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This list was lovingly compiled from the following individual lists:


Brent Sallay
30 The Futureheads, The Futureheads
29 From the Double Gone Chapel, Two Lone Swordsmen
28 Rubber Factory, The Black Keys
27 Fabulous Muscles, Xiu Xiu
26 Corymb, Boom Bip
25 Summer in Abaddon, Pinback
24 A Grand Don't Come for Free, The Streets
23 Your Voice Repeating, Namelessnumberheadman
22 Ta Det Lugnt, Dungen
21 Sleep No More, DJ Signify
20 Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens
19 The Slow Wonder, A.C. Newman
18 Mazatlan, The Plastic Constellations
17 Talkie Walkie, Air
16 Heron King Blues, Califone
15 Smile, Brian Wilson
14 Blueberry Boat, The Fiery Furnaces
13 Sonic Nurse, Sonic Youth
12 The Unrelenting Songs of the 1979 Post Disco Crash, Jason Forrest
11 ///Codename: Dustsucker, Bark Psychosis
10 Happy Like an Autumn Tree, Cyann & Ben
09 The Soundings, Blue States
08 Utopia, Murcof
07 Sung Tongs, Animal Collective
06 Your Blues, Destroyer
05 Last Exit, Junior Boys
04 Misery is a Butterfly, Blonde Redhead
03 Madvillainy, Madvillain
02 Thunder, Lightning, Strike, The Go! Team
01 Funeral, The Arcade Fire


Riley Booker
15 Showtime, Dizzee Rascal
14 Rubber Factory, The Black Keys
13 Madvillainy, Madvillain
12 Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens
11 Out of the Shadow, Rogue Wave
10 Last Exit, Junior Boys
09 Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, TV on the Radio
08 Heros to Zeroes, The Beta Band
07 Thunder, Lightning, Strike, The Go! Team
06 Sonic Nurse, Sonic Youth
05 Blueberry Boat, The Fiery Furnaces
04 Talkie Walkie, Air
03 Funeral, The Arcade Fire
02 From a Basement on the Hill, Elliott Smith
01 A Ghost is Born, Wilco


Tyler Evans
10 The Beautiful Struggle, Talib Kweli
09 No Man's Blues, The Gunshy
08 Medúlla, Björk
07 A Grand Don't Come for Free, The Streets
06 Antics, Interpol
05 Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Modest Mouse
04 College Dropout, Kanye West
03 Madvillainy, Madvillain
02 A Ghost is Born, Wilco
01 Funeral, The Arcade Fire


Kelly Peterson
10 Nude, VAST
09 Audit in Progress, Hot Snakes
08 Happy Like an Autumn Tree, Cyann & Ben
07 Penance Soiree, Icarus Line
06 Future Perfect, Autolux
05 Bows + Arrows, The Walkmen
04 Now Here is Nowhere, Secret Machines
03 Sonic Nurse, Sonic Youth
02 Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined, Mono
01 Funeral, The Arcade Fire


Stewf
26 Feels Like Home, Norah Jones
25 Apropa't, Savath + Savalas
24 Sole Love, Vega
23 Bows + Arrows, The Walkmen
22 Close Enough, The Tiny
21 Aw C'mon, Lambchop
20 Strangers, Ed Harcourt
19 Talkie Walkie, Air
18 Divina Luz, Mus
17 Summer in Abaddon, Pinback
16 Out of the Shadow, Rogue Wave
15 Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand
14 Our Endless Numbered Days, Iron & Wine
13 Homesongs, Adem
12 Escondida, Jolie Holland
11 Grown Backwards, David Byrne
10 The World is Saved, Stina Nordenstam
09 How It Ends, DeVotchKa
08 The Slow Wonder, A.C. Newman
07 Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens
06 Two Way Monologue, Sondre Lerche
05 The Milk-Eyed Mender, Joanna Newsom
04 Antics, Interpol
03 Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Modest Mouse
02 Riot on an Empty Street, Kings of Convenience
01 Funeral, The Arcade Fire


Richard B. McConkie
10 Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand
09 Blueberry Boat, The Fiery Furnaces
08 Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, TV on the Radio
07 Van Lear Rose, Loretta Lynn
06 Smile, Brian Wilson
05 The Slow Wonder, A.C. Newman
04 A Ghost is Born, Wilco
03 College Dropout, Kanye West
02 Funeral, The Arcade Fire
01 Ghosts Don't Have Bones, The Tolchock Trio


Michelle Sallay
10 Espers, Espers
09 i, The Magnetic Fields
08 The Orange Billboard, Moonbabies
07 Out of Nothing, Embrace
06 The Soundings, Blue States
05 You Are the Quarry, Morrissey
04 From a Basement on the Hill, Elliott Smith
03 Antics, Interpol
02 Misery is a Butterfly, Blonde Redhead
01 Funeral, The Arcade Fire


Jeremy Mathews
10 Escondida, Jolie Holland
09 The Delivery Man, Elvis Costello
08 Sonic Nurse, Sonic Youth
07 Blueberry Boat, The Fiery Furnaces
06 Spooked, Robyn Hitchcock
05 Soft Commands, Ken Stringfellow
04 Hooray for Tuesday, The Minders
03 From a Basement on the Hill, Elliott Smith
02 Satanic Panic in the Attic, Of Montreal
01 Smile, Brian Wilson


Tyler Bloomquist (in no particular order)
00 Florida, Diplo
00 Chewing on Glass and Other Miracle Cures, Sixtoo
00 Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, TV on the Radio
00 Madvillainy, Madvillain
00 Bows + Arrows, The Walkmen
00 Venice, Fennesz
00 Sung Tongs, Animal Collective
00 Ultravisitor, Squarepusher
00 Rubber Factory, Black Keys
00 Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined, Mono
00 Tras, EP B, EP C, Battles
00 You're a Woman, I'm a Machine, Death from Above 1979
00 MM..Food?, MF Doom
00 Real Gone, Tom Waits
00 Terrifyer, Pig Destroyer
00 Audit in Progress, Hot Snakes
00 Hummer, Fog
00 Apropa't, Savath + Savalas
00 Shock City Maverick, Beans
00 Our Endless Numbered Days, Iron & Wine
00 Jaku, DJ Krush
00 One in an Infinity of Ways, Ammon Contact
00 Live!:In Tune and On Time, DJ Shadow

 
 
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 theBeat
 
2004:
The Year That Was

in Music

by Brent Sallay

with contributions by Riley Booker, Tyler Evans, Kelly Peterson, Stewf Coles, Richard B. McConkie, Michelle Sallay, Jeremy Mathews, Tyler Bloomquist and Janean Parker


 
 

h, 2004. It had 365 days in it and a lot of stuff happened, but can we really call it a year? I mean, there have been months where we've gotten more done. Maybe this had something to do with the fact that this was such a divisive year. A year in which the only winners of a heated election were the people who got the most votes, the people that supported those people, and the people that will benefit, either directly or indirectly, from those people having won. A year in which various celebrities split and repaired like so many single-celled organisms under a microscope. A year in which Eminem did not give Elton John a hug. Yes, it seems like the only thing we could all agree on this year was what constituted its best music. And even with that, we totally sucked at agreeing. However, in an attempt to sugarcoat these past twelve months for posterity, here is a look at some of the albums that either shaped or did not shape our world in 2004.

One final note before getting to the list: as with any other list that you read, we did not all get together and say, “boy, I bet it would really piss off [insert your name here] if we left [insert the crappy band that you like here] off the list this year.” Sorry to disappoint you, but there is no conspiracy against you, at least not here at RED Magazine. No, instead, the final placings were determined based on a top secret point-allocating system that was passed on to us from the Druids and for which I am obligated to have one finger removed each year for the right to continue using it. So please enjoy it now, because it's only going to get more stubbish with each passing year. –BS

 25. Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes

TV on the Radio
Touch & Go

I read an interview with the members of TV on the Radio about the time this record came out. They were pretty stoked on themselves for being unique and different, and they suggested that most bands these days just aren't trying. Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes is a good example of a band making a conscious effort to sound different. This is the kind of approach that would usually fail, but in this case it triumphs. Using two, three, and sometimes even four part harmonies, some antibacterial production, and a gnarly saxophone, TV on the Radio manages to maintain a high degree of accessibility. –RMac

 24. A Grand Don't Come for Free

The Streets
Vice/Atlantic

This is a terrible album. Some pompous British fop whining, sorry, rap-whining on and on about his petty problems. Those awful tin can beats are just a step above Wesley Willis fare. Some rap albums are gritty in the way they depict life on the streets. This one just sounds gritty. But like that scene in “Sideways” where Miles goes to fetch Jack's wallet, it's almost beautiful in its awfulness. And it would make for a wonderfully haunting one-man play. When Mike Skinner [SPOILER WARNING:] finally finds his wad of cash in the TV set during “Empty Cans,” I can't help but choke back the tears. It gets me every single time. –BS

 23. Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand
Domino

In recent years, danceable punk pop has been on the rise, and Glasgow’s Franz Ferdinand may very well mark its apex. The band’s self-titled debut LP picks up where exciting but half-baked bands like The French Kicks and Hot Hot Heat left off, giving us something a little more substantial to ponder while we rock out and flail about. –Stewf

 22. Summer in Abaddon

Pinback
Touch & Go

Earlier this year my brother Dave and I went to see one of our favorite bands currently, and no, it wasn't Pinback. It was Enon. Oh Pinback was there all right. But we weren't there to see Pinback. We were there to see Enon. We didn't really know much about Pinback and, frankly, we didn't much care to know. First off, there were about 500 brace-faced teenage girls there, all wearing their “I Heart Pinback” t-shirts—not exactly our “crowd.” Strike one. Then, while Enon was playing, there was little to no respect from the Pinback crowd—unacceptable. Strike two. Then I finally heard Pinback's set. It was…kind of boring. Strike three. But I remember thinking at the time, yeah, maybe if I got into one of their albums I would appreciate this. And then, what's this? A home run. Or at least a triple or whatever. Pinback may have spent the summer in the Abaddon of my heart, but they're currently wintering in the cozy log cabin of my left aortic ventricle. –BS

 21. Out of the Shadow

Rogue Wave
Sub Pop

What’s that coming out of the shadow? It smells like indie lo-fi (“Nourishment Nation”). No, it’s psychedelic jangle pop (“Seasick On Land”). No, wait, it’s early ’70s folk rock (“Kicking The Heart Out”). Now it’s straight power pop (“Endless Shovel”)! WTF!? Only 37 minutes!? Gimme more! –Stewf

 20. The College Dropout

Kanye West
Rocafella

When I listen to a rap record, beats and production are the first things I notice. Rhymes usually start hitting me after a few listens. With Kanye West’s The College Dropout, I was immediately taken in by both. Kanye's beats are the real moneymaker here, but even when he is talking about kids dealing drugs he uses enough playful puns to make it fun for all ages. Kanye's flow seems awkward at times, but luckily he's got help from the likes of Jay-Z, Ludacris, Talib Kweli and others to smooth things out. –RMac

 19. Escondida

Jolie Holland
Anti

A cofounder of The Be Good Tanyas, Jolie Holland may have been the best Tanya of them all. This year's album, Escondida, picks up the neo-traditional mood of the Tanya's first effort, Blue Horse, which Holland wrote part of and shaped before departing the group, and improves upon it as the Tanyas’ second album failed to do. Her versatile alto’s unique phrasing complements a host of traditional instruments, many of which she plays herself. Truly a gifted musician and lyricist, Holland would surely have placed higher on this year's list if only more people had heard of her. –JP

 18. Bows + Arrows

The Walkmen
Record Collection

I have something important that I want you to do. If you have not yet listened to the track “The Rat” from Bows + Arrows by The Walkmen, do it yesterday. It is easily one of the best singles of 2004 and will get you hooked on the record’s smart, fun rock and roll. Once you get a chance to hear the rest, you will find a very rewarding combination of warm nostalgia and the brilliance of the present. I have said that this is the record I was hoping The Strokes would make with Room On Fire. Although the Walkmen share some musical elements with The Strokes—including their New York flavor—the members of The Walkmen do not repeat themselves track after track. Instead, they swagger about from place to place like a group of friends walking home late from a bar in Manhattan. –KP

 17. The Soundings

Blue States
Memphis Industries

I don't know which is more admirable—that such a crisp, knowledgeable homage to mid-80s bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs could have been produced in this current age of excess, or that it could come from a band like Blue States, whose prior two albums were more along the lines of adult-lite bands like Air (ahem, see #11), and barely explored the band's lyrical/vocal abilities like The Soundings does. But this isn't just an album that you admire. This is an album that you come to love. And if it doesn't make an outright ’80s fan out of even the most staunch ninetyist, it should at the very least feel at home in this, the reddest state of them all. –BS

 16. Happy Like an Autumn Tree

Cyann & Ben
Gooom

The French label Gooom seemed to come out of nowhere last year with the much-lauded Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts by electronic duo M83. It was a fine album to be sure, but I was even more impressed by another Gooom offering, Cyann & Ben's accomplished debut Spring. Its combination of whirring fairy-tale electronics and earnest, pastoral folk was like liquid crack for my ears, and now, not a year later, the band has followed through like a good dealer with Happy Like an Autumn Tree. As with most psychotropic substances, this second hit was a bit more intense, a shade darker, and did not last quite as long. But it left me wanting more, even more than before. –BS

 15. Last Exit

Junior Boys
Kin

Do you like the Postal Service, but are somewhat unsettled by their affiliations with the actual United States Postal Service (no joke) and/or O.C. poster band Death Cab for Cutie? Did nobody show up for your birthday party this year besides friends of your mom? Have you always wished you were just a little bit more cool? Look no further than the Junior Boys! With the Junior Boys on your side,, seamlessly mixing the coolest sounds of now with the songwriting sensibilities of the ’80s and the boyish good looks of the’90s, you'll find people aged 12-32 just aching to be your friend! –BS

 14. Good News for People Who Love Bad News

Modest Mouse
Epic

In 2002, “Gravity Rides Everything” appeared in a Miller Genuine Draft TV ad. Now “Float On” is all over alt-rock radio. It's enough commercialism to scare off the band's anti-corporate Modest Mouseketeers. Well, maybe if Good News for People Who Love Bad News didn't kick so much ass! Seriously, this record's depth shows why Isaac Brock is one of the most experienced and inventive of today's indie rockers. And however you feel about the (over?)-exposure the band's getting now, at least they're finally getting recognized for something all of us smart people have known for about seven years now. –Stewf/BS

 13. Misery is a Butterfly

Blonde Redhead
4AD

Of course, misery isn't really a butterfly, but Blonde Redhead does give a pretty convincing argument nonetheless. For one thing, if misery isn't a butterfly, then how did Blonde Redhead manage to record an album so lovingly labored and intricately layered while between record labels? And how did the band, who had already recorded a stellar departure album with 2000's Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, manage to whip up yet another complete departure, this time into shoegaze-tinged, maudlin chamber pop? And why does almost every song sound like it should be the album's first single? Unfortunately, I don't know the answers to any of these questions. But I do know that misery must be a butterfly. Because otherwise, none of these things make any sense at all. –BS

 12. Thunder, Lightning, Strike

The Go! Team
Memphis Industries

A lot of people this year were calling “Spiderman 2” the best superhero movie yet. But really, when you think about it, that's just silly. Especially when clearly the best superhero movie to come around in a long time would have to be The Go! Team. Observe: A Corn Pops Saturday morning Superfriends kid by day, a beatboxing cheerleader by mid-afternoon, and an A-Team vice squad, trumpets-blaring vigilante by night, The Go! Team put the fear back into a legion of nefarious foes this year, from Squaredance Sam to Frowny Fred. And the Go! Team aren't even a movie! Meanwhile, what did Tobey Maguire ever even do? Deliver a couple pizzas? Come on. –BS

 11. Talkie Walkie

Air
Astralwerks

The world became just a little bit more soft and fluffy when Air dropped their debut Moon Safari six years ago. To me, it's still a very special album, and one of the first I think of when trying to list classic albums from the’90s. Somehow, Talkie Walkie already manages to conjure up some of the same feelings in me. And yet, it's a completely different animal. As the title sort of suggests, Talkie Walkie really flexes Air's vocal muscles more than ever. Meanwhile, the band has honed its trademark “sexy boy” atmospherics to sound effortlessly transcendental, and more cohesive than ever before, leaving us with some pretty sweet Nyquil-laced lullabies. That endorsement from Nissan don't hurt either. –BS

 10. A Ghost Is Born

Wilco
Nonesuch

Let’s not kid ourselves. Compared to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, this is a bit of a disappointment. But then, compared to YHF, aren’t we all disappointments? And what an interesting disappointment it is! That ten minute krautrock song. That other ten minute song. Those two songs about things that can fly. That one where the girl kisses him on his black eye, even though she gave it to him—oh man! I’m even told some people don’t think it’s a disappointment at all, and want to punch me in the face right now! And who can blame them? As strong as a lot of these songs are, if you listen to A Ghost is Born long enough and loud enough that it deadens that part of your brain with YHF in it, it doesn’t even really sound that disappointing at all. –BS

 09. Seven Swans

Sufjan Stevens
Sounds Familyre

Last year, Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State introduced Sufjan Stevens as a songwriter of great promise. One of those promises, in fact, was to go on to record a similar state-themed album for every state in the contiguous U.S. (take that, Alaska). Just kidding Alaska, he was going to do you too. But while Seven Swans effectively proves Sufjan a liar by having nothing to do with any state whatsoever, it still manages to deliver on most of his other promises (the ones about being great). These heavily spiritual songs have the power to transform any room in which they're played. If Sufjan had a little bit more of a voice, he could just be “the next Nick Drake” that everyone seems to want him to be. But the vocals match his spare mystic-folk so well it feels wrong to complain. I guess you could call it a state…of grace? –Stewf/BS

 08. The Slow Wonder

A.C. Newman
Matador

The New Pornographers have always been a great band to say you like over dinner if you hate your parents. Your father drops his fork and starts massaging his forehead. Your mother seems unshaken for about a minute but then breaks down in tears. And all the while you're thinking, “Ha! They're nowhere near as bad as Revco!” But head pornographer Carl Newman's first solo effort, The Slow Wonder, may be even more impressive than your eighth-grade shenanigans. This is power pop at its best: catchy, but not too predictable, nothing over four minutes. "On the Table" could be a Shins tune. By the time you get to the delightfully moody “Come Crash" you may just be wishing that Carl spent less time with the Porn and more time making great music on his own. –BS/Stewf

 07. From a Basement on the Hill

Elliott Smith
Anti

From a Basement on the Hill is a melancholic record to listen to considering that this is the last piece of music we will get to enjoy from one of the most talented artists of our generation. Released almost exactly one year after Elliott Smith’s untimely death, the album contains a vast range of beautiful songs about heartache, despair, and battling drug addiction. Not fully finished at the time, it was left up to close friends and family to arrange and produce the final tracks on the album. Sadness has rarely been sung quite so sweetly. –RB

 06. Antics

Interpol
Matador

Apparently Interpol has never heard of the term “sophomore slump.” Well, maybe the band members have heard of it. But if that's what they were going for with Antics, then they sure did a crappy job of it. Some said there was no way Interpol could improve on Turn on the Bright Lights, and so they should have tried something new this time around. To that I say, “bah!” There isn't a dry spot on Antics. I played it for my angst-rock-hatin' brother the other day and he was so engrossed by its complexity and production that he overlooked how dark the album is. Pissed off? Play it loud and feel better. –Stewf

 05. Madvillainy

Madvillain
Stones Throw

If you take Daniel Dumile's war against mainstream hip hop seriously, as I do, then the arrival of this album was probably even more important to you than this year's election. I mean, Operation: Doomsday and Vaudeville Villain were, well, villainous and all, but come on, Doom and Vaughn are just henchmen. Even King Geedorah, who's like a thirty-story dragon or something, can't so much as eat a helicopter without the go ahead from Madvillain. Madvillainy, with Madlib's jazz-tinged production perhaps providing Dumile with his best musical backdrop yet, is as much an episode of Cribs for the underground elite as it is an instructional/terrorist video to the rest of the hip hop world. –BS

 04. Blueberry Boat

The Fiery Furnaces
Rough Trade

I was in New York two summers ago when I had the best smoothie I've ever had in my life. It was a blueberry banana. I think there was some bee pollen in there too maybe. Ever since then, it's sort of been my holy grail. Every time I have a chance to order a smoothie and those two flavors are available, I can't help myself. So when Eleanor Friedberger sings with all her third grade might to a cadre of imagined fruit pirates, “you ain't never gettin' the cargo of my blueberry boat,” I can sympathize. And an hour later, when Blueberry Boat is just winding down, I'm barely even thirsty anymore. Call it what you will (headache-inducing, juvenile, or self-indulgent), it's certainly one of the most ambitious albums in recent memory, and to a great many of us, one of the most intriguing, innovative, and satisfying as well. –BS

 03. Smile

Brian Wilson
Nonesuch

A few unexpected events happened in music this year, but probably none were more surprising than Brian Wilson completing his second masterpiece, Smile. As if deciding to one-up the Pixies reunion tour, Wilson, whom many assumed was no longer emotionally or mentally fit for the job, completed and re-recorded what was to be the 1967 follow-up to Pet Sounds before his breakdown ended sessions and resulted in the minimally produced Smiley Smile.

As I listen to Smile, it’s still hard to believe that it’s real, after years of listening to a series of mysterious snippets, reading speculation over the proper running order and attempting to assemble the album from various bootleg tracks. And the shock grows as with each listen I realize how complete the album is.

In a year when many people declared the “album” dead in the wake of the digital music revolution, Wilson may have released the quintessential album. Several songs on Smile had previously been released in various forms, on myriad bootlegs and various official releases—most notably The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations boxed set, which included unreleased recordings and songs that turned up on later Beach Boys albums—but only now, in its complete form, is it the grand “teenage symphony to God” that Wilson envisioned.

In three movements, Wilson uses a pop language ranging from the simple, building beauty of “Wonderful” to the awe-inspiring orchestration and ascending melodies of “Surf’s Up.” Songs overlap on one another as Wilson’s modular recording technique creates a stunning variety of arrangements in each song.

While Wilson’s voice isn’t at the same strength that it used to be, the decision to re-record the album in its entirety was the only way to integrate the new elements and avoid legal issues. Wilson is still in top form as a producer, and he adds new elements while recreating the old ones. If it is a weaker album than what might have come out in ’67, it only suggests that the older version of the album would likely have reached a transcending level of genius. –JM

 

 02. Sonic Nurse

Sonic Youth
Geffen

If someone had told me in 2002 when Sonic Youth released Murray Street that they would return in two years with a record that was even more experimental and inspired, I would have told them they were a damn fool. Then I would also reply that the year that would happen would be the year that a movie would be made about a thin curly-haired geek from my home state of Idaho that would become wildly successful. But Sonic Youth did release that record. And 2004 did become the year that Idaho broke. This actually happened. I don't even think Miss Cleo saw it coming.

When I first heard Sonic Nurse, I was skeptical of course, but the songs eventually won me over. “I Love You Golden Blue” is a long, slow-burning track with a sound not present in any recent work from the band. “Peace Attack” is one of the most beautiful ballads they have ever written in their career. And then there’s “Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream,” which I submit to be the most catchy and representative entry into the band’s work yet and their best single ever released. Immediately I couldn’t help but imagine a newer and younger generation of listeners hearing this track and it becoming their gateway drug to the band.

This record is a very balanced one for Sonic Youth. It contains some of the most accessible music they have ever recorded, yet it still contains plenty to challenge the ear. Combining many elements of the music they have created over the last 23 years, they have succeeded in creating a masterpiece which brings to mind many points along their career, but they still sound just as fresh and inventive as they ever did on Sister, Daydream Nation, Dirty or Washing Machine. This year Sonic Youth dismissed all the critics and amusing psychics to show that even after releasing volumes of albums, their music is still far from being tired or formulaic and they are not planning on stopping any time soon. –KP

 
 01. Funeral

The Arcade Fire
Merge

I don't want to give too much away about our system for scoring the albums that made this list, but it may interest you to know that, on said system, the Arcade Fire scored a whopping 605 points, over four times more than the next closest competitor. Granted, my statistical sampling methods would make Dan Jones and that Gallup guy collectively weep, but still, between all of us and our many differences, the one thing we could basically all agree on (get on the boat, Jeremy!) was the glory of the Arcade Fire.

But how did this come to be? How did yet another band from Montreal manage the trek across the icy lakes, over thousands of miles of boring nothing land, over the tremulous Rockies, and straight into our hearts? The answer is simple and twofold. On the one hand, the Arcade Fire have crafted an album that goes straight for the heartstrings, contemplating adulthood and the death of loved ones through eyes both winsome and profound. I can't listen to more than three or four songs off Funeral without wanting to call my mother just to make sure everything's all right with her.

On the other hand, this is a rip-roaring beast of a rock album. “Rebellion (Lies)” stomps and soars like one of those things from the “The Neverending Story”. And “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” is elegant in much the same way as a power saw. Throughout the album, Win Butler's vocals are expertly mixed, often sounding like an animal caged behind a glass wall. Every track here is vital, executed as if it might be the band's last chance to make a statement before that looming titular event makes victims of them as well.

Ah, energy! Emotion! A sense of community! This is all we seek in our music! It doesn't seem like much to ask. So why do so few bands manage to deliver? Simple. They are not the Arcade Fire. And, at least for this year, that answer was good enough for most all of us. –BS

 Honorable Mentions

Walking Cloud, Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined
Mono
Temporary Residence

On their third full-length, Japanese instrumental outfit Mono continue to innovate in their creation of lush, guitar-based soundscapes. This time with the help of legendary producer Steve Albini, the record feels much more organic and more like an entity than a collection of parts. The guitars on this recording sound less like guitars and more like evaporated liquid or howling winds. Such is the case on opening track "16.12" which creates a perfect storm that would strike fear in the heart of any man. It is such an unrelenting, spiraling force that the combined force of George Clooney, Marky Mark, and also Sinbad (as himself) would be powerless against it. –KP


Riot on an Empty Street
Kings of Convenience
Source/Astralwerks

The suave Norwegians craft their best album yet. This one is catchy bliss from start to finish. Ideal for a mellow dinner party of guests uninitiated with indie. Expect lots of comments at the table about how great the music tastes. –Stewf


Ghosts Don't Have Bones
Tolchock Trio
Red Triangle

Every so often the national music media arbitrarily designates one area of the country as a “hot scene.” We’ve seen this with Seattle in the early ’90s, and more recently with New York. Could Salt Lake City ever become such a hype town? If any significant member of the music media were to stumble across Ghosts Don’t Have Bones, then I’d say it could. The refreshingly awkward ascending riff of “Wolf Eyes,” the pump-up intensity of “Reflux Bollox,” and the strutting funk of “Goose” is enough to put Salt Lake on the proverbial map. It’s that good. –RMac


Utopia
Murcof
Leaf

It surprised me to learn that this album was only meant to be a holding place until Fernando Corona’s next proper album as Murcof. See, I prefer to look at Murcof in the context of this album as the closest the microhouse genre is ever going to come to a supergroup. Featuring remixes from some of the best beat programmers and soundscapists (Jan Jelinek, Sutekh, Deathprod, and Geoff White to name a few), this is an entrancing listen from beginning to end. And that’s saying nothing of Murcof’s own tracks, whose haunting orchestral arrangements rival his beats. It’s like dance music for gothic termites. –BS


Now Here is Nowhere
Secret Machines
Warner Bros.

On their first full-length album, the members of Secret Machines have created an extremely cohesive record which I believe shows promise for new blends of psychedelic rock. Rather than re-treading or merely combining the work of greats such as Pink Floyd and the Flaming Lips, they have instead built upon the work of the past and succeeded in creating their own voice that is solid throughout the entire record. While the music extends out into space it is also tightly rooted with an incredible rhythm section. The interweaving of the drums and bass guitar on this record is a unique treat. Both are laser-precise and fit inside of each other perfectly. Filled with color and texture, the record is a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end. This is by far my choice for Road Trip Album of the Year as it drives along with great intensity while providing plenty of beautiful scenery along the way. Opening track “First Wave Intact” is particularly special to me since its pounding rhythms have become my new choice of soundtrack if I could ever have the pleasure to become a giant lizard and destroy a city with fists, tail and Ice Breath Attack. –KP


My Country II: Music to Beat Bush By
Anthems

Dan Bern & the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy
Messenger

While many musicians served their political beliefs by using their music and fame as a fundraising tool, the great neo-folk singer/songwriter Dan Bern bore his on his sleeve with moving songs on his two pre-election CD EPs, My Country II and Anthems. Bern’s songs are sometimes funny, like My Country II’s “Bush Must Be Defeated” (His goodbye coffee heated/ His inaugural spats uncleated/ His White House bed short-sheeted), sometimes heartbreaking, like the same EP’s “After the Parade,” about a wounded soldier returning home, sometimes motivational, like My Country II’s title track and “Take Back the New Millennium” from Anthems, and sometimes a combination. While some of the songs on the EPs might simply be depressing to listen now that the election is over, they recall the rousing folk and rock of the 1960s, when musicians felt the need to express their desires to change the world through their art. –JM


The Milk-Eyed Mender
Joanna Newsom
Drag City

Newcomer Joanna Newsom sings like a little girl, but that didn’t stop Blossom Dearie from garnering a loyal fan base. Young Joanna already has her own throng of worshipers who feel blessed to have found such a rare voice. If the old folkers of Appalachia had harps, their music might have sounded something like this. Even if they did have harps, nothing could approach Newsom’s heart-tugging, ethereal tone and fairy tale poetry. –Stewf


Sung Tongs
Animal Collective
Fat Cat

I hardly feel like I need to talk about this album much, considering how well other publications have done at singing its praises. Unfortunately, it just didn't get enough fans out of the people who contributed to this article. Which I can understand. Although it's probably true that this is the Animal Collective's most accessible album yet, that still only makes it about as accessible to the average person as a wet metal pole hanging thirty feet above your head. Call me old-fashioned, but to me, Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin, and the Geologist may never create another album as weirdly wonderful as 2000's Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished by those first two members of the collective. But this comes really close. –BS

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