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Slipped Discs (Part 3)

Artist: Jay-Z Album: Kingdom Come Label: Roc-A-Fella Image: US Release Date: 2006-11-21 UK Release Date: 2006-11-27

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Unjustly derided in willfully invidious and lazily ageist reviews, Jay-Z's post-retirement return still stands as one of the most engaging albums of the year. A casually unfocused effort entirely atypical against a blockbuster back catalog, Kingdom Come transcends any hubris with newfound humility. While some songs stick to the typical formula of boasts over bombast, others expose regrets and insecurities heretofore kept hidden. Such open disclosure is not only humanizing but incredibly daring for a hip-hop artist of such illustrious stature. Just as boldly, Jay-Z embraces the onset of middle age with uncommon grace and his accustomed swagger. By allowing himself to falter yet refusing to fall off, Jay-Z's ultimate artistic triumph here is in shaking off expectations to let his love for the form lead the way. Amidst seething teams of aspiring gangstas rehashing the same tired crack raps to try and be the newest version of the same old thing, that approach is incredibly refreshing. Josh Berquist

Jay-Z - Show Me What You GotJay-Z: Kingdom Come

Artist: Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers Album: Pandelirium Label: Yep Roc iTunes affiliate: Image: Insound affiliate: US Release Date: 2006-02-07 UK Release Date: 2006-02-06

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If the Cramps are the elder statesmen of "psychobilly" music (that's rockabilly that goes to deep, dark, foreboding places), then Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers are the torchbearers. Their third major release, Pandelirium is a mix of rockabilly, rock, blues, and polka -- LOTS of polka. The one constant in the band, Col. J.D. Wilkes, is sharp as a tack and crazy as a loon. Oh, and he's one of the best damn harp players currently breathing. Wilkes wrote all the dozen songs on the album, which take aim at his usual targets: organized religion, love (or lack thereof), and oddities aplenty. As crazy as the lyrics are, and as frantic as the music is, it all makes sense if you take it as a whole, rather than try to break it down. There are simple melodic songs (try losing the melody to "No Such Thing" after two listens), and songs that throw you on a rollercoaster to hell ("Iron Lung Oompah" is a standout in that regard). Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers are quite underrated in terms of talent and entertainment value (go see them live, but don't stand too close to the stage), and Pandelirium is a step up from the fun of their last two albums, Cockadoodledon't and Believe. They're destined to be a niche band in a niche genre, but Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers are still a hell of a lot of fun. Lou Friedman

Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers - IchabodTh’ Legendary Shack*Shakers: Pandelirium

Artist: Midlake Album: The Trials of Van Occupanther Label: Bella Union Image: US Release Date: 2006-07-25 UK Release Date: 2006-06-05

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With one foot planted firmly in melodic '70s AOR and the other in the rural struggles of late 19th century America, this is an album as defiantly unfashionable as The Band's Music From Big Pink must have seemed 40 years ago. Far from the world of iPods and MySpace, these songs tell of hunters and trappers, wood huts and campfires, itinerant travellers and bandits. The music ranges widely from the propulsive driving riff of "Roscoe" through the creaky folk of "Young Bride" to the chiming pastoral electronica of "Gathered in Spring", the constant being Tom Smith's fragile plaintive voice. In the tradition of Grandaddy and Mercury Rev, this is a band that looks to the misty backwaters and forests of America for its inspiration and finds it in spades. John Dover

Midlake - Young BrideMidlake: The Trials of Van Occupanther

Artist: Mission of Burma Album: The Obliterati Label: Matador Image: US Release Date: 2006-05-23 UK Release Date: 2006-06-05

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With The Obliterati the Burma story tipped, its second incarnation now as long as the first, its later work arguably just as important as post-punk defining recordings like Signals, Calls & Marches and Vs.. Fiercely intelligent, viscerally loud, unexpectedly funny, jaggedly rhythmed, this third full-length showed us again how life experience seasons rage but doesn't extinguish it. Cuts like "2Twice" and "Spider's Web" pummeled and cauterized, while the monster "1001 Pleasant Dreams" rode a doomsday beat to ecstasy. "Donna Sumeria," cracked a shit-eating grin with its cross of Mesopotamian metaphors and disco choruses, and super-heavy, wonderful "The Mute Speaks Out" demonstrated this hyper-verbal band's pure instrumental prowess. What pulled the whole album together was the sense that, like late-career successes everywhere, the men of Burma were just so damned glad to be here. "Man in Decline," indeed. These guys are just getting started. Jennifer Kelly

Multiple songs [MySpace]Mission of Burma: The Obliterati

Artist: My Chemical Romance Album: The Black Parade Label: Reprise Image: US Release Date: 2006-10-24 UK Release Date: 2006-10-23

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The stuff of which rock operas are made of, My Chemical Romance takes inspiration from and puts a morbidly modern twist on medieval mystery/morality plays with The Black Parade. Told from the perspective of a young man on his deathbed, The Black Parade meshes the theatrics and musical grandeur of Queen with the catchy bounce of Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles (in ways well beyond the marching band costumes My Chemical Romance currently sports), and throws in some gallows humor for good measure. Achieving the lofty ambition of releasing a concept album that successfully juggles solid musicianship with compelling storytelling, My Chemical Romance jettisons themselves above the runny-mascara rabble, shrugging off the emo label and emerging as a rock band that defies categorization. Shuffling off the ol' mortal coil never sounded so good! Lana Cooper

Multiple songs [MySpace]

My Chemical Romance - The Black ParadeMy Chemical Romance: The Black Parade

Artist: Office Album: Q & A Label: self-released Image:

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At the end of 2006, the mention of the words "the office" conjured images of Steve Carell making an idiot out of himself or -- if you're a diehard -- Ricky Gervais. Yet the famed show of awkward moments just happens to share its name with a Chicago quartet that knows nothing of awkward. Ex-cubicle slave Scott Masson channeled his anger of a missing red stapler into a stunning, breathtaking set of pop songs. Mixing the perfect amount of guitar-rock and techno-beats, tracks like the glittering "Wound Up", the Belle & Sebastian-aping "Dominoes" and the adrenaline-rock of "Had a Visit" show not only a remarkable amount of diversity, but a brilliant sense of songcraft. In layman's terms: it's catchy as hell. There are no specific highlights simply because every song is just as good as the last one. Q & A isn't awkward in the paper-merchant sense -- it’s flawless in the Album of the Year sense. Evan Sawdey

Multiple songs [MySpace]

Office - Double and Wound UpOffice: Q & A

Artist: Parts & Labor Album: Stay Afraid Label: Jagjaguwar Amazon affiliate: iTunes affiliate: Image: US Release Date: 2006-04-11 UK Release Date: 2006-04-10

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Many bands excel in creation of massive blasts of noise; only a select few can make those same noise blasts not only interesting but constantly, compulsively catchy. With breakneck percussion and gleaming melodies as unrelenting as the dense sheen of white noise, feedback, and electronic shriek that compose, support and surround them, Brooklyn's Parts and Labor could pass for top-quality post-punk with flair for majestic composition. But a closer listen reveals such an array of visceral, searing, original textures that to call them simply a rock band seems a disservice to their finely honed experimental side. Add in a dash of soaring bagpipes, and a full complement of distorted call-to-arms vocals, and we have an exquisitely abrasive statement with a surprising accessibility. Nate Dorr

Multiple songs [MySpace]

Parts and Labor - New BuildingsParts & Labor: Stay Afraid

Artist: Peeping Tom Album: Peeping Tom Label: Ipecac Contributors: Odd Nosdam, Kool Keith, Dan the Automator, Amon Tobin, Dub Trio, Norah Jones, Doseone, Kid Koala, Jel, Massive Attack, Bebel Gilberto, Rahzel Image: US Release Date: 2006-05-30 UK Release Date: Available as import

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Right, so Mike Patton's Peeping Tom project wasn't exactly the most profound release of last year, nor was it the most technically impressive. Still, there is something to be said for a sense of fun emanating from an artist who generally has a rep for being deadly serious. And the guest stars! Oh, the guest stars, from Massive Attack doing their spooky Mezzanine thing for "Kill the DJ" to Doseone getting his gangster on for "How U Feelin?" to Norah Jones pulling out the f-word for "Sucker", probably pretty confident that her established fanbase will never hear it... well, it all comes off as a great big party -- a great big skewed, demented, slightly sinister party. Surely, there must be some room on the year-end lists for that. Mike Schiller

Multiple songs [MySpace]

Peeping Tom - MojoPeeping Tom: Peeping Tom

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