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2004: A Year in Review

2004: Albums of the Year

In celebration of this site's fifth year in existence (December 25, 1999 was the launch date, and not a penny has been spent on it!), I have decided to spice things up a little with this year's recap. Please enjoy responsibly and fulfill your democratic duty of responding with your opinion.

25. Elliott Smith - from a basement on the hill
Token posthumous album of scraps, or unfinished final album? Elliott Smith's murder (face it, two stabs wounds in the chest are not self-inflicted) will forever cast a pall on not only the album he was working on at the time of his death, but all his previous albums. It is easy to argue this album is uneven, some songs seemingly unfinished, and questionable production quality; but that's like arguing the stars don't shine brightly enough. For an artist so fragile, with such wonderful music, it was definitely way before his time: we'll never have another artist quite like him. Thank you for the music, Elliott.
24. The Killers - Hot Fuss
Slaughtered by most US critics for sounding too British, while embraced by UK critics for being American but sounding British (or something like that), this nation-confused band from Las Vegas is all American, but with clear British influences: the driving dance beats, the synth coatings, the intense adoration on the basis of two singles. A classic example of an over-praised debut album that contains promise: their good songs (essentially six of the first seven) are stone-cold killers (bad pun); the bad songs aren’t that exciting. The Killers have great writing potential, and here’s hoping they can rise to it.
23. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose
The year's most unlikely comeback was the coal miner's daughter, riding the production of...White Stripe Jack White? Better believe it, and if you've never heard 70-year old Lynn's previous works, you will be pleasantly surprised, as White keeps some Stripe-y grit over Loretta's honest songs. Unlikely, but welcome, triumph.
22. Usher - Confessions
If you were unaware of Usher this past year, you must have been under a pretty sturdy rock in the middle of Siberia. The year's undisputed pop culture king, Usher Raymond rode his post-breakup (with TLC's Chili) album into million-unit sales territory in week one, spent 28 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard singles charts with four singles, and was the very definition of ubiquity (which means "being everywhere" in case you didn't know). Of course the last half of the album slows into generic R&B balladeering, but when the first half of the album is so insane, you need the rest. Rewind it back!
21. Ratatat - Ratatat
A heady tonic of spiraling guitar melodies, electronic beats and hip-hop elements, Ratatat create an album that is stunning in its surface simplicity, yet intoxicating in its cyclical patterns. Instrumental guitar doodling. Nintendo music. Call it what you will, you cannot deny the grooves that will lock you in for 45 minutes.
20. Danger Mouse - The Grey Album
With Jay-Z's last album spawning a litany of mash-ups (lifting his verses and placing them on top of other previously released music), there had to come a truly great one. Where the terrible one with Linkin Park was for the little brothers, this one is for the serious, art-minded older brother. Mash-up’s first (and officially last) great album, Danger Mouse takes the holy grail of the Beatles’ White Album, Jay-Z’s “last” Black Album and creates a surprisingly seamless mash-up of Jay-Z’s verses and the Beatles’ music. If it sounds unholy, its only because of how good it actually sounds: alternately familiar and startlingly alien. Needless to say, you can only download it because the Big Industry of music wants no piece of it. Talk about unconstitutional: the year’s most impressive musical statement silenced because of money involved. Download at all costs!
19. The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat
The year’s most bipolar album, in the sense that when you’re in the mood, it’s the most fantastic and fun album ever recorded; and when you’re not, it’s the most gratingly annoying and disorganized piece of trash. Positively, this brother and sister duo (no doubts about it) keep to their convictions and made a 76 minute long concept album full of dogs, boats and enough musical changes to make it seem almost completely random. For all the bad word about it being disorganized and random, Blueberry Boat's positives cannot be denied: adventurous, labyrinthine, and at least never dull. When you’re in the right mood.
18. Bjork - Medulla
Five albums into her magnificent career, Bjork has finally made a weird album, for the sake of being weird. Conjured by talents like Mike Patton, the Icelandic choir, an Inuit throat singer, Rahzel, and Bjork herself, it's an impressive melange of sound: crisp, mysterious, and at times awe-inspiring. Sadly, most of it is best enjoyed from a distance. As with all her albums, it might grow into being an accessible piece of work; but right now, it is still being digested.
17. The Hives - Tyrannosaurus Hives
When Veni Vidi Vicious was released in 2000 - a full year before garage broke with the Strokes - people paid little attention. Fast forward two years, and the Hives are apparently playing catch-up to the garage revolution. Another two years, and the Hives have now been around longer, and been more successful, than the Strokes or the Vines. So what the album sticks to the same formula as their breakthrough? When the bar was so ludicrously high to begin with, you really can’t complain about the quality bone-bashing.
16. Morrissey - You Are the Quarry
No, Morrissey never went away. We've just slept on him too long. His first album in seven years sees the Moz back in fine fashion, with bitingly sarcastic songs about sunrise over broken bones, a hilarious jab at America, and a genuine declaration of affection! Maybe his age has caught up to him, as the musical arrangments aren't up with the fire of the Smiths or his earlier solo material, but if you enjoy above-average adult contemporary music with brilliant, subversive lyrics delivered by a man with an increasingly richer voice, this is your dream album. Let us never doubt him again!
15. Secret Machines - Now Here is Nowhere
If 2004 was the year Indie learned to dance, one of the leaders of the pack were Texas-based Secret Machines. Their first full-lenght album could be compared to Pink Floyd given a two-step infusion: there are lenghty instrumental passages, lyrics that are somewhat pretentious, and prog-rock-type musical shifts. Underneath all this is a magnificent rhythm section, booming drums and hydraulic bass, that will still get you to dance, even through the nine-minute opener "First Wave Intact". The awkward title may be a shot at the (still) current administration, or the state of music in general, but any way its looked at, Secret Machines' new album is a keeper, and first step in a promising career.
14. Dizzee Rascal - Showtime
From hungry, uncertain beginnings, to self-assured, blazing futures, all within the span of a short year. After releasing a debut only hip-hop purists and imperially conquered people hated, to seeing millions in worldwide sales, to winning the prestigious Mercury Award, everyone expected Dizzee to take time off, brood over his millions, and release a paranoid sophomore album that tanked. Instead, only eight months after Boy in Da Corner (remember, it was released in January in the US), he dropped a lean, mean album that was a bit slicker, a lot more assured and a lot more enjoyable than his first. Even his rapping is a lot more confident and skillful. Dizzee clearly still demands respect for what he does, but with two marvellous, self-produced albums released before he turns 20, it’s hard to doubt Dizzee any longer.
13. Keane - Hopes and Fears
There was a point in rock music’s continuum when British bands decided that copying Radiohead’s increasingly cryptic style was too complicated: enter Coldplay. Their A Rush of Blood to the Head (my album of the year for 2002) was the harbinger of change: now new bands can more easily copy that great album and make good scratch for it. It would be easy to lump Keane in with these bands, but there are infinitely worse bands that copy Coldplay: Keane’s sparse trio set-up of drums, piano and vocals is surprisingly affecting and distinguishable. Tom Chapin has a voice that can melt buildings (and occassionaly does), with a tremendous range and articulation, and most importantly, Keane brings the songs. Any one of these songs could be a hit on most radio stations, and there isn't a dud among the 11 melodic pieces. However, we can only hope they are the last in their line of apprentices.
12. Brian Wilson - SMiLE
Of all the musical ploys to be wary of, the most obvious is the re-recorded release on an album 38 years after its original recording date. Of course, when the album in point is the follow-up to Pet Sounds, universally hailed as one of the greatest albums ever, you are likely to turn your head in interest. SMiLE has had a long gestation period where it has accumulated almost god-like status, and its release finds Brian Wilson vindicated: a 38-year-old demon off his back, re-recorded to perfection, released to an audience who is more than willing to enjoy the simple pleasures Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks wrote about so many years ago. A perfect teenage symphony to God. The precursor to orchestral psych-rock bands like Olivia Tremor Control and Elephant 6. And in a year full of bullshit, about the only thing that could bring a Smile to your face. From Brian's heart to yours, enjoy.
11. Green Day - American Idiot
Hands up. Who among us, sober and in the right mind, would have thought ten years after their snotty debut that Green Day would still be around? Now who would have dreamed that they would make their best album ten years later? You’re lying. Their 1994 classic Dookie is an epoch-defining record, especially if you want to pinpoint the moment every current “punk” band was shown the light. Well, the kid from “Basket Case” has grown up, and he’s mighty pissed at the current administration and the state of the world. Idiot is testament to the year 2004: when notoriously snotty Green Day writes a protest "punk opera" about the administration, you know we're doomed. However, that the album is so damn good is testament to Green Day's long-building (remember Nimrod? Warning?) song-writing magic and musical prowess. Kudos to the boys for keeping a punk concept album poppy and concise enough to really cut. Inexplicably, Green Day has now created two epoch-defining albums: this is the real punk.
10. The Futureheads - The Futureheads
The hot sounds of today in (good) indie rock music are bands that sound like late 70s angular punk bands. The Futureheads are in good hands, as their debut was produced by Gang of Four's guitarist Andy Gill, who keeps the production raw to showcase the Heads' manic songs. Listening to these Sunderland boys breaking it down, you can swear Wire, or say Gang of Four, just put out a new album: tight songs careening almost out of control, melodies that get stickier with every listen, and smart lyrics that never dumb down for the rest of the mainstream gobblers who would somehow discover this album’s charms. Bonus points for not disguising their thick North England accents. Brummy, lads!
9. Interpol - Antics
Amazing rock debuts are oftentimes flukes. Before this album's release, I was really dreading Interpol would be hit with the sophomore slump: a brilliant debut album followed by a mediocre album, either sounding the same, or completely different. Voila. Interpol infuse their gloomy, brilliant debut Turn on the Bright Lights' dark noir with a hint of light and romanticism, in turn setting themselves into a league of their own. In the not too-distant future, new bands will stand accused of stealing from Interpol’s musical dictionary. Listen as Carlos D discovers dancing bass lines! Listen to Paul Banks sing of wine and women and jail! Listen as Interpol slowly becomes one of the best bands out there today.
8. TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
Rare is the debut album that is insanely hyped - and actually worth it. Brooklyn's TV on the Radio, this year’s Shortlist Prize winners, already have two EPs and this full-length under their belt, and they are making a serious threat to become the best band in music’s history. Simply put, they sound like nothing and nobody else out there, a futuristic blend of doo-wop, drone rock and a healthy dose of free jazz. After releasing their spectacular Young Liars EP last year, hopes were astronomical for this album. Not surprisingly, with the addition of Kyp Malone on vocals and way more ideas than they know what to do with, the album is a little uneven, but thankfully, they keep things interesting so there’s no bum notes or songs to skip. And of course, who can tell where they might go to next. If there’s any band worth watching to see their next step (as in their follow-up EP New Health Rock, which distills their entire album into a four-minute skyscraping anthem), it’s this one.
7. U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Not a lot of people would acknowledge it, but had it been based solely on U2’s previous album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, they would have been passed over for their coveted Best Band in the World honor. All the Grammy hype and (admittedly brilliant) Elevation tour fogged the fact the album was pretty much five decent songs and a load of shit, and with Bono's continuing recent promises of "no two crap albums in a row", you sense that even the boys knew the last album blew. Now, with that uneven, dead-boring step out of the way, U2 frog-leap back into godly status with this awkwardly titled, melody-dense behemoth that is nothing less than their best work in ten years (that’s right: Zooropa, bitches!). Keep your ears open and see if you can spot the strangely abundant "Lyrical Elements from Pop". The iPod whore "Vertigo" is a red herring, but although the rest of the album never gets as loud or fast, it never descends into vanilla (except maybe the near-terrible "Yahweh"). "City of Blinding Lights", "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" and "All Because of You" will instantly take their place amongst some of U2's best work, and the rest of the album will have you focused on the strong songs. Bono and the boys are back, and it’s about time. Best band in the world, then?
6. Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters
Instead of being swallowed by their kitsch act, dinosaur-rock-cover, and mystique of being recorded in an apartment bedroom, the Sisters’ "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Fags Club Band" album flamboyantly become one of the defining discs of the year. Of course, when your hype is based on a Pink Floyd-by-way-of-Bee Gees cover of "Comfortably Numb", you need to deliver the goods, or be relegated to nevelty act. Thankfully, Jake Shears, Ana Matronic, Del Marquis, Paddy Boom and Babydaddy pack their album with the type of turbo-powered pop Elton John was making in 1974, not to mention some genuinely good ballads. For every Moby-lifting banger like "Laura", there's an unholy marriage of banjos and rave beats on "Music is the Victim". The quiet ambience of "Mary" sees a nice contrast in the Pet Shop Boys-like "It Can't Come Quickly Enough"; and just to drive their seriousness home, they end the album with "Return to Oz", a dark, prog tinted lament on the deteriorating club scene in their New York. Cynics can argue that it's not very original, and can pray for their downfall. However, make no mistake: the Sisters are not a novelty act, and if their live shows and Grammy nominations are any indication, they will be around to make that sophomore album.
5. The Arcade Fire - Funeral
Some day, Canada will be recognized as the hotbed of amazing indie rock that it is. After 2003's crop of great albums, Montreal's Arcade Fire release what has become the most lauded indie rock album since Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. While that album was over-rated, Funeral is the real deal: a fantastically arranged album which surprisingly eschews a lot of structural constriction (bridges are seemingly tossed in at random), and delivery which will never be accused of lacking passion. The album deals with morbid subject matter, and a fantastic plot arc: longing for escape from teenage lives, growing up and realizing the early security was better. There is a backstory for this bleak story: the album was recorded during the coldest winter Montreal had seen in years, after two band members buried three of their immediate families. Dead bodies, tunnels, snowfall and dirges are recurring motifs throughout the album. As it is, it's strange that from such a sad background, such a comforting and ultimately empowering album could be born.
4. The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free
If his debut Original Pirate Material was a collection of fascinating vignettes, this was the masterwork novel. Expanding on his detail to the little things, Birmingham-by-way-of-London producer/rapper extraordinaire Mike Skinner made an album that was as uniquely British as it was universal: broken TVs, missing money, girl problems, shit cellular reception, getting too high while searching for his friends at a party. However, as Skinner obsesses on the minutiae, his girl leaves him for his best friend, and he is left alone. The music is still from another level, and if Skinner sacrifices his flow for story telling, we suffer none for it. He even had two massive singles in the UK ("Fit But You Know It" and number 1 "Dry Your Eyes") that finally gave him the big audience he deserves. With two stone-cold 21st century classics under his belt, we can only wait with bated breath to see which Street he will travel to now.
3. Junior Boys - Last Exit
After becoming an unprecedented blog phenomenon on the strength of songs like “Birthday” and “Under the Sun”, this Hamilton, Ontario (!) duo finally dropped their anticipated debut album this year, and did not disappoint. While most love songs are drenched in syrupy acoustic guitars and strings, Last Exit has a distinctly European feel: icy, crystalline production that mixes 80s minimalist synth sheen with late 90s UK garage beats, with singer Jeremy Greenspan softly sighing his frustrations in the mix. Most of the songs are extended to over five minutes, yet are so sublime, melodic, and hypnotic that when the album ends, you eagerly press play to hear it again. It would be remiss to discuss individual songs (is "More Than Real" better than "When I'm Not Around"? It's nitpicking) when the entire album is such a strong and cohesive effort. Amazing with a snowfall, and the only real threat to the Number 1 album’s throne, this album cannot be underestimated for much longer.
2. Air - Talkie Walkie
It can be considered a sad year when one of the best albums is released in the dead zone of January. However, in this case, it is simply a case of brilliant music being strong enough to be the most-played album of the year and sticking around 11 months to be rewarded in December. France’s electronic heroes return with an album halfway between their lounge classic Moon Safari and the icy distance of 10,000 Hz Legend, allowing their own digitally altered human voices to spread warmth over the glistening sheen of the songs while producer whiz kid Nigel Godrich sprinkles astral magic everywhere. As mentioned before, Air handle the vocals by themselves, creating their most personal album, while also shifting the romanticism in their music: whereas before they watched the stars, they now watch people. The ideal ambient album when you want to enjoy a snowfall beside a fire and dream of outer space travel with that special someone.
1. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
There really was no question about it: 2004 belonged to the Dukes of Cool. Since the album’s release in March, nobody has come even close to displacing Franz at the top of this list. The reason? This album is simply one of the best to have been released this new decade. Anywhere you turn, you will be hit in the face with a hook and beat so brutally efficient, you will be powerless to stop your feet. They’ve even made major waves in the fickle US market, unseen for a British band since Oasis and Coldplay. Skinny pants and ties, fat choruses, irreverent German shout-alongs, homoeroticism that’s almost taboo, even an iconic album cover: anything you want, Franz will give it to you. Sure, it's not the most original melange, but hey, fuck you! One day, people will look back on this album and mention it in the reverent company of Oasis' Definitely Maybe, The Stone Roses and Massive Attack's Blue Lines as one of the best debut albums of all time: confident, assured, beating down the door to superstardom, showcasing enough growth to promise even greater things. Hell, even their B-sides beat anything else this year! On a personal level, there was simply no album I wanted to listen to more at any time, anywhere, and force others to listen to until they loved it as much as I did. Time and the sophomore album will tell, but for now, a truly important and wonderful band has arrived. Franz Ferdinand, I salute you!

Reissue of the Year
Can - Tago Mago / Ege Bamyasi

The Clash's 25th anniversary reissue of London Calling. The Kinks' 3-disc The Village Green Preservation Society. Jeff Buckley's 10th anniversary of Grace. Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: LA's Desert Origins. Talking Heads' brilliant live album The Name of the Band is Talking Heads. Eight of Brian Eno's masterpieces, including Another Green World. Kraftwerk's studio werks (though I have yet to find them). A definitive collection of the Fall's monstrous ouevre in 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong. Long-lost soul singer Candi Staton. The Zombies' orchestral masterpiece Odessey and Oracle. In a year that saw a litany of great and worthy reissues, I was most excited about Can's first four albums being reissued, namely 1971's Tago Mago and its follow-up Ege Bamyasi. Hype can do so much, but upon listening to them, I am still lost for words: like a beautifully twisted flipside of Pink Floyd's early 70s output; the rock version of On the Corner with more teeth; Krautrock at its best. And apparently Future Days is even better.

2004: Honorable Mentions

The Beta Band - Heroes to Zeros
Scotland's most eclectic band, and generally one of the most exciting bands around, called it quits shortly after the release of this album, after eight years and four full-lenghts. Their final album carries on in the same vein as their previous Hot Shots II did, with subtle arrangments, digitally treated organic instruments, and out-there lyrics. They will be dearly missed.
The Concretes
This Swedish octet create magnificently lush orchestrated music akin to Mazzy Star, with Victoria Bergsman dreamy voice anchoring it all together. A delightful treat.
Death From Above 1979 - You're a Woman, I'm a Machine
Having changed their name just enough to avoid a lawsuit by New York producers of the same name (and wishing syphillis on their corporate asses), this Canadian duo consists of bass and drums. So logical, you'll scratch your head after they pummell you into submission.
Elbow - Cast of Thousands
A more challenging, daring and ultimately rewarding Coldplay (the band they will unfairly be lumped with), Elbow expand on their debut Asleep in the Back's suppressive dark overtones and create one of the best British albums you haven't heard of. An uncertain release date keeps this in the Honorable section.
Eminem - Encore
Eminem's first mis-step, right after his star shone brightest with an Oscar win. The first five songs are stellar, some of the best he's ever made (the lean, mean "Never Enough, "Like Toy Soldiers" which sees him giving up beefs, and "Mosh", one of the best anti-leader songs ever). But then "Puke" comes along and once he flushes the toilet, the rest of the album follows. Once Em realizes that Slim Shady is a SHIT character and stays with his inimitable leader persona, he'll make a killer album.
Hope of the States - The Lost Riots
The glorious rock'n'roll suicide of guitarist Jimmy Lawrence was told in reverse: he was found hanging before his band had released their debut album. It is a shame, because The Lost Riots showcases a worthy band discovering their power: slow, atmospheric, gloomy stadium rock that could have gone many places.
k-os - Joyful Rebellion
Everything Mos Def's new album tried to be: eclectic, outspokenly anti-bling, with enough experimentation and good sense to make the album a tasty multi-style dish. The Canadian rapper shows off his Northern style to great effect: he can play guitar, he can sing, and he can rap with the best of them. Discover this album and you'll discover a gem!
The Libertines - The Libertines
Simply stated, there is no touching Up the Bracket. That debut's shambolic, yet cohesive charms are too hard to imitate twice, and when your band is already only available for seven recording days, all with bodyguards present to keep your heroin-smacked parole-violating mess of a guitarist/singer/shaman in line, you know whatever they record will be one take and very sloppy. The old Libertines charm is there, but with the band announcing its breakup, its all we're going to get.
M83 - Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
Technically released last year, I will add it on this year's list because it is so amazing. I wrote before that its My Bloody Valentine on keyboards. It is so much more. But words cannot express it. Only hearing it will suffice.
Muse - Absolution
America finally starts catching up to where the UK has been for the last few years: Muse is one of England's best exports. Granted, the album itself isn't overly great: but their live show sure as shit is. Their body of work is quickly moving them into the pantheon of the great power trios.
Prince - Musicology
Newly spiritual (well, not exactly newly), anything but less great, the Purple One returns to the funk-heavy purple haze he once inhabited so well. A successful tour and strong sales cap off a great return-to-form year for the 80s superstar.
Razorlight - Up All Night
Formed by former Libertine member Johnny Borrell, this British band is perhaps the most arrogant new band since Oasis. However, like Oasis, they have the riffs and melodies to back up their mouths. Might end up being the best debut since Definitely Maybe if they don't implode too soon.
The Von Bondies - Pawn Shoppe Heart
Without singer Jason Stollheimer getting his ass kicked by Jack White, this band would probably still be toiling away in relative obscurity. Which would be a shame, because their Detroit Rock City garage stomp does their forebearers the Stooges and MC5 proud. "C'Mon C'Mon" is simply a beast.
The Walkmen - Bows + Arrows
Probably nowhere near as good as their live act, "The Rat" is still the best rock song you've never heard this year. Something like an early version of U2, with an approximate amount of fire in their guts.

2004: Singles of the Year

I won't even pretend to know what the hell I'm talking about here. I hate the radio, I have no downloading program on the computer, whatever I heard was shit, and this list is purely subjective. I don't really care if you don't like it because neither do I. Enjoy!

20. Snow Patrol - "Run"
The kind of song that broke Coldplay into mainstream consciousness before they exploded. If Snow Patrol play the right cards, with this kind of anthem they can be our next heartthrobs.
19. Modest Mouse - "Float On"
I cannot profess to be a huge Mouse fan, but it's nice to see a band on the periphery get some well-deserved attention, even if it by creating an unlikely summer hit. "I like that new band Modest Mouse." Oh, go toss off, poser.
18. Beastie Boys - "Ch-Check It Out"
The one good moment on the Beasties' less-than-good new album, a hilarious three-minute shaker that consists of the aging rappers and a sampled old-skool beat. Too bad it can't translate to over 40 minutes.
17. The Killers - "Somebody Told Me"
Hmm, the whole boy/girl thing in the chorus. Sounds like Blur's "Girls and Boys"? Not really, but they sure lifted the selling point of that chorus. One of those anthemic songs that make you drop everything you're doing and pay attention.
16. N.E.R.D - "Maybe"
Why couldn't more of Nerd's mostly underrated new album have sounded like this? A skyscraping anthem featuring ?uestlove and the ubiquitous Gap whore (not skinny SJP) Lenny Kravitz.
15. Usher ft. Alicia Keys - "My Boo"
Singlehandedly saved the sales of Usher's dying Confessions album, and brought Alicia Keys back from the brink of nowhere. The wailing baby sample makes this song so great.
14. Gwen Stefani - "What You Waiting For?"
A sharp 80s blast-back complete with Day-Glo and scratch-and-sniff stickers. Strange that it seemed to have been written entirely for the benefit of a loud video, but that's 2004 for you. This stupid ho took a chance and it paid off somewhat.
13. Dizzee Rascal - "Stand Up Tall"
A dizzying (excuse the pun) video-game race where Dizzee is the manic driver, pushing the beat ever further, and makes it through unscathed. After his debut's paranoia, it's finally time to party! 10 points to whoever can tell me whatever the hell he says in the verses.
12. Nina Sky - "Move Ya Body"
The summer's hottest jam, a refreshing dancehall hybrid where the Albino sisters whisper sweet nothings, wisely let the beat do its thing, allow no-namer Jabba to shout some stuff, and make us all dance. Like a Popsicle on a July day.
11. Sum 41 - "We're All to Blame"
Green Day makes a protest concept album, Sum 41 blames us all: was 2004 really that bad? Kudos to Sum for writing a 1986-era Metallica song with surprising pathos and tragedy. For all their snottiness, these Ajax boys just wrote a damn good protest song.
10. Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell - "Drop It Like It's Hot"
After a couple years of fucking around with shitty synth arrangements, the Neptunes finally return to the area they do best: a trunk-rattling beat, voodoo flute that says "Snoooooooo-OOP" and mouth clicks that make your fingers pop. Extra points for Snoop declaring his rag hangs on the "Crip side"; you kill me.
9. Jay-Z - 99 Problems
This song looks great at the number 9 position. Riding a brutally industrial Rick Rubin production (the name did produce Slayer, you know) and a video symbolically announcing his retirement (through assassination), Jay-Z does some verses about police and slapping hos, but its all about the beat and chorus. You crazy for this one, Rick, indeed.
8. Scissor Sisters - "Comfortably Numb"
The Grammy-nominated dance behemoth that launched a thousand ships and Jake Shears' career. Pink Floyd must be enjoying the attention a small group of gay fashionistas from New York is gathering them. If this brilliant cover doesn't get your ass shaking, you're paralyzed.
7. U2 - "Vertigo"
One. Two. Three. Fourteen. Aah Bono, you always have loved the Spanish language. I guess they will re-invent themselves every ten years by doing something subversive (calling your album after The Joshua Tree "Stop, Baby!"), but in the meantime, we can enjoy this monster of a commercial, er, song. Buy an iPod, buy an iPod, buy...
6. The Streets - "Dry Your Eyes"
For all his brash deliveries, Mike Skinner might be best remembered for this heartbreakingly simple description of a last meeting with his girlfriend. Eyes awkwardly meet, hands are pushed away, and Skinner admits he has "absolutely nothing", the most starkly naked moment in pop music in the last 20 years. An unlikely UK number 1 single.
5. Terror Squad - "Lean Back"
In the year that hip-hop terrorized the mainstream and effectively ended mainstream rock's presence, nobody rocked harder than Fat Joe's collective. The year's biggest catchphrase (come on, "yeah" isn't really a phrase), and the most amazingly low-riding beat. The sign of our times.
4. Usher ft. Lil Jon & Ludacris - "Yeah"
Yeah, this is the "Yeah" song I was talking about earlier. Oh yeah, crunk is now mainstream and irrelevant. Four notes. This is all it took Usher to sell a million copies in the first week. Granted, Lil Jon gives him a killer club beat, and Ludacris' verse (no matter how much I dislike him) is the greatest thing in music this year. Yeah! Yeah!
3. Britney Spears - "Toxic"
Aah Britney Federline, your long journey from girl into full-blown white-trash super-whore is complete. Sad that all the, shall we say toxic, news overshadowed your finest single since "...Baby One More Time". Bloodshy & Avant's swooping strings straight out of a Bond movie, sinister surf-rock guitar riff, and actually adult lyrics! This song is too damn irresistible, thanks for leaving on "top"!
2. Eminem - "Mosh"
Oh yes, 2004 was shit. Not only did Shrub get re-elected overwhelmingly (you lose, America), but Eminem released his weakest album to date. If only Marshall could stick to making such brutally efficient diss songs directed at truly deserving figures, he could truly become an institution. That said, this song and its amazing video is vitriol defined, a brave stab at the evil empire of President Cheney, er, Bush and the war in Iraq. Less a call for the end of the war than a start at national problems, Eminem hit the dilemma right on the head: shameless warmongering while trampling on citizens' rights. Bush can't get re-elected in 2008 but he has created an enormous hole for America for years to come.
1. Franz Ferdinand - "Take Me Out"
Yes, the song that framed Franz's true genius. Most bands would be content to stretch the song's misleading intro to three minutes and start the self-congratulations. But Franz are bored. Many people, when first hearing the song, said "it sounds like the Strokes". Franz says "piss off" and takes off in a completely different dance direction filled with "bring it on and kill me" lyrics: perhaps embodying the real Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who got killed in 1914 and provided the spark for World War I? An unrelentingly fantastic song that never got old over 10 months of over-play. God bless you Franz Ferdinand!

2004: The Lowlights

As is always the case, 2004 has seen its share of musical shit moments, albums and songs. I will try not be a grumpy Gus, but I will regale you all with a selection of the cream of the crap.

Janet Jackson
Janet, did I just see a tit? I did, I did see a tit! February's Super Bowl spectacle provided late night comics with a year's worth of Nipplegate jokes, and "wardrobe malfunction" became a veritable pop culture phenomenon. We know your new CD Damita Jo* needed a little promotion, but a nipple with accessory during a "wholesome" halftime production in front of tens of millions of Americans? Not gonna fly. NBC's worthy network got sued for a half million dollars because of your shenanigans, and if it comes out of Conan's pockets, I will get you personally. By the end of the year, you needed to guest on "Will & Grace" for publicity, and your album has YET to break platinum! Oh, just gold.
* I seriously had to look that up on the Internet.

Britney Spears Alexander Federline In the Zone** was the lowest-selling album of her career. So in January, Britney decided to drum up some publicity - by getting married! For 55 hours! Then annulling it! Yes, Jason Alexander (not George on "Seinfeld") will likely kill himself soon, once he gets tired of being a walking punchline. Britney then tops herself off by cancelling a summer tour because of a knee injury, waking up every morning to a cigarette and KFC gravy, romping around in underwear for "My Prerogative" (that's gotten really boring, Brit), and getting married AGAIN! Yes, to unemployed jungle-fever activist Kevin Federline, quickly becoming a step-mom to two mulattos. Brit and Kevin enjoy Dixie cups, smoking and KFC, and groping each other in public. And check it! She got asked to put her shoes back on during a flight because her feet were stinking up the cabin. Must be her delightful barefoot romps through Middle American truck-stop public restrooms. WHAT THE FUCK?!? Don't you know what kind of shit breeds on the floor of those things? Barefoot?? Britney, you have been gold this year, thank you! Now kindly leave.
** I seriously had to look this up on the Internet, too!

Beastie Boys - To The 5 Boroughs
I really wanted to like this album; as you might notice, I have a fairly large selection of Beastie Boys music, and sadly I can pick them all above this album. Simply stated - and the fact ignored by most fans - this is their blandest, least challenging and ultimately least rewarding album since their debut. In fact, I might even call the merely 42-minute album…boring, something the other discs would never merit even on a bad day. Rolling Stone’s eager-to-praise 5 star review cemented my division with this album. The Beastie Boys came from New York; New York was attacked by terrorists; they mention this in a single song; they get 5 stars. Sounds similar to The Rising, except that album was more eloquent in its reflection - and if Rolling Stone is going to award any post-9/11 album 5 stars, where was the Stills’ Logic Will Break Your Heart a vastly superior album? I suppose we can also blame the Beastie’s anti-Bush attitude: if they want Bush out of the office this election year (mission failed), they should rap about it and RS will give them 5 stars. The Beasties are getting old; here’s wishful thinking they can pull another genre-bender out of their pointy hats before they hang the mics up.

Kanye West - The College Dropout
"But Gabe, he's gotten 10 Grammy nominations! He's made it cool to be self-consciously arrogant again! Every magazine loves Kanye!" Shut it! Check my CD list, I bought this album the day it came out and expected what it was hailed as: a masterpiece. I listened to it straight through, and then, it just disappeared. To this day, I rarely feel the urge to listen to more than a couple of songs (namely the still great "We Don't Care"), and for all the praise it has received as a revolutionary album, it still feels under-whelming. Considering it clocks in at unforgivable 76 minutes, that’s a bad thing. Scattershot with way too many skits, misguided with too many bad cameos, incredibly cheesy with its “throw your hands in the air” bullshit, the great songs are strewn too few and far between. And please don't say I'm placing him here to contradict all Kanye-lovers: I made this choice a long time ago. We all know Kanye’s capable of greatness (past production work, the few good songs on this record), and here’s hoping his next album will be much better than this effort.

Maroon 5
Their craptacular Songs About Jane was released last year, but their star sadly rose this year on the heels of the over-played shit "This Love". As last year demonstrated, there is nothing worse than a talented group of musicians coming together and dumbing down their talents for the mindless 16 year old girls who are the target audience to make a little bit of money and excruciate those who are subjected to it. I can choose to listen to what I want, and I am proud to say I still haven’t heard M5’s disgusting “This Love” in its entirety in one sitting: it is simply more than I can take. Not to say their retarded-Stevie-Wonder-on-Ritalin sound isn’t original; it just stinks of insincerity, and is probably the worst thing you’ll ever hear on the radio. The Maroon must stand for the shit they peddle to fools. Points, Gabe!

Joss Stone - The Soul Sessions/Mind, Body and Soul
I am not sure who discovered Joss Stone, but thank you: for almost the entire year, I could not watch a movie in the theaters without hearing her indescribably grating cover of the White Stripes' “Fell in Love With a Girl”, oh excuse me, the genetically correct "Fell in Love With a BOY" beforehand, playing on the PA. Thank you for ruining the excitement many movies stirred in me: nothing like a horrible song to piss me off for the next two hours and distract me from the movie. Yes, that is the power of Joss’ “mature” voice. Blander than vanilla, more hiccups than pre-molestation-charged Michael Jackson, and music that is softer than velvet, yet more acidic to my ears than the most barbarous steel wool. Never mind we get bombarded with the announcement of her as the 16-year-old queen of soul, we get tormented with some of the worst music this new decade has offered us. I’d like to Stone her, and not necessarily with weed (her granola appearance suggests plenty of that shit).

Mos Def - The New Danger
Simply stated: Mos was the saviour of intelligent hip-hop when Black on Both Sides came out. Now he isn’t. Although it has been almost six years since his revolutionary debut album, that time has not been spent working on a new album. As a result, The New Danger feels uneven, unfocused, strangely over-blown while being under-cooked, and just plain lazy. Black Jack Johnson was supposed to steal rock and roll back from Whitey: strange that those songs sound very much like Limp Bizkit. Only on a few songs does Mos shine: the rest of the time it feels like he’s performing unrehearsed freestyles that he didn’t even bother editing (“The Rapeover” anyone?). With Lauryn Hill on a seemingly permanent vacation, and Mos officially conceding his crown, we need a new artist to champion as the saviour of intelligent black music.

Mainstream rock music
Hoobastank. Alter Bridge. Uncle Kracker. Seether ft. Amy Lee, "Broken". Nickleback. Chevelle. Papa Roach. Three Days Grace. 3 Doors Down. Jimmy Eat World.
Need me to go on?
Yellowcard. Good Charlotte. The Distillers. Out of Your Mouth. Staind. Godsmack. Theory of a Deadman. Evanescence. Jet. Breaking Benjamin. Ryan Cabrera. Simple Plan.
I rest my case.

Eamon - "Fuck It (Don't Want You Back)"
Remember Eamon's expletive-laden inexplicable hit single? No? Neither do I, let's move on.

Teen Queen Invasion
The state of music is truly in a blessed state when luminaries like Ashlee Simpson, Hilary Duff, Lindsey Lohan, Keisha Chante, JoJo (who is actually miles better than all of them for now) and Avril Lavinge (probably the most respectable) release records that outsell something worthwhile like the Fiery Furnaces or even Franz Ferdinand. Think of the logistics: Hilary and Lindsey are better known as "actresses" who dabble in "singing". Ashlee is set up as the raven-dyed "punk" sister of apple-pie wholesome simpleton Jessica. JoJo is 13 and she's the most mature! Avril is just on here for kicks, and nobody's even heard of Aaliyah-clone Keisha. So let's see: Hilary Duff's assembled-in-a-week self-titled sophomore album. Lindsey Lohan's Speak, which really doesn't have much to say. JoJo's duet with *snort* Lil' Bow Wow. But the highlight? Ashlee Simpson! Perhaps a little respectability was bought when her album debuted at number 1 and stayed near the top for a good month. But in October, her lip-synching scandal on Saturday Night Live (it's supposed to LIVE for heaven's sake!) rocked the nation, and for 40 seconds we watched Ashlee blush as the wrong pre-recorded song came on, do a full-on "Hee Haw" jig, then leave the stage, ruined. She even had the scrote to blame her band! Ashlee, I salute you! Now, once Paris Hilton's debut album is released, I will be chartering a flight to Mars and getting the hell out of this place.

Obituaries
The year was filled with sad passings, from the untimely to the unsurprising. The Libertines, one of the most promising new bands out of Britain this new decade, after two years of being in the news solely because of Pete Doherty's drug and arrest troubles, announced they would split up at the end of the year, leaving the bassist and drummer unemployed. Their 2002 debut Up the Bracket is one of the finest albums of the past 10 years.
Funk legend Rick James, the man behind both his own "Super Freak" and MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This", passed away at the age of 56 because of heart problems. Make all the jokes you want about his drug and sex filled lifestyle, but he was a pioneer in the funk genre, and he was getting his life back together before his death. Time will remember him more kindly than we will.
Ol' Dirty Bastard, one of the founding members of Staten Island's seminal Wu-Tang Clan, passed away in November two days short of his 36th birthday. He complained of chest pains in a recording studio before he collapsed and was announced dead. His autopsy revealed the death to be an accidental overdose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Genius, the Godfather of Soul, Ray Charles, subject of an acclaimed biopic starring Jamie Foxx, passed away in July at 74 after a decades-long career pioneering soul music and re-writing all its rules. His legacy on music is incalculable and he will be dearly missed.
In a single swoop, one of the greatest, most seminal, and most influential bands of all time, is no more. Following the deaths of Joey in 2001, and Dee Dee the year after, guitarist Johnny Ramone passed away in September after a long battle with cancer. He was 55. They were the three constant members of the Ramones, and their passings so close to each other is just too sad to articulate. You will be more missed than you can imagine.
The two most shocking deaths of the year, at least for the rock community are of John Peel, and Darrell "Dimebag Abbott. John Peel was a living legend, one of the most influential broadcasters in the history of music, the man who introduced and championed countless rock bands from the 60s through to the 90s on his BBC program. He was 65.
However, his death was overshadowed by the terrible (and symbolic) death of former Pantera guitarist, and metal guitar legend Dimebag Darrell. Performing on stage with his band Damageplan, Dimebag and four others were killed by a schizophrenic fan wielding a gun. He was 38. His death can be seen as the symbolic death of old rock, as he was one of the last remaining guitar legends, bringing a punishing style to speed metal style and influencing many of the current stable of rock guitarists.

There you have it, the high and lows of the year that was 2004. Please E-mail me and let me know what you think of my humble summary. See you in 2005!

Email: leftsun7@hotmail.com