1. The Shins - Fighting in a Sack - Chutes Too Narrow
The Shins second record is nothing short of fantastic - more up-tempo and jangly than the band's debut and easily one of my favorites of 2004. "Fighting in a Sack" starts with a jittery guitar intro and has James Mercer rushing through the lyrics faster than ever. Only bits and pieces caught me at first, but the image "Marionettes on weakening cables / Huddled up with fear and hate" has stuck with me ever since. The song was on my fall 2004 mix Talkin' Ponderosa Highway Blues.
2. The Walkmen - Bows + Arrows - Bows + Arrows
This is an album that I barely got into at the time, and have subsequently found to be a go-to just as much as the band's last two albums. In general, the Walkmen seem have have this disconnect built into their music. It sounds like the vocals and different instruments are coming from different places, and it's that separation that gives the songs that woozy quality. My top song from the album is "The Rat," but this title track is probably a close second.
3. Robyn Hitchcock - Tryin' To Get To Heaven - Spooked
Hitchcock's version of this latter-day Dylan classic is simple and somber, anchored by a fingerpicked guitar. He leaves behind Dylan's more atmospheric sounds and in doing so drops the sorrow and ache a few notches, trying and achieving instead a more gentle beauty. A huge Dylan fan, Hitchcock has picked a perfect song for his style and sentimentality.
4. Tom Russell - Tonight We Ride - Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs
I came to this song (and Tom Russell entirely, as a matter of fact) from my friends The Little Morts, a punk-country band that left Tucson for Austin a few years back, but not before having a solid couple years of performances that made them one of the Ol' Pueblo's best live bands. Russell is one hell of a songwriter - and should definitely be far better known than he is. Check out these two lines from the song: "If we drink ourselves to death, ain't that the cowboy way to go" and "If our bones bleach on the desert, we'll consider we are blessed."
5. Modest Mouse - Satin in a Coffin - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
I love how Isaac Brock builds some of his strangest tunes around the banjo, an instrument that makes far too few waves in indie rock. Brock's yelp is prevalent as always, but it just sounds so much creepier when the lyrics are "Are you dead or are you sleeping? God I sure hope you are dead." As far as I'm concerned this is the top album of the 2000s.
6. The Killers - Smile Like You Mean It - Hot Fuss
I still can't tell if the Killers have changed a lot since this debut album or whether I just listened to Hot Fuss enough to have it get in under my skin. But I really dig this album - the Vegas sheen of it, the Oasis wannabe posturing and the catchy-as-hell songs. If I were younger, I could see the Killers being a band that excited me and then I grew out of, but it's not like I was in high school in 2004. Go figure. "Smile Like You Mean It" still sounds great.
7. Luna - Broken Chair - Rendezvous
I saw Luna on the band's farewell tour in early 2005 at Club Congress and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. I knew enough of their music to get the importance of it all and make sure I was there, but I'd never heard any of Rendezvous, which at this point is my favorite Luna album. Check out the trailer for Tell Me Do You Miss Me, a documentary filmed on that tour (and pay close attention to the exasperated disbelief of the cry "I'm in a bunk bed, in Tucson!").
8. Goshen - Believe It's True - Circus Wife
I found this Santa Fe band through my cousin Tommy when I was visiting a few years back. Goshen is drummer Jim Palmer and singer-songwriter-guitarist Grant Hayunga, whose combination of blues and American could only be found in the mountain Southwest.
9. Giant Sand - NYC of Time - Is All Over The Map
Nothing Howe Gelb does sounds quite like anything else, but it always sounds like Howe Gelb, and nobody else can even come close to sounding like Howe Gelb. "NYC of Time" is a fuzz-box rocker that Gelb drops some piano jazz on top of. I'd love to have on the headphones during a tour of lower Manhattan's seedier areas.
10. Social Distortion - Nickels and Dimes - Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll
When I reviewed the album at the time, I called it "gruff, loud and wonderfully familiar." Social Distortion's first album in eight year is consistenly excellent, a solomn tribute to the memory departed band member Dennis Danell, but never a downer. Like the rest of the album, "Nickels and Dimes" is high-energy and hard-charging, and the type of song only an old-school punk rocker could sing:
I’m a vagabond king with a stolen crownDOWNLOAD:
I’m a jailhouse poet, a genius, a fool
I’m the pimp who’s lost his cool yeah baby
I’m your first class taste in a second class town
Robyn Hitchcock - Tryin' To Get To Heaven (live Bob Dylan cover)
Social Distortion - Nickels and Dimes (live)
and in case you're curious, here's my top 10 of 2004 as I blogged it back in the day:
1. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
2. Wilco - A Ghost is Born
3. Green Day - American Idiot
4. Elliott Smith - From A Basement On The Hill
5. Arcade Fire - Funeral
6. Social Distortion - Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll
7. Steve Earle - The Revolution Starts Now
8. Walkmen - Bows + Arrows
9. Ted Leo/Pharmacists - Shaking the Sheets
10. Killers - Hot Fuss