Uncommon music criticized by the common man. (Or, exercises in futility masquerading as critical thought.)

Thursday, December 23, 2004


It's that time of year again, when every slackjawed music fan with a blog and enough time puts together their favorite albums/singles/performances/whatevers from the previous twelve months. Since I fit that mold, it is my ridiculous obligation to do the same. So, without further ado, here are the 20 Albums that did it for me in 2004, plus five that just missed the cut. The only caveat, needless to say, is that this is not at all representative of the good music out there. I'm sure I missed a ton of great stuff, mostly because I concentrated my purchases almost exclusively on metal this year. So hip hop and indie (and jazz and classical and improv and...) are under-represented. Oh, and fuck "freak-folk."

5 Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)

Comets on Fire Blue Cathedral (Sub Pop)
Ghost Hypnotic Underworld (Drag City)
Oneida Secret Wars (Jagjaguwar)
Paik Satin Black (Strange Attractors)
Vehemence Helping the World to See (Metal Blade)

And now, the list:

20. Hiroshi Na Jokers (PSF)
19. Sonic Youth Sonic Nurse (Geffen)
18. Carpharnaum Fractured (Willowtip)
17. Motorhead Inferno (Sanctuary)
16. AC Newman Slow Wonder (Matador)
15. Ghostface The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam)
14. Scorch Trio Luggumt (Rune Grammophon)
13. Flying Luttenbachers The Void (Troubleman Unlimited)
12. Cult of Luna Salvation (Earache)
11. Carnal Forge Aren't You Dead Yet? (Century Media)
10. Dillinger Escape Plan Miss Machine (Relapse)
9. Suffocation Souls to Deny (Relapse)
8. Necrophagist Epitaph (Relapse)
7. Pig Destroyer Terrifyer (Relapse)
6. Esoteric Subconscious Dissolution into the Continuum (Season of Mist)

And the Top 5

5. Kanye West College Dropout (Roc-a-fella): I didn't listen to much hip-hop this year, but the little I did, I loved, and this was at the top of the list. Kanye's production is some of the tightest I've heard this year. Hell, even that Boost Mobile commercial is a banger. It was pretty much on everybody's "Best Of" list since it dropped, and it has stayed on mine. This album is stacked top to bottom with some of the best beats around. Expectations are certainly high for the followup.

4. The Electric Wizard We Live (Rise Above): With the rhythm section gone, lead singer/guitarist Jus Osbourn had to rebuild these doom metal titans, and the new version is just as good, if not better. The production is a bit cleaner, and the addition of second guitarist Liz Buckingham opens up the sound somewhat. The riffs seem less monolithic, which adds heft to the band's sound. This record is pretty strong across the board, with the band sounding as heavy as ever, particularly on the closing track--and my favorite song of the year--the monstrous "Saturn's Children." This song is as devastating as anything the band has ever done and just goes to show that the band can craft the perfect riff and ride it into sonic oblivion. I would own this album for this track alone; fortunately, the rest of the album has the goods, too.

3. Lamb of God Ashes of the Wake (Epic): One of the more unrelenting releases this year (that isn't pure death metal, anyway). This is a shot of adrenaline in the form of big riffs and brutal rhythms. This was well on its way to being my favorite album of the year, until I picked up some late year entrants that just nudged it out. An album that really reflects the times, filled with turbulence, unease, frustration and anger. But most importantly, it just flat out blazes. And don't we all just need to rock the fuck out from time to time?

2. Mastodon Leviathan (Relapse): Hmmmm....a concept album. Moreover, a concept album based on Moby Dick and whose last track is entitled "Joseph Merrick" (aka The Elephant Man). That kind of description might lead you to believe this is an overindulgent wankfest filled with a bunch of guys who are still worshipping at the altar of Yes and King Crimson (but not nearly as good as either; those guys never are). Fortunately, you'd be wrong. This is instead, to borrow a phrase, pure rock fury being belted out by the almighty Mastodon. Their previous release, Remission was a beast of a different nature, nearly oppressive in its ferocity. On this one, the guys have really gone for broke, polishing the production a bit and giving the music a more dynamic sound. The album explodes right out of the gates and never stops to take a breath until the instrumental closing track. Until then, it's all wonderful riffs, packed with power and melody, and a rhythm section that can keep up, led by one of the better drummers in music, Brann Dailor. Dailor's beats are complex and absurdly fast at times, but never, ever out of control and never playing over the rest of the band. I could listen to this album just for the drumming. Thankfully, this album has much more to offer, particularly the anthemic "Naked Burn" and the album's staggering centerpiece "Hearts Alive."

1. Isis Panopticon (Ipecac): Okay, I'll say it up front: this album's place at number one was helped by an amazing live performance. The album probably still would have topped the list, but seeing this music performed live really sealed the deal. Though considered metal, this isn't your typical thunder and lightning rawk. This has more to do with the noisier aspects of bands like Mogwai than Iron Maiden. In addition, the music has a certain, ethereal texture to it that would not sound out of place on a Sigur Ros album. Still, when the songs reach their climax, the riffs are there in full force. Isis like to work the slow burn, building their songs around the three guitarists, weaving around each other with relatively distortion-free tones. The rhythm section maintains forward momentum with a nice, though relatively simple, low-end throb. The band uses repetition with subtle variances in order to build tension in the songs before exploding, falling in line with the "maximalism through minimalism" mantra of Spacemen 3. It works beautifully, as the songs sound absolutely huge when they break out the riffs, while maintaining a shadowy intimacy. Think of it as kind of a chillout record for metalheads, and a work of undeniable beauty.