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SATURDAY JANUARY 8

MINUTES OF A 'MIRACLE'

It's the weekend, so I can afford to get personal. I didn't want to labor – ouch! – over the birth of our son Noel. There's plenty parents at this site and they all think the birth of their kid was the most incredible event on earth. It was: it was yours, and it was unique!

Anyway, several friends have pestered us for more details, so here's a few highlights from our Christmas to remember.

Wednesday December 22
Posie goes to the doctors. They tell her she's ready to drop; they offer to bring her in at 7am the next morning to induce the baby. This being her first day off work, not having done her Christmas shopping, and being well short of sleep anyway, she turns the offer down, decides to let Noel choose his own birthday.

Thursday Dec 23,
7.30pm:
I return a phone call to a neighborhood friend and parent, explaining I can't accept or refuse his invite to dinner on Sunday as we may be having a baby any hour. He asks what we're doing with Campbell when Posie goes into labor and offers to have him for a sleepover with his own son this very night. I tell him it's a good idea and we'll think about it.

7.45pm: Posie starts having contractions. I call the friend back and say I'll bring Campbell over immediately!

10.00pm: With the contractions kicking in big time, Posie and I decide to speed them up via a private dance party. I warm things up with Groove Armada's Vertigo album, and film the missus dancing round my office to 'I See You Baby…'

Midnight: I've on the Technics, and I've upped the tempo to include Orbital and Underworld, but the contractions remain almost exactly three minutes apart and her waters have yet to break.

Friday December 24,

1.45 am. This is fun! Before setting off for the hospital.

6.39 am. But this isn't. After walking two hours straight.

6.40 am...Come on boy, where are you?

3am: We run out of ideas to speed up the process and drive over to Long Island College Hospital, in downtown Brooklyn/Cobble Hill, right by the harbour. They're very friendly and receptive (unlike our experience at Beth Israel in Manhattan delivering Campbell), and after strapping Posie up to the machines for a while, tell us we're right to come in but we're not yet ready to deliver. Posie's instructed to walk continuously for the next two hours, and we're sent to the ground floor corridor where the staff at the hospital cafeteria (an Au Bon Pain) smile at us like they see people doing this every night. Which, of course, they do.

4.30 am. We start walking. Why didn't we bring the Underworld CD? And the double headphone jack? All we have is Lemon Jelly and it's a bit bloody mellow. I reckon each length of the corridor is a hundred yards. But I quickly lose count of how many times we walk it.

5.30 am. I hit up Au Bon Pain for a coffee. Posie's been told not to drink or eat anything. She keeps pacing, joking that she's walking off all the weight she gained in pregnancy. To be honest, she's looking as tired and pained as she is excited and enthralled

6.30 am. A mile every twenty minutes – that's about 5 or 6 miles continuous walk? I try and pretend it's like walking home from a club except we're sober, it's a very long walk and, um, Posie's in labor. We go back upstairs.

7.30 am. They re-examine Posie. Tell her it's worked. She's that much more dilated. Her doctor comes in, says everything's great, they'll break her waters and go from there. Having been through the pain of childbirth once before, Posie's opted for an epidural up front. She's also asked for potissum, which speeds up the pushing process. The doctors, I realize, are all for this themselves: it makes for a quicker delivery process at their end too. Whatever works.

9am. The doctors break Posie's waters, give her the epidural and feed her the potissum. She's 5cm dilated and at the usual rate of 1cm an hour, they predict delivery around 2pm. I'm starting to feel crowded out by all the medical staff and, having gone 25 hours without sleep – and knowing that whatever happens, I've still got Campbell's Christmas to deal with – I ask if it's a good time to go home and get two hours sleep. I'm given the go-ahead. I promise to be abck by mid-day. After all, I only live just over a mile away.

9.30am. I lie down, set two alarms for 11am, and go to sleep.

10.15am. Posie wakes me from my slumber via her cell phone. Says her doctor suggests I come back as soon as I can. Women, I say to myself, always hurrying us up. Didn't they tell me 2pm? I doze for a few more minutes, get out of bed, decide a shower will make me more presentable and more awake.

10.45 am. The phone rings while I'm getting dressed. It's the wife. Where am I? Um, I'm getting dressed. What's the panic?

10.55 am. The phone rings yet again as I'm stepping out the door. "You're going to miss it!!!" I race out the door, and jump into the car. I get to the hospital in five minutes flat.

11.00 am. By a miracle of nature, there's a legal parking spot right opposite the hospital emergency entrance. Yeah, baby!

11.08 am. Having run through the emergency room and raced through the delivery ward, I get to Posie's room just as I hear the doctor tell her "You've done so well." Have I missed it? No: I pull back the curtain at the precise moment the doctor pulls Noel out and delivers him to his mother to hold, umbilical cord still attached. I'm there at his birth: just!

6.50 am. That's better: Lying down again - the monitor in the background measuring baby's heartbeats and contractions

8.36 am. Sit and deliver: Noel prepares for entry (or is that exit?) Tony gets jealous; decides on an hour's sleep himself.

11.30 am. Shock, happiness and love all in one blurred gaze: Posie and Noel twenty minutes after birth...


So much for the five hours! Mind you, those who know me and my problems with punctuality will surely get a kick out of that story. And those who know Posie and her predilection for dancing will surely be able to picture her trying to induce the baby through techno. I had no qualms about heading home for an hour: by getting just 45 minutes sleep and a shower I was able to stay on top of the maternity ward right through the day (which was not as pleasant a place as the delivery room, to be honest), I was able to do my Christmas shopping (I'm serious!), get Campbell from his friend's, bring him to the hospital to see Noel, get him home again, get the milk and cookies ready for Santa, and post the first pictures on the web site as it turned to Christmas Day. In the morning, Campbell was thrilled that Santa showed up, made no mention at all of not getting his 'secret present,' was happy to see Noel in the hospital again, and had the benefit of a playdate at another friend's throughout Christmas Day. Posie and Noel were given a clean bill of health around lunchtime and allowed home later on Christmas Day. Thanks to food donations from friends, we had a proper Christmas Dinner by candlelight around 7pm. There's been a fair amount of lost sleep since then, but – and allowing that this is the second time Posie went into labour in mid-evening, necessitating our pulling all-nighters and then all-dayers - everything went as well as could possibly be expected. Mega thanks to all our friends and family for their help and kind wishes.


FRIDAY JANUARY 7

BELLY UP AND LOVELESS ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE

Loveless host Paul perfects the PsycSpaceGaze look...

As we made our way to check out the party Loveless at the Lower East Side bar Belly last night, iJamming! Pub regular Patty Casino wondered aloud whether there was enough "shoegazer rock" – as promised on the night's flyer - to fill a six-hour night. I reminded him that Step On played much more music than merely its Mancunian mainstays. Sure enough, beloved Royale bartender Paul (moonlighting in Manhattan to host and spin at Loveless) handed us a poster on entry that showed the night's oeuvre expanded to include "spacerock" and "psychedelia" in addition to "shoegaze"; he immediately acted on this intent by opening his set with The Who's 'Armenia City In The Sky.' (Trivia question for pub regulars: who sings lead on this song?) We also heard excellent music by The Rolling Stones, Brian Eno, Neu!, Spiritualized, Ride and The Jesus and Mary Chain, along with several other tracks I couldn't immediately place (always a good thing). The music was so good that I stayed for two over-priced glasses of out-dated wine. (It helped that they were bought for me...)

I would strongly recommend Loveless to all and sundry but for Belly's absolutely appalling sound system. As New York's economic renewal this past decade has enabled bars to open by the dozen in former no-go areas like this patch of the Lower East Side, we've become accustomed to the sight of turntables, CD decks and mixers in the corner of every such drinking hole. Sadly, many bar owners place the quality of equipment at the bottom of their priority list, working on the not entirely mistaken notion that they can always get DJs to work (and bring friends who will drink) for free. It's down to us discerning music fans to tell these people that we won't buy into their thriftiness. So I say this: if Belly can clear up its aural nightmare – or if Paul and his friends can bring in their own equipment – then, and only then, will Loveless become a regular date in our diary.


DOWN AND OUT ON 2004

Following up on my Best of 2004 from earlier this week, I wanted to just add in my own Major Disappointments of the Year – partly because it shows how one man's delight is another person's fright.

One album most iJamming! regulars agree fell well short of expectations is Fatboy Slim's Palookaville (reviewed here). Then again, I did have a spirited debate with an Astralwerks promo man back when I spun Radio 4's end-of-year show. He tried to talk the album up beyond its disappointing choice of singles 'Slash Dot Dash' and 'The Joker' and sent me the latest 12" mixes of 'Wonderful Night' as evidence. I insisted that if a label leads with a record's most crass songs first, then the album deserves to be judged on those. Stepping on, I will state that much of Palookaville, especially the collaborations with Damon Albarn, Johnny Boy and Justin Robertson, is actually quite good, but 'quite good' is simply not good enough when you've built your career on excellence and trailblazing.)

There has been even less debate about R.E.M.'s Around The Sun (reviewed here). God knows it hurt me to pan it, but as a life long fan, I feel I have to speak up and say my piece. Unlike Reveal, where I felt like I was in the minority (especially among British fans), the album received negatives reviews across the board, apart from one British magazine - which, by my cynical definition of coincidence, happens to sponsoring the group's upcoming UK tour. That tour includes some major stadiums, which indicates that R.E.M.'s commercial popularity has yet to drop to its critical credibility, but I really hope they have a strong rethink when this year's live work is finally behind them.

Here's where things get interesting. Nobody has come to me or the iJamming! Pub to stick up for Paul Weller's Studio 150 (reviewed here). In fact, some of my British friends – the eternal mods – have expressed their own disappointment. What, then, to make of the fact that Studio 150 shows up in not one, but TWO Rolling Stone critics' Top 10 lists? John Dugan calls it "Pure mod gold," while Greg Prato shows less certainty with the back-handed compliment that "Weller succeeds more times than not." Dugan is someone with whom I otherwise share taste – he includes Franz Ferdinand and Nick Cave on his list – though Prato is probably not someone I could hold a long conversation with: his list also includes Queen, William Shatner and Probot. What is the guy smoking?

Sophomore slump or current classic?

Then again, I included Brian Wilson's Smile (reviewed here) in my Top 10 of 2004 but I notice a couple of iJamming! readers have placed it on their Biggest Disappointments list instead. I guess such divisions were inevitable given the 37-year wait, though I'd like to be enlightened as to why it failed to turn them on. In the meantime, here's one back at you:
I can not get into Interpol's Antics. Check back to this time 2003 and you'll see that Turn On The Bright Lists made my Top 10 list that year but try as I might – and I had high enough expectations that I bought the album – I find Antics to be the archetypal disappointing second album: a sub-standard retread of the debut. Worse, I just find it tedious, devoid of the light and shade that made the debut such a fascinating work. I keep waiting to come around, but it hasn't happened. Nobody need speak for me and my taste, but I'd be interested in hearing someone make a passionate argument for Antics and let me know what I'm missing that I didn't hear from them first time around.

Finally, Franz Ferdinand already has the Mercury Prize to its name, and has shown up on enough individual end-of-year lists to suggest it may win many polls. I enjoyed the album immensely upon release, but I tired of it quickly: was this short-lived satisfaction the inevitable result of media overkill or a measure of the album's own quality? Paradoxically, I expected my initial infatuation with The Futureheads to fizzle out and yet it's grown over the months.

To some extent, this all goes to demonstrate the futility of Best of Lists. What sounds great now may date rapidly; what's still flying under the radar this month may become accepted in future years as a classic. Yet, as I look back on my own list and those of others, I keep coming back round to the same conclusion: that 2004, while a fun-filled year, was – at least in those music fields of which I claim some kind of experience - desperately short of truly inspired, influential, original albums.

So what am I listening to this week? (Apart from Apocalypse: when you're working on your own album, you listen so intently you can hear the heavy breathing in between vocal takes!) Well, did anyone last year make an album as important as Cut by The Slits (which is reissued on CD this month by Koch and sounds phenomenally original and groundbreaking even 25 years on)? And though I have a better compilation that this one, I'm pleased to see the arrival in my mailbox of Postcards From The Future… subtitled, with what must surely be some irony or black humor, Introducing Be Bop Deluxe. We started a thread about Bill Nelson's genre-jumping mid-70s band a while ago in the Pub: maybe I'll bring it back to the front (if you follow) after putting up the home page and we can all get stuck back in. Those who don't know what we're talking about, take these old mens' word for it: Bill Nelson was, is and I'm sure will continue to be a major figure in many peoples' musical lives.

My boredom with Weller's recent output will never affect my love of The Jam. I dug out Extras to hear the aural quality of their out-takes and demos (for comparison with Apocalypse, natch) and was transported back a full quarter century to when those songs were originally recorded. There's a magic to some of these recordings absent from many a final Jam album: though it’s ultimately an album only for the already committed fan, it holds its own with just about any of their other CDs.

26 instrumentals for the shoegazing psychedelic space rocker in us all.

I'm excited by Lemon Jelly's upcoming album '64-'95, we've been digging Swayzak's Loops From The Bergerie, and The Chemical Brothers' upcoming Push The Button gives us hope where Fatboy did not. But I have to put out special final word for an album I came across over the holidays: Guitarrorists was released in 1991 by No. 6 records, and has barely been heard of since. Time perhaps for a reissue: it features 26 instrumentals by individual guitarists (listed not by track number but by letter of the alphabet),and the role call of contributers includes such continually esteemed names as Sonic Boom, Wayne Coyne, J. Mascis, Dean Wareham, Lee Renaldo, Steve Albini and Kim Gordon. As you might expect, it's all decidedly minimal – The Velvet Underground are the blueprint for most of these artists - and by the end of the album it's all a little over-bearing. But some of the pieces (almost all of which include layers upon layers of guitars) are quite brilliant. (The album would appear to still be available: you can order it via amazon here.) If I were to spin at Loveless, I think I'd just put this album on and sit back to enjoy it. After all, music does not get much more shoegaze/spacerock/psycedelic than the cuts by these cats.


THURSDAY JANUARY 6

CUSTOMIZED I-PODS

Some of you may have heard about this already. Following the success of the U2 iPod, Apple have commissioned other iPods for fans of many different artists. Click here to see the full list. I'm particularly taken by the R Kelly and RIAA versions.

FRIDAY NIGHT IS LADIES NIGHT…

It never takes long for New York City to bounce back into action after the New Year. This Friday night seems particularly bountiful – all the better for those who may be mourning the loss of Step On. Our local Brooklyn venue Southpaw is hosting the acclaimed French singer-songwriter Keren Ann, recently the subject of a major profile in the New Yorker. Local band La Laque will be opening and, taking the French theme to its logical limit, the Paris-born, New York-based Melody Nelson – one of my fave web hosts, promoters and all round good girls - will be DJing. Expect lots of French chanteurs and chanteuses, and copious amounts of Serge Gainsbourg, who was, after all, the author of 'The Ballad Of Melody Nelson.'

There must be a thing about female DJs naming themselves after their fave artists' songs. My friend Anisha is going by the name DJ L'Amour for her debut appearance at Girls Room on Rivington Street (by Pitt and Ridge in the Lower East Side), also this Friday. Anisha's Erasure fetish will no doubt be in full effect as she invites you to "check out the hottest 80's (and ladies) night that this cold city has to offer." Note to the men: I think the invite to check out the ladies applies primarily to the ladies, if you get my drift. All are welcome, however, and admission is free.

Melody Nelson at Atomique last year. She's at Southpaw Jan 7

DJ L'Amour - oh, come on! - is at Girls Room Jan 7. Anyone who gets a picture of Violator, the all-girl Depeche Mode cover band playing Plaid the same night, please send it her way.....

To get in the mood for Anisha, I mean DJ L'Amour, and her night of Vince Clarke synth pop, you could do far worse than start your night at Plaid, where the opening band of the night is none other than Violator – the world's one and only all-girl Depeche Mode cover band. (At least I assume they're the only ones; you never know…) Someone book this band in Britain! If you stick around, you can also catch The GoStation, who I was impressed by when I DJ'd Tiswas last year. Plaid is over at 76 E. 13th St., behind Union Square; older New Yorkers may yet remember it as the Cat Club. Admission is free until 11pm; Violator supposedly open proceedings at 9pm.

Dance fans who desire to be just a little more contemporary can catch New York's rising star The Scumfrog, whose impressive debut album I recently reviewed here. He will be DJing at the Cellar Bar (in the Bryant Park Hotel) alongside Static Revenger and Brendan Benke. The Bryant Park Hotel is on 40th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue and although admission is free, you may want to visit www.eastsideproductions.net to get on the guest list. You know what those hotel velvet ropes are like…

Finally, if you're one of those who don't believe live music is real unless it's played with guitars and drums, I suggest that
a) You get a life.
b) You go to the Mercury Lounge Friday night instead, where Ambulance Ltd. have stepped in as last minute replacement for The Giraffes. As you'll know if you visit the web site frequently, I'm touting Ambulance Ltd. as the finest new band in a city full of them. This may be your last chance to see them in such a small venue. At least it should be, if you know what I mean.


WEDNESDAY JANUARY 5

THE BEST OF 2004

When compiling my Top 10 list of the year – especially if it's going to join others to produce some kind of 'Crit List', as is the case with the annual Village Voice poll – there's always one competitive contradiction at work. Do I choose the records I've listened to the most - or the ones that I believe have the greatest artistic merit? For example, I've been playing both Ian Brown and Tim Booth's albums incessantly this last couple of months, but even allowing for beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all that, I can't claim that they're qualitively superior to recent albums by proven stalwarts Nick Cave, Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen. Similarly, I've been enthralled by a number of new bands over the last twelve months, but is The Go! Team's lo-fi synthesis of fun sounds a better work of art than Brian Wilson's lavishly produced Smile? No. I do like to play the iconoclast, and I sent off my list with the SpongeBobSquarePants soundtrack on it as a reminder to myself and others that albums can be dumb fun and yet still essential possessions. But then I realized that I'd done so at the expense of Ted Leo, which seemed inexcusable. I was able to correct that 'error' – but even if I hadn't, I wouldn't have cried over it. SpongeBob's producers – and the many fine artists who took part in the soundtrack - know that we shouldn't take our music TOO seriously.

Here, then, are my Top 10 Albums of 2004, with their point share (out of a 100pt total) in brackets. (If you do decide to buy these albums online, please follow the iJamming links to amazon.com or amazon.co.uk. We get a few pennies for referral.)

1. THE FUTUREHEADS – THE FUTUREHEADS - StarTime (20 points)
The one album of the last twelve months that I simply could not do without. Yes, it's derivative as hell - but of music that makes me, in the words of The Buzzcocks, "wish I was 16 again." A shit-hot live band and all round nice guys too.
Read iJamming! review.

2. GREEN DAY - AMERICAN IDIOT - Reprise (13 points)
Proof that young punks (like The Futureheads?) can grow up and get ambitious, without compromising their idealism and anger – or their love of melody.
Read iJamming! review.

3. RADIO 4 - STEALING OF A NATION – City Slang/Astralwerks (11 points)
Some fans found the sound too clinical, but that's what happens when bands take three years between albums – natural development goes unrecorded. For those of us who've followed the Brooklyn band's progression at close quarters, this was the album we hoped for. As per Green Day, it's angry – but these messages are wrapped in shimmering baggy-style beats. And 'Nation' is the finest punk-dub track written in many a year.
Read iJamming! review.

4. CANDI STATON - CANDI STATON – Honest Jon's (11 points)
Compilation/reissue of the year and no mistake. Old soul don't get no better than this.
Read iJamming! review.

5. FIERY FURNACES - BLUEBERRY BOAT - Rough Trade (10 points)
On only their second album, brother and sister team Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger realized the greatness promised by their debut. The lyrics are fascinating short stories, the vocals fall in free-form delight, and the largely acoustic arrangements borrow liberally from Pete Townshend's late sixties experiments. The combination is irresistible.
Read iJamming! review..

6. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - ABATTOIR BLUES/LYRE OF ORPHEUS - Mute (8 points).
I don't listen much to Nick Cave albums for pleasure (or pain), but I've been around long enough to recognize when someone's at the top of their gain – and all across this double set, Cave is in the finest voice (lyrical and literal) of his already substantial career.
Read iJamming! review.

7. MORRISSEY - YOU ARE THE QUARRY - Sanctuary (9 points)
On the other hand, Morrissey had been off form (and out of the loop) for so long that I was initially resistant to his comeback. But once I got hold of the finished album, I came around: You Are The Quarry is Mozzer's finest solo work since… when? Who needs a Smiths reunion?
Read iJamming! review.

8. BRIAN WILSON PRESENTS SMILE - Nonesuch (7 points)
I'm not the world's biggest Beach Boys fans and I never lost sleep over the non-release of Smile. But I was gratified as anyone that the boy genius finally got to re-record his epic 37 years down the line – and that he used all the studio tools available to make this American symphony sound as gorgeous now as it ever could have been back then.
Read iJamming! review.

9. THE STREETS – A GRAND DON'T COME FOR FREE – Vice (6 points)
Fully aware that he could not repeat the impact of Original Pirate Material, Mike Skinner opted instead for a dance opera – and pulled it off. If the storyline was occasionally hard to follow, the dual endings were a stroke of genius.
Read iJamming! review.

10. TED LEO/PHARMACISTS – SHAKE THE SHEETS – Lookout (5 points)
America's finest punk rock singer-songwriter-guitarist-lyricist and all-round idealist delivers another sterling body of work from under the mainstream radar. Without the likes of Leo snapping at our collective heels, everything else is irrelevant.
Read iJamming! review.


And here are the ones that fought valiantly for space in the above Top 10. On a different day, some of them may yet have made it.

The Sound of Old Manchester
Tim Booth - Bone - Koch
Don't call it a comeback. The former James front man took his time making a solo album and the result was an environmentally-conscious work of great beauty (and subtle beats). It falls apart a little in its second half but as it's only released in the States this January, it's still in with a shout for 2005. I'm interviewing Booth by e-mail this month, so keep your eyes out for the feature.
Ian Brown – Solarized – Koch
The former Stone Roses singer's fourth solo album is less a return to form than a final validation of his individual artistic merit – a long overdue escape from John Squire's shadow. As per Booth, it only sees American release in 2005, so it may yet make the list next year. It would have certainly made my wife's top 10 for 2004.
Kasabian – Kasabian – RCA
While we're talking baggy beats past and present, Leicester band Kasabian did for Madchester what The Futureheads did for the Marquee of my youth – made it sound fresh all over again. There's greatness in this album, and again, American release is still to come, but as with both Booth and Brown, I could not justify including it at the expense of more original and/or newer artists.

New York: A Great Place To Call Home.
Ambulance Ltd. – Ambulance Ltd. (TVT)
Borrowing liberally from all eras of guitar rock, Ambulance Ltd. emerge sounding like no one but themselves. The new New York name to watch for. Read review
Secret Machines – Now Here Is Nowhere (Reprise)
Psychedelia has rarely sounded finer. At least in the 21st Century. Read review.
!!! - Louden Up Now (Touch And Go)
Like Radio 4, though more deeply immersed in house, techno and Pigbag percussion, !!! prove that you can be pissed off at your country and still find time to dance.
The Mooney Suzuki – Alive & Amplified (Columbia) Read review
Unlike The Futureheads, with whom it share the short sharp shock treatment, Alive & Amplified wore thin on me almost before its release date. But for a couple of months last summer, I could not stop playing it. As a live act, these New York garage heads by way of The Who remain almost without peers.

The Oddballs
Kevin Tihista's Red Terror - Wake Up Captain (Parasol)
I've yet to hear Elliott Smith's final body of work. I'm not sure I need to. Tihista sounds on the edge of despair throughout Wake Up Captain – and one such naked confession is enough for now. Read review.
The Go! Team – Thunder Lightning Strike (Memphis Industries)
Gleeful chaos – and ultimately just too chaotic (and trebly) for the Top 10, but as much mashed-up fun to appear from nowhere as anything over the last 12 months. Read review.
Leonard Cohen – Dear Heather (Columbia)
Can you name any other septuagenarian who still sounds so sensual? I can't. Read review
Tom Waits – Real Gone (Anti-)
Waits is a sprightly 55 by comparison, but his world-weary vision of our fucked-up world has never seemed more relevant. Read review.

French Bands
Air –Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks)/Phoenix – Alphabetical(Source)/M83 - Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts (Mute)
The British electronica/post-rave/dance scene may have been in a state of near-collapse in 2004, but these French duos rewarded our faith.

SOUNDTRACK OF THE YEAR
SpongeBobSquarePants (Sire/Nick)
For the adults, original material (relevant to the movie) from Wilco, Flaming Lips, the Shins and Motorhead; for the kids, juvenile pastiches of classic pop and rock. My son and I may battle over which tracks we prefer, but we rarely let this album out of our sights. Read review

COMPILATION OF THE YEAR
PLACEBO – Once More With Feeling Singles 1996-2004 (Astralwerks)
My "guilty pleasure." I'm constantly surprised by how much I love Placebo. I really do. A record that oozes sex, drugs and rebellion – and the new songs are mighty fine, too.

EXTENSIVE REISSUE OF THE YEAR
Jah Wobble – I Could Have Been A Contender (Trojan)
Sarcastically titled three-CD retrospective of pioneering bassist who's long proven his heavyweight status. Those who still only know him through PiL may emerge astounded by the depth (and his bass is seriously deep) of his substantial solo and collaborative work.

EXCESSIVE REISSUE OF THE YEAR
THE HOMOSEXUALS – Astral Glamour (Messthetics)
They were under-rated and near enough ignored at the time (of their own volition, it should be noted) and much of the first CD is among the finest post-punk indie music ever to have emerged from the basement of a Kennington Oval record store. But do we really need 81 songs across three CDs to prove the point? Ah, why not…

THOSE THAT GOT AWAY
For all that the above brought me great listening pleasure, I'm staring at gaping holes in the collection. I've yet to sit with the 2004 albums by U2, Elliott Smith, Kanye West, Wilco, Junior Boys, Grant Lee Phillips, The Arcade Fire, Bjork and the Blue Nile to name but a few. There only seem to be so many hours in the day. Which means there are surely many others that also got away. But that's okay. Good music does not date, does it? Which means that the best of 2004 should also sound just fine in '05.


TOP 10 SINGLES OF 2004

I listened to music radio less in 2004 than maybe any other year of my life. The hip-hop and R&B and pop hits thereby completely passed me by. My idea of good singles are those songs that stand head and shoulders above their albums – and the many 12" vinyl releases I still find time to spend money upon. These are the ones that brought me most joy.

1. Worm Is Green - "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (ARRCO) Read more
2. !!! - "Pardon My Freedom" - (Touch & Go)
3. Bowling For Soup - "1985" - (Jive) Read more
4. Soulwax - "NY Excuse" - (PIAS) read more
5. Uter - "Tomorrow's Clowns" - (Oscarr) Read more
6. LCD Soundsytem - "Yeah" - (DFA) Read more
7. Armand Van Helden - Hear My Name (Tommy Boy) Read more
8. Freq Nasty - Brooklyn 2 Brixton (Skint) Read more
9. Abe Duque - "What Happened" (white label)
10. Deep Dish - "Flashdance" - (Positiva)

Feel free to comment on these or post your own choices in The Pub


TUESDAY JANUARY 4

BEATS AND PIECES

I started out the New Year work week by listening to (some of) the best music of last year. It proved a harder process than usual to decide which of the two dozen or so very good albums should go in my Top 10 and I think this is partly down to the fact that there were few true classics released over these past 12 months. Instead, a number of albums seemed interchangeable with each other.

Anyway, the list is done and my notes are typed up – but it will take a few hours to lay out it all nice and proper. So I'll save my 2004 review until at least tomorrow while I get on with my deadlines. I'm also hopelessly behind with e-mail which piled up over the holidays, not least due to Noel's arrival - so excuse me if it takes some time to reply...

In the meantime, I did sort out The Pub problem, and it turned out the hold-up was at my end. In an effort to prevent people posting enormous pictures, I'd limited the size of such pics – not realizing this actually slows down the system further. That would explain why no one had replied to our New Zealand reader The Lovegod's Best and Worst of 2004 – because we all gave up trying to access it. (By the way Mick, his name is Campbell. Though you wouldn't be the first to say Cameron by mistake.) I would still suggest Pubgoers only post pics if they feel it's essential, but for now, everything seems to be back in order. Mick's choice of best and most disappointing is surprisingly close to my own, by the way: anyone else wish to get in before I post my comprehensive list over the next couple of days?



I don't plan on posting too many pictures of the family once we get stuck into the New Year, but I thought some of you might appreciate this one from last week. That's Campbell and myself working on the Apocalypse track 'Don't Stop.' And if you look closely, you may just be able to see Noel trying to get some kip in the background. Good luck, young fella!


If I'd decided to keep the night going, this Friday would see the first Step On of the New Year. I figured someone else would step up to the plate but I'm surprised how quickly the void has been filled. I received this e-mail yesterday from the new 12" Bar at 179 Essex Street (by Stanton) on the Lower East Side.

TUES JAN 4:
So Much to Answer For: The Music of Manchester
DJs IAN & LIAM spin the gamut of music from England's storied Manchester scene!
ACR to Gene Vincent and everything in-between: Stone Roses, Oasis, the Charlatans, the Smiths, Buzzcocks, Black Grape, Inspiral Carpets, Warsaw, the Fall, James, A Guy Called Gerald, Chemical Brothers, Electronic, Magazine, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, 808 State, New Order, Ian Brown, Badly Drawn Boy, Northside, Morrissey, Happy Mondays, Joy Division, the High, John Cooper Clarke…8pm

I have no idea if Ian and Liam have a greater claim to Mancunian roots than myself, but I appreciate the inclusion of Badly Drawn Boy and John Cooper Clarke in that list. If you get down there, keep them to their word!

Meantime, the beloved bar-tender from Step On's former home venue The Royale, Paul, is himself branching out into promotion. This Thursday Jan 6 sees his second Loveless Party – a celebration of shoe-gazing at the Belly bar, on Rivington between Clinton and Sussex (also in the Lower East Side). This night starts at 10pm, and, as with the one above, offers free admission. Going by our experience the one night we hosted a Shoegazing Happy Hour at Step On, there's an untapped demand for this music in New York. See you there?


MONDAY JANUARY 3, 2005

THE PERSONAL

Many thanks for all your best wishes regarding the birth of our son Noel on Christmas Eve. I posted this time last week to tell everyone we were taking the week off and, as you can see by the lack of posts either here or in the Pub, this time I kept to my word. For once in my life, I took a holiday.

But first, last Sunday, December 26, we managed a journey to the Jersey shore to present our baby to members of Posie's family. Given the tragic death of her brother John less than four weeks previous, the early arrival of Noel John was the best Christmas present her mother and surviving siblings could have asked for. Nothing can bring John back but we were at least able to put some smiles on the family members' faces at what was otherwise such a sad Christmas holiday for the Strenz family.

Monday we packed the four of us - plus cat! – into the station wagon and headed Upstate for the week, where we pretty much tuned out from the rest of the world. In fact, Posie only stepped outside once all week – the exertion of childbirth, the sleeplessness and the continual feeding all catching up on her. One of the nice things about having a second child over the holidays (as opposed to a first child, when you rightly assume the world should stop and admire your achievement!) is that we were NOT besieged by well-wishers. I didn't issue an announcement other than here on the web site and, apart from a couple of phone calls to nearest and dearest, just allowed the word to spread grass roots style. Even now, many of our friends are still blissfully unaware of our news. I like that! It meant that, rather than receiving visitors every hour and wearing ourselves down further, or having to answer the phone every two minutes, we were able to relax in our own company for the week.

New Year's Eve was spent indoors, a good glass of wine at hand, a lovely meal on the table, my wife welling up while she offered a toast celebrating our good fortune. (Those who know how Campbell had a close brush with disaster last New Year's Eve will understand why it seemed best to stay close to home this time round!) I spent New Year's afternoon at the local pub, playing X-Pod play-offs with Campbell (a Lego game that's like a cross between chess and Pokemon, with regular breaks for building pieces), and could hardly have been happier with my lot. (At least I wasn't watching Palace lose yet again!!! The way things are going, we'll be playing Hull next year.) It was a real wrench to drive back to the City last night – and I think if it wasn't that Campbell is back at school today (yes I know it's a Bank Holiday in the UK, and yes, I am exceedingly jealous!), we'd have stayed up there - and maybe for ever...

THE GLOBAL

We don't have a TV upstate. Nor any internet access. And almost anywhere we tune on the radio dial, we pick up the local (Clear Channel-owned) classic rock station whose antenna is on the hill behind us. There are days when the snow falls by the foot and the temperature dips several degrees below zero Farenheit and we couldn't go anywhere even if we wanted to. At times like those, we've said that the world could be ending and we'd be among the last to know… And that is almost how we ended up feeling as we slowly, periodically gathered just how devastating was the Tsunami in South Asia. The disaster had already happened by the time we left on Monday, and it was obvious that the death toll would rise dramatically, but still it was a horror to watch the death toll keep rising. Every other day I'd pop into the computer store to check my e-mail, and scan the headlines in the process; I'd come home and report, almost disbelievingly, that another 10 or 20,000 casualties had been added to the already horrendous total. We picked up the New York Times on a couple of occasions for more information, but print media – while I think it can be the most honourable - only tells part of the story. On return to the city last night, I sat up and watched TV footage of the disaster itself and the rescue efforts underway, listened to Colin Powell defend the Bush Administration's response to the disaster on a Meet The Press re-run, checked out the amateur footage via the BBC's web site and… I don't really know what to say. We had a tough 2004 here at home, primarily though not exclusively because of the death of our brother John – and we've viewed Noel's birth less as a reason to look back on this last year fondly as to look ahead confidently. Seeing the havoc Mother Nature can wreak on our planet makes us, personally, all the more content with what we have: our own good health and a roof over our heads. I can't say more because it will come across as mere platitudes. I'm sure we all feel equally shocked and overwhelmed, I hope none of us here lost loved ones, and I know we'll all be helping how and where we can – and encouraging our governments to do the same.

THE PUBLIC

I checked in on The Pub a few times last week, though I resisted the temptation to join in the Posts. Friday I had problems accessing the actual threads and assumed it was just something to do with the local broadband connection. Seems not. Looks like The Pub is experiencing its own version of the Y2K dilemma and doesn't look keen to welcome visitors to the New Year. (Though as I type this I see someone has just managed to post something for the first time since Friday.) This might be a good time to send out our own minor Jamming! SOS – I could really do with the aid of anybody who knows how this Pub really works. I.e., someone experienced in php, mySQL or the YabbSE open source software on which the Pub is based. Yabbse shut up shop last year, and the person who helped me set up the Forum is not a regular iJamming! visitor and therefore someone I can't keep turning to for free help. Please put the word out – at times like these, I realise that, however minor it is in the scheme of things, I have no emergency system in place.

THE MUSICAL

So I was just fooling you. Of course I worked last week: come on, you know me! I spent what few spare hours I could claim for myself adding some overdubs to Don't Stop 2005 – our nostalgic re-recording of the Apocalypse song that saw original release on the Jamming! Magazine album A New Optimism For The 80s back in, yes, 1984. We couldn't get permission from EMI to use the recording on the upcoming Apocalypse compilation but we realized that, fortuitously, the lyrics were equally applicable to 40-year olds as to 20-year olds; we slowed the tempo, relaxed the rhythm, slackened the arrangement from a Dexys-Madness style assault to a late night pub piano anthem, brought in our kids to sing the chorus, and have managed to record what I think is a genuinely emotional, loving tribute to ourselves. That we recorded it with no more than two members of the old band in a room at the same time is testament to modern technology. (And especially, to Garageband.) There's also a video to accompany this track which I can only watch once a week without getting misty-eyed. God knows that the last five weeks of 2004 were among the most emotional of my life.

By 5pm today I'm meant to send off my choice of Top 10 Albums and Singles of 2004 for the annual Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll. For those who don't know, the New York–based weekly surveys around 1000 American music journalists every year; the result is considered the most authoritative poll in the American media. Given the weight of these last few weeks, I've paid the task scant attention. Still, I've got a reasonable idea as to what will make at least the albums list and will get to it over the next few hours. I'll post my choices tomorrow and, assuming The Pub has gotten over its strange New Year hangover, we can pick up the threads and get back to debating music. Happy New Year, again.


MONDAY DECEMBER 27

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Posie and Noel came home from hospital Christmas night: it was the best one ever! I'm taking the week off from the web site to enjoy the new arrival and some quality family (and play) time. Got lots to read, lots to listen to, lots to drink... I plan on renewing posting with a vengeance next week. I'll pop into the Pub now and then if you want to keep the threads going. Thanks to everyone who sent us congrats and best wishes. We're all really well. Happy New Year - let's hope it's a good one (without any fear)....


SATURDAY DECEMBER 25

OUR CHRISTMAS PRESENT...

....IT'S A BOY


Noel John Fletcher, born December 24 2004 at Long Island College Hospital, Brooklyn, New York. Time of birth: 11.08 am. Weight: 7lb, 9oz. Length: 20 inches.
Baby is healthy. Posie and Tony are both elated and exhausted (neither slept Thursday, though only one of them spent the night in labour!), Campbell's a proud big brother - and we look forward to sharing Christmas day together, in the hospital. We feel blessed.

Happy Holidays to everyone at iJamming!


Noel: "A Christmas child, reflecting hope and happiness."


2004 MUSINGS ARE LISTED HERE
2003 MUSINGS ARE LISTED HERE
2002 MUSINGS ARE LISTED HERE:


iJamming! Site Copyright Tony Fletcher 2004




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