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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
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.
The Fiery Furnaces
Reunion of Island Goose
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?
Comets on Fire
The Arcade Fire
Heron King Blues
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.
Misery Is a Butterfly
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.
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.
“Oh Honey, We’re Ridiculous”
Le Grand Magistery
A Grand Don’t Come for Free
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.
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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.
A Ghost Is Born
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.
From a Basement on the Hill
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.
Bamnan and Slivercork
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.
Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2
“Everything Is Gay”
Let the Buyer Beware
Taste Like Daughter
My Pal God
The Grind Date
De La Soul
Touch and Go
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.
We Shall All Be Healed
The Mountain Goats
Wild Like Children
Tilly and the Wall
You Fail Me
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Richard and Linda Thompson
Rise Above/The Music Cartel
Q and Not U
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
The Homosexuals’ CD
The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop 1979–1983
Mother •Teacher •Destroyer
The Hidden Hand
The Dirty South
Drive By Truckers
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.