Best of 2004
Note that I list CDs first because music is still my primary love. I would give up boardgames, videogames, and movies, before I would give up just music. Now, make me choose between music and cats... that would be tough. Of course, when I use "best" in this post, I mostly mean "my favorite".
- Best New CD: I dip into way too many genres, and am still buying tons of old stuff, so I get exposed to very little music released in the 2000's. Most of the recent stuff I get is new releases from old dinosaurs (e.g., Fear Factory, Ministry), or bands that are heavily influenced by those that are already favorites of mine (e.g., Isis). The easy winner this year is Neurosis' The Eye of Every Storm. They've tempered and slowed their sound even more - there are even hints of Pink Floyd - and primarily use a single smoky voice instead of the three bellowing screamers from their earlier releases. This makes it their most accessible album by far, but they still rip it open with a wall of sound here and there, especially the apocalyptic meltdown at the end of "Left to Wander" that evokes the golden age of Godflesh.
- Best Old CD: Earlier this year, I decided to pick up a bunch of classics from the shoegaze era (e.g., Ride, Slowdive, etc.). Lots of good stuff, but the one that stood out was Catherine Wheel's Ferment. The sound is perfect, and there isn't a single weak track on the album. Became an instant favorite of mine.
- Best Rediscovered CD: Neurosis - Souls at Zero. With their new excellent release, I have been listening to all of Neurosis' stuff a lot this year. I never got into Souls at Zero much, which is one of their earlier releases, but I forced myself to listen to it carefully. One night when Melanie was out, I had some beer and sat through the first few tracks and was blown away. I've listened to it a bunch then. Really severe, eerie, dark stuff. The maniacal energy and harrowing screams of "To Crawl Under One's Skin" makes me shiver every time, and I think "Web" might just be my favorite Neurosis track of all time. (Note: if you are new to Neurosis and not much of a metal person, definitely start with their newest release and work backwards.)
- Best Discovered Band: A couple of years ago, I got a recommendation for a metal album (Everyday Atrocity) that I bought and couldn't get into at all because of the lyrics. Earlier this year, I gave it a second chance, which turned into about 10 more chances. I then bought their two most recent CDs and one of them (Violence) now has a spot on my top 100. The band is Nothingface, but, unlike the other two artists mentioned in this post, I would not recommend this to anyone who doesn't like harsh, aggressive metal (even though there are many "progressive" elements to their songwriting).
- Best New Boardgame: In my opinion, 2004 was the best year for boardgames in at least 5 years. While there weren't as many excellent releases as there were in 1996-2000, there was a high percentage of great releases. My favorites are: Sword of Rome, which suffers somewhat from play length; Struggle of Empires, another Martin Wallace masterpiece; Tongiaki, which is broken yet utterly fascinating; Hansa, with its satisfying short-term goals; and Einfach Genial, a highly accessible but surprisingly brilliant multi-player abstract. Hansa is my runner-up, and I almost wanted it to win so I could give the reward to Michael Schacht two years in a row - I've loathed his work in previous years - it is Einfach Genial which has really shown itself to be the most rewarding and fun. More about Einfach Genial is written in this post; note that Fantasy Flight Games will be publishing it in America this year under the title Ingenious.
- Best New Video Game: If you don't know me by now, you will never, never, never, know me, ooh-oooooh-ooh.
- Best New Movie: Last week, Melanie and I did something I never did before - saw two movies in a row (okay, with a lunch break in-between). It was the new releases of perhaps my two favorite directors - Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement and Yimou Zhang's House of Flying Daggers. Both were decent stories with sumptuous visuals, but departures from their old styles that made them my favorites. So, I'll go with a film written by one of my new favorite screenwriters: Charlie Kaufmann's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Very imaginative structure with interesting visuals. Overall, we saw very few movies in the theater this year - maybe no more than 5.
- Best Old Movie: Given our enjoyment of Eternal Sunshine, we had to go back and check out Kaufmann's previous movies that we had missed, Adaptation and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Both excellent, and I particularly enjoyed the aura of paranoia conveyed by the latter.