Here is the definitive list — albeit a bit fuzzy (it’s been a tough few weeks of pre-Christmas partying) — of the best albums of 2004. I wish there were more Japanese bands here, but in 2004 most of my favorite bands — The Gimmies, The Saturns, Melt-Banana, Thee ’50s High Teens, Watusi Zombie, etc. — didn’t release new stuff and instead concentrated on burning down live houses with their incendiary stage shows. But, anyway, here goes . . .

1) The Libertines, “The Libertines” (Rough Trade)

This is the best record ever! In the history of rock ‘n’ roll! I’ve been listening to it on my iPod at least once a day for the past six months. Most songs have got a punky-mod feel that, well, I guess you could say is reminiscent of The Jam or The Who, but I feel like an idiot making comparisons because this is beautiful, dissolute rock ‘n’ roll at it’s very best and every song is a killer.

The rumor that each track had to be nailed down in a few takes in the studio because guitarist/singer Pete Doherty was in drug-addiction hell rings true. This is an album about a breakdown of a band and a friendship and the pain hollers through with intensity.

The Libertines split up a few weeks back because co-pilot guitarist/singer Carl Barat can’t go it alone without the genius of poor Pete, who Carl kicked out of the band because of his drug problems. Carl and Pete love each other so maybe they’ll play together again, but if this is The Libertines’ swan song, then the guys have gone out with a helluva bang. Crucial burns: “The Man Who Would Be King,” “What Became of the Likely Lads,” “Can’t Stand Me Now’

2) Guitar Wolf, “Loverock” (Ki/oon Records)

Japan’s most insane blues-punk rock ‘n’ rollers refuse to burn out or fade away: Their eighth album is their best so far. Seiji’s guitar attacks on many tracks are revolutionary. Sounds like he’s feeding his legendary six-string into a wood chipper in the studio. Crucial burns: “Loverock,” “Katsumiya Tobacco City’

3) Franz Ferdinand, “Franz Ferdinand” (Domino)

They’ve shifted more than a million copies of their debut album in the United States, gone multiplatinum in Britain and their Japanese shows last month sold out in minutes. I don’t think I need to say anything more about the glorious post-punk pop-infested extravaganza that is Franz Ferdinand. Crucial burns: “Jacqueline,” “Take Me Out’

4) The Killers, “Hot Fuss” (Lizard King)

So, amazingly, something with style emerges from the mass of tacky cack that is Las Vegas. They are called The Killers and they are the Beethovens of rock ‘n’ roll. You imagine a conductor in their studio waving his hands around madly while they recorded these epic operatic rock songs. A fistful of soaring guitar anthems are given added muscle by swirling synths — and matched with hard-hitting metaphysical lyrics about the search for true love and a meaning to our pathetic existence. This is a classic. Crucial burns: “Mr Brightside,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “Somebody Told Me’

5) Graham Coxon, “Happiness in Magazines” (Parlophone)

This record is a bullet in the head to Damon Albarn and the remnants of Blur. Coxon, the band’s ex-guitarist, has ditched his experimental shoegazing and made the best Blur album ever, so to speak. It’s got a bit of everything: You can dance your socks off to hit single “Freaking Out,” romance to the gorgeous ballad “All Over Me,” and knock back a six-pack of Coronas to “Are You Ready,” which takes you to a Mexican desert with its killer spaghetti-western guitar riff.

Crucial burns: “Spectacular,” “Freaking Out,” “No Good Time’

6) The Streets, “A Grand Don’t Come for Free” (679)

Streets mainman Mike Skinner gives you hip-hop rants from the real streets that most of us normal folk walk. So there aren’t so many guns or boasting; it’s more about stuff like getting into a pushing match after someone spilled their mushy peas over you at a London fish ‘n’ chip shop. I guess the Yanks will never understand the importance of mushy peas. Crucial burns: “Dry Your Eyes,” “Empty Can”

7) Danger Mouse, “The Grey Album” (DM)

Hip-hop underground megatalent Brian Burton builds fresh beats around Jay-Z’s “Black Album” by sampling music solely from The Beatles’ “White Album.” He ends up with gray and the color’s never looked so exquisite. Crucial burns: “Public Service Announcement,” “Encore”

8) The Futureheads, The Futureheads (679)

Chaotic experimental guitar-pop. Think Devo with a more filled-out sound. Crucial burn: “Decent Days and Nights’

9) Jet Boys, “Jet Patrol” (Jet Panda)

Pals of the Guitar Wolf gang and just as noisy. And the singer sets fire to his pubic hair onstage. Crucial burn: “You Are Lukewarm, More Blitzkrieg Bop’

10) Tiger Lily, “Hello Lily!” (www.3chill.com/lily/) Imagine a bunch of Japanese Bridget Bardots in minis and thigh-high boots . . . No, don’t think about that, because, well, that kind of thinking would detract from these rapturous Showa-style kayoukyoku (’60s pop songs). And Asami’s bad-ass vocal delivery makes the Lilies one of the top bands in the Group Sounds revival that’s been heating up Tokyo live houses this year. Crucial burn: “Onegai wa Hitotsu”

11) !!!, “Louden Up Now” (Warp)

“All you squares, say your prayers,” vocalist Nic chants, and you better believe it. !!! (pronounced “chk chk chk”) give you surreal and dangerous groovetastic dance music. At times sexy, mostly anarchic but always in your face. Crucial burns: “Shitscheissemerde [Parts 1 & 2]’

12) Ron Sexsmith, “Retriever” (Nettwerk)

The candles cast a subtle light in the bedroom. Add your partner in silky undergarments. The heater is on. The chicken soup was good. “Retriever” is better. You got a nightmare day job but that’s forgotten. Who needs Prozac when you’ve got soothing guitar ballads courtesy of Mr. Sexsmith? Crucial burns: “Whatever It Takes,” “Not About to Lose’

13) Kasabian, “Kasabian” (RCA)

Imagine the grooves of The Happy Mondays with the indie-guitar melodies of The Stone Roses and the whole thing beefed up with heavy beats speeding like a shinkansen. Then toss in some electronica that you imagine was rustled up by Aphex Twin. Dance to this, and you’ll need major ankle surgery. Crucial burns: “Club Foot,” “Reason Is Treason”

14) Hope of the States, “The Lost Riots” (Sony)

Intense. Melodramatic. Like Mogwai (when they used to be good), but with so much more variation in the song structures. The energetic drumming and weeping violin-like sound on “66 Sleepers Until Summer” is like a Velvet Underground outtake that Reed and Cale would have thought too far out to stick on an album in the ’60s. Crucial burn: “66 Sleepers Until Summer’

15) Divine Comedy, “Absent Friends” (Nettwerk)

The best song might be called “The Happy Goth,” but this is a lighter shade of Nick Cave. Operatic balladry with no murders and a must for the iPod. Crucial burn: “The Happy Goth’

16) The Fiery Furnaces, “Blueberry Boat” (Rough Trade/Sanctuary)

This is worth getting for the song “Quay Cur” alone: Coming in at 10 minutes, 25 seconds, it’s a bizarre pop-electronica opera of warped brilliance. Skewered beats, cutie-girl vocals, “Blueberry Boat” makes you realize there are other people around who know this really is a mad, mad world. Crucial burns: “Quay Cur,” “Straight Street’

17) Kings of Leon, “Aha Shake Heartbreak” (Hand Me Down)

The royalty of Southern well-fried rock, these Nashville-based boys’ second album was never gonna have the same impact as their first, the masterpiece “Youth and Young Manhood.” But they still sound like they’re jamming in a swamp, having each downed three bottles of rotgut. And that’s cool. Crucial burns: “The Bucket,” “Four Kicks’

18) Dizzee Rascal, “Showtime” (XL)

Dylan Mills is one of the speediest rappers around. Smooth but so fast over minimal beats that hook you in and refuse to let you loose. You’ll feel like a netted fish. Crucial burns: “Showtime,” “Knock, Knock’

19) Dogs Die in Hot Cars, “Please Describe Yourself” (V2)

It’s like a Who rock opera or a more psychedelic Kinks, but with an upbeat ’80s pop spirit going down, and with lyrics like this you can’t fail but be entertained: “I wish I had Paul Newman’s eyes/And everyday came with some surprise/I wish I had Paul Newman’s eyes./That would be nice.” Crucial burns: “I Love You ‘Cos I Have To,” “Godhopping,” ‘Paul Newman’s Eyes’

20) Electric Eel Shock, “Electric Eel Shock Go Europe” (Bitzcore)

A slogan on the jacket reads, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Monster from Japan.” And these metal maniacs have got a song called “I want to be a Black Sabbath guy, but I should be a black bass.” Can’t figure it out? Go listen. Crucial burn: “Suicide Rock ‘n’ Roll”

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