Best (and worst) music of 2004

Jan 5, 2005 at 12:00 am

There’s absolutely no way to compartmentalize the way we ingest music, right? So, for this — the obligatory year-end crapola — we got most of our music writers yakkin’ and jerkin’ it to whatever blew their skirts up this year: singles, downloads, boots, CDs, reissues, music books, DVDs, live shows and whatever. And, for giggles, each writer (well, almost each) added their fish-in-a-barrel worst — the most inexcusable — event or release of the year too. And blah, blah, blah, blah …


Brian Smith:

1. Eleni MendellAfternoon (Zedtone): Languid like a springtime afternoon alcohol buzz in Rickie Lee Jones’ garden; able to release the butterflies in your gut.

2. FacesFive Guys Walk into a Bar ... (Rhino): You can smell the booze, you can hear the intent, and you can see the gents just grin — it’s everything most new riff wholesalers get all wrong.

3. Ken StringfellowSoft Commands (Yep Roc): Onetime Posie trumps every Brian Wilson sycophant (and all current ’70s-pop-radio toadies) with immeasurable grace. “When U Find Someone” is the year’s best turn.

4. Todd SniderEast Nashville Skyline (Oh Boy): Captures the soiled fun of booze-addled misadventures of wonderfully tragicomic American lowlifes.

5. SloanAction Pact (Koch): With the command to recall Nick Gilder, even!

6. PaybacksHarder and Harder (Get Hip): Case and co. understand the power and beauty of the big, briny sperm riff, the impossibly singsong chorus and the narrative.

7. Jesse MalinThe Heat (Artemis): Erstwhile DGen frontman drags himself out of songwriter puberty, comes clean on barstool malfunction.

8. Skeemin’ NoGoodsSkeemin’ NoGoods (Idol): Good punk rock songs in 2004? Why, yes, little Jonesy, just like the Summer of Hate.

9. Nathaniel MayerI Just Want to be Held (Fat Possum): Gosh. Who woulda guessed that street-wrecked, gruff-voxed R&B could be so ready for the kids?

10. Demolition Doll RodsOn (Swami): Pro-sex, pro-ass, pro-glitter stomp and shabbily attached R&B; there ain’t a band on the globe like DDR.

Inexcusable: Velvet Revolver —Contraband (RCA): Rock ’n’ roll minus the booze, the intent or the grins. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


Khary Kimani Turner:

1. Van HuntVan Hunt (Capitol): It made my top 10 last year, then its release got pushed back to early 2004; hence, for two years running, there was no better funk album.

2. Royce da 5’ 9”Death is Certain (Koch): One of two albums propelled as much by the comeback story behind it as its quality.

3. Slum VillageDetroit Deli (Barak Records): The other album propelled by its story, despite more lineup changes than Menudo.

4. J. MossThe J. Moss Project (Verity): I was hooked when I heard “We Must Praise.” Incredible.

5. NasStreet’s Disciple (Sony): At last, a double album that’s actually an album, not just a collection of songs

6. Laura LoveYou Ain’t Got No Easter Clothes (Koch): Black, folk-funk singer who grew up an orphan in Nebraska. I don’t relate, but it spoke to me, corny melodies and all, and I couldn’t put it down.

7. Jay-ZThe Black Album (Roc-a-Fella): This album was the shit, from start to finish.

8. Danger MouseThe Grey Album (download): This illegal mix of The Black Album’s lyrics and reconstructed tracks from The Beatles’ White Album was the shit’s afterglow.

9. Wyclef JeanWelcome to Haiti: Creole 101 (Koch): Clef’s mostly Creole tribute to the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s independence is the kind of refreshing consciousness and cultural immersion I miss from hip-hop artists.

10. Kanye WestCollege Dropout (Roc-a-Fella): Producing, writing and arranging your own album to pristine results, while manning boards for a slew of other artists, in one year, means you’ll be able to punch your own ticket by January.

Inexcusable: Snoop Dogg — R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece (Geffen): A thirtysomething dip who acts like a pimp, keeps a real pimp in tow, and depends on a smooth voice to make up for his substandard lyrics really starts to sound like the old man in the club.


Johnny Loftus:

1. The Streets A Grand Don’t Come for Free (Vice/Atlantic): Lad lit, reality show and hip-hop epic in one, Grand is the voice of the chav in all of us.

2. Wrangler Brutes Zulu (Kill Rock Stars): The Brutes mine vintage thrash and hardcore while railing lyrically against the fuckedupness of today.

3. Gary WilsonMary Had Brown Hair (Stones Throw): Wilson steals hearts and scares the customers in hell’s — or L.A.’s — chintziest singles bar.

4. Sahara Hotnights Kiss & Tell (RCA): Always-underrated Swedish combo turns in the year’s strongest slice of smart guitar pop.

5. Comets on Fire Blue Cathedral (Sub Pop): Acid-rock ragas and speedballs of distortion and echoplex, made to hurt the ears and sting the brain.

6. Black KeysRubber Factory (Fat Possum): A rock and blues history lesson with great production and moments both primal and soulful.

7. Feist Let it Die (Arts & Crafts): Breaking from the Social Scene, Leslie Feist makes curious, sensual pop for the Paris of our minds.

8. Terror at the OperaSnake Bird Blue (No Sides): Eccentric little songs with accordion, guitar and edgy harmonies. Is this the sound of wronged ’50s housewives?

9. Jolie HollandEscondida (Anti-): Hazy hearth folk-jazz; great for when a relaxing moment becomes the right moment.

10. TarentelWe Move Through Weather (Temporary Residence): Drone-y experimentalists create 2004’s best song title: “Get Away From Me You Clouds of Doom”

Inexcusable: Ashlee Simpson — Autobiography (Geffen): Indefinable Malt-O-Music from a brazenly prefabricated celebrity, Autobiography is Paris Hilton in an audio format.


Walter Wasacz:

1. Dominik Eulberg Flora & Fauna (Traum): Weird, delicious techno-pop not only for lovers of nature.

2. dBGdansk EP (Karloff): Vienna-based abstract-techno producer’s instrumental dance poem honors this mystical Polish city.

3. Misc. Rocket Skating Remixed EP (Sender): Meet and greet Basteroid, Frank Martiniq and crunch-time electro-minimalism from Berlin and Cologne.

4. Ricardo VillalobosThe Au Harem D’Archimede (Perlon): Micro-acid house made for dancing on air.

5. James Cotton — “Press Your Body” 12” (Spectral Sound): Savage and sexy bass romp from the 734’s most versatile producer, Tadd Mullinix.

6. Robag WruhmeWuzzelbud “KK” (Musik Krause): Danceable electronics and hip hop gone amok.

7. Dykehouse — “Chain Smoking” 7” (Ghostly International): Reclusive Ann Arbor producer searching for love in a 1989 soundworld.

8. Mokira Album (Type): Ambient northern lights soul from Sweden’s Andreas Tilliander.

9. Kptmichigan Kptmichigan (Aesthetic): Groovin’ noise-pop with druggy pitched-down vocals and glide guitar treatments.

10. Metal UrbainAnarchy in Paris (Acute): Twenty-four historically-significant tracks by French electro-punks who began recording in the year zero (1977).

Inexcusable: Wire — On the Box: 1979 DVD (Pink Flag Archive Research): After a tentative audience reaction during a taped appearance on German television, it gets worse for the band that ruled the fertile UK art-punk scene of the early 1980s.


Chris Handyside

1. TV on the RadioDesperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes (Touch & Go): Space. Concrete. Harmony. Dissonance. Menace. Warmth. A seven-course meal with a raging hangover or the sounds you hear before everything starts spinning and you find the missing channel?

2. Reigning SoundToo Much Guitar (In The Red): If whoever has ’em could give Greg Cartwright the keys to Rock City. That’d be awesome, thanks.

3. Neko CaseThe Tigers Have Spoken (Anti-): Alternately stunning and rollicking live set from a woman who is both a perennial underdog and impossible to overrate. With Ms. Lynn’s Van Lear Rose and Case both in the musical bloodstream, tough and lovely chicks and the people who love them had a reason to smile this year.

4. Saturday Looks Good to Me Every Night (Polyvinyl): My wife says it’s OK if I have a crush on this album.

5. Faces Five Guys Walk into a Bar ... (Rhino): You don’t have to give up, just realize that the bar (band) has been set very, very high by Rod, Ronnie and the lads.

6. NomoNomo (Nomomusic): Yes, by all means, ’mo. (Couldn’t resist.)

7. DJ BCThe Beastles (download): Danger Mouse gets all the press, but this Beasties Meet Fab Four mashup is a guilty pleasure fave. Includes such jams as “Sure-Bla-Di-Shot-Bla-Da” and my personal fave “So Whatcha Want, Lady?”

8. Usher — “Yeah!” single (Arista): Only the world’s best affirmative monosyllable could connect jams by Lee Dorsey, the Beatles, Michael McDonald, Trio, OutKast and this overplayed gem. Funk yeah!

9. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart DVD (Plexifilm): Sam Jones director— Gave Wilco nerds something to do besides listen to A Ghost is Born.

10. Tie: Jawbone Dang Blues (self-released); Soledad Brothers Voice of Treason (Sanctuary): Torn between the joys of “Cage That Tiger,” the Soledad’s blues reworking of “Search & Destroy” and Jawbone’s hypnotic and primal “And Wine” (among other nonhits). I choose to remain torn.

Inexcusable: The people who live in the same country as me hadn’t scared me so much by rubber-stamping President Fucktard’s every future-robbing move. (See also the endless white noise of Ashlee Simpson and Paris Hilton blather.)


W. Kim Heron:

(Or, the top ten stories Heron failed to turn in.)

1. Moacir SantosOuro Negro (Adventure Music): Brazilian admirers gave composer-arranger-vocalist Santos the well-deserved all-star, double-CD tribute treatment two years ago, enlisting Joyce, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nacimento and others. The U.S. release should make Santos, 78, a household name wherever finer bossa novas are played.

2. Don Byron Ivey-Divey (Blue Note): Among other achievements, clarinetist Byron, pianist Jason Moran and drummer Jack DeJohnette astutely reference (but never imitate) the amazing 1945 meeting of Lester Young, Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich.

3. The Vandermark FiveElements of Style ... Exercises in Suspense (Atavistic): A MacArthur genius grant has helped make reedman Ken Vandermark one of the most prolific jazz record-cutters of recent years and, in turn, the object of critical grousing aplenty (too choppy, deficient at swinging, etc.). But dig the luminous horn lines and five-way interplay on this disc and cut him some slack.

4. Jerry GonzalezY Los Piratas del Flamenco (Sunnyside): In which an MIA Latin jazz cat resurfaces in the company of cutting-edge flamenco cats. Sketches from Spain.

5. Craig TabornJunk Magic (Thirsty Ear): From the former Detroit-area keyboardist comes the most satisfying meeting of jazz and electronica that I’ve encountered.

6. The Revolutionary Ensembleand now … (Pi): None of the members of this unusual ’70s trio has recorded as a leader in a decade, so there’s a thrill to hearing violinist Leroy Jenkins, bassist Sirone and percussionist Jerome Cooper at all let alone together. Their second studio release ever may have produced their finest performance of all, a multi-tracked meditation on 9/11.

7. Lafayette GilchristaThe Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist (Hyena): Imagine pianist Billy Preston in the FBI witness protection program; he hides out in the Washington, D.C., go-go scene and then the jazz underground; he invents an unlikely pseudonym to go with his new style: a sort of twisted, funky, neo-juke-joint avant-gut-bucket. The most auspicious debut of the year.

8. Pablo AslanAvantango (Zoho): One of a number of recent discs and acts that prove there are still new things to do with Astor Piazolla’s nuevo tango.

9. Elijah Wald Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues (Amistad); Alfred Appel Jr. — Jazz Modernism From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce (Yale University Press): Revisionism times two. Wald writes on the roots of roots music and the role of Johnson, whose importance, Wald argues, has been inflated by circumstance and myth-Fmaking convenience (lived hard, died young, summarized a style, left a good corpus). Appel recasts jazz as model and mirror for modernism in all its forms.

10. Kay Redfield Jamison Exuberance: The Passion for Life (Alfred A. Knopf): A Harvard psychiatrist argues that her profession has dwelled excessively on morbid emotions at the expense of … exuberance, for example. She might have goosed her argument with more about musicians, and less about scientists, but any theory exemplified by Louis (“I’m there in the cause of happiness”) Armstrong, merits attention.


Eve Doster:

1. Steve EarleThe Revolution Starts Now (Artemis): “F the CC” was the most important song of 2004; remember that when the world comes to an end.

2. The Fall50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats (Beggar’s Banquet): Mark E. Smith is the most prolific post-punk warrior of all time. Period.

3. Raul Malo, Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes, Dave Pomeroy Nashville Acoustic Sessions (C.M.H.): You’ve got covers of the Louvin Brothers, Doc Watson, Henry Mancini, Gram Parsons, Gordon Lightfoot, Hank Williams, Van Morrison, Roy Orbison and Jimmie Rodgers performed by Nashville’s best.

4. Sam PhillipsA Boot and a Shoe (Nonesuch): Like bony fingers underneath silk gloves, Sam Phillips’ tortured voice grabs hold of your throat while her eloquent lyrics fuck you gently.

5. Skeemin’ NoGoodsSkeemin’ NoGoods (Idol): Fronted by a John Speck who sounds as if Cerberus himself is three feet behind, full clip: Punk lives.

6. Neko Case The Tigers Have Spoken (Anti-): Canuck by way of Chicago (and Tucson) resurrects Kitty, Chrissie and Dinah in 12 songs.

7. Various ArtistsIdol Tryouts (Ghostly): This spectral compilation of electronic music helped an old rock ’n’ roll mule do some forward-thinking.

8. Eagles of Death Metal Peace, Love and Death Metal (AntAcid): Cheeky is entertaining for 30 more seconds. 29…28…27...26…

9. Sam RobertsWe Were Born in a Flame (Lost Highway): Sam Roberts’ melodic landscapes, gouging hooks and velveteen vocals to make for a damn-near-perfect 15-tracker.

10. Gore Gore Girls7X4 (G4 Recordings): A two-week stint as tour manager in a cramped van, listening to the same set night after night, will make anyone love or hate a band. I love.

Inexcusable: Ashlee Simpson — Autobiography (Geffen Records): There are songwriters, there are rock stars and there are music fans. Simpson is none of the above.


Jonathan Cunningham:

1. Tego CalderonEl Enemy De Los Guasibiri (BMG): Calderon’s second stateside album was the biggest moment for Puerto Ricans since they whooped Dream Team ass in the Olympics.

2. Foreign ExchangeConnected (BBE): A hip-hop breakthrough, created as a rare Internet album between Little Brother’s Phonte and producer-savant Nickolay.

3. Slum Village Detroit Deli (Barak): Despite parting ways with longtime cohort Baatin, Slum Village laid it down thick this year with a brilliant slice that drifts from party to the very personal.

4. Danger Mouse The Grey Album (download): Brooklyn producer Danger Mouse birthed one of the year’s illest concepts, mixing Jay-Z’s The Black Album with the Beatles’ White Album.

5. William Hung She Bangs (no label): Americans couldn’t stop laughing and dude cashed in all the way to the bank.

6. Various Artists Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats (Essay): Brazilian booty at its finest, an eargasm of Miami bass, favela rap, and low-budget booty that is stupefying.

7. Painted Pictures Tuxedo Sessions (Truth Manifest Recordings): Widely passed over, this jazz-house-soul fusion album from Malik Aston and gang is a playful and sexy glimpse into Detroit’s divergent blacktronica scene.

8. Kanye WestThe College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella): This cat nabbed 10 Grammy nods. It obviously takes an egomaniacal producer from the Midwest to establish middle-ground in the rap game.

9. ElzhiWitness My Growth Mixtape (1997-2004) (Libido Speedo): Though many of the songs were recorded half a decade ago, its late 2004 release was a breath of fresh air and the rhymes are locally unparalleled.

10. MadvillainMadvillainy (Stones Throw): A sick collaboration from hip-hop savants MF Doom and Madlib, this project stayed in heavy rotation from the day it was released.

Inexcusable: Chingy — Powerballin’ (Capitol): What a joke! Is too late for Chingy’s mom to abort?


Ben Blackwell:

1. The WalkmenBows & Arrows (Record Collection): Sad, angry, pleading … everything a record should be.

2. Liars They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (Mute): Spilled bongwater on the mixing board and thought it sounded good.

3. Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose (Interscope): Starring Lynn as the Nashvillain, battling bland young country.

The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City): Like watching a flower bloom in front of your eyes.

5. PJ Harvey Uh Huh Her (Island): Still screaming after all these years.

6. NirvanaWith the Lights Out (Geffen): The 12-year-old inside me is bouncing off walls.

7. The HivesTyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope): Delivers more than Domino’s

8. Elliott SmithFrom a Basement on a Hill (Anti): Pure embodiment of the word bittersweet.

9. DNA DNA on DNA (No More): The blueprint for atonal noise, drawn with blood and teeth.

10. Devendra Banhart Rejoicing in the Hands (Young God): To lessen the pain, to calm the nerves, I summon Devendra.

Inexcusable: The Von Bondies — Pawn Shoppe Heart (Sire): Overproduced, overpublicized … can’t the Von Bondies just be over?


Jeffrey Morgan:

1. By Divine Right Sweet Confusion (SpinART): This whirling dervish delight bubbles with a joyful and endearing enthusiasm born of pure pop precision. Bonus points for placing first alphabetically.

2. Jimmy Cavallo Rock The Joint: The Jimmy Cavallo Collection 1951-1973 (Blue Wave): Swingin’ saxophonist Jimmy Cavallo is the father of rock ’n’ roll and this comprehensive collection compiles his entire vinyl output onto one house-rockin’ long-player.

3. Crime In ChoirThe Hoop (Frenetic): I’ve been waiting a long time for this kind of intelligent and complex synthesized rock music to come along.

4. The Helio SequenceLove And Distance (Sub Pop): Imagine Their Satanic Majesties Request (or is that Magical Mystery Tour) produced by The Chemical Brothers (or is that Todd Rundgren) and you just might have a vague idea of what kind of trippy blacklight kaleidoscopic collage this is.

5. Ian McLaganRise & Shine! (Gaff): Former Faces stalwart Ian “Mac” McLagan’s latest album radiates enough purifying white light to make you forget all the faded velour rockers you once relied on.

6. Panurge Throw Down The Reins (Nettwerk): This album is every bit as good as the Velvet Underground’s Loaded — and it’s also the greatest album that Kevin Ayers never recorded.

7. Kalan Porter219 Days (BMG Canada): Not only does he look like a young Eddie Jobson, he plays schizoid violin and viola like Jobson did in his Roxy Music prime. He also sings like the second coming of Robert Palmer when Palmer was at his absolute prowlin’ and growlin’ best.

8. River City Rebels Hate To Be Loved (Victory): Thanks to producer Sylvain Sylvain, these seven rockin’ reprobates have come up with a sloppy ’n’ slovenly album that’s so dissipated ’n’ disheveled it’s more fun than a barrelful of junkies. ’Nuff said!

9. Soulfly Prophecy (Roadrunner): Molten thrash metal. Castanet flamenco flourishes. Horn-backed dub reggae. Hardcore death metal. Jazz metal vamps. Conga bongo beats. Spiritually soulful worldbeat gospel hymns. New Orleans street marches.

10. Von Iva Von Iva EP (Cochon): Von Iva is one of the greatest girl groups I’ve ever heard in my life.

Inexcusable: Lee Marvin said it best: “Lady … I don’t have the time.”


Carleton S. Gholz:

1. Colin Zyskowski (w/Paul Randolph) — “I Will Be The One”/”Soul Concern” 12” (BelowTheSurface): Original nu-luv R&B lyrics on top of blue-eyed and muscled electronic production.

2. Wolf Eyes — “Stabbed in the Face” 12” (Sub Pop): The rawk-noise mimicry of tanks in Fallujah.

3. Various Artists Sounds Vol. 1 (Ferrispark): Soulful house producer and label head Scott Ferguson and gang reach for the future.

4. Omar S.Oasis (FXHE Records): House dub plates nearly as cryptic (and good) as the Kenny Dixon-Theo Parrish axis.

5. Matthew Dear Live @ Empty Bottle, Chicago, July 23, 2004: The Ghostly International machine teaches Chicago’s white youth how to market as well as dance.

6. Abe Duque (w/Blake Baxter) — “What Happened?” 12” (Abe Duque): Ex-Detroiter Baxter confronts scene destruction and acid waves.

-7. Diviniti — “Find A Way” 12” (Women On Wax): Detroit triple-threat — Diviniti-Minx-PirahnaHead — impresses NYC on underground house hit.

8. Must MusingsMust Musings (Abundance): Erika Hoffmann and Chad Gilchrist create fantasto-weirdo pop LP; Matthew Smith guitar heroics included.

9. Theo ParrishThe Rotating Assembly: Natural Aspirations (Sound Signature): A series of 12”s that honestly compete with the more esoteric moments of Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants.

10. Opening of Oslo Sushi Bar and Lounge, May 2004: The Hacienda must be (has been) built.

Inexcusable: Derrick May driving a golf cart with plastic bucket in tow begging for money at the 2004 Movement Festival: The beginning of the end?


Ricky Phillips:

1. Faces Five Guys Walk into a Bar ... (Rhino): Four discs worth of pure raunchy-roll, heaven-perfect for your next bourbon party.

2. The Clash London Calling 25th Anniversary Edition (Sony): The vintage video footage of producer Guy Steven’s “hands on” approach to record-making makes this worth the price of admission.

3. The Lazy CowgirlsI’m Goin’ Out and Get Hurt Tonight (Reservation): Head Cowgirl Pat Todd might just be the most underrated rock ’n’ roll songwriter today.

4. Green DayAmerican Idiot (Reprise):What a relief it is to hear from a rock band that’s not part of some “redneck agenda.”

5. Mott The Hoople Live 30th Anniversary Edition (Columbia): Bigger and more stunning sounding then ever.

6. Elton JohnPeachtree Road (Universal): The bitch is back, stone cold sober as a matter of fact.

7. John LennonAcoustic (Capitol): Bare and beautiful.

8. Rolling Stones Live Licks (Virgin):While not absolutely essential, live versions of “Rocks Off” and others make this a gem for any Stones fan.

9. Texas Terri BombYour Lips My Ass (TKO): No, she is not kidding.

10. MC5 A True Testimonial (DVD): Yanked for public consumption at the last moment, this is a guiding light in the midst of the current nu-garage shit-storm.

Inexcusable: Gretchen Wilson — Here for the Party (Sony): “You might think that I’m trashy.” I wouldn’t know about that, sister, but your album sure is.


Fred Mills:

1. Brian Wilson Smile (Nonesuch): Have you heard the word? A wonderful thing — not a teenage symphony at all, but a children’s song.

2. Rolling StonesCocksucker Blues DVD (4 Reel): The legendary Robert Frank-directed/Marshall Chess-produced 1972 tour film that the Stones don’t want you to see; groupies banged anew by roadies via a clean, newly transferred print, plus two hours’ worth of bonus footage.

3. Drive-By Truckers The Dirty South (New West): Hard-twanging tales of common folks at the end of their ropes, and the best Southern Rock evocation since Charlie “The South’s Gonna Do It” Daniels had his Georgia stare-down with the devil.

4. John Wilkes Booze5 Pillars of Soul (Kill Rock Stars): Punk meets blaxploitation meets … Yoko Ono?!? Improbable, but true.

5. FacesFive Guys Walk into a Bar ... (Rhino): At a ’70s rock festival I spent most of my time in a sleeping bag necking with my hot new rock-chick girlfriend, coming up for air long enough to narrowly avoid being beaned by a soccer ball kicked from the stage by Rod Stewart.

6. Bob Dylan Genuine Telecasts 1963-2002 (Scorpio): Six discs spanning the Bard’s entire career — and all professionally filmed to, er, boot. Just his over-the-years visual transformation alone is worth the steep price.

7. Black Merda The Folks From Mother’s Mixer (Tuff City): These Funkadelic peers burned through funk-blues-psychedelia like nobody’s business. Bassist VC Veasey put it best when he told me, “We were young, fairly good-looking guys with these big Afros — and we were good.”

8. Buddy MillerUniversal United House Of Prayer (New West): Protest music the way they did it back in the ’60s civil-rights era, through folk and gospel, with Miller’s Christian faith only making the sins of the Bush administration seem all the more damning.

9. Wattstax 30th Anniversary Special Edition DVD (Warner Brothers): The documentary film hippies don’t mention when talk turns to classic music festival films such as Woodstock, Monterey Pop or the Isle Of Wight.

10. The Dirtbombs live — Stella Blue (Asheville, NC) 5/12/04: They came, they rocked, they brought some crucial Motor City mojo to my adopted hometown in the Carolina mountains.

Inexcusable: Michael Jackson — The Ultimate Collection (Epic): Outta the mouths of babes. I’m driving my 3-year-old to daycare and “Ben” cues up. Son: Who’s singing? Dad: Michael Jackson. It’s about his friend Ben, a big ol’ smelly rat. Son: He sounds weird to me.


Serene Dominic:

1. Modest MouseGood News For People Who Love Bad News (Epic): This is the first album since Double Fantasy where every song sounds like it’s being digested and spit out by the song preceding it. And Isaac Brock has managed the impossible — coming up with a swinging single called “Float On” without telling us what his astrological sign is.

2. Brian WilsonSmile (Nonesuch): Besides the usual hosannas, I love this for the big fuck you it sends to Mike Love and his hat collection.

3. Danger Mouse The Grey Album (download): For important sounds, you can’t beat two worlds colliding and a mash-up of Jay Z’s “final” statement and the Beatles’ finest stalemate will likely be remembered long after Jay Z’s breaking of his retirement vows to mash himself into Linkin Park.

4. Interpol Antics (Matador): Most critics have left this off their 2004 lists with a qualifier — that it’s not as good as their debut. Just remember how good Adventure sounded after Television broke up.

5. The Secret Machines Now Here Is Nowhere (Reprise): Is your idea of a power trio the ghost of John Bonham, Kraftwerk and Supergrass? Hey, me too!

6. MorrisseyYou Are the Quarry (Attack): Sure he’s acquired taste at this point, but this is probably the best entry wound into the world of Morrissey since Vauxhall and I.

7. Elliott SmithFrom A Basement On The Hill (Anti-): As far as posthumous albums go, it not nearly as depressing as Stardust ... The Great American Songbook, Vol. 3.

8. The M’sThe M’s (Brilliante): This band shows how great bands are made — keep recording in four-song increments until you have an album that sounds like a career retrospective. There’s more crunchy rhythm guitar per square inch than anything since Kinks Kontroversey.

9. Bebel GilbertoBebel Gilberto (Six Degrees): The only reason this isn’t as transcendent as Tanto Tempo is that our Portuguese princess sings seven of the 12 songs in (shudder) English.

10. Polyphonic SpreeTogether We’re Heavy (Hollywood): You’ve got to commend Tim DeLaughter for finding the tripping daisy chain between Godspell, the Fifth Dimension and Raffi.

Inexcusable: After having downloaded the 35-second Ashlee Simpson SNL clip, and played it continually, I’m convinced that “Pieces of Me” should not have been made as anything but an instrumental. Her band rocks as well as they smirk.

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