Eric Michener, Fishboy
Brian Wilson, Smile (Nonesuch): Mr. Wilson started his greatest composition around the time my dad was my age. Like myself, he didn't think much of the Beach Boys until his girlfriend (my mom) forced him to listen a little deeper. Not only does the album hold up after 36 years, it serves as a "never give up" lesson to perfectionists everywhere.
Daniel Hopkins, Radiant*
Salim Nourallah, Polaroid (Western Vinyl): Salim's work on this album makes me feel like it's fun to be sad. Songs like "One Foot Stuck In The Past" and "Nothing Ever Goes Right" hit home with me more than any other record I've heard in a long time.
Paul Slocum and Lauren Gray, Tree Wave
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, The Doldrums (Paw Tracks): It's this ghostly lo-fi pop with all the drums made by beat-boxing. Animal Collective heard Ariel's demo CD-R and released it on their Paw Tracks label this year. Lauren says it's like Frank Zappa meets Prince. It's bizarre but grows on you like lichens.
Toby Pipes, Deep Blue Something/The Hundred Inevitables
Morrissey, You Are The Quarry (Attack): Morrissey finally recaptured the melancholy genius of his youth with one of his best solo records yet. Granted, Quarry's not perfect: I hate when people sing the word "hamburger," and Morrissey really sounds stupid when he does it, and I miss Johnny Marr on guitar. But lines like these make up for it: "Even I/Sick and depraved/A traveler to the grave/I would never be you." Mmm, good times.
Mike Rudnicki, Baboon
The Arcade Fire, Funeral (Merge): Funeral emotes without histrionics (or at least not in the negative sense) and features some nice nostalgic-for-childhood lyrics. It also features piano, strings, horn and accordion along with the requisite guitar/bass/drums. Early U2, early Talking Heads and the Pixies come to mind. Tahiti, solo hip-hop artist
Strange Fruit Project, Soul Travelin' (Black Son): 2004 was crazy! War, elections, beheadings, terror attacks, unemployment and so on, and Soul Travelin', the sophomore effort from the Waco hip-hop trio, gave me refuge from the madness. The smooth, neo-soul-influenced tracks and positive lyrics wound up being the perfect escape.
Eric Pulido, Midlake
Rufus Wainwright, Want Two (Geffen): In a time where most music is a manufactured template of lackluster, songless dross, Rufus Wainwright has emerged once again, ignoring the atmosphere around him and creating timeless music. Want Two, his second installment of Want, is a lush masterpiece evoking what most of his failing peers have forgotten--a good song.
Ashley Cromeens, Record Hop
The Night Game, The Night Game (self-released): OMG. This album gives you the endurance you'd need to slaughter a vampire, or better yet, fall in love. Kyle Cheatam, who used to play in the Pointy Shoe Factory, writes melodies you wish you'd written but never could, and I like to describe the result as dark pop.
Colin Boyd, Colin Boyd Band and solo acoustic performer
Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (Interscope): Ignore the oddity of Loretta's pairing with Jack White, and you're left with a great record. Loretta still sings like she did 30 years ago, and Jack White shines as her producer/sideman, topping off her great voice and great songs with a big, loud Fender Telecaster.
Keith Killoren, Budapest One
Will Johnson, Vultures Await (Misra): It's not just the soft spot that I have for the heroes of Centro-matic, nor the fact that Will kept Steve's BBQ in Denton alive with free shows until its fateful burning last year. It is because out of all the albums in 2004, Vultures has the greatest resolve. Will drops an endless array of heart bombs for the entire album, and then he ties it all together with "Nothing but Godzilla," a song that I will one day sing to my children before bed.