1. The Libertines - "The Libertines": Breathlessly brilliant document of a band falling apart due, in no small part, to the drug addiction and rapid decline of Pete Doherty and the fallout in his relationship with co-leader Carl Barat. The resulting album actually manages to transcend the hype with some excellent songwriting, razor-sharp performances and hints of all the greatest British rock groups of the last 40 years (Hamburg Beatles, Kinks, Clash, Jam, Smiths etc). With Doherty's ramshackle Babyshambles combo now in the UK charts, is it RIP Libs? Time will tell - in the meantime, if this is to be their swansong, it's a ripping way to go out.
2. Morrissey - "You Are the Quarry”: After the hugely disappointing 1997 effort "Maladjusted" and a seven year wait whilst he relocated to LA and squabbled with Smiths drummer Mike Joyce over unpaid royalties, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Steven Patrick Morrissey was well past his use by date. Thankfully, this year's most successful comeback has atoned for past sins. Produced by Blink 182/ AFI(!) producer Jerry Finn in a 'creamy, organic' style, and still backed by veteran sidemen guitarist/ tunesmiths Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte, this is easily his best record since the superb "Vauxhall & I", and sits comfortably alongside the best of The Smiths canon.
3. Wilco - "A Ghost is Born”: Seeming to be on a hiding to nothing in following up the dazzling critical acclaim (and commercial success) of "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", Wilco have managed nevertheless to make an album that will confound and delight in equal measures. Adding new colours to their basic palate of increasingly experimental country-rock (the Krautrockin' 'Spiders (Kidsmoke)', the Neil Young-inspired guitar blitzkrieg of opener 'At Least That's What You Said'), alongside gorgeous, oblique tunes like 'Company On My Back', 'Muzzle Of Bees' and the rollicking 'The Late Greats', Jeff Tweedy's group have become the benchmark against which all other rock bands must be judged.
4. American Music Club - "Love Songs for Patriots”: Also on the comeback trail is Mark Eitzel's great "coulda been a contender" combo American Music Club. After splitting following 1994's "San Francisco", the man once dubbed 'Songwriter of the year' by Rolling Stone magazine embarked on a solo career that has been sporadically brilliant, but patchy and occasionally quite bizarre (Culture Club and Anne Murray covers, 'Greatest Hits' album with Greek traditional band, anyone?). Now reformed (sadly without pedal steel supremo Bruce Kaphan), this is easily Eitzel's best set of songs since solo debut "60 Watt Silver Lining", and the empathy his songs receive from bassist Dan Pearson, guitar whiz Vudi and drummer Tim Mooney, along with new keyboardist Marc Capelle, is a joy; especially when they achieve that gorgeous 'wooshing' sound that is a trademark of their very best music.
5. David Mead - "Indiana”: This third album from prodigiously talented New York based singer songwriter David Mead has been a bit of a creeper - from being a pleasant enough 'background' album, it has slowly emerged as a delightful collection of melancholic, airy, acoustic based pop songs that easily stands up to repeated listens. While his first album "The Luxury Of Time" was an eclectic collection of melodic pop songs, and second album "Mine And Yours" strayed a little close to FM radio AOR rock, this set has a uniformity of mood and arrangement that is quite beguiling - the gorgeous cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" alone makes it a delight!
Gig of the year
With pretty stiff competition from Brian Wilson's dazzling "Smile" show, gig of the year has to go to American ingenue Cody ChesnuTT for his April show at Galatos in Auckland. Backed only by a drummer, bassist and his own guitar and electric piano, he treated an appreciative audience to killer renditions of "Headphone Masterpiece" faves like 'The Seed', 'Look Good In Leather, 'Upstarts In A Blowout' and 'No One Will', as well as a few newies and a whole lotta off the cuff evangelism. It was like seeing a young Bob Marley, John Lennon, or Marvin Gaye - he has the charisma, the songs and the attitude - bring on album number 2!]
Single of the year: Kelis "Trick Me", Franz Ferdinand "Take Me Out"
Most sadly missed: John Peel (RIP)
Reissue of the year: The Kinks "Village Green Preservation Society" 3CD deluxe edition
1.Iron & Wine - "Our Endless Numbered Days": This beautifully crafted second album from 'new folk' singer/ songwriter Sam Beam has proven to be a real grower throughout 2004. The simple, laidback songs belie a depth of lyrical darkness that is revealed with repeated listens. One of few albums this year that ends too soon…
2. Bonnie Prince Billy - "Sings Greatest Palace Hits": Will Oldham's tribute to his past incarnations sees him revisiting his finest material with the aid of a Nashville session band, with often stunning results, as each song is reworked with a different feel. For the first time listener this is a great introduction to Oldham's early material, for fans it is a pleasurable addition to his impressive canon.
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus": Nick Cave and the Blixa-less Bad Seeds make up for past indiscretions with this brilliant, return to form double CD set. "Abattoir" is hard, fast and lean, whereas "Lyre" is a wonderful, ballad driven set. If his last couple of albums put you off, this could be the one to convince you to re-enter the fold.
4. Bonnie Prince Billy - Live At Indigo Bar: Without a doubt, my concert of the year. Witnessing the almost religious fervour with which Will Oldham delivered choice excerpts from his stunning repertoire to a packed and silent crowd should have left no-one in any doubt that genius was among us that night.
5. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - Live At The Paramount Theatre: Surprise of the year - Welch & Rawlings delivered a breathtaking set with warmth, humour and passion exceeding any acoustic act I have seen. A brilliant performance.
1. Rufus Wainwright - "Want One"
2. Janis Ian - "Billie's Bones"
3. Maria De Barros - "Nha Mundo"
4. Dwight Yoakam - "Dwight's Used Records"
5. Jules Shear - "Sayin' Hello To The Folks"