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Top 30 Records of 2004

December 22nd, 2004 Posted in Music

Well, it's that time of year again; Hanukkah has come and gone, Christmas approaches, the Golden Globe nominees have been announced (and no one cares), and Pitchfork just released its Top 50 Albums of 2004. Well shucks, I've been working on this for the past couple weeks, so you can be sure my list is uninfluenced by all that jazz.

The list is too big and fun to fit on my front page, so I’ve gone ahead and put it in the extended entry part of this post; keep reading to see the who made the cut!

  • #30

    Of Montreal
    Satanic Panic in the Attic
    Polyvinyl

    The first Of Montreal album I've ever enjoyed. This album is much more cohesive and much less FREAKING INSANE than the rest of their catalog. Damn wacko hippies.

  • #29

    Madvillain
    Madvillainy
    Stones Throw

    Great comic-book inspired underground hip hop; definitely my favorite of the two thousand or so records MF Doom released this year.

  • #28

    Mirah
    C'mon Miracle
    K

    Really sexy music from the Israeli former Microphones member. Mirah effortlessly shifts from pop to folk to rock like any true singer-songwriter should; and she more often than not does it mid-song.

  • #27

    Soviettes
    LP II
    Adeline

    Not nearly enough good pop-punk coming out these days; these girls from Minnesota (plus that drummer dude) are the real deal. Aside from Dillinger Four and the Lawrence Arms, the Soviettes are one of the only punk rock bands I still follow.

  • #26

    Loretta Lynn
    Van Lear Rose
    Interscope

    There is something awesome about a 90-year-old sounding like she's twenty. It's like Brenda Lee in reverse. Portland, Oregon is even good enough to make me forgive the enourmous creep factor inherent in Jack White singing a innuendoed duet with a woman three times his age.

  • #25

    Castanets
    Cathedral
    Asthmatic Kitty

    Very dark avant country. Those of you who know me can probably guess that I' not a huge fan of religious-themed records, but this one hooked me before I knew what had happened. Damn you, Sufjan! (Speaking of Sufjan, Seven Swans came really close to making this list, but I just thought it wasn't nearly as good as Welcome to Michigan).

  • #24

    Franz Ferdinand
    S/T LP
    Domino

    Yeah, yeah, it's really good.

  • #23

    Interpol
    Antics
    Matador

    Yup, also really good.

  • #22

    The Mountain Goats
    We Shall All be Healed
    4AD/Beggars Group

    I must admit I was more impressed by 2002's Tallahasee, but We Shall All Be Healed has some gems as well. Hard to go wrong with John Darnielle. I've taken to covering Pigs That Ran Straightaway Into the Water, Triumph Of and subscribing to Last Plane to Jakarta.

  • #21

    The Advantage
    S/T LP
    5 Rue Christine

    There are a few NES bands out there right now. What makes The Advantage special? Well, first of all, they're not fucking dorks. OK, yes they are, but they're that cool kind of dork; you know, the kind that go to shows? Ahem. Second, these guys do the tunes math-rock style, so they don't come off sounding like Santana covering Nintendo songs, which is good. And lastly they pick (mostly) obscure tunes only the true NES head would know. I mean, you think the minibosses or the NESKimoes (god, that name sucks) would have the balls to cover Duck Tales? Nuh uh. Finally, a NESrock band for the rest of us.

  • #20

    Blonde Redhead
    Misery is a Butterfly
    4AD/Beggars Group

    It's been four years since the last Blonde Redhead album; after recovering from her horse-related injuries, that Japanese chick teamed back up with those twin italian dudes and they decided they were all older and wiser for the trouble. They've made a record to match; this record has none of the harder edges of their previous releases, instead, it just floats.

  • #19

    Mission of Burma
    ONoffON
    Matador

    How many bands can wait twenty years between records, maintain the exact same sound, and have it be as relevant and appealing as the day they formed? Mission of Burma is back, and unlike the rest of this year's so many token '80s band reunions, these guys are not screwing around. Mission of Burma is continuing to do what they've always done: write blissfully scathing, raw, powerful punk rock music that simply shames the current state of popular rock and roll.

  • #18

    Viva Voce
    The Heat Can Melt Your Brain
    Minty Fresh

    A slightly more experimental outing from Oregon's husband-and-wife team. Some of it worked, some of it didn't (read: High Highs); but the stuff that worked was so good it's still one of my favorite records of the year.

  • #17

    Coachwhips
    Bangers Versus Fuckers
    Narnack

    Probably the single most cacophonous record I've ever heard. Imagine the Sonics were lit on fire, stuffed into a tin can and and forced to play at three times speed for a week straight. Really outstanding rock and roll at its most basic (and base).

  • #16

    Rogue Wave
    Out of the Shadow
    Sub Pop

    Yeah, I know they self-released this in 2003, but I never heard it until Sub Pop re-released it this year. I'm so out of touch. Anyways, it's nice to have some home-town boys make good (Oaktown get-down and all that). Enough Shins comparisons – this record can stand on its own two feet. Plain old good songwriting. I felt the record was too unevenly paced to be truly great, but I can't wait to hear the next album from these kids.

  • #15

    Death From Above 1979
    You're A Woman, I'm a Machine
    Vice

    These guys kick your ass, plain and simple. Just a drummer and a bassist, and as far from drum and bass as it gets. They put trunks on their faces on the cover of the album because they wanted the record to sound like there was an elephant in your fucking living room (seriously), and somehow it worked.

  • #14

    Destroyer
    Your Blues
    Merge

    Daniel Bejar returns with another set of mind-bending tunes he refers to as “European Blues”. Not as impressive as 2001's Streethawk: A Seduction but fantastic nonetheless.

  • #13

    Sahara Hotnights
    Kiss & Tell
    RCA

    The third record from Sweden's all-girl garage export. This is Sahara Hotnights' most warm and cuddly record to date; very catchy stuff, highly dancable, with a definite '80s feel.

  • #12

    RATATAT
    S/T LP
    XL

    The debut album from two NYC indie rockers who play guitar over the beats they mix themselves. A fun and original album. I'll be interested to see what these guys do with their sophmore release; seems like their sound could get stale quickly.

  • #11

    Moving Units
    Dangerous Dreams
    RX

    I expected alot from the debut record from this NYC power trio after absolutely loving their self-titled EP. Dangerous Dreams came through with some really catchy dance-punk, but I thought it was just a little too polished-sounding to make the top ten. Tough decision.

  • Shake the Sheets

    #10
    Shake the Sheets

    A step back for Ted Leo; he's stripped the Pharmacists down to a power trio, which bums me out because (1) there are no more chicks in the band and (2) the sound is much more straightforward. The power of Hearts of Oak was in its diversity. That said, Ted Leo is undoubtedly one of my favorite current songwriters; he just has that Ben Weasel-esque ability to write unbelievably approachable, catchy tunes that still have that bite.

  • Our Endless Numbered Days

    #9
    Our Endless Numbered Days

    Not much I can say about Iron and Wine that hasn't been said already; Sam Beam crafts wonderfully textured songs that evoke powerful imagery. It's pretty hard to make me want to live in the South, but he pulls it off. With this record, he made the successful transition from his basement to a recording studio, and while some of the grit and grime was lost, the tone and the passion remained the same. Did I mention that Wu and I started crying at the show during Upwards over the Mountain?

  • The Futureheads

    #8
    S/T LP

    The absolute best of this year's '80s resurgency (mainly because there's so much late '70s punk mixed in). With this record, the Futureheads combine new wave, vocal-pop, punk and brit-pop beautifully. I must admit; at first listen, I was a little put off by how blunt and over the top this record is; and not in that The Darkness over the top way. I mean the music makes no excuses for itself, it is pure hook and unbridled synthyness. Then it occured to me; have I come so far? "What's so wrong with a stupid happy song?" Nothing, as it turns out.

  • Rubber Factory

    #7
    Rubber Factory

    Every time I listen to a Black Keys record, I have an overwhelming urge to make this weird gutteral sound with my diaphragm; it's difficult to write, but it sounds kinda like "ugh". Not in the “bleh” way, but in the "ugh, yeah, ugh, ugh, yeah" way. Then my foot starts tapping, and before I know it, all my co-workers are staring at me going, "Why the hell are you dancing around the cubicle like an idiot?" It's turning into a real problem.

    Anyways; thank you, Black Keys. Thank you for being white and not playing white boy blues. Thank you for reclaiming blues rock from the goobers. Thank you for showing people why Muddy Waters thinks Dave Matthews is a pussy. Thank you.

  • Milk-Eyed Mender

    #6
    The Milk-Eyed Mender

    If you had told me two years ago that today I'd be listening to a elfish harpist with a voice like
    Lisa Simpson's, I'd have laughed in your face. Actually; when I say it like that, it still sounds pretty
    ridiculous. But somehow, The Milk-Eyed Mender has become one of my favorite records this year.
    I've shared this album with a few people who couldn't handle Newsom's voice; it is certainly a bit jarring
    when first heard. But her songwriting and lyrics are so incredibly strong that I was quickly able to move
    past that, and eventually I grew to love it and the quirky quality it adds to her music. You will never hear
    anyone who sounds quite like Joanna Newsom. And if you ever get a chance to see her live (she currently lives
    in San Francisco), be sure to go. Honestly, how often do you get to see a harpist perform?

  • The Slow Wonder

    #5
    The Slow Wonder

    For me, hype is usually a death sentence for a record. The more I expect something to be great, the
    more I am usually disappointed. As A.C. (Carl) Newman is the main songwriter for The New Ponographers, and their
    2003 release The Electric Version was one of my top ten records of last year, I was expecting
    an enourmous amount from Newman's solo release. Then after reading a number of reviews claiming the
    record was the second coming (SPIN said Newman “should release an album every month”) I was sure it couldn't
    be as good as everyone said.

    Well, Carl showed me. He took the best of Zumpano and the New Pornographers and rolled 'em into one
    thirty-three minute sugar-bomb. I mean sure, there are people who wouldn't admit it, but is there really anyone
    alive who wouldn't like this music?

  • Funeral

    #4
    Funeral

    This is a tough one for me to write: this record is good – really good – but it has come
    to epitimize, in my mind,
    certain changes happening in the world of indie rock. I first received this record in September, after
    reading the much famed Pitchfork review. I immediately loved it, and I still love it. But something
    very strange happened a few weeks later: these guys exploded. We couldn't get tickets to their show,
    their record was impossible to find, and the other night I heard them on Live 105. Seriously.
    I stopped listening to punk rock because there was a dirth of good punk music, but I think that was
    largely due to the commercialization of the genre. I sure hope that doesn't happen again.

    Anyways, as for the record and its merits. What can I say that every other review
    hasn't said already? It's fantastic: dark, yet uplifting; haunting. The Arcade Fire have,
    for the first time since Jawbreaker, managed to be bluntly emotional without sucking ass. Bravo.

  • Blueberry Boat

    #3
    Blueberry Boat

    I guarantee you've never heard anything like The Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat. How
    often can you really say that about a record? Imagine that The Who, Gilbert & Sullivan, and
    P.J. Harvery had sex on a piano and gave birth to ADHD boy/girl twins, and you might have a concept of what
    this record sounds like. Even more impressive was the show I saw them perform in November; they took
    the already frenetic, rambling mini-operas from Blueberry Boat and Gallowbird's Park

    and diced them up, threw them in a bowl, and pulled out one continuous forty-five minute set.
    Absolutely incredible.

  • The Tain EP

    #2
    The Tain EP

    Normally, EPs are exempt from these lists, but I've made a special exception for The Tain.
    It's that good. The EP is one eighteen minute song in five movements, the narrative of which is loosely
    based on the Irish epic poem Tain Bo Cuailinge. But nevermind all that; I didn't know that the
    first fifty or so times I listened to this record. Admittedly, combine Colin Meloy's knack for ethereal witticisms
    with Celtic mythology and you know you're in for a ride; but what makes the Tain great is the sweeping arc it
    takes. It's all about the arrangement here: stolen metal riffs are transplanted via acoustic guitar into the
    image-rich world of the Decemberists with violins and accordions blazing. It just doesn't get much
    better than part V of this record; the song reaches its crescendo as chorus backing vocals and organs
    support Meloy's repeating lyric, “But hush now darling don't you cry / your reward's in the sweet bye-and-bye”.

  • Inches

    #1
    Inches

    This year, choosing my number one record was not a difficult descision. Having heard The
    Cat and the Cobra
    and Go Forth, I had mentally relegated Les Savy Fav to another
    uninspiring post-punk Modest Mouse clone (and I don't even like Modest Mouse). Never has a single
    record so quickly changed my opinion about a band. I had heard all about Tim Harrington: his
    grizzled, portly appearance; his penchant for shennanigans and stage theatrics; previously, I had
    been unimpressed. Within the first fifteen minutes of Inches, I was ready to have his baby.
    This record is undoubtably a masterpiece.

    First, the concept. Inches is a compilation of nine seven-inch records released by Les
    Savy Fav over the past seven years, each on a different independent label, and each containing two
    songs (an A-side and B-side cut). As this final compilation was planned at the beginning of the
    project, the covers of the aforementioned seven-inches are puzzle piece that – when placed together
    – form the cover of the CD release. These songs, the best in the Les Savy Fav catalog, were
    intentionally held back from previous Les Savy Fav albums and saved for Inches. This
    confined Les Savy Fav to mediocrity for the past few years but let them release the best record of 2004.

    What makes these songs so superior to Les Savy Fav's previous releases is the catchiness at their
    core. The story behind Inches is symobolic in that respect; Les Savy Fav has managed to do
    with Inches what Pretty Girls Make Graves always does so well: take their fury and frenzy
    and mold them into cohesive tunes that you will be stuck in your head for hours.

Well, that’s what I got. All in all, it was a pretty good year. Then again, thinking back to last years list, I think 2003 was probably better (for music, at least). But hey, you can’t win em all. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy New Year, blah blah blah, and see you in 2005!

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