Best Albums 2004 (16-20)

20. Mory Kante — Sabou

This overdue acoustic move from Salif Keita’s successor as lead singer for the Rail Band was less a “return to roots” than an adaptation to prevailing trends. A neo-traditional wave had swept Afropop over the past decade, and since the discofied Afro-fusion that Kante had struck gold with on “Yé Ké Yé Ké” in 1988 had grown corny, said wave was his to surf back to prominence. Though his kora playing takes center stage, avec beaucoup balafon, he still fronts a dance band, with unflagging tempos. And he fulfills his griot obligations with titles that translate as “Bad People” and “Sorry” but sound like exhortations to party people regardless.

19. Björk — Medulla

Since prevalent trends and arisen opportunities have shaped her career trajectory, it’s easy to forget that she’s Pop Art before she’s art-pop. At essence she’s neither a dance anti-diva nor even a textural electronics whiz, but a clever chick with a funny voice. So when time came get back to her roots, a moment that befalls the cleverest, she went a cappella. And since a pregnant woman never solos alone, why not bring in Mike Patton, Robert Wyatt, and Rahzel to make the music with their mouths too? Volta was more explosive, Vespertine more intricate. But this is her conceptual peak.

18. Jill Scott — Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2

Scott may just be the sanest R&B mama ever to invite you under the covers–as much to keep warm as to fool around, though she knows full well how often one leads to the other. If Who Is Jill Scott? addressed her personal experiences, its success must have assured her these were hardly as idiosyncratic as they might have felt, and so this follow-up is for the likeminded audience she’d reached. They can surely use the self-esteem booster “Golden,” identify with the detail-chocked “Family Reunion,” and agree that no man who fails to respond to the demands of “My Petition” is worth the name. Distrust the poetess in her, that clichéd SPOken word RHYthm she rides. But trust the woman.

17. Capital D — Insomnia

I’ve always taken unseemly pride in how far Chicago indie-rap has lagged behind its frozen neighbors up north. But All Natural has always been a hell of a label, and events that silenced brought out the fighter in Capital D. Proudly Muslim, proudly bookish, proudly proud, Cap D doesn’t “connect the dots”– that’s busywork for conspiracy bullshitters. He just states what’s in plain sight, and at least his received ideas come from Chomsky rather than Jadakiss. Underlying each lyric is a single bulletproof moral: Don’t trust rich people–a message the rich always remember to try to make us forget.

16. Franz Ferdinand — Franz Ferdinand

In 2004, rock was, as they say, back. Lusting after beautiful dance whore “Michael” and working only “when we need the money” Alex Kapranos and his fellow arty Scots were rock stars in it for the pleasure than the conquest. Their guitars are as choppy, prickly, and erotic as their lyrical quips, and the urgency of their postpunk cross-rhythms remind me that the sexual frenzy of Blondie’s “Atomic” struck a deeper chord with the British than back at home.

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