Dusted editor Sam Hunt makes a mix of his favorite songs from his favorite albums of 2004.
2004, Down the Dustpipe by Sam Hunt
I’m not really a mix-making kind of person. I never pay attention to or remember the names of songs, and generally speaking I enjoy listening to entire albums. I love the relationship of one song to the next – an album’s sequence is often a make-or-break quality – and worry that inserting my own sequences or improperly placing one song will completely ruin the intended experience. Or even worse, will convey a completely bastardized version of my own experience of the song to the listener. Since I already did a roundup of records from the first half of 2004 (available here), and most of the records that I would select for a year-wide Top 10 list were covered in the aforementioned article, re-doing that didn’t seem like such a great idea. As well, every year there are a number of albums that don’t fit into my description of “the experience,” which is to say, that have one or two songs that transcend the others on the album by such a large margin that it is tempting to give credit to an album when really only a small part of it is so deserving. So here I am, killing a few birds with one stone: I’m making a mix that is useful for me and also (hopefully) useful to others; I am presenting a round-up of the year in music; I am being more inclusive than I normally would be; and am fitting in nicely with the current trend of posting annotated mixes onto the Internet.
1. Animal Collective – “Who Could Win A Rabbit?” (from Sung Tongs; Fatcat)
I was going to include a disclaimer that these songs were in ‘mix order’ and not in order of preference, but I decided not to because of this song. It was my favorite song of the year and I wish all Animal Collective songs were this conventionally good. I have a feeling that if this band wanted to, they could write one of the catchiest, best pop albums of all time. This song is funny because nothing else on the good-but-not-amazing Sung Tongs is anything like it, and the other songs (excluding this one) all sorta resemble each other. This song is great for reasons that the ‘musical everyman’ could appreciate, and also great for reasons that someone who looks down upon the conventional simplicity of the ‘musical everyman’ could appreciate and hopefully friendships will result. Ben Ratliff said this far more eloquently in his recent New York Times review, but believe me, I had been thinking about it before I read the article.
2. Deerhoof – “Milkman” (from Milk Man; 5RC)
This is the catchiest, most coherent song that Deerhoof have written (at least that I’ve heard). Milk Man as a whole was not as innovative or as exciting as their previous two releases, but this song was better than anything on either one. I realize that I am already exposing myself as a sucker for hits, and that the weirder Deerhoof stuff is perhaps as excellent, but if I wanted to convey to somebody just how great this band was, this is the song that I would play them. It has everything that I look for from a Deerhoof song – pounding drums, explosive guitar lines, pretty little guitar lines, and a beautifully catchy vocal melody. It is a bit tame by Deerhoof standards, but that shouldn’t detract from its enjoyability.
3. Joanna Newsom – “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” (from The Milk-Eyed Mender, Drag City)
I already gushed quite thoroughly about this album earlier in the year (and in most conversations that I have had since early 2004), so I won’t go into great detail about the overall significance of this record/artist. However, this record has offered the terrific experience of having many different ‘best songs.’ Again I think that this is probably one of the tamest and most conventional from a melodic standpoint, but in many ways it is also the most powerful. During an incredibly memorable weekend this past April I had the fortune of seeing Joanna Newsom perform three shows in three consecutive days, and this song always hit me the hardest. Go figure…or just go listen to it!
4. Oneida – “Capt. Bo Dignifies The Allegations With A Response” (from Secret Wars, Jagjaguwar)
This is another one that I went over earlier in the year. As much as I love Oneida’s lengthy repetitive songs, their burst-length songs have always been my favorites, and this one might be their best ever. The frantic, gritty freak-out punk rock, played by a clean-cut prog band (of sorts) inspires the urge (in me) to jump around like a toddler that does not come easily or often, and nearly a year after first hearing this record I still turn to it frequently.
5. Savath & Savalas – “Te Quiero Pero Por Otro Lado…” (from Apropa’t, Warp)
Scott Heren is one of the most exciting minds in modern music. This album was good, if a bit dry, but it had a few exciting highlights – like this song! It’s almost like a DJ-Screw mix of a Prefuse 73 song, right down to the lethargically groovy bass part.
6. Dungen – “Panda” (from Ta Det Lugnt, Subliminal Sounds)
Since this album didn’t come out in the US and flew further under the radar than it should’ve, I tried to tell as many people about it as I could. To my initial surprise many of them dismissed it as being ‘too psych,’ but when I went back and listened to the whole album I began to see their point. This song, however, could not be mistaken for being too anything. It’s a catchy rock song through and through. For added entertainment, try pretending that the lyrics are actually in English and guessing what the song is about!
7. Devendra Banhart – “A Sight To Behold” (from Rejoicing In The Hands, Young God)
I was quite relieved to hear that Banhart had begun to abandon the affected vocals that nearly ruined previous records. This, again, was both the most conventional and by far the best song on the record. It’s almost in the same category as “Who Could Win A Rabbit?” in that it is a song that anyone could love; Banhart lets his guard down, brings in the strings, and checks his pretentiousness at the studio door.
8. Kid606 – “Pregnant Cheerleader Theme Song” (from Who Still Kill Sound?, Tigerbeat6)
Kid606’s stock had lost much of its value by the 2nd half of 2004 following the generally bland Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You, but it began to regain its value after the devastatingly clever and punchy companion, Who Still Kill Sound?. This song is not actually the most well-assembled on the record (that honor would go to any of the first three tracks), but Kid606’s cheerleading-to-the-beat, followed by orchestral-breakdown-to-the-beat really just screams “put me in the mix!”
9. Espers – “Flowery Noontide” (from Espers, Locust)
I don’t have anything to add to this that I didn’t say a few months ago. Sorry. It is still very good.
10. White Magic – “Don’t Need” (from Through The Sun Door, Drag City)
This one took me by surprise. It’s actually pretty similar to the Espers song – maybe even a little too similar to put it so close to it on the mix, but that’s just the way it’s going to be. I had this disc for a long time and listened to it a lot of times before it really made any sort of impact on me. I still don’t love it, but this song is particularly excellent; it’s quite haunting, and the vocal line, which is initially off-putting, is astounding.
11. Dangermouse / Jay-Z – “99 Problems” (from The Grey Album)
For all the hype that existed around this album I forgot that it came out in 2004 (and that it came out at all) until I sorted my iTunes library by year. When this was all the rage I remember that most people who considered themselves ‘in the know’ about things like this were perplexed that this had gotten so much attention, and considered all of the press to be the result of a journalistic snowball effect. There was probably plenty to that; what I forgot during all of those discussions was that this album was actually pretty awesome – way better than the actual Jay-Z album. Also, I listened to more Beatles this year than any other year of my life, so this is a nice way to usher them onto the mix through the back door.
12. Sufjan Stevens – “Sister” (from Seven Swans, Soundsfamilyre)
Another one from the first half summary. Sufjan Stevens is another artist who I thought I might be getting over or forgetting about. I saw him and his band during CMJ and was a bit disappointed. I had always been secretly afraid that he wouldn’t be able to recreate or accentuate his songs beyond their recorded form, and the CMJ show seemed to support this. However, I saw him again in Chicago about a month later and to my surprise he was absolutely fantastic. He had a different, tighter band and had rearranged most of his songs to feature pounding drums and work as fully orchestrated songs, rather than just decorated Sufjan Stevens songs. This was the highlight of Seven Swans, which was clearly one of the top highlights of the year.
13. The Go! Team – “Bottle Rocket” (from Thunder, Lightning, Strike, Memphix Industries)
Otis (Dusted’s other editor) and I have had a few conversations about the general blandness of this album, but after each of those conversations I found myself sneaking back to the stereo to give this album another listen; was it really that bland? Well…yes and no. There is something, or rather are many things about this that are cheesy and dopey, but it’s also the most fun, clever dance-assembly record that I’ve heard possibly since Daft Punk’s Discovery. However, where Discovery sounds like it was made in the haze of the 80s Euro-dance scene, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, and “Bottle Rocket” in particular sounds like the Go! Team were steeped in the bliss of mainstream ’70s soul and early hip hop. I realize that this description only makes them sound cheesier, but this is an exercise in which I will feel no guilt.
14. Loretta Lynn (w/ Jack White) – “Portland Oregon” (from Van Lear Rose, Interscope)
Another cheesy selection (hopefully I’m not letting too many people down here), but another really great song. It’s not really the reworking of “In the Ghetto,” that it was made out to be, but definitely seems to paraphrase the original. Don’t think of this as a Loretta Lynn revival or a Jack White song – it’s probably best to listen to this without thinking of its context at all, hence making it a good song for this mix.
15. Amps For Christ – “Prince Charlie Stuart” (from The People At Large, 5RC)
This record was really all over the place and certainly wouldn’t have had a home on any list of the 20 best albums of the year that I may have put together. This was the first Amps For Christ album that I really spent any time with, and I still have no idea what the band sounds like. This song sounds like it could be a Steeleye Span song, and it’s a great one. The trilled female vocals, which fly all over the range with a guitar and fiddle accompaniment, probably make more sense here, following Loretta Lynn, than they do on the record where the song follows a dopey guitar instrumental and a sludgy electric guitar mess.
16. The Concretes – “You Can’t Hurry Love” (from The Concretes, Astralwerks)
This is another fun example of the strange synergy that Otis (co-editor) and I tend to have when these year-end things come ’round. While our tastes tend to be quite different, there are always a few albums that end up unexpectedly turning up on our year end lists. This is as unlikely a candidate as anything, but from what I understand, it made both of our cuts, so to speak. This Swedish pop is “retro” in every way that is not annoying, and is made explosively bright by a neo wall-of-sound, of sorts. A very fun record all-around.
18. Br. Danielson – “Cookin’ Mid-County” (from Brother Is To Son, Secretly Canadian)
I discussed this pretty thoroughly in my mid-year thing. One thing that I only noticed when compiling this list was that I initially thought that this was two separate songs, so that is ever more points in its favor. Had I made a similar realization concerning a song on Blueberry Boat it probably would’ve been an equal number of points against it. Think about that for awhile…
19. Califone – “Wingbone” (from Heron King Blues, Thrill Jockey)
Had I not been employed by the label at the time this record certainly would’ve made my mid-year top ten, and not that I am no longer contractually obligated (albeit orally) to sing the praises of this record, I will do it of my own free will. Califone are one of the great bands recording music today, and this is as good of a song as they have ever written. Tim Rutili’s voice and songwriting have never been stronger than they are on this song, and the sparse but perfect instrumentation on this album strengthen it even further.
20. The Dead Texan – “Glenn’s Goo” (from The Dead Texan, Kranky)
I’m normally hesitant to include things in my year-end article that I haven’t owned for at least a month, but I’m going to roll the dice and make an exception for this. This record, made by one of the Stars of the Lid, sounds like a more pop-oriented extension of The Tired Sounds Of…, one of my all-time favorite records. No matter what my first impression, all of their records have grown on me to a point of adoration, and I liked this record right off the bat. The vocals may make it a bit cheesier than past SOTL efforts, but the defined guitar and strings, and the entire production are beautifully atmospheric. It’s not a giant leap forward, but I don’t imagine that anybody affiliated with SOTL travels in leaps.
21. Josephine Foster – “Well-Heeled Men” (from All The Leaves Are Gone, Locust)
I thought that this whole album was unfairly dogged in most of its reviews (though not the Dusted review!). I’ve often had a hard time getting past the combination of Foster’s medieval voice and her equally ancient instrumentation, but hearing her singing (and songwriting!) in the context of a rock band really helped me appreciate how talented she is. It seems that the primary complaint that reviewers had about this album was that the electric guitar solos were overbearing, but I found that it was difficult to pay attention to anything on this album other than Foster herself and her virtues – which is more than can be said for anything she did with Children’s Hour or Born Heller, and is tremendously effective. When I saw her perform this song without a band it was just as powerful.
By Sam Hunt