Top 10 of 2004
Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy
01. Tom Waits – Real Gone (Anti)
What can you say? This eclectic mix of avant-garde jazz, dirgy blues, barn burners, tall tales, turntable-tinged sound experiments and heart-wrenching ballads could be one of Waits’ finest offerings in recent years. Real Gone is a reminder, not the any was needed, about why Tom Waits is one of America’s greatest and most treasured songwriters.
02. Nirvana – With The Lights Out (Geffen/DGC)
Simply put, Nirvana’s long-awaited boxed set of unreleased ephemera is a gift to those (myself included) who first cut their teeth on indie rock after Kurt Cobain roared his way into the limelight of America’s musical landscape. A brilliant and thorough look into the workings of a great rock band and the best argument for the group’s legacy to hit shelves since Cobain’s 1994 suicide.
03. Lesser Birds of Paradise – String of Bees (Contraphonic)
Don’t be deceived by the quiet whisper of Mark Janka’s lullaby of a voice. The Lesser Birds’ String of Bees is a powerful and riveting record, a collection of acoustic folk ballads and pop songs that seeps deeper into your skin and memory with each listen. If the bittersweet pseudo-single “Josephine” doesn’t make its way onto the airwaves, there’s simply no justice left in this world.
04. Minus Story – The Captain Is Dead, Let The Drum Corpse Dance (Jagjaguwar)
For all of the clever studio and engineering tricks and the attempts to turn songwriting formulas on their ear, Minus Story still managed to craft an addictive and sometimes alarmingly accessible indie rock record this year with its bizarrely titled The Captain Is Dead…. Let’s hope bands struggling to write hooks or plot big-guitar choruses half as engaging as this begin to pay attention.
05. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – Sleepytime Gorilla Museum of Natural History (Web of Mimicry)
Adjectives really don’t seem to convey the sprawling but structured madness of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s latest effort. The disc, a song cycle of sorts that echoes postmodern cut-up artists like Mr. Bungle as much as it conjures violent imagery from A Clockwork Orange, is an epic feast of pressure-cooker metal, intricate post-rock, dark chamber pieces, campy theatrics and dense, atmospheric image-stories. Natural History also bears the distinction of being one of 2004’s more genuinely scary discs.
06. Sam Phillips – A Boot and A Shoe (Nonesuch)
A largely acoustic offering following in the footsteps of 2001’s breathtaking Fan Dance, A Boot and A Shoe further displays Phillips’ knack for penning/performing intimate but conversational ballads for guitar and voice. A blueprint for aspiring coffeehouse hopefuls ’round the country. Features one of the best album-closing tracks of the year, “One Day Late.”
07. Dean Roberts – Be Mine Tonight (Kranky)
An enveloping record for troubled times. Dean Roberts uses silence the way some guitarists use distortion, writing engaging, sometimes-dissonant epics that quietly slither into your ears and bring with them the scope of sunsets. During Be Mine Tonight‘s best moments, the implication of a chord or the listener’s anticipation of an approaching refrain is as devastating as the spare sounds that Roberts presents. If you’re looking to illustrate some of the best prepared guitar, pseudo-glitchedelica or tabletop constructions released this year, discover this.
08. Kaada/Patton – Romances (Ipecac)
Ever since the implosion of Faith No More led, albeit indirectly, to the birth of Ipecac, Mike Patton’s been one of the busiest men in indie rock and avant-underground circles, providing his devoted followers with a prolific stream of mind-bending sound experiments and full-band rock/metal/noise exercises. Romances, recorded after Patton contributed his vocal chords to Bjork’s latest full-length, is one of the finer examples of the former category, a jazz/rock/R&B collaboration with John Kaada that spotlights some of Patton’s most seamless vocal performance of recent years.
09. Tanakh – Dieu Devil (Alien 8)
Dieu Devil seemed to accomplish something that records by a lot of other indie outfits can’t seem to even tackle: combining warm and organic songs (that type of guitar- and voice-driven offering that just makes want to sing along) with a careful eye for structure, progression and dynamics. Tanakh seems to be standing at the intersection of a number of genres (rock, folk, dreamy psychedelics, singer-songwriter ballads) but their feet aren’t firmly planted anywhere. The record gives the impression of being captured to magnetic tape instead of being plotted out and planned, an immense feat for music this textured, poetic and emotive.
10. Danger Mouse – The Grey Album (Self-released)
The man who grabbed headlines earlier this year when he mashed together Jay Z and The Beatles deserves to be placed on a Top Ten list this year for sheer audacity and brazenness alone. The fact that this self-released disc really works – that it combines White and Black albums to give birth to something interesting and decidedly new – only adds to the release’s luster. Now, if only EMI agreed.
Hunchback – Something Wicked This Way Comes EP (Self-released), Skeleton Key – Live At Metro (Online only), Calexico – Convict Pool EP (Quarterstick), Tub Ring – Zoo Hypothesis (Underground), Zykos – S/T (Post-Parlo), David Grubbs – A Guess At The Riddle (Drag City), The Race – If You Can (Flameshovel), Knife In The Water – Cut The Cord (Aspyr), Pan American – Quiet City (Kranky)