Nationalistic

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

The Killers, Hot Fuss (Island). The Killers' retro-tinged romp humps the legs of everyone from Duran Duran to vintage U2. Even so, their prophetically titled debut, Hot Fuss, contains "Somebody Told Me," which is loaded with the most infectious sing-along refrain of the year -- next to Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get Retarded," which is just that. In the Killers' case, however, arrested development has never sounded so good. -- Herrera

Killswitch Engage, The End of Heartache (Roadrunner). The End of Heartache projects Euro metal through a cracked hardcore lens. Start-stop-start-stop-squeal-like-a-stuck-pig guitar riffs bludgeon, while frontman Howard Jones traverses effortlessly from spine piercing shrieks to soaring, soulful croons. Killswitch is bar none the harbinger of the latest batch of metallurgists. Heartache is fierce, yet accessible enough that your girlfriend might actually dig it. -- Herrera

Ray Lamontagne, Trouble (RCA). On Trouble, Ray Lamontagne's husky baritone plods along like a newly minted wino through several feet of freshly fallen snow, making Astral Weeks seem like years. Gentle and engaging, Lamontagne's ruminations/lamentations of love lost and gained sting as much as they caress. -- Herrera

Lansing-Dreiden, The Incomplete Triangle (Kemado). Of the many nu-rock acts that have surfaced of late, Lansing-Dreiden is among the most intriguing, since its music packs a conceptual punch. The players present themselves as anonymous cogs in a corporate structure whose music is merely a commodity. Their artsy instincts pay off as a result of music that, on The Incomplete Triangle and A Sectioned Beam, a recent EP, is smart, arch and masterfully mechanistic. -- Roberts

Graham Parker, Your Country (Bloodshot). Biting English pub-rocker Graham Parker dabbles in country music from time to time but saw fit -- after a three-year absence -- to fully immerse himself in lap steels and bolo ties. Giddyap! Mellowed with age but still able to see a tornado's silver lining, Parker has always possessed a storytelling gift that deserved more recognition. -- La Briola

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum of Natural History (Web of Mimicry). A nightmarish feast for the senses, Oakland's Sleepytime Gorilla Museum takes a cue from Russolo's art of noise, interweaving junkyard clatter with chamber-minded opulence. The result is a collision of classically trained prog-metal that can skillfully pulverize bones or land soft as a butterfly with sore feet. -- La Briola

Elliott Smith, From a Basement on the Hill (Anti-). Would this record have sounded the same if Elliott Smith hadn't stuck a knife in his sternum? Probably not. After all, it was cobbled together posthumously from various raw scraps of session work. Yet it succeeds: Rather than his recent, friction-less pop, From a Basement has a fiery, scattershot scope that veers from folk-like to megalithic. Rest in peace, Mr. Smith; with this harrowing emotional document, we sure won't. -- Heller

The Snake the Cross the Crown, Mander Salis (Equal Vision). "Small ghosts await us," read the Basquiat-styled liner notes of The Snake the Cross the Crown's debut full-length, Mander Salis. And ghosts it delivers: Between bouts of devout Thursday and Suede allegiance, the group haunts listeners with an utterly unique and moody post-hardcore that trades in choppy dynamics for soft strums and a shadowy, atmospheric angst. Chilling. -- Heller

TV on the Radio, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go). Of all the albums this year that have made the critics' hands go numb from hyperventilating, this one actually deserves the accolades. Once you get past the fact that, yes, Tunde Adebimpe's voice is markedly similar to a certain "Sledgehammer"-wielding minstrel, you'll find sprawling euphoric sounds and vibrations that bleed together like a watercolor left in acid rain. -- Herrera

Kanye West, The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella). No, West isn't the planet's most dynamic MC. Still, his awkward but innately human flow is perfect for Dropout, a set that leavens typical hip-hop braggadocio with self-deprecation. Thematically, "All Falls Down" and "Jesus Walks" couldn't be more different from most rap fare, yet West's production panache turned them into hits anyway. A year after celebrating OutKast, could the dopes who dole out Grammys possibly reward another deserving artist? Did Babe just sprout wings? -- Roberts

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