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Sal Klita Blogger

Tuesday, December 13

...Top 10 Albums Of 2005...

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No' 1

The National
Beggars Banquet

The National may sound like a garage band turned down, but there's as much primal energy lurking behind Alligator as in any mop-topped group of city kids with bloodstained Danelectros in a dusty warehouse. While Matt Berninger's lyrics and conversational delivery rely heavily on the kind of literate self-absorption that fuels so much of the indie rock scene today, he never comes off as preachy or unaware that the world would manage just fine without him; rather, he uses metaphor and humor as bullet points for a profound sense of displacement and anger. Out-of-the-blue statements like "f*ck me and make me a drink," from the brooding but lovely "Karen," are effective because the listener is brought into the story slowly, almost amiably, before being led to the plank. Berninger's wry, filthy, and often eloquently sad tales of materialism, sex, and loneliness are augmented by the stellar duel-sibling attack of Aaron Dessner (guitar) and Bryce Dessner (guitar) and Scott Devendorf (guitar/bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums), who flesh out each track with so many little creative flourishes that it takes a few listens to break them down into palatable portions. There are upbeat moments found within — "Lit Up" and "Looking for Astronauts" — but for the most part the National are content with playing the genial fatalists, and while "All the Wine" seems designed to serve as the record's desolate backbone, "Baby, We'll Be Fine," with its quick changes, lush orchestration, and winsome refrain of "I'm so sorry for everything" is, despite an elegiac delivery, Alligator's loneliest track, and like each part of this fine collection of city-weary poetry, it's as brief as it is affecting. (By AMG)

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No' 2

"A River Aint Too Much Too Love"
Drag City

Smog's Bill Callahan goes back to the root on A River Ain't Too Much to Love, his first full-length offering in two years. While it's true that his name is nearly synonymous with lo-fi, in recent years Callahan has experimented with different — albeit simple — production techniques such as on Dongs of Sevotion and Rain on Lens. Supper, issued in 2003, was more direct, both sonically and personally, and that tack is followed here, though the framework is even sparser. On this, his 12th album, Callahan journeyed south from Chicago to Willie Nelson's Pedernales recording studio in Spicewood, TX. Accompanied by the Dirty Three's Jim White once more holding down the drum chair, and Connie Lovatt on bass and backing vocals, Callahan evokes the ethos and poetry of spooky American folk and country music without ever actually playing them in his own tomes, using mainly waltzes to frame them. Americana this ain't. Callahan has the ability to write first-person narrative songs that cannily juxtapose an evocative physcal landscape that metaphorically refernces deep emotional states ; he uses it to great effect here. The skeletal "Say Valley Maker" equates the loss of and longing for love with a river's ability to both fertilize and strip bare the floor of a valley. Callahan's acoustic guitar plays a pair of repetitive figures, graced by an unidentified shimmering sound just above the threshold of silence, graced by White's restrained, rudimentary beat. "Rock Bottom Riser" is a song of resurrection, and again, it's a waltz. In the first verse, a nylon-stringed guitar hypnotically plays the changes in plectrum style, as White uses brushes to shift time while underscoring it, making the tune seem to float. The singer speaks with gratitude to the memory of an absent lover. As Joanna Newsom's piano underscores and fills the melody, Callahan's character finds a transformed sense of self in rising from his loss. It's slippery, lilting pace and restrained vocal create a tension that frames the tune's poignancy. The true nod to roots tradition here is also the album's centerpiece. His version of "In the Pines" is reverent without feeling staid, hampered by its place in history. A delicate, reedy, meandering tempo adorned in a simple guitar line and drums unpacks the melody, and Callahan's delivery is the seed of memory as it comes up from the ether, urging the singer to tell the whole story while keeping his composure. Travis Weller's edgy fiddle exposes the crack in the tale, however, and the grain of Callahan's voice walks the line between reverie and regret. A River Ain't Too Much to Love is a subdued, plaintive collection of songs that accompany silence; they encourage reflection without guile and unveil themselves without a hint of studied artifice. (By AMG)

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No' 3

The Phoenix Foundation

Undoubtedly the most anticipated album of the year so far and a landmark for that oft-quoted, all-encompassing beast, the "Wellington sound", Fat Freddy's Drop's Based on a True Story is unlikely to disappoint the thousands who have been feverishly awaiting its release. The anticipation is a well-deserved reward after six years of acclaimed live gigs, and latterly crucial vinyl releases, that have seen their reputation spread out of New Zealand and onto the worldwide underground, assisted by patronage from Gilles Peterson, Recloose, Jazzanova and other tastemakers.

It is to their credit that, locally at least, the hype has been generated organically with a low-key approach that would leave most outfits under the radar, but instead has placed them at the front of the pack. Frustratingly, this laid-back approach also results in a review copy arriving the day after it was available in shops and allowing scant time before deadline to absorb the 10 drawn-out tracks. The production from Mu, or DJ Fitchie as he has now styled himself, is routinely superb and there can be no denying that it's an outstanding-sounding, lovingly recorded and mixed record. On the album highlight "Ray Ray", the combination of musical nous, instinctual playing and adventurous mixing and construction is breathtaking. It's the only entire track where all these factors fall easily into alignment throughout, and the glimpse of what this fearsome unit can potentially achieve feels as if it's over too quickly – not something usually said about an album with an average track length of seven minutes.

The remainder of live favourites, reworked vinyl cuts and new compositions generally draw on the model that has worked so well with the 12"s but fail to engage in the same remarkable way. On initial plays, at least, it feels like a little too much of a good thing. The impact of Dallas Tamaira's impressive voice has been blunted by his serial guest appearances on other people's records and the concentration on lengthy skankers leaves no room for the directness and discipline shown on their greatest single achievement so far, the b-side of "Midnight Marauders", "Seconds". This is only the beginning of the Drop's account and it's heartening to see an independent release achieve so much without playing by the rules, but musically the best may well be yet to come.

From a similar vintage and also including the ubiquitous "featuring members of" other bands in the Wellington co-op fashion, the Phoenix Foundation spread their wings a little further on Pegasus. After the splendidly wigged-out abstraction of their recent Rhian Sheehan remix all bets were off on how this record would sound, but only the whimsical instrumental "Sea World" comes teasingly close to that sort of behaviour. Refreshingly unpretentious in their musical explorations, the band are musically and lyrically several steps further down the track than their melodic, meandering debut Horsepower and they now boast the confidence and agility that allow for great lines in the "Slightest Shift in the Weather" and "Nest Egg" and even some sketchy rhymes on "The Posh Tiger". Though it may be short of a screaming singalong like "Going Fishing", there are several highly infectious pop oddities, including the breezy "All in Afternoon", studio lament "Damn the River" and the aforementioned Western-esque wonder "Slightest Shift in the Weather".

They pitch their tent most prominently in a kind of sub-country twanged-out zone that they make their own – the red herrings are the beautiful but incongruous piano piece "Twilight" that closes the record, and the inspired spooky instrumental chugger with the SUV-baiting video, "Hitchcock". As with their first album, there are moments where it feels as if they may have stretched themselves a little further than they are able, particularly vocally, but those moments are fleeting and fewer this time around on a beguiling sophomore effort. (By

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No' 4

Stuart A. Staples
"Lucky Dog Recordings
Beggars Banquet

It's sometimes tricky for the front person of an established band to make a solo album: reproduce the group's sound and a side project can seem pointless, or venture into uncharted stylistic territory and court disaster. Stuart Staples sticks closer to the first option, but Lucky Dog Recordings 03-04 breaks with Tindersticks' sound as much as it evokes it. Although Staples' mumbled baritone croon remains unmistakable and he still oozes small-hours melancholia and romantic malaise, Lucky Dog also marks a departure. Aided by, among others, Terry Edwards (sax), Yann Tiersen (piano), Tindersticks cohorts Neil Fraser (guitar) and David Boulter (keyboards), and Tiger Lillies Adrian Huge (drums) and Adrian Stout (bass), Staples eschews the finely wrought, string-enveloped arrangements that are Tindersticks' signature. He trades dissolute, lush grandeur for a minimalist approach, paring the music down, sometimes almost to the point of silence and stasis. The hushed, acoustic "Dark Days" slips by nearly unnoticed and the slow-burning "Marseilles Sunshine" is aural gossamer, its fragile piano notes, wafting organ, and ragged guitar hanging like smoke in the air. While other tracks feel more energized, they're similarly sparse: for instance, the lilting, jagged "Shame on You" and "Friday Night," whose clockwork cocktail beats and droning, spectral organ exude noir unease. Staples continues to languish in miserablism, often ironically; on "People Fall Down," however, he opens the curtains and heads outside, accompanied by a breezy, bluesy groove featuring muted horns. "So get out and breathe the air, taste the water...go climb that hill," he sings, but it still sounds like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. Elsewhere, "She Don't Have to Be Good to Me" approximates Tindersticks' more expansive feel, but, overall, Lucky Dog shows Staples has learned some new tricks: the main one being that less is more. (By AMG)

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No' 5

Rhythm & Sound
"See Mi Yah"
Burial Mix

In the 90s, with projects and labels such as Basic Channel, Maurizio or Main Street Records, the Berlin based producer team Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald have decisively influenced the development of techno-house and electronic music worldwide. Furthermore Ernestus and von Oswald have released pioneering hybrids of reggae, dub and electronica under the name Rhythm & Sound since 1996. In the last few years an utterly original and independent definition of reggae music - stripped down, rootsy, hi-tech - has emerged from their activities. For their last album Rhythm & Sound w/ the artists Ernestus and von Oswald collaborated with legendary reggae vocalists, like Cornel Campbell, Jennifer Lara, Love Joy or The Chosen Brothers (aka Lloyd "Bullwackie" Barnes). This line is being pursued consequently with their new CD/LP release See Mi Yah.

See Mi Yah is a classic one rhythm album, typical format and production approach in Reggae, featuring ten vocal versions and one instrumental of the See Mi Yah rhythm, that will have been pre-released as a series of seven 7-inch singles (additionally with 3 alternative instrumental versions) - strictly roots!

After Paul St. Hilaire (formerly known as Tikiman) had lent his voice to quite a few Rhythm & Sound releases over the past years, the starting point for this project was to try and work also with his brother Ras Perez, their fellow Berlin based Dominicans Koki and Ras Donovan (also known from his collaboration with Mapstation), the Berlin based Jamaicans Freddy Mellow, Walda Gabriel, Bobbo Shanti, Lance Clarke as Rod Of Iron and Joseph Cotton aka Jah Walton as Jah Cotton as singers b/w DJs. With a toasting style heavily influenced by the legendary U-Roy, Cotton was a central figure in the jamaican DJ scene of the 70s and 80s. Alongside Ranking Joe and U-Brown he performed with the Blood & Fire Sound System a few years ago. On visit in Berlin, the great Sugar Minott and Willi Williams (famous for Studio 1 classic Armagideon Time) did their versions in the Rhythm & Sound studio.

For each tune the rhythm is arranged and mixed differently. On the album the tracks are lined up in a way that allows the listener to enjoy See Mi Yah as one continuous program running for about 46 minutes. It's never a bore - and goes on in the listener's head, when voices, rhythm and sound will be long gone. (By Basic Channel)

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No' 6

Broken Social Scene
"Broken Social Scene"
Arts & Crafts

In Canada, Broken Social Scene is somewhat of a phenomenon. Since wooing fans and critics alike with their 2003 Juno Award-winning album You Forgot It in People, the band's peculiar popularity has made them stars. The community that surrounds the 15-member-plus band is a family-like atmosphere with its many Canadian artists and musicians. When listening to Broken Social Scene, you also get the individual sounds of Feist, Stars, Memphis, Metric, and Apostle of Hustle, among others. It's camaraderie and education combined. The lush dynamic that carries Broken Social Scene's self-titled third effort is definitely built upon that. The 14-song set is as bright and moving as the band's previous efforts, but Broken Social Scene holds more charisma, more depth, and surely more complexities. The mix isn't messy in conventional terms. It's artistically untidy without production boundaries. Album opener "Our Faces Split the Coast in Half," which features the Dears' Murray Lightburn, makes a grand entrance with its polished horn arrangements, tight guitar riffs, and hypnotic harmonies. Additional standouts include indie rock moments such as "7/4 (Shoreline)" and the nervy "Fire Eye'd Boy." Handclaps and crowd chatter dosie-do with a sharp rock aesthetic on "Windsurfing Nation," which was the original title. Here, Toronto rapper K-Os and Feist vocally find their way through this majestic cinematic backdrop for one of its finest songs. From here, Broken Social Scene is a simply a rush of mini epics: "Handjobs for the Holidays," "Superconnected," and album closer "It's All Gonna Break" (this could have been a Nada Surf song) showcase how smart, creative, and brilliant this band truly is. Broken Social Scene are more than a collective; they're an orchestra for both the slacker generation and the literati. (By AMG)

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No' 7

Cold Krush

Whether you choose to view life as an absurdly cruel, chaotic string of events or a profound struggle to satiate a benevolent troll at the earth's core, the coincidence is a gem of the human comedy. Whatever or Whoever brought the releases of M.I.A's Arular and Mahjongg's Raydoncong 2005 together on the same date, I would like to thank Him/Her or The Void. On the one hand, you have an absurdly hyped, burgeoning pop star who strikes rebel poses and affects scenester fashion and vernacular. On the other, you have Mahjongg, smartass Chicago art-punks with an Africa 70 fetish. So? Yeah, so their album covers look identical.

Half-full Scenario:

Bloggers, trend riders, fashion rebels, and people who want to own the "Album of the Year" descend on record stores nationwide, clearing the shelves of Arular in a rabid frenzy that makes the Cabbage Patch Riots of XMAS '85 look like a boxful of kittens. As the mob moves from store to store, devouring all in its path, those left behind wander the aisles in a bloody daze. Through the blur of a punctured cornea, they see the cover of Raydoncong. AK-47s, ethnic people, colors, pretty colors. Arular stash, whut gwan! And the concussee contingent becomes Mahjongg's motherlode.

Half-empty Scenario:

People calmly sashay into record stores to the "new release" shelves, holding hands, two by two. As they peruse for Arular, one reaches for Raydoncong. "No, not that one, silly!" says the other. "Haha, my bad! I saw banana clips and, well, you know." M.I.A. 1, Mahjongg 0.

Before you get all spazzy, I realize that album covers have little to do with the worth of an album. But fate has drawn these two together, however tenuously, and the contrast goes beyond the images on the cover. Where the lovely Sri Lankan is being praised/maligned for her earnest/misguided injection of personal politics into pop music, Mahjongg have apparently decided to go whole hog and appoint themselves impromptu Western mouthpiece for the Congolese opposition. How's that for self-serving appropriation? Their website is a bewildering mיlange of anti-fascist propaganda and record reviews from The Village Voice and Washington Post. Then again, the rants against President Sassou-Nguesso are in French, so maybe Mahjongg just worked out a bandwidth timeshare with the Conseil National de la Rיsistance Brazzaville Chapter. It's all quite confusing, I assure you, but somehow Mahjongg's peculiar agit prop accurately visualizes their sonic delivery of junkyard afro-new wave. Sub-genre Alert!

Building on the jittery punk-funk of their Machinegong EP, Raydongcong 2005 slaps together 46 minutes of beat-heavy agitation and organized chaos. There is so much overlapping clatter, it sometimes sounds like backstage at a battle of the bands, with everyone eventually falling into tune through proximity. Nearly every song contains multiple vocals, tempo shifts, guitars jabbing into strings over electronic bleeps, and radio dispatches plus a drum machine not to mention synths in addition to pots and pans and sticks and feedback and possibly a horse. Actually, "The Stubborn Horse" is a lazy nag which unpleasantly puts a Sheryl Crow song on the tip of your tongue, but Mahjongg makes up for that gaff.

As "Aluminum" was to Machinegong, "The Rrabbitt" is the standout oddity on Raydoncong. It's a song that sounds like nothing else on the album or much else at all. Equal parts Fela Kuti and Devo, it could sweat out a dancehall quicker than you could say "Ba-na-na." Sporting a hypersonic cowbell, percussive guitar scratches, a bounding bassline, and the falsetto nonsense requisite to any proper dance number, old timers might want to tape up their pelvises for this one.

As with M.I.A., Mahjongg's political gesturing ends up a mere distraction at the end because they find a way to shake your can. Mahjongg's version may not be as cutting edge, but it's effective. Now, if they could duplicate "The Rrabbitt" a dozen times per album, young Maya would be in deep shit. (By Pitchfork)

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No' 8

"The Great Destroyer"
Sub Pop

Over the years, Low have been on labels as diverse as Kranky and Virgin offshoot Vernon Yard, worked with distinctive producers like Kramer and Steve Albini, and have managed to adapt their sound without losing any of their identity. All of this applies to Great Destroyer, the band's first album for Sub Pop and their first collaboration with producer Dave Fridmann. Fridmann's detailed sound is a far cry from either Kramer or Albini's minimalist tendencies, but his work here shows that Low can sound as good in elaborate settings as they do in simple ones: "Monkey"'s intricate layers of distorted drums, organ, and guitar have an unusual depth, and the synth strings and heartbeat-like electronic drums on "Cue the Strings" just add to the intimacy and subtlety of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's harmonies. Ironically enough, Great Destroyer is by far Low's most polished and accessible-sounding album, even more so than their quasi major-label output. That may turn off purists yearning for I Could Live in Hope's simplicity, but aside from the bigger sound, there's something for almost every kind of Low fan on the album: chilly, brooding songs ("Pissing," "Everybody's Song"), gentle but powerful songs ("On the Edge Of," "Silver Rider") and gorgeous epics ("Broadway (So Many People)"). The group's touted rock direction offers some of Great Destroyer's strongest, and weakest, moments. "California"'s soaring warmth has odd but appealing early- to mid-'90s alt pop sheen to it, sounding a bit like Girlfriend-era Matthew Sweet played at half speed. However, "Just Stand Back" and "Step" are somewhat clunky and contrived, with the production overwhelming the songs. The tracks about aging and acceptance — a major theme on Great Destroyer — feel much more genuine, particularly "When I Go Deaf," another of the band's bittersweet and slightly disturbing songs like "In Metal." "Death of a Salesman," a short, stripped-down tale of what's left behind with age, is also affecting; though an album full of songs like these might be too much, they're wonderfully intimate glimpses. "Walk Into the Sea" provides a relatively uplifting — if not happy — ending to this thoughtful, graceful album, but at this point, it's difficult to expect anything less from Low. (By AMG)

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No' 9

"Shooting The Breeze"

Known as one of the most talented and prolific producers to come out of the bubbling Chicago scene in the last few years, Maker has been given the chance to shine on his own with his first full length instrumental album "Shooting The Breeze" on Galapagos4. The last 2 years saw Maker make his name with his debut compilation album "Honestly" and collaborations with Qwel (Qwel & Maker "The Harvest” Galapagos4, 2004) & with Adeem & DQ as Glue (Glue “Seconds Away”, Ramona Records 2004).

Fans and critics begged for instrumental versions of "The Harvest" and "Seconds Away". But instead of simply releasing an instrumental album of beats that were designed for MC’s to rap over, Maker thought it was best to present himself as a solo artist and showcase his talents as an instrumentalist and song-creator. "Shooting The Breeze" is just that, a pure instrumental album of carefully crafted songs meant to stand out on their own. (By Galapagos)

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No' 9

"Be With"
Stones Throw Records

Koushik specializes in making that hazy, hip-hop-based downbeat sh*t that you could easily compare to contemporaries such as Four Tet (who released Koushik's first single on his Text label), RJD2, and DJ Shadow. What sets Koushik apart from the others is a beautiful '60s psych-pop element that tends to pervade throughout. It shows itself in the spacious panned strings, acoustic guitars, and harpsichords that fall in and out of each other; and the beats have a harder regimented classic true school hip-hop sound, that Fourtet and Prefuse tend to stray away from. But what I truly love about this record is Koushik's voice. His singing is soft and mixed way down in the center of the track, sounding like the voice choirs you'd hear on one of those old Percy Faith or 101 Guitars from the late-'60s. If you're a fan of any of the aforementioned artists, you need this record.

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No' 10

Devendra Banhart
"Cripple Crow"

Cripple Crow marks a departure for Devendra Banhart. It's obvious from the faux Sgt. Pepper-meets-Incredible String Band freak scene cover photo that something is afoot. The disc is Banhart's first foray from Michael Gira's Young God label, and it's more adventurous than anything he's done before. This is not to imply that the set is a slick, over-produced affair, but it is a significant change. The instrumental, stylistic, and textural range on this 23-song set is considerably wider than it's been in the past. Working with Noah Georgeson and Thom Monahan, a backing band of friends known as "the Hairy Fairies", Banhart's crafted something expansive, colorful, and perhaps even accessible to a wider array of listeners. There are layered vocals and choruses of backing singers, as well as piano and flutes on the gorgeous "I Heard Somebody Say," while the electric guitar and drums fuelling "Long Haired Child," with its reverb-drenched backing vocals, is primitive, percussive, and dark. There is also the 21st century psychedelic jug band stomp of the second single, "I Feel Just Like a Child," that crosses the nursery rhyme melodics of Mississippi John Hurt with the naughty boy swagger of Marc Bolan. There are also five songs in Spanish, Banhart's native tongue, in a style that's a cross between flamenco and son. The title cut, "Cripple Crow," is one of the most haunting anti-war songs around. In it, Banhart places a new generation in the firing line, and urges them to resist not with violence, but with pacifistic refusal. A lone acoustic guitar, hand drums, a backing chorus, and a lilting, muted flute all sift in with one another to weave a song that feels more like a prayer. The lone cover here, of Simon Diaz's "Luna de Margaerita," drips with the rawest kind of emotion. Ultimately, Cripple Crow is a roughly stitched tapestry; it is rich, varied, wild, irreverent, simple, and utterly joyous to listen to. (By AMG)

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