Original Soul

This time, it's personal: Our look back at an intimate year in music.

Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism
After 2002's precious Give Up, from Death Cab for Cutie front man Ben Gibbard's side band the Postal Service, garnered a warm reception, hopes were high that the next Death Cab album would shine brighter than its last, 2001's The Photo Album. Gibbard and crew delivered with Transatlanticism, an epic work that deserves to be absorbed through thousand-dollar headphones. From the crashing opening chords of "New Year" to the delicate acoustic finger-picking of the final track, "A Lack of Color," Transatlanticism is Death Cab's crowning achievement. It's also the best album to make love to from this year. -- B.J.K.

Jay-Z's The Black Album
The first time through Jay-Z's 2001 hit "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," I misheard Shawn Carter's boast "Hova's back" as "hope is back"; over Kanye West's crackling Jackson 5 sample, the line was the hip-hop equivalent of a feel-good-movie climax -- Roy Hobbs pinch-hitting in the ninth. It's impossible to mishear Jay's hubris on The Black Album, since nearly every song surveys a personal or professional history. But that sense of hope is there for real, too, in blasts of sonic triumphalism like Just Blaze's string-swirled "December 4th," and Rick Rubin's head-banging "99 Problems," where Jay fights the law and Jay wins. -- M.W.

Michael Jackson. Yeah, him.
Michael Jackson should borrow his pal R. Kelly's luck: "One More Chance," his humdrum Kelly-produced slow jam, hasn't burned up the charts the way its inclusion on Jackson's new greatest-hits set Number Ones would suggest. And at least Kelly doesn't look like the bastard child of Liza Minnelli and Roy Horn in his mug shots. What's the bad mojo mean for Michael? Probably nothing, since if the guy has proved anything over the last couple of decades, it's that he can take a licking and keep on . . . licking? I kid. -- M.W.

Honk your horns for Johnny Cash.
Honk your horns for Johnny Cash.
He's not going to fudging take it!
He's not going to fudging take it!

Matmos' The Civil War
Most electronic artists are content to watch shadows on the wall of their underground lairs. Matmos, though, struts down the sun-drenched road less traveled. This time, MC Schmidt and Drew Daniel sport puffy-sleeved Renaissance shirts and patchwork pants by Charles Ives. Scoring "Stars and Stripes Forever" for emergency alarm system, smoothie and leather coat is my kind of Patriot Act. But it's the sound of the hurdy-gurdy, underrated for half a millennium, that best defines The Civil War. Early Mod, delightfully odd. -- C.B.

Radiohead's Hail to the Thief
Equal parts Kid A and Amnesiac, Radiohead got spacy without spacing out this time 'round with Hail to the Thief. Thom Yorke's paranoia shines through all the bleeps and blips, sounding scared honestly shitless on "A Wolf at the Door" and convincingly diseased on "Myxomatosis." The best moments, though, come during "A Punch Up at a Wedding," an uncharacteristically funky number tempered by Yorke's wry British humor. -- B.J.K.

Kid cyberpunks know their snot
Every other Saturday, middle school PC gamers take over the back room of EJoy Café in Tempe and download the music they need for their 12-hour Counterstrike marathon (which the staff deletes later). Naturally, a lot of Blink-182 songs end up in the recycle bin. On a recent Saturday, though, one of the 13-year-old cyberpunks, wearing a Sex Pistols tee shirt, loaded his MusicMatch Jukebox with something more old-school: classic snot anthems from The Clash's London Calling, mixed with cuts from Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros' posthumous 2003 release Streetcore. Fire in the hole! -- J.M.

The liberal Welsh come through in the protest clutch
American wimps, take note: The best anti-Bush song all year came from the Super Furry Animals, the eclectic Welsh pop leftists. How pathetic is that? We should still all be thankful for Super Furry front man Gruff Rhys, who penned the beautifully literate, deceptively jaunty "Liberty Belle," in which America becomes the Jezebel who ruins lives for sport -- and deserves her comeuppance. -- C.O.

Neil Young reissues On the Beach
How in the world did On the Beach stay out of print for almost 30 years? Thankfully included among four reissues of long-lost Neil Young records for Reprise, the 1974 album is a masterpiece of reflection and loneliness, of creepy vocals and weepy guitar licks. "I hear the mountains are doing fine/Morning glory is on the vine," sings Young in a tired voice on the acoustic ballad "Motion Pictures." It's the perfect stewing-in-your-dreams-in-bed-on-a-Sunday-morning kind of sentiment. -- C.O.

A child and her real "Satisfaction"
Walking toward the dairy aisle in Wild Oats Market with my 4-year-old daughter, I was surprised to hear the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" piped in for ecologically conscious shoppers. I was even more surprised to hear Skylar singing along. I knew she'd never heard that recording. Then I realized that she'd learned the words from Cat Power's spooky chorus-free cover from a few years back. The spirit of classic rock, then, seems more likely to live on in Chan Marshall's splintered voice than in Sir Mick's ermine-draped stroll. Coincidentally, Cat Power's melancholy You Are Free is on Skylar's Top 10 list. -- C.B.

Enon's Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus is the perfect college radio station packed onto one disc, a Cadillac Seville flattened to the width of a candy bar. I love how the angular outbursts of John Schmersal (Brainiac) play off the tick-tock honey of Toko Yasuda (Blonde Redhead). And just when you worry that the record is reeling out of control, Matt Schulz's drumming fuses with the warm and fuzzy sampled beats to steady the helm. I can listen for hours without getting bored. The single that wasn't, "Daughter in the House of Fools," is sticky enough to score a foreign car commercial. -- C.B.

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