This could easily be remembered as the year the past caught up with the present, when the stars and styles of yesterday became the fuel and fodder for artists and audiences alike.
Some of 2004's finest music featured artists exploring the past. Be it their own histories or the history of their chosen music, acts of all ages embraced that which had come before and, giving it a good kick in the nostalgics, made it new again. Here's a list of 10 of this year's top releases and the histories they embraced:
U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb: The Irish supergroup cherry-picked the most successful experiments from previous albums - anthemic vocals, skittering guitar figures, looping bass grooves and big-picture themes - and incorporated equal parts for a sound that is both new and familiar. Sure, the single Vertigo counts off one, two, three, 14, but it's a nonsensical bark backed up by musical bite.
KANYE WEST - The College Dropout: Instead of drawing on the fantasy of hip-hop - bottles of bubbly, beautiful women and plenty of bling - Mr. West expounded on his history in a bold debut. While the album bears the beat-making style that made him a favorite with the rap community, it is the stories, such as the car crash that inspired Through the Wire, that make this a standout.
BRIAN WILSON - SMiLE: Everything Beach Boy Brian Wilson has done in the past 35 years has been overshadowed by an album that never existed. Scrapped midrecording, the legendary SMiLE album was rumored to be rock's great lost masterpiece.
Turns out, the rumors were true.
This year, Mr. Wilson recorded the SMiLE songs with his Beach Boys doppelganger band The Wondermints, and the results, theatrical and rocking and sweet as summer, are just as fine as patient fans imagined.
LORETTA LYNN - Van Lear Rose: Although it sounds like nothing she has ever recorded, Van Lear Rose sounds exactly like a Loretta Lynn record should. Stripped down and played simply, the Van Lear songs are pure classic country. The songs, about women done wrong and things done right and love lost and found, are classic Lynn material and the sound, just a little raw and rough, extends and enhances their beauty and power.
DIZZEE RASCAL - Showtime: An ambitious avoidance of the sophomore slump, British MC Dizzee Rascal's second album is a personal history, a beat-laden look at a year when he went from anonymous to everywhere. By allowing himself the freedom to unearth the good and bad that fame and fortune brings, Dizzee has produced one of the most honest and accessible hip-hop albums of the past five years.
ALICE COLTRANE - Translinear Light: For Ms. Coltrane, the widow of jazz legend John Coltrane, the simple act of stepping into a studio meant embracing her history. Before laying down the tracks that became Translinear, Ms. Coltrane hadn't recorded a studio track since 1977. The result is an album that embraces her past and expands on it with improvisations filled with Eastern rhythms and the distinctive sound of her broad, bold keyboard style.
FRANZ FERDINAND - Franz Ferdinand: Close your eyes, and Scottish band Franz Ferdinand sounds for all the world like an underground act circa 1983. Playing pogo-proper post-punk, the band combines a dance-happy rhythm section with sharp guitar noise, giving a hip history lesson in the process.
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS - The Dirty South: Securing sole rights to the Southern sounds of the '70s, the Truckers followed up the 2003 album Decoration Day with a brutal, beautiful record about criminals and con men and reluctant losers trying to make ends meet in the New South. The result is a set of brawny Southern rock tunes unafraid of showing their sensitive side.
KASEY ANDERSON - Dead Roses: Plundering a treasure-trove of Americana influences, Washington-based singer-songwriter Kasey Anderson evokes the spirits of Gram Parsons and Bruce Springsteen and, yes, on occasion Johnny Cash, in this collection of hard-luck stories. While much of his style recalls aging influences, the songs are fresh and emotionally taut.
THE CLASH - London Calling: The 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition: More than a mere repackaging of this classic release, the new edition featured lost rehearsal tapes and a few tracks never heard. It also features a DVD on how the band, over the course of this one album, transformed from three-chord punk to musical amalgamators without peer.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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