The Best Music of 2004
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Some love them, others hate them, but at the end of the year I'm always compelled to make lists. Lists of good music and bad, disappointments and pleasant surprises. I realize I'm late to the party, and that this makes my lists even greater exercises in meaninglessness - but here I am all the same, because I'd regret it if I didn't record things for posterity.

Some heavy caveats: This list is being compiled in a tuscan village called Pari, atop a hill, and I'm many many miles from Canada. What is here, then, is pulled from memory and the little I can browse on my iPod.

Because I went a-travellin', I didn't hear most of the last quarter's releases - neither U2, REM, Annie, Ted Leo, the Bad Plus, Eminem, Stars, Okkervil River, Mase, Estelle or d12. And as I was stooping in Slovakia, hungerin' in Hungary, I didn't catch some of those innumerable things I might have discovered these months, were I at home. Instead, I found Hungarian folk-metal, Slovakian garage rock. Which I'm still sorting through.

All right - on with it.

The Best Albums of 2004

I've read several peoples' year-end lists, and I feel like I might be in the minority when I say that 2004 was a poor year for albums. Exceptional music was recorded and released this year, but I'm not sure it coalesced into too many exceptional full-lengths. On the Best Songs list, below, my cup runneth over; but when it comes to enumerating the year's best LPs, I had to stop at three.

But a few words on the honourable mentions; sparkling and listenable, - even moving, - yet ultimately flawed. Some were too long, others too plain, some too short on singles or just a little bit boring. And yet they're all fine things, worthy of purchase, just not the stuff of end-of-decade compilations, of halls of fame.

They are: The Frames - Burn the Maps, Julie Doiron - Goodnight Nobody, Jolie Holland - Escondida, Kanye West - College Drop-Out, The Killers - Hot Fuss, Wilco - A Ghost is Born, Devendra Banhart - Nino Rojo, The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free, the Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat.

And the best records of 2004, doubtless no surprises here, are -

03. The Go Team! - Thunder Lightning Strike

Thunder Lightning Strike kicked me open like a surprise party. No album this year was been so unexpectedly wonderful, so familiar and original at once. The Go Team are like those childhood daydreams, those fantasies of jetpacks and tree-houses. They're the gang I never had, the brood of hooligans that smiles and laughs, with finger-snaps and ball-games and little sleights of hand. It's unclassifiable and mile-a-minute, dance music and pop-music and indie rock and hip-hop. Chalk-lines on a playground, double-dutch rocket launch. [more thoughts]

02. Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender

When I die, if a song is to be sung about me, I would like for it to be written by Joanna Newsom. Not because she plays a harp, a big one, nor because she sings in a borrowed voice, something sharp and spurred and sometimes gobsmackingly beautiful. No, the finest thing about Milk-Eyed Mender is the words, the play of language on a tongue, the images that bound out from her wild melodic turns. She's better than Dylan, better than Waits, better that Sheff. She builds sculptures out of twine, stories out of beetle-shells; she makes me giddy, glad and indeed sometimes sad. But most of all she sings true things that I had never imagined, in a voice too ballsy to lie.

01. The Arcade Fire - Funeral

And the Arcade Fire, well, what can I say that I haven't already. Funeral is splendid and brave and every week I have a new favourite track. This is a band I've loved for a long, long time, and here's an album that will never go away, that I can always turn back to, that will shimmer and flash even years from now. It'll bring memories of dark, hot or flush days; not of childhood but of the time after, of when everything loomed big, when my heart beat big, when I wasn't scared of death, only of life. These are songs whose lyrics flash behind my mind's eye, realer than other scenes; they're songs that are meant, made blazing with feeling, and yet, for all this earnesty and wisdom and narrative, so too are they songs for dancing, for singing, for loving and listening to. These are pop-songs for the end of the world or the beginning of it, for Wendy remembering Peter, for broken, whole and beating hearts. And I thank them. [more thoughts]

Best Production on an Album
David Newfeld's amazing work on The Apostle of Hustle's Folkloric Feel, which goes a heck of a long way towards making this superficial, repetitive record a thing of majesty. Synthesizers, strings and electric guitars; voices, whispers, bursts of noise. It falls together and falls apart, drums tumbling in and out. So much to hear, so well-knitted, so carefully and capably assembled. Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People suggested it, but this confirms Newfeld as the best producer in alternative music today.

Best Idea
For the love of god, someone please take Howard Bilerman up on his offer and let him at those Leonard Cohen tapes.

Best Avant-Folk Record
Les Mouches - You're Worth More To Me Than 1000 Christians

Les Mouches did something this year that I can't quite understand, that I don't fully grok, and that didn't feel right next to Joanna and Jolie and the Killers. But listen - their debut LP was shockingly good, strange and noisy and hushed. There's a tremolo voice that recalls Xiu Xiu, but then there's the splay, bang and splat of percussion, the glimmer of chords, and we're somewhere else entirely, on the verge of something, lost, afraid and unsettled - and glad for it.

Punctuation Most Over-Used During Sean's Time at Said the Gramophone
The comma.

The Best Songs of 2004
I could go on and on, and on, about the songs that came out this year, how diverse and rich and transporting. But I shan't. I'll say simply that you should hear and know each one of these songs; that the list could span much longer; and that I feel proud that I shared so many of these songs with you, that Said the Gramophone lived up to its mission statement.

Because it would have drived me nuts, I have only ranked one song by each artist. If they released other songs which would 'rightfully' be in the top 40, I have included those songs in parentheses.

01. The Arcade Fire - "Tunnels" ("Power Out," "Crown of Love," "Haiti")
02. Modest Mouse - "Float On"
03. Britney Spears - "Toxic"
04. Wilco - "At Least That's What You Said"
05. Joanna Newsom - "Bridges and Balloons" ("Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie")
06. Eamon - "Fuck It"
07. Estelle - "1980"
08. The Mountain Goats - "Dance Music" [via TTIKTDA]
09. Jolie Holland - "Do You?"
10. The Go Team - "Bottle Rocket"
11. Wolf Parade - "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts"
12. The Streets - "Dry Your Eyes"
13. Kanye West - "Slow Jamz" ("Family Business," "Workout Plan," "Jesus Walks")
14. William Shatner - "Common People"
15. Natasha Bedningfield - "I Love You" [sic?]
16. The Divine Comedy - "Our Mutual Friend"
17. Janet Jackson - "Love Me For a Little While" [via The Rub]
18. Mase - "Welcome Back"
19. One-T and Cool-T - "The Magic Key" [via Fluxblog]
20. Sam Bisbee - "Miracle Car" [via TMN]
21. Adem - "Ringing in my Ear"
22. Old 97s - "Won't Be Home"
23. The Hidden Cameras - "Builds the Bone"
24. Royal City - "Jerusalem"
25. Bell XI - Alphabet Soup"
26. Avril Lavigne - "My Happy Ending"
27. Plastic Operator - "Folder" [via Fluxblog]
28. Counting Crows - "Accidentally in Love"
29. Rachel Stevens - "Sweet Dreams my L.A. Ex" [via Fluxblog]
30. Tom Waits - "Hoist that Rag"

Most Anticipated Albums of 2005
in descending order of interest...

Wolf Parade, Hood, Beck, Magnolia Electric Co, Sigur Ros, Greg Macpherson, Bishop Allen, The Clientele, LCD Soundsystem, Destroyer and Frog Eyes, Damien Jurado, Sun Kil Moon...


The Sean update, for those who give a hoot:

It's my birthday on the fifth, but shortly after that I'll be returning to Canada for a few weeks; I'll try to return to the blog with at least a handful of posts on the music I've discovered on these travels.

And following visits to Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, this little writer will be flying to Edinburgh, to Scotland, where I will stay, work, and write for the foreseeable future.

And hopefully I'll be back to Gramophone, too.

Apologies to anyone who has written me but not heard back, recently; internet access has been extremely brief and intermittent. Things will improve when I leave Italy - and when I buy my new iBook.


Happy New Year! I hope all of your 2005s will be full of laughter, reassurance, and yes some grand blooms of sound.

Posted by Sean at January 4, 2005 10:48 AM

Sean, it's always good to hear from you.

Posted by Keith TTIKTDA at January 4, 2005 11:17 AM


good to hear from you! we miss you. hurry back to the internet.

Posted by kathryn at January 4, 2005 11:21 AM

nice post!
welcome back!

get back on the pile!

(and bring your slovak garage music!)

Posted by agent.jah at January 4, 2005 11:25 AM

yo, sean! top of the year to ya! great post. looking forward to having you back in the groove. congrats on scotland, and whatever you'll be doing there. :D

Posted by moerex at January 4, 2005 1:30 PM

aw, the fifth is my birthday too. happy birthday! i'm glad someone else out there is as infatuated with 'sons and daughters of hungry ghosts' as i am.

Posted by cody at January 4, 2005 2:26 PM

"Exceptional music was recorded and released this year, but I'm not sure it coalesced into too many exceptional full-lengths."

yes. and thank you so much for your blog.

Posted by kathy j at January 4, 2005 3:20 PM

In my timezone it will be the 5th in 35 minutes, but I'm gonna sleep right now. So... happy birthday tomorrow!

Posted by Jack at January 4, 2005 5:26 PM

happy birthday wanderer!

Posted by rb at January 4, 2005 8:42 PM

sung tongs

Posted by animal collective at January 5, 2005 4:44 AM

Wow, happy birthday and a great new year for your move and re-move to Europe!
I find myself in great agreement with your list which must mean I'm in the right place. Oh, and now I've actually listened to them a bit, I must say the Arcade Fire lyrics are fantastic. Don't know why I told you they seemed weak, it was really a first impression. The great album of 2004 and when will they come to Europe ffs!

Posted by Matthew at January 5, 2005 5:09 AM

I think the Natasha Bedingfield song you mention is called These Words. Looking forward to hearing what you've discovered on your travels.

Posted by Stacey at January 5, 2005 6:09 AM

Happy Birthday, Sean. And thanks for putting me onto the Arcade Fire, not released in the UK until Feb, but I got a Canadian import for Christmas. I think you're a bit hard on Blueberry Boat and A Ghost Is Born, great albums both, but spot on about the Go! Team (I'm missing their Nottingham gig to see REM - so it goes...). Still can't take Joanna Newsome, mind.

Posted by Dave B at January 5, 2005 7:55 AM

happy b'day and new year salutations...
congrats on edinburgh - many a fine band
stomp the grounds of scotland, funnily
enough most hail from bellshill.
hmmm, must be something in the water...

Posted by nat at January 5, 2005 3:24 PM

It was you! I couldnt remember for months where I had first heard Wolf Parade. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Posted by deirdre at January 5, 2005 4:42 PM

happy birthday!

Posted by Douglas at January 5, 2005 8:59 PM

happy birthday, Sean. i hope you sleep on my couch when you're here.

Posted by Dan! at January 6, 2005 1:09 AM

hey sean.
good news. good news.
nice to hear it.

Posted by bmr at January 6, 2005 9:03 AM

The aforementioned Natasha Bedingfield song (indeed entitled 'These Words') is the very definition of musical crack:
you know that it's bad for you (produced all to hell with retched lyrics) but once you that hit you just have to go back for more.

Posted by sally at January 6, 2005 1:47 PM

yep, can't wait for the new Hood album either....

Posted by outside closer at January 6, 2005 3:58 PM

Sean likes the Arcade Fire! What an unexpected development. :)

Happy birthday Sean.

Posted by rodii at January 6, 2005 10:44 PM

Belated B-day congrats...another new album to look forward to this year is the new Iron & Wine which will be out sometime here in January. :)

Posted by Bart at January 7, 2005 2:11 AM

Nice post man!
Hope you liked Hungary ('coz that's where I live...)!

Posted by Djaugust at January 7, 2005 4:47 PM

Happy Belated Birthday!
The list is fantatic. I was surprised Tom Waits: "Real Gone" didn't make the list. Oh well.

Much Thanks for the intro to Arcade Fire this year.
Glad to hear you might be writting again.
I love your words.

Good luck on your travels.

Posted by Hoo at January 14, 2005 4:34 AM

britney spears between wilco and modest mouse?

Posted by Kurt at January 30, 2006 9:59 PM

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This is a daily sampler of really good songs. All tracks are posted out of love. Please go out and buy the records.

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

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