Monday, February 07, 2005

Smile Like You Mean It:
Mike C.'s Favorite Music Of 2004 

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I don’t have any great wisdom to impart about 2004 that you haven’t already read elsewhere. We’re already more than a month into the new year, and I have no desire to dissect 2004's political, natural, and baseball debacles right now. What I will remark about 2004 is that I heard so much good new music during the year that it took me the first five weeks of 2005 to sort it all out.

I’m not going to write here at any length about iPods, rockism, or crunk. These topics all may surface on the blog from time to time, but not today. The tide of new music continues to grow every year, and this year I heard more of it than ever. I listened to more than 130 new full-length 2004 albums in their entirety, not counting EPs and reissues. At least 110 of them may be worth your time, depending on your tastes. There are another 40 or 50 releases I’m interested in hearing from the past year which haven’t fallen into my hands yet. And then, of course, there are the other hidden gems of the year which I’m not even aware of yet.

Sometimes these lists stand the test of time, but usually they don’t. Distance and perspective are really important, and those luxuries are simply not available when the year just ended. Still, it would be worse not to try to make some sense out of it all.

For the record—and many of you reading this already know this, but some of you might not—in addition to being a frequent DJ and a sometime critic, I am also a full-time employee of one of those big, evil major record labels. Though some people may feel that last bit disqualifies me from being able to credibly write opinions about music, I will swear on a stack of Beatles records that I would have nothing much to gain by letting personal or professional self-interests influence the opinions I express about music. Not punk enough for you? Fine; I'll put my hand on a copy of Minor Threat's Complete Discography and uphold the oath of musical honesty. Anyone who’s interested in knowing my business or personal relationship with any of the artists on this list is welcome to ask. Just so we’re all on the level here.

For more a more democratic take on the year in music, I suggest The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop and Tris McCall's Critics Poll.

Rock on,
Mike C.

100 Favorite Albums Of 2004

Hot Fuss

I thought White Blood Cells was fine, for an album that sounds like a collection of Violent Femmes b-sides, but nothing too special. Some standout tracks, sure, but not a reinvention of the wheel, or even of the hubcap. So why is it that my favorite album of 2004 is Hot Fuss, an album that by any reasonable analysis is so regurgitatively derivative of the oeuvre of another '80s band, Duran Duran, that it’s now impossible not to think of one band without thinking of the other?

Because The Killers do the schtick better than the Duranies ever did. Originality is nice, but to take an idea already extant and improve upon it—well, let’s just say that as someone who considers himself an editor first and a writer second, I can relate and appreciate. Even the weakest tracks on Fuss—and I’m in the minority who considers "Mr. Brightside" to be one of them—are superior to every song LeBon, Rhodes, Taylor, Taylor & Taylor Esq. ever came up with in all those years of trying, save "Save A Prayer," "Planet Earth," and maybe "Ordinary World."

This Las Vegas foursome reinvented my current favorite musical wheel—the new wave/post-punk/English-sounding pop one that all the indier-than-thou kids are already pooh-poohing as so 2003—and made an album that changed my life, or at least my summer. In much the same way that Cookie Monster felt about the fact that "C" is for "Cookie," that’s good enough for me.

2. RILO KILEY - More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute)
A little bit country and a lotta bit rock and roll, the indie rock drool-a-thon of the year was over this band and its alluring lead singer, Miss Jenny Lewis—well, at least until that Arcade Fire record came out. Where Tracey Ullman might have broken your heart in seventeen places, Lewis will break each part of your body at least that many times. But the whole time she's killing you softly with her songs, she'll hold your hand, stroke your hair, and rail against the government in ways that make you softly smile.

3. ANNIE - Anniemal (679)
An outrageously infectious and fun electric pop dance album by a Norwegian chanteuse doing the "I’m so cool I only go by my first name" thing, and deservedly so. Beats Kylie and Madonna at their own game and even skates close to lofty Saint Etienne-like territory, minus some of the endearingly arty pretensions. Melodies that cleverly echo Tom Tom Club and The Human League, too. Big fun for anyone who misses Waltz For Debbie, and may prove more enduring. An import album that I’ve never actually seen a copy of in any record store. I was first hipped to this by Stereogum.

4. FRANZ FERDINAND - Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic)
It wasn’t this year’s London Calling, because it’s not sprawling or varied or ambitious enough, but man, at times it’s close to being their Give 'Em Enough Rope. Which means they start out an album ahead of the game, and also that the weight of the world is upon them to deliver an all-world second effort they may or may not have in them.

5. THE PONYS - Laced With Romance (In The Red)
Like a garage version of Echo & The Bunnymen or the early Psychedelic Furs, The Ponys plucked well-worn guitar riffs out of the air, out-Dandying the Warhols and burning Hotter than Hot Heat.

6. I AM THE WORLD TRADE CENTER - The Cover Up (Gammon)
Electronic Pop Dance Party Fun Part 2, this time from Athens, Georgia. Hooky, nervy, and cool, when The Cover Up gets played, it tends to end up on repeat. Read my interview with the band's Dan Geller here.

7. BRIAN WILSON - Smile (Nonesuch)
Some people consider cold leftover pizza to be a delicacy. I am one of those people. Still, I was very, very wary of this project. While many people whose taste I respect were plunking down $16 for this the first few weeks it was out, I resisted. The only well-produced Wilson solo album to date had been the Don Was-coached re-recordings on I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times, and it seemed unlikely that the aging Wilson could scale those heights again, ten years after. Only after hearing the new version of "Surf’s Up" a few times did I finally break down and buy this, a couple months after its release. Not only is the new Smile not embarrassing, it’s stupefyingly great. The new lyrics to "Good Vibrations" are a little grating, and brother Carl's voice is sorely missed, but everything else sounds spot-on perfect. I was expecting to hate this.

8. WILLIAM SHATNER - Has Been (Shout Factory)
Yes, ever since "Weird Al" released In 3-D, I've had a bit of a thing for joke albums (see also #10) but T.J. Hooker’s first album since the late ‘60s is far more than that. With Ben Folds in the director’s chair, Has Been became one of the most poignant and entertaining portraits of an artist as an old man this side of Leonard Cohen’s 2001 Ten New Songs.

9. THE STREETS - A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice)
An inevitable letdown because, no, Mike Skinner was unable to equal the brilliance of his already-classic debut Original Pirate Material. But still a damn good second effort of songs about Murphy’s Law (the actual legislation, not the band) by the geezer pleaser who, if he keeps this up, could end up with the "artist of the decade" crown. Which Skinner will no doubt realize, when he gets home that night after the award ceremony, that he left the damn crown on the seat next to him on the tube.

10. HAR MAR SUPERSTAR - The Handler (Record Collection)
The Handler actually might not be one of the ten best albums of 2004, but it’s certainly one of the ten funnest, and that’s got to count for something. For those who haven’t heard the joke yet, Minneapolis' Sean Tillman, aka Har Mar Superstar, used to strut his stuff as indie rocker Sean Na Na, but he's found more cred as this libidinous alter ego who's also written songs for J.Lo and Kelly Osbourne. He's paunchy, he’s hairy on the body but balding up top, and he’s got a way with the ladies. In other words, I can relate to this guy. Guest spots by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Northern State and a cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan are fine but almost superfluous in the face of this white soul party genius.

11. MORRISSEY - You Are The Quarry (Attack/Sanctuary)
One or two weak tracks and occasional lapses into over-production keep it out of the top ten, but on You Are The Quarry, S.P.M. sounds great and his lyrics are typically sharp. His best album in ten years; granted, his only album in seven.

12. DUNGEN - Ta Det Lungt (Subliminal)
Another Stereogum pick, and a Swedish import. Unlike his fine countrymen Soundtrack Of Our Lives, to whom he is sometimes compared, one-man psychedelic rock attack Gustav Ejstes sings it all in Swedish. Album-opener "Panda" is the best fuzzed-out Steppenwolf imitation anyone needs in their record collection, "Festival" has a groove so loose it’s tight, and the contemplative "Lipsill" is reminiscent of peak-period Rundgren. The drums sound amazing throughout, too. I may already regret not putting this in the top 10.

13. SMART BROWN HANDBAG - The Big Sigh (Stonegarden)
One of 2004’s saddest moments for music freaks who surf the web came in the summer, when Glenn McDonald concluded the weekly run of his column The War Against Silence after publishing for 500 consecutive weeks.

The irony of it all for me was discovering McDonald’s brilliant writing a mere four or five weeks before he pulled the plug on one of the best-written journalistic columns—music or otherwise—I’ve had the privilege to read. Luckily, the archives are still up there for those who were late to the party. (And speaking of luck, it was surely that which allowed me to get there in time to win his contest.)

In one of the column's last installments, McDonald makes a rather convincing argument that The Big Sigh, Smart Brown Handbag’s eighth full-length, is "the most underrated album on the planet," and he’s right. The strangest thing about it is that the music SBH leader David Steinhardt creates is ridiculously accessible for someone wallowing in such obscurity. McDonald writes: "Thousands of artists with more-inherently limited appeals have attracted evangelical cult followings in a fraction of the time it has taken David to get, apparently, nowhere. It's beyond weird, it's suspicious, and we should have started doing something about it years ago."

While lacking an all-world "single" a la previous Handbag classics like "Ungrateful After All" and "Greetings From The Longest Weekend (Of Trying So Hard To Stay Thankful)," Sigh may be the band’s most consistently satisfying album yet. Go to cdbaby.com and buy it now.

14. LLOYD COLE - Music In A Foreign Language (One Little Indian)
15. JONATHAN RICHMAN - Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love (Vapor/Sanctuary)

Still kickin’ it, these old-school faves turned in very strong efforts. Lloyd’s is late night weariness personified, while Jonathan’s is a multilingual but non-Ziggy Marleyesque conscious party.

16. THE DEARS - No Cities Left (SpinArt)
Ambitious, cinematic, romantic, beautiful, arty tunes from the black Canadian Morrissey, who they'd have to invent if he didn’t exist.

17. SCISSOR SISTERS - Scissor Sisters (Universal)
More fun electro pop dance—less electro and more pop—with an early Elton John fetish, the Bee Gees doing Pink Floyd on coke, and a George Michael riff ripped off. Sign me the fuck up.

18. THE DIVINE COMEDY - Absent Friends (Nettwerk)
After an ill-advised foray toward a more straightforward rock direction, the cavalier English playboy returned at the top of his game. Whew.

19. DAN BERN - My Country II: Songs To Beat Bush By (Messenger)
Well, we tried. The ultimate triumph of this eight-song collection by the best folk-influenced singer-songwriter of the last ten years may be that songs like "Bush Must Be Defeated" will take on even more urgency over the next four years.

20. THE MAGNETIC FIELDS - I (Nonesuch)
You can’t top 69 Love Songs, so Stephin Merritt didn’t try to. He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be gimmicky, though, so these 14 gay love songs all start with the letter of the album’s title. And yes, several of them are great, as one could reasonably expect from such a superlative lyricist and tasteful arranger.

21. DIZZEE RASCAL - Showtime (XL)
It seems unfair not to call Dizzee hip-hop just because he’s British, even though he sounds nothing whatsoever like virtually all of his American musical compatriots. Bettering the promise of his 2003 debut Boy On Da Corner with a manic pace, this is an album that upends all conventions.

22. NORTHERN STATE - All City (Columbia)
Strong Island’s female Beasties deliver the most fun rhymes of the year and plenty of dance-floor-worthy moments.

24. TED LEO & THE PHARMACISTS - Shake The Sheets (Lookout)
25. GREEN DAY - American Idiot (Reprise)

Politics personal and universal from three of the finest American practitioners of tuneful punk-influenced rock and roll. Smart lyrics and performances all.

26. THE FUTUREHEADS - The Futureheads (Sire/Star Time)
Wouldn't be fair to leave all the Jam/Billy Bragg/Joe Jackson imitations to a guy from Bloomfield, New Jersey, so a British band gets into the act and cops a more robotic angle on the Ted Leo act. Cool.

27. EDWARD ROGERS - Sunday Fables (Not Lame)
Great ‘60s-influenced pop songwriting lives.

28. TRASHCAN SINATRAS - Weightlifting (SpinArt)
29. SNOW PATROL - Final Straw (A&M)

Still love the Brits.

30. PALOMAR - Palomar III: Revenge Of Palomar (The Self-Starter Foundation)
I’ll take Brooklyn hipsters for $200, Alex.

31. MATTHEW SWEET - Kimi ga Suki (RCAM)
Originally a 2003 Japan-only release. 92% fun!

32. THE THERMALS - Fuckin' A (Sub Pop)
It’s all been done. Dylan already went electric, The Clash already played Bonds, G.G. Allin already shat onstage. You can’t try to top everything that came before, you can only let the past inform your future; that’s more or less what The Thermals do on a very hot punk rock album.

33. GWEN STEFANI - Love Angel Music Baby (Interscope)
34. SAHARA HOTNIGHTS - Kiss And Tell (RCA)
35. KYLIE MINOGUE - Body Language (Capitol)

Girls just wanna have fun.

36. THE LIBERTINES - The Libertines (Rough Trade)
Shame about the whole crack/disappearing/jail thing, really, ‘cause they’re a cool little band.

37. THE HIVES - Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope)
38. MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE - Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge (Reprise)

The occasional metal flourish could go, but otherwise north Jersey’s own My Chemical Romance made the punk-pop single of the year and threw in a couple cool glam moments on their major-label debut. The Hives upchucked more of their same, and that’s just as well.

39. ROBYN HITCHCOCK - Spooked (Yep Roc)
He's still weird, and his records are still worth hearing. "Television" is one of many haunting acoustic numbers. His cover of Dylan’s 1997 song "Tryin’ To Get To Heaven" is on the money, and will come as no surprise to anyone who remembers his version of "Dignity" on the 1996 promo sampler Royal Queen Albert & Beautiful Homer.

40. ARCADE FIRE - Funeral (Merge)
The most overrated indie record of the year isn’t bad, it’s just not life-changingly great. Critics, bloggers, fans—and I’m guilty three times over there—tend to mean well, but they succumb to herd mentality all too easily. I’ve certainly done it. Once Pitchfork and a few of the hipster blogs latched onto this, the lemmings lined right up. Why The Arcade Fire gets heaped with praise from all corners while, say, Smart Brown Handbag can’t get arrested in the press or on the blogs shows just how out of proportion things are. Funeral is fine, I smile at some of its more blatantly New Order-inspired moments, and by no means is it a record anyone should avoid. It's just that I’ve heard it all before, and with more memorable tunes.

41. NANCY SINATRA - Nancy Sinatra (Attack)
Ms. Sinatra sounds quite fine going back to the future with new tunes scribed by Jarvis Cocker, Pete Yorn, and the Mozzer himself.

42. JOHN CALE - HoboSapiens (Or)
43. JONNY POLONSKY - The Power Of Sound (Loveless)

Worthy works by old faves (some older than others) from John and Jonny, demigods who occupy the pinnacle of the avant-rock and power-pop worlds, respectively.

Gimmicky or not, I’m a sucker for good mash-ups, and these are some of the best I’ve heard. If the White Album is in your DNA as it is in mine (despite it being one of my least favorite Beatles albums), it’s a goof and two-thirds to hear it dissected and re-assembled with Jigga’s vocals giving it a sense of 21st century urgency. Alas, the excitement did burn out; if this had first hit the net late in 2004, it probably would have been in my top ten, to my eternal embarrassment. These things get old quickly.

45. KINGS OF LEON - Aha Shake Heartbreak (Handmedown)
46. LE TIGRE - This Island (Universal)
Growing pains with glowing moments.

47. CAETANO VELOSO - A Foreign Sound (Nonesuch)
There’s certainly nothing wrong with the Nirvana cover, but the real action on this sixtysomething Brazilian legend’s album of English-language covers is when he goes medieval on the asses of Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Cole, Rodgers & Hart—and David Byrne.

48. KEANE - Hopes And Fears (Island)
Was really excited for this one to finally come out, and when it landed, it was…nice. For some dumb reason, I was expecting more than a guitarless Coldplay.

49. VON BONDIES - Pawn Shoppe Heart (Sire)
50. LORETTA LYNN - Van Lear Rose (Interscope)

What hath Jack White wrought?

51. MATTHEW SWEET - Living Things (RCAM)
52. A.C. NEWMAN - The Slow Wonder (Matador)

The legendary Van Dyke Parks lends late-‘60s California arrangements to Sweet, who more or less has earned legendary status himself by now, and a New Pornographer steps out in (not out of) his own clothes, which is an event in itself.

53. TEGAN & SARA – So Jealous (Vapor/Sanctuary)
They’re not in the same league as indie rock’s other gay sibling duo, The Aluminum Group. Nor are their songs as memorable and engaging as my favorite lesbian power-pop twosome of the past decade, The Murmurs. Yet, despite a little vocal whininess, this is tuneful, poppy, hooky stuff.

54. PEELANDER-Z - P-Bone Steak (Swell) 2003
Garden-variety "Japanese action comic punk band" who wear superhero uniforms and chuck up loud, fast, stupid songs about love, meat, and "Ninja High School," along with a cover of "Detroit Rock City." You know, pretty standard.

55. CERVERIS - Dog Eared (Low Heat)
The only indie rocker who won a Tony Award in 2004, Michael Cerveris imbues his solo debut with enough heartache to fill a Buick, and enough indie-cred guest stars to fill a minibus.

56. THE FEVER - Red Bedroom (Kemado)
I’ll take Brooklyn hipsters for $400, Alex.

57. THE VEILS - The Runaway Found (Rough Trade)
I was skeptical at first, grew to like it a lot, then kinda forgot about it. That probably says something.

58. TWILIGHT SINGERS - She Loves You (One Little Indian)
In which Greg Dulli cruises through a set of mystifying cover choices. In contrast to Mr. Veloso’s album (#47), this one's best track is the gimmick, a sly take on Mary J. Blige’s "Real Love."

59. NELLIE MCKAY - Get Away from Me (Columbia)
Introducing the hard line according to some Upper West Side smarty pants prodigy who lied about her age.

60. JEM - Finally Woken (ATO)
Sexycool, but not crazy. Which is fine.

61. THE ROOTS - The Tipping Point (Geffen)
There’s no classics a la "The Seed (2.0)" here, but the latest Roots disc proves that they’re still one of the smartest groups in the game.

62. BUTCH WALKER - Letters (Epic)
I always thought The Marvelous 3 were kinda bland, and while there’s a lotta gloss here, ex-3er Walker's solo joint has some poptacular moments. We’re at a pretty awful juncture for mainstream pop/rock radio if something this accessible and good can’t catch on. Not that we didn’t already know that; it’s just necessary to say it out loud once in a while.

63. OLD 97'S - Drag It Up (New West)
A few good songs, but there’s something lacking when Rhett Miller, so brilliant on his 2001 solo outing The Instigator, gets back together with his Texas cohorts. Worse, "Coahulia," one of the songs on the record not sung or written by Miller, opens with a cringe-inducing couplet about microwaving chicken ravioli.

Let’s be clear: the acceptable types of ravioli are cheese, meat, lobster, crabmeat, spinach, mushroom, and combinations thereof. (Some might lobby for sun-dried tomatoes, but they’d be wrong, because sun-dried tomatoes suck.) Anything else might be fine if prepared at home or by a gourmet, but if you’re eating that shit out of a microwaveable container, you should not be going anywhere near the chicken. Gross.

64. BEASTIE BOYS - To The 5 Boroughs (Capitol)
They went old-school, and that was fine as concepts go, but it wore out quickly. It was a fun couple of weeks, though.

65. U2 - How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (Interscope)
Should have come with better instructions.

66. THE FIERY FURNACES - Blueberry Boat (Rough Trade)
Should have come with a map, or a libretto. I just didn’t have the patience or time to decipher this. My loss. Maybe.

67. THE CARDIGANS - Long Gone Before Daylight (Koch)
Fine, but would it kill them to do another catchy pop single? I’m not asking for a "Lovefool" or a "My Favourite Game." I’ll settle for an "Erase And Rewind."

68. R.E.M. - Behind The Sun (Warner Bros.)
Talk about a lack of catchy pop singles. It’s never out-and-out terrible, but the group Christgau now accurately refers to as The Michael Stipe Band really did hit the rock-bottom point of their career with this yawner. If their live show hadn’t been so incendiary, I’d almost be ready to give up on them. I love this band so much that this album broke my heart.

69. CHROMEO - She's In Control (Vice)
Processed vocals up the wazoo, and hooks reminiscent of Yazoo. I’m buying.

70. MODEST MOUSE - Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Epic)
At Tunes, Hoboken’s record store of record, the #1 selling CD of the year was Modest Mouse’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News. Though I’ve always been underwhelmed by these guys, they stepped up and delivered a solid album with a few bona fide gems. Of all the badges of honor Hoboken rock & roll kids can wear—and there are a bunch—one is that the best-selling CD in their town this past year was something pretty cool.

Brooklyn hipsters for $600, please.

72. THE CURE - The Cure (Geffen)
The production was lame—why the hell isn’t that intro keyboard bit on "Taking Off" about a million times louder?—but Smith & Co. come out slightly ahead on the gem-to-dud quotient.

73. EARLIMART - Treble & Tremble (Palm)
A cool, quiet little record from a band that did nothing for me when I saw them do a short promo set at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square a couple years ago. But then, the only in-stores I’ve ever seen that didn’t suck were Joe Strummer and Hall & Oates.

74. COURTNEY LOVE - America's Sweetheart (Virgin)
My, what a cleverly ironic title! But damn her if she doesn’t still know how to make some quality rock & roll songs. Damn her, damn her indeed.

75. RAY LAMONTAGNE - Trouble (RCA)
Winner of the Earnest Bearded Troubadour From Maine Award for 2004, and you get the feeling he won’t have much competition for a while.

b>76. VAL EMMICH - Slow Down Kid (Red Ink/Epic)
An edgier Pete Yorn, and yes, he’s from Jersey too.

77. LEONARD COHEN - Dear Heather (Columbia)
Lackluster, and that’s most disappointing, considering how great his last record was. Nice to hear his voice, still, though—really.

78. DELAYS - Faded Seaside Glamour (Rough Trade)
Dream-pop from Southampton, England.

79. THE WALKMEN - Bows + Arrows (Record Collection)
80. DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 - You're A Woman, I'm A Machine (Vice)
81. INTERPOL - Antics (Matador)

Holy hype, Batman.

82. SLOAN - Action Pact (Koch)
Not their strongest effort, but c’mon, it’s Sloan.

83. DAVID CROSS - It's Not Funny (Sub Pop)
It takes a lot to laugh, these days—a lot. David Cross makes it a little easier.

84. GRETCHEN WILSON - Here For The Party (Epic)
The mainstream female country album everyone loved to love in 2004. Pretty awesome if you like this sort of thing, which I generally don’t. But it didn’t make me cringe much, so it’s gotta be pretty great.

85. THE FAINT - Wet From Birth (Saddle Creek)
(Might-as-well-be) Brooklyn hipsters (who are actually from the midwest) for $800.

86. SIT N' SPIN - Doin' Time With (Blood Red)
Cool Jersey female rockers with punk in their veins.

87. MOVING UNITS - Dangerous Dreams (Palm)
Dangerous in the same way that Paul Shaffer's solo album was The World's Most Dangerous Party.

88. THE ZUTONS - Who Killed...The Zutons? (Epic)
Professor Plum in the conservatory with the lead pipe?

89. REGINA SPEKTOR - Soviet Kitsch (Sire)
More Soviet than kitsch, it’s angular rock from a F.O.T.S. (Friend Of The Strokes).

90. THE BIGGER LOVERS - This Affair Never Happened...And Here Are Eleven Songs About It (Yep Roc)
Philly tunesters who straddle the power-pop/alt-country line slip a notch but still are worth hearing.

91. FRENCH KICKS - The Trial Of The Century (Star Time)
Brooklyn hipsters for $1,000, and it’s the Daily Double!

92. THE WILDHEARTS - Must Be Destroyed (Gearhead/Sanctuary)
Loves me some of that punk rock.

93. PATTI SMITH - Trampin' (Columbia)
94. WHEAT - Per Second, Per Second, Per Second...Every Second (Aware/Columbia) 2003
95. THE BLUE NILE - High (Sanctuary)

Albums I should spend more time with.

96. JUST JACK - The Outer Marker (TVT)
The Streets lite. Really, really lite.

97. MIKE TICHY - Self-Titled (no label) 2003
98. THE MOONEY SUZUKI - Alive & Amplified (Red Ink/Columbia)
The one-time New York hipsters succumb to the admittedly irresistible charms of songwriting team with the same name as those Keanu Reaves movies I’ve never seen, and almost manage to outdo Tichy, their former bassist. Almost.

99. DE LA SOUL - The Grind Date (AOI/Sanctuary Urban)
Much like The Pretenders, they’ve never been able to match the genius of their first album, but it’s fifteen years in and at least they’re not doing "I’ll Stand By You."

100. DURAN DURAN - Astronaut (Epic)
So we end as we begin. The notorious original five dudes get back together, and the results are too slick and the songs too unmemorable, aside from an ok Queer Eye single. Despite the title, sounds to me to be of decidedly earthbound origins.

Postscript: 2004 albums I jumped the gun on and included on my 2003 list
THE ALUMINUM GROUP – Morehappyness (Wishing Tree)
MISTY ROSES - Komodo Dragons (Frog Man Jake)

100 Favorite Songs Of 2004

1. PITTY SING – Radio
"Smalltown Boy" and "Beautiful Day" have a baby from this New York via Boston (and Manchester) four-piece that captures the mid-'80s better than the mid-'80s did. Desperate, majestic, earnest, yet with a slight hint of acknowledgment of the absurdity of it all.

2. ANNIE - Me Plus One
If you use The Human League’s "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" as a blueprint, you can only screw up so much. Annie didn't screw up at all, and she created a pop song worth soiling your underwear about.

3. THE STREETS - Fit But You Know It
Jilted John, Ian Dury, and Blur’s "Parklife" are the most obvious antecedents of the most unique and interesting-sounding song of 2004.

Is to 2004 what "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was to 1992, and we needed it roughly as much.

5. THE DEARS - Lost In The Plot
There’s some kind of shipwreck of love swirling around in this lush two-part creation.

When you're achin' to be on top of the mountain, sometimes asserting that you've already made it is the only way to get there.

7. DAN BERN - Sammy's Bat
Modern-day political parable about fighting the Bush administration by any means necessary, even if it means playing outside of the rules. Best lyrical invocation of a baseball icon since "Mrs. Robinson."

A good-time meeting of the minds.

9. CRAYON ROSARY - Siren Song
Cool lo-fi indie nerd-pop duo from New Brunswick with acoustic guitars, drum machines, and toy instruments. Will appeal instantly to anyone looking for a less goofy They Might Be Giants or a stripped down Weezer. And one of the best lyrics of the year: "If I could write you a song with keyboards and horns/And a powerful rock beat to push it along/If I pull off a rock & roll swagger and sneer/Would it finally get you back in my bed?"

Britain’s new favorite MC spins one of the most charming "how I made it" stories ever told through music, with Captain Sensible’s version of "Happy Talk" as the looped musical bed.

The best song ever written with my name in the title, so while I wanted to put it in the top 10, I felt I had to keep it out, in order to avoid accusations of bias.

12. BEN KWELLER - Different But The Same
If I supervised the phones at a suicide hotline, I might use this keep-yer-chin-up piano ballad by one of the coolest rock kids on the block as the hold music.

13. CHROMEO - Needy Girl
Gloria Steinem probably would not sign off on the lyrical caricature of emotionally dependent femininity, but if she liked The Human League she’d probably have a hard time dismissing this on the dance floor.

14. ART BRUT - Formed A Band
We—we meaning most of the rock & roll obsessives likely to read this—have all lived this. Not that we’ve all formed bands. The only band I've been part of to date was the Dumont High School Marching Band; they’d kind of been around a while by the time I ended up on lead crash cymbal, so I really can’t claim to have played any part in forming that band. But anyone who’s spent time around a rock & roll fan who suddenly picks up an instrument and fancies themselves an instant rock star has heard this type of hopeful prognostication and energy. It only ups the ante further when these South Londoners who recall The Buzzcocks and The Fall sing "I wanna be the boy, the man/That writes the song/That makes Israel and Palestine get along."

15. THE KILLERS - Somebody Told Me
Admit it, you like this crap.

16. I AM THE WORLD TRADE CENTER - Future Sightings
A ringer for New Order’s "Temptation" that brilliantly splits the difference by having even poppier music but even darker lyrics.

17. MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE - I'm Not Okay (I Promise)
Nailing it on their first major-label single, the budding screamo stars who cut their teeth playing The Loop Lounge in Passaic Park made the most important rock song to come out of New Jersey all year.

Annoyingly good.

19. DUNGEN - Festival
Sounds like one, if that’s possible.

20. SCISSOR SISTERS - Take Your Mama
Veers so close to being really, really bad. And yet its synthesis of "Take Me To The Pilot" and "Freedom 90" couldn’t be more right.

21. RILO KILEY - Love And War (11/11/46)
22. RILO KILEY - It Just Is

I’d fill up the next several chart positions with tunes from Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous, but that that would just be boring. If these kids aren’t the songwriters of the year, I’m eating my hat.

23. THE KILLERS - Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll
Almost as tongue-in-cheek as the Art Brut song—or is it? Best b-side of the year.

Icelandic/Italian/English trip-hop goddess Emiliana Torrini (where’s her second album?) co-writes, and out pops the second-best song of Kylie’s career.

25. THE KILLERS - Smile Like You Mean It
Anthem 2004.

26. MORRISSEY - Irish Blood, English Heart
A searing rock & roll ode to the dual and long-feuding homelands of so many of his fellow Mancunians, as well as Liverpudlians and others from the north country.

27. THE FALL - Theme From Sparta F.C. #2
Proof that they still can if they want to; too bad this wasn't on their two-disc career retrospective released earlier in the year (see the Reissues chart).

28. WILLIAM SHATNER - Common People
29. NANCY SINATRA - Let Me Kiss You

The year’s two best cover songs come from the over-60 set: one of Pulp’s 1995 Britpop slumming anthem, one of a Morrissey song that was only a couple months old when this second version surfaced. Both are perfectly conceived and executed.

30. BUTCH WALKER - Uncomfortably Numb
"I wasted a good conversation ‘bout music and God/On an out-of-work, coked-out A&R guy." If you’ve hung around the clubs long enough, you might have lived this one too.

31. THE DIVINE COMEDY - Absent Friends
32. TRASHCAN SINATRAS - All The Dark Horses
33. THE MAGNETIC FIELDS - I Thought You Were My Boyfriend
34. EDWARD ROGERS - Make It Go Away

Get out the Kleenex for four breathtakingly gorgeous, masterful gems of heartbreak.

35. THE PONYS - Trouble Trouble
Simply irresistible.

36. U2 – Yahweh
"God, Schmod; I want my monkey man!" – Bart Simpson

37. HAR MAR SUPERSTAR - Body Request
Tongue in somewhere far naughtier, albeit sillier, than cheek. A phenomenal rip-off of Off The Wall-era Jacko.

38. KANYE WEST - Through The Wire
Some of the best storytelling this side of The Streets.

39. JEM – They
A mini word-of-mouth phenomenon that began with Nic Harcourt at KCRW. When, almost as a goof, I started playing this infectiously bouncy, British, Bach-sampling beat at my Goldhawk gigs, it blossomed into one of the club's most-requested and best-loved songs of the year.

40. THE BRAVERY - Unconditional
41. VHS OR BETA - Night On Fire

Somebody told me, that you had a boyfriend, who looked like a girlfriend, that I had…oh, we already did that one? Terribly sorry. Carry on.

Did I mention this is the best band on the planet with an eight-album catalog that nobody has ever heard of?

43. AVRIL LAVIGNE – Together
The biggest pop chorus of the year.

44. MORRISSEY - The First Of The Gang To Die
Will this man never run out of sad characters to immortalize in song?

45. ANNIE - The Greatest Hit
This one’s more reminiscent of Sarah Cracknell’s solo album than anything she’s done for Saint Etienne, but then it also reminds me of Hoku. All of this is good.

46. THE STREETS - Dry Your Eyes
Keep ya head up.

47. SAHARA HOTNIGHTS - Walk On The Wire
Sweden’s answer to The Donnas on their tightest, most focused and punk-influenced moment.

Yeah, I didn’t think the Babyface-Mellencamp collaboration would work either. Who knew?

49. PALOMAR - Albacore
Give a man—or, in this case, three women and a man—a fish.

50. RADIO 4 - Party Crashers (Headman Vocal Remix)
51. BUMBLEBEEZ 81 - Pony Ride

Electronic-based pop songs, both of which I like a lot, both of which might actually be really, really bad. In other words, I enjoy the bejesus out of them now, but I won’t be surprised if, five years from now, I look back with embarrassment and think, "Ooh, I liked that?" So they go right smack in the middle of this list.

52. WILLIAM SHATNER - That's Me Trying
Nick Hornby and Shatner co-wrote this frightening, funny vignette of a pathetic, aging absentee father. Aimee Mann and Ben Folds help out vocally on the track, which of course was produced by Folds. Just the right number of cooks in this kooky kitchen.

53. GEORGE MICHAEL – Amazing
When a mainstream dance/pop song this good can’t get arrested (and no, not for public lewdness, though, you know, wocka wocka and all that) at Top 40 radio, we’ve officially gone to musical hell in a musical handbasket.

54. SMART BROWN HANDBAG - Half Worth Having
55. JOHN CALE - Things

Sometimes the simplest sentiments say the most.

56. JUST JACK - Snowflakes (Cured By The Temple Of Jay Mix)
Just some white Brit laconically rapping over The Cure’s "Lullaby," but give him points for thinking of it.

57. DUNGEN - Lipsill
Like "Penny Lane," evokes fond memories of an idyllic town on a fine, sunny afternoon when all is right with the world. Then again, I could be totally off, being it's in Swedish.

58. THE FEVER - Cold Blooded
59. THE HIVES - Walk Idiot Walk
60. THE CURE - Taking Off

Return to the valley of 1982.

61. JILL SCOTT - Golden
Sharp, catchy R&B pop.

62. X-WIFE – Eno
Just another Portuguese band that sounds like Suede mashed-up with The Undertones.

63. PITTY SING - We're On Drugs

Resigned contentment.

65. DIZZEE RASCAL - Stand Up Tall
The best breakneck-paced rap song I’ve heard since Outkast’s "B.O.B."

66. THE WILDHEARTS - Nexus Icon
67. THE WALKMEN - The Rat

A couple of the most balls-out guitar rock songs of the year, from England and New York, respectively.

68. DAN BERN - Bush Must Be Defeated
69. CAETANO VELOSO - (Nothing But) Flowers
70. VON BONDIES - C'mon C'mon
71. RILO KILEY - Portions For Foxes

It is our duty to resist.

72. ROBYN HITCHCOCK - Television
A haunting six-minute meditation, and Hitchcock’s best song in years.

73. HUMA - Given The Reasons

Whether it’s New Brunswickian dream-pop or Bloomfieldian Brit-rips, Jersey rocks in all kinds of ways. Peep my Huma interview here.

75. RATATAT - Seventeen Years
Even before it was in a Hummer commercial, this was the quasi-mainstream electronic instrumental of the year.

76. FRANZ FERDINAND - Tell Her Tonight
Gang Of Four crossed with The Zombies, and it works.

77. THE PONYS - Fall Inn
Borrows an intro from Phil Spector and takes it down a rock & roll road.

78. PHOENIX - Everything Is Everything
Not the Lauryn Hill song.

79. FREEDY JOHNSTON - She's A Goddess
Unearthed demo finds the ex-Hobokenite at his poppy best.

80. CAM'RON – Girls
I can’t help it; I like Cam’ron. It’s not just because Killa was nice when we chatted for a minute early one evening in the Sony building circa 1999. His crisp delivery is everything I like about modern thugged-out hip-hop pop. Uses good beats, too. I’ll take this guy over Jay-Z any day.

The atypical song from the Franz album. Which is of crucial importance, as it shows they have at least some capacity for variety.

82. JONATHAN RICHMAN - Cosi Veloce
Suitable for conga lines.

Cornball mainstream pop with schlocky true-life lyrics about being on friendly terms with you ex does not get any better than this. Nor should it.

84. LE TIGRE - After Dark
85. THE CRYSTAL METHOD - Born Too Slow
86. THE FAINT - Desperate Guys
87. KASABIAN - Club Foot
88. SCISSOR SISTERS - Comfortably Numb

I see you baby, shakin’ that ass, shakin’ that ass, shakin’ that ass.

89. LLOYD COLE - Late Night, Early Town
All quiet nights at home should be this thoughtful, peaceful, satisfying.

90. SNOW PATROL - How To Be Dead
What happens if you screw up U2’s directions.

91. SPIRALING - Ah, Sugar
Honey honey, you were my candy girl...

93. THE LIBERTINES - Can't Stand Me Now
95. SNOW PATROL - Spitting Games
96. COMMUNIQUE - Death Rattle Dance
97. TAKING BACK SUNDAY - A Decade Under The Influence

Long live rock.

98. PRINCE - Cinnamon Girl
The only track I went gaga for on the overrated Musicology was this pop-oriented non-Neil Young cover that recalls "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man."

Doesn’t it seem like this came out years ago?

100. MORRISSEY - America Is Not The World
We'll learn.

15 Favorite EPs Of 2004

1. PITTY SING - Demons, You Are The Stars In Cars 'Til I Die (Or)
2. CRAYON ROSARY - Crayon Rosary (XOXO)
3. THE TROUBLE WITH SWEENEY - Fishtown Briefcase (Burnt Toast Vinyl)
4. SPIRALING - Challenging Stage (no label)
5. HUMA - Huma (no label) 2003
6. THE BRAVERY - The Bravery (Loog)
7. BELLE & SEBASTIAN - Books (Rough Trade)
8. BELLE & SEBASTIAN - I'm A Cuckoo (Rough Trade)
9. BEN FOLDS - Super D (attackedbyplastic.com)
10. GROUP SOUNDS - Group Sounds (no label)
11. THE BLUE VAN – The Blue Van (TVT)
12. NUMBER TWELVE - Number Twelve (no label)
13. MY MORNING JACKET - Acoustic Citsuoca (ATO/RCA)
14. MOTEL CREEPS - Pleasantries In The Parlor (no label)
15. THE UPWELLING - The Upwelling (no label)

From New York City via Manchester, New Brunswick, Philly, Dunellen, New Brunswick, Brooklyn, Scotland, Scotland, Australia via North Carolina, New York City, Denmark, Strong Island, Kentucky, Jersey/NYC, and New York, respectively. All worthy, and all short—the best part, since it means we all have time to listen to them.

25 Favorite Reissues/Compilations/
Historical Releases Of 2004

The Capitol Albums Vol. 1


2. JOHN MELLENCAMP - Words & Music: John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits (Island/UTV)
Everything a good compilation should be: comprehensive but not overbearing. It takes two discs to tell the Mellencougar story properly, and that’s how many they use. No shitty single edits, no shitty live versions in place of album versions, no shitty previously unreleased material from the vaults, and not a single hit missing. He’s been underestimated his whole career, and yet here he is, adding to his legacy with far better work over the past 15 years than Petty and Springsteen combined. Hell, even I don't want to admit it, but his music has an awful lot of things in common with R.E.M. Listen without prejudice.

3. CAPTAIN SENSIBLE - The Collection (Universal - U.K.) 2003
The former Damned bassist’s hits—yes, he had a bunch in the U.K.—are refreshing like a perfect pint of lager. An ex-punk who didn’t take himself too seriously throughout the ‘80s and crafted a lot of memorable singles along the way. His #1 U.K. cover of South Pacific’s "Happy Town" anchors a collection that is marred only by its inclusion of the standard version of "Wot" (the 12" mix is superior) and the unconscionable omission of his holiday staple "One Christmas Catalogue," which is only the eighth best Christmas song of all time.

4. THE FALL - 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats (Beggars Banquet)
The Fall’s 25-year catalog is so sprawling and confusing that this two-disc distillation of their best ranks as one of the most necessary compilations of all time. Those more schooled in the weird world of Mark E. Smith might be able to tell you what’s missing, but consider this an essential document of the sharpest moments by one of the oddest and longest-lasting post-punk bands.

5. TALKING HEADS - The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads (Sire/Rhino)
I got a rousing good kick out of all the cool, cool kids who gratuitously slagged Stop Making Sense in their reviews of this mondo double-disc reissue of the Heads’ first live release. Can we all please admit that Stop Making Sense is pretty great too? That out of the way, this earlier document of a band at its peak powers truly is a revelatory, polyrhythmic treasure trove of killers who are psycho, buildings on fire with love going inside them, and governments about which we need not worry. A quintessential post-modern escapist fantasy, and a timely one at that.

6. THE CURE - Three Imaginary Boys (Fiction/Elektra/Rhino)
7. NILSSON - Schmilsson (RCA/BMG Heritage)
8. BOB DYLAN - The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 - Live 1964: Concert At Philharmonic Hall (Columbia/Legacy)
9. FREEDY JOHNSTON - The Way I Were: Four-Track Demos 1986-1992 (Bar/None)

Sometimes youth isn’t wasted on the young.

10. JOHN LENNON - Acoustic (Capitol)
The sticker on the front cover announces that seven of the performances were previously unreleased, but nowhere on the inside packaging is it mentioned which seven. Gee, thanks. He’s my favorite singer of all goddamn time, but even I haven’t had the patience or time to consult the packaging of The John Lennon Collection, the 1998 chowfest of John stuff that was previously vaulted (except, oh yeah, when most of it was broadcast on FM on The Lost Lennon Tapes), and figure out which takes had already been released there. A nice collection of roughs and demos, but no one has any business buying it unless they already own Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Double Fantasy and Milk & Honey.

11. NAS - Illmatic: 10 Year Platinum Series (Sony Urban/Columbia)
12. THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. - Ready To Die (Bad Boy)

The two best hip-hop albums to come out of New York City in the ‘90s, I think, but what do I know? Illmatic comes with a six-song bonus CD of useless remixes, the Biggie comes with a few videos on DVD, including the one where he mows down a bunch of suckas charging his house with machine guns; take your pick as to which one is more depressing.

13. VARIOUS - The Mayor Of The Sunset Strip: Original Soundtrack (Shout Factory)
It’s all happening on the soundtrack to the fascinating Rodney Bingenheimer documentary.

14. JOHN LENNON - Rock 'N' Roll (Capitol)
A major sonic improvement on a much maligned (and only somewhat fairly so) chunk of the Lennon canon.

15. LAURA NYRO - Live At The Fillmore East, May 30, 1971 (Columbia/Legacy)
Too bad I wasn’t conceived until about 10 days after this show, ‘cause it sounds like it was a great one.

16. SLADE - Get Yer Boots On: The Best Of (Shout Factory)
Their best song is a Christmas song, which means they rate even lower than Billy Squier, who at least has one song ("Everybody Wants You," if you're scoring at home) better than his Christmas song. Still, these glam guys were superstars in the U.K., and while they were basically a poor man’s Mott The Hoople, they’re worth a 16-song comp, and that’s exactly what this is.

17. M - New York London Paris Munich (Razor & Tie)
"Pop Muzik" is not the weirdest song ever to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, nor is it the best (although it’s awfully close), but it’s certainly the best weird song ever to hit #1. Here’s the full album version, plus, well, the rest of the album, some useless remixes, and the lost classic b-side "M Factor."

18. THE PRETTY THINGS - Come See Me: The Very Best Of (Shout Factory)
A solid gathering of great moments by the unsung heroes of ‘60s British rock and the true inventors of the rock concept album.

19. PAUL SIMON - The Paul Simon Songbook (Columbia/Legacy)
Fuck Rhymin’-era Simon; Paul’s true solo debut was this originally U.K.-only collection of stripped down takes on some of his best ‘60s material. A true revelation.

20. JAPAN - Assemblage (BMG)
21. PUFFY AMIYUMI - Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi: Music From The Series (Epic)

Bowie-influenced high-concept art-rock and female cartoon power-pop, in that order.

22. ROCKPILE - Seconds Of Pleasure (Columbia/Legacy)
The pub-rock supergroup’s only album.

23. JOBRIATH – Lonely Planet Boy (Attack)
Morrissey’s lovingly rendered compilation of tracks from the mid-‘70s non/a/pan/whateversexual glam aspirant to the Bowie throne. High kitsch factor, a few groaners, a few gems. An interesting companion to the Scissor Sisters record.

24. THE ELECTRAS - '60s Garage Rock Band (no label)
So they weren’t as hardcore as The Sonics—or even The Beach Boys—but John Kerry’s high school band had passable taste in cover material for 1961, and at least some of them seemed sort of able to play their instruments.

25. JUDAS PRIEST - Metalogy (Columbia/Legacy)
Four discs of Priest, which is about three and a half too many for me. That said, I listened all the way through and was reasonably impressed. Screaming For Vengeance was the first metal album I ever heard, and so there's a smidgen of nostalgia value to this music for me. And it’s criminal that the metal-studded, faux-leather box was not nominated for the "Boxed Set Recording Package" Grammy.

20 Favorite Live Shows Of 2004

1. R.E.M. at Madison Square Garden, November 4
2. ELTON JOHN at Radio City Music Hall, July 14
3. MORRISSEY and THE SHINS at The Apollo Theater, May 7
4. DONOVAN at DeBaun Auditorium, Stevens Institute Of Technology, May 2
5. HAMELL ON TRIAL at Fez, August 10
6. THE ALUMINUM GROUP at The Knitting Factory, March 20
7. TRIS MCCALL at Uncle Joe's, March 26
10. CRAYON ROSARY at The Goldhawk, October 17

11. PRINCE at Madison Square Garden, July 13
12. THE ELECTRIC SIX and THE FEVER at Maxwell's, July 16
13. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE and BEN KWELLER at Irving Plaza, April 7
14. THE HIVES and SAHARA HOTNIGHTS at Irving Plaza, July 21
15. PATTI SMITH at the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival, May 16
16. THE BLUE VAN at Mercury Lounge, September 29
17. TRASHCAN SINATRAS at Maxwell's, December 6
at Fez, April 21
19. VELVET REVOLVER at Roseland, May 26
20. THE KILLERS at Bowery Ballroom, August 16

About 32 hours after John Kerry's concession speech, R.E.M. took the stage at the Garden to restore at least a little bit of my faith in humanity. It was my first R.E.M. show since Brendan Byrne in September 1989, a full 15 years, and while Sasha Frere-Jones is right that they did play a bunch of "shitty new songs" that night, the old ones were so good, and the effect of hearing them nailed perfectly so entrancing—combined with the fact that the world felt like it was collapsing into itself in the wake of the election—that it was quite possibly the most religious concertgoing experience of my entire life.

Which is saying a lot, because it's hard to believe anything topped Elton John's symphony orchestra and 88-voice chorus show of mostly old, obscure material (would you believe six songs from 1970's self-titled album, and only three songs from post-1976?) and my first in-person pilgrimage to see the Moz, whose show might have been #1 if he'd played longer than an hour and a half and/or played more than three Smiths tunes.

Lots of old favorites here. Donovan's career retrospective show in Hoboken was so good it should be packaged as a DVD. Punk-folker Hamell On Trial is still the best live one-man show in rock & roll by a lot, The Aluminum Group's voices and charm still enthrall, Jersey rock crusader Tris McCall is one of the indie world's true originals (and he does a mean version of "Working On The Highway"), and the Loser's Lounge is still the coolest cover band on the planet. And then there's Prince, who still is funky, but does too many medleys, and Patti Smith, who is more cornball than punk these days, but still sings her songs with great passion and abandon. Woolsey, Tyler, and Rogers/Usher, from the NYC/Fez/Loser's Lounge mafia, could all go into business as a songwriter's school.

Jersey's own Rye Coalition and Crayon Rosary rock from different ends of the spectrum, and do so equally impressively. Sasha Alcott, The Fever, and BK represent for planet Brooklyn, The Hives and Hotnights for Sweden, and The Blue Van for Denmark. The Killers manage to be band of the year despite a fuck-you-very-much-too-short 45-minute headlining slot at The Bowery. Electric Six, Death Cab, and even Guns N' Pilots show you can still rock in America. Until they outlaw that, anyway.

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