The Unheard Music

The year's most overlooked and under-hyped albums.

Green Day. Modest Mouse. De La Soul. Wilco. Mastodon. The Thrills. The Arcade Fire. Sonic Youth. The Walkmen. The Fiery Furnaces. TV On The Radio. Franz Ferdinand. Kanye West. Bjork. Dizzee Rascal.

All of these artists released critically acclaimed records in 2004, and most of them deserved the praise. You're probably familiar with at least some of them, and will undoubtedly see all of their names — and, again, deservedly so — on other year-end lists.

They're not on this one, however.

What follows is a list of 10 great albums that received next to nothing this year in terms of promotion or coverage. They're discs I suspect most people haven't heard of, let alone heard, records I sincerely hope music fans will seek out.

This isn't an act of music snobbery. (Hell, a quick look at one of any number of "hipper" Top 10s will show I've barely scratched the surface when it comes to obscurity.) I consider myself very fortunate to have great shit nobody knows about mailed directly to my desk; I also consider turning people on to the best of it one of the most important aspects of my job.

So, with all due respect to American Idiot and A Ghost is Born, here are my 10 favorite releases of 2004 that you probably didn't know came out, but definitely should hear.

10. Candiria: What Doesn't Kill You (Type A). Metallic hardcore that takes more than a little inspiration from hip-hop's grooves, but adds plenty of intelligence and invention without sacrificing passion. Candiria has been perched on the cusp of wider recognition for a while now; God only knows why this excellent album's balance of machine-like pummel and creative expression didn't push the band over the edge. (

9. Funkstorung: Disconnected (!K7). German electronic-music duo Funkstorung made its bones in techno and remix work. More recently, however, their moody, chopped-up, hip-hop-indebted sound has been associated with the more forward-thinking laptop/IDM (intelligent dance music) movement. This, the pair's first full-length of original material in four years, adds pop hooks, rock balls and more varied vocal performances to their formidable, inimitable production talents. (

8. John Vanderslice: Cellar Door (Barsuk). As long as this idiosyncratic, warbly-voiced San Francisco singer-songwriter keeps making futuristic yet somehow timeless pop records, it seems, they'll keep finding their way into my Top 10. Cellar Door is Vanderslice's fourth album, and his utterly singular approach to haunting melody, lyrical themes and creative arrangements remains blessedly intact. (

7. The Thermals: Fuckin' A (Sub Pop). This coed trio plays pop-punk — not the slick contemporary stuff, but rather a loud, raw, exuberant noise barely held together by a couple of smart hooks and a couple of sloppy chords. Nothing pumped out by the countless "indie" labels that serve as farm teams for the majors that own them came close to matching Fuckin' A's brains, personality or raucous boisterousness. This is hands-down the thinking college-punk's party album of the year. (

6. The Six Parts Seven: Everywhere and Right Here (Suicide Squeeze). This Kent, Ohio, outfit's take on the arty, evocative, largely instrumental sort of post-rock often associated with the Midwest is simply untouchable. Lush but not busy, jazzy but not pretentious, and subtle but not toothless, Everywhere and Right Here's vibraphone-laden tunes bring vitality and visceral impact to a genre not normally known for warmth or, you know, actual songs. (

5. Carrier: Carrier (Hideaway). Marc Benning, formerly of the barely visible alt-country act 34 Satellites, started a new concern this year, enlisted some friends associated with some famous bands (Flaming Lips, Guided By Voices), and came up with a gorgeous, deceptively complex collection of guitar-pop gems. Equal parts tangled fuzz, psychedelia and space-country harmony, Carrier is at once challenging and infectious. (

4. Dios: Dios (Startime International). Though they shared the stage with some of indie rock's most recognizable names (Grandaddy, Saves The Day), these guys — from Hawthorne, Calif., hometown of the Beach Boys and Black Flag — remained stubbornly low-key this year; maybe it's because metal icon Ronnie James Dio sued them into changing their name to Dios Malos. It couldn't possibly be for lack of good music, because this batch of ambitious, alternately grand and lo-fi psych/roots/pop/redneck-Pink-Floyd-on-peyote tracks is damn near perfect. (

3. Will Johnson: Vultures Await (Misra). Johnson, co-founder of the under-appreciated roots-pop outfit Centro-Matic, goes solo — again — to deliver something wonderfully akin to a low-key Southern Gothic album by Tom Waits. Vultures Await is piano- and acoustic guitar-driven, lyrically poetic, instrumentally sparse, and darkly (sometimes uncomfortably) poignant. It gets deep under your skin, into your heart and gut, and makes a home there. (

2. American Music Club: Love Songs for Patriots (Merge). A decade after a bloodless breakup, category-ignorant West Coast outfit American Music Club reunited this year — and put out a record that positively smoked 99 percent of the upstarts currently aping the eclectic, compelling brand of Americana it trademarked so long ago. Singer-songwriter Mark Eitzel is still at his best when deconstructing life and love gone wrong, but Love Songs' ingenious performances and arrangements render it surprisingly fresh, and completely brilliant. (

1. Roy: Big City Sin and Small Town Redemption (Fueled By Ramen). Quite possibly the most underexposed album on this list — but that's not why it's No. 1. Here, some members of screamy Pacific Northwest hardcore bands (These Arms Are Snakes, Harkonen) funnel their spare time and extraneous creativity into a flawless blend of rollicking country vibe, pop hooks and occasionally discordant post-punk innovation. But Big City Sin puts those familiar alt-country elements together in some truly unexpected ways, and includes more than enough casually eloquent personality to resonate earnestly.(

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