The Outbreak: Belated Best of 2004

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Belated Best of 2004

During the (surprisingly, and yet unsurprisingly, brief) period I wasn't actively blogging, I ended up writing the occasional lengthy music-review missive to the members of the file-sharing listserv to which I belong. This meant that these people got personally subjected to my year-end music wrap-up. The bonus, though, was that they could actually download my favorite albums of '04, because I uploaded them to our file-sharing server. Can't do that for you all, but in my continuing quest to make a liar out of myself when I said this wasn't going to be a music blog, here's my favorites from the year that was. (I even made specific song recommendations—they were intended to help folks make downloading selections, but I figure they might be helpful for you-all too.)


HONORABLE MENTION. THE BRAVERY—Okay, this barely counts, because this NYC-based band doesn't actually have an album out yet. But I saw a video of theirs on Fuse's "The Dive," which as readers of this young blog well know is one of the only good music-video show in North America at this point, and loved it, so I downloaded bunch of songs of theirs I downloaded off "the online," as my mom likes to say. This is a very, very hipster-friendly band, and they sound like a melange of the Hives, the Faint, and the Dandy Warhols. So maybe they're not the most original-sounding band in the world, considering that each of those bands is itself a melange of other bands, but still, if you're like me, that description alone gives you a glass-cutting nipple erection. Everyone else is simply advised to listen to the first twenty seconds of both "Fearless" and "Unconditional," and I defy you not to dig the hell out of this.

15. DAVID GUETTA: JUST A LITTLE MORE LOVEThis is probably the camp-est record on this list, and since this list contains albums by Rufus Wainwright, the Faint, Scissor Sisters and Kylie freaking Minogue, that’s really saying something. This is just straight up hands-in-the-air divas-and-vocoders Ibiza-type house, but sort of clever and self-aware, with some electro flourishes and a great riff on Bowie called “Just for One Day.” I recommend the first two tracks: the title song and “Love Don’t Let Me Go,” which may be the gayest songs ever recorded. (Yes, gayer than “I Need This Job” from A Chorus Line.)

14. !!!: LOUDEN UP NOWVery solid and rockin’ discopunk for those of us who wore out our Rapture records. Actually goes more for the Talking Heads-type feel than the Gang of Four one adopted by other bands of this ilk. Lots of cussin’, too, which is always a plus. Recommended: “Pardon My Freedom,” “Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard.”

13. RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: WANT TWOThis is the sequel to last year’s awe-inspiring Want One, which is the album Radiohead might have made if they weren’t embarrassed to be playing rock music these days. This is not as good, but Rufus still sounds like a mushmouthed angel, and it begins with an actual Agnus Dei, which appeals to me because I admire pretension in rock music. (No Rob Sheffield, I.) My favorite track at the moment is the very long closer, “Old Whore’s Diet,” which features guest vocals from Antony, the guy who sang on Daft Punk’s “One More Time.” (CORRECTION: Turns out the guy who sang on Daft Punk's last record's name was Romanthony, not Antony. I got my "male diva vocalists whose names are odd variations on 'Anthony'" mixed up.) Rivals David Guetta for sheer fantabulousness.

12. ELBOW: CAST OF THOUSANDSMancunian art-rockers with Peter Gabrielesque vocals, these guys toured with Doves, which is very appropriate. This is a much more ebullient record than their last one, and it has some fine anthemic moments, like the “Grace Under Pressure,” “Ribcage,” and “Fallen Angel.”

11. CAKE: PRESSURE CHIEFWhen I first listened to this I got up to song four before I actually yelled, out loud, “Hooray for a new Cake album!” Rock solid Cake-y goodness, as always. Recommended: their cover of Bread’s “The Guitar Man,” “Dime.”

10. TV ON THE RADIO: DESPERATE YOUTH, BLOODTHIRSTY BABESHooray for art-rockers with Peter Gabrielesque vocals! These ones, though, are from NYC, and they’re very arty indeed, part of a loose collective that includes the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Liars. This is another band I discovered through “The Dive,” and they have some beautiful industrial (not in the metal sense, in the weird electronic sense) music on here. The three song suite of “Staring at the Sun,” “Dreams,” and “King Eternal” is one of my favorite musical moments of the year.

9. U2: HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMBVastly superior to their egregious 2000 effort at making music for mall PA systems, All That You Can't Leave Behind, in every way but one: no song on here is as good as “Beautiful Day.” But that’s okay, because “Beautiful Day” may well be the best song they ever did. Convincingly rocking and a good synthesis of 80s sincerity and 90s irony for those of us who enjoyed both, and only one lyrical misstep (“Original of the Species”), which is reassuring after the “Elevation” debacle (who among us can forget “a mole, diggin’ in a hole”?). Recommended: “Vertigo,” “City of Blinding Lights,” “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own,” “A Man and a Woman.” The second-best U2 album of the year, after the Walkmen’s record. Still, I find myself not listening to it much anymore. It seems that whatever they lost when they made All That, they lost permanently.

8. KYLIE MINOGUE: BODY LANGUAGEKylie is awesome. Madonna and Britney wish they could make an album this good. Non-stop funky electro with sexy Betty Boop vocals. It makes you wish you lived in the UK so that this was your disposable musical wallpaper rather than that Usher/Li’l Jon song. Recommended: “Still Standing,” “Sweet Music,” “Chocolate.” Put this on at your next party and people will love you.

7. SNOW PATROL: THE FINAL STRAWThis is a wonderful album from a band with one of the worst names around. (Raise your hand if you thought they were a nü-metal outfit.) It's melodic hard rock from Ireland, sort of like if you crossed The Colour and the Shape-era Foo Fighters with Coldplay. One thing that really impresses me about this band is their sense of economy: Nearly every song doesn't extend pass two iterations of verse and chorus. They intelligently incorporate a lot of early-90s influences without ever delving into nostalgia, and their hooks and choruses often have a My Bloody Valentine-esque sense of melody to them. An unexpected and very welcome addition to the list. Recommended: "Wow," "Spitting Games," "Run"—really, the whole album is quite good.

6. SCISSOR SISTERS: SCISSOR SISTERSA tour through 70s camp, from Elton John (obviously) to Bowie to Roxy Music (their liner-note poses perfectly replicate the liner-note poses from Roxy’s first record) to (as Ken pointed out to me) Billy Joel to disco. This really has grown on me from “yeah, that’s pretty good” to “wow” the more I’ve listened to it, thanks to moments like the piano chords before the chorus of "Mary" and the pre-choruses in "It Can't Come Quickly Enough." I hope they make a lot more records, at least so the wait for between Fischerspooner albums won’t seem as long. Recommended: “Comfortably Numb” (if you download only one song from this whole list, make it that one), “Music Is the Victim,” “Mary,” “Lovers in the Back Seat,” “Filthy/Gorgeous,” “It Can’t Come Quickly Enough.”

5. KEANE: HOPES AND FEARSWow, is this ever good. I mean, it is good. If you cross this band and Elbow you get Doves, so that’s nice; and everyone compares them to Coldplay but they’re definitely their own, keyboard-based thing. The vocals are just beautiful, with hints of Freddie Mercury audible on occasion, and the songcraft is tremendous throughout—those simple keyboard hooks are devastatingly effective. Particularly recommended: “Somewhere Only We Know,” “Bend and Break,” “Everybody’s Changing,” “Sunshine,” “Untitled 1,” “Bedshaped.” Those last three almost perfectly replicate the feeling I got from the brit-pop/trip-hop/melancholic "electronica"/Fiona Apple type music I was listening to in college, but without being nostalgic at all, in much the same way that “Maps” and “Y Control” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs put me in mind of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains and Jane’s Addiction without sounding anything like any of them. Awesome.

4. THE FAINT: WET FROM BIRTHNobody writes lyrics like the Faint's. Nobody. The specificity and "they wrote a song about that?"-ness of them simply must be heard to be believed. Throw in the fact that they do the 80s-revival bit better than just about anyone, with enormously fat synth riffs that rival the monstrosity of Gary Numan's Telekon, and you've got a fuckin’ killer record. Recommended “How Could I Forget,” “Erection,” “Paranoiattack.”

3. FRANZ FERDINAND: FRANZ FERDINANDSexy, slinky music from Scotsmen, if you can believe it. You’ve heard this on the radio, but you really need to hear the whole record, which fully deserves the hype. Extremely sophisticated—between this and Scissor Sisters, are the heirs of Roxy Music walking the earth? Recommended: “Take Me Out” (duh), “Dark of the Matinee,” “Jacqueline,” “Auf Asche,” “This Fire,” “Michael” (please please please release this as a single, guys).

2. THE WALKMEN: BOWS & ARROWSOkay, here’s where the hyperbole sets in, but I really can’t say enough good things about this record, which has the most astoundingly intense guitars I heard all year. I’ve read reviews that say that they really capture early U2, which they do, but you have to imagine an nourish, urban, angry U2, or maybe (better) a Joy Division that directed their anger outward rather than inward. I’m making it sound more grumpy than it is, though—they’ve got a great sense of humor and warmth, and it shows in slow and fast songs alike. NYC boys in thin sweaters. Frighteningly good, very, very close to the album of the year. Recommended: “The Rat” (best song of the year), “Little House of Savages,” “My Old Man,” “Hang On, Siobhan,” “New Year’s Eve,” “Waiting for a Dream I Had,” “Bows & Arrows.”

1. INTERPOL: ANTICSEveryone’s saying that this is the album where Interpol learned to write songs, which is stupid, because their first record was chockablock full of great songs. But on here they’re even better, believe it or not—their sonic palette has expanded to let in a lot more color and light, with great use of major keys and more hooks than a box of fishing tackle. The vocals are still reminiscent of Ian Curtis in places (more than ever in certain places, like the chorus for “Slow Hands”), but now there are Michael Stipe elements too—but it’s still very much its own animal. I was amazed by how good this album is—every song gets to a point where you’re just like “oh my God.” Best of the year. Recommended: the whole damn thing, but highlights include “Evil, “Narc,” “Slow Hands,” “Not Even Jail,” “Length of Love.”

And there you have it! Apologies to Ghostface, the Streets, and DFA—I’m sure your albums are really good, but I just never got around to actually getting them. Happy listening!


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