What, above all else, does December bring to the true music fanatic? Stockings stuffed with record store gift certificates and blank tapes? Conversations about the Beach Boys Christmas album? A CD from a distant relative by your favorite band 8 years ago?No, folks, more than all these things, December brings out the burning desire to make a year end top 10 list.

It's usually not too hard, maybe a little bit of an obsessive struggle goes in to trimming down 12 to 10, but over all, it's pretty clear to me each year what my favorites were. So this year, I wasn't too worried when John asked me to do a Top 5 list for Pennyblack (Top 5! 10's not too hard, but jeez John, 5 means you have to go looking for the carving knife! Don't worry, it's probably on the table next to the ham.). Anyhow, the more I thought about it, the more I couldn't make up my mind.

2000 was an incredibly interesting year for music - it found styles merging more naturally than ever, it found the structures and ideas from the past century shaken up and shaken off, it found musicians from completely different backgrounds, age groups, music scenes, etc. collaborating (Hope Sandoval, Colm O'Ciosoig & Bert Jansch?!) and, what made it all seem so natural to me was that the old playing fields seemed to get abandoned for new ground that wasn't littered with experts, rules and team captains. We tiptoed in to no man's land and found a playground. It wasn't all earthshattering or all-encompassing, true, but maybe that's not always the point.

I haven't heard but a small fraction of what came out this year, but some of my favorites were (and I suppose this could be called my alternative top 5,..ok 6) 'Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is OK' by Mum, 'Nothing We Can Control' by International Airport, 'Mwng' by The Super Furries, 'Internal Wrangler' by Clinic, 'From A Summer To Another Summer, An Egypt To Another Egypt' by Maher Shalal Hash Baz and 'Agaetus Byrjun' by Sigur Ros.

All little masterpieces that sound as if they were poured from a blender straight in to your ears. Walkman symphonies if you will. None of these records would I dare categorize in to any existing format - the only description I can give the curious is that these bands sound ceiling-less. They give me that exhilirating feeling that I'm only getting the faintest glimpse of their unlimited palette - that I'm just the lucky passenger on the trainride through their world who gets a window seat. A snaphot, a passing conversation. And when you're in the middle of these records, you're caught up in the moment and it's the only thing in the world. (A little more important than the Top 40, wouldn't you say?) True, these groups probably all have a supposed leader, but the music always sounds like a collaboration, the greater sum of it's members parts. It seems that (forgive the horribly outdated term) indie music has finally found it's freedom - that the free spirit and energy that possesed jazz in the late fifties through the sixties has decided to flow through some different waters.

Let's hope it stays for a while.

Speaking of jazz, I used to work for a very eccentric older guy who was VERY into jazz. His collection rivaled any jazz record store in the world andI have him to thank for steering me in some very right directions.

I became interested in jazz because I was in to late eighties indie-noisy stuff and those groups often dropped jazz players like Ornette Coleman. I started poking around the jazz sections at record stores and a whole new world opened up to me (and that stuff used to be dirt cheap!). The problem was, I didn't really know where to begin - I knew I liked the more experimental end of things, but still, I was basically stabbing in the dark.

So, around that time, I got the job working for the ecentric boss (we'll call him Harv - he'll like that) and he became a mentor of sorts, playing me everything from the Modern Jazz Quartet to Ruby Braff. Even when he saw that I liked something, he'd still say, vaguely annoyed (and I wish you could hear his voice for the full effect) "You're still not LISTENING". And he was right for the most part. I mean, of course I was listening - it was pretty and interesting and I liked that- (and despite what anyone tells you, things like jazz and classical are NOT all intellect. People are intimidated by these musical forms because they think you have to be a genius to understand them. Maybe so, but you don't have to be a genius to FEEL them.), but what he meant was that I didn't know the songs.

How could I appreciate an avant-garde version of say,' Willow Weep For Me', if I've never heard Sarah Vaughan do a straight (but no less breathtaking) version. I was so enthralled with the smashing, that I didn't even know what was being smashed. (that's not to say the avant-gardists were necessarily smashing standards - I think they were more concerned with smashing traditional mindsets).

To solve this problem, he gave me tape of a radio show he had done a few years ago. The show consisted of nothing but different versions of 'It's Only A Paper Moon', so, of course, by the end of the tape, every note of the song was permanently stamped on my brain. I give it back to him and he asks me what I thought of the Lester Young version."Um....it was great"?. Frustrated, he makes me listen to it again, this time pointing out that Lester Young hardly plays one note of the actual melody. He plays all around it, framing it so completely that you can actually hear the missing notes!

I hadn't even noticed that it was radically different from the other versions! That's when I understood what a solo could be, what individuality could achieve, what Harv had meant by "you're not listening", that experimental could be pretty, that art could be slyand subtle, that 'out' needed 'in'...just a defining moment, in other words.

So this is my analogy as to why my top 5 seems so conservative. I love pop music. I listen to it all the time - I mean, I'm PICKY about it, but it's still my favorite. It's just so unlikely a style to be transcendent, that when it is, it gets me every time (ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Go Betweens). Of all the records on my top 5, Sigur Ros are the only ones I mentioned earlier (you've gotta love a band whose music is beautiful AND doesn't sound human!).The rest are what a lot of people might consider pretty tame and really not all that relevant to 2000. The Desert Wolves record is a retrospective, The Go-Betweens are very much associated with the eighties. Everyone's tired of hearing about Belle & Sebastian (ha ha, I'm one of those annoying fans) & the Aislers Set has a lot to do with updating older sounds.

But I needed a criteria & the most logical one is this: What did I listen to over and over?! That's what my top 5 is. These records feel like new old friends. The alternative top 6 that I listed way at the top are not records I listened to all the time, but when I did listen, I listened VERY closely. They're much better on the walkman than around the house - soundtracks to walks & bikerides alone. But y'know, I guess it's kinda like Lester Young's Paper Moon, I need the standards to appreciate the new & original. But at least now, I'M LISTENING.

Scott Miller's Top 5 End of the Year Poll is

1.Sigur Ros - Agaetus Byrjun
2.Go Betweens - Friends Of Rachel Worth
3.Belle & Sebastian - Fold Your Hands Child...You Walk Like A Peasant
4.Desert Wolves - Pontification
5.Aislers Set - The Last Match







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