With 2004 at a close and everyone posing the question: what will be remembered from this year, it’s important to examine the music which surrounded our daily lives throughout the past year. 2004 seems to have been the year of so called indie rock, with bands such as Franz Ferdinand and Modest Mouse receiving great reviews and great sales with their albums while other bands such as The Strokes, The Hives or The (insert clever noun or verb here) continued to reap the rewards of the so called Garage Revival phase. But, while it seemed that Much Music thought everyone enjoys rocking out to Jet and Ashley Simpson I turned my ear in the other direction for 2004 and felt it important to compile a list of my 5 favorite albums of this year which you may or may not have heard of.
The album which made it into the fifth spot on my list is perhaps the most intriguing and enigmatic album of the year, Elliot Smith’s ‘from a basement on the hill
’. It’s difficult to listen to any posthumous recording as one searches for answers as to why Smith decided to end his life in such a dramatic way (almost a year before the album’s release Smith stabbed himself in the heart in Los Angeles). What makes FBH such a compelling listen is that there are some definite suicidal undertones in many of Smith’s lyrics. Songs such as ‘Lets Get Lost’ ‘Kings Crossing’ and especially ‘The Last Hour’ depict a songwriter in the midst of a deep depression, unable to come to terms with himself and obsessed with the concept of being inexistent. Aside from the albums posthumous context the album has a rustic live feel which adds to the atmosphere of envisioning Smith playing from some basement on a hill. Smith keeps to his singer songwriter roots but there is an ever present Beatles feel too many of his songs that make a possible dark depressing album have an uplifting feel in certain parts. It is a well formed album which has many highlights and few downfalls and despite the widely agreed upon fact that it more than likely is not what Smith would have envisioned it still is an Elliot Smith album. From a Basement on a Hill in my opinion is not his best work but it is still one of the best of 2004 and a very important album for any music fan.
Entering in at number four on my list is Feist’s debut album ‘Let It Die
’ which came into my hands late into 2004. Lead singer Leslie Feist has been in the shadows of the Canadian music scene since playing guitar for By Divine Right and even collaborating with the many members of Canadian indie rockers ‘Broken Social Scene’. On ‘Light It Die’ Leslie Feist doesn’t do anything as ambitious as BSS nor does the album present any songs about broken heartedness which hasn’t already been said. It is in her sincerity and atmospheric lyrics which create a wonderful and intriguing feeling to the album which keeps it fresh and interesting on repeated listens. Her voice is soft, sincere and honest which is probably what makes ‘Let It Die’ such a compelling listen. Even on her renditions of Ron Sexsmith’s ‘Secret Heart’ and the Bee Gee’s ‘Inside and Out’ Feist shines, breathing new life into these songs almost making them her own. Perhaps the strongest point on this album is Mushaboom which essentially solidified this album as an important album of 2004 for me as well as forced a smile on my face during those dreary days of November. ‘Let It Die’ shows great promise for future albums and Leslie Feist is a definite Canadian singer songwriter that should be looked out for.
Lining up right in front of Feist is fellow singer song writer and Toronto native Hayden who released his much anticipated follow up to his beautiful and brilliant album ‘Skyscraper National Park
’. ‘Elk-Lake Serenade
’ picks up relatively right were Hayden left us at the end of Skyscraper. Although in comparison, Elk Lake doesn’t say much of anything new it is still an excellent album on its own. Elk Lake is a warmer sounding and more uplifting album in comparison to all his previous works and any fan of Neil Young would very much appreciate this album. Hayden delves into similar issues of previous albums but with new found confidence and it is evident that he has found his own voice on this album. Perhaps the only downside is its overall feeling of disjointed continuity. When listened to from beginning to end the album brings listeners in some emotionally conflicting directions and it is difficult to peace together any sort of overall theme or feeling which one is left with when putting the album away. That being said, almost every song on the album is wonderfully written and is fully enjoyable to listen too. Highlights on this album are almost every song except ‘My Wife’ which to this day perplexes me as to why Hayden would produce a song such as this. ‘Elk Lake Serenade’ makes the number three spot on my list and is a great CD to listen during the summer months while at a cottage or camping.
The second spot on my list goes to another Canadian artist who created an album which has been in the works since early 2003 when he declared the end of the ‘jiggy era’ in hopes of restoring the definition of hip hop. This year he seems to follow the same themes which were present in his debut album ‘Exit
’ of rebelling against mainstream hip hop artists but having a good time doing it, hence filling the second spot on my list KOs’ ‘Joyful Rebellion
’. ‘Joyful Rebellion’ attempts to do more than the seemingly impossible, bridge the interminable gap between Rock and Rap and he does this effectively. In fact he bridges many gaps and ends up leaving us with an album which is practically impossible to put into any category. Some highlights on this album include the fun yet insightful ‘Man I Used to Be’ and ‘The Love Song’ but perhaps the strongest point and most surprising aspect of the album is the collaboration with Sam Roberts on ‘Dirty Water’. Joyful Rebellion rises up to the number 2 spot on my list for its refreshing sound, lighthearted criticisms of the current state of hip hop and its overall eclecticism.
And, the album which arose above all these previous great albums of 2004 is Wilco’s long awaited and much talked about ‘A Ghost Is Born
’. After Wilco’s great success with their previous album ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
’ and the great deal of drama which surrounded the album ‘A Ghost is Born’ has a lot of weight to bear on its shoulders. ‘A Ghost is Born’ requires the most patience in comparison to previous Wilco albums and even in comparison to all the albums on this list. Most songs are lyrically complicated and often songs tend do dissolve in some seemingly odd directions. At a first listen AGB could easily be discarded by those who don’t feel like meeting the album half way but if done so the songs on AGB can be the most rewarding. In comparison to other Wilco albums something seems to be missing in their latest attempt which is not necessarily a negative thing. In this indiscernible absence Wilco seems to have created something new and unique which one can’t quite put their finger on and in this sense the title of the album is very fitting, in its creation a ghost was born. Wilco takes the number one spot on my list because of its ability to be continually interesting and fresh with numerous repeated listens and although I wouldn’t recommend this album to one who wishes to enjoy something on a first couple of listens with a bit of patience this album can find a spot in anyone’s heart. Song highlights on this album include, “Hummingbird”, “At Least That’s What You Said”, “Company in My Back” and many more. ‘A Ghost is Born’ is provocative, pervasive and dangerously addicting which makes this album my number one album of 2004.
That sums it up for 2004 but that’s not saying that I have neglected all the left over albums of the year. Here is a list of albums that were great in their own right but didn’t quite make the cut, Iron and Wine: Our Endless Numbered Days
, Broken Social Scene: Bee Hives
, Kanye West’s: College Dropout
Matt Dotzenroth is a second year English Literature student at beautiful Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. This is his first contribution to The Rock and Roll Report.