Revisited

2004 Revisited

 

This list has been done for weeks and I just haven’t had time to work up a post. In the interest of getting it up and moving on, and because I’m not driven to generalize on the year, I’m going to post it without much preamble.

2004

ALBUMS

  1. The College Dropout – Kanye West: With its scholastic framework, conflicted relationship to hip-hop proper, admittedly grating skits, and overwhelming hubris, Kanye West’s undeniable debut was the newer, better version of an earlier sure shot, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. But where Hill got by on sonics, organic production and sixth-sense vocal arrangements, West is an idea and detail man: confrontational kiddie chorus defending drug-dealing as survival, “token blackey” rolling a blunt on break at the Gap, autobiographical anthem rapped through a wired jaw, literal salvation on the dance floor, family reunions and handed-down civil rights history, “the first nigga with a Benz and a backpack.” Despite this placement, I do think he got better, but only a little bit and only briefly.
  2. More Adventurous – Rilo Kiley: The tunes glisten and the lyrics bite — sometimes more, with “It’s a Hit” free-associating like an indie-pop “Bring the Noise” — and that combination is rare enough. But the power, expressiveness, and smarts of Jenny Lewis’ singing made this maybe the best rock band in the world for a brief little while.
  3. East Nashville Skyline – Todd Snider: The saddest, funniest, and most deeply humane “protest” record of an election year full of them even if it mostly isn’t overtly political. Snider is too modest and too nice at this point to lecture anybody about anything, but he seemed to understand in his bones just how extreme American life was getting, and he was certain of at least one thing: The bad shit always rains down hardest on the poor. A career-altering personal statement and artistic revelation.
  4. Street’s Disciple – Nas: It wasn’t so much that I underrated this at the time as that I didn’t fully absorb it. Illmatic was such an easily digestible hip-hop ideal, and the albums that followed in its immediate path so wandering and underwhelming, that I couldn’t muster the appetite to fully attend to a 25-song, 90-minute Nas album. (Especially since, let’s be honest, a review copy never showed up in my mailbox and there was no Spotify in 2004.) Now, it feels plainly like the year’s second-best rap record, dense with ideas, personality, culture, history, and beats galore. Never a chore, its sprawl and relative messiness, a decade after Illmatic, sounds right, the result of a deeper lived experience that makes pursuit of perfection feel almost callow. (Yet, yes, Illmatic is still better.)
  5. Almost Killed Me – The Hold Steady: Craig Finn and Tad Kubler’s previous band, Minneapolis’ Lifter Puller, earned a nationwide cult following about six months after they called it quits. Relocated to Brooklyn to pursue real work, they’re pulled back in: “She said, ‘It’s good to see you back in a bar band, baby,'” Finn sneers on “Barfruit Blues.” “I said, ‘It’s good to see you still in the bars.'” Trading in Lifter Puller’s heavy-machinery new wave and spastic punk-funk for the bar-band basics, including Skynyrd guitar, Clarence Clemons sax breaks, and the essence of Meatloaf and Billy Joel, Finn continues to write insanely quotable songs about nightlife glitz and grime with which he may or may not have any actual experience.
  6. All the Fame of Lofty Deeds – Jon Langford: “Hard work, get it while you can,” Brit-turned-Chicagoan Jon Langford cackles sarcastically midway through his outsider’s appraisal of a country gone crazy. Once an unintentional preemptive strike at George W. Bush’s debate strategy, it became the comic-horror refrain that haunted the president’s thudding second term. As for Langford, he’d like to condemn his adopted home to damnation but he loves it and its music too much to give up: “The country isn’t stupid even though it’s silent,” he promises, against all countervailing evidence. “It still has eyes and ears, it just can’t find its mouth.” More than a decade down the line, let it still be true.
  7. We Shall All Be Healed – Mountain Goats: Another one I underrated, with John Darnielle’s declarations less in focus than on the preceding Tallahassee. But that turned out to be strategy rather than weakness on this collection of shattered tweaker’s fragments.
  8. Too Much Love – Harlan T. Bobo: Can a song be a standard when only probably a couple thousand people know it? If so, “Bottle and Hotel,” Bobo’s broken honky-tonk tribute to make-up sex, is a standard. This homemade, initially hand-distributed cult triumph probably isn’t much known outside of Memphis or its own subterranean corner of the rock world.
  9. Get Away From Me – Nellie McKay: Flipping the bird to Norah Jones with the deliciously sarcastic title of her debut album and signaling its contents with a gloriously silly album cover (the Lil’ Red Riding Hood of Manhattan Avenue, replete with “Parental Advisory Explicit Content” label), this cabaret-piano-playing, drama-queen hip-hop fan proved a little too weird to be embraced by the NPR-listener fan base she courted. But from gin-soaked reveries to deceptively prickly cocktail-jazz to a gleefully guileless paean to the transformative powers of adopting a pound puppy, this double-disc opus is teeming with ideas.
  10. Good News for People Who Love Bad News – Modest Mouse
  11. The Tipping Point – The Roots
  12. Shake the Sheets – Ted Leo & Pharmacists
  13. The Dirty South – The Drive-By Truckers: The heavy, backwoods-outlaw thematics haven’t aged well, but great songs poke out amid the stuff that’s trying too hard, including Jason Isbell’s folk anthem “The Day John Henry Died,”  Patterson Hood’s gracefully received wisdom “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” and, best of all, Mike Cooley’s “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” one of the greatest Memphis songs, a tribute to Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and the men who called him “Sir.”
  14. Beautifully Human – Jill Scott: Though Scott’s pen knows no limitations, her greatest subject might be the same primary subject of most modern soul singers: S-E-X. Scott takes Topic A to compelling places all across Beautifully Human: The post-coital bliss of “Whatever,” the high-stepping lustiness of “Bedda at Home.” But there’s more. On “The Fact Is (I Need You),” the catalog of domestic tasks she doesn’t need your help with ranges from the knowing, charming cliché (“kill the spider above my bed”) to the surely unspoken in love-song history (“I can even stain and polyurethane”). The sneaky “My Petition” starts out as a relationship metaphor only to gradually reveal a more literal intent. And the foolproof “Family Reunion” (see Kanye West’s “Family Business”) is a series of finely observed details skipping into the next until family tensions heat up so much that only a little Frankie Beverly on the stereo can cool things down.
  15. Laced With Romance – The Ponys
  16. Sonic Nurse – Sonic Youth
  17. Raise Your Spirit Higher – Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  18. J.U.F. – Gogol Bordello vs. Tamir Muskat
  19. Too Much Guitar – The Reigning Sound
  20. Madvillainy – MF Doom & Madlib
  21. Egypt – Youssou N’Dour
  22. A Grand Don’t Come for Free – The Streets: With its linear narrative, this sophomore platter from Brit wunderkind Mike Skinner is pop music as novella where his debut, Original Pirate Material, was more a collection of short stories. Skinner’s plotline about missing cash and sketchy friends can be a little hard to follow, but the relationship songs at the core comprise a sure romantic arc unlike most anything else in hip-hop or techno history. A love song about coming to the realization that you’d rather lie on the couch at your girl’s house watching TV than go boozing with your mates speaks to the kind of common truth rarely heard in a pop song. It also sounds like the Chi-Lites.
  23. Funeral – Arcade Fire
  24. Van Lear Rose – Loretta Lynn
  25. Horse of a Different Color – Big and Rich: Right, they descended into self-parody almost instantly, but dig below the Kid Rock Goes Honky Tonk rock and hip-hop flash and there’s a battery of really good songs hiding out here, Walter Mitty-ish, sardonic, rooted in harmony vocals. Imagine the Everly Brothers covering “Life’s Been Good.”

SINGLES

  1. “Maps” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  2. “Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson
  3. “99 Problems” – Jay-Z
  4. “Galang” – M.I.A.
  5. “Float On” – Modest Mouse
  6. “All Falls Down” – Kanye West
  7. “Bridging the Gap” – Nas featuring Olu Dara
  8. “Portions for Foxes” – Rilo Kiley
  9. “Yeah” – Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris
  10. “Jesus Walks” – Kanye West
  11. “Formed a Band” – Art Brut
  12. “Musicology” – Prince
  13. “Mud on the Tires” – Brad Paisley
  14. “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” – Jay-Z
  15. “I May Hate Myself in the Morning” – Lee Ann Womack
  16. “Happy People” – R. Kelly
  17. “Portland, Oregon” – Loretta Lynn and Jack White
  18. “Take Me Out” – Franz Ferdinand
  19. “Just A Little While” – Janet Jackson
  20. “Redneck Woman” – Gretchen Wilson
  21. “Freek-a-Leek” — Petey Pablo
  22. “Wild West Show” — Big and Rich
  23. “Yeah (Crass Version)” – LCD Soundsystem
  24. “Slow Jamz” – Kanye West featuring Twista and Jamie Foxx
  25. “Nothing On But the Radio” – Gary Allan
  26. “Rubberband Man” – T.I.
  27. “Suds in the Bucket” – Sara Evans
  28. “The Rat” – The Walkmen
  29. “Me and Charlie Talking” – Miranda Lambert
  30. “Drop it Like It’s Hot” – Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell
  31. “Break Down Here” – Julie Roberts
  32. “Lose My Breath” – Destiny’s Child
  33. “Mosh” – Eminem
  34. “Bring Em Out” – T.I.
  35. “So Hot” – Rahsaan Patterson
  36. “Salt Shaker” – Ying-Yang Twins
  37. “Gasolina” – Daddy Yankee
  38. “Can’t Stand Me Now” – Libertines
  39. “Toxic” – Britney Spears
  40. “Heartbeat” – Annie

Movies

  1. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater)
  2. Vera Drake (Mike Leigh)
  3. Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
  4. The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin)
  5. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-Liang)
  6. The Corporation (Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott)
  7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry)
  8. Mean Girls (Mark Waters)
  9. The Aviator (Martin Scorsese)
  10. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino)

 

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