- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

Have a music lover to shop for? Here are 10 stocking stuffers. Or virtual stocking stuffers, for the iPodders out there.

Modest Mouse, “Good News for People Who Love Bad News” — Hands down, the year’s best. A creative leap for the Pacific Northwest alt-rock band and proof that going major label doesn’t kill the indie spirit.

Loretta Lynn, “Van Lear Rose” — A country matriarch plus a White Stripe equals a boot-scootin’ Led Zeppelin.

Wilco, “A Ghost Is Born” — Sure, we’d like to be contrarian and say the fifth album from Chicago’s indie martyrs wasn’t great, but …

Franz Ferdinand — Glasgow’s art-punkers brought back laughter — and dancing — to the scene. “Take Me Out.” Party down.

Phantom Planet — The California band lost a famous drummer (actor Jason Schwartzman) and changed its sound. The result: rawer and catchier.

Nellie McKay, “Get Away From Me” — An ace pianist who sings like Doris Day when she’s not rapping or cursing. Better yet: a double CD of an ace pianist who …

Ray Charles, “Genius Loves Company” — Critics scoffed, saying it wasn’t up to soul-legend snuff, but when this duets album was good, it was really good.

Tift Merritt, “Tambourine” — The diminutive North Carolinian put the twang in the attic and rocked like the boys on her sophomore album.

Kanye West, “College Dropout” — An elite hip-hop producer steps out from behind the soundboard to make one of the year’s hottest albums. We won’t argue. (And we can’t resist Chaka Khan samples.)

Marah, “20,000 Streets Under the Sky” — The “kids from Philly” produced a Spectorian wall of rock on their fourth LP, managing to make Camden, N.J. and Interstate 95 sound romantic. (For our money, they put on the best live show of the year, too.)

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