Saturday, May 28, 2005

Patrick C.'s Top 10 Albums of 2004

Finally, Cut the Chord is back up! Well here's the Top 10 Albums of 2004 list that I wrote way the fuck back in January.

1. Elliott SmithFrom a Basement on the Hill: This would have been the album of the year in 2003. It would be the album of the year in 2005. Elliott Smith built up a collection of wonderful songs over the last few years of his life. Each one is an important moment of its own. On some of his quietest songs, like “Twilight” and “The Last Hour,” Elliott feels more fragile than ever, while on other tracks, Elliott creates rock songs more intense than even the most ardent fans, familiar even with his Heatmiser days, could have imagined. Want proof? Listen to “Shooting Star,” a pulse-pounding track standing on the precipice of chaos the whole way through (at six minutes, it’s Elliott’s longest song). It’s hardly diminishing to add that this album, which stands up right next to the rest of his collection, might just be half of what Elliott had intended to present as a final product.

2. JudeSarah: This was released in the very last days of 2003, I decided to still include this record because it quickly became one of the most important albums to me this year. Here’s a wonderful musician who, in no uncertain terms, got fucked by his label (not naming names...but, ahem, Maverick Records). His last record, King of Yesterday got remixed by them without Jude's involvement and they wouldn’t even let him include the songs he wanted to. So what did Jude do with his new record? He went as indie as you could go. He recorded exactly the record he wanted to on his own terms and released it without a label (it’s available at the godsend that is CDbaby.com). The album is as lush, melodic and heartfelt as Jude has ever written, and you owe it to yourself to pick it up, especially those of you who have just gotten out of a relationship.

3. The Arcade FireFuneral: I don’t think there’s been an album that demands such immediate reverence from its listeners since Neutral Milk Hotel’s impressive In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. However, this album not only shares some of the artistic and imagistic overtones of that album but… well, you can also dance to it. It might be that the story behind the album (the grieving process that several band members were going through during the album’s recording) infuses the album with such a sense of profundity that would not be evident otherwise, but what’s the matter with that? To a great extent, the Wrens’ album The Meadowlands was our top pick of 2003 because of the story of failure and frustration behind it, and how the knowledge of that made the album feel like both a lament of those feelings and, at the same time, a triumphant response. Sometimes tragedy begets great art, and there’s nothing exploitative about it if it’s authentic.

4. WilcoA Ghost Is Born: You know, I got into Yankee Hotel Foxtrot after being introduced to Wilco through the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. But I hadn’t even planned on buying the new album until a coworker happened to play it. By the time we were into the third song, the ten minute rocker “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” I was sold. It seems like Jim O’Rourke’s camaraderie has rubbed off on Jeff Tweedy, especially on songs like “Muzzle of Bees” and “Handshake Drugs,” and the melding of melody and sonic dissonance. Wilco is a band that may have started out rather ordinary, but has eventually become one of the most fascinating (and popular) indie rock bands around, with an album full of could-be classics.

5. InterpolAntics: You know, it took me a little time to understand Antics. On first listen, there are no songs that stand out the way that some of the best songs on 2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights do. It was an album full of repetitive, similar riffs, and with few obvious high highs or low lows. After several listens though, I finally realized that this isn’t an album of individual songs. It only works as an album. Each song a variation on an increasingly addictive-theme. It may take you four listens, but you’ll eventually agree with me.

6. Hip WhipsHip Whips: Do you ever hear an album and you can’t believe that it’s not a collection of cover songs? There is something so very familiar about Hip Whips' debut album the very first time you hear it. These are songs that seem to have always existed (or at least since the early 70’s) played with jubilance on mostly organ-driven songs.

7. Bingo TrappersNo Smoking: Finally, the follow-up to 1999’s glorious Juanita Ave., the indie rock classic that none of your friends own. Bingo Trappers have plugged in, getting away from the early-Dylan/Stones feeling of the first album and following their Velvet Underground obsession even further down the rabbit hole.

8. Moving UnitsDangerous Dreams: Already worn out your copy of Franz Ferdinand after about ten listens? Okay, now it’s time for you to pick up Dangerous Dreams for the longer-lasting experience. Here’s what you’ll get. Great bass lines, addictive drum beats, sexed-out vocals. Finally, a dance-rock album that’s more potent than Viagra.

9. The DearsNo Cities Left: Fact is, most albums, even the really good ones, only feel like a collection of songs, and not like an album. Here, the Dears have created a true album, a dense moody sum of its parts where the songs are almost inseparable, like scenes from a movie. They might play on their own, but you don’t really get it until you see the whole picture.

10. Rogue WaveOut of the Shadow: I first heard about Rogue Wave when I learned that they were going to open for the Shins at a show that I reviewed for CTC. Little did I know that I was catching onto the band just a few months before everyone else did (upon Sub Pop’s re-release of this album). If you've wanted to find a middle ground in between the bubbly poppiness of the Shins and the quirky alt-folkiness of Wilco, well here's the band for you.

Also, I’d like to take a moment to mention the number of wonderful albums released by singer-songwriters this year that didn’t quite make it on my Top Ten, including those by Joseph Arthur, David Mead, Jim Guthrie, n.Lannon, Devendra Banhart, Adem, A.C. Newman and also the posthumous collection of Matthew Jay rarities Too Soon.

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