Friday, December 31, 2004

Nik's Picks '04, continued: My top five CDs of the year. Sometime before 2005 gets too far along I'll throw up my television and comic book picks of the year, and then we'll all move on with our lives.

#1. Green Day, “American Idiot”
The punks are older, but they’re still angry. Ten years ago, Green Day helped spur a punk revival. Now, they’ve put out a fierce, loud manifesto, an epic “punk rock opera” about alienation, loneliness, drugs and broken hearts — or, being a confused teenager in 2004. “American Idiot” takes as much influence from The Who and The Clash as it does The Ramones, with a soaring epic feel married with pounding punk attacks and songs as catchy as TV commercial jingles. Toss in two soaring, magnificent 12-minute-long multipart songs, and you’ve got a modern-day version of The Who’s “Tommy.” Ambitious as heck, and their best album yet.

#2. Björk, “Medulla”
Icelandic chanteuse Björk steps back from the electronica trip-hop feel of much of her earlier work, and unveils an album of sounds almost entirely created by the human voice. You hear a variety of sounds here — ululating cries, looming choirs, bizarre “beat box” grunts and bass beats, even a “human trombone” in one song — all mixed with Björk’s floating croon. It’s utterly alien, not for everybody, yet this experiment really works at creating a whole new world of music. And Baby Peter absolutely digs it, too.

#3. TV on the Radio, “Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes”
This New York-based group is a fascinating cultural mix. Caucasian and African-American members come together to create industrial-strength alternative rock crossed with doo-wop and gospel sounds. The result is hypnotic and soulful, a record filled with grand, epic singing and a tense kind of passion. Songs like “Staring At The Sun” or “Dreams” combine great pop imagery with an urgent funky feeling. A captivating debut album, one that makes you eager to hear what sounds this artsy combo comes up with next.

#4. The Pixies, “Live in Eugene, Oregon, 4/28/04”
The alt-rock forefathers, one of the late 1980s and early 1990s’ finest bands, reunited this year for a hugely successful tour. Their uniquely skewed, raw surf-punk fusion, influential on countless bands ranging from Nirvana to the aforementioned Modest Mouse, hadn’t aged at all, as they proved at a stellar two-show stop at Eugene’s McDonald Theater. Best of all, the band contracted with a company called DiscLive ( to put out “official bootlegs” of all the shows on their tour, recorded on the spot. The audience was able to buy discs burned and produced right after the show, a triumph to modern technology and a great souvenir. Hopefully other bands will catch on.

#5. Modest Mouse, “Good News For People Who Love Bad News”
Paranoid, catchy and diverse rock from this Northwest-based band, which struggled unheralded for years before breaking through with the hummable, hopeful single “Float On.” Lead singer Isaac Brock always sounds like he’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but his twitchy angst brings great power to a record that springs from guitar balladry to jam-band singalongs to screaming rage-filled metal. It almost sounds like a mix tape featuring several different bands.

Honorable mention: Franz Ferdinand, “Franz Ferdinand”; Elliott Smith, “From A Basement On A Hill”; The Arcade Fire, “Funeral”; Death Cab for Cutie, “Transatlanticism,” Tom Waits, “Real Gone.”

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