Hustling West Through '04

Justin Cober-Lake

Justin Cober-Lake's best of the year include two perennial PopMatters favorites, Kanye West and the Arcade Fire.

20. Apostle of Hustle -- Folkoric Feel (Arts & Crafts)
Cuba and Canada are talking, and leaving the US out of it. I'm happy.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

19. Wovenhand -- Consider the Birds (Sounds Familyre)
Gothic religious poetry set to dark music. Could be a disaster, but it's fantastic.
   :. original PopMatters review

18. Dizzee Rascal -- Boy in da Corner (Matador)
I luv it. Dizzee's the only artists with two albums in my list, thanks to the slow distribution of this UK act across the pond.
   :. original PopMatters review

17. Nels Cline Singers -- The Gian Pin (Cryptogramophone)
Remarkable jazz/blues/noise act. And you thought he was just a Wilco touring member.

16. The Fiery Furnaces -- Blueberry Boat (Sanctuary)
This is the one I didn't want to like. Too much going on, and too many inaccurate Who comparisons. Then I kept listening. And listening. Great stories, smart transitions within tracks. Mostly irresistible.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

15. Max Richter -- The Blue Notebooks (Fat Cat)
The album that launched 1000 hipsters toward classical minimalism. Absolutely gorgeous stuff.
   :. original PopMatters review

14. David Kilgour -- Frozen Orange (Merge)
New Zealand's greatest songwriter teams up with Nashville's weirdest musicians. It doesn't sound like either the Clean or Lambchop, yet somehow it's a great starting point for both.
   :. original PopMatters review

13. Ghostface -- The Pretty Toney Album (Def Jam)
Run out now to get it, it's one of the classic Wu solo albums, complete with perfect soul samples and Ghostface's talented rhyming. | buy in the PopShop

12. Devotchka -- How It Ends (Cicero Recordings)
1. Take a whole bunch of styles. 2. Add a dose of melancholy and a double-dose of beauty. 3. Shake well. 4. Enjoy.
   :. original PopMatters review

11. Sufjan Stevens -- Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre)
Stevens dropped his second great album in as many years by dropping most of the instrumentation. We're left with a gorgeous folk album that reaches from the deep south of O'Connor through the midwest and then turns skyward.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

10. Nick Cave -- Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (Anti-)
If he wasn't already there, Cave's secured his place in the pantheon of brilliant songwriters. The murder-balladeer has released all his forces and taken on the big topics. I'm surprised even the double album can contain it all.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

9. The Mountain Goats -- We Shall All Be Healed (4AD)
John Darnielle makes the stories of a bunch of speed freaks interesting, meaningful, and -- most of all -- entertaining. The guy can't miss, even when he barely sticks his head above ground.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

8. Jim White -- Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See (Luaka Bop)
White hasn't gotten nearly the respect he deserves, but Drill a Hole should change that. Even with some standout tracks, this album's a bit of a grower, but once it takes root, it stays.
   :. original PopMatters review

7. Madvillain -- Madvillainy (Stones Throw)
Beats so butter, thick tongue never stutter, words flung draw masses from outta poetry classes; flow so slick, nothing can stick, if it was crime, wouldn't be time -- it's all safe with Doom (just on nom de plume).
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

6. Dizzee Rascal -- Showtime (XL/Beggars Group)
You people are gonna respect him if it kills you. But it won't -- unless you're deathly afraid of unusual beats and rhymes to die for. So to speak. | buy in the PopShop
   :. original PopMatters review

5. Iron and Wine -- Our Endless Numbered Days (Sub Pop)
One of the year's softest albums hits the hardest. Literate folk music about death, loss, family, and death (and hanging). Yet it's as lovely as they come.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

4. John Vanderslice -- Cellar Door (Barsuk)
His characters are twisted, his vision's unique, and his production's perfect. I think I have a boy-crush.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

3. The Streets -- A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice)
Mike Skinner's created an album that almost falls into the spoken-word category. He's got no flow and his beats are ridiculous, yet he A Grand Don't Come for Free is as captivating as anything released this year.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

2. The Arcade Fire -- Funeral (Merge)
It's easy to get caught up in the discourse, the new releases, the bonus tracks, the hot b-sides, the boots, the scenes, and everything else. Then you hear something like Funeral and you remember why you need music.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

1. Kanye West -- The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella)
Guns, sex, humor, drugs, faith, death, sped-up Chaka Khan. In short, play without ceasing.
   :. original PopMatters review | buy in the PopShop

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

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​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

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There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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