So we tried a new way of doing things for the 7th year in a row! Actually, we think this is probably closest to accurate so far. Every entry got scored according to how readers voted. The score went up higher the more positive the reaction was and went down the more negative. Winners in the Band of the Year, Label of the Year, and Best New Artist categories were awarded due to cumulative scores and not voted for directly. Additionally, the Lifetime Achievement recognition was chosen exclusively by the Brain Staff.
Unfortunately, as is with all readers polls, everything eventually turns into a popularity contest. Rather than scrap it all in frustration, we keep the polls going from year to year. It presents a snapshot to look back and reflect upon to see what people were listening to and paying attention to at this time. It is by no means a measure of talent or greatness, nor is it even an accurate account of taste or opinion, as people will have a tendency to vote favorably/against an artist they like/dislike regardless if they've heard the record or not. Comments are included from the staff in each category. Thanks to everybody who honestly participated.
album of the year
- Fennesz, "Venice"
- Devendra Banhart, "Rejoicing in the Hands"
- Sonic Youth, "Sonic Nurse"
- Coil, "Black Antlers"
- Animal Collective, "Sung Tongs"
- Devendra Banhart, "Nino Rojo"
- Einst?zende Neubauten, "Perpetuum Mobile"
- Tom Waits, "Real Gone"
- Pan Sonic, "Kesto"
- Bj?k, "Medulla"
- Pan•American, "Quiet City"
- The Dead Texan, "The Dead Texan"
- Coil, "ANS"
- Joanna Newsom, "The Milk-Eyed Mender"
- Nurse With Wound, "Angry Eelectric Finger (Spitch'cock One)"
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus"
- Brian Wilson, "Smile"
- MíQ, "Summer Make Good"
- Wolf Eyes, "Burned Mind"
- The Legendary Pink Dots, "The Whispering Wall"
- Black Dice, "Creature Comforts"
- Nurse With Wound, "Shipwreck Radio Volume One: Seven Sonic Structures from Utvaer"
- The Arcade Fire, "Funeral"
- Stereolab, "Margerine Eclipse"
- Ghost, "Hypnotic Underworld"
- Comets On Fire, "Blue Cathedral"
- Michael Gira, "I Am Singing to You from My Room"
- Xiu Xiu, "Fabulous Muscles"
- The Legendary Pink Dots, "Poppy Variations"
- Sunn O))), "White2"
- Sufjan Stevens, "Seven Swans"
- Squarepusher, "Ultravisitor"
- Deerhoof, "Milk Man"
- Le Fly Pan Am, "N'ecoutez Pas"
- Clouddead, "Ten"
- Skinny Puppy, "The Greater Wrong of the Right"
- Iron & Wine, "Our Endless Numbered Days"
- Tim Hecker, "Mirages"
- Liars, "They Were Wrong, So We Drowned"
- !!!, "Louden Up Now"
- Madvillain, "Madvillainy"
- Acid Mothers Temple, "Mantra of Love"
- Mouse On Mars, "Radical Connector"
- The Soft Pink Truth, "Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want the Soft Pink Truth?"
- Tortoise, "It's All Around You"
- Loscil, "First Narrows"
- Boredoms, "Seadrum/House of Sun"
- Faust Vs. Dälek, "Derbe Respect, Alder"
- Mono, "Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined"
- TV on the Radio, "Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes"
Pan Sonic's Kesto is an ambitious piece of work that deconstructs everything about Pan Sonic into four distinct discs so that you don't have to! - Matthew Jeanes
Absolutely amazing rock albums like Ghost's Hypnotic Underworld and Comets on Fire's Blue Cathedral languish at number 25 and 26 while I can't shake the feeling that it's become a bit of knee-jerk reaction to list albums by veterans like Sonic Youth, Neubauten, Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Bjork in these year-end lists, whether or not people really think their recent albums were really up to par. - Jonathan Dean
ANS cost like $80. People didn't buy it. Hell, I'd venture to say that people who bought it didn't even listen to it! - Gary Suarez
Everybody thinks Sufjan Stevens' next album is going to be another state, but I wouldn't be surprised if Six Geese were to follow Seven Swans. - Jon Whitney
It's strange that the Boredoms masterpiece Seadrum/House of Sun is at #47, while Sonic Youth is at #3. I see Boredoms as a forward-thinking, constantly evolving, futuristic unit. I am baffled year after year as Sonic Youth consistently places in the top five (or better) of certain adventurous magazines year end lists. Without denying them credit for their past achievements, and while recognizing that their current work does have merit, it hardly seems to me that, with all of the exciting music being created, Sonic Youth post-1990 is making the best albums of the year, every year. - Jim Siegel
I knew it; names have a strange way of carrying so-so music to undeserved streams of acclaim. The Fennesz record is a prime example of this. !!!, Devendra Banhart, and Pan American all released amazing records this year, but I suppose the names aren't quite large enough at this time to appeal to people still aching for something "different" and "experimental." - Lucas Schleicher
Madvilliany is one of the best hip hop releases in recent history. MF Doom and Madlib had never collaborated before, and I don't even know if they had met prior to writing and recording the album. That's f'n amazing. MF Doom's bizarre lyrical couplets and slick obscure references almost steal the show had it not been for the (here it is) finest instrumentals ever done courtesy of Madlib. Hip hop finally becomes high art? Yes, I would contend I felt (as my art teacher used to say) "the evocation of the sublime." Record of the year. Danger Mouse deserves at least a nod or maybe a high five for the Grey Album. I can't stand Jay-Z, so to not only find his played raps tolerable but enjoyable speaks volumes for the music Danger Mouse was able to come up with. And he did it with the unlikeliest of source materials - a frickin BEATLES album??! He basically set himself up for utter failure and came through like the Red Sox. Hands down the coolest contraband of the year too (next to Canadian Viagra, of course). - Chris Roberts
single/ep of the year
- Animal Collective, "Who Could Win a Rabbit?"
- Devendra Banhart, "Little Yellow Spider"
- Four Tet, "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth"
- Wolf Eyes, "Stabbed In the Face"
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "There She Goes My Beautiful World / Breathless"
- Antony and the Johnsons, "The Lake"
- Black Dice, "Miles of Smiles"
- Joanna Newsom, "Sprout and the Bean"
- Clouddead, "Dead Dogs Two"
- Thee Silver Mountain Reveries, "Pretty Little Lightning Paw"
- Keith Fullerton Whitman, "Antithesis"
- Bj?k, "Who Is It?"
- Throbbing Gristle, "TG Now"
- Squarepusher, "Square Window"
- MíQ, "Nightly Cares"
- Squarepusher, "Venus No. 17"
- Sigur Ros, "Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do"
- Thighpaulsandra, "Rape Scene"
- !!!, "Pardon My Freedom"
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "Nature Boy"
- Interpol, "Slow Hands"
- Mouse On Mars, "Wipe That Sound"
- Liars, "There's Always Room on the Broom"
- LCD Soundsystem, "Yeah"
- Nurse With Wound, "Having Fun With the Prince of Darkness"
What a relief it was to see TG Now make it into the Top 25 in this category! Throbbing Gristle's reunion was truly impressive, as was their restraint with disseminating this new material. Though some people might have groaned over the exclusivity of this EP, these intimate recordings demanded an audience that would not simply listen passively. These dissonant four songs, much like their early work, were not meant for mass consumption by trend whores (*cough* Coil fans *cough*) and one-upping music geeks. Anyone who has spent some time with this release has been exposed to a rare experience, with four legends returning to the studio and coming together after spending years apart making very different music. TG Now is a return to form as well as a dramatic update, essentially raising the proverbial bar to a point where many musicians would do best to avoid this release rather than attempt to top it. - Gary Suarez
It's hard to believe everybody who voted for this winner actually own a 7" only release. It's also hard to believe it beat out the mindblowing TG Now, 27's jaw-dropping Let the Light In, and a Four Tet single that comes with his entire collection of music videos on an accompanying DVD! Additionally, none of Battles's three fantastic EPs cracked the top 25 but mind you, they will surely be on everybodys lists this time next year once you-know-who has released their album and made them even more buzzworthy. Then you'll be recalling me saying this just like I said about Sigur Ros, Dresden Dolls, and !!!, but did you listen then? No. - Jon Whitney
Can Dirty Water get an honorable mention? - Chris Roberts
best various artist compilation
- "Kompilation" (Kranky)"
- "Kompakt 100" (Kompakt)"
- "Golden Apples of the Sun" (Bastet)"
- "Broken-Hearted Dragonflies: Insect Electronica From Southeast Asia" (Sublime Frequencies)"
- "Cambodian Cassette Archives Khmer Folk and Pop Music, Vol. 1" (Sublime Frequencies)"
- "Radio India: The Eternal Dream of Sound" (Sublime Frequencies)"
- "Split Series 9-16" (Fat Cat)"
- "Compilation 2" (DFA)"
- "Thank You" (Temporary Residence)"
- "Left of the Dial: Dispatches From the '80s Underground" (Rhino)"
- "Matador At Fifteen" (Matador)"
- "Haunted Weather" (Staubgold)"
- "Old Enough To Know Better: 15 Years of Merge" (Merge)"
- "Song of the Silent Land" (Constellation)"
- "Shockout Vol. 1" (Shockout)"
- "Moog Movie Soundtrack" (Hollywood)"
- "Death's Last Life's Breath" (Beta-Lactam Ring)"
- "Shotgun Wedding Vol 3: Kid606 Vs. Cex" (Violent Turd)"
- "Children of Mu" (Planet µ)"
- "Manhunt Soundtrack" (Rephlex)"
- "Speicher Cd 2" (Kompakt Extra)"
- "Amunition" (Planet µ)"
- "Neurot Recordings I" (Neurot)"
- "Rock Action Presents Vol. 1" (Rock Action)"
- "Zen Rmx" (Ninja Tune)"
Kranky set a standard this year that all other record labels are going to have to try and measure up to. The compilation itself was gorgeous, cheap, and full of some of the best music to grace any recorded format. I won't argue against Mute or any other label on the lists, but this year belonged to Kranky in my mind. - Luke Schleicher
Maybe not the most impressive musically, but as for unexpected and historically important you couldn't go wrong with Stones Throw's The Third Unheard. Who knew that an urban musical genre that dominates popular music today had roots in suburban 1979 Connecticut? I didn't. - Chris Roberts
It's nice to see a kompilation of current music beating out some (stellar) compilations of archive material and newly re-discovered oddities. It brings hope for the new year that a label such as Kranky is still releasing challenging contemporary music. The Charalambides reissue program, the addition of Greg Davis to the roster, consistently rewarding releases by Keith Fullerton Whitman and the wonderfully difficult music of Brent Gutzeit all show that Kranky has moved bravely forward into the new millenium. It gives me a renewed sense of faith in listeners to see that these developments have been recognized and rewarded. - Jim Siegel
Kwite a koincidence that the number one and two spots on the kompilation kountdown were both taken by kute misspellings of kommon words. Daft kunts. - Jonathan Dean
reissue/vault/collection album of the year
- Can, "Tago Mago"
- Can, "Ege Bamyasi"
- Nurse With Wound, "Soliloquoy for Lilith"
- Brian Eno, "Ambient 1: Music for Airports"
- Brian Eno, "Here Come the Warm Jets"
- Current 93, "Thunder Perfect Mind"
- Einst?zende Neubauten, "Tabula Rasa"
- Can, "Monster Movie"
- Brian Eno, "Ambient 4: On Land"
- Brian Eno, "Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)"
- Brian Eno, "Discreet Music"
- William Basinski, "Disintegration Loops 1-4"
- Nurse With Wound, "She and Me Fall Together In Free Death"
- Pavement, "Crooked Rain Crooked Rain - La's Desert Origins"
- The Legendary Pink Dots, "9 Lives to Wonder"
- Low, "A Lifetime of Temporary Relief"
- Antony and the Johnsons, "Antony and the Johnsons"
- Can, "Soundtracks"
- Einst?zende Neubauten, "Kalte Sterne: Early Recordings"
- Slowdive, "Catch the Breeze"
- Current 93, "Sixsixsix: Sicksicksick"
- The Clash, "London Calling 25th Anniversary"
- Glenn Branca, "The Ascension"
- Six Organs of Admittance, "The Manifestation"
- Brian Eno, "Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror"
Tago Mago is a fantastic record. Perhaps in my top 20 favorite records of all time, but once again, I wonder if this many people have actually heard the reissue and can honestly compare the SA CD to the original version. Big time efforts like the Virgin Prunes reissue campaign didn't even crack the top 25 and Low put out an astounding 3xCD/1xDVD (double sided even) set and that doesn't crack the top 15. The Deathprod box and the Squirrel Bait box are criminally underrepresented. Maybe it's time to re-expand this category for boxed/multiple sets. - Jon Whitney
When are we going to get a remastered Tonight's the Night? Instead Neil Young gives us a half-baked, unnecessary Greatest Hits release? Please. The world is in dire need of a Tonight's the Night Sessions boxed set. A mere repackaged CD wouldn't do the album justice. Next summer, maybe? Maybe I'm getting swept up in all the media hype, but Nirvana's With the Lights Out has all the trappings of an essential compilation, if a wee bit sprawling. Especially for those who couldn't find/afford all the Outcesticide releases... even if it did help fund the constant trainwreck that is CL. - Chris Roberts
I'm happy to see that Slowdive still has a place in people's hearts. Unlike so much other "shoegazer" music from the early 1990s, Slowdive's three albums still sound wonderful to me today. Their final LP, Pygmalion, is a massively underappreciated avant-whatever classic. It presents the work of a group obviously unconcerned with remaining true to genre rules. It's too bad they didn't explore this direction further. Hopefully the interest that this compilation stirs up will encourage someone to reissue the long out-of-print Pygmalion. - Jim Siegel
It would have been nice to posthumously honor Arthur Russell—a guy who spent most of his short life toiling away in obscurity, quietly influencing a generation of artists. I find it disheartening he wasn't able to crack the top 25, in a year that three superlative reissues of his uniquely ingenious music were released. - Jonathan Dean
label of the year
- Young God
- Fat Cat
- Sub Pop
- Drag City
- Touch and Go
- Threshold House
- Thrill Jockey
- One Little Indian
- Beta-Lactam Ring
It was a very ambitious year for Mute with tons of amazing reissues and some good new albums too. Now where's that Nitzer Ebb collection you've been promising? - Jon Whitney
For the most part, Mute had an impressive year, especially on the reissue front with double disc sets from Richard Kirk / Sandoz and Suicide. With the label's continued commitment to quality acts like Diamanda Galas, Einsturzende Neubauten, and Pan Sonic, we can forgive its misguided attempts with the far-less talented Client, Miss Kittin, and M83. - Gary Suarez
Call me a one trick pony, but you can't deny Stones Throw's contributions this year. Best hip hop release in recent memory (Madvillian), Gary Wilson's first new record since the 1970s, a vitally important compilation (the Connecticut hip hop V/A) on top of their other releases AND the funk/soul rereleases on Now Again, the label's rereleasing machine aka subsidiary. Not to mention the DVD that they put out in the Fall. It made me say "holla." - Chris Roberts
Excuse me, Touch and Warp in the top 10 of the year? Touch records has become the ultimate namecheck label for boring beard strokers, and I seriously doubt anyone actually listens to 99% of their output before shelving it next to the other releases on their CD rack. And I shouldn't have to say anything about the embarassing Warp roster. This was truly their worst year in a run of bad years for the label. - Jonathan Dean
artist of the year
- Devendra Banhart
- Nurse With Wound
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- Animal Collective
- Wolf Eyes
- Acid Mothers Temple
- The Hafler Trio
- The Legendary Pink Dots
- Joanna Newsom
- Black Dice
- Sonic Youth
- Einst?zende Neubauten
- Mouse On Mars
- Tom Waits
- Keith Fullerton Whitman
- Pan Sonic
Two full-length releases, a couple singles, endless touring, and an army of completely freakish insane fans who could rival the creepiness of Bjork or Godspeed nutters. It's a well-earned recognition for Devendra, a talented individual and a great guy. - Jon Whitney
best new artist
One of Newsom's main strengths may be that she polarizes opinion. She is either loved or hated. She produces a strong reaction in listeners, for better or for worse. From seeing her perform live I gathered that she is a genuine artist, translating the world as she sees it into sound. While many "outsider" artists seem to operate by a set of unwritten conduct laws for weirdos, Newsom seems to be simply blessed with a unique voice and talent to boot. - Jim Siegel
2004 wasn't a huge year for new bands/artists. Looking at the list of newbies, many of them have histories in other groups. Battles had three stellar EPs; Autistic Daughters and Trapist were birthed from the incestuous blood that spawned Dean Roberts and Radian; The Dead Texan's debut was pleasing for fans of Badalamenti and Stars of the Lid; and Arcade Fire are just a glorified recycling of Pulp's music with the tone deaf (but oh so hip) vocal style a'la Interpol. Rachel Goswell of Slowdive/Mojave 3 finally released her long anticipated debut and Fridge's Adem stepped up to the microphone, churned out an impressive debut album, few singles, assembled a tight group, and toured like a madman. - Jon Whitney
The year of 2004 was full of a number of significant losses. From the passing of friends like John Balance, the passing of a distributor and financier of a number of our favorite groups, and ending with the most catastrophic loss in modern history. This year's Lifetime Achievement recognition was debated with the Brain Staff and in the end, it wasn't given to a musician at all, but to somebody who has truly had a full lifetime of achievement.
I used to go to record shops when I was young and naive and wonder why so many artists had CDs called "The Peel Sessions." Years later I grew to know the influence the man who was responsible for these recordings had on not just those artists, but music in general. He was a legend, and another reminder that there have been losses. - Rob Devlin
The first time I stumbled upon the name John Peel was during my adolescence in a random gift shop. There were two cassettes with greyish silver packaging, each featuring a different New Order session, 1981 and 1982 respectively. The eight memorable songs on these tapes opened me up to that formative period in the life of a band struggling with the suicide of their former singer and friend. Much like Pink Floyd's work post-Syd Barrett, this reverent music evoked the essence of their former collaborator while inching towards a unique new direction. Though not every Peel Session was as remarkable as these, it's hard to argue against John Peel's significance in modern music. - Gary Suarez
Since I live on the other side of the Atlantic, I can't say that I was a regular Peel listener. Aside from a couple of tapes sent to me by pen-pals back in the 80s and listening to the online feed a few times in recent years, I never heard much of his program. But ever since I bought my first Peel Sessions record (Gary Numan & Tubeway Army, I think it was), I've recognized his influence on the music that I loved. I can only hope that I have even a fraction of the passion he had for music when I reach 65. - Greg Clow
I can't even name one American radio DJ. Does Rick Dees count? These days, DJs are recruited from the stand up comedy circuit and from pools of failed actors, jugglers, magicians, and faceless entertainers. Music is programmed by corporations being bought by the labels or by enthusiastic but under-prepared college students who are the target of just as much payola. But from the time I was 14, I knew the name John Peel and knew that those silver and black cassettes meant new music, weird music, damaged music, and dangerous music. Nearly everything I got into in my formative years can be traced back to a Peel Session. Peel set an uncompromising standard for major market radio programming that will surely—sadly, never be duplicated. - Matthew Jeanes
Theres a serious problem with radio in the entire "free" world, and it's effecting the music industry globally. There are plenty of people all over the world including much of our readers, all of our staff, and most of the people at other publications who keep in touch with new music who would make fantastic DJs. However, DJs don't get to choose music any more - the job of choosing music is up to "programmers" who listen to what industry people say much more than they listen to music itself. John Peel could easily have been the last true DJ for a major radio station. Bringing in guests to perform special sets, always shopping the record stores, never easily satisfied with the drivel that most labels release in excess. Take this as a note to all the replacable so-and-sos in the big major markets who bow to the major machine: you will never be a fraction of a percent as important as John Peel was. - Jon Whitney