As in previous years, a few of these were released earlier than 2004, but that is when I discovered them, so I'm allowing a little slack. In only approximate order of favoriteness, here is my year-end wrap-up.
The Dresden Dolls - "The Dresden Dolls" & "A is for Accident"
Their self-titled release is definitely my favorite album of the year (though technically it came out last year.) I saw them live twice this year, and their live shows are every bit as good as the recorded material. There are two of them (drums and piano+vocals) and they play this aggressive cabaret kind of thing. It's hard to believe that such dense music is coming out of just two people. To get a feel for them, I strongly recommend you check out the videos on their web site for the songs "Girl Anachronism" and "Coin-Operated Boy."
The Epoxies - "The Epoxies"
The Epoxies put on one of the best live shows I saw this year (which was, happily, at DNA Lounge.) They are a punk/new wave band in the Devo vein, with a female singer. Now, I know there have been a lot of retro/ironic new-wave-oriented bands recently, but these guys seem less like "stylistic nostalgia" and more like "actually traveled through time, direct from 1978." They do it just so well. There are some videos on their web site; "Stop Looking at Me" is especially fine. The album is great, but it doesn't fully capture the manic energy they have in their live show.
Jill Tracy - "Diabolical Streak"
I've seen Jill Tracy live a few times (she played at DNA in 2001, and will be back opening for Nina Hagen next month) and yet, somehow, I neglected to pick up her album until this year, despite it having come out in 1999. It's fantastic. It's a spooky, 20s-jazz-styled album of happy songs about murder and the apocalypse. "The Proof" reminds me of a musical version of Edward Gorey's Gashleycrumb Tinies.
Killing Joke - "Killing Joke"
This ferocious album came out last year, but somehow I had overlooked it until, after I posted my 2003 list, I got a lot of email asking why this wasn't on it! Well, that's why. My favorite track is "Asteroid", which is an extinction event told from the rock's point of view.
Storm and The Balls - "Hanging With The Balls"
Storm and The Balls are a "mash-up" band, but they're so good at it that, if there was any justice in the world, they'd be the nail in the coffin of that genre: the other practitioners would look at them and say, "ok, that's it then, no reason to continue." They played at DNA in February, and blew me away. They do these loungey, bluesy covers, like the lyrics from "Bring The Noise" with the music of "Sweet Home Alabama", and "Take a Chance On Me" to the tune of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". This wasn't some beat-matching remix trick like that Grey Album that got so much press earlier this year; they actually play these songs. You know, a band.
This is a very good album, but the live show was much, much better.
Storm's previous band, "Storm Inc.", was one of our first live shows at DNA Lounge, back in 2001. They were a very different band back then, but if I had been posting year-end music wrap-ups in 2001, the albums "The Calm Years" and "Storm and Her Dirty Mouth" would definitely have topped that list.
Tricky - "Vulnerable"
I really like the voice of Tricky's new vocalist, Costanza. This album is really good. I thought "Juxtapose" and "Blowback" were pretty uneven, but this one is cool. ("Maxinquaye" and "Pre-Millennium Tension" are still my favorites overall.)
Curve - "The New Adventures of Curve"
I've been a fan of Curve since I first heard them in 1992 or so, and their latest album has a lot of good stuff. They've been tending to get both more mellow and more electronic as time has gone by. The first track, "Answers", is especially great: it's almost an ambient trance track.
Veruca Salt - "Officially Dead EP"
This EP has only 4 new tracks on it, so I wasn't sure I should include it, but I decided to because I liked those four tracks more than at least 80 other albums I bought this year. "Smoke & Mirrors" and the almost unrecognizable remix of "The Same Person" are the big winners here.
Hanzel und Gretyl - "Scheissmessiah"
Hanzel und Gretyl make me smile. They are goofy and melodramatic and they rock oh so very, very hard. This album is pretty much
"Über Alles,part zwei."
The Kills - "Keep on Your Mean Side"
The Kills are a bluesy rock band who remind me a bit of a more-punk Boss Hog or a less-country X; one track sounds a lot like Mazzy Star. If you like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, you'll probably like these guys too.
Dear 2005, please try harder. Thank you.