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LITERATURE» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
MUSIC» The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
MUSIC» Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
01 Hood - Outside Closer
The perfect album for a dark, dreary winter; it's ike a cold, metallic stethoscope that fails to find a heartbeat in the frigid corpse of a relationship. I wore this CD out while I cried myself to sleep for nights.
02 Spoon - Gimme Fiction
Better than the last couple. Just fantastic rock and roll. "I Summon You" is the best song so far this year.
03 The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
Super personal, but accessible. John Darnielle is still one of the best songwriters out there.
04 Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
The hype is legit. This year's Franz Ferdinand, except listenable.
05 Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Superwolf
I wonder if the Superwolf has wings or can shoot bees out of its mouth. The last two songs alone make this album great.
01 Sleater-Kinney - The Woods
So far, 2005 is shaping up to be a great year for already-established bands, and Sleater Kinney have the bragging rights to say their latest album is their best to date. The Woods will melt you into a glob of quivering goo within the first second, and it doesn't let up for a moment. SK sound best when they're pissed, and in their reelection frustration they've made the best album of the year.
02 Stephen Malkmus - Face the Truth
When Pavement broke up, the flannel-wearing community held it's breath in anticipation waiting to see if S.M. would continue to be a prolific and prophetic songwriter or if he would slink back to his parents' basement and spend his days playing Scrabble - either seemed entirely possible. Luckily, he didn't give up the life of lazy lyricism and Face The Truth proves that he's more than just a pretty face as never before. Malkmus is not only surviving in a post-Pavement world, he's doing better than ever.
03 Beck - Guero
I'm convinced anyone who isn't in to this album is a poser. Fuck the three-star ratings that claim Guero is too much like Odelay, since they are two of the most eccentric and unusual rock records of the past ten years. Of course there are pieces of Odelay on this record - but there are also bits from Midnite Vultures, Mutations and Sea Change. It's not fair to criticize Beck for not radically changing his sound once again when most bands need only live up to their debut release to receive rave reviews.
04 The Decemberists - Picaresque
The Decemberists could stage plays based on their albums, and maybe they should. Meloy's voice is suited for both comedy and tragedy, and the dramatic Picaresque will make you laugh and cry. It isn't the best Decemberists album, but it doesn't need to be - it's another solid release from a band that has limitless potential.
05 British Sea Power - Open Season
The first four selections were pretty easy picks, but the coveted fifth position was the most difficult for me, considering how much the new Spoon album has been growing on me. In the end, however, Open Season stands out from its competitors because it is so optimistic. In a time when so many bands (including those on this list) are moving in a darker direction, the BSP boys are swimming upstream with their breathy power-pop aesthetic.
01 Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Superwolf
After five months, I still hear new things each time I listen. It's nice to see Sweeney show his post-Chavez songwriting growth, 'specially after the whole Zwan debacle, and Oldham's lyrics are stellar, as usual. I'm beginning to think this may be one of both men's best albums.
02 Lau Nau - Kuutarha
Vulnerable and mystical, it's Finland's answer to Charalambides. This one's still getting better each time, too.
03 The Russian Futurists - Our Thickness
Yeah, you could write Matthew Adam Hart as yet another self-consciously nerdy pop craftsman who knows how to appeal to a very specific audience, but he's really too good to pin down like that. Plus, as much of a knack for melody as he has, his songs rock and roll at the core, distancing him plenty from the OC-approved fold.
04 Caribou - The Milk of Human Kindness
More reinvention from Dan Snaith. This time, he's moving his aesthetic closer and closer to the genre-free utopia that Disco Inferno, Stereolab and Primal Scream almost took us to in the early and mid-90s.
05 Archer Prewitt - Wilderness
Prewitt narrowly edges out some fierce competition from One Be Lo and Cold Bleak Heat with his offbeat song structures and 70s AM goodness. Thanks to you, Archer, I'm spending way too much time listening to Todd Rundgren and Tommy these days.
Natalie B. David
01 Alkaline Trio - Crimson
The latest from the Alkaline Trio offers some of the group's most polished work to-date without relinquishing their raw intensity or duplicating their previous efforts. "Time To Waste," "Burn," and their rerecording of "Sadie" are some of the most complex and sonically interesting compositions in their catalogue.
02 Copeland - In Motion
Although less cohesive and more pop this go-round, Copeland's second effort escapes the sophomore slump with a confident and polished set of indie pop that all but escapes the trappings of the worn out emo genre.
03 Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Conor Oberst is the breakout indie star of 2005, and for good reason. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, the softer of two simultaneous releases, combines folk beauty with old-school country storytelling and the gut wrenching honesty attempted by many yet made believable by few.
04 Danko Jones - We Sweat Blood
We Sweat Blood is cock rock at its best: fun, fast and feral.
05 Gorillaz - Demon Days
The sophomore release from cartoon group Gorillaz differs from their eponymous release by creating a darker, and, surprisingly, less cartoonish world where hip-hop, brit-rock, electronica and Dennis Hopper monologues all seem perfectly at home.
01 The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
Behind the old senior citizen's complex two or three of us are trying to keep the cold out. Long after ridiculous curfews subtly pass, we make the trek homeward. I remember the conversations fondly, and your house around the corner that always awaited your arrival, your inevitable descent from the cold. Listening to the Mountain Goats latest release, The Sunset Tree, I'm slowly re-tracing the steps taken on those nights, and wistfully remembering my youth - stark revelations in every scene on The Sunset Tree will conjure up your own ghosts, without any uncertainty. On the heels of the last year's We Shall All Be Healed, that dealt with the lost of friends to heavy drug use, The Sunset Tree explores Darnielle's relationship with an abusive stepfather, a candid, painful flash to the not-so-forgotten past. Keyboards, cellos, pianos, supple bass lines, and Darnielle's surprisingly temperate vocals reminds us that for every single moment of misery, there has to be a rewarding moment of hope. Under the shade of The Sunset Tree lies the brightest light - your own joyous moments that you'll no doubt soon encounter, and tragic stories that you're still trying hard to forget. "There's gonna come a day/when you'll feel better/you'll rise up easy on the day/and float from branch to branch/lighter than the air/just when that day is coming/who can say?"
02 Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Superwolf
There's absolutely nothing like a great collaboration, especially when each musician is arguably just as talented as the other, respectively. Superwolf is a romping, allayed record full of intervolving, sparse guitars, rugged-yet-smooth melodies, and words by Oldham that'll blueprint your mind at least until the year's end, at which time finding this record amongst the year's best won't come as a surprise. Self-deprecating beard-folk-rock at its best? Yeah, something like that.
03 The Fiery Furnaces - EP
I knew this wasn't just any B-sides collection from the energy felt by the bubbly snyth in "Single Again", the EP's first track. At the same time, I realized The Fiery Furnaces are now more than a weird experimental pop band, as they've taken their ability to tell short, intimate stories to a new swirling level. Eleanor's vocals on "The Summer Is Here," carries more warmth than actual summer's themselves, while numerous temo changes underlined by a compelling narrative in "Smelling Cigarettes" reminds Blueberry Boat fans why in fact they're Blueberry Boat fans. Call it an EP, but damn it if it doesn't feel like their best album yet.
04 Destroyer - Notorious Lightning and Other Works EP
As a Canadian, I'm proud to say that Destroyer's Your Blues is one the finer records released this side of the border in recent memory, but Dan Bejar's live show has always come under scrutiny, often referred to as 'frustrating'. Well, if Bejar too felt that frustration, then it's safe to say it's all getting out now. Accompanied by the unnerving talent of backing band Frog Eyes, who're actually quite more than a backing band, tracks from Bajar's magnificent Your Blues are transformed with force and fervency. The six tracks are stripped from their former context, filled to their potential with fight and verve, as Bejar nobly matches the intensity of Frog Eyes. Cheers for no more live show scrutiny, as it's all but impossible now.
05 Animal Collective & Vashti Bunyan - Prospect Hummer EP
Somewhere within the make-up of Animal Collective you'll find creative gears churning at unregulated speeds, which is presumably why Prospect Hummer graces us not even a year after Sung Tongs was released. The four-song EP shows us what we knew all along - Animal Collective, ultimately, can make folk songs like nobody's business, and with the help of Vashti Bunyan, whose fragile voice falls between the draft of steel drums, acoustic guitars, and lost pianos, it's really just a matter of time before they make the record of your (my) dreams.
01 LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
Call it what you want - dance-punk, electro-rock, disco-funk, whatever. When the songs, like "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" or "Losing My Edge," are this well-crafted, this well-executed, and this listenable, all you need to call it is really good.
02 Quasimoto - The Further Adventures of Lord Quas
If the word unique didn't exist, it would have to be created for a Quasimoto record. This Madlib alter-ego sounds like nothing else you've heard, with the helium-voiced delivery, the left-field samples, the seamless blending of hip-hop, jazz, and sound collage. You even get another Madvillain song, "Closer," icing on a very sweet, intoxicating cake.
03 The Shipping News - Flies the Fields
With the Slint reunion tour happening around the same time this came out, it might have been easy to forget the best Slint-influenced band playing right now. Forgetting them is a mistake, though, because this is their best album since Save Everything. With songs like "Axons and Dendrites" and "(Morays or) Demon" Shipping News again found what makes their music so powerful and so compelling.
04 The Books - Lost and Safe
They kept the elements that made their previous records so well-loved - the string instrument samples, the strange intimacy given the electronic origins. They added their own voice, which gives even more grounding to the strange goings-on. It is an unusual sound, certainly, but who wants the usual, anyway?
05 M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us
If you're going to make an album dripping with emotion, this is how I'd like it to sound. There's no whining, no screaming, no tantrums. Instead, it is shimmering, sweeping, and takes the breath from your chest. It's so much more satisfying that way.
01 Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Superwolf
An emotive, moving and musical collaboration from these two unlikely partners in folk-rock, Superwolf combines the best elements of Oldham's warped visions of Americana and Sweeney's deep entrenchment in indie guitar-rock.
02 The Decemberists - Picaresque
People have loved this band for their past two albums, but this time around is really the full realization of Colin Meloy and company's talents. Lyrics ripped from imaginary novels remain intact, but the band has achieved a full sound that is lush and original, traveling from pop-rock to sea chanty.
03 Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak
A surprise pick (for this writer), KOL's second full-length rings clear and true, the best elements of their southern revival meets post-punk displayed proudly from beginning to end. Sometimes the British are right, and their quick embrace of this band was just the right thing to do.
04 Architecture in Helsinki - In Case We Die
This Aussie collective's second album combines the playfulness and musical theater/circus of the Unicorns with pick-your-favorite-pop-music-impresario - songs that change on a dime, a live show that is both hippy-free and controlled chaos, and an album's worth of musical gems.
05 LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
Have you ever heard of the DFA? They are these dudes who invented this genre called "dance-punk" which makes people really happy because they can dance like fools at shows and not be too embarrassed while still pretending to be punk rock. It's super nice.
01 Of Montreal - The Sunlandic Twins
When I first bought this disc, I didn't really have enough time to give it a thorough listening. Frustrated, I went into work and couldn't figure out what the hell I was going over relentlessly in my head, which oddly enough was a good majority of this album. I'm completely convinced now that nobody today can write songs that get crammed in the attic better than Kevin Barnes, and this album just proves it. Although the breezy, catchy somewhat electro-infused butt-shaking tone of the majority of the album gives way to a somewhat unremarkable strange dark and shadowy denouement, the bulk of this album is completely amazing, addictive and inexcusable for anyone to miss.
02 Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
It would be completely unfair to compare Bloc Party to simple-minded innocent dance punk-pop outfits. With Silent Alarm, they have passionately mingled the aggressive with the melodic and pumped out an album with enough depth and musical curve balls to give them a much better shelf life than that. There's just too many pounding rhythms laced with irresistible hooks to deny the amazing future that lies ahead for this band.
03 Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
This is quite simply an album that exhibits everything I loved from Conor Oberst, except that it is in much more of a mature and cohesive example of it. Almost all of the songs exhibit raw and exposed human emotion and genuine sentiment, but this time not only stemming from his lyrical and vocal expressions, but also from the soundtrack itself.
04 Alkaline Trio - Crimson
Although it was just recently released, I was so excited by what I initially heard from Crimson that I put it to heavy examination, which landed it here on the list. Even when I thought that Good Mourning was, as far away from the beaten punk path they would dare venture, they keep moving on toward a more musical and melodic Alkaline Trio than ever before. This isn't to say that they didn't throw a couple of tracks doused in the old flavors of their past - it's just that I've always known that Skiba and his co-conspirators are capable of so much more, and it looks like they're starting to believe so as well. Heavy melodies and anthemic choruses accentuate dramatic lyrics and dark plotlines. All of this is pounded home with a rhythm that pulls you into their world.
05 The National - Alligator
Dark poetic hopeless crooning driven by a pounding rhythm section over fantastic rock songs. There is nothing drastically new about what The National have done on Alligator. That isn't what's important here. What they have done is create the perfect musical backdrop to let Matt Berninger steal the show - and he does.
01 A Hawk and a Hacksaw - Darkness at Noon
Drummer for Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Jeremy Barnes could have cashed in on the myth of one of the most influential and unorthodox bands of the 90s. He could but he doesn't, preferring to sound absurdly cool when playing accordion and shuffling through Eastern European flavors and the far from commonsensical rural America. Stating it's like Yann Tiersen on acid doesn't seem right, as he expands on the scroll-format, carrousel-driven casual oddities, and delivers a record more suited to a stuffy bar - but one that could be found in the Balkans as well as in Texas.
02 Mike Ladd - Negrophilia
In a record where not a note is wasted, Mike Ladd lets it all go downhill fast only to abruptly rearrange things and confuse matters further. Imbued with a jazzy verve but consciously penetrated by dusty beats, Negrophilia sets considerable store in the sub world of fusionist languages by addressing racial issues with a trumpet, an organ and a synthesizer. Yet another way to put the power back in the streets, but one where the MCing is delivered in cinematic detail.
03 The Books - Lost and Safe
Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong are what one could call linguistic musicians, as they build some sort of language of counterpoint with the ordinary word-based sound works. The voice here is truly an instrument in its own right, a moving part that goes deep in the collages of sound and emerges even more emancipated, more detached from the sample galore that embodies the duo's third inception, second on Tomlab. This is indie electronics possibly compared to the likes of The Postal Service, but backstabbed by a savvy, inimitable joie de vivre with a love for words and semantics.
04 M.I.A. - Arular
Sometimes reminiscent of militiamen fighting for independence, Arular is Maya Arulpragasam's tribute to her father, a revolutionary supporting the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, but absorbs such languages as electro, hip-hop, dancehall and world music along the way. However groovy the record may be, London-based M.I.A. crafts warfare-like chants that will make you wonder whether to dance or pick a weapon and fight. This joint feel places the record halfway between the London-esque slang delivery and the sound of grenades way back in the island, located off the south-eastern cost shores of India.
05 Jesu - Jesu
Far be it from me to pounce on the extreme fan's appreciation for anything industrial, but Justin Broadrick's new project is an untainted, slow blossoming of pop gems. Known for his career fronting the excellent Godflesh, the predacious anger of Napalm Death and the excruciating Techno Animal, Broadrick finds himself being compared to My Bloody Valentine for his auspicious debut album under the Jesu moniker. But stay calm, all shoegazers and party people out there, this record goes to a place, an antiseptic, dark-layered universe, where those guys never dared to go.
Eric J Herboth
01 Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
It's been what, 12 years or something since Kurdtdtd Cobain killed himself? And other than, say, Radiohead, has anything of interest happened in rock music since then? And I'm talking about Rock music, with a capital R, not hip hop with a live drummer or pop music plugged into an amplifier. I can't really think of all that many truly remarkable albums - the ones that make passers by ask Who is that? - but from the first time I heard Silent Alarm all the way through, I have felt a resurgence in my flagging interest in rock music. Who knows if Bloc Party will pan out to be the next band destined for regular airplay 20 years from now, but listening to this album it certainly seems possible. This feels like Sonic Youth all over again.
02 The Decemberists - Picaresque
When Colin Meloy chose to rhyme "Miranda" with "veranda" in the song "We Both Go Down Together," he inadvertently damn-near lost his band a spot in this list. But, that most aggravating minute detail aside, Picaresque is pretty awe-inspiring in the realm of modern music - where Beck can make a Spanglish album about dance floors and "Guatemalan soccer ball instant replays" that sounds downright poetic in the face of its contemporaries. This is an album in the truest sense: a collection of stories put to music in the form of songs. More addictive than crack, I've listened to this album all the way through multiple times in a row, on several occasions.
03 Cloud Cult - The Happy Hippopotamus
You know how there is that intrinsic timelessness to Radiohead and Nirvana albums, even the very first time you hear them? This album is like that: immediately at home in its own skin and immunized against any "Oh my gawd, that shit is so lame" embarrassment a year from now, but it does so in a dramatically non-rock way - which isn't to say that this album doesn't rock, because it does, but in a very strange, very hard-to-pin-down way... like a bizarre mash-up between Neutral Milk Hotel and, I dunno, a more insane version of the Beatles? This is one of those crazy albums with a bad name and bad artwork that you're probably not going to check out, but if you do, I promise you'll remember it.
04 Caribou - Milk of Human Kindness
I fell for this record slowly, so I can't even say for sure if I've completely settled in. Changing his name hasn't hindered the artistic expression of Dan Snaith, his flittering focus lapseing between psyched-out folkadelia, synthetic krautrock blends and guitar riffage with a gritty realism. This album is all over the place, but generally lands on target with each stylistic transition. It is probably the single album that I've listened to the most this year, and that isn't just because there's a copy stuck in the CD player at the bike shop.
05 Dälek - Absence
Hip-hop has pretty much taken over the modern musical environment, which I wouldn't have any issue at all with if producers, MCs and DJs had the skills, in general, that Dalek, Stil and Oktopus have. This album hits harder than anything in its class and, what's more - it actually says something that will resonate more than 15 minutes later.
01 The Decemberists - Picaresque
I'd listened to The Decemeberists on many occasions before this year, and songs like "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect" and "July! July!" were quite astonishing. But this album in particular has been notable because I can't seem to get enough of it; it has even clarified my grasp of the band's previous. The gentle delivery and meticulously woven narratives have not ceased to enthrall me, and I find myself knowing these stories more dearly than I would have previously imagined.
02 The Boy Least Likely To - The Best Party Ever
I'm a sucker for a good pop song - what's better than happy indie pop? This album was a total surprise to me at the time I discovered it; I found myself enjoying it thoroughly the first listen through. Sometimes a house built with a façade of innocence can say a lot more about the ideals and experience inherent than even the most dashingly serious epic.
03 Architecture in Helsinki - In Case We Die
Some call this the music for those with ADD, or for those that don't appreciate proper song structure. It is actually the dynamic and unexpected aspects of this album that yields its best moments. Such a nice divergence from the material on Fingers Crossed made me excited for the album, from the very first listen of the first single, "Do the Whirlwind".
04 The Fiery Furnaces - EP
After last year's fabulous Blueberry Boat, I was not expecting too much from these guys too soon - then they went and surprised me with a great release right at the start of the year. Songs like "Here Comes the Summer" and "Evergreen" did not leave my mp3 player for a long while.
05 Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs
I like it when I can't really touch on how a feel about an album in a few sentences, it still reveals itself to me each and every time I listen to it. The same could be said about great art - there is a reliance on the audience to essentially 'complete' the work. I must listen and take away my own questions; without me the music isn't really whole. This album is awe-inspiring and personal in that way.
01 Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs
This album is nothing but a collection of perfect pop singles, each remarkably different. Such a wide variety of sounds make The Mysterious Production of Egg enjoyable for anyone and everyone. Not to mention Bird's breathtaking whistle...
02 The Decemberists - Picaresque
Sure, they're my favorite comtemporary band and sure Colin Meloy's songwriting is above every other songwriter. From the lush images to the full orchestral sounds of the band, these kids have it all - including me - in the palms of their hands.
03 Spoon - Gimme Fiction
This band cannot fail, in my eyes. Another step in a different direction from this Austin Texas quartet. Spoon ranges from all out rock and roll, to Bee Gees inspired disco. Me gusta mucho.
04 LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
An album that confuses me. I don't know why I like it as much as I do... perhaps it's due to it's simplicity. This album makes you dance and it feels good. Some of the songs go on for too long, but being released on two cd's, there is more than enough to enjoy perfectly, as it is.
05 The Boy Least Likely To - The Best Party Ever
Have you heard this album? Talk about summertime fun. This is going to be played a lot when I'm around. Silly fun pop music at it's best. I am in love with this record.
01 The Shipping News - Flies the Fields
Smoldering with the kind of anger that arises from betrayal, Flies The Fields is an epic in every sense of the word. Its shadowy, intricate rhythms have the sinister aspect of Slint's Spiderland and the guitars slash through the night like spotlights seeking out escaped convicts. Rich in imagery, the record's dark prose is reminiscent of beat poetry. Complex arrangements crescendo like floods and songs move with the practiced urgency of disaster crews. Flies The Fields is a brooding masterpiece with a slow-burning wick and there's a powder keg of post-rock dynamite at the end. Light the fuse.
02 Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
There is medication available for the kind of mood swings Black Sheep Boy goes through. Alternating between the bruised and battered folk music of Will Oldham and the dewy, slightly cracked pop of Neutral Milk Hotel, Black Sheep Boy is a walking contradiction. It's also full of lovely, unpredictable alt-country melodies that lead you on an emotional expedition through troubled minds and tortured souls. Follow the map and you'll come out a changed man.
03 Roué - Upward Heroic Motive
A wolfish grin creeping across the face of a man who is not to be trusted, Upward Heroic Motive is as sinister as anything that's ever come out of Cleveland's art-punk scene. And that includes Pere Ubu. This album is a visceral, explosive mix of sneering vocals, propulsive rhythms and blinding guitar salvos that send shards of distorted notes and chords flying at your face. Roué shows you that when executed with this kind of keen, sinewy musicianship and snotty attitude, punk can still raise your pulse to unhealthy levels.
04 The Kills - No Wow
The bastard children of X's John Doe and Exene Cervenka, The Kills' VV and Hotel are like those bad parents you hear about who lock their children in the basement and starve them close to death. Only with The Kills, you don't hear abused kids crying from the cellar; instead, it's their pained, bluesy art-punk sound that's wasting away to nothing and calling out for help. Rife with tension and so sparse you can see the relief outline of its ribs, No Wow is even leaner than The Kills' skin-and-bones debut, Keep On Your Mean Side. No Wow sees Hotel experimenting with different guitar tunings to fill in the empty space with rounded, fuzzier tones and VV wails like a woman scorned as a drum machine and odd percussive knick-knacks make the already austere environment that much more unbearable. X set Los Angeles ablaze with fearless punk anthems about desperation, domestic violence and trailer trash drama. No Wow shows that not much has changed since then.
05 Queens Of The Stone Age - Lullabies To Paralyze
It'll always be seen as the sequel to Songs For The Deaf, and with good reason. A huge beast of a record that blotted out the sun with its huge, crunching riffs and caused earthquakes with its seismic rhythms, Songs For The Deaf brought the band out of the desert and into civilization. Expectations were incredibly high for Lullabies To Paralyze, especially with longtime bassist Nick Oliveri getting the boot. Out of this chaos comes a record with a sound that's just as thick and powerful, but even more stylistically varied and dynamic. It takes more chances and Homme's ghostly vocals, especially in the upper registers, sound positively eerie. Long live the Queens.
01 The National - Alligator
Alligator rises to prominence by way of the narrative, sketching magnificent likenesses of despicable characters in much the same way Springsteen has done in his career. There are sepia toned portraits of unlikely heroes and villains, each with foul secrets and regrets to reveal; the depths seem never-ending. Perhaps more central, however, is these characters' desperate need to believe in vindication and glory. Many of the tracks within Alligator capture the longing for salvation despite one's blood-stained memory, searching for self-importance, redemption or just a lovely streak of luck.
02 50 Foot Wave - Golden Ocean
Kristin Hersh's newest creation is a perfect mess. It's artwork made of garbage, where each soiled and pungent piece is laid with great precision to create something great, then lit on fire for dramatic effect. Each step is planned to look drunk and uncoordinated; each breakdown, dropout and rebel yell is right on target. They make visceral trash rock look easy, and what's more, they make it stick to your fingers, clothes and subconscious.
03 Thunderbirds Are Now! - Justamustache
It would be a true shame if TAN! didn't garner the acclaim they deserve or end up on numerous year-end lists with Justamustache, because it could very well be this year's Funeral. There are more scene-stealing details, more focus and more overall classicism and depth than they've ever had. Justamustache sounds like a classic album, and with any true justice, it will be revered in kind.
04 The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday
Hope is always driven by fear, it seems, and Separation Sunday is all about a distant, pensive perspective, the likes of which makes the album's title all the more revealing. Growing up can be paralyzing when you've got nothing to hold on to, and the once invincible characters found in the chronology of Lifter Puller are now scrambling in desperation. It's powerful stuff, too real to be fabricated.
05 Low - The Great Destroyer
This is Low's piece of bubbling, sinister and beautiful debauchery, dramatic through and through. It is wholly troubling and uplifting and it gives you the choice between destruction and hope. Despite its title, it moves towards hope.
01 Keith Fullerton Whitman - Multiples
Back to the lab! With the Univac, HAL 9000 and other machines, Keith Fullerton Whitman builds a non-clinical Exploratorium of electronic textures. Rich and full, Multiples is essential knob-twiddling.
02 Point-Royal - Flares
My favorite record for most of 2005; post-post-rock if you will. Dreamy, interesting and fulfilling while mostly played on guitars.
03 The Books - Lost and Safe
Their most, erm, mature recoding yet - at times sounding like Pinback and less old-timey than their previous releases. Continually surprising after repeated listens.
04 Colleen - Golden Morning Breaks
After the electronic bliss-out of her first record, Everyone Alive Wants Answers, this was the seemingly impossible; a next record organic antecedent! Forgoing much that was plugged in and programmed before, Golden Morning Breaks exceeds with acoustic aplomb.
05 Stephan Mathieu - The Sad Mac
Thrilling extrapolation of tape experiment, instrument juxtaposition and 'what sounds good,' The Sad Mac is fifth on this list and first in our hearts.
01 Keith Berry - The Ear That Was Sold To A Fish
His earlier works were as still as a coy pond, but this effort is generous in its textural fullness. That being said, Berry has made mention that his music is like drifting down a river, a statement which still applies to The Ear That Was Sold To A Fish. With samples and field recordings in hand, these compositions don't ask for anything and provide a rich weave of peculiar, nuanced blocks of sound.
02 Mirror - Shadows
Much of Mirror's work endeavors to uncouple an experience from its subject. Its opaque panels of throbbing oscillations skewed samples and perturbed ambience sketch detailed portraits whose figures can never quite be grasped. There is no ownership in these pieces; sounds pass away, mutate and merge with one another as though a pack a people attempting to forge identity through their relations with the environment and one another.
03 Hood - Outside Closer
The album blends murky, lower rhythm textures with a tenderly escalating patchwork of brighter notes and loops from a litany of instruments, coalescing into a sensuous, mid-paced drift. At once bouncy and glum in disposition, this effort carries Hood onto a more accessible, particular disclosure of stifled aspirations. Atop this bed adorned with many wooly sheets and knick-knacks, Chris' strangled moan tosses and turns like someone in a bout of restlessness.
04 Stephan Mathieu - The Sad Mac
"Theme For Amelisweerd" is a mournful montage of violin sonata's obscured by long, steamy clouds of processing and the dying gasps and murmurs of Mathieu's ancient software. This document harbors some of Mathieu's best work yet; it construes a convincing argument that there remains uncultivated territory in technology and technique long since left.
05 Lau Nau - Kuutarha
An aid in the articulation of the burgeoning New Weird Americana or free-folk landscape, this Finland girl revels in Eastern pot and pan percussion, crackling chimes, loosely strung guitars and her own elfish chirrup. Unlike much of the other sounds stemming from this camp (Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Jeweled Antler Collective, etc.), Laura's recordings retain the feel of someone's personal mantra, while nevertheless being playful and wholeheartedly engaging.
01 Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
I wasn't aware that Tracy McGrady fronted a rock band in his free time, but one thing is for sure: Bloc Party is poised for big things. There's a vibe, infectious and powerful, on Silent Alarm that builds and sweeps over the listener... this is how albums should be made, large in scope and aurally infectious.
02 Sage Francis - A Healthy Distrust
There are times when I listen to Sage Francis and am floored with jealousy. How one man can so consistently land the perfect line or image, and not having gaping inconsistencies in the quality of his work is astounding.
03 Lou Barlow - Emoh
Emoh is soft and personal: life experienced and remembered, melancholy and moving. Barlow creates an accessible, delicate record that creeps up on the listener and despite its sadness, sooths and redeems.
04 Hood - Outside Closer
Outside Closer is downbeat, multi-textured pop meanderings with a spacey electronic canvas; music to lose yourself in. Hood hypnotize and drift into the expanse, lulling the listener away until they're roused by the realization that they should have been Hood fans five years ago.
05 Architecture in Helsinki - In Case We Die
Still sugary, but more manic - even schizophrenic - In Case We Die charms the pants off of even the most scathed cynic. Elephant 6 in spirit, peculiar and original in practice.
01 Stars - Set Yourself On Fire
Beautifully crafted melodies, mathematical orchestration, and lilting vocals make the 3rd album by a sentimental Canadian 80s pop band my number one pick for the year thus far.
02 Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
A close second, and quite possibly the best album Conor Oberst has put out to date. His words are shocking and poignant emphasized by not-so-traditional folk guitar melodies.
03 Armor for Sleep - What to Do When You Are Dead
Although lately they've been selling records like one, Armor for Sleep is not a conventional emo/pop/punk band. A completely different sound than their debut release, the concept album expands the band's classification and emotional contiguity.
04 Decemberists - Picaresque
An ambitious third full-length from a band that has never failed to impress me. Living up to the reputation of its predecessors, Picaresque keeps itself in my stereo.
05 13 & God - 13 & God
These guys aren't kidding when they call themselves a 'supergroup'. Native beauty and poetic genius carried this album onto my top five list.
01 Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
If all new UK bands were age of discovery explorers Franz Ferdinand would be Magellan. Bloc Party would be Cortez, with a little more rock and without all that killing of indigenous peoples.
02 Gorillaz - Demon Days
This album proves once again that i do not in fact look good shaking my ass. But put On "dare" and just watch out dance floor fashionistas.
03 Bright Eyes - Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
Someone should buy this dude a puppy. Seriously. If only the bottle would love him back. Then I guess we wouldn't have any more good albums. This is a good album.
04 Lucero - Nobody's Darlings
Lucero is from Tennesse. Dolly Parton is also from there. This doesn't sound like Dolly Parton. This sounds like Whiskey and Smoke punk rock in bars with chicken wire stage cages.
05 The 101 - Green Street
Good power pop from Brooklyn. Must represent.
01 Autechre - Untilted
A friend once told me that he found it impossible to listen to any two Warp releases one after another. I, however, have discovered that when it comes to Autechre, dealing with two tracks one after another is a challenge in itself. Untilted jars, jerks and suppresses melody making listening with anything less than one's full attention a daunting prospect. As its charm lurks deep within, once unearthed, Untitled may prove to be one of the most rewarding listening opportunities you'll embark on this year.
02 Four Tet - Everything Ecstatic
Rounds was always going to be a difficult release for Kieran Hebden to follow. Luckily enough, Everything Ecstatic possesses enough buoyancy, cheerfulness and charm to satisfy the musical world's pop fetish, and the jittery undertones to earn it critical acclaim. With "Smile around the Face", we may have a contender for single of the year.
03 Jaga Jazzists - What We Must
After winning the hearts of their native Norway, Jaga Jazzist appear to be turning the heads that were previously unturned on a global scale. Although What We Must demonstrates a clear lean towards the poppier side of contemporary jazz, the epic beauty that resides somewhere amongst the ten members of Jaga is still transmitted. The seven (long) songs on What We Must cover more ground than most bands can aspire to cover in their lifetime.
04 M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us
This album is not as drawn out and emotionally crushing as Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. It is more formulated, straight-forward and instantly memorable, which may make it more appealing on a wider scale. Although I preferred the uncertainty of Dead Cities, Before the Dawn Heals U is a remarkable record in its own right. It demonstrates the confidence that is crucial to the development of any artist's musical career, and represents an interesting stepping stone with regard to where Anthony Gonzales will take M83 next.
05 Ida - Heart like a River
Ida somehow manage to utilise heartbreaking songwriting without stumbling over themselves or appearing unrefined. They possess the qualities that made emo so popular in the nineties, and yet convey themselves in an entirely mature light. Without a single dud on display, Heart like a River is Ida's best album yet.
01 LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
Although the dance-punk thing is getting annoying, James Murphy brings some fresh shit to the table. He throws a DJ/electro aspect into the mix, and has the knowledge of music and sense of humor to make this one of the best albums of 2005, not just the first half of the year. Plus there are two compact discs included, one with new material and the other with previously released music from 12"s.
02 Brazilian Girls - Brazilian Girls
Different elements entering all over the niche map including electronic, dub, punk, dance, and more. Comes together as a summer record that is sexy as hell.
03 Quasimoto - The Further Adventures of Lord Quas
Some way-out, off-the-hook hip-hop stuff from Madlib's helium-voiced alter ego. Tons of funny, potent lyrics and the sampling/mixing of old soul and jazz-funk is first rate. If you liked Madvillain's Madvillainy or MF Doom's Mm..Food? you will be a fan of this one.
04 Stars - Set Yourself on Fire
It has a soft, love-y indie rock side but then it has a pretty good electronically minded side too. Blended with some soulfulness, boy-girl vocals, and the fact that they're from Canada and Set Yourself on Fire has all the right things going for it.
05 Crystal Skulls - Blocked Numbers
Just barely edged out Spoon and Caribou for #5. Something about this album is really catchy to me. They sound like what would've happened in my mind if The Strokes and Flaming Lips would have collaborated. Really tightly wound, melodic, dual guitar indie rock. Just try it, I think it's the single most underappreciated release of the first half of 2005.
The LAS Staff
A number of the Lost At Sea staff have worked and continue to work for various publications, both independent and commercial. Often very stifling in their narrow focus, conventional media outlets left our writers hungry for something bigger, more diverse, more communal. More active, because this is the twenty-first century and it makes sense. During it's short life LAS has accomplished many of its goals (but not all) and has in turn set new ones. Everything that we accomplish is through teamwork and cooperation, both with our regular staff writers and with our contributing writers. LAS is nothing short of a collective. Another contrasting point to some of the magazines out there is that we've checked our egos and scene ethics at the door. We welcome anyone and everyone to contribute and cover a wide range of topics. LAS does not follow your guide lines.
See other articles by The LAS Staff.
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