1) Nick Cave came to Texas. The ballads were more compelling live than on his latest record; the explosions were just as passionate as we had hoped. And in a state that seems to view Death Row as a competitive sport, the Bad Seeds all but derailed during a frightening rendition of Cave's electric-chair testimony "The Mercy Seat." Austin's Stubb's amphitheater won't see such intensity again any time soon.

2) The Polyphonic Spree. As filled with light as Cave is with shadow, this North Texas-based collective stunned the music world at SXSW; they are more than 20 musicians in choir robes, performing peppy orchestral pop tunes with lyrics like "Hey! It's the sun! And it makes me shine! All right!" The world got one micron less jaded every time they had a gig.

3) Music movies. From the rap Rocky (or Purple Rain) success of Eminem's 8 Mile, to the DJ doc Scratch, to the joyous discoveries in Standing in the Shadows of Motown, it was a good year at the movies for music lovers — even if San Antonio residents didn't get to see them all on the big screen.

4) Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Even if it hadn't been one of the best music stories of the year (record gets ditched by one label, only to be bought by another in the same corporate family — band gets paid twice by the same corporation), this would be one of the year's best albums, and Wilco would be one of the most intriguing bands making music today.

5) Mash-up bootlegs. While Wilco's Jeff Tweedy tinkered in the studio, downloaders around the world were using their computers to meld songs never meant to be heard together. Nirvana met Destiny's Child, Eminem met Morrissey, and everybody involved sounded fresh again — or at least funny.

6) Solomon Burke: Don't Give Up On Me. Just when it seemed we had seen the last of the Soul giants (prove us wrong, Reverend Green!) Burke appeared out of nowhere with a fantastic collection of songs by Dylan, Waits, and Van the Man. Then the Stones asked him to play some dates with them — if only the band's SA stop had been one of those shows.

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7) The Neptunes close in on world domination. Not content to produce the most irresistibly stupid single of the year, Nelly's "Hot in Herre," the duo (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) made an album on their own under the name N.E.R.D. — a slab of weirdo posturing that was released in different versions (one is more rock-oriented, the other is more hip-hop) on different continents.

8) Single-syllable rock bands. You used to only need three chords; now it helps if your name ends in vowel-consonant "e-s." The Stripes, the Strokes, the Hives, and Vines and so on — call it derivative, but any trend that might get a garage band on mainstream radio again is all right with me. If only the Mooney Suzuki would change its name to the Zukes, maybe the band would have a shot at the brass ring as well.

9) Crucial reissues. If Bluebird's four-disc When The Sun Goes Down series had been housed in a classy box with a thick, photo-laden book of notes, you never would have heard the end of it; critics everywhere would have gushed over this collection of the blues-and-R&B roots of rock 'n' roll. As it is, the mid-priced discs — which favor little-known performers over established legends — are still essential listening. As for the rest of the globe, Nonesuch launched a series to reissue some of the most important world music records ever. The Nonesuch Explorer Series is being presented in geographic chunks: The first batch (Africa) appeared last September, and the last is due in February 2005. Far more enjoyable than the average ethnographic disc, these releases (the series began in the '60s) went a long way toward making U.S. audiences more receptive to unfamiliar sounds.

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10) Spoon: Kill the Moonlight. I probably gave this disc four times as many spins as any other this year. It is so perfectly put together, so full of addictive songs, such a step forward for a band that was already pretty freaking cool. Texans who care about such things should be pleased to have this album represent us on Spin magazine's list of the year's best records.

More by John DeFore



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