Besides the annual race, Maria and I have another tradition: The end-of-the-year “Choice Cuts” compilation CD. It’s a sampling of some of my favorite songs from 2004 (although, granted, not all are actually from the year), with the package designed by Maria. We managed to somehow churn out the third edition, “Baby Food” – keeping with the series’ food theme, natch -- just days before the birth of Evan. (Maria stayed extra late at work her last day before maternity leave to produce the cover!)
Like last year, we have a few extra copies for readers who might be interested – just email us at email@example.com. We just ask that you send us a mix in return.
Now, on to this year’s selections. With just room for 18 tracks, plenty didn’t make the cut. And I also decided to stay away from great songs that are already all over the place (hence the glaring omission of songs from Indie 103.1 darlings like Interpol or the Killers). I know, I then violate that rule by including songs by Kanye West and Ozomatli, but whatever.
This year’s track list:
1. Los Angeles, I’m Yours-- The Decemberists: Of course I gotta start the mix off with an ode to our city. The Decemberists capture the love/hate relationship so many of us have with this metropolis. Los Angeles, you drive us nuts. But we're still yours. I found this song simply by typing “Los Angeles” in Limewire and took a chance. Glad I did, as this breezy tune reminds me of driving down Sunset Boulevard on a lazy Sunday afternoon in April.
2. All the Wine-- The National: Another stripped-down pop tune; I’d love to say I was inspired by one of the year’s best films, “Sideways,” but I simply happened upon this song via Utne mag’s bimonthly “In Radio: Out of the Mainstream” CD series. My sister Ann signed me up for the subscription as a birthday present; every other month, I receive a CD featuring interesting tracks from a mix of signed and unsigned artists.
3. Everything Is Everything-- Phoenix: One of the year’s best singles, I dare you not to get caught up in its infectious groove.
4. Overnight Celebrity-- Twista and Kanye West: A controversial choice, I know. By far the most mainstream pick on this year’s mix, I couldn’t help myself. Again, I’m a sucker for a catchy beat. And although I was originally planning on putting Kanye West’s “Through the Wire” here, I kept going back to the background sample Twista and Kanye use here.
5. New Resolution-- Azure Ray: Haunting. Beautiful. Wins the Gloria Gaynor award for this year’s best “F- you, I’m moving on” song.
6. First of the Gang to Die-- Morrissey: Morrissey released some of his best work in years in 2004, and this tune definitely stood out from the bunch. “You have never been in love Until you have seen the stars Reflect in the reservoirs.” Who knew moving to Los Angeles would give Morrissey some new creative juice?
7. Change the World-- Nellie McKay: I gotta admit, Nellie McKay’s strange PR gambit paid off. Never mind her irreverent lyrics (she name checks Dr. Phil here, for example) or strong, Tin Pan Alley vocals. Nah, I’ve been intrigued ever since it came out that McKay was lying about being a 19-year-old wunderkind. Turns out she’s a 22-year-old wunderkind. Why fudge just three years? It adds to the mystique. And it worked.
8. Golden-- Jill Scott: Another solid, catchy, damn fine song. No one’s asking who is Jill Scott anymore; this single, from her second CD, proved the girl’s got chops.
9. Snowflakes-- Just Jack vs. The Cure: The first of two “mash ups” on this year’s Choice Cuts, “Snowflakes” works beautifully. The song takes the vocals from British trip hop artist Just Jack and merges it with the music bed from the Cure’s “Lullaby.” U.K. DJ Eddie Temple Morris first did the mix as a bootleg for his show on London’s xfm radio; The Cure’s Robert Smith gave the thumb’s up to officially release it. Well done.
10. Where Is My Mind (Live 2004)-- The Pixies: Finally, an excuse to get The Pixies on a Choice Cuts mix! Back and touring, The Pixies have already been the subject of several concert bootlegs. This is from an April 2004 concert; Frank Black/Black Francis/Charles and Kim Deal never sounded better. Well, maybe they have, but it’s just nice to have them back.
11. Black Jettas-- Ima Robot: Regular readers of the blog remember how Maria’s poor black Jetta was totaled on Franklin Avenue back in May. And I mean totaled. Two teens stoned out of their mind sped down the Shakespeare Bridge and flew across the median, hitting Maria’s car face on. It never had a chance. Ima Robot takes a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the ubiquitous car, joking that all of their ex-girlfriends drive ‘em. We knew several people, including Maria, who drove black Jettas at one point or another, but most have moved on. For the record, Maria replaced the Jetta with a Volvo. See, the guys who plowed into her car really shouldn’t have come out alive – but they were driving a Volvo. And lived. That was good enough for her.
12. I Never-- Rilo Kiley: A timeless song, transcending genres, “I Never” should have been a hit.
13. Go or Go Ahead (Kaskade’s Sweet Secret Mix)-- Rufus Wainwright: All right, I must confess: I stole this song from someone else’s mix – MTV’s Brian Graden, the guy who discovered the “South Park” creators, puts out an annual CD for the holidays, and last year’s was really strong – kicking off with this remixed Rufus Wainwright track. I know, that makes it even worse -- it’s from his Christmas 2003 mix! But since I didn’t get that CD until January, it was really a 2004 track for me. It was just too strong to pass up. At over six minutes, it’s one of the longest songs on this year’s Choice Cuts compilation. But it’s a masterful remix, starting out slowly and quiet, before building into a true anthem.
14. Saturday Night-- Ozomatli: Probably another controversial choice, since this song was also pretty widely heard in the fall of 2004 – and even appeared in an iPod ad. But it’s a true jam, and Ozomatli still screams Los Angeles to me. I was hooked the first time I heard the “Hip hop, socialize, get ready for the Saturday Night!” chorus, and am still not tired of it.
15. I Need Love-- Luka Bloom An oldie; Luka Bloom actually recorded this in 1992, but I only heard it this year. C’mon, an acoustic rendition of the classic LL Cool J track by an Irish singer… what’s not to love?
16. Bandy Bandy-- Zap Mama feat. Erykah Badu: Erykah Badu somehow manages to get herself on the coolest songs out there, from The Roots’ “You Got Me” to her duet with Common, “Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop).” Add this song to the list, from Zaire-born Belgian resident Marie Daulne. the artist behind Zap Mama.
17. New York City, 1964-- Shawn Amos: Our friend Shawn has constructed an amazing album, “Thank, You Shir-lee May,” which tells the story of his late mother. Shawn’s mom was a promising young R&B singer in the 1960s; she passed away last year. Shawn channeled the pain of losing his mother into a pretty amazing album; you can read more about it here.
18. Frontin’ on Debra-- DJ Reset, feat. Pharrell vs. Beck: The second “mash up” on the album, mixing Pharrell’s “Frontin’” with Beck’s classic tale of JCPenney worker Jenny, her sister Debra, and Glendale’s Zankou Chicken. If 2004 was the year of the mashup, this was one of the trend’s biggest hits (beyond Danger Mouse’s Jay-Z/Beatles-inspired “Gray Album,” of course).
Hidden Track. Far East Network – Philippines radio I.D., 1981: A nod to our trip to the Philippines in February, the first time I'd been back since childhood.