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Critic: Erik Hage

Best of 2004

1. American Music Club

Love Songs for Patriots

A reunion overshadowed by the Pixies, but no less significant. The kind of terrible, unflinching, gauzy beauty that could only come from Mark Eitzel and co.

2. Hem

Eveningland

Strangely timeless and warranting comparisons to everything from Bacharach to the Velvet Underground to classic Disney tunes to Appalachia, this is an album so beautiful it takes your breath away by degrees.

3. The Arcade Fire

Funeral

A lot of artists are making nods to New Order and the Cure lately, but this incredible Montreal outfit only use that as a starting point, transmuting their influences into a turbulent, grandiose, precocious and utterly original album.

4. Matthew Sweet

Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu

Sweet released two albums this year, but this dynamic burst of guitar-fueled power pop (intended as a love letter to his Japanese fans and recorded in his home studio) is the better of the two—and his best since 1991’s Girlfriend.

5. David Kilgour

Frozen Orange

Kilgour, from lo-fi New Zealanders the Clean, released an album full of oddball prettiness, chiming guitars and melodic euphoria.

6. Richard Buckner

Dents and Shells

Buckner keeps plugging away—and here he returns to the quality of his ’90s work. He’s a little more lyrically obtuse, but the songs are sharp and pretty and dotted with affecting little touches, such as minimal piano figures (a la John Cale) and some stropping drums by Butthole Surfer King Coffey.

7. Tragically Hip

In Between Revolution

The single “Vaccination Scar” is a blistering statement—not a return to form, but rather a pronouncement that they’ve never gone away. This Canadian juggernaut is shamefully underestimated in our country.

8. Iron & Wine

Our Endless Numbered Days

Like Nick Drake on a Southern Gothic trip, Florida film professor Sam Beam has turned out another cryptically beautiful, stripped-down effort.

9. Loretta Lynn

Van Lear Rose

I never bought the White Stripes (that horrendous drumming), but Jack White’s alliance with Loretta Lynn puts all of those MTV-melodrama albums by Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin to shame. Lynn is one of the great songwriters of the past 30 years.

10. The Killers

Hot Fuss

“Somebody Told Me” was the most fun single of the year, winning over dance clubbers and alt-rockers alike with its cheeky, youthful update on New Order.

Critic: Carlo Wolff

Best of 2004

1. Green Day

American Idiot

The title track blasts like the Who’s “I Can See for Miles” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and the album hangs together tough and tuneful. Who woulda thunk these SoCal surfer punks would craft a disk so polished and political? Green Day lent its talents to John Kerry. Too bad he didn’t transmit similar energy.

2. The Dittybops

The Dittybops

Angelenos Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett on vocals and guitar and mandolin craft extraterrestrial flapper music. “Walk or Ride,” “Pale Yellow” and “Ooh La La” bespeak a surreal, beguiling sensibility that gives a deliciously creepy feeling. A Mitchell Froom production.

3. Brian Wilson

Smile

For the closure alone, the arrangements and Van Dyke Parks’ inspired, weird lyrics. Decades after Wilson lost his mind, he’s glued himself together enough to craft the best pop album of 1966. Never has time caught up with itself so rewardingly.

4. Eminem

Encore

Marshall Mathers is a man of many voices and strong focus here, and he’s writing better than ever. “Yellow Brick Road” is the last word on high school, “Rain Man” is deliciously arch, “Mosh” is a fantastic anti-Bush song (and video—too bad it was so late in the campaign) and Dr. Dre’s beats are his best since The Chronic.

5. Steve Bernstein

Diaspora Hollywood

Sex Mob leader-trumpeter Bernstein and X alumnus DJ Bonebrake power an eccentric quintet melding Hebraic melodies and the sharkskin cool of ’50s West Coast bebop. This is one of the best from John Zorn’s Jewish mystical jazz label.

6. Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand

These cheeky Scotsmen are everything Oasis ever wanted to be and more. They bang the tunes out one after another, the playing’s tight, the energy never flags. “Jacqueline,” “Take Me Out” and “Cheating on You” snap more than others, but professionalism and joy carry all the tunes.

7. George Michael

Patience

Patience spans the great dance cut “Amazing” and the rueful, autobiographical “My Mother Had a Brother.” His first album in eight years proves Michael is still a great singer.

8. Madeleine Peyroux

Careless Love

Move over, Norah Jones. Peyroux’s first disk in eight years only deepens her mystery: How does such a modest woman express such complex emotions? The writers help: Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, W.C. Handy. So does the exquisite backup, particularly keyboardist Larry Goldings, and production by Larry Klein. Don’t let this get away.

9. Tom Waits

Real Gone

Because it’s a rare Waits album. Because of songs like the infectious “Metropolitan Glide” and the waydown “Sins of the Father.” Because he’s an American original who refuses to sugarcoat or excuse.

10. Joel Harrison

So Long 2nd Street: Free Country II With David Binney

This blends traditional tunes, originals and Jimmy Webb for an unclassifiable, new hybrid. Harrison, an expressive vocalist and extraordinary guitarist, fronts a strong jazz-based group who swing and twang like nothing else.

Critic: Kirsten Ferguson

Best of 2004

1. Loretta Lynn

Van Lear Rose

For the first time in her career, Lynn wrote all the songs on an album, and these are great ones, covering a lifetime of emotion and experiences, from the joy of her rural childhood to her sadness from losing her husband. Producer Jack White plays it all perfectly, knowing when to call in the hired garage-rock guns for the rave-ups and when to keep the accompaniment as simple as a mournful pedal steel.

2. Mark Lanegan

Bubblegum

His free pass to play with Queens of the Stone Age gets attention, but Mark Lanegan earns scant recognition in the United States for his post-Screaming Trees solo work, although the intense songwriter is often lauded by the British rock cognoscenti. Lanegan is joined by PJ Harvey and his QOTSA bandmates on some of these shiver-inducing, late-night tracks. Bubblegum this is not. Nicorette, maybe.

3. Bobby Bare Jr.’s Young Criminals’ Starvation League

From the End of Your Leash

When Bobby Bare Jr. is serious on this one, singing, for instance, about an out-of control friend with a harrowing cocaine addiction, it’s heartbreaking. When he’s joking on a song like “Visit Me in Music City,” which pokes fun at his hometown of Nashville, it’s pretty heartwarming.

4. Eagles of Death Metal

Peace Love Death Metal

Singer J. Devil, who sports a red handlebar ’stash and a black leather captain’s cap, is about as campy as a straight boy gets. Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age plays drums for these self-proclaimed “boogie pirates.” Their debut, a blatant pastiche of classic rock riffs gussied up with some gaudy rockabilly flourishes, may not be for everyone. But I dug it.

5. Ted Leo + Pharmacists

Shake the Sheets

He’s an earnest guy, Ted Leo, in a good way. Shake the Sheets is full of fervent right- is-wrong politics about leaders making false excuses for war. These excitable tracks are so catchy and well-written, though, they uplift and energize rather than depress, which is exactly what we need right about now.

6. Reigning Sound

Too Much Guitar

The band weren’t kidding when they named their album. When I first heard this on my home stereo, the speakers crackled with the raw production and overamped guitar and I could barely listen. Later, when I played this on the already blown speakers in my car, the lo-fi no longer bothered me and I was able to pay attention to the great, great songs that Greg Cartwright (Memphis songwriter formerly of the Oblivions) writes. The CD stayed on repeat for days.

7. Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand

The big hit, “Take Me Out,” is a catchy little thing. For a while I dismissed the rest of the album; the Glasgow band just seem too perfect with their angular new-wave haircuts and skinny suits. Then I realized the rest of the album is just as good as the hit, and I got hooked, big time.

8. The Ponys

Laced with Romance

Recorded by famed garage producer Jim Diamond, this album by Chicago’s the Ponys has a fuzzy feel at times, courtesy of some swirling Farfisa organ and aural recorded-in-a-missile-silo echoes. That’s not to be confused with warm and fuzzy though. This is garage punk at its best: dirty, dysfunctional and vaguely menacing.

9. A.C. Newman

The Slow Wonder

Carl Newman from heralded indie band the New Pornographers has gone solo for a spell. Without marquee singer Neko Case at his side (though she does add vocals here) you might write this off as a side note. It’s actually surprisingly good, a near-perfect power-pop album, full of tremendous hooks and songs with emotional range, although wistfulness seems the primary sentiment.

10. The Briefs

Sex Objects

Alright everybody, let’s sing along with the Briefs: “I hate terror alerts, stupid jerks, land of the free, idiocy. I hate bills that are new, drinks that are blue, I hate myself, and I hate you. Destroy the U.S.A., hey hey. George started anyway, OK!”

Critic: Bill Ketzer

Best of 2004

1. Probot

Probot

Chalk one up for the goat lord.

2. Slipknot

The Subliminal Verses, Vol. 3

A curiously introspective, complex disc from one of the big guns.

3. The Wildhearts

The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed

Finally, a stateside record deal. Watch your backs.

4. Shadows Fall

The War Within

Saving heavy metal, one CD at a time.

5. Great Day for Up/Solace

Blackmarket/Hammerhead

Crushing, roiling, bruising doom. Two great tastes in one.

6. Coheed & Cambria

In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth

I threw CoCa’s first CD in the garbage and then they blast out this epic. A master stroke.

7. Chromepeeler Records

You’ve Got Your Orders, Vol. 2

A toast to Jason Zeimniak’s brazen, incorrigible strangeness.

8. The High Socks

Introducing the High Socks

The five ’o clock shadow of local rock.

9. UFO

You Are Here

Hard-rock fossils somehow still push the might.

10. Prince

Musicology

Say what you will. The man can play.

Critic: John Brodeur

Best of 2004

1. Modest Mouse

Good News for People Who Love Bad News

After playing the same tune for the last seven years, they finally found a way to balance their eccentricities with pop sensibilities, producing the album of their career—and the album of the year.

2. Blonde Redhead

Misery Is a Butterfly

A moving, otherworldly song cycle; as difficult to shake as this year’s flu. Also, the best album title of 2004.

3. Elvis Costello

The Delivery Man

Even on his worst day, old man MacManus is one of the greatest living composers of pop music. The Delivery Man is his best in quite some time. Do the math.

4. Ted Leo + Pharmacists

Shake the Sheets

An album to move both butts and brains. Whether discussing the politics of dancing or the dancing of politics, Leo and company have finally served up (on record) a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

5. PJ Harvey

Uh Huh Her

When Vincent Gallo appeared on the Howard Stern show a few months back, a caller thanked him for “screwing over” PJ Harvey, exclaiming, “Her new album is awesome because of you!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

6. Wilco

A Ghost is Born

Avoiding what could have been a post-Jay-Bennett bust, Jeff Tweedy reveals a brave new Wilco. Excusing the self-indulgent spots—10-plus minutes of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”?—this is a mighty fine album.

7. Kanye West

The College Dropout

From the soulful (“Through the Wire”) to the spiritual (“Jesus Walks”), the playful (“The New Workout Plan”) to the sensual (“Slow Jamz”), this album defined hiphop in 2004. A bit heavy on the skits, but anyone with a “skip” button can get around that.

8. Elliott Smith

From a Basement on the Hill

Somewhere between medicated bliss and the D.T. shakes. Elliott Smith always had the goods, and his absence will be felt for some time.

9. Fiery Furnaces

Blueberry Boat

Aphex Twin meets Kurt Weill on the set of Sesame Street. Way cool.

10. Green Day

American Idiot

A stunningly ambitious outing from a band who easily could have phoned in a platinum seller. As admirable for its failures (the nine-minute mess “Homecoming”) as its successes (almost everything else).






Critic: David Greenberger

Best of 2004

1. Brian Wilson

Smile

2. Geraint Watkins

Dial W For Watkins

3. Tom Waits

Real Gone

4. Morrissey

You Are the Quarry

5. Los Lobos

The Ride

6. Komeda

Kokomemedada

7. Glenn Jones

This is the Wind That Blows It Out

8. Michael Hurley

Down in Dublin

9. Robyn Hitchcock

Spooked

10. Elvis Costello

The Delivery Man

Local Recordings

Critic: Erik Hage

Best of 2004

1. Lustre Kings

That’s Showbiz

A fun romp through rockabilly and roots-rock terrain—fueled by tight, top-notch musicianship and a guest turn by Bill Kirchen.

2. Ed Gorch

Coward

Gorch gets stark and weird on this one. Not an easy listen, but a strong, barebones album that finally warrants all of those Will Oldham comparisons.

3. The Sixfifteens

Let’s Not Think About It

A little dated in terms of where the Sixfifteens are creatively at the moment, but a couple of the tracks here represent the group’s current apocalyptic, dazzling post-rock direction. Bob Carlton is a dynamo in concert.

4. Kamikaze Hearts

Foxhole Prayers EP

The Kamikaze Hearts get stronger and stronger with each passing year, and they still roll out an utterly original, uncanny flavor of Americana. The poetically charged, dynamic “Lubbock, TX” just might be the finest song to emerge from our area this year.

5. Graham Tichy

“Graham Cracker Boogie” b/w “Tomahawk Stomp”

In true retro fashion, and in deference to those fervent rockabilly fans, this is a vinyl 45. On this debut, Tichy proves himself a strong instrumental composer and a mind-blowing guitarist.

6. Brian Bassett

Nothing to Lose

I finally figured out what grabs me about Bassett: He’s in the spirit of power-pop tunesmiths from another age (Tommy Tutone, the Records). A brand of unadorned, straight-up love rock uncluttered by pretension and perfectly out-of-step with his generation.

7. The Sifters

The Sifters

Another great Americana band from our region. “Devil’s Throne” got a lot of spins in my house this spring—returning to it now it still sounds great.

8. Mitch Elrod/ CountrySoulHouse

Meltdown

This one gets my vote via a couple of top-notch songwriting efforts, the gorgeous “Lies About Your Shadow” and “Mother of Pearl.”

9. Albert Cummings

True to Yourself

Berkshires blues-rocker Cummings is still enjoying the collaborative company of Double Trouble’s Tommy Shannon, and makes a strong, soulful statement with this effort.

10. Hector on Stilts

Hector on Stilts EP

This cousins’ duo make their artistic home in Pittsfield, and produce sophisticated, powerfully melodic modern tock. The swelling, harmony driven Winterland was another favorite for me this year.

Critic: John Brodeur

Best of 2004

1. The Wasted

We Are Already in Hell

A few months back, Stephen Gaylord and I had a virtual discussion over whether this album was his Darkness on the Edge of Town (his point) or Fables of the Reconstruction (mine). Both arguments are valid. Quite good.

2. Super 400

Blast the Message

Nothing beats good, old-fashioned rock & roll, played by a group of top-notch musicians. Here’s proof.

3. Ed Gorch

Coward

A step back toward the starker, less-refined sound of the first knotworking album, and a big leap forward for some of Gorch’s finest—and most harrowing—songwriting moments.

4. Complicated Shirt

Strigine

The sound quality is just this side of terrible, but no worse than some of the early SST releases, and that fits fine with the Shirt’s angry-indie spirit. Drew Benton is one of our area’s most inventive guitarists; plus, he rhymes dulcet with bullshit. Right on.

5. Bryan Thomas

Babylon (EP)

An extended meditation on mass hysteria and childbirth. Be sure to also download the companion piece, Spy Love Box, from Thomas’ Web site.

6. Brian Bassett

Nothing to Lose

Bassett does the supersized pop-rock thing right, and with studio help from ex-Wait guy Ryan Barnum, plus a fine mix by Dave Cook, his second record just sings. (Full disclosure: I play in Bassett’s band from time to time, but I had nothing to do with this record, and that’s probably for the best.)

7. Sean Rowe

27

If you somehow managed to avoid catching this guy live this year, you at least caught his CD pumping out of the jukebox at a local tavern. You nodded your head a bit, then asked a friend if they knew who it was. In case they were unaware, it was the soul-funk machine known as Sean Rowe. So now you know.

8. The Sifters

The Sifters

Somewhere between the barroom bash and pop of Uncle Tupelo and the Band’s controlled chaos. Thankfully, they left us with this album just going on extended maternity leave. Catch them live when they return . . . sometime soon, hopefully.

9. Arc

Name the Day

On their third release, the newly stripped-down trio take the sounds of On the Beach Neil Young and Heroes Bowie, and mix in the challenging atmospherics of My Bloody Valentine and Brian Eno’s Ambient series. You gotta love it. Well, maybe you don’t, but I do.

10. The Mathematicians

Level One

It is hip to be square after all! Shtick-rock usually comes with an expiration date, but these guys have bought themselves some time by making music that will still be great fun to listen to long after their days are done.

 


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