Overlooked CDs among 2004's finest
December 29, 2004 - By ALAN SCULLEY
For the Call
Not much separates the CD that ranks first on my list of best overlooked CDs of 2004 from the one that came in 10th.
In some years, that would be a sign of mediocrity. Not this time, as it was easy to find 10 CDs that deserved far more attention than they received in 2004.
So here's my list of the best 10 CDs that got lost in the shuffle in 2004:
1) Scissor Sisters: "Scissor Sisters" (Universal Records) — The buzz over the Scissor Sisters is getting almost loud enough to deny this New York group "overlooked" status. But the Scissor Sisters are too fun not to feature on this list. This debut CD gives us one of the catchiest songs of the year in the falsetto laced, disco-influenced rocker "Take Your Mama.'' But the Scissor Sisters are nothing if not diverse. Songs like "Mary" and "Return to Oz" evoke the stately pop of classic Elton John, while "Music Is the Victim" is a grooving rocker happily stuck in overdrive. For addictive, get-the-party-started fun, few CDs match this impressive debut.
2) Division of Laura Lee: "Das Not Compute" (Epitaph/Burning Heart Rec-ords) — If it weren't for a fuzzed out, buzz-saw guitar sound — think the Raveonettes or the Jesus and Mary Chain — the Di-vision of Laura Lee might be touted alongside the White Stripes and Hives as leaders of the new garage-rock movement. But as this potent, yet catchy second CD shows, the Division of Laura Lee is good enough to be lauded alongside those bands.
3) Rilo Kiley: "More Adventurous" (Brute/Beaute Records) — Don't believe the title. On Rilo Kiley's third CD, the band streamlined its sound a bit and found this played to its strengths. Showing a strong pop sensibility, "More Adventurous" runs from the insistent rocker "Portions for Foxes" to the clever melding of folk, pop and ambient electronics on "Accidental Deth," to the lovely string-laced pop of "Does He Love You?" and "I Never." Fre-quently edgy lyrics, meanwhile, bring some welcome grit to what would otherwise be a decidedly sweet-sounding album.
4) Gomez: "Split the Difference" (Virgin Records) — With this fourth effort, these underexposed Brits come into their own, finding the right balance be-tween their familiar rootsy folky-blues rock and a more edgy-electronic-tinged rock sound that has come to the fore more recently. No two songs are alike on this impressive CD, yet "Split the Difference" remains as cohesive as it is adventurous.
5) Snow Patrol: "Final Straw" (A&M/Universal Records) — By most reports, the first two Snow Patrol albums were fine lo-fi efforts that were miserable commercial failures. On the Irish group's third effort, the production goes wide-screen Technicolor as songs are bathed in washes of guitars and ambient tones. For-tunately, "Final Straw" boasts strong songs to go with the inventive production, making this a bold and expansive CD that's too good to ignore.
6) Bill Janovitz and Crown Victoria: "Fireworks on TV!" (Q Division Rec-ords) — Astute fans will remember Jan-ovitz as the frontman of Buffalo Tom, a group that made several fine albums filled with hearty yet pop-flecked rock. On this outing with his new band, Crown Victoria, Janovitz doesn't stray far from his Buffalo Tom signature. But since it's loaded with some of Janovitz's finest songs, you'll want to take this CD out for plenty of spins.
7) Anne McCue: "Roll" (Messenger Records) — McCue has found support from the likes of Lucinda Williams and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. "Roll" makes it obvious why they were drawn to McCue's music. McCue's straight-ahead brand of rock burnished with touches of country and pop isn't innovative, but she has a gift for writing strong melodies that evoke tension, sadness and even desperation. At times McCue gets a bit overdramatic with her lyrics — "Ghandi" and "50 Dollar Whore" are examples — but her honesty and passion more than redeem any slight missteps.
8) Jonny Polonsky: "The Power of Sound" (Loveless Records) — Eight years ago, Polonsky made a minor splash with his debut CD, "Hi My Name Is Jonny," earning emphatic support from Frank Black of the Pixies. With only an EP to his credit since, Polonsky returns with "The Power of Sound" and shows he hasn't lost his knack for writing catchy rockers. A bit harder edged and with a fatter sound than "Hi My Name Is Jonny," the new CD still bursts with hooks as Polonsky bashes his way through songs like "Let Me Out," "Much Love" and "My Secret Life."
9) Tommy Stinson: "Village Gorilla Head" (Sanctuary Records) — Stinson, bassist with the late great band the Re-placements, obviously learned a few things about songwriting from that group's frontman, Paul Westerberg. With first-rate rockers like "Motivation," "Moment Too Soon" and "OK" that evoke the rowdy, yet finely crafted sound of the Replacements, "Vil-lage Gorilla Head," may enable Stinson to step out of the shadow of his notable past.
10) Jesse Malin: "The Heat" (Artemis Records) — Malin first made his name as frontman of the brash punk/glam band D Generation. But you'd never know this is the same Malin based on the gritty pop-accented rock on "The Heat." Malin, though, sounds like he's found his true musical voice now, and on this second solo effort, he's produced some of his best work.