I’ve been meaning to do an end-of-year musical Top Ten for a while, but I’m not sure there are really ten albums from 2004 I love enough to make up a full list. So I’ll restrict myself to just six. Also, looking at all the Top Ten lists out there, I realize that I haven’t heard many of the albums other people are raving about. (Not to mention the hipster lists that are filled with music by groups or artists I haven’t even heard of). So my list is partial, not just in the sense that it reflects my own idiosyncrasies, but also in that I may well discover belatedly that there were other albums released in 2004 that should’ve been on it.
Nevertheless, here goes:
The Pretty Toney Album (or here). I wrote about it here. It still holds up better than any other hip hop I’ve heard in 2004: the mixture of moods, the way the words both work with and cut against the (excellent) 70s soul samples, the modulations of Ghostface’s voice (boasting one moment, whining the next; now tender, now tough, now hilarious).
- The Kleptones, A Night at the Hip-Hopera.. I wrote about it here. A brilliant (both conceptually and sonically) mash-up of the music of Queen with a variety of hip hop vocal tracks. An absolutely brilliant terrorist mindfuck; of course, it’s completely illegal, which means it’s our moral duty to disseminate it as widely as possible.
Medulla (or here). This mostly a capella album is as beautiful and haunting as anything she has ever done. Cyborg music, except that here it’s human voices that serve as prosthetic digital machines, rather than the reverse. Less erotic than
Vespertine, but perhaps more sensuous, in the sense of full-body, full-voice immersion.
Afrodisiac (or here). Actually, I only rate it this highly when I listen just to the nine Timbaland tracks, skipping over the ones produced by Kanye West and others. The nine tracks form a cohesive more-than-EP (about 45 minutes), moving through different emotional registers, and ending on a note of hope. Brandy is alas not as strong or subtle a singer as Aaliyah was, but Timbaland’s production has never been better. This is R&B, of course, not rap, but it crackles rhythmically without losing either tenderness or smoothness, a combination I find affecting and compelling.
- Blonde Redhead,
Misery is a Butterfly (or here). I wrote about it here. I don’t have much to add. Seductive melancholy, like Faure’s Requiem.
- P J Harvey,
Uh Huh Her (or here). I love P J Harvey. This isn’t her best album, by any means, but it’s a return to form after her rather lame previous album. I’m not generally a fan of the strictly (and in this day and age, quite aesthetically conservative) blues-based hard rock that is Polly’s bread and butter; but there’s so much emotional intensity and perplexity roiling under the surface of her music that I’m utterly won over.
I should also mention some albums I’m just not feeling. It’s not that I hate these albums, just that I am unable to share everyone else’s enthusiasm. Kanye West’s The College Dropout just sounds kind of smug and self-congratulatory to me; the production is solid, but to my mind not extraordinary. I don’t get why it seems to have been proclaimed, by general consensus, the hip hop album of the year. People with more offbeat sensibilities are instead in love with MF Doom and Madlib’s Madvillain; all I can say is that it’s clever and all, but it doesn’t really do that much for me (maybe because I gave up smoking pot over a decade ago). The (illegal) mash-up that’s gotten the most attention this year is not the Kleptones, but DJ Dangermouse’s Grey Album; it was definitely a clever conceptual coup (Jay-Z’s Black Album + the Beatles’ White Album), but I just didn’t find it all that interesting to actually listen to.