2004 was a hip year for music. Slick newcomers from every corner of the musical map made bold decisions with conviction and elegance. Yes, rock, electronica and hip hop all had strong showings but the strongest movement in 2004 was a sub-genre called indie rock. Indie rock here has seen itâ€šÃ„Ã´s strongest showing thus far. Here is mxdwnâ€šÃ„Ã´s 2004 top 10 songs containing the best and brightest weâ€šÃ„Ã´ve heard this year. Each pick here whether inspirational, dark, whimsical or just plain fun all have one thing in common: A fresh and innovative look at their area of expertise.10. Kanye West – Never Let Me Down
From: College Dropout
Kanye Westâ€šÃ„Ã´s “Never Let Me Down” serves as ample evidence of how this was his year to shine. In an album filled with many successful singles such as “Jesus Walks” and “Slow Jamz” this songs manages to reach out and demand attention. Kanye here utilizes his preferred production approach (a sped up vocal sample) along with a expectedly strong set of verses from Jay-Z. “Never Let Me Down” highlights why Kanye made such a strong showing this year, half joyous and half analytical lyrically while simple and effective production build solid melodic motifs. All this plus the gospel delivered hook “When it comes to being true / at least true to me / one thing I found, one thing I found / I know youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll never let me down” make for an inspirational jam.
9. Automato – How to Read a Person Like a Book
Fresh out of New York City Automato manage to accomplish both an old school sound of hip-hop and a future looking electronic sound of hip hop. In formation Automato is a Roots style “band” consisting of main MCs Jesse Levine and Ben Fries and instrument players as opposed to a standard DJ. “How to Read a Person Like a Book” demonstrates a vibrant exciting production with beats sounding like old style samples and new era electronica. In addition the group manages to juggle itâ€šÃ„Ã´s various elements deftly, allowing when necessary the rhymes to take priority but also at times giving a piano or a drum clap time to shine. Lyrically Automato sounds confident and playful with rhymes like “It ainâ€šÃ„Ã´t the same / I wouldnâ€šÃ„Ã´t even call this a rap game / games are meant for players / and I ainâ€šÃ„Ã´t playinâ€šÃ„Ã´ what you sayinâ€šÃ„Ã´.”
8. Of Montreal – Lysergic Bliss
From: Satanic Panic in the Attic
Of Montrealâ€šÃ„Ã´s “Lysergic Bliss” is a spastic indie surf pop ditty Brian Wilson would be proud of. True, “Help Me Rhonda” this is not, but herein Kevin Barnes imbibes the best parts of the classic Beach Boys doo-wop-pop in a song seemingly as mired in misery as it is in ecstatic joy. While contrapuntal harmonies interlace the band with bounceful glee sing “Funny how in spite of all my woes / life can appear rosy and clear /rosy and clear / And I’m dizzy from her kiss / so vertiginous lost in lysergic bliss.” Next, this acid soaked tune takes a sudden turn and stops where a quiet whisper can be heard speaking “OK children, remember your breathing” before a chorus of “Ba Ba Baâ€šÃ„Ã´s” ensues. The song then breaks down in a peaceful piano flute accompaniment.
7. Tweaker – Sleepwalking Away
From: 2 a.m. Wakeup Call
Former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna shows here in “Sleepwalking Away” the true scope of his talents. Beginning with a light percussive melody and then layering over an unforgettable crawling bassline this song is eerily moving. On 2 a.m. Wakeup Call, Tweaker features a different guest vocalist on each track. This song features the talents of A.I. vocalist Nick Young hauntingly belting the words “Places where I like to hide / rooms that I built in my mind / have trapped me from my dreams at night.” Thematically the words and the music both perfectly fit the album’s concept of living through insomnia, yielding both feelings of peacefulness and frustration. The song ends remarkably strong with Young screaming “Wake up / wake up / for the killer lurks inside / Wake up / wake up / save me from my murderous plight” as Vrenna ferociously pounds his drums.
6. Rjd2 – Clean Living
From: Since We Last Spoke
“Everything you are to me / makes me think you could be / the end to all myâ€šÃ„Â¶ / Everything you touch turns right / underneath your very hands” is the refrain heard on DJ Rjd2â€šÃ„Ã´s “Clean Living.” Much akin to the bulk of the material on his newest album Since We Last Spoke, musically “Clean Living” is far more soul than his past work. RJ has left the dusty records that made up his earlier hip hop sound behind (at least temporarily) for this more patient, brooding and beautiful approach. He pulls out all the stops here: Wah wah guitars, hand claps, phased ethereal drones and jazzy piano interludes. The aforementioned lyrics come off almost heavenly, sounding vaguely delivered as if by someone on another plane entirely while Rjd2 keeps the beat moving and the sound mixing and interspersing.
5. Telefon Tel Aviv – What it Was Will Never Again
From: Map of What Is Effortless
Joshua Eustis and Charles Cooper of Telefon Tel Aviv strike gold here in this song that seems to combine two great songs into one. “What It Was Will Never Again” opens with a clicky downtempo beat that meets a few moments in with a light electric piano melody and a slithery high pitched slide guitar strum. Vocalist Lindsay Anderson chimes in then making the whole affair sound like a less jazzy version of Portishead. Thenâ€šÃ„Â¶ at about the half way point the song comes almost to a complete stop snapping back into force with a dirty slamming cacophony while Anderson lets the words “The pleasureâ€šÃ„Ã´s mine” soar past her lips repeatedly. It may sound like a stark contrast on paper but it works amazingly well.
4. Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out
From: Franz Ferdinand
This year’s “From Out of Nowhere” award goes to Franz Ferdinand, and it is no doubt largely thanks to their infectious single “Take Me Out.” Hailing from Scotland, the most noteworthy thing about this band their ubiquitous hit single is that is without a doubt rock and roll you can dance to. Alex Kapranos and co.â€šÃ„Ã´s twangy plodding upbeat number has to be the biggest hit in the United States in some time of a rock band making music that is meant for a dance floor. On the surface the lighty distorted riffs sound incredibly simplistic but after a moment or two what gets you is the melodic interplay between the four band members. What grabs you are the subtle change-ups and the way each instrument/voice fills in the holes for the others. Thus on subsequent listens itâ€šÃ„Ã´s hard not to eagerly anticipate each little melodic trick. All this and an upbeat rhythm that drills its way into your memory prompting nothing but smiles.
3. Rjd2 -1976
From: Since We Last Spoke
In his second placing in this top ten Rjd2 picks up the pace and tempo with this fantastic track. In “1976” the soul influence can still be felt but here it is coupled with hard thumping funk. The real magic in this song in this sheer precision of editing and production that RJ displays. The same handful of elements play through but itâ€šÃ„Ã´s how theyâ€šÃ„Ã´re woven that makes this song jump out of the speakers. Between the horn section, a space age background electronic noise and a galloping dance floor beat he skillfully jumps from section to section. At multiple points the beat is stopped unexpectedly for effect but RJD2â€šÃ„Ã´s timing is so strong when the music is resumed you donâ€šÃ„Ã´t lose any of the pace or momentum the song has building. This is a song that dance clubs should be playing.
2. Jem – They
From: Finally Woken
For those skeptical (and perhaps rightfully so) Jem is proof positive that there is much hope for pop music. Here vocalist/producer Jem uses every bit of her siren-like talents to draw you in. The backbeat of the songs sounds deceptively slow and fast simultaneously due to a well placed ancient sample of multiple voices singing “Bap Ba Da” along with quick hi hat programming. So it manages effectively to work as a song you could hear in a voluminous club with a thousand people or entirely by yourself on a pair of headphones. Even more impressive is that the song plays so pleasantly in spite of the somber tone of its lyrics which find Jem singing “Who made up all the rules / we follow them like fools / believe them to be true / donâ€šÃ„Ã´t care to think them through / and Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m sorry so sorry / Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m sorry itâ€šÃ„Ã´s like this / Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m sorry so sorry / Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m sorry we do this.” Jemâ€šÃ„Ã´s voice has a fog-like quality to it, seeming to expand and roll out with each note instead of punching out each syllable. An outstanding debut and fantastic surprise for 2004 that must be heard.
1. Modest Mouse – Float On
From: Good News for People Who Love Bad News
It is in this year that indie rock has reached the apex of its popularity. The best evidence of such (aside from the Pixies selling out shows nationwide) is the landslide success of Modest Mouseâ€šÃ„Ã´s “Float On.” A genre once thought of as nothing more than a mere offshoot is now a fully functioning juggernaut. “Float On” wields with dexterity the sonic principles many underground music fans have championed for years now. An experimental approach with pop sensibilities. The guitar clangs with staccato fervor while the bass bounces happily and frontman Isaac Brock switches been screeching and lush singing. Yet all this happens within three and a half minutes and by the end the song bursts into a chorus chanting “And weâ€šÃ„Ã´ll all float on / alright already weâ€šÃ„Ã´ll all float on / all right donâ€šÃ„Ã´t worry even if things end up a bit too heavy / weâ€šÃ„Ã´ll all float on.” It is no wonder this song was on the tip of everyoneâ€šÃ„Ã´s tongue this year or on top of this list for that matter. It manages to challenge, entertain, enlighten and make strong decisions all without getting convoluted or pretentious.