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In November, the Washington City Paper asked its music writers to compile lists of their 10 favorite releases of the past year. Critics were required to divide a total of 100 points among their selections, awarding each no more than 20 points and no fewer than 1. Any single, EP, album, or box set of old or new music released in any quantity anywhere in the world in 2004 was eligible. Five weeks and 2,500 points later, the City Paper record nerds reveal their fondness for druggy hiphop, proggy postpunk, and high-minded metal monoliths.

For individual ballots, visit www.washingtoncitypaper.com/special/2004top20.html. CP

1

Madvillainy

Madvillain

Stones Throw

1: MADVILLAINY

How many eccentric, cannabis- and comics- obsessed hiphop auteurs does it take to make a modern rap masterpiece? Not counting multiple personas, just a couple. By combining one guy’s semi-improvised flow with another’s jazzbo samples and idiosyncratic beats, MF Doom and Madlib have done more than sum their parts: They’ve created a soundscape in which Fever Tree, the Fat Boys, the Firesign Theatre, the Dramatics, and Steve Reich can all coexist—in a song about weed.

—David Dunlap Jr.

2

Blueberry Boat

The Fiery Furnaces

Rough Trade

3

Cough

Black Eyes

Dischord

4

Reunion of Island Goose

International Airport

Geographic

4: REUNION OF ISLAND GOOSE

Intellectually, improv and indie pop couldn’t be more different. But this Glaswegian trio’s free-flowing, open-ended, and completely catchy little songs prove both genres share a gut feeling: that if you play them exactly right, the same old notes might just sound new again. Mind-blowing, huh?

—Leonard Roberge

5

Blue Cathedral

Comets on Fire

Sub Pop

6

Funeral

The Arcade Fire

Merge

Heron King Blues

Califone

Thrill Jockey

6: HERON KING BLUES

Partly based on a Druid legend about a bird/man creature, this is, naturally, a tougher listen than 2003’s Quicksand and Cradlesnakes. But if frontman Tim Rutili goes long on ideas, he stops short on lyrics: His lines are few, cutting, and repetitive. They pile onto these bluesy tracks like so many ratty blankets, adding a distinctly unsettling warmth.

—Anne Marson

7

Misery Is a Butterfly

Blonde Redhead

4AD/Beggars Group

Sung Tongs

Animal Collective

Fat Cat

7: SUNG TONGS

The cream of the hipster-folk revival (sorry, Devendra), Sung Tongs foregrounds this mysterious New York act’s knack for wistful, autumnal hooks. But that doesn’t mean Tongs is psych-free: For every tight melody, every “oh-whoa-whoa” and “dee-de-de-dee,” there’s some ramshackle percussion or field-recording trickery—beatnik excess for sunshine popsters.

—Brent Burton

8

Medúlla

Björk

Elektra

White2

Sunn 0)))

Southern Lord

8: WHITE2

Brown-sound torchbearer Sunn 0))) follows up last year’s experi-metal White1 with—surprise!—White2, a three-song album that, like every good sequel, offers more of what we heart from the original. In ’2’s case, that means super-slow guitar drone unfettered by a rhythm section, discernible lyrics, or even a recognizable genre.

—Brent Burton

9

“Oh Honey, We’re Ridiculous”

Pas/Cal

Le Grand Magistery

10

A Grand Don’t Come for Free

The Streets

Vice

10: A GRAND DON’T COME FOR FREE

As a slacker novella, the Streets’ latest has literary aspirations well beyond the usual chart-hop hook-crafting. No American could’ve kicked it like this: Mike Skinner’s evocative laptop beats perfect an aesthetic that’s unapologetically Anglo and of unexpected emotional sweep, full of piss and brandy and better than anything in your suburb.

—Joe Warminsky

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11

HITS

HITS

self-released

11: HITS

Short-lived even by D.C. standards, this recorder-and-drums trio needed only a few months to rewrite—or at least dust off—the book on avant minimalism. Sounding more like a medieval progenitor of the late-’70s postpunk that inspired them than an imitation, HITS parade through these six posthumously released songs like charmingly drunken pipers at the world’s coolest Celtic festival.

—Matthew Borlik

Your Blues

Destroyer

Merge

12

Leviathan

Mastodon

Relapse

13

A Ghost Is Born

Wilco

Nonesuch

13: A GHOST IS BORN

The backlash was inevitable—but thoroughly undeserved. Wilco’s greatest record rolled straight past the cognoscenti who were conspiring to retire Jeff Tweedy as rock-crit flavor of the moment. Too bad: The lost-boy sweetness, cooled-out melodies, and absolutely confident craftsmanship could have been theirs to love forever.

—Joe Warminsky

Egypt

Youssou N’Dour

Nonesuch

14

Homesongs

Adem

Domino

15

From a Basement on the Hill

Elliott Smith

Anti-/Epitaph

16

Amassakoul

Tinariwen

World Village

16: AMASSAKOUL

Sure, it was made by displaced tribespeople from the southern Sahara, but Amassakoul offers more than folkloric exotica and NPR ambience. With guitar work as potent as the rawest Delta blues or New York noise, these Malian survivors of war and exile prove that music’s sustaining power isn’t just romantic myth.

—Steve Kiviat

Bamnan and Slivercork

Midlake

Bella Union

16: BAMNAN AND SLIVERCORK

If Midlake doesn’t take the psych-rock road less traveled, the Denton, Texas, quintet is at least in the carpool lane, and Grandaddy, Radiohead, and pre-elevator-music Flaming Lips are some fellow travelers. In a year lacking in truly lysergicized listens, not donning pirate costumes or contributing to aural pollution is a commendable alternative.

—Chris Hagan

Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2

Jill Scott

Sony

“Everything Is Gay”

Andy Milonakis

www.funnyjunk.com

Let the Buyer Beware

Lenny Bruce

Shout! Factory

Taste Like Daughter

S PRCSS

My Pal God

The Grind Date

De La Soul

Sanctuary

The Libertines

The Libertines

Rough Trade

Turn

The Ex

Touch and Go

16: TURN

This double-disc nonreissue finds the Dutch Crass-punk lifers at their swaggering, skronking best. You’ll wonder why dudes half their age don’t discover global politics, let their dye jobs grow out, and learn how to put some free-jazz squeals into the bridge. Get through half of this and you’ll want to make them.

—Jason Cherkis

We Shall All Be Healed

The Mountain Goats

4AD/Beggars Group

Wild Like Children

Tilly and the Wall

Team Love

You Fail Me

Converge

Epitaph

17

I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight

Richard and Linda Thompson

Island UK

Witchcraft

Witchcraft

Rise Above/The Music Cartel

18

Power

Q and Not U

Dischord

The Doldrums

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Paw Tracks

The Homosexuals’ CD

The Homosexuals

ReR/Morphius Archives

19

Panopticon

Isis

Ipecac

Sonic Nurse

Sonic Youth

Geffen

The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop 1979–1983

Various Artists

Stones Throw

20

i

Magnetic Fields

Nonesuch

Mother Teacher Destroyer

The Hidden Hand

Southern Lord

The Dirty South

Drive By Truckers

New West

20: THE DIRTY SOUTH

Alt-country is usually blue-state porn—a fantasy world where all the folks at the feed co-op are waiting for some Canadian in a cowboy hat to lead them to workers’ paradise. Georgia’s Drive By Truckers represent their fellow Southerners better: They like myth and quirk, too, but they make them rock.

—Andrew Beaujon

Want Two

Rufus Wainwright

Geffen