Backbeat scribes weigh in on their favorite national releases from 2004.

Our man Butt-head, in spite of his primate-like intellect, was spot-on a few years back when he asserted that he likes music that "doesn't suck." The Backbeat critics, knuckle-draggers that we are, concur wholeheartedly. So after sifting through more crap than a Roto-Rooter guy (some of which would've tested his gag reflex), we submit these suck-free national releases as reason not to stick a shank in your speakers.

The Anomoanon, Joji (Temporary Residence). As much as the songwriting of the Anomoanon's Ned Oldham -- brother of Palace's Will -- gets typecast as classic-rock pastiche, it retains a stiff, bracing strain of post-rock brittleness. Akin to Slint scraping resin with Buffalo Springfield, Joji is a stoned, avant-folk hoedownŠsmeared with fistfuls of shitty distortion. Makes My Morning Jacket sound like Bowling for Soup. -- Jason Heller

Black Eyes, Cough (Dischord). Now defunct, Black Eyes left us with this swan song of teeming, exultant cacophony that pours the Ex, Nation of Ulysses and Albert Ayler into a maelstrom of hymnal chants and free-jazz spirituality. As close to a gospel record as the revered hardcore label Dischord will ever get. -- Heller

Chin Up Chin Up, We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers (Self-released). Pop and art have long been sacrificed at one another's altars. Chin Up Chin Up, though, makes cerebral songcraft seem as streamlined and kid-friendly as paint-by-numbers. But beneath its vibrant, Pinback-hued palette and impressionistic textures, you'll find a framework of soaring -- if sorrowful -- melody. -- Heller

The Dresden Dolls, The Dresden Dolls (8ft Records). Injecting melodramatic cabaret stylings into the framework of rock isn't a new concept. Ask Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf. Still this Boston-based duo's ominous take resembles the soundtrack of some twisted vaudevillian snuff film. Amanda Palmer's tortured wails and vitriol make Tori Amos seem well-adjusted, and coupled with Brian Viglione's acute sense of dynamics, they make this the most exhilarating listening experience of the year. -- Dave Herrera

End, The Sounds of Disaster (Ipecac). Next time the CIA needs to drive some foreign combatant out of an embassy or spider hole, they might consider cranking this baby up. A relentlessly twisted glitchfest steeped in kitchen-sink electronica, jungle beats, B-movie samples, brass-band snippets and sci-fi schizophrenia, End is as much an acquired taste as sleep deprivation. -- John La Briola

Bill Frisell, Unspeakable (Nonesuch). Hometown-boy-made-good Frisell creates consistently strong albums, but Unspeakable is impressive even by his high standards. Along with Hal Wilner, an idiosyncratic producer who's overseen tributes to both Thelonious Monk and Disney film music, the guitarist uses jazz instrumentation, electronics, a string section and the occasional turntable to create music that's ambitious, elegant and mind-expanding. -- Michael Roberts

Green Day, American Idiot (Warner Bros.). Green Day should just go ahead and pack it in after this one. This is Billie Joe and the boys' pinnacle record, their Nothing Shocking, BloodSugarSexMagik, Pinkerton. Better to go out on a high note, unlike the others -- whose subsequent releases made us realize that we'd rather be shocked, that the Peppers are better hot and bothered, and that Weezer really isn't that far from Winger. -- Herrera

Jolie Holland, Escondida (Anti-). Holland, a Texas native, is sometimes referred to as an alt-country performer. Such a description seems ridiculously limiting when applied to Escondida, a disc that encompasses the width and breadth of American songcraft. Occasional hints of country rub shoulders with sounds from a slew of traditions -- show tunes, lounge music, New Orleans R&B and plenty more. Holland wraps these influences together in one marvelous package. -- Roberts

Isis, Panopticon (Ipecac). In the wrong hands, metal and hardcore can seem hide-bound, with the rudiments of the genres fitting as snugly as a straitjacket. In contrast, Isis, led by singer and guitarist Aaron Turner, embraces a universe of aural possibilities. Panopticon juxtaposes bludgeoning riffs with gentle plucking, hardcore tempos with lilting passages, aggro-screaming with lyrical intellectualism. The recording is a stereotype-free zone. -- Roberts

Will Johnson, Vultures Await (Misra). There's a universe of longing and frustration hanging between each struck key of a piano -- especially when it's being pawed by Will Johnson. Whittling down the grizzlier alt-country of his band, Centro-Matic, Johnson casts his bleak, jagged voice like a flock of ravens over these smoky and consuming torch songs. -- Heller

Jem, Finally Woken (ATO Records). If Dusty Springfield was reincarnated in the body of a smoky Scottish lass with an appetite for sampled beats, dirty guitars and tropical fairy tales, she'd be the uni-monikered Jem. Forget Cher. To hell with Madonna. A growing international pop phenom with one of the most soothing voices ever committed to wax, Jem could take 'em all in her sleep. -- La Briola

J.U.F. , Gogol Bordello VS. Tamir Muskat (Stinky Records). While fronting Gogol Bordello, deejaying at a Bulgarian bar, hiring Jamaican taxis and patronizing Punjabi restaurants, Eugene Hütz envisioned the world's ultimate after-party and dubbed it J.U.F. Here, then, in time to Balkanize America in her hour of global supremacy, is an infectious discotheque meltdown boasting everything from Arabic dancehall to Transylvanian avant-hard bop. -- La Briola

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