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Top 10 Albums of Every Year Since 1960

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#1 Albums from 1990s at a Glance:


1990: Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet


1991: My Bloody Valentine – Loveless


1992: Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92


1993: Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers)


1994: Nas – Illmatic


1995: Björk – Post


1996: DJ Shadow - Endtroducing.....


1997: Radiohead - OK Computer


1998: Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children


1999: Sigur Rós - Ágætis Byrjun

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10. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker


As Whiskeytown finally ground to a halt in the wake of an astonishing number of personal changes following Faithless Street (coupled with record company problems that kept their final album, Pneumonia, from reaching stores until two years after it was recorded), Ryan Adams ducked into a Nashville studio for two weeks of sessions with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. While arch traditionalists Welch and Rawlings would hardly seem like a likely match for alt-country's bad boy, the collaboration brought out the best in Adams; Heartbreaker is loose, open, and heartfelt in a way Whiskeytown's admittedly fine albums never were, and makes as strong a case for Adams' gifts as anything his band ever released. With the exception of the Stones-flavored "Shakedown on 9th Street" and the swaggering "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," Heartbreaker leaves rock & roll on the shelf in favor of a sound that blends low-key folk-rock with a rootsy, bluegrass-accented undertow, and while the album's production and arrangements are subtle and spare, they make up in emotional impact whatever they lack in volume. As a songwriter, Adams concerns himself with the ups and downs of romance rather than the post-teenage angst that dominated Whiskeytown's work, and "My Winding Wheel" and "Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman That Rains)" are warmly optimistic in a way he's rarely been before, while "Come Pick Me Up" shows he's still eloquently in touch with heartbreak. Adams has always been a strong vocalist, but his duet with Emmylou Harris on "Oh My Sweet Carolina" may well be his finest hour as a singer, and the stripped-back sound of these sessions allows him to explore the nooks and crannies of his voice, and the results are pleasing. Whiskeytown fans who loved the "Replacements-go-twang" crunch of "Drank Like a River" and "Yesterday's News" might have a hard time warming up to Heartbreaker, but the strength of the material and the performances suggest Adams is finally gaining some much-needed maturity, and his music is all the better for it.







9. Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030


The heir apparent to eccentric production wizard Prince Paul, Dan the Automator's left-field conceptual brilliance rapidly made him a hero to underground hip-hop fans. For the Deltron 3030 project, he teamed up with likeminded MC Del tha Funkee Homosapien and turntablist Kid Koala, both cult favorites with a similarly goofy sense of humor. Deltron 3030's self-titled debut is exactly what you might expect from such a teaming: a wildly imaginative, unabashedly geeky concept album about interplanetary rap warriors battling to restore humanity's hip-hop supremacy in a corporate-dominated dystopia (or something like that). It's difficult to follow the concept all the way through, but it hardly matters, because Deltron 3030 is some of the best work both Del and Dan have ever done. In fact, it's the Automator's most fully realized production effort to date, filled with sumptuous, densely layered soundscapes that draw on his classical background and, appropriately, often resemble a film score. For his part, Del's performance here revitalized his reputation, thanks to some of his best, most focused work in years. Long known for his abstract, dictionary-busting lyrics, Del proves he can even rhyme in sci-fi technospeak, and the overarching theme keeps his more indulgent impulses in check. Plus, there's actually some relevant commentary to be unearthed from all the oddball conceptual trappings; in fact, Deltron 3030 is probably the closest hip-hop will ever come to an equivalent of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. The album boasts cameos by Damon Albarn (on the proto-Gorillaz "Time Keeps on Slipping"), Prince Paul, MC Paul Barman, and Sean Lennon, among others, but the stellar turns by its two main creators are the focus. It's not only one of the best albums in either of their catalogs, but one of the best to come out of the new underground, period.







8. Modest Mouse – The Moon & Antarctica


Modest Mouse's Epic debut, The Moon & Antarctica, finds them strangely subdued, focusing on mortality as well as the moody, acoustic side of their music and downplaying the edgy rock that helped make them indie stars. Not that their first major-label release sounds like a sellout -- actually, the slight sheen of Brian Deck's production enhances the album's introspective tone -- but occasionally The Moon & Antarctica's melancholy becomes ponderous. Unfortunately, the album's middle stretch contains three such songs, "The Cold Part," "Alone Down There," and "The Stars Are Projectors," which tend to blur together into one 17-minute-long piece that bogs down the album's momentum. Individually, each of these songs is sweeping and haunting in its own right, but grouping them together blunts their impact. However, this trilogy does provide a sharp contrast to, as well as a bridge across, The Moon & Antarctica's more vibrant beginning and end. Though it explores death and the afterlife, The Moon & Antarctica's liveliest moments are its most effective. "3rd Planet"'s simple, ramshackle melody and strange, moving lyrics ("Your heart felt good"), the elastic guitars on "Gravity Rides Everything," and the angular, jumpy "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" and "A Different City" get the album off to a strong start, while the fresh, unaffected "Wild Packs of Family Dogs," "Paper Thin Walls," and "Lives" bring it to an atmospheric, affecting peak before "What People Are Made Of" closes the album with a climactic burst of noise. Their most cohesive collection of songs to date, The Moon & Antarctica is an impressive, if flawed, map of Modest Mouse's ambitions and fears.







7. OutKast – Stankonia


Stankonia was OutKast's second straight masterstroke, an album just as ambitious, just as all-over-the-map, and even hookier than its predecessor. With producers Organized Noize playing a diminished role, Stankonia reclaims the duo's futuristic bent. Earthtone III (Andre, Big Boi, Mr. DJ) helms most of the backing tracks, and while the live-performance approach is still present, there's more reliance on programmed percussion, otherworldly synthesizers, and surreal sound effects. Yet the results are surprisingly warm and soulful, a trippy sort of techno-psychedelic funk. Every repeat listen seems to uncover some new element in the mix, but most of the songs have such memorable hooks that it's easy to stay diverted. The immediate dividends include two of 2000's best singles: "B.O.B." is the fastest of several tracks built on jittery drum'n'bass rhythms, but Andre and Big Boi keep up with awe-inspiring effortlessness. "Ms. Jackson," meanwhile, is an anguished plea directed at the mother of the mother of an out-of-wedlock child, tinged with regret, bitterness, and affection. Its sensitivity and social awareness are echoed in varying proportions elsewhere, from the Public Enemy-style rant "Gasoline Dreams" to the heartbreaking suicide tale "Toilet Tisha." But the group also returns to its roots for some of the most testosterone-drenched material since their debut. Then again, OutKast doesn't take its posturing too seriously, which is why they can portray women holding their own, or make bizarre boasts about being "So Fresh, So Clean." Given the variety of moods, it helps that the album is broken up by brief, usually humorous interludes, which serve as a sort of reset button. It takes a few listens to pull everything together, but given the immense scope, it's striking how few weak tracks there are. It's no wonder Stankonia consolidated OutKast's status as critics' darlings, and began attracting broad new audiences: its across-the-board appeal and ambition overshadowed nearly every other pop album released in 2000.







6. Gas – Pop


On Pop Wolfgang Voigt lightens the tone of his Gas work, adding earthly sounds and brighter melodies. The result remains stylistically ambient; in fact, the stripping away of bass beats, which had been employed on his past two albums, Zauberberg (1998) and Königsforst (1999), makes this more of a purely ambient album than an ambient techno one. Such a distinction (i.e., between ambient and ambient techno) may seem hair-splitting, but it's a key difference between Pop and its predecessors, and this is an album that aims to be different and, presumably, more accessible (if the album title is to be taken meaningfully). Even though, for the most part, there aren't any underlying rhythms of looped kick drums on Pop, there's plenty of rhythm; rather than looping low-frequency bass beats, Voigt loops mid- and high-frequency percussive sounds (for example, a tinny clanging sound on the fourth track). Actually, there's a lot going on in the mid- to high-frequency range, a variety of looped sounds -- some rhythmic, others melodic, still others simply ambient -- and these are a different set of sounds than were previously employed. In general, the seven tracks of Pop are comprised of a multi-layered set of loops that carry on seemingly to no end, though subtle nuances are constantly at play, creating a steady and sustained ambience that is forever shifting and swirling around lifelike. The final track is the most remarkable; at almost 15 minutes, it's the longest, and it's far and away the most intense and rhythmic, chugging along like a runaway train. Besides being remarkable on its own terms, this final track is a great finale and gives Pop the same sense of arc that characterized Zauberberg. While all of the Gas albums are cornerstone works, setting the stage for the style of "pop ambient" techno popularized by Kompakt in later years, Pop, along with Zauberberg, is a crowning achievement for Voigt and, as if his mission were accomplished, he chose to conclude his series of Gas albums here.







5. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!


Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, the much-anticipated follow-up to Godspeed You! Black Emperor'sSlow Riot, is a double-disc achievement of four works (each with multiple parts): "Storm," "Static," "Sleep," and "Antennas to Heaven." It is a windfall for any fan of ambient pop, orchestral rock, space rock, or simply lush string arrangements who understands how powerful love, melancholy, and frustration can be. The main complaint voiced by critics of Godspeed's music is that their works just repeat the same pattern: start out sparse and slow, build-build-build, crescendo. While there are certainly crescendos, there is no such predictable pattern repeated among the works on Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven -- it's loaded with dynamics, unexpected sections, strong emotions and beauty.







4. Luomo – Vocalcity


The glitch style arising primarily from the Force Inc sublabel Mille Plateaux circa 2000 certainly was rich with innovative ideas about where electronic dance music could go beyond standard analog sounds. Yet if there is one thing the glitch generation lacked from the get go, it was a good old-fashioned sense of soul-funk. That began to change with a tide of releases by Force Tracks (another Force Inc sublabel), chief among them those of Luomo, the microhouse moniker of glitchmonger Vladislav Delay. Vocalcity compiles six Luomo tracks (some of which had been previously released on 12"), seams them together, and offers a powerful statement of purpose: glitch can indeed be funky and soulful without forsaking any of its forward-looking clicks + cuts aesthetic. Clocking in around the 12-minute mark, give or take a few minutes, the six tracks here delve deeply into the woozy style of glitch-dub that Delay had made an art of with his series of Chain Reaction releases (compiled on the likewise milestone Multila [2000]). Yet unlike those Chain Reaction productions, these Luomo ones also have a steady rhythmic backbone, one rooted deeply in good old-fashioned house music, albeit heavily sedated house. Moreover, Delay works some softly sung vocals into the mix -- here-and-there snippets that remain true to the clicks + cuts ideal yet are still singalongable -- and does so to grand effect especially during the late-album climax "Tessio." The way Delay seams these long-winded tracks together with hazy interludes of dubby ambience makes Vocalcity all the more remarkable and above all listenable. This is the sort of album you put on and listen to from beginning to end, and it's also the sort of album you can safely recommend to anyone. Vocalcity is one of those rare albums that is as genius as it is accessible, an inviting milestone by which other albums are measured.







3. D’Angelo – Voodoo


Five years after his Brown Sugar album helped launch contemporary R&B, D'Angelo finally returned with his sophomore effort, Voodoo. His soulful voice is just as sweet as it was on Brown Sugar, though D'Angelo stretches out with a varied cast of collaborators, including trumpeter Roy Hargrove and guitarist Charlie Hunter, fellow neo-soul stars Lauryn Hill and Raphael Saadiq, and hip-hop heads like DJ Premier, Method Man & Redman, and Q-Tip. It must have been difficult to match his debut (and the frequent delays prove it was on his mind), but Voodoo is just as rewarding a soul album as D'Angelo's first.







2. The Avalanches – Since I Left You


Endless summers for many youths don't consist of beaches and surfboards. Instead, they're spent on blacktops and jungle gyms. More gritty and halfway between the curb and the hoop than anything celestial, the Avalanches remind you of a point in your life when you could blissfully hang upside down from monkey bars and just dangle. Like recklessly riding your BMX or skipping rope after downing a sugar-laced pitcher of lemonade, the un-mawkish Since I Left You thrives on making you feel youthful and mighty. Its Utopian grove stand bric-a-brac of grooves, beats, flutters, whistles, oohs-and-yeahs, and sundry animal noises can alternately sound familiar and fresh. Some origins can be immediately placed, and those that can't trigger an impulse that you've heard it somewhere before. You're at least familiar with the tone as it relates to a long-lost feeling of childhood bliss -- whether it's staring at a clear blue sky from a fresh-cut lawn or the first time you heard "Rock the Bells." If you want stifling touchstones, they're there. Dunk the Beastie Boys of Paul's Boutique and Basement Jaxx into the fountain of youth; Sylvester meets Tweety; Mercury Rev links hands with the Bomb Squad for laps around the roller rink. It's no cloyed nostalgia trip, pieced together humbly by Aussies who are probably telling you the truth when they say they listen "to a little bit of everything." The unflinching mix offers plenty of tempo variety, knowing just when to change the pitch before hitting overkill. The second half features a subtle lull that builds up in time for "Live at Dominoes," possibly the strongest cut. There's little doubt to Since I Left You's status as one of the most intimate and emotional dance records that isn't vocal-based. Working on a mystical level, don't be too surprised if a future dig through the wallet unearths a membership card to the Summer Break Funk Association.







1. Radiohead – Kid A


In the wake of OK Computer, it became taken for granted among serious rock fans of all ages that Radiohead not only saved rock from itself, but paved the way toward the future. High praise, but given the static nature of rock in the last half of the '90s, it was easy to see why fans and critics eagerly harnessed their hopes to the one great rock band that wanted to push the limits of its creativity, without grandstanding or pandering. Daunting expectations for anyone, even for a band eager to meet them, so it's little wonder that Kid A was so difficult to complete. Radiohead’s creative breakthrough arrived when the band embraced electronica -- which was nearly a cliché by the end of the '90s, when everyone from U2 to Rickie Lee Jones dabbled in trip-hop or techno. The difference is that the wholehearted conversion on Kid A fits, since OK Computer had already flirted with electronica and its chilly feel. Plus, instead of simply adding club beats or sonic collage techniques, Radiohead strove for the unsettling "intelligent techno" sound of Autechre and Aphex Twin, with skittering beats and stylishly dark sonic surfaces. To their immense credit, Radiohead don't sound like carpetbaggers, because they share the same post-post-modern vantage point as their inspirations. As perhaps befitting an album that’s coolly, self-consciously alienating, Kid A takes time to unfold; multiple plays are necessary just to discern the music's form, to get a handle on quiet, drifting, minimally arranged songs with no hooks. This emphasis on texture, this reliance on elliptical songs, means that Kid A is easily the most successful electronica album from a rock band: it doesn't even sound like the work of a rock band, even if it does sound like Radiohead.









Honorable Mentions:




Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele


Most of the members of rap's Roman Empire, the Wu-Tang Clan, experienced sophomore slumps with their second solo releases, whether artistically or commercially (usually both). The second offerings from Method Man, Ol' Dirty Bastard,GZA, and Raekwon featured some of the old Wu magic, but not enough to warrant a claim to their once total mastery of the rap game. Just as the Wu empire appeared to be crumbling, along came the second installment from the Clan's spitfire element, Ghostface Killah (aka Tony Starks, aka Ironman). Every bit as good as his first release, Supreme Clientele proves Ghost's worthiness of the Ironman moniker by deftly overcoming trendiness to produce an authentic sound in hip-hop's age of bland parity. Some of the Wu's slump could be contributed to Wu-Abbott's (aka RZA) relative sabbatical. This album has RZA's stamp all over it, but the guru himself only provides three tracks. On this effort, the Wu-Pupil producers at times seem to outdo their teacher. RZA's best composition is the piano-driven, double-entendre-laced childhood retrospective "Child's Play." But of the many standout cuts, it's the slew of disciple producers paying homage to the Wu legacy that truly makes this album fresh-sounding: "Apollo Kids" (Hassan), "Malcolm" (Choo the Specialist), "Saturday Nite" (Carlos "Six July" Broady), "One" (JuJu of the Beatnuts), "Cherchez la Ghost" (Carlos Bess), "Wu Banga 101" (Allah Mathematics). While the album is complete and characteristically Wu-sounding, each track is distinctive lyrically, thematically, and sonically. Ghostface's Supreme Clientele is a step toward the Wu-Tang Clan's ascent from the ashes of their fallen kingdom. The once slumbering Wu-Tang strikes again.







Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump


Picking up where their Signal to Snow Ratio EP left off, Grandaddy's wittily named second album The Sophtware Slump upgrades the group's wry, country-tinged rock with electronic flourishes that run through the album like fiber-optic lines. Arpeggiated keyboards sparkle on "Hewlett's Daughter" and "The Crystal Lake," and wind, birds, and transmissions hover around the songs' peripheries, suggesting a Silicone Valley landscape. Jason Lytle's frail, poignant vocals provide a bittersweet counterpoint to the chugging guitars and shiny electronics that envelop him like a cockpit or a cubicle on "Chartsengrafs" and "Broken Household Appliance National Forest" and set the tone for melancholy ballads like "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot," "Miner at the Dial-a-View," and "Jed the Humanoid," the story of a forgotten, alcoholic android. Lost pilots, robots, miners, and programmers try to find their way on The Sophtware Slump, an album that shares a spacy sadness with Sparklehorse's Good Morning Spider and Radiohead's OK Computer. Though it's a little more self-conscious and not quite as accomplished as either of those albums, it is Grandaddy's most impressive work yet and one of 2000's first worthwhile releases.







PJ Harvey – Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea


During her career, Polly Jean Harvey has had as many incarnations as she has albums. She's gone from the Yeovil art student of her debut Dry, to Rid of Me's punk poetess to To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire?'s postmodern siren; on Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea -- inspired by her stay in New York City and life in the English countryside -- she's changed again. The album cover's stylish, subtly sexy image suggests what its songs confirm: PJ Harvey has grown up. Direct, vulnerable lyrics replace the allegories and metaphors of her previous work, and the album's production polishes the songs instead of obscuring them in noise or studio tricks. On the album's best tracks, such as "Kamikaze" and "This Is Love," a sexy, shouty blues-punk number that features the memorable refrain "I can't believe life is so complex/When I just want to sit here and watch you undress," Harvey sounds sensual and revitalized. The New York influences surface on the glamorous punk rock of "Big Exit" and "Good Fortune," on which Harvey channels both Chrissie Hynde's sexy tough girl and Patti Smith's ferocious yelp. Ballads like the sweetly urgent, piano and marimba-driven "One Line" and the Thom Yorke duet "This Mess We're In" avoid the painful depths of Harvey's darkest songs; "Horses in My Dreams" also reflects Harvey's new emotional balance: "I have pulled myself clear," she sighs, and we believe her. However, "We Float"'s glossy choruses veer close to Lillith Fair territory, and longtime fans can't help but miss the visceral impact of her early work, but Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea doesn't compromise her essential passion.







Quasimoto – The Unseen


Quasimoto's The Unseen is one of the most imaginative albums of the new West Coast underground, a puzzling, psychedelic jazz-rap gem riddled with warped humor and fractured musical genius. Producer Madlib actually outdoes his inventive work on the Lootpack's debut album, Soundpieces: Da Antidote!, crafting deep, dreamy jazz loops littered with found sounds and wiggy vocal samples. Quasimoto's helium-huffing voice is actually Madlib's, electronically altered for an effect not unlike Prince's abandoned Camille project. It might put some listeners off as gimmicky, and it's really a shame if it does, because it isn't really the focal point of The Unseen's left-field brilliance. It's more of an added textural element for Madlib's off-kilter soundscapes and a vehicle for the cartoonish humor hinted at in his choice of samples. The lyrics are highly free-associative (that is to say, stoned beyond belief), and by turns paranoid, threatening, or hallucinatory. But it all melts into the warm, druggy haze of the music; unlike, say, the Wu-Tang Clan or Dr. Octagon, this dream isn't supposed to be a nightmare. Quas' scattershot flow isn't what you'd call technically accomplished, but that's by design -- he's supposed to be fragmented, not quite all there. The song structures are similarly loose, with rhymes coming from nowhere and disappearing just as quickly; the tracks are short (all under four minutes) and end abruptly, as though Quas is too blunted to think of anything else to say. (Madlib does appear as himself on occasion, and usually sounds just as noncommittal as his "collaborator.") Highlights are plentiful, and include the brilliant singles "Microphone Mathematics" and "Come on Feet," the bizarre trash-talking of "Bad Character" and "Put a Curse on You," and the joy-of-music cuts "Return of the Loop Digga" and "Jazz Cats, Pt. 1," which recount Madlib's obsession with record collecting and name-check his favorites. It takes some time to assimilate, but The Unseen gradually reveals itself as one of the most unique and rewarding albums of its era.







Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out



After years as one of indie rock's standard-bearing groups, Yo La Tengo surpasses itself with And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. A culturally literate, emotionally rich album, on songs like "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House," "The Crying of Lot G," and "The Last Days of Disco," it alludes to The Simpsons, enigmatic author Thomas Pynchon and independent films while exploring the comforting, confining, complex aspects of relationships. "Our Way to Fall" sets Ira Kaplan's recollection of falling in love to a dreamy, down-to-earth backdrop of gently brushed drums, luminous organs and vibes; "The Crying of Lot G" transforms the syrupy sweetness of '50s ballads into a monologue about a relationship's shortcomings. "Madeline"'s shimmery indie bossa-nova and the countrified ballad "Tears Are in Your Eyes" showcase Georgia Hubley's buttery, empathetic voice; her singing makes these vignettes universal as well as personal. Like mature indie rock records such as Pavement's Terror Twilight and Jim O'Rourke's Eureka, And Then Nothing...favors mellow songwriting, detailed arrangements, and eclectic influences, such as the Silver Apples-like drum machines and doo wop backing vocals that adorn many of the songs. The wintry, implosive "Everyday" uses both of these elements, along with a plaintive guitar and hushed, hypnotic vocals, to begin the album on a surprisingly somber note. Similarly, the off-kilter beats, odd piano bursts, and harmonies on "Saturday" add to the song's awkward, uneasy beauty. Finally, nine songs into the album, Yo La Tengo breaks out the whammy and feedback action on "Cherry Chapstick," their most incandescent song since "Sugarcube." Easily one of 2000's most accomplished albums, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out isn't as immediate as some of the group's earlier work, but it's just as enduring, proving that Yo La Tengo is the perfect band to grow old with.





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01. A Rush Of Blood To The Head (Coldplay)

02. Kid A (Radiohead)

03. American IV - The Man Comes Around (Johnny Cash)

04. The Freestyling of Bob Dylan (Bob Dylan)

05. The Joshua Tree (U2)

06. Santana (1969 album)

07. Vodoo People (Rolling Stones)

08. Nevermind (Nirvana)

09. Play (Moby)

10. Hopes And Fears (Keane)

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01. A Rush Of Blood To The Head (Coldplay)

02. OK Computer (Radiohead)

03. American IV - The Man Comes Around (Johnny Cash)

04. The Freestyling of Bob Dylan (Bob Dylan)

05. The Joshua Three (U2)

06. Santana (1969 album)

07. Vodoo People (Rolling Stones)

08. Nevermind (Nirvana)

09. Play (Moby)

10. Hopes And Fears (Editors)

What is this? For a second I thought it was your top 10 of 2000 and you mistook the Kid A with OK Computer, but U2's The Joshua Tree (not 'Three') is from 1987 and Hopes And Fears is not from the Editors but Keane! What is this, a top 10 of all times? :thinking:
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10. Stars of the Lid – The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid


Taking a step further down the road they embarked upon with Avec Laudanum, the duo have expanded the pure space and black hole vistas they offered on Music for Nitrous Oxide and The Ballasted Orchestra to embrace small melodic fragments that seemingly endlessly repeat through minimally varying textures. The effect can either be soothing ("Requiem for Dying Mothers"), hypnotic ("Broken Harbors"), or unsettling ("Austin Texas Mental Hospital"). The trademark analogue guitar/tape cut ups are ever present; what would normally be considered the sound of a guitar is nowhere in aural earshot. Traces of piano, strings, and even horns are layered into the mix, primarily on the second disc on "Mulholland," "Fac 21" (not a reference to an obscure record on the legendary Factory label, but a classroom on the University of Texas campus where Radio, Television and Film classes were taught), and "Piano Aquieu." The final two suits, "Ballad of Distances" and "A Lovesong (For Cubs)," are based on single and double-note piano intros that are heavily treated and meet minimal accompaniment by strings shimmering in the background in haunting melodies and droning ambient backdrops. There is a progression in all the music here, but it is so subtle, so quiet and un-intrusive, the listener would have to pay very careful attention to everything that is happening. More realistic, however, is for those who take pleasure in SOTL's music and inner space explorations -- for this truly is a music of the inner terrain -- to offer themselves little distraction other than a comfortable chair or resting place in order to let this music enter at will, naturally and expand until it takes you over the edge into something resembling sleep, but far more delicious. Despite its more songlike structures, More Tired Songs is actually for those who are tired of songs, period, and are looking for something less, something unspeakably beautiful and determinedly unmentionable in its vast and luxuriant erasure from any musical category.







9. Fennesz – Endless Summer


Fennesz puts the emphasis on sunny melodies and a somewhat lighter atmosphere, but drowns them in glitch textures. The result strikes and disconcerts. Easy solutions do not fill this man's cup of tea. The melodies are never played throughout, but dismembered, notes assigned to different instruments or electronically cut up and reassembled. The vibraphone in "Caecilia" has been tripled, some notes appear upfront, parts of the main theme happen in the background. Another example: The long notes making up the main line in "Before I Leave" are played on a organ, but the sound is constantly interrupted by clicks, producing an analog/digital effect of the weirdest kind. The pieces themselves are bipolar: while the melody remains stuck in its groove, repeating endlessly in post-rock fashion, the textures evolve beautifully. Yet, the listener is left with a deceiving impression of stagnation. The ultra kitsch flavor of some cuts (like "Shisheido") makes for an incentive to climb aboard or go away, depending on the listener's interest (or resistance) to 1970s nostalgia. Scoffing the fan, the album closes with the long (11 minutes) "Happy Audio," a typical example of Fennesz's magic experimental ambient touch.







8. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells


White Blood Cells, Jack and Meg White's third effort for Sympathy for the Record Industry, wraps their powerful, deceptively simple style around meditations on fame, love, and betrayal. As produced by Doug Easley, it sounds exactly how an underground sensation's breakthrough album should: bigger and tighter than their earlier material, but not so polished that it will scare away longtime fans. Admittedly, White Blood Cells lacks some of the White Stripes' blues influence and urgency, but it perfects the pop skills the duo honed on De Stijl and expands on them. The country-tinged "Hotel Yorba" and immediate, crazed garage pop of "Fell in Love With a Girl" define the album's immediacy, along with the folky, McCartney-esque "We're Going to Be Friends," a charming, school-days love song that's among Jack White's finest work. However, White's growth as a songwriter shines through on virtually every track, from the cocky opener "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" to vicious indictments like "The Union Forever" and "I Think I Smell a Rat." "Same Boy You've Always Known" and "Offend in Every Way" are two more quintessential tracks, offering up more of the group's stomping riffs and rhythms and us-against-the-world attitude. Few garage rock groups would name one of their most driving numbers "I'm Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman," and fewer still would pen lyrics like "I'm so tired of acting tough/I'm gonna do what I please/Let's get married," but it's precisely this mix of strength and sweetness, among other contrasts, that makes the White Stripes so intriguing. Likewise, White Blood Cells' ability to surprise old fans and win over new ones makes it the Stripes' finest work to date.







7. Herbert – Bodily Functions


Bodily Functions is very similar to his Around the House LP from 1998 (many of the tracks were first worked on as early as 1996), the unifying theme here being relations between human beings instead of their relations to their home environment. Though many of the samples here are culled from the anatomy, listeners still reeling from the recent surgery-sampling Matmos LP will be happy to find that, except for the first track (a meditation on newborns featuring various gurglings and cries), there aren't many identifiable bodily functions in the mix -- though a quick glance at the booklet credits will convince listeners otherwise, it's easy to assume Herbert simply has a few freaky new drum machines producing all those odd effects. Many tracks were recorded according to the details of his Personal Contract for the Composition of Music (PCCOM), a set of production rules preventing him from overly leaning on the crutches of modern technology. Therefore, no samples other than those he's recorded himself, no simple preset synthesizer effects, and a reliance on traditional, played instruments instead of their close electronic equivalents. Despite all the science and dry theorizing, Bodily Functions is a very warm record, seemingly unencumbered by the concepts behind the music or its production. It's basically Herbert heading a postmodern lounge act, with a parade of friendly musicians -- and his own electric piano -- placed under the calming, languorous vocals of Dani Siciliano. Though it veers from earthy jazz pieces ("I Know") to clicky tech-house numbers ("Leave Me Now") with barely a pause at all, Bodily Functions hangs together much better than any previous Herbert album. It's the perfect marriage of art and intelligence.







6. Radiohead – Amnesiac


Faced with a deliberately difficult deviation into "experimentation," Radiohead and their record label promoted Kid A as just that -- a brave experiment, and that the next album, which was just around the corner, really, would be the "real" record, the one to satiate fans looking for the next OK Computer, or at least guitars. At the time, people bought the myth, especially since live favorites like "Knives Out" and "You and Whose Army?" were nowhere to be seen on Kid A. That, however, ignores a salient point -- Amnesiac, as the album came to be known, consists of recordings made during the Kid A sessions, so it essentially sounds the same. Since Radiohead designed Kid A as a self-consciously epochal, genre-shattering record, the songs that didn't make the cut were a little simpler, so it shouldn't be a surprise that Amnesiac plays like a streamlined version of Kid A, complete with blatant electronica moves and production that sacrifices songs for atmosphere. This, inevitably, will disappoint the legions awaiting another guitar-based record (that is, after all, what they were explicitly promised), but what were they expecting? This is an album recorded at the same time and Radiohead have a certain reputation to uphold.







5. The Strokes – Is This It


Blessed and cursed with an enormous amount of hype from the British press, the Strokes prove to be one of the few groups deserving of their glowing reviews. Granted, their high-fashion appeal and faultless influences -- Television, the Stooges, and especially Lou Reed and the Velvets -- have "critics' darlings" written all over them. But like the similarly lauded Elastica and Supergrass before them, the Strokes don't rehash the sounds that inspire them -- they remake them in their own image. On the Modern Age EP, singles like Hard to Explain, and their full-length debut, Is This It, the N.Y.C. group presents a pop-inflected, second-generation take on late-'70s New York punk, complete with raw, world-weary vocals, spiky guitars, and an insistently chugging backbeat. However, their songs also reflected their own early-twenties lust for life; singer/songwriter/guitarist Julian Casablancas and the rest of the band mix swaggering self-assurance with barely concealed insecurity on "The Modern Age" and reveal something akin to earnestness on "Barely Legal" -- a phrase that could apply to the Strokes themselves -- in the song's soaring choruses. The group revamps "Lust for Life" on "New York City Cops" and combines their raw power and infectious melodies on "Hard to Explain," arguably the finest song they've written in their career. Nearly half of Is This It consists of their previously released material, but that's not really a disappointment since those songs are so strong. What makes their debut impressive, however, is that the new material more than holds its own with the tried-and-true songs. "Is This It" sets the joys of being young, jaded, and yearning to a wonderfully bouncy bassline; "Alone Together" and "Trying Your Luck" develop the group's brooding, coming-down side, while "Soma," "Someday," and "Take It or Leave It" capture the Strokes at their most sneeringly exuberant. Able to make the timeworn themes of sex, drugs, and rock & roll and the basic guitars-drum-bass lineup seem new and vital again, the Strokes may or may not be completely arty and calculated, but that doesn't prevent Is This It from being an exciting, compulsively listenable debut.







4. Jay-Z – The Blueprint


When Jay-Z dropped "The City Is Mine" in 1997 and claimed New York's hip-hop throne upon the Notorious B.I.G.'s demise, many smirked and some even snickered. Four years later in 2001, when he released The Blueprint, no one was smirking and no one dared snicker. At this point in time, nobody in New York could match Jay-Z rhyme for rhyme and nobody in New York had fresher beats -- and many would argue that Jigga's reign was not just confined to New York but was, in fact, national. Yes, Jay-Z had risen to the top of the rap game in the late '90s and solidified his position with gigantic hits like "Big Pimpin" and "I Just Wanna Love You (Give It 2 Me)." Furthermore, The Blueprint's leadoff single, "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," dominated urban radio numerous weeks before the album hit the streets, generating so much demand that Def Jam had to push up the album's street date because it was being so heavily bootlegged. So when Jay-Z opens The Blueprint dropping rhymes about "runnin' this rap sh*t," it's not so much arrogance as it is a matter of fact. And by the time he brutally dismisses two of his most formidable opponents, Mobb Deep and Nas, less than ten minutes into the album, there's little doubt that Jay-Z's status as the top MC in the game is justified. But that's just one song. There are 12 other songs on The Blueprint -- and they're all stunning, to the point where the album seems almost flawless. Besides rhymes that challenge those on Reasonable Doubt as the most crafted of Jay-Z's career to date in terms of not only lyrics but also flow and delivery, The Blueprint also boasts some of his most extravagant beats, courtesy of impressive newcomers Kanye West and Just Blaze. Moreover, if the rhymes and beats alone don't make The Blueprint a career highlight for Jay-Z, the minimal guest appearances surely do. For once, listeners get exactly what they want: Jay-Z and nothing but Jay-Z, over beats so loaded with marvelously flipped samples the songs don't even need big vocal hooks.







3. Björk – Vespertine


After cathartic statements like Homogenic, the role of Selma in Dancer in the Dark, and the film's somber companion piece, Selmasongs, it's not surprising that Björk's first album in four years is less emotionally wrenching. But Vespertine isn't so much a departure from her previous work as a culmination of the musical distance she's traveled; within songs like the subtly sensual "Hidden Place" and "Undo" are traces of Debut and Post's gentle loveliness, as well as Homogenic and Selmasongs' reflective, searching moments. Described by Björk as "about being on your own in your house with your laptop and whispering for a year and just writing a very peaceful song that tiptoes," Vespertine's vocals seldom rise above a whisper, the rhythms mimic heartbeats and breathing, and a pristine, music-box delicacy unites the album into a deceptively fragile, hypnotic whole. Even relatively immediate, accessible songs such as "It's Not Up to You," "Pagan Poetry," and "Unison" share a spacious serenity with the album's quietest moments. Indeed, the most intimate songs are among the most varied, from the seductively alien "Cocoon" to the dark, obsessive "An Echo, A Stain" to the fairy tale-like instrumental "Frosti." The beauty of Vespertine's subtlety may be lost on Björk fans demanding another leap like the one she made between Post and Homogenic, but like the rest of the album, its innovations are intimate and intricate. Collaborators like Matmos -- who, along with their own A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, appear on two of 2001's best works -- contribute appropriately restrained beats crafted from shuffled cards, cracking ice, and the snap-crackle-pop of Rice Krispies; harpist Zeena Parkins' melodic and rhythmic playing adds to the postmodernly angelic air. An album singing the praises of peace and quiet, Vespertine isn't merely lovely; it proves that in Björk's hands, intimacy can be just as compelling as louder emotions.







2. The Microphones – The Glow Pt. 2


While It Was Hot We Stayed in the Water expanded the Microphones' lo-fi, psych pop horizons, their 66-minute epic The Glow, Pt. 2 marks an even bigger departure. Named after It Was Hot's sprawling centerpiece, the album explores and explodes styles and moods over the course of 20 songs that lead into one another breathlessly, as if even an hour simply isn't enough time for Phil Elvrum and company to pack in all of their ideas. The album revels in its kaleidoscopic sounds, spanning pastoral folky ballads, playful symphonic pop, and gusts of white noise. Flourishes like the steel drums on the title track and the double-tracked vocals and xylophones on "The Map" make The Glow, Pt. 2 something of a rarity: a lo-fi album designed for headphones. The distorted drums, murky organs, and crisp acoustic guitars that punctuate the album have an oversaturated, almost tangible quality that, while dense, never overwhelms Elvrum's fragile voice or poetic lyrics. The beautiful acoustic ballad "I Felt Your Shape" cautions against holding on too tight to someone, literally or figuratively; "I Am Bored" sets the boredom of a dying relationship to noisy fuzz pop. But it's The Glow, Pt. 2's deep, nearly spiritual yearning that makes it the Microphones' most compelling album to date. Vague, strangely hymnal lyrics like "Through rotting skin I'll leave my coffin/Through callous work I will grow soft," from "I'll Not Contain You," resonate emotionally, albeit cryptically. At times, The Glow, Pt. 2 resembles My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything ("I Want to Be Cold") and His Name Is Alive's Home Is in Your Head (especially on the instrumentals); like those bands' best work, the album is dense with musical quick-changes, production tricks, and evocative imagery. Expansive yet accessible, indulgent yet unpretentious, The Glow, Pt. 2 redefines the Microphones' fascinatingly contradictory music.







1. Daft Punk – Discovery


Deserting the shrieking acid house hysteria of their early work, the album moves in the same smooth filtered disco circles as the European dance smashes ("Music Sounds Better with You" and "Gym Tonic") that were co-produced by DP's Thomas Bangalter during the group's long interim. If Homework was Daft Punk's Chicago house record, this is definitely the New York garage edition, with co-productions and vocals from Romanthony and Todd Edwards, two of the brightest figures based in New Jersey's fertile garage scene. Also in common with classic East Coast dance and '80s R&B, Discovery surprisingly focuses on songwriting and concise productions, though the pair's visions of bucolic pop on "Digital Love" and "Something About Us" are delivered by an androgynous, vocoderized frontman singing trite (though rather endearing) love lyrics. "One More Time," the irresistible album opener and first single, takes Bangalter's "Music Sounds Better with You" as a blueprint, blending sampled horns with some retro bass thump and the gorgeous, extroverted vocals of Romanthony going round and round with apparently endless tweakings. Though "Aerodynamic" and "Superheroes" have a bit of the driving acid minimalism associated with Homework, here Daft Punk is more taken with the glammier, poppier sound of Eurodisco and late R&B. Abusing their pitch-bend and vocoder effects as though they were going out of style (about 15 years too late, come to think of it), the duo loops nearly everything they can get their sequencers on -- divas, vocoders, synth-guitars, electric piano -- and conjures a sound worthy of bygone electro-pop technicians from Giorgio Moroder to Todd Rundgren to Steve Miller. Daft Punk are such stellar, meticulous producers that they make any sound work, even superficially dated ones like spastic early-'80s electro/R&B ("Short Circuit") or faux-orchestral synthesizer baroque ("Veridis Quo"). The only crime here is burying the highlight of the entire LP near the end. "Face to Face," a track with garage wunderkind Todd Edwards, twists his trademarked split-second samples and fully fragmented vision of garage into a dance-pop hit that could've easily stormed the charts in 1987. Daft Punk even manage a sense of humor about their own work, closing with a ten-minute track aptly titled "Too Long."









Honorable Mentions:




Aaliyah - Aaliyah


Aaliyah waited nearly five years to deliver her third album, but considering that she was essentially growing up -- it was the equivalent of spending time in college -- when she came back with an eponymous record in the summer of 2001, she came back strong. Aaliyah isn't just a statement of maturity and a stunning artistic leap forward, it's one of the strongest urban soul records of its time. Where such peers as Macy Gray and Jill Scott work too hard to establish their ties with classic soul, Aaliyah revels in the present, turning out a pan-cultural array of sounds, styles, and emotions. This sound is entirely unfamiliar -- part of the pleasure is how contemporary it sounds -- but she sounds just as comfortable within the sonicscapes of Timbaland as Missy Misdemeanor Elliott and, possibly, less self-conscious. Aaliyah never oversings, never oversells the songs -- this comes on easy and sultry, and there's a lot of substance here, in terms of the songwriting and the songs themselves. Urban albums rarely come any better than this, and there haven't been many records better than this in 2001, period.







Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein


While it can be said that many underground crews have been floundering in the gray matter of indie hip-hop, Cannibal Ox filled that area in with 2001's The Cold Vein for El P's Def Jux imprint. The music press had been quick to point out that Vast Aire and Vordul Megilah's attack is at times highly derivative of the Wu Tang Clan, and the point is valid. Thankfully, El P (a serious candidate for producer of the year) lays out some of the most lushly intriguing sounds and beats that feel as herky-jerky as they sound gilded with silk. It's a bit misleading to harp on the Wu factor that The Cold Vein contains since this record's content is immensely original and the Wu references that seem present are in the enlightened gloomy flow and psychedelic backdrops -- not, (with all due respect) in the kitschy hooks and unfocused rhymes that Wu Tang are also known for. Aire and Megilah swirl around in b-boy posturing and obtuse nonsense as their innovation rears its head at every corner with scatter-shot lines like: "And I ain't dealin' with no minimum wage/I'd rather construct rhymes on a minimum page," and "You were a still-born baby, your mother didn't want you but you were still-born."







Low – Things We Lost in the Fire


Over the course of their career, Low's glacially beautiful music has gradually melted into something much more accessible and intimate. The thaw culminates on Things We Lost in the Fire; despite its brooding title, it's the group's loveliest, most approachable collection of songs yet. Voluptuous strings, softly fuzzy guitars, and propulsive percussion suffuse songs like the sweetly melancholy opener "Sunflower" and the slo-mo pop of "Dinosaur Act" and "July" with a warmth and direction that Low's best work has always hinted at. Even the album's darkest moments, such as the tense, implosive "Whitetail," have more emotional urgency, heightened by Alan and Mimi's close, brooding harmonies. Yet Mimi's airy solo on the spare, undulating "Laser Beam" is equally spine tingling. Things We Lost in the Fire also features more of Low's understated stylistic experiments: The slightly jazzy harmonies and tempo of "Medicine Magazines" add a bit of swing to the group's usually steady rhythms, while "Kind of Girl" delves into earthy yet ethereal chamber folk. Breathtakingly gorgeous moments, such as "Like a Forest"'s pealing strings and poignant melody, and "Whore"'s build from delicate harmonies into a gently triumphant swell of guitars, vocals, and sparkling percussion reaffirm that Low have perfected and refined their sound. The finale, "In Metal," evolves from a melancholy ballad into one of the group's sunniest, most kinetic songs, mirroring the overall transformation of their music. A perfect match for its late-winter release date, Things We Lost in the Fire's slowly rising warmth and subtly hopeful tone not only make this Low's most cohesive, compelling collection, but one of 2001's best albums.







The Other People Place - Lifestyles of the Laptop Café



It was long rumored (and later confirmed) that the anonymous producer behind the Other People Place guise is James Stinson, one half of Detroit electro geniuses Drexciya, but with the familiar jazzy tech-house rhythms that fill most of Lifestyles of the Laptop Café, it could be anyone with an ear for early Detroit techno. In fact, very much of the record sounds like the work of second-wave visionary Carl Craig. A sophisticated structure emerges from Lifestyles that is held up primarily with deep bass and warm synths. The rain-drenched, dark-street rhythms and liquidy chords that comprise the leadoff "Eye Contact" (and other standouts like "Moonlight Rendezvous and "It's Your Love) recall Derrick May's "Strings of Life" while carrying with them an entirely new theme. "Eye Contact is one such track that is spiced with soothing spoken lyrics intended to lampoon '90s culture (the male voice re-enacts a falling-in-love-from-across-the-room-whilst-sipping-a-latte situation; very '90s, indeed). Lifestyles is at least on par with any of the Detroit records of old, but where radio-friendly Inner City might have failed, Other People Place picks up, maintaining the high dance factor but with zero cheese factor. Detroit techno serves as a touchstone for Lifestyles, but this record is hardly a nostalgic throwback to those idealistic times. Instead, every track treats the music respectfully, pushing forward in a very new groove.







The Shins – Oh, Inverted World


The Shins' first full-length is a definitive indie rock album of the 2000s not just because of its thoughtful, tuneful songs, but also because of the vivid portrait it painted of indie culture. After the high irony of Pavement and other '90s standard bearers, indie rock began moving into more emotionally forthright territory. Oh, Inverted World is the sound of realizing there's more to life than being a smart-aleck -- but also not being ready to open up completely. The album's first song, "Caring Is Creepy," sums up the typical indie response to emotional situations with its title alone, but it also introduces James Mercer's delicate, dryly witty take on that attitude. Hyper-literate lyrics like "It's a luscious mix of words and tricks" suggest someone who's better with words than with feelings, yet Mercer's high, wavering tones -- which are as awkward as they are beautiful -- prove otherwise. Caring might be creepy, but it's hard to avoid; the rest of Oh, Inverted World chronicles this post-ironic vulnerability, wrapping it in jangly guitar pop that echoes the Kinks, Zombies, and Beach Boys. This may not be the most innovative sound, but it makes Mercer's boy-meets-girl, boy-runs-away, boy-comes-back, girl-runs-away travails all the more familiar and relatable. And, of course, just how good the album's songs are can't be overlooked. "Know Your Onion" practically jumps out of its skin, bursting with British Invasion riffs and angst that goes way beyond adolescence; "New Slang" tempers a yearning that curdles into bitterness with a beautiful melody and a ghostly falsetto coda. More importantly, all of Oh, Inverted World's songs hang together in an immensely satisfying way. "Weird Divide" is a backyard Pet Sounds; its winding melody channels that point in the summer when it's too hot to care much about anything, punctuating it with percussion that evokes incessant sprinklers. An airy feel runs through the album, from "Girl on the Wing"'s bird imagery and pristine harmonies to "Girl Inform Me"'s giddiness to "One by One All Day"'s psychedelic coda. As things wind down, "Your Algebra"'s spooky chamber pop and "The Past and the Pending"'s acoustic musing foreshadow the experiments the Shins undertook on later albums. Oh, Inverted World is so full of ideas and emotions, and so fully realized, that it’s hard to believe it's just 33 minutes long. Whether or not the album lives up to the breathless "It’ll change your life!" claims made about it in Garden State, the less ironic direction of 2000s indie begins here.





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Albums I would of wanted to be on the lists:






1. Eraserheads - Cutterpillow

"The Eraserheads are one of the Phlippines' most popular bands, and on 1995's Cutterpillow, the group put forth a strong case for being a talented one, too. Where the band's previous album, Circus, often seemed lightweight and superficial, Cutterpillow is more mature and cohesive, brimming with enjoyable, substantive songs. As before, the band tackles a variety of styles. The delightful "Back2Me" moves on a punkish vibe, the reverb-drenched guitars overlaid with the vocalist singing a catchy, snappy melody reminiscent of Green Day. The opening reverb-edged guitar figure of "Waiting for Me" is enchanting, as is the song itself, highlighted by a rapturous chorus. The acoustic-based "Poorman's Grave" is another fine song among a host of others. In fact, there isn't a bad song on the album...The band continues its penchant for experimenting in the studio, and several songs are adorned with studio effects, including the squawks on "Yoko" and the Beatles-influenced strings that end "El Huling El Bimbo" (Last El Bimbo Dance). Speaking of the Beatles, this time the Eraserheads have a less overt tendency to imitate the Beatles' style, and they seem more original, more like themselves. This is a fine, enjoyable album, one of the best ever made in the Philippines."




2. Tool - Ænima

"Tool´s Aenima would bring them one step closer to their Art-rock status while keeping their alternative and hard elements. The result is heavy and sophisticated without sounding anything like the rest of the Metal or Prog scene of that time. As a matter of fact, to say that Tool is a Metal band is not exactly right, as they don't fall in the same category of Metal as bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest or even the prog bands like Dream Theater, Fates Warning and oh so many more. While the majority of this bands tend to be fast, Tool is often slow, dense and atmospheric, which puts them aside from those other bands. Yet, the music is so heavy at times (most of the times) that to put them in the Metal category is understandable; in fact Tool would be one of the most influential acts for latter metal bands."




3. Muse - Origin of Symmetry

"The overall atmosphere of this record comes off exactly the way Muse sought after. With the frequently raging synth, the dire tone of Bellamy’s falsetto vocals –on display in pretty much every track- and the fuzzily distorted bass create an ambient sensation of floating in outer space. However, the subtle callousness that works its way through the record makes the journey into the unknown much more adventurous. Bellamy’s vocals are just seamless for everything that Muse attempts to achieve with this album, the desperation that echoes from his voice when he sings throughout the album - especially apparent in the song 'Hyper Music'- is incredibly effective. Everything feels belatedly pubescent, like an overblown stamina test – and no matter how Muse’s fans then may have grown up, it’s still spectacularly foreboding."



4. Skillet - Alien Youth

"Skillet is a band that has certainly done its share of musical evolution over the past five years. Since their self-titled debut release on Forefront/Ardent Records in 1996, the band has been releasing hard-hitting tunes with a strong Christ-centered message and captivating audiences with their energetic and worship-filled live performances. With their 2001 release, Alien Youth, their first release on just Ardent Records, Skillet delivers what is probably their best album to date... the album is also arguably more worshipful than their previous studio recordings. Songs like the mellower "You Are My Hope" and the amazing and spine-tingling "Thirst is Taking Over" set Skillet as being one of the best modern worship acts around. While rocking their hardest, the band also mellows out softer than they ever have with the almost equally as amazing "Will You Be There" and "Come My Way." But the worship does not exist solely among the ballads. "Kill Me Heal Me" is a heavy crunchy guitar-laden industrial rocker, crying out to God, making brokenness and God's healing touch the only means for survival in this world... After numerous listens, it has become clear why Skillet is one of the leading bands in Christian rock today. Their electronic/industrial hard rock is an excellent addition to the growing Christian music scene. And I'm happy to say that Alien Youth is not only Skillet's best album to date, but has secured itself a spot as one of the best albums of 2001."



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Albums I would of wanted to be on the lists:






1. Eraserheads - Cutterpillow

"The Eraserheads are one of the Phlippines' most popular bands, and on 1995's Cutterpillow, the group put forth a strong case for being a talented one, too. Where the band's previous album, Circus, often seemed lightweight and superficial, Cutterpillow is more mature and cohesive, brimming with enjoyable, substantive songs. As before, the band tackles a variety of styles. The delightful "Back2Me" moves on a punkish vibe, the reverb-drenched guitars overlaid with the vocalist singing a catchy, snappy melody reminiscent of Green Day. The opening reverb-edged guitar figure of "Waiting for Me" is enchanting, as is the song itself, highlighted by a rapturous chorus. The acoustic-based "Poorman's Grave" is another fine song among a host of others. In fact, there isn't a bad song on the album...The band continues its penchant for experimenting in the studio, and several songs are adorned with studio effects, including the squawks on "Yoko" and the Beatles-influenced strings that end "El Huling El Bimbo" (Last El Bimbo Dance). Speaking of the Beatles, this time the Eraserheads have a less overt tendency to imitate the Beatles' style, and they seem more original, more like themselves. This is a fine, enjoyable album, one of the best ever made in the Philippines."




2. Tool - Ænima

"Tool´s Aenima would bring them one step closer to their Art-rock status while keeping their alternative and hard elements. The result is heavy and sophisticated without sounding anything like the rest of the Metal or Prog scene of that time. As a matter of fact, to say that Tool is a Metal band is not exactly right, as they don't fall in the same category of Metal as bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest or even the prog bands like Dream Theater, Fates Warning and oh so many more. While the majority of this bands tend to be fast, Tool is often slow, dense and atmospheric, which puts them aside from those other bands. Yet, the music is so heavy at times (most of the times) that to put them in the Metal category is understandable; in fact Tool would be one of the most influential acts for latter metal bands."




3. Muse - Origin of Symmetry

"The overall atmosphere of this record comes off exactly the way Muse sought after. With the frequently raging synth, the dire tone of Bellamy’s falsetto vocals –on display in pretty much every track- and the fuzzily distorted bass create an ambient sensation of floating in outer space. However, the subtle callousness that works its way through the record makes the journey into the unknown much more adventurous. Bellamy’s vocals are just seamless for everything that Muse attempts to achieve with this album, the desperation that echoes from his voice when he sings throughout the album - especially apparent in the song 'Hyper Music'- is incredibly effective. Everything feels belatedly pubescent, like an overblown stamina test – and no matter how Muse’s fans then may have grown up, it’s still spectacularly foreboding."



4. Skillet - Alien Youth

"Skillet is a band that has certainly done its share of musical evolution over the past five years. Since their self-titled debut release on Forefront/Ardent Records in 1996, the band has been releasing hard-hitting tunes with a strong Christ-centered message and captivating audiences with their energetic and worship-filled live performances. With their 2001 release, Alien Youth, their first release on just Ardent Records, Skillet delivers what is probably their best album to date... the album is also arguably more worshipful than their previous studio recordings. Songs like the mellower "You Are My Hope" and the amazing and spine-tingling "Thirst is Taking Over" set Skillet as being one of the best modern worship acts around. While rocking their hardest, the band also mellows out softer than they ever have with the almost equally as amazing "Will You Be There" and "Come My Way." But the worship does not exist solely among the ballads. "Kill Me Heal Me" is a heavy crunchy guitar-laden industrial rocker, crying out to God, making brokenness and God's healing touch the only means for survival in this world... After numerous listens, it has become clear why Skillet is one of the leading bands in Christian rock today. Their electronic/industrial hard rock is an excellent addition to the growing Christian music scene. And I'm happy to say that Alien Youth is not only Skillet's best album to date, but has secured itself a spot as one of the best albums of 2001."



Ænima was actually a pretty decent album! It's my favorite from Tool anyway. I'll need to add them when I get an iPod that holds more songs. :disappointed:

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I am now barely realizing that these lists haven't covered any metal albums at all... No offense, but if you're gonna talk about great albums of at least almost all genre spectrums through the years, you have to acknowledge some metal somewhere... :/

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I am now barely realizing that these lists haven't covered any metal albums at all... No offense, but if you're gonna talk about great albums of at least almost all genre spectrums through the years, you have to acknowledge some metal somewhere... :/
It's his personal taste, as in what he thinks are the best albums through the years. That's also why he wants the debate. If we all say that metal and other rough stuff should be added, we can agree on that and have the Parrot list adjusted as we go on with the lists. I don't know how to to word this, sorry, I think I am not making sense now :S

I think this whole thing was with the intent that we would disagree with him with some choices and come up with ours and we might learn from eachother.


In that sense, I agree with you on this one, I like the ocasional metal as well and for sure some of that comes back in my lists. Like Nightwish.


2001 would include After Forever and Anathema, both metal (hardly death metal, more the symphonic and prog metal stuff)


I was also surprised not to see Coldplay's Parachute in the Top 10 of 2000 :confused: Metal/symphonic rockband Within Temptation came that year with Mother Earth that's in my list as well. And Mew of course.


I have not seen any filmscores yet either, right?


I might come up with additions (not just naming CD but also say why I consider them the best) for the '00's soon.

Still hoping more people will come up with lists like Ouch did :D

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10. Sigur Rós – ( )


Set the controls for the heart of the sun: Sigur Rós had another baby and they named it ( ). It's just as excessive in length as its elder siblings, it's just as precious and almost as over-the-top sounding, and it's artfully packaged with next to no information provided -- no photo collage from the triumphant world tour, no acknowledgments of the supportive Reykjavik massive. No track titles are present, either -- the band has made them known, but obviously not through the traditional route. Whatever the issues with this record, musical or not, ( ) will only further repel the detractors. Despite the fact that it arrives three years after Ágaetis Byrjun's original release, there are only adjustments -- no significant developments -- in the group's sound. The relentlessly funereal tempos, the elegant arrangements, and the high-pitched warbling/cooing remain in abundance. The overall mood of the album is subdued in relation to its predecessor. This is particularly true for the second half of the album, which is cleaved by a half-minute gap of silence. The sudden stratospheric crescendos resorted to previously are smoothed out, riding subtle gradients that allow for somber, elongated passages of drones and minimal instrumental interplay. The orchestral nuances, contributed by the string quartet Amina, take on a more background role.







9. Beck - Sea Change


Beck has always been known for his ever-changing moods -- particularly since they often arrived one after another on one album, sometimes within one song -- yet the shift between the neon glitz of Midnite Vultures and the lush, somber Sea Change is startling, and not just because it finds him in full-on singer/songwriter mode, abandoning all of the postmodern pranksterism of its predecessor. What's startling about Sea Change is how it brings everything that's run beneath the surface of Beck's music to the forefront, as if he's unafraid to not just reveal emotions, but to elliptically examine them in this wonderfully melancholy song cycle. If, on most albums prior to this, Beck's music was a sonic kaleidoscope -- each song shifting familiar and forgotten sounds into colorful, unpredictable combinations -- this discards genre-hopping in favor of focus, and the concentration pays off gloriously, resulting in not just his best album, but one of the greatest late-night, brokenhearted albums in pop. This, as many reviews and promotional interviews have noted, is indeed a breakup album, but it's not a bitter listen; it has a wearily beautiful sound, a comforting, consoling sadness. His words are often evocative, but not nearly as evocative as the music itself, which is rooted equally in country-rock (not alt-country), early-'70s singer/songwriterism, and baroque British psychedelia. With producer Nigel Godrich, Beck has created a warm, enveloping sound, with his acoustic guitar supported by grand string arrangements straight out of Paul Buckmaster, eerie harmonies, and gentle keyboards among other subtler touches that give this record a richness that unveils more with each listen. Surely, some may bemoan the absence of the careening, free-form experimentalism of Odelay, but Beck's gifts as a songwriter, singer, and musician have never been as brilliant as they are here. As Sea Change is playing, it feels as if Beck singing to you alone, revealing painful, intimate secrets that mirror your own. It's a genuine masterpiece in an era with too damn few of them.







8. Max Richter – Memoryhouse


Memoryhouse may be Max Richter's debut album, but he had been developing his unique mix of contemporary classical and electronics for years before it was released. He co-founded the Piano Circus ensemble, who commissioned and performed works by Arvo Pärt, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich (all of whom were influential on Richter's own music), and used live sampling. He also collaborated with Roni Size and Future Sound of London on their groundbreaking 1996 album Dead Cities. Yet Memoryhouse, which is performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Rumon Gumba, doesn't feel derivative of any of Richter's previous projects; the album's pieces are rigorously composed but also highly emotive, seamlessly blending into a whole that feels like, well, a memory. Tracks such as "Europe, After the Rain" and "Maria, the Poet" exemplify the album's mix of Glass-style minimalism fused with evocative samples and field recordings, territory Richter covered even more brilliantly on his next album, The Blue Notebooks. The main melody on "Europe, After the Rain" surfaces here and there on Memoryhouse, taking different forms like "Untitled (Figures)"' delicate electronics and "Garden (1973)/Interior"'s drifting harpsichords and spoken word. "Sarajevo" and "The Twins (Prague)" underscore the album's Eastern European leanings, while pieces with short but descriptive song titles like "Landscape with Figure (1922)" and "Arbenita (11 years)" add to the feeling that they could soundtrack diary entries or captions on old photos. More dramatic tracks such as "Last Days" complement the intimacy of "Embers" and "Andras" nicely, and show the scope of Richter's abilities. An homage to Europe and the haunting power of memories, Memoryhouse is a stunning first album that announced Max Richter as a major talent.







7. Spoon – Kill the Moonlight


Coming just a year-and-a-half after their triumphant return Girls Can Tell, Kill the Moonlight isn't so much a step backward as a step sideways, almost like a breather after the emotional and musical intensity of their previous album. It isn't surprising, really, that the group would choose to follow such a cathartic album as Girls Can Tell with a collection of tougher, leaner, and meaner songs like "All the Pretty Girls Go to the City," which sounds like the inverse of Girls' "Everything Hits at Once"; "The Way We Get By," a prime example of Spoon's smart, nervy rock; or the spare, spooky pop of "Paper Tiger" and "Someone Something." It is somewhat surprising, however, that Spoon managed to pare down their sound even more on Kill the Moonlight -- tracks such as "Small Stakes" and "Something to Look Forward To" are so stripped-down and sculpted that they're practically aerodynamic; the only problem is that they don't always take off from there. Still, even the album's sparest moments feature Spoon's much-heralded knack with catchy melodies and hooks, even if songs such as "Don't Let It Get You Down" would be even more memorable with a slightly more fleshed-out approach. Hints of this appear on the songs with unique production twists, such as "Stay Don't Go," which sports a human beatbox rhythm; on the distant backing vocals and baritone saxes of "You Gotta Feel It"; and on the album-closer, "Vittorio E.," an undulating, vaguely psychedelic ballad that finally gives the band's playing and songwriting the full treatment they deserve.







6. The Streets – Original Pirate Material


When Streets tracks first appeared in DJ sets and on garage mix albums circa 2000, they made for an interesting change of pace; instead of hyper-speed ragga chatting or candy-coated divas (or both), listeners heard banging tracks hosted by a strangely conversational bloke with a mock cockney accent and a half-singing, half-rapping delivery. It was Mike Skinner, producer and MC, the half-clued-up, half-clueless voice behind club hits "Has It Come to This?" and "Let's Push Things Forward." Facing an entire full-length of Streets tracks hardly sounded like a pleasant prospect, but Skinner's debut, Original Pirate Material, is an excellent listen -- much better than the heavy-handed hype would make you think. Unlike most garage LPs, it's certainly not a substitute for a night out; it's more a statement on modern-day British youth, complete with all the references to Playstations, Indian takeaway, and copious amounts of cannabis you'd expect. Skinner also has a refreshing way of writing songs, not tracks, that immediately distinguishes him from most in the garage scene. True, describing his delivery as rapping would be giving an undeserved compliment (you surely wouldn't hear any American rappers dropping bombs like this line: "I wholeheartedly agree with your viewpoint"). Still, nearly every song here succeeds wildly, first place (after the hits) going to "The Irony of It All," on which Skinner and a stereotypical British lout go back and forth "debating" the merits of weed and lager, respectively (Skinner's meek, agreeable commentary increasingly, and hilariously, causes "Terry" to go off the edge). The production is also excellent; "Let's Push Things Forward" is all lurching ragga flow, with a one-note organ line and drunken trumpets barely pushing the chorus forward. "Sharp Darts" and "Too Much Brandy" have short, brutal tech lines driving them, and really don't need any more for maximum impact. Though club-phobic listeners may find it difficult placing Skinner as just the latest dot along a line connecting quintessentially British musicians/humorists/social critics Nöel Coward, the Kinks, Ian Dury, the Jam, the Specials, and Happy Mondays, Original Pirate Material is a rare garage album: that is, one with a shelf life beyond six months.







5. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot


Few bands can call themselves contemporaries of both the heartbreakingly earnest self-destruction of Whiskeytown and the alienating experimentation of Radiohead's post-millennial releases, but on the painstaking Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,Wilco seem to have done just that. In early 2001, the Chicago-area band focused on recording their fourth album, which ultimately led to the departure of guitarist Jay Bennett and tensions with their record label. Unwilling to change the album to make it more commercially viable, the band bought the finished studio tapes from Warner/Reprise for 50,000 dollars and left the label altogether. The turmoil surrounding the recording and distribution of the album in no way diminishes the sheer quality of the genre-spanning pop songs written by frontman Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates. After throwing off the limiting shackles of the alt-country tag that they had been saddled with through their 1996 double album Being There, Wilco experimented heavily with the elaborate constructs surrounding their simple melodies on Summerteeth. The long-anticipated Yankee Hotel Foxtrot continues their genre-jumping and worthwhile experimentation. The sprawling, nonsensical "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" is as charmingly bleak as anything Tweedy has written to date, while the positively joyous "Heavy Metal Drummer" jangles through bright choruses and summery reminiscences. Similarly, "Kamera" dispels the opening track's gray with a warm acoustic guitar and mixer/multi-instrumentalist/"fifth Beatle" Jim O'Rourke's unusual production. The true high points of the album are when the songwriting is at its most introspective, as it is during the heartwrenching "Ashes of American Flags," which takes on an eerie poignancy in the wake of the attacks at the World Trade Center. "All my lies are always wishes," Tweedy sings, "I know I would die if I could come back new." As is the case with many great artists, the evolution of the band can push the music into places that many listeners (and record companies for that matter) may not be comfortable with, but, in the case of Wilco, their growth has steadily led them into more progressive territory. While their songs still maintain the loose intimacy that was apparent on their debut A.M., the music has matured to reveal a complexity that is rare in pop music, yet showcased perfectly on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.







4. Boards of Canada - Geogaddi


Geogaddi, the most anticipated sophomore full-length from an IDM act since Aphex Twin's SAW 2 in 1994, certainly looks and feels similar to the 1998 Boards of Canada debut, Music Has the Right to Children. The package design includes artful, bleached-out photos of children playing, while the lengthy track listing balances short vignettes with longer tracks. Fans will be delighted to hear that the music also reveals no great departure from one of the most immediately recognizable sounds in electronica; a pair of Scottish cottage producers apparently whiling away the hours creating music, Boards of Canada specialize in evocative, mournful, sample-laden downtempo music often sounding as though produced on malfunctioning equipment excavated from the ruins of an early-'70s computer lab. Geogaddi has a bit less in the way of melodics (the prime factor why Music Has the Right to Children was an immediate classic) and, as a result, sounds slightly less like trip-hop for fairy tales and more like the slightly experimental, but definitely produced, electronic music it is. Still, Boards of Canada surely haven't lost their touch for creating spectral machine music: "1969" is particularly lovely, with starburst synthesizer lines and disembodied vocoders trilling the chorus (the samples apparently originate from a David Koresh follower). For "Sunshine Recorder," a very fitting vocal sample -- lifted from a documentary concerning a species of dandelion found by sub-aquatic robots on the ocean floor (and yes, that is Leslie Nielsen narrating) -- prefaces the melancholy synth, vocal cut-ups, and glacier-speed basslines. It's clear Boards of Canada labored long to create Geogaddi, since only a tremendous amount of work can produce music that flows so naturally and unobtrusively that it never sounds produced.







3. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It in People


After the release of Feel Good Lost, Broken Social Scene became a bit more collective, swelling from two members to ten (plus guests) and dropping their ambient instrumental approach in favor of full-blown rock songs. As you'd expect with such a dramatic rise in membership, there's a lot more variety this time out. The first two tracks mirror the band's transformation perfectly; in fact, the first is a fairly airy instrumental number with a Mark Isham-like feel, while the second slams it off the rails with a driving beat and wailing guitars. Main members Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew even sing this time around, while Leslie Feist and Emily Haines -- both of whom became Canadian stars after this release, which effectively fueled interest in Feist's solo albums and Haines' work with Metric -- assume lead vocals on other tracks. According to one of the members of this incarnation of the group, trying to determine "who did what" on this album would warrant an entire review in itself, as everyone took turns playing different instruments and the whole project was built from the ground up in a very collective fashion. Listeners who prefer the ambient pop of Feel Good Lost may be put off by the all-over-the-map approach, but You Forgot It in People is a more accessible release overall, and it helped set the stage for Broken Social Scene's international breakthrough in 2005.







2. Interpol - Turn On the Bright Lights


One might go into a review like this one wondering how many words will pass before Joy Division is brought up. In this case, the answer is 16. Many are too quick to classify Interpol as mimics and lose out on discovering that little more than an allusion is being made. The music made by both bands explores the vast space between black and white and produces something pained, deftly penetrating, and beautiful. Save for a couple vocal tics, that's where the obvious parallels end. The other fleeting comparisons one can one whip up when talking about Interpol are several -- roughly the same amount that can be conjured when talking about any other guitar/drums/vocals band formed since the '90s. So, sure enough, one could play the similarity game with this record all day and bring up a pile of bands. It could be a detrimental thing to do, especially when this record is so spellbinding and doesn't deserve to be mottled with such bilge. However, this record is a special case; slaying the albatross this band has been unfairly strangled by is urgent and key. Let's: there's another Manchester band at the heart of "Say Hello to the Angels," but that heart is bookended by a beginning and end that approaches the agitated squall of Fugazi; the torchy, elegiac "Leif Erikson" plays out like a missing scene from the Afghan Whigs' Gentlemen; the upper-register refrain near the close of "Obstacle 1" channels Shudder to Think. This record is no fun at all, the tension is rarely resolved, and -- oh no! -- it isn't exactly revolutionary, though some new shades of gray have been discovered. But you shouldn't allow your perception to be fogged by such considerations when someone has just done it for you and, most importantly, when all this brilliance is waiting to overwhelm you.







1. William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops


The Disintegration Loops arrived with a story that was beautiful and heartbreaking in its own right. It's been repeated so many times that Basinski himself has grown weary of telling it: in the 1980s, he constructed a series of tape loops consisting of processed snatches of music captured from an easy listening station. When going through his archives in 2001, he decided to digitize the decades-old loops to preserve them. He started a loop on his digital recorder and left it running, and when he returned a short while later, he noticed that the tape was gradually crumbling as it played. The fine coating of magnetized metal was slivering off, and the music was decaying slightly with each pass through the spindle. Astonished, Basinski repeated the process with other loops and obtained similar results. Shortly after Basinski digitized his loops came the September 11 attacks. From the roof of his space in Brooklyn, he put a video camera on a tripod and captured the final hour of daylight on that day, pointing the camera at a smoldering lower Manhattan. On September 12, he cued the first of his newly created sound pieces and listened to it while watching the footage. The impossibly melancholy music, the gradual fade, and the images of ruin: the project suddenly had a sense of purpose. It would become an elegy for that day.









Honorable Mentions:




...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Source Tags & Codes


Intricate and reflective as well as gripping and raw, Source Codes & Tags marks And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's leap from the venerable indie imprint Merge to Interscope's major-label territory. It's a seamless transition, mixing the sweeping, fearlessly anthemic qualities of their previous work with a newfound sheen that actually makes the music's earnest roughness stand out more. Sculpted, gorgeous-yet-gritty melodies drive quintessentially AYWKUBTTOD epics like "Another Morning Stoner," "How Near, How Far," "Relative Ways," and the title track. But Source Codes & Tags isn't so much a more accessible version of the band's sound as it is a more streamlined one; the surging guitars on songs like "It Was There That I Saw You" are even more powerful for their economy. Yet the album's more refined sound doesn't prevent the group from expanding and experimenting -- driven by a stomping rhythm and a raunchy riff, the dangerously sexy "Baudelaire" is the most straightforwardly "rawk" thing And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead has done to date, while "Days of Being Wild" and "Homage" mix old-school hardcore with sullen, dreamlike passages. The band hasn't forsaken its artiness, either, linking nearly every song with interludes of found sounds and adding strings, accordions, and other unique flourishes to the arrangements. A driving, incredibly solid album, Source Tags & Codes proves just how much more the members of AYWKUBTTOD have to say -- they're just as combustible as they were on their debut, but now express themselves with a clarity that makes their intensity all the more breathtaking.







Jonny Greenwood – Bodysong


The varied sounds of Jonny Greenwood's score for the British documentary Bodysong will come as no surprise to hyper-attentive fans of Radiohead, whether they've devoured every interview with the multi-instrumentalist or have studied every detail of his contributions to that band. Each of these pieces was written and produced by Greenwood, with assistance from Radiohead engineer Graeme Stewart. A string quartet is present on four tracks, drums and horns factor in on two tracks filled with nervous energy, and brother/bandmate Colin Greenwood provides bass on another. Everything else -- a wide assortment of instruments, including electronics -- is handled by the composer. When separated from the film, the music remains a compelling listen. From track to track, the tempos and emotions jerk back and forth with unpredictable unease. Sounds dart as often as they drift, but there's a peculiar linearity at play that keeps the ears hanging on every note.







The Libertines – Up the Bracket


On paper it sounds horribly calculated, but (also like the Strokes' debut) in practice it's at once fresh and familiar. Mick Jones' warm, not-too-rough, and not-too-polished production both emphasizes the pedigree of their sound and the originality of it: on songs like "Vertigo," "Death on the Stairs," and the excellent "Boys in the Band," the guitars switch between Merseybeat chime and a garagey churn as the vocals range from punk snarls to pristine British Invasion harmonies. Capable of bittersweet beauty on the folky, Beatlesque "Radio America" and pure attitude on "Horrorshow,"the Libertines really shine when they mix the two approaches and let their ambitions lead the way. "Did you see the stylish kids in the riot?" begins "Time for Heroes," an oddly poetic mix of love and war that recalls the band's spiritual and sonic forefathers the Clash; "The Good Old Days" blends jazzy verses, martial choruses, and lyrics like "It's not about tenements and needles and all the evils in their eyes and the backs of their minds." On songs like these, "Tell the King," and "Up the Bracket," the group not only outdoes most of its peers but begins to reach the greatness of the Kinks, the Jam, and all the rest of the groups whose brilliant melodic abilities and satirical looks at British society paved the way. Though the album is a bit short at 36 minutes, that's long enough to make it a brilliant debut; the worst you can say about its weakest tracks is that they're really solid and catchy. Punk poets, lagered-up lads, London hipsters -- the Libertines play many different roles on Up the Bracket, all of which suit them to a tee.







Metro Area - Metro Area


The right amount of exposure and the right number of open minds would turn this record into the dance-music equivalent of Pulp Fiction. That film and this record are mindbending syntheses of undervalued styles and scenes of the past -- both slyly referential and humbly reverential -- with mad-scientist approaches that are dead set on being both current and translatable to the future. The men behind Metro Area, Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani, take six tracks from four 12" releases that left immediate impressions on the dance underground, edit them as needed, and weave them into four new productions for a painstakingly sequenced album that flows constantly and smoothly with colorful, melodic, and deep feeling and simplistic yet full-sounding grooves. In each track, a tip of the hat is given to the bygone days of boogie, old-school R&B, house, and pre-whitewashed disco. However, each track is so full of life and creative combinations and refractions of the past that any accusations of being hopelessly retro are laughable at best. The Brooklyn duo combines the synthetic (drum programming, synthesizers) with the organic (a string quartet and a battery of other guest musicians) for a record that sounds effortless on the surface but meticulously perfected beneath it. The bold, charging bounce of "Atmosphrique," the robofunk crunch of "Miura," the Boggle-bubble drum-pad bump of "Caught Up," and the jubilant street-side skip of "Pina" are so rich with immediate pleasures that it would be understandable to take the craft and precision with which they were made for granted. This record is a deceptively intricate maze of tight machine rhythms, tumbling bongos, smacking handclaps, warm keyboard stabs, zapping synths, tickling pianos, lively loops of flute, guitar flicks, and seesawing strings. It's just shy of being an embarrassment of riches.







The Notwist – Neon Golden



Neon Golden was a subtle rewiring of the Notwist's long-established baroque hip-hop post-rock fetishist technique. The album's minimal kitchen-sink vibe was stronger, the wide assortment of instruments were arranged with new conviction, and the band would throw in a startlingly unpretentious mixture of tub-thumbing static, cellos, banjos, organs, and breakbeats while Markus Acher's Belle & Sebastian-styled vocals flowed underneath like island run-off. In "This Room," "Pick Up the Phone," "Off the Rails," and the excellent "Consequence," the intricacy of the band's sound remained, but with less experimental desperation and considerably better ideas.





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It's his personal taste, as in what he thinks are the best albums through the years. That's also why he wants the debate. If we all say that metal and other rough stuff should be added, we can agree on that and have the Parrot list adjusted as we go on with the lists. I don't know how to to word this, sorry, I think I am not making sense now :S

I think this whole thing was with the intent that we would disagree with him with some choices and come up with ours and we might learn from eachother.


In that sense, I agree with you on this one, I like the ocasional metal as well and for sure some of that comes back in my lists. Like Nightwish.


2001 would include After Forever and Anathema, both metal (hardly death metal, more the symphonic and prog metal stuff)


I was also surprised not to see Coldplay's Parachute in the Top 10 of 2000 :confused: Metal/symphonic rockband Within Temptation came that year with Mother Earth that's in my list as well. And Mew of course.


I have not seen any filmscores yet either, right?


I might come up with additions (not just naming CD but also say why I consider them the best) for the '00's soon.

Still hoping more people will come up with lists like Ouch did :D


Oh, all right, makes sense. Though I believe he never said that the lists were adjustable, that would be a plausible idea once he finishes his lists. And I used quotes from various album reviews if that's okay for now. I would want to make my own opinions and assumptions on why albums I want added are deemed to be "great albums," but it takes a lot more than just saying that something sounds pretty, and it also takes a lot of knowledge on the band history and it's supposed genre. Doing that much is what the work is about in discussing. :P

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10. Broadcast – Haha Sound


On their early singles and brilliant debut album, The Noise Made by People, Broadcast's commitment to crafting meticulously, ethereally beautiful atmospheres gave their music a detached quality that made them somewhat difficult to embrace fully. This isn't the case on Haha Sound, the band's second album. While their music still sounds like it could've been crafted by ghosts in the machine, now Broadcast give it flesh and blood through more warmth and texture. As with the Pendulum EP, Haha Sound's more human touch comes through in its looser, more intimate, and rougher sound. But aside from being warmer and more textured, the album is simply more, as its first three songs reveal. The delicately spooky nursery rhyme "Colour Me In" begins the album with the wistful, childlike viewpoint that creeps into Haha Sound from time to time, its layers of chopped up, sawing strings giving it an oddly and sweetly tentative feel. "Pendulum" finds the band digging deeper into their psychedelic influences, with acid rock drumming and flashback-like washes of sound making it one of the most tense, driving tracks they've recorded. The Pendulum EP suggested that the entire album might be as wired and dissonant as this song, but tracks like "Before We Begin" quickly prove otherwise. A superstitious song about reuniting lovers, it's gorgeous pop in the vein of "The Book Lovers" and "Come On Let's Go," but more approachable and that much more alluring because of it. The rest of Haha Sound more or less follows in the footsteps of these songs, but the variety that the band instills in the album makes it far from monotonous. A big part of Haha Sound's expansive feel is Trish Keenan's increasingly expressive vocals; while she can still occasionally seem to be hovering slightly outside the songs, her delivery is much more vulnerable and emotive. She's soothing on "Valerie," which is Broadcast's idea of a folk song or lullaby -- although with all of its eerie background noises, sleeping with one eye open is suggested -- ecstatic on "Minim," and poignant on "The Little Bell," another sweetly childlike song that sounds like Keenan is singing inside a broken clock. Noisier aspects find their way into interludes like "Distortion" and "Black Umbrellas," a curious, fuzzy oompah that picks up speed like an out-of-control assembly line. "Man Is Not a Bird" concludes with a playful, Raymond Scott-esque percussive exercise. The spirits of Scott and Joe Meek haunt the album's carefully deconstructed sound, most obviously on its more extreme tracks, but even on gentler songs like the flight of fancy "Lunch Hour Pops," which has a giddy, space-age sweetness akin to the Tornadoes' "Telstar." This song, the beautiful "Ominous Cloud," and "Winter Now" suggest that Broadcast could probably make dozens of immaculate pop songs like these if they wanted to, but all the detours the band takes are precisely what make the more perfectly crafted songs so precious. Haha Sound may not be Broadcast's most superficially perfect album, but it's a more challenging and exciting one because of its deliberate imperfections.







9. The Radio Dept. - Lesser Matters


The Radio Dept. are an indie rock band who play fuzzed-out, ramshackle pop songs, and Lesser Matters, their debut full-length, was self-recorded in homes and small studios with unabashedly lo-fi production values, but it somehow manages to project a timeless elegance and aplomb that belie this unassuming provenance. The album crystallizes and perfects a certain strain of understated, sophisticated, genially gritty modern pop/rock, drawing on a host of familiar 1980s post-punk touchstones from shoegaze and noise pop (My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain) to vintage indie pop (Orange Juice, Felt) and major-league rockers like the Cure and New Order (both of whom, not so coincidentally, appeared alongside The Radio Dept. on Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette soundtrack) to create something that doesn't seem like it should be all that extraordinary, but ends up as much more than the sum of its parts. And those parts are already pretty enjoyable in themselves -- the guitars, most prominently, sometimes rangy languorous jangles but more often bleary, gloriously distorted smears that make anything else around them seem cleanly recorded by comparison, from cheap and crunchy drum machines to Johan Duncanson's wispy, barely-there vocals, which are merely draped in reverb when the rest of a track is draped in fuzz. But, crucially, where Lesser Matters really shines is in the songwriting. There are truly too many highlights to list, from the dynamic one-two punch that opens the album -- after the gentle, synth-kissed preamble "Too Soon," drummer Per Blomgren clicks off the relatively raucous "Where Damage Isn't Already Done" in a burst of sloppy, quasi-punk energy -- to nostalgic, ambling pop songs like "1995" and "Your Father" to the twin fuzz-drenched peaks of "Keen on Boys" and "Against the Tide." Music this stylish and atmospheric can often be great-sounding but emotionally empty, but Duncanson's indelible melodies and vividly sketched lyrics -- fittingly melancholy, but not hopelessly mopey -- prevent these songs from ever feeling detached despite the hazy production and his often dispassionate delivery, and make this the rare retro-informed album that fully deserves to stand alongside its influences.







8. Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain


Daniel Dumile (aka MF Doom) concluded a prolific 2003 with this paranoiac collection of warped city tales, released under the alter ego Viktor Vaughn. Having relegated production duties to a committee consisting of RJD2 and relative unknowns King Honey, Heat Sensor, and Max Bill, Dumile's full attention is left for the mike. With his mush-mouthed delivery as currency, the charismatic MC delivers a phone book of impressionistic rhyme trails, barmy anecdotes, and twisted punchlines that siphon humor into the grayest scenarios. Vaudeville Villain's story-raps are just as brilliantly spun -- the immaculate "Let Me Watch" features Apani B Fly guesting as Vaughn's vestal romantic foil and ends on a note that strikes just the right balance between Vaughn's comedic and sordid qualities. Grubby and excitable, the album's production is no less superb, with RJD2's "Saliva," Heat Sensor's "Never Dead," and King Honey's title track standing out as high points. Dense, bright, and packed with ideas, Vaudeville Villain is Dumile at his absolute best.







7. The Books – The Lemon of Pink


Like 2002's Thought for Food, The Lemon of Pink combines experimental collage technique with an organic, folky mixture of banjo, guitar, violin, simple vocal melodies, and snippets of conversation. The collage technique snaps like that of the United States of America, but is used to introduce glitches in the melodic elements, whereas the U.S.A. attempted to subvert the tradition of the pop form. The title track's straightforward, melancholic phrasing and subtle string accompaniment are not unlike Cat Power's work with the Dirty Three, mostly due to Anne Doerner's lovely vocals, or the more ambitiously pop elements of Chicago post-rock. The song sprawls into a low-intensity instrumental collage where silence and elements of timbre cut through the melody to create glitches in an otherwise tranquil environment. The sample for sample's sake kitsch that has dragged down quite a few artists is not a problem here -- wonderfully wrought clips like the welcoming voice on "Tokyo" make the rhythm of speaking into a fetish, toying with it, breaking it, and building it back. This is also used, less effectively, on tracks like "Take Time," where a simple phrase becomes an unphased minimalist backdrop for experimentation. It isn't often that one finds an American artist with such a mastery of collage technique and a desire to incorporate traditional folk instruments and melodies. Like the Notwist or Badly Drawn Boy, the Books open up territory for relaxed electro-acoustic listening without compromising their creative process.







6. Four Tet – Rounds


For his solo projects, Fridge's Kieran Hebden is a lo-fi experimentalist who, had he been recording 15 years ago, would've been cranking out songs on a four-track recorder instead of a laptop. As demonstrated on his third record, Rounds, he's one of the few musicians capturing all the promise inherent in computer science -- being able to summon, manipulate, and mix any sound imaginable. The record offers something for nearly every audience that could approach it, with a bit of a groove for electronic fans, an obtuse sense of music-making for experimentalists, and a dreamy melodicism sure to endear it to indie pop fans. The opener, "Hands," is especially breathtaking: it begins with a few seconds of drum samples, surgically inserted and ill-timed, but opens into a warm, melodic production with a simple frame-kit beat outlining Hebden's guitar-and-keyboard atmospherics. "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth" features a music box melody playing against softly shaded, backmasked guitar and a subdued, grating percussion line reminiscent of an iron lung. The nine-minute "Unspoken" alternates guitar and piano playing the same beatific melody, over another simple beat and tambourine claps. Though Rounds is experimental by nature, Kieran Hebden's gift for melody and emotional shading allows his records to be enjoyed by an audience wider than merely experimental listeners.







5. Dizzee Rascal – Boy in da Corner


Often teetering on the brink of either cracking a smile or bursting into tears while delivering his boastful, wistful, and dread-filled rhymes, the hormonally charged voice of East London's Dizzee Rascal can be instantly singled out after the first introduction. Birthed by U.K. garage and seasoned through pirate radio, the terrain Dizzee carves out remains worlds apart from that of Ms. Dynamite and the Streets, two MCs who have come from a fractious-as-ever scene -- one that Dizzee's apart from as much as he's a part of -- with similar fanfare. And despite comparisons to 2Pac and 50 Cent that won't cease at any point in the foreseeable future, the parallels drawn to stateside rappers haven't often looked beneath the surface. If he were (mis)placed in a pool of U.S. MCs, there'd be few comparisons that would make full sense. The fact that Dizzee's from England is an obvious factor; his accent and own cultural slang will be an instant deal-breaker for most of those who have hunted for Makaveli bootlegs. From a production standpoint, we're talking about splayed-out beats and deflated basslines that, heard through a state-of-the-art stereo, might as well be blaring from the ravaged stock system of a 1974 Dodge Dart. If there are any likenesses, the dense production work -- carried out mostly by the MC on his own -- is somewhat akin to prime Bomb Squad, if only because no level of familiarity can acclimate the ears completely. Get lost in the swaying chime melody of "Brand New Day," the low-slung industrial-punk grind of "Jus a Rascal," or the stunted gait of "Do It," and risk missing out on all of the deeply hidden inflections that help make the whole album so unique. Despite the grime, the violence, the conflicted romantic entanglements, and the jagged productions that characterize the album, the moment that hits hardest is also the most fragile: "Do It," with a resigned line that goes "If I had the guts to end it all, believe -- I would," begs for misinterpretation, so it should be pointed out that it (and the album as well) draws to a close with "You can do anything," an encouragement that holds much weight in its context. Startling, tirelessly powerful, and full of unlimited dimensions, nothing could truly weigh down this debut -- not even a Mercury Prize.







4. Radiohead – Hail to the Thief


Radiohead's admittedly assumed dilemma: how to push things forward using just the right amounts of the old and the older in order to please both sides of the divide? Taking advantage of their longest running time to date, enough space is provided to quench the thirsts of resolute Bends devotees without losing the adventurous drive or experimentation that eventually got the group into hot water with many of those same listeners. Guitars churn and chime and sound like guitars more often than not; drums are more likely to be played by a human; and discernible verses are more frequently trailed by discernible choruses. So, whether or not the group is to be considered "back," there is a certain return to relatively traditional songcraft. Had the opening "2 + 2 = 5" and "Sit Down. Stand Up." been made two years before, each song's slowly swelling intensity would have plateaued a couple minutes in, functioning as mood pieces without any release; instead, each boils over into its own cathartic tantrum. The spook-filled "Sail to the Moon," one of several songs featuring prominent piano, rivals "Street Spirit" and hovers compellingly without much sense of force carrying it along. Somewhat ironically, minus a handful of the more conventionally structured songs, the album would be almost as fractured, remote, and challenging as Amnesiac. "Backdrifts" and "The Gloaming" feature nervous electronic backdrops, while the emaciated "We Suck Young Blood" is a laggard processional that, save for one outburst, shuffles along uneasily. At nearly an hour in length, this album doesn't unleash the terse blow delivered by its two predecessors. However, despite the fact that it seems more like a bunch of songs on a disc rather than a singular body, its impact is substantial.







3. The Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic


At first glance, the Exploding Hearts seem like mere revivalists. From the pink and yellow cover to their 1977 looks to their influences, it would be easy to dismiss them. But you need to hold the phone a minute and listen, because the Exploding Hearts are the best punk band to come along in a long time, maybe since the original wave. About those influences, here is a partial list: the early Clash if Mick Jones wrote all the songs and the Only Ones or Buzzcocks at their emotional best, but also classic power pop sounds like a (much) tougher Rubinoos, rock & roll like a tighter and sober New York Dolls, and the lo-fi approach of Billy Childish. Guitar Romantic is an amazingly raw and melodic debut, fully realized and original despite the obvious debt to the punk past. It is difficult to pinpoint just what it is about the band that helps overcome their idol worship. Maybe it is the love and authenticity that they pour into the worship, the raw production that smashes the guitars and bass into a whirling mess of tuneful noise, or the wonderfully tough but tender vocals. Most likely it is the songwriting. Too many bands that seek to re-create a sound or an era don't have the tunes to back it up. Not the Hearts. Every song on Guitar Romantic makes a bid to be the best on the album: "I'm a Pretender" is a jaunty kick in the head, "Sleeping Aides & Razorblades" is an ultra-catchy doo wop-inspired ballad with a brilliant guitar line, "Thorns in Roses" is a rollicking '50s-influenced ballad, "Throwaway Style" melds a lovelorn lyric to a Motown beat (the same one the Strokes heisted for "Last Nite") to great effect. There isn't a weak song here, not a single one that isn't on par with the best punk-pop. If you don't have this album and have even the slightest affinity for poppy punk rock or punky pop/rock, you are missing out on something special.







2. The Wrens – Meadowlands


The Wrens' third album, The Meadowlands, is a sprawling, shifting affair, perhaps reflecting the fact that it took four years to create. It's easy to take the sweet, slightly alt-country "13 Months in 6 Minutes" at face value -- the song's epic feel suggests the passing of a considerable chunk of time, and at The Wrens' pace, it's possible that it did take over a year to craft. Rather fittingly, the album itself is also long, and the way that its songs jump and shift in tone and mood suggests a series of journal entries strung together, connected loosely by an overall brokenhearted feeling. A pair of bitterly pretty songs open The Meadowlands after the interlude "The House That Guilt Built" sets the tone with its early summer evening atmosphere: on "Happy," The Wrens sing "Are you happy?/You got what you want/I'm over it now," revealing their true feelings before shimmering guitars carry the song off on another tangent; "She Sends Kisses" goes from whispery, late-night anguish to high drama. Like Secaucus, most of the album trades in a classic indie rock sound -- just this side of accessible, but not overly experimental either. "This Boy Is Exhausted" and the new wavey "Faster Gun" are deceptively simple, bright, and shiny but with underlying complexities that provide a sharp contrast to the album's gentler moments, such as the shambling beauty of "Thirteen Grand" and the sweetly twangy "Ex-Girl Collection." The Meadowlands saves some of its most rock moments for the end of the album: "Per Second Second," an angular, Pixies-esque bit of punk, and the anthemic "Everyone Chooses Sides" send the album out in a blaze of glory that initially seems a little at odds with the melancholy tone of the rest of the album but, after a few listens, reveals itself as strangely appropriate. It's possible that The Meadowlands might be a "better" album if it were more focused and logical, but there's something to be said for its immersive, stream-of-consciousness approach. It's also tempting to say that hopefully it won't take The Wrens as long to make their next album as it did to make The Meadowlands, but when the results are this good, the time it took to make the album is more than justified.







1. Ricardo Villalobos – Alcachofa


It's wholly appropriate that this album is titled Alcachofa (Spanish-to-English translation: artichoke). If the kind of vivid house you hear blaring in the hip clothing store is an apple, giving the mouth an instant burst of flavor the moment the teeth puncture its skin, then the microhouse of Ricardo Villalobos is more like an artichoke -- a more subtle fruit that's consumed by peeling off its fleshy leaves and delicately skimming the pulp off the inner surface. Out of all the microhouse producers, Villalobos is the one who has thrived the most on skeletal structures and the slight but all-important subtleties that accompany them. That continues here, with burbling, spacious constructs swarming all throughout your headspace. The best example of his rank as a supreme sound designer is the opening "Easy Lee," the faintly claustrophobic ten-minute opener. The manner in which the pattering percussion and queasy vocal refrain are treated is likely to make you feel as if you're being held in a sac that stores some sort of viscous fluid. Unlike most house, there isn't a great sense of redemption, spirituality, or joy in Villalobos' productions. In fact, the overriding moods are slightly nervous and pensive more than anything else, despite the elongated grooves and absence of agitations. And while these tracks fall in line with the remainder of his discography, as tracks that are destined to be caned during DJ sets, they are also more likely to be utilized in home-listening settings. Villalobos could've easily thrown together a compilation of previously vinyl-only highlights -- from releases on Perlon, Playhouse, Lo-Fi Stereo, Frisbee Tracks, and others -- that would've made for one of the best dance full-lengths of 2003. Instead, he came up with this almost entirely new set, and the result is exactly the same. He is in complete control of his machines at all times, and he makes them do strange things that no one else can.









Honorable Mentions:




Manitoba – Up in Flames


A one-man pop band, Dan Snaith's Manitoba project distills everything that's breathtaking and slightly absurd about several extremist alternative-pop movements of the '90s: the jangly white-noise of classic Too Pure/Beggars Banquet records (Pram, Stereolab); freewheeling pastoralia from Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips; and the warm '60s bubblegum of prime Elephant 6 pop music. But despite the parade of influences (many of them quite clear), Snaith's productions definitely aren't simply recycling these; his tracks are vibrant and imaginative, calling on fuzzed-out guitar solos and summer-day vocals that recall a raft of solid shoegazers. And unlike a lot of top-heavy albums, Snaith saves one of the best for last: "Every Time She Turns 'Round It's Her Birthday," a rewrite of Mercury Rev's "Chasing a Bee" that does the masters proud.







M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts


On the list as one of the most radiant keyboard albums, M83's absurdly lush Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts combines a small arsenal of antiquated synths and drum machines with a shoegaze aesthetic to create a giant starburst of sound and analog miasma. A French duo comprised of Nicolas Fromageau and Anthony Gonzalez, the pair's songs seem to evolve from one major chord to the next with tremendous velocity, always accumulating dense new layers of sound along the way. The keyboards throb, quiver, arpeggiate, and drone with such unbridled intensity that there's rarely any space (or need) for anything else. But while the shrill analog thrash of "America," the frenzied overload of "0078H," and the sustained crescendo of "Noise" certainly prove beyond doubt that guitars needn't be a prerequisite for post-rock dramatics, M83 are so much more than just a quiet-loud-quiet-loud outfit with a twist. As evidenced by the singsongy hymnal of "In Church," the sweetly sung vocals on "Run Into Flowers," and the provincial chimes of final track "Beauties Can Die," M83 is a keyboard band of the best kind: one with nuance, tone, thrash, and color.







Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co.


From the very beginning, there was always a certain blue-collar quality to Jason Molina's songs, a working-class element informing his lyrics. But nowhere is it more visible than on Magnolia Electric Co., the seventh Songs: Ohia album. The assured, denim-clad, '70s rock feel of the album positions it on the dark edge of town, in the neighborhood of Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and Bob Seger. But these are no bombastic anthems like the songs of those populist rousers. Molina remains subjective and confessional in tone even when singing, "Someone must have set 'em up/Now they'll be working in the cold gray rock/Now they'll be working in the hot mill steam/Now they'll be working in the concrete," as he does on the incredible seven-plus minute opener, "Farewell Transmission." The song also serves as possibly the first real recorded display on a proper full-length album of what the Songs: Ohia touring band is capable of doing. Seasoned, powerful, and dynamic -- for at least this one song -- Songs: Ohia is an actual band and not just Molina and company. In fact, Magnolia as a whole has a much more open and collaborative feel than previous albums; Molina even relinquishes lead vocal duties on two occasions. Lawrence Peters applies some outlaw country grit to "The Old Black Hen," but the words sound somewhat awkward coming from him and as a result the song doesn't quite work. Much more successful is Scout Niblett on the rambling "Peoria Lunch Box Blues." Sounding like a female Van Morrison, you can almost see her obsessively pacing back and forth as she sings. But despite all the input from others, the most interesting and compelling thing about this release (like any Songs: Ohia album) is Molina's voice, which has grown beyond being simply an idiosyncratic instrument into a wonderfully expressive one as well. He uses it to stunning effect on "John Henry Split My Heart," a classic B-side rocker in the tradition of "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Free Bird," and likewise on the relatively somber closer, "Hold on Magnolia," which gets help from slide guitar, violin, and a swaying rhythm to create a beautifully bittersweet mood. Magnolia Electric Co. may not be the best Songs: Ohia album, but it is certainly the most approachable. It has a big, open feel certain to appeal to any classic rock fan, but retains the warm intimacy of previous albums. Not an easy line to walk.







The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?


Like their moniker implies, the Unicorns are whimsical, riding in a mythical world of lo-fi experimental pop. The Montreal trio (with help from several friends) is strangely lovable and lovably strange, sort of like a lo-fi version of the Flaming Lips. Bookended with the titles "I Don't Wanna Die" and "Ready to Die" (which abruptly ends the album), Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? has some accessible moments, while balancing some ambitious ideas with synths, recorder, pennywhistle, and clarinet. "I Was Born (A Unicorn)" best sums up their mindset: "We're the unicorns/We're more than horses/We're the unicorns and we're people too." Add to that a trilogy of songs that somehow ties together something about ghosts and a song that critiques U.S. foreign policy and you've got an idea of the range here. Even if their shows supposedly involve puppets, homeless people, or fighting bandmembers, these unicorns are, for the most part, real.







Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell



Both the old and new sides of the band's sound offer brilliant and frustrating moments: "Rich" is a sneering sugar-mommy story; "Black Tongue," which features the great lyric "let's do this like a prison break," is almost Hasil Adkins-esque in its screwed-up sexuality and rockabilly licks. "Date with the Night," a rattling, screeching joy ride of a song, combines Karen O's unearthly vocals, Nick Zinner's ever-expanding guitar prowess, and Brian Chase's powerful drumming in dynamic ways. Not so good are the insanely noisy "Man" and "Tick," which have enough volume and attitude to make the Kills and Jon Spencer turn pale, but also sound like they're coasting on those qualities. The moody, romantic songs on Fever to Tell are the most genuine. "Pin" and "Y Control" have a bittersweet bounciness, while the unabashedly gorgeous, sentimental "Maps" is not only among the band's finest work but one of the best indie/punk love songs in a long, long time. Along with "Modern Romance," a pretty but vaguely sinister meditation on the lack thereof, these songs compensate for some of Fever to Tell's missteps (such as "No No No," a lengthy, halting mishmash of punk and dubby experimentalism). Perhaps they should've included some of their tried-and-tested songs from their EPs, but for a group this mercurial, that would probably be stagnation. Though this is their debut album, Fever to Tell almost feels like a transitional release; they're already rethinking their sound in radical ways. Even when they're uneven, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are still an exciting band.





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10. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand


While the Darts of Pleasure EP proved that Franz Ferdinand had a way with equally sharp lyrics and hooks, and the "Take Me Out" single took their sound to dramatic new heights, their self-titled debut album offers the most expansive version of their music yet. From the first track, "Jacqueline," which begins with a brooding acoustic prelude before jumping into a violently vibrant celebration of hedonism, Franz Ferdinand is darker and more diverse than the band's previous work suggested. "Auf Ausche" has an unsettling aggression underneath its romantic yearning, its cheap synth strings and pianos underscoring its low-rent moodiness and ruined glamour. And even in the album's context, "Take Me Out" remains unmatched for sheer drama; with its relentless stomp and lyrics like "I'm just a cross hair/I'm just a shot away from you," it's deliciously unclear whether it's about meeting a date or a firing squad. The wonderfully dry wit the band employed on Darts of Pleasure's "Shopping for Blood" and "Van Tango" is used more subtly: the oddly radiant "Matinee" captures romantic escapism via dizzying wordplay. "Michael," meanwhile, is a post-post-punk "John, I'm Only Dancing," by equal turns macho and fey; when Alex Kapranos proclaims "This is what I am/I am a man/So come and dance with me, Michael," it's erotic as well as homoerotic. Love and lust make up a far greater portion of Franz Ferdinand than any of the band's other work; previously, Franz Ferdinand's strong suit was witty aggressiveness, and the shift in focus has mixed results. There's something a little too manic and unsettled about Franz Ferdinand to make them completely convincing romantics, but "Come On Home" has swooning, anthemic choruses guaranteed to melt even those who hate swooning, anthemic choruses. Fortunately, the album includes enough of their louder, crazier songs to please fans of their EPs. "Darts of Pleasure" remains one of the best expressions of Franz Ferdinand's shabby glamour, campy humor, and sugar-buzz energy, and "Tell Her Tonight," which debuted on the Darts of Pleasure EP, returns in a full-fledged version that's even more slinky, menacing, and danceable than the demo hinted it might be. And if Franz Ferdinand's aim has always been to get people dancing, then "Cheating on You"'s churned-up art punk and close, Merseybeat-like harmonies suggest some combination of slam dancing and the twist that could sweep dancefloors. Despite its slight unevenness, Franz Ferdinand ends up being rewarding in different ways than the band's previous work was, and it's apparent that they're one of the more exciting groups to come out of the garage rock/post-punk revival.







9. The Walkmen – Bows + Arrows


Although it's tighter and more polished than the brilliantly shambling Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, any worries about restraints on the band's creativity are dismissed by the first eerie-yet-warm strains of its opening track, "What's in It for Me": a gentle prologue to the rest of the album, it's about as charmingly off-kilter as the band gets. Walter Martin's organs and keyboards glow like streetlights reflected on rain-slicked pavement on this song, and on Bows + Arrows' other strangely luminous interludes. While there aren't as many of those moments on this album as there were on Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, Bows + Arrows fuses that heady atmosphere with the band's angular rock into songs that are equally noisy, dreamy, angry, and romantic. And though even their loudest songs still have a foggy distance to them, the album includes several tracks that rock much harder than anything the Walkmen have done since their Jonathan Fire*Eater and Recoys days. On "The Rat," the band sounds joyfully pissed-off, as Hamilton Leithauser screams "Can't you hear me?! I'm calling out your name/Can't you see me? I'm pounding on your door!" "Little House of Savages" and "My Old Man" both start out like the harshly chugging, post-punk influenced indie rock of the Walkmen's former acts before evolving into the bittersweetly philosophical sound that the band seems to have cornered the market on. Nowhere is there a better example of this than "The North Pole," an equally funny and sad recounting of running into an old flame around the city; Leithauser's rasp holds both self-pity and a sneer, which are mirrored by the song's alternately chiming and charging guitars. However, the Walkmen don't limit themselves to familiar emotional and musical territory; the breathtakingly lovely "Hang on Siobhahn" is a delicately drunken waltz that, with its faraway drums and tinkling pianos, finds Leithauser promising to come home soon; it could be from a tour, or a tour of duty. It's one of the best songs the Walkmen have done, and along with "138th Street," it finds the band exploring the Pogues' influence that has always lurked around the edges of their sound. "Thinking of a Dream I Had," meanwhile, splices together surf, Christmas music, and garage rock. Bows + Arrows may not be a drastic change from Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, but their music, built on loud guitars and organs and strange reflections and remembrances, is so unique that drastic change isn't necessary, and simply having more of it around is more than enough.







8. The Fiery Furnaces – Blueberry Boat


Most acts wait a few albums to unleash their rock operas and concept albums, but just as Gallowsbird's Bark seemed to contain several albums' worth of ideas and melodies (that often sounded like they were playing at once), the Fiery Furnaces skip ahead and deliver the fascinating, vaguely conceptual, and only occasionally frustrating Blueberry Boat less than a year after their debut. The band packs even more stuff into these 13 songs, nearly all of which have distinct movements that sound like two or three times as many tracks. Stories about pirates, Spain, a love triangle, a girl kidnapped into white slavery, World War I, and (of course) blueberries are surrounded by strange noises and twists that act like funhouse mirrors, stretching and warping the album's essentially simple melodies until they're about to fall apart. At times, Blueberry Boat sounds like it was made entirely out of the noodly bits that most other bands would junk for being too weird and difficult, but the Fiery Furnaces forge them into an album that's both more pop and more radical than Gallowsbird's Bark.







7. Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender


Classically trained harpist Joanna Newsom uses her appreciation of Appalachian folk and bluegrass for an oddly alluring set of indie rock melodies. Milk-Eyed Mender, which follows her homemade EP releases Walnut Whales and Yarn and Glue, is rich in harvest colors. Newsom's childlike voice brings an unstudied grace to an innocent setting of songs, and such quirkiness is hard to find among most guitar-driven indie acts. From the more whimsical moments of "Peach, Plum, Pear" and "Inflammatory Writ" to the dovelike ballad "This Side of the Blue," Newsom welcomes the listener to sink into its imagination. Delicate harp arrangements are nicely sprinkled among specks of pianos, organs, and a harpsichord, only adding to the fascination that is Milk-Eyed Mender. Some may find the album to be overly sweet in spots due to Newsom's girlish voice; however, the fairytale-like appeal of Milk-Eyed Mender is far too intriguing to dismiss. Newsom exists in several musical spheres, one being a member of the Pleased, while not forgetting how wonderful it is to live in a warm place that leaves you bright-eyed and hopeful for only what is good in life.







6. Animal Collective – Sung Tongs


On Sung Tongs, their first record distributed by FatCat, the two-man Animal Collective come on like sun-scorched acid eaters gathered around the campfire, strumming and grinning while they weave their material out of cyclical singalongs and tight harmonies. Surprisingly, both for fans as well as new additions, that marks a much more accessible sound for a group that had previously probed the outer limits of prog and psychedelia. (Still, back to basics is the right place for a collective that released three albums in 2003.) Immediately called to mind here are the Holy Modal Rounders and, to a lesser extent, the Incredible String Band. While Animal Collective certainly don't share the intimate knowledge of folk music or the expert musicianship of the Holy Modals or the ISB, they do understand the importance of repetition in reaching altered states, and they indulge in many naturalistic post-production enhancements to get there. "Leaf House" and "Who Could Win a Rabbit" open the record with a cozy atmosphere created from soaring harmonies and Beach Boys-type bungalow percussion. From there, with only a few exceptions, Sung Tongs devolves into the loosest of jam sessions, a midsummer night's dream of pixilated picking in similar company with the lengthy mid-album interlude ("Green Typewriters") during the Olivia Tremor Control's Dusk at Cubist Castle. Although the duo didn't record nearly enough material to justify checking out quite so soon, Sung Tongs is a striking record, a breath of fresh air within experimentalist indie rock.







5. Annie – Anniemal


"The Greatest Hit," thankfully reprised here, is indicative of the album as a whole, bursting with sparkling melodies (often spiked with just a hint of melancholy) over mostly danceable rhythms that are either wholly modern or mischievously referential to early-'80s club hits (Tom Tom Club, the Human League, Arthur Russell's Dinosaur L). Annie's voice might be a little thin, but that's no real factor when it's so sweet and likable. The topics -- teasing, aching, longing -- aren't unfamiliar, yet they're often dealt with in a clever manner. Take "Chewing Gum," in which a dumped boy gets sort of objectified and verbally slain at the same time ("You think you're chocolate when you're chewing gum"), or "The Greatest Hit," containing the most foolproof come-on you could ever give a record geek ("C'mon, baby, you're my greatest hit"). As cunning as it is, Anniemal is also deeply affecting. "Heartbeat" is the least resistible of all, glowing with anticipatory pulses, tremulous sighs, and quivering electric piano vamps.







4. Kanye West – The College Dropout


From a production standpoint, nothing here tops recent conquests like Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name" or Talib Kweli's "Get By," but he's consistently potent and tempers his familiar characteristics -- high-pitched soul samples, gospel elements -- by tweaking them and not using them as a crutch. Even though those with their ears to the street knew West could excel as an MC, he has used this album as an opportunity to prove his less-known skills to a wider audience. One of the most poignant moments is on "All Falls Down," where the self-effacing West examines self-consciousness in the context of his community: "Rollies and Pashas done drive me crazy/I can't even pronounce nothing, yo pass the Versacey/Then I spent 400 bucks on this just to be like 'N*gga you ain't up on this'." If the notion that the album runs much deeper than the singles isn't enough, there's something of a surprising bonus: rather puzzlingly, a slightly adjusted mix of "Slow Jamz" -- a side-splitting ode to legends of baby-making soul that originally appeared on Twista's Kamikaze, just before that MC received his own Roc-a-Fella chain -- also appears. Prior to this album, we were more than aware that West's stature as a producer was undeniable; now we know that he's also a remarkably versatile lyricist and a valuable MC.







3. Arcade Fire – Funeral


Fronted by the husband-and-wife team of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the Arcade Fire's emotional debut -- rendered even more poignant by the dedications to recently departed family members contained in its liner notes -- is brave, empowering, and dusted with something that many of the indie-rock genre's more contrived acts desperately lack: an element of real danger. Funeral' s mourners -- specifically Butler and Chassagne -- inhabit the same post-apocalyptic world as London Suede's Dog Man Star; they are broken, beaten, and ferociously romantic, reveling in the brutal beauty of their surroundings like a heathen Adam & Eve. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," the first of four metaphorical forays into the geography of the soul, follows a pair of young lovers who meet in the middle of the town through tunnels that connect to their bedrooms. Over a soaring piano lead that's effectively doubled by distorted guitar, they reach a Lord of the Flies-tinged utopia where they can't even remember their names or the faces of their weeping parents. Butler sings like Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood used to play, like a lion-tamer whose whip grows shorter with each and every lash. He can barely contain himself, and when he lets loose it's both melodic and primal, like Berlin-era Bowie or British Sea Power. "Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)" examines suicidal desperation through an angular Gang of Four prism; the hypnotic wash of strings and subtle meter changes of "Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)" winsomely capture the mundane doings of day-to-day existence; and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," Funeral's victorious soul-thumping core, is a goose bump-inducing rallying cry centered around the notion that "the power's out in the heart of man, take it from your heart and put it in your hand." The Arcade Fire are not bereft of whimsy. "Crown of Love" is like a wedding cake dropped in slow motion, utilizing a Johnny Mandel-style string section and a sweet, soda-pop stand chorus to provide solace to a jilted lover yearning for a way back into the fold, and "Haiti" relies on a sunny island melody to explore the complexities of Chassagne's mercurial homeland. However, it's the sheer power and scope of cuts like "Wake Up" -- featuring all 15 musicians singing in unison -- and the mesmerizing, early-Roxy Music pulse of "Rebellion (Lies)" that make Funeral the remarkable achievement that it is. These are songs that pump blood back into the heart as fast and furiously as it's draining from the sleeve on which it beats, and by the time Chassagne dissects her love of riding "In the Backseat" with the radio on, despite her desperate fear of driving, Funeral's singular thread is finally revealed; love does conquer all, especially love for the cathartic power of music.







2. Brian Wilson – Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE


Everything that Wilson and his band could control sounds nearly perfect. Every instrument, every note, and every intonation is nearly identical to the late-'60s tapes; one has to wonder whether vintage hand tools weren't acquired for "Workshop" and Paul McCartney wasn't flown in to add chewing noises to "Vega-Tables." (The players did, however, book time at one of Brian's old haunts, Sunset Sound, and utilized a '60s tube console to record their vocals.) No, the harmonies here aren't the Beach Boys' harmonies, and Brian's vocals aren't the vocals he was capable of 37 years ago, but they're excellent and (best of all) never distracting. Aside from the technical acumen on display, Wilson has also, amazingly, found a home -- the proper home -- for all of the brilliant instrumental snippets that lent the greatest part of the mystery to the unreleased SMiLE. Van Dyke Parks' new (or newly heard) lyrics fit into these compositions, and the work as a whole, like hand in glove.







1. Madvillain – Madvillainy


Madvillainy represents the highly anticipated collaboration between Madlib and MF Doom. Recorded throughout 2003 -- a year which, between the two of them (under various aliases), saw more than eight releases featuring their work. When Madvillainy was released in March 2004 it became obvious that the best was saved for last as MF Doom's unpredictable lyrical style fits quite nicely within Madlib's unconventional beat orchestrations. Twenty-two short and blunted tracks bang out mythical stories of villains and urban (anti) heroes trying to make it through with their ganja and wits still intact -- each flows together in a comic book fashion sometimes segued with vignettes sampled from 1940s movies and broadcasts or left-field marjuana-toting skits. Madvillainy's strength lies in its mix between seemingly obtuse beats, samples, MCing, and some straight-up hip-hop bumping. Take "Accordion" for example. A wacky accordion sample loops throughout a slow-paced beat and lazy bassline while Doom flies through almost unaware of the background at times. Or "Raid," which features a beat that seems to be so out of time or step with a traditional hip-hop direction. But Doom sits quite comfortable within its frame and sets up Medaphor for a slick guest appearance. Other guests include the bad character, Lord Quasimoto, on "Americas Most Blunted" and the Sun Ra-inspired "Shadows of Tomorrow"; Wildchild blasts million-miles-an-hour rhymes on "Hardcore Hustle" and Stacy Epps floats through "Eye."









Honorable Mentions:




Jon Brion - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [Original Soundtrack]



Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind balances love and mental and emotional chaos skillfully, and its soundtrack is nearly as deft, mixing Jon Brion's score and some well-chosen pop songs. Chief among them is ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky"; despite the facts that it appears only in the commercials for the movie, its quirky cheer fits, and its analog warmth and intricate layers of sounds resemble Brion's style. The Polyphonic Spree's guileless, twinkly "Light & Day" also works well, even though the song has been overexposed in TV commercials. However, their "It's the Sun (KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic Version)" is just a little too much Polyphonic Spree for the soundtrack's own good; the band's trippiness certainly reflects the way the film constantly rearranges and references itself, but the Spree's music is more naïve than the rather complex emotional story that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind tells. On the other hand, the Indian pop of Lata Mangeshkar's "Wada Na Tod" is subtly hypnotic, and Don Nelson's "Nola's Bounce" and "Some Kinda Shuffle" have a happy, nostalgic feel to them that complements the film's obsession with memories. The Willowz's "Something" is another highlight, although its brash garage rock is virtually the polar opposite of the rest of the soundtrack. Yet, as good as the pop music on the soundtrack is, at times it feels like a distraction from Brion's intimate score. Not surprisingly, the songs that work best with his music for the film are the ones that he worked on: Beck's cover of the Korgis' 1980 hit "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime" crosses his vulnerable Sea Change side with Brion's intricately layered, slightly retro style to moving effect, and Brion's own "Strings That Tie to You" is plaintively sweet. As for the score itself, his work here isn't as immediately attention-getting as it was on the excellent Punch-Drunk Love score, but it's just as evocative of love and memories, with warm pianos, strings, and guitars giving the music a worn-in feeling that is both nostalgic and timeless.







Junior Boys – Last Exit


Last Exit was preceded by two EPs strategically placed in the hands of critics/bloggers who were likely to be open to Junior Boys' sound. These releases offered a mishmash incorporating parts from numerous styles and countless artists while being evasive enough to prevent dismissive accusations of plagiarism. The slippery tendencies left the releases open to several elaborate rounds of "spot the influence" on the part of the writers, all of whom were successful to some extent. Call the group bedroom dance-pop, a boy band conceived by The Wire, sophisti-pop as produced by Germany's Timbaland analogue -- whatever. The group's ability to synthesize so many elements with such subtlety really isn't their greatest asset; it's that their music can be enjoyed with or without all of the analysis and context, whether you're tucked inside a snowbound outpost or winding your way through some vast metropolis during nighttime. Several Last Exit highlights come from the teaser releases. "High Come Down," "Birthday," and "Last Exit" run on sparse skitter-beats, elliptical keyboard prickles, and endearingly vulnerable vocals, and they're all coated in a compound of arctic frost and stardust. "Under the Sun," however, is a guitar-driven detour into shadowy atmospherics, trailed shortly thereafter by new song "Teach Me How to Fight" -- the group at their prettiest and most touching thus far. The difference between the two songs illustrates the group's second greatest asset: their ability to be alluringly aloof, only to bring you to your knees with something wholly heartrending. If you like your pop a little left of center and found the Postal Service to be too cute and syrupy, your fix is here. And, just as a point of order, Junior Boys' use of synthesizers and drum machines -- unlike a lot of groups and producers these days -- is a lot more contemporary than past-obsessed.







Max Richter – The Blue Notebooks


Though his evocative debut album Memoryhouse introduced Max Richter's fusion of classical music, electronica and found-sounds (a style he calls "post-Classical"), it's his follow-up, The Blue Notebooks, that really showcases the style's -- and Richter's -- potential. The album's ten pieces were inspired by Kafka's Blue Octavo Notebooks, and quotes such as "Everyone carries a room about inside them. This fact can even be proved by means of the sense of hearing. If someone walks fast and one pricks up one's ears and listens, say at night, when everything round about is quiet, one hears, for instance, the rattling of a mirror not quite firmly fastened to the wall," which are read by actress Tilda Swinton, define the spare, reflective intimacy of The Blue Notebooks. The album is simpler than Memoryhouse, with a smaller ensemble of musicians playing on it and a shorter running time, but its restraint makes it a more powerful work -- it's so beautiful and fully realized that it doesn't need to be showy. As other reviews have mentioned, Richter tends to be a more traditional-minded composer than influences like Brian Eno, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. However, his sound works so well and seems so natural because he's not trying to be overtly experimental; the album ranges from pieces with little or no electronic elements, such as the piano-driven "Arboretum," to "Old Song," which is based on a busy, chilly beat that sounds like dripping water. Richter's music embraces all of the sounds that had an impact on him, but more important is the emotional impact that The Blue Notebooks has on its listeners; despite its high-concept origins, it's quite an affecting album. The warm-hearted piano melody on "Horizon Variations" and the delicate, somehow reassuring-sounding string piece "On the Nature of Daylight" both sound vaguely familiar, and are all the more haunting for it. Most striking of all is "Shadow Journal," which begins with hypnotic, bubbling electronics, Swinton's crisp voice and a piercingly lovely violin melody and then brings in harp and an electronic bassline so low that it's almost felt more than it is heard. The piece sounds so much like thinking, like turning inward, that the cawing birds at the end of the track bring a jarring end to its reverie. The field recordings that run through The Blue Notebooks heighten the sense of intimacy, and occasionally, eavesdropping. On "Organum," the distant piano and outdoor sounds feel like listening to somebody else listen to the music; meanwhile, the ticking clocks, clacking typewriter and street traffic on the title track help conjure up that room that everyone carries about inside them. The Blue Notebooks is a stunning album, and one that should be heard not just by classical and electronica fans, but anyone who values thoughtful, subtly expressive music.







MF Doom – Mm… Food?


You could call the proper follow-up to 1999's heralded Operation: Doomsday highly anticipated if it weren't for the wealth of side projects, pseudonyms, bootlegs, and mixtapes MF Doom unleashed afterward. Still, every bit of Doom output has the underground's tongue wagging, and as usual, the metal-fingered villain doesn't disappoint. Part of the reason for this is that MM..Food? is unconcerned with the hype and doesn't try too hard. It's actually one of Doom's least ambitious releases and a lot more fun than his previous ones, especially anything released under his dark Viktor Vaughn moniker. Food references and a ton of samples and scratches from old Fantastic Four read-along records keep the album light as Doom takes tired hip-hop topics like "keeping your hoes in check" and turncoat friends and screws with them. Backstabbers get their due on the Whodini-sampling "Deep Fried Frenz" while guest Mr. Fantastik gives fakes a proper whooping on the excellent "Rapp Snitch Knishes." Doom's behind every beat here, whipping up a busy brew of screw-loose samples and late-'90s beats. The mostly instrumental middle of the album is a fantastic, playful ride and more fresh evidence the man is never swayed by fads. Fans looking for his next big statement might be let down at first listen, but MM..Food? is as vital as anything he's done before and entirely untouched or stymied by the hype.







Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans


After completing the first installment of his planned series of 50 records -- one album dedicated to each state in the U.S. -- indie folk overachiever Sufjan Stevens returns with Seven Swans, a collection of stripped-down, introspective musings on life, love, and faith that chart the geographic location of the heart and soul. Many of these themes were dealt with eloquently on Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State, presenting the singer/multi-instrumentalist as a first-rate interpreter of the human condition, as well as a gifted musician. The 12 tracks on Swans yield the same bounty, but with a leaner arsenal, due to Stevens' sparse arrangements and production from Danielson Famile mastermind Daniel Smith. Fellow Famile members Elin, Megan, David, and Andrew -- who also appeared on The Great Lakes State-- lend their vocal and percussion talents to the mix, resulting in a surreal campfire environment that's part confessional and part processional. Beginning with the gorgeously titled "All the Trees in the Field Will Clap Their Hands," Stevens saunters out of the gate with nary an overdub to be heard, letting the banjo lead the parade, slowly picking up piano, percussion, and the angelic voices of Megan and Elin before disappearing over the hilltop. He channels Bert Jansch on the love song "The Dress Looks Nice on You" and Eric Matthews on "To Be Alone With You," striking a winning balance of '60s British folk and indie Americana. Like the Violent Femmes' seminal pseudo-Christian masterpiece, Hallowed Ground, Seven Swans treats religion with simplicity and sincerity, approaching the subject with an almost feverish peacefulness. "Abraham," "We Won't Need Legs to Stand," and "He Woke Me Up Again," with its fiery, overdriven organ, are all effective tomes of the singer's faith, but that faith can be tested. Stevens is quite aware of the dark, and no more so than on the Flannery O'Connor-inspired "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," a first-person murder narrative that reveals a subtle current of menace only hinted at in the earlier portion of the record. Like faith, these songs require patience, as their almost mantra-like arcs take their time to fully form. By the time he reaches the spirited closer, "Transfiguration," an affirming take on the Gospels that reaches an almost Polyphonic Spree crescendo, the listener has no choice but to conform -- if only for the length of the record -- to the writer's unabashed spirituality, and at just under 45 minutes, it's an easy choice to make.





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I'm going to say this: American Idiot is #1 on my list for 2004 and it sure as hell is up there somewhere on my top 5 of my all-time favorite albums. It was the first album I truly fell in love with. I was only 9 years old when I first listened to it and it's been speaking to me on a personal level ever since I first listened to it. I strongly believe it helped shape the person I am today as well. That's how much of an impact it made on me. It's hard to imagine what my life would be without that album.

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10. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods


Far from the retreat implied in its title, The Woods is another passionate statement from Sleater-Kinney, equally inspired by the call-to-arms of their previous album, One Beat, and the give-and-take of their live sets, particularly their supporting slot on Pearl Jam's 2003 tour. Throughout their career, the band has found ways to refine and elaborate on the fiery spirit that makes them so distinctive without diminishing it. The Woods is no exception -- it may be Sleater-Kinney's most mature and experimental album to date, but unlike most mature and experimental albums released by bands entering their second decade, it doesn't forget to rock like a beast. The album's opening salvo, "The Fox," is shockingly feral, an onslaught of heavy, angry, spiralling guitars, ridiculously loud drums, and Corin Tucker's inimitable, love-them-or-hate-them vocals. It's so crushingly dense that it's hard to believe it came from Dave Fridmann's studio; reportedly, The Woods' sessions were challenging for band and producer alike, but from the results, it's clear that they pushed each other to make some of the best work of both of their careers. Though it may be hard to believe, at first, that this is a Fridmann-produced album, his contributions become a little clearer on tracks like the dysfunctional domesticity of "Wilderness," which has the depth and spaciousness usually associated with his work. However, it's easy enough to hear that The Woods is quintessential Sleater-Kinney. This may be the band's most self-assured sounding work yet -- their music has never lacked confidence and daring, but now they sound downright swaggering: "What's Mine Is Yours" is a subversive nod to Led Zeppelin and also captures Sleater-Kinney's own formidable power as a live act. Tucker's voice and viewpoints are as thoughtful and fierce as ever, and as usual, she's even better when aided and abetted by Carrie Brownstein's harmonies, as on "Jumpers." Capturing both the deeply depressing and liberating sides of suicide, the song moves from moody almost-pop to an intense but still melodic assault; unlike so many bands, Sleater-Kinney can go back and forth between several ideas within one song and never sound forced or muddled. A martial feeling runs through The Woods, but unlike the more overtly political One Beat, dissent is a more of an overall state of mind here. The more literal songs falter a bit, but "Modern Girl" is saved by its sharp lyrics ("I took my money and bought a donut/The hole's the size of the entire world"), while Tucker and Brownstein's dueling vocals and Janet Weiss' huge drums elevate "Entertain" above its easy targets of retro rock and reality TV. However, the songs about floundering or complicated relationships draw blood: "Rollercoaster," an extended food and fairground metaphor for an up-and-down long-term relationship with tough-girl backing vocals and an insistent cowbell driving it along, is as insightful as it is fun and witty. The unrepentantly sexy "Let's Call It Love" is another standout, comparing love to a boxing match (complete with bells ringing off the rounds) and a game of poker. At 11 minutes long, the song might be indulgent (especially by Sleater-Kinney's usually economic standards), but its ebbs and flows and well-earned guitar solos underscore the feeling that the band made The Woods for nobody but themselves. It flows seamlessly into "Night Light," an equally spooky and hopeful song that offers promise, but no easy answers -- a fitting end to an album that often feels more engaged in struggle than the outcome of it. One thing is clear, though: Sleater-Kinney remain true to their ideals, and after all this time, they still find smart, gripping ways of articulating them.







9. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary


Montreal quartet Wolf Parade's full-length debut fully lives up to the potential bred by their early EPs and all those gushing blogs. They use Apologies to the Queen Mary producer Isaac Brock to their best advantage, acknowledging their debt to Modest Mouse but using his ear as a resource to tinge their endearingly brittle indie pop tunes accordingly. Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner both sing in that certain kind of wry yelp that seems so quirkily marketable in the mid-2000s -- see the Shins, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Hot Hot Heat -- and it doesn't hurt that most of Wolf Parade's songs are pretty top, too. "Shine a Light" and "You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son" repeat from the self-titled EP, "Grounds and Divorce" bops along on cheery keyboard effects and an eight-note guitar solo, and Boeckner honks roughly over the modified new wave of "It's a Curse." Wolf Parade admit their love and theft of the past 30 years of rock music, from Bowie to Black Francis. They allow that, then purposely strip the songs of any slickness or accoutrements, so the keys and squiggly guitars and terrifically simple drums (Arlen Thompson might play just a kick drum and one big snare) teeter and balance together in a hectic and gloriously alive pop state. Have you heard Wolf Parade? They'll change your life.







8. LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem


If a music-nerd version of Animal House set in 2005 is ever made, "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" -- the boisterous opener of LCD Soundsystem -- would make an ideal theme song for the fraternity on which it is based. The self-conscious, awkward music obsessives pledging into this fraternity would have to pass a complex trivia test, own a compulsory list of records, and, as a hazing ritual, ask to dance with someone in public. If LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy were the least bit open to the concept, he could be the fraternity's advisor. Judging from a handful of singles and this album, he'd be more than qualified. His first A-side, 2002's "Losing My Edge," laid all his cards on the table, name-checking nearly everything that has been branded indispensable by a record store clerk during the past 20 years. This is someone who clearly owns tons of records and cannot escape them when making his own music. Acid house, post-punk, garage rock, psychedelic pop, and at least a dozen other things factor into his songs, and he's not afraid to be obvious. On occasion, he doesn't even allow fellow nerds to play guessing games. This is the case with "Never As Tired As When I'm Waking Up" -- drowsy/dazed John Lennon vibes through and through -- as well as the drifting/uplifting "The Great Release" -- an alternate closer to either of Brian Eno's first two solo records. Otherwise, Murphy's songs cough up references from his subconscious or are put together as if he's thinking more like a DJ, finding ways to combine elements from disparate sources. "Movement" careens into high-energy guitar squall after a pounding beat and cranky synths; "On Repeat" happily replicates the scratches and jabs of guitar heard from A Certain Ratio, PiL, and Gang of Four, but its mechanical pulse and curveball synth effects couldn't be any more distanced from those three groups







7. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah


If there were ever a band who could do a cover of Sinatra's "My Way," and mean it, it's these guys. Theirs is a template for success that every budding Shins or Modest Mouse could do well to follow: work hard, practice hard, play well, and write good songs -- the rest will take care of itself. And it did. Heavy hype on the Internet had the guys sending copies of this album to the four corners, just as they were settling into being a band, and when the labels came knocking, these guys just said, "Thank you, we're fine." They are fine. Fine and fun. Their sound is evocative of nearly every indie band you've ever heard of -- enough to flick a switch somewhere in your head, but not enough to call them guilty of derivation. A list could be made here, but it would be this reviewer's list -- yours would probably look a lot different, and that's fine, too. You might find Talking Heads in there, while someone else hears early solo John Cale. Or you may find Neutral Milk Hotel where someone else finds some Joy Division. It doesn't matter, because that's precisely the band's strongest suit -- their ability to sound immediately familiar to everyone while, simultaneously, shrugging off any attempts at direct comparison. If a warbly alto makes you David Byrne, then, yes, there's that aspect of Alec Ounsworth's voice to be reckoned with, but Clap Your Hands Say Yeah deserve better than first impression labeling like this. They simply have made a good record here -- one that a great deal of people will find an enjoyable listen. The album opener, "Clap Your Hands!" mixes starry-eyed hopefulness with drunken abandon and serves as a "Step right up!" invitation to join the fellas on their merry ride. It sounds like nothing else on the record, like a weird intro for a mixtape -- a scratchy carnival record with the barker announcing the beginning of side one. What follows is good stuff. Poppy, '80s-tinged, and hooky as hell, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's debut certainly makes for pleasant listening.







6. Animal Collective – Feels


While critics found it easy to lump Animal Collective in with the freak folk scene after the strumming madness of Sung Tongs, Feels may cause them to revise their opinions -- slightly. First, this is more of a rock record, especially early on; the frequent cymbal crashes and pounding drums leave little doubt. Second, Feels has less of the aimless meandering of many artists in the freak folk scene. AC can, and do, explode at any second, and their whirl of musical ideas -- mostly naturalistic, such as intricate vocalizing or tribal drumming -- can become dizzying, but gleefully so, not in a disorienting way. (Imagine Fiery Furnaces condensing an entire album down to three minutes and you'll begin to understand the sound of the second song, "Grass.") So, while the folk tag has become less of an issue, freak still applies with no doubt. A core strength of the group is its ability to sound invigorated and bracing when exploring territory often surveyed in the past. Rock music can be a constraining form, especially at this late date, but the group sounds freer than ever before, almost as though they've never bothered with rock in their lives, and have only happened upon a bare few LPs before beginning their recording career. (If so, one of those would have been by Mercury Rev, although Animal Collective are much less patient in building to a climax -- "The Purple Bottle" has at least a dozen of them.) As on Sung Tongs, the first half is active, direct, and punchy -- nearly overloaded with production and ideas -- while the second half explores quiet, abstract moods, often with only a few tremulous vocals accompanied by autoharp.







5. Antony and the Johnsons – I Am a Bird Now


Antony and the Johnsons' second full-length recording, the haunting and affecting I Am a Bird Now, is a far more intimate affair than their debut. Antony's bluesy parlor room cadence is more upfront here, resulting in a listening experience that's both exhilarating and disquieting. "Hope There's Someone" is a somber opener, and its plea for companionship, augmented by a sparse piano/vocal arrangement that rises into the air by song's end in a swirl of multi-tracked harmonies, is ultimately uplifting. This formula is applied to much of the record and never ceases to elicit honest emotion from either Antony or his numerous guests. Rufus Wainwright takes the lead on "What Can I Do?," a languid meditation on death that conjures up images of rainy streets, lonely lampposts, and cigar smoke -- it's brief (under two minutes) but alluring like the cover of a Raymond Chandler novel. Boy George joins Antony for a duet on the soulful and empowering "You Are My Sister," Devendra Banhart lends his warbly tenor to the lush "Spiraling," and Lou Reed plays noodly guitar and recites an anonymous poem on the mischievous "Fistful of Love." It's a testament to Antony's skill as a writer and arranger that these guest appearances are completely devoid of pretense, and while each artist is reverent to the source material, it's still Antony's show, as the most powerful moments on I Am a Bird Now are his.







4. Kanye West – Late Registration


Raised middle class, Kanye didn't have to hustle his way out of poverty, the number one key to credibility for many hip-hop fans, whether it comes to rapper turned rapping label presidents or suburban teens. And now that he has proved himself in another way, through his stratospheric success -- which also won him a gaggle of haters as passionate as his followers -- he doesn't want to be seen as a novelty whose ambitions have been fulfilled. On Late Registration, he finds himself backed into a corner, albeit as king of the mountain. It's a paradox, which is exactly what he thrives on. His follow-up to The College Dropout isn't likely to change the minds of the resistant. As an MC, Kanye remains limited, with all-too-familiar flows that weren't exceptional to begin with (you could place a number of these rhymes over College Dropout beats). He uses the same lyrical strategies as well. Take lead single "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," in which he switches from boastful to rueful; more importantly, the conflict felt in owning blood diamonds will be lost on those who couldn't afford one with years of combined income. Even so, he can be tremendous as a pure writer, whether digging up uncovered topics (as on "Diamonds") or spinning a clever line ("Before anybody wanted K. West's beats, me and my girl split the buffet at KFC"). The production approach, however, is rather different from the debut. Crude beats and drastically tempo-shifted samples are replaced with a more traditionally musical touch from Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann), who co-produces with West on most of the tracks. (Ironically, the Just Blaze-helmed "Touch the Sky" tops everything laid down by the pair, despite its heavy reliance on Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up.") West and Brion are a good, if unlikely, match. Brion's string arrangements and brass flecks add a new dimension to West's beats without overshadowing them, and the results are neither too adventurous nor too conservative. While KRS-One was the first to proclaim, "I am hip-hop," Kanye West might as well be the first MC to boldly state, "I am pop."







3. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise


Stevens' soulful folk epics, as played by his signature mini-orchestra, have changed little since his 2003 foray into Michigan -- a charge that may cause some grumbling among that album's detractors -- but there's a newfound optimism that runs through much of Illinois that echoes the state's "Gateway to the West" pioneering spirit. Glorious road trip-ready cuts like "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts," "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!," and "Chicago" have an expansiveness that radiates with the ballast of history and the promise of new beginnings. Stevens has done his research, with references to everyone from Abe Lincoln, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the ghost of Carl Sandburg to John Wayne Gacy -- the latter provides one the song cycle's most affecting moments. The lush (yet still distinctly lo-fi) indie pop melodies draw as much from classic rock as they do progressive folk. "Jacksonville," with its four-chord banjo lurch, mines "Old Man"-era Neil Young, disco strings dance around "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!," while the rousing pre-finale "The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders" is pure Peanuts-infused Vince Guaraldi as filtered through the ambiguous kaleidoscope of Danielson Famile spiritualism. There's a distinct community theater vibe to the whole affair that may or may not be the result of numerous photo shoots in which the players are dressed in adult-style Boy Scout uniforms -- it brings to mind the Blaine Players from Christopher Guest's small-town theater parody Waiting for Guffman -- but the majority of Illinois is alarmingly earnest.







2. The National – Alligator


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.







1. M.I.A. – Arular


A cursory listen to Arular makes one wonder how it could generate so much heated, in-depth talk, as it did well before its official release. This is very direct and physical party music, with lots of slang-filled phrasings that might not have any more meaning than "The roof is on fire!" or "Dizzouble dizzutch!" to Americans. It's music that is conducive to dancing or doing other carefree things in the sunshine, rather than what you should hear most often through feeble computer speakers in dimly lit rooms. So why bother discussing it at all? Well, below the surface is a lot more than anyone's basic idea of a good time. The blend of styles -- a dense, often chaotic collage of garage from the U.K., dancehall from Jamaica, crunk from the Dirty South, electro and hardcore rap from New York, and glints of a few others -- is unique enough to baffle anyone who dares categorize it. Beats crack concrete in whomping blasts and scramble senses in exotic patterns; flurries of percussive noise, synthetic handclaps, and synth jabs add chaos; exuberant vocals are delivered in a manner that will be frequently unintelligible to a lot of ears. More importantly, once all the layers of rhythm and accents are peeled away, you'll hear that Maya Arulpragasam -- the London-based woman of Sri Lankan origin who, along with a host of fellow producers, is behind the album -- has a lot more on her mind and in her past than fun, even when she's only alluding to the violence and strife her people have endured. The images that adorn the cover of the album aren't present merely for the sake of design, either; the tanks aren't a nod to the No Limit label. (Enter 10,000-word history of pre-tsunami Sri Lanka here.) The one key definite about Arular is that it's the best kind of pop album imaginable. It can be enjoyed on a purely physical level, and it also carries the potential to adjust your world view.









Honorable Mentions:




Isolée - We Are Monster


After a huge series of remixes and singles helped to make Rajko Mueller's name under his professional identity of Isolée, We Are Monster was rapidly recognized as one of the most notable album-length efforts in electronic music for a long time, a vibrant and compelling collection of songs. Like so many acts in the earliest part of the 21st century, Isolée takes a clear influence from synth pop roots in the early '80s, but rather than the retro new wave stance favored by others, he uses crisp, minimal basslines and keyboard riffs as starting points to build back up again. The result is to almost pull the entire history of techno along with it to the future, and We Are Monster is beautifully timeless as a result, positing a universe where everything from industrial beats to prog drones and French filter-disco, not to mention classic house and techno straight up, completely recombines with any number of other elements into new forms again and again. Time and again one gets the sense that Isolée knows how to DJ well as much as compose -- songs have dramatic but minimal starts (good for mixing as much as for making a statement) and build to exultant highs, as can be readily heard on "Mädchen mit Hase" and "Today." A song like "Schrapnell" is perfectly titled as a result; it does literally sound like bits and pieces from pop explosions all over the map recombined and mutating as one listens, with everything from gentle guitar lines and swooping strings dropping in and out of the mix just so over a fantastic beat that's part schaffel, part Motorik glide. Elsewhere the huge bass howls on "Face B" and, in contrast, the calm, Eno-via-ambient-Aphex drone melody on "Pillowtalk" provides further details as well as a demonstration of Isolée's careful ear.







Matias Aguayo - Are You Really Lost


Closer Musik's unexpected split had a heartbreaking effect. Dirk Leyers and Matias Aguayo left only one album, a couple singles, and three consecutive show-stealing appearances on the Total compilations. They were Kompakt's Pet Shop Boys, or Associates, a male duo with a distinct sound. One of the things that made Closer Musik so dazzling -- and perhaps, ultimately, so combustible -- was the tension between the two producers' disparate idiosyncrasies, made clear when Leyers unveiled his first solo 12" in early 2005. "Wellen"'s bulbous, trance-inducing melodies and gentle coating of synthetic atmospherics were in line with CM's "Departures" and "Maria," so it could've been deduced that the relatively rigid, stripped-down shapes within "Closer Dancer" and "You Don't Know Me" were the work of Aguayo. That theory holds with Are You Really Lost, an album Aguayo produced with assistance from Marcus Rossknecht. "De Papel," the only track that comes close to resembling a song or a single in the traditional sense, starts it off by indicating Aguayo's desire to separate himself from his past while retaining his identity. It has the dark undercurrents of old, as well as the sparse and alluring skeletal sound -- a sashaying gallop in this case -- but there's an added muskiness, and Aguayo's voice sounds more human while intoning lyrics that are either completely nonsensical and/or enunciated as if he has lost the feeling in his lips. He always has and probably always will sound like he's trying to get in your pants, but he's no longer so mysterious (despite the gibberish). The rest of the tracks are more like moods or sketches, in each case settling into a motif and more or less relying on it for four to six minutes. They're not all that dynamic, but they're often seductive and misshapen, ideal for an impossibly humid room of dancers who are too overheated to do anything but grind.







The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema



Like their previous two records, it's a bright, hooky record that sounds cheerful even when the tempos slow down and the melodies drift toward a minor key. It's sharp and tuneful, abundant in references to classic guitar pop yet never sounding beholden to the past, thanks to the lively, loose performances, a simple yet muscular production, and smart writing, usually from the pen of Newman. Although he writes ten of the 13 songs here (Bejar contributes the other three, including the insistent "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras" and "Broken Breads," which comes across like Syd Barrett fronting the Kinks or Robyn Hitchcock jamming with the Hoodoo Gurus, depending on your point of view), Newman has a different perspective when writing for the New Pornographers, composing within a specific framework that emphasizes the collective nature of the group, giving every member more or less equal time. And, as Twin Cinema proves, collective is a better word to describe the New Pornographers than band, since they have a friendly, casual vibe that sounds like the product of informal jam sessions.







Robyn - Robyn


"I present to you/Unleashed in the East/Best dressed in the West/Sorted in the North/Without a doubt in the South/the queen of queen bees," intones the booming voice on Robyn's opening track, "Curriculum Vitae." It's not bragging if you can back it up, and Robyn does just that, channeling all the frustration of her creative differences with her previous labels into a freewheeling, accomplished pop album that is so fresh that it could pass for a debut -- and, as the first release for her own label, Konichiwa Records, it is a debut of sorts. Robyn feels like she crammed everything she couldn't do before into a space that can barely contain it, starting with "Konichiwa Bitches," a sassy hip-pop manifesto with a title that could very well have been the first thing she said to her old bosses once she got her own label set up. On this song and the rest of the album, Robyn sounds equally empowered and irresistible, and doesn't hesitate to tell off labels, trifling boys, or anyone else who stands in the way of what she wants. She doesn't mince words on "Handle Me," but she purrs "you're a selfish, narcissistic, psycho-freakin', boot-lickin' creep" so sweetly that it stings even more. And even on the songs where she isn't so strong, like "Bum Like You" and "I Should Have Known"'s catchy recriminations, she's never the less than self-aware. She has a few words for the ladies as well: the cautionary tale "Crash and Burn Girl" is one of the album's funkiest tracks.







Various Artists - Run the Road


The 16-track compilation RUN THE ROAD is the stateside coming-out party for the UK scene known as "grime." Mixing elements of techno, drum-and-bass, reggaeton, and hardcore rap, grime was born in the housing projects of London, and came of age in the city's underground clubs and on independently produced recordings. The backing to grime tracks is often 1980s-inspired, with highly processed beats and thin keyboard sounds that evoke the era of Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa. Yet the raps are utterly contemporary, unleashed at a furiously accelerated pace in a dizzying, pan-global mix of hip-hop street-slang, West Indies patois, and London working-class accents. Two artists associated with grime-- the Streets and Dizzee Rascal--have made commercial headway in the States (both performers appear here with B-sides previously available only on import). But the real revelation is the caliber of artists like Kano (whose "P's and Q's" is a highlight), No Lay (one of the few women here), and Wonder & Plan B (who offer up the spare, funky anthem "Cap Back"). A superb introduction to a just-breaking genre, 2005's RUN THE ROAD hits with all of the unadulterated force of something just let out of the box.








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1. Arcade Fire - "Funeral"

2. Joanna Newsom - "The Milk Eyed Mender"

3. Franz Ferdinand - "Franz Ferdinand"

4. Iron & Wine - "Our Endless Numbered Days"

5. Modest Mouse - "Good News for People who Love Bad News"




1. The National - "Alligator"

2. Elbow - "Leaders of the Free World"

3. My Morning Jacket - "Z"

4. The Decemberists - "Picaresque"

5. Eels - "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations"


I'm sure I've forgotten albums I love from all these three years, but these are the ones I stumbled over on lists.

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1. Kid A - Radiohead

2. All That You Can't Leave Behind - U2

3. Whoa, Nelly! - Nelly Furtado

4. Parachutes - Coldplay

5. Requiem for a Dream OST - Clint Mansell




1. Discovery - Daft Punk

2. Opalescent - Jon Hopkins

3. Is This It - The Strokes

4. Oh, Inverted World - The Shins

5. Amnesiac - Radiohead




1. Heathen - David Bowie

2. Sea Change - Beck

3. ( ) - Sigur Rós

4. The Coral - The Coral

5. Heathen Chemistry - Oasis




1. Hail To The Thief - Radiohead

2. Dear Catastrophe Waitress - Belle & Sebastian

3. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below - Outkast

4. Magic & Medicine - The Coral

5. Dangerously In Love - Beyoncé


28 Days Later OST - John Murphy

Veneer - José González




1. Funeral - Arcade Fire

2.The College Dropout - Kanye West

3. Kasabian - Kasabian

4. Hot Fuss -The Killers

5. Final Straw - Snow Patrol




1. Late Registration - Kanye West

2. Takk... - Sigur Rós

3. Guero - Beck

4. First Impressions of Earth - The Strokes

5. The Invisible Invasion - The Coral



i haven't listened to as many albums as most people have here and it's scary how many of my albums are from 2010 onwards which was when i started to kinda care about music.

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10. Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds


Almost entirely produced by Timbaland-- and with a more pronounced hip-hop edge than its predecessor-- the album abandons the feelgood sheen which the Neptunes peddled so adroitly on Justified, but makes up for it with the largesse of its sonic embrace, with Timbaland resurrecting many of his most effective guises, from rubbery synthetic funk to pseudo-crunk blare to eerie Eastern opulence. Throughout, the grooves are defined by their melodic intensity: It's the searing synth riffs and skyscraping strings which grab your attention, not stuttering beats or startling sound effects-- although these, too, are present in abundance. Here, Timberlake magnifies the persona he adopted on his debut, somehow both consummate lover and desperately needy. On hyperactive second single "My Love" his sexual propositions constantly elide into a proposal, as if anything less than matrimony is barely worth contemplating. Likewise, the suavely portentous title track-- poised between the carnal strut of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" (well, its verses) and the masochistic flutter of the Junior Boys-- derives its charm from its lofty aspirations, like a familiar lover staging an elaborately exaggerated seduction. It is this excess of ambition over achievement, as opposed to any real consistency, which makes FutureSex/LoveSounds more of an album than Justified was.







9. Liars – Drum’s Not Dead


Drum's Not Dead begins with "Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack," which is not only the album's best track, but one of the finest things Liars have ever done. With dark, shimmering guitars that recall EVOL-era Sonic Youth and minimal but monumental drumming, it's full of beauty and brooding that is immediately exploded by the growling drones and heavy, tribal polythrhythms of "Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack," which conjures up images of fiery, twirling drumsticks and sinister rites. It's tempting to say that Drum's Not Dead gets its point across in just the first two tracks, but that would ignore how well "To Hold You, Drum" mixes noise and whispery negative space and sets up the album's surprisingly sweet, hopeful resolution, "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack," which also ranks among the band's finest work.







8. Tim Hecker – Harmony in Ultraviolet


Canadian Tim Hecker has been a respected force on the electronica scene since his debut Haunt Me Haunt Me, Do It Again, came out in 2001 (in addition to his work as Jetone). Since then, he has consistently released experimental ambient music that broadens standard compositional barriers while still remaining accessible, and such is the case with Harmony in Ultraviolet, Hecker's fourth full-length. Though most of the tracks on the album are separate entities -- including each part of "Harmony in Blue" -- they work together to form an idea that's greater than its individual elements: a sense of exploration and sadness and understanding of the infiniteness and uncertainty and expanse of the world. Themes are introduced -- a looped arpeggio, a distorted guitar riff, lone keyboard notes -- but nothing is ever fully developed, nothing ever completely exposes itself. Instead, there's a suggestion that's built-up and expounded upon but never quite resolved, long notes that pull themselves in and out of focus are favored over melodies, leaving a kind of agitation in the listener like the dark restlessness of an industrial city. Three notes make a chord but somehow Hecker's don't, they're so different in texture and scope; in fact, they seem almost peacefully at odds with one another, aware of the others' existences but content to ignore them. It's the music of a gray urban skyline, of the kind of loneliness that comes from being around too many other people, of rusted fences and cold empty windows and distance, music that swells and crescendos, sets itself up for the denouement but never arrives at the climax; it's endlessly patient yet eager to move on.







7. TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain


As passionate as ever, but with a little more polish, TV on the Radio give their unapologetically ambitious sound room to breathe with a lush, expansive production on Return to Cookie Mountain. The sonic depth throughout the album is a sharp contrast with the density of their first full-length, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, which was so jam-packed with sounds and ideas that it was nearly suffocated by them. However, Return to Cookie Mountain is hardly slick or dumbed down for mass consumption. In fact, the opening track, "I Was a Lover," is one of the band's most challenging songs yet, mixing a stuttering hip-hop beat with guitars of Loveless proportions and juxtaposing inviting vocal harmonies and horns with glitches and trippy sitars. "Playhouses" is only slightly less radical, with its wildly syncopated drumming and Tunde Adepimbe's layered, impassioned singing. At times, Return to Cookie Mountain threatens to become more impressive than likable -- a complaint that could arguably be leveled against Desperate Youth as well -- but fortunately, TV on the Radio reconnect with, and build on, the intimacy and purity that made Young Liars so striking. David Bowie's backing vocals on "Province" are only one part of the song's enveloping warmth, rather than its focal point, while the album's centerpiece, "A Method," is another beautiful example of the band's haunting update on doo wop. Meanwhile, the mention of "the needle/the dirty spoon" on "Tonight" cements it as a gorgeous but unsettling urban elegy. As with all their other work, on Return to Cookie Mountain TV on the Radio deal with the fallout of living in a post-9/11 world; politics and morality are still touchstones for the band, particularly on the anguished "Blues from Down Here" and "Hours," on which Adepimbe urges, "Now listen to the truth." Notably, though, the album builds on the hopeful, or at least living-for-the-moment, vibe that emerged at the end of Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. The sexy, funky "Wolf Like Me," which is the closest the album gets to rock in any conventional sense of the term, and "Dirtywhirl," which spins together images of girls and hurricanes, offer erotic escapes. And by the time the epic final track, "Wash the Day," revisits the sitars that opened the album with a serene, hypnotic groove, Return to Cookie Mountain gives the most complete representation of the hopes, joys, and fears within TV on the Radio's music.







6. Burial – Burial


Burial is the first great dubstep album, legitimizing a style -- a generally dark, emotive, and faceless dub offshoot of 2-step -- that had thus far been confined to 12" vinyl and the underground club scene. Even though a couple of the tracks ("Southern Comfort," "Broken Home") had been previously released on the South London Boroughs EP (2005), Burial doesn't sound like a compilation of one-off productions to date, as is often the case with music of this kind. It's a true album, a unified collection of songs similar in style as well as mood yet also distinct enough from one another to remain engaging over the course of 13 tracks in 51 minutes. As if it were a well-selected mix album, Burial flows well from one track to the next; the exception is "Spaceape," the only song featuring a vocalist (and unfortunately sequenced third, disrupting the flow just as it begins). While some tracks stand out ("Distant Lights," "Southern Comfort," "Gutted," "Broken Home"), they're interspersed by low-key tracks such as "Night Bus" and "Forgive" that enhance the overall mood and space out the highlights. As the hazy, mostly black cover art of the album (a nighttime aerial photograph of South London) suggests, the mood of Burial is dim, distant, and rather dreary; from a subjective standpoint, one might characterize it as the sound of 3:00 a.m., a time of reflection and perhaps remorse, of being alone after the party's come to an end. There is an emotional aspect at work that is key to this mood, a sullen sense of despair especially evident in the ambient interludes, communicated also in the ghostly vocal samples. The technical aspect of Burial is remarkable, too. The album's subterranean basslines and skittering rhythms, along with its array of found sounds and production effects, are simple yet inventive, austere yet evocative. Other dubstep producers have crafted a similar style, make no mistake, but Burial is the first to craft it on the scale of a full-length album so effectively.







5. Grizzly Bear – Yellow House


On their second album (and Warp debut), Yellow House, Grizzly Bear takes a dramatic leap forward, delivering a collection of songs that sound awe-inspiringly huge and intimate at the same time. While the album is overall more polished and focused than their debut, nowhere is this (literally) clearer than in Yellow House's production. Though the artful lo-fi approach Grizzly Bear used on Horn of Plenty -- which sounded like it was recorded on tapes that had been moldering away in musty cupboards, or gradually dissolving underwater -- was extremely evocative in its own way, Yellow House's warmth, clarity, and symphonic depth gives Grizzly Bear's widescreen psychedelic folk-rock a timelessness that makes it seem even more dreamlike and unique. The album's structure and songwriting are much more focused, too, even though many of the tracks hover around five to six minutes long. Instead of presenting their experiments as fragments and snippets, as they did on Horn of Plenty, on Yellow House Grizzly Bear incorporates their ideas into pieces with natural, suite-like movements. "Central and Remote" moves seamlessly from fragile marimba melodies to acoustic guitar-driven verses and towering choruses. The best moments not only have a natural sound, but conjure up nature imagery as well: "Easier" opens the album with a gently exciting buildup of woodwinds, banjo, and acoustic guitar that could soundtrack the dawn of a late summer morning, while "Colorado" closes Yellow House with wide expanses of vocal harmonies and mountainous tympani. In between, there's more majestic beauty to be found, particularly on the gorgeously hazy love song "Knife," which combines lush Beach Boys harmonies with a little bit of the Velvet Underground's chugging cool. Elsewhere, "Plans" feels like a more brooding take on the High Llamas' intricate, symphonic/electronic pop, while "On a Neck, on a Spit" recalls Jim O'Rourke's freewheeling deconstruction of folk-rock and soft rock. However, these similarities feel more like allegiances than tracing over the work of these artists -- Yellow House is a beautiful album in its own right, and required listening not just for fans of Horn of Plenty, but for anyone who enjoys ambitious, creative music with an emotional undercurrent.







4. Joanna Newsom – Ys


Along with the beautifully filigreed arrangements and melodies, which mingle strings, jew's-harps, and spaghetti Western horns with Appalachian, Celtic, and even Asian influences, the album shows Newsom's development as a singer. She has more nuance and control, particularly over the keening edge of her voice, which is recorded so clearly that when it cracks, it tears the air like a tangible exclamation point. Ys' daring, plentiful wordplay makes it even more of a rarity: an extremely musically accomplished album with lyrics to match. On "Only Skin" alone, Newsom goes from rhyming "fishin' poles" with "swimmin' holes" to "heartbroken, inchoate." These songs are so full of words and plot twists that sometimes it feels more like you're reading them instead of listening to them, and indeed, actually reading the lyrics in the book-like liner notes reveals that Ys has a library's worth of children's stories, myths, romances, and of course, fairy tales woven into its words. As the album unfolds, it seems like Newsom can't get more ambitious (and more importantly, pull it off), but with each song, she does. Two of the best moments: the darkly whimsical fable "Monkey & Bear," a forest romp that boasts some of the album's best storytelling and some of Parks' liveliest arrangements, and "Sawdust & Diamonds," which is surreally sensual and coltish, with surprisingly direct lyrics: "From the top of the flight/Of the wide, white stairs/For the rest of my life/Do you wait for me there?" Ys isn't exactly a reinvention of Newsom's music, but it's so impressive that it's like a reintroduction to what makes her talent so special. Its breathtaking scope makes it a sometimes bewildering embarrassment of riches, or as one of "The Monkey and the Bear"'s lyrics puts it, "a table ceaselessly being set." Yes, Ys is a demanding listen, but it's also a rewarding and inspiring one. Letting it unfold and absorbing more each time you hear it is a delight.







3. Scott Walker – The Drift


There were intermittent soundtrack and score contributions of varying magnitudes, as well as a couple other low-key projects, but The Drift is Scott Walker's proper follow-up to 1995's Tilt, an album that also happened to trail its predecessor by 11 years. If 1984's Climate of Hunter put the MOR in morose, Tilt avoided the road completely and went straight toward the fractured, fraught images inside Walker's nightmares. It was entirely removed from anything that could've been classified as contemporary. The Drift isn't an equally severe leap from Tilt, but it is darker, less arranged, alternately more and less dense, and ultimately more frightening. Maybe it'll make your body temperature drop a few degrees. Working with what Walker has referred to as "blocks of sound," only a few of the album's 68 minutes have any connection to rock music, and many of those minutes are part of a harrowing 9/11 song that also obliquely references "Jailhouse Rock" as Elvis Presley cries out ("I'm the only one left alive!") to his stillborn twin brother. The songs swing from hovering drones to crushing jolts. The blocks that make them, then, differ tremendously in weight, from one that could be pushed by an index finger to one that could only be hauled by a forklift. Whenever a vast shaft of space opens up, it is eventually stuffed with drastic, horrific dissonance. While a song might contain a constant element or two, they're all in a constant state of unease and flux. Walker's voice matches the activity levels of the sounds, providing a kind of paranoid croon one minute and then, during another, casting almost demonic projections that are nearly as rattling as the accompaniment. From the outset, the album seems impossibly insular and impenetrable, especially if you've been led to believe that Scott Walker's name is synonymous with recluse, but it has everything to do with real lives (or, more accurately, real deaths). Walker is acutely aware of what's going on with the world outside his supposed candle-lit bunker; he's only finding very unique (OK, bloody minded) ways to bring them up.







2. The Knife – Silent Shout


A much darker, more ambitious set of songs than the Knife's previous work, the album finds the Dreijers stretching their sonics and downplaying the overt poppiness of Deep Cuts and The Knife. But, while Silent Shout isn't as whimsical or immediate as the Knife has been in the past, it's just as inventive, if not more so. Karin Dreijer's vocals are more striking than ever; treated as another instrument in the arrangements, they're layered, pitch-shifted, and tweaked until there's almost nothing left but tones and emotions. Her tweaked whispers on "Silent Shout" add to the song's pulsing, restrained, but very real menace; on "Na Na Na," she sounds like an alien diva. Likewise, Karin's whimsical, detailed lyrics also have a darker cast, offering glimpses of strange people in stranger situations. "From Off to On" deals with voyeurism and TV addicts; on "Like a Pen," Dreijer describes a character's struggle with body issues with disturbing clarity: "Sharpen my body like a pen...something too small for a lens." Many of the album's songs -- especially "Forest Families," "The Captain," and "Still Light" -- have a hushed, eerie intensity, but Silent Shout also sets off flares of emotion against its frosty backdrops. The fantastic single "We Share Our Mother's Health" is sleek yet chaotic, with marauding vocals set against frantic synths and beats that sound like the aural equivalent of blood bouncing on ice. The equally fantastic but completely different-sounding "Marble House" -- which was inspired by the classic French film The Umbrellas of Chebourg -- embodies doomed romance with its gliding melody and brittle castanet rhythms. the Knife eventually shows off its more playful side with the lumbering, cartoonishly macho "One Hit," which gives the album's sinister bent a mischievous twist. Truly unique -- even for a group as different as this one is -- Silent Shout is the Knife's most compelling work yet.







1. J Dilla – Donuts


Released on its maker's 32nd birthday, three days before he passed away, the album has a resonance deeper than anyone could've hoped for or even imagined. Some who were close to Dilla have said that there are hidden messages in the samples, the track titles, and who knows where else. It's impossible not to speculate about some things, like the track titled "Don't Cry," the looped "broken and blue" from a version of "Walk on By," the presence of Eddie Kendricks singing "My people, hold on," or the fact that there are 31 tracks, a possible signal that Dilla survived a little longer than he expected. Then again, for every possible message, there are two or three elements that could've been designed to throw any analysis off its trail. After all, if there's one single image that the disc brings to mind, it's that of Dilla goofing off, having fun with some of his favorite records, and messing with some heads in the process. (And you could probably make the album's title out to be a metaphor for the circle of life, but sometimes a donut is just a donut.) Armed with sources that are either known to novice sample spotters or only the most seasoned diggers -- surprisingly, the former greatly outweighs the latter -- Dilla's also just as likely to leave his samples barely touched as he is to render them unrecognizable. It's fitting that Motown echoes, a predominant theme, are often felt, from the use of Dionne Warwick's Holland-Dozier-Holland-written "You're Gonna Need Me" (on "Stop"), to the shifting waves of percussion plucked from Kendricks' "People... Hold On" (on "People"), to the Stevie-like piano licks within Kool & the Gang's "The Fruitman" ("The Diff'rence"). Most of the tracks fall into the 60-90 second range. It's easy to be overwhelmed, or even put off, by the rapid-fire sequence, but it's astounding how so many of the sketches leave an immediate impression.









Honorable Mentions:




Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not


Whatever People Say I Am captures the band mashing up the Strokes and the Libertines at will, jamming too many angular riffs into too short a space, tearing through the songs as quickly as possible. But where the Strokes camouflaged their songwriting skills with a laconic, take-it-or-leave-it sexiness, and where the Libertines mythologized England with a junkie poeticism, the Arctic Monkeys at their heart are simple, everyday lads, lacking any sense of sex appeal or romanticism, or even the desire for either. Nor do they harbor much menace, either in their tightly wound music or in how Turner spits out his words. Also, the dry production, sounding for all the world like an homage to Is This It -- all clanking guitars and clattering drums, with most of the energy coming from the group's sloppy call-and-response backing vocals -- keeps things ever immediate, and in a way, Whatever People Say I Am is an ideal album for the Information Overload Age: nearly every track here is overloaded with riffs and words, and just when it's about to sort itself out, it stops short. Instead of relying on a digital cut-and-paste clamor, lead singer and lyricist Alex Turner is a natural storyteller, chronicling a very specific time and place. Like Weller or Ian Dury before him, he’s captured his era in stark, vivid terms; he may not transcend his time, but he embodies it fully.







Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury


It took Clipse over four years to get their second proper album on the shelves. As they were eager to discuss, the lag wasn't their fault. Well documented in print and on the Web, the oil spills and trap doors placed in front of the Thornton brothers were numerous. However, they weren't completely handcuffed. They released a pair of popular mixtapes that only intensified the anticipation for the official follow-up to Lord Willin'. If any of the trip-ups played a role in the end result, they could be considered blessings in disguise. Hell Hath No Fury is a lean, furious, cold-blooded album that is vividly to-the-point. As with Lord Willin', all the production work is credited to the Neptunes, though Chad Hugo's name appears nowhere in the credits. A couple exceptions aside, these are some of the sparsest, most off-kilter Neptunes beats. They prod, hiss, dart, and thump -- ideal backdrops to Pusha T's and Malice's blunt-force, if occasionally knotty, rhymes. "Ride Around Shining" is baroque boom-bap, nothing more than a neck-snapping beat, Richard Pryor-sounding grunts, and cascading harp filigrees. "Trill" grinds and slides under a swarm of hungry cyborg mosquitoes. "Mr. Me Too" is nearly as minimal, a slinking bump. Lyrically, coke dealing dominates the subject matter more on this set than on the debut. Clipse survey their operation and reap its rewards, from easy-to-understand quips like "Pyrex stirrers turned into Cavalli furs" to the relatively mind-bending "If you're looking for a couple roosters in the duffle, keep the 'hood screaming 'Cock-a-doodle-doo,' motherf*ckers." Apart from specific elements of the "Mind Playing Tricks on Me"-quoting "Nightmares," as well as a couple other brief instances, the rhymes are guardedly self-congratulatory, like the MCs are wiping the gains in the haters' faces, albeit with the nagging sense that it could all blow up in an instant. The whole thing, including the club-oriented tracks, is magnetically grim.







Convextion - Convextion


The eight tracks run over an hour, which roughly equals the sum of his previous output under the name, so it's something of an event for the few who have maintained their love for immaculately produced dance music that simultaneously adheres to the aesthetics of Basic Channel/Chain Reaction-style dub techno and that of various Detroit schools -- Underground Resistance, Claude Young, Anthony "Shake" Shakir, Carl Craig -- while leaving an imprint of its own. Apparently recorded between 1996 and 2006, this self-titled album operates at an evenly high standard throughout, despite the number of approaches taken by Hanson. The A-side's two tracks, "Equanimity" and "Solum Ferrum," could double as the great lost Chain Reaction single, pumping with stern precision and dripping with vaporous dub traces. "Astrum" and "Sulphur Vent" apply prickling sonics and compressor-like effects to knotty rhythms, and no matter how complex, they emphasize the "dance" in IDM. "Frozen Surface" could soundtrack a lunar jit, where hyperactive dance motions are attempted in zero gravity. The closing track, the beatless "JMA020603," might be the best of all, the kind of supremely sequenced, trance-state stunner that leaves eyes popped and jaws dropped. It's true that just about all the angles taken here actually flamed out creatively within the last ten years, but when they're worked with such imagination and attention to detail, the release date is irrelevant.







Hot Chip – The Warning


Keeping their hot streak of spotting quality artists when they hear them, the good folks at DFA welcomed to their already diverse and talented roster Hot Chip. The "Over and Over" teaser single featured the band in rocking fashion, complete with DFA signature production and a chorus courtesy of Alexis Taylor that sounds hauntingly similar to something Paul McCartney would write had he been paying attention to the music of the youth in his own backyard. A definite departure and a step in the right direction over 2005's inconsistent full-length Coming on Strong, Hot Chip's creative maturity is immediately evident in the energetic opening. "Careful," which is laced with punchy, crisp hi hats and snare drums, then gives way to the dramatic "And I Was a Boy from School." They've gone beyond the quirky electro-pop into something much more focused and pop friendly (especially with the band's tight vocal harmonies). The title track has production that wouldn't be out of place on I Am Robot and Proud's last few records, or Postal Service outtakes. But like these artists, Hot Chip focuses more on song arrangements and structure rather than technology and programming showmanship. It sums up the core of what made The Warning so accessible and enjoyable right from the onset: it's like listening to early New Order records for the first time, waiting for the next one with a little bit of excited anticipation to see what's going to happen next with every new song.








Thom Yorke – The Eraser


The Eraser, Thom Yorke's first album away from Radiohead, is intensely focused and steady. It doesn't have the dynamics -- the shifts of mood, tempo, volume -- held by any Radiohead album, and it's predominantly electronic, so it's bound to rankle many of the fans who thought Kid A was too unhinged from rock & roll. It's definitely not the kind of album you put on to get an instant shot of energy, and at the same time, it doesn't contain anything as sullen as "How to Disappear Completely." Since it is so balanced, it might initially seem unwavering, but the details that differentiate the songs become increasingly apparent with each successive listen. Despite a reliance on machine beats and synthetic textures, Yorke's untouched, upfront vocals and relatively straightforward lyrics should be enough to bring back some of the detractors; he would have no trouble taking these songs on the road with a piano and an acoustic guitar. "Black Swan," the standout, comes across as a less guitar-heavy and more subdued version of Amnesiac's "I Might Be Wrong." Peek beneath the surface and you'll see that there's a lot more seething involved: "You have tried your best to please everyone/But it just isn't happening/No, it just isn't happening/And it's f*cked up, f*cked up." The opener, the title track, asks the album's first set of probing questions, including "Are you only being nice because you want something?" Along with the thoroughly sweet "Atoms for Peace," it vies for the album's prettiest-sounding five minutes, elevating into a chorus of hovering sighs as Yorke projects lightly with a matter-of-fact tone, "The more I try to erase you, the more, the more, the more that you appear." On the explicitly political end is "Harrowdown Hill," anchored by a snapping bass riff and percussive accents that skitter and slide back and forth between the left and right channels. Yorke defeatedly states, "You will be dispensed with when you become inconvenient," and asks "Did I fall or was I pushed?" referring to Dr. David Kelly, a whistle-blowing U.N. weapons inspector whose death -- which took place following a sequence of events that led to a testimonial before a parliamentary committee -- was ruled a suicide. It's no shock that the album entails some heavy subject matter and sounds as close to a version of Radiohead minus four of its members as one can imagine. What distinguishes The Eraser from the Radiohead albums, beyond the aspects mentioned above, is its ability to function in the background or as light listening without the requirement of deep concentration. The constant stream of soft, intricately layered sounds, while not without a great deal of tension in most spots, can be very comforting.





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10. Battles – Mirrored


Messrs. John Stanier of Helmet and Tomahawk, guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams of Don Caballero and Storm & Stress, guitarist David Konopka of Lynx, and avant solo musician Tyondai Braxton have constructed an album that combines the best of Van Der Graaf Generator, Magma, Krautrock, and math rock, while coming up with something that stands so far out on the fringe that it is in a league of its own. That so much of this music is created via the magic of software and combined with one- or two-note keyboard and guitar patterns makes it the Philip K. Dick equivalent of modern rock. The intro, "Race: In," comes flying out of the box with a series of rim shots and repetitive guitar lines before Braxton comes whistling into the front end. This is a Disney tune for Snow White by the Seven Dwarfs run amok. The abstract patterns introduced by the keyboards and bassline serve to underscore the melody, complex though it may be, and the sampling sound of hammers creates, at least momentarily, the image of "Whistle While You Work" before the guitars enter full bore and transform it into a full-blown prog jam with tight turns, momentary riffs all the while keeping a motorik drumbeat whether on a snare or a tom-tom. The whistling and wordless vocals that reflect another set of keyboard sounds add depth, humor, and warmth to this underground rainbow. On "Atlas," the title track from the band's last EP, the sound is one of futuristic dragon music à la the conceits of T. Rex without the clever lyrics. Here, the drum shuffle of so many great T. Rex tunes introduces a single guitar riff, warped by sonics and growled vocals that sound like a pig snorting. The intoxication of rhythm is inescapable, even as the David Seville Chipmunk-style vocals -- which could be backmasked -- create a progression for the tune to lift off from. It's tribal and slick, both at the same time.







9. Pantha du Prince – This Bliss


This Bliss, the second full-length album on Dial Records by Pantha du Prince, is stylistically typical of the Hamburg-based label's brand of dark, icy, electronic music, variously described as ambient techno, Microhouse, or even post-minimal (none of these tags are incorrect). Like its predecessor, the wondrous Diamond Daze (2004), This Bliss is highly evocative. Each track is distinct, often in terms of rhythm if not the actual sounds comprising the productions (e.g., the signature chimes), yet the overall mood of the album is subdued and indeed blissful. The effect is hypnotic, like driving on the expressway into a snowstorm at night, how you can feel the underlying propulsion of the car and hear its constant rumble, yet at the same time, a fuzzy sense of comfort can easily overtake you as the snowflakes dance bewitchingly in your headlights. This Bliss invites a cascade of such analogies, its enigmatic cover art well-fitting. Having cited late-'80s British shoegaze as a key influence, along with Detroit and Berlin techno, Pantha du Prince, otherwise known as German producer Hendrik Weber, is clearly aiming to mesmerize. This is perhaps most evident on "Saturn Strobe" and "Steiner im Flug," two of the album's most cinematic tracks, as well as on "Walden 2" and "Urlichten," both of which carry on for over ten minutes (and both of which were previously released, in different versions, on the 2006 Lichten/Walden EP). The album-opener, "Asha," is notable for how quickly it shifts into high gear, showcasing how Pantha du Prince is not only a hypnotist but is occasionally dancefloor-minded. Other high-gear inclusions are "Moonstruck" and "Florac," both ideal for DJing and dancing. One of the year's most accomplished techno releases, This Bliss covers the spectrum -- from bed-sit ambience to hard-driving dance, generally in the course of a single track -- and is most evocative when listened to from beginning to end, for the bewitchery compounds as the time passes.







8. Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam


The single "Peacebone" that opens the album in a blur of synth and electronic noise breaks loose into a whirring, beat-driven pop song with a messiness in the mix and hallucination-inducing lyrics: "A peacebone got found in the dinosaur wing/Well I was jumping all over while the fuse was slowly shrinking/There was a jugular vein in the jugular's girl/was supposed to be leaking into interesting colors..." On "Unsolved Mysteries" with its sampled strings and pump organ, he begins to engage: "...Why must we move on/From such happy lawns/Into nostalgia's pond/And only be traces..." and then begins to grate with his questions, observations, and neurosis. Thank goodness: these two and their partners in crime are human after all! David Bowie, Philip Glass and Brian Eno can only dream about having been creative enough to come up with "Fireworks #1." Sure, their collective influence (Terry Riley's too, but he's on another plane altogether -- he's not predisposed to such abject "seriousness") may indeed have inspired the song's hypnotic glam ambiences, but they could never have glued it all together so loosely or gleefully. "Winter Wonderland" by Tare is another adrenaline infused orgy of manic musical happiness, even if the lyrics state otherwise. It's got that AC thing where overdrive into infinity is not just a choice but an M.O. The set closes with Panda's "Derek." It's among the most beautiful and tender songs he's written. Mid-tempo and relatively stripped down for AC, the vocal is a Beach Boys styled melody but more complex. Sounds cross the aural landscape on top of, underneath, and next to the melody until about the track's mid-point when all hell breaks loose. Joe Meek and Phil Spector might have bee able to manage a sheer wall of uber-echo this deep in the percussion and keyboards and have the vocals come right out of the middle, floating above and around the mix. So this tension and sharp, edgy contrast is felt now more than ever before on AC's records, but it's a great thing.







7. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime


An atypical album release by Kompakt, From Here We Go Sublime, the debut full-length release by the Field, is nevertheless stunning, its less-is-more aesthetic striking because of its elegance as well as ease. For this reason alone, it's no wonder the German label, traditionally known for minimal techno, chose to release this album by Swedish producer Axel Willner, whose style -- with its steady sense of propulsion, rhythmic invariance, and embrace of melody -- is less techno than it is trance. Rest assured, though, that this isn't trance as you know it -- euphoric fodder for superclubs this is not. Willner seems to draw primary influence from Wolfgang Voigt, whose productions as All and Gasare touchstones of contemporary ambient techno, especially the style championed by Kompakt on its annual Pop Ambient series of compilations (some of which, the earlier volumes in particular, include Voigt productions). The cut-up glitch style perfected by Akufen is another point of comparison for the Field, whose tracks often employ sampled snippets that are resequenced melodically (for instance, "A Paw in My Face" borrows millisecond snippets of Lionel Richie's schmaltzy ballad "Hello" to delightful effect). A few songs into From Here We Go Sublime, the Field formula becomes fairly clear: the evocative ambience of Gas/All and the cut-up glitch style of Akufen, plus the propulsion, invariance, and melody of trance -- the sum of these parts then presented with the minimal elegance that is the trademark of Kompakt. The ease of the music is a major reason why it's so striking, for it seems as if anyone with the right software and the know-how could make music like this. Just follow the formula, right? Perhaps. Until others begin doing so, though, especially with such elegance -- and in the wake of From Here We Go Sublime's exceptionally broad appeal, you can bet many will try -- the Field stands more or less stylistically alone in the crowded field of electronic dance music.







6. Radiohead – In Rainbows


In Rainbows, as a title, implies a sense of comfort and delightfulness. Symbolically, rainbows are more likely to be associated with kittens and warm blankets than the grim and glum circumstances Radiohead is known for soundtracking. There's a slight, if expected, twist at play. The band is more than familiar with the unpleasant moods associated with colors like red, green, and blue -- all of which, of course, are colors within a rainbow -- all of which are present, and even mentioned, during the album. On a couple levels, then, In Rainbows is not any less fitting as a Radiohead album title than "Myxomatosis" is as a Radiohead song title. Despite references to "going off the rails," hitting "the bottom," getting "picked over by the worms," being "dead from the neck up," and feeling "trapped" (twice), along with Radiohead Wordplay Deluxe Home Edition pieces like "comatose" and "nightmare" -- in the same song! double score! -- the one aspect of the album that becomes increasingly perceptible with each listen is how romantic it feels, albeit in the way that one might find the bioport scenes in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ to be extremely hot and somewhat unsettling. Surprisingly, some of the album's lyrics are even more personal/universal and straightforward than anything on The Eraser, the album made by Thom Yorke and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. "I'm an animal trapped in your hot car," from "All I Need," has to be one of the saddest, most open-hearted metaphors used to express unrequited love. "House of Cards" begins with "I don't want to be your friend/I just want to be your lover/No matter how it ends/No matter how it starts," and the one with the worms includes "I'd be crazy not to follow/Follow where you lead/Your eyes/They turn me." This effective weaving of disparate elements -- lyrical expressions commonly associated with the band, mixed in with ones suited for everyday love ballads -- goes for the music as well. The album is very song-oriented, with each track constantly moving forward and developing, yet there are abstract electronic layers and studio-as-instrument elements to prevent it from sounding like a regression.







5. M.I.A. – Kala


Kala and Arular are similar in that they are both wildly vigorous and wholly enjoyable albums, generous with blunt-force beats, flurries of percussion, riotous vocals (with largely inconsequential lyrics), and fearless stylistic syntheses that seem to view music from half of the planet's countries as potential source material. But Kala nearly makes Arular seem tame in comparison, magnifying most of its predecessor's qualities as it remains bracingly adventurous. While it certainly sounds like a second M.I.A. album, nothing about it is stagnant. Made in piecemeal fashion while located in several countries, Kala involves a few co-producers: U.K. "dirty house" producer Switch is the primary collaborator, while Baltimore club don Blaqstarr, Diplo, and Timbaland assist M.I.A. on one or a couple tracks each. Further variety is added vocally, not only through M.I.A.'s numerous modes, but also through feature spots from Nigerian MC Afrikan Boy and a crew of young Aborigine rappers. Roughly half the album -- including the opening three-track sequence, which incorporates Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner," samples from two Tamil-language film soundtracks, squawking chickens, (what sounds like) yelping children, and clustered rhythmic devices that boom, stab, clap, rattle, twitter, and sometimes even prance -- is more intense than anything on Arular. The tracks are so full of chaos and jagged noise that it is disarming to reach the relatively relaxed material, especially the two tracks that resemble actual songs. "Jimmy" is a rather faithful cover, willfully chintzy strings and all, of a flirtatiously lovelorn neo-disco number from the '80s Bollywood film Disco Dancer. "Paper Planes" has a sing-songy float to it, aided by the Clash's "Straight to Hell," though it also appropriates Wreckx-N-Effect's "Rump Shaker" while replacing "zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom" and "boom-boom" with sounds from shotguns and cash registers. Like the remainder of the album's best moments, it recalls the late Lizzy Mercier Descloux, another artist who made thrilling music by mixing cultures with respectful irreverence. Perhaps some of Arular's detractors knew M.I.A. was capable of this all along.







4. Panda Bear – Person Pitch


Starting an album with a clattering of industrial rhythms sliding into a huge clap-and-stompalong with angelic vocals and what sounds like the Brotherhood of Man on a vocal loop tip not far removed from Suicide or Laurie Anderson is one way to make a mark. The fact that Panda Bear, aka Noah Lennox himself, sings like Brian Wilson and produces his voice to sound like it is another, though it has to be said that it just makes his Animal Collective membership all the more clear at this point. Person Pitch is very much an end product of a variety of musical trends in whatever can be called indie rock in the early 21st century -- big-sounding, absolutely dedicated to texture and sonic playfulness, and somehow aiming to make a lot of interesting ideas seem kinda flat. There's no question there's both an audience for Panda Bear's work and the sounds he's playing around with, and to his considerable credit he creates a series of moody and memorable loops throughout. Songs like "Take Pills" and "Good Girl" are miles away from the rhythm-by-numbers of many of Panda Bear's contemporaries; importantly, after so many bands that just want to sound like late-'60s Beach Boys lock, stock, and barrel, the fact that there's a recognition that production and beat technology didn't stay frozen in time stands out. At its best, with the song "Bros," there's a beautiful transcendence that lives up to all the promise that has surrounded Panda Bear's work, the song slowly but surely evolving into a fantastic epic that could easily stand on its own as an EP.







3. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago


Bon Iver is the work of Justin Vernon. He isolated himself in a remote cabin in Wisconsin for almost four months, writing, and recording the songs on For Emma, Forever Ago, his haunting debut album. A few parts (horns, drums, and backing vocals) were added in a North Carolina studio, but for the majority of the time it's just Vernon, his utterly disarming voice, and his enchanting songs. The voice is the first thing you notice. Vernon's falsetto soars like a hawk and when he adds harmonies and massed backing vocals, it can truly be breathtaking. "The Wolves (Acts I & II)" truly shows what Vernon can do as he croons, swoops, and cajoles his way through an erratic and enchanting melody like Marvin Gaye after a couple trips to the backyard still. "Skinny Love" shows more of his range as he climbs down from the heights of falsetto and shouts out the angry and heartachey words quite convincingly. Framing his voice are suitably subdued arrangements built around acoustic guitars and filled out with subtle electric guitars, the occasional light drums, and slide guitar. Vernon has a steady grasp of dynamics too; the ebb and flow of "Creature Fear" is powerfully dramatic and when the chorus hits it's hard not to be swept away by the flood of tattered emotion. Almost every song has a moment where the emotion peaks and hearts begin to weaken and bend: the beauty of that voice is what pulls you through every time. For Emma captures the sound of broken and quiet isolation, wraps it in a beautiful package, and delivers it to your door with a beating, bruised heart.







2. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver


Compared to the first LCD Soundsystem album, Sound of Silver is less silly, funnier, less messy, sleeker, less rowdy, more fun, less distanced, more touching. It is just as linked to James Murphy's record collection, with traces of post-punk, disco, Krautrock, and singer/songwriter schlubs, but the references are evidently harder to pin down; the number of names dropped in the reviews published before its release must triple the amount mentioned throughout "Losing My Edge." There's even some confusion as to which version of David Bowie is lurking around. One clearly evident aspect of the album is that Murphy has streamlined his sound. All the jagged frays have been removed, replaced by a slightly tidier approach that is more direct and packs more punch. Murphy comes across as a fully naturalized producer of dance music -- especially on "Get Innocuous!" -- as opposed to a product of '90s indie rock who has made a convincing switch-up. And yet, the album's best song is sad, should not be played in any club, and it at least matches the work of any active songwriter who has been praised. "Someone Great," a bittersweet pop song built on swelling synthesizers and a dual vocal-and-glockenspiel melody, could definitely be about a devastating breakup ("To tell the truth I saw it coming/The way you were breathing"), at least until "You're smaller than my wife imagined/Surprised you were human," which could mean the song either took a turn for the absurd or is about the death (and funeral) of a loved one. Either way, it is the most moving song Murphy has made, and it only helps further the notion that he should be considered a great songwriter, not simply a skilled musician with a few studio tricks and the occasional clever quip. The closer, "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down," seals it: "New York, you're perfect, oh please don't change a thing/Your mild billionaire mayor's now convinced he's a king/And so the boring collect -- I mean all disrespect/In the neighborhood bars I'd once dreamt I would drink."







1. Burial – Untrue


Untrue finds its anonymous producer streamlining the varied approach of his debut, resulting is a uniform collection of tracks that are subtly evolving variations of each other. Following an untitled, foreboding intro, Untrue kicks off with the simply melodic "Archangel" and culminates 45 minutes later with the majestic "Raver," a summary conclusion. There aren't any MC-featuring tracks such as "Spaceape" as there were on the debut, nor is there any hard-hitting tech-step à la "Southern Comfort"; instead, every track on Untrue seems cut of the same cloth, emphasizing ghostly vocal loops, shadowy ambient motifs, and the warped rhythmic signatures of 2-step. One of the key highlights is "Ghost Hardware," the closest the album comes to genuine dance music. It's followed by another standout, "Endorphin," an ambient interlude that shimmers for three minutes, entirely free of beats, before the sub-frequency bassline of "Etched Headplate," one of the album's most melodic and memorable songs, cuts through the stillness. Untrue is most evocative when listened to in sequence, for the moods and characteristics of each track evolve as the album progresses. Once "Raver" brings the proceedings to a close, though, it's the overall impression of the Untrue that stays with you, more so than any particular tracks. If you can appreciate the style of dubstep employed by Burial, it's easy to fall head over heels for Untrue, an album on which there are absolutely no mainstream-crossover concessions, no ego trips, and no willful stylistic variation -- an album where the music, a singular style of it, takes center stage with no distractions or sideshows, where there's never the urge to skip to the next track, because they're all part and parcel of the greater whole.









Honorable Mentions:




Girls Aloud – Tangled Up


Girls Aloud albums always come brimming with ideas, but while they could previously leave the overall collection as something of a mishmash, here they succeed as a perfectly constructed whole without becoming a tedious homogeny. More than this, though, it's a considerable artistic step forward, with the sugar rush of songs such as "Love Machine" and "Something Kinda Ooh" toned down somewhat in favor of a more aloof, knowing sexiness. Not that the Girls aren't having fun. "Close to Love" stops around two-thirds in as they yell warnings such as "Guy with the terrible hair, back off!" and "Fling" boasts a manic shoutalong chorus assuring a prospective lover that "It's just a bit of ding-a-ling baby!" Elsewhere, "Black Jacks" sounds like a lost Ace of Base classic, "I Can't Speak French" achieves the kind of effortlessly sultry cool which the Sugababes have spent a career striving for, and "Girl Overboard" is like an aggressive, relentless cousin to their previous career highlight The Show. However, the song that -- alongside "Call the Shots" -- may come to define this album (and indeed may be their greatest recorded achievement to date) is closer "Crocodile Tears." It's easy to overlook the vocal accomplishments of Girls Aloud; despite their talent-show beginnings, they can be difficult to distinguish as individual singers and are often seen by critics as little more than an attractive blank canvas for the wild pop experiments of their production team. However, "Crocodile Tears" cuts through their tabloid notoriety and occasionally cartoonish images with astonishingly intelligent vocal performances. The lyrics tread a familiar path of heartbreak, but lines such as "Why on earth did you leave me?" are delivered not with anger or pain, but in a resigned, almost bored sounding whisper. And herein lies the genius of Tangled Up. Girls Aloud have grown up, and they're not shedding their clothes to prove it. They've been through the first flush of love and despair and come out the other side, as we all do. A little more bruised, a little more wise, and a lot more interesting.







Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood [Original Soundtrack]


This is grand music, but it's also controlled, unleashing its furious clashes of dissonance with precision. Greenwood has demonstrated such mastery of mood as the guitarist within Radiohead, but There Will Be Blood is superficially far removed from that band's restless experiments with electronic music. There are no electric instruments here at all -- this is all orchestral music, created on instruments that were available at the film's setting of the beginning of the twentieth century, yet Greenwood doesn't attempt to re-create turn-of-the-century mores: he writes music that taps into the rotten heart of Daniel Plainview. This is magnificently unsettling music, whether it's used within the film or heard on its own terms; either way, it's impossible to forget after it's been heard.







Matthew Dear – Asa Breed


Asa Breed furthers a seemingly happenstance shift to electronics-based indie pop that began on 2003's Leave Luck to Heaven and continued on 2004's Backstroke. Where the vocal tracks on those two albums sounded as if they began as instrumentals and just happened to benefit from lyrics and melodies thought up after the fact, there is an apparent deliberate attempt here at making songs. "Deserter" is the greatest example of Matthew Dear's gradual development as a writer, one of the most affecting songs he has made -- full of dazed textures, a very direct beat, and a typically disconnected vocal, it doesn't seem built to move the listener in any way, but it unexpectedly grabs hold, not unlike Wire's most subdued and straightforward material (such as "The 15th" or "Heartbeat"). One thing that hasn't changed is the elusiveness of the lyrics: most of them could mean anything, or perhaps nothing at all, and what seems tossed-off could have some profound subtext. No matter the amount of effort Dear put into his lyrics, the sounds he makes with his voice still take precedence. A little exposure to his constantly morphing flat baritone goes a long way, even though it is used in so many ways; there's barely intelligible gibberish, singsongy semi-sneering, exaggerated David Byrne deadpan, whiny whispering, and a few other methods used to convey stories, self-examination, and in-jokes. (With its resemblance to Japan's "Visions of China," "Shy" could use a David Sylvian impersonation, but that is not so easy to pull off.) Since producing dancefloor tracks remains Dear's most natural talent, a few of the album's songs would just happen to be effective as instrumentals when played in certain clubs; the likes of "Neighborhood," "Don and Sherri," and "Fleece on Brain," when stripped of vocals, sound just like typical Dear productions, but they do bend toward the need of the song.







The National – Boxer


The National don't do anything radically different on Boxer, but then again, they don't really need to: their literate, quietly anthemic take on indie rock seemed to have arrived fully formed on their 2001 self-titled debut. Boxer just hones in even more precisely and intimately on the heartfelt territory the band covers, with punchy-yet-polished production and orchestration by the Clogs' Padma Newsome giving these songs an intimacy and widescreen expansiveness that rivals the Arcade Fire. The album's first four songs are among The National's finest work yet: "Fake Empire" begins as a dead-of-night ballad that echoes Leonard Cohen, then peppy brass and guitars turn it into something joyous. The brooding "Mistaken for Strangers" touches on the side of the band that could be mistaken for a more hopeful Joy Division, if lyrics like "You wouldn't want an angel watching over you?/Surprise surprise, they wouldn't want to watch" can be counted as hopeful. "Brainy," a borderline obsessive love song, shows off the remarkable, dark chocolate richness of Matt Berninger's vocals and how well they complement the band's occasionally bookish lyrics, while "Squalor Victoria" makes the most of Newsome's lavish string arrangements. The rest of Boxer is subtler, but no less accomplished, with each song supporting the other as a classic album should. "Apartment Story"'s hypnotic chug and "Slow Show"'s witty, knowing affection make them standouts, while the graceful, regretful "Ada" plays more like a short story than a song. As focused as it is ambitious, Boxer is riveting.







Studio - West Coast


Having quietly made their initial splash with the Yearbook 1 collection (helped by generous MP3 sharing of same, along with related singles), Studio re-released most of it (subtracting "No Comply" and "Radio Edit") to create West Coast, which sent the simmering buzz about the group into overdrive. Little wonder why -- while perfectly in sync with any number of European acts playing around with a restrained, crisp energy to their techno (it's no surprise someone like Prins Thomas was an early booster), the duo of Dan Lissvik and Rasmus Hägg brings not only a sheen of '80s electronics but that decade's art-inclined rock & roll. The Cure in particular have a huge influence by the duo's own admission -- one commentator's description of West Coast sounding as if Seventeen Seconds had been recorded in Nassau rather than London is as perfect a summation as any. Part of it is certainly due to the occasional lost and forlorn vocals, but the plunging bass and sharp guitar have a lot to do with it too, as the majestic 16-minute opener, "Out There," makes perfectly clear, while the polyrhythms on "West Side" and steel drum break on "Self Service" are more than Lol Tolhurst could have ever come up with on his own. This said, Studio are far from a one-trick pony, and the six cuts on West Coast more often than not deftly suggest numerous syntheses and new approaches to old styles rather than direct cloning -- almost as if a previous decade's sonic elements had been liberated from the songwriting context of their time and reassembled in new ways. Shimmering synths turn into astringent yowls coasting above the beats, dub echo hits the kind of romantic swoop suggesting Anne Dudley's strings for Wham!'s "Careless Whisper," while the concluding "Indo" dispenses with overt beats entirely for a liquid flow of guitar and synth tones and rhythms.







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