December 26, 2004
In a year that saw an abandoned 35-year-old masterpiece finally rerecorded and released, a brilliant comeback album by a nearly forgotten country legend and a final album from a tortured, yet gifted, songwriter, 2004 gave us plenty of great music.
While some of the most anticipated records of the year were major disappointments (Gwen Stefani, Eminem), several under-the-radar gems filtered above the major label hype machinations to stake their claim as the best examples of the most passionate, creative, inspiring music of the year.
1. "SMiLE," Brian Wilson
Originally intended to be a follow-up to the Beach Boys’ masterpiece "Pet Sounds" in 1967, Wilson gave up on the project, claiming he’d never finish it. Luckily for music lovers, he finally rerecorded the opus with a new band, and the three-decade wait was worth it. Challenging, beautiful and structured like a classical symphony, "SMiLE" was the musical event of 2004.
2. "from a basement on a hill," Elliott Smith
Posthumously released after Smith’s death from two stab wounds to the heart in 2003 (the police ruled it a suicide — the coroner was not convinced), "from a basement on a hill" is the final testament to the songwriting talent of the melancholy artist. The soft acoustic ballads and the singer’s gorgeous pop majesty make the listener yearn for the music Smith will never make.
3. "Van Lear Rose," Loretta Lynn
Produced by White Stripes mastermind and longtime Loretta Lynn fan Jack White, "Van Lear Rose" is the best work from the legendary singer/songwriter in decades. White’s guitar flourishes and bare-bones knob-twisting give Lynn’s plaintive ballads and honky-tonk rave-ups the understated feel they deserve. No Nashville syrup on this record, and it’s all the more powerful for it.
4. "Sex, Love and Rock ’n’ Roll," Social Distortion
Green Day, Good Charlotte and Sum 41 all put out highprofile punk records this year, but none of those discs matched the passion and energy of Orange County legends Social Distortion’s first studio release in eight years. This is just a great rock ’n’ roll record with Social D’s aggressive brand of American roots rockabilly and country music turned up to 10.
5. "Bastards of the Beat," The Damnwells
Sounding something like Paul Westerberg meets Wilco, The Damnwells’ debut disc is better than both Westerberg’s and Wilco’s 2004 releases. Songwriter Alex Dezen crafts pop melodies and gives his tunes a shot of Americanastyle country/folk to create a lush weave that The Band might have done had they used jangly guitars and written catchy choruses.
6. "The Libertines," The Libertines
Not as edgy as their brilliant debut album "Up the Bracket," this self-titled follow-up still packs a heavy punch. Produced by Mick Jones of late, lamented The Clash, this disc is a documentary of a sloppy, ragged, great rock ’n’ roll band disintegrating due to co-singer/ songwriter Pete Doherty’s drug abuse. Disc opener "Can’t Stand Me Now" airs the band’s heartbreaking dirty laundry for all the world to hear.
7. "The Dirty South," Drive-By Truckers
Alabama rockers Drive-By Truckers’ last three releases each have been better than its predecessor. With three talented singer/songwriters, the band’s tunes are diverse but always deliver a dose of their patented "Lynyrd Skynyrd on steroids" Southern-fried punk rock. Truckers main man Patterson Hood writes Faulknerian tales that resonate with evocative imagery of Southern life.
8. "Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes,"
TV on the Radio
In delivering the year’s most unusual release, Brooklyn’s TV on the Radio mixes electronica, soul, R&B, jazz, punk and even doo-wop on their terrific debut disc. Leader Tunde Adepimbe is a songwriter of distinct talents, singing of racial issues and love with equal passion, and the music the band generates needs to be heard to be believed.
9. "Within a Mile of Home," Flogging Molly
Irish-born and L.A.-based Flogging Molly singer Dave King writes Irish barroom songs with a hard-edged punk flair that are as infectious as anything The Pogues ever did. This CD, their second, is a bit mellower than their great debut disc, but the band still rips and tears into their songs like a Dublin folk pub-band on speed.
10. "What I Do," Alan Jackson
Keeping the torch burning for fans of hard-core country, Alan Jackson keeps putting out top-notch albums full of twin fiddle and steel guitarlaced honky-tonk, and "What I Do" is perhaps the finest collection of songs he’s released. Eschewing Nashville’s trendy fad of crossover pop-country, Jackson plays the kind of country Hank Williams Sr. and Ernest Tubb would pay admission to listen to.
Top 5 Valley concerts of 2004
1. Brian Wilson, Dodge Theatre
Hearing the "SMiLE" album performed live in October was a beautiful assault on the senses, as the 20-piece band backing Wilson nailed every glorious vocal harmony, however difficult, right on the head. And the fact that Wilson ran through some of his most loved Beach Boys songs only made this stunning show that much better.
2. X, Marquee Theatre
Old-school L.A. punks X only get together once in a while to play live anymore — and then it’s mostly in California— so that made this show in Phoenix in February a rare event. Vocalist Exene Cervenka and bassist John Doe commanded the stage and guitarist Billy Zoom’s hopped-up rockabilly licks never sounded better as the band ran through a frantic retrospective of their 25-year career.
3. Dale Watson, Rhythm Room
This Texas honky-tonker is so pure he no longer defines what Nashville calls country, and his show in July was attended by rockabillies, swingers, old-school country fans and punks. With a Merle Haggard-like baritone and a cache of true-blue country weepers and twangy rave-ups, Watson would be a major superstar if he were around in the ’60s, or nowadays if Music City still cared about real country music.
4. Wilco, Marquee Theatre
Art-school favorites Wilco put on a show that was a sometimes not-so-subtle mix of beautiful folk pop and Sonic Youth-like feedback experimentation. Playing in front of a movie screen showing bizarre black and white nature films, this is what the Fillmore might have looked and sounded like in its Haight-Ashbury hippie heyday.
5. The Hives, Glendale Arena
Performing on the KEDJ Holiday Show’s four-band bill, Sweden’s most popular recording act since ABBA only had 40 minutes to play, and play they did. Singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist (a dead ringer for a young Mick Jagger) and the boys were immaculate in their white suits and blew the roof off the new venue with their Kinks-esque garage rock and sheer stage exuberance.
Top 5 Local releases of 2004
1. "¡Americano!" Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers
From the title track to the gorgeous "Your Name on a Grain of Rice" to the gut-wrenching "Switchblade," no other Arizona songwriter captures the Sonoran Southwest like Roger Clyne, and he and his band’s latest CD of classic, sweat-drenched American rock ’n’ roll is the best work of his career. Here is one vote for Clyne to supplant Dolan Ellis as the state’s official balladeer.
2. "The Bull, The Balloon and the Family," Reubens Accomplice
This sprawling disc charts the emerging brilliance of songwriters Chris Corak and Jeff Bufano. The record will probably be lumped in with the other emo releases that came out in 2004, which is unfortunate because this is a much more ambitious and melodic disc than the average emo fare, mixing psychedelia with pure power pop angst.
3. "Voices on the Street," Zubia Brothers
Co-founders of local legends The Pistoleros, Lawrence and Mark Zubia’s debut under their surname is one of the best releases to come out of the Tempe music scene in the past decade. One listen to the title track lets the listener know that this will be a record of exorcised demons, ghosts of Tempe’s past and personal confessions, all wrapped up in the Zubia’s trademark roots rock.
4. "Cattle Punching on a Jackrabbit," Before Braille
Swirling guitar textures, layered vocal harmonies, tempo changes and striking melodies abound on this EP by Mesa’s premiere hard rock/pop band Before Braille. Songs like "Proventil" and "Well as Well" find singer David Jensen screaming the verses then throwing change-ups with choruses so beautiful and melodic they are as jarring as they are surprising.
5."Futures," Jimmy Eat World
The Valley’s biggest musical export find themselves in darker territory on the follow-up to their 2001 multi-platinum eponymous disc. While there may not be as many upbeat, surefire singles on this release, Jimmy Eat World can still construct a melodic rock song better than most radio-friendly alternative bands and the vocal harmonies of singers Jim Adkins and Tom Linton are peerless.