It was at the break of the culture being hipster conscience. Casey Kasem gave Ryan Seacrest the reins of "American Top 40." Janet Jackson's nipple managed to show us all what tight-asses we are while making broadcaster's lives a living hell. San Fransisco began issuing same-sex marriage licences. The third "Lord of the Rings" film won best picture. We were still at war in Iraq, but, ya know...some things never change.
2004 was an unquiet year, which is why it may be really easy to forget how much amazing music came out that year. It was a game-changing year full of debut albums from bands still with us today and some who had hit their one high-water mark. Sounds were changing in a particular way that redefined cool. It may have even been the death rattle of what many would now consider traditional guitar rock, just don't tell Dave Grohl.
The same year that Google gave us Gmail gave us these artists albums and songs. Take them in and ask yourself: is music better today, or are we being sentimental.
Arcade Fire "Funeral" - Not their debut album, but the one bringing them to a mass amount of minds. "Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)", "Rebellion (Lies)" and "Wake Up" are the first big tracks that come to mind. We learned about a new type of soulfulness. We learned new ways to scream "Whoaaaaaaoohhhh oooohhh." We learned these Canadians really loved parentheses. It had been maybe since Rage Against the Machine's self-titled album since there was that much passion in an entire album, only in an completely different key. Buy it here.
The Killers "Hot Fuss" - Sure, they can claim a Las Vegas heritage and write songs about neon graveyards all they like, but the first time X96 played "Somebody Told Me" (and we were on of the first, it not the first) to do so, they frenzy began. "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine", All These Things That I've Done" with Mr. Flowers telling us about souls and soldiers. "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" had this slick, echo from a garage that sounded like a marble confessional. For the ambitious fans , we tracked down the import versions so we could enjoy the anthem that is "Clamorous Indie Rock & Roll. Buy it here.
The Dresden Dolls "Dresden Dolls" - Technically released in 2003, but eh, it was re-released in 2004 under a bigger label. This was something completely unexpected. Completely theatrical, not dark, but certainly not light. You can really make the entire adjective stew here: sexy, broken, antique, bold, mysterious, and on and on. And it was all the work of a vaudevillian two-piece: Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione of Boston. While everyone will remember "Coin Operated Boy" it was "Girl Anachronism" that gave me chills. Something this driving was eventually going off a cliff and it did when they took a hiatus in 2008. Let's hope it ends sooner than later. Buy it here.
Franz Ferdinand "Franz Ferdinand" - So damn dancy and catchy with some eroticism thrown in at time. Were people in love with the music of Alex Kapranos' hair? "Jacqueline was 17, working on a desk when I..." You can't start an album out like pop song written by Humbert Humbert, but they did and when the strumming started you got steam-rolled punk guitar that roll into the lyrics and spirit of the French New Wave. That's just the opening track. I haven't even mentioned "Take Me Out", "The Dark of the Matinee" or my favorite "40'." Buy it here.
Interpol "Antics" - Sure it was easy to say, "They sound like Joy Divison." And yeah, they do, but Ian Curtis is gone and New Order sure didn't have the same sound, so stop complaining. This album was and is fascinating. The casualness of these songs led into some driving choruses that immediately raise your pulse. The chorus in "Narc":
Feast your eyes, I'm the only one Control me, console me 'Cause that's just how it should be done...
You should be in my space. You should be in my life...
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch would have asked to be lashed then tossed his pen and parchment away...or typewriter. Whatever writers wrote with at the time. Key tracks like "Not Even Jail", the opener "Next" and of course "Evil." Fantastic, downtrodden, self-inflicting music. It sounds even better when it's dark and raining outside.
Oh, and this one...
Buy it here.
Keane "Hopes & Fears" - Okay, maybe I am getting soft on this one and it took me about 6 years to enjoy this album, but my sentimental side forced me. "Somewhere Only We Know" and "Everybody's Changing" have pretty relevant meaning no matter where you are in life. There is a stench of the genuine article in this album and that is a hard thing to do in music. Get this album out if it has been a while. Buy it here.
Modest Mouse "Good New For People Who Love Bad News" - Modest Mouse was always a band my friends just talked about, but I never paid mind to. That all changed when X96 received an advance of "Float On." I had heard their named dropped, so I didn't stick it in the "listen later" pile. I gave it a shot. Three minutes and twenty-nine minutes later I was busting into the studio during Todd's airshift demanding we put it into rotation. I had no doubt I would be a Modest Mouse fan. When we finally snagged a copy of the full album and I saw it contained a song called, "Bukowski" the deal was sealed. Hopefully the rumors Modest Mouse is in the studio are true. Buy it here.
Razorlight "Up All Night" - Yeah, you mostly likely haven't heard of this one, but if you like The Libertines and Keane you dig this. There are a Beatles-like simplicity in this collection of songs. The lyrics are perhaps a bit trite, but it really works. "Golden Touch", "Rock 'n' Roll Lies" and "Which Way Is Out" are all pretty forgettable song titles until you hear them. It's just a really solid album. Buy it here.
Rilo Kiley "More Adventurous" - I'mm sorry, but the new Jenny Lewis album is so disappointing. A collection of songs preaching the over-preached. Perhaps society needs to hear it, but I don't. I get it. I tried to force myself and honestly couldn't put my ears through it, so I went back to this album. It's cheeky and original. It sounds like music from the Northwest but without the overwrought pretentiousness. Also, not all of Lewis' solo music is bad. To the contrary. It doesn't beat the feeling this album give you with the headphones on. "Potions For Foxes" is a great one here as well. Buy it here.
Say Anything "...Is A Real Boy" - Wow! Did my friends have an obsession with this album and band for a while. This album had been released earlier, but like The Dresden Dolls got a label push and later released as a two-disc. The ol' chestnut goes, "You have your whole life to write your first album and.." Well, yeah. Max Bemis is a victim of this if there ever was one. These songs are narrative, dramatic, passionate, pissed, anxious. The only thing I can compare it to is "Hedwig and the Angry Itch." It's a grand opus and one of my all-time favorite albums. Every track is perfect. Buy it here.
The Streets "A Grand Don't Come For Free" - The Cell Phone Poet, Mike Skinner. Not always hit, but when he did, he did. It's interesting music and lyrics delivered as very British hip-hop. This was the second of six albums Mr. Skinner did under the guise of The Streets and it was pretty much downhill after that. You can hear it getting progressively bored on with each album, but "Blinded By The Lights", "Dry Your Eyes" a song he managed to get Chris Martin from Coldplay to sing on and "Fit But You Know It" are all worth the price of admission. Buy it here.
The Zutons "Who Killed...The Zutons" - This one is for the 70's music fans, but damn, it's good. Another one with not one bad track on it. They are a Liverpool band, but you wouldn't think Kentucky on first listen. A casual blues-rock feel, ya know, heavy, but genuinely great tracks here. "pressure Point", "Havana Gang Brawl", though I could float down a river and listen to "Remember Me" on repeat for hours. This is a perfect Summer album. Buy it here.
The Libertines "The Libertines" - Sure Pete Doherty shot his blood out of a syringe at someone, but it was for at and we all have hobbies. The tabloids: sometimes they ruin things, sometimes they empower things. I have no idea what they made me think about The Libertines. I just tuned out the antics and the drugs and that Pete dated Amy Winehouse. This is the third album on the list I would call perfect. There just isn't a bad song here. The music meets the verse so well. All bands make their music differently and I am sure there is some mad story on how this album was made, but I don't care to know it. It would ruin it for me. A grand rock record: passive aggressive, anti, lustful, disappointed, confused. Buy it here.
I think I will leave this list how it is...for now. There are some honorable mentions like Washington Social Club, Scissor Sisters, The Kills amazing album "No Wow", The Honeymoon, Handsome Boy Modeling School (I have framed, autographed poster that will never not be hung on a wall wherever I may be residing), Graham Rabbit, The Go! Team's "Thunder, Lightning, Strike" taught me I can like pop music, The French Kicks song "One More Time" is patient-cool and The Faint's "Wet From Birth" - damn, that's a great album, too. Their best.
That's what was happening over and underground ten years ago in "Modern Rock." It was the year local boy, Ken Jennings, began his 74 game winning streak on "Jeopardy and people still liked Lance Armstrong.
Think about it...is music better or worse ten years later?