Top 50 Albums of 2004
Another blast from the past: No Ripcord's top 50 albums of 2004.
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50. Comets on Fire
"Although their last album, Field Recordings From the Sun, was a truly ferocious guitar assault, with the newly full-time addition of Six Organs of Admittance's Ben Chasney, Comets On Fire have expanded their sonic palette. Sure, the expected psych-freakouts are present, along with Miller's always screamed and incoherent vocals, but this time the band brought an organ. It's these more atmospheric tracks, where arpeggios float over spaced-out organ or piano, that reveal the band's newer approach as that much more expansive, freeing the listeners of time and place, without losing its distinctive sound or intensity. " - David Ferris
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49. Scissor Sisters
"When you first heard that the Next Big Thing was going to be a Bee-Gees-esque cover of a Pink Floyd track, admit it, your eyes rolled a little. In truth though, Comfortably Numb is the weakest single to be released from the Sisters’ eponymous debut, whereas Laura and Take Your Mama Out are insanely infectious, hook-laden pop purity, wrapped up in a big, gaudy ribbon of kitsch disco and flawless falsetto. It would’ve been easy to look down one’s nose and sneer at this performance art, if it wasn’t so much fun." - Simon Briercliffe
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48. The Earlies
"These Were the Earlies"
"Folks love Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, but I’m starting to think that the Beatles album with the most lasting influence might just be Magical Mystery Tour. So much of the Lips/Rev and now Earlies neo-psychedelia, with its manipulation of sound for its own sake, sprang from that strange looking LP with the full colour booklet. It’s indulgent, but let’s face it, we don’t have anything better to do. And if the Earlies are going to stand there and hypnotize me with beautiful melodies, delicate harmonies, pastoral woodwinds and only two chords (!), by gum, I’m gonna listen." - Alan Shulman
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47. The Beta Band
"Heroes To Zeroes"
"How could you possibly have a list of the best albums of 2004 and NOT include The Beta Band? They may not have managed in their 7 years of sonic adventures to shake off the tag of being a ‘Band's Band’ (basically a nicer way of saying they got ripped off by a lot of bands a lot of the time), but if you are capable of producing an album as great as Heroes To Zeroes and having it completely ignored by the record-buying public, it must start to gall you after a while. A heady brew of Space Rock (Assessment), dark Electro-Folk (Simple) and pure sonic lunacy (Out-Side), the album is a fitting epitaph to a band who rebelled against careerism in music and ultimately paid the price. They will be missed." - Ben Stroud
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46. Lali Puna
"Faking the Books"
"Faking the Books, however, is to Tridecoder and Scary World Theory as OK Computer was to The Bends – a quantum evolutionary leap that, taken consecutively, quite takes your breath away. Where did that come from? Well – maybe not OK Computer – but way, way beyond the standard electro-pop, that very enjoyable but ultimately vacuous Lowfish-remixes-Solvent kind of thing. This owes a great deal to Markus Acher’s luminous, ever-questing guitar, but, first and foremost, it places Valerie Trebeljahr right where she belongs – front and centre." - Paul Roylance
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"Summer Make Good"
"This is not for all tastes. Slow, broody, experimental. Wilfully fragile, at times, like a perfect glass-drop hurled into the sea. Múm take us to places on the geographical and emotional limits of civilisation, allow us to stare at the earth that often ignores us. On a dark night, they lead us by the hand to examine to chill of the stars, then, briefly, embraces us against the wind. One wonders what they do when summer does come." - Ben Bollig
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44. MF DOOM
"The saga continues as legendary ol' skool/indie icon Metal Face DOOM bookends the year with his illest release yet." - Chris Conti
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43. Of Montreal
"Satanic Panic in the Attic"
"In the past Barnes has limited his experimentation to concepts and lyrics, rarely straying musically from the realms of bittersweet psychedelic pop. This time round, however, he’s sidestepped the idea of concepts altogether, focussing instead on diversifying Of Montreal’s music palette. Along with the traditional psychedelia, power-pop and acoustic balladry, Satanic Panic can boast flashes of disco, funk, and even electro, all without ever sounding forced." - David Coleman
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42. The Killers
2008 note: Not one of our prouder moments. I (still) can't stand this band and the suggestion that this is a finer record than, say, Comets On Fire's Blue Cathedral or MF DOOM's MM Food is excruciatingly ridiculous.
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41. Loretta Lynn
"Van Lear Rose"
2008 note: This was right up there on most end of year lists in 2004 and rightly so. A great return to form.
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40. Max Richter
"The Blue Notebooks"
"If ever we New Europeans needed a little help in redefining ourselves, now's the time. The Blue Notebooks provides it with a sort of merciless sublimity, and, thanks to those fiercely independent genius-hunters at Fat Cat, those of us who grew up thinking Weltschmerz was just a Yiddish delicacy now, at least, know better." - Paul Roylance
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39. The Liars
"They Were Wrong So We Drowned"
"There must be something wrong with me. Why do I love this infernal, pagan noise? But then again, why did the Liars make They Were Wrong, So We Drowned? What the hell is their problem? Because make no mistake, normal people can’t stand this kind of thing, with its tribal beats and its ‘round-the-bonfire chanting. But if you’re on this website you’re probably not one of those and so you should already own or you should run out and buy/pilfer/download a copy of this evil masterpiece. You can call the local exorcist next week. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to watching The Wicker Man." - Alan Shulman
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2008 note: Ah, good old reliable Clinic. A respectable placing for one of Britain's most consistent and, I think, under-appreciated bands.
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37. Hope of the States
"The Lost Riots"
"It has been a fraught 2004 for Hope Of The States. The tragic loss of a founder member and immense pressure to live up to the million-pound bidding war that surrounded them in 2003 could have broken a lesser band. But then you listen to the album and any remaining doubts just melt away. From the Godspeed! caught in a Russian winterisms of opening track The Black Amnesias to the Bush-baiting The Red The White The Black The Blue, Hope Of the States have crafted an album that meets the the widescreen expectations of both themselves and their fanbase. A gem." - Ben Stroud
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36. Dizzee Rascal
"After reinventing hip-hip last year with his debut, Boy in Da Corner, Dizzee Rascal returned with Showtime, altogether more confident and ready to tackle the concerns of his rapid rise to fame. He balanced his fears and convictions in celebrity in an album that while perhaps less surprising than its innovative predecessor, feels more accomplished and assured. Dizzee effortlessly combined different genres in a tightly-packed foray into the depths of his personality, though this time his vocal delivery seemed steeped in malice, as he spat out his words right back at his detractors. However, rather than patronising those who doubted his talents and glamorising the celebrity lifestyle, there was an understanding of the trials and tribulations of modern living." - Neil Insh
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"Tom Jenkinson followed 2002’s Live/EP combo Do You Know Squarepusher? with a record as eclectic as anything he’s previously released. Recorded in a variety of live and studio settings, Ultravisitor took the jazz influence evident in early offerings like Feed Me Weird Things and a touch of the grievous beats of Go Plastic and hurled them in at the deep end with a load of other stuff in an intriguing context. The result was a risky album which succeeds sufficiently to explain the genius tag widely bestowed on Jenkinson, spawning one of the most beautiful pieces of music this writer has heard in Iambic 9 Poetry to boot." - Tom Lee
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34. Mark Lanegan Band
"With a voice every bit as ragged and gravelly as Tom Waits or Johnny Cash, Lanegan’s vocals form the centrepiece of this dark and beautiful album, a subtle mix of post-grunge rock ‘n’ roll and Delta blues sung over a glass of whiskey in a cheap motel room. Despite numerous guest spots (PJ Harvey and Velvet Revolver to name but two), it’s Lanegan’s charisma and elegant nonchalance that adds a character and identity to an album that matches the excellent songwriting." - Simon Briercliffe
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33. The Secret Machines
"Now Here Is Nowhere"
"After a couple of months lauding hyper clever piano works and obscure acoustic albums, Secret Machines gave me a welcome return to the kind of places I loved when I was a teenager. I’m glad there are bands that can still do this. Another man who knew the blind power of the hurricane, Iggy Pop, once said, “Music is so powerful that it’s quite beyond my control, and when I’m in the grips of it, I don’t feel pleasure and I don’t feel pain. Have you ever felt like that?” Yes. And it’s fantastic." - Ben Bollig
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(One Little Indian)
"I have to admit that I like pretty much every solo album Bjork has recorded, so I'm unable to say whether Medulla is an album that can change opinions. But from where I sit (sweating in the Californian heat as the fan in my room does its best John Kerry imitation - wooden but still preferable to the alternative) some things don't change. I still can't express myself clearly when I get quite excited about something, and the latest Bjork album sounds fairly brilliant. Not so much to complain about." - Tom Lee
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31. Tom Waits
"Another year and another new Tom Waits album. Eschewing the piano for a raw, lo-fi aesthetic, Real Gone blended the envelope in the manner of prior works like The Black Rider. Turntables whirl under spit in a percussive background context while sinister lounging guitars flutter. Waits plays with neo-hip-hop, noir and surrealist aesthetics in a manner echoing the efforts of Fog’s Andrew Brodie. There’s also one of the man's best emotive songs in The Day After Tomorrow. While it’s probably not the easiest introduction to his work, (Closing Time and The Heart of Saturday Night are fairly good bets), it does show an artist who’s still making music as interesting as anything else out there at fifty five years old." - Simon Briercliffe
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30. Blood Brothers
2008 note: The fourth and arguably best album by this Seattle based band. We didn't get round to reviewing it, unfortunately.
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"You Are The Quarry"
"Time has been kind in many ways: For one the voice is stronger than it's ever been and, if nothing else, You Are The Quarry is definitely the album on which Morrissey sounds his very best." - Peter Mattinson
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28. Xiu Xiu
"With Fabulous Muscles, Jamie Stewart has created his most accessible album to date, and perhaps some of the most pop-accessible pop-deconstruction of this year. Don't let yourself be fooled, while Stewart has a more straightforward platform this time, the abrasive backdrop of Support Our Troops (Black Angels OH!) or the swelling synth-strings of Clowne Towne, just show that he is becoming more adept at creating fitting musical backgrounds for the personal nightmares he expresses. Although some may accuse this, or any other Xiu Xiu album, of being over-the-top, which may or may-not be true, this is the true sound of emotional devastation channelled through forward-thinking, innovation and the subversion of "safe" pop itself." - David Ferris
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2008 note: If Deerhoof releases a record, it's pretty much guaranteed to feature on our end of year list. Unless it's rubbish. But in that case, it probably wouldn't be a Deerhoof record. Milk Man was the band's attempt at more traditional pop/rock sound and, like every subsequent Deerhoof album, it was pretty damn good.
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26. The Go! Team
"Thunder Lightening Strike"
2008 note: A sample-heavy, crossover classic.
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"Ta Det Lungt"
2008 note: I didn't get into this proggy Swedish psych-rock album until 2005, otherwise it would have featured a wee bit higher. It still sounds fresh and distinctive today.
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2008 note: With this stunning album of contemplative folk, Adem Ilhan proved that Kieran Hebden isn't the only talented guy in Fridge.
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23. Death From Above 1979
"You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine"
2008 note: I never really got into this Toronto-based dance-punk outfit, but You're a Woman, I'm a Machine made a big impression with a few of our other writers in 2004. Wasn't dance-punk more of a 2003 thing, though?
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22. The Streets
"A Grand Don't Come For Free"
"Mike Skinner was possibly 2004’s biggest success pop-wise of the acts to emerge during that 2001-2 period when the NME stopped being weedy and slightly interesting and got obnoxious and vaguely interesting. He successfully followed Original Pirate Material with an album that, “garage-opera” or not, placed him at the forefront of catch-all commercial British music. Dry Your Eyes and Fit but You Know It perhaps give him a stronger case than most as a successor to the likes of Oasis circa 1995, while Empty Cans proved that he’s a bit too clever for that comparison. Classic and best seller" - Unknown contributor
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21. Joanna Newsom
"The Milk-Eyed Mender"
"2004 has definitely seen a sort of neo-folk surge, what with the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Devendra Banhart. But Joanna Newsom, the freaky-deaky 23-year-old harp-playing folk extraordinaire from California, is just something else entirely. Her style is inimitable: a slightly serrated, childlike warble, an artfully strummed Celtic harp and a repertoire of wonderfully literary folk tales. The Milk-Eyed Mender is a tender medley of fragile fairytales and rollicking stories, all stemming from Newsom’s eccentric love of poetry and old bluesy folk. Thumbs up for this oddball release of the year." - Sally Pryor
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20. The Fiery Furnaces
"So someone finally decided to make a soundtrack for James Joyce’s Ulysses. Moe the bartender might even call it PoMo. Or maybe its just music for the ADHD generation, now outgrowing Rytalin. Well, my attention span is sturdy enough for the odd Tarkovsky film or Mahler symphony, and I can’t get enough of the restless creativity the Fiery Furnaces display on this brilliant meta-record. It’s one thing to regurgitate a million ideas onto tape, but when every twist and turn charms and surprises the way Chris Michaels or Spaniolated does, then you have to give these quirky siblings a gold star and send them to the front of the class." - Alan Shulman
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19. Elliott Smith
"From a Basement on The Hill"
"Unfinished final album? Smith’s family and friends were having none of it, and produced and finished off this beautiful swansong. While the trademark melodic acoustic treatment is in place, in some places this is as in-your-face as Elliott Smith ever got – fortunately, a sympathetic mix allows Smith’s heart-wrenching vocals and bittersweet lyrics to come to the fore. King’s Crossing, Coast To Coast and A Fond Farewell stand out, but this is a fully-realised work, and a fitting memorial to a tremendous talent." - Simon Briercliffe
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18. Mission of Burma
"If ever a band was ahead of its time, Mission of Burma was. Listen to Vs. today; it’s still remarkably fresh. If a band had released it in 2004, I’d have doubtlessly proclaimed it my rock album of the year. Instead, that honour went to its long overdue successor, ONoffON. After 22 years you’d have thought Clint Conley, Roger Miller and Peter Prescott would have mellowed out a bit, but that is not the case. For every (admittedly fantastic) ballad like Prepared, this album has two encouragingly loud, feedback-drenched anthems (The Setup, Playland). What price a third instalment?" - David Coleman
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17. Sufjan Stevens
"Coming off quite different from 2003's excellent Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State, on Seven Swans, Stevens has abandoned the jazzy post-rock compositions that once sprawled through his melancholy, allowing his quieter moments to dominate. In Seven Swans, Stevens reveals his most intimate sounding album, with hushed lyrics of faith and searching, quietly plucked guitars and banjos, and beautiful back-up vocals. This is the sound of a great songwriter stripped down both sonically and spiritually." - David Ferris
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"The process might be uneven – Fennesz is, after all, engaged in an experimental process, and, if only in the sense that he is trying to draw meaning out of this ongoing process, he is writing code – but the result, when it flows, is music that verges on the transcendent." - Paul Roylance
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15. Iron & Wine
"Our Endless Numbered Days"
2008 note: As I recall, it was either #1 or #2 on my personal list in 2004, and with good reason. This remains my absolute favourite Iron & Wine record.
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14. Brian Wilson
2008 note: A good ten times better than anyone could have possibly imagined, 2004's release of Smile revitalised Brian Wilson and reminded a whole new generation that the Beach Boys didn't just write songs about girls and surfing. An unexpected classic.
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"A Ghost Is Born"
"In 2002, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot brought Wilco worldwide fame, fortune, girls, glory and glamour, vaulting them to their rightful place standing astride the pop landscape like a colossus. Ok, that never happened, but in a just universe it would have. In the indieworld we fringe-dwellers inhabit, it did. So in reaction Jeff Tweedy, never the most gregarious of pop stars, turned inward. A Ghost is Born is his White Album, his Tunnel of Love, his reaction to a little fame and a lot of significance. We find out that Jeff just wanted to jam in his basement with his pals and a scratchy copy of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. Nothing wrong with that, as long as Jeff lets us sit on the stairs like a little brother, soaking it all in." - Alan Shulman
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12. TV on the Radio
"Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes"
(Touch & Go)
"Hey - you don't win the Shortlist Award for nothing. Driven by the synergy produced by soulful vocals and musical arrangements that sound like a combination of grey sky and cracked concrete, Desperate Youth simultaneously draws you in while keeping you at arm's length. Falsetto harmonies soar over leaden guitars, opaque keyboards and sludgy backbeats, creating a disconcerting collage of sounds that almost defy rational description, proving that the band will not conform to any kind of archetypal notions of what indie rock should consist of." - Brian Graham
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11. Modest Mouse
"Good News For People Who Like Bad News"
"What, you’ve only just heard of Modest Mouse? And you think Good News... is a great album? Get with the program, buddy, the Mouse has been around forever. If you already knew this, you’d also know that Good News... is just perfectly on par with the previous, unique, unmistakable greatness of the Mouse. It’s the usual smorgasbord of frantic beats mixed with haphazard lyrics, and this sense of intense, in-you-face nihilism that you really have to almost subscribe to to get into the album. Once you do, it’s just so engaging, quirky and excellent, and so exciting every time they put out something new! Really one of the top records of 2004. Go the Mouse!" - Sally Pryor
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10. Junior Boys
"Lets get it out in the open: despite all sorts of Timbaland/Gary Numan/David Sylvain comparisons, listening to Last Exit is more like watching a Rick Astley music video than Indiedom wants to admit. Just as we wonder how that skinny red-head Astley could have belted out Never Gonna Give You Up with so much soul, it's the only surprise equitable to one of this years most sensual albums coming out of some white guy from Hamilton, Ontario. Romantic, in the truest sense, and forward-looking, singer and main songwriter, Jeremy Greenspan has managed to submerge some of this years most gorgeous melodies beneath his cold electro starts and stops. " - David Ferris
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"Madlib + DOOM = Madvillain, a bi-coastal connection that was labelled an instant classic. DOOM rips a series of sold-out club shows nationwide in support of the album. Rhinestone Cowboy may go down as one of the greatest rap songs of the 21st century- you read it here first." - Chris Conti
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(Source / Virgin)
"With the symphonic naivety of Surfin’ on a Rocket, the effortless seduction of Cherry Blossom Girl, the temple-massaging instrumentals Mike Mills and Alpha Beta Gaga, this is almost perfect Air. Sure, it’s as far from the zeitgeist as you can imagine, and like Moby, may end up on more adverts than Beckham. You can criticise Air for being fey, for being superficial, for barely even recognising an electric guitar. But that would be to ask them to be someone else. Talkie Walkie is an album that shows that what Air do best, what others can imitate but never equal, is simply be Air. Breathe in." - Ben Bollig
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7. Franz Ferdinand
"If you can distance yourself enough to judge Franz Ferdinand on its merits alone, it's an impressive yet inconsistent debut record from a promising young band." - David Coleman
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6. The Futureheads
"Aside from re-working The Streets, Sunderland four-piece The Futureheads delivered their first album two years after emerging with the 1-2-3-Nul! EP. Recorded with Gang of Four’s Andy Gill and Paul Epworth, it shone as one of (to my ears the) finest conventional rock albums of the year. Elements of compact, harmonized new wave, high octane garage rock, and an uncanny ability to pinpoint the foibles of British society combined to make The Futureheads a strong contender for debut album of the year. Great Kate Bush cover too." - Ben Stroud
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5. Animal Collective
"As 2003 will be remembered as "The Year Indie Kids Started to Dance Again," it doesn't take an expert to point out that 2004 will go down in the books as the year of Free-folk, Psych-folk, Freak-folk etc. Trends aside, who would have predicted that the same Animal Collective that was responsible for 2003's bizarre, Here Comes the Indian, would make a "pop" album. Animal Collective have succeeded where many others haven't, not only in making their most accessible album to date, but in making one that still remains foreign enough to avoid ending up on an "O.C. Mixtape." While the syrupy Tare/Bear vocal harmonies float, free of care, through open-ended soundscapes of beautiful strums, drawn-out structure, and warm ambience, it always remains strange enough to maintain an arms-length detachment from what we expect in pop. In a year where every "witty person" had to tell us how "strumming was the new dancing," this beautiful and alien album was one hell of a consolation prize. " - David Ferris
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4. Sonic Youth
"As an almost-unbreakable rule, by the time a rock band issues their nineteenth album, they are usually repeating and/or embarrassing themselves after exhausting their imaginations, overestimating their place in history without any perception of the futility of their dwindling efforts. Initially I feared for Sonic Youth; after several less-than-impressive releases, culminating in the unmentionable NYC Ghosts and Flowers, it seemed that they had lost the capability to reinvent themselves again, after the brilliance of so many earlier records. But on this year’s follow-up to the exceptional Murray Street, Sonic Youth combined abrasive harmonic hooks with interlocking counter-melodies and arpeggios, coupled with frenetic drum attacks, to create a record that is perhaps up with their best. The album seems to encompass all of the aspects that have defined the band since their inception in the early eighties as pioneers of guitar experimentation, with subtle referencing of their musical past, whilst remaining sanguine and thrusting towards a positive and exciting future." - Neil Insh
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"The past eighteen months has seen a slew of follow-up albums from the Indie-Rock class of 2001 fail to live up to the immense hype that surrounded their release. So why have Interpol succeeded where so many of their contemporaries have failed? Simple: they just wrote better songs this time around. Antics is the sound of a band that know what they are capable of, and are not afraid to show us. From Paul Banks surreal cut-and-paste lyrics on Slow Hands (“I submit my incentive is romance/I watch the pole dance of the stars”) to Carlos Dengler’s Nirvana-but-better opening bass line in Evil, Antics is a stunning piece of work, and one that has cemented Interpol’s reputation as the true pacesetters in the so-called ‘New Rock Revolution’. We can only hope that The Strokes are taking notes." - Ben Stroud
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2. The Walkmen
"Bows and Arrows"
"Riding on the strength of frontman Hamilton Leithauser's wrenching vocals, the Walkmen have created another album constructed around plaintive valentines that drift drunkenly between experimental rock and pop hooks with scatological abandon. Liberally employing searing guitars, subtle keyboards and athletic drumming, the Walkmen have easily overcome any notion of a sophomore jinx, a fact that becomes more and more apparent after each successive listen." - Brian Graham
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1. The Arcade Fire
"Topping the best album of the year list is always an accomplishment, but doing so without even releasing a note of music domestically is astonishing [the album was released in 2005 in the UK, where we're based - Editor]. Montreal’s Arcade Fire were the epitome of hype, a true buzz band that managed to draw UK attention without any help from the national press. Instead, word came from across the pond about the emotionally charged band who drew inspiration from deaths in the family to create not only the year’s best but one of the most powerful records in recent memory. Though the mood of the music flirts with mortality and melancholic stoicism, the overwhelming element is an uplifting, sensational ray of hope. Whether it’s the well-placed accordion, the call and response chants, the husband and wife vocalists or the skittish disco drumbeats that appear out of thin air, the Arcade Fire battled their emotions for our enjoyment and gave indie rock its exclamation point on another great year for the underground’s rise to the top." - Cam Lindsay21 December, 2004 - 00:00 — David Coleman