11. Interpol Antics (Matador) – Interpol’s gloomy and vigorous debut Turn on the Bright Lights invited many Joy Division/Echo and the Bunnymen comparisons. But it also proved they could craft impressive original songs within that framework. On Antics, they’ve busted open that mold and made a cheerier album with crisper, more jagged guitars. It plays less as mood music and more as a collection of rock
songs guided by Paul Banks’ persistently dour moan. With Antics, Interpol has established its spot amongst underground rock’s elite.
12. Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose (Interscope) – Yes, Loretta Lynn is 70 years-old. Yes, she hasn’t had a hit or a significant album since the ‘80s. And yes, most of the critics who will undoubtedly include this on their year-end lists would be lying if they said they were experts on her career. But writing 13 of her own songs, and teaming up with the
White Stripes’ Jack White as a producer, has introduced the Coal Miner’s Daughter to a new generation of fans. Her vocals are impressively strong, and the honesty and vibrancy of these rock-tinged updates of classic country, folk and blues shows she still had a lot to get off her chest. Sometimes playful and joyous, sometimes somber and heartrending, Van Lear Rose is a masterful comeback.
13. Green Day American Idiot (Reprise) – Ten years after
catapulting pop-punk from the underground to a mega-platinum phenomenon, Green Day are stronger than ever. The widespread success of the genre they popularized, and all the cookie cutter imitators that have come along with it, has seemingly pushed them to loftier heights. On paper American Idiot is a punk rock opera, because it’s Green Day doing multi-part songs with a concept and storyline woven throughout. But in practice it feels much less pretentious and
challenging than that tag suggests. American Idiot is a solid collection of immediately memorable songs played in a large variety of rock subgenres – punk, glam, pop, greaser, art, theatrical, arena and psychedelic. At times they steal melodies from an interesting group of artists – David Bowie, 311 and Bryan Adams. They can be forgiven for these flashes of laziness, though, because they overachieve the rest of the time. The godfathers of modern pop-punk challenged
themselves and succeeded.
14. Secret Machines Now Here Is Nowhere (Reprise) – With Pink Floyd spaciness and Led Zeppelin stomp, Secret Machines were the best retro-minded newcomers of 2004 to jump further back than the ‘80s. Though it’s easy to pick out their influences, they carve their own niche with soothingly sweet vocals, paranoid and surreal lyrics, and meticulous production. As a result, they deliver five new rock classics
and show tremendous promise. With only nine tracks and a stinker or two, they leave you begging for more.
15. Ghostface The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam) – While most Wu-Tang members remain classically Wu-esque on their solo albums, Ghostface continues to march to his own drummer. Pretty Toney’s production digs deep into the crates to dust off vintage Motown, soul, r&b and disco to construct a slew of party tracks with a few gritty street jams. As always, his rhymes are clever, bizarre and carry most of the album, while guest rappers are used tastefully and sparingly.
Unfortunately, the excessive use of skits disrupts the flow of an otherwise bangin’ and enterprising album.
16. The Faint Wet from Birth (Saddle Creek) – There’s been a lot of early ‘80s-inpsired music over the last couple years, and Omaha, Nebraska’s The Faint were certainly on the forefront when they released Danse Macabre back in 2001. Three years later they still have a Depeche Mode/New Order fixation with their gloomy-but-dancey synth-rock. This time, though, they’ve added more distorted guitars and instant hits. Todd Baechle’s monotone vocals may get a little tiresome and the lyrics are occasionally laughable, but they also distinguish the Faint from their British ancestors. Don’t look for much
intellectual insight; this is great-sounding music for a decadently good time.
17. The Streets A Grand Don’t Come for Free (Vice/Atlantic) – The UK’s great new storyteller is back with an album-length narrative. Talk/rapping with his cockneyed British accent over electronic beats, The Streets (aka Mike Skinner) established himself as an articulate and amusing voice on his debut Original Pirate Material, with accounts of getting drunk, stoned, fighting, scoring with girls and Playstation.
This time he ups the ante by working tales of gambling, partying, a brief relationship and more into a story bookended by him misplacing and ultimately finding his $1,000 of savings. He scores it with sentimental ballads, bouncy rock, hypnotic trance and the spare, hard-hitting two-step beats that frequented his debut. This daring follow-up isn’t as immediately stunning as the original, but it shows The Streets
is far from a one-trick pony.
18. N.E.R.D. Fly or Die (Virgin) – Hip hop’s premier producers – The Neptunes – work out their prog-band side as N.E.R.D. Their second album is a far-out mix of funk, rock and jazz with sophisticated stompers, sweet-harmony ballads, and Pharrell Williams’ trademark Curtis Mayfield-style falsetto. The juvenile lyrics are still head-scratchers, but have more of an oddball, youthful charm this time around – even when they’re crass and lazy. They may never be deep, but they’ll always make you want to dance, party and have casual sex.
19. Sparta Porcelain (Geffen) – With their second post-At the Drive-In album, Sparta establishes more of an identity for themselves. Their debut Wiretap Scars was more accessible, had a couple more bona fide hits and was stronger overall, but it also felt schizophrenic. Porcelain consistently balances the frustrated tension in Jim Ward’s coarse voice with a delicate web of U2-esque guitars. Despite a couple lulls, it’s one of the prettier portraits of aggression you’ll find.
20. Death From Above 1979 You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine (Vice) – With only a fuzzed-out bass, drums and an occasional synthesizer these two Canadians make a big noise. Their sexed-up, danceable, lo-fi grooves blend Punk energy with Metal magnitude. You might expect such chunky riffs to yield more memorable hooks, but they let the overall vibe leave the lasting imprint. It’s a non-stomp romp that makes its mark quick, moves on and quits before you get sick of it.