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The Best Records of 2004

From "indie rock" to mix tapes to y'alternative country.

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One to keep you up at night: the ultimate end of instrumental electronic music just may be a cappella and acoustic music. Björk wrapping herself in Icelandic choral washes, throat singers, beatboxers, and not much else hits moments of dancefloor drama that Moby or the Chemical Brothers, with their banks of machines, can only hint at. (Elektra)

No one's sure if Ann Arbor's Matthew Dear means to hijack pop music with his nano-fragmented laptop techniques, or just turn on a few million Prince fans to the lockstep grooves of techno. Who cares? This is vocal dance music on the bleeding edge, but it requires no special patience to figure out. (Ghostly International)

Devin Dazzle & the Neon Fever
Crusty Chicago house old-schooler Felix da Housecat ended more than a decade of undue obscurity with his retro-chic Kittenz and Thee Glitz album three years ago. On this one, he drives the crunchy drum machines that made him a DJ booth legend further into the backstage guitars-and-groupies underworld that decadent disco has been threatening to penetrate since its start. (Rykodisc)

Mixed Up in the Hague Vol. 2
This is the second installment in what gets my vote for the best DJ mix series of all time, a truly sleazy and brilliant splash through dance music's long-forgotten primordial ooze. I-F is the fountainhead for all these attempts to bring back Italo-disco and '80s electro back, although he hates the electroclashers, and most of them haven't even heard of him. That both sets are available for free downloading is proof that he's the Fugazi of dance music, tragically underexposed because he refuses to merchandise. (Cybernetic-Broadcasting.net)

Orange Border
Another otherworldly DJ set that's just floating out in cyberspace free for the taking. Koivikko is a Finnish devotee of microhouse, that latest attempt to reunite the brainy, all-left-feet experimental techno camp with those who actually dance to dance music. Constructed only out of fuzzy hums, clinically precise clicks, and analogue moans, his breed of house is ruthlessly efficient yet surprisingly soulful. So shake it, smarty pants. (EE.oulu.fi/~sakoivik)

Destroy Rock & Roll
The BBC's Web site almost crowned this album of the year when it dropped in May; at year's end, I'm leaning that way myself. The balls-out-titled Destroy Rock & Roll is the Halley's Comet-rare electronic music LP that has everything: continuity, stylistic diversity, big ideas, instant accessibility, spliffy downtempo cuts, icy '80s-inflected kookiness, and a huge club anthem ("Drop the Pressure"). Beyond categorization and ahead of music journo cliché, this newbie producer managed to turn only a few heads (what with his self-started label and all), and he managed to do so from Scotland. This last bit would be plenty puzzling, since nothing even remotely listenable comes out of the Highlands for the most part, but we can take some credit -- Mylo spent a while in the Bay Area soaking in our sounds. (Breastfed)

In the last three years, nü breaks (basically drum 'n' bass crossed with techno, slowed down and raved up) has been the big draw at underground parties on the West Coast, including Burning Man geodesic domes. There were quite a few good DJ mixes released in '04 from this frenetic "new" subgenre, and this is as solid as any of them. No outright classic numbers on this or any of the others, but for syncopation madness, Pilgrem is a trusted name, and digital funk will always tickle that special spot. (TCR)

All of nineteen, outlandishly talented, and wielding last year's Mercury Music Prize trophy, Dizzee Rascal -- two-step's second cash money millionaire (after the Streets) -- was expected to crash and burn upon reentry. Ha. Slightly more mature but just as apocalyptically funky as his debut, the aptly named Showtime slaps the put-up onto any shut-up a doubter could conjure. (XL)

This dark electro gem had only a small release, so you might have to convert to euros to track it down. Rother, a funky, robot-worshipping German who makes music for having sex with machines, has consistently impressed but stayed pretty close to the Kraftwerkian template. Here he breaks out by undermining his sinister uprocking breaks with wobbly basslines and trancey synthesizer arcs. There are also some fucked-up Eurotrash chant-choruses to make the whole thing go down like a sketchy encounter in a public bathroom. It's druggy and a bit frightening, sure, but what's the point of staying out past two without some sort of risk, right? (Datapunk)

Sound of Young New York II
It took rock kids a while to pick up on the whole continuously mixed compilation thing and the stop-staring-at-your-Chuck-Taylors-and-dance thing, didn't it? Now that they've finally figured out DJ mixers, we're suddenly spoiled with these awesome indie-rock stomp-alongs. This one has the Faint, the Glass, !!!, and the RZA. Having cake? Eating it? Um, both, please! (Plant)


I can't believe this record exists in 2004: ridiculous, overwrought, melodramatic, pompous, hilarious, and utterly exhilarating art-guitar rock that Kurt Cobain, or Kid A, or 9/11 allegedly killed forever. It has too many fancy geetar effects for Nickelback fans and too much soft-verse-loud-chorus pandering for Arcade Firemen; instead, it balances perfectly on the Schick Quattro's edge of English self-absorption and alt-rock self-flagellation. It also rocks yer face off. (Warner Bros.)

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