Features | Lists

Top 50 Albums 2004

By The Staff

40 :: Mclusky

The Difference Between You And Me Is I'm Not On Fire

(Too Pure)

The Difference Between You And Me Is I’m Not On Fire is much more an album of extremes than Mclusky Do Dallas. When they take on a unabashed pop hook with “She Will Only Bring You Happiness,” they go all out, even tossing in a harmonized vocal coda. When they return to distorted-to-the-point-of-almost-disintingrating rock on album highlight “Falco vs the Young Canoeist,” the results are similarly over the top and remarkable. Most significant, though, is the record’s focus on more developed structures and the use of atmosphere and space; in doing so, it ends up being more of a complete being, even with its faults, with less of a focus on a few really obvious singles, which had carried the weaker moments of their last two records.

Scott Reid

39 :: Kings of Leon

Aha Shake Heartbreak

(RCA)

How come Aha Shake Heartbreak is not only much better than Youth and Young Manhood, but arguably one of better albums to be released this year? The tunes no longer always opt for the simplest path between A and B; a good deal of these songs don’t even have proper choruses; and the obligatory AOR guitar solos that cropped up on nearly every Youth track are now used with far more economy. The rail-thin, mustachioed boys of Youth have seemingly evolved into an actual band capable of writing a good album drawing from influences other than ’70s rock radio; with shorter, tighter songs far more reminiscent of ’80s post-punk than Southern AOR, Aha Shake Heartbreak can only be considered a pleasant surprise.

David M. Goldstein

38 :: Dizzee Rascal

Showtime

(XL)

Whether Showtime will vault Dizzee to rightful superstardom is naturally mere cause for speculation. It’s not a question of deserving it; this is his second high-caliber, high-impact release within as many years. But his fans may hope that the sense of second-tier-dom which pains their favorite London hip-hop prophet lingers a bit. Because as long as Rascal still feels like he’s got something to prove, as he obviously feels on Showtime, the harder he’ll try to make his mark, and the more tricks he’ll pull out of his appreciably deep bag. After all, he’s not about to get lazy—we can be sure he feels big enough to take Jay-Z’s abdicated throne. Hey, Napoleon was only 5’4”, and he didn’t have too much trouble making an empire for himself, now did he?

Amir Nezar

37 :: Morrissey

You Are the Quarry

(Attack)

His endurance and persistence in the music industry should be widely noted, and having just turned 45 years old, Morrissey still sounds at the top of his game. Most artists who leave a band and start a solo career never seem to find success on their own (Billy Corgan being an extremely recent example), but with Morrissey’s mid-life crisis approaching he has put his tumultuous past behind him and recorded one of his most straight-forwardly personal albums to date. That it also stands amongst some of his best speaks as loudly for his talent as it does for his future in music, answering the question of “will Moz ever become irrelevent” with a confident “not anytime soon.”

Garin Pirnia

36 :: New Buffalo

Last Beautiful Day

(Dot-Dash)

When you consider the number of electronic acts that we’re all generally getting sick of, a unique and incredibly catchy, intelligent, delicate and altogether new take on this realm is by nature an exhilarating experience. The fact that it’s smothered in melted hope, affection and charm just rounds out the package. The Last Beautiful Day is a testament to how the DIY ethic can result in boundary-breaking creativity when employed by an adept production decision-maker who also happens to have an endearingly on-point voice.

Aaron Newell

35 :: Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand

(Domino)

Practically every song on Franz Ferdinand is tightly wound, chorus heavy, and contains enough Kim Deal basslines and hi-hat action for ten years’ worth of DFA remixes. Essentially more of the good shit that made last year’s Darts of Pleasure EP so appealing, and tailor made for drunken singalongs and embarrassing displays of pogoing. Even without large amounts of variety, it’s an excellent debut from a charismatic band that deserves to light up indie-discos across the country; even more impressive, it’s only taken Franz Ferdinand a single record to achieve their considerably noble pursuit of “making music for girls to dance to.”

David M. Goldstein

34 :: Loretta Lynn

Van Lear Rose

(Interscope)

From the pleading rockabilly march of “Have Mercy” to the reverent folk hymn of “God Makes No Mistakes,” Loretta’s songwriting quill never scratches over the course of the first album where she penned all the songs, and her matured vision holds far more vitality in its conception and execution than the cheap beer, crocodile tear brine offered by today’s young country contemporaries. White’s arrangements and production are simple and effective, and The Do-Whaters do just what is needed to accompany the coal-miner’s daughter; any and all instrumentation is applied deftly and organically to make no statements, just good music. It’s an album completely foreign to a world of pretension.

Chet Betz

33 :: Isis

Panopticon

(Ipecac)

Considering that the band’s previous effort, 2002’s Oceanic, was also quite the cross-over success, it could be a surprise that Panopticon is actually more slickly produced, featuring melodies higher in the mix and Aaron Turner’s growling vocals buried just a tad more than last time (there’s less of a focus on vocals in general, and no guest stars this time, either). The result is a surprisingly mellow album, at least compared to the earth-rending dirges of Oceanic; to put it another way, where Oceanic was an avalanche, this is more of a blizzard. All told, Panoptican is without doubt one of the year’s best albums, and should cement Isis’s status as one of the most important bands going, period.

Sean Ford

32 :: Namelessnumberheadman

Your Voice Repeating

(Record Machine)

There is a rich, warm quality to Your Voice Repeating that feels somehow relaxed and out of time, effortlessly conjuring the vast, empty plains and rich, star-filled skies of the American Midwest from which they hail, Namelessnumberheadman have crafted an album that defies the normal genre pigeon holing we’re all comfortable with. It’s an album loaded with piano, glitches, loops, acoustic guitar and electric guitar, pedal steel and many, many keyboards used to create elegiac, soaring hymns full of wonder and diffuse electricity.

Sean Ford

31 :: Bjork

Medúlla

(Elektra)

With her fifth solo effort, Icelandic darling Björk has created an album composed almost wholly of vocal sound. Manipulating human noise through the electronic prowess of such dicers as Matmos, Mark Bell, and Mike “Spike” Stent, Björk is collecting the stuff of souls in jars of clay; the human condition is a viscous sludge, she says, an Ink as primal as the excited squirts of jellyfish, older than “democracy” or “freedom” or even “God.” There is compromise in crafting an album from vocals, however; Medúlla has fantastic parts, from crisp beatbox percussion to jarring gutturals, but the sum of its appendages is a fractured LP, compelling and convincing in its intent, but just plain less satisfying than Vespertine or Post.

Dom Sinacola