2004 – When I look back on the last decade and check out which years placed the most numbers of times on my top 100 albums of the 00’s list, I find that 2004 placed by far the least amount of times. Though it is probably one of the weaker years of the decade it still remains pivotal. Two of the most important artists of the new millennium dropped their debut albums in ’04, Kanye West with “College Dropout” and Arcade Fire with “Funeral”. ’04 was also the year Facebook started and the Apple iTunes store really took off (at least in my house), where picking and choosing individual tracks rather than full albums became de rigueur again. There were both positive and negative impacts as a result. Music fans began to focus even more on immediate gratification. Albums and songs were no longer allowed as much time to become “growers”, therefore many great bands and albums went lost in the shuffle. However, because music became so easy to sample, more people heard music than ever before and stopped being confined so much to one or two genres. A person liking indie rock, metal, dance pop, folk music & punk became the norm and that is a great thing.
The early oughts fascination with garage-rock began to wane and “dancepunk” grew in its wake. Though not many of the best albums of ’04 would fall in this category, indie groups like Futureheads, Phoenix and especially Franz Ferdinand were playing a much more danceable variety of rock music. Franz’s self-titled debut was one of the year’s better albums and their signature song “Take Me Out” actually became a runaway hit, even crossing over to the pop charts. Even less likely, northwest group Modest Mouse scored a pop hit of their own with “Float On”. Their ’04 album “Good News For People Who Love Bad News” was by far their best selling album and one of their better ones as well. NYC hype band Interpol released their second album. Though very solid it didn’t quite reach the heights of their first and signaled that the group might be running out of gas a bit. Elsewhere in NYC, the Walkmen released “Bows + Arrows” featuring their signature song as well “The Rat”. TV On the Radio’s debut full length “Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes” came out to much critical love, kick-starting one of the best and most interesting careers going on in modern rock music. Underground Williamsburg band Les Savy Fav, who really pioneered dance punk in the late 90’s, released their compilation of 7 inch record called “Inches”. It featured 6 new songs from ’04 and is one of the best albums of the year. NYC’s hip LCD Soundsystem wouldn’t debut their first full album until the following year, but their single “Yeah!” was one of the defining singles of the dance underground and helped further bridge the gap between indi-rock/dance punk and club music.
The Norwegian artist Annie released her debut “Anniemal” and though it didn’t garner tons of sales, it became a huge favorite amongst indie fans and became a huge marker, as her music was pure Euro-pop, rather than the IDM or techno that had been championed by indie fans for some time. It had more in common with Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears or Rachel Stevens than Underworld, Aphex Twin and Autechre. Pop music had some additional crossovers in ’04 as well. Gwen Stefan’s debut solo album “Love Angel Music Baby” was a huge selling pop album with a number of radio hits- “Holla back Girl” & “What Are You Waiting For” were two of the best ones. In R&B new artist Ciara had a trip of great singles “Oh”, “Goodies”, & “1,2 Step”. Christina Milian’s “Dip It Love”, Nina Sky’s “Move Ya Body”, and Usher’s “Yeah!” were some other great R&C club smashes from ’04.
The year in rap, despite Kanye’s great aforementioned “College Dropout”, was mostly about great singles rather than great full lengths, though Ghostface Killah dropped the very decent “Pretty Toney Album” and Cam’ron’s “Purple Haze” was a cult smash and helped further Harlem’s Dipset crew phenomenon. Also Los Angeles rapper Madvillain released his greatest album “Madvillain”, one of the great hip hop albums of the decade and one of the toughest to classify. Great rap singles of ’04 include “Jadakiss “Why”, Juvenile “Slow Motion”, T.I.’s “Bring Em Out”, Cee-Lo “I’ll Be Around”, Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, Fabolous “Breathe”, Twista “Slow Jamz” & J-Kwon “Tipsy”. Nearly all of those tracks came off of comparably weak albums.
U.K. rap was becoming a bigger deal as well. White English rapper The Streets released the follow-up to his great debut “A Grand Don’t Come For Free”, which was a concept album built around his every day real life experiences and finding and losing both money, friends & a girl. Though the important U.K. grime compilation “Run the Road” wouldn’t drop until the winter of ’05 many of the best artists on it released great stuff in ’04 including grime’s biggest star Dizzee Rascal with his 2nd album “Showtime”, Kano’s debut “Home Sweet Home” & the teenage Lady Sovereign with her “Vertically Challenged EP”. Though not a U.K. rapper, ’04 also saw M.I.A. release her “Piracy Funds Terrorism” album with the DJ Diplo. It would create a huge underground buzz and set the tone for her commercial album debut in ’05.
Most of the biggest and best rock albums of ’04 were in the indie-rock vein but there were a few exceptions. Former pop punkers Green Day release their huge rock opera “American Idiot”, which captured the tone to the head up of the presidential ’04 election quite well. “Idiot” had quite a long shelf life and was one of the bigger mainstream rock records of the decade and three or four tracks still receive tons of airplay on rock radio. The biggest band in the world U2 released “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and while it wasn’t one of their better albums it was their last good one thus far and made a big splash among mainstream listeners as well. The third huge commercial rock record was “Hot Fuss” by the Killers, which has more than a handful of great radio jams. Back in ’04 they were marketed as a dance-punk group. Despite their excellent debut, the group became increasingly disappointing as the decade wore on and I still find “Hot Fuss” their only worthwhile release.
Some other worthwhile mentions are the Hold Steady’s debut “Almost Killed Me”, the Fiery Furnaces excellent indie-prog opus “Blueberry Boat”, the great metal group Mastodon’s “Leviathon”, which put them on the map outside the insular metal community, the Drive-By Truckers underrated “Dirty South” album and the surprisingly inspired collaboration between White Stripe Jack White and country legend Loretta Lynn “Van Lear Rose”. Also ’04 was the year that Brian Wilson finally released “Smile”- the most famous unreleased album of all-time. Sure it was a solo album with a different backing group than the Beach Boys, but it came out surprisingly great.
Another scene worthy of mention, which came to fruition in ’04 was the freak-folk movement, which became one of the more influential sub genres on the indie scene in the 00’s. It was a throwback to the quiet folk music of the mid-late 60’s mixed with that same era’s psychedelic-rock. It mirrored much of that sixties music in both tone and values. Some of the biggest artists of that genre released some great albums in ’04 including “Rejoicing In the Hands” by Devendra Banhart, “Milk-Eyed Mender” by Joanna Newsom, “Sung Tongs” by Animal Collective and “Our Endless Numbered Days” by Iron & Wine.
ARCADE FIRE- FUNERAL