Top 10 Albums of 2004

Number 10.  –  The Other Side – Godsmack

On March 16, 2004 The Other Side, an acoustic EP was released from Godsmack. The album debuted at number five on the U.S. Billboard 200; this is a relatively high position for an acoustic EP. So why is that? Because we really miss this acoustic style, grunge music that other bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains done on MTV Unplugged Live. This coming from a guy who never was a fan of Godsmack’s material, but this is a huge exception to that rule. This is the only album that had soul and good rhythm that I find lacking on the grunge-immitation direction that they’re infamous for. A simple album filled with simple songs but i’m fully convinced that Godsmack’s in the wrong genre.  They should be doing this all the time, and I’d consider them a much better band.  Still one of best albums of 2004. While playing the guitar you will quickly notice that what works on the electric with distortion or none doesn’t work on the acoustic and vice versa. So the four songs Godsmack redid in acoustic they actually had to rewrite the music, so as a musician I appreciate the effort. These songs really show off that Sully is a much better vocalist in his own right then trying to sound like anyone. Touche was a great blues type song with guest appearances from Dropbox. This has been a significant step forward in musicianship for Godsmack, and possibly the only one at that. This is really difficult not to like. Godsmack took a risk here straying from their nu-metal norm. The original songs are good, the acoustic versions are really interesting, though “Asleep” (which is an acoustic version of “Awake”) is not good. The tempo is brought WAY down, it sounds nothing like “Awake.” This album does also expose “Re-Align” and “Keep Away” to be the same song, but it’s just a really neat sound (the version of “Keep Away” on this album is really only half-acoustic).

Number 9.  –  Leviathan – Mastodon

Do you know this feeling when you listen to an album and think that it was exclusively made for you? That it’s just everything you want music to be? I have this feeling with Mastodon’s “Leviathan”. It’s complicated, technically precise, heavy as fuck and some songs almost make me scream and cry.  This album has been blowing me away every single time since my first listen. Pure guitar and drum power, massive vocals and an incredible, overwhelming atmosphere. You can almost visualize the giant white whale and its hunters on the stormy sea before your eyes. I’ve never heard anything like this album before. It’s just exactly how Progressive/Sludge Metal should be. It’s the pinnacle of the genre. The band is heading a major underground  eruption, maybe they are in the middle of it with their more recent albums. The riffing is impeccable (Blood and Thunder, Iron Tusk), there is some southern style slide guitar too (Megalodon), some well-developed melodies (Seabeast) and besides those, Brann Dailor’s drumming accents every composition. All the standouts are short hit-like songs, but all are quite complex. They close with two unusual ones, a 13 minute epic (Hearts Alive) and an acoustic number dedicated to the elephant man, Joseph Merrick. Otherwise all the lyrics are related to Ahab and the famous whale he’s trying to catch, Moby Dick. This is a highly original work, a future metal classic, a staple of the ’00s, but I think they are capable of even more.

Number 8.  –  To The 5 Boroughs –
The Beastie Boys

Though the Beastie Boys rocked throughout the 1980’s and the 1990s, this somehow ends up as their only true albums throughout the 2000’s. Six years after their last album, the Beastie Boys came back with in my opinion, the album of the year. To The 5 Boroughs goes back to the days of Licensed To Ill and Paul’s Boutique due to the use of their samples and the sound seems more stripped down then on the previous four albums. They also show true pride on where they come from, like on the song “An Open Letter to NYC” and bring back good old school vibes on “Triple Trouble”. Also through most of their songs, comes their usual political message, and whether you agree with it or not, it takes a toll on your thinking. But as I said before, this album has to be 2004’s album of the year and in my opinion, this is the Beasties’ best effort sinceLicensed To Ill. I’ve grown a great amount of respect for them now.

Number 7.  –  American Idiot – Green Day

Much has been said already about Green Day’s seventh album American Idiot.  The most common description of it is a “punk rock opera” but this far too overblown a term in my opinion.  It is a concept album about America under Bush, following the story of three characters, Jesus of Surburbia, St Jimmy and Whatsername and using this to comment on the state of their home country.  This ambitious concept is pulled off very successfully and has finally lead to Green Day being taken seriously by a public and press who had written them off as dumb punks with nothing to say. Sound-wise, American Idiot goes for a bigger stadium rock sound which compliments its weighty themes.  Rather than presenting the opinions of any of the story’s characters, this is Green Day’s own view of their home country, making it the perfect introduction.  Inevitably, with its Bush baiting lyrics and honest criticism of America, the song has put a lot of people’s backs up.  The blindly patriotic and more right wing listeners have written off the song’s lyrics as “immature” and “naïve”, while even some fans of the band have turned their back on it while they unerringly salute the flag that has come to stand for such amoral and bigoted values under the rule of George W.  Political matters aside, however, “American Idiot” is Green Day’s best single for ages.  From its verses in which every line is punctuated by a blazing riff, through its hummable chorus and the brilliantly muted final verse, “American Idiot” is classic Green Day.  Everybody do the propaganda!

Number 6.  –  Blast Tyrant – Clutch

When a band embarks on a shift towards a new musical direction, sometimes it takes them a while to make a successful transition. Maryland rock act Clutch know this all too well. Clutch’s fifth album is, in essence, a continuation of the path they started to stomp down with The Elephant Riders, but a continuation that saw the band learning from their mistakes. Littered with Sabbath-styled grooves and topped off with the band’s now trademark brand of hard-driving rock, this album is perhaps the group’s catchiest and most straight-forward to date. Clutch had begun to galvanize their strengths into one solid attack, and Blast Tyrant really saw their compacting pay off, as the songs are undeniably accessible while also sounding primarily simple on the surface. In terms of production, Blast Tyrant is perfect and the band have managed to capture the feel of the band’s live power, without sounding too lo-fi, while adding all the studio flourishes without ever sounding overproduced. Musically; Blast Tyrant is fairly centred on big rock songs especially in the beginning, however there is enough noodley jamming and occasional acoustic moments later on for variety resulting in an album which flows perfectly from beginning to end. Fans who only like the band’s earliest albums may take many listens to acclimatize to it; but for 99% of people Blast Tyrant is an instant classic, that you won’t be able to stop yourself from loving.

Number 5.  –  Madvillainy – Madvillain

I think what surprised me most about Madvillainy was just how experimental it was. It’s incredibly different, unique, unconventional and like nothing I’ve ever heard. It’s most definitely an example of post-modern hip-hop at its most crazy and unpredictable. It’s just so different, when you first listen to it, you may not take to it right away. I know I didn’t, it took time and repeated listens for me to see its genius but believe me, it’s there and there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s an album that’s so fragmented, but that’s my favourite thing about it. The songs are really short and when you first listen to them they might not stick right away, but they’re full of ideas and creativity and I love that it just gets to the point. A lot of hip-hop albums are quite indulgent and overstay their welcome, but this one is the perfect length. Madvillainy is perfectly produced, the beats are incredibly inventive, unpredictable and unique. They’re abstract and jazzy which are my favorite kind of beats. The rapping and flow is incredibly lazy and sloppy which I adore, the sampling is absolutely genius and the lyrics are amazing. It contains some of my favorite lyrics to be put on a hip-hop album. An absolutely fantastic album, that’s near perfect.

Number 4.  –  Good News for People who Love Bad News –
Modest Mouse

“Good News…” though, isn’t radically different from “The Moon And Antarctica” or “Lonesome Crowded West”. You still get the fractured, circularly rhythmic indie worksongs they’re known for and Brock is as literate and metaphorical as ever. It’s just that this time, things are a tad less frantic, a little more polished and the songs, both musically and lyrically, a bit more accessible. The guitars, instead of being jagged and jerky, are jangly and jaunty; the feeling less angst-ridden teen and more world-weary adult. Fans of their previous two albums might accuse them of making commercial compromises, but at least to these ears, this album just wears the coat of a band that has matured. Despite having some commercial success with “Good News…”, it would be a bit of a stretch to paste a label of “sell out” on it. The reality is that the band had just evolved and with it, the edginess associated with the band began to soften. Bands, as years go on, want their music to develop and to reach a larger audience. Why would Modest Mouse be any different? In some ways you can see this album as transitional; a band searching for a way to retain their essence while moving toward a more adult sound. As expected, there are times when they are more successful than others. Such is the case with progress. Nevertheless, even with these flaws and the inevitable comparisons to the two albums that preceded it, the album is still well worth listening to. Recommended.

Number 3.  –  Seven Swans – Sufjan Stevens

Seven Swans is Sufjan Stevens’ simplest, most personal album. Rarely straying from a basic acoustic sound based around banjo or guitar (with some gorgeous organ in the second half), the songs are based on personal episodes and Biblical scripture and stand as a bare, open expression of faith. Sufjan has since said that the positive popular response to the album was somewhat frightening to him, in the amount of his personal thoughts he exposed to the world, particularly given that his usual tendency is to deal in fiction, crafting his songs as short stories or imagined encounters with historical figures. The extent to which he bared his soul on Seven Swans startled him into returning full afield to the supposed ’50 States Project’.  Stevens has proven himself to be a talented singer and songwriter who does not conform to today’s folk rock music scene. This is an album of sparse guitars, banjos, stripped down drums, sprinkles of keys along with religious lyrics in great sense of magnificence. Stevens is able to do what few artists have done in the past. He is able to express his religious ideals without making his music cliché, but instead honest and poignant. He blends his own sounds, but with a more personal approach than ever before softly and poetically.  Stevens created something different than other Christian albums, in that he has not overtly advertised his Christianity in his music. The most intense song, Seven Swans, uses imagery from the book of the Revelation to explain how Christianity is not fluffy with blue skies; why wouldn’t an all-mighty God be frightening sometimes. Seven Swans tells a captivating story about an individual man and his own personal beliefs of growing up and living religiously. By taking references from the Texts, Stevens is able to cohesively combine his truth of Christianity with his angelic banjos and warm vocals to create and handle such dangerously effusive material. This is by far the most daring and powerful religious albums of my time.

1-1Number 2.  –  Funeral – Arcade Fire

Over the years, Rock music has been in the heavier & more aggressive side of music making many listeners feel very excited to experience such a thing and having the gentle-listening audience to find it unappealing, rambunctious, and unsuitable to consider Rock at all music at times. It’s not hard to find such music to be in a nice balance of both, but it’s quite rare to see anything good in that balance of both (well, to me it is) until in 2004 a Canadian band called Arcade Fire released their first LP called Funeral and this was one album to remember. Unless if you haven’t been reading any modern album reviews, you should already know who’s this band because music journalism praised this album like the Holy Grail is finally discovered. What Funeral accomplished was a musical phenomenon that set the standards of how magical rock music can possibly be like. Arcade Fire basically took classic rock and gave it an epic feel from beginning to end. It likes to make music about people living in a suburban life and show the beauty side of topics of family, friendship, love, childhood, home, life, religion and everything else that many of us can relate to as a person. Most importantly about Arcade Fire, as a band, they gave you a nice variety of instruments being played in each and everyone of their tracks in all of their albums such as violins, accordions, piano, and more that you don’t often get in ordinary rock music other than guitars, bass, and drums. Win Butler’s vocals is emotionally powerful where it all the songs that he sings always pull you in at times in Funeral he sounds like he’s yards away from you which almost sound like a ghost at times, but yet it shows the spiritual side of Funeral. To me, every single sound, lyrics, and notes was well detailed and planned for a straight through listen which makes listening to this album while driving through a beautiful location feel like a great opportunity of the perfect moment. I always feel this sense of joy just listening to Funeral. In any case, this piece of music has my full respect.

Number 1.  –  The College Dropout – Kanye West

This is definitively a difficult one. On one hand, it’s well known (if not sadly very true) that Kanye West isn’t the greatest rapper alive. Hell he’s not even close. On the other hand, we have to admit for a first outing, Kanye is one hell of a producer and one hell of a musician. Yes I know that the majority of his rhyme’s aren’t too complex but there really is something captivating about his music. Well you’d be batshit-retarded to think that Kanye West was going to put out poor beats and raps on his debut effort (where everyone would be making judgments on whether or not to take him seriously as a rapper). No, there are hilarious skits, catchy instrumentals, A-list-rapper guests and his Midwest rapping style (which the mainstream public isn’t too familiar with if you look at the rap charts before Kanye showed up) that deals with subject matters of sexuality, conflicts, and spirituality. It’s definitely all very listenable and at times very good even great. There may have been one or two tracks which were not exactly spectacular (“Never Let Me Down” in my opinion) but even those might be looked at as great by other fans of Hip Hop music. Another plus to this is that Kanye sounds very real with you the entire time, as most debut albums do. Kanye’s first album expressed his deep views on race, politics, family and religion. Sure, he had a little fun too, but there was once a revolutionary brewing inside of Kanye that soon got lost in all the lights. Still, the College Dropout is one of the best albums ever — you can debate whether or not this is Kanye’s best album, but you cannot doubt that he wanted to be the musical genius he claims to be today. While it may not seem like it, he’s putting his soul on the line here and at the same time sounding relaxed as all hell. Before what would result in intense ego that even would break from the public news reports into his future albums, you had a young, talented producer who wanted nothing more than to be taken seriously as a rapper, and because of that motivation and the overall “new” feel of the album The College Dropout is anything but a flop. If anything, it’s the best hip hop albums of the entire 2000s! It never gets boring or dull. The music is dynamic, the story is engaging, and Kanye sounds excited just to be living his dream. We were excited just to be living it along with him, on record.

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