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Top 10 CDs of 2004

Joan Anderman's picks

1. The Streets, ‘‘A Grand Don’t Come for Free’’ (Vice/Atlantic)
British garage/two-step hero Mike Skinner transformed a few mundane days and druggy nights in the life of a loutish urban slacker into an ambitious minimalist hip-hop narrative told in 11 chapters — complete with plot, dialogue, characters, conflict, and resolution. An oddly moving and brilliantly literate entry in the rap sweepstakes.

2. Wilco, ‘‘A Ghost is Born’’ (Nonesuch)
Crude 12-minute guitar codas, desolate expanses of surrealism, cranky rock jams, and bruised loveliness anchor this restless mess from Jeff Tweedy and company — who take another graceful, courageous step away from their alt-country roots toward open, searching structures that remain cosmically unresolved. While Eminem rants about losing yourself in the music, Tweedy does it.

3. Loretta Lynn, ‘‘Van Lear Rose’’ (Interscope)
The perfect, twisted pairing of 70-year-old country legend Lynn with young blues-garage upstart Jack White of the White Stripes resulted in a work of ragged, lively glory. White’s grasp of both tradition and impressionism and his enthralling, multitextured sonics bring the depth and range of Lynn’s writing into new focus.

4. Bjork, ‘‘Medulla’’ (Elektra)
Made mostly of voices that materialize in angelic clusters, hard-buzzing nuggets, dissonant layers, and ecclesiastic swells, the Icelandic sprite’s latest effort bridges the eerie aesthetic chasm between music’s earthiest tool — human vocal cords — and the cutting edge of sonic experimentation. Happily, paradox is her comfort zone, and Bjork has once again rearranged the rules to suit her bottomless whimsy.

5. U2, ‘‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’’ (Interscope)
The Biggest Band in the World delivers a guitar-gilded, back-to-basics comfort album that may not be the second coming but surely restores one’s faith in the possibility of rejuvenation — and enduring relevance — from card-carrying members of the rock ’n’ roll machine.

6. Le Tigre, ‘‘This Island’’ (Strummer/Universal)
Punchy, topical dance-punk from radical feminists who skewer sociopolitical agendas and cover the Pointer Sisters with equal panache. It’s hard to remember the last record that was this stylish, visceral, important, and fun all at once.

7. AC Newman, ‘‘The Slow Wonder’’ (Matador)
The first solo album from the frontman for Canadian underground supergroup the New Pornographers brims with witty songcraft, big fat power hooks, and elegant dorkiness. Exuberant indie-pop of the first degree.

8. Joseph Arthur, ‘‘Our Shadows Will Remain’’ (Vector)
A mutant-pop tour through the broken heart of humanity. The songs are lush, poetic, squalling, spiritual, and strange. Just like life.

9. Ron Sexsmith, ‘‘Retriever’’ (Nettwerk)
Most singer-songwriters will go their whole careers without penning a single song as winsome and compelling as those the gifted Canadian tunesmith Sexsmith cranks out by the dozen. His latest is a .awless collection of warm, clear-eyed gems.

10. Brian Wilson, ‘‘Smile’’ (Nonesuch)
The chief Beach Boy’s self-described teen symphony to God — shelved in 1967 and resuscitated this year after languishing for nearly four decades in the artist’s clouded psyche — is a spry, inscrutable epic of psychedelic Americana. Flawed yet worthy, this is a must for anyone who cares about pop music.

Joan Anderman is a Globe staff music writer.

realaudio clips
The Streets 'A Grand Don't Comes for Free'
The Streets / "A grand don't come for free"
"Could be well in"
"It was supposed to be so easy"
"Not addicted"
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