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Noah Bonaparte's Fave Recordings Of 2004


1. Of Montreal, Satanic Panic in the Attic (Polyvinyl): Kevin Barnes and his band of merry minstrels bound about this magnificent magnum like kids on too much sugar, striking mines of iron pyrite on one rapturous mini-tune after another. In June, taken by Barnes' swooning harmonies and hyperactive arrangements, I wrote of Satanic Panic in the Attic: "…the only things missing from this ambitious Lonely Hearts Club Band reunion are Ravi Shankar's sitar and Ringo's goofball grin." After six months of heavy play, the grin lies stubbornly on the stoic crits; topping their six previous tries at it, this finally is Of Montreal's Sgt. Pepper — the record that gave up the most joy, the most pure lysergic bliss to its listeners in the last calendar year. Boisterous, buoyant, brilliant pop.

2. Joanna Newsom, The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City): Those songs! That voice! That…harp? As kindred spirit Devendra Banhart gets fitted for the king's crown of the San Fran psych-folk resurgence, naïf Joanna Newsom sits quietly in the shadows and — who'd have guessed this — harps out a new scene's silent soundtrack. Gorgeous arpeggios fall like raindrops throughout this devastating debut, equaling TV on the Radio as the most assured new sound to drop in '04. Whilst her steady string-tickling lulls you softly to sleep, Newsom's croon ties perverse poem-verses around your ankles: On her second song, "Sprout and the Bean," she sings, "And, as I said/ I slept as though dead/ Dreaming seamless dreams of lead," her haunting voice hanging like a specter, then pausing and shrinking back, as if swallowed down the throat of a scared 7-year-old.

3. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino): While overexposure has surely ensured fewer uncontrollable, Pavlovian bobs, jerks, and twitches (or however it is you move to music), the sound of any of Franz Ferdinand's 11 jitterbug guitar intros is still enough to get even the most disaffected scenesters nodding their heads capriciously or tapping their toes recklessly. Shit, I'm kidding! It makes you wanna dance, right?

4. Iron & Wine, Our Endless, Numbered Days (Sub Pop): This is, unequivocally, the prettiest music put to record this year; from the Nick Drake homage "Naked As We Came" to the real-deal, Dirty South Blues of "Free Until They Cut Me Down," Sam Beam channels the spirits of so many before him to create a sound that is both rooting and rooted, peering and peerless. Whereas his self-made EP The Creek Drank the Cradle was perfection peeking out from behind a crackling, lo-fi curtain, this Sub Pop debut is the pristine sound of the seasons bleeding slowly into one another: late-afternoon folk filtered through the screen of a Florida front porch in spring, or the fizzling-out of lightning bugs extinguished by the encroaching chill of fall.

5. TV on the Radio, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch & Go): Brooklyn art-rockers TV on the Radio generously dole out true nu-soul clout throughout this proper debut, frontmen Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone together forming the most dynamic one-two mic punch since Neko Case agreed to pose for Carl Newman's New Pornographers. As with other previous era-announcers — Gordon Gano's nasal sneer, or Kurt Cobain's guttural growls — Adebimpe's apparitional vocal prowling seems primed to define these indefinable times, to pin down the colorless, odorless character of this as-yet-unclassified Ought-Decade. Like hi-def visuals sampled down to scratchy shortwave transmissions, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes is the perfect personification of this band's evocative moniker — and, more than anything else unveiled this year, the unmistakable sound of 2004.

6. Madvillain, Madvillainy (Stones Throw): It was a partnership forged in b-boy heaven: the super-svelte, many-moniker'd MF Doom spitting non sequiturs over backing partner Madlib's ridiculous clip-art collage of hip-hop history. Check these internal rhymes from the boombox anthem "All Caps": "You know it won't stick, yo/ And it's not his fault you kick slow/ Should've let your trick ho chick hold your sick glow." Then, picture them flirting with a cascading, horns-out '60s spy theme and thatches of patchy bass. Now that's some shit that could make Atmosphere shed a tear — or, better, make Paul Barman bawl in his car, man.

7. The Horns of Happiness, A Sea as a Shore (Secretly Canadian): The first time listening to Aaron Deer's solo debut, I couldn't help thinking, as one fractured banjo figure fed into another, "Goddamn, this is good! Why isn't everyone I know listening to this?" Perhaps Deer's involvement in the blues-rockin' John Wilkes Booze scared off his target freak-folk audience; surely, given Deer's company on this list, the listeners are out there. Nonetheless, his slept-on record is easily one of the year's most inspired recordings, melding beauty, conflict, and dissonance into a masterful, pastoral half-hour of splintered psychedelic splendor.

8. Infinite Livez, Bush Meat (Big Dada): British tabloids and stateside indie rags, keep soiling your shorts over Dizzee Rascal and his stuttery gare-age gangsta-isms; on his debut longplayer, Bush Meat, ol' dirty bloke Infinite Livez spews a spazzed Cockney tonic that cuts Dizzee's gin like a knife to the midsection. With song titles like "Adventures of the Lactating Man," do you really need any quotes? Well, here's one anyway: "Abstract like cataract/ On eye of the beholder/ Creepy crawlies/ The scurrier the bolder." At least I think that's what he says. After you get past the "Weird Ali G" routine and De-La-on-acid affect, though, one thing's abundantly clear — as an MC, this guy's a fucking champ.

9. Liars, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (Mute): Williamsburg expats Liars burn post-punk at the stake, following their justly monumental They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top with a confounder that's equal parts The Rapture and The Crucible. They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is a work that, as intended, fully separates Angus Andrew and Co. from the fashionable hyphenated labels writers have tried unsuccessfully to pin on them. But lift the cauldron's lid and look deeper — to the histrionic wails of "There's Always Room on the Broom," or the needling, hyperkinetic heartbeat of "They Don't Want Your Corn — They Want Your Kids" — and you might even bag some good ol' dance-punk beneath all the sonic junk. As the persecutors from Arthur Miller's pages would attest, seek out and ye shall find.

10. Devendra Banhart, Rejoicing in the Hands / Niño Rojo (Young God): Here is my testament to the genius of Devendra Banhart: After Rejoicing in the Hands convinced me we'd heard the best Banhart had to offer in 2004, his equally majestic companion record Niño Rojo proffered the gently lilting "At the Hop," reopening my eyes to the possibilities that lie ahead for this idyllic, Dylan-esque wunderkind.

Honorable mentions (or, 10 more for kicks):

The Decemberists, The Tain/5 Songs (Jealous Butcher); Xiu Xiu, Fabulous Muscles (5 Rue Christine); Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre); n.Lannon, Chemical Friends (Badman); A.C. Newman, The Slow Wonder (Matador); Jens Lekman, When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog (Service); Pinback, Summer in Abaddon (Touch & Go); Nagisa Ni Te, The Same as a Flower (Jagjaguwar); Battles, Tras, C, and B EPs (Cold Sweat, Monitor, Dim Mak); Air, Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks)
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