Six Hours, 11 Minutes and 41 Seconds of Pure Melody

By liz

I started compiling my best of list this year in what I thought was a very left-brained manner for my normally right-brained self. I imported every record of contention into my ipod (some 70 odd albums and singles), created a '2004 contenders' playlist and began systematically rating every song. My intention was to count up which records scored the highest, manipulate the information a little to account for records that worked better on the whole and not on a song-by-song basis and pronounce myself 'Done!'. Well... I did all this (weeks of listening to nothing but 2004 releases... eep), looked at the list of records, looked at the list of rated songs and quite liked the song list a bit better. Hmph. So I began to wonder... why should I be limited to the standard top 20 records of the year? Behold... my A to Y of 2004 in 99 songs (or 6 hours, 11 minutes and 41 seconds of pure melody).

madame sunshinefix stars rufus magicnumbers anniemal rendezvous
148020 - Edson, A Modern Girl - Sing-Sing, Afterglow - The Sunshine Fix, Ageless Beauty - Stars, Agnus Dei - Rufus Wainwright, Anima Sola - The Magic Numbers, Anniemal - Annie, Astronaut - Luna

148020 - Edson
These happy-go-lucky Swiss boys have provided us with one hell of a catchy jingle. This song is all harmony, simple jangley guitars and pure sugary pleasure. Sweetness and light in simultaneously throwaway and memorable pop.
A Modern Girl - Sing-Sing
I'm oh so glad that Sing-Sing's internet pleas for help to their fans were well received. With a beautiful single under their belts (Madame EP) this is a great interim song to tide us over until they can release a full length in the new year. Pure guitar pop as spacey and dreamy as Sing-Sing has ever played it.
Afterglow - The Sunshine Fix
The rhythm and blues effects of guitar slides and dirty harmonicas generally aren't my thing, but The Sunshine Fix are out to prove me wrong by combining them with such gorgeous harmonies (and a cowbell!).
Ageless Beauty - Stars
Oh Amy! I've always loved the melodies that Stars pump out by the dozens, but there's a certain something added to it with the graceful soprano of Amy Milan. Add layers upon layers of Amy's harmonies with prodding electronic beats and they've written one of the best songs of their career. Oh yes, we *will* always be in love.
Agnus Dei - Rufus Wainwright
Rufus keeps pushing himself further into dreamland with each new record, and while some people could probably claim he's out to become the new king of the show tune, none of that is showing in this haunting Asian inspired operetta. Starting slowly with one screechy violin... then a single flute... it builds into an orchestral gem the likes of which Rufus has never penned before. I will admit I have no idea what godliness he's singing about in Latin but it doesn't matter in the slightest.
Anima Sola - The Magic Numbers
These new signings to Heavenly haven't even recorded a debut record, yet. Anima Sola is a stand out on the four track limited release single. It's also the exact opposite of that last Rufus track. The Magic Numbers strip their music down to it's barest and purest form... guitar resonance and vocal bliss. The vocals of head numero Romeo outshine all else on this simple melody. You'll hear their name again... and soon.
Anniemal - Annie
I'm always (unsuccessfully) trying to explain why Scandinavia has been gripping my musical heart for the past few years. Every time I turn my head, another new artist has popped out of the Norwegian woodwork with something refreshingly honest and new. With one spin of the Annie's debut record I'm again cheering extra-loud for another Scanindie underdog. So catchy, so cute, this is electropop for the masses. Happy-go-lucky electrohouse keyboards and Annie's "ba-ba-ba" vocals are contagiously dancey as we should all "get up, stand up, wake up the anniemal inside of you".
Astronaut - Luna
One of the peppiest songs Dean Wareham has ever written and yet one of the most puzzling. I've never heard Dean (or Britta) croon with such slick contempt. It's a four-minute kick in the teeth to hero worship... but layered with some of the most dynamic guitar riffs ever to come out this guitarbliss band.



Banquet - Bloc Party, Bastardo - Charlotte Hatherley, Better Days Will Come - Tahiti 80, Better Time - The French Kicks, Bittersweet Bundle of Misery - Graham Coxon, Blue Monday - Swan Lee

Banquet - Bloc Party
They are currently one of the most talked about bands of the moment for a reason. This single has all the hip shaking energy one needs for a Friday night, even if you second guess the singer's adoration of the Cure with his Robert Smith vocal afflictions, the beat will get you going.
Bastardo - Charlotte Hatherley
I was not expecting this pop gem from the Ash guitarist's solo effort. I expected some dark metal guitar riffs ... but WOW. Her voice is gorgeous, her lyrics oh so Louise Wener and this song is fabulous. Yeah bastardo... give her back her damn guitar.
Better Days Will Come - Tahiti 80
I'm thrilled when bands finally let their beautiful 'rejects' out of the closet and onto releases of b-sides and rarities discs. Better Days Will Come is better than most of the material on Tahiti 80's last full length, 'Wallpaper for the Soul'. What's the French translation for 'gorgeous, beautiful and don't hide songs this fabulous on anymore import only singles!'? Tahiti 80 will convince even the frowniest among us that tomorrow's sun can and will shine a little brighter.
Better Time - The French Kicks
As the closing track on their full length, 'Trial of the Century', The French Kicks have created a beauty with tinkling pianos and an overanxious Figurine-like drum machine. It's stuttery and polished shiny, but breaks into well rounded sweetness through the chorus of 'oooooh, that's the sound of a better time, better time." One time pegged as garage rockers, The French Kicks have developed into so much more.
Bittersweet Bundle of Misery - Graham Coxon
This song has the best rhyme structure EVER! When Graham first threw off the guise of Blur and began recording his solo material... I found it unlistenable noise. He's finally made a return to "rhubarb and custard keyboards"... ok well rhubarb and custard guitars. This is the Graham I always wanted to hear solo... and I never want this song to end. Write em all like this Graham. Pretty please?
Blue Monday - Swan Lee
Yes, a cover song and a cover of one of the most covered songs of all time. It's a real gift to transform one of the most popular dance tracks of the past 20 years into something ethereal and altogether new. Watch out for this Danish band... they'll make another appearance in my column shortly.



C'Mon Baby, Let's Make War - Koala, Can't Stop You - The Wannadies, Carry Me - Fancey, Charmed Life - The Divine Comedy, Cherry Blossom Girl - Air, Come Home Billy Bird - The Divine Comedy, Communication - The Cardigans

C'Mon Baby, Let's Make War - Koala
Politics and music do NOT have to be separate entities. Especially not when you combine them with stomping guitar hooks, John & Paul harmonies gone vocorder and such cleverly written lyrics.
Can't Stop You - The Wannadies
Speaking of politics, this was the song reverberating in my head on November 3rd. 'We all want to change the world, or at least we all should. It's the way it's meant to be. It's a great great shame, what a beautiful day it would have been." Enough said.
Carry Me - Fancey
This song is the best introduction to a new record and artist I heard all year. Todd Fancey stole my heart with his breezy cool melody as his voice is the lullaby in my 70's pop dreams. The build up breaks through the clouds and straight into a sun dappled Wurlitzer heaven. "Melody on the airwaves... taking me out..."
Charmed Life - The Divine Comedy
Every artist eventually makes more mature music, and I bet quite a few can look at Neil Hannon through the eyes of the green-eyed monster. This simple guitar and banjo ballad of thankfulness for the life he's lead is an ode to his newborn daughter. Love and sleepiness.
Cherry Blossom Girl - Air
"Tell me why can't it be true..." How Air manage to write music that resembles an escapist fantasy is beyond me. From every warped instrumental and slightly drippy vocal, I'm constantly comforted by the seamless sound they build up and tear right back down. For goodness sake, there's flute flourishes in this song... and it only makes me fall in love with Jean-Benoît and Nicolas all over again.
Come Home Billy Bird - The Divine Comedy
The polar opposite of Charmed Life... this is the storytelling Neil Hannon of old complete with string section and the notoriously catchy chorus. I miss Lauren Laverne. Her guest vocals on this Divine Comedy duet just make my day.
Communication - The Cardigans
I owe the Cardigans an apology. When I first heard this record last year, I dismissed it as a pile of steaming Fleetwood Mac covers done by a Sheryl Crow sound alike. Harsh I know, but I was horrified by alt-country band that had taken over the souls and bank accounts of the Cardies. It wasn't until I gave in and saw them live this spring that I discovered how much the band cared for their newly developed sound, and it moved me. The album and this song took on a new light. Communication has swagger instead of jingle... but it shows how the Cardigans grew into a truly emotional entity.



Don't Sweat The Fallout - The Marlboro Chorus, Dry Your Eyes - The Streets

Don't Sweat The Fallout - The Marlboro Chorus
My favorite Iowans have made a humble yet unapologetic return to their pop vengeance... "We've got our missiles packed with love / We got the ok from the dogs / It's just 10 minutes air time from our ship to your shores / So don't sweat the fallout / There is no need to take cover /Give a loving embrace to the end that's here to stay." Even in attack mode, they're nothing but charmers.
Dry Your Eyes - The Streets
I had no idea that Mike Skinner had this in him. With his sophomore concept record he's blown me away with the depth of new songs, particularly on Dry Your Eyes. Brokenhearted and backed by a full orchestra... he's singing as if his heart depends upon it. "And I'm just standing there... I can't say a word cos everything's just gone. I've got nothing, absolutely nothing." If you haven't heard this song you must live under a rock. Crawl out and join us sobbing along with Mike.



Ewan - The Radio Dept.


Ewan - The Radio Dept.
I'm cheating a little... I picked up this record towards the end of 2003 and it did make my list, but most of it's valuable time on 'play' came during this calendar year. I can't leave Ewan out... the song is too damn good. (Besides it was *just* released as a UK single so it technically counts.) "And You Can Feel The Sunshine Fading..." The Swedes are still bowling me over with their layers of shoegazey guitars and fuzzy vocal warblings.



Family Curve - Kevin Tihista's Red Terror, First of the Gang to Die - Morrissey, Fit But You Know It - The Streets, For Your Sake - Ken Stringfellow, Freakin' Out - Graham Coxon, Freakshow - Kevin Tihista's Red Terror

Family Curse - Kevin Tihista's Red Terror
Kevin is blessed with the gift of being one of my city's most beautiful songwriters, even if he's perhaps the shyest Chicagoan to attempt to take the rock stage. This was the first standout track on Kevin's new record for me. What starts off as a slightly prodding testimonial of youthful reserve full of organs and strings... becomes a grandiose display of his own strength (albeit slightly psychotic with the overlaying harmonies and minor chords). 'Who Cares I Don't Fucking Talk /But you know I love hard / I love harder than you." Genius.
First of the Gang To Die - Morrissey
Oh Moz. What happened to your record? Seven years and all you come up with is two catchy songs? First of the Gang to Die has all the energy of the Morrissey of the yesteryear... I just wish it wasn't sandwiched between such bland material. This song shows he still has it... so bring me more tracks as well written.
Fit But You Know It - The Streets
Bounce. Bounce. Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. "This night's not even begun. Yes yes, oh yay." The followup so needed to 'Original Pirate Material'. Bounce. Bounce.
For Your Sake - Ken Stringfellow
From brawn to beauty. Ken's written another ballad to fall in love to (and with). "If you fuck up / I'll come around." The layers of pristine keyboards and vocals in this song take my breathe away.
Freakin' Out - Graham Coxon
A bit of shiny guitar embellishment in a song based purely upon uninspired rock music. Only Graham could carry this one-upmanship off with such panache as his punk edge takes on a whole new sweetness.
Freakshow - Kevin Tihista's Red Terror
I read somewhere that Kevin didn't want to include this song on his 2004 record ('Wake Up Captain'); he thought it was too personal. Nothing grips my imagination more than a songwriter putting their purest, most shameful emotions to verse, chorus and dazzling verse. "Oh, I'm just not turning out like I had planned / Oh, Get away as fast as you can get away as fast you can get away as fast as you can / 'Cos here I come again." With horns a plenty, and dreamy multi-tracked vocals, there's no shame in this.



Gay Messiah - Rufus Wainwright, Get On With Your Life - Stina Nordenstam, Good Wings - Kevin Tihista's Red Terror

Gay Messiah - Rufus Wainwright
Ahh Rufus, even when he's mocking gay culture and yet claiming to take advantage of his place in it... he can do no wrong. If his voice isn't soothing enough to gloss over the bizarreness of his message on this track, the beauty and build up of vocals harkens one back to old spirituals.
Get On With Your Life - Stina Nordenstam
Her voice may burn with childlike innocence, but the depths in Stina's music show she's far from naïve. While this song starts off slightly prodding, the lush orchestration frames her captivating multi-tracked vocals, turning her youthful tone in a graceful curtsey to the world at large.
Good Wings - Kevin Tihista's Red Terror
We all lives our lives immobilized somewhat by a fear... fear of losing face, fear of being broke, fear of failure or so many more. There are things in our lives we don't undertake because of our fears and I know personally I've got a gigantic blank canvas hiding in a corner for this very reason. I get caught up in the familiar, it's safety and comfort... and sometimes don't reach for that dream that's slightly outside my grasp. Kevin Tihista takes a simple story of an alcoholic's struggle with the bottle and transforms it into an anthem of familiarity for anyone ever handcuffed by such fears.
"Oh, I should have used my good wings. / Oh, trying's not the problem / Oh, you know the failing is. / Oh, I should have used my good wings. / Oh, It's nothing more than than this. / Oh, flying's not the problem /Oh, you know the landing is." Highlighting the well-written verse of Good Wings is a precious guitar melody anchored by the most beautifully overwhelming harmonized choruses. It works so well that it overtakes my senses with every passing refrain. Good Wings is a classic in every sense of the word... and brings to mind every celebrated songwriter in the book. As a friend of mine said about Kevin, "Maybe George Harrison's found a soul."
I purposely haven't ordered these songs numerically, but I won't hesitate to tell the world that Kevin's written my song of the year.



Helen Reddy - Trembling Blue Stars, Hiccups - Darren Hanlon, Homesick - Kings of Convenience

Helen Reddy - Trembling Blue Stars
Between Beth Arzy's voice wrapping itself around me like the softest goose down blanket and Bobby Wratten's sparkling guitars, I'm not sure where to begin. This is a slight departure from the Trembling Blue Northern Picture Mice songs that Bobby's name has become synonymous with as the duo lament the 70's songstress' voice on a distant radio dial. It's an absolutely gorgeous ode.
Hiccups - Darren Hanlon
Give me a quiet, clever artist over a boisterous loudmouth any day of the week. It's been part of my mantra that life is not what's said and done but how well the message is carried out. Add to this a slightly obsessive Scrabble hobby and how could I not sing the praises of Darren Hanlon's Hiccups? How cute is this verse... "Some day without trying you'll find something that's rare / Like an eight letter word on a triple word square"?
Homesick - Kings of Convenience
Starting off their new record with the ballad Homesick finds the Kings of Convenience picking up right where they left off on their last record 'Quiet Is The New Loud,' stuck in the sticky sweetness of longing harmonized with horns and epiphones galore. They've written themselves into their song, quite obviously as the "two soft voices blended in perfection" but leaving me wondering whether they've lost more of themselves than they've gained since their initial voyage into the Manhattan Skyline.



I Believe in a Thing Called Love - Edson, I Don't Mind - Swan Lee, I Love You 'Cause I Have To - Dogs Die In Hot Cars, I'd Rather Dance With You - Kings of Convenience, Irish Blood, English Heart - Morrissey, It's A Big World - Hercules, It's The Minor Chords That Kill You - Le Concorde

I Believe in a Thing Called Love - Edson
The Darkness wrote a damn good song, too bad the ridiculous glam showmanship makes me shudder and hide. By toning town the 70's flare and bringing back the original guitar melody (oooh with bongos!), Edson show the Darkness how it should be done.
I Don't Mind - Swan Lee
There've only been a few names from the Danish music community making waves stateside in the past few years (mostly Junior Senior or The Raveonettes). Unfortunately, this Copenhagen trio has been overlooked outside of Scandinavia. This cinematic epic won the Nordic Music Award's Danish song of the year in a landslide. Maybe... hopefully... the rest of the world will start to listen to the pristine beauty that is Swan Lee.
I Love You 'Cause I Have To - Dogs Die In Hot Cars
Not every tune needs to be an introspective ballad to garner my respect. The Scottish Dogs Die Die In Hot Cars have written a fun, silly sing-along full of sharp guitars and staccato piano that catches me dancing about in my living room to their jagged pace.
I'd Rather Dance With You - Kings of Convenience
This has to be the cutest video ever to use little Norwegian ballet dancers. Ok, it's probably the only video ever to use wee Norge ballet as it's central theme but what else would have proven the point so well? Sometimes the best things are that which are unsaid... so dance along and forget the small talk.
Irish Blood, English Heart - Morrissey
From the initial high hat and guitar strum, Moz drags me into this political banger with all the gusto he's got at his disposal. The live version of Irish Blood, English Heart that was floating around the internet a few years ago didn't really give us a glimpse of how well Moz could bring this song into fruition on record. It's hard to listen to such guitar driven power floating alongside Moz's voice without making Marr comparisons, but this is perhaps the only song on Moz's new record that could stand up under such harsh standards. The guitars aren't Marr-esque in their melody but their delivery is spot on as they float round and round that triumphant Morrissey snarl.
It's A Big World - Hercules
Hercules puzzle and enthrall me. Their often-somber sound never sounds desperate or pleading... instead each song comes across as a secret glimpse into their private world. Even with lyrics as sad as "I'll never find someone who's lonely too / If I'm lost here / In this big world / It seems I'm always in the wrong place / At the wrong time," the Hercules boys (with Gordon Zacharias of Fan Modine on vocals) instill more sweetness than Willy Wonka and that will get you licking your lips for more.
It's The Minor Chords That Kill You - Le Concorde
Releasing an EP on Parasol early on this year, Stephen Becker (aka Le Concorde) has thrilled me with the depths of his one-man show. Recorded with the boys from Epicycle (see Kevin Tihista) fulfilling his artistic vision... this song is a grandiose show of melancholy and courage that leaves me eagerly anticipating his new full length record (due out early 2005 on March Records).



Jacqueline - Franz Ferdinand

Jacqueline - Franz Ferdinand
I wasn't expecting much from the early (and continual) hype of Franz Ferdinand... but one spin on the listening station of their opening track and the record was implanted in my brain for the rest of the year. Let's face it, it is always better on holiday.



Leaf House - Animal Collective, Little Boy - The Aluminum Group, Lonely As Can Be - The Concretes, Loopy Loopy Love - The Brunettes, Lost In The Plot - The Dears, Lounger - Dogs Die In Hot Cars, Love Comes Quickly - Memphis, Love For Granted - Phoenix


Leaf House - Animal Collective
What in the world is going on in with these psychotic vocal tracks and bongos? It's amazing that they've pulled such a euphoric and blissful melody out of such seemingly disconnected meanderings.
Little Boy - The Aluminum Group
This song was cemented in my top of the year when I heard someone else sing it. Strange yes, but during 'An Evening with The Aluminum Group' back in May, this was performed acapella by Los Angeles based artist Lisa Zanes. The beauty and sorrow of the song really came out when all else was stripped away.
Lonely As Can Be - The Concretes
The Polyphonic Spree pushed the envelope a few years ago when they dared to ask the question, 'How many people can fit on the average stage?'... and the Concretes are picking up where the Poly Spree left off. The sometimes 13 or 20 band members aren't there just to provide ambient vocals though. There are so many instruments and talents blending together to make some of the most pensive melodies born in modern day Sweden.
Loopy Loopy Love - The Brunettes
If you've ever had an itch for music harking us back to the days of soda fountains instead of soda cans, you should meet New Zealand's Brunettes. Slightly off-beat and always whimsical the brilliant vocal pairing of Jonathan Bree and Heather Mansfield form the core of the band. The Brunettes consistently push the envelope of how jangley music can be made that's simultaneously fresh and reminiscent of a bygone era.
Lost in the Plot - The Dears
Another cheat... The Dears did rate my number two record of 2003, but this single has hit the rotation of the rest of the world over the past few months. I *finally* had the opportunity this year to see The Dears plunge into this striking ballad live to my absolute and total admiration.
Lounger - Dogs Die In Hot Cars
The best of Andy Partridge, Squeeze, Madness and a whole lot of punch bowled me over when I heard this Scottish masterpiece. Such unbridled enthusiasm makes this ditty so much more than just a collection of pop music reference points and impossible not to bop along with.
Love Comes Quickly - Memphis
The last cover on my list, I promise. I won't promise that it's the last you'll hear of Memphis. This side project from Torquil Campbell of Stars is dreamy, lush, intelligent and oh-so-delicately melodic. This Pet Shop Boys classic has become a modern day lullaby.
Loves For Granted - Phoenix
It's strange that on an entire album full of funky rock and smooth disco beats, I end up loving the simple acoustic guitar love song the best. "Tonight is dying on it's own / And now I got your love for granted / It doesn't matter right or wrong / As long as you are hiding somewhere". Reflective even in their second language, French boys Phoenix build up a weepy ballad of snaps and harmonies to soothe your lonely soul.



Maybe - Emma Bunton, Me Plus One - Annie, Meet Mr Marsden - Spearmint, Metal Chix vs Always On My Mind (Acapella) - Skateboard Vs Erlend Oye, Moonshot Manny - Joe Pernice, Motorcycles - The Aluminum Group

Maybe - Emma Bunton
Yes, that Emma Bunton. It may surprise you to know that the artist formerly known as Baby Spice wrote one of the most boot stomping, 60's inspired singles of the year. The Italian easy listening beats and Batman theme-esque guitar riffs are perfect with Emma's cooing. Eat your heart out Nancy Sinatra, you've been one-upped by a Spice Girl!
Me Plus One - Annie
Annie took me by complete surprise with one of the most memorable and addictive dance songs of the year. Co-written by Richard X, Annie (Berge-Strand)'s whispery thin wistful vocals are perfectly balanced by the bouncy beats and catchy-as-all-get-out deliverance.
Meet Mr Marsden - Spearmint
On one hand it's great when artists create their own label to put out their music, but when they're on another continent it's not always easy to hear the first time around. I finally caught up with UK band Spearmint in 2004 when they released an amazing compilation of singles and b-sides ('A Leopard and Other Stories'). Shirley Lee shows off his OCD in this fantastic song counting up everything of importance (and perhaps not so) in his life... "Twelve hundred bags of crisps, one near-death experience, Eight hundred and fifty tubes of tooth paste, One death experience..."
Metal Chix vs Always On My Mind (Acapella) - Skateboard Vs Erlend Oye
The self-proclaimed singing dj released one hell of a mix disc this year. It was the soundtrack for a Scandinavian holiday... and brilliance like Metal Chix vs Always On My Mind exhibits why. By overlapping his own acapella of the Pet Shop Boy's Always On My Mind with Metal Chix's Skateboard he's created a brand new electrobeat with such humor and style it makes me swoon.
Moonshot Manny - Joe Pernice
I don't really care for baseball, but 60's style sugar pop about baseball I will love til I die. Joe Pernice has never been as saccharin as in this adoring tune to his beloved Boston Red Sox. By recruiting his wife and friends for background vocals, he took his normally acoustic balladry to a new sugar-height.
Motorcycles - The Aluminum Group
A few years ago I was gagging along to the sound of Chocolates as the Aluminum Group were always dangling preciously close to a complete sugar overload. Over the past few years though the brothers Navin have developed a larger than life musical style all their own. As gracefully exhibited on Motorcycles, the Aluminum Group now create smart, sexy electronica amplified by their continually richer vocal tracks.



No One Needs To Know - The Changes

No One Needs To Know - The Changes
"With every passing moment gone / Another Up, Another Down / Completely unbelievable..." I'll tell you what's completely unbelievable, that a band as amazing as The Changes doesn't have a record deal. This song is so rich in echoey xylophones, haunting whistlings and sweet snares with tiny hints of guitar that it will push your ears further and further into ecstasy until you think it can't possibly get any better. Then they hit the GIGANTIC percussion build and frenzied chaos and I'm left shaking my head back and forth wondering what else it could possibly take to win over the hearts of the music industry's A&R reps.



Oh Sister - The Magic Numbers, Ooh La La - The Ditty Bops, On The Tower - Sondre Lerche, One More Time - The French Kicks

Oh Sister - The Magic Numbers
Kicking off this gentle ballad with the softest irregular horns, the brother and sister four part harmonies are teetering so close to the edge of indulgence with sentimental and psychedelic guitar chords. They blend so many vocal and instrumental tones that this sound becomes instantly familiar yet distinctly different from what the rest of the music world is up to. This is *the* band to watch out for in 2005.
Ooh La La - The Ditty Bops
I never expected crickets and steel guitars to make me giddy with glee but from the first time I heard this Ditty Bops song, I was addicted. A bit of bluegrass and a lot of folkish harmonies from the LA based duet of Amanda Barrett and Abby Dewald are so charming they could possibly get you digging through the vinyl bins for old albums by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.
On The Tower - Sondre Lerche
On the whole Sondre Lerche's 2004 record was a bit of let down, but this immaculate song was heads above the rest. If this Norsk singer-songwriter can't melt you with his smooth voice, his playful lyrics and guitar licks should win you over. As perhaps the simplest song from his sophomore record the true tipping point to me was the delicate touch of xylophone that harkened me back to the beauty of Eggstone classics like Wrong Heaven or Supermeaningfectlyless.
One More Time - The French Kicks
I saw the French Kicks on an opening slot a few years ago and wasn't impressed. Their garage sound didn't sound original enough to inspire me to listen again... until I came across them at a summer festival this year. Inspired by a lot more bounce and finding their inner pop-loving hearts, One More Time is one hell of an opener to announce to the world that they've grown up and found their own sound.



People Mover - Le Concorde, People Used to Dream About the Future - A Girl Called Eddy, Please Sister - The Cardigans, Poor Leno (Silicone Soul's Hypno House Dub vs There Is A Light That Never Goes Out Acapella) - Royksopp Vs Erlend Oye, Poor Maude - Pas/Cal

People Mover - Le Concorde
I heard this song through a friend and within less than a minute had logged onto Parasol's site to get my own copy of Le Concorde's debut EP. This song is so infectiously gorgeous that I've surely sold at least half a dozen more copies of the EP on it's beauty alone. As Stephen Becker laments the apathetic world around him ("Every face is frozen stiff / Every cage contains a heart that never melts / Everybody is sleepwalking while these conveyor belts keep moving"), you'll be sucked in just as quickly as I was.
People Used to Dream About the Future - A Girl Called Eddy
I'm not sure what's the most striking aspect of Erin Moran's first full length record... her goose-bump inducing voice, the lush orchestral arrangements or her cleverly written lyrics. There's no mistaking that her words are delicately crafted ("Drinking our coffee it's a quarter to three / No one in this place, just us and our mistakes / You in the corner, that stupid smile on your face / Tell me is there a way to replace all the dreams, that didn't come true / Once we were happy / Once we were people who used to dream about the future") but it's got to be her delivery that sends shivers up my spine and pushes this song from mere orchestral ballad into top song of the year territory.
Please Sister - The Cardigans
Once upon a time the Cardigans could put a happy-go-lucky smile on the face of their harshest critic with their cutesy pop tunes... but these aren't those Cardigans anymore. They may have made a name for themselves by bringing their Swedish smiles to the world at large, but the experience left the band experimenting with the darker, bolder sides of their psyches with gorgeous string sections, full choir sounds and enough sonic reverb to prove they're no longer simply fluffpop.
Poor Leno (Silicone Soul's Hypno House Dub vs There Is A Light That Never Goes Out Acapella) - Royksopp Vs Erlend Oye,
When I first played the 'DJ Kicks' record from the Kings of Convenience's Erlend Oye I was dancing from the earliest beat of the very first song, but it wasn't until I got to nearly the end of the disc when I discovered the true ingenuity of the singing DJ. Erlend's crooning to the Smiths' classic is flawlessly executed but taken up a notch when BRILLIANTLY mixed in with his original vocal track from the Royksopp hit Poor Leno
Poor Maude - Pas/Cal
Very few bands could write a song about the oldest women in the world... and no one but Pas/Cal could do it with such charm and grace. This dynamic story of rise and fall captures the imagination with every string, hand clap and tempo change.



Radio - Pitty Sing, Rock and Roll Rhythm - Fancey

Radio - Pitty Sing
It's hard to see a one-hit wonder in the making, but that's exactly what Pitty Sing have set themselves up for with the throbbing New Order-esque basslines, distorted guitar riffs and sexy hip shaking of Radio. The words are pure drivel, but the shiny cooler-than-fuck sound is the best 80's tribute I've heard since that magical decade ended. It's too bad the joyous sound they create in Radio isn't evident in rest of their album.
Rock and Roll Rhythm - Fancey
I'm sure we all have driving records... the one album (or five) that will inevitably keep us from driving over the yellow line at 3 AM and into cornfields. As a part-time New Pornographer, Todd Fancey has obviously experienced enough late night post-show drives to the next city to discover what keeps his foot on the pedal. "Let's drive baby, let's drive on / Windshield diamonds through the dawn / Driving away a thousand miles, hitting highs that make it better / Driving into a different song." This Wurlizter induced flurry would surely keep any pop lover awake through the long night with it's gorgeously smooth harmonies and caffeine fueled guitar riffs.



Say Something Else - Spearmint, Serenade - Emiliana Torrini, Sexual D'Argent Gold - Unknown Artist, Sister Kate - The Ditty Bops, Sixten - Pipas, Something To Live For - Yann Tiersen & Shannon Wright, Sorry or Please - Kings of Convenience, Speedbumps - Luna, Sunshower - The Ocean Blue

Say Something Else - Spearmint
I'm on a crowded El train and this song comes on my ipod's shuffle. Within thirty seconds I'm laughing aloud with no end in sight to the shock and dismay of my stoic public transit partners. I can't help it; Spearmint's cunning disembowelment of popular movies is beyond hysterical and backed by a stunning build up of a guitars and keyboards.
Serenade - Emiliana Torrini
I love delicate music and Emiliana Torrini's sound could be shattered like the faintest touch through a spider web. Soft and luxurious guitars interweave the layers of barely there vocals to mystify the mind with it's grace.
Sexual D'Argent Gold - Unknown Artist
One part Fools Gold by the Stone Roses, one part Femme de'Argent by Air and one part Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye equal one hell of a mashup. It appeared on the internet to wow and fascinate me... and then left without even telling me it's author. The three songs are so tightly interwoven that anyone unfamiliar wouldn't have the slightest clue this wasn't one song to begin with... but it's not until it hits the last 30 seconds where the refrain of "Get Up Get Up Get Up" matches Air's melody, Ian's crooning and Mani's bass for an otherworldly explosion.
Sister Kate - The Ditty Bops
The Ditty Bops are something of an enigma. They successfully combine so many genres (indiepop, bluegrass, folk, swing, jazz) it's easy to get lost in the kitsch and overlook the catch. But Sister Kate illustrates how damn catchy kitch can be... the kind of catchy that makes you swing around in awe when you hear their beats and harmonies.
Sixten - Pipas
Pipas are not apologetic for their fun, energetic and to the point style of electro indiepop, nor should they be. Racing along at a frenzied pace are funky drum machine beats and the simplest of guitars all culminating in Lupe Nunez-Fernandez's bitter sultriness. Timing in at only 1:41, Sixten is sweetly irresistible.
Something To Live For - Yann Tiersen & Shannon Wright
Yann is best known for his accordion riddled soundtrack of 'Amelie'... but this song contains none of the cutesy France he built in our imaginations a few years ago. This timid and romantic ballad is the sort of classic piano tinkling and string stirrings we rarely hear these days.
Sorry or Please - Kings of Convenience
Riddled with tender strings, a piano and a banjo... this is a story of love's big confusion. "Where the stage of my old life, meets the cast of the new"... such sublime sounds aren't new to KOC, but it's refreshing honesty about the difficulty of loving someone else is touching.
Speedbumps - Luna
Dean Wareham usually has a rather hypnotic style of songwriting, but in songs like Speedbumps his normally tender vocals are positively spellbinding. The speedy guitars and pulsing rhythm can take this song to entirely new heights. It's sad to see Luna go, but I'd rather see them go out with bangers like this than slowly fade into the shadows.
Sunshower - The Ocean Blue
Oed Ronne's voice and Marr-esque guitar work are golden. This poppy song's shiny glint caught my eye the second I heard The Ocean Blue's new EP. While certainly not disappointing live the recorded track has such jangle and buoyancy, it was immediately counted as one of my favorite songs of the year.



Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand, Teach Me How To Fight - Junior Boys, The Irish Keep Gate-Crashing - The Thrills, The Second Summer - Memphis, They - Jem, This Heart is a Stone - Acid House Kings, This is a Souvenir - Spearmint, Those Shoes - Marlboro Chorus, Ticket to Wyoming - The Ocean Blue, Too Old - Would-Be-Goods, Troubles - The Beta Band

Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand
It was hard to find a club in the world this year that wasn't pounding this instant classic from their PA. I heard this song in Chicago, Wales, London, Copenhagen, Oslo... pretty much to everywhere I went. Somewhere in Marakesh... someone's leaning across a bar and thinking "I won't be leaving here... with you."
Teach Me How To Fight - Junior Boys
As the IDM-lite contemporaries of the Kings of Convenience, The Junior Boys have easily matched each KOC string section with a peaceful electrobeat. Teach Me How To Fight is quietly subdued with an ethereal sound building into a tune that's far from sleepy.
The Irish Keep Gate-Crashing - The Thrills
It must be hard to produce a believable sunshiney power pop sound when you come from a city famous for it's acoustic laden folkrock. I'll assume it's harder still when you're pegged as the novelty flavor of the week. With The Irish Keep Gate-Crashing, The Thrills set out to prove their critics that they are not about to drop off the musical radar with this buzzing danceabilly track. I've no idea where the rest of the critics stand, but they've convinced me.
The Second Summer - Memphis
On first glimpse this could be mistaken for Stars-lite from the Stars and Memphis frontman Torquil Campbell, but the electronica Torq produces with Chris Dumont is much more subtle in style and substance than Stars. Despite the digital template, the sound Memphis produces is never reduced to synthetic sounding blips and bleeps but an atmospheric world of minimal and sophisticated soundscapes.
They - Jem
With an effervescent debut record, Jem (aka Jemma Giffiths) seems want to point out to the geographically challenged that Wales isn't all that far from Bristol. This isn't quite the case with her stand out track, They. Unlike the rest of the record, this song gives a tiny nod to the Trip Hop wonderland with the occasional sampled backbeat but shows quite a bit more depth and ingenuity by creating beautifully crafted studio and slick dancepop more reminiscent of the One Dove than Massive Attack.
This Heart is a Stone - Acid House Kings
This track won't technically be available until the spring on Labrador, but it can be downloaded now as a special Kissmas present to you from the Swedes. Sleigh bells and tender lyrics might be a bit much for the average rock fan, but I think it's absolutely charming.
This is a Souvenir - Spearmint
My favorite bit about Spearmint is that they don't just come across as clever musicians, but can strike a true kinship with their listeners as music fans, as is glaringly obvious in This is a Souvenir. Originally recorded for a Pavement tribute record, Shirley Lee sings his heart about the power of music to bring about memories... "I remember somebody saying that one of the things about music, is that it's got the power to make you remember exactly how you felt at a certain point in your life / And it's true / Sometimes when you hear a song coming out of a shop or on the radio and it doesn't even have to be something you particularly like / It can make you feel things, see things even taste things you'd completely forgotten about..."
Those Shoes - Marlboro Chorus
With a little bit of country twang, the Chorus boys are again forging a new path into their pop wonderland. Pushing this simple bass-driven ditty are catchy arrangements and enough "ba ba ba da da dah"s to charm a Pavement fan's pants off.
Ticket to Wyoming - The Ocean Blue
For a forlorn love song, this is toe-tapping quirkiness galore! The guitar solo on Oed Ronne's vintage Gretsch lends a tender touch to this warm and captivating country western-tinged love letter.
Too Old - Would-Be-Goods
"Oh I won't play the ingénue / If you'll quit being Peter Pan / You know we're much too old / Too old for rock 'n' roll / Too old for long straight hair / Too old to walk around in sexy underwear" Oh Jessica, it's not so dire as long as you keep writing such beautiful and smart pop songs... for that, one is never too old.
Troubles - The Beta Band
This is one of those tunes I will only listen to through headphones. I'm sure it'd sound perfectly lovely through stereo speakers but there's something so intimate about this intricate, atmospheric and delicate song that needs the tenderness of immediate contact with my ears.



Uri Geller - The Wannadies

Uri Geller - The Wannadies
This marks the second song in my record collection about spoonbending mind melders, but there will never be enough music in the world featuring the likes of Uri Geller. The Swedish poprockers are at their punchy and bizarre best on this edgy powerpop track from the 'Before' half of their last record. Yeah, they're singing about the weather but doing it with such swagger I immediately forgive them and just press 'Repeat'.



Wake Up - The Arcade Fire, Whale in the Sand - The Brunettes, When You Find Someone - Ken Stringfellow

Wake Up - The Arcade Fire
So many of my peers went gaga over The Arcade Fire when they released their debut 'Funeral'. I was not, and still am not one of the gaga-ing, with one glaring exception... Wake Up. "Now that I'm older, my heart's colder and I can't see that it's a lie..." Let's face it, I get a bit cynical when everyone around me starts asking if I've heard [insert name of it band of the moment], but in this song what starts off as a meandering caterpillar of lost innocence becomes one giant butterfly of a toe tapper.
Whale in the Sand - The Brunettes
Monkey samples and minor chords ripped straight from an unwritten Combustible Edison album lead into handclaps and enough "la la la" vocals enough to turn the tartest lemon into sugary lemonade goodness. It's so Beach Boys they even turn a Brian Wilson phrase of "picking up good vibrations".
When You Find Someone - Ken Stringfellow
This is more appropriately titled 'George W Bush caught in a lover's obsession with Saddam Hussein' but that's a bit longer and less subtle isn't it? Granted, the title is the only subtlety with this song. Complete with Sarah Shannon's backing vox, Ken has written a stupendous wink-wink, nudge-nudge that is so overwhelmed with an immense wall of sound it's sure to please your inner Phil Spector.



Xixizinho No Oceano - Mosquitos

Xixizinho No Oceano - Mosquitos
More finger snaps, poppiness and love than the Portuguese can possibly represent when babblefished... "One xixizinho in the ocean cure any homesickness." Um, what's a xixizinho? Good thing I don't give a damn what she's singing... it's got so much bossa nova dazzle, it becomes an instant gem.



You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve - Johnny Boy, You Can't Hurry Love - The Concretes, You'll Be A Maze - Marlboro Chorus, Your Cover's Blown - Belle and Sebastian

You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve - Johnny Boy
Too bad the title of the song alone is enough to drive people away in fear. The tinkle of church bells, soaring choruses, electronic twiddling, proud trumpeting and the Kenickie-esque 'Yeah Yeah... Yeah Yeah... Yeah Yeah..." are the things of any Saint Etienne fan's dreams.
You Can't Hurry Love - The Concretes
Top singles of the year can sometimes sit in a drawer for entire months at a time... but when the New Year inevitably rolls around us music nerds love to pull out songs like You Can't Hurry Love as a dazzling display of how great the year really has been. We put it on the back burner and just wait for someone to come along and declare the past 365 as complete tosh... simply so we can throw a little 7" your way and say "oh yeah?". The Concretes won me over with this adorable handclapper... and the only thing I can fault them for is making this song way too short.
You'll Be a Maze - Marlboro Chorus
This is one of the few songs on the Marlboro Chorus' follow-up record to use percussion to its full capabilities. The rest of the record isn't lacking, but the addition here of such forthright drums and tambourines having me bopping about nonstop... and they did it by writing a song about a maze made of maize (um, that's corn).
Your Cover's Blown - Belle and Sebastian
In the past two years, Belle and Sebastian have amazed me at every turn and flip of their Scottish wrists. In two short years they have broken completely away from the ridiculous twee categorization but somehow maintained their identity and charisma along the way. Your Cover's Blown is a six-minute epic and a faux disco thriller gone surf rock that only further highlights their continued musical progression.

So that was 2004... in 99 nutshells. I thought it was a fantastic year for music. Every time I turned around, some new band or artist was striking my fancy. You've made it this far... I might as well do the standard indie critic shtick and tell you my top discs of the year...

01 Kevin Tihista's Red Terror - Wake Up Captain
02 Kings of Convenience - Riot on the Empty Street/Erlend Oye - DJ Kicks
03 Air - Talkie Walkie
04 The Ditty Bops - The Ditty Bops
05 The Cardigans - Long Gone Before Daylight
06 The Wannadies - Before & After
07 Spearmint - A Leopard and Other Stories
08 Fancey - Fancey
09 Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
10 Ken Stringfellow - Soft Commands
11 Annie - Anniemal
12 Tahiti 80 - Extra Pieces
13 Graham Coxon - Happiness in Magazines
14 Marlboro Chorus - Youth Medium
15 The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free
16 The Concretes - The Concretes
17 The Brunettes - Mars Loves Venus
18 Dogs Die In Hot Cars - Please Describe Yourself
19 Hercules - In The Alleyway
20 The French Kicks - Trial of the Century

I wish you all a great New Year and an even more wonderful 2005!