John Walker's Electronic House

by on Dec.31, 2004, under The Rest

Back from the Christmas break, and because of little other than peer pressure, I’m putting together Top Stuff from 2004.

I’m not ideally suited to compiling such lists since my memory appears only capable of recalling from which year something came if it is less than three months old. After that and it could be a decade old for all I can work out. Also, this year saw the loss of 35Gb of music from my machine with the death of a hard drive, and so I’ve spent more energy trying to get back albums I once had than discovering new. I’ve hated that – my normal habit of discovering one or two new bands a week has entirely fallen aside in 2004. So all I can muster are lists of my favourite stuff that in no way reflect the merits or lack of for everything unmentioned.


1) The Mountain Goats – We Shall All Be Healed

2004 is the year I fell in love with the Mountain Goats, discovering them/him, and finding the decade or so of albums making up probably a third of all my listening from the last six months. From the earliest tape-hiss 4 track rawness to the last couple of slickly produced 4AD releases, John Darnielle’s storytelling has accompanied my walks, soundtracked my review writing, and been in the background whenever anyone’s come ’round. (Asking who it is and expressing a liking makes you best). This second album with 4AD and cohort Peter Hughes, produced by John Vanderslice, manages once more to be loyal to the bedroom-simplicity of his earliest albums, and yet slip in strings and sound effects, without ever distracting from the storytelling. ‘Your Belgian Things’ is the stand-out (yet entirely reserved) track, never quite explaining what it is that has happened to require the collection of someone’s Belgian things from the house, and yet expressing a sense of aching loss that dredges up the bruises of a relationship’s end. However, this ability to remind you of a distant sense of loss is most evocative in ‘Cotton’. “This song is for the people / who tell their families that they’re sorry / for things they can’t and won’t feel sorry for / And once there was a desk / and now it’s in a storage locker somewhere / and this song is for the stick pins and the cottons / I left in the top drawer / Let ’em all go / Let ’em all go.”

2) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus

Holding more of my shelf space than any other artist, Nick Cave with or without the Bad Seeds is, in my accurate opinion, the best musician alive. And this year, after a brief period of mucking about, he’s proven it again. I really like Nocturama, and it was always intended to be an experiment, but it does now sit as an aside. After the enormous calming down of the beautiful The Boatman’s Call, and then the phenomenal flourish of And No More Shall We Part, this double-album release is possibly the only ideal direction in which he could have headed. Maintaining the piano-driven composure of his recent years, it manages to work back in the perpetual crescendo (you’ll understand the paradox if you ever listened) of the Bad Seeds’ post Birthday Party frenzy. Growling tales of hope within failure are sssspat and ssssnarled by Cave’s doom-ridden voice, and this time with gospel. It’s the only album I made a special trip to the shops to buy on the day of release, because it’s the only album I knew would be worth it.

3) Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Like Bad News

It’s frustrating to say that a band becomes more accomplished when they become more controlled, but in this case it appears true. Modest Mouse have always generated excellent albums, but Good News… seems to introduce a combination of moderation and melody that now can be realised as lacking. Tracks like ‘Dance Hall’ and ‘Bury Me With It’ still collapse into the sort of drunken ranting that might get sampled in a God Speed track, but now with a foundation that keeps it all in check. But it’s the astonishing four tracks that close the album that make this quite so remarkable. ‘Blame It on the Tetons’ broken-voiced vocals, begging for a cold one, lead into ‘Black Cadillacs’ micro-funk, containing the perfect pop moment: all stops, and, “We named our children after towns, that we’d never been to…”. Then it’s the awesome ‘One Chance’, and finishing in the deceptive bonus-track-like opening of ‘The Good Times Are Killing Us, which then develops into one of the strongest tracks they’ve produced.

4) Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days

Following a similar path to the Mountain Goats, Iron & Wine’s first album two years ago was a tape-hiss enhanced 4 track production, and it was utterly beautiful. Our Endless Numbered Days, this time produced in a proper studio and everything, allows the melancholic whimsy a lease of freshness that his woodwind voice deserves. Its position is bolstered by containing my favourite track of the year, ‘Naked As We Came’ – possibly the most romantic song about what to do with one’s partner’s ashes ever made. “One of us will die inside these arms / eyes wide open / naked as we came / one will spread our / ashes ’round the yard.” As with the rest of the album, careful guitar and his breathy voice seem to lessen the effects of gravity and allow you to float.

5) The Fiery Furnaces – Blueberry Boat

Completely bonkers, and completely competent, the rolling madness of each track careers between genres like a drunk in HMV. Despite containing none of the elements of a summer album, playing it makes it be summer inside. Summed up best by: Like Of Montreal at the fairground.

6) Ratatat – Ratatat

My surprise favourite live band of the year surprises me further by being one of my favourite albums of the year. An LP of instrumental mid-hop infused with what someone called “post-metal” guitar, it occupies the middle-ground between chilled and bouncy, and impressively manages to create feelings of both at once. A chilled bounce is a splendid thing.

7) The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free

Mike Skinner has the remarkable ability to make cliches acceptable again. No one could have predicted that the phrase “plenty more fish in the sea” could ever be used without destroying all around it, and yet it manages to be the hook of the best pop song this year. Putting a narrative into his second album was either going to be a horrible gimmick, or the secret of its success. That it was so effectively the latter took everyone by surprise. Dry Your Eyes hurt enough as a single, but in its context, and surrounded by so many other keen insights, it’s enough to break you.

8) Green Day – American Idiot

Thank goodness people are noticing that Green Day aren’t shit again. Drowning in the popularity of Basket Case for a decade now, few bother listening before dismissing them into the same bin as the mucky mess of nu-punk. American Idiot’s zeitgeist-surfing lyrics allowed it just enough attention for people to shut up and use their ears. While not as clever as NOFX’s (also ignored) War Against Errorism, it’s a much better album, containing a meandering attitude they’ve previously left unexplored.

9) The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike

Six months late, I was. I blame Kieron for not making me listen to them half a year ago, but this summer’s summer album has been my winter blues-buster. I don’t think I can describe them better than in a conversation with a friend recently: “Remember Mint Royale? Like them, but if they were good.”

10) Secret Machines – Now Here Is Nowhere

Deserving of a place in any Top 14 for the opening drum and guitar moment, the whole album goes on to be worthy of recognition. A bit Porcupine Tree in its prog-influence, but not in a rubbish way. Using 80s influences in a helpful way, unlike everyone else just now.

11) The Concretes – The Concretes

Hooray for girls and singing and stuff. Azure Ray didn’t make an album this year, so The Concretes’ slightly faster whistful melodies filled in nicely.

12) Dogs Die In Hot Cars – Please Describe Yourself

Yes, it’s all daft, but who cares. Songs about not having to go to school nor tidy your room are required every now and then. More happy than should be allowed, and inexplicably getting away with ripping off vocal ticks from The Jam, it’s the guilty favourite.

13) cLOUDDEAD – Ten

I’m scared of cLOUDDEAD. If lots of slightly sinister clowns were to form a band (no, not Slipknot), this is how it would sound. They’re the Fiery Furnaces through a glass darkly. The album’s production is absolutely perfect, with the trip-hop and hip-hop sounds requiring a new, more ridiculous term than ever before. Trip-hop-hip-hop. Yes.

14) Of Montreal – Satanic Panic in the Attic

This is the reason why you don’t need to listen to the spoiled version of Smile. Beach Boys influenced gibberish with enough plinky plonky sounds to keep everybody happy.

1 Trackback or Pingback for this entry