By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
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.
Martin: Record Hop and Radiant*--every time I see either band I'm blown away. Record Hop's Ashley Cromeens is Dallas' PJ Harvey.
Sutlief: Little Grizzly's last show at Rubber Gloves was the perfect ending to one of my favorite local bands--a sweaty, sad affair attended by fans from down the street and across the country.
Most Overrated Album
Sutlief: Morrissey, You Are the Quarry. Previews called the album the new Your Arsenal, a throwback to Moz's day of rough-and-tumble glam, and the first single, "Irish Blood, English Heart," reinforced that. But what I got instead was a handful of great songs ("The World Is Full of Crashing Bores," "First of the Gang to Die") and a bunch of forgettable filler.
Machkovech: The Faint, Wet From Birth. For a band that became more experimental and crazy with each new-wave release, this tepid, simplified effort was a real let-down.
Hepola: TV on the Radio, Desperate Youths, Blood Thirsty Babes. I just don't get it. I really don't.
Martin: Los Lonely Boys, Los Lonely Boys. After all the hype, I finally heard that asinine single "Heaven" and nearly had to pull the car over I was so queasy. Now LLB been nominated for Grammys? Go fucking fish.
In the spirit of a New Year, is there anything you wrote this year that you regret?
Hepola: I was so disappointed by Wilco's A Ghost Is Born that I almost felt offended. Eleven minutes of white noise? Fuck you, too, Jeff. But seeing the band at the Granada totally changed my perspective. It's still not my favorite album, but like a special-needs child, I love it for what it is.
Wood: Though I wish it weren't so, Le Tigre's This Island is padded with more filler than I originally thought. Also, its pop moments aren't pop enough, and its punk moments aren't punk enough.
Is there anything unpopular that you wrote this year that you don't regret?
Machkovech: The only way I cope with my job is assuming I've never written anything unpopular.
Martin: Blues Explosion's Damage sucked ass and had no focus whatsoever.
Wood: A positive review of the Ashlee Simpson CD. Autobiography is catchy and emotional and dynamic and fun and sounds great. Who gives a shit if robots made it?
Hepola: I love you all. Oh, and that Tom Waits album? Baaad.