2004's Top 5's

Top Five Favorite Records Released in 2004

Almost Killed Me by The Hold Steady
“Working backwards from the doctor to the drugs. From the packie to the taxi to the cabbie to the club. A thousand kids will fall in love in all these clubs tonight. A thousand other kids will end up gushing blood tonight. Two thousand kids won’t get too much sleep tonight. Two thousand kids, they still feel pretty sweet tonight.”
Enough said. Simply the best lyrics of any rock album this year. But that’s partially because this record personifies and transcends rock altogether. Is Craig Finn the greatest rock lyricist since David Berman? Or the dopest MC since Ghostface?
It just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because they brought a fucking wrecking crew to clear a space all their own. If you heard it, you know. If you missed it, you missed out.
All hail The Hold Steady and the realm of rock over which they reign.

A Ghost is Born by Wilco

Rarely does a record so perfectly capture the circumstances surrounding its creation. While The Hold Steady told tales of pill-popping and chemical come-downs, Wilco showed us just what that sounds like. Somewhere between “Hell is Chrome” and “Handshake Drugs” is the sound of an anxiety disorder and the haze of medication it demands.
Good music. Good lyrics. Impeccable aesthetic vision. Wilco is one of the most relevant American artists out there doing our great rock and roll heritage proud. Once Guided By Voices expires at year’s end, they take the top spot on my list of America’s greatest contemporary bands.

Half Smiles of The Decomposed by Guided By Voices

It’s all ending now. The legacy of Guided By Voices has come to it’s electrifying conclusion. They will be sorely missed, but they did leave quite a swan song.
Half Smiles of The Decomposed is the ultimate anthem to saying goodbye to things you’re not ready to let go of. And that’s something I’ve had to do far too often this year. I don’t know how I would have made it through 2004 without this record.

We Shall All Be Healed by The Mountain Goats

Quite simply the greatest lyrics, from the most relevant American artist, on a record I just could not have made it through the year without. And yet it still manages to be neither The Hold Steady, Wilco, or Guided By Voices. What is this enigma that is The Mountain Goats? Just good music from good people for bad times.
These guys are just shy of a masterpiece. Consider yourselves warned.

Blueberry Boat by The Fiery Furnaces

It’s not the Number One that’s so hard to pick; it’s the Number Five. The first four are just so obvious that it’s easy. But choosing a fifth is so much more difficult. As this is the last spot on a Top Five, it becomes the point at which it must be decided who will be chosen and who will be left behind. One through Four are just the hierarchy of Heaven, but Number Five is Judgement Day itself.
The gravity of this decision demands greater consideration than mere preference. Significance must also be weighed. It is by this standard that The Fiery Furnaces take the Five Spot with Blueberry Boat.
While I may not have listened to it as much as other records this year, no other record insisted upon repeated listens like this one. I could and often would listen to any of the other records on this list randomly and repeatedly with great enjoyment. But I listened to Blueberry Boat even when I didn’t want to. Even when I didn't enjoy it, it still demanded my attention.
No other album inspired as much conversation as Blueberry Boat either. Friends and colleagues were all abuzz over this record even before its release. Once it finally arrived, the discussion ensued.
Is this good? If so, why? Is it genius? Or is it madness? Is there any difference? Is that Inuit?
It may not have dominated my playlist, but Blueberry Boat takes top honors for outright impact.

The Nigel Scale

There really was an abundance of great music in 2004. So turn this list up to 11 and it looks like this...

6. Rejoicing in The Hands by Devendra Banhart

7. Real Gone by Tom Waits

8. Funeral by The Arcade Fire

9. You're a Woman, I'm a Machine by Death From Above 1979

10. A Grand Don't Come For Free by The Streets

11. Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes by TV On The Radio

Top Five Favorite Reissues/Compilations of 2004

Because sometimes the best new music isn’t new at all.

1. The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered by Daniel Johnston/Various Artists

Half best-of collection/half tribute, this stands as the single greatest introduction to Daniel Johnston available. If you have yet to be introduced, now is the time.

2. Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label

A record so good it started its own label. Early 70’s soul from Ohio that burns with more heat than anything that ever came out of Detroit. No polish, all passion.

3. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: LA’s Desert Origins by Pavement

I remember the first time a friend of mine played Pavement for me. I told them I didn’t like it. “Yeah you do,” they insisted. “You just haven’t heard the right Pavement yet.” From the extravagant packaging to the exhaustive track list, there’s a strong case to be made that this might just be the right Pavement for everyone.

4. Live At Max’s Kansas City by The Velvet Underground

Hardly definitive, but nonetheless rewarding. The Velvet Underground remain the ultimate musical cure for a hangover. And what with the regularity I suffer those, I need all The Velvets I can get.

5. Inches by Les Savy Fav

An outstanding starting point for novices and a great collection for the committed.

Top 5 Shows:

Of course, there’s more to my life than just buying records and wasting time writing about them. Sometimes I also go to shows. Of what I saw this year, here’s what stands out:

1. Guided By Voices at The Henry Fonda

A fond farewell to one of my favorite bands. A stunning set full of soaring melodies and shambling shenanigans. They will be missed.

2. Wilco at The Wiltern

Devastating. Just devastating.

3. Fiery Furnaces at The Echo

Genius or madness? Madness. Obviously madness.

4. Animal Collective with Black Dice and Ariel Pink at The Echo

An unbeatable trifecta of exciting experimental music artists. Too bad most kids walked out on Black Dice’s set. The DFA connection may get people in the door, but it can’t give them good taste.

5. Saturday Looks Good to Me at Spaceland

Pure joy. The only show this year that got me dancing. Dancing, I tell you. They’re that good. Or may be it was all the beer. Probably both.

Honorable mentions:

  • Subtle at Spaceland
  • Liars with Young People at The Troubadour
  • TV On The Radio at The Echo
Top 5 Shows I Regret Missing:

I’ll try harder next year. I promise.

1. Magnetic Fields at The Wilshire Ebell Theater

2. Ted Leo with The Fiery Furnaces at The Echo

3. M Ward, Jim James, & Conor Oberst at The Orpheum

4. LCD Soundsystem at The Echo

5. Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, & Vetiver at LACE

Top 5 Music Blogs of 2004

I first thought about starting a music blog at the onset of this year. Before I did, I wanted to research just what was already out there. In doing so I’ve discovered some great writers and an overwhelming amount of new music and artists. These bloggers proved to be the most enjoyable and influential:

1. Largehearted Boy

Lots of music news and ample downloads every day. But beyond that, David takes first prize for introducing me to The Mountain Goats, The Drive-By Tuckers, and The Fiery Furnaces. I sought out all of these artists based on his recommendation and was rewarded every time. Thanks, David.

2. Chromewaves

For original content, nobody beats Frank. His daily wit and insight have become a regular source of news and entertainment for me. Without him I probably wouldn’t have bothered with Ted Leo and I would have surely slept on that Arcade Fire record. I also would have missed out on a lot of laughs.

3. Fluxblog

The godfather of MP3 blogs. Matt introduced me to scores of new music this year. Some of it just sat idle on my hard drive, but most of it inspired the purchase of records or concert tickets. No good for my mounting credit card debt, but plenty good for my record collection.

4. Teaching The Indie Kids to Dance Again

More than just another MP3 blogger, Keith is an apostle of indie rock. His promotion of the artists he cares about is both inspired and relentless. Heed the gospel according to Keith.

5. Tie: Burned By The Sun/Hipster Detritus (Now The Cool Out)

Somewhat sporadic content, but a wealth of information from Karen and some great writing from Keith. Reliably entertaining, even if not regularly updated.

My Life is Starting Over Again: On into 2005

Top 5 Artists to Most Likely to Release Top 5 Favorite Records in 2005

1. The Hold Steady

2. The Fiery Furnaces

3. LCD Soundsystem

4. The Mountain Goats

5. Sole

Top 5 Most Likely and Anticipated Shows of 2005

1. The Hold Steady

2. LCD Soundsystem

3. Death From Above 1979

4. The Flaming Lips

5. The Fall

Of course, my five spot on this list is always The Fall. But seeing as how 50% of the shows they schedule in L.A. get cancelled, my back-up # 5 is:

  • Michael Gira & The Angels of Light

And that was 2004. It was a great year for new music and there's more yet to come in 2005. Thanks to all the friends, bloggers, journalists, and music sites that helped shape this list with their advice, guidance, influence, and insight. Let's keep it alive in 2005.


You're a Woman, I'm a Machine

She had me on the living room floor, a handful of hair in both hands. “I’m going to fuck the shit out of you,” she said.
It wasn’t so much that she said it but that I knew she could and would. She leveled her love right at me with the same recklessness that left all those scars on her left knee.
And I fucking loved her for that.
At least, I tried to. It was dangerous and stupid, but so were we.
Then, right at about the same time, she got smart and I got restless. She knew I’d never love her. She knew that all the frantic fucking and desperate pain just couldn’t hurt me enough to make me stay. There were still wounds open and lines left in my flesh, carved out by someone even more fucked-up that she was.
So she left. Or rather, she let me leave her for something more damaged.
But for some time there were the broken bottles, the blood on the pillows, and the red marks and bruises we used to communicate. It was as good as bad got and probably even better. Dysfunction was rarely ever so mutually gratifying.
Single again and socially severed, I still think of her. I wonder what more there was to a love we both wanted but couldn’t make work. I figure we took our course and what there was to know and learn we’ve taken with us on our way. I don’t want her back. But sometimes my mind still conjures kisses we intended but never exchanged.
Of course, neither one us was in it for the kisses or cuddles to begin with. She had her hurt and I had mine and they both needed each other to feed and seethe themselves into something more severe. Either of us could have sustained a dull panic for decades, but it took our love to drive us both insane.
Some people know just what this is like. Some of those people are my friends. Some others are Canadians. And two of them are Death From Above 1979.
With You’re A Woman, I’m a Machine, DFA1979 have unleashed a sweaty surging record with more blood than it has heart. These are all love songs, but every one of them is fractured, frantic, fucked-up, and frenzied. It is a thing of inspired madness and malevolent beauty.
The scenesters would lump DFA1979 amongst more fashionable groups that are more likely to sue them than they are to share a stage. But a more accurate sonic touchstone would be Metallica’s Kill’Em All. Both records boast riff-heavy hooks that take a backseat to boundless balls-out energy. That kind of momentum transcends trends from dance floors to mosh pits.
Still, this is hardly a metal record. DFA1979 don’t sound so much like Metallica as much as they do a Metallica that spent more time listening to The Clash’s Sandinista than they did Diamond Head’s Lightning to the Nations. There’s more congas here than there are guitar solos and more high-hat than hellfire.
Still, it’s hard to accuse DFA1979 of cashing-in or cresting a wave that’s already been burdened to breaking. For every damning dance-punk trademark there’s an onslaught of unfashionable riffing and raging. These guys didn’t come here to dance or grab the cash; they’re here because they’re damaged and dependent on distraction.
It’s that sense of desperation that makes this record so instantaneously engaging. This agitated level of instability and volatility summons The Stooges at their blurred-bliss best.
Of course, The Stooges aren’t for everybody. And I expect the appeal of DFA1979 to be somewhat limited as well. But those who get it will get more than they bargained for. These boys didn’t come here to fuck around. They came here fucked-up and they’re not leaving until they’re fucking or fucked.

Download "Little Girl" from the band's site

Watch the video for "Romantic Rights"

Buy it now from Amazon



He paused and then after a few moments peering at me over the wire rim of his glasses, he resumed.

“Sometimes it’s easier when they die.”

The statement jostled me at first but then quickly settled down towards my center. I understood it even as he began to explain.

“The loss from death is so final. When people leave, there is always uncertainty. The mind can’t help but question. ‘May be they’ll come back. May be we can convince them to come back.’ The finality of death does not allow for this. The transition to acceptance is free from that obstruction.”

It was a new perspective on loss, and yet another in a long list of lessons learned in the past month. But that’s why I was back in therapy. It helps when you better understand what you’re going through, even if that knowledge cannot cure the hurt itself. The pain may linger, but the palpable immediacy is somewhat subdued.

I expect this kind of insight from my therapist but I rarely ever look for it in my indie rock. It is within this context that The Arcade Fire have emerged as a pleasant surprise amidst the most unpleasant of circumstances.

The release of their debut Funeral this past fall was surrounded by a frenzy of storied Wilco-sized circumstances: youth and young lovers; new homes and harsh winters; grave losses and graves gathered in quick succession; intense live shows that seemed to harness and then transcend all this turmoil; and then a blog buzz that burned through all initial pressings upon shipping.

But none of this is much more than merely interesting unless the band delivers. And indeed they do. Their debut boasts both impassioned punch and an innovative yet cohesive amalgamation of current and classic sounds.

Funeral succeeds not just by its emotive impact but also by the broad range of emotional experiences it so eloquently captures. Loss is a central theme, but the record never gives in to the morass of melancholy so often associated with the emotion. Instead, the entire process is considered, with all its inherent anguish, anger, aching, and eventual acceptance.

Even more impressive is that while the album as a whole follows this very transition, individual songs form sub-movements of false-starts, failures, and short-lived successes. The midtempo pensiveness of “Une Annee Sans Lumiere” gives way to defiant drumming and strumming suggesting a desperate sense of joy. This in turn is exposed as mere denial when the song ends by crashing into the raging indignation of “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).” “Wake Up” alternates between an insistently uplifting chorus and saddened verses before welcoming a wonderment that washes away all preceding pain. It is no less than a five-and-a-half minute epic of sadness, struggle, and redemption.

These deft manipulations of emotional subtlety are driven by inspired arrangements. The complexity of the subject matter and development serve as a counterpoint to the one-sidedness of more-dance-than-punk dance-punk and angsty garage rock posturing yet they all share similar hallmarks of influence. “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” channels the same Tom Waitsy anachronism of The Walkmen before summoning up a Duran Duran vocal chorus over a just-a-bit too fast to be “Blue Monday” beat. “Wake Up” shares 60’s choral pop inspiration with The Polyphonic Spree while retaining the same Talking Heads’ jerkiness that shapes so much of the record’s vocal delivery.

Still, the sound they make is entirely their own. The influences may be easy to spot but they are so thoroughly integrated that no one of them robs the Arcade Fire of their own unique and peerless identity. The only exception is perhaps the tired Bjorkisms of closing track “In the Backseat.”

The flaws in this record are very few, but only one of them prevents the album from attaining a truly classic status. The unfortunate confluence of willfully obtuse lyrical imagery and imperfect production often mean that the words of the songs have little impact. Their strength relies nearly entirely on their delivery. Consequently the songs fail to fully hook themselves into the listener and it becomes too easy to get distracted from some otherwise very compelling music.

As 2004 draws to a close, Funeral is sure to make a number of best-of-the-year lists. Although the record is not entirely perfect, its placement there is surely justified. This is a very good record that suggests an even better one is on the way.

Yet somehow even this seems rooted in the album’s unifying theme of loss. It may not be a flawless effort, but it is as good as it could be given the circumstances surrounding its creation. The band did the best they could with what they had available. And I - as well as the rest of us - must continue to do the same.

Download "Une Année Sans Lumière"

Buy it now from Amazon