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Puckett's Favorite Albums Of 2004

By Scott Puckett

I don't want to call 2004 a wasted year for music because some great records came out, but too many bands called it a day, too many people died, too few people did too little that was interesting and most publications might have well have phoned their shit in while selling their asses to corporate record companies in the last and dirtiest stall of a bus station bathroom. Tapping Usher as one of the best artists of the year or lauding the virtues of Janet Jackson's "Damita Jo" is such an utter abdication of critical thinking and an egregious display of pandering that the writer should be shot in the head and cited for indecency, in that order.

I lost count of how many new releases I bought or received to review this year - calling it a lot hammers the point home because I've sold more albums this year than most people would buy. However, a few records grabbed my ears in a huge way - they would be stunning artistic accomplishments in any year. In this year, listening to a song like Ted Leo's "Me And Mia" might as well have been hearing "Satisfaction" or "Twist And Shout" for the very first time. The moment when Ted Leo morphs his voice from a croon into a tuneful shout to call everyone to action with a single couplet ("Do you believe in something beautiful? / Then get up and be it!") is as good as anything else I've heard in rock 'n' roll.

The Explosion returned with an album on a major label; while I have no practical use for majors, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day and "Black Tape" is both of those moments. The first track, "Deliver Us," runs for one minutes and 42 seconds. In less than two minutes, this song reminds me why I've loved this band since I heard them and reaffirms that faith; just like the Paris Texas record that I fell head over heels for earlier this year, this song makes me want to do backflips and is exactly the sort of thing that makes me feel half my age and far more inspired, the sort of song that - heard live - would not only have me singing along with every word, pointed finger in the air, but would also be likely to have me reminding everyone in the surrounding area how to have fun at a punk show. After all, what are a few elbows and shoves amongst people who will either be fast friends or throwing punches in short order? Sure, maybe street punk can seem tired every once in a while but this entire album is a potent reminder of just how great it is when done properly.

And then, once again, there's that fucking Paris Texas album that I still cannot get over. Sure, you can dismiss it as calculated, constructed pop assembled out of fragments of prior trends, genres and hits, but so what? I don't think I know a single person who's given this album half a chance and hasn't had to admit - no matter how grudgingly - that it's fucking catchy as hell and spawns some of the most stubborn earworms I've ever heard.

However, albums like these were the exception this year. Promising EPs yielded lackluster follow-ups; most of the full-lengths turned out to be tremendously bloated singles and fodder for home-made compilations which salvaged the handful of good moments before tossing the remainder overboard into the swollen seas of the used bins.

In 2004, punk effectively lost a great deal of its conscience - only a handful of punk bands bothered to comment on the state of things as one of the most important elections in recent memory came and went, as the country basically handed the reins over to zealots and fascists. While those statements are memorable artistic accomplishments, for the most part, punk sat on the sidelines and seemed more concerned with navel-gazing introspection instead of opposition and resistance. In the face of what could have been the most politically galvanizing year for punk since the 1980s, punk - for the most part - focused on the critical issues of relationships and hurt feelings with enough catchy melodies to transform those songs into pop ditties suitable for soccer mom radio. And that capitulation, more than anything else, is what I will remember this year for.

I will only claim one thing about the following records - this is what 2004 sounded like for me. Some guilty pleasures, some great artistic accomplishments, and some selections that will likely leave you scratching your head. So be it. Music - and writing about it - is a frustrating thing and lists like these are intended to spark discussion and debate. With that said, let's get on with it. Here are the disclosures:

  1. I have some level of personal involvement with a number of bands on this list. I have either interviewed them, am in the process of interviewing them, am friends with them, talk with them on a regular basis, drink with them or otherwise have a relationship which extends beyond merely hearing the record. There are a substantial number of records which were released in 2004 by bands that I also have some relationship with that do not appear on this list.
  2. The only albums on this list which I did not pay for are as follows: The Bars, Communiqué, The Dukes / Altaira split, Lords, Sex Positions and The Vanishing.
  3. I purchased every other album on this list. Thus, you can read every commentary in this list and know that it's from the perspective of someone who worked to earn money to buy these records and still feels that they're stellar.

Favorite Songs

Hey, I'm a geek. In any year, there's usually a handful of songs that I just can't hear enough, that I listen to on repeat for hours, that linger in my ears for weeks afterward. If I were making a mix CD of 2004, these songs would be on it.


Of course, new releases weren't the only game in town. This year was pretty decent for reissues and collections, including:

If you didn't pick those up, you really might want to do so.

Ass Coverage

Every year, I wind up with discs that I'm just not sure about - albums that keep me listening and keep me interested, albums that I keep going back to like dysfunctional relationships with addicting people. Think of this list as albums that I reserve the right to add to my list of favorite records for 2004 whenever I see fit. Unlocking their secrets simply requires more time than I had to offer them in 2004.

Most Overlooked Album Of 2003

How in the hell did I miss The Postal Service's "Give Up"? Good thing I corrected that mistake.

Worst Packaging

Múm's "Summer Make Good" features what is absolutely the worst packaging of the year. Sure, it looks good but the CD slips into a sleeve which is so tight that it has to be forced back in ... and practically pulled out with tweezers. It's just stupid - if you can get the CD out of the packaging without ripping the sleeve, you will be graced with some delightful glitch-pop songsmithing ... but that's a pretty big if.

Looking Forward

2005 is already shaping up to be better - you will be hearing about the Jesu record that Justin Broadrick is releasing - I have a copy here, I can't stop listening to it and it's fucking amazing. If you can imagine a combination of Godflesh, My Bloody Valentine and Sigur Rós, you will have a vague understanding of how mind and genre-bendingly awesome the Jesu album really is.

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 26, 2008