The Best of 2004

The year that brought us Janet Jackson's nipple jewelry, Marlon Brando's demise, and unfortunately, "four more years" and tsunamis, also brought some amazing music. Without further ado...

My Top 10 Discs of 2004

 The Mendoza Line-Fortune

Fellow Travelers/Faithful Brother (Scourge Of The Land)/Before I Hit the Wall/It's A Long Line (But It Moves Quickly)/Let's Not Talk About It/
An Architect's Eye/Metro Pictures/They Never Bat An Eye/Tiny Motions/Flat Feet And Western Style/Road To Insolvency/
Will You Be Here Tomorrow?/Throw It In The Fire

Undoubtedly, THE discovery of the year for me. These guys (and gal) became my favorite, all-time, #1, good-time, happy-happy musical group in 2004. Listening to a few mp3's on the bands site had me ordering their last couple discs, including this one. Three killer songwriters vary the sound enough to keep things interesting. Each has a distinct voice and each compliment the group as a whole to deliver a disc that is well rounded lyrically and musically diverse. They also released a collection of b-sides, demos, interviews, and outtakes that nearly missed the list. I can't wait till their new shit drops in 2005 and hopefully see them perform again.

 Will Johnson-Vultures Await

Catherine Dupree/Just To Know What You've Been Dreaming/Vultures Await/Just Some Silence/Sleep A While/As Victims Would/
Closing Down My House/On, Caledonia/Your Bulldozer/Thousand Other Parts/Fly, My Sweet Dove/Nothin' But Godzilla

My man Bill from California sent me three discs worth of Centro-matic (Will's main band) material that instantly converted this now faithful listener. When this disc came out it took all but a couple listens to be absolutely floored by the sheer power of Will's lyricism and simple melodies. I shit you not, this disc is incredible. I remember some girl explaining that she had to buy two copies, one for work, one for home. The reason being if she forgot it at work, or vice versa, she didn't want to be without it for twelve hours. After listening to it for a week straight, I could relate.

 One Star Hotel-Good Morning, West Gordon

Frustrated And Free/Can't Be Trusted/Starlight/Kings/Falling Down/Two And Four/Same Town/
River Drive/This Fall/Thunderhead/Good Morning, West Gordon/In The Spring

My man Lane casually mentioned this band on a music list I participate in. Who knew that a few months later I would be nuts about this little known Philly band. Seeing them twice this year only cemented the casual brilliance in songwriter Steve Yutzy-Burkey's tunes. I am looking forward to seeing this band many, many times in the future.

Bobby Bare Jr.-From The End Of Your Leash

Strange Bird/Valentine/The Terrible Sunrise/Visit Me In Music City/Your Favorite Hat/Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)/Let's Rock & Roll/ 
Borrow Your Girl/Things I Didn't Say/Your Adorable Beast/Beguiled, Bashful, Burnt/Mother Fucker

Another discovery this year brought many hours of listening exuberance with this disc and two previous discs from his Young Criminals' Starvation League. My only regret this year was not seeing him live, which if any of the bootlegs I've heard are an indication, will rank as a favorite show of all-time. My daughter loves to sing 'Valentine' off this disc.

 Camper Van Beethoven-New Roman Times

Prelude/Sons Of The New Golden West/51-7/White Fluffy Clouds/That Gum You Like Is Back In Style/Might Makes Right/
Militia Song/R 'N' R Uzbekistan/Sons Of The New Golden West (Reprise)/New Roman Times/Poppies Of Balmorhea/
Long Plastic Hallway/I Am Talking To This Flower/Come Out/Tigres Traficantes/I Hate This Part Of Texas/Hippy Chix/
Civil Disobedience/Discotheque CVB/Hey Brother

My favorite band from the '80's are back with a disc of new material. How could it possibly stand up to their earlier albums? Man, did it blow me away. My expectations were exceeded on the first spin. This ranks as some of their all-time best releases (big statement, I know). All the classic Camper styles are here...psychedelia, rock, klezmer, ska, and the kitchen sink to boot. Welcome back, boys!

 Grant Lee Phillips-Virginia Creeper

Mona Lisa/Walking Memory/Lily-A-Passion/Dirty Secret/Always Friends/Calamity Jane/Josephine Of The Swamps/
Far End Of The Night/Susanna Little/Wish I Knew/Hickory Wind

Grant Lee Phillips could fart into a microphone for seventy minutes and I would probably buy it. To my ears he can do know wrong (well, 'The Only Way Down' off of Copperopolis kinda blows). Anyway this disc is a quiet, rolling masterpiece.

Neko Case-The Tigers Have Spoken

If You Knew/Soulful Shade Of Blue/Hex/Train From Kansas City/The Tigers Have Spoken/Blacklisted/
Loretta/Favorite/Rated X/This Little Light/Wayfaring Stranger

This disc is heartbreaking to me. This is a live offering with Neko backed by The Sadies, a killer band who released a just missed top 10 disc Favourite Colors this year. It was recorded on tour in March/April of 2004 and released in the fall. I cannot tell you the amazing power of Neko's voice on this disc. You must do yourself a favor and listen to her piercing wail (think Maria McKee, NOT Yoko "Oh, No!"). Now the hearbreak, Neko and The Sadies came through Pittsburgh in May and dickhead me didn't go for some reason or another. What a missed show! The kicker is that my favorite new band The Mendoza Line opened! Fuck me!

 Gomez-Split The Difference

Do One/These 3 Sins/Silence/Me, You And Everybody/We Don't Know Where We're Going/Sweet Virginia/
Catch Me Up/Where Ya Going?/Meet Me In The City/Chicken Out/Extra Special Guy/Nothing Is Wrong/There It Was

I don't think I was looking forward to a show more than the Gomez show in June. I just picked up this disc and was LOVING it. I never saw them live and I was psyched. Turns out that my father-in-law was having open heart surgery on the same day as the show. I bit my tongue and supported the family of course. My buddy went to the show and I had to settle for his account of the proceedings. Blessing in disguise. It turns out the show was a near disaster. The venue is an old restored church which has to keep the windows closed for noise restrictions. The place was a fucking sauna and band, audience and personnel alike were miserable. Luckily, they swung back through town in the fall and put on a smoking show.

 Marah-20,000 Streets Under The Sky

East/Freedom Park/Feather Boa/Going Thru The Motions/Sure Thing/Tame The Tiger/Pigeon Heart/
Soda/Pizzeria/Body/20,000 Streets Under the Sky

I saw Marah twice this year and picked up this disc between seeing them. Some songs are good, some are great, a couple ba-ba-blow. Still, I listened to this disc a ton this year and live the tunes are killer.

Wilco-A Ghost Is Born

At Least That's What You Said/Hell Is Chrome/Spiders (Kidsmoke)/Muzzle Of Bees/Hummingbird/Handshake Drugs/
Wishful Thinking/Company in My Back/I'm A Wheel/Theologians/Less Than You Think/Late Greats

There was a ton of shit said about this disc this year, both good and bad. For me it stands up and some tunes are exceptional. The 12 minute "migraine" noise of 'Less Than You Think' is absolutely awful, but that what the I>> button is for. On the fence about this disc, listen to the tunes live, that should change your mind.

notables: The Sadies-Favourite Colors, Two Cow Garage-The Wall Against Our Backs, The Old 97's-Drag It Up, Rilo Kiley-More Adventorous, The Mendoza Line-Sent Down To AA, Marah-Kids In Amsterdam, Sufjan Stevens-Seven Swans, The Mark Lanegan Band-Bubblegum, The Magnolia Electric Co.-Trials And Errors

Top 10 Live Songs

'An Architect's Eye'-The Mendoza Line

Saturday October 9

I happened to e-mail the members of the band the weeks proceeding the show and asked if they would play this tune in Pittsburgh. Not only did they play it, Shannon McArdle dedicated to, "...our good friend, Hugh." That's what I'm talking about, baby!

'Sun Through The Trees'-One Star Hotel

Friday December 10

Arriving early at the club, band leader Steve Yutzy-Burkey mentioned that he saw my site and was appreciative of the fact that One Star Hotel was being featured. I asked him to play this tune of the first disc. He obliged and gave a shout-out in the process!

'As Victim's Would'-Will Johnson

Wednesday November 10

Will ambled onstage and casually started his set with this stunning performance. He played ' Just to Know What You've Been Dreaming' and 'Closing Down My House' at my request, but this song set the mood and really got everyone's attention. Chilling.

'The New Kid'-Rhett Miller

Friday June 18

They were streaming a few new songs off the Old 97's upcoming release on the band's website and this was one of them. I was familiar with it and actually liked it a lot. Rhett playing it solo on acoustic guitar, on my birthday to a huge crowd was a killer live moment.

'Mockinbirds'-Grant Lee Phillips

Saturday June 5

Before he started this song, Grant mentioned that he rarely, if ever, performed it with just him and an acoustic guitar. Jaw-droppingly good.

'Life And How To Live It'-R.E.M.

Sunday November 7

Of all the songs from the show, the old tunes stood out for me. This was the set-ender with Michael Stipe singing with such conviction that I long for a set of the oldies from R.E.M.

'Reservation Girl'-Marah

Wednesday April 21

My first time seeing the band, Dave Bielenko is ripping through the solo on this song and decided to climb on our table to finish it!

'Still The Same'-Magnolia Electric Co.

Thursday October 14

I knew not one song during the show except this old Bob Seger classic. Sentimentality wins out every time.

'Whippin' Piccadilly'-Gomez

Friday October 22

Picking a stand-out during this sweet show is like choosing your favorite sexual position. They're all good.

'Country Feedback'-Java Blue

Saturday September 11

Joe and Java bring the RAWK. 'Nuff said.

notables: 'Lullabye'-Shawn Mullins, 'AOR Medley'-Fountians Of Wayne, 'I Will Survive'-Cake, 'Lost On Yer Merry Way '-Grandaddy, 'At Least That's What You Said'-Wilco, 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone>I Can't Understand>Exodus>Crossroads'-Los Lobos

PollStar Top Grossing Tours


R Gross Artist Avg Tk Price Avg Sales Total Tks Avg Grs Cts/


1 87.4 Prince 61.04 20,745 1,431,454 1,266,321 69/96

2 80.4 Celine Dion 136.33 3,827 589,494 521,763 1/154

3 79.5 Madonna 143.59 39,536 553,505 5,677,185 14/39

4 60.5 Metallica 57.39 13,871 1,054,238 796,116 76/83

5 59.4 Bette Midler 99.12 9,825 599,325 973,920 61/66

6 54.3 Van Halen 76.44 9,868 710,504 754,392 72/79

7 50.8 Kenny Chesney 44.40 15,252 1,143,909 676,759 75/77

8 50.1 Sting 66.84 10,273 749,988 686,649 73/83

9 43.7 Toby Keith 47.83 12,344 913,520 590,508 74/75

10 43.3 Elton John 158.22 24,862 273,483 3,933,831 11/60

11 42.5 Rod Stewart 74.78 7,194 568,333 537,975 79/81

12 41.2 Dave Matthews Band 43.32 27,984 951,488 1,212,493 34/47

13 40.1 Tim McGraw 52.48 12,735 764,100 668,343 60/64

14 34.6 Jimmy Buffett 59.57 22,339 580,829 1,330,769 26/30

15 34.5 Shania Twain 65.55 13,148 525,930 861,967 40/42

16 34.0 Alan Jackson / Martina McBride 51.50 11,380 660,040 586,061 58/58

17 29.1 Cher 65.19 8,940 447,039 582,807 50/54

18 29.1 Usher 58.45 13,103 497,951 765,881 38/42

19 29.0 Eric Clapton 69.25 14,461 419,394 1,001,526 29/33

20 28.0 Josh Groban 53.96 6,652 518,902 358,974 78/80

21 25.6 Aerosmith 57.54 10,865 445,481 625,203 41/41

22 24.8 George Strait 63.40 15,044 391,167 953,846 26/29

23 23.8 Phil Collins 76.52 12,933 310,396 989,676 24/26

24 23.7 Kid Rock 32.72 8,125 723,163 265,857 89/92

25 23.6 John Mayer 34.18 8,852 690,462 310,526 76/78

Gross is in millions of U.S. dollars. All figures are for North American dates only. Average tickets and grosses are per city.

WYEP 91.3 FM Pittsburgh Best Of 2004

Top 50 Artists

1. Patti Smith Trampin'
2. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros Streetcore
3. Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose
4. The Mavericks The Mavericks
5. David Byrne Grown Backwards
6. The Holmes Brothers Simple Truths
7. Patty Griffin Impossible Dream
8. Belle & Sebastian Dear Catastrophe Waitress
9. Toots and the Maytals True Love
10. Ron Sexsmith Retriever
11. Angela McCluskey The Things We Do
12. Los Lobos The Ride
13. Catie Curtis Dreaming In Romance Languages
14. My Morning Jacket It Still Moves
15. J.J. Cale To Tulsa and Back
16. Sarah Harmer All of Our Names
17. Jesse Malin The Heat
18. Nellie McKay Get Away From Me
19. Gomez Split the Difference
20. Madeleine Peyroux Careless Love
21. Eric Clapton Me and Mr. Johnson
22. Jamie Cullum Twentysomething
23. Steve Earle The Revolution Starts Now
24. Finley Quaye Much More Than Much Love
25. Edie Brickell Volcano
26. Iron + Wine Our Endless Numbered Days
27. Elvis Costello The Delivery Man
28. Angelique Kidjo Oyaya
29. Morrissey You are the Quarry
30. Wilco A Ghost Is Born
31. Kinky Atlas
32. Mindy Smith One Moment More
33. Dolorean Not Exotic
34. k.d. lang Hymns from the 49th Parallel
35. The Damnwells Bastards of the Beat
36. Josh Ritter Hello Starling
37. Keb' Mo' Keep It Simple
38. The Finn Brothers Everyone Is Here
39. Slaid Cleaves Wishbones
40. Sun Kil Moon Ghosts of the Great Highway
41. Railroad Earth The Good Life
42. Various Artists Beautiful Dreamer
43. Ryan Adams Rock 'n' Roll/Love is Hell Pt. 1
44. Zero 7 When It Falls
45. Keane Hopes & Fears
46. Ozomatli Street Signs
47. The Innocence Mission Befriended
48. Samite Tunula Eno
49. Norah Jones Feels Like Home
50. Old 97's Drag It Up

Listener's Top Ten Discs

#1  Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose
I enjoyed the freshness of the blend of two very creative artists. The music makes our head turn … how many albums do that these days?” -Jim, Pleasant Hills

#2  Wilco A Ghost Is Born
Wilco continues to make good music with the blinders on – without respect to trend, their past, or listeners’ expectations. This makes them one of the most exciting bands around. -Maureen, Point Breeze

#3  The Damnwells Bastards Of The Beat
A tough choice with lots of competition but after their performance at The Warhol/WYEP Summer Music Festival, these guys are here to stay. Thanks to WYEP for turning us on to the best that’s out there! -Dan, West View

#4  Morissey You Are The Quarry
"Morrissey is in the top of his game on this album and goes to show why he is the greatest singer/poet in the last 25 years. - Marc, Mt. Lebanon

#5  Jamie Cullum Twentysomething
What a wonderful disc … I would never have heard it if not for your station. Jamie Cullum rocks! - Shelley, Mt. Lebanon

#6  Keane Hopes & Fears
It is the first album in a long time that I loved start to finish. Just beautiful! -Terri, Oakland

#7  The Push Stars Paint The Town
Seldom does a CD today have more than one song that touches a nerve. This album features six songs that I have fallen in love with. -Rick, Avalon

#8  (tie) Patty Griffin, Impossible Dream; Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers, True Companion; Josh Ritter, Hello Starling
Once I fell into (Impossible Dream), I didn’t want to get out. -Lynn, Greensburg

A "true" return from the grandaddy of Pittsburgh rock proves (Joe Grushecky)’s still vital… -Zeke, Greenfield

(Josh Ritter) one of the most promising young stars of the day…. -Glynis, Beaver Falls

#9  (tie) Ryan Adams, Rock-n-Roll; Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, Streetcore; Mindy Smith, One Moment More; Nellie Mckay, Get Away From Me; Patti Smith, Trampin'; Slaid Cleaves, Wishbones
(Ryan Adams) First class song-writing, both lyrically and in terms of the monstrous hooks and rhythms that abound. -Don, Ross

(Joe Strummer) A legend to the end. -Brandon, Decatur, GA

Mindy Smith Haunting yet innocent. -Lisa, Valley Grove, WV

Nellie Mckay The first time I heard ‘David’ on your station, it blew me away. A truly unique artist on a unique radio station. -Tracey, Maryland

Patti Smith’s songs give a voice to many people with her socially conscious messages. -Vicky, Ford City

Slaid Cleaves wields all the essential elements of songwriting – humor, tragedy and truth. -Sarah, Gibsonia

#10  Citizen Cope, The Clarence Greenwood Recordings; David Byrne, Grown Backwards; The Mavericks, The Mavericks
Citizen Cope is a fabulous surprise – every song on this album is a blend of captivating lyrics and a unique heartfelt hip-hop beat. -Felicia, Regent Square

David Byrne Listening to this album is one melodic journey after another. -Kevin, Mt. Lebanon

(The Mavericks) Hands down, the most exuberant album of the year, the kind of music you are happy to get stuck in your head. -John, Oakland

DJ's Picks

Kyle's Top Ten
1. West Indian Girl Self Titled
2. Beatie Boys To The 5 Boroughs
3. Keane Hopes & Fears
4. The Thievery Corporation The Outernational Sound
5. Madeleine Peyroux Careless Love
6. The Thrills Let's Bottle Bohemia
7. Ron Sexsmith Retriever
8. The Roots The Tipping Point
9. Finley Quaye Much More Than Much Love
10. Dave Alvin Ashgrove

Stephan's Top Ten (or Eleven) Releases:
Kings of Convenience Riot on an Empty Street
Beautiful stuff from two lads and a lady friend from Norway, reminiscent of the best of Simon and Garfunkel in its sincerity. It's a nice breath of fresh air: gentle, unpretentious, with intelligent lyrics and wonderful melodies.


Nellie McKay Get Away from Me
Everything the Kings of Convenience CD is not. Nellie McKay exhibits hilarious in-your-face wit and incredible vocal flexibility that invokes everyone from Astrud Gilberto to Eminem. I could have only dreamed of being this cool at 19.
2. Keane Hopes and Fears
3. Madeleine Peyroux Careless Love
4. The Damnwells Bastards of the Beat
5. Gomez Split the Difference
6. Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose
7. Franz Ferdinand Franz Ferdinand
8. Iron & Wine Our Endless Numbered Days
9. Morrissey You Are the Quarry
10. Lhasa The Living Road

Rosemary's Top Ten
1. Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose
2. Iron & Wine Our Endless Numbered Days
3. Jesse Sykes & The Sweethearafer Oh My Girl
4. Lhasa The Living Road
5. Nellie McKay Get Away From Me
6. Bebel Gilberto Bebel Gilberto
7. Rufus Wainwright Want Two
8. Madeleine Peyroux Careless Love
9. Ray Lamontagne Trouble
10. Patti Smith Trampin'

Lauren, Monday Evening Mix
1. Ray LaMontagne Trouble RCA
With vocals channeling a soulful Nick Drake and a raw, largely-acoustic recording, Ray LaMontagne's Trouble appeals to singer/songwriter, folk and blues fans alike. Standout tracks include "Shelter" and the first single, "Trouble," which combine a purposefully simple and emotionally intense sound comparable to those of Ryan Adams, Alexi Murdoch and David Gray. (RCA)
2. Mindy Smith One Moment More Vanguard
3. Jem Finally Woken ATO Records
4. Ryan Adams Love is Hell Lost Highway
5. Modest Mouse Good News for People who Love Bad News Epic
6. Jump (formerly Jump, Little Children) Between the Dim and the Dark Brash Music
7. Jamie Cullum twentysomething Verve
8. Old 97's Drag It Up Lost Highway
9. Keane Hopes and Fears Interscope
10. The Shins Chutes Too Narrow Sub Pop

Adam, Tuesday Evening Mix
1. Norah Jones Feels Like Home You know you've found a special album when it "feels like home". Norah Jones' sophomore album serves as a companion from sunrise to sunset, from winter to fall, and from happy to blue. With her intoxicating voice, brilliant covers, and impressive originals, Feels Like Home continues to be the perfect soundtrack to my year. (Blue Note)
2. Hayden Elk Lake Serenade
3. Elliott Smith from a basement on a hill
4. Jamie Cullum twentysomething
5. Mosquitos Mosquitos
6. Sam Phillips A Boot and a Shoe
7. Sarah Harmer all of our names
8. Josh Ritter Hello Starling
9. Ryan Adams Rock 'n' Roll
10. Angela McCluskey The Things We Do

Runner's Up: Morrissey You Are The Quarry; Bebel Gilberto Bebel Gilberto; Sweetback Stage 2

Alice, Wednesday Evening Mix
Gomez Split the Difference
An experiential choice: seeing the band live (for the first time) at Mr. Small's rocked me and sent me shopping. Something about "Sweet Virginia" that I couldn't shake, and "Catch Me Up" is so sweet; the release stayed on my player for months. As always, varied vocals, great riffs and unexpected melodic turns keep Gomez aglow on my radar screen. (Virgin)

Chris, Wednesday Evening Mix
Jamie Cullum Twentysomething (Verve)

Riley, Thursday Evening Mix
1. Modest Mouse Good News For People Who Like Bad News (Epic)
Washington state trio spins early Talking Heads influence into a subtle and beautiful rock record without pretensions.
2. The Streets A Grand Don't Come For Free (Vice/Atlantic)
3. Keane Hopes and Fears (Interscope)
4. Hives Tyranasoarus Hives (Interscope)
5. Arcade Fire Funeral (Merge)
6. West Indian Girl West Indian Girl (Astralwerks)
7. Ron Sexsmith Retriever (Nettwerk)
8. U2 How To Dismantle An Atom Bomb (Interscope)
9. The Black Keys Rubber Factory (Fat Possum)
10. Handsome Boy Modeling School White People (Atlantic/Electra)

Chris, Friday Evening Mix
Top Ten
1. The Thrills So Much For The City (Virgin) and Belle & Sebastian Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Sanctuary Records)
Try as I might I couldn't decide, so I took the easy way out. Both offer confectionary pop music from the U.K. Ireland's The Thrills' sound harkens back to the sounds of sunny California, while Scotland's Belle & Sebastian add some shimmer to their usual low-fi sound. Both releases offer more hooks than a bait and tackle shop.
2. The Mavericks The Mavericks (Sanctuary Records)
3. Gomez Split The Difference(Virgin)
4. Brian Wilson Smile (Nonesuch)
5. Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose (Universal Music Group)
6. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros Steetcore (Epitaph)
7. Ken Stringfellow Soft Commands (Yep Roc Records)
8. Tift Merritt Tamborine (Lost Highway)
9. Velvet Crush Stereo Blues (Parasol Records)
10. Michael Carpenter Rolling Ball (Not Lame)

Also on the list: Dave Alvin Ashgrove (Yep Roc), Joss Stone The Soul Sessions (S-Curve Records), Badly Drawn Boy One Plus One Is One (Twisted Nerve Records), Keane Hopes And Fears (Interscope Records), William Shatner Has Been (Shout! Factory) and Jamie Cullum Twentysomething (Verve)

Top Reissues

1. The Clash London Calling Legacy Edition (Sony)
2. Terry Reid Superlungs: The Complete Studio Recordings (EMI International)
3. Beatles Let it Be… Naked (Capitol)
4. The Posies Failure (Phantom)
5. Jeff Buckley Grace Legacy Edition (Sony)
6. Wanderlust Lost & Found (Not Lame)
7. Various Artists Left of the Dial: Dispatches From the '80s Underground (Rhino Records)
8. Teenage Fanclub Four Thousand Seven Hundred & Sixty Six Seconds: A Shortcut to Teenage Fanclub (Jet Set Records)
9. Nick Drake Made to Love Magic (Island Records)
10. Weezer Weezer 1994 Deluxe Edition (Geffen Records)

Top Tribute/Cover CDs

1. What A Concept: A Tribute to Teenage Fanclub (Not Lame)
2. It Was 40 Years Ago Today: A Tribute to The Beatles (Bullseye)
3. Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster (Emergent)
4. K.D. Lang Hymns of the 49th Parallel (Nonesuch)
5. Paul Weller Studio 150
6. Who's Not Forgotten: A Tribute to the Who (The Orchard)
7. Substitution Mass Confusion: A Tribute to The Cars (Not Lame)
8. This One's For The Fellows: A Sonic Salute to the Young Fresh Fellows (BlueDisguise Records)
9. Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon (Artemis Records)
10. Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo (Or. Music)

Ellen, Saturday Sunrise
1. Various Artists Garden State soundtrack
Why choose one album of the year when there are 15 great tunes from various great artists on one soundtrack! Heartfelt singer-songwriter stuff and a few zingers too, all of it real music with compelling lyrics that makes one embrace heartache with the right amount of sorrow, nostalgia, and hope. (Sony)
2. Keb Mo' Keep It Simple
3. Richard Shindell Vuelta
4. David Mead Indiana
5. Elliott Smith From A Basement on the Hill
6. Los Lonely Boys Los Lonely Boys
7. Marc Broussard Carencro
8. Black Eyed Peas Elephunk
9. Iron and Wine Our Endless Numbered Days
10. TIED: The Shins Chutes Too Narrow and My Morning Jacket It Still Moves

Dinah, Saturday Music Mix
Air Talkie Walkie
True to form, the French band Air delivers atmospheric, melodic electronic pop with Talkie Walkie. It's a CD with which to just sit back and chill. (Astralwerks)

Mike, Sunday Music Mix
1. Citizen Cope The Clarence Greenwood Recordings
This CD provided, for me, the perfect balance of production/rawness incorporating elements of trip-hop grooves buried beneath traditional acoustic sounds with folk-inspired lyrics. (RCA)
2. K.D. Lang Hymns of the 49th Parallel
3. Diana Krall The Girl In the Other Room
4. Sun Kil Moon Ghosts of the Great Highway
5. Air Talkie Walkie
6. Zero 7 When It Falls
7. Angelique Kidjo Oyaya!
8. Jamie Cullum twentysomething
9. Travis 12 Memories
10. Various Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo

Blues & Rhythm, Bumblebee Slim
1. John Lee Hooker Jr. Blues With A Vengeance
Blues With A Vengeance is a great initial CD by the son of the "king of the boogie," John Lee Hooker. (Kent)
2. Luther "Badman" Keith Thunder in my Blues (BMB)
3. Teeny Tucker First Class Woman (Hot Rod)
4. Pat Boyak Voices > From The Street (Doc Blues)
5. Nik Curran & Nitelifes Player (Blind Pig)

Big Town Blues, Wrett Weatherspoon
1. Corey Harris Mississippi to Mali
In Mississippi to Mali, Corey Harris successfully displays the tie between African and African American roots music. His use of both Malian artists together with the southern Mississippi drum and fife sound puts the "winner" label on this one. (Rounder)
2. Eric Bibb Natural Light (Earthbeat/Rhino)
3. Ana Popovic Comfort to the Soul (RUF)
4. Chris Thomas King The Roots (21st Century Blues)
5. Rory Block Last Fair Deal (Telarc)

Dubmission, Kerem
1. Quantic Mishaps Happening
Underground soul @ its finest! Third LP from Will Holland is a masterpiece combo of jazz, funk and breaks. (Ubiquity)
2. Rodney Hunter The Hunter Files (G-Stone)
3. Thievery Corporation The Outernational Sound (ESL)
4. Various Artists Blue Note Revisited (Blue Note)
5. John Beltran In Full Colour (Ubiquity)
6. Various BBQ Beets 2-return of the Yams (The Agriculture)
7. Roy Davis Jr. Chicago Forever (Ubiquity)
8. Blockhead Music By Cavelight (Ninja Tune)
9. Tassel & Naturel Fillet of Soul (Inflammable)
10. Plej Electronic Music from the Swedish Leftcoast (Exceptional)

An American Sampler, Ken Batista
1. Various Artists The Unbroken Circle
Various Artists Beautiful Dreamer
Every once in a while, there comes along a tribute album that brings long-overdue focus to profound and lasting influences in the folk genre. Topping my list this year were two such albums. The reason for the tie is that it's hard to distinguish who was (and is) the most influential source for future generations of songwriters - The Carter Family or Stephen Foster. (Dualtone) (American Roots)
2. Eric Andersen The Street Was Always There (Appleseed)
3. Guy Davis Legacy (Red House)
4. Tim Eriksen Every Sound Below (Appleseed)
5. Eliza Gilkyson Land of Milk and Honey (Red House)
6. Tim Grimm Names (Wind River/Folk Era)
7. Lucy Kaplansky The Red Thread (Red House)
8. Pierce Pettis Great Big Wall (Compass)
9. Ricky Skaggs Brand New Strings (Skaggs Family)

Roots & Rhythm Mix, Kate Borger
1. Steve Earle The Revolution Starts Now
It is a rare thing to seamlessly merge musicality and politics. Phil Ochs did it, the Clash did it, and now Steve Earle has done it on this powerful and intrepid collection of superbly melodic and musical songs. (Artemis)
2. Various Artists Beautiful Dreamer (American Roots)
3. Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose (Interscope)
4. Juanes Un Dia Normal (Universal Latino)
5. Various Artists Creole Bred: A Tribute to Creole and Zydeco (Vanguard)
6. Youssou N'Dour Egypt (Nonesuch)
7. Various Artists The Unbroken Circle (Dualtone)
8. Sister Rosetta Tharpe The Original Soul Sister 4CD set (Proper Box UK)
9. Nathan Jimson Weed (Nettwerk)
10. Gurf Morlix Cut 'n Shoot (Blue Corn)

Bluegrass Jam Session w/ Bruce Mountjoy and Traditional Ties with John Trout
1. Josh Williams Lonesome Highway
On this, his second solo release, 23-year-old Josh Williams continues to show signs of being a force to be reckoned with in the field for years to come. His smooth, mature vocals, instrumental abilities, (guitar, banjo and mandolin) and knack for writing and arranging new material to introduce to the bluegrass canon demonstrate a sense of the genre that only the very best artists are able to grasp. We look for much more great music from this young man! (Pinecastle Records)
2. (tie)
Red Allen Lonesome and Blue (Rebel)
Becky Buller Little Bird (Bell Buckle)
Blue Ridge Side by Side (Sugar Hill)
David Davis and The Warrior River Boys Self-titled (Rebel)
King Wilkie Broke (Rebel)
Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum Guest House (Hightone)
Mountain Heart Force of Nature (Skaggs Family)
Nothin' Fancy Reflections (Pinecastle)
Ricky Skaggs Brand New Strings (Skaggs Family)


Postcard From Hell Top 100 Discs

many thanks to Michael Broadhurst

ok, here it goes. You guys voted for 356 different records this year,
damn you. Sixteen records garnered 100 points or more this year, down
from 23 last year, and there were about 25% fewer ballots submitted
this year than last (124 this year, 165 I think last year.) The late
flurry of ballots resurrected a flagging campaign for the Will Johnson
record, meaning I now know which alter egos belong to my sister.

98. (t) Earlies "Those Were" (14 pts, 2 votes, no first place votes)
Elvis Costello "The Delivery Man" (14 pts, 4 votes, no firsts)
Ike Reilly "Sparkle in the Finish" (14 pts, 3 votes)
Madvillain "Madvillainy" (14, 2)
Paul Kelly "Ways & Means" (14 ,2)
Sahara Hotnights "Kiss and Tell" (14, 2)
REM "Around the Sun" (14, 2, 1 first place)
93. (t) Ambulance Ltd. (14.5, 3)
Califone "Heron King Blues" (14.5, 3)
Kings of Leon "Aha Heartbreak" (14.5, 3)
Pedro the Lion "Achilles Heel" (14.5, 2)
Tilly & the Wall "Wild Like Children" (14.5, 2)

88. (t) Interpol "Antics" (15, 3)
Los Lobos "The Ride" (15, 3)
The Comas "Conductor" (15, 2)
Travis Morrison "Travistan" (15, 2)
American Music Club "Love Songs for Patriots" (15, 3, 1 first)
86. (t) Grey DeLisle "The Graceful Ghost" (15.5, 3)
Buddy Miller "Universal House of Prayer" (15.5, 3)
85. Bill Janovitz & Crown Victoria "Fireworks on TV" (16, 3, 1)
83. (t) Anders Parker "Tell It to the Dust" (16.5, 3)
Cary Hudson "Cool Breeze" (16.5, 4)
81. (t) Jon Dee Graham "The Great Battle" (17, 3)
Gomez "Split the Difference" (17, 4)

78. (t) Fiery Furnaces "Blueberry Boat" (18, 3)
Rogue Wave "Out of the Shadow" (18, 5)
Bellwether "Seven and Six" (18, 2, 1)
77. Avett Brothers "Mignonette" (18.5, 5)
75. (t) DJ Dangermouse "The Grey Album" (19, 3, 1)
Tim Rogers & the Temperance Union "Spit Polish" (19, 2, 1)
72. (t) Kanye West "The College Dropout" (20, 3)
Mountain Goats "We All Shall Be Healed" (20, 3)
The Ponys "Laced With Romance" (20, 3)
71. The Hold Steady "...Almost Killed Me" (20.5, 3, 1)

70. Sam Phillips "A Boot and Shoe" (21.5, 4)
68. (t) Joanna Newsom "The Milk-Eyed Mender" (22, 3)
Todd Snider "East Nashville Skyline" (22, 5)
67. The Silos "When the Telephone Rings" (23.5, 3)
66. Jason Molina "The Pyramid Electric Co." (24, 4, 1)
63. (t) Jim White "Dig a Hole..." (25, 4)
TV on the Radio "Desparate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes" (25, 4)
Wayne Robbins & the Hellsayers "The Lonesome Sea" (25, 3, 1)
62. Ron Sexsmith "Retriever" (26, 5)

60. (t) Glossary "How We Handle Our Midnights" (27, 4)
Old 97s "Drag It Up" (27, 7)
58. (t) Iris DeMent "Lifeline" (28.5, 7)
PJ Harvey "Uh huh Her" (28.5, 5)
55. (t) Bonnie Prince Billy "Sings Greatest Palace Music" (29, 5)
Tift Merritt "Tambourine" (29, 8)
Guided by Voices "Half Smiles of the Decomposed" (29, 5, 1)
54. The Black Keys "Rubber Factory" (30.5, 7)
53. Nick Cave "Abattoir Blues" (31, 6, 1)
52. The Figgs "Palais" (32.5, 5)
51. Grant Lee Phillips "Virginia Creeper" (33, 8)

48. (t) Ben Kweller "On My Way" (34, 8)
Patterson Hood "Killers and Stars" (34, 9)
The Thermals "Fuckin A" (34, 6)
47. Dios Malos "Dios" (38.5, 7, 1)
46. Patty Griffin "Impossible Dream" (40, 7, 1)
45. Mission of Burma "OnOffOn" (40.5, 9)
44. The Elected "Me First" (42, 8, 1)
43. AC Newman "The Slow Wonder" (43.5, 7, 1)
42. Sufjan Stevens "Seven Swans" (44, 8, 1)
41. U2 "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" (47,8)

40. Snow Patrol "Final Straw" (49, 8)
39. Rilo Kiley "More Adventurous" (50, 10)
37. (t) The Streets "A Grand Don't Come Free" (51, 8)
Old Crow Medicine Show "OCMS" (51, 8, 1)
36. Matthew Sweet "Kima Ga Suki" (51.5, 8, 1)
35. Marah "20,000 Streets Under the Sky" (53, 12)
34. Steve Earle "The Revolution Starts...NOW" (54.5, 12)
33. Robyn HItchcock "Spooked" (56, 9, 2)
32. Camper Van Beethoven "New roman Times" (59, 10, 2)
31. Richmond Fontaine "Post to Wire" (60.5, 10, 1)

29. (t) Franz Ferdinand "Franz Ferdinand" (64, 13, 1)
Luna "Rendezvous" (64, 9, 1)
28. The Mendoza Line "Fortune" (64.5, 8, 3)
27. The Gourds "Blood of the Ram" (65.5, 12)
26. The Walkmen "Bows & Arrows" (66, 10, 2)

24. (t) Richard Buckner "Dents and Shells" (67, 15, 1)
The Delgados "Universal Audio" (67, 10, 2)
23. Li'l Cap'n Travis "In All Their Splendor" (68.5, 11, 2)
22. Tom Waits "Real Gone" (69.5, 11, 1)
21. Brian Wilson "Smile" (70.5, 10, 2)

20. The Libertines "The Libertines" (71.5, 11, 2)
19. Jay Farrar "Stone Steel & Bright Lights" (72, 12, 1)
18. The Sadies "Favourite Colours" (89, 18)
17. Mark Lanegan Band "Bubblegum" (94.5, 16, 2)
16. Two Cow Garage "The Wall Against Our Back" (109.5, 22, 3)

15. Elliott Smith "From a Basement on a Hill" (113, 19, 4)
14. Social Distortion "Sex and Love and Rock and Roll" (119.5, 19, 1)
13. Neko Case "The Tigers Have Spoken" (121, 19, 2)
11. (t) Dolorean "Violence in the Snowy Fields" (122, 22, 2)
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists "Shake the Sheets" (122, 22, 5)

10. Paul Westerberg "Folker" (136.5, 23, 7)
9. Iron & Wine "Our Endless Numbered Days" (140, 26, 2)
8. Modest Mouse "Good News for People Who Love Bad News" (148.5, 25, 4)
7. Green Day "American Idiot" (159, 25, 2)
6. The Arcade Fire "Funeral" (170.5, 24, 8)

5. Bobby Bare Jr. "At the End of Your Leash" (171, 30, 1)
4. Drive by Truckers "The Dirty South" (179.5, 28, 6)
3. Loretta Lynn "Van Lear Rose" (181, 35, 2)
2. Will Johnson "Vultures Await" (181.5, 25, 3)

and to no one's surprise....
1. Wilco "A Ghost Is Born" (400, 59, 11)

Most first-place votes: Wilco
Most First, Second and Third place votes: Wilco, 30
Highest ranking record without a First-place vote: The Sadies
Lowest-ranking record with multiple First-place votes: Robyn HItchcock
Total ballots cast: 124


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Critics Best Of...

Top of the year: Prince

Friday, December 31, 2004
By Ed Masley, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

With the '80s revival only strengthening its vice-like grip on the Kids in America, Franz Ferdinand emerged from Glasgow with the most acclaimed recording of the year, a self-titled collection of jittery '80s art-funk songs. But no one did a better job of sounding like the '80s in 2004 than Prince on "Musicology." And he gave it away for free at shows, a move so cool we may be willing to forget that whole "I've changed my name to an unpronounceable symbol" phase (but not until we've said, "That's so Jan Brady!").

The title track crashes the gate with a groove as elastic as Fela Kuti live at the Apollo, as Prince picks up the history of sweet soul music sometime after Stevie Wonder laid it down. And then he adds another brilliant chapter, from his soulful Curtis Mayfield-worthy open letter to The Man to the "Nothing Compares 2 U" ache he offsets with the chunk-a-chunk of '80s metal on "A Million Days" to those arena-worthy power-chords in the chorus of "Cinnamon Girl." Without a doubt, the most consistent, most compelling Prince recording in more than a decade.

His third and finest effort since launching a post-Radish solo career is a quirky, incessantly catchy little record that rocks with abandon when it wants to but isn't afraid to dial it back a bit for sensitivity. The title track and most arresting cut is a haunting acoustic ballad that sets you up for something goofy with a line about killing a man with karate he learned in Japan, but then it gets deeper and more serious with each succeeding verse. It's a stunning accomplishment, but then, so is the headbanging rocker that follows.

On paper, it reads like a marketing stunt of "Supernatural" proportions -- 60-something country icon hits a Nashville studio with Jack White in for Owen Bradley, cuts a sexed-up Zeppelinesque duet with Mr. White and sees it follow Johnny Cash's "Hurt" onto modern-rock radio playlists. But in truth, it's a modern American classic, one that honors country's rich traditions while expanding its borders into more experimental territory. Thank White for that, but thank Loretta for the songs, an album's worth of country classics.

"Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons" is among the more intoxicating albums of the decade, and they're not far off from that exotic masterpiece on this, the band's impressionistic 4AD debut. More densely textured and darker, with fewer explosions of raucous abandon, it finds the group weaving a powerful spell while unreeling a haunting collection of fractured indie lullabies. And yes, it helps to have Kazu Makino's rainy-day soprano in your corner.

He's rarely reinforced the brilliant writing with the Clash-like urgency he brings to this, his finest hour. While it's clear that Leo is not down with U.S. foreign policy, it's not a protest album so much as an album informed by the high-stakes game that's being played with America's future and what it means on an intimate level. You can hear his concern for that future in the vocals. But you also hear a lot of hope, and that's what makes this album more inviting than your average revolution rock. Well, that and Leo's sense of melody and well-turned phrases.

If nothing in the lush, sophisticated chamber pop of "Two Way Monologue" suggests a 22-year-old recording in the age of Ashlee Simpson, it's exactly what we've come to look for in this young Norwegian's records -- timeless songcraft by the Roddy Frame of Ashlee's generation with musical roots that stretch from Beck's "Mutations" through Burt Bacharach and the "Pet Sounds"-era Beach Boys to Cole Porter's "Night and Day." And then, of course, you've got the voice, a boyish tenor with serious range, both musical and, more importantly, emotional.

It may not be as weird as "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," but it is more self-indulgent. Not that that's a bad thing (well, unless you count the 15-minute electronic droning of "Less Than You Think"). It's not as focused, either, sprawling all over the musical landscape, from a head-on collision of Krautrock and headbanging '70s rock to a raucous explosion of post-punk abandon to an album-closing barnyard stomp. The first cut is the deepest, though, an epic show of force that unexpectedly evolves from nearly whispered verses steeped in sadness through a Crazy Horse power-chord stomp to a wide-open jam.

The brains behind Zumpano and the New Pornographers launches a solo career with a ready-made power-pop classic, boasting hooks as infectious as any we've heard since the last New Pornographers record, whether spiking the beat-crazy power-chord charms of "Miracle Drug" with a boyish enthusiasm or bringing an aging-man's ache to the ballads. And you get a whistling solo fit for "Games Without Frontiers."

No band did more with mood (or organ) on an album you could pitch to friends as 2004's best U2 (at the risk of damning it with faint praise). "What's In It For Me" is gospel as filtered through Radiohead, an arctic blast of raw emotion from a vocalist who rasps and slurs like a drunk at the end of his ropes but still hits all the high notes like an angel. And he's just as good at rocking out, as he proves on "The Rat," a churning New Wave-flavored gem in which he bids his youth a sad farewell with "When I used to go out I would know everyone that I saw/Now I go out alone if I go out at all."

With Bad Religion racing through a 14-song assault of vintage California punk behind him, the brainiest voice in post Joe Strummer/pre-Ted Leo punk goes after Bush and other social ills like Green Day's older, wiser brother cross-bred with a pit bull, righteous anger offset by the kind of righteous humor that leads to political manifestos using "Star Wars" jokes to send up the new wave of Manifest Destiny.

11. The Concretes "The Concretes"
12. Magnetic Fields "i"
13. Earlimart "Treble & Tremble"
14. Patti Smith "Trampin'"
15. The Polyphonic Spree "Together We're Heavy"
16. Nick Cave "The Lyre of Orpheus/Abbatoir Blues"
17. The Minus 5 "At the Organ"
18. Black Moth Super Rainbow "Start a People"
19. Cee-Lo "Cee-Lo Green is the Soul Machine"
20. Preston School of Industry "Monsoon"
21. Air "Talkie Walkie"
22. MTX "Yesterday Rules"
23. N.E.R.D. "Fly or Die"
24. The Minus 5 "In Rock"
25. Aerosmith "Honkin' on Bobo"
26. Dizzee Rascal "Boy in Da Corner"
27. Phantom Planet "Phantom Planet"
28. The Hives "Tyrannosaurus Hives"
29. Wynkataug Monks "Tanks"
30. The Working Poor "New Wealth"
31. Dilated Peoples "Neighborhood Watch"
32. Beastie Boys "To The 5 Boroughs"
33. Midlake "Bamnan & Slivercork"
34. Brian Wilson "Smile"
35. Arcade Fire "Funeral"
36. The Sermon "Volume"
37. Bigger Lovers "This Affair Never Happened?"
38. Sonic Youth "Sonic Nurse"
39. The Donnas "Gold Medal"
40. Heiruspecs "A Tiger Dancing"
41. Kanye West "The College Dropout"
42. Thee Shams "Please Yourself"
43. Twilight Singers "She Loves You"
44. The Living End "Modern Artillery"
45. Boxstep "Back Roads"
46. Joe Jackson "Live: Afterlife"
47. Rich Robinson "Paper"
48. Bon Mots "Le Main Drag"
49. Jill Scott "Beautifully Human"
50. Weird War "If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em"

2004's BEST POP CD / Scott Mervis
Top of the List: Kanye West

Friday, December 31, 2004
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This was a tough one to compile, as so many releases this year had six, seven, eight great songs, but fell short of going all the way. Modest Mouse, The Killers, TV on the Radio, Steve Earle and Jadakiss all made it interesting, but here's my Top 10:

Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Artist of the Year, Rookie of the Year, give it all to Kanye. The ace producer, having survived a car wreck and semester at college, steps to the mic for a debut that ranks with the best hip-hop records ever. While walking that line between the backpack poets and bling-rappers, Kanye not only delivers the best radio hits ("Through the Wire," "Slow Jamz," "Jesus Walks"), he fills the record with humor, irony and straight talk on the way things are. "Thank God I ain't too cool for the safe belt," he raps. Amen to that.

The scores of "emo" bands who carry on about God-knows-what could take a lesson from this grieving Montreal combo that is breathtaking in its emotional scope and lyrical beauty. Recalling the greatness of the Pixies, Talking Heads, Bjork, even U2, it's the music for a movie climax and it keeps you guessing with every turn.

More of the same, only better, on this second effort by a New York band brings to mind a big, muscular Joy Division. In a perfect world, it was blasting out of car radios all year.

It's not as easily digestible as last year's debut, but hip-hop/two-step star Mike Skinner remains an original voice and his travails on the streets of London, regarding a unfaithful girlfriend and a missing 1,000 quid, have a charming, indie-movie quality.

It has to be on every list, right? For good reason. Jack White adds a dose of black magic to the diva's timeless torch and twang, making for one of the year's best and most unlikely marriages.

After all these years, it's still all about Morrissey. Jesus, though, will be glad to know that The Moz forgives him for putting him in these bones and skin. The record is uneven, but the suffering is exquisite.

The Philly rocker shakes the speakers with thinking-man's punk that carries a passion for the issues and a healthy dose of songcraft.

Sure, he sings like his mouth is full and his post-D-Generation sound owes a big debt to Ryan Adams, but he pours his heart and all his great melodies into these songs about lovable losers.

No black magic from Jack White here. Just the black eye he gave frontman Jason Stollsteimer. The Von Bondies strike back with a savage garage record that rocks from start to finish.

With so many bands wanting to sound like The Cure, Robert Smith comes back to show how it's done. But the band's 13th record is no mere nostalgia trip, as the passion is real and white-hot.

Top of the List: David Bowie

Friday, December 31, 2004
By Ed Masley, Scott Mervis, John Young & John Artale

It may have been a bad year for the concert industry, but for people who actually go to shows, 2004 was pretty decent. Sure, you would have had to drive to Cleveland, D.C., Akron or some other nearby hub if you wanted to see Franz Ferdinand, the Pixies, Interpol, the Libertines or Brian Wilson doing "Smile," but hey, it's more about the shows we did get, right? And those were often great, from veteran acts checking in at the top of their game (see Prince and Bowie) to an impassioned performance at the Brew House by the most exciting name in punk, Ted Leo.

Benedum Center, May 17

A truly religious experience, Bowie's stop at the Benedum found him in excellent voice and in total command of the stage, approaching everything from "Rebel Rebel" to "All The Young Dudes" with not just passion but a level of enthusiasm that artists half his age have trouble faking. And the new songs held their own against the classics, of which there were many ("Fame," "The Man Who Sold the World," "Heroes," "Hang Onto Yourself," "Ziggy Stardust," "Under Pressure," "Ashes to Ashes," "Quicksand" "Changes," "Life on Mars?" and a jaw-dropping "Station To Station").

Mellon Arena, April 14

The artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince swung back into town to remind us what we missed all those years when he wasn't quite himself. Fans entering the arena actually got a copy of "Musicology," his then yet-to-be-released album, but it wasn't a night for Prince to hit his faithful with something they didn't know. He was there to celebrate his back catalog, and, at a youthful 45, has never seemed more happy or gregarious than he did in the round surrounded by adoring fans and The New Power Generation, a lean, mean, eight-piece Funkadelic with all the weapons of a small militia.

Brew House, Dec. 3

In the course of three amazing albums, Leo and his Pharmacists have raised the stakes for modern punk by reconnecting with the spirit of its most inspired pioneers, The Clash, while shrugging off the boundaries that have all too often held the music to a shadow of its former greatness. And they were even better live, treating the sold-out crowd to a ragged yet electrifying set, fueled by the singer's impassioned response to the Bushification of America, that made at least three truths self-evident -- Chris Wilson is a force of nature on the drums, there is no better catalog in modern punk and Leo has the most amazing upper register to hit the punk scene since the Undertones.

Chevrolet Amphitheater, July 15

We knew that piano man Folds could do Jerry Lee Lewis and Elton John, but there was a priceless moment when he seemed to be turning into Robert Plant as well. Folds was electrifying on this tour-closing show that found the three acts mixing and matching and revealing great chemistry and affection for each other.

Point State Park, June 6

When the latest edition of Wilco arrived at the Point for a second appearance in two years at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, "A Ghost Is Born" had yet to be delivered. But that didn't stop the band from treating fans to all but two selections from the album, a sprawling collection of post-Americana art-rock, veering from Krautrock to post-punk abandon, barnyard twang to a bludgeoning Crazy Horse power-chord stomp while channeling the feedback-driven chaos at the heart of Sonic Youth. They played some songs from "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," too, which were brilliant, of course. And "California Stars," which was nice.

Point State Park, June 9

If Smith has mellowed in the almost 30 years since "Horses" announced the arrival of a revolutionary artist, she's still got the fire to summon the spirit of those early records, both in new material and old, in a festival show that didn't shy away from quietly impassioned ballads anymore than it avoided moments as electrifying as "Free Money." The singer established a playful rapport with her audience early on and never lost it. But for all her offbeat humor, Smith was plenty serious about a need for a change in November, reminding fans that "People Have The Power" is more than just a very '80s-sounding anthem.

Byham, May 13

On good nights, performers and their audiences are symbiotic. And at their height, they work together like David Byrne and the crowd at the Byham. Byrne took the stage with his three-piece core band and the six-member Tosca Strings for songs from the new disc "Grown Backwards." Later, the aisles were packed with sweaty dancers as Byrne's stripped-down quartet rolled out classics like "Road to Nowhere," "Once in a Lifetime" and "Life During Wartime."

Oct. 22, Rock Club

Cut from the same cloth as ol' Woody Guthrie, Earle rode in 11 days before the election with more than two hours of material that dealt head-on with war, politics and the struggles of the American people. The gritty country rocker focused on his excellent new record, "The Revolution Starts Now," but he also broke from the news of the day for wonderful interludes with opening act Allison Moorer, a trip down "Copperhead Road" and a blistering version of the Beatles' "Revolution."

Mellon Arena, Oct. 6

First, the rapper/producer proved that his brilliance extends to the live arena. Accompanied by deejay A-Trak and singer-pianist John Legend, West was a ball of energy, ricocheting across the stage while nailing all the complex raps from his magnificent debut, "The College Dropout." Usher, the year's biggest-selling artist, then wooed his faithful with high-tech gadgetry, sexy come-ons and the best set of abs in the biz.

Rex Theater, Nov. 10

A 10-year reunion of one of contemporary music's eternal contenders inspired a short domestic tour along with a fine new album. They played The Rex to an appreciative audience made up of prior converts, which was, of course, a shame. Mark Eitzel's songs possess the power to break and heal hearts, and he'll never find a more complementary sound than this band provides for them. Unfortunately, success remains poetically out of reach. I guess that's to be expected as they once again just miss the zeitgeist in a landscape where The Scissor Sisters are considered the great gay hope of 2004.

Flood Aid 2004 with Bruce Springsteen, Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers and more (Heinz Hall, Dec. 8); Metallica (Mellon Arena, Sept. 22); Damien Rice/The Frames (Byham, Easter Sunday); John Cale (The World, Oct. 8); Sum 41 (A.J. Palumbo Center, Nov. 11); The Paybacks (31st Street Pub, July 3); John Wesley Harding with Scott McCaughey and Doug Julin (July 10, Club Cafe); Mr. T Experience (Feb. 20, Club Laga); Aerosmith/Cheap Trick (June 18, Post-Gazette Pavilion); Fountains of Wayne (July 25, Hartwood Acres).

Rolling Stone Magazine Critics Best Of...

2004 was a year for protesting and dancing . . . but not necessarily in that order. Just ask our critics, who chose the intercontinental grooves of Scotland's Franz Ferdinand and Las Vegas' the Killers slightly more often than Green Day's Bush-bashing punk-rock opera American Idiot and Nellie McKay's Norah Jones antidote Get Away From Me.

It was also a year for blockbuster breakouts (Kanye West's The College Dropout), tearful goodbyes (Elliott Smith's From a Basement on the Hill) and impressive returns to form (U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.)

1. Green Day, American Idiot (Warner Bros.): As impressive as the ambition of the album is, it wouldn't mean a thing without the songs. Green Day delivered the most memorable tracks of their career.
2. PJ Harvey, Uh Huh Her (Island): It's easy to take her for granted, but if a new artist had come out with this record, critics would still be drying their underwear.
3. Tom Waits, Real Gone (Epitaph): From instructional dance numbers to anti-war ballads, another brilliant and wide-reaching collection from an artist who seems to be working on a different plane.
4. Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous (Barsuk): The L.A. band serves up a delicious smattering of indie hooks that reminds us that pop can have substance as well as be fun.
5. Twilight Singers, She Loves You (One Little Indian): Greg Dulli took songs from artists as wide-ranging as Bjork and Mary J. Blige and made them into his own soulful, twisted tales of love.
6. Midnight Movies, Midnight Movies (Emperor Norton): Conjuring up memories of Nineties critical faves the Geraldine Fibbers, this L.A. trio delivered a rocking and mind-expanding trip into alternative psychedelia.
7. Beta Band, From Heroes to Zeroes (Astralwerks): The Scottish band announced their breakup shortly after the album's release, definitely leaving us wanting more.
8. Patti Smith, Trampin' (Columbia): Smith might be mellowing a bit musically, but she remains an eloquent and moving spokeswoman.
9. Various Artists, Garden State Soundtrack (Epic Soundtrax): A smart collection of indie and alternative songs that came to new life in writer/director Zach Braff's opus (and the best film of the year).
10. Nellie McKay, Get Away From Me (Columbia): In a very strong year for debut artists, her eclecticism and wit shone through.
Reissue: Dream Sydnicate, Ghost Stories (Rykodisc): A tough call between this and Jeff Buckley's expanded Grace, but this unheralded 1988 collection of guitar-heavy alternative rockers shouldn't be overlooked twice.

1. Alexisonfire, Watch Out! (Equal Vision): A Canadian phenomenon (gold with no radio support), the "screamo" band is forcing the industry to pay attention.
2. K-Os, Joyful Rebellion (Astralwerks): The singer/rapper is a destined superstar -- opinionated, respectful and innovative.
3. Muse, Absolution (Warner): Finding its place before Ours and sticking to it more than Radiohead, Muse are headed for the pantheon of power trios.
4. Avril Lavigne, Under My Skin (Arista): Pushing herself as a songwriter and musician (guitar, piano, drums), Avril is a little powerhouse, whose talent the media doesn't recognize, or want to see.
5. The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice): Lower-class charmer Mike Skinner is the musical equivalent of Coronation Street, unpacking the mundane shit in his 'ead into odd brilliance.
6. The Killers, Hot Fuss (Island): Catchy, dark, and a killer use of Eighties influences.
7. Velvet Revolver, Contraband (RCA): They made it intact -- on record, at retail and out of rehab.
8. Rachael Yamagata, Happenstance (RCA): There hasn't been too much in the way of cool, new non-pop females, but Yamagata has the potential to push the limits.
9. Death From Above 1979, You're a Woman, I'm a Machine (Vice): They're a two-piece; they're a machine.
10. Keane, Hopes and Fears (Interscope): Soaring, sweet guitarless piano pop that stuns you into submission.
Reissue: The Clash, London Calling -- The Legacy Edition (Legacy): The band's political and social messages still call twenty-five years later.

1. Bill Janovitz and Crown Victoria, Fireworks on TV! (Q Division): A passionate, heartfelt album from the Buffalo Tom singer that includes the first-ever ballad about jailed schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau.
2. Greta Gertler and Peccadillo, Nervous Breakthroughs (Goldfish Prize): This Australian-born, Brooklyn-based singer draws on European classical and Burt Bacharach for this appealing set of chamber pop.
3. Jessie Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, Oh, My Girl (Barsuk): Heavy on the Southern Gothic overtones, this group's bleak music casts a hypnotic spell.
4. Paul Brill, New Pagan Love Song (Scarlet Shame): The electronics used on this record doesn't overwhelm but rather enhances Brill's thoughtful and arresting melancholic Americana folk.
5. Patti Smith, Trampin' (Columbia): The somber meditations and driving rock on the godmother of punk's latest shows why her music is still vital today.
6. Prince, Musicology (NPG): A spiritual but no less seductive Purple One emerges on this fine return to the straightforward, old-school funk he pioneered.
7. Caetano Veloso, A Foreign Sound (Nonesuch): The Brazilian legend's English language album is an exquisitely crafted effort that covers standards, Dylan, Cobain and that horrible dreck "Feelings."
8. The Von Bondies, Pawn Shoppe Heart (Sire): On their second studio album, the Detroit rockers deliver exhilarating garage punk that does that city's favorite sons the Stooges and MC5 proud.
9. Sam Phillips, A Boot and a Shoe (Nonesuch): Spare and elegant bohemian folk pop for the adult-alternative crowd, sung in Phillips' distinctive world-weary voice.
10. Duran Duran, Astronaut (Epic): The Fab Five reunion album is a satisfying, infectious throwback to the razzle dazzle of past glories.
Reissue: The Velvet Underground, Live at Max's Kansas City (Atlantic/Rhino): The legendary bootlegged show, now in its entirety, captures Lou Reed's final hurrah with the band. Notorious poor sound quality remains intact.

1. Clinic, Winchester Cathedral (Domino): One of the most underrated bands on the planet continues its streak.
2. Madvillain, Madvillainy (Stones Throw): Madlib and MF Doom team up for an intensely blunted, shambolic masterpiece.
3. Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre ): Top songwriting and ethereal, intelligent folk tunes.
4. Devin the Dude, To Tha X-Treme (Rap-A-Lot): Sensitive player tales from Texas' best export.
5. Ghostface, The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam): Another predictably brilliant and freaky set of jams from the Wu's MVP.
6. Kerrier District, Kerrier District (Rephlex): Luke Vibert proves his genius again with the weirdo disco album of the year.
7. Phoenix, Alphabetical (Astralwerks): Supreme electronic pop straight outta Paris.
8. Battles, B EP (Dim Mak): Heavy, funky post-rock for your next drunken house party.
9. M83, Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts (Mute): Lush analog noise pop . . . fluff free.
10. Dizzee Rascal, Showtime (XL): Dizze Diz said it best himself, "I'm a lovely lad/I'll give you the loveliest beatin' that you ever had".
Reissue: Can, Ege Bamyasi (Mute): Remastered version of Krautrock's finest moments.

1. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic): Their SXSW show was not just a rare believe-the-hype performance -- it actually felt like being in a packed tent at the Reading Festival.
2. Nellie McKay, Get Away From Me (Columbia): She writes 'em better than she raps 'em, but otherwise, Nellie's the not-exactly-nineteen Prefab Sprout-meets-Sondheim-meets-Bill-Hicks chanteuse of anybody's dreams.
3. Razorlight, Up All Night (Universal): "England's Strokes?" How 'bout, England's best mash-up of riff, minimalism, melodrama and source material since Definitely Maybe.
4. Camper Van Beethoven, New Roman Times (Pitch-a-Tent/Vanguard): This lysergic lefty rock-opera was woefully overlooked, as both a political statement and a mind-scramblingly eclectic (yet cohesive) addition to the CVB ouevre.
5. The Dears, No Cities Left (spinART): Prog romanticism from a Smiths-obsessed black guy with a Jewish name (Murray), three swarthy dudes who think they're Black Sabbath and two beauties playing keyboards.
6. The Futureheads, The Futureheads (StarTime International/Sire): Bafflingly named after a Flaming Lips album, this U.K. foursome is young, not-so-dumb and full of drums . . . and harmonies, and sharply constructed, less-is-more jackhammer pop.
8. The Libertines, The Libertines (Rough Trade): Peter Doherty may be more fucked up than Courtney Love -- he's certainly a better songwriter. Carl Barat? Kinda like Dave Grohl by comparison.
9. Electrelane, The Power Out (Too Pure/Beggars): Moody, groovy, hypnotic and, yes, original (except for that mild Stereolab influence). Even better live -- gritty, loud and downright fun.
9. Plush, Underfed (Drag City): A stripped-down version of nutter Liam Hayes' massively budgeted (and orchestrated) Japan-only brood-soul masterpiece.
10. Athlete, Vehicles and Animals (Astralwerks): Not so much a great album as hooky single after hooky single after hooky single -- finally available in the U.S.
Reissue: Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins (Matador): The best record of 1994, 2004 and quite possibly, every year in between. Often misinterpreted as "snarky" or post-modern.

1. The Dears, No Cities Left (spinART): A Baroque rock masterwork from Murray "The Black Morrissey" Lightburn and his merry men and women of Montreal.
2. The Futureheads, The Futureheads (Sire): Not a single jerky guitar riff or vocal yelp is wasted on this sharp, punchy debut from these northern England boys. Bonus points for the Kate Bush cover.
3. Wilco, A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch): Alternately melodic, hypnotic and chaotic, Ghost is the rare sound of a mighty rock band moving forward.
4. Ricky Fante, Rewind (Virgin): Muscle Shoals soul for the new millennium. Derivative? Sure. But if we can stomach 9,000 Stooges, what's wrong with a guy who does Wilson Pickett proud?
5. The Trashcan Sinatras, Weightlifting (spinART): Bankruptcy didn't kill Britpop's cleverest tunesmiths -- it just gave them more time to write.
6. Gilles Peterson, In Brazil (Ether): Pasty white British DJ journeys to the tropics and discovers the soundtrack of the summer. Imprevisto indeed.
7. Iron and Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop): Sam Beam's exquisite acoustic gothic ballads evoke Simon and Garfunkel . . . if they ran moonshine.
8. U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb(Interscope): Muscular and often majestic, Bomb is the return to form that everybody pretended the last record was.
9. Van Hunt, Van Hunt (Capitol): Sweet soul that doesn't commit crimes against manliness.
10. Rufus Wainwright, Want Two (Geffen): The long-delayed sequel to Want One is even more pretty . . . and witty . . . and gay.
Reissue: Bettye Swann, Bettye Swann(Astralwerks): Long-lost countrified soul sister who served up heartbreaking originals with inspired reworkings of Merle Haggard, Hank Cochran . . . and the Brothers Gibb.

1. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic): Best thing to come out of Scotland since kilts, the art-school underground takes a swig and ends up at a swinging disco.
2. Devendra Banhart, Nino Rojo (Young God): Always look for a wandering troubadour like this fella to remind us that the best songs aren't just magical, they are about animals.
3. Animal Collective, Sung Tongs (Label): Unexpected shades of Beach Boys loveliness elevate the rustic fourth album from these kooks.
4. Ghost, Hypnotic Underworld (Drag City): Reclusive Japanese group delivers a magnum opus of prog-psych-folk that the sixties should have.
5. Blonde Redhead, Misery Is a Butterfly (4AD): Kazu and the Pace twins conjure the gauzy, dramatic dream world of torturous love.
6. Paul Weller, Studio 150 (V2): Covers collections are simply never this inspired. Pure mod gold.
7. Holly Golightly, Slowly But Surely (Damaged Goods): This English dame makes beatnik rock and sophisticated roots music that defies the term garage.
8. Van Hunt, Van Hunt (Capitol): Apparently the son of a pimp, Van Hunt's debut shows us the sleazy wee hours as seen through the smoky lens of neo-soul.
9. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (Anti): Cave brings the dark and light together, the gore and good on this gospel-infused two-album collection.
10. CocoRosie, La Maison de Mon Reve (Touch and Go): Bizarre and beautiful jazzy pop (like Billie Holiday singing into a dictaphone), possibly recorded in a Paris bathtub.
Reissue: Various, Eccentric Soul: The Bandit Label (The Numero Group): Obscure Chicago soul unearthed complete with a freaky back-story.

1. Kanye West, College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella): His sonics are gospel and blues rooted, and anyone who can make hardcore hip-hop heads nod to rhymes about Jesus deserves props.
2. De La Soul, The Grind Date (Sanctuary): Packed with nostalgic soul samples, De La Soul check in with their best album since 1991's De La Soul Is Dead.
3. Jay-Z and Linkin Park, Collision Course (Warner Bros.): Not to be outdone by the unauthorized Grey Album, Jay-Z doesn't lose any street cred on this rockin' mash-up with Linkin Park.
4. VHS or Beta, Night On Fire (Astralwerks): With dance-pop melodies that recall Duran Duran, this Louisville band sound straight out of London circa 1984.
5. K-Os, Joyful Rebellion (Virgin): With his socially aware rhymes and reggae-tinged beats, this thoughtful Canadian MC could be the Bob Marley of the hip-hop generation.
6. Jill Scott, Beautifully Human (Hidden Beach): A more subdued offering than her vivid debut, but jazzy Jill still holds it down for independent sisters livin' life like its golden.
7. Chaka Khan, Classikhan (Earthsong/Sanctuary): Note to Rod Stewart: Classy soul siren Chaka Khan recorded a compelling collection of standards without sounding the least bit schmaltzy.
8. Saul Williams, Saul Williams (The Fader Label): Although not as genre-bending as Amethyst Rock Star, Williams continues to walk the taut rope between theatrical hip-hop and thrash rock.
9. Prince, Musicology (Columbia): His name is Prince, and he's still funky.
10. Van Hunt, Van Hunt (Capitol): Lyrically, Van Hunt combines Prince's masochistic tendencies with Curtis Mayfield's knack for poignantly portraying ghetto life.
Reissue: Britney Spears, Greatest Hits: My Prerogative (Jive): It took two quickie marriages, but we finally get it: Britney's really not that innocent, which makes her Lolita-pop even more delicious.

1. Mylo, Destroy Rock and Roll (Breast Fed): Perfect organic electronica -- oxymoron be damned -- vivid and wildly imaginative. Surely this was born on a windswept Scottish isle. And it was.
2. The Go! Team, Thunder Lightning Strike (Memphis Industries): Torch bearers of the obscure double-dutch beats revival, these South Englanders made a hand-clap masterwork for the grownups' playground, a.k.a. dancefloor.
3. Razorlight, Up All Night (Universal): Goddammit all, I couldn't not love these guys. CRAP!
4. Rosalia de Souza, Garota Differente (Schema): A squad of noodling phenoms meet de Souza's honey tongue and the end is world's greater than either part. Extra double thumbs-up for the breathtaking rethink of "Maria Moita."
5. Kanye West, College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella): Why "School Spirit" wasn't the single biggest hip-hop smash of the year I will never understand. But he had a few other hits, so that's cool.
6. Erlend Oye, DJ-Kicks (Studio K-7): Not totally sure who's remixing what here, but I am sure I don't care. If all house music were this lovely, I might consider moving to Europe.
7. The Futureheads, The Futureheades (Sire): Hands down winners of the neo-angular movement, and bless you lads for having a sense of humor. Doubters need only see them live once.
8. Team America World Police, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Atlantic): Listworthy for "Everyone Has AIDS" alone, a laugh-'til-you-hurl slice of spot-on satirical genius, tailor made for "thespians" everywhere.
9. Decapitated, The Negation (Earache): In an otherwise lame year for death/thrash, these pissed Polocks unleashed a furious but precise kielbasa of hate.
10. The Fauxknees , I Know I Am but What Are You? (Ajendah): And the Grammy for best song title of the year goes to, "The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Absolutely Positively Suck." Funny. Because it's true.
Reissue: Perfect, Once, Twice, Three Times a Maybe (Ryko): The omission of "Peg Song" was criminal, but otherwise thrilled to have this rock & roll hostage finally liberated.

1. U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope): It's official: U2 are, without a doubt, the biggest and best rock band in the world.
2. Ryan Adams, Love Is Hell (Lost Highway): The brilliant, brooding counterpart to 2003's Rock N Roll fuses two brilliant EPs to make one stellar long player.
3. Keane, Hopes and Fears (Interscope): Less like Coldplay than the hype would have you believe, but in some ways more magical.
4. Bad Religion, The Empire Strikes First (Epitaph): Probing questions and scorching riffs collide as Graffin and Gurewitz craft the punk album of the year.
5. Green Day, American Idiot (Reprise): An addictive, forceful and disillusioned masterpiece well worth a four-year wait. See you again in 2008, fellas.
6. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Epic): Good news for people who always believed in a man named Isaac Brock.
7. Robyn Hitchcock, Spooked (Yep Roc): As inventive and peculiar as ever, Hitchcock teams with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings for what may be the warmest album of his twenty-five-year career.
8. The Killers, Hot Fuss (Island): As glittery as their Las Vegas home base and infectious as hell.
9. Uncut, Those Who Were Hung Hang Here (Paper Bag): Jagged riffs and hypnotic beats yield the album Interpol should have made.
10. Stereotypes, 2 (Earthling): Garage-punk fireworks and Aussie-like Rickenbacker pop collide with exhilarating results.
The Kinks The Village Green Preservation Society (Deluxe Expanded Edition) (Sanctuary): The Davies Brothers' finest-ever album gets expanded from fifteen to an epic sixty-two songs! Take that, London Calling.

1. The Arcade Fire, Funeral (Merge): Straight out of the gate, this eccentric Montreal quintet produced an incredible album jammed with wild, heartfelt pop songs about death and life. The year's most impressive debut.
2. Elliott Smith, From a Basement on the Hill (Anti-): This proves that, before his violent death, Smith was actually creating the most beautiful and ambitious music of his career. Leaves us wondering what more he could have done.
3. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic): Though un-listenable by year's end, this was one of the punchiest albums of 2004. Long live the skinny tie.
4. The Libertines, The Libertines (Sanctuary): For all the talk of Pete Doherty's crack-cum-heroin habit, the much bigger thrill would have been if these Clash disciples had stuck together.
5. The Walkmen, Bows and Arrows (Record Collection): One of New York's greatest live bands, these moody boys are getting closer to capturing the intensity of their shows. "The Rat" is the rock song of the year.
6. Nirvana, With the Lights Out (Geffen): A must-have collection of rarities, unreleased tracks and early amateur video footage from the trio that mashed the Pixies, late punk and early blues into an angry, unbeatable sound.
7. Rufus Wainwright, Want Two (DreamWorks): This generation's daring diva turns his operatic voice, lush arrangements and obscure allegories into songs that combine the eighteenth century with Chelsea Hotel decadence.
8. Bjork, Medulla (Elektra): The Icelandic artiste makes as many sounds as possible from the human voice, from her own showboating to Rahzel's beatbox. You have to respect an art project like this.
9. The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice): Mike Skinner keeps the hipsters happy while continuing to prove that white Englishmen can rap.
10. The Unicorns, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? (Alien8): Obsessed with ghouls and rainbows, this Montreal trio won over the indie set with "Tuff Ghost," in which the dead brag about how they can lift weights without sweating.
Reissue: Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins (Matador): This double-disc reissue of the indie godfathers' best album showcases their only pop hit, "Cut Your Hair," alongside some of their most crafted, prog-rock experiments.

1. Ollabelle, Ollabelle (Columbia): A bunch of white New Yorkers who sound like they grew up in New Orleans Baptist churches, Ollabelle give a whole new meaning to gospel soul.
2. Neko Case, The Tigers Have Spoken (Anti): Neko's live, unadorned voice embodies what country music is supposed to be all about: real emotion. No artificial sweetening needed.
3. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic): Pure pop for now people. Or maybe we should call it "pop rocks" -- energetic explosions of flavor just when you need 'em.
4. Bob Schneider, I'm Good Now (Shockorama): Schneider's rockin', punky, funky and slightly reggae-ish styles convey a G. Love/Jack Johnson kinship, which we can toast with "a glass of see ya laterade."
5. The Flatlanders, Wheels of Fortune (New West): You can call it country, Americana, or whatever the hell you want. Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock are what Texas music is all about.
6. Patty Griffin, Impossible Dream (ATO): She may be a "sensitive singer-songwriter," but Griffin's emotive lyrics and angelic soprano are things of beauty that transcend such simple tags.
7. Wilco, A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch): It takes a few listens to plumb the depths of this disc, but subtlety is just another facet of Jeff Tweedy's brilliance.
8. The Zutons, Who Killed . . . the Zutons? (Epic): Sucking up music history like a sponge, the Zutons rewrite it with unpredictable twists, but never let us forget the Kinks-y brilliance of their forebears.
9. The Hives, Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope): Because we always need brash boys who wanna be rock gods, and the Hives' Swedish shtick makes their attempt at world domination that much more interesting.
10. Steve Earle, Live From Austin TX (New West): Earle's first Austin City Limits performance was filled with the heady promise -- and slight cockiness -- of a hot young talent just breaking big.
Reissue: Faces, Five Guys Walk Into a Bar . . . (Rhino): This box illuminates just how big a role these five fun-lovin' guys -- Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones -- had on all the rock that followed.

1. The Mooney Suzuki, Alive and Amplified (Columbia): The Mooney Suzuki's dirty rock is spit-shined on their second album, giving it not as much of a polish as a more distinct definition of their Kiss-meet-T. Rex style.
2. Phoenix, Alphabetical (Astralwerks): This French group's sophomore effort defines perfect pop much the same way Andy Gibb did, all the while maintaining a cool, independent edge.
3. Martina Topley-Bird, Anything (Palm Pictures): Spine-chilling, seductive and languid, Tricky's muse has a caressing voice that is as open and vulnerable as a wound, as strong and solid as lead.
4. The Delays, Faded Seaside Glamour (Rough Trade): Greg Gilbert's delicate, effeminate vocals give this album a graceful tone that harvests from the past with a sensitive touch that results in tasteful modern pop.
5. The Cooper Temple Clause, Kick Up the Fire and Let the Flames Break Loose (RCA): The Coopers are not afraid to rock out, or to show emotion. They charge you up with the hard stuff and give you an antidote to calm you down.
6. The Libertines, The Libertines (Rough Trade): Bringing back all that is appealing about being a rock star, the Libertines' carefree, mindless, disorganized sound is packed with Clash-like punchy tunes and hooky choruses.
7. The Shore, The Shore (Maverick): With their dreamy harmonies, grand instrumentals and genuine emotion, this Los Angeles trio is the answer to Verve fans' prayers.
8. Angela McCluskey, The Things We Do (Manhattan): Billie Holiday is living through this Scottish diva's classic torch singing. Heartbreakingly tender, searing and intense, there's a sense of timelessness.
9. Earlimart, Treble and Tremble (Palm Pictures): All about extremes, devastating lows and great highs, there is elegant depression here as well as overwhelming doom and anger, all balanced with finesse.
10. West Indian Girl, West Indian Girl (Astralwerks): What the Stone Roses and Ride were doing fifteen years ago is taken to a higher level of dreamy experimentalism here, infused with both aural (and otherwise) influences.
Reissue: The Clash, London Calling -- The Legacy Edition (Sony Legacy): Some things just get better with time. A whole new appreciation for the Clash is fostered with this Special Edition remastering of the original recording.

1. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (Interscope): On this inspired collaboration with Jack White, the tough and tender country treasure proves she can rock.
2. Tony Joe White, The Heroines (Sanctuary): White loves the coolest women in country music -- Lucinda, Emmylou, Shelby Lynne and Jessi Colter -- and they love him back on this collection of duets.
3. William Shatner, Has Been (ShoutFactory!): Who says a gag can't lead to a great album? Shatner teams with Ben Folds, like they once did for, to make introspective talking pop.
4. Tegan and Sara, So Jealous (Vapor): Gay twin sisters who fly folk songs through Eighties synth-pop sensibility, emerging like Sleater-Kinney on a sugar bender. A Red State antidote.
5. Demolition String Band, Where the Wild Flowers Grow: The Songs of Ola Belle Reed (Okra-Tone): Thank you Elena Skye and Boo Reiners for honoring the late Ola Belle Reed, a remarkable banjoist, songwriter ("High on a Mountain") and Appalachian music legend.
6. The Holmes Brothers, Simple Truths (Alligator): They dwell at that sublime intersection of rock, blues, gospel and soul, and it doesn't stop them from covering Willie Nelson, Hank Williams and Bob Marley.
7. Guy Davis, Legacy (Red House): Davis offers his soul to the devil and challenges his teenage son to swap hip-hop for blues. Devil says no thanks, son says no way.
8. Jolie Holland, Escondida (Anti): Holland's sweet voice is jazz, like a horn playing improbable note bends, and her travel tales and broken-hearted poems are bleak and haunting.
9. Nellie McKay, Get Away From Me (Columbia): McKay is a drag queen, political analyst and dog lover wrapped up in the body of a perky twenty-something, piano-playing chanteuse.
10. Dios, Dios (Star Time): Like that "other" band from Hawthorne, California, the Beach Boys, Dios (now "Dios Malos" thanks to Ronnie James Dio's legal threats) makes complex, soaring SoCal-soaked pop.
Reissue: Various Artists, Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970 (Lost Highway):Memphis wasn't the only Tennessee city where Southern soul helped invent rock. The R&B singers here, like Arthur Alexander and Etta James, cut their best sides in Nashvegas.

1. David Berkeley, After the Wrecking Ships (Ten Good): The Atlanta-based troubadour's second album explodes with ripe vignettes, historically based and timelessly rendered with shades of Nick Drake and David Ackles.
2. Patty Griffin, Impossible Dream (ATO): Griffin sounds stressed, frustrated, remorseful, spent yet beautifully poised throughout this mournful and hopeful song cycle of acoustic guitar and piano ballads.
3. Mark Lanegan, Bubblegum (Beggars Banquet): Former Screaming Trees leader and modern-day Northwestern blues singer turns on the electricity and duets with PJ Harvey.
4. Ataxia, Automatic Writing (Record Collection): This is what you get when you lock the Chili Peppers' John Frusciante in a room after a night of listening to Nineties German Krautrock.
5. Tom Waits, Real Gone (Epitaph): This is what you get when you lock Tom Waits in a room with no piano. Dirty sounds made darker by habit.
6. Jens Lekman, When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog (Secretly Canadian): One minute he's the new Magnetic Fields, the next he's Tim Buckley. Behind the mimic and wiseguy rest sublime melodies.
7. John Frusciante, Shadows Collide With People (Warner Bros.): As a solo act, Frusciante can do anything, and he's determined to do just that as he dances from genre to genre.
8. Iron and Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop): Quiet, reflective songs that at first whisper past then gently nag your conscience with the subtle hooks in place.
9. Anders Parker, Tell It to the Dust (Baryon): Is it country with hints of psychedelia or psychedelia with hints of country? Parker drops the Varnaline name and stands proudly alone.
10. Tom McRae, Just Like Blood (Nettwerk): Winner of the now annual Nick Drake award in England, McRae makes an album too lush for its own good. No need to hide, mate.
Reissue: Various Artists, Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the 80s Underground (Rhino): Music from the decade that happened by innuendo and rumor. Four CDs that tell a very different story than radio and MTV.

1. Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous (Brute/Beaute): Jenny Lewis and Co.'s sophomore effort is appropriately titled. Lewis has perfected the ambivalent love song, and it's beautiful.
2. Kanye West, College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella): West was always a respected producer but he's proven that he has what it takes to be in front of the mike too. Plus he has God on his side.
3. The Killers, Hot Fuss (Island): The Killers know this year's sound de jour favors Eighties nostalgia and New Wave grooves, but the Vegas band pens solid songs including "Somebody Told Me," definitely the single of the year.
4. Bjork, Medulla (Elektra): Bjork's choral opus Medulla is a challenging tangle of human voices, sensual chanting and primal rhythms that evokes secret, corporal landscapes (she says the disc was inspired by her pregnancy).
5. Nellie McKay, Get Away From Me (Columbia): Three cheers for Nellie McKay for assuming the needed role as the anti-Norah. This brassy double-disc is audacious fun.
6. The Dears, No Cities Left (Spin Art): The Dears are masters at sweeping psychedelic pop with romantic bursts.
7. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (Interscope): Thanks Jack White for revitalizing Lynn's career. The hype is true. This disc is divine.
8. Air, Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks): This French duo creates warm, electronic spaces that soothe and seduce. Listen to their silky harmonies crest amid layers of textured, keyboard-led pop.
9. PJ Harvey, Uh Huh Her (Island): PJ Harvey is back at her raw best. Stripped to grumbling electric guitars, nervy bass and drums, Harvey growls and stomps through her spindly tunes.
10. Blonde Redhead, Misery Is a Butterfly (4AD): Misery Is a Butterfly is Blonde Redhead's most realized disc to date, a fragile collection of atmospheric compositions.
Reissue: Jeff Buckley, Grace (Columbia): This reissue reminds us what a voice the late Buckley had and offers a generous second-disc for fanatics.

1. Kanye West, College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella): Sure, it bridged the gap between gangstas and backpackers, but it also sounded cooler than any other record all year.
2. The Hives, Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope): A gigantic, though admittedly subtle, step forward from their Stooges-inspired breakthrough that was strangely slept on.
3. Jadakiss, Kiss of Death (Interscope): Now that Jay-Z's, um, retired, there's pretty much nobody with a more compelling flow. And here he's even got something to flow about.
4. The Von Bondies, Pawn Shoppe Heart (Sire): "C'mon C'mon" is such a throttling tune, it's lost no potency despite having been sold to every advertiser that's come a-calling. The rest of the album almost lives up to it.
5. Dogs Die in Hot Cars, Please Describe Yourself (V2): Scottish five-piece makes a buoyant pop album that nods to a bunch of bands you never knew you missed (Dexy's Midnight Runners, XTC, Madness).
6. The Hiss, Panic Movement (Sanctuary): You can play spot the influences (Led Zeppelin, MC5, Oasis) all day, but the raw power of this debut is impossible to ignore. Though many did.
7. Elliott Smith, From a Basement on the Hill (Anti-): Lionizing the dead is such a cliche, but sometimes they deserve to be lionized. An imperfect, yet still utterly enthralling swan song.
8. The Distillers, Coral Fang (Reprise): Far and away the best Courtney Love album of the year.
9. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (Interscope): Put aside all the Jack White hype and the critical salivating and you still have one hell of a Loretta Lynn album.
10. Cee-Lo, Cee-Lo Green Is the Soul Machine (Arista): Cee-Lo is doing things with soul, funk and hip-hop that not even his hometown compadres in OutKast can hold a candle to.
Reissue: Vic Chesnutt, West of Rome (New West): The best of a series of four reissues of early work as Chesnutt was wobbling poetically between his redneck roots and his bohemian future.

1. Eagles of Death Metal, Peace Love Death Metal (Ant Acid Audio): Another year, another Queens of the Stone Age side band. But Eagles of Death Metal are the best yet -- down and dirty rock & roll.
2. Queen, On Fire: Live at the Bowl (Hollywood): Sure I like the Darkness, but this is the real deal. No frontman could touch Freddie during his 'moustache era.'
3. Various Artists, Freaks and Geeks: Original Soundtrack and Score (Shout Factory): The greatest TV show ever finally gets a soundtrack release. Perfect balance of the original score and Seventies/Eighties nuggets ("Groove Line," anyone?).
4. Probot, Probot (Southern Lord): Who knew Dave Grohl could hang with the mullet-sporting, tight-Iron Maiden-shirt-wearing set?
5. Todd Rundgren, Liars (Sanctuary): You'd think it's still 1982 from all the synths here. Doesn't matter to Todd though -- he's equipped with his best new tunes in ages.
6. Paul Weller, Studio 150 (V2): Covers rarely top the originals, but Weller succeeds more times than not.
7. Chris Goss/Masters of Reality, Give Us Barabbas (Brownhouse): Answers the popular question -- What would it sound like if the Beatles jammed with Black Sabbath?
8. Mike Watt, The Secondman's Middle Stand (Columbia/Red Ink): The only album to ever feature a storyline that centers around the bursting of an internal abscess in a perineum (with Hammond Organ, to boot!).
9. William Shatner, Has Been (Shout Factory): The squaring off of Shatner and Henry Rollins in "I Can't Get Behind That" is the most intense bout since Rocky Balboa vs. Clubber Lang.
10. Fantomas, Delirium Cordia (Ipecac): One song, seventy-four minutes. Guaranteed to numb your brain.
Reissue: Talking Heads, The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads (Rhino): We all knew that the Talking Heads were one of the greatest live bands from Stop Making Sense, but this expanded double-disc set confirms it.

1. Les Savy Fav, Inches (Frenchkiss): Les Savy Fav's brash and confident art-punk sound, highlighted on this collection of singles and B sides, combines pounding drums, angular guitars and lyrics that are screamed more than sung.
2. Madvillain, Madvillainy (Stones Throw): The result of a collaboration between two underground hip-hop heavyweights, Madvillainy brings together MF Doom's gritty, imaginative rhymes with Madlib's jazzy beats.
3. Arcade Fire, Funeral (Merge): This Montreal group's lush, emotive and disarming debut dazzles with a potent mix of twinkling piano, weeping strings and soaring vocals.
4. Elliott Smith, From a Basement on the Hill (Anti-): Amid some controversy, Smith's estate reworked some of the tracks on this album before releasing it. Still, the songs showcase his unmistakable blend of delicate melodies and hushed angst.
5. Tangiers, Never Bring You Pleasure (Sonic Unyon): This Toronto group's taut, retro-sounding guitar rock is punctuated by sunny keyboards and the strong vocals of guitarist Josh Reichmann and bassist James Sayce, who split the album's songwriting duties.
6. The Beta Band, Heroes to Zeros (AstralWerks): The final album by experimental Scottish rockers the Beta Band distills their noisy, layered, multi-instrumental sound into polished pop gems.
7. TV on the Radio, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go): Commanding lead vocals backed by a striking falsetto deliver introspective lyrics over a brooding and murky sonic landscape.
8. The Futureheads, The Futureheads (Sire): Produced by Gang of Four's Andy Gill, The Futureheads brings together brisk post-punk with pronounced, British Invasion-style vocal harmonies.
9. Brian Wilson, SMiLE (Nonesuch): Wilson's self-described "teenage symphony to God," a collection of intricate and shimmering pop tunes, took more than thirty years to see its release.
10. The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice/Atlantic): Mike Skinner returns with more witty, slice-of-life rhymes, this time with a stronger storyline and sparser, more experimental production.
Reissue: The Kinks, The Village Green Preservation Society (Sanctuary): Casual fans of the group's once-slept-on masterpiece will enjoy the collection of bonus tracks; rabid listeners will gush over the full mono edition.

1. Joseph Arthur, Our Shadows Will Remain (Vector): The singer-songwriter from Akron weaves his dark tales through tempestuous music, and Shadows is as good as music gets.
2. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic): The most exciting debut since Talking Heads, Gang of Four and others of their ilk hit the scene. Filled with explosive energy and lacerating wit.
3. Sarah Fimm, Nexus (Sarah Fimm LLC): She sings like an angel - seraphim . . . get it? -- and her dark, haunting and very lush music calls to mind Sarah McLachlan and Peter Gabriel.
4. Little Axe, Champagne and Grits (Real World): Just your average blues album -- if the band was from Mars. Very spacey stuff.
5. PJ Harvey, Uh Huh Her (Island): The parental advisory sticker offers a clue that Harvey hasn't yet settled down or found true happiness, which is a good thing for us.
6. Martin Gordon, The Joy of More Hogwash (Radiant Future): The former Sparks bassist crafts clever pop that's every bit as twisted as the best of Robyn Hitchcock, yet rocks like Cheap Trick.
7. Youssou N'Dour, Egypt (Label): A huge departure from the mbalax-style music on his previous works, Egypt features orchestral sounds behind these songs about N'Dour's Sufi faith.
8. David Byrne, Grown Backwards (Nonesuch): Who else would have the balls to tackle a couple of arias -- and who else could make you want to listen again?
9. Broken Spindles, Fulfilled/Complere (Saddle Creek): The Faint's Joel Petersen takes a break for a solo project, and it's filled with angular, intelligent rock.
10. Jan Garbarek, In Praise of Dreams (ECM): Manu Katche (Peter Gabriel, Sting) brings loops and his usual superb drumming to the great sax player and composer's music.
Reissue: Brian Eno, Before and After Science (Astralwerks): Eno's early solo efforts are some of the most fascinating, ground-breaking efforts in all of rock, and this oddly beautiful one tops the list.

1. Terri Hendrix, The Art of Removing Wallpaper (Wilory): Americana-folk-pop's most consistently refreshing voice reveals her most personal (and even sensual) collection of songs yet, and fires fearless broadsides at Clear Channel and religious hypocrites just for good measure.
2. U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope): Yeah, technically, they're still backpedaling. But whether they're moving forward, backward or running to stand still, U2 remain timeless, and their latest "miracle drug" packs one hell of an emotional wallop.
3. Chrissy Flatt, Walk With Kings ( A "singer-songwriter" with a rocker's bite and a wicked way with melody worthy of Del Shannon and Buddy Holly. Not bad with a Kinks cover, either.
4. Nellie McKay, Get Away From Me (Sony): Why split an hour's worth of music over two discs? Because there's too much talent, wit, charm and inventive pizzazz here to fit onto just one. The year's best debut.
5. Jon Dee Graham, The Great Battle (New West): The former True Believers guitarist's fourth solo album is half ragged, rocking and raw and half tender and wise. At its best (the title track), it's all that at once.
6. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (Anti-): The Gospel according to Nick, chock-full of supernatural wrath and beauty. Staggering in lyrical wit and musical scope.
7. Wilco, A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch): I don't have a clue what "pure bug beauty" is, but I'm pretty sure it sounds just like this. I'm also sure that no song has ever sounded better on an open road than "Spiders (Kidsmoke)."
8. The Real Heroes, Greetings From Russia (Rec. Center): Proof that prime Bowie and Cheap Trick go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Austin's Real Heroes are the best rock band in America you haven't heard of. Yet.
9. Kasey Chambers, Wayward Angel (Warner Bros.): Motherhood and mainstream success (at least Down Under) have polished away some of her gritty edge, but her one-of-a-kind voice and melodic instincts remain impeccable.
10. The Tragically Hip, In Between Evolution (Zoe): Canada's answer to R.E.M., U2 and occasionally even the Rolling Stones serve up their best batch of anthems since 1998's Phantom Power.
Reissue: The Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies (Konk/Velvel/Koch): The deluxe, three-CD import Village Green Preservation Society is a doozy, but all those bonus tracks pale next to the ramshackle beauty of Ray Davies' "Americana" album in glorious SACD.

1. Van Hunt, Van Hunt (Capitol): Not a clunker in the bunch. The singer-songwriter-guitarist channels Sly Stone, speaks from his soul and performs his sexy electric funk soul with disarming conviction.
2. Rogue Wave, Out of the Shadow (Sub Pop): David Rogue packs quite a punch with his cynical, drole observations. He spices his lyrics with enough irony to prick up the ears.
3. Jill Scott, Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2 (Hidden Beach): A neo-soulful chronicle of life in love, Beautifully Human dashes any worries of Scott suffering from sophomore jinx.
4. Patty Griffin, Impossible Dream (ATO): This collection of new and old songs sounds dewy fresh, with Griffin showing off her powerhouse angelic vocals and ever-more impressive songwriting craftsmanship.
5. Mos Def, The New Danger (Geffen): Rap fans waited impatiently for this sophomore solo. Def finally delivers the goods -- getting freaky, keeping political and riding a smooth flow all the way.
6. Anthony David, 3 Chords and a Guitar (Brash Music): The singer-songwriter cut his teeth on India Arie's Acoustic Soul. Varied in tone and texture, the honest 3 Chords makes a solid case for neo-soul's future.
7. David Kilgour, Frozen Orange (Merge): Who'da thunk the Clean's proto-punk would release such a pretty indie? Melodies rule, and Kilgour's guitar playing, jangly and expressive, melts the heart.
8. Brad Mehldau, Live in Tokyo (Nonesuch): Tokyo made this best-of primarily for the jazz pianist's version of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android." The nineteen-minute opus is worth the price of the CD.
9. Sarah Harmer, All of Our Names (Cold Snap/Zoe): Singer-songwriter Harmer shares tales of obsession and loss with little fuss and no muss. She does pop right: clean, adult and eminently listenable.
10. Iron and Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop): With very little vocal inflection but a wellspring of folk's soul, Sam Beam manages to knock down tall buildings with a single, soft word. His modern folk leaves your heart rendered and grateful.
Reissue: U2, The Complete U2 (Universal): The career-spanning retrospective includes limited-edition singles, rarely heard live tracks and the Edge's singular guitar work all over the place. Thank heaven.

1. Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Funeral for a Friend (Ropeadope): A start-to-finish New Orleans jazz funeral celebrates life in perfect sonic and reverential form. Everyone belongs in the second line for this stunning recording.
2. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic): Furious fun and a beat you can dance to. Rock hasn't been this fun in quite a while.
3. Mofro, Lochloosa (Swampland): Bringing a bit of the Florida swampland to your town, Mofro's second studio release is nothing less than a perfect groove. Down home, dirty soul.
4. Gift of Gab, Fourth Dimensional Rocketships Going Up (Quannum Projects): Blackalicious frontman Gab dials back the beats and focuses instead on his chilled out wordplay skittering over Seventies-flavored soul.
5. Danger Mouse, The Grey Album (bootleg): Part of this honor falls merely to the genius behind bringing such two divergent artists together seamlessly. But beyond the concept, Danger Mouse actually created a terrific record.
6. Green Day, American Idiot (Reprise): Their first records revealed Green Day's smarts, but this epic "rock opera" was still a surprise. The band's best record since Dookie.
7. The Killers, Hot Fuss (Island): The first half of Hot Fuss clearly outshines the second, but is so freakin' good that it still deserves a slot here.
8. Iron and Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop): Sam Beam comes out of the mud room and makes an aural step forward while holding tightly to his hushed folk lullabyes.
9. The Walkmen, Bows and Arrows (Record Collection): Edgy atmospheric soundscapes from a super-tight band that knows its way around a musical arrangement. Urgent rock that fires straight to the heart.
10. Cardigans, Long Gone Before Daylight (Koch): Forget sugary pop -- Nina Persson is best suited for the lights-low, bedroom eyes that these songs suggest.
Reissue: Candi Staton, Candi Staton (Astralwerks): Damn. Before her disco era hits, Staton was a soul singer. A phenomenal soul singer whose voice, on the twenty-six tracks here, reveals raw emotion rarely heard.

1. Green Day, American Idiot (Reprise): Green Day aren't just for kids, though American Idiot is the the best teenage rock opera since Tommy (and it makes more sense).
2. Camper Van Beethoven, New Roman Times (Pitch-a-tent/Vanguard): Another rock opera from a band with Bay Area roots. Add last year's Greendale and you've got a made-in-Cali contemporary protest music trilogy.
3. Morrissey, You Are the Quarry (Attack): He's mad at America and the world situation too and he turned his rage into his best songs since the wicked good ones on Viva Hate.
4. Chuck Prophet, Age of Miracles (New West): San Franciscan Prophet is at the controls of his best-ever studio effort; vocalist Stephanie "I Saw Farenheit 911 Twice" Finch is solid gold.
5. Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat (Rough Trade): Politically at large, siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger's anger is directed at each other and is more palpable than Jack and Meg's.
6. Soledad Brothers, Voice of Treason (Sanctuary): These militant Rust Belt rockers could be from Frisco: Named after a Black Panther prison gang, they rock as raw as the Flamin' Groovies.
7. The Black Keys, Rubber Factory (Fat Possum): If Ohio's Black Keys had run for president, there would have been no confusion over who won their home state.
8. Mark Lanegan, Bubblegum (Beggar's Banquet): Blues from the blue state of Washington, Lanegan has more gravel on his vocal chords than original rapper Waits.
9. Tom Waits, Real Gone (Epitaph): Simply because all wretched year long, there was no sadder song than "The Day After Tomorrow."
10. Los Lobos, Ride This (Hollywood): When they cover Waits and "Shoot Out the Lights," it makes me forget all the all the crap that went down this year.
Reissue: The Clash, London Calling (Legacy): The definitive statement from the band that still matters now more than ever; their least political, yet it's their most potent piece of work.

1. Danger Mouse, The Grey Album (bootleg): Astounding art project combining the best pop group of all time, a reigning rapper and a guy in a mouse suit.
2. Muse, Absolution (Warner Bros): Yes, they sound like some other bands. They'll also fry your brainpan.
3. Ray LaMontagne, Trouble (RCA): Yes, he sounds like some other singer-songwriters. He'll also knock you to your knees.
4. Iron and Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop): Honey hush.
Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (Interscope): With Jack White, a match made in Gothic heaven. Far superior to Tammy Wynette's collaboration with the KLF.
6. The Dears, No Cities Left (spinART): Black Canadian named Murray makes the best Morrissey album since the Smiths broke up. Eh?
7. Nick Cave, Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus (Anti-): How many other rockers keep getting better with age? The answer might be zero.
8. Elliott Smith, From a Basement on the Hill (Anti-): Unfinished? The life, not the last album.
9. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Shake the Sheets (Lookout): Everyone's favorite Commie-pinko Jersey mall rat.
10. Brian Wilson, SMiLE (Nonesuch): Our Prayer: Old Master Painter, Song for Children. Wonderful. Surf's Up!
Reissue: Various Artists, The Hip Hop Box (Hip-O): Imperfect -- what, no Snoop? no LL? -- but a damn fine starter kit, spanning a quarter-century and a remarkably broad range of styles.

1. Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino/Epic): This is a no-brainer. These Scots are so quicksilver with a hook and beat, it's like they cut the songs out with an Exacto knife.
2. TV on the Radio, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch & Go): Alienation from self and the mystery of the soul are just two of the themes these heady Brooklynites grapple with on this fearless debut.
3. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters (Universal): Imagine Elton John as a twentysomething at a gender-bender party in Manhattan's meatpacking district and you're getting there. Fitting for the party and the hangover.
4. A.C. Newman, The Slow Wonder (Matador): Gracious pop from the main New Pornographer: inventive, expressive songs with airy, autumnal harmonies and starched guitars. "Come Crash" is the perfect denouement to an Indian summer.
5. Devendra Banhart, Rejoicing in the Hands (Young God): The reigning prince of the San Francisco freak-folk scene, Banhart is a raving vagabond finger-picking and giggling his way through sixteen gorgeously earthy songs.
6. Joanna Newsom, The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City): Freak-folk's fairest maiden, Newsom's wizened tender-then-steely vocals and childlike fascination with fairytales and the arcane beautifully round out her harp compositions.
7. VHS or Beta, Night on Fire (Astralwerks): A hedonist's last hurrah that lights up the darkest corners of the dance club with delightfully narcotic guitar licks and calculated yet soulful vocals.
8. The Legends , Up Against the Legends (Lakeshore 5): For the fuzzy Phil Spector handclaps alone, this album would soar, but we're also treated to some of the most flawless mod-inflected slow pop in years.
9. Interpol, Antics (Matador): After the hype, these N.Y.C. gothsters could've derailed. Instead, they pulled back the drapes and allowed a little bright light to infuse the murk.
10. Blonde Redhead, Misery Is a Butterfly (Label): Finally! The international trio ditches its preoccupation with noise rock and takes flight with a beautifully restrained moodpiece inspired by the most dramatic of film scores.
Reissue: Talking Heads, The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads [Expanded] (Rhino): A showcase of the seminal Eighties band at its most edgy and primordial. Byrne is all stutters and screeches as he catalogs the creepily mundane.

1. Ron Sexsmith, Retriever (Nettwerk): This guy probably comes up with melodies in his sleep. Each remarkable album somehow beats out the previous album. The best singer-songwriter out there.
2. Charlie Mars, Charlie Mars (V2): Easily the most addictive album of the year. Soaring pop/rock from a Southerner who's here for the long haul.
3. The Killers, Hot Fuss (Island): Hooks galore, these guys naturally go from a Cure-ish vibe to mainstream power-pop appeal and make both elements relevant and captivating.
4. Jesse Malin, The Heat (Artemis): Queens spokesman follows up seminal debut with equally majestic follow-up, fusing keen, city-life poeticisms with witty realism.
5. Julie Roberts, Julie Roberts (Mercury): South Carolina-bred soulful crooner takes mainstream country to another level with beautifully cohesive writing, song selection and interpretation.
6. Drive-By Truckers, The Dirty South (New West): The best of three Southern rock epics from one of the most gutsy, genuine bands in music today.
7. Todd Snider, East Nashville Skyline (Oh Boy): Initially I was skeptical and strangely standoffish of this raw recording, but, as a Snider fanatic, I came around to witness its inherent splendor.
8. Grant-Lee Phillips, Virginia Creeper (Rounder): A perfectly crafted and executed batch of Americana that indeed transports the listener to an earthier, more substantive place.
9. J.J. Cale, To Tulsa and Back (Sanctuary): Acting like not a single day has passed since his 1972 debut, the unassuming swampy, bluesy, jazzy, folky, funkster (and everything else) troubadour bears his best here.
10. The Thrills, Let's Bottle Bohemia (Virgin): More coherent than their highly touted debut, the follow-up from these Irishmen boasts "Not for All the Love in the World," a gorgeous lyrical soundscape.
Reissue: Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (Matador): One of the greatest albums of the Nineties. Pavement made it OK to be sloppy and sing off-key, but somehow everything came together with undeniable finesse.

1. Pre(thing), 22nd Century Lifestyle (V2): An acid-rock masterpiece predestined for obscurity by the untimely death of lead vocalist/guitarist Rust Epic just weeks before the CD's release.
2. Steve Morse, Major Impacts 2 (Magna Carta): A legend of instrumental guitar rock pays homage to his own influences.
3. Ambulance Ltd., Ambulance Ltd. (TVT): Penny Lane is in their ears and in their eyes.
4. Audio Karate, Lady Melody (Label): L.A. punk-rock revivalists blend disarming melody and authentic grit with a little help from producer Bill Stevenson (All, Descendents).
5. Josh Todd, You Made Me (Label): Ex-Buckcherry frontman and his eponymous new band made one of the year's best albums while keeping rock & roll in the gutter, where it belongs.
6. The Killers, Hot Fuss (Island): This Sin City foursome validated its advance hype, combining the hipster synth-pop of Duran Duran and Ultravox on the most original sounding album of the year.
7. VAST, Nude (FourFiveSix): Arena-worthy thinker rock for the modern progressive.
8. Jonny Polonsky, The Power of Sound (Loveless): Audio savant Jonny Polonsky graduates from the School of Rock with straight As to show all the whiny brat rockers how it's done.
9. Doug Gillard, Salamander (Pink Frost/Big Takeover): Flawless Beatles-esque pop that sounds like the Lemonheads meet Guided by Voices without all the substance-abuse issues.
10. Green Day, American Idiot (Reprise): Ever wondered what the Who's Tommy would sound like recorded by Green Day? Here's your answer.
Reissue: Reissue: The Clash, London Calling (Sony Legacy): Two words: Bonus DVD.

Paste Magazine's Top 20

Figuring out how Mavis Staples stacks up next to Modest Mouse or whether a solid offering from Patty Griffin beats out what might be Paul Westerberg’s best—it’s all a little like comparing Larry Bird to Walter Payton. But that’s just what we do every year with Paste’s “Signs of Life.” The following CDs prove once again that despite the best efforts of Clear Channel and MTV to hide it, good music is alive and well…

Top 20 Signs of Life in 2003

1. U2 - How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

2. Ron Sexsmith - Retriever

3. Tom Waits - Real Gone

4. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born

5. Rilo Kiley - More Adventurous

6. Patty Griffin - Impossible Dream

7. Björk - Medúlla

8. Buddy Miller - Universal United House of Prayer

9. Paul Westerberg - Folker

10. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose

11. Mindy Smith - One Moment More

12. Ray LaMontagne - Trouble

13. Midlake - Bamnan & Slivercork

14. Mavis Staples - Have A Little Faith

15. Earlimart - Treble & Tremble

16. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News

17. Jolie Holland - Escondida

18. The Polyphonic Spree - Together We're Heavy

19. Iron & Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days

20. Sam Roberts - We Were Born In A Flame

Entertainment Weekly's Best and Worst in Music

The Best-David Browne

1. The Grey Album Danger Mouse Jay-Z, meet the Beatles: Only in the age of accelerating technology could someone have thought to pinch rhymes from the rapper's Black Album and synch them up to random riffs, refrains, and snippets from the White Album. The someone in question is DJ Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton, and the result could have been a novelty worth one listen at most — the sound of an iPod with seriously crossed internal wires. Yet far from being a wack job, The Grey Album — a free download before the Beatles' reps not surprisingly put a halt to it — is the ultimate artistic validation of technology and the mash-up. Even such praise, though, doesn't hint at its ingenious merging of two generations: the hypnotic blend of ''Long, Long, Long'' and ''Public Service Announcement,'' the ''Hova!'' shout-outs in ''Encore'' newly buttressed by the guitar snarls of ''Glass Onion,'' the childhood recollections of ''December 4th'' merged with ''Mother Nature's Son.'' (The album would have been the perfect capper to Jay-Z's retirement, had he actually retired.) Rock and rap have tangled with each other for over a decade, but rarely this seamlessly. The astonishing thing about The Grey Album is that despite its mad-scientist origins, it feels more organic than so much other music released this year. It's an experiment even a Luddite — never mind a rap or Beatle hater — could love.

2. Our Shadows Will Remain Joseph Arthur On the latest in a series of formidable releases, Joseph Arthur once again sets himself apart from the cloying male singer-songwriters around him. No matter how bleak his songs start out, how bedraggled his voice sounds, or how everything seems to reflect an uncertain, despondent (perhaps post-9/11) outlook, the music always fumbles its way toward a fragile splendor.

3. Rubber Factory The Black Keys White blues this straight-up and formal (as opposed to the White Stripes' frenzied makeover) hasn't been relevant since the days of the first Woodstock, but this guitar-drum duo from Ohio doesn't know or care. On their third album, they sound both primitive and completely realized. The Keys rekindle the era of lo-fi, big boogie, and frazzled slide guitars that can peel paint off walls. Just as important, they revive the notion that rock & roll should be murky and mysterious, a stumble into a dark alley late at night.

4. The College Dropout Kanye West How miraculous is this? Let us count the ways. It's a miracle that a producer best known for behind-the-scenes work could make an album of his own that hangs together so well, from the Goth hip-hop of ''Jesus Walks'' to the celestial R&B of ''Spaceship.'' It's a miracle that West and his numerous guests (Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, even Jamie Foxx) can work in themes of discrimination, racial profiling, and that overused word faith without sounding pedantic, thanks to rhymes that are funny, sarcastic, and sensible. It's a miracle the jokes aren't as lame as they are on too many hip-hop albums. And it's a miracle that this unexpectedly strong debut makes you forgive West's preference for very un-street cardigans.

5. Van Lear Rose Loretta Lynn In a welcome change from the last decade, women in country grew more ornery and blue-collar this year; for once, they didn't seem to be aiming solely for a shot at appearing in hair-coloring ads. Gretchen Wilson's Here for the Party has plenty of spark, and one of its high points, ''Homewrecker,'' could have been a Loretta Lynn song. If you want a dose of the real thing, though, the original honky-tonk heroine is back, acting as if men are still rogues and rascals and subjects like prison and death are still a large part of the Nashville landscape. Lynn sings, astonishingly, as if the '60s (and her heyday) had never ended, and Jack White approaches his job as producer and bandleader in the same inspired way.

6. Afrodisiac Brandy Or What Happens When You Allow a Scrub to Enter Your Life, Screw You Over, and Leave. Brandy remains the queen of the R&B murmur — no American Idol-style shrieking for her — but the producers, especially the ever-inventive Timbaland, compensate with dramatic, rumbly, off-kilter beats and tones that add gravitas to this rueful ex-teen star. Everything — the rhythms, the mopey songs, Brandy's delivery — simmers, but ferociously. Left-field sample of the year: the snippet of Coldplay's ''Clocks'' in ''Should I Go.''

7. Uh Huh Her PJ Harvey Polly Jean Harvey revisits her roots, which in her case means a return to the minimalist attack of her earliest CDs. Once more, she sounds like a pent-up dog scratching at the door, desperate to get out. What could have been a wrongheaded step back, though, is actually a reinforcement of her powers as a singer, writer, and musician. Whether swoony, irate, or conciliatory, the woman can still project.

8. From a Basement on the Hill Elliott Smith On his final recordings, Elliott Smith certainly has moments when he sounds like the debilitated junkie he was reported to be: ''Whiskey works better than beer,'' indeed. But nothing about Smith's command of graceful melody and pop-art arranging feels remotely strung out. The album is a requiem not only for him but also for the beautifully tranquilized alt-folk he invented and perfected during his brief lifetime.

9. American Idiot Green Day As someone who's never warmed much to (a) rock operas and (b) Green Day, especially once they discovered ballads, I wasn't prepared to admire their shot at a concept album. But who knew it would be this inventive, varied, fun, and musical? Expanding their musical vocabulary (classic-rock vets: Find the nods to Mott the Hoople, Queen, and Sha Na Na!), this ode from Billie Joe makes the case that it is possible to drag punk into some form of maturity.

10.Bows + Arrows The Walkmen If there's such a thing as indie-rock cabaret, this is it. And if anyone could make such a potentially horrific idea sound valid, it's the Walkmen. The garage-rock revival already feels wobbly, but these New Yorkers' woozy, hungover adventure, especially the unstoppable sonic whirlwind that is ''The Rat,'' will be one of its lasting monuments.

The Best-Tom Sinclair

1. Fly or Die N.E.R.D. Plenty of bands purport to ignore boundaries and move between genres with ease, but these fellas actually do, tap-dancing from rock to pop to soul to hip-hop to fusion and beyond with blithe confidence and an infectious, freewheeling sense of fun. Here's hoping Pharrell and Chad keep raking in those Neptunes bucks (as long as some of the money goes toward underwriting more N.E.R.D. albums).

2. Harder and Harder The Paybacks Raw-voiced Paybacks singer-guitarist Wendy Case is so hardcore she makes the Donnas sound like Sarah McLachlan. Play this for the next fool who tells you ''chicks don't rock.''

3. Love Songs for Patriots American Music Club Apolitical slackers, commie pinkos, left-wing folkies, and unwashed anarchists might want to cock an ear to these supremely moody, moving songs, too.

4. Franz Ferdinand Franz Ferdinand These new-wavey Scots manage to sound both traditional and absolutely au courant — as if a great skinny-tie band from the early '80s were thawed out after having been cryogenically frozen for 20 years and emerged sounding all the better for the experience.

5. Rubber Factory The Black Keys Aw, yeah, boyee — this is one badass blues explosion! We get the boogie fever just thinking about it.

6. Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes TV on the Radio This platter of urban tone poems is better for your mental and spiritual well-being than an hour in front of the TV or the radio.

7. Who Killed……The Zutons The Zutons Funny, we were wondering who killed good-time rock & roll party music, the kind with rockabilly attitude and saxophone solos — until the Zutons came along.

8. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb U2 Somehow, that feeling of vertigo — or is it nausea? — we get from exposure to so much of the blow-dried pop crap in the Top 40 vanishes on contact with a good U2 album. And this is a very good one.

9. Daddy Wants a Cold Beer and Other Million Sellers The A-Bones The double-CD compilation from this overlooked garage act is just the thing for all you retro-leaning hepcats and kitties primed for some all-night boppin'. (You know who you are.)

10. Survival of the Sickest Saliva All right, all right, we admit it. Maybe we are sick, because a certain strain of unpretentious old-school mook metal makes us salivate like a pack of friggin' Pavlov's dogs. What's it to ya, anyway?

The Worst-David Browne

1. Inspiration William Hung Compiling a list of the year's dreariest music isn't as easy as it sounds: Sure, tons of discs are released each year that are dull, mediocre, or trite. But it takes a genuine talent — or lack of it — to make a truly hideous album. That's the case with this American Idol mascot's cash-in. A racist, exploitive joke seemingly meant for all but Hung, it was offensive in ways far beyond Hung's out-of-tune ''singing.'' That it was a flop doesn't let it off the hook.

2. Together We're Heavy The Polyphonic Spree These would-be gospel-pop cultists aren't heavy, just faux: Everything about them, from their Jesus-freak robes to their smiley-faced orchestral pop, feels gratingly fake. Overly earnest acts can be intolerable, but pretend-earnest bands are far worse.

3. California Wilson Phillips Nostalgic for the early '90s? This collection of embalmed classic-rock covers will cure you, fast.

4. Encore Eminem Think what you will of him, but he's never been tedious, repetitive, or musically sluggish — until now. (The lone exception here: the politically charged ''Mosh.'') His single with D12, ''My Band,'' was worse, but we don't expect much from that lineup. Eminem on his own, however, is capable of more than this indolent toss-off.

5. Around the Sun R.E.M. The depressing sound of a band barely able to muster the energy to write and record music that lives up to their remarkable legacy. They really do need Bill Berry back.


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