Best of 2004
by Peter Jesperson
1. Rilo Kiley - More Adventurous
The single biggest musical revelation I had in 2004 was discovering Jenny Lewis's voice - versatile, soulful, note-perfect, her phrasing is smart, theatric and often does the unexpected. Also impressive is her gift for highly imaginative lyrics. The whole band is tremendously important here as well, especially co-writer, guitarist, sometimes singer Blake Sennett. More Adventurous is an exceptional work - brilliantly written, arranged, played and sung. A blend of styles that includes power-pop, delicate acoustic ballads, even a country-flavored doo-wop number. And it's been a long time since I heard a song that made me think, "Now THAT should be a smash hit" (which is what I thought when I first heard "Portions For Foxes"). This album is so solid, it sounds as good on the 100th listen as it did on the first.
2. Tegan and Sara - So Jealous
I've been a fan of theirs since the first album but, as much as I loved them, I never knew they had this in them - honestly, it's a masterstroke. Smart, passionate, tuneful, catchy Š and it rocks. The singing is fabulous. When they hit the line "I love the rock 'n' roll" (in "I Bet It Stung"), it's positively exhilarating. I can't wait to hear what they do next!
3. Paul Kelly - Ways and Means
Yet another extraordinary album (actually 2 discs for the price of one) that everyone who buys rock records should own. The co-production by Tchad Blake makes this the best sounding album of Australian rocker-singer-songwriter Paul Kelly's vast career.
4. Nic Armstrong - The Greatest White Liar
Raunchy rockers mixed with melodic ballads and dancehall pop. Clearly influenced by the masters of late fifties and early sixties music, this British boy has one of the best new voices to hit the scene in years.
5. The Postal Service - Give Up
I am absolutely out of my mind over five of the tracks on this pop electronic album by Benjamin Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie and friend Jimmy Tamborello. OMIGOD, the melodies are heart-stopping. And the words are Ben's signature innocent/ingenious (plus, Jenny Lewis does back-up vocals - need I say more??!!). Much has been made of the "twee" nature of it but, for those of us who devoured certain late sixties British pop records, The Postal Service are practically manly in comparison!
6. Leonard Cohen - Dear Heather
For me, this record is like getting a long, beautiful, provocative and funny letter from an old friend.
7. Paul Westerberg - Folker
While 2002's Stereo has the four heaviest songs of the recent basement recordings ("Boring Enormous," Nothing To No One," "We May Be The Ones" and "Don't Want Never"), Folker is the most consistent record Paul has made since the demise of The Replacements. But, as with all of the last four albums, my enthusiasm for Folker is tempered by frustration - to me, there's simply a difference between capturing the spontaneity of a moment and being just plain careless. When he nails it though, it's a religious experience - "My Dad," "23 Years Ago" and especially "As Far As I Know" (one of his greatest songs ever) are irrefutable evidence he's still got it in him. Makes you feel like, if he tried, he could make an album that would blow us all away and stop the naysayers from writing him off as a sadly squandered talent.
8. Kevn Kinney - Sun Tangled Angel Revival
So good, I can't imagine any rock fan not flipping over it. They definitely "caught a wave" when making this, there's a wonderful "completeness" about it, every nook and cranny seems magically inspired. And it works in so many ways - loud, quiet, folk, country, blues-ey rock Š it's one-a those "misfit records" like Fleetwood Mac's Then Play On or The Jayhawks' Sound Of Lies - it occupies a space completely its own.
9. American Music Club - Love Songs For Patriots
I'll avoid the words "reunion" or "comeback." It just might be the best American Music Club album ever. Full of pathos and majesty as only they can conjure.
10. Beautiful Dreamer - The Songs Of Stephen Foster
Now this is some songwriting! Truly revelatory compositions by this 19th century American treasure. And many of these modern interpretations are exquisite.
11. Interpol - Antics
I was seduced by this record, no other way of putting it. Angular guitars, insistent beats, cool words and that baritone lead voice permeated my world for weeks.
12. Will Johnson - Vultures Await
A second solo album from the leader of both Centro-matic and South San Gabriel, this man is simply not capable of making a bad record. And this one contains two of the best songs I heard all year - "Just To Know What You've Been Dreaming" and "Just Some Silence" (in which the violin solos alone will make you weep). Honorable mention also goes to Will's cool limited edition 'live-in-the-kitchen' Survey/Voyage CD.
13. Rufus Wainwright - Want Two
Complicated and challenging stuff, both musically and lyrically, but well worth the effort it takes to grasp its singular beauty.
14. The Libertines - self titled
This band is such a mess, I actually tried to talk myself out of falling for them on several occasions. Why do I love this record so much? Maybe it's the towering buffoonery that still somehow manages to rock, ala The Replacements or The Small Faces. "Can't Stand Me Now" was surely one of the finest singles of 2004 or any other year.
15. Green Day - American Idiot
I always liked Green Day but this is something entirely different - a hugely ambitious, pointed, political rock record while not avoiding some just plain good, old-fashioned punky-pop songs. I was really shocked at how often this ended up in my CD player. Important stuff and a real gas of an album.
16. Dan Kelly & The Alpha Males - Sing The Tabloid Blues
Stupendous album of rock 'n' roll from Australian sidekick/bandmate to the great Paul Kelly.
17. Chris Stamey - Travels In The South
He so has his own "thing," a distinctly identifiable meticulous pop-rock sound that I realized, after hearing this, was something I missed greatly. "Spanish Harlem" was one of my very favorite songs of the year.
18. The Blue Nile - High
So soulful, carefully thought out and subtly detailed, you can see why Paul Buchanan only puts out records every eight, or so, years. Quiet, reflective and gorgeous, it's the perfect music to listen to by yourself in the dark.
19. Jay Farrar - Stone Steel & Bright Lights
It's wonderful to have Jay playing with a band again and this is a fine live album, full of great performances. The encores of Pink Floyd's "Lucifer Sam" and Neil Young's "Hurricane" make this a must-have.
20. J.J. Cale - To Tulsa And Back
While not the return to form I first thought it was, it's still damn good to have a new J.J. Cale album.
21. Visqueen - Sunset On Dateland
This high-spirited band soldiers on. Very similar to the first album but I'm not exactly complaining.
Reissues/ remasters/ archival stuff:
Robert Wyatt - His Greatest Misses
Supergrass - Is 10
Both Robert Wyatt and Supergrass 'Best ofs' were such stunning compilations I played them incessantly, marveling every time at how many remarkable songs they have.
The Velvet Underground - Live At Max's Kansas City (expanded/remastered)
I must admit, this was not a record I played a lot when it first came out in 1972. This reissue took me by surprise. I played it constantly. It occurred to me that, as much as I missed the original members, it's fun to hear the songs played by Lou and more traditional players - the songs are just so good.
Bob Dylan - Bootleg 6: Concert At Philharmonic Hall
A 17 song concert recorded Halloween of 1964, utterly breath-taking in it's power.
The Jeff Beck Group - Beck-Ola
One of my all-time favorite records, remastered with bonus tracks. Still knocks me out every bit as much as when I first heard it 37 years years ago. I'll never forget how unusual yet thrilling Rod Stewart's voice sounded in those days!
The Yardbirds - Live! Blueswailing July '64
There's something really fascinating about this live recording with all the space between songs left in, it makes you feel a little more like you're actually there. A major group for me when I was first buying records, I still get goosebumps when I listen to them.
John Lennon - Acoustic
Some redundancy here (with 1998's box set) but there are 7 unreleased tracks. Essential for the Plastic Ono Band album outtakes and the fantastic 1971 live solo version of "Imagine."
John Lennon - Rock 'n' Roll (expanded/remastered)
Remixed by Peter Cobbin, the man we have to thank for 1999's revelatory "Yellow Submarine Songtrack." A few of the performances are surprisingly lackluster but it's still always been one of my favorite John Lennon albums. Four bonus tracks, three of which are previously unreleased.
Perfect - Once Twice Three Times A Maybe
Hard for me to be objective about 'cos I was there for the making of this record (and for the shelving of it too) but there's just no denying Tommy Stinson and band's exuberance and knack for hooks with substance behind them.
The Jayhawks - Live From The Women's Club
A great souvenir from one of the finest rock bands on the planet.
The Faces - Five Guys Walk Into A Bar
Highly erratic but with talent and spirit to spare, The Faces were one of the all-time great rock bands and this anthology is a must-have. A textbook example of how to do a reissue, from Ian Maclagan's careful and sometimes unexpected sequence to David Fricke's ridiculously good liner notes (there can be no finer description of The Faces than "Happy, roaring imprecision"!!!).
The United States Of America - self-titled
Sorta like Jefferson Airplane with electronics, this was quite a "Wow" when it came out in 1968. It's inventiveness and intelligence still shine through today. An incredible 10 bonus tracks, recent liner notes by mastermind Joe Byrd and commentary by vocalist Dorothy Moskowitz shed further light on this obscure landmark.
Live shows (in L.A. except where noted):
Chris Stamey & Peter Holsapple - McCabe's 1/17
The Bridge Benefit - Shoreline Amphitheater - Mountain View, CA 10/23 & 24 (Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Tegan and Sara, Sonic Youth, Neil Young etc.)
Rock For Karl - The Quest Club - Minneapolis 10/21 (Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould & Grant Hart, Soul Asylum, Golden Smog etc.)
Paul Kelly - Troubadour 3/26/The Hotel Café - 7/31
Supergrass - The Avalon 10/7
Drive-By Truckers - various locations
Jason Isbell - Knitting Factory - NYC
Patterson Hood - Spaceland
The Sleepy Jackson - SXSW - 3/18
Tegan and Sara - El Rey Theater 11/10
Jay Farrar & Canyon - Troubadour -1/22
Randy Newman - Royce Hall 1/23
Randy Newman Tribute - Royce Hall 1/24 (Vic Chesnutt, Victoria Williams, Perla Batalla, Bill Frisell etc.)
Vic Chesnutt - various locations
Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Greendale Show - Shrine Auditorium 2/24
Greendale Film Premier - Nuart 2/27
Rufus Wainwright - Royce Hall 3/4
In A Class All By Themselves
The SXSW Interview with Andrew Loog Oldham - Austin, TX 3/20
One of the most exciting things I've ever had the good fortune to witness. A true mentor and hero of mine since I was ten years old.
Drive-By Truckers at Fame Studios - Muscle Shoals, AL - January '04.
A tremendous honor and humbling experience to work on these hallowed grounds, where the likes of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding among many others cut some of their greatest tracks.