By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Zac Crain: Kanye West, The College Dropout. The only rapper "with a Benz and a backpack" satisfies both his bling-bling and basement-tape constituencies with a confessional record that gives voice to his contradictory need for more fame and more faith.
Sarah Hepola: Green Day, American Idiot. The pop-punkers return to form with the most ambitious and gratifying of the year's releases--a freaking concept album. And while everyone from Springsteen to Eminem is grappling for protest-music gravitas, Billie Joe said it best: "Welcome to a new kind of tension/All across the alien nation."
Sam Machkovech: The Arcade Fire, Funeral. An album that both lifted me up and dragged me to my knees.
Merritt Martin: PJ Harvey, Uh Huh Her. The romantic bitch is back skipping around emotions and tempos. Her vocals seduce, yet her lyrics can sting. Polly Jean remains my rock-girl idol.
Shannon Sutlief: Chin Up Chin Up, We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers. The album I'd like to write, combining sounds and styles--from dance rhythms to math-rock guitars--into tight, passionate, dance-worthy songs. I want everyone to hear it; just don't ask to borrow my copy.
Robert Wilonsky: Danger Mouse, The Grey Album. Not the best of the year--c'mon, everybody knows that's Secret Machines' Now This is Nowhere--but the most disruptive, which is hard to come by these days without flashing tit on TV.
Mikael Wood: Kanye West, The College Dropout. Better jokes and beats than the competition, not to mention more melody than much of the non-competition. Hard to say if widespread Kanye-love will spoil him, but until then: Shuffle on, you crazy diamond.
Worst Album of the Year
Machkovech: Janet Jackson, Damita Jo. "Worst" might be a stretch, but Damita Jo was still pretty ridiculous. And let's not forget how creepy it is to hear sex talk from a woman whose plastic surgery puts her on pace to look like her brother in four years.
Wood: Snoop Dogg, R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece. Even a handful of aerodynamic space-station beats and a flow as viscous as imported molasses can't redeem a hatred of women disguised as a goof. Fuck "boys will be boys."
Wilonsky: Velvet Revolver, Contraband. I hated it in 1982 and 1993, too.
Hepola: Liars, They Were Wrong So We Drowned. Unlistenable art rock made for miserable music snobs. It's all yours, boys. I prefer a little melody with my pretentious crap.
Best Single of the Year
Crain: "Yeah!," Usher (featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris). Everything a single should be--totally inescapable, instantly memorable and completely disposable.
Hepola: "Take Me Out," Franz Ferdinand. Because the world needs to dance and get it awwn.
Machkovech: "Float On," Modest Mouse. The indie-rock answer to "Hey Ya!" Isaac Brock never wrote a prettier song, and judging by the rest of 2004's Good News For People Who Love Bad News, he never will again.
Wood: "Toxic," Britney Spears. What other song offered such a tantalizing combination of fine-tuned detail and big-picture sweep? It's like watching a James Bond movie starring Eartha Kitt as 007 through a microscope. And even though I've been using the ringtone since July, I'm still not sick of it.
Wilonsky: "Toxic," Local H. Because Scott Lucas and Joe Daniels get it, and because Britney doesn't.
Worst Single of the Year
Crain: D12, "My Band." That said, it should be noted that, among his many flaws, loyalty is not a problem for Eminem. He just refuses to turn his back on these scrubs.
Hepola: Hoobastank, "The Reason." Dimestore sentiment played on the radio with roughly the frequency of a strobe light. Please kill me.
Wilonsky: Britney Spears, "My Prerogative." You've heard it, right? No? Lucky.
Machkovech: Kelis, "Milkshake." Ground beef has a longer shelf life than this overhyped turd of a song. Dishonorable mention goes to anything that came out with the words "American" or "Idol" attached to it.
Best Live Show
Hepola: Prince at American Airlines Center. Three words: Good God, y'all!
Machkovech: About 15 people showed up at Club Clearview to see the Fiery Furnaces tear through an awesome series of 20-minute songs, and the tracks off this year's outstanding Blueberry Boat rocked much more at the barren concert. Your loss, Dallas.
Wood: The Arcade Fire at New York's Bowery Ballroom. "Best"? Probably not. But with Eric Clapton, David Bowie and David Byrne in the audience, the venue crackled with excitement. Classic-rock legends = still great tastemakers!
Sutlief: The last time Morrissey played Dallas, I was a teenager with black nail polish who pushed her way to the front; no show could top that. But Moz came close in October at Will Rogers Auditorium: The tracks from You Are the Quarry were energized live and, when he played "Bigmouth Strikes Again" and "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out," the pseudo goth girl inside me knew she could die happy.
Best Local Show
Crain: Centro-matic, The Deathray Davies and [DARYL] at Gypsy Tea Room. Or maybe Bobgoblin at Double Wide. You know what? I'm gonna go with Bobgoblin at Double Wide. I was less drunk at that one.
Hepola: Erykah Badu hosted a Jam Session at the Black Forest Theater that had me smiling so much it hurt. The lineup included Common Folk, The D.O.C., Massive, Musiq and Ms. Badu. By the end, I wanted to give the whole city a hug.