December 01, 2004

TOP ALBUMS OF 2004

'Tis the season for year-end music lists, and without further ado, here are Medleyville's picks for the best albums of 2004.

* Joe Belock's Top 10 Albums:

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1. Mr. Airplane Man, C'mon DJ (Sympathy for the Record Industry). Dynamic duo from Boston proves they are the best doing the drum-and-guitar garage blues thing on their third album.

2. Insomniacs, Switched On! (Estrus Records). New Jersey power trio continues uniting mods and rockers with its first album in four years, adding sitars and varied tempos into the mix.

3. Reigning Sound, Too Much Guitar (In the Red). The most misleading album title of the year. Greg Cartwright and company are reduced to a trio for their third album, and they don't miss a step or the keyboards.

4. Southern Culture on the Skids, Mojo Box (Yep Roc Records). Chapel Hill, N.C.'s finest create a swampy masterpiece without sacrificing any of its trademark white-trash fun and humor.

5. The Gris Gris, The Gris Gris (Birdman Records). Oakland, Calif.'s psych-rockers use The Velvet Underground as a starting point, then get a lot creepier from there, alternating between hypnotic and explosive.

6. Dexter Romweber, Blues That Defy My Soul (Yep Roc). On his second solo release, the former Flat Duo Jet soars to new heights with songs about feeling low.

7. The Fall-Outs, Summertime (Estrus Records). The sound of garage-punks growing up, the first Fall-Outs' album in nine years could be the Seattle trio's best.

8. The Blackouts, Living In Blue (Lucid Records). From the cornfields of Champaign, Ill., comes a guitar roar like you haven't heard anywhere else, as The Blackouts combine elements of garage, psych and early '80s Midwest indie rock with great songwriting for a 21st century sound.

9. Thee Fine Lines, Thee Fine Lines (Licorice Tree Records). Three chords and a cloud of distortion is all this trio from Springfield, Mo., needs to get its point across.

10. Knights of the New Crusade, My God Is Alive, How About Yours? (Gabriel's Trumpet). San Francisco hipsters seemingly find
religion and, conveniently, goofy knight costumes and fuzz guitar to produce odes to Christianity like "E is For Evil" and the anti-evolution "Ain't No Monkey in My Family Tree." Yikes!

* George Henn's Top 10 Albums:

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1. Graham Parker, Your Country (Bloodshot Records). The former angry young man strips things down with some country swing and tones down the cynical wit, but not the superb storytelling.

2. Social Distortion, Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll (Time Bomb Recordings). Honoring Dennis Danell, his fallen band mate, Mike Ness wears his heart on his tattooed sleeve on what might be the finest album he has written, and there's fist-pumping passion behind every note.

3. Southern Culture on the Skids, Mojo Box (Yep Roc Records). On their first album since 2000, Rick Miller & Co. sound prouder than ever to walk the line between surf rock and Southern sleaze. There's even an ode to rural trailer park living ("Doublewide").

4. Tift Merritt, Tambourine (Lost Highway Records). The erstwhile alt-country chanteuse cuts loose and suggests what Sheryl Crow might sound like with a little bit o' soul.

5. The Figgs, Palais (Sodapop Records). Ten years into their recording career, these purveyors of smart guitar pop produce their most ambitious album (a double CD) -- and also their best.

6. The Mendoza Line, Fortune (Bar/None Records). Three singer-songwriters plus all the right influences equals a burgeoning band that should no longer be such a well-kept secret.

7. Ambulance Ltd., LP (TVT Records). They employ contemplative lyrics and appear to own some Radiohead and Velvet Underground records, but unlike most of their peers, these New York twenty-somethings never sound pretentious or too derivative on their impressive debut album.

8. Marah, 20,000 Streets Under the Sky (Yep Roc Records). After a failed bid at world domination, the Philadelphia-bred Bielanko brothers turn inward on their fourth album to offer detailed sketches of gritty city life, and they even add traces of doo-wop to their musical palette.

9. Bill Janovitz and Crown Victoria, Fireworks on TV (Q Division Records). With Buffalo Tom still on hiatus, this disc finds that band's voice and songwriter in top form, while his new backing players lend a harder edge to all those hooks.

10. The Honeydogs, 10,000 Years (United Musicians). A concept album that serves as a dark, epic glimpse into a future filled with war, gas chambers and test-tube kids, but against such an adventurous soundtrack it sure doesn't feel like doomsday.

* Chris M. Junior's Top Single-Artist Compilations and Reissues:

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1. Slade, Get Yer Boots On: The Best of Slade (Shout! Factory). Contemporaries Sweet achieved bigger U.S. chart success, but this glam foursome was just as adept at cranking out a fist-pumping chorus. Don't hold their ugly (even by 1970s standards) fashion sense against them, and try to block out any recollection of Quiet Riot's more successful versions of "Cum on Feel the Noize" and "Mama Weer All Crazee Now."

2. The Smithereens, From Jersey It Came! The Smithereens Anthology (Capitol). "A Girl Like You" and "Too Much Passion" are the only songs on this double-disc set that hit the Billboard Top 40, but at least a half-dozen more should have reached pop's promised land, too. Kudos to Capitol for compiling the hits and shoulda-beens -- plus the bulk of the band's best album tracks from various labels, as well as a handful of rarities -- in chronological order.

3. The Allman Brothers Band, Stand Back: The Anthology (Hip-O). An excellent career-spanning two-disc set for those who crave more than just the radio staples. What's more, such latter-day songs as "Seven Turns," "End of the Line" and "No One to Run With" truly hold their own against the early stuff.

4. John Mellencamp, Words & Music: John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits (Island/UTV Records). Plenty of killer material (most notably the non-charting "Martha Say") and only some filler (the dreadful Top 15 hit "Pop Singer"). With this 35-track set, Mellencamp puts an exclamation point on his status as an American rocker a la Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and John Fogerty.

5. Buddy Holly & The Crickets, The "Chirping" Crickets (Geffen/Decca). Four bonus tracks, along with better liner notes and more photos, make this CD -- featuring the hits "That'll Be the Day," "Maybe Baby" and "Oh, Boy!" -- a must-have.

* Mike Madden's Top 10 Albums:

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1. Grant-Lee Phillips, Virginia Creeper (Rounder). This is the type of album that makes you root for a guy like Grant-Lee Phillips. From the brilliant vocals to the laid back arrangements to the charming words, this is the highlight of his already respected career.

2. Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Delivery Man (Lost Highway). An aging hipster's dream, this great Costello album proves his wit hasn't been eclipsed by his soft side, merely balanced with it. Not every song is a knockout, but the ones that are rival his best.

3. Bobby Bare Jr., From the End of Your Leash (Bloodshot Records). It's hard to say why this is such a good album. Maybe because Bobby Bare Jr. is so hard to fit into any one genre that listeners are forced to appreciate his range and listen again and again.

4. The Black Keys, Rubber Factory (Epitaph). Basic drums, inventive guitar and woozy vocals: Just the type of raw and stripped-down blues album that every classic rock band wishes it could make but are afraid to.

5. Ricky Fante, Rewind (Virgin Records). This is the way soul music is supposed to sound. The disc has a throwback feel that is both authentic and refreshing. Thankfully, there are no forced vocals or wannabe gangsta posing.

6. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (Interscope). Another example of how the old guard still makes the best country music. Lynn deserves as much credit for sticking to her songwriting roots as Jack White does for his solid production.

7. Drive By Truckers, The Dirty South (New West Records). These guys have set a new standard for retro. This disc, featuring long songs with common themes and brilliant storytelling, more than makes up for last year's disappointing Decoration Day.

8. Juliana Hatfield, In Exile Deo (Rounder). Her best album in a long time. Filled with catchy guitar pop and relatable, mature lyrics.

9. Ambulance Ltd., LP (TVT Records). A good example of how spacey, psychedelic guitars and moody lyrics had a pretty good year in music. This is a great debut album from a vastly underappreciated New York band that has all the makings of an alt-rock powerhouse.

10. Eagles of Death Metal, Peace Love Death Metal (AntAcidAudio). A side project for Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme that is one part chaotic punk, one part inside joke mixed with plenty of false song endings.

Posted by medleyville at December 1, 2004 08:24 PM
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