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The Top 25 Albums Of 2004

2004music.jpg THE YEAR’S BEST MUSIC

1. Funeral
The Arcade Fire

25 words: I still get chills every time I listen to this album. Never has music borne of death been so anthemic and uplifting. An instant classic.
Choice cut: “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”
Verbiage: But sometimes, we remember our bedrooms, and our parents’ bedrooms, and the bedrooms of our friends. Then we think of our parents. Well, what ever happened to them? — “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
Listen: Streams of “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Wake Up” at the Merge site. Apple has a video of The Arcade Fire playing “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” live.
Buy it!

2. A Ghost Is Born

25 words: Wilco may be the most consistently creative band of the past decade. Blending accessible and alienating perfectly, this is a great band at its best.
Choice cut: “At Least That’s What You Said”
Verbiage: Spiders are singing in the salty breeze. Spiders are filling out tax returns, spinning out webs of deductions and melodies on a private beach in Michigan. — “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”
Listen: Wilco streams the entire album on its website.
Buy it!

3. Seven Swans
Sufjan Stevens
(Sounds Familyre)

25 words: Stevens’ hushed vocals and lush arrangements are the perfect soundtrack for long, noisy train rides through rural China. I listen to Christian folk? Believe it.
Choice cut: “He Woke Up Me Again”
Verbiage: I have a bottle filled with my own teeth. They fell out like a tear in the bag. And I have a sister in Detroit. She has black hair and small hands. — “Sister”
Listen: Download “Sister.” More Sufjan Stevens downloads available at the Sounds Familyre site.
Buy it!

4. Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Modest Mouse

25 words: Modest Mouse will be appearing an episode of The O.C. this week — and I still have them ranked. That’s how much I love this band.
Choice cut: “Bukowski”
Verbiage: If God controls the land and disease and keeps a watchful eye on me, if he’s really so damn mighty, well my problem is I can’t see, well who would want to be, who would want to be such a control freak. — “Bukowski”
Listen: modestmousebootlegs.com has clips of the entire album. The band’s site at Epic has links other audio/video goodies.
Buy it!

5. From A Basement On The Hill
Elliott Smith

25 words: Elliott fans have been enjoying some of these songs, in various forms, for more than three years. They never get old. Elliott, we miss you.
Choice cut: “Pretty (Ugly Before)”
Verbiage: Veins full of disappearing ink, vomiting in the kitchen sink, disconnecting from the missing link. This is not my life. It’s just a fond farewell to a friend. It’s not what i’m like. It’s just a fond farewell to a friend, who couldn’t get things right. — “Fond Farewell”
Listen: Download “Twilight” and “Memory Lane.” ANTI- also streams the entire album. Lots of other downloads found here and here.
Buy it!

6. Snow Tires
(Hidden Agenda)

25 words: The best Neil Young album since the late 1970s — and Neil had nothing to do with it. A huge compliment from a huge Neil fan.
Choice cut: “Nothing Comes To Rest”
Verbiage: All over town, the flat-chested trailer brides, their braces and bottle caps jangle like tambourines. — “Casserole”
Listen: Download “I Leave Stones Unturned” and “Pink Lemonade.” Also, the album is streamed in its entirety here.
Buy it!

7. Achilles Heel
Pedro The Lion
(Jade Tree)

25 words: Dave Bazan’s tightest effort yet. Narratives — heartbreaking, insightful, wry — mix seamlessly with melodies that seem simple on the surface. It’s beautiful … but not too beautiful.
Choice cut: “Keep Swinging”
Verbiage: And when his tiny head emerged from hair and folds of skin, I thought to myself, if he only knew, he would climb right back in. — “I Do”
Listen: Download “Discretion.”
Buy it!

8. Bamnan and Slivercork
(Bella Union)

25 words: It’s Grandaddy cut with a little Neutral Milk Hotel. And even if you have no idea what that means, Midlake is definitely worth a try.
Choice cut: “Some Of Them Were Superstitious”
Verbiage: But both of them struck both of us upside the head. It made us dead. — “No One Knew Where We Were”
Listen: Download “Balloon Maker.” More downloads available at the Midlake site.
Buy it!

9. Cellar Door
John Vanderslice

25 words: I’ve read that most of Vanderslice’s songs are about ficticious characters. I sure hope so. Otherwise, his life would suck. Regardless, makes for great music.
Choice cut: “They Won’t Let Me Run”
Verbiage: Angela, sister near, once stripper severe, your husband Donnie is pure fear. So I stay clear. My family tree is me. — “My Family Tree”
Listen: Download “Pale Horse” and “They Won’t Let Me Run.”
Buy it!

10. Treon’s Cut Rate
Heather Shayne Blakeslee
(Little Red Records)

25 words: Get on the Blakeslee bandwagon now before “Gone” or “I’m All Right” gets played on The Gilmore Girls. Oh, Heather hated me in high school.
Choice cut: “I’m All Right”
Verbiage: My best years were all tears, hoping that you’d want me too. — “Windy Heart Waltz”
Listen: Download “Gone,” “I’m All Right,” “Baby Got Blue” and “Windy Heart Waltz.”
Buy it!

11. Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand

Listen: Download “Auf Achse,” “Darts Of Pleasure” and a live version of “Michael.” More streams and downloads available here.
Buy it!

12. Satanic Panic In The Attic
Of Montreal

Listen: Download “Disconnect The Dots” and “Lysergic Bliss.”
Buy it!

13. The Slow Wonder
A.C. Newman

Listen: Download “Miracle Drug” and “Drink To Me, Babe.”
Buy it!

14. Bows + Arrows
The Walkmen
(Record Collection)

Listen: Download “Little House Of Savages” and “The Rat.”
Buy it!

15. I
The Magnetic Fields

Listen: Real Audio clips of the entire album can be found at the Nonesuch site.
Buy it!

16. Rejoicing In The Hands/Nino Rojo
Devendra Banhart
(Young God)

Listen: Download “The Body Breaks” and “Be Kind.”
Buy it!

17. The Tigers Have Spoken
Neko Case

Listen: Download “If You Knew” and “Train From Kansas City.”
Buy it!

18. Antics

Listen: Download “Slow Hands.”
Buy it!

19. C’mon Miracle

Listen: Download “Jerusalem.” More Mirah downloads available from K Records.
Buy it!

20. Our Endless Numbered Days
Iron & Wine
(Sup Pop)

Listen: Download “Naked As We Came.”
Buy it!

21. The Libertines
The Libertines
(Rough Trade)

Listen: Streams for some of the album’s songs can be found at the Rough Trade site.
Buy it!

22. Smile
Brian Wilson

Listen: Streams for all of the album’s songs can be found at the Nonesuch site.
Buy it!

23. Misery Is A Butterfly
Blonde Redhead

Listen: Download “Misery Is A Butterfly.” Watch the Real video for “Equus.”
Buy it!

24. Dios

Listen: Download “You Make Me Feel” and “Everyday.”
Buy it!

25. Universal Audio
The Delgados
(Chemikal Underground)

Listen: Download a 50-second clip of “Is This All I Came For?” and a 30-second clip of “I Fought The Angels.”
Buy it!

Also worth checkiing out (listed alphabetically by artist):

DJ BC — The Beastles
The Go Team — Thunder Lightning Strike
Loretta Lynn — Van Lear Rose
Madvillain — Madvillainy
Morrissey — You Are The Quarry
Rilo Kiley — More Adventurous
Sonic Youth — Sonic Nurse
The Streets — A Grand Don’t Come For Free
Telefon Tel Aviv — Map Of What Is Effortless
Kanye West — College Dropout

Also considered (listed alphabetically by artist):

American Music Club — Love Songs For Patriots, Annie — Anniemal, Betchadupa — Aiming For Your Head, John Brion — Meaningless, Califone — Heron King Blues, Castanets — Cathedral, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus, Destroyer — Your Blues, Drive-By Truckers — The Dirty South, Espers — Espers, Jay Farrar — Stone, Steel And Bright Lights, The Fiery Furnaces — Blueberry Boat, The Futureheads — The Futureheads, P.J. Harvey — Uh Huh Her, Hot Snakes — Audit in Progress, Junior Boys — Last Exit, Matt Pond PA — Emblems, McLusky — The Difference Between Me And You Is That I’m Not On Fire, Mission Of Burma — ONoffON, Joanna Newsom — The Milk-Eyed Mender, Now It’s Overhead — Fall Back Open, One AM Radio — A Name Writ In Water, Pinback — Summer In Abaddon, The Standard — Wire Post To Wire, TV On The Radio — Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, Xiu Xiu — Fabulous Muscles, Zutons — Who Killed The Zutons

Related: Shanghai Diaries’ Top 20 Albums Of 2003

Other 2004 Lists:

All Music Guide

01.03.2005, 11:01 PM · Audio, Music


  1. Dan, I didn’t HATE you in high school. How sensitive you are!! One little comment in one of your classes and you’ll never forgive me….let’s set the record straight for the world: Dan Washburn, I think you’re a talented, interesting, and entirely loveable human being. REALLY! Heather : )

  2. nice blog! :)

  3. Dan,

    I’ve been reading your blog for over a year now, since before moving to Shanghai this past summer, and I always enjoy it. Reading this post made me wonder, though: where do you get your hands on all this music here in Shanghai? I have a couple of places that I check for this kind of stuff (most notably 2046 up near Wujiaochang), but feel like I’d be hard pressed to find a lot of the stuff you have listed here. Any suggestions?

  4. nice blog. will be coming more often to read. btw, ashamed to say that i have not heard of any of your top 2004 albums! hahaha, guess i rely to much on our local radio stations. will download some of your music links later. cheers!

  5. Hey Dan - this is a really cool list!
    I liked the Hummingbird song from Wilco.
    Here’s a shout out for the Modfather-Paul Weller.
    I’m a big fan of his music too.

    -some audio/video on website-


  6. Nice album list. I’ve got about 80% of your top 25. Extra special cheers to The Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Iron And Wine, Blonde Redhead, Pedro The Lion, The Walkmen, and Brian Wilson’s sublime SMiLE. Your website is very impressive as is your photography. I’m on my way to Beijing so hopefully I will have stories to share soon….


  7. well done list. its nice to see my favorites near the top for once.

  8. Your list looks very very good. I especially like Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens.

    I would also put Joanna Newsom and PJ Harvey in that list. I know they get a special mention. I haven’t yet heard the Neko Case record.

    I love Sonic Youth, but think their last two albums have been a little disappointing.

    I’m teaching IT in the British school for at least two years and came from Bristol in the UK. I was very spiled with music. The live music scene in Bristol is better than anywhere I have ever lived. It’s probably as good as New York or Montreal in terms of cross pollination between genres.

    My favourite Bristol albums were Mooz’s ‘My Property’ and Big Joan’s ‘Insects and Engines’. They both mix noise, indie and drum and bass in really cool ways.

    I have a very soft spot for Caroline Martin. She’s become a good friend and played my leaving party in England. She is an amazing singer who writes very beautiful and sad songs. Think Cat Power, but much more English. She makes the Moonpix album sound quite jolly. Anyway, her first album was released at the end of last year and her song “The Singer” made it to number 3 on John Peel’s Festive 50. The album is called “I had a hundred more reasons to stay by the fire”. It’s released on her own Small-Dog label. It’s easily the best album from last year in my honest opinion, butI am biased. Her website is: www.small-dog.co.uk

    You should DJ at the Tang-Hui

    I’m looking forward to DJ Krush followed by Blood Shock on Saturday night and Shanghai’s very very good noise band called Marrow on Sunday at Harley’s in Xuijahui.

    Get in touch if you want to swap music. Your website is very cool.

  9. Thank you for your recommandation. From all the samples from the list. I like Arcade fire and Of Montreal the most.

    Arcade fire reminds me of my all time fave band, Eyeless in Gaza (early) from 25 years ago, very punkish and energetic. Try Eyeless’ ” Others” and “knives become air”

    The Arcade fire song “N#3 power out” is very similar to UT’s “fire in Philly” from the big black, sonic youth’s label compilation. http://www.dementlieu.com/~obik/bigblack/discog/va_totalwar.html
    If you like power out, you will love fire in Philly. Listen to them live in John Peel session long time ago.

  10. …Forget to mention, love the screaming vocal of the Arcade fire , very John Lydon (sex pistols, PIL) and Martyn Bates (EIG). The violin arrangements reminds me of the debut album of the Waterboys. It’s a great jam, definitely going to buy this CD.

  11. Hey. I live in Shanghai too. Good taste in music!

  12. Matt,

    “I would also put Joanna Newsom and PJ Harvey in that list. I know they get a special mention.”

    Well, I wouldn’t say they get special mention. The albums listed as “also considered” are just every other album I listened to in 2004 but didn’t like enough to include in the top-35. I should have clarified that.

    Couldn’t get into the PJ Harvey — I tried — and I can only take Joanna Newsom in small doses.

    I will definitely try to check out your recommendations. Thanks for that. And you are the second person to mention Tang Hui to me. Guess I should give that place a look.


  13. Ming,

    Thanks for your suggestions, too!


  14. no Chinese music worthy of making the list?

  15. chengb02,



  16. Josh,

    Sorry I forgot to respond.

    Send me an email and I can help you find this music in Shanghai … well, kind of.

    dan @ danwashburn.com


  17. Dan,

    I’d be curious to find out what you think of the news The Mars Volta Album (Frances the Mute). It’s definitely much different than anything else on your top 25, but I’m totally obsessed with it right now.

    If you give it a shot, be sure you listen to it at least two times before concluding whether you love/hate it. Oh, and as a disclaimer, quite a bit of it is sung in Spanish.

  18. Did Modest Mouse really play on the OC. That is just strange. well, I guess they deserve the cash after years of not hitting the bug time

  19. No mention of American Idiot?

  20. Wow, great list. A good handful are all relatively well known, but you really opened my eyes to a lot of great artists. Kudos.

  21. Interesting thoughts.

  22. Looks like a pretty good best of for the year, if you restrict yourself to the indie band of the spectrum. I’d be interested in hearing about where to get good music too, I’m arriving in Shanghai on Monday and will NEED to know where to get my regular hit of music.