Feature ·

Part 2

The Best Albums of 2004

 

  Kate Collier

Staff Writer
 


The Hidden Cameras

Mississauga Goddam (Rough Trade) Oct. 12, 2004
This record is pretty much the whole package --pretty, dirty,
infectious, manic, heartbreaking -- all without taking itself too
seriously.
 


Björk

Medulla (Elektra) Aug. 31, 2004
Medulla proves Björk can get away with anything -- even
recording an album (mostly) without instruments. You may need to be in
a particular frame of mind to enjoy to this album --it's not something
to listen to on your morning commute -- but it is undoubtedly the most
beautiful one released this year.
 


PJ Harvey

Uh Huh Her (Island) June 8, 2004
On Uh Huh Her, the bluster of Harvey's earliest recordings
mingles with the more polished elegance of her later work, reminding us
that she can devastate us any way she wants to.
 


The Hives

Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope) June 20, 2004
No, their shtick is not wearing thin; the Hives release a
relentlessly fun, smart-ass record and successfully avoid becoming
annoying.
 


Tracy + the Plastics

Culture for Pigeon (Troubleman Unlimited) May 18, 2004
With the CD/DVD package Culture for Pigeon, Tracy + the Plastics
mastermind Wynne Greenwood shows that she's unwilling to slide by on
the cleverness of her performance art. These 11 tracks stand up just
fine without their video counterparts.
  Kevin Dolak

Staff Writer
 


Honorable Mentions:

Asobi Seksu: Asobi Seksu (Friendly Fire) May 18, 2004

Blonde Redhead: Misery is a Butterfly (4AD/Beggars) March 23, 2004

Guided by Voices: Half Smiles of the Decomposed (Matador) Aug. 24, 2004

The Hidden Cameras: Mississauga Goddam (Rough Trade) Oct. 12, 2004

Interpol: Antics (Matador) Sept. 28, 2004

Magnetic Fields: I (Nonesuch) May 4, 2004

Mirah: C'mon Miracle (K) May 4, 2004

William Shatner: Has Been (Shout! Factory) Oct. 5, 2004

The Walkmen: Bows and Arrows (Record Collection) Feb. 3, 2004
  10

Modest Mouse

Good News for People Who Like Bad News (Epic) April 6, 2004
Good news: Your favorite band has managed to cross over to the
mainstream without compromising its scruples or tweaking its sound. Bad
news: The asshole meathead factor will make you never want to see the
band's live show again.
  9

Les Savy Fav

Inches (French Kiss) Oct. 2, 2004
The "Godfathers of the Brooklyn Sound" have finally completed their
career-spanning art project. The chronological progression of these
tracks reveals one of the smartest punk bands around today. I think it
might get them into RISD.
  8

The Thermals

Fuckin' A (Sub Pop) May 18, 2004
Thrashing lo-fi punk noise started to seem passé until Fuckin' A
became this summer's refreshing blast, reminding us that noise and
anger are still important even if we don't hang out on Astor Place.
Hutch Harris's frustration is rooted in the same anger of so many indie
classics.
  7

Bloc Party

Bloc Party EP (Dim Mak) Sept. 14, 2004
On the strength of a mere five-song EP, this U.K. four-piece came out
of nowhere to tell the U.S. dance-punk revival to blow it out their
collective ass. Where other imitators are bringing their quiz on Wire
and Gang of Four home for their parents to sign, Bloc Party is getting
straight A's.
  6

Morrissey

You Are the Quarry (Attack) May 18, 2004
Not since his defining Vauxhall and I has the Mozzer been
so sublimely indignant ("Irish Blood, English Heart"), catchy ("First
of the Gang to Die"), honest ("I Like You") and deadpan ("The World is
Full of Crashing Bores"). It's enough to make you wish it doesn't have
to be another seven years for another round.
  5

Fiery Furnaces

Blueberry Boat (Rough Trade/Sanctuary) July 13, 2004
I like to imagine Matt and Elanor Friedberger's songwriting process as
a re-enactment of backseat fights they had on family road trips as
children. "Let's go this way!" "No, this way!" They shift about eight
times before the song ends, but each way was the right way.
  4

Frog Eyes

The Folded Palm (Absolutely Kosher) Sept. 14, 2004
The silver lining of four more years of Republican treachery might
be the lack of funding for public health care. So Carey Mercer will not
be getting his pills and will continue making these complex,
schizophrenic records. Oh wait, he's Canadian. Fuck.
  3

Xiu Xiu

Fabulous Muscles (5 Rue Christine) Feb. 17, 2004
Though Jamie Stewart scares the shit out of himself, he is
relentless in doing so to his fans. Here he outdoes himself, combining
Nintendo rhythms with piercing wails, his signature falsetto with his
signature clank-clank percussion, into a brilliant and surprising pop
record, putting his demons on a skillet.
  2

Arcade Fire

Funeral (Merge) Sept. 14, 2004
Stark themes of loss, love and growing up coupled with hope and rapture
are on the one record that everyone agrees is epic. I'm pretty
confident this will change a lot of people's lives. Not to mention
revive the Talking Heads. These kids know.
  1

Brian Wilson

Smile (Nonesuch) Sept. 28, 2004
After years of debating, false compilations and bogus downloads of
Wilson's shattered masterpiece, he has finally released it for the
masses, and it's further ahead than anything that rips it off these
days. Congratulations are due to America's finest songwriter.
  Lawrence Lanahan

Staff Writer
 


A.C. Newman

The Slow Wonder (Matador) June 8, 2004
 


Madvillain

Madvillainy (Stones Throw) March 23, 2004
 


Brian Wilson

Smile (Nonesuch) Sept. 28, 2004
 


Wilco

A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch) June 22, 2004
 

Morrissey

You Are The Quarry (Attack) May 18, 2004
 

Brad Mehldau

Live In Tokyo (Nonesuch) Sept. 14, 2004
 
Matt Gasteier

Staff Writer
  15

Kanye West

The College Dropout (Roc-a-Fella) Feb. 10, 2004
Take away the stupid anti-college rants and the last fifteen to
twenty minutes and this is a pretty damn good hip-hop record. Grab the
better version of "All Falls Down," with the actual Lauryn Hill sample
and Kanye running out of breath, from your local file-sharing service.
  14

Max Richter

The Blue Notebooks (FatCat) March 23, 2004
I don't buy much classical, but this is one of those rare discs
I'll keep in my rotation because it evokes a mood similar to the best
of my down-tempo collection: contemplative, cinematic, natural. Peter
Kruder with more traditional training.
  13

The Libertines

The Libertines (Rough Trade) Aug. 30, 2004
"Can't Stand Me Now" alone makes this a worthy album, but there are
plenty of great songs to go around. Sure, there are throwaway songs
where there were none on Up the Bracket, but a half-brilliant album is still pretty good, you fucking pessimist.
  12

Ghostface

The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam) April 20, 2004
Yeah, that's Ghostface rapping over a whole song, verse and all. Yeah,
that's Ghostface on the worst cover in recent memory. Yeah, that's
Ghostface, making his fourth straight must-own record.
  11

Cee-Lo

Cee-Lo Green is the Soul Machine (Arista) March 2, 2004
Man, Electric Circus is the worst album ever. The
neo-soul/hip-hop combos have been just awful, but this is excellent.
Someone please make Cee-Lo a star.
  10

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand (Domino) March 9, 2004
Is every song this good? Who are these people? How can this record be as good as everyone says it is?
  9

Air

Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks) Feb. 17, 2004
Run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run.
  8

Savath and Savalas

Apropa't (Warp) Jan. 27, 2004
This record just gets inside your body and becomes part of you.
Each time I listen to it I hear new things, but I'm not really
experiencing it as much as absorbing it. It's becoming a dream in my
head, and I am unsure if it even really exists.
  7

Brian Wilson

Smile (Nonesuch) Sept. 28, 2004
Has there ever been a more satisfying record? Everyone was worried,
no one thought it could be good, and then it came out. Fuck you for
doubting.
  6

The Walkmen

Bows and Arrows (Record Collection) Feb. 3, 2004
Alternately beautiful and explosive, a journey through nature and
civilization. Everything rock 'n' roll was meant to be, once it stopped
being silly dance music.
  5

Madvillain

Madvillainy (Stones Throw) March 23, 2004
MF Doom and Madlib have been wandering around the solar system
searching for each other. Quasimoto was hot, and Viktor Vaughn is top
notch, but when they combine they form like Voltron.
  4

Björk

Medulla (Elektra) Aug. 31, 2004
Bjork continues her unprecedented streak by continually morphing
her sound and challenging notions of what defines her as an artist.
It's a completely inaccessible work, but give it a chance and be swept
away.
  3

Nas

Street's Disciple (Sony Urban Music/Columbia) Nov. 30, 2004
The best commercial hip-hop record since Stankonia. The best double-album in hip-hop history. Just another Nas classic.
  2

Loretta Lynn

Van Lear Rose (Interscope) April 27, 2004
Loretta Lynn has made better songs, but she has never made a better
album than this collaboration with Jack White. Quite simply, this is a
perfect record. If you don't like this, I hate you.
  1

The Streets

A Grand Don't Come For Free (Vice/Atlantic) May 18, 2004
In a year of concept records, Mike Skinner gave us his masterpiece by
passing it off as just another day. The best concept hip-hop album ever
made.
  Michael Pollock

Staff Writer
  15

The Walkmen

Bows and Arrows (Record Collection) Feb. 3, 2004
Hazy power-rock in the vein of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
  14

Alchemist

1st infantry (Koch) June 29, 2004
Al slings golden-nugget beats at lyrical Goliaths including Game, D-Block, Stat Quo.
  13

Dizzee Rascal

Showtime (XL) Sept. 14, 2004
After Jigga left the throne open, who'd a thought Dizzee's
head-spinning raps and loopy rhythms would make him a contender to wear
the crown?
  12

Ride the Blinds

Ride the Blinds (Orchard) June 22, 2004
White-boy soul by way of San Francisco. Keep an eye out in '05 ...
  11

Pete Rock

Soul Survivor II (Rapster) Aug. 3, 2004
Slept-on indie release from the original funk soul brother.
  10

Dangermouse

The Grey Album (Bootleg) February 2004
Remember when you used to play two tapes at once on your boom box
and it made that messy, off-beat noise? Yeah, well, somebody found a
way to make it sound good.
  9

Wilco

A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch) June 22, 2004
So you hoisted Yankee Hotel Foxtrot onto every friend you
have and even a few complete strangers. What next? This, an insular,
post-genre collage of electronic experimentation and organic
reliability.
  8

The Roots

The Tipping Point (Geffen) July 13, 2004
The Roots finally made an album you could digest in one sitting,
but what's really interesting is the menu: soul, jazz, crunk, electro,
reggae, old-school hip-hop -- all within just ten songs.
  7

Ron Sexsmith

Retriever (Nettwerk) April 6, 2004
A beautiful set of jangly pop songs by the man who reinvented
jangly pop songs. You've got to be one heartless bastard not to give it
a chance.
  6

TV on the Radio

Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go) March 9, 2004
So what if the dudes in TV on the Radio look like those art history
majors your older brother started hanging out with after he left for
New York University? Desperate is wild, unpredictable and strangely hypnotic.
  5

Kanye West

The College Dropout (Roc-a-Fella) Feb. 10, 2004
Okay, producers can rap. They can even hold their own
against dudes like Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common. But who knew they
could do a whole album without mentioning guns or crack? Better yet,
who knew anyone could rap about Jesus and low self-esteem and not sound like a pussy?
  4

Interpol

Antics (Matador) Sept. 28, 2004
[Note to anyone still worshipping at the shrine that is Turn on the Bright Lights]: Interpol has not only made a second record, but it's equally correction, better
-- than the debut. It's full of hope, confidence, and new direction.
You may change your CD player now. And get into the fuckin' sun
already.
  3

Ryan Adams

Love Is Hell (Lost Highway) May 4, 2004
Cocky, moody, derivative: Three words usually attached to Ryan Adams's wannabe-rock star ego also sum up Love Is Hell,
the melding of his two previous EPs with the addition of the
jaw-droppingly tender "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home?" You can also add
"brilliant" to that list. (Check out Jay Riggio's hilarious review.)
  2

The Streets

A Grand Don't Come For Free (Vice/Atlantic) May 18, 2004
It's safe to say we wouldn't have missed Mike Skinner too much had he
disappeared after his debut two years ago. There was promise in "It's
Too Late," but nothing prepared us for the cerebral approach of Grand and its break-up anthem, "Dry Your Eyes." Funny, now we can't imagine another year without him.
  1

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand (Domino) March 9, 2004
Bowie, Blondie and Gang of Four held their 25-year reunion in '04, and
Franz Ferdinand was the house band, taking requests as the booze and
memories flowed. It's about as obvious a choice for record of the year
as last year's Elephant,
but just try to find someone who doesn't like all eleven songs this
debut offered up, including the homoerotic "Michael." The best part:
Their next album will sound nothing like it.
  Mike Dougherty

Staff Writer
  15

Travis Morrison

Travistan (Barsuk) Sept. 28, 2004
If people would just start ignoring the fact that Travis Morrison used
to be in one of the greatest bands in the universe, they'd probably
take his solo stuff a little more lightly. Travistan
is surely no Dismemberment Plan album, but taken alone it's a truly
interesting album about presidents and whales or something. Just let
the man work, people.
  14

The Beta Band

Heroes to Zeros (Astralwerks) May 4, 2004
This year saw the tragic split of the Beta Band, proof that rock
critics alone don't buy enough records to put food on a band's table.
This album may be one of their less consistent, but everything to like
about the band is more than represented: the quirky experimentation,
the strangely profound yet goofy lyrics, the dog barks. All in all, a
fitting last stand for such a great band.
  13

Rjd2

Since We Last Spoke (Definitive Jux) May 18, 2004
On his follow-up to Deadringer, Rj isn't content with just
flaunting his talent as a brilliant deejay; he has to go and show that
he can write kick-ass songs, too. Everything from emo to tacky '80s
rock is here, and he can curiously pull it off better than anyone in
these actual genres.
  12

Modest Mouse

Good News For People Who Love Bad News (Epic) April 6, 2004
Modest Mouse's latest is arguably their best, and not just because
they weathered band troubles to make it, got with a reputable producer,
and started writing more optimistic songs like the now immortal "Float
On." Well, maybe that did have something to do with it.
  11

The Magnetic Fields

I (Nonesuch) May 4, 2004
On I, Stephin Merritt masters the art of the "plink." His
"no synths" policy had every threat of ruining what essentially created
the Fields' sound, but the staccato grace of this album, especially as
support to Merritt's smooth tenor, proves that simplicity can so often
make the finest pop songs.
  10

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc, Dick Cheney, Mark Twain (Polyvinyl) Aug. 24, 2004
After a decidedly mediocre showing from Tortoise earlier this year,
the brothers Kinsella snatch up the title of the most creative players
in the Chicago post-rock scene with this album. They even make Dick
Cheney cool by association.
  9

Kings of Convenience

Riot on an Empty Street (Astralwerks) July 27, 2004
Everything you might expect from the acoustic duo that brought you Quiet is the New Loud
shows up on their new album: the same graceful harmonies (this time
accented by Leslie Feist), the same breadth of songwriting talent, the
same soporific mellowness. Plus, on "Homesick," they finally learn to
cope with everyone telling them they sound like Simon and Garfunkel.
  8

The Bad Plus

Give (Sony) March 9, 2004
Give may just be more of the same frantic jazz that these guys delivered on their debut, These Are the Vistas,
but the three members of the Bad Plus are skilled enough composers that
they have no problem dealing the same hand twice. They still beat their
instruments with a ferocity that no one around can match, and they
still kindly give rock fans an excuse to say they "listen to jazz."
  7

Björk

Medulla (Elektra) Aug. 31, 2004
Björk has been widely regarded as the most creative vocalist in
modern music, so it's no surprise that this album showcases little more
than the human mouth. Beats from Mike Patton and Rahzel give the songs
a backbone, and Björk and her various choirs do the rest of the work.
The result is an atmospheric masterpiece that only someone like Björk
could deliver.
  6

TV on the Radio

Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go) March 9, 2004
The buzz band that dominated much of the first half of this year,
TV on the Radio's first full-length is a high-energy rumble about love,
peace and race. Their erratic drum machines and Energizer bass rarely
stop for a breath over the course of the entire album, and Tunde
Adebimpe's multi-tracked guttural voice rests peacefully atop the
mechanical foundation. All this, as if hailing from Williamsburg,
Brooklyn didn't make them hip by default.
  5

Wilco

A Ghost is Born (Nonesuch) June 22, 2004
This album is a Godsend for those who didn't care for Wilco's past
catalog of creaky twang-rock and the semi-psychedelic experimentation
on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Ghost
is a straight-up rocker with solid songwriting, long guitar solos, and
a bare minimum of ambient background noise. It may be polarizing for
the band's fans, but this album sees the band wisely trimming the fat
from both their sound and their songs.
  4

Regina Spektor

Soviet Kitsch (Sire) Aug. 17, 2004
The Russian-bred, Bronx-based singer/pianist is one of the most
talented songwriters to surface in recent months. Despite her classical
piano training, she plunks out her songs with a graceful simplicity and
a cheeky sense of humor that can win over any audience with just one
listen. And there's really barely any kitsch to be found.
  3

Emperor X

Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform (Snowglobe) 2004
Basically just forty minutes of Chad Matheny's bedroom recordings
of pawnshop guitars and an arsenal of keyboards, this album is
unexpectedly one of the most solid works of lo-fi pop to come out this
year (or any other year, for that matter).
  2

John Vanderslice

Cellar Door (Barsuk) Jan. 20, 2004
From deep within the bowels of Vanderslice's Tiny Telephone studio, Cellar Door
was forged over the course of 2003 and released to kick off '04. He is
a fantastic songwriter (cuts like "White Plains" and "My Family Tree"
testify to that), but this album mostly continues to showcase
Vanderslice as one the most creative producers around. His trademarked
"Sloppy Hi-Fi" technique gives Cellar Door a wider sonic range
than any other release this year; the album is spattered with subtle
string arrangements, swelling brass, bits of electronic noise, and too
many other sounds to list. If the album proves anything, it's that
Vanderslice is no longer just your average American four-tracker.
  1

The Decemberists

The Tain EP (Acuarela Discos) 2004
The Decemberists' five-piece heavy-metal suite may come across as
something of a bizarre practical joke, but it may in fact showcase the
raw talent of this band more than any of the other releases. Vaguely
inspired by an epic poem of Celtic folklore called "Tain Bo Cuailinge,"
the band channels everyone from Iron Butterfly (Part I) to Ozzy (Part
V) in the cycle of this eighteen-minute masterpiece. Of course, the
initial appeal is a fish-out-of-water scenario with the typically
acoustic-and-accordion-heavy band rocking out with gritty electric
guitars on a minor-key riff. But as the song matures and develops its
plot, the true level of skill that went into creating it becomes
apparent. It's still worth a laugh, but trying not to be moved by the
amazing climax is next to impossible.
 
Mike Krolak

Staff Writer
  12

Jolie Holland

Escondida (Anti-) April 27, 2004
Channeling old-school country and blues, Holland alternately charms and haunts, but pleases both ways. And, man, can she sing.
  11

Masta Killa

No Said Date (Nature Sounds) June 1, 2004
Probably the most patient member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Masta Killa
lays the smack down with trademark Wu beats and a flow that makes every
line resonate like a great hook.
  10

Ted Leo and The Pharmacists

Shake the Sheets (Lookout!) Oct. 19, 2004
Ahokay. Now I get why everyone raves about Ted Leo: bouncy
rhythms, somersaulting guitar lines, and some of the catchiest damn
songs you'll ever hear.
  9

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand (Domino) March 9, 2004
Easily the most ubiquitous indie act of the year. Sure, you're sick
of it now, but you were singing along back in May -- and with good
reason.
  8

Madvillain

Madvillainy (Stones Throw) March 23, 2004
MF Doom and Madlib overcome the handicap of high expectations by
simply exceeding them with a fat sack of abstract beats and rhymes.
  7

Adem

Homesongs (Domino) July 27, 2004
With a voice reminiscent of Beck, Adem Ilham gracefully bares his
soul over ten unassuming yet gut-wrenchingly gorgeous tunes that employ
the lack of sound as skillfully as its presence.
  6

Rogue Wave

Out Of The Shadow (Sub Pop) July 13, 2004
A juicy slice of California pop drizzled with melancholy and topped with a sense of humor. Yum.
  5

Arcade Fire

Funeral (Merge) Sept. 14, 2004
Okay, Canada, we get it. You guys are a lot cooler than we thought.
And thanks again for this record: A balls out, heart-on-its-sleeve,
controlled rage that's a winner from start to finish.
  4

The One A.M. Radio

A Name Writ In Water (Level Plane) April 19, 2004
Hrishikesh Hirway soundtracks your most introspective moments with
acoustic guitars, glitchy electronics, and an uncanny sense of peace.
  3

Chad VanGaalen

Inifiniheart (Flemish Eye) Feb. 11, 2004
Explorative psych-folk that discovers beauty in new places and sounds while providing a sense of relaxed comfort.
  2

John Vanderslice

Cellar Door (Barsuk) Jan. 20, 2004
Vanderslice takes everything you like about pop music, pumps out
the sugary filling, replaces it with bottomless creativity, then leaves
you begging for more.
  1

The Streets

A Grand Don't Come For Free (Vice/Atlantic) May 18, 2004
Mike Skinner fleshes out the trivialities of everyday life with
poignant accuracy and reinvents the concept album, proving that music
doesn't have to be complicated to be breathtaking.
  Nick Stillman

Staff Writer
  10

Matthew Shipp

Harmony and Abyss (Thirsty Ear) Sept. 28, 2004
The Shipp-curated Blue Series on the Thirsty Ear label really took a step back this year, but Harmony and Abyss
at least proved that Shipp still has gas left in his tank. Although
it's frustrating that he seems unwilling to fully embrace the beatbox
accompaniment of songs like "Blood to the Brain" and "New ID" to his
staggering and beautiful piano playing, the instances when he does it
catapult this album to the top of the year's new jazz releases.
  9

Vordul Mega

Revolution of the Young Havocs (Nature Sounds) Nov. 2, 2004
The Can Ox hangover finally subsided a bit this year, with solo albums
from both Vordul and Vast Aire plus lots of guest appearances. Vordul's
silky flow goes down as smoothly as the green he raps so much about. Revolution's depressive themes paint New York City like it so often can be -- black, a city of cold wind and hungry pigeons.
  8

Suicide

Attempted: Live at Max's Kansas City 1980 (Sympathy for the Record Industry) March 16, 2004
Keep 'em comin'! As long as there are new Suicide live albums, I'll be
buying. This was (and still is) one the best live bands of all time,
and albums like Half Alive and the new Attempted capture them when they were tight and tough but still maintained a confrontational and ominously insane aura. Besides, Attempted
provides further evidence that Suicide's studio recordings really only
comprised a fraction of their arsenal. Kiddies may know them through
their newer, inferior material, but their famously demented reputation
was formed during performances like this one.
  7

Stereloab

Margerine Eclipse (Elektra) Jan. 27, 2004
Heavyweight indie rockers Sonic Youth and Stereolab both released
albums this year, and the Lab won so easily they may as well have been
holding a tomato ketchup and margerine sandwich in one hand and a copy
of Switched on Bach in the other while surfing the NASA channel in their space-age bachelor pad. Combining the Dots and Loops sound with the Switched On-era one, Margerine Eclipse
is an elegant fusion of old and new, and a weird reminder that
Stereolab has been doing this long enough to actually make that work.
  6

Vast Aire

Dirty Magazine mixtape (Bootleg) 2004
In a year that saw four releases by the more magisterial half of
Cannibal Ox, Vast's mixtape is definitively the best. His "real" album,
Look Mom, No Hands,
felt a little too loose (let's just say it -- stoned) to really engage,
and the two collections of collaborations and demos are nice to have
but ultimately combine a lot of stuff that was available elsewhere. Dirty Mag
is Vast at his nasty, insulting and thuggish best, proving that, like
King Gheedora does, hip-hop over disco-inflected '70s samples sounds
pretty damn good right now.
  5

Devendra Banhart

Rejoicing in the Hands (Young God) April 26, 2004
Pop music continued its tiresome 21st-century trend of
bandwagon-hopping this year, continuing to ride out neo-garage
(enough!), then establishing neo-psych and neo-folk as the new "in
things." The first of Banhart's two albums this year is the better one,
and the best of both of the newest two neo-genres.
  4

Beans

Shock City Maverick (Warp) Oct. 19, 2004
It's the other third of the former Antipop. After a slightly
disappointing EP, Beans' second full-length is either just as good or
just better than the first, Tomorrow Right Now.
Mr. Ballbeam will insult your intelligence and steal your girl's
amorous eye so fast you won't even quite catch what he said, but he
slows down enough on the deliciously trippy "I'll Melt You" to proclaim
a truism: "The link between Suicide, Sun Ra and Bambaataa is Ballbeam."
  3

Airborn Audio

Snapshots mixtape (Bootleg) 2004
Yeah, yeah, it's just a mixtape, and Airborn Audio has
theoretically existed for more than a year now with no official album.
No matter. This brief tour of the matrix that is High Priest and
M.Sayyid's psyche will make you need a bib -- you'll be drooling over
how they might -- can
-- sound, once they emerge from prolonged hibernation in the lab.
Antipop Consortium mourners: An era hasn't ended, it's just evolving.
  2

Phil Kline

Zippo Songs (Cantaloupe) Jan. 13, 2004
Pick your adjective: haunting, chilling, devastating, overwhelming --
none quite captures the power of Kline's most recent album, which sets
to music speeches by comically inarticulate Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld as well as poems carved into Zippo lighters by American
soldiers in Vietnam. Kline and his band's succinct Steve Reich-ian pop
songs are the perfect accompaniment to Theo Bleckmann's hair-raisingly
poignant singing, and Zippo Songs should stand as the
document of resistance to the Neo-Cons' 21st century attempt to play
masters of the universe and a grim reminder of war's tolls on the
human psyche.
  1

Madvillain

Madvillainy (Stones Throw) March 23, 2004
This collaborative effort between Madlib and MF Doom is yet another
paean to stoned life but is far from the generic, weeded-out efforts
that characterize so many underground hip-hop records. Madlib's
creative sound collages are the ideal backdrop for Doom's witty and
bizarre rhymes. On the great "Money Folder," he raps, "Either I get a
strike or strike out -- gutter ball." But aside from a strange attempt
to croon on "Rainbows," Madvillainy's K's are inconspicuously absent. An album truly appropriate for all moods, and one of the most enduring collabs ever.
  Patrick Coffee

Staff Writer
 


Fennesz

Venice (Touch UK) March 23, 2004
Criticized for veering too close to easy ambience, Venice is
Christian Fennesz's most consistent album, and though the pop duet with
Japan's David Sylvian sits slightly to the left of self-importance, no
one can restructure the sound of six strings quite like Fennesz.
 


Arthur Russell

The World of Arthur Russell (Soul Jazz) Jan. 26, 2004
This year's biggest uncovered treasure, Arthur Russell's hazy
biography is every bit as compelling as his recorded material. Despite
excellent remix efforts by late house originator Larry Levan, tracks
like the intimate string duo "Keeping Up" prove that Russell was simply
processing his own increasingly abstract ideas through a popular model
loosely resembling disco.
 


Joanna Newsom

The Milky-Eyed Mender (Drag City) March 23, 2004
Once the mind adjusts to the initial shock of Newsom's fey poetics
and seemingly oblivious vocal lunges, the scope of her lyrical maturity
and instrumental prowess begins to appear, and excepting the misplaced
"Inflammatory Writ," the album is consistently captivating.
 


Animal Collective

Sung Tongs (FatCat) June 1, 2004
 


Milton Nascimento

Maria Maria and Ultimo Trem (Far Out) March 23, 2004
 


Madvillain

Madvillainy (Stones Throw) March 23, 2004
 


Max Richter

The Blue Notebooks (FatCat) March 23, 2004
 


Devendra Banhart

Rejoicing in the Hands (Young God) April 26, 2004
 


Björk

Medulla (Elektra) Aug. 31, 2004
 


James Chance

Sax Education (Tiger Style) April 26, 2004
 
Rafael Martinez

Staff Writer
  10

Mos Def

The New Danger (Geffen) Oct. 12, 2004
No album received more mixed reviews this year than The New Danger. Mos Def's first album in five years and the follow-up to the sanctified Black on Both Sides,
this year's LP is an ambitious musical grab bag that taps many
different genres. Out-of-control expectations nearly killed this album,
but once the smoke clears, Mos may finally get the props he deserves
for The New Danger.
  9
The Roots

The Tipping Point (Geffen) July 13, 2004
After hitting hip-hop with the rock-tinged Phrenology, the
Roots flipped the script and aimed the spotlight on Black Thought. With
the focus off the band, Thought melts wax, highlighted by his flawless
impersonations of Kool G. Rap and Big Daddy Kane on "Boom!." Minus an
occasional brick, there ain't no half-stepping along this lyrical road
to riches.
  8

Masta Ace

A Long Hot Summer (Yosumi/M3) Aug. 3, 2004
Criminally slept on since his days with the Juice Crew, Masta Ace is a
decorated hip-hop veteran with more stripes than John Kerry. Billed as
his swan song, on Long Hot Summer Ace decided to break us off this one last time with a prequel to his conceptual gem Disposable Arts. The only fitting words left are these: Thanks for the memories, Ace.
  7

Jean Grae

This Week (Babygrande) Sept. 21, 2004
Compared to Jean Grae's previous efforts, This Week
unveiled something indelibly different in the emcee. This time, she
exudes confidence, rhyming with a chip on her shoulder and popping
shots at all mean muggers. With an album exclusively produced by 9th
Wonder coming right around the corner, Grae may make 2005 as big as she
did 2004.
  6

Alchemist

1st Infantry (Koch) June 29, 2004
In between producing hit records for Mobb Deep and Dilated Peoples,
Cali super-producer Alchemist cashes in his chips, dropping beats that
capture the essence of East Coast hip-hop. Like any elite producer,
Alchemist crafted a flawless set of beats tailor-made to accentuate the
skills of the featured guest emcees. Banging from the jump until the
curtain closes, 1st Infantry is easily one of the best in '04.
  5

Murs/9th Wonder

3:16: The 9th Edition
Released only weeks before Madvillainy, 3:16
followed a simple blueprint of 9th Wonder's North Cacalac beats and
Murs's blunted Cali vibes. Weighing in at a meager ten tracks, the duo
goes for quality over quantity, concocting an album that is reminiscent
of another classic LP -- Illmatic.
  4

Ghostface

The Pretty Toney Album (Rocafella/Def Jam) April 20, 2004
With the Wu-Tang empire steady declining, Ghostface is the lone member
still swinging his scepter with same ferocity as he did in '93. After
more than a decade in the game, no one is more passionate and has more
fun holding down the stage. Minus one Rza track, the production is
handled by a group of relative unknowns whose raw and stripped-down
soul production will have you hollering "I love you."
  3

Kanye West

College Dropout (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam) Feb. 10, 2004
Even though Kanye's soul-sampling production became the industry flavor
of the year, it was his ability to bridge the gap between mainstream
and underground hip-hop that raised this album to another level. What
other artist would feature Jay-z, Ludacris, Common, Mos Def and Talib
Kweli?
  2

Madvillain

Madvillainy (Stones Throw) March 23, 2004
Take two of the most prolific artists in hip-hop and a sack of chronic
and you get the most complete and blunted album of the year. With
production virtuoso Madlib behind the boards and MF Doom's stream of
consciousness running amuck, the resulting LP single-handedly
resurrected hip-hop from its shallow grave.
  1

Nas

Street's Disciple (Sony Urban Music/Columbia) Nov. 30, 2004
Following in the footsteps of Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac and
Wu-Tang, Nas's double-disc effort is a lyrical feast with all the
fixin's. Mr. Jones represents all sides of hip-hop, getting political
on "American Way," setting the streets ablaze with "Nazareth Savage"
and throwing an old-school park jam on "Virgo." His best LP since Illmatic may have ended the debate as to who is the greatest of all time.
  Ryan Duffy

Staff Writer
 


Two Gallants

The Throes (Alive) May 18, 2004
Two good-looking young dudes from San Francisco playing music that
sounds like it came from two train-wreck-ugly old dudes from Nebraska.
 


Nick Cave

Abbatoir Blues and The Lyre of Orpheus (Anti-) Oct. 26, 2004
What's weirder about these jams giving me a boner: That Nick Cave is older than my parents or that he's a dude?
 


The Streets

A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice/Atlantic) May 18, 2004
I guess in England, rap means really well-thought-out and
brilliantly articulated concept records. In America, Nelly blows the
collective minds of the hip-hop community by putting out a double-album
that spells a new word if you hold them up next to each other.
 


Mission of Burma

OnOffOn (Matador) May 4, 2004
Really? We could've had this stuff somewhat regularly for the past
twenty years? Really? There needs to be a governing body that vetoes or
approves band breakups. Mission of Burma would have gotten so denied,
and I would've stamped approved eighty-six times on Scott Stapp's face.
 


Mastadon

Leviathan (Relapse) May 31, 2004
Question: Is metal even a genre anymore? Just like regular fucking metal, not nu or rap or metal-core or whatever?
Mastadon: Oh, now it is. Here are some songs about slaying whales, you fags. Enjoy.
 


Green Day

American Idiot (Reprise) Sept. 21, 2004
The Tommy of our generation. I'm totally serious.
 


Xiu Xiu

Fabulous Muscles (5 Rue Christine) Feb. 17, 2004
This is how I like my gays -- wierd and skinny and yelling about cum on their lips.
 


Hot Snakes

Audit in Progress (Swami) Oct. 5, 2004
They use the same exact drum beat for, like, the first half of this record and it's so good that I don't even give a fuck.
 


Wrangler Brutes

Zulu (Kill Rock Stars) Oct. 12, 2004
 


Venomous Concept

Retroactive Abortion (Ipecac) June 29, 2004
"Jesus fucking Christ, thank you! This is what we meant, goddamn
it. As soon as Canada and Florida got prominently involved, we knew
something had gone horribly wrong." Sincerely, Punk Rock.



Best of 2003
Best of 2004
Best of 2005
Prefixmag Staff Picks - Part 1 Prefixmag Staff Picks Part 3
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