1. Green Day, American Idiot
It’s a rare, special thing when a band creates an album that speaks for an entire generation; it’s even more rare when a band manages to do it twice. Ten years ago Green Day brought punk rock to the pop masses, selling over ten million copies of their major label debut and becoming spokespeople for a generation of proud, self-professed “slackers.” Their influence is more widely felt than any other band from the ’90s (sorry, Nirvana). But who woulda thunk that the slackers of yesteryear would also define a whole new generation of disenfranchised, world-weary youth with yet another punk rock masterpiece? There are those who will tell you that punk rock is dead—after all, when Avril and Ashlee start making Pink look hardcore you know the revolution is over. But I can’t think of anything more punk than writing and recording a rock opera in 2004. American Idiot is hands-down the most daring record of the year—and it comes complete with a bleeding heart.
2. The Cardigans, Long Gone Before Daylight
I first heard The Cardigans’s “You’re the Storm” on Christmas Eve 2002. The track had just been mixed and an engineer friend of mine played it as inspiration for a project we were working on. The lyrics alone were enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. A small group of us sat and listened as the b-section burst into the song’s more authentic hook, Nina Persson’s vocals stacked and sweetened to the nth degree and backed by a gale of storm-like keyboard swirls. The track would eventually be released as the second single from the Cardigans’s Long Gone Before Daylight, a record that, to my surprise, lives up to everything I heard in the studio that day.
3. Carina Round, The Disconnection
Imagine if Patti Smith and Robert Plant hooked up at a key party and conceived a little baby girl. Now imagine if PJ Harvey and Jeff Buckley adopted that little girl and raised her on jazz, trip-hop, blues, and classic rock. The second album by that child might sound a little something like Carina Round’s The Disconnection. This might seem like a recipe for a derivative disaster. But Round never directly references her predecessors; she’s like a living musical gene pool, her voice summoning the complete history of rock but never to the point of distraction, and Disconnection is like the musical map that ensures that she (and we) never get off track. Disconnection is the kind of striking rock document that only comes once in a great while. This is music for exorcisms and scorned lovers.
4. Brandy, Afrodisiac
For an R&B album inspired by such a disparate array of sources (from samples of Iron Maiden, Hans Zimmer, Janis Ian, and, most notably, Coldplay), the influence of Brandy’s Afrodisiac seems to be coming full-circle. “There’s so much going on, you can’t hear them with your conscious; you have to hear her voice with your subconscious,” John Frusciante said of the album’s vocal arrangements in a recent issue of Filter Magazine, “Noise in a pop context is such a beautiful thing to see.” Afrodisiac is a devastating yet confident break-up album (“Nothing’s picture perfect/Looks can be deceiving,” Brandy sings on the opening track, perhaps hinting at the now-public knowledge that her first marriage was a sham). The singer suffered another break-up—this time with her record label—shortly after the release of Afrodisiac, which doesn’t bode well for the shelf-life of this extraordinarily personal, often heart-wrenching R&B record.