2004 was the first year I ever made a year-end list. Though my knowledge of all things music has grown exponentially since then, my twelve-year old self (with the help of my dad) bought some darn good records that year, records that I still listen to with frequency. I wasn't able to discern any real trends seeing as that year was my introduction to "freak folk," "dance-punk," "grime," etc. I was so overwhelmed by all the new music I was hearing that I was unable to define most of it. Whatever. It's all really good! And hopefully you'll be able to find some things you've never heard, whether that means Brian Wilson or Peter Brotzmann. Enjoy.
1. Animal Collective--Sung Tongs
My introduction to Animal Collective. And what an introduction it was. Sung Tongs is folk and avant-garde, acoustic and electronic, beautiful and chaotic. It's personal in a way that none of their other records (and few records period) are, and it's a pleasure to listen to even after innumerable spins. Using scrappy guitar samples and mostly unintelligible vocals has proved to be the best way to make an album.
2. The Fiery Furnaces--Blueberry Boat
They're from Chicago! (Well, Oak Park.) Besides that, this is one of the most refreshingly bizarre albums in recent memory. The storytelling is the best and weirdest this side of Tom Waits, and the music is schizophrenically ridiculous in the best possible way. Parts of it give me headaches (good ones, though) and parts give me goosebumps (good ones, too). It's controversial, but, at the very least, it's surely the most memorable listen of the year.
3. Devendra Banhart--Rejoicing In The Hands
This is one of those "few records period" that shares the stark beauty and personal feeling of Sung Tongs. Devendra's voice wavers through its sixteen tracks (the first seven of which are some of the best songs of the decade), both haunting and enchanting the listener (or at least me). The guitar playing is intricate and yet approachable, and it's always stunning. I hate to compare anything to Pink Moon, but this is my favorite folk album since.
4. The Arcade Fire--Funeral
I've mentioned that I dislike the term indie rock, because, well, what the hell is "indie" any more? Well, Funeral is indie rock, whatever that means. And, despite the stupid genre name, this album is amazing. The songs are epic; they rise and fall beautifully and hectically above a mass of accordions and shouting vocals. It's original even though it sounds like other things. It's because it sounds like a better version of all those "other things."
5. Brian Wilson--SMiLE
There was roughly 35 years of hype on this one. Take that Grizzly Bear! Anyways, SMiLE's songs were written in the 60s, but they're still fresh. The last four decades have brought countless Brian Wilson imitators, but SMiLE proves that no one is as good. When this album came out, the Brian Wilson I knew sang "Surfin USA," and this blew my mind. Plus, the vocals on "Heroes and Villains" never fail to give me goosebumps.
I wasn't into hip-hop at all when I first heard this, but I liked this. It may have been the cartoonish samples and seemingly nonsensical lyrics (it definitely was), but I fell in love with MF Doom's rhymes over Madlib's beats. I realize that this is the stereotypical white-guy record geek hip-hop album to like, but it's a truly smart, interesting, and revolutionary hip-hop joint.
7. Sonic Youth--Sonic Nurse
I love Sonic Youth. If I were to pick a favorite band, they would definitely be one of the first to pop in my mind. An average Sonic Youth album is a treat. And that's what Sonic Nurse is. It takes some of the momentum from (the superior) Murray Street and channels it into more straightforward, but still wonderfully noisy, songs. It's not their best, but it's great.
8. The Streets--A Grand Don't Come For Free
Of course I was drawn to "Fit But You Know It" because, well, it's hilarious. But then I listened to the rest of the album and found a smart story told by some white British guy (who knew Brits rapped?) laid over the freshest beats I had heard in a while. (To be fair, I heard this before Madvillainy.) Mike Skinners lyrics are hilarious on songs besides "Fit," but the man can be sensitive, too. It's not Original Pirate Material, but it's a captivating listen nonetheless.
9. The Go! Team--Thunder, Lightning, Strike
All these hoity-toity record critics like their music serious. Well, The Go! Team crafted an album that is straight up fun. (As in the Paula Abdul song. It's that fun.) It's original, combining different novelty sounds of the 70s with cheerleader yelping and some electronics. I tend not to know what they're saying, but I don't care. I sing along anyways. I thought it may not have lasting power, but, as of yesterday, it's still good.
10. Junior Boys--Last Exit
Last Exit is an album full of really cool dance songs that you don't want to dance to. (Or at least I don't. Then again, I'm white and Jewish; these are two qualities that preclude dancing.) Anyhow, this album is sophisticated and interesting and perfect to throw on after you leave the clubs. (Not that I've ever been to "the clubs".) It's hard to talk about because it's just synth-pop, but it's brilliantly executed synth-pop, so that's why it's good.
11. TV On The Radio--Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
Though this is kind of a stepping stone to Return To Cookie Mountain, it's a great album in its own right. Desperate Youth is apocalyptic but still warm, and it was totally Brooklyn before Brooklyn was Brooklyn. Its spacey, funky, dissonant rock was totally different from anything else I was listening to at the time, which attracted me to it. That, and of course "Staring At The Sun."
12. Dirty Projectors--Slaves' Graves & Ballads
This isn't your little brother's Dirty Projectors. Dave Longstreth shows why he went to Yale as he crafts bizarre experimental pop suite after bizarre experimental pop suite. His voice and guitar work are unmistakable, original, and, if I may say so, completely awesome. It might not be Bitte Orca good, but it's close, and it's certainly worth listening to.
13. Modest Mouse--Good News For People Who Love Bad News
I got this album before all others on this list, and were it not for this one, I may not have gotten the rest of them. I, of course, was turned on by "Float On," but I soon found a whole album chock full of gloriously twisted hooks. This album turned me on to Modest Mouse, which I am eternally thankful for, and it probably saved me from an eternity of listening to Green Day, etc.
14. Ghostface Killah--The Pretty Toney Album
Ghostface can spit, no doubt about it. (That rhymed. See that?) Got that out of the way. Pretty Toney shows that Ghostface can churn out thousands of smart, ridiculous lines thousands of times better than the one I wrote. He's confident without being obnoxious and dirty without being...obnoxious, again. Since going solo, Ghostface has become one of the most powerful, smart, and consistent MCs around.
Mastodon does seem to be the Madvillain of metal (rock critics and indie nerds like them and only them. Well, Boris, too), but I don't care. Leviathan is a heavy, (blood and) thundering triumph. It's full of beautifully sludgy riffs and not obnoxiously heavy vocals. It may be based on around the metal cliche of the ocean, but it approaches the theme in a smart way that doesn't feel stupid. It just feels sludgy and cool.
And roundin' out the top 30...
16. Eagles of Death Metal--Peace Love Death Metal
17. Dizzee Rascal--Showtime
18. Scissor Sisters--Scissor Sisters
20. Death From Above 1979--You're A Woman, I'm A Machine
21. Wolf Eyes--Burned Mind
22. Peter Brotzmann--Brotzmann Clarinet Projects: Berlin Djungle
23. Loretta Lynn--Van Lear Rose
24. De La Soul--The Grind Date
25. Chromeo--She's In Control
26. Danger Mouse--The Grey Album
27. The Kills--No Wow
28. Kings of Convenience--Riot On An Empty Street
30. The Polyphonic Spree--Together We're Heavy
That's what I think. Tell me what you think!