From Kanye West to Junior Boys, The Streets to Johnny Boy...

As pretty much nobody says: If you can remember 2004 then perhaps you weren't really there.

One of the last years before the financial crash where youth culture could truly flex its muscles, 2004 was a mesh of indie resurgence, hip-hop dominance, and electronic music re-connecting with its roots.

Oh, and Canada. Always Canada.

The decade dawned with a gilded generation of Canadian talent, with groups such as Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and Metric stomping across the globe, upending expectations in the process.

Released in that fateful year, Stars' 2004 debut album 'Set Yourself On Fire' was perhaps the pick of the bunch, a wonderful, nuanced, moving, ineffably catch indie rock record.

The band will take the album out on the road in September, and it's something they're already keenly anticipating.

"We love reconnecting with our European listeners," says Torquil Campbell. “It never stops being inspiring to travel to all those beautiful cities and play for an audience who truly appreciate the role of art on society. We love it there."

Ahead of this, Clash invited Stars to pick out some gems from 2004 - it was a very good year...

- - -

Johnny Boy - 'You Are The Generation Who Bought More Shoes And You'll Get What You Deserve'

Apart from boasting one of the longest and greatest song titles ever, this single was so incredibly out of fashion when it was released that one couldn't help but totally love it.

Huge in sound, obscure in lyric, catchy as measles, and with a bitterness at its heart that seemed out of step at the time but now seems completely of the moment. I still listen to this song all the time.

Where did Johnny Boy go? They were wicked.

- - -

The Streets - 'Fit But You Know It'

How does one possibly pick just one song from Mike Skinner's utterly brilliant, game-changing album 'A Grand Don't Come For Free'? You choose the one that never fails to make you pogo like an idiot while you shout the chorus in your friends face at the bar.

I think Mike Skinner is easily one of the most underrated songwriters in the world, and part of why I love The Rhythm Method (who are opening for us in London in September) is how deeply they are indebted to him. The mixture of swagger, self-loathing, idiotic bravado and lacerating self awareness; it is the perfect depiction of lad culture: little boys making lots of noise to hide from the realisation that they probably don't have what it takes to be loved.

Mike Skinner is the fucking best. Long live The Streets.

- - -

De La Soul - 'The Grind Date'

The title track of one of De La Soul's best records. There are only a few groups who mean as much to me as De La Soul. They changed music completely, in ways they never get credit for.

They made me a hip-hop fan, and opened my world to hundreds of another amazing acts like A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers; they personify what it means to be a band. They've stuck it out, they haven't pandered, they have forgiven each other and kept being beautiful together. They are able within a single song to project pathos, silliness, funkiness, mastery of language.

De La Soul are the spirit of music, they are still at it, and I hope they never, ever stop.

- - -

The Dears - 'Lost In The Plot'

It's a very happy thing in my life that Murray Lightburn, the man behind The Dears and one of my closest friends, is playing some shows with us this year in Europe, 15 years on from when we both released albums that altered the course of our lives.

The first time I met Murray was the first time I saw The Dears live. I lay down on the floor in front of him because I couldn't think of any other way to tell him how much I worshipped his brilliance.

This song is from their breakthrough album 'No Cities Left', and it still, to this day, is one of those very rare songs that makes you want to run full tilt down the street until you sprout wings and fly. Its tension, its sorrow, its excitement, its desperation - it sends me. Every time.

One of the greatest songs ever to come out of Canada, period.

- - -

The Radio Dept - 'Against The Tide'

Why are The Radio Dept one of my favourite bands?

They do what a lot of bands before and since have done; fuzzy vocals, tinny drum machines, dreamy guitars, chiming 60's indebted melodies. But for some reason when they do it, it all coalesces into something that sounds utterly and completely theirs; like no one ever had the idea before.

If there is one band other than Stars I wish I was in, it's this one. You can never quite hold on to this music; it hides behind its beauty and it keeps you coming back again and again to see if you can solve its puzzle. Very beautiful, very fucking cool, and so much harder to pull off than they make it seem. Genius.

- - -

Kanye West - 'Thru The Wire'

I miss the old Kanye. I miss the playfulness and audacity and humour and love that radiates out of this recording. I miss the simple pleasure of listening to a guy with nothing to lose. I miss the word play and raging humanity. Who goes into the studio with his jaw wired shut and does a vocal? Kanye does. I miss that about him.

I wish fame didn't make people sick and sad; I wish it didn't twist up beautiful iconoclasts into paranoid narcissists who flirt with fascism because their privilege blinds them so completely. I wish Kanye wasn't the American Morrissey. I wish Morrissey wasn't the Mancunian Kanye. I wish they would both get their shit together. I used to love those guys.

This song slaps. And it always will.

- - -

Junior Boys - 'Under The Sun'

There was a ton of records from Canada in 2004; Feist, Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, The Dears - even we managed to put out quite a good record that year. But in my opinion there was one record that towered above us all, like a skyscraper all lit up at night.

That record was 'Last Exit' by Junior Boys form (unbelievably) Hamilton, Ontario. I remember hearing this music for the first time and feeling a mixture of jealousy and awe. How could they be from Canada? They were so cool, and distant, and icy, and futuristic. They made Hamilton sound like a cross between Detroit and Berlin, and believe me, it isn't.

They sounded like they didn't give a shit what you thought about them. And I'm pretty sure they really didn't. They existed in their own world, and that's really what any band is hoping to achieve.

15 years have gone by, but this record still sounds like the future to me.

- - -

Catch Stars at the following shows:

26 Manchester Deaf Institute
27 Dublin The Workman’s Club
28 Galway Róisin Dubh
29 Glasgow King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut
30 London Scala

Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

Buy Clash Magazine


Follow Clash: