Last week, I ran down my "best of the year" list of 2004 albums but there are several discs from last year that, while they didn't quite make the top 25, are well worth seeking out.

Here are a couple of 2004 releases that didn't exactly make waves at radio stations, but are excellent releases, nonetheless:

 

Hungry LucyHungry Lucy
To Kill A King
(HL)
   


I first heard Hungry Lucy's "To Kill a King" on Auralgasms Internet radio and was entranced. A subtlely sensual female lead singer, gorgeous understated melodies, warm washes of synthesizers and ambient guitars the sound was intoxicating, slightly reminiscent of Evanescence's hit ballad "My Immortal."

I did a little research and found that Hungry Lucy is actually a duo of War-N Harrison and vocalist/lyricist Christa Belle who first got together in 1998 to contribute to a Depeche Mode tribute album. They've since refined their moody, haunting sound to a heartaching art.

From the blue guitar echoes of the dirge-lullaby "Softly" to the warm, building intensity of "The Chase" to the perfect melancholy pop of "To Kill a King" and "Shine," this CD sets a quiet, introspective mood without ever getting boring.

The CD's final regular track, "My Beloved," is a perfect ballad, pledging love and support in times of tears. The disc also includes dance floor-ready remixes of four tracks, which transfer surprisingly well from soft ambient exercises to higher energy mixes.

It is highly recommended. Check their web site for more information at www.hungrylucy.com.

 

utadaUtada
Exodus
(Island)
 


Japanese pop singer Utada has pulled together an English album with a wild mix of influences, ranging from Kate Bush quirkiness to Madonna pure pop to retro Wham-ish synthesizers. The album's central theme is youthful, cross-cultural romance; she talks about the dance floor as a "melting pot" on "Let Me Give You My Love."

From the Eastern strains of the throbbing drum rhythms of "Devil Inside" to the Western pop celebration of "Exodus '04" (where she sounds like a meld of Lili Haydn and Madonna), Utada crafts some intriguing East-meets-West dance tracks on Exodus.

In "The Workout" she tells the techno tale of a dance floor meeting ("so I showed him how people in the Far East get down"), and teases "if you want you can come get it/if you don't you may really regret it."

"Easy Breezy" is another celebration of cross-cultural romance (and a darn catchy pop track), while the Eastern twangs of "You Make Me Want to be a Man" give an exotic flavor to the pounding dancefloor beat of a universal treatise on womanhood. There are some clunkers on Exodus, but the exotic tonal influences on what might otherwise be average techno tracks make this worth a listen.

 

ScorpionsScorpions
Unbreakable
(Sanctuary)
  ½

There was always something about Germany's Scorpions that set it apart from other '80s hard rock bands. And on the group's 20th album, the uniquely charismatic vocals of Klaus Meine and alternately dreamlike and aggressive guitars of Rudolf Schenker, a duo who have worked together now for 35 years, remain unbreakable.

Unlike many of its peers, the Scorpions still sound vital, from the chillingly crisp harmonies of "Deep and Dark" and the crunchy riff-rock of "New Generation" to the high-octane power of the pounding "Love 'Em or Leave 'Em" and the surprisingly sensitive drama of the ballad "Maybe I Maybe You."

Unbreakable offers a new dose of solid rock anthems that are welcome additions to the band's legacy, which also includes the hits "Rock You Like a Hurricane," "Wind of Change" and "You and I."

Both a blast of retro sound and a celebration of revitalized hard rock direction, Unbreakable begs to be played loud.