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2004: Great Eight

Here it is, my favorite time of the musical year, that time when music obsessives everywhere condense all of the year's releases into a pocket sized list. It's our best chance to display our good taste, and make sense of the myriad of releases we inundated ourselves with.

I must admit that last year I was frustrated by how much time and perspective changed my list, so this year I'm playing it safe by only including 8 CDs. Most of the albums that made it were reviewed at some point in the year, on this very site, so I've included the review number and month so you can go back and read more if you choose. I've also included what number the CD was in my yearly buying. Yes, I keep a list.

Also, check out Richard Nelson's Top 10 at Highway 290 Revisited.

Brian Wilson - Smile

37 years later the Beach Boys' lost masterpiece finally arrives. Of course two/fifths of the original group are dead, and two/fifths more didn't participate, but it's still a triumph for Brian Wilson, his current band, and even The Beach Boys' legacy. Wilson and collaborators did such a good job that I can hardly bring myself to react to the album as a modern production; it takes me back to a time I never even knew.

Danger Mouse - The Grey Album
Read the review.

What more can I say? Tons of ink have already been devoted to this marriage of rap's top MC and rock's top group. It has the strange and improbable effect of making one appreciate both Jay-Z and The Beatles even more.

Olympic Hopefuls - The Fuses Refuse To Burn
Read the review.

I'll always have a weak spot for a local band that makes good. The Olympic Hopefuls make catchy power pop that holds up to repeat listenings (and viewings...I've seen them in concert twice). And you gotta love the Puma tracksuits.

Prince - Musicology
Read the review.

Don't call it a comeback, but it IS a rare return to form for an artist who always had a great form. Adroit fellow that he is, Prince also managed to keep this album in the top 10 of the album charts for most of the year. So why shouldn't it appear on this top 10 as well?

The Roots - The Tipping Point

Here's the usual line on The Roots: They're a great band who just can't get it together for a full disc. And I've gotta say, my first couple of listens to this album seemed to confirm that yet again. Why the spoken word ending on a 7-minute opener (and what exactly is "the bud of wackness")? Why the 10-minute jam at the end of the disc? But a few more listens, and I started to say I Don't Care because the middle of the album is just that rock solid. The band is locked in, every song has a clear hook, and lyricist / rapper Black Thought was clearly inspired.

(My reconsideration of this CD occured simultaneously with a small moment I witnessed outside of the Electric Fetus. As I was going in I saw a guy heading out. He'd just bought this CD and he was taking the cellophane off right by the trash can. He was that eager to listen.)

Sloan - Action Pact
Read the review.

Sometimes you just need to rock, and when you add harmony to that rock, then the volume's gotta be way up. This whipsmart CD allows me to test my pain threshold, especially in my car, where the volume is usually set at a comfortable 18. When this baby's on, we're cruising at 22.

Jimmy Eat World - Futures
Read the review.

No other album this year was as consistent for its first 8 songs. Nor did any other album manage to inspire as much passion, wistfulness, righteous anger, and steering wheel drumming.

Beastie Boys - To The 5 Boroughs
Read the review.

The hiatus is back off, again, and thank God! The Beasties first fully consistent CD in 15 years is like a great movie...full of instantly quotable lines (example: "I got a Bedazzler so my outfit's tight"). Musically, the Boys keep it simple and direct, but lyrically, it's as dizzying as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. With every listen, you hear new things.


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