Tuesday, February 01, 2005

2004 . . . is it too late?
I've always been a fan of year end lists, and have read numerous lists over the past two months (interesting how so many year end lists actually get published before the end of the year, but it makes sense with deadlines for magazines, not wanting to seem out of date, etc). However, I never got around to doing any sort of year end list of my own, and instead of doing up my favourite albums/singles of the year, I figured I'd just list (with some descriptions) some albums and songs that I loved from 2004. I will also be throwing in some reissues from last year as well, because I was more excited by many of these releases than I was new albums.
Air - Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks)
Keren Ann - Not Going Anywhere (Blue Note)
- a collection of folk songs on the French singer's first English album that displays her gorgeous voice and songwriting talents. "Sailor & Widow" is the standout track, telling the story of a dark and depressed murderer and backed by one of the best basslines of the year.
Adem - "There Will Always Be" (from the album Homesongs)
- A brilliant yet sad song directed at a friend who appears to have lost it, sung by a friend who cares too much to let go.
Howie Beck - Howie Beck (True North)

Yesterdays New Quintet - Stevie (Stones Throw)
Howard Tate - Get It While You Can: The Complete Legendary Verve Sessions (Hip-O Select)
- Hip-O Select answered my prayers, and reissued this album on CD in April of 2004. They likely saw that the 1995 reissue was going for $80 on Ebay, and realized there were some people desperate to own this album. However, this release has 28 tracks (the '95 version has 17). Tate fans should jump on this before the 5000 copies are gone!
Tom Waits - Real Gone (Anti)

Kanye West - College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella)
- an album found in almost every best of 2004 list, and completely deserving. His rapping abilities and lyrics are as good as his production, which is exceptional. "Two Words" kills it with the Mandrill sample, but J. Ivy's part on "Never Let Me Down" is the best moment on the album.
Morrissey - "Irish Blood, English Heart", "Come Back To Camden" and "You Know I Couldn't Last"
- You Are The Quarry is, to me, a good album. If you just queue up the even numbered tracks, and then add track 11, it's great. But the other tracks on the album really drag it down. However, these three tracks are classic Morrissey filled with self loathing, loneliness and sweeping strikes at England. A welcome return.
Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre)
- Stevens is, to me, one of the best new singer songwriters around. A year ago it was rumoured that he would make an album per state (which was started after the release of Michigan). However, this detour with songs about life, love and his religious beliefs. Amazing songs from a man with an amazing voice.
Can - Tago Mago, Monster Movie, Ege Bayasi*(Mute)
- all critics are glowing about the new and improved sound (all releases are hybrid - SACD and regular CDs). Believe the hype. The sound is exceptional. *Soundtracks is not on this list because I haven't picked it up yet - this is not a judgement on the quality of that album.
Various Artists - Nicky Siano's The Gallery (Soul Jazz Records)
- this was release weeks after I finished reading Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, which has a section on Siano and a larger section on the origins of disco. Not a dud in the set, but the Pointer Sisters totally stand out with their version of "Yes You Can Can". Hopefully Soul Jazz will put out more Siano compilations.
Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free (Vice/Atlantic)
- I remember the first time I heard the album. I paid such close attention to the lyrics, knowing it was a "concept". I think I had a burned copy of the album, and though I found a couple of songs to drag a bit at first, I've since decided that every track is perfect for this album, along with the "Fit But You Know It" b-side, "Soaked by the Ale", which gives us more of the holiday portion of the story. I still find myself getting a little emotional at the end of the album. "Empty Cans" is so good it hurts (emotionally, that is).
Stars - Set Yourself On Fire (Arts & Crafts)
Dizzee Rascal - Showtime (XL)

Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks (Fat Cat)
Norah Jones - Feels Like Home (Blue Note)
- a gorgeous album that contains the best Tom Waits cover I've ever heard ("Long Way Home").
Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters (Universal)
- is it new glam? nu-Elton John? Are they serious? Who cares. Killer songs! Loads of fun!
Girls Aloud - "The Show" and "Love Machine"
- The best pop group around. Their lack of success in the US is incredible.
Fiona Apple - "Extraordinary Machine"
- This is such a new direction for her, with an almost showtune feel. Sony NEEDS to release her album!!
The Divine Comedy - "Mutual Friend" (from Absent Friends)
- I'm a DC completist, but this release just didn't have the impact of previous albums. However, this track is a gem. One of Hannon's best written songs.
The Roots - Tipping Point (Geffen)
Augustus Pablo - King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown (Shanachie)
- my reggae collection increased considerably this year. I picked this reissue up early in the year, and am now very excited to hear more dub (which I've been doing with albums by Lee Perry, Horace Andy, and Burning Spear).
Fabolous - "Breathe"
Devendra Banhart - Rejoicing In The Hands (Young God)
- a unique voice singing quirky words, but an album I continued to pick up over the year. "This Beard Is For Sibhan" is definitely one of my favourite songs of the year.
MIA - "Galang" and "Sunshowers"
- these two songs should have been massive hits. Hopefully the world will succumb to the brilliance of her forthcoming album, Arular.
Bettye Swann and Candi Staton s/t reissues (Honest Jons Records)

A.C. Newman - A Slow Wonder (Matador)
- since the demise of Zumpano, I've been waiting for Newman to do something really amazing. The New Pornographers are great, but for me, never lived up to the songwriting pop craft of Zumpano. Finally, Newman comes out with an album that equals (if not tops) his earlier work.
Beck - "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes"
Portobella - "Covered In Punk"
- brilliant nonsense song about punk, candy and drag queens. What more could you want?
J-Five - "Modern Times"
- more artists should sample Charlie Chaplin.
Nelly - Suit (Universal)

Junior Boys - Last Exit (Domino/Kin)
- an album inspired by the synth pop of the 80s, yet nothing about it seems dated. With the MP3s of the groups EPs, I was convinced that their best song was "Birthday." Then I heard "Teach Me How To Fight," which seems not more complex than the other tracks, but seems leagues ahead of the other album tracks. I'm very excited to see what they put out next.
The Hold Steady - The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me (French Kiss)
- bar band ramblings and riff rawking = my new favourite band. I could listen to this guy tell singer/lyricist Craig Finn tell stories all day long.
Geroges Gurdjieff Ivanovitch and Vassilis Tsabropoulos - Chants, Hymns and Dances (ECM)
- Boomkat is renowned for blowing smoke up the ass of everything they sell. For some reason, their over the top praise of this album intrigued me. I'm glad I tracked it down.
The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightening, Strike
- "The Power is On" is the most exciting song I've heard all year. Possibly in the last few years. Every time I hear the song, I smile. This album blends chanting girls, rapping, funk and drums. Excellent.
Madvillain - Madvillainy

Donny Hathaway - These Songs For You, Live! (Rhino)
- I picked up Donny's Live album a couple of years ago. It's essential, but this collection further shows what an excellent showman he was. This is an essential soul reissue!
Estelle - "1980"
Strictly Kev - "Raiding the 20th Century"
Amp Fiddler - Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly (Genuine)
Anyone who criticizes nu-soul or modern R&B hasn't heard this album. Brilliant.
Various Artists - Midwest Funk: Funk 45s from Tornado Valley (Jazzman)
- Jazzman is doing for funk what Dave Godin and Kent did for rare soul with this compilation and the Texas Funk comp. Jazzman is trawling through record stores all over the US (though hopefully they will stretch out and do other countries as well), and the results on Midwest Funk are 23 fabulous funk joints.

I'll have more to say about last year's releases, but I'll stop here for now. Obviously I've left out loads of singles that blew me away in 2004, among other things. Hopefully I'll have this all done before December.
posted by Jonathan


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