Slipped Discs

[13 January 2006]

By PopMatters Staff

We all know that year-end lists aren’t truly definitive; count and survey and poll all you want, but you won’t get a list that ends discussion. What we can hope for is a spark to conversation, a beginning point. When we read lists, we’re looking for reminders of the year past, tips on music we might want to check out, and headways into arguments. It can be fun and it can be a snapshot (will the 2005 list fare better than your junior year haircut after a few years have passed?), but it’s strictly an academic exercise.

But even knowing that, we still get fired up when our albums don’t make the cut. The first thing I do when I come to a new list is scroll down to see how my favorite albums placed, and when I can’t find one ... well, cripes, this whole world is run by a bunch of idiots and if I were in charge of things… And so it begins.

So when PopMatters put up its lists a few weeks ago, there were sure to be writers who slowly realized their cherished albums hadn’t scored enough votes to place. Clearly, the artists aren’t at fault—a combination of promotional incompetence, public lack of taste, and critical failure are more likely to be the cause. “If only people knew!” we cried.

So, to put things right, we’ve forgone voting and ranking and even a pretense of objectivity to let our writers tell you about that one album that was overlooked by clueless or misguided colleagues. It’s time to champion the underdog and revive the ignored superstar, to cross several continents and at least two oceans, to put our credibility on the line by going pop or risk our good standing by going snark. It’s time, in short, to let you in on our secret relationships.

And also to point out that everyone else is wrong.

Le Fil (Virgin)

Björk made Medúlla out of boredom, and it showed. Camille made this brighter, poppier, brilliant equivalent out of love and laughter, and it glows. From Arabian chanting via opera to hymns, then back again to chanson and rhythm & blues via spluttering beatboxing and playground catcalls: the songs are simple yet vibrant, playful and subtle, whilst Camille herself is irresistibly silly one moment and almost unbearably poignant the next, her soul’s singing sometimes vertiginous, sometimes “softly, silently, as one would wake the rain.” You didn’t hear a fresher or more delightful album in ‘05; you didn’t hear Le Fil ‘cos it’s (mostly) in French.
Stefan Braidwood Amazon

Art Brut
Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Fierce Panda)

If God were a hipster, whose Great Commission was to spread irony across the globe, then Art Brut will be the one to pummel the resident harpist into submission and take his place among the choir of seraphim. Boasting three-chord smart-alecky punk goodness not seen since the Ramones, the band is so self-referential that it hurts. However, because their wankery approaches hyper-pretentiousness, Pitchfork-ism is eschewed in favor of sheer anarchic enjoyment from laughing at the follies of our scene. Coupled with a ton of playful winks and more one-liner spewing from frontman Eddie Argos than all of Sam Raimi’s movie heroes combined, Art Brut has crafted one of the more important documents of 21st century cool. More importantly, Bang Bang Rock & Roll is the Seventh Seal for the second coming of a scenester Jesus.
Kenneth Yu PopMatters review Amazon

Elephant Eyelash (Anticon)

Maybe it’s a matter of punctuation. Why? befuddles at the onset with an awkwardly inquisitive pseudonym. The Anticon association further confounds with irrelevant expectations and unfortunate assumptions. Whatever the cause or case, Elephant Eyelash never attained the attention or acclaim it deserved. In an era where the increasing commercial viability of indie has all too many artists playing it safe, Yoni Wolf and his backing band continue to take risks. Naked and unflattering self-assessment abounds across intricately quirky arrangements in impossibly perfect consonance. Sunny ‘60s harmonies, shambolic slacker shuffle, and headnodding bounce swirl into cinematic splendor and explode into cathartic pop. Equal parts Paid in Full, Pet Sounds, and Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, Elephant Eyelash is that uncommon combination of audacity and delight. Stop questioning and seek it out.
Josh Berquist PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Fine China
The Jaws of Life (Common Wall Media)

Fine China’s The Jaws of Life has rekindled for me that all-consuming, almost scary love of music that comes with the discovery of an album like The Queen Is Dead or Wowee Zowee, and how it seems to enhance your very existence. From the first 30 seconds of lead-off track “Rated-R Movie”, when a Joy Division-inspired bass riff breaks the church-like ambience of a subdued reed organ, I was hooked. When singer Robert Withem sings his dark, literate, and wonderfully droll lyrics in his sweetly slurry delivery and nails Brian Wilson-like falsetto backing vocals to die for, I was absolutely obsessed. The Jaws of Life came out of nowhere and found the elusive connecting point where American indie-rock and British post-punk intertwine, and succeeded where so many have failed.
Mark Horan PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Live in Japan (Northside)

Only people who have been playing together for a long time make music like this. Olov Johansson (nyckelharpa), Mikael Marin (violin, viola), and Roger Tallroth (guitar) formed Väsen in 1989, and in this live recording they anticipate one another’s motifs with an intimacy that makes intricate tunes sound simple. This is three-dimensional, fluidly muscular folk music. The lines of sound run together like a host of eels twisting in a smooth knot, each instrument separate and distinct in its own right while also being part of a single, graceful mass. Live in Japan isn’t Väsen’s most accessible album, but it might be their best.
Deanne Sole Amazon iTunes

New Order
Waiting for the Sirens’ Call (Warner Bros.)

New Order is like your old childhood buddy who’s moved out of town. You don’t see her very often, but when you do, you get along as well as ever. It’s like the time hasn’t elapsed at all, and there’s a sense of comfort and nostalgia, but also possibility for the future. We love our best friends more for how they don’t change than for how they do, and Sirens’ Call was a warm reminder of why we’ve loved New Order over the years. Bernard Sumner has to be the most wide-eyed 50-year-old around, and the songs—the title track, “Krafty”, and “Turn” in particular—were stronger and fresher than they had a right to be. It was great hearing from you guys; let’s get a beer again soon.
John Bergstrom Amazon iTunes

John Vanderslice
Pixel Revolt (Barsuk)

John Vanderslice is a total sweetheart. The weekend after he played CMJ, his web site announced that his next gig would be a backyard barbeque in Brooklyn, and everyone was invited. Luckily, only around 40 people showed up, which is probably the same number who realize that the songwriter’s fantastic Pixel Revolt was one of the best albums of 2005. The edges from Cellar Door get smoothed out but the stories are just as dark and winding, their characters drawn with blurry lines. Vanderslice at his most hauntingly beautiful.
David Tatasciore PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Old Time Relijun
2012 (K)

Old Time Relijun ain’t just about regression (dig the childish fuck-drawing on the cover), they’re about infinite regression. You know, mathematics and infinity and worlds-within-worlds, all conceived within the stomping grounds of Arrington de Dionysio’s very finite and dirty brain. This album didn’t make many top 10 lists simply because rock ‘n’ roll is not a meritocracy. Well, there’s that, plus the band’s penchant for throwing formless jazzy excursions onto loud rock records. But I’ll forgive ‘em for that: no other band around can encompass dreams into polyrhythms, which themselves contain polyrhythmic dreams… And so on to the infinite regress, the old hollow tunnel where you can even hear your mama dancing.
Mark Desrosiers PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
Jacksonville City Nights (Lost Highway)

Amidst announcements that he was changing his name to Microbioticon and that he was releasing not two, but three albums in one year, it seemed certain Ryan Adams would soon be relegated to the rock ‘n’ roll parody hall of fame. Though all three of these releases were better than the ill-advised Rock and Roll, it was his down-and-dirty country record Jacksonville City Nights that saved him. Whether you count yourself among the Ryan Adams faithful, or just like to see him make an ass out of himself in public, denying the power of songs like “Hard Way to Fall” and “Peaceful Valley” is damn near impossible. Adams’s cathartic wail on “The End”—“Oh Jacksonville, how you burn in my soul / How you hold all my dreams captive”—is as an emotive a declaration as we’ve heard from him recently, and a welcome return to Adams’s Whiskeytown roots.
Dave Brecheisen PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

It’s Yours to Keep (Jackpine Social Club)

All too often “indie rock” connotes “doesn’t rock”. Not so with Loquat. This San Francisco quintet conveys motion without a single distortion pedal or juiced-up tempo. Rather, the band’s songs bob and float along light, fluid beats. Drum machines mesh so subtly with live drums that the question arises: Postal Who? Kylee Swenson’s voice is achingly beautiful, breaking up ever so slightly when pushed. Clean guitars, warm keys, and electronic textures intertwine in these perfect arrangements. Don’t let the quiet atmosphere fool you. Bands try for entire careers to reach the level of songcraft Loquat attains on its debut.
Cosmo Lee PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry (Yep Roc)

The Bielanko brothers, Dave and Serge, who hinted at earning their if-Springsteen-hailed-from-Philadelphia stripes on last year’s 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, finally nailed it with If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry. Recorded live in the studio, joyful tunes like “The Closer”, “The Hustle”, “Poor People”, and “Fat Boy” are the sound of the ups-and-downs of life in the big city, which in a nutshell, is why this album defined my year. Trad rock bands too often only make year-end lists with a formula tweak (see: the Hold Steady’s verbiage, Wilco’s bleeps ‘n’ bloops). Why Marah got overlooked for crafting an unpretentious, honest, meat and potatoes rock record only proves it’s best to live life taking the album’s title to heart.
Stephen Haag PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Cave In
Perfect Pitch Black (Hydrahead)

In a year where heavy music recaptured some spotlight, Perfect Pitch Black got lost in the shadows. Perhaps fans were worried about lukewarm leftovers from the band’s radio friendly major label misadventure, Antenna. Instead, Cave In offers the thrilling hybrid of ferocious hardcore metal and spacey sonic exploration that have come to define the band. Birthing a unique batch of songs, ferocious, celestial, and haunting, the group broadens their canvass, enticing wayward fans to return by way of spacecraft. Years ahead of their contemporaries, Cave In continues to astonish.
Dave Bekerman PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Otis Taylor
Below the Fold (Telarc)

The blues is a dying genre, thanks to most solid bluesmen (and women) who… well, died. There are a few who are trying to keep the spirit of the old style alive, none more important (or successful) than Otis Taylor. Because of his sparse, yet intense instrumentation, and his spoken lyrics of past injustices both personal and global, Taylor is the real deal. His sixth proper release, Below the Fold, contains some new tricks: drums on a few tracks, and trumpet on a few more. From the deranged hoedown of opener “Feel Like Lightning” to the trance-like “Your Children Sleep Good Tonight” to the openness of “Mama’s Got a Friend”, Taylor takes blues that would fit in the 1930s and moves it up to the next century. This is the best blues album of 2005, no question.
Lou Friedman PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Rachel Stevens
Come and Get It (Polydor UK)

The second album by Rachel Stevens has its sights set on something bigger than Annie’s indie appeal or Girls Aloud’s audacity: propelling the former S Club 7 member to mega-stardom. The finest UK pop export since Kylie Minogue’s Fever four years ago, Come and Get It is crammed with potential hit singles. The glam-inspired single “I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)” ranks as one of Stevens’ best yet, replacing the “Hot Love” swing of 2004’s “Some Girls” with an audacious Antmusic (by way of Gary Glitter) stomp. Whether it’s the Richard X-produced brilliance of “Crazy Boys” and the aforementioned “Some Girls”, the Cure-sampling “It’s All About Me”, or club anthem in the making “Funny How”, Stevens shows she’s no empty-headed pop tart, allowing her own charisma to show through the music. It’s not a groundbreaking album, but personality goes a long way, and this saucy, sassy, sultry album positively radiates it.
Adrien Begrand Amazon

I Muvrini
Alma (AGFB)

Alma translates as soul in the Corsican language and the title definitely fits this release. The Bernardini brothers are two of the most soulful singers that I have ever heard; and the album is filled with songs that pierce into the depths of one’s soul. All the songs were written by Jean-François Bernardini and are a reflection of his feelings and beliefs. They are sung in Corsican, a language that seems perfectly suited for music, as if this language was born to be sung. On Alma they have merged their sounds with that of some extraordinary singers from South Africa. This makes for an extremely exciting blend of voices. Alma has not only become my favorite album for 2005; but it is probably one of my favorite all time recordings.
Gypsy Flores Amazon

Richard Hawley
Coles Corner (Mute)

Coles Corner was an overlooked diamond in this rough year of catastrophe. Hawley, once a guitarist with fellow Sheffielders, Pulp, crafted a classic ‘60s sound free from any ironic posturing while paying tribute to the melancholy pop of chanteurs Jacques Brel and Leonard Cohen. Songs “Darlin’ Wait For Me” and “Just Like the Rain” skip upon nimble arpeggios like stones upon water, evoking the classic recordings of Fred Neil and the pocket symphonies of Phil Spector. In a year blasted by water, “The Ocean” rises gradually on an orchestral swell, while Hawley gloriously sings, “You lead me down… to the ocean”. Like a Siren, Coles Corner seduces with an irresistible calling.
David Kootnikoff PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Los Super 7
Heard It on the X (Telarc)

Trying to keep track of the members of the collective Los Super 7 is like trying to keep a scorecard on the latest New York Yankees line-up. One never knows what all-star will sign up next. The ensemble’s latest album features such home run hitters as Lyle Lovett, singing that swinging Bob Wills classic, “My Window Faces the South”, Delbert McClinton crooning that tender oldie, “Talk to Me”, Rodney Crowell covering the Buddy Holly pop ditty “Learning the Game”, Clarence Gatemouth Brown growling Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”, and a whole lot more that includes stellar contributions by Joe Ely, John Hiatt, Raul Malo, Flaco Jiminez, Rick Trevino, Ruben Ramos and the blistering Mariachi horns of Calexico.
Steve Horowitz PopMatters review Amazon

The Fiery Furnaces
EP (Rough Trade)

The Fiery Furnaces’ EP opens with a blissfully poppy dance track about domestic abuse. Domestic abuse? Yup, sweet alto Eleanor Friedberger delivers such violently visceral lines like “He beat me, he banged me/ He swore he would hang me” in such a carefree manner it’s jarring, disturbing and compulsively addictive. It’s too bad the Fiery Furnaces titled this collection of early tracks and b-sides as EP, because it’s their most cohesive, consistent album to date—and at 40 minutes, it certainly constitutes full-length status. The duo’s characteristic quirky lyrics, lush (borderline-cluttered) instrumentation, and skewed rhythms are all here, but they are subversively shaped into dance numbers, instead of the oblique mini-operas the Friedberger siblings usually compose. It’s also the most humanistic of their albums, with Eleanor expressing loneliness, nostalgia, and frustration with an eloquence missing from previous discs. While it’s not the difficult, revolutionary work Blueberry Boat was, EP captures the Furnaces at their most lovable and fun.
Raquel Laneri PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

The Wallflowers
Rebel, Sweetheart (Interscope)

I’m just going to get right down to it. It’s not their fault “One Headlight” was overplayed, okay? So stop blaming them. Rebel, Sweetheart, Jakob Dylan and co.‘s best album since their ubiquitous breakthrough, is a no-holds-barred rock record dripping with country hooks, angst, and Dylan’s sultry voice. “Happy birthday”, he sings grimly on the opener “Days Of Wonder”, “to the war”, backed with a forceful sound like Springsteen and his E Street Band. Dylan’s cryptic songwriting has never been better, and gems like “Nearly Beloved” and “The Beautiful Side of Somewhere” demonstrate the Wallflowers’ ability to revive the aging folk-rock genre pioneered by the likes of Tom Petty, Springsteen, and the elder Dylan. Those guys may be approaching retirement, but we can rest easy. This Dylan will carry the torch.
Maura McAndrew PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

The Great Destroyer (Sub Pop)

Low’s The Great Destroyer was a record that baffled me in 2005. Very sincerely, I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t talking about it. So, I did what I will sometimes do when I don’t like a record that is touted everywhere. I kept listening. I listened to The Great Destroyer all year long, waiting for that moment when I would start to find it contrived, boring, lame. I searched the lyrics for unoriginality. I studied the dynamics and looked for signs of bombast. In the end, Low won the battle. The Great Destroyer is a fantastic rock release, full of all the power their minimalism once kept restrained. They’ve let the quietness go (a bit) and the results are thrilling, whether or not you are a fan of their past output. It’s growth, and certainly should have been applauded more than it was. Almost a full year for me, and it’s only gotten better.
Jill LaBrack PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Minimum-Maximum (EMI)

Minimum-Maximum, for those of you who might have missed this great historical document, is the collected highlights of 2004’s Kraftwerk world tour, edited with stereotypical German precision into the perfect live album. No histrionics. No ‘How y’all doing tonight Dusseldorf’. No bullshit. Just the hits, sounding bigger and better, funkier and harder than the original studio recordings, the perfect accompaniment for a two hour blast down any autobahn in the world. The granddads of electronic pop reinvent the concert album. Still asking questions. Still pushing the envelope. Still having it large. All together now, “Ein, zwei, drei, vier…”
Robert Collins PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

James Yorkston and the Athletes
Just Beyond the River (Domino)

James Yorkston, sensitive Scottish folkie, has made possibly the most romantic album of the year. The flush of love is all over Just Beyond he River: folk pastorals, a beguiling city girl, swooning instrumentation, and Yorkston’s warm burr of a voice. Songs like “Heron” and “Shipwreckers” are buoyed by gorgeous washes of accordion, fiddle, and bouzoki. The songs stick with you, thanks to Yorkston’s quiet confidence as a writer and singer. He honestly details the sufferings of love and nature’s bounty, and creates a coherent piece of eleven songs rooted in the Scottish moors whose scope aims for Wuthering Heights.
Elisabeth Donnelly PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Maximo Park
A Certain Trigger (Warp)

In hindsight, “Apply Some Pressure” gave all the wrong signals and signs. Sure, the first single from Maximo Park’s debut album was undeniably immediate and the obvious choice for commercial release. But it also reeked of a band all too eager to dine on table scraps, a band perfectly happy to cash in on the goodwill earned by Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party yet add no distinctive mark of its own. It’s both a surprise and a shame then that A Certain Trigger is everything that “Apply Some Pressure” promised it wouldn’t be: adventurous, expansive, and, above all, better than the albums of Maximo’s allegedly superior predecessors. So instead of fulfilling what looked to be its destiny as an also-ran, Maximo Park may instead be condemned to a very unjust first impression, even if, I suppose, only a few thousand will know the difference.
Jon Garrett PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

The Wedding (Jagjaguwar)

As I began to realize I was way out of the mainstream in liking this one the best, I went back to it, thinking that maybe my admiration for past work had overshadowed the thing at hand. Not so. Once past “The Eiger,” the excitement started kicking in, the ritual tempos, the drifting harmonies, the blood-pumping drums, the sense of meaning just out of reach. These songs open up like Russian dolls, the precise architecture of “Run Through My Hair” splitting to reveal howling, distorted feedback, the headlong rush of “Did I Die” receding into a time-ticking, keyboard laced chamber interval. Blame the smallish label, the band’s contempt for the promotional process, or the sudden shift from last year’s equally excellent Secret Wars, but don’t blame the music. It’s all here, as good as I thought it was.
Jennifer Kelly PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Aimee Mann
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

The Lucksmiths
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

Brendan Benson
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

Sage Francis
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

Princess Superstar
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

Cut Copy
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

Stephen Malkmus
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—

Face the Truth is prime Malkmus, and you better believe there wasn’t much better in 2005.
David Marchese PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

Maria McKee
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

Hanne Hukkelberg
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

P.Funk All-Stars
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

Bruce Springsteen
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

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