The Best Records of 2004 

From "indie rock" to mix tapes to y'alternative country.

Page 4 of 6

Our Endless Numbered Days
An upgrade in studio quality hasn't hurt Iron & Wine one bit. Sam Beam's voice (and the soft shadow of his sister Sarah's harmonizing) still forces your mind to shut up and listen, the melodies are as hypnotic as ever, and his lyrics remain just raw enough to be almost creepy but entirely engaging. Southern Gothic at its slo-folk finest. (Sub Pop)

The Volunteers
Emo labels aside, Jonah Matranga is more than just a tortured-boy soul with a yen for strangled hollering over four chords. There are fist-pumping anthems to flawed spirit and numerous nuanced examples of well-worn honesty here, including an acoustic takedown of Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive" that effectively skewers "The Scene." Furthermore, "A Ghost" is a melancholy, magical-realist narrative of the highest caliber. (Jade Tree)

Moody Pike
That these guys are from Brooklyn isn't so strange in the wake of the y'allternative revolution, but the fact that Pale Horse and Rider's sophomore record was recorded in Kentucky and features production by the requisite Oldham (Paul) adds the golden twang touch to Jon DeRosa and Marc Gartman's tales of late nights, love, sex, and excess, not to mention their new backing band's glimmering pedal steel and jazzy drums. (Darla)

Scissor Sisters
All of the pleasure and none of the guilt. Okay, maybe there's a twinge of guilt over this being a product of the Major Label Devil, but anyone whose childhood was spent grooving to Elton John, the Bee Gees, and Stevie Wonder on the car radio should just let his guard down and give a good listen to this ecstatically lush genderfunk techno-pop. Deal-sealer: The Sisters make a disco symphony of Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." (Universal)

She Like Electric
Record geeks who plop themselves at the mention of the Shaggs merely raise one eyebrow when I tell them about singer and keyboardist Asya, twelve (who sounds remarkably like Mary Lou Lord at times), and drummer Chloe, ten. But the sisters have the chops and the innocent moxie, and they pull more sass and raw heart out of their loosely melodic, honey-sung pop than most duos two and three times their age. (Pattern 25)

The Golden Apples of the Sun
This twenty-track compilation, curated by Devendra Banhart for Arthur magazine, could've been just another random collection. But each cut offers its own take on the newly minted "freakfolk" movement -- folk gone psychedelic or psychedelia gone folky -- with standout tracks by Vetiver with Hope Sandoval, the Long Winters, Josephine Foster, Joanna Newsom, Iron & Wine, Viking Moses, and Banhart himself, with oddfolk godmother Vashti Bunyan. (Bastet)


From Hell to Baton Rouge
Two words: electric dulcimers. Throw in sundry guitar, banjo, and plaintive vocals for a sound that buzzes like summer flies and hums like high-tension power lines through a post-modern Appalachia. With the exception of the Big Audio Dynamite-styled "Weight of Love" (which would be better situated as an end-of-disc bonus track), this could be the soundtrack for a Deliverance remake. If it was filmed at night. (Catamount)

Aw Cmon/No You Cmon
These are actually two separate (if not quite differentiated) albums released simultaneously, à la Use Your Illusion. Billed as Nashville's "most fucked-up country band," this grouping of more musicians than you can count on both hands looks like the lost freshmen who spent their weekends playing Dungeons & Dragons in the lobby of your college dorm. But led by the droll, basement-floor vocals of the bespectacled and trucker-hatted Kurt Wagner, Lambchop wraps around a massively gorgeous yet edgy range from Love Tractor to the Love Unlimited Orchestra, and that's a much farther distance than it sounds. (Merge)

A Fix Back East
Strange how the best roots updates of recent years have been rendered by Yankee boys. Jack White hangs in Detroit, the Black Keys in Akron, and the Tarbox Ramblers in Boston, but good is good no matter the ZIP code. If you ever questioned what the blues and gospel have in common, look no further. (Rounder)

Underachievers Please Try Harder
Does the world really need two twee pop bands from Glasgow? Well, need may be pushing it a smidge, but Camera lead singer-songwriter Tracyanne Campbell brings her own distinct charm to the table. A proper supplement of self-conscious Scottish similes (He was uncomplaining as a tree) for those suffering Belle and Sebastian withdrawal. (Merge)

Headed for the Hills
Jim Lauderdale's voice is one of the purest in Nashville (that alone puts the "alt" in front of "country"), and for the past several years he has treated himself to a recording session with upstate New York jam band Donna the Buffalo, and two with bluegrass legends Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. If that's not enough to gain Lauderdale the title of Master Collaborator, then this latest release, co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, puts him over the top. (Dualtone)

Rubber Factory
"10 A.M. Automatic" has now been appropriated by CBS Sports to accompany college football replays. An unusual choice to be sure, but if TV production types are beguiled by thick guitars and wildass drums recorded by two guys in an abandoned building once owned by Akron's General Tire (get it?), then maybe there's hope for the world after all. (Fat Possum)


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