Top 50 Albums 2004
By The Staff
30 :: The Dead Texan
The Dead Texan
Adam Wiltzie’s ethereal solo debut under the moniker the Dead Texan is not an album for everyone, but it is an album that rewards patience with some of the richest, fullest music you’re likely to find outside of the ‘classical’ section of your local record store. Wiltzie’s melancholy drenched piano, key and guitar swell-filled ode to the empty churches of consumerism and bland unconsciousness such places entail is, in short, utterly gorgeous. He displays a delicate, classical sensibility with a brilliant minimalist’s touch. His approach yields ghostly epics, piano dreams, able to lend the boredom and hopelessness of a common summer job a grandiose tinge.
29 :: Califone
Heron King Blues
I would like to shoot a film where a forest burns at thirty six frames per second. Close-ups of wide animal eyes would reflect the flames back to the camera, and this would become a building montage that suddenly cuts to a high establishing shot of a cabin in the midst of the fiery trees; the sound of the flame crackle cuts out. Music slowly rises to fill the silence and the cherry-picker camera inches downward towards the cabin window. Through the dusty glass the watcher gets a glimpse at a ragged group of men working various instruments. Their bane’s amber glow highlights their calm faces. They’re playing Heron King Blues.
28 :: Neko Case
The Tigers Have Spoken
The Tigers Have Spoken goes a long way in its attempt to portray many sides of Neko Case, and remind of us of all that makes her such a extraordinary talent. It cannot compete with an actual Case show, of course, and after Blacklisted we don’t really need to be reminded of her talent, but, hell, why not? She could release ten more of these and I’d religiously buy—and wear out—each one; Neko Case has that kind of power over her fans, and The Tigers Have Spoken has little problem explaining why.
27 :: Futureheads
(679 Recordings/Wea International)
This band has performed a theoretical feat of Hawking proportions: it has devised a fool-proof formula for the unformulaic. The listener is unrelentingly splashed with sweet harmonies, caffeinated oooh’s and aaaah’s, sugar-rushed guitars from the garage as often as the soda shop. Each track seems patchworked together at random by an amalgamation of all of your favourite brit-pop choruses of old; a hook here, refrain there, bridges to book-end, pin the chorus on the single…well, you get the idea. And to contrast, examination of the lyrics reveals calculated, scathing sarcasm and cynicism with a deliberate satire-heavy approach to its subject matter. The Futureheads seem to revel in being your electro-shock therapy.
26 :: Mirah
Mirah’s C’mon Miracle isn’t standard K fare, though it’s not as though producer Phil Elvrum has sold out here either. There’s still plenty of expectation-defying production work, and Mirah’s scope of influence, especially the latin, is far broader than the average singer-songwriter type. Still, Elvrum really lets Mirah shine on this, and the strength of her songwriting, combined with the understated and well-matched production and arrangements allows this album to stand as one of the better singer-songwriter albums in some time.
25 :: Black Eyes
So this is it. The Black Eyes have made their second and final album. They have found the sound of the naked child running through Sunday school (pausing to renounce the priest for his homophobia) and have committed it to record with an intensity that mirrors their conviction. This is punk rock, done properly, done with a sense of adventure and creativity, and done with no expectation of much recognition (they aren’t touring for the album at all). One more DC band bites the dust while showing more potential than any band rightfully deserves. Let’s hope MacKaye remembers this one when he gets done wanking about with the Evens and gets back to Fugazi.
24 :: Fennesz
If you knew Fennesz, if you loved Fennesz, and if you were advising your friend on how to try out Fennesz, the answer would always be: “start with his latest album.” Of course, putting the words “try out” alongside “Fennesz” is immensely absurd. You don’t try out Fennesz albums. You worm your way into them, you inhabit them for days, and then you come out musically reborn. It took me at least a dozen close, uninterrupted listens, and twice that many cursory listens, to understand, appreciate and eventually love Endless Summer when that was Fennesz’s most approachable album. Venice has now taken over that title—but thankfully Fennesz’s (infinitesimally) growing “accessibility” has not taken away from the beauty of his works.
23 :: Castanets
The end results lead me to think that Raposa is either entirely insane or quite the budding genius, and either way he has managed to release a debut record that challenges anything that the freak folkies have put out this year. This album is at points scarier than Joanna Newsom, more sincere than Devendra Banhart, and more sophisticated than Vetiver. Raposa’s similarities to Will Oldham are worth noting (especially on the magnificent “Three Days, Four Nights”) but he doesn’t come off as derivative. While he may not have Oldham’s imaginative and perverse lyrical capabilities, he’s more straightforward, less wordy, and has a better voice to boot.
22 :: Fiery Furnaces
The term “concept album,” much like the term “epic,” gets thrown around a wee bit liberally these days, but this album—with as little hyperbole attached as possible—is both. It’s a psychotic, laid-back exploration and critique of modern American culture that hasn’t been pulled off as originally or as enjoyably for years. The Friedbergers are crafting a new Americana that is rooted in folk, blues and electronica, along with every other branch of rock music they can conceivably get their hands on. The America the Fiery Furnaces write about is one filled with brand names, multiple remote controls and cheap cars; the heroes and heroines of their many song-stories are disgruntled and frustrated people exploring a ridiculous glorious carnival wasteland. It’s one well worth visiting.
21 :: Shugo Tokumaru
This is the smoky sonic-blend equivalent of your new-favourite “modern cuisine” dish, and though “international flavour” consistently emerges throughout the courses of Night Piece, the whole never bears the bitter aftertaste of the processed-deathtrap genre of “world music.” Each of these pieces is fruit off the same branch, but sliced, sugared, spiced, and seasoned to a unique taste. Night Piece is fine dining for the open-minded indie pop enthusiast. And with a run-time under a half-hour, you could fit three Night Pieces onto one CD-R. Go for it. When it’s over you’ll be so sunk into your seat that it will hurt to move, and it’ll save you the trips back to the play button.