An albums of 2004 list

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It seems odd to want to measure your favourite music in 12 month segments, but I never can resist the end of year lists. I feel slightly premature in compiling this list, given that there are still a few albums that I haven't caught up with. Also, I have included a few releases that came out in 2003 in the USA but weren't released until 2004 in the UK. Here you go. Although Sun Kil Moon was one of my faves I have omitted it from the list as I had made it my No.1 album of last year on the strength of it's US release.

1. Fennesz Venice
A darker to follow-up to 'Endless Summer', the title may have originally come from a pun on Christian Fennesz's name, but this was a perfect evocation of backstreet Venice, quiet canals lapping against lonely footpaths. Then you get something like the guitar led blur of 'Circassian' dropped in the middle of it, recalling the white-out of MBV's 'Loveless'. David Sylvian's contribution on 'Transit' was both brilliant and surprising, and still makes me sit bolt upright every time I hear it.

2. Sufjan Stevens Greetings from Michigan The Great Lake State
Released in the US a year earlier, this was the album I listened to more than any other this year. Sufjan also released another fine album 'Seven Swans' in 2004, but this one still continuted to outshine it. A lengthy, often melancholic song cycle based in his home state of Michigan, he promised this was the first in series of FIFTY albums, one for each state. If any of the others are even close to this in terms of great songwriting, we can consider ourselves very lucky to have him around.

3. Piano Magic The Troubled Sleep of...
Released at the very end of 2003, therefore missing every end of year chart last time, and technically ineligible this year, this was still one of my real highlights. They sound like more of a band on this one, rather than a collection of pieces, and for the moment at least that is a good thing. Still overly melancholic in tone, 'The End of a Dark Tired Year' summed up 2003 perfectly for me. Some beautiful moments too, like 'Saint Marie' or 'Comets', and the familiar glimpse into the lives of everyday people like 'The Tollbooth Martyrs'. The cover illustration of a skeleton imposed over a map of France is also really striking.

4. American Music Club Love Songs for Patriots
A reunion album, or a comeback album, whatever way you want to describe it, this is the strongest work Mark Eitzel has been involved with for a few years. 'Myopic Books' made me smile and 'Patriot's Heart' was a brilliantly sleazy backdrop for the US elections. It remains to be seen what they'll do next, but parts of this record are up there with their very best work.

5. Brian Wilson presents 'Smile'
Part of me thinks that this should either be number one outright, another part thinks that it shouldn't be in the best of 2004 at all, as these songs, these arrangements, were supposed to come out in 1967. This new recording could have become an elaborate cover version of Brian's earlier shelved album - no other Beach Boys sing on it, and Brian's vocals are a pale shadow of what they were in the mid-60s. Despite this Brian and the Wondermints do a great job, 'Smile' holds up and some of it is quite breathtaking. Some people still have reservations but it was a absolute joy to see this music coming to life in 2004.

6. Devendra Banhart Rejoicing in the Hands
Sure, he's a bit hippyish, a bit affected, but somehow I've fallen for his songs and his invigorating take on the world of folk music. As strong as anything released by his musical ancestors (T Rex, Incredible String Band etc) and enough good songs to release a sister album ('Nino Rojo') from the same sessions with no discernible loss in quality. 'Rejoicing' is higher in my list because I've listened to it more, and I love the songs.

7. Coco Rosie La Maison de mon Reve
Some days I think this was the best album released in 2004, some days I cannot stand it. This was recorded on a shoestring budget by overlaying their songs on old jazz records and crackly 78s. It is the most beautiful album of the year, just listen to 'Good Friday' to see what I mean.

8. Air Talkie Walkie
The first impressive album to be released in 2004, and one that stayed with me all through the year. This had some of their best songs since 'Moon Safari' and the same sense of melancholy as their Virgin Suicides soundtrack. 'Cherry Blossom Girl' was the soundtrack to our Spanish adventure in the summer.

9. Wilco A Ghost Is Born
A bit of a revelation as Wilco's country rock was twisted and transformed into something stranger by producer Jim O'Rourke and improv drummer Glenn Kotche. This album may well have been higher in my list if I had heard it earlier in the year. Some great straightforward songs ("Handshake Drugs', 'Hummingbird'), great guitars ('At Least That's What You Said') and an exciting flirtation with krautrock on the epic 'Spiders'. Lovely 'warm' production from O'Rourke too.

10. PJ Harvey Uh-Huh-Her
I was one of the few who actually LIKED the title of this album, it made me laugh. A bit of a swerve away from the mainstream of 'Stories..', this had some great, under-rated songs on it. 'Pocket Knife' was one of my favourite thinigs all year.

11. Sonic Youth Sonic Nurse
Jim O'Rourke was also collaborating with Sonic Youth who were following on in the musical vein of their preceding album 'Murray Street'. They are now very much the elders of the indie-rock world but this album shows that they can still be inventive, and interestingly their melodic side seems to be developing with every fresh album. I love the cover art too.

12 Fiery Furnaces Blueberry Boat
The first time I heard this I thought it was balls, completely overblown rubbish not worthy to follow up the excellent 'Gallowbird's Bark', although recently it has become such a regular fixture in my CD player that I almost had it in my top 5. It is a hugely ambitious flight of fancy, an odyssey through everyday life way more satisfying than that of the Streets, for example. Shades of prog rock, music hall and the Who collide, and 'Straight Street' never ceases to impress me. First impressions haven't lasted!

13. DJ Danger Mouse The Grey Album
The mp3/ CD-r sensation of the year, I first heard of this when someone produced some CD-rs from a bag in a London pub back in February. The Beatles tried to prevent this audacious attempt to marry Jay-z's Black Album with their own White Album from ever seeing the light of day, but due to file-sharing getting hold of one was a piece of piss. Some truly inspired moments and well worth tracking down, I thought of this as a hip-hop companion to the Coco Rosie album. It has the same kind of concept behind it at least.

14. Elliot Smith From a Basement on the Hill
Again I suspect this would have been higher if I had listened to it more. Elliot's death was a particularly sad time for me, and the only consolation was that this fine album was nearly complete when he passed away. this is up there with his best work but it still feels to sad to listen to sometimes.

15. Tracer AMC Flux and Form
Another early 2004 release which stayed the pace and I'm still returning to it nearly 12 months later. The best 'local' record since the Desert Hearts debut a couple of years ago, and the only instrumental guitar-based album to feature in my end of year list.

16. Kings of Convenience Riot on an Empty Street
Sure, it's quiet like their first record, it stills hints a lot at Simon and Garfunkel and little towards Erlend Oye's dance adventures, but sometimes you just need bands like this around.

17. Delays Faded Seaside Glamour
The best 'guitar-pop' album of the year, packed full of catchy tunes but with an odd hint towards the shoegazing set and in particular the Cocteau Twins. That guy's voice is stunning.

18. Morrissey You Are the Quarry
Loved this when it came out, his best album in years, etc etc, but I haven't listened to the damn thing since he cancelled his festival appearance in Spain at the very last minute. Fickle? Me? You bet.

and those I may well grow to love but haven't fully listened to this year... Mountain Goats, Animal Collective, Bjork, Annie (from Norway), the Delgados, Bark Psychosis, Micah P Hinson, Magnetic Fields, etc

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