Monday, January 09, 2006

Trusted Travelers

(Illustration by Alex Fine)

10 Albums That Were Drivin' My Plane in 2005


1. Spoon Gimme Fiction (Merge)
Mystery loves company, and everyone loves Spoon. Like the hooded figure on the cover, Spoon's minimalist rockscapes intrigue endlessly because of what they don't reveal: the obvious. Masters of the art of subtraction, Spoon makes subliminal three-chord guitar chug strip naked and do the locomotion, and in the vast silence that seems to frame every instrument on this record you could almost swear you hear a singalong chorus or a fist-pumping solo.

2. Bright Eyes I'm Wide Awake It's Morning (Saddle Creek)

Released concurrently with the best-forgotten Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, this was Conor Oberst's Blonde On Blonde move -- the vast sprawl of a mind wandering too fast to be trapped in just one album. Maybe that's why every show seems like Live At The Royal Albert Hall and some are already yelling Judas -- which is, of course, the highest compliment a generation can bestow on a folksinger.

3. Fiona Apple (The Unreleased) Extraordinary Machine (Epic)

Funny how the year's best un-buyable album went from a Smile-esque cause celebre to a cake somebody left out in the rain. Money talks and Jon Brion's art-fag hurdy gurdy bullshit walks -- right over to Kanye West's Late Registration, to be exact. Now I ain't sayin' she's a goldigger, but...

4. New Pornographers Twin Cinema (Matador)

Another dose of feathery Canuck-pop to tickle your melody bone. Their sound may be a whiter shade of bread but their execution is is as immaculate as Mr. Clean.

5. Wilco Kicking Television (Nonesuch)

The double live album was rendered obsolete with the evolution of seedless weed. But this one's justified because it's on the stage where Wilco has been re-inventing itself lately. With the addition of Nels Cline, who tweaks Jeff Tweedy's avant-rock curiosities with Hammer of Gods virtuosity, and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, fluent in the scarf-rock vernacular and hair like ABBA, and laptop-rockin Mikael Jorgensen, who sends Kraut-rock sine-wave squiggles through even the most Allman of jams -- Wilco now has both their pre- and post-rock bonafides and they can still be a shit-hot bar band when they want to be.


6. Art Brut Bang Bang Rock N' Roll (Fierce Panda) Fear not boys and girls, the raw nerve of rock n' roll is alive and well and screaming its id off. Edging out stellar releases from Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand in the Anglo angular-rock sweepstakes, Art Brut's debut crackles with the sound of spent hormones and spilled beer and old Fall records. Old school skinny-tie types can rest assured: the New Wave is in good hands.

7. MIA Arular (XL)

Maya's dancehall toasts and skip-rope rhymes double-dutch over deft grime jams and prismatic click-hop. Crazy, you think. And fun, too. Like Bollywood miniatures. But if you listen closely you can hear her father's radicalism Morse coded deep into these grooves.


8. White Stripes Get Behind Me Satan (V-2)
This may not be the White Stripes album people wanted. After all, Jackn White's great talent is sounding like both Page and Plant-something no one person has ever pulled off-and with rare exceptions on Satan he opts not to get the Led out. Not that Satan doesn't have its hellfire moments of wall-pounding rock 'n' roll. There's the White Zombie garage-stomp of "Blue Orchid," the groin thunder of "Instinct Blues" and the epic shriek-and-shred of "Red Rain."But for much of the album Jack puts down the guitar-an instrument he wields like a Jedi-or at least turns down the "gnarly" knob, relying mostly on the warm, clustered chords of a Steinway piano, the occasional marimba, an alarm clock and every now and then what sounds like something falling over. After Renée walked away and the dueling marriages that followed, who are we to complain when Jack turns out a messy breakup record? And with turnabout being fair play and all, you're welcome to listen to Satan like paparazzi-to hear it as strobe-flashed glimpses of the private moments of glamorous people. On "The Nurse" (Nurse Betty, anyone?) Jack lies in his sickbed, unwittingly spoon-fed poison by a nameless angel of mercy as a warm island breeze blows in with the distant sound of marimba and shakers. Then the music heat-warps as the nurse twists the knife while chanting, "No I'm never going to let you down," and suddenly the drums sound like slamming doors or coffin lids. Mmm. Drama.


9. Dungen Ta De Lungt (Subliminal Sounds)
Sunshine supermen from the land of Vallhalla.

10. Antony And The Johnsons I Am A Bird Now (Secretly Canadian)
That voice -- a beauiftul pearl inside this oyster of a man, born of irritation, out of the sand in the bathing suit of life. It sounds like the yawp of humanity echoing in the abyss of universal cruelty. The duets with Lou Reed, Little Jimmy Scott and Rufus Wainright remind me of the scene in Fight Club where Ed Norton is bawling into the D-cup bosom of Meatloaf. Sometimes we all need a man hug.

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