My Favorite 20 Albums of 2004

This years list seems to be a little bit more varied than in past years. There's a little bit of experimental pop, a little bit of jazz, a lot of darker ambient, some modern classical, and even a touch of country (along with the indie rock). As always, there were some things that I thought I would love that did very little for me and some smaller releases that pretty much came out of nowhere and kicked my ass. Overall, it was a very solid year, and as always I'm sure there were some things that I didn't manage to even hear. Once again, I'm doing a Readers List, so get on over and contribute if you feel like spreading your good word. As always, thanks for reading!

1. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs (Fat Cat Records)
When this one first came out, I thought it was a decent release. Then, I kept playing it and playing it and before I knew it I'd be humming along with different songs while I was sitting in the bus on the way to work or even repeating vocal lines aloud while I was walking somewhere. So infectious and inspired, this is a release that I kept finding new things to love over the course of the year. I still listen to it on a regular basis. full review

2. Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles (5 Rue Christine)
On the first couple releases from Xiu Xiu, there were moments where I could hear something shining through that I absolutely loved, but they always turned me off by doing something seemingly for shock-value only. On this release, the group toned back and/or found ways to make their freakouts fit their music and the result is an astounding album from a young group who has managed to get better with each release. full review

3. Deathprod - Morals And Dogma (Rune Grammofon)
I like me some dark ambient music, so when this behemeoth came along, it sucked me into its vortex and spit me out the other side a crushed man. This is deep listening music, and while it's not always (actually, it's never that) happy listening, it's engaging and absorbing like little else I've heard lately. full review

4. Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks (Fat Cat Records)
One of two modern classical releases on my list this year, this is one of those albums that came out of nowhere and really knocked my socks off. Although I'd never heard of Richter previous to this release (although he had put out one other disc), he's another young artist that I will now be following a lot more closely. Amazing. full review

5. Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre)
If Stevens keeps up at the pace he's been going, he could very well find himself on every year-end list of mine for the next 50 years. Although this effort wasn't related to his 50 States project, it was another amazing effort from who is easily one of the more talented young songwriters around. full review

6. Jóhann Jóhannsson - Virðulegu Forsetar (Touch)
A slowly-evolving piece of modern classical from another young artist doing some amazing things with the blending of classical and electronic music. Imagine a brass fanfare sunk to the bottom of the ocean and you're getting somewhere close. A major step-up from his debut release, this one is moving. full review

7. Tortoise - It's All Around You (Thrill Jockey)
For some reason or another, many people found the need to bag on this album, but I was one of those who thought that it was another great effort from the group. Featuring what is easily some of their best work, the release really does feel all-enveloping at loud volumes. Another excellent release from a talented bunch of musicians. full review

8. Patrick Wolf - Lycanthropy (Tomlab)
I'm as cranky as anyone, so it's surprising to me as well that the album of a precocious young electronic pop prodigy would find its way onto my list. Nevertheless, it has, and Lycanthropy is one of those albums that seems a bit wise beyond its years. A great combination of electronic programming and actual organic instrumentation, this is another release that has lodged tracks in my head, only to find me repeating them over and over again. full review

9. Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike (Memphis Industries)
A hop, a skip, and a jump into my heart, this UK sextet kicked my butt with their sonic pastiche that reminded me of everything from Sesame Street to instrumental hip-hop (verus a cheerleading squad). Totally fun, totally infectious, and just like, totally. full review

10. Arcade Fire - Funeral (Merge Records)
I stupidly (stupid! stupid!) missed this group play live when they came through a nearby city, but I keep going back to Funeral and it pretty much gets me through just fine. My lists have been inundated by Canadian groups the past couple of years, and this is yet another one to keep watching. full review

11. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus (Anti)
Although it wasn't quite a complete throwback to his old hellfire fury, this 2CD effort had more than enough great moments to make me think that Nick Cave still has something left in him. Some of the best tracks he's done in many, many years, this one looked like it could be a carwreck (double album and the original guitarist Blixa Bargeld left?) on paper, but turned out just fine. full review

12. Scorch Trio - Luggumt (Rune Grammofon)
This young trio of avant jazz musicians from Norway and Finland have completely rocked my butt with their firey brand of music. Huge drums, all-over-the-place basslines, and seriously shredding guitars all come hammering together into a seriously heady brew. full review

13. Castanets - Cathedral (Asthmatic Kitty)
An excellent batch of stripped-down Americana that relies as much on the space between the sound as the sound itself. Stark, haunting, and quite beautiful. full review

14. Dungen - Ta Det Lugnt (Subliminal Sounds)
When I first put this in, I had a scary flashback to high-school, then I realized that Dungen was singing in Swedish and things would be just fine. An absolutely scorching disc of psych-rock something or the other, this is easily one of the better pure rock albums I've heard in some time. Leave it to the Scandanavians to do it right. full review

15. Fly Pan Am - N'Ecoutez Pas (Constellation)
When every other group was trying to revive dancepunk the best they could, Fly Pan Am (or Le Fly Pan Am) did their darnest to revive the genre by at least partially destroying it. Continuing their theme of musical sabotage and destruction, the group made another strong statement on music while at the same time again lodging their songs in my head. full review

16. Camping - Suburban Shore (Plug Research)
There were other albums that I reviewed this year with a higher numerical rating, but for some reason I just kept coming back to this release over and over again. German bossanova filtered through dizzying textural guitars and noises, this is a release that just doesn't make sense when you try to tell someone about it, but it sounds so damn good. full review

17. Junior Boys - Last Exit (Domino/Kin)
2004 was no doubt a banner year for this duo of Canadians. Their debut not only got great reviews, but they went on a country-wide tour with electronic stalwarts Mouse On Mars and found their album re-released by a larger label with a couple bonus remixes from big name heavyweights (Fennesz, Manitoba). Not too shabby. full review

18. Dead Texan - S/T (Kranky)
The 'more aggressive' side-project for Stars Of The Lid member Adam Wiltzie, this soft and gauzy release would probably have a hard time being called aggressive by anyone. Another lovely minimal ambient release in a year full of them. full review

19. Philip Jeck - 7 (Touch)
I've been listening to Philip Jeck for some time now and he's been winning me over a little more with each release. 7 might very well be his most accessible (ie least noisy) release, but it's also one of his best-constructed in terms of sepia-tones soundscapes that he's so good at. full review

20. Rogue Wave - Out Of The Shadow (Sub Pop)
I've got at least one pure pop bone tucked away in my body somewhere and this is one of the releases that tickled it most this year. Clever songwriting and some seriously bizarre lyrics made this one sing-along worthy on more than one ocassion. full review

10 other releases I listened to a lot this year
Adem - Homesongs (Domino)
Biosphere - Autour De La Lune (Touch)
Harold Budd - Avalon Sutra (Samadhi Sound)
Cut Copy - Bright Like Neon Love (Modular)
Franz Ferdinand - Self-Titled (Domino)
Lars Horntveth - Pooka (Smalltown Supersound)
The New Year - The End Is Near (Touch N Go)
The Thermals - Fuckin A (Sub Pop)
Tulsa Drone - No Wake (Dry Country)
Various Artists - Kompakt 100 (Kompakt)

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