10. The Fiery Furnaces “Blueberry Boat”
A completely original album, “Boat” manages to be both intensely bizarre and spectacularly fun. But it is mostly a rollicking experience that should be duly noted as one of the bravest albums of 2004. The music is nothing less than exuberant bluster, and — though sometimes difficult to digest — it is thoughtfully eccentric. The Fiery Furnaces skillfully fuse genres with an epic theatricality, giving its album a self-conscious artfulness and enigmatic ingenuity.
9. Rilo Kiley “More Adventurous”
This LA band’s self-effaced dedication to underground loyalty is a clever move that keeps the too-cool-for-school group full of mystery. Although the band has recorded two other albums, this is its most detailed and accessible, daresay its best to date. Frontwoman Jenny Lewis shines beyond her child-actress days of “Troop Beverly Hills,” lightly crooning rough self-deprecation and drama, occasionally rocking out furiously. The album is crafted with pop-flawlessness, attracting a new league of listeners, but it maintains just enough indie charisma to faithfully please the old fans.
8. Madvillain “Madvillainy”
When producer-DJ Madlib and MC MF Doom collided, the result was phenomenal. Madvillainy fuses the former’s unique beats and rhythmic flair with the latter’s capricious lyrical style. The record’s jazzy, sample-based sounds and crazy narratives refuse to conform to any ordinary standards. Madvillainly takes a few listens to really appreciate, but it is certain that from the album’s 22 tracks there is plenty of fantastic and inventive material to discover.
7. The Futureheads “The Futureheads”
Every once in awhile, an English band finds success in both its native country and in the intimidating United States. The Futureheads deserves to be one of those bands. With its rambunctious and energetic punk tendencies, super-new wave vocal clarity, and blistering youthfulness, the band throbs with energy, yet the music only gets better with each listen: The unobtrusive production gets better, the call-and-response harmonies become more amusing, and the bouncy guitar sound get even brighter. Every track is a lively experience: Even the cleverly disguised cover, Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love,” is a transformed and novel product to be admired.
6. Franz Ferdinand “Franz Ferdinand”
The track “Take Me Out” may have saturated MTV this year, but it also instilled hope in the public for the future of rock and roll. The single is just one of many highlights on the Scottish band’s stunning debut (For example, “Jacqueline,” “Darts of Pleasure” and “Cheating on You). Not many bands have attained the volatile cleverness or manic romanticism that seems to come so easily to the boys of Franz Ferdinand.
5. Various Artists “Garden State”
The Garden State soundtrack, though fueled by indie-rock declarations of emotional earnestness, subtly flirts with electronica (Frou Frou) and pop (Bonnie Somerville), all while paying homage to the classics (Simon and Garfunkel and Nick Drake). Its quirky, whistful mix is endearing, and though it supplements the film beautifully, it stands solidly on its own. Both the movie and the soundtrack were popular in the mainstream arena, but at their hearts they’re both about alienation and disillusion — always good material for heartfelt music.
4. Kanye West “The College Dropout”
In perhaps the brightest lyrical release of 2004, Kanye West smashed expectations with an impeccable effort, even doing it with his jaw wired shut (as in the song “Through the Wire”). Driven by sample hooks and without thuggish pretense, Kanye’s amiable rap and daring beats approach a smorgasbord of topics, from education to God to strippers to guns. He is one of the most sought-after hip-hop producers, yet he shines on his own album, proving to be a versatile and deserving MC.
3. Wilco “A Ghost is Born”
Filled with languish, atmosphere and pain, Wilco’s “Ghost” follows up 2002’s landmark “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” with much an organic and minimalist sound. “Ghost,” with its extended, layered instrumentation and punctuated bursts of catchiness, wades through static dissonance with poetic precision. Wilco has become well known for uncompromising and valiant attempts at imaginative musical experimentation. As always, they pull if off splendidly here.
2. Pavement “Crooked Rain Crooked Rain: LA’s Desert Origins”
Lauded in these pages when the album came out in October, this deluxe reissue of Pavement’s 1994 sophomore album includes 37 incredibly worthwhile bonus tracks, laying testament to one of the ’90’s greatest rock bands. Highlighting Pavement’s amazing ability to fuse experimental discordant melodies with Stephen Malkmus’ sincere lyrics and ragged vocals, “Crooked Rain” boasts both the best and the unheard of these trailblazers.
1. The Arcade Fire “Funeral”
The golden achievement of the year, “Funeral” makes heartache palpable through darkly poignant ballads, like the quietly orchestrated “Crown of Love,” and anguished upbeat tracks, like the romping “Neighborhood #2 (Laika).” The six-piece rock band, which experienced several family deaths before recording, denied the temptation to let grief shroud their music, instead recording a brilliant and empowering album that fiercely consolidates desperation with hope. “Funeral” has primal vocals, melodic inspiration and stylish emotional sincerity: It is the best indie rock, or any of the year’s music, has to offer.