domingo, 31 de janeiro de 2010

Os Melhores Discos de 2004 - Pitchfork

Riding in on a wave of hi-gloss dance music, glitch-heavy electro/acoustic hybrids, and disco-fueled punk noir, 2004 peered back past the Moroder era for inspiration, which it discovered in the foundations of primitive American folk music, vintage soul, dancehall reggae, and, of course, Smile. But the oddities were as intriguing as the trends: a powerfully emotive (and classically indie) conceptual rock epic, a brilliantly twisted 78-minute prog-pop masterpiece, an action-powered primetime TV throwback, and a modern psych-rock classic performed entirely in Swedish. What's more: It only seems to be getting better. As albums and tracks become increasingly accessible via MP3, and the web continues to invent more outlets for exposure to the best of them, we may all have to resign ourselves to the distinct possibility of there being more great music than time to take it all in.

50: Xiu Xiu
Fabulous Muscles

With Fabulous Muscles, Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart made no attempt to resolve the apparent incongruities between his experimental leanings and his talent for concise pop hooks. Rather, he finally gave this tension the necessary room to blossom. Xiu Xiu's trademark mish-mash of gamelan clangs, overdriven drum machine beats, and new wave guitars was employed much more economically on Fabulous Muscles, affording the album a structural distinctness lost on previous efforts. But it was Stewart's voice that truly rose to the occasion, taking on traces of Morrissey's rich and astute self-awareness, and pushing it to an almost unbearable level of intensity. There will always be those who accuse Xiu Xiu of cheap theatrics and over-the-top catharsis, but Fabulous Muscles succeeds as both the band's most aggressive and its most accessible album to date, proving that sometimes you have to reach pretty far up your ass to find your heart strings. --Matt LeMay

49: Max Richter
The Blue Notebooks
[Fat Cat]

My local library has a copy of The Blue Notebooks filed under "classical," which I guess makes about as much sense as any other tag they could have given it. Regardless of what you choose to call it, this is intensely powerful stuff, like raw emotion spilled out of fingertips onto the fingerboards of violins, the buttons and knobs of sequencers, and the keys of a grand piano. It's even a sort of concept album, the voice of a woman narrating as she hammers out a manuscript on a manual typewriter during the quiet interludes. Richter's expansive textures and sinewy string scores have a filmic quality that modern ears can't help imputing to them: "On the Nature of Daylight" plays while the hero walks through marble halls of learning as his best friend commits suicide across campus, and "Shadow Journal" is his late-night discovery of the perfect theorem. The Blue Notebooks sounds best when the sun is shining in other longitudes, when it can help beat back the dark of the night. --Joe Tangari

48: Loretta Lynn
Van Lear Rose

As potent a record as any of Rubin and Cash's work together, Van Lear Rose introduced a new generation to feisty Butcher Hollow native Loretta Lynn and added "producer" to Jack White's c.v. As Lynn updates her tales of divorcees, one-night stands, cheatin' men, and family bonds, White wrangles a posse of Detroit and Cincinnati musicians to put epic twang in the May-December hook-up single "Portland, Oregon", White Stripes ruckus in "Have Mercy", and barnstorming boogie in "Mrs. Leroy Brown". But Lynn sounds best-- vulnerable, heartbroken, steely, strong-willed-- on quieter numbers like "Trouble on the Line", the spoken "Little Red Shoes", and "Miss Being Mrs." Generous and good-hearted, closely observed but casual, they're less songs than late-in-life ruminations, coming from somewhere beyond the stage, the studio, or the record label. --Stephen M. Deusner

47: Comets on Fire
Blue Cathedral
[Sub Pop]

Comets on Fire reinstated their scorched brain policy in 2004, tearing open pleasure centers with a stir of echoplex, pure volume...and gentleness? Yes. Blue Cathedral is the best representation of what began over two previous albums-- it aligns screaming, moustache sweat guitar riffs, and unintelligible vocal splatter with shimmering stretches of organ, tinkling pianos, and mood-drenched percussive splashes. It's heavy, as the absolutely maniacal break about 1:30 into opener "The Bee and the Cracking Egg" will prove. But on Cathedral the quintet-- as officially joined by Six Organs of Admittance raga interpreter Ben Chasny-- is equally committed to crafting meandering layers and trances. This singeing of their thoughtful passages with frontal lobe reverb flamethrowers like "The Antlers of the Midnight Sun" is where Comets of Fire get their true power. It's the dynamic that makes Blue Cathedral at once one of the year's heaviest and most artful releases. --Johnny Loftus

46: Iron & Wine
Our Endless Numbered Days
[Sub Pop]

Shake off your kudzu-confessional fantasies. Anyone first hearing former film-school prof Sam Beam's lo-fi 2002 debut could be forgiven for thinking they'd stumbled upon a reel of autochthonous, pre-Alan Lomax field recordings. The Creek Drank the Cradle panned across soft-focus Southern gothic scenes like a Civil War-era Zapruder tape, and Beam had the Robert E. Lee beard to match. But Brian Deck's limpid production on this year's follow-up Our Endless Numbered Days confirms old man Beamer is a living, breathing denizen of the aught-four. His songs about the Southland, let's-grow-old-together love and glowering Old Testament deities are as haunting as ever, but now they're sharper and more self-aware. The ostensibly autobiographical intimacy of songs like "Birds Stealing Bread" has scattered like a smoke ring into such Faulknerian parables as "Sodom, South Georgia" or "Cinder and Smoke". But you can still rock your firstborn to sleep with the delicate, melodic "Each Coming Night" and the transcendent back-porch philosophizing of "Passing Afternoon". The disc's freshly polished sound is a reminder that Beam, unlike the antebellum ghosts he evokes, can keep giving us new cinematic visions of the old South. This one's enough to cherish for now. --Marc Hogan

45: The Concretes
The Concretes

This Swedish collective's previous release-- 2000's EP compilation Boy You Better Run Now-- is passable indie pop; no doubt a decent seller at Parasol or Darla but unlikely to even have made appearance on Sinister tape trees. Which makes this self-titled follow-up one of the year's more pleasant surprises. With its humid, hazy textures and woozy almost drunken arrangements, it's an indie pop album for the late-night taxi ride home rather than the pre-party cocktails. Sure, the record has a few handclaps and couple of Motown homages but they're weighed down by spoonfuls of Velvets-y lethargy and glassy-eyed consolation. Hmm, heartbreak, melancholia, and clinging to fleeting hopes-- perhaps this isn't so different from most indie pop after all. --Scott Plagenhoef

44: Camera Obscura
Underachievers Please Try Harder

I discovered 2004's most sublime, immediate pleasure by happy accident: Assuming Underachievers Please Try Harder was a new record by the other Camera Obscura, the noise rock ensemble (who knew there were two?), I was initially puzzled, and subsequently swooned, by this charming, urbane confection of Glaswegian indie-pop. It's lovelorn music that avoids the jagged peaks of teen angst and the well-worn grooves of adult heartbreak. Instead, it zeroes in on the young-adult nether realm between them, with canny specificity and a nuanced outlook that's bolstered by the balanced perspective of a male and female lyrical presence. And those melodies! Camera Obscura wears its influences so well you don't mind that one track sounds almost identical to Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne", and the whole thing smacks of Glasgow's other twee-pop darlings. Dear Catastrophe Whostress? As far as I'm concerned, this is the latest Belle and Sebastian record. --Brian Howe

43: Scissor Sisters
Scissor Sisters

The Scissor Sisters' first single-- a discofied remake of Pink Floyd's lumbering "Comfortably Numb"-- was a neat trick, but it could have cast them as Right Said Fred for the double-aughts. Instead, the Sisters lived down their novel image with their self-titled debut, a dozen tracks straddling everything from 70s disco and glam-rock to 90s house. They touted their pansexuality while squatting in Elton John's honky chateau, and behind the voguing were intelligent, inventive, and forthrightly emotional songs like "Laura" and "Take Your Mama", and "Mary". The album ends with the one-two punch of "It Can't Come Quickly Enough" and "Return to Oz"-- the former an ode to dreaming on the subway; the latter an epic evoking the New York club scene ravaged by drugs. Certainly, stronger stuff than your average pop album. --Stephen M. Deusner

42: Dj/rupture
Special Gunpowder

Jace Clayton's debut album declares revolt, struts through avenues strewn with police records, sees indifferent ghosts of enemies in tenement windows, and then stares at its bloodied hands with nostalgia. As DJ /Rupture, he previously took Timbaland's polyrhythmatics to its pan-ethnic logic on his baffling DJ mixes, Gold Teeth Thief and Minesweeper Suite, where Borbetomagus' skree-jazz found good company with Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly". For Special, he eschewed turntables and told a fable about Babylon's fall and the delirium that followed with live sung and performed raggacore, spoken-word, hip-hop, noisecore and Appalachian-folk instrumentation. The entire record is a stylistic mess and veers into so many dazed tangents about the chaos that Clayton leaves us with an exhausted Sindhu Zagoren lamenting over a banjo, "I wish I were a mole in the ground." The blood still cannot be washed and the ears still ring. --Cameron Macdonald

41: Les Savy Fav

It should be surprising to find a singles compilation on a year-end list, but for Les Savy Fav's legion of wild-eyed adherents, this is a no-brainer. Inches is the culmination of a seven-year project that collects both sides of nine 7'' singles onto one career-spanning disc. Les Savy Fav's consistently electrifying live performances indulge in a sort of beautiful atrophy, where Tim Harrington begins in poised malevolence, then sheds layers of clothing and self-esteem until his de-evolution to an engine of debased humanity is complete. Following suit, Inches is arrayed in reverse chronological order, beginning with the streamlined, dancey post-punk of Les Savy Fav's latest efforts, then steadily regressing to the rawboned chainsaw rock of their earliest. A yawn yawn yawn is just a hair away from a scream scream scream, and it's this tension between cosmopolitan cynicism and raging sincerity on which Inches holds its spin. --Brian Howe

40: The Walkmen
Bows and Arrows

When they're not busy playing gigs in the OC or driving Saturns through early childhood, The Walkmen still miraculously find the time to release phenomenal albums. With their follow-up to 2002's Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, The Walkmen continue to tighten their songwriting; Bows and Arrows is the rare album that's equal parts hook-y accessibility and multi-layered, slow-burn appreciation. They rock sparingly but with great efficacy when it's time to bring down the house, launching into high-octane, guitar-steered thrillers-- notably the desperate betrayal of "The Rat"-- whenever it suits them. They also fill the gaps with beautiful, drunken remembrances ("My Old Man", "138th Street") and hushed piano numbers ("Hang On Siobhan")-- tracks that are easy in their laid-back simplicity but slowly reveal themselves to be subtle, elegant compositions. If puzzling media exploits are what it takes to keep The Walkmen interested and to keep the albums coming, here's hoping the viewing public keep them hip-deep in 90210 clones for years to come. --Eric Carr

39: Cee-Lo
Cee-Lo Green Is a Soul Machine

Eccentricity in hip-hop died when Tupac hung up his bathrobe and shower cap and stopped dancing for Digital Underground. It returned when ex-Goodie Mob icon Cee-Lo Green did his first live show shirtless and donned a mohawk of swan feathers pasted to his knotty head. Cee-Lo proves his solo viability on Soul Machine and balances his artistic poles, dabbling in both southern bounce and starry-eyed soul with equal enthusiasm and talent. Rappers with pipes have many imitators but few peers, and Cee-Lo's scratchy vocals are merely amplied by his performer's spirit. Timbaland's drumline banga "I'll Be Around" will be a staple of every college formal grindfest, and "All Day Love Affair" steals a lesson plan from the Harold Melvin School of Performing Arts. With near flawless consistency, Cee-Lo's sophomore release is an instant classic. Who knows? Maybe he's actually that dancing robot from "The Gong Show" that caught on fire. --Jamin Warren

38: Morrissey
You Are The Quarry

Steven Patrick Morrissey has always been a polarizing figure. He didn't help proponents this year by saddling us with Dido rhythm tracks and producer Jerry Finn's monochrome palette. But people criticized the production on The Smiths, too. With Morrissey, it's always about the assiduously ambiguous songwriting, and You Are the Quarry provides plenty of reasons to think of Moz kindly. For one, "The First of the Gang to Die" is Morrissey's finest pop song since "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get". His effete croon is in career-best form, too. Whoever said Morrissey can't play an instrument never heard the way his voice subtly quivers as he delivers the name "Cromwell" in the riotous "Irish Blood, English Heart", his gloriously idiosyncratic timing in "I'm Not Sorry", or his show-stopping bathos in "Come Back to Camden". Gelignite aimed at sundry quarry-- America, England, boring pop stars, critics, and most all himself-- Morrissey reconfirms his lasting significance. --Marc Hogan

37: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Virðulegu forsetar

Like a frozen bugle's subtly looped funeral call, Jóhann Jóhannsson's Virthulegu forsetar unfurls with mesmerizing, oscillating patience over one sublime hour. Recorded in a large church in Reykjavik, Iceland, the epic snow glide harnesses airy voices of 11 upfront brass players plus percussion, electronics, glockenspiel, bells, organ, and piano to birth a four-part tone poem and more goose-bumps than the most glacial Sigur Rós hailstorm. (In addition to the stereo CD, a hybrid DVD offers an engulfing high-resolution 96khz, 24 bit 5.1 surround mix, and a 96khz 24bit stereo mix.) While reactions are bound to be melodramatic (as they should be), in Jóhannsson notes to the piece he lists a number of sturdier things he kept in mind as he composed, including entropy, Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, small birds, heat, space, energy, Nietszche's eternal recurrence, and Moebius strips. By bolstering his fragile sounds with these solid references Jóhannsson avoids the bathetic, adding intellectual complexity to an emotional, perfectly whispered symphony. --Brandon Stosuy

36: Excepter

Experimental quintet Excepter built up a following among hardcore noise and improv followers playing house shows and streaming their live stuff for free online (in addition to issuing a few ultra-limited CDRs), but didn't really get their due as one of the most interesting collectives in rock-- and these days, that's saying a lot for a group of Brooklynites-- until Fusetron issued their debut 12-inch KA on CD this year, appending it with the Vacation EP. Suddenly, a private, surreal experience became exposed for the decidedly inclusive, emotionally detailed experience it could be. KA makes clear that chaos and ambiguity in music make for particularly potent active ingredients. Excepter are hardly the first band to illustrate that principal, but as of today, they are one of the best. More than that, they spin something beautiful out of the storm. --Dominique Leone

35: Mirah
C'mon Miracle

Anyone who followed Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn's work prior to C'mon Miracle knew that she was capable of bombast, but few could have guessed just how explosive her usually introverted singer/songwriter material could be. On her Phil Elvrum-produced third album, Mirah expands her sound and scope without sacrificing the immediate, personal allure of her songs. She offers thoughtful but impassioned political commentary masquerading as an effervescent pop masterpiece on "Jerusalem" but retains her characteristic tenderness on personal narratives like "Nobody Has to Stay" and the spare but deceptively sprawling "We're Both So Sorry". Even the album's sparsest moments are accentuated with enough subtle orchestral flourishes to distinguish Mirah from a myriad of similar artists, and her lyrics have arguably never been sharper or more directly poignant. Miracle's well-considered eclecticism and ornate arrangements never overshadow the fundamental strength of Mirah's songwriting, which has never been as cohesive or affecting. --David Moore

34: Espers

The three core members of Espers-- Greg Weeks, Meg Baird, and Brooke Sietinsons-- together comprise a living, breathing lexicon of grassroots folk-rock, with the gentle spirits of such long-gone groups as Trader Horne, Shide & Acorn, and Agincourt hovering communally about their campfire. Garnished generously with luxurious strands of recorder, flute, autoharp and dulcimer, songs like "Flowery Noontide" and "Daughter" almost sound as though they were channeled rather than written, with the members of Espers simply giving voice to melodies gathered naturally from the ozone. But the proceedings are also laced with a powerful undercurrent of dissonance (most obviously on the extended acid outro of "Hearts and Daggers") built to ensure that we're never permitted to simply drift away unmoored, our sails filled with Espers' mystical and entrancing exhalations. --Matthew Murphy

33: The Futureheads
The Futureheads

As my high school government teacher liked to remind his cherubs, the best way to get good grades is to K.I.S.S.: Keep it simple, stupid! I don't know who taught these Sunderland, England cut-ups about the Magna Carta, but Mr. Long's brayed directives must have echoed across the Atlantic. Hardly warmed-over 70s post-punk, The Futureheads recontextualize Anglo brattiness while wielding their instruments with the skill to humble their godly forebears. Kate Bush fans are going ape over the band's cover of "Hounds of Love", pop hedonists will dig "Meantime" and "Decent Days and Nights", punks will go for "Alms" and "He Knows", and basically anyone with a scrap of melody in them will appreciate "Carnival Kids". The Sex Pistols might have helmed a flotilla and blew out the Thames, but The Futureheads are done-up and debonair enough to seize the Palace and rock it to the Stone Age from within. --Sam Ubl

32: Califone
Heron King Blues

In the dead of night, the Heron King stalks the park, carrying with him the memory of America's music; but he's forgotten how to separate it, and it all comes out as a singular vision of blues, jazz, soul, funk, rock and country as one music, indivisible. Califone do the heavy lifting of actually playing the songs, and Heron King Blues is the King's word salad audio diary filtered through a modern studio. R&B harmonies rise from the rounded beats of "Trick Bird" to be devoured by the acoustic shambles of "Sawtooth Sung a Cheater's Song", where guitars sound like banjos, cellos sound like slide guitars, and the whole messy mixture sounds like the flow of the Mississippi brought to aural life. The swamp funk workout of "2 Sisters Drunk on Each Other" plays like a fever dream dance party for woodland creatures and the 15-minute title track comes coated in the mud of the Delta, the steel of East Coast skyscrapers and the slag of the rust belt. Meanwhile, the Heron King continues his midnight run, forgetting old combinations of sounds and imagining new ones to put in their places. --Joe Tangari

31: De La Soul
The Grind Date
[Sanctuary Union]

Few rappers ever willingly step away from the game; most get booted from the limelight for blatant irrelevance and spend their waning capital plotting an impossible return to stardom. Or they start a label. To see De La Soul run through the typical career stop signs and drop one of the hottest releases of 2004 is truly phenomenal. To be frank, 2004 needed an album like this: The Grind Date evokes the joy of a 90s house party without the flippancy, and it provides ample reminder of the highlights of Native Tongues hip-hop. With the help of producer Supa Dave West and a slew of guests from Ghostface to MF Doom, De La's seventh release brims with honesty and sagacity as the trio appropriately updates their portfolio and shape their plug-tunin', hi-fade personas into true hip-hop legends. Check Dave and Pos' verses on "He Comes" or "No" and bask in the wisdom of veterans. --Jamin Warren

30: William Basinski
The Disintegration Loops

The liner notes to The Disintegration Loops discuss at length William Basinski's connection of this music with the collapse of New York's twin towers. The collection's four discs even feature photos of the destruction from his rooftop, gradually progressing from morning to night. Of course, Basinski's associaton of this music with those events is the least interesting thing about it. What's most compelling is these recordings' own bizarre attributes: the extremely subtle shifts that gradually transform each piece from hopeful to defeated; their supernaturally calming effects; and how, particularly at low volumes, the music-- the sound of decades-old analog tape loops deteriorating during digital transfers-- sounds not like music itself, but rather like a memory of music you might have heard long ago. --Ryan Schreiber

29: A.C. Newman
The Slow Wonder

There are so few top-notch power-pop albums these days that a standout like Carl "A.C." Newman's The Slow Wonder feels almost like a recipient of tokenism when it garners glowing appraisals. Newman may be isolated atop the 2004 yield, but his success isn't due to scarcity; rather, he owes it to these hymns of soulful and surrealistic beauty. There's nothing languorous about The Slow Wonder, a magnificently taut collection of spangled pop gems sung by a fiery-coifed Canadian whose tenor sounds choked in a perpetual wine haze. Newman solo evokes a gauzier, more bookish New Pornographers (his primary band) while retaining the soaring, clear-headed guitars ("Battle For Straight Time", "35 in the Shade") and sticky vocal hooks ("Miracle Drug", "On the Table") for which that band won due notoriety. Great power-pop records may be increasingly scarce, but The Slow Wonder has the moxie to keep the genre pumping. --Sam Ubl

28: Junior Boys
Last Exit

Love albums not drenched in acoustic guitars and pastel tones are generally European providence, so how unlikely that this year's strangest and most beautiful should be birthed in Hamilton, Ontario. At least Last Exit feels distinctly European, or more specifically, like two completely different eras of British music wended into one. Combining the drippy, analog romanticism of 80s new-wave and synthpop acts with the crisp, stop-start rhythms of late 90s UK garage, the Junior Boys combined the sum of their many influences and dreamt up a sound of their own, one far-ranging enough to warrant comparisons to Gary Numan, Artful Dodger, and Timbaland. That they also happened to write some of the year's prettiest, most lovelorn melodies was a happy coincidence. --Mark Pytlik

27: Interpol

And so those dapper and dour New York kids come around again with more songs about water and women and combating salacious removal. Paul Banks continues to ply his syncopated nonsense, jumbles of sound so ridiculously profound, the words tied around his sepulchral bombastic voice like the high-heel straps of the girl he'll never reach. And the band, tuned to the proper frequency of dramatic romance and wild-eyed pathos, translates these tortured love songs into expansive epics that ooze cool and, if you let them, make all the sense in the world. If naysayers want to bag on the group for letting their second-hand freak flags fly yet again, let them pound sand. The one place Interpol's cribbing their moves from this time around is Turn on the Bright Lights, which of course brings to mind a litany of reference points and Name That Vocal Influence. They've earned that right, though-- after two successful records of this, it's come to the point that the Next Big Thing might have to answer for ripping off Interpol. --David Raposa

26: Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand didn't seek to change rock music, but they certainly helped revitalize it-- and the astounding success of indie rock gem-cum-discopop smash "Take Me Out" is only the crowning jewel in a debut full of comparably powerful songs. Who could hate "Michael", the unintentional dance floor counter-anthem to 2004's Great Wave of Homophobia? Who could deny "Cheating on You" its effortless dominance over the year's glut of mediocre garage-rockers, or rob "Jacqueline" of its slyly self-effacing machismo charm? Franz Ferdinand made its name on these collected moments, and no amount of exposure could hide the fact that there isn't a single weak one to be found. --David Moore

25: Various Artists
DFA Compilation #2

By this time last year, there were a lot of epitaphs written for the DFA-- mostly by people pissing on rather than weeping at their grave. The backlash was so great that even those of us who had spent the past couple of years enthralled with the loose-limbed trinity of Echoes, "Cone Toaster" / "Endless Happiness", and "Losing My Edge" / "Beat Connection" sort of expected to be bored with whatever James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy were up to next. Well, for those of you who hopped off the L Train a few stops ago, what they did next was take a few leaps followed by a couple of bounds, crafting stark and skronky dance music, art-noir punk-funk, and a 15-minute epic about workplace sinisterism. So let the haters stumble over one another in the rush to plant new flags and kickstart another backlash; that leaves a little more room on the floor for the rest of us. --Scott Plagenhoef

24: TV on the Radio
Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
[Touch & Go]

This year's 2004 Shortlist winners managed a feat that's becoming increasingly difficult with every passing year-- sounding like no other band before them. Urban barbershop hymns. Industrial barber-soul. Adjectives break down in attempts to accurately describe the sound; in a critical mode where comparison is often the handiest description, it speaks volumes that "barbershop" is the first word that comes to mind-- saying as much about the odd prevalence of multi-octave harmonies and verbal percussion that permeates the music as the distinct lack of any other immediate touchstones. David Sitek's relentless, grinding backbeats and minimalist soundscapes are thrown into relief by Kyp Malone's wavering falsetto harmonies and Tunde Adebimpe's soulful leads, creating a brilliantly conflicted, disconnected masterpiece; Adebimpe's powerful vocals raise the contrast further, dropping socio-political bombs and lyrics as emotionally distant as the U.S. tax code. The kinks of this unique sound are still being worked out; Desperate Youth may wear itself out by the end, but it's still one of the most original rock albums to come 'round in a long, long time. --Eric Carr

23: Modest Mouse
Good News for People Who Love Bad News

That Modest Mouse were able to bring "Float On" so perilously close to Summer Anthem status is, first and foremost, a fantastic fuck-you to the resilient "American Idol" notions of a proper pop vocal. Mr. Brock has a gloriously bad voice (there's one SNL appearance that wasn't lip-synced) but an amazingly brave and weirdly festive one; it's like vomiting confetti. It takes a lot to graze the top 20 with an album backloaded with gruff ballads and smuggling a hard-on for Tom Waits; it takes even more to back it up with a major push, so cheers to Sony or whomever. The best bits of Good News...-- "Bukowski", "Bury Me With It"-- have a genuine, unselfconscious weirdness that trumps the pretense found elsewhere and the gloss covering it all: Modest Mouse's freak flag is unfurling on a rather expensive pole these days, but that, of course, is the whole joke. --Michael Idov

22: The Foreign Exchange

In a parallel dimension, McWorld perhaps, the Netherlands and North Carolina would be adjacent provinces where deejays and emcees could trade material by hand instead over the internet. Lord Phonte and Prince Nicolay would rule the province with a white glove, conscripting family's first boys and girls into the service of the king's hip-hop army. Connected is the closest version of this pipe dream, a sweltering, improbable transatlantic collaboration between two budding all-stars. Dutch wunderkind Nicolay's arrangements drip with pathos and snap with authenticity while Little Brother's Phonte strikes a thoroughly organic connection. With few exceptions, this album exudes originality and artistry from the elysian rhythmatics on "The Answer" to the molasses bass and lustrous brass on "Nic's Groove." Don't be scared; it's okay to fall in love with hip-hop again. --Jamin Warren

21: Fennesz

While Jóhann Jóhannsson launched chilly air-born arias in 2004, fellow Touch artist, Parisian/Viennese electro composer and guitarist Christain Fennesz, turned-in a cavernous, reverberating My Bloody Valentine riverbed streaming with stringed miscellany and soft-cornered static. Fennesz is most most hypnotic when his instrumentation's unidentifiable. On his first studio album since 2001's Endless Summer, he evokes waterlogged, crystalline interiors and-- quite magically-- his opaque formula remains equally diffuse. Hyperbole aside, the only misstep is "Transit" and its tremulous vocal harmonies; but in its wake Fennesz wisely submerges the listener back into the murky instrumental depths for the album's remaining four tracks. Complementing this dark blue geography, labelhead Jon Wozencroft's accompanying photos of pitch-black ocean loam, shivering curlicues of an icy airport, peeling salty boats anchored into shadows, and the prosaic world dispersed through reflective water, unpack Venice's quiet beauty better than anything written on the album thus far. --Brandon Stosuy

20: Air
Talkie Walkie

Talkie Walkie pleased longtime Air fans but it wasn't a return to Moon Safari. This record feels deeper, less confined to the background, and-- with all lead vocals by Dunckel and Godin-- more personal than their 1998 breakthrough. Air have gone from watching stars to watching people, and if the romantic sentiments are simple, the music that carries them is plenty complex. Dozens of instruments by these master arrangers and a Nigel Godrich mix is why god invented headphones. As long as we get a record like Talkie Walkie every few years, we'll happily follow Air through the spoken word collaborations and past the hit and miss experiments of 10,000Hz Legend. We'll even allow an occasional Beck collaboration. --Mark Richardson

019: Björk

Björk confounded and amazed us again, as is her way. For Medulla, the lawful evil witch of Iceland took us on a captivating trip inside the throats of she and her hired gang of mouth geniuses. Growl pro Mike Patton, the beatboxing of Rahzel, intuitive prog-pop seeker Robert Wyatt, the Icelandic Choir's ethereal call-- on Medulla, these contributors' voices swirl around and through Björk's pleading melodies and enigmatic yet ultimately healing words. They help her create another mysterious comforting landscape with only the nimblest of instrumentation as a guide; the results are both sensual and dizzying, suggesting wintertime embraces and gasps of pain. As important as concept is to her projects-- so much so that the art direction and general weightiness of a Björk release have come to exist almost as separate entities from her music-- what matters most on Medulla is an intimacy that's whispered, grunted, and cried. --Johnny Loftus

018: Kanye West
The College Dropout

With Kanye's tireless ubiquity now verging on tacky (dude's in the new Hoobastank video-- at least Jigga picked a fun rock band), it's tempting to want to downgrade College Dropout from great to good. But, nah: Despite the fact that it spawned more singles than Kraft, West's bridge between backpack and "Lean Back" remains sturdy even still. While College Dropout's prodigious production was almost certainly its main selling point, who could have guessed that West's flow would defy producer-picks-up-a-Shure tradition by being technically sound, clever and funny-- no small feat for even the most gifted emcee (paging Encore). Even discarding the five singles (six if you count "Slow Jamz"), there's still lots to love here, namely the bumping 60s soul of "Spaceship," the rolling "Never Let Me Down", and the scorching "Two Words". --Mark Pytlik

017: Sufjan Stevens
Seven Swans
[Sounds Familyre]

In 2003, Sufjan Stevens got everybody riled thanks to the release of Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State, a record tenuously built around his conflicted relationship to his home state, and the first in a purported series of 50 state-themed concept albums. But instead of leaping straight into Illinois, Stevens followed-up Michigan with the comparably quiet Seven Swans, a soft, lulling meditation on faith, friendship, and love. In a year where Christianity is becoming unfortunately (and inextricably) linked to horrifying right-wing fundamentalism, Seven Swans gingerly reaffirms the thoughtful tenets of faith-based living, without ever delving too far into dangerously didactic waters. Endearingly scrappy-- and without the swelling orchestral flourishes of Michigan-- Seven Swans is a sparse, intimate meditation, all banjo and whispers, promises, and fears. --Amanda Petrusich

016: Dizzee Rascal

On Boy in Da Corner, Dizzee sounded like a cocky, hungry kid with something to prove. Those days are over. On Showtime, Dizzee came into his own, focusing his awkward, rangy bark into a tense, vicious, cocksure sneer. He's found the effortless confidence all great rappers have; he believes every word he's saying. You ain't got the guts, he ain't got the time. He don't find shit funny if you ever try to go against the flow of his money. As with all the great rappers, Dizzee's introspective, tender side is just as real as his hard nihilism; "Imagine" is the year's most thoughtful, gorgeous, vulnerable hip-hop rumination. Dizzee's beats are as distinctive and powerful as his words: the twinkling pianos on "Fickle", the rumbling bass on "Graftin'", and the berserk laser blurts of "Stand Up Tall" could come from no one else. Showtime is the sound of a ferociously determined young dude twisting and molding hip-hop into something altogether new, something he owns. --Tom Breihan

015: Annie

The singles "Chewing Gum", "Heartbeat", and "The Greatest Hit" have their own fabulous appeal, but Anniemal is a fantastic album throughout mostly because its downtime feels so decidedly personal. Stricken for three years by the death of her producer-beau, Norway's Annie gives us a full-length that's as much an antidote for her grief as it is grief's ultimate symptom. Tender Röyksopp-produced, Shalamar-sampling grooves like "No Easy Love" wrench ventricles without getting bloody, just as the uproariously tongue-in-cheek "Anniemal" cracks a smile without playing the fool; "Come Together"-- a slicker, modern "Last Dance"-- somehow does both. Pop albums can be fun and funny and serious and saddening, but few of them play so continually bittersweet as Anniemal. --Nick Sylvester

014: Erlend Øye

Despite the accolades we threw at the concept last year, the intersection of dance and indie rock was still missing a key element: A competent DJ who wasn't focused on endless Gang of Four knockoffs. Unexpectedly, a moonlighting King of Convenience was more than happy to fill this void, putting together an endearingly amateur mix for the DJ - series that proved The Rapture could sit comfortably betwixt Kompakt and sleazy house. Earnestly playing karaoke with his picks or just singing The Smiths and Bananarama over whatever beat fits, Øye proves he's the perfect placid guide for an audience new to music without guitars, easing rockists in with Phoenix and Cornelius then laser-blasting them with the electronic bliss of Alan Braxe & Fred Falke and Ricardo Villalobos. For legions of pale, skinny, bespectacled kids looking to cut a tentative rug, DJ-Kicks establishes Øye as the scene's Øakenfold. --Rob Mitchum

013: Dungen
Ta Det Lugnt

Dungen made it on this list not just by psych-rocking with his pitt out-- dig the near-flawless run of tunes in the album's first half-- but by doing it with a subtle charm that lights up the elaborate segues and peaks with the amped-up Charlie Brown skating music at its mid-point. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Gustav Ejstes has an ear for sonic detail that's striking from the first drum intro to the weeping orchestra, and his gun-barrel-smooth tenor is both driven and serene. Who even cares what he's saying on this album's Swedish-language lyrics? Peace and goodwill to all men, and pass the reindeer-antler bong. --Chris Dahlen

012: M.I.A. / Diplo
Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1

M.I.A. makes it sound like nothing. Producer Diplo hits her with cold, buzzing, unforgiving beat after cold, buzzing unforgiving beat: the gargling sandworm bass of Dead Prez's "Hip-Hop", the oscillating, weightless clicks and beeps of Clipse and Baby's "What Happened to That Boy", the candy-plastic electro boom of Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It". But Maya Arulpragasam just floats above it all, absentmindedly skipping her easy, breezy, beautiful voice over half the devastating bangers in Diplo's DJ crate. Nothing bothers her. Nothing touches her. She glides over blaring synths and roiling drums and booming basslines, pulling all the chaos together into a euphoric, utopian outer-space party with a giggle and a shrug and an endless supply of perfectly tossed-off hooks. Diplo tosses in a furious Lil Vicious verse and a winding Clipse banger and a gorgeously perfect Bangles remix, but M.I.A. soars past everything like, I don't know, Snoopy. Or Jesus. She's so cool. --Tom Breihan

011: Sonic Youth
Sonic Nurse

Believe it or not, the Yoof is over 20 years young, and they've struck many poses during those two decades: prankster noiseniks, violent soundscapists, popular culture sucker-punchers, dirty popsters, cutting-edge curmudgeons, elegiac elder statesmen, burnt-out polyglots, shattered reflective hippies. Surprisingly, it's on Sonic Nurse where all these disparate identities coalesce into a unified front. The surprise isn't that they were able to perform such a minor miracle-- fans might remember a couple of records called Sister and Daydream Nation turning similar tricks-- but that it came this late in the game. Instead of just another album of Kim's caterwauling and Thurston's thoughtful mewling (and the obligatory spot for Lee), this is a record of Sonic Youth songs: beatific and fearful, destructive and restorative, warily optimistic, looking back while looking forward, taking neither view for granted. Constantly risking absurdity, they climb to a high wire of their own making, of electric string guitars and belly flowers, performing their own peculiar theatrics, all without mistaking any thing for what it may not be. And on these terms, they will always succeed. --David Raposa

10: Joanna Newsom
The Milk-Eyed Mender
[Drag City]

Joanna Newsom possesses one of the shrillest, most keening voices you may ever hear, a sort of cawing, screeching, open-mawed banshee affectation that can be oddly endearing, but usually just makes people wish they were deaf. At first. But like some notoriously trying vocalists before her-- Tom Waits, Jeff Mangum, Bj�rk-- it's a trial-by-fire that challenges notions of what makes a good vocalist, and once you've allowed yourself to adjust, its inimitability lends it a nearly unmatched authenticity and intimacy. Of course, the struggle of working through this squall wouldn't be worth the effort were Newsom not such a rare lyricist and tunesmith. The Milk-Eyed Mender is, in fact, unspeakably beautiful beneath its squawking exterior, and an invaluable addition to the folk canon-- "freak," or otherwise. --Ryan Schreiber

09: Ghostface
The Pretty Toney Album
[Def Jam]

As a whole, The Pretty Toney Album takes forever to get through-- 18 tracks, tons of guest spots, several dud skits-- but considered individually these parts more than compensate. No longer a Killah, Ghostface shouts, squeals, sings, and shibboleths high-quality rhymes over consistently solid production from RZA to No ID to Nottz to the Ironman himself. Ghostface hardly brags Wu here, instead keeping Starks asphalt and carnal; sweet but and not without a comeuppance. In the Pretty Toney universe, "Love the fact when there's a baby bein' born/ Like Push girl, come on'" coexists peacefully with "It tickles when you put your hands on my balls." 2004 saw some unusually humane mainstream hip-hop releases-- The College Dropout and Street's Disciple come to mind-- and while not nearly as confessional or commercially successful, The Pretty Toney Album definitely felt the most cohesive and the most exciting. --Nick Sylvester

08: The Go! Team
Thunder Lightning Strike
[Memphis Industries]

I tried to escape. They opened throttle in pursuit with amphibious helicopters, talking cars, and TV fanfares. I said that music with so many antecedents couldn't possibly sound this refreshingly original. They poured chocolate milk on a bowl of Froot Loops, turned up the Saturday morning cartoons, and thwacked me over the head with an army of crime-fighter trumpets-- taunting me all the while with old-school rhymes, cheerleader chants, and old Jackson 5 melodies. I accused them of not playing their own instruments-- only sample-based party-favors like The Avalanches or Rjd2 could hopscotch genre so capriciously! Ian Parton punched me with piano keys and gelded me with guitar chords before plunging a recorder through my windpipe. A rainbow appeared in the sky, a dance party broke out in Brooklyn, and someone handed me a lollipop. I never drank Mountain Dew after midnight again. --Marc Hogan

07: Devendra Banhart
Rejoicing in the Hands
[Young God]

Remember when the word "folk" triggered a little spasm of nausea? It's open mic night and a scruffy dude drags a guitar on stage. What's his music like? Oh, you know, acoustic stuff, kind of "folky". God, no, please. As it was with blues, the boomer appropriation of the word "folk" excised idiosyncrasies in favor of standardization. Devendra Banhart brings back to folk the creepy, the playful, and the surreal, and jettisons completely the topical. Miles better than his lo-fi first record (somebody put his warbly 4-track out of its misery, please), Rejoicing in the Hands has Banhart fully internalizing his influences and finding a unique voice. It's an album of brand new songs you've known all your life-- instantly catchy but strange, with an agelessness that suggests Banhart found his tunes in an old steamer trunk. A glorious reminder of what we were missing. --Mark Richardson

06: Madvillain
[Stones Throw]

This all-star match-up of Madlib and MF Doom leaked as demos an entire year before it hit the stores, and it still seems to shift and resettle every time you spin it: Madlib's lo-fi production hovers at the edge of consciousness, using old radio dramas, 50s night clubs, the crime-filled alleys of Chinatown, and the "BIF!" "PANG! "WHAM!" of comic books to draw the jagged, action-packed frames around Doom's flow. Madvillainy delivers such short cuts that it has almost no low or high points, and instead of big hooks you get a run of Doom's most villainous, hilarious rhymes. The collaboration brings out the best in both men, without copying anything in their catalogs; it's pulp-nostalgia rendered with comical menace, "written in cold blood with a tooth pick" but blunted in a smoky haze. --Chris Dahlen

05: Brian Wilson

On one hand, you had the most bitterly divisive election of our generation and an accompanying war that sparks debate at the drop of a hat; on the other, you have Smile. What will I remember most about 2004? At this point, I can't honestly say. Beach Boys fans certainly waited a long time for this, and the rock press at large had a stake. But how do you really measure the impact of this album in the context of "now?" The recording is new, of course, but the music is irreversibly of another age. Maybe it's just the rock crit in me that has to ask. Maybe Brian Wilson's music, as it has always been, makes more sense in a personal context than a historical one-- even as I recognize that they are, at heart, dependent on each other. There are lots of minutely differing ways to spin this record, from a "redemption" to a "belated triumph," but in the end, it really is just that teenage symphony to God Wilson tried to make way back when. Sure, that could mean any number of things to any number of people. And that's probably the best measure of its impact I'll ever get. --Dominique Leone

04: The Fiery Furnaces
Blueberry Boat
[Rough Trade]

I made it through the wilderness; somehow I made it through-oo-hoo. So deep was my love for Blueberry Boat, it made me feel like I was being musically touched for the very first time. Which is a actually a pretty horrible thing for a critic to deal with, to be honest-- how can I maintain my position's necessary fa�ade of crotchety, grizzled cynicism if a band comes along and delivers everything I ever wanted from music? I can't help but take it personally when I find someone who doesn't love this album unconditionally, or how it isn't sitting at the summit of this here list. Is it self-indulgent? Sure, but gloriously so. Pretentious? Only in a schoolkid overactive imagination sort of way. Dense? Well, since when was that a bad thing? Music might not require intense scrutiny to be an artistic achievement, but Blueberry Boat is so rich with ideas it keeps surprising me after hundreds of listens-- and believe me, I've tested it. That it came from a band that could've all too easily been White Striped out of relevance, that it didn't resemble anything else from the drought-stricken cornfields of indie rock, that it just sounded so damn fun to make-- all these reasons had this old music whore feeling more like a...something. --Rob Mitchum

03: The Streets
A Grand Don't Come for Free

To this day, I still find it hard to understand how Mike Skinner could lose a shoebox full of money in (not behind-- in) a TV. I mean, given that he's not exactly rolling in it, I guess it stands to reason that he'd have one of those secondhand refrigerator box clunkers but my grandmother had one of those too, and she never lost anything down it, much less a shoebox's worth.
In the end it doesn't matter much-- Skinner's charms are such that I'm willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of continuity. As on his debut, Original Pirate Material, he proves himself a gifted narrator, with the massive scope afforded by the album's 11-song story arc giving him even more freedom to dote on the day's minutiae. And much like actual life, Skinner's so caught up on the little things that he doesn't see the big ones coming-- he stews over cellphone signals and broken televisions without realizing that his best friend and girlfriend have begun an affair. The drama leads to a goosebump-inducing soliloquoy in the closer "Empty Cans", which eventually concludes just as the album began: with Skinner leaving his house in a rush, his mind on the day ahead of him, dismantling it one small detail at a time. --Mark Pytlik

02: Animal Collective
Sung Tongs
[Fat Cat]

By mid-2004, most music fans had grown just as tired of smug old Brooklyn as they were of self-insulating "iron"-- global conflicts were escalating to disastrous levels, politics seemed hopelessly stunted, and warmth and compassion suddenly (and unexpectedly) seemed to become the most appealing aesthetic choices. Thankfully, Animal Collective's magnificent, soaring Sung Tongs successfully and wholeheartedly eschewed spent, Brooklyn-bound ideas about suave sonic detachment and trucker hat-indifference. Sung Tongs is an emotionally thrilling record, impossibly giddy and fully-charged with big, raucous enthusiasm: Acoustic strums and wild, flailing voices (including some mind-blowing harmonies by vocalists Avey Tare and Panda Bear) coalesce into something sublimely weird and undeniably beautiful. Consequently, Sung Tongs is the perfect soundtrack to a six-year old's birthday party, complete with easy singalongs, gleeful hollers of "meow!," and man-made bird twitters-- all cupcakes and costumes and unadulterated bliss. Chances are, 2004 will go down as the year Indiedom collectively flipped for freak folk, and Animal Collective's role in that is undeniable: Somehow, Sung Tongs managed to make us all feel a little but happier, at a time when we most needed it. --Amanda Petrusich

01: The Arcade Fire

Funeral could open on a black winter night in any North American city, inside the mind of anyone trapped by youth and desperate for a way out. Its scene is set on the fantasy of escapism-- the urgent need we all face in teenhood to break from our parents' lives, to build our own and never look back-- but as the record progresses from its opening "Neighborhood" suite to face the trials and losses that come with adult life, its characters instead long for the security they once so badly wanted to surrender. Ahh, fatalism! How can something so miserable be such an infinite source of pleasure? No one seems to know, but in the few short months since its mid-September release, Funeral has quickly ascended to the status of indie rock's de facto album of the year, winning perhaps the most concordant praise from the underground since Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Famously recorded under the duress of three consecutive familial deaths, Funeral feels like emotional concentrate: It's wracked with grief, yet paradoxically uplifts through eventual reconciliation, acceptance, and hope. 2004 may have seen a crop of strong contenders for the first-place crown, but as our calendars prepare to release their final page in The Arcade Fire's year without light, no other album seems quite as deserving. --Ryan Schreiber

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