Continuing on through the decade. 2004 was another exciting year, the year I can point to where the obsession with new music became overwhelming, where I was "acquiring" more albums than I could posisbly enjoy, where I took my knowledge and my foresight to mean something (it doesn't) and where I continued to write about and review music to my liking. I believe this was the year that I started my first music only blog as well - not with uploads (the occasional single song), but more of a "what I listened to today" blog with like 2 sentence reviews.
10. Annie - Anniemal
Rank in 2004: 5
The single album that made me re-evaluate my take on pop music was "Anniemal". I was an angry teenager, pretending to be too cool for anything that would be considered pop - unless it was overly ironic or the occasional hip hop single. Something about the production, the almost-out-of-breath vocals, the hooks themselves just hooked me. There was no basis for why and in retrospect, much of my love for this album is probably due to praise from Pitchfork. Regardless, the first time I heard "Chewing Gum" I knew it should be a hit stateside. When I heard "Heartbeat" I knew I needed the album. And it was a bare to get. I ordered through some bizarre website from a record shop in the UK, but did so through an e-mail. I never got a response, and one day about 4 months later the cd arrived. (Of course I had downloaded it prior). I loved this record, and I still really enjoy it. I don't think it to be the apex of early 2000's female pop music as a whole album, but the highs of this record are the highs of the genre and remain so.
9. Cam'Ron - Purple Haze
Rank in 2004: 40
I tried to ignore the whole Dipset/Byrd Gang/dude dressed entirely in pink and purple era of Cam'Ron and crew for a few years. I didn't follow the slew of mixtapes they were selling out the back of vans that jumpstarted the now thriving mixtape culture. I didn't catch their videos or youtubes, I didn't get excited when I heard "Oh Boy" on the radio, I thought that Juelz Santana was the worst rapper of all time. This, despite the fact that I loved Cam's first album and various guest appearances in the 90s. The lazy flow, the nonsense rhymes. The whole "no homo" and rhyming a word with itself is what through me off. And then I heard "Purple Haze" and everything changed. My entire concept of hip hop at the time was flipped upside down. Now the mainstream, fun, heavy production was what I wanted to listen to. Fuck the underground, get me that piff. Of course, this whole movement has died down, my interest in the clique has faded, somehow Jim Jones has become the only bonafide superstar out of Dipset, and Juelz Santana is the only one I like. While I acquired just about every Dipset related album for a couple years there - none can hold a candle to "Purple Haze". Some of the best production of the decade throughout the album and just fucking fun. Throw out all pretensions, all conceptions and just feel the sound of it. The silliness of it. It's great.
8. De La Soul - The Grind Date
Rank in 2004: 10
For awhile there I was considering "The Grind Date" to be one of the most underrated and overlooked albums of the past decade. I claimed it to be a near hip-hop classic, up there with De La's best. Truth be told, it's still overlooked - but my opinion on this record is not what it once was. Some really outstanding production, some of the best flows I've heard from from De La, but overall as an album it doesn't really have the consistency or feeling that their best records have. Regardless, De La Soul remains one of (if not THE) best hip hop groups in the history of the genre, evolving, changing their sound, staying relevant. I still love these guys and eagerly await something new.
7. Shuttle 358 - Chessa
Rank in 2004: N/A
It is funny that we can consider a music with no specific form to adhere to but whatever one hears in their own head as "soulless", yet many releases within this genre are exactly that. Dan Abrams aka Shuttle358 is anything but soulless. All positive reviews of ambient music make reference that a particular release is good because of the "warmth" and "humanity" that the music brings up for the listener. Specific memories in time are recaptured, current moments in the present are captured for the first time. Chessa is warm, Chessa is human. Recorded and released during the apex of the click-and-beep madhouse of 2004, Shuttle358's third album on 12k has spoken to me for 5 years now. The fuzz, the chimes, the buzzing sounds, the looped guitar - these are all elements that can be found on releases by any ambient composer - and yet, this release sticks out from the others. I listened to this album four times this afternoon as I watched the rain come and go out my window. As night set in, earlier than it should have, the music continued to soundtrack my evening. Every track seems to find itself matching my breaths as it clicks along, every track placed perfectly in context with the exact emotion I encounter upon this experience.
6. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born
Rank in 2004: 7
I have trouble determining which era of Wilco I like the best. Though I'm hesitant to admit it in this day and age, the fact is likely that Wilco has been and will remain one of my very favorite bands I've ever known. At one point or another I've loved every single thing they've put out and thought it to be their best (including the outtakes cd packaged with "The Wilco Book"). Part of me wants to consider the alt. country sound of "Being There" to be my favorite, with just a couple tracks of experimentation for good measure. The critic in me wants to quantify the Jay Bennett-era as the best for Wilco - the perfect blend of sonic experimentalism, pop, and a little country twang for good measure that we find in "Summer Teeth" and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and though generally I tend to think they've been on a downward slope since those years, another part of me just fucking love and adores the Nels Cline era, loves the guitar freakouts, the "dad-rock" sound and the strength of the songwriting of the last 3 Wilco albums. "A Ghost Is Born" cannot be considered "dad-rock", but it can't quite be put in the same area of their career as YHF. Long songs with meandering guitar, full-on speaker blowing solos, short and soft songs, this album is all over the place. I don't know if I give it the due it deserves, I think it's time to fall in love with it again.
5. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
Rank in 2004: 14
The thing about "Sung Tongs" in relation to other Animal Collective releases is that there a handful of tracks on here ("Who Could Win A Rabbit?", "Winters Love", "Sweet Road") that I would probably put in the top 10 AC songs of all, if not the top 5. There just also happens to be a few tracks on this album that over time I have felt are worth skipping over. Sonically, the album is beautiful. It introduced Animal Collective to the world, it was acoustic sounding in a sense (especially compared to the stuff they have done since), it was pastoral (oh that word), serene, and just weird. It still is all of those, but the effect this album has isn't the same as their other albums. If I ever wanted to put on an Animal Collective album for background music, "Sung Tongs" might be the one to do it. In 2004, there wasn't much like it. Nowadays, we've heard them, we like them, we can ignore them. I'm making this review sound negative. Listen, there are times when I think "Sung Tongs" is the absolute best Animal Collective release, that its among the finest albums of the entire decade, but those times are very few. It's a great album, but it doesn't blow my mind like it once did.
4. Drive-By Truckers - The Dirty South
Rank in 2004: 11
If you've ever read any of my reviews other than this one, you would know that I am unforgivably hyperbolic in many of them. "This band is the best ever", "This is one of the best albums ever for this", "If you want to rock out like no one else..." Here's my hyperbolic statement for the Drive-By Truckers: Since 2000, they are the most consistent and best straight up rock n roll band in America. A string of critically acclaimed southern rock albums, awesomely written songs, bizarre concept albums, the DBT were doing it all. And then they dropped "The Dirty South" which stripped away some of the pretension, and just gave us a solid, unifying southern rock powerhouse that few other albums that sound anything remotely like it can even reach. Definitely one of my favorite rock records of the past 10 years, some of the most memorable songs, fun, depressing, great. My favorite Truckers album - and they've yet to put out a bad one.
3. Madvillain - Madvillainy
Rank in 2004: 1
When MF Doom and Madlib teamed up for Madvillainy in 2004, there were no two bigger names in independent hip hop. Doom was back after years of silence, once again creating outstanding concept albums that made the underground (and some mainstream mags pay attention). Madlib was finally beginning to get the respect he deserved, fresh off Jaylib, known as the prime producer at Stones Throw and releasing a dope album of remixed Blue Note Records tracks. Madvillain changed the game. A loose concept album surrounding a bad guy from a comic book, the beats, the mood, the rapping, how fucking weird this album is...it all adds up to be one of the best rap albums of the entire decade. An instant classic in the eyes of many, Madvillain might very well be the last thing I remember hearing that I truly, deeply became obsessed with. Preorders, t-shirts, dvds, everything. Doom and Madlib reignited my love for hip hop like no other album could and though in the past couple years I've started to feel that the album isn't quite as special as I remembered...listening to it recently has revealed my initial reactions: this is a classic album, up there with the best of the entire genre.
2. Kanye West - The College Dropout
Rank in 2004: N/A
I burnt myself out on Kanye West back in 2004. There are 21 tracks, including skits and back when this album came out, it didn't long for me to be able to recite the entirety of the album front to back. Like much of the world, I loved "The College Dropout", I loved the anticipation of the album, I loved the rough versions of songs I'd had on my computer for a year, I loved the remixes that happened after the album came out, I sought out all the samples. With one album, Kanye West became THE premier recording artist in the world. And then I suddenly just got sick of him. Suffice to say, that didn't stay, I just needed to take a break. "The College Dropout" is a classic. That's all that needs to be said, really. You've heard it, you know the singles, you have a favorite track, but every moment on this album is a blast. Kanye when he was still establishing himself as a rapper, sounds exciting, refereshing, his beats before they were electro-ed out. A truly great album by a truly great artist.
1. Junior Boys - Last Exit
Rank in 2004: N/A
The smoothest, grooviest record. Equally great on a hot, summer day as a cold, winter night. Jeremy Greenspan is in top form here, singing over the icy, minimalistic beats that set Junior Boys apart from all the other electronic indie bands of the past 10 years. Instantly memorable. "High Come Down" sounds like the best new romantic song you've never heard. "Last Exit" is so smooth, you'll melt. "Birthday" gets stuck in my head for a week just about everytime I hear it, the perfect combination of hook and creepy beat. "Teach Me How To Fight" might very well be in my top 5 songs of the past decade. This is a masterful album, one that succeeded in sticking out from the rest of the vocal-based electronic music of the time. It still stands out now and though the Junior Boys have gone on to create two more albums of pop magic, nothing can top "Last Exit" - an album that should be regarded as a masterpiece in any age.
Bonus Comparison for Laughs: Top 20 Albums of 2004 in 2004:
1. Madvillain - Madvillainy
2. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Shake The Sheets
3. Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks
4. Elliott Smith - From A Basement on the Hill
5. Annie - Anniemal
6. Interpol - Antics
7. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born
8. Air - Talkie Walkie
9. TV On The Radio - Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
10. De La Soul - The Grind Date
11. Drive-By Truckers - The Dirty South
12. Espers - Espers
13. Joanna Newsom - Milk-Eyed Mender
14. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
15. Frausdots - Couture, Couture, Couture
16. Yesterday's New Quintent / Monk Hughes - A Tribute To Brother Weldon
17. Jason Forrest - The Unrelenting Songs Of A 1979 Post Disco Crash
18. Devendra Banhart - Rejoicing In The Hands / Nino Rojo
19. Ty - Upwards
20. John Legend - Get Lifted