30. Want TwoTM, Rufus Wainwright – Last year Mr. Wainwright, your favorite tortured gay soul, released the wonderfully emotional disc Want One. Said disc was the first disc of a two disc compilation that Mr. Wainwright did not want to split in half. As we all know, he did not get his way, and this fall he released the companion piece Want Two, an album just as sweeping and emotional as its predecessor. Setting the stage for the course TMof the album with the Latin piece “Agnus Dei,” Wainwright asks his listeners to accompany him as he awaits the arrival of the “Gay Messiah” and watches "white people dance," for it gives him time to contemplate the state of his own love life (“This Love Affair”). All he requests is that we listen to and absorb what it is he has to say and what it is he is going through. Is that too much too ask (especially when it sounds this good)?
Key Tracks: The One You Love, Peach Trees, Little Sister
29. Twentysomething, Jamie Cullum – Armed with nothing but a piano and a strong emotive voice, this young lad from London gets down like nobody’s business, brandishing his own style of smooth yet vibrant jazz and piano numbers. The album consists of a few originals and quite a number of covers (Radiohead, Jimi Hendrix, Cole Porter, Jeff Buckley, Pharell Williams) that expertly showcase Cullum’s talents and bravery.
Key Tracks: Twentysomething, Lover, You Should’ve Come Over, Blame it on my youth
28. Futures, Jimmy Eat World – On the first track of their new album, lead singer Jim Adkins sings that he always believed in futures, and boy did he need to. Before this album came the widely popular and successful disc Bleed American. Thanks to a few catchy singles and incessant airplay on both the radio and MTV, Jimmy Eat World was no longer the little band that could, the little band you knew and loved from EP's and ClarityTM. Oh no, these fellas could be number one on TRL and sell out arenas now. So what's a band to do with all this newfound success? Well, if you’re Jimmy Eat World you go back to your roots by producing an album more reminiscent of your earlier EP's and the masterful Clarity and less Bleed American Part Two. The subject matter is all the same (love, the pain that comes along with it, how one can rid themselves of such pain, etc, etc), but the package in which the music is presented shows a band embarking on growth and maturity after all these years.
Key Tracks: Drugs or Me, Pain, Futures
27. A Ghost Is Born, Wilco – In 2002, Wilco released the exquisite and highly textured Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Full of feedback, radio signals, and the like, many—TMincluding the band’s record label at the time—considered it weird and non-commercial. This album, the follow-up to Foxtrot, is even more avant-garde and inaccessible, but in a good way. From the Neil Young-esque opener “At least that’s what you said”, to the ten hazy minutes of “Spiders (kidsmoke)”, Wilco experimentTMs, tinkers, and toys with their instruments and the genre we like to call Rock and Roll, showing why they are one of the best American rock and roll bands around today.
Key Tracks: Hummingbird, I’m a Wheel, Company in my back
26. Uh Huh Her, PJ Harvey – For the duration of this largely self-produced album, Harvey unloads the rage, emotions, and tales of a woman scorned yet still optimistic; angry, but looking towards that light at the end of the tunnel. (The tunnel of love?) Whether surrounding herself in lush soundscapes (“The Desperate Kingdom of Love”) or underneath brooding guitars (“Who the fuck?”), Harvey sings, screams, and wails, never ceasing to remind you who the queen B is around these parts. (In this case, the “B” stands for “Bitch.”)TM
Key Tracks: The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth, Who The Fuck?, Pocket Knife
25. This Island, Le Tigre – The smartass loudmouths of Le Tigre—who, like Harvey, never cease to remind you who’s boss—landed a major label deal and produced this, a bratty, take no prisoners dance record laden with both pop and punk undertones. Sometimes the music and vocal stylings are so slick that you forget you’re dancing to a song making light of closet homosexuals who play games (“Viz”) or being asked for some late night “comfort” (“After Dark”). Sure, not everything works (i.e. the anti-Bush war rant “New Kicks,” which is literally sound clips taken from a march on Washington), but when things do, you can’t help but smile and shake your hips.
Key Tracks: Nanny Nanny Boo Boo, This Island, On The Verge
24. Medulla, Bjork – “Instruments are so over” declared Bjork upon entering the studio to craft this disc of songs steeped largely or even predominantly in a cappella. Along with a cast of characters that includes beat box champion Rahzel, and some throat singers here and there, Bjork uses the one instrument that draws her diehard fans back to her every time: that powerful and majestic voice. Anyone with a love for song or pure vocals in general should give this a listen, even if you aren’t a Bjork fan.
Key Tracks: Pleasure is all Mine, Desired Constellation, Who Is It?
23. Body Language, Kylie Minoguge – We Americans are a singles nation. When it comes to albums, we’ll purchase or download those produced by our favorite artists of course, and every now and then we get bold and branch out, find a new artist, and continue the cycle. But who doesn’t love a good Here Today, Gone Tomorrow pop single? We sure did a couple years back with Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” It was fun, easy, and nice to sing along to, but buying her album on the basis of that single was not an option. Well this year, riding on the newfound global success of “Fever”, Kylie released the highly accomplished and seductive follow-up Body Language, a nearly unskippable album in which Kylie coos and whispers in the way Madonna used to and the way Britney always wanted to. This is pure sex appeal at its finest, without being blatantly obvious or in your face.
Key Tracks: Sweet Music, Chocolate, Loving Days
22. Fly or Die, N.E.R.D. – The vocals? Nothing new or revolutionary. The instrumentationTM? Juvenile and simple at best. Originality? Pops up here and there throughout the album. But infectious and entertaining? A resounding yes. From the high-soaring opener “Don’t Worry About It”, sung in a Curtis Mayfield style falsetto, to the buoyant Burt Bacarach pop of “Wonderful Place”, Pharell Williams and company craft a CD steeped in the thoughts, lyrics, and instrumentation of a band made up of high schoolers, all without losing any artistic integrity or creativity.
Key Tracks: Wonderful Place, Maybe, She Wants to Move
21. Musicology, Prince – When we last heard from the artist frequently known Prince, he gave us a two disc opus entitled Sign of the Times. That masterpiece laid out all the reasons why we love The Little Man that Can: funk exercises, crazy imaginative compositions, and those awe-inspiring slow jams. For mainstream fans and even some diehard ones it would be a long time before we would hear from Mr. Consistency again. After a prolonged “let me make a lot of music for myself ‘cause I can and you’ll just have to enjoy it” phase, the Purple one bounced back with this album, his most consistent and enjoyable album since Sign of the Times. Playing nearly all of the instruments himself, Prince takes us to the school of funk (with the title track, “Life of the Party”, “Illusion”, “Coma”, “Pimp”, and “Circumstance”) and also provides us with a batch of songs that have come to be his calling card: the slow jams (represented by “A Million Days”, “Call My Name”, and “Reflection”). He even snags some time to ask Mr. Pres some questions (“Dear Mr. Man”) and deal with American prejudice and uncertainty in times of war (“Cinnamon Girl”). Sign of the times indeed, the brotha's still got it.
Key Tracks: Call My Name, Musicology, On the Couch
20. Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2, Jill Scott – 2004 was a bad year for R&B. Albums by artists within the genre were either too generic, overblown, or over-hyped. Aside from a few ass shaking, head nodding singles, nothing was original or completely satisfying. And then in August Jill Scott came back with her much anticipated sophomore album Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2. For those of you who don't knowTM, Jill Scott is a welcome breath of fresh air in the R&B field. Armed with classic soul-laced vocals and a taste for lush melodies, jazz scats, and lyrics on love that sound neither trite nor old, Scott takes you to a time when Minnie Rippertons, Gladys Knights, and Roberta Flacks ruled the airwaves. AnotherTM artist who succeeds in reminding you of the past while moving beyond it.
Key Tracks: My Petition, The Fact Is (I Need You), Golden
19. Permission To Land, The Darkness – Like everyone else on the planet, I absolutely love, love, love “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, but there was just no way you were gonna get me to purchase the whole album, or even listen to the rest of it. The Darkness was just too much of a bad flashy David Lee Roth/Poison/Cinderella/Ratt/—please stop me I can go on forever—type band for me. Then I burned a copy of this disc from a roommate just to have it and what do you know, this CD is beyond good. It’s fucking awesome. Do you miss the sheer musical and vocal theatrics of AC/DC or Queen? Then pick up this CD; it will definitely fill that void. Ahh, The Darkness…Proving once again that fun music and good music are not two separate entities… Just what the fucking Rock and Roll doctor ordered.
Key Tracks: Get Your Hands Off My Woman, Love is Only a Feeling (a slow song in the same vein as “I believe in…”), I Believe in a Thing Called Love
18. Hot Fuss, The Killers – As any indie snob and/or hipster worth their thriftstore t-shirt will tell you, the 80’s are back (now that I think about, did they ever really leave?), sprinkling their new wave influences here, there, and everywhere. Nobody was more influenced by the synthesizer loving 80’s then these Las Vegas darlings. Tweaking the old genres to best fit their needs, The Killers—complete with quintessential androgynous faux British accent—pout and whine like the best of them while scrambling to offer you something fresh. Nothing new, but nothing bad either.
Key Tracks: All These Things That I’ve Done, Andy You’re A Star, Somebody Told Me
17. Antics, Interpol – What a difference a few years makes. Don’t get me wrong, Interpol’s debut Turn on the Bright Lights was a great album, but it took a few spins before the songs began to differentiate themselves from each other. Well that problem is non-existent on their sophomore effort Antics. The speedy guitar work on “Slow Hands”, bass heavy bounce of the danceable “Evil,” and lightning strike swagger provided from the combination of guitar/bass/and drums working in perfect harmony on “Not Even Jail” are all the work of a band whose bright lights have been turned on. Oh, and the lyrics ain’t too shabby either.
Key Tracks: Evil, Not Even Jail, Length of Love
16. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand – 2004 was a year in which radio and video stations got a hold of good music and added them to their playlists. Overexposure was expected, which resulted in a lot of people discounting bands because of, you know, the whole slave to the system, selling out, being overhyped thing. Anyways, Franz Ferdinand is one such band that radio and TV got right. Like many of their peers who produced danceable ‘hipster’ music this year, these loveable lads [from some place starting with “L”?] just want you to dance and have a good time. I could say more, but I am sure you have read an article, seen a video, or heard a song already.
Key Tracks: Michael, This Fire, Jacqueline
15. Dangerous Dreams, Moving Units – A Los Angeles trio that also looked to the 80’s for inspiration and wound up creating a sleek and sexy album, these songs shine despite the fact that a fair number of them lack that all-important hook. Song structures are also fairly similar, but contain an element that keeps the album from being sonically one-dimensional. Riding high on the new wave revival seen in bands like The Rapture, The Lovemakers, and more, the Moving Units are succeeding in standing out in a nearly crowded room.
Key Tracks: Anyone, Bricks and Mortar, Scars
14. The Futureheads, The Futureheads – Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Elefant, The Hives, Razorlight, Bloc Party, Moving Units. This year all of the aforementioned bands released albums that triggered something in your senses to kick you off your high horse, asking you to boogie and have a good time. Hailing from Britain, The Futureheads sought to do the same thing and did a mighty good job. Following in the footsteps of bands like Dexy's Midnight Runners, XTC, and the Talking Heads, The Futureheads kick out some rollicking drum and guitar lines, turn up the harmonies, and aim squarely for your hips. Out of all those musical applications, the harmonies are definitely the most impressive. This rhythmic garage band applies a cappella-like precision to all vocals and harmonies throughout the disc. A rare feat and a satisfying listen.
Key Tracks: Danger of the Water, Man Ray, Le Garage
13. Talkie Walkie, Air – At the end of Lost in Translation, Bill Murray says goodbye to Scarlett Johansson and is escorted through the streets of Tokyo by a personal driver, getting one last look at the dazzling and congested city through his backseat window. Sofia Coppola then pulls back from the car, giving the viewer one last look at the hustle and bustle of Tokyo also. As all this is going on and the movie draws to a close, Air's “Alone in Kyoto”—the slow and contemplative closing track from their album Talkie Walkie—plays hauntingly in the background. Produced by OK Computer producer Nigel Godrich, the French duo's album is equipped with all of the atmospheric soundscapes and emotional poetry present in many a Radiohead release. Divided between vocal and non-vocal tracks, Talkie Walkie is a gorgeous album that goes down smoothly, coasting by without being forgettable.
Key Tracks: Run* (So haunting, so good), Venus, Biological
12. The New Danger, Mos Def – It's been five years since we last heard from Mos. One of hip-hop's finest MC's allowed himself to become preoccupied by movies and side projects with his budding rock group (Black Jack Johnson). Well, the wait is finally over and we listeners are greeted with this: a slow grooving, balls to the wall experiment in rock and hip-hop. Before this album was released, Mos hoped to release a Black Jack Johnson disc, but said disc never came to light. For a large portion of this album it feels as if this could be a Black Jack Johnson disc with Mos Def at the helm. With Black Jack Johson uhh, backing him, Mos is able to accomplish something he hinted at on Black on Both Sides with the hugely popular single “Umi Says”: croon. And the tracks on which he sings rather than raps actually turn out to be some of the best on the album—the New Orleans jazz-funk-soul of "Black Jack", the slow moving Marvin Gaye-esque “Modern Marvel”, and the all out sing till my lungs get sore passion of “The Beggar”. Don't get me wrong, this is a Mos Def disc, so he allows himself to shine on such raps as the biting state of hip-hop today/take on Jay-Z's The Takeover TMentitled "Rape Over", the aesthetically pleasing “Sex, Love, Money” (complete with horns and jazz flutes), and the old school throwback “Sunshine,” produced by the new master of soul himself, Mr. Kanye West. Mos may have drifted away from the hardcore underground grit that his fans clamor for and expect, but it's a move that should warrant few if any complaints.
Key Tracks: Ghetto Rock, Sex, Love and Money, Black Jack
11. Phantom Planet, Phantom Planet – A few years ago, Phantom Planet released their sophomore record “The Guest”, a gorgeous album made up of buoyant power-pop and well-written odes to love and infatuation. The album became a little known gem for those who were familiar with itTM (both before and after the wonderful “California” became the theme song for the hit show The O.C.). Well, a lot has happened between then and 2004. Drummer Jason Couldn't Spell His Last Name Right for the Life of Me (of Rushmore and I Heart Huckabees fame) quit the band to pursue his acting career even further, the boys gained a little more attention thanks to the O.C., and in the music world, bands with “The's” in their names gained prominence in magazines and on the airwaves. This may explain why on this, their third album, Phantom Planet has turned up the amps and borrowed a thing or two from their musical peers The Strokes, whose presence is felt all over the disc's tracks. Not to say that Phantom Planet has become merely derivative; if anything they have grown, revealing that underneath their sunny exterior was some hipster grit just waiting to be unleashed. One of the greatest things about this disc, aside from its track-for-track consistency, is that although their sound may have changed a little, the lyrics are still golden and uncompromised. Phantom Planet are some of the best storytellers around, able to paint vivid portraits of social scenes in various settings. (Consider the boyfriend-girlfriend fight and make-up of “By the Bed” and the arrogance of a female character on the prowl in “After Hours”.) Songs becomes more like "Days in the life of..."; TMDrama? Comedy? Heartache? It's all here beneath the sonic bombast and shimmering melodies. (God, that reads like one of those "Because you're worth it" Loreal hair ads.)
Key Tracks: You're Not Welcom Here, After Hours, The Happy Ending
10. Afrodisiac, Brandy – Four albums in, Usher decided to "open up" and "confess" his scandalous shenanigans for all the world to hear. Last time I checked, about 7.9 million people gobbled up his confessions, eager to hear the famous philanderer air out his dirty laundry. Not that putting it all out there for your fans is anything new; everyone does it. In fact, someone else took the road oft-traveled this year and produced a better CD in the process, as well as the best Contemporary R&B CD of the year (sorry Ms. Scott). Backed by production supplied mainly by Kanye West and Timbaland, Brandy cleans out her closet, singing with conviction, attitude, and maturity on her fourth release Afrodisiac. From start to finish the production is top notch and we are taken on a rollercoaster of emotions from a girl who has been done wrong, but refuses to let it get her down. She's simply too strong for that. Using her as a muse, Timbaland and Kanye churn out some of their hottest beats (e.g. Timbaland's “I Tried,” which manages to sound like “Cry Me A River Part Two” without actually sounding like it, and his “Should I Go”, the first R&B song to sample Coldplay's “Clocks” and actually do it justice, trust me). And let's not forget Kanye's additions: the old school summer jam vibe of “Talk about our love” and the sting-laden “Where you Wanna be?” featuring a charming and sincere rap from T.I. Usher may be getting more airplay, but Brandy's more deserving of it.
Key Tracks: I Tried, Say You Will, Focus
9. Van Lear Rose, Loretta Lynn – For me as of late, men have ruined country musicTM. Thanks to the Kenny Chesney's, Toby Keith's, and Tim McGraw's of the world, one easily forgets the true essence of country music, and that it doesn't actually suck when done right. Such schlock-slingers make us forget about Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Dusty Springfield and the women of country (Shelby Lynne, Patsy Cline, etc) who do or have done such a good job of getting it right. At the same time, the tired, worn, and ridiculous nature of the music produced by the reigning men of country leads listeners to overlook recent "country music" albums that are actually good (Home by the Dixie Chicks, I Am Shelby Lynne by Shelby Lynne, Mindy Smith's latest, and now this, Van Lear Rose by Loretta Lynn). On this album, Jack White of The White Stripes does for Loretta what Rick Rubin did for Johnny Cash: brings her back into the limelight by letting her be herself; Loretta has never sounded better. From the honky-tonk sound of “High On A Mountain Top” to the hazy late night feel of the White/Lynn duet “Portland, Oregon” and the modern yet traditionally country feel of the spoken word autobiographical tale “Little Red Shoes”, Lynn sings her self-penned lyrics over Jack White's respectful, traditional, and experimental soundscapes. This album feels like an evening on the porch overlooking the bayou and goes down like a fine bottle of whiskey.
Key Tracks: Have Mercy, High On A Mountain Top, Little Red Shoes
8. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters – A gay former go-go dancer that goes by the name Jake Shears gets together with a female vocalist named Ana Motronic (who used to sing in Drag bars in San Fran) and two other musicians who go by Paddy Boom and Babydaddy and produce this, the best disco/club hopping record you'll hear all year. Sure there's some Bowie, Elton John, Pet Shop Boys, and Michael (George Michael that is) thrown in the mix, but the sex appeal, decadence, and flamboyance is all theirs. The album plays out like an 11 song narrative that revolves around a closeted gay male coming to grips with his true self. A male who must reveal his true self to his girl (“Laura”), come out to his mom (“Take your mama”), feel uncertain and fragile about it all (a wonderful and bold clubbed up remake of Pink Floyd's “Comfortably Numb”), come on to those who tickle his fancy (“Filthy/Gorgeous”), question his decisions (“Better Luck” and “Music is the Victim”), and then come down from his high in
a Wizard of Ozfest-like crystal meth ridden town (“Return to Oz”). In short, these New Yorkers know how to play and party like it’s 1999, and that alone should turn you on.
Key Tracks: Comfortably Numb, Filthy/Gorgeous, Return to Oz
7.Tyrannosaurus Hives, The Hives – It takes a lot of balls to name your CD after one of the largest and baddest dinosaurs to ever roam the earth. Placing “Tyrannosaurus” before their own names implies a lot of things: (1) Their own measure of self-importance is on par with the whole John Lennon bigger than Jesus thing. (2)Track for track the music on this disc will be big, smart (and dumb), and abrasive. (3) The Hives are ready to take over whatever they can (airwaves, zine covers, music videos, etc) and get their brand of good time rock and roll to the masses. As noted in Spin, it takes a smart band to make dumb music and make it well (and by dumb we mean simple, ferocious, and expressive rock rooted in Punk-rock aesthetics and the showmanship of Jagger, Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis. No, they don't fuck around, and this disc can be loud and in your face more times than not.) Watch and listen as the Hives grow and expand their simple garage sound by channeling Screamin Jay Hawkins (“Diabolic Scheme”, an excellent and loud "ballad") and rocking out on the infectious stop and go of “Walk Idiot Walk” and the less than two minute heart attack in a song smartly titled “Abra Cadaver.” Sure their egos may be big (nay, huge), but when your music is this good and your shows are the best around right now (Spin was right in declaring them the best live band on the planet as I found out two summers ago), you can walk around with your cock out till the cows come home.
Key Tracks: Diabolic Scheme, Dead Quote Olympics, Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones
6. American Idiot, Green Day – Welcome to Green Day's America, a country made up of forgotten teens snorting Ritalin, a place where dreams are broken or inaccessible, and a place where common folk and "faggots" feel disconnected from the "redneck agenda." Over the course of this 13 track rock-opera (two of which measure eight to ten minutes long and are made up of four or five pieces), Green Day express their obvious frustration with the state of the world today via song. Growing in both craft and songwriting capabilities, Green Day put their best foot forward, rekindling the same energy and ambition seen in bands such as The Clash, The Buzzocks, and The Who. Nearly a decade after their debut, Green Day is still going strong, far outshining the bands they unintentionally groomed (Good Charlotte, Blink 182, Yellowcard, and the like).
Key Tracks: American Idiot, Wake Me Up When September Ends, Jesus of Suburbia
5. Cee-Lo Green is the Soul Machine, Cee-Lo Green – A few definite truths about 2004: At some point in the year, you and your cronies (1) Got Tipsy with J'Kwon, (2) Followed Snoop Dogg's instructions and Dropped it like it was hot, and (3) Pulled up your pants (because, as we all know, n****s don't dance), partook in the act of leaning back, and did the "rockaway". Another definite truth? While you were busy shaking your ass—but watching yourself of course—to hot joints of the year, you more than likely overlooked this hip-hop gem. Shit, let's be real, you've probably never even heard of Cee-Lo or this disc this year, which is a goddamn shame ‘cause it is hands down one of the best hip-hop discs of the year. All you Andre 3000 Love Below enthusiasts should give Cee-Lo's disc a spin for it is more coherent and consistent than 3000's. (Cee-Lo also croons better than his fellow Dungeon Family cronyTM.) Spoken word? Old school funk laced jams and lullabies? Gritty social commentary? It's all here and done with excellent precision. It's a shame that promotion was and is so bad for this disc, because track for track, it doesn't disappoint. In the words of Lo himself, "how can I possibly be inconspicuous/ when my flow is fucking ridiculous?" I don't know Lo. I just don't know.
Key Tracks: I Am Selling Soul, Childz Play, All Day Love Affair
4. More Adventurous, Rilo Kiley – A female fronted indie band in which the lead vocalist actually sings instead of screams, shrieks, or yells to get her point across; songs whose lyrics are rooted in reality/actual experience; orchestral, alt-country, alt-rock, and lovely slow moving arrangements. With More Adventurous, Rilo Kiley step into the limelight and lets the world know that they are ready for their close up. Emotion through storytelling doesn't get more rooted in reality than this, bursting through on the guilt wrenched vocals in the I-am-the-other-woman tale of “Does He Love You?” and yearningly expressed through the titular repetition of “I Never,” a sentiment we hear repeated 27 times on this honky-tonk lite lullaby. But the melancholy high point of the disc is “A Man/Me/Jim,” the sordid tale of lovers beaten, battered, and broken. In the title track, Jenny Lewis sings how with every broken heart we should be more adventurous and how what didn't kill her only made her stronger. And thank Alanis Morissette for that, because heartbreak has never sounded so good.
Key Tracks: A Man/Me/Jim, I Never, Does He Love You?
3. LP, Ambulance LTD – By now we should all be tired of garage/rock/postmodern new wave bands coming out of New York City, but every time we turn our heads and look away, a band like this comes along and pulls us back in against our will. Do we really have a choice when the music is this good? At the end their debut album, the New York foursome covers Lou Reed's “Ocean” and that laidback cool of Lou and his Velvet Underground cronies looms large over this artsy composition. The fellas of Ambulance LTD cover various grounds and sounds with such ease, whether it be slow churning instrumentals (“Yoga Means Union”), loud, witty, pretentious hipster rock (“Primitive (The Way I Treat You)”), or Beatlesque pop (“Stay Tuned”). This disc manages to weave something interesting out of the well-worn subjects of love, loss, and regret and wraps them in sounds and arrangements that are both soothing and imaginative. With each song comes a sound unlike that of the last one, and yet the album somehow maintains its coherence and consistency, a rare and rewarding feat.
Key Tracks: Stay Where You Are, Anecdote, Stay Tuned
2. The College Dropout, Kanye West – Like many people, I purchased this album based on the production Kanye did on other people's tracks. Sure I had never really heard him rap—except on Slow Jamz—but his production skills led me to believe that this album would at least be somewhat decent. Little did I know that The College Dropout would be one of the first hip-hop albums to speak to me—as a black man—in a long time. No offense to those of you who are not blackTM, but with this album Kanye managed to speak on growing up black, growing up in the hood, being misguided, working for the man (YES, THE WHITE MAN GETS PAID OFF ALL OF THAT) and more, as if his album was a guide to the sociology of Urban Life. What else makes this disc wonderful? The fact that West tackles all of the aforementioned subjects without making them sound or feel dated (‘cause rappers have been on the whole low-class/materialism/racism/hoes/bitches/faith thing for a while); the fact that a producer can make an album that does not fail in being extraordinary lyrically and in the delivery departmentTM; the fact that he has a sense of humor often lacking in hip-hop (“Slow Jamz”, “New Workout Plan”, “Breathe In, Breathe Out”); the fact that he could take such elitist subject matter and make it universal to all; and most importantly, the fact that he has the courage to say things that many of us won't, don't, or do, but only in the comfort of our own living rooms TM(e.g. “racism's still alive/they just be concealing it.”) I can't stand his ego, and I am not too keen on the whole Kanye being a prophet thing, but the kid is talented and the "game" needs him. Plus, any rapper who moves me to cry through song gets points in my book. (This happened out of nowhere last summer while on a bus heading to work. The stories and experiences of “Family Business” were so familiar and refreshing to hear on tape.)
Key Tracks: We Don't Care, Jesus Walks, All Falls Down
1.Good News For People Who Love Bad News, Modest Mouse – In junior or senior year of high school, my [music] partner in crime gave me Mouse's The Moon & Antarctica album. For the life of me I could not get into it/feel it. The only song I had the patience for was “Life like weeds.” (As of late I am now a fan of Weeds and 'Tiny City Made of Ashes' shows you how bug of a fan I am of their old stuff. Go ahead and say it indie snobs. I know what you are thinking.) TMAt the time, I “knew” indie music, but I did not know it. Moon was just too pretentious and indie for me. (In other words, too anti-mainstream. Forgive me, I was in high school.) So now it’s 2004 and my roommate gives me a burned copy of Good News, an album I finally took the time to listen to completely after the spring semester ended. I was not expecting anything major from Issac and Co. because of my high school experience. Boy was I ignorant; this album kicks ass and is irrefutable proof that good things can indeed come when a band is left entirely to its own creative devices. Sure Modest is on a major label and got some extra dough for the job, but creativity and ambition trumps any amount of money Epic may throw their way. “Float On” may have ruled the airwaves, but this album—steeped heavily in the theme of death and solitude—is less commercial than “Float On” may lead you to believe. Consider the raging horns of “This Devil's Workday which, like “Dance Hall” and “Bukowski” is a fine Tom Waits impression steeped in his trademark hazy bar room soundscapes. And you can’t ignore the hushed melodies of “Blame It On the Tetons” and “The World At Large.” With these songs (and the rest on the album), Modest Mouse isn’t begging for attention; it's coming to them all on its own, and rightly so.
Key Tracks: Bukowski, The View, The World At Large