The Forgotten Arm (SuperEgo)
The older Aimee Mann gets, the more unforgiving her sympathy for humanity becomes. The Forgotten Arm is her emotional ground zero, a loose concept record of addictions, attritions, and escapes that is plotted like the sneak-attack boxing move of its title. Finding a reason to avoid a record with existential blisters (“Life just kind of empties out / Less a deluge than a drought”) is as easy as refusing to stare at the sun; the record’s rewards, however, those revelations of beauty from a bottomed-out vantage point, are found only by confronting them head-on. Mann’s game is that real: too real for some, or a sure sign of a successful emotional strategy.
Zeth Lundy PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
Warmer Corners (Matinee)
Australian trio the Lucksmiths will never be considered the best of the year, because they’re not trying to blow your mind. There’s no hook, no flashy story for journalists to hang text around. Yet each year the Lucksmiths further perfect their already masterful style of sensitive and eminently melodic pop. Warmer Corners is especially gorgeous and heart-piercing. Intricate arrangements quietly lift up the melancholy songs, with bright horns and brisker tempos lending this break-up album a hopeful tone. The first-person narrative of heartbreak gives the impression of autobiography, yet the album’s closing track is called “Fiction”, and smartly identifies the blurry line between the two.
Dave Heaton PopMatters review Amazon
The Alternative to Love (V2)
Call it the usual music industry irony: even with marketing shoves and support from critics all over creation, Brendan Benson’s third album, Alternative to Love, failed to grab its rightful place in the mainstream. It’s a shame, really; like the records of Badfinger and Nick Lowe, Alternative is a collection of meticulously written power pop songs, the kind of record with the intensity and strength of a greatest hits album pulled off by someone who does it without breaking a sweat. Alas, without the chart positions that Alternative deserved, it’s now up to record store clerks to assure the public that none of us can live without it.
Scott Carlson PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
A Healthy Distrust (Epitaph)
On the intersection between hip-hop and gun culture: “A homophobic rapper unaware of the graphic nature of phallic symbols / Tragically ironic, suckin’ off each others’ gats & pistols”. On parental responsibility: “You gave me the stone, gave me the chisel, didn’t say how to hold ‘em”. On why he’ll never get played on the radio: “(Radio) Suckers never play this / Scared shitless of dismissing Clear Channel playlists”. And that’s all in the first three songs. Sage Francis has enough anger to fill an entire CD collection on one little album. That album is A Healthy Distrust. It’s difficult to embrace an album with as much venom as this one has flowing through it—typically, the artists that actually appear on year-end lists think before they fire their weapons. For Sage, however, the art is therapy, and his audience sits in on the most cathartic sessions. It’s difficult, it’s belligerent, and it is brilliant.
Mike Schiller PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
My Machine (!K7)
Given that Princess Superstar’s biggest moment was a rap about her negligent babysitting habits, we couldn’t have been prepared for My Machine. She hasn’t traded in the puerile lyrics or the bratty attitude or the stumbling flow, but she’s used all that to fill out her magnificent sci-fi concept album. Superstar swings from detached to funny to emotional within one song, and bounces around a variety of post-modern fears, all while pushing her trashy music in your face. Yeah, she’d likely wipe her nose on your sleeve and swear at you for complaining, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t melded all her low fun into high art.
Justin Cober-Lake PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
Bright Like Neon Love (Modular)
The general consensus was that the new Daft Punk album was an enormous disappointment, but my theory is this: the record company accidentally mislabelled their CD. The album Bright Like Neon Love, released under the guise of an Australian group known as Cut Copy, was in fact the new Daft Punk album. Just listening to it reminds me of the simplistic electro-dance grooves I was expecting when I picked up Human After All. It might also be the most clap-friendly album ever created. If someone had just had a dog head in their video we would have been lauding their musical genius.
Erik Leijon PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
Face the Truth (Matador)
Stephen Malkmus’s cultural moment came and went sometime around the millennial changeover—but his talent never left. There’s no longer an entire subculture curious about his next move, but that hasn’t affected the wiggy and wonderful quality of his work. Face the Truth, Malkmus’s third solo album, is a catchy, clever reminder of why we cared about him in the first place. Never satisfied with a straight line when a detour will do, on Face the Truth Malkmus again proves his ability to mix the batty (“Pencil Rot’s” mix of keyboard and screwball lyrics), the beautiful (the jangly, dreamy “Loud Cloud Crowd”) and the brash (the guitar heroics of “No More Shoes”). No one’s taking cues from him anymore but that doesn’t mean he should be taken for granted—
Peddlin’ Dreams (Eleven Thirty)
Gather ‘round little dreamers… On Peddlin’ Dreams, Maria McKee is as mysterious and inspired as she was on her solo debut 16 long years ago. This sparse, hard record is a mind game—McKee sets us up in a seedy blues dive and winds up dragging our shaken asses to a whirly, trippy carnival of pain. McKee thrives on surprise; whether with her poetic lyrics of self-domination through ache and regret, or melodies that shift from smooth intros to crashing finales, nothing remains stable for long. Peddlin’ Dreams continues this trend. It’s everything a good record should be—engaging, thrilling, colorful, smart. And it’s all so aptly Maria, searching for honesty and truth, dwelling on mistakes, and finding contentment somewhere in between.
Nikki Tranter Amazon iTunes
Little Things (Leaf)
Even garnering its fair share of positive press and featuring contributions from some of Norway’s most accomplished and buzzworthy acts (Jaga Jazzist, Shining, Kaada), Hanne Hukkelberg’s impressive debut was largely slept on. On the surface, Hukkelberg’s voice sounds delicate and fragile; however, when pushed by the wonderfully diverse instrumentation behind her, she stands up to the test. Her band draws on diverse music including jazz, tropicalia, and big band while employing bottles and bicycle spokes. Thus, Hukkelberg sings in a world that is completely unique, exquisitely beautiful, and a wonder to get lost in. And she dives right in, offering jazz-styled vocal runs on “Do Not As I Do” and plaintive introspection on “Searching”, while keeping her stride among the gently shifting, conversationally-paced songs. Her voice is flexible, yet never loses its potent emotional punch and the resulting album is as honest as it is gorgeous.
Kevin Jagernauth PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent? (The C Kunspyruhzy)
Screaming guitars right next to poppy dance tracks; hilarious turns of phrase (“They got you by the malls!”) on the same record as completely sappy romantic stuff (“You said you couldn’t find yourself / Sorry, had you in my heart and carried you around with me all day”); collaborations with Prince and Del the Funkee Homosapien getting outshined by rockin’ performances by ancient Bernie Worrell and Gorgeous George Clinton himself. Clinton is the only one who never lied to us, and he has hella fun on this record. You ain’t lived till you’ve heard him rasp out, “Let’s go to the motherfuckin’ hop.”
Matt Cibula Amazon iTunes
Micah P. Hinson & The Gospel of Progress
Micah P. Hinson & The Gospel of Progress (Overcoat)
The debut from a singer-songwriter who developed a troubling pharmaceutical appetite, was jailed and homeless and declared bankruptcy after a model-turned-lover-turned-muse did a two-step all over his tender heart. And this was all before his 20th birthday. When his outlaw-like story is compared to Willie Nelson or his confessional sound to Dylan, we critics are missing the point. Hinson isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel—he is trying to excorise his demons. He gives us his poetry surrounded by the harmonica, the steel slide, and acoustic guitar, but it is in the messenger’s thick, grizzled voice that we find an album from 2005 that took a flame to a box full of old love letters and was as much prayer as record to a man trying to turn his life around.
Eddie Ciminelli PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
Devils & Dust (Columbia)
The mark of a truly great album is its ability to connect with a listener in new ways with each new listen. Devils & Dust, Bruce Springsteen’s sometimes brooding, sometimes joyous 2005 effort, is just such an album. Each successive listen yields new insights—political allegory segues into spiritual journey and exploration of family and place (“Jesus Was an Only Son” managing to encompass all of this), the folk and country underpinnings mixing with roots rock influences to create something more expansive and less studied than the disc it has most been compared to, 1996’s The Ghost of Tom Joad.
Hank Kalet PopMatters review Amazon iTunes