(Shag, it's February already. If I don't get this list out of my head now, it'll just sit in there forever. Here goes...)
Top 10 albums of 2004
Note: Some of these albums were released in 2003, but I'm still counting them in my "best of 2004" list, even though I used different criteria for films. This is mostly because I listened to far fewer new albums than I saw new films, and if I had to restrict myself purely to 2004 releases, the top 10 list would include some pretty weak material. And that's just not cool.
(Also, take the rankings with a grain of salt. I'm sure of numbers 1 and 2, but after that things the distinctions get a little blurry. Ask me again tomorrow, and you'll probably get a different order.)
- Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
I've already raved about this one, and a year on it still sounds great. Amazing blend of hip-hop, rap, rock, and soul. Favourite tracks: almost everything.
- Green Day - American Idiot
With a loose storyline connecting the songs, this is more than just a great rock album--it's a rock opera. An anti-establishment Les Miserables for the media generation. Plus it has some of the best rock drumming I have ever heard. Favourite tracks: Jesus of Suburbia, Wake Me Up When September Ends.
- Sondre Lerche - Two Way Monologue
It was Keith's raving about Sondre Lerche that made me go out and buy this album. It sounded a bit bland at first (I'm a sucker for hard drums & some heavy bass), but I stuck with it and on every play a new track stuck with me. Light, beautiful pop, with subtle, happy melodies. Favourite tracks: It's Too Late, Stupid Memory, Days That Are Over, Track You Down.
- Blink 182 - Blink 182
Blink 182 have grown up. This is still a youthful, bouncy speed-rock album, but underlying it all is a great deal of maturity and sophistication. It's a fantastic pick-me-up energy booster for a slow afternoon. Favourite tracks: almost everything.
- Dogs Die In Hot Cars - Please Describe Yourself
Fabulous debut album from a Scottish band worth keeping an eye on. In terms of stardom they've been overshadowed by Franz Ferdinand (see below), but that's not really the zone they occupy. Think XTC, with perhaps a little Crash Test Dummies thrown in. But in a cheerful kind of way. Favourite tracks: Modern Woman, Pastimes & Lifestyles, Godhopping.
- Alanis Morissette - So-called Chaos
It's a lot less bitter and angry than her earlier albums. Actually, it's happy. On the one hand, this robs it of some of her traditional songwriting highs, but on the other hand, it has cut out almost all of the disjointed lows that littered Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and Under Rug Swept. What's left is an album consisting of ten near-perfect pop songs. From the up-tempo to the slow and moody, each one has a solid hook, and you'll find yourself singing along with the choruses before you know it. Favourite tracks: Excuses, So-called Chaos, Not All Me, Spineless.
- Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
Scotland's answer to The Strokes, apparently. Only better. Meandering, spiky pop with easy listening punk leanings. Favourite tracks: Take Me Out, This Fire, Auf Achse.
- Tears For Fears - Everybody Loves A Happy Ending
Nothing like a big comeback, is there? Orzabal and Smith back together again, making music like it's 1989. Not quite The Seeds Of Love revisited, but it's got the flavour. Big, spacious soudscapes, and gorgeous melodies. A must for any fan. Favourite tracks: Who Killed Tangerine?, Secret World, Last Days On Earth
- Beastie Boys - To The 5 Boroughs
Taken individually, the songs here sound a bit sparse; I tend to prefer a fuller mix. But put them all together as an album, and they resolve into an energetic old-skool whole. The rhymes are filled with a tasty blend of politics, silliness, and genuine affection for New York. Favourite tracks: Ch-Check It Out, Triple Trouble, All Lifestyles, An Open Letter To NYC, We Got The.
- Belle And Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Hard to believe that this was my first exposure to Belle and Sebastian, but there you go. It's lovely, too. Light, airy pop, with a melancholy twist. Favourite tracks: Step Into My Office Baby, I'm A Cuckoo, Roy Walker.
- Barenaked Ladies - Everything To Everyone
I've had my doubts about this album. But whenever I start thinking about it closely, I have to figure in the fact that there are three tracks here that are some of the best they've ever done: For You, Aluminum, and Take It Outside. (Make that four, if you ignore the main version of Second Best, and take the far superior bonus acoustic version instead.)
- Mutual Admiration Society - Mutual Admiration Society
Glen Phillips (formerly of Toad The Wet Sprocket) and Nickel Creek often play together, and this is their collaboration album. All-acoustic, laid back and a bit folky. Very pleasant. Favourite tracks: Somewhere Out There, Trouble, Think About Your Troubles.
- Groove Armada - Goodbye Country, Hello Nightclub
Okay, so we're way out of the 2003/2004 zone with this one, but this has a minor, yet special significance for me. I've had a low-grade rip of this disc for a few years, and it has been a solid favourite for ages. It was one of the first albums I loaded up when I got my iPod in November last year. It has now also become one of the few albums that I associate with a memory of a specific time or place: just after I got the iPod I took a trip from Oakland to San Jose. Most people would do this by car, but I took the train instead. The trip took about an hour and a half, and took me through abandoned industrial estates, pleasant residential areas, parks, and reed-filled mud flats. I had a book with me, but most of the time I spent gazing out of the window, watching California pass by. With Groove Armada in my ears. Fabulously chilled-out music to go with a fabulously relaxing journey.
2004: The compilation album
Around Christmas I put together a CD of my favourite songs of 2004. There are some tracks here from albums that didn't make it onto the list above, and there are a few albums above that aren't represented in this mix. These are not ordered by preference; I fitted them together in a sequence that I thought sounded nice. It starts upbeat, goes mellow in the middle, and has a strong finish with a fruity aftertaste. Or at least, I think so.
- Muse - "Hysteria" (Absolution)
- Franz Ferdinand - "Take Me Out" (Franz Ferdinand)
- Outkast - "Flip Flop Rock" (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below)
- Dogs Die In Hot Cars - "Modern Woman" (Please Describe Yourself)
- Belle & Sebastian - "I'm A Cuckoo" (Dear Catastrophe Waitress)
- Elvis Costello & The Imposters - "Bedlam" (The Delivery Man)
- Groove Armada - "Hands Of Time" ("Collateral" Soundtrack)
- Maroon 5 - "Sunday Morning" (Songs About Jane)
- Scissor Sisters - "Comfortably Numb" (Scissor Sisters)
- Tears For Fears - "Secret World" (Everybody Loves A Happy Ending)
- Blink-182 - "I Miss You" (Blink-182)
- Barenaked Ladies - "Aluminum" (Everything To Everyone)
- Mutual Admiration Society - "Trouble" (Mutual Admiration Society)
- The Blue Nile - "I Would Never" (High)
- Keane - "Somewhere Only We Know" (Hopes & Fears)
- Barenaked Ladies - "Second Best" (Everything To Everyone)