Nezbeat, "From the Huge Silence"
Nezbeat's "From the Huge Silence" was the cream of the crop in a healthy 2004 hip-hop harvest that also yielded "The Find," "Al Japro" and a nationwide re-release of Approach's "Ultra Proteus." The album displayed remarkable breadth and experimentation, from the N.E.R.D.-esque big beats of "Clear Water Revival" to the indie-rock, trip-hop of "Fade Away to Silence." Though each track's success was largely dependent on the efforts of its tenants (nearly a dozen local MCs put in guest spots), the landlord kept a pretty tidy house.
Minus Story, "The Captain is Dead, Let the Drum Corpse Dance"
While Brian Wilson was resurrecting his lost masterpiece, Minus Story was busy creating its own on a bargain-basement budget. Sans symphonies and psychologists, the band employed a pawn-shop palette of instruments to bring its "corpse" to life: bells, drum machines, horns, detuned acoustic guitars and random furniture beatings. The result is a pearl of a record that channels the choicest chunks of Neutral Milk Hotel, John Vanderslice and Modest Mouse - and makes you "Smile" all the while.
The Get Up Kids, "Guilt Show"
The last thing the now-defunct Get Up Kids should feel is guilty. Lawrence's most worldly band (with dedicated masses in Japan, Europe and beyond) weathered bile-spewing critics, fickle fans and music industry hoop-jumping to release "Guilt Show," an album that's smart and mature, but mostly just fun. Keyboardist James Dewees earned his stripes with some Meatloaf-caliber piano licks, and Matt Pryor cloaked lyrics like "Trespass fits you like a charm / A scarlet letter on your arm" in the catchiest melodies this side of Bikini Bottom.
Old Canes, "Early Morning Hymns"
While The Appleseed Cast hibernated, Old Canes drank like fish and puked out "Early Morning Hymns." AC frontman Chris Crisci ditched the amps but kept the intensity, investing Old Canes' folk-informed ditties with as much morning-after bile as the Cast's most vitriolic breakup anthems. Crisci's acoustic guitar begged for mercy as he strummed it like an outcast from a Pogues Tribute band, soothed only by the chimes of Jordan Geiger's bells, trumpet and toy piano. It wasn't punk, and it sure as heck wasn't emo, but it contained healthy reminders of why those genres exist.
Split Lip Rayfield, "Should Have Seen It Coming"
Eventually, Split Lip Rayfield's records had to catch up with the band's exhilarating live show. "Should Have Seen It Coming" isn't a total blister-busting blitzkrieg of bluegrass, but neither is Split Lip Rayfield. The band can still crank in Kirk-Hammett-meets-"Deliverance" style, but it can also weep like an alcoholic baby with a broken rattle. "Should Have Seen It Coming" did both with gusto in 2004, and the boys of Split Lip retained their throne as members of the area's most potent string band.
Arthur Dodge & the Horsefeathers, "Room #4"
Arthur Dodge is an essential part of growing up in Larryville. His fourth full-length captures everything the versatile songwriter does best: tear-stained ballads, whiskey-soaked rockers and gentle love songs. His husky voice (more "hoarse" than "feathers") presents a standalone argument for overturning the smoking ban, and his band's nimble chops would make any Johnny-come-lately bar band jealous.
It's OK to feel, people. Feel sorry, feel sad, feel happy, feel mad - just feel. Sam Billen of The Billions isn't afraid to express his feelings, and his solo debut just happens to set those feelings to heavenly melodies that recall Starflyer 59, Built to Spill and Grandaddy. Billen's gentle, reassuring voice could just as easily be singing lullabies to babies. If you like babies, you'll love "Miracles."
The Only Children, "Change of Living"
Former Anniversary members Josh Berwanger, Jim David and Christian Jankowski hooked up with blues guitarist T.K. Webb, pedal steel wizard Casey Prestwood and singer-keyboardist extraordinaire Heidi Lynne-Gluck to form a unit that sounded deceptively well-oiled (the group had its first practices together just weeks before recording). The result is an album that's sort of like an indie rock "Sticky Fingers," with plenty of overt classic-rock influences but enough unique voice to keep it legit.
Architects, "Keys to the Building"
"Keys to the Building" reminded us why The Black Crowes don't totally suck and why rock 'n' roll still has a few feathers that need to be beaten out of its proverbial pillow. Less consciously hip than any of the "The" bands of '02 (Strokes, Hives, Mooney Suzuki) but nearly as capable, Architects delivered some big-league goods on this independently released album.
Ad Astra Per Aspera, "Cubic Zirconia"
One of 2004's best local releases was also one of its most ambitious. "Cubic Zirconia" mixed the art punk of early Sonic Youth with the sublime tunefulness of Blonde Redhead, delivering four thickly layered songs that were equally rewarding and disturbing.