Thursday, December 16, 2004

Top 10 Albums of 2004

As many of you may or may not know, I'm obsessed with lists, so I'm taking full advantage of the opportunity to make my own. These are my top 10 albums of the year based solely on my opinion at this exact moment. If I had made this list in June, Franz Ferdinand would have been right near the top, but instead, I've had enough of them and they've dropped off. And who knows, if I were to make this list two months from now, maybe Annie, who I can't get enough of at the moment, wouldn't make the list at all. But here it is in all its glory.

1) The Arcade Fire - Funeral - Many of the other albums on this list are albums by artists who released excellent albums this year, but they may not have been the artist's best album. The Arcade Fire have no previous work to compete against and came out of the gates blazing (no pun intended). Their debut blends indie-pop both light and dark, folk and all kinds of instruments you don't typically find on these types of albums (accordions?) seamlessly to create the year's finest album. Who cares if they don't have a "sound," they do it all, and it sounds amazing.

2) Wilco - A Ghost is Born - Wilco may have changed their sound drastically between Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but at least you could tell it was the same band. This album is filled with guitar-driven jams like "Spiders(Kidsmoke)" and folk-pop ditties like "Muzzle of Bees" that may not necessarily click on the first listen, but give it a chance and forget that this is the same band who sang "Heavy Metal Drummer" just two years ago. Hey, worst case scenario, you can always skip to the very-Wilco closer, "The Late Greats" if you need an old-school Wilco fix.

3) Interpol - Antics - Their 2002 debut Turn on the Bright Lights evoked memories of Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Smiths, and though not as breathtaking, Antics picks up right where the first album left off. The mood may lighten a bit on "Slow Hands" and the album's weakest track "C'mere," but songs like "Take You on a Cruise" (my personal favorite) "Public Pervert" and "Not Even Jail" recall the Interpol we all know and love. And hey, who cares if you can even dance to a couple of the songs, is there anything wrong with that?

4) The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free - I'm always wary about concept albums, but when an artist can pull it off, it can be something special, and that is exactly what happens here. Not only is this an album of great individual songs that stand on their own like "Fit But You Know It," "Dry Your Eyes" and "Blinded by the Lights," it also has an element that I've never found on an album before, a seamless, easy to follow story. The album begins with Mike Skinner losing 1000 quid and meeting a girl, and by the end you're truly feeling the pain of "Dry Your Eyes" and "Empty Cans" right along with him. Call me cheesy, but I love this shit.

5) Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News - I've heard many people call this Modest Mouse selling out, but comparing this album to 2000's The Moon and Antarctica, there's really not all that big of a difference, I just think the mainstream was a little more prepared this time around. It's true that the Isaace Brock has never written anything as poppy as "Float On" before, but the strange banjo-twinged "Bukowski" and the horn-drenched "The Devil's Workday" are as experimental as anything Modest Mouse has ever done. Try playing "Satin in a Coffin" on the radio and then tell me who's bowing to the mainstream. Friggin' great.

6) Air - Talkie Walkie - After stumbling a little through the early part of the 00s, Air have finally given us what we came to expect after releasing 1998's ultimate makeout album masterpiece Moon Safari. This time around Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel handle all the vocal duties instead of hiring female singers to do it for them, and honestly you can barely tell the difference. That is actually Dunckel singing "Surfing on a Rocket," I know it's hard to believe, but I've seen it live, it is the truth. So get out your champagne, your keytars and your women, Air is back.

7) The Legends - Up Against the Legends - Turn up that Jesus and Mary Chain-style fuzz in the background, get those multiple guitars going, and then throw in some handclaps? Wha? That's the best way to describe The Legends who manage to somehow blend the indie-pop sound of the New Pornographers (including male and female vocalists) with the early shoegaze sound of the late 80s to create something unique and extremely catchy. I guess there's nothing better to do in Sweden, but hell, I'm not complaining, bring it on, and hey, the Hives, take a lesson from your countrymates and pick the right decade to steal your sound from. GO 80s!!!

8) AC Newman - The Slow Wonder - Damn, I just used a New Pornographers reference in the last review, ah well, here we go again. New Pornographers' lead singer/guitarist/head songwriter Carl Newman gets a new band together to make some more fantastic pop gems. The songs do not have quite as thick of a sound as the Pornographers' 7-pronged attack, but Newman does the simpler stuff just as well. If you want some indie pop anthems, try "On the Table" or "Secretarial," but we've got ballads this time around too. "Come Crash" sounds like nothing out of Newman's past and a string section even emerges on "The Town Halo." This man can write some great songs, and he even told me in person that he'd sell out and work with the Neptunes if a major label came to him. I hope it happens so I can see his awkward, red-headed ass dance around, what a site that would be.

9) Annie - Anniemal - I remember when this album was first brought to my attention, I was extremely confused, it had been given an incredible review by a very reputable indie website, but as far as I could see, the cover looked like it could be the next Britney Spears' album. In an attempt to figure out what this was all about, I hunted it down and I now understand. Annie is a Norwegian pop star with an incredible, airy voice who has teamed up with Royksopp to create an album that is part dance, part pop, part chill out, but all awesome. If Americans had good taste, this is what we'd be hearing on the radio, but sadly, that may never happen. Instead, put on your headphones, throw on "Heartbeat," and pretend that you're not the only one of your friends who has heard this fantastic album

10) Bjork - Medulla - I have to admit right off the bat, this album doesn't even come close to Homogenic or Post, but then again, Bjork has almost set unrealistic expectations for herself based on her incredible back catalog. She reinvents herself once again this time around, going largely acapella with the aid of a choir, an Inuit throat-singer and a crew of human beatboxes. Some of the songs, like "Desired Constellation" and "Vokuro" put the emphasis on her beautiful voice and allow the listener to just sit back and fall into dream-land, while "Who Is It" and "Triumph of a Heart" are some of the best pop songs she's ever written. Still, I feel this album is dragged down by the very strange "Submarine" and the hard to listen to "Ancestors" that seem to stall the album during some of its strongest stretches.


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