Top 50 Albums 2004
By The Staff
50 :: Secret Machines
Now Here Is Nowhere
In an alternate timeline that failed to come to fruition, they made their magnum opus under the tutelage of Fridmann. The album that U2 didn’t make when they made Pop has found its way into Nowhere Land. Grandaddy’s inferior sequel to “Underneath the Weeping Willow” survives mostly intact as “The Leaves Are Gone.” The Flaming Lips released an EP of material between The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi that no one will hear, but part of it lives on in Nowhere Land. Forgotten Mercury Rev and Sparklehorse B-sides flit in the air above. The river’s made of tears that Pink Floyd never cried. Surrounded by the wraiths of potential pop-rock minutes and seconds, the Secret Machines plug into their power source and inhale ghouls like Ghostbusters.
49 :: Minus Story
The Captain is Dead Let the Drum Corpse Dance
Shifting between subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) psychedelia, Neutral Milk Hotel-ish folk-pop and noisy art-rock, the four piece—one of several bands stepping into the rather large space left open by E6’s slow dissipation—have given us their first great work with The Captain Is Dead, Let The Drum Corpse Dance. A short disc (only 36 minutes in length), it doesn’t overstay its welcome or go on into experimental excess; it takes off in a few intriguing directions and feels complete without needing an hour to figure things out.
48 :: Les Savy Fav
Les Savy Fav put together an assortment of songs that they had always intended to be assorted, and the results are akin to a box of chocolates filled with illegal substances. You never know what you’re going to get…well, besides a trip. Inches stomps along like the Godzilla of wacky art-punk, terrorizing every bespectacled little hipster out of the cities and into the Atlantic. It’s hard to know what to do other than point and gasp.
47 :: Telephone Jim Jesus
A Point Too Far to Astronaut
How you’ll probably approach this record if you’re like me: “Jesus, do we really need a spin-off act from a spin-off act from a counterculture collective? It’s like pretense cubed.” But with A Point Too Far To Astronaut…, Telephone Jim Jesus further turns the tables on anyone who took a doubter’s approach to second and third-generation Anticonners. He effectively deconstructs any skeptic’s pretense: Astronaut is such a tactful and delicate instrumental electronica record that I feel I should apologize for the past three years of cynicism.
46 :: Ghostface
The Pretty Toney Album
Ghostface dropped the “Killah,” but he’s still the hard soul music dealer for the new streets. His latest sell suffers from the Achilles’ heel of most hip-hop, messy excess, but The Pretty Toney Album stands strong on its feet, nonetheless. At least the skits feature some musical elements and rhymes, and only a few songs threaten the album’s consistency. Ghostface’s heart of fire shows no signs of cooling.
45 :: Destroyer
Your Blues is another impressive Destroyer album that attempts to circumvent Bejar’s highly distinctive voice and writing style by adding more superfluous elements that have been slowly building since City of Daughters. If you don’t have a soft spot for heavy MIDI cheese or Legend of Zelda soundtracks, you may not be thrilled with where these songs reside, but it’s hard to deny that many of them are a strong throwback to his Streethawk-style writing.
44 :: Darren Hanlon
I should be able to discuss an album highlight of the use of basement-treasure instrumentation, but the entire album is near-perfectly arranged, the playing is fantastic with tactful start-stops and well-timed flourishes. Listener focus will rarely deviate from Hanlon’s engaging personality, but will have a playground of sounds to move to when the odd lyric proves a little too novel (perhaps, maybe, twice on the entire recording, given a listener who revels in oddball imagery and sweet, charming poetics). But to be fair: each song on this record is witty, warm, and strikingly original despite operating firmly within the burgeoning tradition set by the best contemporary indie rock. To choose a highlight is like picking a favourite Tim Tam: you’re always wrong, but you’re always right.
43 :: Rogue Wave
Out of the Shadow
So, how could a group that borrows so much from other groups actually have anything new or worthwhile to bring to the table? Well, I don’t know about “new,” but they do spend a lot of time on Shadow making sure the three- and four-chord progressions most of the tracks are centered around have an intriguing, layered production (take the instrumentation shifts on “Nourishment Nation,” for instance, or the MBV-meets-E6 bridge of “Endgame”) to give them some weight. The real key to Shadow‘s success, however, lays in the group’s ability to pare down their music to the heart of Zach’s deceptively simple songwriting, careful to never over-embellish or drag things out.
42 :: Wilco
A Ghost Is Born
Why I love this record: its missteps, its over-indulgences, every small mistake that a more cynical man than me would pick out—all of these things, along with gorgeous melody and lovely hurt, form the big, expansive, breaking and healing heart of a man who suffers the same struggles and questions that you or I suffer. That he (along with his band, of course) can make such an uncompromising album so laden with letdown and triumph, and at the same time save it from falling into vague self-pity, is rare and wonderful. And it’s got me cheering along to its indefatigable beauty, even as it breaks my heart and makes me cry. As far as I’m concerned, fuck the mistakes or missteps; when it comes down to it, that core is what Great Albums are made of.
41 :: Illogic
Let’s get blunt. Celestial Clockwork is one of the most consistent, cohesive and lyrically brilliant hip-hop albums to come along in the past five years. Its individual tracks stand toe to toe with the best of Sage Francis’ Personal Journals as a testament to hip-hop as an exciting medium for emotional, introspective poetry. It has virtually no filler, it’s impeccably sequenced, the beats are ill and varied, and Illogic spills his celestial gift tirelessly on the mic. Perhaps Illogic and Blueprint don’t try to break much new ground, but they succeed where many others have failed: they’ve created an accessible yet artful, intellectual yet spiritual, hip-hop masterpiece.