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Monday, December 12, 2005

Jennifer Kelly's Fave Recordings Of 2005

Neumu's Michael Goldberg writes: Neumu Senior Editor Jennifer Kelly is one of Neumu's most prolific writers. Over the past year she has not only provided many excellent reviews, but profiled many interesting bands and solo artists. She seems to hear just about everything worth hearing. Today we feature her best-of-2005 list. Cool stuff.

1. Oneida, The Wedding (Jagjaguwar): Utterly different from last year's Secret Wars, Oneida's seventh full-length puts fragile, the Left Banke-inspired chamber pop ("Charlemagne") alongside weirdly beautiful staccato string songs ("Run Through My Hair") and metal-head onslaughts ("Did I Die"). Album-making cuts like "Spirits" and "Lavender" somehow bring all the elements together in triumphant, mind-blowing psyche, a hurricane's roar with unexpectedly gorgeous calm at its center. No one else is taking chances like this, and no one else is making music as unpredictably wonderful.

2. Akron/Family/Angels of Light Split (Young God): A quasi-live album, recorded to document the unusual partnership between Brooklyn's art/prog/folk collective and Michael Gira's ever-evolving solo project, ups the stakes for both artists. It bumped Akron/Family's excellent self-titled debut off this list based on "Raising the Sparks" alone, its cathartic multi-voiced chorus representing as pure a joy as can be had on record, though nearly every song is a highlight. Gira's five songs are less ornate, stripped to essence really, but allowing dark-toned flourishes like the feedback squalls of "The Provider" or the buoyant harmonies of "One for Hope."

3. Animal Collective, Feels (Fat Cat): All four members of this far-flung quartet joined together for this follow-up to the acclaimed Sung Tongs, and the result is a denser, more rhythmic and celebratory album that flirts with pop, but slips the leash for pure shimmering mood ("Banshee Beat," "Loch Raven") and occasional bouts of happy anarchy ("The Purple Bottle"). The sensations come thick and fast in this super-saturated album, like colors painted so brightly that they vibrate at the edges.

4. The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday (French Kiss): Craig Finn's parallel universe continues to expand, as his second album follows the Charlemagne character first introduced on Almost Killed Me, along with an equally vivid Hallelujah, through a blighted landscape of hoodrat girls, parties that get druggy, and unlikely redemption. Finn quotes from the Bible, pop culture, literature and himself ("Hard drugs are for bartenders... I think I might have mentioned that before"), while bandmates led by Tad Kubler rifle through the classic-rock riff book, stealing licks and communal memories from 1970s FM radio. It jells together in a poetic tale of dangerous characters and dubious alliances, and an art that is larger than the sum of its components.

5. The National, Alligator (Beggars Banquet): The sleeper album of the year, Alligator gets its hooks into you slowly, listen after listen. Matt Berninger sounds nonchalant as he tosses off lines like "I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain" and "Out among the missing sons and daughters of the Soho riots" in his deep confidential voice, but he must know how these phrases and melodies will burn themselves into your brain. Slow songs like "The Geese of Beverly Road" have the slow shimmer of poetry, embellished by sparse but lovely string and woodwind arrangements, while book-learned rockers like "Lit Up," "Mr. November" and "Abel" offer plenty for body and brain.

6. Spoon, Gimme Fiction (Merge): This is masterful pop, pared to its core and laced with tension-filled silences. Daniel's voice has never been smoother, more soul-inflected, nor his songs more elusive and hard to pin down. There's more going on in the interstices of "My Mathematical Mind," than most bands could fit into whole records, and still a feeling of less is more. And for those who like their musical pleasures uncomplicated, "Sister Jack" is the ultimate feel-good indie-rock anthem.

7. Mahjongg, Raydoncong (Cold Crush) : Live, Mahjongg's "Hot Lava" is a funk-stomping highlight, with its hot-wired guitars, unstoppable beat and Karyl Czientzar up front, hands in the air, hair everywhere, rocking out the chorus. Raydoncong, a big step up from last year's promising Machinegong EP, comes very close to the live show's volcanic energy, while cleaner recording allows the band's multi-rhythmic, electronically-powered experimental side to shine.

8. Devin Davis, Lonely People of the World Unite! (Mousse): The astounding self-recorded debut of a major songwriting talent. Davis recorded this album at night in the Chicago studio where he worked, playing all the instruments. He edited his songs ruthlessly, cutting out the fat until songs like the Who-esque "Giant Spiders," the sardonically folk "Cannons in the Courthouse," and the beautiful "Sandie" are nearly perfect avatars of two- and three-minute pop.

9. The Heartless Bastards, Stairs and Elevators (Fat Possum): Erika Wennerstrom has a voice that comes along once in a generation, a big, heartfelt, blues-worthy, hard-rocking voice that might remind you of Janis Joplin or Grace Slick. She and her band put out one of this year's best straight-up rock records in Stairs and Elevators — and contributed a killer track to the Junior Kimbrough tribute.

10. French Toast, In a Cave (Dischord) : This duo, comprising DC mainstays James Canty and Jerry Busher, made one of this year's creepiest and most foreboding post-rock albums, with sharp angular edges and eeriely floating vocals. In a Cave has the hard-edged drumming you might expect from guys who have done time in Fugazi, the Make-Up and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, along with a sense of space and mystery. Killer cuts include the hard-rocking "Lion's Den" and the slow, trippy menace of "Seen Me."

Twelve more really excellent albums:

Mazarin, We're Already There (I & Ear)
The Dirtbombs, If You Don't Already Have a Look (In the Red)
Nick Castro & the Poison Tree, Further From Grace (Strange Attractors)
The Deadly Snakes, Porcella (In the Red)
Constantines, Tournament of Hearts (Sub Pop)
Skeleton & the Girl Faced Boys, Git (Shinkoyo)
Vashti Bunyan, Lookaftering (DiCristina)
Paula Frazer, Leave the Sad Things Behind (Birdman)
Jana Hunter, Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom (Gnomonsong)
Calla, Collisions (Beggars Banquet)
Chris Brokaw, Incredible Love (12XU)
Alec K. Redfearn & the Eyesores, The Quiet Room (Cuneiform)

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