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Music: best of 2004.


1. Various Artists, Radio Java (Sublime Frequencies) From the teeming airwaves of Indonesia's largest island comes this frantic and mind-blowing collage of gamelan-driven pop, saccharine jingles, muezzin calls, histrionic film dialogue, DJ banter, Javanese punk rock, and other gems, compiled by Sun City Girls' Alan Bishop.


2. Sachiko M/Toshimaru Nakamura/Otomo Yoshihide, Good Morning Good Night (Erstwhile) The reigning triumvirate of Japanese experimental improvisation presents its sublimely understated aesthetic of emptiness by way of no-record turntable, no-input mixing board, and pure sine-wave oscillator.

3. Christian Marclay, DJ Trio (Asphodel) The father of art turntablism mixes it up with some of his most adventurous offspring: Toshio Kajiwara, DJ Olive, Eric M., and Marina Rosenfeld. Marclay's hyperreferentiality is beautifully complemented by the compelling abstractions of the younger DJs.

4. Radian, Juxtaposition (Thrill Jockey) Vienna, these days, is a hothouse for hybrids of post-rock, electronica, and improv. This trio is one of the city's most magnificent specimens. Crisp grooves ground the crackling fuzz of electricity.

5. Black Dice, Creature Comforts (DFA) A beguiling mess of a record in which wobbly guitars get blasted by analog belches, effects-laden goofs, haunted-house psychedelia, and wayward noises of all sorts.

6. Various Artists, Haunted Weather (Staubgold) A superb survey of international sound art and experimental music today compiled by peerless critic and curator David Toop to accompany his new book of the same name.

7. DJ/rupture vs. Mutamassik, Shotgun Wedding Vol. I: The Bidoun Sessions (Violent Turd) Thrilling funk-filled mixes by two of the world's most expansive selectors. German dancehall and French hip-hop flow under, over, and alongside Algerian rai and Egyptian sa'aidi in this sonic celebration of the Afro-Arab diaspora.

8. Noel Akchote/Roland Auzet/Luc Ferrari, Impro-Micro-Acoustique (Blue Chopsticks) Seventy-two-year-old musique concrete pioneer Ferrari makes his first foray into free improvisation alongside two stellar young French players. The result is a delightful assemblage of squeaks, thuds, plucks, and whispers that Ferrari aptly calls "new, real-time concrete."

9. Tape, Milieu (Hapna) This Swedish trio unveils a pastoral landscape in which the acoustic and the electronic, lyricism and noise perfectly cohabit. Like dragonflies in a summer field, digital bits and concrete noises buzz around lilting lap steel, harmonica, and banjo.

10. Sir Richard Bishop, Improvika (Locust) Elegant, virtuoso acoustic guitar improvisations that mine myriad traditions (Indian ragas, Moorish arabesques, flamenco flourishes) but remain searchingly original and experimental. An astonishing collection that places Bishop in the lineage of John Fahey, Leo Kottke, and Derek Bailey.

Christoph Cox is associate professor of philosophy at Hampshire College and co-editor of Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music (Continuum, 2004).


1. Don Cherry, Eternal Now (Sonet Grammofon) This magnificent, joy-filled LP from 1973 resurfaced like magic in my life early last year. With rhythms ranging from Gnawan to minimalist, it is my most important record of 2004. I played it nonstop for weeks to my pregnant belly, believing that everything was going to be OK after all.


2. John Zorn, Mike Patton, and Ikue Mori, Hemophiliac: 50th Birthday Celebration Volume Six (Tzadik) Stunning live at New York's Tonic last September, the fearless interminglings of these three very different improvisers are just as good on CD.

3. Jose Maceda Filipino composer Maceda died in May at age eighty-seven. His ghostly, maximal compositions added bamboo instruments and the murmurs of crickets to post-modern orchestral textures, evoking a hypnotic calm.

4. free103point9's round-the-clock "NoRNC" live Internet radio coverage Dedicated to the gamut of "transmission arts," free103point9's collaborative coverage of the Republican National Convention, undertaken with other activist groups such as the August Sound Coalition, was a critical reference point for artists and other citizens during the otherwise disheartening week Bush and company descended on New York.

5. Radio/Guitar, Thrum (Table of the Elements) Visual artists/musicians Peggy Ahwesh and Barbara Ess's throbbing vinyl composition. Beautiful.

6. Youssou N'Dour, Egypt (Nonesuch) Senegalese star N'Dour's work of praise for Muslim liberalism is polished, shimmery pop.

7. Andy Hayleck, Various Recordings Involving Ice (Heresee) These delicate field recordings made in snowy places ("frozen reservoir, ice buckling, occasional wind ...") brought the quiet and the cold.

8. Rammellzee, Bi-Conicals of Rammellzee (Gomma) Party music for deranged times from the Wild Style veteran. Disturbing--and best heard loud.

9. Jon Appleton, Appleton Syntonic Menagerie 2 (Phonomena Audio Arts & Multiples) Two decades of allusive sounds--vocal, synthetic, concrete, and just plain other--from an elusive artist.

10. Carly Ptak and Chiara Giovando, Dark Fare/Music from the Congress Theater (Talon) Gutteral, underground music video/audio by artists on the hunt for analog magic.

Marina Rosenfeld, founder and director of the seventeen-woman electric-guitar-and-nail-polish-bottle Sheer Frost Orchestra, is a composer, turntablist, and artist based in New York.


1. Zeca Pagodinho, Ao Vivo (Universal Music) This live CD was not only number one in Brazil but also the best new record released in recent memory anywhere in the world. Nobody phrases like this singer, who is just as hard-swinging and breathtakingly free as the heretofore unmatchable Joao Gilberto--though at the opposite end of the gentility spectrum.


2. Moacir Santos, Coisas (Universal International) Rereleased for the first time since it came out in 1965, this CD of big-band music by the arranger and composer from Pernambuco is as deep as Antonio Carlos Jobim and far rootsier. Rich charts and earthiness that no big band has achieved since make for a unique record.

3. Jamie Lidell/Matthew Herbert The most exciting performance style I caught this year was live sampling. The abandoned technology was revived by Supercollider's Lidell and by Herbert in his "Radio Boy" show. Screaming, cooing, clicking, and groaning into a chain of cheap devices, building and looping a track from scratch in front of an audience, then vocalizing like a soul singer from Georgia over the top of it all, Lidell isn't groundbreaking, just the most exciting thing you will ever see and hear.

4. Nuruddin Farah, Maps (Arcade Publishing) Farah's new novel, about the return of an exiled professor to a Somalia struggling to reconstitute itself as a country after being torn apart by civil war, was the book I most wanted to read in 2004. And I was not disappointed. Mixing an unpretentious narrative style with truly confusing bits of folk wisdom, this is a great book about things one doesn't read about in the papers. Books are second only to movie dialogue as a favorite place to lift lyrics.

5. and 6. Best live shows--both in Brazil: Nacao Zumbi from Pernambuco and Liars from New York.

7. Audiences in Brazil and Naples. The audience is always at least half of the show.

8. Jose Eduardo Agualusa, O Ano em que Zumbi tomou o Rio (BookRing) A novel about the occupation of Rio by gangs from the hillside favelas aided by ex-combatants from the war in Angola. Way too prophetic. It's not available in English yet, and I wonder how long that will take. Can one vote on what needs to be translated? Play a benefit?

9. Hair Stylistics The new band created by Masaya Nakahara after he finally declared Violent Onsen Geisha over. I haven't heard the new recording, Custom Cock Confused Death (Daisy World Disc), but it will almost certainly be worthy of my top ten.

10. Domenico+2 This trio switches names and leaders for each record: The first was Moreno+2 and the third will be Kassim+2. They blend all manner of Brazilian styles with noise and electronica. This volume is the most interestingly produced recording I've heard since Fantasma by Cornelius. On that record, Keigo Oyamada discovered digital silence for all of us. Here, Domenico shows the world what you can do with digital editing and a little patience, with several crews taking apart and reassembling the same piece of music and then blending their efforts to provide an experience that belies its labor-intensive genesis.

Arto Lindsay is a musician who lives in New York and Brazil. His latest record is Salt, available on Righteous Babe Records.


1. Kiki and Herb (Royal Albert Hall, London) Finally a venue grand enough to showcase the hallucinatory architecture of this duo's masterful, genre-spanning medleys. Kiki and Herb--looking fantastic--delivered their coup de grace ("Total Eclipse of the Heart") to a confounded audience waiting patiently for headline act the Scissor Sisters.


2. White Magic, Through the Sun Door (Drag City) Mira Bilotte's voice is beautiful and the production is trippy. Perfect songs for feeling sad--or spending the night alone in a haunted house.

3. Tracy & the Plastics, Culture for Pigeon (Troubleman Unlimited) Those already addicted to Wynne Greenwood's cable-access, Candyland-style feminist audio/video projects will welcome the stepped-up production values of this recording, while new listeners will find the vocal intimacy of Culture for Pigeon the perfect introduction to her conceptual world.

4. Lesbians on Ecstasy (Art in General, New York) To celebrate the release of feminist art journal LTTR's third issue, the charismatic, Montreal-based LoE performed their DIY techno reworkings of classic tunes by mainstream lesbian artists such as k.d. lang and Tracy Chapman to throngs of cultural producers in this sweaty nonprofit venue. Their debut album is out now on Alien8 Recordings.

5. Hot Chip, Coming On Strong (Moshi Moshi Records) A couple songs on this record sound like lost Wham! demos, but with shaky, deadpan vocals and rich, analog-emulating synths. A five-keyboard, front-of-stage lineup makes their live shows all the more impressive.

6. Gravy Train!!!!, Hello Doctor (Kill Rock Stars) The pansexually hedonistic electro-punk rockism of Gravy Train!!!! became super meaningful to me the night I could hear echoes of their chaotic set while I shook hands with Gloria Steinem during a lunar eclipse.

7. Les Georges Leningrad, Sur les traces de Black Eskimo (Alien8 Recordings) Les Georges's noisy grooves have been refined since they debuted their pirate/caveman art rock with Deux Hot Dogs Moutarde Chou. This record is catchier and more danceable but still menacing and cool.

8. Usher (Saturday Night Live) The idiosyncrasy of Usher's ultrapop virtuosity won me over during his solo dance break in Yeah, performed with Ludacris on SNL. It can't be easy to shine within such a totally sanitized format.

9. Missy Elliott's celebrity playlist (Apple iTunes Store) I'm into celebrity playlists in general as a newly evolving form of public speech, but I have to admit Missy's is one of the few totally listenable ones available on iTunes. A mix of old school hip-hop and contemporary rap that presents, in her words, "some of the hottest songs on the sickest beats ever. Holla!!!"

10. E.S.G. (Metropolis, Montreal) With an all-female lineup spanning two generations, E.S.G. is an enduring live phenomenon. When the shaker came in loud, everybody started screaming. Legendary!

Johanna Fateman is a member of the New York-based feminist electronic punk band Le Tigre. Their new album, This Island, is out now on Strummer/Universal.


1. Destroyer, Your Blues (Merge Sounds) Sounds like a young Leonard Cohen on lots of Ecstasy.


2. A.C. Newman, The Slow Wonder (Matador Records) Newman, (most of) the brains behind the spookily catchy, detail-obsessed New Pornographers, pares down his sound without losing an iota of the band's sociopathic genius.

3. Animal Collective, Sung Tongs (Fat Cat) Spin this primo example of corrosive postpsychedelia, then see the band blow it open live.

4. Guided by Voices, Half Smiles of the Decomposed (Matador Records) The final album by my favorite--and, coincidentally, the greatest--rock band of all time.

5. Dissociatives, Dissociatives (EMI International) It's really sad that singer/song-writer Daniel Johns's artistic baby steps (on Silverchair's multiplatinum Frogstomp) stigmatized him as a grunge lightweight. To ignore him would be to dismiss a top-notch adventurer.

6. Xiu Xiu, Fabulous Muscles (5 Rue Christine) This might be the best CD ever recorded by an openly gay man.

7. Prosaics, Aghast Agape (Dim Mak Records) A lot of new bands have banged their heads on the oeuvres of Joy Division and early Cure, but this deep, smart trio is the only band that's ricocheted.

8. Wolf Eyes, Burned Mind (Sub Pop) Their heady, hellish ruckus is gorgeous and scenic yet not the least bit touristy.

9. Graham Coxon, Happiness in Magazines (EMI/Parlophone) It turns out that unsung ex-Blur member Coxon is the guy who made their early albums so charming, while overrated extant member Damon Albarn is the one who made them a little too snarky and stiff.

10. The Arcade Fire, Funeral (Merge Records) Yet more proof that, music-wise, Canada is the new England. This Montreal-based band smushes glam theatricality, space-rock distension, and ABBA-worthy hooks into sensational amalgams.

Dennis Cooper is a contributing editor of Artforum. His seventh novel, The Sluts, is published this month by Void Books.
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Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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