My ten favorite albums this year. (Please note that I'm not counting Brian Wilson's Smile, because it was essentially a 1967 album reconfigured and completed in 2004. But slot it in at #3 if this explanation isn't satisfactory.)
10. RJD2, Since We Last Spoke
In which an entire cutout bin's worth of decades-old musical effluvia is reconfigured into some wonderful musical utopia where stadium rawk, new wave pop, cop show theme music and hip-hop backbeats all coexist in perfect harmony.
9. Comets on Fire, Blue Cathedral
Comets on Fire distill the heavier-than-heavy riffage of early Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer, the free jazz stabs of the Stooges' Fun House and the screaming of early grunge pioneers like Mudhoney's Mark Arm into stoner rock par excellence. Ridiculously loud, overwrought, heavy and ass-kickin'.
8. American Music Club, Love Songs for Patriots
Mark Eitzel's best set of songs in eleven years was an unfortunately appropriate soundtrack to America's continued descent into theocratic fundamentalism.
One of the best of this year's wave of psychedelic folk albums, full of gorgeously entrancing harmonies and instrumentation and a hauntingly dark and lonesome edge.
6. Ghostface, The Pretty Toney Album
The officially released version was good enough, but program out the skits and plug in some of best of Ghostface's unclearable mixtape songs and you have one nonstop barrage of classic soul samples and Ghostface's inimitable, shove-six-minutes-of-rhymes-into-three cadence.
5. Oneida, Secret Wars
Oneida draws from the psychkrautgarage well without sounding chained to their influences, investing repetitive drones like "Caesar's Column" and the one-chord bashfest "The Winter Shaker" with hypnotic power. And the epic "Changes in the City" works over one riff to dizzying effect, subtly reshifting a simple theme for over 14 minutes.
4. Destroyer, Your Blues
This, on paper, should not work - a set of songs that sound like the score of a regional theatre musical, built sonically around the fakest synthesized orchestra imaginable and Dan Bejar's quavery nasal voice. But it's a sweepingly grand (and grandiose) work filled with insistently memorable songs and oddly moving performances.
3. Madvillain, Madvillainy
My favorite of the ultraprolific MF Doom's three releases in 2004 - Doom's offhanded brilliance combined with Madlib's endlessly flowing soul/jazz beats and the overall late night/low budget feel made for an endlessly addictive listen.
2. Animal Collective, Sung Tongs
At first, this sounds like a field recording of some back-to-nature hippie cult sect's tribal rituals. It takes a few listens before you realize how ingeniously the songs here are constructed and how insidiously catchy these songs are at their core. A perfect balance of insane inspiration and compositional strength.
1. Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat
I have annoyed everyone I know this year with my unconditional love of this album, so here's one more rave before I let it go already. The mini-epics contained here throw out a dizzying array of melodic ideas spiraling on top of each other and delivered with the enthusiasm and lack of patience of a bunch of ADD-addled kids. There are more brilliant hooks, choruses and throwaway lines here than most bands or performers manage in their entire careers. And despite the rambling nature of these songs, they're brilliantly constructed with hardly a wasted minute or gesture in the entire set. Rock music is too full of bands with modest aspirations that actively eschew pretensions; the fact that the Fiery Furnaces set out to create a big classic album and actually succeeded is worthy of all the applause that a humble, little-read weblog can create.
Other albums I liked almost as much: Dizzee Rascal - Showtime, Mission of Burma - ONoffON, Panda Bear - Young Prayer, TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, controller.controller - History EP.