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BEST MUSIC OF 2004  71 - 80
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80 THE FINN BROTHERS
Everyone Is Here (Nettwerk)
Since Split Enz and Crowded House became distant memories, fans have been treated to good multiple solo releases from Neil and Tim Finn. Arguably, many felt these solo projects didn’t approach the magic of the earlier bands. Hopes were that a collaborative project between the two might achieve what the solo ventures hadn’t. Everyone Is Here answers those hopes. Twelve superb songs with a full-band sound (courtesy of musical friends like Jon Brion, Mitchell Froom and Tony Visconti) offer more of the sweet delicate harmonies between brothers, and a renewed sense of competition that seems to have inspired better music all around. It’s a fairly sedate but even collection, reflecting the maturity of songwriters who realize there’s more to music than always rocking out. This Finn Brothers album gains resonance with repeated listens, revealing subtle charms. This is the CD that fans of Crowded House and Split Enz have been awaiting.
      — Gary Glauber :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
79 MASTODON
Leviathan (Relapse)
From the infectious first riff of “Blood and Thunder”, Leviathan creates aural seasickness. Mastodon’s oceanic voyage of crushingly heavy metal invites you onto a rickety old vessel, lost at sea during a dark and violent thunderstorm. Black blood seeps through the wooden floor planks as dizzying musicality weaves confidently into these memorable songs, creating a challenging yet digestible record. The notion of an album with lyrics primarily based on Moby Dick could have been disastrous, but it’s actually a refreshing change of pace as Mastodon shrewdly cull what they want from the classic tale and discard the excess like Ahab stripping blubber from a whale carcass. When the momentous, moving, “Hearts Alive” finally concludes we’re content to slowly roll to land with help from the mellow, “Joseph Merrick”. If metal fans are correct that Mastodon is an innovative monster brimming with Metallica potential, then Leviathan is their Ride the Lightning.
      — David Bekerman :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
78 THE DONNAS
Gold Medal (Atlantic)
Think of the Donnas as the musical equivalent of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, barnstorming across the country, destroying stereotypes along the way, and redefining what stripped down power pop can be. And think of the stellar follow-up to 2002’s breakout release Spend the Night as the group’s, well let’s see… Gold Medal... The album dismisses any lingering doubts as to the band’s legitimacy—the Donnas have proven that they can compete in the male dominated rock ‘n’ roll business, and rise to the top. The best news is that they’re doing it on the merits; just a terrific band getting even better. Judging from the quality of Gold Medal, it is obvious that the Donnas plan on hanging around for the foreseeable future, showing everyone that they’re as good as gold.
      — Adam Williams :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
77 THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN
Miss Machine (Relapse)
When the Dillinger Escape Plan unleashed their debut album Calculating Infinity on the world, a whole new legion of hardcore punks scrambled to their guitars to figure it out. It was unrelenting album that was as technically proficient as it was brutally ferocious. Countless bands spawned in their footsteps, aping their style, but very few actually nailing it down. As the scene waited with bated breath for group’s sophomore release, the band went through personnel changes, record label struggles and recorded a celebrated one-off EP with all around weirdo Mike Patton. Five years later, the Dillinger Escape Plan have returned and raised the bar right out of reach for the rest of the scene. Miss Machine is twice the album as its predecessor. New singer Greg Puciato sinks his teeth into his role as the group’s new singer, not just screaming, but also singing, whispering, doing whatever it takes to fit the bands ever shifting compositions. Musically, the band expands its palette, further blurring the lines between jazz and metal. Not content to merely rest on the guitarists’ dexterous riffing, the group experiments with the style they first perfected. They add horns to “Sunshine the Werewolf”; “Baby’s First Coffin” is structured around an ambient, swirling mid-section that makes the explosive performances around it all the more potent; and “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants” is equal parts tech-metal, FM alternative radio rock and jazz exploration. But this is no Kid A—the jaw-dropping prowess that put the group on the tongues of metal fans everywhere is still here in spades in tracks like “Panasonic Youth” and “Van Damsel”. With Miss Machine, the Dillinger Escape Plan are still the band to beat, however, they’ve gone and changed the game. Cerebral and visceral with artistic flair to spare, the Dillinger Escape Plan has created the year’s best metal album.
      — Kevin Jagernauth :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
76 ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS
The Delivery Man (Lost Highway)
Who’d have thought that the runtish Costello would stagger from the backwaters of pub rock, establish himself as punk’s most articulate and venomous commentator then spend two decades as an ultra-versatile composer shifting from Tin Pan Alley to Nashville, bar ballads to jazz jousts, hob nobbing with lounge supremo Burt Bacharach and finally, last year, becoming Mr. Diana Krall and truly an enrolled member of America’s musocracy. Yet on Delivery Man, the bitterness, the exasperation, the sense of torture sounds almost freshly minted, as if the angry, and once young, man has reconvened his old demons in middle age. “Button My Lip” is caustic, bilesome opener—replete with a small fragment of Leonard Bernstein’s “America” which EC was billed for—while “Monkey to Man” is a similarly rumbustuous take on the evolution myth. Yet this is not all punkish pique. “Bedlam” is a bass-heavy slab of stroppy funk and there are still hints of hope in the shadows. The soundscape softens with some wondrous, spectral pedal steel on “Country Darkness” and the joyous duet of “There’s a Story in Your Voice”, with Lucinda Williams, is neither new nor alt, just good-time, old-time, country music.
      — Simon Warner :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
75 DJ SHADOW
In Tune and On Time (Geffen)
The run-of-the-mill hip-hop DJ often frames his/her live performance around genre-specific audience expectations and flashy turntable tricks, the results ranging from trivial to predictable. While DJ Shadow has never been one to break the mold—in fact, his m.o. has been less about reinventing the wheel as it has been unearthing the wheel’s prototypes and extolling the value of each model—his immense attention to detail has resulted in a smashingly novel approach to mixing: “In tune.” And “on time.” Get it? Not that many do. And yet the album/DVD has mass appeal; he has documented a performance that impresses DJ aficionados with his overlooked skills, music connoisseurs with his creative reinterpretation of compositions, and groupies and newcomers alike with his sheer musicality. Such is the brilliance of Shadow: little fanfare, just the raw goods, live and in-the-round.
      — Dan Nishimoto :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
74 TIFT MERRITT
Tambourine (Lost Highway)
After generating a good deal of critical acclaim with her first album, Tift Merritt decided to play it unsafe by expanding her sound. The result is Tambourine, an album that sounds like the work of a veteran. Here Merritt skillfully jumps from one musical genre to the next, sounding at one moment like a country queen, the next like a blues chanteuse, the next like a soul crooner. Rather than seeming indecisive, however, Merritt sounds like a diligent student of American music, an artist whose diverse influences are united by sincerity. This album will inspire many road trips and slow dancing in dimly lit living rooms. The best moment? It’s hard to select one, but when Merritt laments “Some nights, I sit and watch my hometown die” on “Laid a Highway”, you’ll want to dig up those old Springsteen albums.
      — Michael Franco :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
73 THE MANIC STREET PREACHERS
Lifeblood (Sony Music UK)
Those patiently waiting for another era-defining tune like “A Design for Life” would do well to take their lives off hold. With their seventh studio album, The Manic Street Preachers bid a permanent farewell to the anthems that defined them throughout the ‘90s. In their place are songs short on grand gestures but more intimately, subtly triumphant. The Manics may no longer be as relevant as they settle into their unlikely role as rock’s elder statesmen, but it’s one that suits them far better than anyone might have imagined.
      — Jon Garrett :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop This Welsh group was supposedly calling it a day after Know Your Enemy. The release of a greatest hits and b-side/rarities collection only added more fuel to that idea. But during that time the trio of James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore recaptured the lush, grandiose and elegant sounds saturating Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. Whether it’s the look back to “1985” or the deadpan delivery on “The Love of Richard Nixon”, the group consistently do what they do best—mixing smart lyrics with smarter, anthem-like rock. The sleeper pick has to be “I Live to Fall Asleep”, a tune that seems to recall “This Is Yesterday” from their epic. The Holy Bible. It’s an album Richey James, their missing mate since 1995, would be proud of.
      — Jason MacNeil :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
72 JULIE DOIRON
Goodnight Nobody (Jagjaguwar)
Call it sadcore for grownups. The tremulous voice, the spindly guitar, and dry, dry, drums: all true except that the songs are about kids walking around in snowpants. Doiron has outdone herself here with more songs of melancholy comfort and heartwarming heartbreak. “When I Awoke” sticks it to a lover with unflinching precision. “Snow Falls in December” is better than anything on your local holiday-format radio station. And then there’s “Dirty Feet” where she pines, “God bless the workers, I wish I was one,” stretching out that last syllable until it encompasses just about every possible meaning.
      — Michael Metivier :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
71 LEONARD COHEN
Dear Heather (Columbia)
Like a sage descending from the mountaintop (in this case, literally, given his recent years in a Zen monastery), the 70-year-old Cohen proves that his autumn years fit him quite well, and that his inner satyr still has a few springs and summers left. Still possessed of a sepulchral voice that makes every utterance sound like a profound meditation, Cohen continues to plumb the depths of his favorite subjects: the cruel jokes of age, the Mystery of women, romance as a spiritual endeavor, the need for the artist’s soul in everyone to rage against the corruptions of the world. Cohen’s newfound balance in portraying these things, though, is Dear Heather‘s greatest strength, and when Cohen’s time finally comes to shuffle off his mortal coil, you get the sense that he’ll steal a few extra hours playfully discussing everything he’s seen and done with an utterly charmed Reaper.
      — Andrew Gilstrap :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop
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