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The best albums you didn't hear

By Tyson Lex Wheatley
CNN Headline News

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Tegan & Sara are a refreshing change with their power-pop sound and infectious tunes.
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(CNN) -- 2004 was an especially fertile year for good music. As always, many deserving albums somehow stayed under the radar and off many year-end lists. Here are five albums that you should have listened to.

Tegan & Sara
So Jealous
Vapor/Sanctuary

Don't expect these Canadian wonder twins to remain a secret for much longer. The sisters joined forces with producers John Collins and David Carswell of the New Pornographers to create this musical masterpiece.

"So Jealous" is pop-rock at its finest: bouncy and quirky, and yet vulnerable and honest. These charming punk siblings have created a refreshing power-pop record in a sea of over-produced crud. Tegan & Sara harmonize in cherubic unison as they blaze through 14 delicious gems about the perils of love and loss.

Bubble-gum music for teens this is not. But it is chock full of infectious tunes worthy not only of radio airplay but also of just about any music fan's collection.

Isis
Panopticon
Ipecac

Heavy metal outfit Isis has carefully harnessed chaos and unleashed it in the form of Panopticon, a dense tidal wave of mysteriously melodic sprawl. It's shoe-gazing music for the hardcore head.

You don't need to be a fan of the avant metal scene to enjoy Panopticon -- but you will need an attention span. The Boston quintet blends swelling and swirling guitars over seven slow-building epic rock jams -- each between seven and 10 minutes long.

Sparse vocals -- mostly incomprehensible growls and howls -- dot the rolling, atmospheric soundscape, a sonic frontier filled with moments of crushing force and fading peace. "Panopticon" would be well suited as a soundtrack to the formation of the Earth.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Shake The Sheets
Lookout

Ted Leo continues to expand the boundaries of accessible punk rock. The indie all-star whittles his Pharmacists down to a power-trio and creates a scrappy barn-burner that makes civil disobedience seem fresh again.

Released just weeks before the presidential election, "Shake The Sheets" is a highly political record tackling the Iraq invasion and nation divided between Bush and Kerry. The title track is less a call to arms and more a call to don marching boots. "I want to take it to the president/ him and all his Cabinet/ with a broom/ I want to sweep the halls of arrogance."

Although Ted's candidate lost, ultimately "Shake The Streets" wins as a lasting tribute to a time filled with rage and absorption, but also one of hope and resiliency.

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Aloha will appeal to long-time progressive rock fans and people new to the genre as well.

Aloha
Here Comes Everyone
Polyvinyl

Cleveland-based Aloha makes warm, progressive rock with a dreamy, resonant aftertaste. The early Genesis-inspired four-piece has skillfully crafted an ambitious and intriguing fusion of pop, punk and jazz-rock.

"Here Comes Everyone" is a varied and complex album that makes ample use of vibraphone, harpsichord, marimba and mellotron. Somewhat cryptic lyrics complement the improvised song structures that fill the album with spellbinding melodies.

Standout track "You've Escaped" is a finely tuned blend of piano, percussion and guitar that stays in your head long after the music has ended, and "Water Your Hands" sounds like the trippy brainchild of Brian Wilson and Tortoise.

Pinback
Summer in Abaddon
Touch and Go

The plush sound of Pinback has reached an apex in its latest chapter. And "Summer in Abaddon" is quite possibly the most intriguing album recorded in 2004.

The San Diego duo has stepped beyond its early atmospheric experimentations and created a modern rock masterpiece filled with somber melodies and angelic grooves.

Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV share songwriting and multi-instrumental credits. They have the uncanny ability to blend multiple styles into one cohesive pop song, creating a rich texture of sounds that rewards upon each listen.

If the tight guitar riff on opener "Non-Photo Blue" doesn't hook you in, the haunting chorus of "The Yellow Ones" will eventually have you believing the hype.

Top 10

Now it is time for me to take part in that annual music critic ritual of doling out a highly subjective list of year-end favorites. So here is my top ten of 2004:

The Arcade Fire -- Funeral -- Merge
Interpol -- Antics -- Matador
TV on the Radio -- Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes -- Touch & Go
Air -- Talkie Walkie - Astralwerks
Sonic Youth -- Sonic Nurse -- Geffen
Brian Wilson -- Smile - Nonesuch
Ron Sexsmith -- Retriever - Nettwerk
Animal Collective -- Sung Tongs -- Fat Cat
Modest Mouse -- Good News For People Who Love Bad News -- Epic
Kanye West -- The College Dropout -- Rocafella


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