1. Lil' Jon and the rise & rise of the south:He's a maniac, and what seemed a textbook one trick pony has sprouted the most fiendish legs. Check just the beginnings of his 04 hitlist: Yeah!; No Problem; Get Some Crunk in Yo System; Goodies; Let's Go; Toma; What U Gon Do. People have been popping shots at Jon, saying he's pure business, or that he can't rap. The former charge is ridiculous, the whole game is about dollars, everyone's trying to sell you their record, fool, it's just the degree to which they conceal it. The south has always had an admirable degree of candour about this aspect to their business (Luke Skyywalker invented it, Ca$h Money honed it, Lil' Jon's publicly listing it), but the real issue is still musical, those records all bang like Hiroshima. And saying he can't rap, well that's even dumber. It isn't even rap music, it's thunder and joy and the born soundtrack to execution and procreation, trying to compare it to classical NYC rap is like comparing The Godfather with Bad Boys II, and as long as Lil' Jon's addictively profane nonsense is running radio I'll keep blowing bass-bins with it.
2. Kanye West and a play for the soul of hip-hop:Kanye ran the year just as much as Jon, he just timed his run a little badly (hey, he was on debut), and let that savvy southerner steal a little of his shine. No matter, his work with Twista, Jada, Jon Legend, Brandy and, most emphatically his damn self will live forever. Saying he's the most honest mc ever would be total bullshit, really, but he seems the most regular, the one whose neuroses and general demeanour mostly closely resemble our own. Alone, enough, but to match that to a set of productions which display a virtuoso's ability on the heartstrings, well now you're starting to look a whole lot less human, kid. And shit, if Never Let You Down was his sole contrubtion to recorded music, he would still be a titan.
3.Brian Wilson at the Aotea Centre Theatre, 19/12/2004All year we'd been subject to endless reports of this rapture, filtering down to the bottom of the earth, carrying the dead certainty that it was history that would once again never make it this far south. But this was truly awe-inspiring. 19 of the most inspiring, sympathetic musicians, carrying those celestial harmonies and in a mix that defied belief, with Wilson the eternal bruised and bemused teenager, trapped in the lumpy, ill-fitting trojan horse of a paunchy 50ish man. He seemed faintly other-wordly, making strange, impenetrable hand gestures and mostly oblivious to anything beyond his autocue. Smile was mystifying, delightful, a glimpse of the purity and purpose of Wilson's world, but it couldn't compete with the limitless well of longing and emotion that the Beach Boys catalogue, so lovingly played, represented. A moment so rare you're incredulous that you even bore witness to it, but now I believe in magic.
4. Black Chiney- Supa Chiney Vol. 8.1So dancehall couldn't get near matching its monstrous takeover in 03, somehow Chiney managed to make that all irrelevant with a mixtape of spectacular audacity. Okay, so that opening blend of the Scooby Doo theme with Elephant Man's rapturous interjections seems like kids stuff, but the genius is that it never rises above that level. It makes idiocy a virtue, and in so doing plays directly to the manifest strengths of dancehall in 2004. Namely volume, repetition and melodic spasticity. So while few of the rhythm's contained therein could be called truly first rate (Kopa, Dancehall Rock, Coolie Dance and Perilous excepted) Willie Chin found the buried treasure, sequenced it immaculately, gathered some outstanding dub-plates and intersected the whole thang with the finest blunted phone calls to create a true Jamaican pearl outta a year when it seemed a long-shot at best. Plus those versions on Toxic are not far off the most thrilling sonic dichotomies of the year.
5. DJ Buddha- Caribbean ConnectionWhile Dancehall seemed to fall back a little, Reggaeton reared up from nowhere and frankly, who knows where this might end up. A scene so full of barely tapped potency it’s hurts your head to even think about for too long. I must confess to knowing dick all about this mostly impenetrable scene, except that it sounds like the most vibrant new Pop Music to have emerged in 2004, and that Buddha’s blend of it with the years baddest JA vocals (What A Tragedy; Picture This, Bounce It Right) made for a mixtape that just wouldn’t quit. And while you lose half the fun of MCing when the language barrier’s erected, that’s over-compensated by the boundless pleasures of the island cadence bursting ecstatically over those ostensibly similar productions. Plus having the sense to understand that Bun Bad Mind exists outside all earth music and thus (if it makes your tape at all) must necessarily be the last word. Word.
6. Phelps & Munro- Live at the Kings Arms
I think subconsciously most of us already knew that Slash’s solo on November Rain was about the pinnacle of humanity’s artistic achievements. We daren’t admit it to ourselves lest it render all of our carefully maintained obsessions instantly obsolete, so we squirreled the fact away, dismissing our disturbingly euphoric reaction to its airing as a strange quirk that would disappear with studied inattention. It took true courage for Phelps & Munro to laser in on the core lunatic appeal of the piece, to lovingly disassemble it and then piece by piece re-organise it into this towering construction. Initially synthesizers whir, evoking nothing but vorsprung durch technik, a focused mechanized efficiency, and for many glorious seconds only an oddly ominous tone pervades the air. But something’s brewing, there’s a ghost in this machine, and when it rears up, apropos of nothing but signaling the demise of empires it is a glorious aural explosion, as that pompous, melodramatic masterpiece is regurgitated in fascinating new forms. The crashing stadium drums reverse and submerge without rhythm or reason, the fabulously empty LA dispassion of the crescendos chop and collide like the oceans at Cape Horn, rendering a familiar pattern newly exhilarating as it endlessly deconstructs itself.
Then as suddenly as it came, it is gone. The story of a hurricane.
7. Xiu-Xiu and Electrelane and TV on the Radio and The Streets and Usher
Not the most obvious quintet but hang back in the cut a minute, please! Cuz last year there was a worrying preponderance of hella hip, mondo danceable and all-round super records that had not one part per million of regular human emotion associated with them whatsoever. The DFA, those No Wave revivalists, the Tigerbeat6 squad, all put out some great records with a huge bottom end and no feelings. So it was extremely gratifying to hear some soul bearing records, utilizing entirely different methodology but always cutting right to the very core of just how mystifying, unpleasant and occasionally magnificent it is to have a heart.
8. There is no eight.
9.Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star
I remember reading about this record a long time ago, and filing it away as something to be eventually located when I came across it. Like you do with millions of old records, but this one took forever. But finally Hamilton’s messy, fiscally retarded, Hindsight Records did me a helluva favour in dropping a vg/vg copy into my lap for NZ$4. And was it ever worth the wait. I dunno, maybe I missed the bulletin where this was hailed as an all-american classic from the pantheon waah waah, u know the listing, I never seen it anyway. But it had me jaw agape from day one, epic, tear soaked balladry, space rock galore, pearlescent AOR and sonic bravado that remains astounding even at this distance. But mainly an all too rare sense that music is vast and impenetrable and that if one is true to it then your record shouldn’t sound anything like anyone else’s. And the only record that remotely gets near the sprawling magnificence of A Wizard, A True Star is the Faust Tapes. Now, don’t get me wrong, those Germans were utterly peerless, but right now, sober and seated, AWATS seems wilder, truer and more so in every respect.
10.The re-election of George W. Bush
Because when the citizenry are unhappy, they make the most wonderful sound. Scant reward, in many respects, but we’ve had four musical years that brutalise Slick Willy’s blasé 90s, and well, I could do with four more. Nothing good can come of this time politically, economically or legislatively, but well, we are gonna get some phenomenal records between now and 2008. Sonic Nurse, American Idiot and One Beat were all products of raw indignation, and the general climate is such that music has not been in such rude health across the board since I don’t know when. Maybe Vietnam. And when you’re grasping at straws, knowing that the administration’s activities are likely to have the unintended consequence of many more exceptional records (both explicitly and implicitly political) over the next four years might be cold comfort, but it’s better than no comfort at all. Right?