become more accessible and less of a 'love 'em or leave 'em' type of band now especially with two grammy nominations under their belt for the incessently catchy 'Float On'. It's no M&A but I'm under the impression that it was worth judging on its own. Then we have Air. Not a huge surprise for me. I'm a fan of this french duo and have been for sometime. They continually explore new territory without breaking through their ice. Also, they brought Kevin Shields out of hiding but I think that's a different story for a different day.

Finally, some new artists. The pleasant surprises. I'll start with Xiu Xiu. I admit, I avoided them at first, knowing of them in passing through indie kids. Then I saw them live. That harmonious noise, almost tortured and frantic vocals. I picked up Fabulous Muscles and then proceeded to explore their entire discography. You can see a maturation of sounds on FM. How they are still exploring and prodding at darker regions of music, at noise, but have somehow refined and contained that. A containment which was apparent on 'a promise' during their version of 'Fast Car'. Not to mention the songs 'Crank Heart' and 'I luv the valley oh!'. Then Les Savy Fav, who really, just like to fuck shit up. I can't say more about them than that. They are insane. They don't fit the mold. They make great fucking songs. And that, in turn, makes a great compilation. And Stars! Better than Heart was 'Set Yourself on Fire' with songs about sex and love and everything in between. Losing yourself in calamity and then giving into it. Devendra Banhart. His strange voice and strange lyrics pairing up to make something that was inexplicably catchy in some ways. All of these proof that exploration hurts sometimes but then you find gold.

So that's it for this year. Here's the official list all numbered and neat below:

1.) Iron and Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days
2.) Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
3.) Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles
4.) Les Savy Fav - Inches
5.) Stars - Set Yourself On Fire
6.) Devendra Banhart - Rejoicing in the Hands
7.) Franz Fedinand - Franz Ferdinand
8.) Morrissey - You are the Quarry
9.) Air - Talkie Walkie
10.) Modest Mouse - Good News..

There's no real surprises, for me anyway. I'm not trying to push obscure albums for cred. I've just come up with ones that I liked to listen to and isn't that what being a music nerd is about?

Isis, Panopticon (Ipecac Recordings), 2004

In a genre that supposedly screams "original", there's not a whole lot of screaming to be done these days. Indie is getting more and more popular, which, as I have said time and time again, is by no means a bad thing. What is tiresome, however, is the fashion statements, the patented hipster coolness at shows (oh fuck, it's against them to ENJOY the music?), and the less original or at least, enjoyable, things are becoming. Now, I know I must sound like a broken record spouting the phrases 'exploration of sound' and 'originality' over and over again. But sometimes I value those phrases more than the words "a good, solid effort". I crave more than a good, solid effort. Granted, it won't fail to please my aural senses but will I listen to it trying to find the subtext, or at least the musical merit of it? Probably not.

I scoffed at my friend when he suggested that this sort of exploration might be found somewhere else. Something other than Indie? Preposterous! After listening to some 'The' band for the millionth time (hello, hyperbole, how do you do?), I decided to give this album a shot. "This" album is Isis. Isis is metal. Hello, Metal. I haven't really listened to you before because of preconceived misconceptions generated by mainstream metal. I am sorry for being close-minded.

I will say this before I say anything else-- It is everything you did not expect a metal album to be. It opens with what you would expect one to be: the overwrought screaming vocals and then, it flattens out and it transcends. It becomes a musical barrage of enlightment, of exploration. They are not confined by any sort of genre but would rather test out the waters of what sounds they are capable of making together. The result of this is closer to things like set fire to flames and GYBE than.. okay, well, I don't really listen to enough to compare it and I certainly haven't heard any of their past discography. From what I'm told, however, they have gone a completely different direction than any of their other releases.Predominately instrumental, it is seamless the way they instinctively know for vocals to take a backseat and just let it flow.
So, fuck preconceptions and images and long live creativity.

Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino), 2004

Now, I don't like to be a counter-revolutionary but I'm not going to sit here and tell everyone that Franz Ferdinand will change the face of music. What I will say, however, is that they know how to piece together an album that really never disappoints. Highly infectious, infinitely danceable, it's really one of the better albums that's been released this year (8 months in the year left notwithstanding). They have been compared to the Strokes numerous times but honestly, they transcend the Strokes in more than one way.

They actually decide to open the album, not with something that instantly drags you in, but rather an acoustic part that morphs into what I'd call one of their more "serious" tracks. It's fairly heavy on the everything but then you slide into 'Tell her tonight' which vaguely resembles some '70's disco song with Clash-esque vocals and falsettos. Personally, I think 'Take me out' is one of their crowning achievments on the disc. Really, you think you're in for some Julian Casablancas homage but after the first minute is up it is just this amazing song that makes you want to groove. I found that, in truth, it wasn't the most polished album but that was part of the charm. The bass is solid and funky, the guitars will sometimes gallop or just tiptoe quietly along. His voice will range from a mixture of haunting (this fire) to mischievious. The lyrics are often coy and tongue in cheek; Matinee serves as an acceptance of fame in a funny way.

However, like most bands that are hailed as the new indie "it" band, one must remain level-headed on opinions. Which is to say, like their musical brethren, Liars, what will they do with the second album (if there is one)? One can only imagine the future for this band but frankly, I don't give a damn. This album is perfect for dancing, it doesn't even really give a fuck what you think of it, it does what it wants and it's absolutely gorgeous.

A must, must, MUST listen.

I've left and now I'm leaving

Yes, I know there's an upcoming Weakerthans show and no, I'm not going. Why should I break out my wallet to pay for something I will only get minimal, if any, enjoyment out of? It seems shocking, I know, to anyone that knows me. The Weakerthans were my favourite band for a good few years. I do mean it when I say they were good. Maybe I should explain to you why I'm leaving like this.

Firstly, I'm tired of listening to a band that seems tired of listening to itself. It's hard to be in love with something that seems bored and more atavistic than Faulkner. More concerned with revisiting their early sounds than exploring anything worth promising {Without Mythologies!}, Reconstruction Site was, to say the very least, a disappointment. And while I tried to be happy for them, I really did, about signing to Epitaph, a part of me cried out about all the other bands that had fallen victim to Epitaph's icy, pop-punk touch. Not to mention the obvious midlife crisis move of firing long-time bassist, John Sutton. That wasn't the bad part, I can understand that. But it screams, "I need a change' when you hire, not one, not two, but THREE musicians to take his place. Or to expand your sound, so you say. Sorry. Adding a lapsteel isn't that original, boys.
Secondly, I'm tired of being defined by one band. I, as a person, need to explore as well and I can't just sit around waiting for you too, can I? The Weakerthans represent a time of growth in my life, I won't deny that. But now I know for a fact that if I went to the show, yeah, I'd stand up at the front but it would be more out of habit than anything else. No amount of hometown loyalty or nostalgia on my part should prevent someone who actually wants a ticket from getting one. I've seen them play more times than I can count on one hand.

Weakerthans, I traveled 1200km to see you. I stood up at the front but I was more concerned with falling asleep against the stage than trying to bop along to any song you played. It's futile to feign exhaustion, though it's a legitimate excuse, but I know that if the passion was still there, I would have been singing along full tilt. Don't you want someone younger? Like the people behind me, thrilled with you, jumping for you, wanting you just like I wanted you when I was younger too. Youth and enthusiasm are more than adequate replacements for my world-weariness. I'm sorry, really. It's not you, it's me. I'm too old for you now, it seems. I was much more thrilled with the likes of We Ragazzi and the Hold Steady live that fateful weekend that I knew I didn't love you anymore. I won't say that I never loved you, because that is a lie.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling lonely, I might put on Left & Leaving and settle in with a bottle of wine. But it no longer seems ground-breakingly brilliant to me, it seems a little tired, a little trite, a little uninspired (just a little, honest!). So, I guess this is just to say good-bye and thanks for putting up with me when you did. I'm sorry it had to end like this.