steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

best of 2004
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the top 25 albums of 2004
Oh yeah.  It's time for another one of Indieville's controversially unique best-of-year lists.  This time, the emphasis is on pop music - though there are some notable exceptions.  Of course, I'll make no claim of this list being at all definitive; of the fraction of this year's musical output I was lucky enough to hear, these were simply my favourites.  So why should you pay attention to my strange and occasionally inexplicable post-annual awards ceremony?  Because I'm a music critic, bitch!  
The Orb Bicycles (Sanctuary)

The Orb's alleged farewell album wasn't nearly as bad as some critics claimed.  Distanced from the 90s classics, Bicycles & Tricycles sees Alex Paterson exploring unfamiliar territory, referencing the past but exploring the current.  Aside from straightforward electro, we get enjoyable excursions into hip-hop ("Aftermath"  featuring MC Soom T), spacey ambient ("Abstractions"), and clubby clicks + cuts ("Gee Strings").  Highlights like "The Land of Green Ginger" and "Hell's Kitchen," meanwhile, fit alongside Paterson's best.  Bicycles & Tricycles may be a surprise inclusion on this list, but it is not at all an unworthy pick.

Calliope Sounds Like Circles Feel (Thick)

Sounds Like Circles Feel is a short album, but you know a record's good when you leave it wishing it was longer.  Calliope has made an original, elegant work of music here, filled with endlessly infectious songs like "Monsters In Here" and "By The River" - but the key is in the atmosphere, which is relaxed and warm throughout.  Put simply, Sounds is the type of record that makes you appreciate life.

Badly Drawn Boy One Plus One Is One (Astralwerks)

When are people going to understand: every album doesn't have to be as good as The Hour of Bewilderbeast.  When an record is filled with lively, enjoyable songs such as these, it's hard not to enjoy the ride.  The title-track and the unsettling "Life Turned Upside Down" rank among the album's highlights, while the ridiculously catchy "Year of the Rat" is up there with Gough's best work.  Without a doubt, this is one of 2004's greater pop successes.

Je m'appelle Mads Musculature de Pomfrit (Jenka Music)

Aside from boasting some of the most obscene linter notes I've ever come across (along with some...bizarre cover art), Musculature de Pomfrit turned out to be an absolutely incredible collection of toy techno.  Je m'appelle Mads composes synthy, videogame-influenced electronic songs (think Plone, but less childish).  Contained within the continuously entertaining (and amusing) jumble are such masterpieces as "Hey DJ Jens" (including its intro) and "Ględen ved forbrug."  In a world where electronic music is becoming more and more pretentious, you've got to love a guy who creates an album full of melodic play-techno and slaps a stranger with his dick hanging out on the inside cover. 

Tears in X-Ray Eyes Wondefully Made (Chocolate Hearts)

Sometimes a good pop album just comes out of nowhere and takes the cake.  Wonderfully Made may not have been a high-budget, heavily-promoted affair, but it ranks among 2004's most touchingly melodic records.  In just eight songs, Tears' main man Tim Closs creates a pretty, memorable collection of music that's designed for all of life's aspects - happiness, melancholy, relaxedness... I'd like to see the person who can resist a moving pop song like "In These Arms."  Yeah.  That's right.  Exactly.

Black Lips! We Did Not Know The Forest Spirit Made The Flowers Grow (Bomp!)

Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.  With production values just as low as they need to be, and an attitude that puts The White Stripes to shame, We Did Not Know is easily this year's most satisfying garage rock record.  Black Lips! take old 60s/70s concepts and then "adjust" them to give off a more modern, lo-fi flare.  Look no further than the psych-era guitar line of "Juvenile" or the Strawberry Alarm Clock keyboards of "Notown Blues."  And if you're seeking this year's garage rawk single of the year, the brooding, instantly memorable "Ghetto Cross" will certainly suffice.  Thank you, Bomp!

The Polyphonic Spree Together We're Heavy (Hollywood)

I never really paid that much attention to The Polyphonic Spree prior to Together We're Heavy, but if this album is any indication, there's hope that - maybe, one day - I'll check out the band's back catalogue.  Until then, however, I'll be satisfied with these ten songs.  The group's uniquely layered pop formula, based on complex arrangements and a curious fascination with vocal harmonies, makes for good listening - particularly on overtly melodic tunes like "Hold Me Now" and "Two Thousand Places."  For a devoted popster such as myself, a unique record like this is always a good thing. 

Einstürzende Neubauten Perpetuum Mobile (Mute)

I'm not sure what prompted the majority to ignore Perpetuum Mobile, but its gradual, moody sound isn't one that deserves to be panned.  Restrained like Silence Is Sexy, but with a bit more of the band's signature abrasion, this releases manages both accessibility and that familiar Neubauten punch.  As a result, even though I'm not the biggest fan of the band, this is a record I'm glad to have in my collection.

Sandy Dillon Nobody's Sweetheart (One Little Indian)

Nobody's is a very mature pop album; Dillon's atmospheric style (led by her unique, classy singing) probably fits best in the "adult alternative" genre, alongside Hooverphonic and (to a lesser extent) PJ Harvey.  This is noir-esque, elegant music - perfectly catchy, but with mood as a major weapon.  Among the album's track listing, there are a number of highlights - most of which adopt a laidback, contemporary sound.  Don't be fooled, however - for an "adult" record, this is pretty universally accessible.

This Bank Holiday Home Time Is Safe Time (Asaurus)

2004 was a good year for CDR releases.  Though only two burned albums made it on to this list, there were many that just escaped the honourable mentions category by a hair.  Regardless, This Bank Holiday provides hope for a whole musical underworld under the radar of the mass-manufacturers.  Asaurus' in-house act has crafted (yes, literally crafted) a collection of eleven lo-fi songs heavy in unusual melodies and intriguing recording effects.  "Even in the Future Nothing Works" and "Whitney Wants to See the Receipts" are surefire basement classics, the type of songs that people will spend years hunting after Matt Baringer becomes a Smog-like lo-fi personality.

Steffen Basho-Junghans 7Books (Strange Attractors Audio House)

Sometimes relaxing, sometimes eerily detached, 7Books is the final chapter in Basho-Junghans' series of interrelated 'acoustic guitar exploration albums.'  Here he's released another gem, serenading the listener with his Fahey-esque brand of plucking and strumming.  The first disc in this double-CD set sees him on familiar ground, though the second CD houses some intriguing slide guitar compositions.  While this doesn't quite live up to his classic Inside, anyone who can appreciate the work of Robbie Basho and John Fahey would do well to give 7Books a try. 

Tears For Fears Everybody Loves A Happy Ending (NewDoor)

After their last comeback disaster, no one expected much from Tears For ' latest release.  As a result, few people even paid notice to its quiet, mid-year release.  But - perhaps as a surprise to the majority - Everybody Loves a Happy Ending ended up being a real winner, filled with infectious, radio-friendly, and deceptively elaborate pop songs.  Distanced from their synthy background, the band has adopted a Beatles-influenced sound that really does the trick; as a result, this disc achieved moderate sales success, and also enjoyed a couple of successful radio singles.  With a consistently solid group of songs such as these, it isn't hard to understand why...

Neko Case The Tigers Have Spoken (Mint)

Neko's latest may be a live album, and it may be short on original material (most of these songs are covers), but its remarkable cohesiveness and infinite listenability make it a solid pick for this list.  Even on covers like "Soulful Shade of Blue" and "Wayfaring Stranger", Case manages to impress - her grand, unique vocals flow seamlessly, and the alternately raunchy and touching instrumentation will have your mind spinning.  Meanwhile, originals like "Favorite" and the title-track never fail to impress.  For alt country fans and music lovers alike, The Tigers Have Spoken is a winner from start to finish.

Carolyn Mark and The New Best Friends The Pros and Cons of Collaboration (Mint)

The Pros and Cons of Collaboration is the most satisfying alt country album I've heard all year.  Carolyn Mark has created a frequently funny, always enjoyable record that keeps the fun alive from track one to track twelve.  Tavern-rocker "2 Days Smug and Sober" is the disc's best moment (gotta love lines like "More in love with this cigarette than I'll ever be with you"), but "Hangover" and the clever "Wine Song" (see a trend here?) also warrant repeated listens.  The songs here all tell stories, which adds another element to the music, but this doesn't detract from the music's melodic nature.  If you can dig a little country music, this will win you over in no time.

Guitar Wolf Loverock (Narnack)

Hey, nobody wants to be number eleven.  It's just one spot out of top ten.  But with that said, things being as close as they are on this list, eleven ain't such a bad place to be.  Guitar Wolf represents this list's Japanese contingent, and Loverock is an album that rocked like no other in 2004.  This seventeen song romp is a chaotic, explosive record that will have you dizzy with adrenaline.  It may not be the most melodic disc, but there's enough rock power here to make up for any pop-hook deficiencies.  If you can handle it, Loverock makes for this year's most satisfyingly insane adventure.

Ahleuchatistas The Same and the Other (Noreaster Failed Industries)

For a 28 minute album to nab the tail-end of the year's top ten is a surprising feat.  But complex math-rock as exciting and powerful as this deserves recognition, and if it weren't for the genre's notoriety, Ahleuchatistas could be the next big thing.  This isn't convolution for its own sake; alarmingly accessible moments like "lee kyan hae" and "rpg3" can clarify that.  I encourage everyone to go out and find The Same and the Other; very rarely will you get to hear instrumental math-rock done this well.

Inouk No Danger (Say Hey)

I don't know what the deal is with Inouk, but they just seemed to come from nowhere this year, rocking out with a unique but effective formula.  No Danger is a crisp chunk of epic indie rock, alternating between powerful rock and more restrained pop and folk.  Each song is melodically memorable, from the wonderful chorus of "Elected" to "Island" and its warm, positive feel.  For one of this year's best indie rock debuts, look no further.

Chad King Love Your Engine (Keep)

Not only is Love Your Engine our top CDR album of 2004, but it was also a release limited to 50 copies.  How's that for obscurity?  Alternately depressed and cheery, this is a lovely, unfailingly catchy folk-pop disc.  Chad King deserves a lot more attention than he's getting - few songwriters have his effortless talent for maturely melodic folk music.  Just listen to the hauntingly peaceful march of "Tonight With Lines," or the uplifting tenderness of "Lucky Man."  Though limited to 50, this album belongs in the collections of thousands.

thebrotherkite Self-titled (Clairecords)

Maybe it's just me, but I can't get enough of thebrotherkite's self-titled album.  As I listen to it more and more, it just seems to get better and better.  A triumphant, climactic noise-rock album, this record has an epic quality to it, blasting melodies through hazes of feedback and distortion.  The shoegazer influence is there, but the structure is more solid and rock-based.  Though only eight songs long, this will have your attention from start to finish.  Listen up, everyone - you've got to go out and find this record.

Sharks and Minnows The Cost of Living (Two Sheds)

Another surprise.  I did not expect to put The Cost of Living up here, but when it came down to my final investigation of this year's record-load, I had a hard time finding many albums I enjoyed more than this one.  Sharks and Minnows' debut is packed with more gems than I can count on two hands, including a few of my favourite songs of 2005: "Arlington #4," "Sunday Driver," and "Small Song".  This has a very clean, radio-friendly sound - which may alienate certain "too hip to be true" listeners - but it's still one of the year's most consistently entertaining and enjoyable records.  Check your pretension at the door, and just enjoy... 

Liars They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (Mute)

I'm not quite sure why I like Liars, but I just do.  And so do a lot of people.  They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is their 2004 offering, and it rocked like no other album this year.  The beats are loud and strong, the bass is riveting, and the melodies are unique and effective.  Most accessible are "We Fenced Other Houses With the Bones of Our Own" and "Flow My Tears The Spider Said," but it's the supporting cast of jerky, dancey experimental rock tracks that make They Were Wrong so excellent.  Liars' album is the type of bombshell that instills confidence and energy into everyone within earshot.

The Fall The Real New Fall LP (Formerly 'Country on the Click) (Narnack)

It's a shame few people recognized The Real New Fall LP for what it is - a true comeback album.  In a year littered with return-to-form records, this one is up there among the best.  The Fall are at their original best, composing uniquely melodic rock songs that manage both compositional creativity and basic melody.  I don't know why they succeed where so many others fail, but somehow they just do... check out The Real New Fall LP immediately; it's yet another successful chapter in this band's impressive career. 

Modest Mouse Good News For People Who Love Bad News (Epic)

This one wasn't hard to predict, now was it?  Even when they aren't at their best, Modest Mouse are worthy of best-of-year honours.  "Float On" and "Ocean Breathes Salty" attained considerable mainstream success, but Good News succeeded due to its consistent quality - the record is basking in excellence, from the wonderful melodies of "Bukowski" and "Blame It On The Tetons" to the quirky brilliance of "This Devil's Workday" and "Satin in a Coffin."  This ain't their greatest (which says more about the band than it does about this record), but it should be in everyone's collections anyway.

The Organ Grab That Gun (Mint)

Grab That Gun is number two on this list for two reasons; firstly, because I enjoyed it more than almost every other album this year, and, secondly, because it's more unique than anything else on this list.  The Organ take massive cues from the eighties, but they inject the overall sound with their own pop sensibility.  Comparisons to Joy Division are inevitable, but the band's organ-drenched style has its own charming originality.  The top five is a tight race this year, but this one snatches the silver because I haven't heard anything like it for quite some time.  Hear "Memorize the City" and you'll know what I'm talking about.

AC Newman The Slow Wonder (The Blue Curtain / Matador) 

The more you listen to it, the more it makes sense.  The Slow Wonder is, quite simply, this year's most satisfying album.  Pop records like this only come around once in awhile, and when one does, it's in your best interest to perk up and listen.  From the gushy, energetic melodies of "Miracle Drug" and "The Town Halo" to the touching charm of slower tunes "Drink To Me, Babe, Then" and "Come Crash," The Slow Wonder never misses a beat.  Choosing such an overt pop record as this year's number one may be a risk, but I'm willing to bet - after some time's distance - it's what I'll remember most out of 2004's panoply of sounds.

honourable mentions
Coffin Lids Rock'n'roll (Bomp!) because it's so dang exciting.

DJ Jester and Quad Rod Table For One (Feverpitch) because it's one of the most wonderfully enjoyable (alternately funny and touching) turntable records to come out in quite some time.

The Envy Corps Soviet Reunion (Bi-fi) because, despite the ripping off of Radiohead, you just want to listen to it over and over again.

Floorian What the Buzzing (The Committee to Keep Music Evil) because psychedelic drone rock is rarely so exciting or catchy.

The Invisible Cities Watertown (Noisyfrog) because you won't be able to get it out of your head (or stereo) for weeks on end.

Glenn Jones This is the Wind That Blows It Out (Strange Attractors Audio House) because, for an acoustic instrumental folk album, it's as listenable as can be imagined.

Schooner You Forget About Your Heart (Pox World Empire) because it has some of the catchiest songs of the year on it.

neat finds
As is always the case, this year had its fair share of one-of-a-kind gems to uncover.  We start with Gelbart's Four Track Improvisations (Defekt Records), a collection of short, bleepy electronic ditties out of Israel.  Boasting 32 tracks in 42 minutes, it's perfect for those suffering from short attention spans and melodic amnesia.  John Wayne Shot Me's Let Sleeping Monsters Sleep (62TV Records), meanwhile, contained a similarly cute collection of keyboard-heavy indie pop cover songs - included were adorably unusual versions of Napalm Death's "Common Enemy" and Destiny's Child's "Survivor."  Meanwhile, Jesse Krakow's Oceans in the Sun (Public Eyesore) investigated the outer boundaries of melodic music, confronting the listener with a lengthy list of lo-fi weirdo-pop tunes - most of them brandishing obscurely ridiculous lyrics and curious song structures.

Another great discovery in 2004 was Autres Directions in Music, a French electronica label with all of its releases available for free online.  You can explore their mp3 archives here.  On the electronic vein, we also have UK-based label Fflint Central, who put out a couple of characteristically dark experimental ambient CDR albums this year - Cavendish Sanguine's Strange Alloys, Rare Earths and Pendro's Portals.  Both are worth a shot if you can dig unconventionally creepy electronic music.


Funniest Band Name: Smashed Femur Dance Party

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