2004 Records To Die For

It used to be that, when I sat down to write the introduction to Stereophile's ever-popular annual "Records To Die For" feature, it quickly became an exercise in racking my meager brain for jokes about "dying for" records. But being funny, in print or otherwise, is tremendously difficult. I'm sure Groucho had a much more apropos, not to mention funny, quip about the trials of being humorous—but, as with the aforementioned jokes, I can't seem to think of it right now.

Complicating matters is the fact that this year's feature—unlike those, in retrospect, halcyon R2D4s of the past—comes at a time when the art and commerce of music are no laughing matters. These days, it's more a case of records dying for listeners (buyers, not downloaders) and, paradoxically, those who know and need music dying for more urgent, sexy, songful records.

This feature has traditionally been illustrated with Grim Reapers, CDs as tombstones, and, in one particularly memorable image, a shark teething on a CD. This year, given how close the record business is to literally expiring, we've scrapped most of the funereal imagery in favor of abject silliness. When music downloaders are (according to the record labels) scaling formerly profitable ramparts like millions of mini-Kongs on the Empire State Building, what else can you do but laugh?

But no matter what the state of the business or of the creativity that fuels it, music continues to be a driving force in most audiophiles' lives. Why else would we seek more power, more knobs to twist, and yes, most of all, truer, clearer sound in our music? Naïve as it sounds, here's to hoping that this new year brings some resolution to the issues plaguing the music world, so that musicians can get back to making better music, and you and I, dear reader, can get back to better listening.

As in past years, the rules for the writers of this annual gathering of opinions were simple: choose two albums of any genre that are in print (or have been so during the past decade), and don't choose any record you've selected as an R2D4 in years past.

So without further ado, we present the 2004 edition of "Records To Die For"!—Robert Baird

Note: If a recording listed here has previously been reviewed in Stereophile, whether in "Record Reviews," "Quarter Notes," or past editions of "Records To Die For," the volume and number of the pertinent issue appear in parentheses at the end of the review. For example, a listing of "(XXV-10)" means that a review of the recording appeared in Vol.25 No.10 (October 2002).