1. Green Day, "American Idiot" (Reprise). The ambitions of a punk-rock opera are realized in this expansive, angry and impassioned album, the group's most personal and profound.
2. Various artists, "Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo" (Or Music). Among those on this two-CD tribute to the ailing Austin-based singer-songwriter who was No Depression magazine's "Artist of the Decade" for the '90s: Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Calexico, Los Lonely Boys, the Jayhawks, Son Volt, Charlie Sexton and Cowboy Junkies, all showcasing Escovedo's distinctive meld of chamber-music strings, folk-rock rhythms, Velvet Underground rock and Tex-Mex traditions.
"The College Dropout," by producerturned- performer Kanye West, is definitely a keeper.
(Eric Jamison -- AP)
Michael O'Sullivan's Top 10 Exhibits (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
The Year in Music (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Geoffrey Himes's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Mike Joyce's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Mark Jenkins's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Desson Thomson's Top 10 Films (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
. . . And the 10 Worst Films (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
The Best Bites of 2004 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Looking Back: Bugs, Bars, Poker and More (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
3. The Clash, "London Calling: The 25th Anniversary Edition" (Epic Legacy). Full of punk ambition, political commitment and love of populist rock and reggae, this classic album is illuminatingly expanded with newly discovered rehearsal demos and a DVD with documentaries, promos and fascinating footage of explosive recording sessions with producer Guy Stevens.
4. Gretchen Wilson, "Here for the Party" (Epic Nashville). The new Tanya Tucker or the anti-Shania Twain: Take your pick, because as Wilson puts it in her anthemic testament "Redneck Woman," "You might think I'm trashy, a little too hardcore / But in my neck of the woods I'm just the girl next door." Old-fashioned, blue-collar honky-tonk.
5. Kanye West, "The College Dropout" (Roc-a-Fella). Few moves from the producer's chair to center stage are made as confidently, or with such consistent achievement. Maybe working for a long time with your jaw shut (after a near-fatal car crash) is motivation enough, but West's debut is bracing, deep, funny, vulnerable and surprisingly inspirational.
6. Keane, "Hopes and Fears" (Interscope). Tagged as the new Coldplay/Travis/whatever, this guitarless trio from Sussex, England, conjures soaringly melodic, melancholic rock, with mesmerizing vocals by Tom Chaplin and evocative keyboard stylings (mostly piano) from Tim Rice-Oxley.
7. Norah Jones, "Feels Like Home" (Blue Note). Avoiding the burden of others' expectations after her debut sold gazillions of copies, Jones made a pop album that was simply and exactly what she wanted it to be, in the same pocket -- what co-producer Arif Mardin calls "heartfelt music" -- that made "Come Away With Me" the most surprising of hits, with some key refinements and improvements, but no compromises. Jones's dreamy and seductive voice has grown richer and more emotionally resonant, her phrasing looser, more assured. A "Home" run.
8. Secret Machines, "Now Here Is Nowhere" (Reprise). This Texas-bred, New York-based power trio pastiches classic prog-rock forms (Krautrock, British psychedelia, '80s arena rock, drums that are heavy without quite being metallic) and adds sci-fi and political overtones to create an epic sound suggesting the Flaming Lips doing an all-Pink Floyd program.
9. Nelly, "Sweat"/"Suit" (Universal). The one-man OutKast released two albums simultaneously: "Sweat" is the high-energy hip-hop street album, clever and mischievous; "Suit" is smoother, pop R&B, with the year's oddest duet partnership matching Nelly and Tim McGraw on "Over and Over."
10. Miles Davis, "Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis, 1963-1964" (Sony Legacy). This seven-CD set chronicles the evolution of the trumpeter's second seminal ensemble, the classic "freebop" quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, with seven of the 47 selections previously unissued, and several heard for the first time in unedited form. More Miles-in-process, and that's always fascinating.
Concert: Brian Wilson's "Smile" at the Warner Theatre, Nov. 10. Having overcome decades of mental and physical health problems, Wilson is finally performing his 37-years-in-the-waiting masterwork, abetted by a large, totally empathetic ensemble of great players, and, more importantly, great vocalists who can replicate his richly textured harmonies. Ecstatic re-creations of much of the Beach Boys' catalogue were a fine capper to a concert that confirmed that the complex, ambitious "Smile" would have been a masterpiece in its time, but that it wasn't made just for those times.