Tuck in, my friends, this might get long. First off, this list is only based on what I've heard this year. Realistically, It would take forever for me to see and hear everything that came out this year, and I might not see or hear my real favorites until 2028, but then again, I do assume that my tastes will probably have changed by then...or maybe not. Anyway...enough with the scary stuff (being 23 is scary enough)- here are my lists:
Nic's TOP 9 ALBUMS OF 2004
9. Me Without You- Catch for Us the Foxes- Haunting, heart-breaking, tear-inducing. Aaron Weiss's spoken/shouted word delivery has only grown more emotional, while his band has evolved by combining their spasmodic post-punk with beautiful early 80s art-rock. Imagine their first album combined with the textures from the first five tracks of U2's "War" album, or simply imagine a dying rocky field in the autumn, oak's dropping fading blue and red leaves, while a voice echoing somewhere over the dim misty hills shouts about the decaying nature of the world and mankind, and the absense and return of Jesus Christ. A tough listen at times, but wow, wow, wow. The definite standout here is "Carousels" a song so tough to bear, a box of tissues is neccessary. Highly recommended, but you may not feel good when it's over.
8. Interpol- Antics- So this second Interpol album is not nearly as good as their first album "Turn on the Bright Lights." Interpol screwed themselves by making their first album so good, they can probably never top it. This is still pretty good stuff, definately not as much of a downer as TOTBL, though for Interpol, that may not be a good thing. If you like to shake your booty, you are probably going to like this. You still get 80s influenced rock and roll, with keyboards and everyting, and you still get some great, well-written songs, but, I pity this band. I hope they don't pull a "Jars of Clay" by releasing an album everyone loves so much, then releasing consequent albums where the only parts people enjoy are the ones that sound like their first album, until all those parts are gone, and all that's left are empty seats. This is good, great even, but I sure hope Interpol can keep it up. I don't want them to clone their first album, but at the same time, I don't want them to become irrelevant, either.
7. Bjork- Medulla- All vocals, and no instruments (sparing one song)? Yes. Groundbreaking? I don't know. Good? Sometimes. Bjork has created something strange here. First, her voice is involved, so wow. Second, the arrangements are so non-traditional, I for one often feel lost trying to listen to them. Sometimes, when listening to "Desired Constellation" I want to cry because of the beauty. Then, the next song "Ancestors" makes me want to: A. Turn off my stereo, and B. Vomit at the grotesque gutteral barking vocals spinning around me. This is one of the most challenging albums I've ever heard. There is beauty, there is confusion, there is violence, there is wonderful dancing (particularly in "Who is It"), and there is repulsiveness. Enter at your own risk, and don't say I didn't warn you, but you might just have the time of your life.
6. The Album Leaf- In a Safe Place- For some reason I found myself loving albums a lot of people were unhappy with, and this is another one. Some people found the album to be too calm. Well, all I can say is, if you like beautiful sounds pooled together to create music, if you like to just sit down, breathe out your stress and aggression, and relax, then you will probably like this CD. Recorded in Iceland with guest appearances by ex-Mum member Gyda Valtysdottir on cello, and virtually every member of Sigur Ros (including Jonsi on vocals in the phenomenal, brain-explodingly beautiful "Over the Pond") there is so much to like about this CD, it would take a complete Nazi to absolutely hate it. Quietly beautiful.
5. Project 86- Songs to Burn Your Bridges By- The hard rock outfit does all the things they wanted to do on their last album while lashing out at the ones who ruined it (-cough-Atlantic Records). For anyone who hated "Truthless Heroes", but loved "Drawing Black Lines", you'll probably like this, and for anyone who liked "TH", well, there's a good chance you might like this, too. STBYBB sounds like Project 86, musically and lyrically (hard rock with shouted vocals, introspective lyrics, and a little back-up singing) from start to finish, while subtlely adding new elements of punk, classic rock, and experimentalism. MOST IMPORTANTLY, that sense of fun and reckless abandon is back, and better than ever, especially in songs like "The Spy Hunter", "Say Goodnight to the Badguy", and "3 Card". Go Project!
4. U2- How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb- What to say that hasn't already been said? A throwback to some of their older stuff. Not their best album, but a good album by U2 is still great. They even rip off some guitar licks from their last album, but the results are so satisfying, who cares? U2 could release this type of album every three years until they die, and most of us would still be happy.
3. Mum- (Will the) Summer Make Good (For All of Our Sins?)- There has been a lot of division about the quality of this album. I love it. Many complaints state that this album is the opposite of their last (The insanely good "Finally We Are No One", one of my favorite albums of 2002). For those who don't know, Mum is an Icelandic electronic outfit with raspy, mewly female vocals, and some real instruments and organic sounds thrown in. While their last album sounded like the dreams of a child before waking, this album is the nightmare. The best description I can give is this: Listening to this album is like waking on a misty, craggy, deserted island and discovering it is populated by ghosts, ghosts full of regret, remorse, terrifying stories. Every now and then there is even an outburst of hope and joy. The lyrics are insane ramblings and tales that suddenly center themselves, and are sometimes gasp inducing. In "The Ghosts You Draw on My Back" singer Kristin Anna Valtysdottir whispers "The wind plays flute/ On the Cellar Door/ And on my windowsill/ Plays a sad old song/ I hope tonight/ You will touch my hair/ And draw ghosts on my back." The album runs the gamut of emotions and then ends in a sad, fog-filled, abandoned wharf, full of sunken tombstones in a land devoid of hope. I admit, this album IS NOT as satisfying as Mum's previous, but it is quite good at what it achieves. I can see the validity of the complaints against it, but rarely has an artist created such a complete musical world and maintained it for fourty-five minutes. Superb.
2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus- Wowsa! This album is a big step above Cave's last album Nocturama, and on par or better with just about all of his previous material (that I have heard). This double album goes from spiritual to perverse, to spiritual and perverse, to mindblowing. Cave is at the top of his game here. He's got a small gospel choir that sounds nothing like a gospel choir backing him most of the time, and his piano and backing band, going from full blast to moody and contemplative. Songs range from worship to a contemplation on money to meditations on nature and the seasons. This album is beautiful, but a warning to some: Cave still spouts off a few expletives, and stills throws out a few crude sexual metaphors, though most seem necessary (at least to me) in context. This is one of the most spiritual albums I've heard this year, and if not for the matter of musical taste (and a love for female vocalists) this bad boy would have been my numero uno.
1. The Cardigans-Long Gone Before Daylight- I know what some people are thinking- "WTF!? The Cardigans?" Yes. The Cardigans. Most people only know The Cardigans from their 1997 smash "Lovefool" which can apparently be heard in the background of a BH 90210 episode when two characters do it for the first time. Well, I think most fans of this song, like myself, realize that it has nothing to do with love. The album it was taken from, "First Band on the Moon", was okay, but not that great. The Cardigans next album, however, 1998's Gran Turismo, was incredible. I would describe it as dance pop from a dungeon, with a window that looks out to a sunny place, led by beautiful, but aching female vocals. Nina Persson's lyrics about screwed up relationships just plain hurt, and her backing band's arrangements were tired in the best way possible. The album ended on the beautiful notes of "Junk of the Hearts" and "Nil", and then the band completely disappeared from the face of the earth for six years. Well, they are back. This album is excellent. Apparently taking cues from singer songwriters like Neil Diamond/Young, this album has a country feel, and surprisingly it's not a bad thing. The band's ability to write great songs has not only improved, but the lyrics have moved ahead as well. There are still songs about painful relationship issues, and they are darned good, but Nina moves ahead with songs about grace ("A Good Horse"), and discovers something a lot of Christians would do well to learn in "Live and Learn." In this song, Nina sings about how no matter how much she tries to do right, she just keeps screwing up. She learns from her mistakes but makes them over and over again anyway, regrets it and admits it, which drives home a point that should be obvious, but somehow escapes us: we can do nothing on our own. "Feathers and Down" is just as beautiful as it sounds, a song to a lover who needs to drop the cares of this world and drown with the speaker in "Feathers and Down." As a bonus, if you buy the American version (the Swedish(their homeland) version dropped in 2003) you get three extra songs, AND a bonus DVD with the making of their album, three videos, and (YES!) three live songs. Shallow statement of the day that must be said: Nina is just as cute as you would think. At any price under 20 bucks this thing is a deal, and of all the albums released this year I've heard, this is my favorite.
Joanna Newsome- Milk-Eyed Mender- The only reason this isn't on my top ten (nine) list is that I haven't heard the whole album, but what I have heard is excellent. A twenty-something girl and her harp with crazy storybook style lyrics and vocals. Untraditional, but great stuff.
Blindside- About a Burning Fire- Unfortunately, this album is not as cohesive as the Swedish hard rocker's brilliant "Silence (2002)." AABF is all over the place stylistically, and unfortunately the songs don't fit together very well. At the same time, there really isn't a stinker song on the disc. "All of Us" may be their best (and certainly most haunting) song, yet, Shekina their most experimental and fun (it features female yodeling!), and "Roads" their most relaxed (It's like a jazz club song). This is definately a good album, but hopefully, in their next, Blindside can combine all of their styles together into something more cohesive and satisfying.
Relient K- Mmhmm- Relient K releases an album I actually like. There's still some grating immaturity i.e. "My Girl's ex-Boyfriend" which makes me want to throw the thing out the window, but for the most part, RK expounds on their more piano heavy tunes of the past, and turns up the maturity a surprising amount in the lyrics department. Also, vocalist Matt Thieson finally sounds like a MAN, even getting gritty and raspy at times. You go, man! Good stuff for recovering pop-punk addicts and the like.
Demon Hunter- Summer of Darkness- If you likes the metal with the postivity, then this is for you. Great growling, great screaming, good singing, good HEAVY songs, good ballads. They go from smashing your skull with "Beheaded" to putting it back together with the next song "My Heartstrings Come Undone", and then smashing it again. Good stuff.
Dead Poetic- New Medicines- These young hard rockers show growth on their second album, but they need to grow more, especially lyrically. Their lyrics are, for the most part, impossible to identify with anything, and if you are going to do that (ala Mars Volta), your music better be great. I say this, but when I listen to track seven "Glass in the Trees" my jaw drops. Here the band finds a style that is all their own, and if they can expound on this, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with.
And the time goes on. Due to lack of funds, and a refusal to download songs illegally, there were a lot of albums I wanted to hear, but didn't get the chance to, including A Silver Mt. Zion, Mute Math, and Roots of Orchis' new albums as well as many others. So, that's it for now. I just spent more than an hour doing this, so I am going to go eat a sandwich. I might make a movie list some other time, if I can get up the zest to do it. Thanks for reading, and have a happy New Year! Don't drink and drive. Don't set yourself on fire, unless you have the proper credentials to do so.