LUKE BAUMGARTEN & lt;hr height="2" & At the Drive-In - Acrobatic Tenement (1996) / El Gran Orgo (1997) / In/Casino/Out (1998) & r & A debate with Seven's Sam Jordan over The Mars Volta spurred me to revisit At the Drive-In's early albums. These albums rock like landslides and have the best ratio of artsy pretension to punk sensibilities to hesitating rock-stardom. The ratio, in my opinion, headed decidedly toward pretension later on, and continues to topple in that direction with each new Mars Volta album. This was smart kids making music, and it was beautiful.
Belle and Sebastian - Push Barman to Open Old Wounds (2005) & r & Released in 2005, this is really more of a compiling of all B & amp;Ses old stuff that I'd previously had to download (illegally) because I couldn't get my hands on the original pressings of like 1000 that most of these songs came out on. All the B & amp;S I've been listening to fastidiously for four-ish years, now in one, legal place
Decemberists - The Tain (2004) & r & One five part, 18-minute piece of rock-opera heaven.
Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat (2004) & r & In high school I had an S-10 Blazer that had problems with the starter. Schmabbing around in a 4WD definitely made it easy to get places other people couldn't go (parties deep in the woods of Chattaroy, etc) Until I got the starter fixed, though, I had to park facing downhill and coast until I hit like 15 miles per hour, then pop the clutch to get the thing running. Blueberry Boat is kinda like that. It took me a long time (well into 2005) to get up to speed with this release, but once I did, it's been taking me to places I didn't think existed.
The GZA - Liquid Swords (1995) & r & This makes my best of just about any year. The RZA may be simultaneously producing, rapping, scoring films, acting in films and working up his own bizarro religion, but, to borrow from the 36 Chambers, "The Genius is just the Genius."
Leonard Cohen - New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974) / Songs From a Room (1969) / Songs of Leonard Cohen (1968) & r & Basically any album from early in Leonard Cohen's career gets the hair on your neck up like an episode of Scooby Doo. Especially the tracks Suzanne, Chelsea Hotel No. 2, and Story of Issac. Shit'll turn you white.
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Airplane Over the Sea (1996) & r & I revisited this album a lot in 2005, especially when I was preparing to write that bit about Colin Meloy, trying to figure out why the Decemberists always get compared to NMH. I still don't get it (though it may have something to do with songs about dead babies ...). After the story was written, I found myself coming back to this album whenever my faith in humanity's ability to make something beautiful was shaken (when reading over my own work, for example). This is a profoundly hopeful album
Quasimoto - The Unseen (2000) & r & The re-release of Quas' debut album is more immediately accessible than his latest album. Not as groundbreaking, but definitely more fun.
The Vells - Flight From Echo Falls (2004) & r & This was by far my favorite release of 2004, and it continues to be among the best of this aging decade.
Viktor Vaughan - Vaudeville Villain (2003) & r & Showcases MF Doom's uncanny flows exclusive of the amazing cadre of producers (Madlib, Dangermous) he's been working with lately. Full of adroit pop culture and sci-fi references and samples, this is the album that began the buzz. What to listen to until that new Ghostface hits ... and, for that matter, the Ghostface / Doom collaboration MCs and [Adult Swim] fans alike have been salivating over.
JOEL SMITH & lt;hr height="2" & The Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004) & r & Strangely, though it came out in September of 2004, this album didn't make any of our top ten lists last year. And though I feel a little remiss that we missed it (I didn't even hear it until Christmas week of last year), I guess it makes sense in some ways. The band flew under the radar for about half a year after this came out, escaping mass attention, touring the United States and Canada, playing smallish venues. Then suddenly they just got huge. Pitchfork started lauding them, word-of-mouth spread. They started packing huge venues and scored two Grammy nominations (for this year).
Last week Entertainment Weekly said the band were relative nobodies until they played Coachella in May and blew everybody away. That was sort of my experience with them, too. I loved the record but missed them when they played Sasquatch in May. Then I caught them at the Austin City Limits music festival in September. I didn't really know what to expect. They came out in their dark formal attire, started cranking away at that mechanical intro to "Wake Up." Then they absolutely blew my hair back, all bazillion of them belting out the opening chorus in unison. I had goose bumps all over, despite the 108-degree heat. One of the best shows I've ever seen.
So, technically this came out in 2004, but it's still my favorite album of 2005.
Ben Kweller -Sha Sha (2002)/ On My Way (2004)
Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism (2004) & r & The Stranger very quickly named this their album of the year in 2004 and just as quickly rescinded that honorific, having played the record into the ground. It's held up pretty well for me, though. Not my favorite, but it's remained fresh. If only the same could be said for Plans which grew stale halfway through the first play.
The Decemberists - Her Majesty (2003)/ Castaways and Cutouts (2002) & r & Her Majesty is their best work to date - more accessible than Picaresque, more mature than Cutaways. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter. I could listen to "California One" and "The Legionnaire's Lament" forever and ever.
The Long Winters - When I Pretend to Fall (2003) & r & Half of this album is superb. The other half is either annoying or utterly forgettable.
Rilo Kiley - More Adventurous (2004)
Ted Leo - Shake the Sheets (2004)
Todd Snider - Near Truths and Hotel Rooms (2003)
The Weakerthans - Reconstruction Site (2003) & r & Easily makes the top ten list of my favorite albums from the last five years.
Belle and Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003) & r & A couple of good songs. A lot of dreck.
Rachmaninoff - Greatest Hits (2003)
Johnny Cash - Live At Folsom Prison (1968) & r & I've been a Cash fan for years. How is it that it's taken me this long to find and embrace this album? Walk the Line, that's how. I know - there goes my street cred. But there it is. The movie renewed my appreciation of "Jackson" and reignited my love for "Cocaine Blues." But I think "25 Minutes to Go" might be my dark-horse favorite here.
Paolo Conte - The Best of Paolo Conte (1998)
The Postal Service - Give Up (2004)
CAREY MURPHY & lt;hr height="2" & Visqueen - King Me (2003) & r & Now that it's on the Baby Bar's jukebox, there is just no end in sight, particularly considering Patty Tully's stellar air-guitar to the track "Vaxxine." Ask for it by name.
Luna - Penthouse (1995) & r & A flawless album that helps me with the pain of Dean Wareham, again, breaking my sad little heart.
X - Los Angeles (2001)
Bobby Bare, Jr's Young Criminals' Starvation League - From the End of Your Leash (2004)
The Microphones - Live in Japan (2004)
Bob Log III - Log Bomb (2003) & r & The greatest one-man band. And aficionado of the "Boob Scotch."
TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Hungry Babes (2004)
WASP - First Blood...Last Cuts (1993) & r & There's no such thing as too much Blackie Lawless, especially for all of those that fuck like a beast.
The Replacements - Let It Be (2002)/ Hootenanny (2002)