Best of 2004: #1 -- Hayden Elk-Lake Serenade (and Another Dozen Worth Discussing)
Throughout his career, Hayden has specialized in acoustic intimacy. And while he's very good at it, the promise of so much more has always been right there lurking beneath the surface. With Elk-Lake Serenade, Hayden finally showcases the full range of his abilities by expanding his sound above and beyond the brooding comfort zone he's been content to occupy on previous albums, in favor of pacing and instrumentation never before heard in his work.
If the steady driving "Home by Saturday" provides the first hint that perhaps Hayden has decided to try and break out of his shell, the vibrant "Hollywood Ending" and brash "My Wife" are the sounds of that shell being shattered to bits. This is not to say Hayden has completely abandoned what he does best. "Don't Get Down," a simultaneously inspirational and bittersweet ballad, is his best song to date, and Elk-Lake Serenade is his best album. In fact, it's the best album of the year.
Another Dozen Worth Discussing:
Though many would disagree, I truly believe 2004 was an outstanding year for new music. I had a much more difficult time than ever before paring down my favorite albums to a Top 20. Every single one of the following albums could very easily have made my Top 20, and if I were asked to re-do my list a month (or even a week) from now, quite a few of them probably would. So, without Freddy Adu (I've never cared much for soccer), here are another dozen albums worth discussing (listed alphabetically by artist)...
Burning Brides Leave No Ashes
Many found this sophomore effort to be inferior to their debut, and so did I...at first. But I eventually came around, and you should, too.
David Byrne Grown Backwards
The head Head finally puts together a complete solo effort comprised of everything that makes him American music's best-loved eclectic icon.
Drive-By Truckers The Dirty South
This is the sound of asses being kicked to the left and the right. No other band has either the balls or the chops to pull off a trilogy of songs about Sheriff Buford Pusser, nor should they try...lest they wanna end up with a two-by-four upside their skull.
Nicolai Dunger here's my song, you can have it...i don't want it anymore
The new Van Morrison rebounds from his last subpar effort with this catchy cache of classic sounds that just may be his finest effort to date.
The Hives Tyrannosaurus Hives
Although the garage fad seems to be losing steam, America's most beloved Scandanavian music import since ABBA successfully manages to keep their brand of garage rock alive and well by incorporating more of an '80s element to this underrated release.
Hop On Pop As Drawn by Ethan, Age Two
Chicago has produced many outstanding D-I-Y indie rockers over the years, and this local club circuit supergroup are doing a fine job of continuing that tradition with their unique brand of catchy quirk, led by musical mirthmeister Todd Leiter-Weintraub.
The standout track on this typically devious album says it best: "There's a flavor for every taste." It's definitely an acquired taste, but pays off in spades for anyone who manages to acquire it.
Now It's Overhead Fall Back Open
Urgent synth-driven pop-rock from Andy LeMaster and crew, with a little help from such friends as Michael Stipe, this is a nice improvement over their solid debut record.
Robert Pollard Fiction Man
Leave it to Bob to one-up himself by blowing his band's final album (Guided by Voices' Half-Smiles of the Decomposed) out of the water with one of his best-ever solo outings.
Darden Smith Circo
Smooth country-tinged folk rock from a consistently overlooked talent worthy of much more attention, which just may be forthcoming with more quality efforts like this.
TV on the Radio Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
This is probably the all-time textbook definition of the term "grower," based on how many people (myself included) didn't get into it until after repeated listens. It was well worth the repetition, because these guys reward the listener with a groundbreaking sound that's like nothing else out there today.
Zero 7 When It Falls
Like Burning Brides, here's another album generally considered to be a drop-off from their debut, yet I disagree once again by throwing my full support behind this soulful second helping.