Sounds from the not-too-distant future

RYAN DOMBAL

It is time to look ahead. The new year is upon us, and there’s no use whining about that iPod you “should” have gotten for Christmas. Countless CDs will vie for your money/download time over the next 12 months and, unfortunately, most of them will be gutter-dwelling, wish-you-never-had-ears rubbish. Yet between the new Avril record and the inevitable Linkin Park remix album, a few choice picks will undoubtedly stand out as inventive aural achievements. As you enter the uncharted sound waves of 2004, use the following list as a guide to safe harbor (all album titles and release dates are tentative).

Air — Talkie Walkie (January 27) — After smoothly gliding onto the scene with 1998’s lounge-y Moon Safari, this delightfully smarmy French duo lost nearly all of their mojo on their last album, the too-prog-for-its-own-good 10,000 Hz Legend. Early buzz indicates Talkie trades in the robot voices and over-the-top synths of Legend for the more seductive beats Air is best known for.

Kanye West — College Dropout (February 3) — While the Neptunes continue to make the same beat over and over and Timbaland hints at taking a break from hip-hop, Kanye West is set to claim the Best Rap Producer crown in 2004. The man behind Jay-Z’s Izzo (H.O.V.A.), Talib Kweli’s Get By and Alicia Keys’ You Don’t Know My Name will step into the spotlight himself this year, showcasing his signature sped-up soul sampling and more-than-adequate mic skills on this much-anticipated (and delayed) debut.

Liars — They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (February) — These Brooklyn-based weirdos combine punk, dance and some of the longest song titles you’ve ever seen into one terribly intoxicating brew. If the first single, “They Don’t Want Your Corn, They Want Your Kids,” is any indication, expect creepy chanting, fist-pumping disco beats and ’80s synths that never die.

Wilco — dBpm (Spring) — Chicago’s favorite sons will try to top, or at least equal, their instant-classic triumph, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. With the band now securely on Nonesuch Records, fans won’t have to go through more music industry wrangling to hear dBpm, which is rumored to be more organic and straightforward than Foxtrot.

TV On the Radio — TBA (Spring) — With 2003’s Young Liars EP, TV On the Radio quickly became one of the coolest, most unique-sounding bands in rock. The Brooklyn trio will show off their melodic barbershop-soul-meets-chugging-distortion style on this debut full-length.

Elliott Smith — From A Basement On the Hill (Fall) — Smith was nearly finished with this album when he died in October. Possibly to be released as a double-CD, sources say songs on Basement range from acoustic bedroom ballads to Beach Boys-style mini-symphonies. If nothing else, the album will certainly be one of the year’s most heartbreaking.

Medill senior and PLAY music columnist Ryan Dombal enjoyed all of his gifts this holiday season. He can be reached at [email protected]