The Best Records of 2004 

From "indie rock" to mix tapes to y'alternative country.

Page 5 of 6

Van Lear Rose
Well, sloe gin fizz works mighty fast when you drink it by the pitcher and not by the glass. Uh-huh. Absofuckinglutely. The Queen of Country Music is in full bloom, ambitiously penning thirteen of fourteen songs across a variety of styles, and performing with a surprisingly strong voice for an icon now in her seventies. Some guy named Jack White produced and played guitar. (Interscope)

Dents and Shells
Alt-folkie Buckner is a poet, a traveler, a Bukowskian vagabond with change in his pocket, and the path he follows is murky, like a two-lane highway cutting through the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. Though the consciousness streamed here is much too insular to suggest anything more than a mood, it'll damn sure get you there, whether you drive a Volkswagen or not. (Merge)

New Roman Times
CVB's first studio album in fifteen years is a veritable rock opera, tracking a nameless Texas youth into the military, through disillusionment and drug abuse, and out an explosive other side. And while this decidedly political treatise is, by definition, more resolute than previous fare, Camper still brandishes a palette (as with the Twin Peaks nod "That Gum You Like Is Back in Style") most bands only dream about. (Vanguard)

West of Rome
This year yielded a bumper crop of significant reissues: the more-or-less-25th-anniversary reprises of the Clash's London Calling and Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, another Miles Davis box set, and the much-anticipated Nirvana set, With the Lights Out. Easily overlooked are the singular revelations that are Vic Chesnutt's first four albums. While all worthy, West of Rome raises the literature of self-loathing to near-breathless heights. (New West)


Cee-Lo Green Is the Soul Machine
This is one of those albums that makes you wanna slap a beautiful big booty and go "Damn!" -- especially when you hear the horns on "My Kind of People." An equally eccentric, freaky-deaky sequel to Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections, Cee-Lo's latest will win over anyone who boogied down to "Closet Freak" or "Suga Baby" in 2002. And if you're not already a fan of Ludacris' vulgar cameos, "Childz Play" will convert you. (Arista)

Both a hypermodern opera and an alien rose in the garden of electronic music, Medulla is weird enough to earn adjectives like "avant-garde," but melodic enough that classical conceptions of musicianship still apply. It's as though Björk gave Selma from Dancer in the Dark a series of arias and built vocal arrangements around them, combining the talents of beatboxers, international choirs, and even human trombone. What distinguishes Medulla from jokier albums like Homogenic and Post is the way she invests herself fully in the drama of each piece. (Elektra)

Ancestry in Progress
Although Marie Daulne sustains her African roots through slinky conga rhythms and raspy vocals, this aptly titled album shows how much she has evolved since Adventures in Afropea 1. Formerly an all-female a cappella group that built songs from pygmy melodies and Moroccan chants, Zap Mama now sounds sample-driven, urbane, and remarkably neo-soul-ish. This musical hybrid is likely the result of Daulne's moving from Belgium to Philadelphia, where she recently began collaborating with Common, Erykah Badu, and the Roots. (V2/BMG)

When MF Doom emerges on "Accordion" and announces, Don't touch the mic, like there's AIDS on it, you'll realize he's achieved a level of profundity that's surpassed the literal. The appropriate response is: "Hold on a second while I take all the drugs I can find in my house, and I'll get back to you." Combining this rhymesmith's talents with Madlib's jazzy production, Madvillainy is an artful pastiche of obscure trash culture samples and shroom-induced ruminations. (Stones Throw)

White People
It's a little befuddling that the School created such a gorgeously weird album by coupling relatively banal rhymes with absolutely bizarre beats -- but you've never heard the banal and the bizarre jell so well. Comprising producers Prince Paul and Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, this duo is one of the few current hip-hop outfits that's actually stretching the genre. Their glossy production and oddball humor works best on "If It Wasn't for You" and "First ... and Then." (Atlantic)

Van Hunt
If you can forgive him for being a little Ben Harper-ish, Van Hunt will make you swoon: This self-titled debut harks back to '70s R&B -- meaning it's all about sweeping you off your feet, baby -- but provides more musical depth than the recent neo-soul releases from Anthony Hamilton or Jill Scott. Songs like "Seconds of Pleasure" and "Down Here in Hell" make you feel as if Van Hunt is sitting next to you at a party and trying to tell you something intimate. (Capitol)

Tha Carter
Putting bling-blingy artists on your Top Ten is always dicey, and if I had my druthers, this slot would go to a more high-minded spiritual guide like Kanye West. But there's a reason people are talking about Tha Carter: It's hot. Tracks like "Go DJ" and "Hoes" are really funky, and Lil Wayne has a more distinctive character than most of his peers in the Southern crunk scene. This gets better the more you listen to it.(Cash Money)

If you're not seduced by the confidence in Sparks' delivery (I had a dutch, lit it/Let me just spit it, to make it vivid), you'll love the clamorous boom-bap on his tracks, all produced by beat-cobblers in Copenhagen. Even while he burns rhymes into your nerve cells, he sounds completely unaware of himself. (Rapster)


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