Music Time Capsule: 2004

“Time Capsules” is our way of putting some of our favorite albums from particular years into a… little, um, time capsule so music fans can read our reviews of notable releases from various years. We were going to take the actual CD’s and launch them into space in real time capsules, or bury them in the ground so future generations and/or aliens could be sure to find the best CD’s preserved. But that seemed a bit pricey and foolish. Plus, aliens (and/or future generations) aren’t likely to go digging thru the ground looking for stuff, they’ll probably just poke around on the internet. Let’s hope they find this site sooner than later.

PJ HARVEY: Uh-Huh Her
Grinding, grungy, urgent, immediate, personal, raw, catchy, folky, punky, mature, frivolous, yearning, cathartic, confrontational, sensual, and empowering. Find all of this and PJ playing the majority of the instruments herself and singing, howling, whispering, shrieking, and grunting her way through a disc-full of great, great songs.

WILCO: A Ghost is Born
Sounds like Jeff Tweedy riding Neil Young’s Crazy Horse down Abbey Road. One of America’s best singer/songwriters hits his stride alongside a fine band that might change members, but continues to peak. The hypnotic bounce of “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” Tweedy’s voice on “Hummingbird,” the way he sings “A cheap sunset on a television set can upset her,” and the chord changes underneath are just so sweet. The pure heartache of “The type of sound that floats around and then back down… Like a feather.” Probably my favorite album of 2004.

BJORK: Medulla
Once again Bjork gets weird on us, but would we want it any other way? This time out, she fills a CD with songs that are mostly a capella. Now, in this case that doesn’t mean there’s no music, just means that she created almost all of the music tracks, bass lines, and beats with voices. (There is some instrumentation, but most of the sounds are created by voices.) Medulla makes for an innovative and interesting listen, but certainly not her finest album. Funny, if she wanted to make a quick cool million, there’s no doubt she could have a major dance club hit. On almost every album she manages at least one really great one, and often buries it like a gem lost beneath all her other artistic endeavors. Still, she proves she’s got the musical intuition and creative flair of some genius/child she seems to have trapped inside of her.

GREEN DAY: American Idiot
I gotta admit, I never really liked Green Day and I don’t care for the generation of limited imitators who walk like them, dress like them, but not quite them. That said, American Idiot is a really solid record. Good political lyrics without whining or preaching. Crisp, punchy production without sounding too slick or overproduced. Riffs that rock, tracks that beg to be cranked, and some really great drumming.

KANYE WEST: The College Dropout
As much as I love hip-hop, I haven’t heard much in the last couple of years that got me too excited. But Kanye’s CD is a blast from the not-so-distant past, when a hip-hop CD could blend bangin’ beats, clever rhymes, and a few good skits (but not too many!) into an hour of fun. There was a lot of hype on Kanye in 2004. There’s good reason for it.

SONIC YOUTH: Sonic Nurse
Kim Gordon and the boys make house calls, not far from Murray Street. Another perfect mix of experimental noise rock and pop melodies.

ELVIS COSTELLO: The Delivery Man
Well, it was easy to find plenty of reviews where hip and aging rock critics turned an easy phrase and simply declared that Costello delivered again. And I guess in some fashion he did. The Delivery Man is pretty decent, but it’s getting a bit tiring that every time E.C. stops messing with show tunes and other tin pan alley rubbish he’s delved into recently, we get to read a “return to form” review. While his last rock album (When I Was Cruel) certainly lived up to that billing, The Delivery Man just proves that Costello still has enough talent to knock out a punchy rock record in his sleep. Unfortunately, sometimes it sounds as if he’s done exactly that.

LORETTA LYNN: Van Lear Rose
Okay, I’m a sucker. I never would have heard this album if I hadn’t read about the White Stripes’ Jack White producing and playing guitar on it. Call me a trendy hipster, blindly following the alt-rock critics darling Jack down a country road all the way to a Loretta Lynn album. Either way, this is a truly great album that finds Lynn’s voice as strong as ever, and the unlikely pairing of White and Lynn spawned a gritty country album that rocks.

U2: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
I just had to put this into the 2004 Time Capsule. According to most mainstream media, THIS was THE album of the year. Yea, the hype machine was cranked up to 11 for this one. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big U2 fan, and I don’t usually subscribe to the all-too-easy “U2 sucks, I liked the old stuff when they were good!” approach, but this time around the promotion was better than the actual album. It sounds like a shell of an imitation of 2001’s All That You Cant Leave Behind, except without all the great melodies and decent lyrics. “Vertigo” is a pretty good tune the first 50 times you hear it, and “Love and Peace or Else” is a standout track. Once again, Edge and the band are in fine form, but too many of the songs seem a bit forced, contrived, and over-the-top with syrupy Bono-ness. Imitation isn’t flattering when you imitate yourself. Seems like maybe this is the album that should have had the phrase “Can’t Leave Behind” in the title.

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