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More than 1,000 releases were reviewed in the pages of Shredding Paper magazine in 2004. Here is our editor's picks (in alphabetical order) for the elite group from those thousand plus releases.
(Downloads are all full tracks in high quality MP3, though some may be from an artist's previous release.)

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Arcade Fire - "Funeral" CD 10/47:55
Somewhere between Flaming Lips and Polyphonic Spree lies Arcade Fire, whose more passionate version of arty pop music begs to be taken seriously while still maintaining the Lip's and Spree's tongue in cheek. Lead singer Win Butler is from Texas, but formed the band in Canada with his wife Regine Chassagne, a Montreal native, who also contributes vocals. The band's full sound complements the consistently strong songwriting, with offbeat lyrics, and rhythms reminiscent of Talking Heads. "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" is one of the highlights here, one of four neighborhood titled tunes, and "Wake Up" is another on this outstanding debut from a band whose songwriting, style and unique musical vision sets them apart and insures a bright future. Mel
@ Merge Records
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Astropop 3 - "Allies and Stepping Stones" CD 10/34:21
Sounding much like a long lost Velocity Girl record in places, Astropop 3 mixes in some more atmospheric sounds between the jangly indie pop that dominates this, their third full length. I prefer the band when they hit their stride on the bouncy songs; "Fade On Your Own" is one of a couple of songs that feature Angelique Everett's winsome high pitched vocals, and the opening cut, "Forget Tomorrow" are among the two best indie pop songs I've heard this year. Hell, frankly, these are about the 10 best indie pop songs I've heard this year, they've got some great fuzzy guitar work, Danny Villanueva's vocals are in typically C86 flat but perfect for the songs, and when Angelique takes the mic, well, it's angelic for sure. I could gush about this for ages, but suffice it to say that anyone who digs C86 style pop will love this. Steve
@ www.plantingseedsrecords.com MP3 Download
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Boyracer - "Happenstance" CD 23/37:30
Short, sharp shocks of chipper pop-rock that's Anglophilic right down to the Union Jack coats gracing the back cover; heavy on the estrogen and stinking of recently musty Sarah and Slumberlandİ45 sleeves. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind; truth be told, this quartet does a fine job of distilling the sugary essence of what made that particular thread of 80's-90's indie rock so unique, adding their own angle on the requisite jangle and fuzz, andİdeftlyİpitching it into future-perfect. And writing a song titled "I Was The Drummer In Altered Images"İis, if naught else, an act of cultural defiance to be heartily admired. Nice tune, too. MLH
@ www.hhbtm.com MP3 Download
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Hawaii Mud Bombers - "The Best So Far" CD 16/43:00
Another Swedish band that does the surfy pop punk thing better than just about any US band; I just don't get how a band from such a cold outpost of the world can throw around songs about being at the beach, driving the Woody, and surfing with your girl can do this stuff with such authority. Full of soaring guitars and harmonies, this release is actually a compilation of some of the band's material from a couple of full lengths and a couple of other limited releases in Sweden. One thing that separates them a bit from other bands that do this kind of thing are some great female vocals (both lead and backing) by Hanna Soderberg. They fit right with their influences from US bands like the Ramones, Revillos and Barracudas and carry the same nordic torch as the Yum Yums, Psychotic Youth, and the Travoltas. Maybe the Northern Lights confuse all these great Scandinavian bands that they live near the shores of Hawaii, but whatever the reason, surfy pop punk doesn't get much better than this. Steve
@ www.wizard-in-vinyl.com MP3 Download
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High Water Marks - "Songs About the Ocean" CD 13/37:56
Featuring Hilarie Sidney of Apples in Stereo on guitars and vocals, along with members of Preston School of Industry, Swedish band Palermo, and Von Hemmiling, you would expect a fun fuzz based guitar disc, and that's pretty much exactly what you get. Produced by Robert Schneider of the Apples, this has all the melodic hooks you want in a great pop record, with echos of Guided by Voices, a bunch of the Elephant 6 bands, and plenty of C86 influence as well. The production is definitely lo-fi, and the lead vocals, shared by Hilarie and Per Ole Bratset of Palermo and a perfect match for the fast paced tunes. A fun record that is perfect for fans of the perkier Guided By Voices material. Steve
@ www.eeniemeenie.com
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Human Television - "All Songs Written By" CD 7/17:36
I'm totally blown away by this one, from the opening track "Saw You Walking By" all the way to the end. Take a few large doses of the Wedding Present jangle and vocals, mix in some occasional lighter touches that remind me of the Go Betweens, and all the fun catchiness of a bunch of C86 bands. "Saw You Walking By" may be the catchiest song on All Songs Written By, but it's not the only good one. About half the songs on this use a similar formula; jangly, upbeat guitars and vocals, a driving melody and rhythm section, and slightly punky attitude. The others are a little more languid and take a near emo vocal turn, such as the second track "Tell Me What You Want". But the definite force behind this disk is the fun indie guitar work and how it absolutely takes over your brain. I totally dig this, and can't believe that music like this actually came from Gainesville, Florida, and not the heart of the British indie scene. Steve
@ www.giganticmusic.com
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Morrissey - "You are the Quarry" CD 12/47:22
For the record, I’m an insane Morrissey fan so there is no way this review is not going to be biased; I’m sorry, but that’s just life. But I can’t imagine there are many of his reviews that aren’t at this point; everyone knows him, and his music is very much either love-it-or-hate-it. The worst Morrissey record is better than almost anything else that gets released as far as I’m concerned. That said, what’s really important at this point in his, or really any performer’s career, is how does it match up to the back catalog? Well, it’s certainly better than "Maladjusted", and most would put it above "Southpaw Grammar" and "Kill Uncle" even though those are two of my favorites. One thing is for sure " the sixth song, "The World is Full of Crashing Bores", is the best song he’s come out with in a long, long time. A lot of folks are deeming this his "comeback" or a "return to form", and I’d be hard-pressed to argue with them, even if I never thought he went anywhere in the first place. Jake
@ www.morrisseymusic.com
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MOTO - "Kill MOTO" CD 17/38:18
16 years of cranking out the best American garage-pop of their time. Their brilliant "This Corpse Is a Warning" debut from 1990 should have served as a wake-up call to anyone with a pulse, and their CD collection of singles, "Single File" is a totally essential package of gems. That said, I'm not sure that this release takes a back seat to either of those. The production is crisper and cleaner, the songs are as hook loaded as ever, and rate with anything the band's done in the past. Maybe they should get out of Chicago and tour a bit more, because they don't seem as well known as Flaming Lips and GBV, the other two great American garage bands of the last 20 years. Mel
@ http://www.criminaliq.com/ MP3 Download
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Nancy Sinatra - "Nancy Sinatra" CD 11/37:57
This lady still has it, as if she ever lost it… which I highly doubt. I mean, we all know her signature tune, that one groovalicious ditty that inspired Ms. Magazine and was the bedroom dancing anthem for the Women’s Lib Movement, "These Boots", but did you know that Ms. Sinatra (yeah, she’s the daughter of that Rat Pack dude) is the hipper version of Dusty Springfield or the country Vegas lounge equivalent to Jessica Claus (yeah, from that "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" animated special) with a penchant for rock, ballads and full blown mini skirt music? Maybe you did or do, but this self-titled album should inspire a new age of lady cool that only a seasoned pro such as Nancy here can pull off. This CD is packed with amazing songs that run the realm of soft to hard, fragile to behemoth and everything else in between. Honestly, there is not one bad cheeselog in the tool shed here. Every tune is crafter with confidence, fun and good old-fashioned sense of showmanship…I mean womanship. Either way, Nancy Sinatra should impress rock fans, soft hits heads, lounge lizards, gays/straights/don’t knows all over the place with her laid back swagger and cat grin prowess. Like if Nancy Sinatra did a tour with Kenny G and Cannibal Corpse I wouldn’t be surprised. Not at all. I’d be front and center…laughing through my tears! Mark
@ Sanctuary Records
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Polyphonic Spree - "Together We're Heavy" CD 11/48:45
Well, this lot has certainly had quite a time since their debut slab of liturgical rock and post Brian Wilson orchestral bombast hit record bins worldwide. They've toured with David Bowie, gotten their songs into TV ads and an Oscar-winning movie. The Spree even did a slew of in-store gigs for one of their benefactors, Apple Computers, getting their snow-white choral robes tarred and feathered with the Sellout brush by assorted rock-press didacticists (though, honestly, if you have to support that many people in a band, if Jobs' mob is gonna give, why the hell not grab?). Most notably, Nick Hornby punned on their name for use as the title of his latest book. Oh yeah, and they even found time to do another CD. This is more of the same as their initial mission statement, refined a bit here, a melodic surprise there. In summation, Tim De Laughter and company come at you again with more sonic swaths of bountiful harmonies, L.A.-via-way-off-Broadway instrumental strategies, and such insufferably positive vibes as to make Ned Flanders' clan sound like Deicide. MLH
@ www.hollywoodrecords.go.com
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Saturday Looks Good To Me - "Every Night" CD12/38:22
This Detroit area cast of thousands has been putting out music since 2000, a rotating and floating crew of musicians and vocalists do the indie pop thing to good effect. Using traditional guitar/bass/drums, and augmenting them with full string sections on some songs, and some decidely lo-fi production at times, this disc gives you a good flavor of 60's flavored pop, with a mix of male and female vocals. At their best, they've got a 60's Joe Meek or Phil Spector vibe, with some lo-fi-ish twee songwriting (check out the 2nd track, "Until The World Stops Spinning" for a prime example). At other moments, the songs get a lot more rockin' and bluesy, like on "Keep Waiting", which almost sounds like it was recorded in an echo chamber at times. It's the innovation and wide variety of styles that make this disc so enjoyable, it's one part Dusty Springfield, one part the Rolling Stones, and toss in a little girl group sound, and you've got a great toe tapping mix. Between this band, and Denise James, Detroit seems to be a haven for great 60's flavored pop, and it doesn't get much better than this. Steve
@ www.polyvinylrecords.com MP3 Download
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Skimmer - "Still" CD 15/31:48
Good pop punk never really goes out of style, despite what some people might tell you, or what record sales might say. Of course, I said "good pop punk" and nowadays there are far too many bands that don't stop at being merely referential and are really just copycats of the BlinkSumDay thing. Skimmer, from England, has been doing their thing since some of these kids were diapers and has always used their guitars more as weapons than as mere drivers of the melody. It's what has always given them a unique quality, they blaze through incredibly melodic songs with the fire of early British punk bands like the Buzzcocks mixed with the roaring guitars of Mega City Four and Leatherface. Nothing too challenging lyrically here, but that's OK, the guitars are worth the price of admission on this one, as always. Steve
@ www.crackle.freeuk.com MP3 Download
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Tobin Sprout - "Live at the Horseshoe Tavern" 2XCD
Tobin was the other great songwriter in Guided By Voices. He left GBV after "Under The Bushes...", which many consider the final curtain to the band's peak period. Here in this live set from an April 2004 show in Toronto, Sprout plays 29 tunes culled from his various incarnations the past twelve years. As a songwriter Sprout's main influences have always been 60's based; British invasion and American folk-rock. Although much of his GBV material is well known, some of his post GBV compositions are somewhat under-appreciated gems. "The Last Man Well Known To Kingpin" is a well deserved fave among Sprout aficionados, as is the amazing "Water On The Boaters Back", easily the equal of his better known tunes. The Voices tracks from this excellent setlist go back as far as 1992's "14 Cheerleader Coldfront", co-authored with Robert Pollard. Also from the GBV days are "Gleemer", "Awful Bliss", "Atom Eyes", the great non-LP "Dodging Invisible Rays", and several others before the set concludes with the up tempo Beatles inspired "Little Whirl". There are three bonus tracks following the live set, all demos, of which "Over Then, and Back Again" is certainly a keeper Mel
@ www.lunamusic.net MP3 Download
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Unlovables - "Crush, Boyfriend, Heartbreak" CD 13/35:53
Here's a contender for my top 10 list for this year, hell, it's a contender for number one on the list. Fantastic pop punk, with all the hooks and crunchy guitars that make for a perfect disc, with a sound much like bands on the Crackle label out of England. This is a concept album; following a relationship from tingly longing beginnings to first kiss to bitter end. Even though it's a pop punk record and you'd think it might fall into the trap of a one note effort that follows convention, but that is far from the case. As the songs move through the different levels of the relationship, they change in speed, tone and maintain the proper emotional level for the subject matter lyrically; effervescence and excitement in the beginning, exuberance in the middle, and anger and resignation at the end. But it's all done over some great pop melody and it is sure to be one of my favorite discs of this year. Steve
@ www.whoaohrecords.com
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V/A - "Phil's Spectre" CD 24/64:50
The concept here is 60s treasures that were influenced by the Phil Spector "Wall Of Sound". "Run, Run, Run" by the Supremes is certainly one of the 60s greatest girl group records, but it might be a stretch to call it a Spector clone. There are some great tunes here that are though, that you may be familiar with; Righteous Brothers, Jackie DeShannon, Sonny & Cher, The Four Pennies and others. But what makes this one of the most essential sixties comps in recent memory are the obscure copycat records that rival much of Spector's output. Kane and Abel do a brilliant imitation of the Righteous Brothers (as do the Walker Brothers), while Lorraine & the Delights perform the best song the Ronettes never recorded. "Missin' My Baby" by legendary 60s backup singer Clydie King is another highlight, as is Hale & the Hushabyes arrangement of "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" in a Bob B Soxx mode. Nino Tempo's hit with April Stevens, "All Strung Out" is included, then Nino surfaces again with the great obscurity "Boys Town". Former Teddy Bears help out here, with Carol Connors 1966 hit that should have been, "My Baby Looks, But He Don't Touch". Great tracks from PJ Proby, Gene Pitney and so much more! Mel
@ www.acerecords.com

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