1. Isis Celestial (Escape Artist) CD. This is where the drone metal behemoth comes into its own, and it's only their debut LP! Monumental tidal waves o' doom crash against the cosmic rocks in churning guitar workouts that are just as effective when reined in as they are projected on the IMAX. Incredible production, with a strong debt to Godflesh and the Melvins, but sounds fresh and even occasionally ecstatic in its own right. Kraut metal fans rejoice.
2. Pharaoh Overlord The Battle of the Axe Hammer: Live (Last Visible Dog) CD. It's good that LVD is phasing out CD-R's. Now people can get over any shoddy packaging issues and get lost in what actually matters. LVD specializes in home-made murktronica, death folk and weird live recordings from all over (mainly Japan and Finland these days). This Circle alter-ego follows on the overblown space damage of Japanese acid punks like Les Rallizes Denudes, LSD-March and even Philly's Bardo Pond: unleashing molten riff magma of the Gods with acid splattered leads raining down from a lightning streaked sky. Most of what passes for "stoner metal" these days is closer to the Osmonds next to this Jackson Five.
3. John Cale Inside the Dream Syndicate, Vol.2: Dream Interpretation(Table of the Elements) CD. Every release in this series is essential deep drone ontology. Tony Conrad and Angus Maclise are collaborators. Starts with viola and violin on the cosmic overtone wash of the title track, then teeters slowly to some organ drone before erupting again in rabid guitar/cimbalim jazz conversations on closer "Hot Scoria" before it's all through some 70 minutes later. All history lessons need be this mind-bending.
4. Coil Live Four (Loci) CD. The last in a series of live concerts designed to show the evolution of the mighty trio is the best, and even a darn fine summation of their later studio career, plus a document that reveals their live abilities circa 2002, from trance-inducing electro crawls to spiking space disco. Nice plus: a showstopping rendition of Sonny Bono's "Bang Bang," recorded a good year before megalomaniac cheesehead Quentin Tarantino makes it popular again in Kill Bill.
5. The Skygreen Leopards One Thousand Bird Ceremony (Soft Abuse) CD. A glowing nexus of folky song craft and transcendental ambient hums and drones that brings together the voices behind two of the finer solo folk based groups coming in from the wild these days, Verdure and the Bird/Ivy/Olivetree. It's a smoother, more songbased ride than most of the Jewelled Antler crew, good for the shifting late afternoon breeze, and even widely available.
6. Mission of Burma OnOffOn (Matador) CD. Post punk forefathers return from the cold and dish out a worthy, though expectedly less frenzied, followup to the genre defining Vs and still sound pretty goddamn vital in the process. Easily beats the hell out of anything the Volcano Suns ever recorded.
7. Noxagt The Iron Point (Load) LP. Compared to Lightning Bolt, but this Norwegian trio (bass/drums/violin) weaves its own grungy gothic spell. It's a sort of chamber art punk, drawn from influences as diverse as the Velvet Underground and Jesus Lizard, but much better than all that, really.
8. Bardo Pond and Tom Carter 4/23/03 (Three Lobed) CD. A Hazy afternoon of improv and Philly KB indulgence captured at the Bardo house yields your new favorite lost dream soundtrack. 4/23/03 is truly a godsend for fans of Tom Carter's unique slide-guitar work and Bardo's hallucinatory string and voice escapades. Together they yield deep chasms of opaque drone swells in elongated spirals of sonic freedom. A subdued trek through the inner mind worthy of comparisons to Popol Vuh, Amon Duul II and Tony Conrad with Faust. Holy smokes.
9. Verdure The Telescope Dream Patterns (Camera Obscura) CD. Another excellent little surprise, Verdure is Donovan Quinn, one half of the aforementioned Sky Green Leopards, but the work of Verdure is entirely his own. It's a wonderfully scrappy collection of raw, infectious folky pop. As George Parsons' eye-popping artwork suggests, the second album is an off-kilter, fractured production that might not come as a surprise to anyone who's followed Jewelled Antler related releases, but make no mistake, this is its own brand of detatched, ethereal psych folk that sounds like the lost spectral offspring of Bob Dylan and Simon Finn, and fits in nicely with a long tradition of righteous west coast folk rock.
10. Earthmonkey Audiosapien (Beta-Lactam Ring) 3LP. Along the lines of Nurse With Wound's admitted prog opus, An Awkward Pause, this is Peat Bog's band (ie him and friends), with a lot of help from Steve Stapleton, making an inspired Kraut/prog record that turns up the space jazz a few notches and even incorporates drum machines beneath a sample heavy mix, but it rocks, and it flows organically when it needs to for those who love their Xhol and Amon Duul II like I do. Bonus 12" for vinyl connoisseurs offers more spacious motorik trancescapes and a bit of an introduction by Jimmy Carl Black of the Mothers of Invention, but it's not essential like the actual album, which along with the Bardo Pond and Tom Carter CD, will probably rank as the best non Germanic krautrock records of 2004.