2005 Music Reviews

!!!, Louden Up Now (2004)   B+
Though I've heard some of these tracks on other albums by them (like "Me and Giuliani Down By The Schoolyard" and "Hello? Is This Thing On?"), it's not that easy to get tired of this completely impressive group - they (a.) make me want to dance and kick in the walls (b.) make me want to drink and streak around my placid neighborhood and (c.) are all really nice guys (which has nothing to do with the music, but good to know anyway).

!!!, Take Ecstasy With Me / Get Up (2004) [Single]
The cover of "Take Ecstasy With Me" by the Magnetic Fields is an unusually sensual track for !!! and unquestionably one of the best songs of the year; the cover of Nate Dogg's "Get Up" is great little joke. These guys are one of the most important and innovative bands currently working anywhere in the world.

!!! / Out Hud, Lab Remix Series Volume 2 (1999)   B-
Quick and dirty split album between the two bands who share members and slightly similar sounds - it's no surprise that the !!! piece is more exciting and dynamic than the Out Hud material.

King Sunny Adé, Seven Degrees North (2000)   B+
I'm not going to lie and say I know what they're saying or what the album's 'strengths' are or even that I'm familiar with Afro-pop or "juju," but I really dig this record - it's gorgeous, it flows and it makes me feel like I'm vacationing on some lovely island surrounded by translucent water, slow-sipping a lime margarita and staring at the lovelies with their dripping wet bikinis behind a giant pair of sunglasses. (Disclaimer: Sensations vary per person.)

The Afghan Whigs, Congregation (1991)   A-
Took me two listens for this to sink in, but it was well worth it: frontman Dulli, all lust and swagger, still needs to take a shower and find a priest after an unexpected one-night stand. And yes, joyfully and regrettably, there are always more women to fill the void when others leave.

Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto, Insen (2005)   B+
Sparse, elegantly minimalistic recording by pianist Sakamoto and avant-garde electronic composer Alva Noto. It's so quiet and unassuming you can actually lose yourself in most of the pieces - any interpretation of the album's 'meaning' probably depends on your mood while listening (is it depressing? enlightening? peaceful? poetic? tragic? What day is it? Did my girlfriend just tell me I'm a horse's ass? Did I get a promotion?).

Amerie, Touch (2005)   F
Sugary, soulless mass-produced dance pop devoid of any substance just like Kelis and Destiny's Child and J-Lo and the Backstreet Boys and Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears and ... and ... now the only thing I'm wondering is why I even have a copy of this and why I listened to it at all.

Tori Amos, The Beekeeper (2005)   D-
It's time to come clean: I've never, ever thought Tori Amos was any good. I've found her insufferably pretentious and her lyrics to be on par with high school kids' poetry. I can't stand her voice. There isn't a single song of hers that I want to listen to more than once. The only thing I've ever liked about her was the fact that she sometimes performs live with no underwear on. For some very logical reasons, I find this to be super cool. So, after years of skimming through her vast output without much consideration, I thought I'd give this album a chance - listen to it straight through, try to process it. But there's this serious problem: I have testicles. And these testicles and the chemicals they produce make me want to take the CD and dig my heel right into the center. I won't be listening to anything by her again. Know thy limitations.

... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Worlds Apart (2005)   C
"Source Tags & Codes" was a disaster of an album, but I knew there was something to the band - if only they could capture their live performances, they'd be so much better off. This quasi rock-opera is closer to the bootlegs I've heard, with a fair balance of the powerful ("Caterwaul") and the generically indie ("Classic Arts Showcase") and the gaudy (the ye old "To Russia My Homeland" and "All White").

Animal Collective featuring Vashti Bunyan, Prospect Hummer [EP] (2005)   B
Wisely avoids the infant sounds of "Sung Tongs" while keeping the avant-groove moving. There are only four songs and I wanted much more.

Annie, Anniemal (2004)   B-
Are you an 80's fan? Do you like the soundtrack to "Weird Science?" Did you catch Blondie at CBGB's? Well, rock on, Amadeus! Chew your gum and listen up.

Antony & The Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now (2005)   C+
First two songs are so strong they make everything after them pale in comparison - it's as if the show's over before it has time to really get into any kind of rhythm. The various contributors don't make much of a dent, and Antony's voice takes a little getting used to, though he's heartfelt and honest, which isn't something you can say about a lot of singers.

Aphex Twin, Analord 1 - 11 (19XX-2005)   A-
I do not believe Richard James is a human being. I think he is a cyborg from another planet, sent to re-teach us in the ways of the dance. With this Analord collection, there are eleven separate records that contain well over 3 hours of music - there's a eerie 'sameness' to the tracks (done no doubt on purpose) - and will remind his long-term fans of the "Analogue Bubblebath" material (certainly not "Drukqs"). It's uncompromising, ambitious and periodically repetitious, but unmistakably the product of one of our most important musicians.

Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine (2005; unreleased Jon Brion production)   A-
I feel so bad for Fiona, it's not even funny. After two top-notch first albums, she has to put up with shit for this one (with all of its caustic wit and endless creativity), which has been sitting idle for a long time (they claim it was "unmarketable," but I think people in the industry just can't stand her) - to make matters worse, people are downloading it at an alarming rate so no one will publish it. Ms. Apple is an outsider, a jittery outcast, our noble musical waif, and has made a brilliant third album. Be like Ani, sweets, and take matters into your own hands. You can come to my town any day.

Autechre, Untilted (2005)   C+
Maybe it's because they're so prolific and their releases are more or less similar, but I'm having a hard time telling Autechre's albums apart (I have the same problem with Stereolab). This is not to infer that it's inferior artistry - the two gentlemen that make up Autechre are experts at what they do - but I can't help but feel it that the work is devalued since it's indistinguishable from the previous two discs.

Badly Drawn Boy, One Plus One Is One (2004)   C-
Oodles of 'woe is me' and 'why won't this broad love me' - wait, wasn't that the same deal with his last album? I can't stand the original Paul McCartney so why would I want to stomach his self-appointed heir?

Beck, Guero (2005)   B
"Whiteboy" Beck Hansen returns to earlier style, circa "Mellow Gold" and part of "Odelay" (noticeably with the title song) - it's certainly an improvement over the self-loathing of "Sea Change." Not a complete victory - is regressing to earlier material a sign of desperation? - and Beck tries to outsmart himself trying to figure out how much he can cram in the songs (it's a Cobb Salad of instruments), but you have to know who you're dealing with: this is the same guy who made a music video of household appliances having sex.

Beck, Stray Blues B-Side Collection (2000)   B-
Fuzzy, lo-fi material that never made it onto his key LPs yet has the same unpredictable quality (Beck's 'rejects' could be another band's A-material). No "MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack," but "Halo of Gold" is a nice substitute.

Brendan Benson, The Alternative to Love (2005)   C+
I consider this a hit-or-miss affair: the haunting "Between Us" (which sounds a little like Mercury Rev) and "Cold Hands (Warm Heart)" are pop delicacies, but it loses its way somewhere in-between, getting to close to the closely-crafted radio-friendliness of The Wallflowers and Jason Mraz.

Binary Star, Masters of the Universe / Waterworld (2000)   C-
There is material of worth in this bloated escapade, but you have to get through a lot of bragging and self-referencing to hear any of it. You honestly want me to listen to an album in which you talk about yourself for close to twenty tracks? I thought Diddy was the King of that....

Black Mountain, Black Mountain (2005)   C-
Southern rock mixed with bits of electronica here and there and done in the most colorless way possible - tracks dribble on for eight minutes or so before mercifully petering out. Will make you think, at times, "I didn't know Jefferson Airplane made a new record" before pausing a moment and thinking, "Wait, I don't like Jefferson Airplane."

Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Matt Sweeney, Superwolf (2005)   D+
Pace! / How slow can you go? / Will O.? / Brother, what you know? / Once again you're back but / it's hardly incredible / or indelible / or unforgettable.

Bloc Party, Escape Alarm (2005)   A-
Explosive LP debut from the extremely young quartet - I expected something from these guys after enjoying their self-titled EP, but I had no idea they were capable of such a well-balanced - and at times beautiful - first full album. Everyone's going to have his/her own take on what past outfits they sound like ... and though I don't want to be branded a heretic, I can't help but be a little reminded of The Clash. Yes, them. In other words, I'm impressed.

The Books, The Lemon of Pink (2003)   C+
Same comments from "Lost and Safe" apply here. They're actually excellent craftsmen when they decide to put their minds to it (namely on the title track and on "That Right Ain't Shit") but there are too many diversions in the form of babbling and silly sound clips. If there's a band I can think of that desperately needs focus, it's this one.

The Books, Lost and Safe (2005)   C+
Pointless mumbling, sound samples and Hooked-on-Phonics murmuring coat even more low-key soundscapes and folk harmonies - if Mogwai and Iron & Wine decided to collaborate on an album, this might be the closest to what it sounds like. Unlike the space rock beauty of Mogwai or the breathy intensity of Arab Strap, however, it's so noninvasive it gets 'lost' in the background noises of refrigerators and cars - there's nothing to make you listen up and pay attention. Sometimes it's good to be a wallflower, sometimes it's not.

Boredoms, Seadrum/House of Sun (2005)   D-
Two song set which completely dumps the usual anarchistic Boredoms sound for new agey nonsense. It may sound perverse, but I never thought the Boredoms could be so ... boring.

David Bowie, Hunky Dory (1971)   B+
You'll have to excuse the rating, but I can't help but compare it to its follow-up (yes, 1972's "Ziggy Stardust" album) which I feel is one of the great works in rock and roll. As a warm-up pitch, however, it's staggering and an absolutely mandatory listen, with the odes to both Dylan and Warhol, "Life on Mars" and "Changes" (arguably the best song he's ever written, but since I may change my mind tomorrow don't quote me on that) all belonging in Bowie's pantheon of fine achievements. The duke owned the seventies.

The Bravery, The Bravery (2005)   C+
It's like a LessThanSupergroup they didn't even know they put together: Julian Casablancas, Robert Smith or Stephin Merritt on vocals (depending on the track), keyboards by the Killers, guitars by the Strokes, production work by the Faint, songs written by some cooze hound in dirty denim. (Okay, I'll give it to them on "No Rings on These Fingers" and "Public Service Announcement." Those two are good.)

Bright Eyes, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (2005)   D+
Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005)   D
"There's happiness in death," Mr. Oberst declares, his quivering voice and passive-aggression but two of the problems with this self-important dual CD assault ("I'm Wide Awake" is straight out of Nashville, "Digital Ash" has more electronics and drums). So many people want to make him out to be "our Dylan," but that's just inflated thinking. Is he talented, though? Perhaps, but his tendency to flood the market with records, give the most precious of answers in interviews and willingly allow himself to be overexposed - and all of this without any quality singles or an interest in anything other than his own feelings - are negative factors. Does he scribble all these songs while staring into the mirror?

British Sea Power, Open Season (2005)   B+
They faced the same problem as Interpol: first album a masterpiece, so how to follow it? The answer: don't bother topping it, just take the sound in a different, more delicate direction, with introspective tracks like "Please Stand Up" and "Like a Honeycomb" giving a pretty good hint as to where the band is heading. It's one of those repeat listen discs where the power of each song doesn't become apparent at first - if you go in expecting the hostility of the first album, it's going throw you.

Broken Social Scene, Feel Good Lost (2001)   C-
There's just a tiny little hint in this atmospheric mush of what Broken Social Scene would go on to accomplish with "You Forgot It In People" only a year later - this release is more jam-session electronic noodling than polished avant-rock. This disc was made with two people, "You Forgot It in People" was made with over a dozen - the addition of the extra talent clearly made a giant difference.

Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene (2005)   C
Words have difficulty conveying the power of a song like "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)" - glorious, entrancing, unbelievable might be three appropriate adjectives - so when the rest of this disc sounds like song fragments instead of individual songs I can't help but wonder who engineered and mixed it together. I understand the desire to break new ground, and I'm pretty accepting of bands that want to scramble standard song dynamics up, but this is a little ridiculous. Perhaps particular complaints should be aimed at the sheer size of the group, which clocks in at twenty-one members, if you count sometime contributors - they went from two people ("Feel Good Lost") to a dozen or so ("You Forgot It in People") to double that. This isn't a band anymore, it's an organization. And as an organization, it needs a little more organizing.

Broken Social Scene, E.P. to Be You and Me (2005) [EP]   B
This should be the main album and their self-titled 2005 LP should be the bonus disc. The beginning sounds closer to electronic acts like Four Tet than "You Forgot It in People" before shifting to familiar - but potent - rock later on.

Buck 65, This Right Here Is Buck 65 (2005)   C
Grizzled delivery combined with alt-country backdrop and electronic guitar-work - instead of sticking with one of the genres, he awkwardly distills all three into a negligible admixture.

John Cale, Paris 1919 (1973)   B+
Though maudlin - and a large step away from the Velvet Underground - this album by Cale is a soothing, heartfelt listen - it also contains one of Cale's absolute masterpieces, namely "Paris 1919," with its lovely strings and dreamy, imaginative lyrics. Most appropriately, Emperor John was listening to that very track while sitting on a bench staring up at the Eiffel Tower - talk about music being the soundtrack to life.

Camera Obscura, Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi (2002)   B
Looking back on this disc after "Underachievers Please Try Harder," I notice the same kind of well-structured, well-balanced songwriting (they're also a fairly shy but pleasant live act) ... though there doesn't seem to be much difference between the two discs. Still, the band is so good at their own unique brand of breezy sunshine pop it's really a moot point.

The Cardigans, Life (1995 / 2002 Japanese re-issue)   D
The lead singer's little girl voice coos over jazzed up cabaret and schmaltzy bubblegum pop; it's fine for the singles, but in large chunks it's just ... infuriating, and not even remotely pleasing in any 'postmodern' sense (the same goes for Kahimi Karie). They wield their cutesy-ness like a weapon and it actually hurts the senses - more than ten minutes and I'm groaning.

The Cardigans, Long Gone Before Daylight (2004)   D+
So, if "Life" was their bubblegum record, then this has to be their alt. country/soft rock disc (my favorite lines: "And then you kissed me / And then you hit me") ... but wait, aren't they from Sweden? I'm confused. One thing is for sure: this album is a bona-fide mess, and not even they know what's going on.

Caribou, The Milk of Human Kindness (2004)   B+
Bouncy fun that's like the soundtrack to a fictitious children's story. Like his work as Manitoba, there's a clear electronic influence, and it works both as intense listening and something to play while doing work around the house (like Arovane and Boards of Canada) or in a near-catatonic state of depression and in need of revitalizing juice.

Neko Case, Blacklisted (2002)   D
Loretta Lynnesque trifle - Case is more of a Canadian Man's Daughter than an alt-country superstar. "Deep Red Bells" is a killer single, though.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (2005)   B+
The lead singer's embellished delivery is sometimes a blessing, sometimes an obstacle, but that aside, the instrumentals are simply remarkable, and there are no less than six amazing songs on here. I've heard some say that it gets weaker the deeper you get into the album, which I don't see: if anything, the last three songs are its most remarkable moments.

Coldplay, X & Y (2005)   C+
I was always the first to defend these Brits from accusations of sounding too much like U2, but this release (after two fantastic albums) really does seem derivative (if there were any more Edge in some of the overzealous, hastily-written tracks, he could sue for copyright infringement) and with songwriting that's particularly weak (nothing like "Moses," "The Scientist," "Clocks," "Yellow," "Everything's Not Lost," "Amsterdam," etc. on here). Since I'm always one to find the good in the bad, this should prove to be an important model to follow, kids (so listen up): (1.) make sure your first two albums are good but allow for improvement, (2.) stay out of the tabloids, (3.) don't fuck celebrity actresses and (4.) try not to name your children after fruit.

Colleen, Everyone Alive Wants Answers (2003)   C
Hypnotic lullabies made digitally by a French gal, but because of its lo-fi repetition, it fades briskly outside of consciousness and becomes forgettable the minute it stops playing. Putting this in your car CD player while on medication and tired from a day's work is akin to suicide.

The Concretes, The Concretes (2003)   C+
Hoped for a slightly less snarky version of Rilo Kiley, and got a slightly less snarky version of Rilo Kiley ... though not much more. "Chico" is a nice little track and "Say Something New" has some pop bounce to it, but those are the highlights - in other words, it sounds to me like a take-it or leave-it disc.

Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Get Happy!! (1980)   B+
More knock-down, drag-out rock by Costello - though his vocals tend to be over embellished, there's a ridiculous consistency across the twenty or so tracks that's really something to marvel at.

David Cross, It's Not Funny (2004) [Comedy]
Sometimes it's just as scalding as his last album, with several classic deadpan moments (lowering the age of consent, Republicans supporting the white troops, Dennis Miller-as-court jester, playing poker with Scott Stapp).

David Cross, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! (2002) [Comedy]
Ruminations on the South, 9/11, homosexuals (with lots of "um"s and "so"s and "you know"s and "fuckin'" used as an adjective) are ho-hum, but he really hits his stride later, when he tackles President Bush, the priest scandals, Ricky Henderson's ego and war in general.

Daft Punk, Human After All (2005)   D-
Since when did Daft Punk turn into purveyors of endless droning drum monotony? Since when did they decide to start working with Stephen Hawking on their vocals? Didn't one of these guys actually make the unbelievable "Music Sounds Better With You?" Didn't both these guys put their heads together to make "One More Time?" Is the well tapped? Maybe the title says it all....

Dälek, Absence (2004)   C+
Ever since I heard the Anthrax-Public Enemy collaboration on "Bring the Noise" I've been in love with the idea of guitars and rap mixed together. Dälek's got the right idea on a good number of their tracks ("Images of .44 Casings," "Speak Volumes" and "Eyes to Form Shadows" are all excellent songs), but this album as a whole is a little too noisy for its own good, drowning out the absurdist poetry and grim mood and sounding more like a screeching train.

The Decemberists, Picaresque (2005)   D+
Humorless, awkwardly "literary" indie rock afflicted with a whiny tone and strings to indicate loneliness and other sad feelings - I mean, this is a group that has a song called "Eli, the Barrowboy" and refuses to rhyme "White Cliffs of Dover" with "bend her right over." Although not necessarily the band's fault, all this emo drivel reminds me of people I went to college with, had private guitar lessons with Chet Atkins and the only real thing in their lives to be sad about was if they dinged the doors of their Volvos on street meters.

Deerhoof, Apple O' (2003)   C+
After struggling with "Milk Man," I took a listen to this earlier release - it isn't any less shrill ("Panda Panda Panda," for example), but there's this amateurish appeal to it that I responded a little better to this time. Maybe they're a band you have to develop a taste for, like coffee or cigars....

Deerhoof, Milk Man (2004)   C-
Awww! How cute! A Japanese Elmo gets to sing over clacking, abrasive, rhythmless post punk! How's this for a future collaboration: William Hung with Sepultura! Wait for it.

The Ditty Bops, The Ditty Bops (2004)   D
Loretta Lynn, in a wheelchair and on a Morphine drip, could still kick these pomo girls' asses.

Ani DiFranco, Knuckle Down (2005)   B-
The first part of this album is considerably stronger than the second part, where Ani gets a bit to self-absorbed and the album meanders, though the girl needs to be applauded for her tenacity, independence and vocal ability. Admittedly, this is my first full exposure to her, so you might want to refer to someone more knowledgeable with her entire body of work before taking a serious listen.

Doves, Some Cities (2005)   D
I guess the ethereal qualities of "Lost Souls" and "The Last Broadcast" were but a passing fancy for the band, who are now content with choking the very life out of their own music and neglecting to write lyrics of any consequence. Nice fall from grace.

Editors, The Back Room (2005)   C-
Remember when everyone said that Interpol sounded like Joy Division? Well these folks, the Editors, decided that was absolute bullshit, so they made a double album of them sounding like Joy Division and with maybe a little Cure thrown in for good measure. And with two (unnecessary) discs full of this kind of thing, they've got more gloom than all the Paul Banks' in the world, though even Paul Banks himself would agree that "Bullets" is a damn fine track.

Electric Six, Señor Smoke (2005)   C-
Would be fine, I suppose, for breaking apart and including on mix tapes/CDs - you could use "Rock and Roll Evacuation" here and maybe "Dance Epidemic" there, but one after another after another ... the whole jokey concept wears thin. Disassemble at will.

Missy Elliott, The Cookbook (2005)   C-
I'm glad Missy's still empowered and all, but there's something off-putting about this latest album of hers. I think she's so respected that people hang on her every utterance, but when the utterances are so glaringly banal ("Partytime," "Mommy") and the guest appearances so carefully selected (why does Mike Jones have a career?), it makes you wonder. Or rather, it makes me happier to wonder than listen, since the final dish served by Missy & Co. is not as smooth as 'sizzurp.'

Enon, Believo! (2000)   B
Enon, High Society (2002)   C-
Enon, Hocus Pocus (2003)   C-
"Believo!" is the only one of these three - frankly art-damaged - albums I can get into since it's the most deranged yet addictive of them. Though that disc has a more 'consistent' sound than "High Society" or "Hocus Pocus," the latter two do have some of the best singles the band's ever done scattered throughout ("Pleasure and Privilege," "Disposable Parts," "Shave").

The Faint, Blank-Wave Arcade (1999)   C
80's synth lives on in short tracks filled with sexual tension: it's like Elvis Costello singing Trent Reznor covers over early Duran Duran. While that sounds appealing in theory, the resulting 29 minute mess is insubstantial.

The Fall, Hex Enduction Hour (1982)   D+
I'm sure during the old Thatcherite days everyone needed to let off some steam, but this discordant self-indulgence doesn't play well over two decades later; "Hip Priest," for example, is exhausting and pointless. Their anger feels forced and the songs are allowed to run in all sorts of directions, unlike the Sex Pistols who were economical and direct.

The Fall, The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country on the Click) (2003)   C-
Good ol' boy(s) still stuck in Repeat Mode, thinking that if you say the same thing over and over and over again (and letting your track run on and on) it takes on more meaning, but sadly, it doesn't. Learning by rote is good for multiplication, not politics. It's nice to know that age hasn't made his discontent any less ravaging, however.

Feist, Let It Die (2004)   C-
I'm sorry my Canadian Cutie, but just having one of the best voices around isn't enough - you still need to write non-lethargic songs I want to listen to. Particularly stupid: the disco-inspired "Inside and Out."

The Fiery Furnaces, EP (2005)   F
He-he-here they go again / Making a choppy album again / Changing styles mid-verse again / Using rhyming patterns out of children's books again / Here they go making me angry again.

The Fiery Furnaces, Gallowsbird's Bark (2003)   F
The dreck that started it all! Two particularly loathsome moments: "Don't Dance Her Down" and "Bow Wow."

Fischerspooner, Odyssey (2005)   C
Clunky beats accompany a nice sense of the absurdities of our time ("We Need a War"); too bad it isn't very good music, or even an album I'd want to listen to more than once.

Four Tet, Everything Ecstatic (2005)   C-
Look at Kieran. Look at Kieran play with ProTools. Good, Kieran! Good boy!

Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better (2005)   B
Whew! This is neither a debacle on a massive scale or a good definition of a "sophomore slump" nor is it the second coming, like "Ziggy Stardust" was to "Hunky Dory." I never expected them to follow up the self-titled masterpiece with another masterpiece, but I was fearing for the worst, I admit - "Do You Want To," isn't exactly "Take Me Out." Fear not, though: "Eleanor Put Your Boots On," "The Fallen" and "Well That Was Easy" are all strong and memorable.

The Futureheads, The Futureheads (2004)   C+
The layered vocals and pop bounce are certainly nice elements to this new album by yet another group of U.K. rockers, but why can't I shake from my head that they're just a displaced Blink 182 meets the Ramones with a little Clash tossed in? Maybe the songs are just too clipped for me to get 'into' - but at least the cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" is spirited.

Garbage, Bleed Like Me (2005)   D-
Remember when Shirley Manson and her talented band put together knockout songs like "I Think I'm Paranoid" and "Only Happy When It Rains" and "Stupid Girl" and "Medication" and "#1 Crush?" In other words, remember their first two albums? In this release - as well as its immediate predecessor, the terrible "Beautifulgarbage" - I can only hear shrug-worthy rehashes of past hits and tiresome moaning about lost love and endless tears and not even a "Cherry Lips" or two to get me through the rough patches.

Inara George, All Rise (2005)   D+
So you want to be my mistress, eh? Well sure, I can see this happening, but you have to assure for me that you'll (a.) stop repeating yourself, (b.) pick a genre and stick with it and (c.) throw away your poetry scrapbooks from your difficult teenage years.

Goldfrapp, Black Cherry (2003)   D+
Ms. Goldfrapp has serious trouble saying "no" to irritating Colecovision boops and Nintendo blips - the only time she transcends the electronica genre trappings is with the title track, which is a masterpiece of mechanical sensuality. But aside from "Black Cherry" the song - which is reminiscent of DJ Rap's "Good To Be Alive" - there isn't much on the disc that actually stirred me.

Gorillaz, Demon Days (2005)   D
It's hard to put into words how bad this album is, but when a talented wordsmith like MF Doom gets lost in the hokey production work and when Albarn reduces his own contribution to a few lines here and there and the drums-and-noises fail to excite, what's left? The animated videos are neat, but in pure auditory terms, I'd rather listen to my Grandmother nag me to dry the dishes ... which I abhor doing, by the way (won't they dry naturally? isn't that what the goddamn air is for?).

The Go! Team, Thunder, Lightning, Strike (2004)   B+
Since no one else thought of adding cheerleader chants to a nonstop guitars-and-drums assault, it took this tongue-in-cheek group to do it, and the key single off this disc, "Huddle Formation," is a masterpiece. The rest of the eclectic tracks are not nearly as refined as that truly incredible moment - one that actually makes me start jumping around the room - but a few come close, namely "Junior Kickstart" and the sarcastic country western-inspired "Everyone's a VIP to Someone."

Grandaddy, Excerpts From the Diary of Todd Zilla [EP] (2005)   D
I'm not sure who this Todd Zilla is, but I'm certain nothing in his bi-polar (half frantic, half mellow) diary is worth singing about. If you really need a diary to make an album out of, did you ever consider Samuel Pepys?

Adam Green, Gemstones (2005)   F
He's like the guy at the party that you can't shut up and drinks all the Capt. Morgan's - when he picks up a guitar and does improv, everyone starts looking around for the brave soul to gently tell him to stop. But he can't stop. He just can't.

Jonny Greenwood, The Soundtrack to Bodysong (2003)   B-
Guitarless soundtrack album from one of our best guitarists - he's also one of our best musicians, period, which is very much evident in the eleven eclectic tracks. The pieces work well on their own, but I imagine they're even more extraordinary with the accompanying images (like Glass' work for filmmaker Godfrey Reggio).

Handsome Boy Modeling School, White People (2004)   B-
Joke set-up from two super-talents (Dan the Automator and Prince Paul, both playing high-rollers - a send-up of P-Diddy dominated high-glam rap lifestyles) has some hilarious moments (straight from Father Guido Sarducci and Tim Meadows), a few outstanding contributions (Del shows up for "The World's Gone Mad," the Wu shows up in pieces) and is quite fun, like Prince Paul's "Politics of the Business." I don't think the chugging guitars of "The Hours" works in the midst of all this, but it is a pastiche, after all....

Heikki, 2 (2005)   D+
I knew Sweden was cold, but I had no clue that it made budding musicians dream of the American Southern Rock scene of the 70s, you know, with all the accordions and wheat-fields and tambourines. They take a break from the mellow to actually bang on the drums for "Give It Back To You" before returning to the tundra with their banjos and yodeling or whatever it is they're doing.

Hood, Outside Closer (2005)   C-
Whenever he's glitching up the works ("The Lost You") it sounds like a spooky dream but when it's just vocals and a little bit of background noise the thing comes across as Badly Drawn Boy screwing around with Cakewalk. Can't help it: I'm just not impressed at all. (Sorry Ellie.)

Iron & Wine, Woman King [EP] (2005)   B-
Bouncier and more carefree than "Our Endless Numbered Days," I can foresee them moving away from the sadcore/emo rut so many bands are stuck in to a more Rusted Root-inspired sound.

Ivy, In the Clear (2005)   C+
Upbeat pop-rock record that took me be surprise - at least it's easier to listen to than the other Ivy discs stacked up in my room. It's not bound to change music by any means, but I've heard far worse this year.

The Jackson 5, ABC (1970)   B
Arguably more valuable as a example of what happens when you become so famous when you're young that your childhood is ruined as a result; it stands up musically, but the Jackson 5-as-Symbol of America's fame obsession and the ensuing pitfalls is its lasting legacy. "I may be a little fellow, but my heart is as big as Texas."

Jesu, Jesu (2005)   D
Monotony du jour that's supposed to play out like a grungier Isis with only a slight death metal influence (they break out the growls for "Man/Woman") but makes a very impatient Me hold down the fast forward button through the 75 minutes of what's essentially feedback. I'm just not feeling the rippling waves they're serving up - my system is flooded with Dramamine and impatience.

Jack Johnson, In Between Dreams (2005)   B
Jack sends out some romantic wishes for those still willing to try for romance and some honest rock & roll for people still interested in simplistic ideas. There's no fronting, no posing, no woe-is-me (though there is Johnson trying out non-English in the mercifully short "Belle"). John Mayer would stab his sister in the throat for an album like this.

Kaiser Chiefs, Employment (2005)   B
I think what was throwing me off the first few times I listened to this were the first two tracks - "Everyday I Love You Less and Less" and "I Predict a Riot," which are truly repulsive faux-punk songs (like bad Ramones imitations) - but once I got past those, the rest of the album is surprisingly addictive and tremendous fun. "You Can Have It All" has the best hook on the album, "Born To Be A Dancer" has the best obscure sexual reference ("... I lay back and think of England") and at the very moment I'm trying this, I'm singing to myself, "Na na na na naaa." Bravo, lads.

Kid Koala, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (2000)   B
Mindboggling turntable record that's almost as good as a lot of DJ Shadow, DJ Q-Bert and Coldcut's work - its only key fault is its defiant randomness. More importantly, though, it's a fun album, built for multiple listens and layered with loving care.

Kid Loco, Jesus Life for Children Under 12 Inches (1999)   C+
Loco's re-think of the Pastels' "The Viaduct" is gorgeous and spacey but other times it sounds like he's phoning it in to buy new equipment (namely on the Kat Onoma, Gak Sato and Tommy Hools bits). He's backed in a corner with Pulp's "A Little Soul," which happens to be one of the tracks on "This Is Hardcore" that shouldn't have been touched, like, ever.

Kid Loco, A Grand Love Story (1997)   B
Lovely, minimal electronic album that spreads out its samples and keeps momentum; no real 'singles' to speak of - it's just a slow, barely noticeable 55 minute dip in the swimming pool when you should be picking the kids up from school.

Kings of Convenience, Riot on an Empty Street (2004)   C
Didn't know any Simon and Garfunkel cover bands were still out there, but I guess I was wrong - at least they get it right on "I'd Rather Dance With You" and whenever they let Leslie Feist have a say ("The Build-Up").

Kings of Leon, Aha Shake Heartbreak (2005)   B
Hooray to Kings of Leon for (a.) sounding like a band you'd nurse your beer at the local dive to keep listening to, for (b.) sounding a little like a funkier Randy Newman jamming with Lynyrd Skynyrd and for (c.) the kind of sleazy sexual innuendo that makes me smile ("I'd pop myself in your body / I'd come all over your party / but I'm soft").

Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek, Reflection Eternal (2000)   B-
I'm not always in love with Kweli's overly philosophical pronouncements or DJ Hi-Tek's beats, but I can't disagree with the admirably positive spin they put on all matters of life. Feels like an advice column for the underemployed and unloved (or even just the lost); "Move Somethin'" is not a suggestion, it's a demand.

LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem (2005)   B+
From the opening track - "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" - all the way through both discs, this is so overwhelmingly impressive, with songs you can dance to, songs you can sing to, tambourines, electronics, a great sense of humor, and lasting appeal. Do your part and inform your friends and neighbors about this album not by talking about it, or posting a review on your web page or blog, but by putting the speakers of your ultra-pricey Bose system out the window of your overheated apartment and not answering the phone or doorbell when the idiots riot. Social disturbance has never been so infectiously fun.

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, The Tyranny of Distance (2001)   C-
Return to Supertramp-era straight-forward rock - it's half-decent when keeping away from clumsy guitar loops, the endless march of "Parallel or Together?" or when Ted tries to exercise his vocal range, like on "Stove by a Whale."

Jamie Lidell, Multiply (2005)   C-
Lidell's a 21st century Rick Astley: if you didn't already know he was white, you'd be convinced he was black. His voice is distinguished, but the songs are little more than Jackson 5/Motown-meets-computer mash-ups. Leave soul to the soulful.

Low, The Great Destroyer (2005)   C-
I think this would make a good instrumental record, but with terrible delivery and truly awful lyrics, it's a constant struggle between the beauty and the agony (my vote for the year's worst line: "Tonight you will be mine / Tonight the monkey dies!"). Headphones make it easier to enjoy the fuzzy guitars and keyboards, so if you absolutely must listen to this, get out the iPod.

Stephen Malkmus, Face the Truth (2005)   C-
I never really got into Pavement and Malkmus' solo work commands even less of my attention - I wouldn't go listen to him if he were playing across the street (and should he, indeed, find himself across the street and making a racket, I would probably call the cops). He plays around with the sounds and throws in some sparklers and cheap do-dads, but the album lacks any kind of long-term appeal.

Maritime, Glass Floor (2004)   B-
Moody album that caught be by surprise: for all the self-conscious indieness of it, there are some stunning tracks that resonate long after the disc is over (thanks, perhaps, to clever hooks), including "King of Doves," "Souvenirs," "If All My Days Go By" and the touching final song, "Human Beings."

Medeski Martin & Wood, End of the World Party (Just In Case) (2004)   C-
I'm sorry, but I don't get the correlation between the title's reference to Bret Easton Ellis and the generic jazz Medeski, Martin and Wood primed for an easy listening, low-on-the-dial radio station. If it's really a party for the end of the world, where's the donkey and the strippers and the crunk? Does oblivion really sound like the soundtrack to Napoleon Dynamite?

M83, Before the Dawn Heals Us (2005)   F
Cheesy, endless parade of sloppy 'songs' that makes the previous album look like the paramount of electronic delicacy - it's synthesizer music for the potential remake of "Flash Gordon." All the new-age sounds, dopey speech samples and pinging piano notes make me think I should be burning incense and wearing a stained tunic while giving away all of my earthly possessions. Or maybe I'll just burn this disc instead.

Metric, Live It Out (2005)   D
This is girl-punk so vapid I forgot about it the very instant it stopped playing - at least with the Donnas or Sleater-Kinney, there's something to ponder after a listen or two.

M.I.A., Arular (2005)   C-
Lots of yelping and pulsating beats - though she cites Peaches as an inspiration, she has none of the humor or originality. The 'politics' are just a ruse for journalists to latch onto and the mythmaking (freedom fighter father, homeland troubles) is supposed to add weight to this Sri Lankan C + C Music Factory. You people act like you never heard dance music before....

M.I.A. and Diplo, Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1 (2004)   C-
As I've written before (in other places) I don't find M.I.A. that compelling a singer (and she's even less charismatic in person), so Diplo's the real shining moment here, borrowing from the Bangles and Eurythmics, giving everyone the platform to work off. The politics are almost a joke, but people take her seriously, illustrating a basic human principle: what someone says about his/her own country tends to carry less weight than an outsider saying the same exact thing and in broken English.

Moby, Hotel (2005)   D-
When your singing ability and songwriting are sub-par compared to your electronic arrangements, why push the vocals and lyrics to the foreground? If your Achilles Heel is that you have grotesque feet, for example, would you wear sandals all day to show them off? How long can you pine for love when models are on your speed dial? I bought the isolationist mentality in the hotel corridors of Lost in Translation; this is a Motel 6 with the sinks filled with rust.

Mogwai, Government Commissions (The BBC Sessions) (1996-2003)   A-
Collection of some of Mogwai's live performances - as expected, their music is as gorgeous and haunting live as it is on their albums. Good to hear those favorites again ("Like Herod," "Hunted by a Freak," "Superheroes of BMX"); good to hear John Peel's voice introducing them again.

Mos Def, The New Danger (2004)   D
What, it took until now for Mos to realize the rap industry is run by major corporations and big labels not to mention a marketing device to get kids obsessed with brand names and identify with thug lifestyles? Didn't Public Enemy go over that close to a decade ago? (And isn't it contradictory that this complainer was just on TV selling an SUV?) Also, lose the guitars. Are you making a blues record, a rock record, a rap record or what?

My Morning Jacket, Z (2005)   B-
The major highlight comes right at the beginning with "Wordless Chorus," which builds to Motown-meets-Afghan Whigs-like greatness - the rest is merely good, with a few of the tracks standing out ("Anytime" and the bluesy "Dondante"). Like the equally spotty but still young Ambulance LTD, they can only get better.

The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema (2005)   C
Sometimes I have to get right to the point: it did nothing for me. I'm not sure what I'm not 'responding to,' since individual albums by its members (A.C. Newman, Destroyer, Neko Case) have more of an effect on my ears than this group and their three albums. There's a surplus of talent, but it's not taking me anywhere I haven't been before, and at least on the solo records you get a sense of their individual identities. As with the Shins, also critically slobbered on, there's a lack of heart that I need in my music; as for the matinee, I'd rather go with Kapranos and company....

Nightmares on Wax, Mind Elevation (2002)   D
Feels downright inert compared to chill-out acts like Kruder and Dorfmeister or Fila Brazillia; the R&B segments are ineffectual when placed next to an average group like the Supreme Beings of Leisure. Frills-free, unoriginal and unsatisfying.

Okkervil River, Black Sheep Boy (2005)   D+
"Hi. We're a mopey band from America. As you can hear, we're really depressed about a lot of things, which is good because that's all the rage with the kids these days. Just when you think you can't stand more dumb lyrics and overdone metaphors that would get us Cs in a creative writing class, I, as lead singer, have this awful tendency of making my voice crack to suggest pain and insecurity (and I do it a lot so you really get the idea). Also, our songs move at roughly half the speed of your normal song like those roundabout country stars we emulate so much - but one distinction between what we do and Nashville is that we don't beat up our girlfriends or drink too much. When you're emo you've gotta be all sensitive."

Of Montreal, The Sunlandic Twins (2005)   D+
Kevin Barnes isn't sure if he wants to ape Stereolab, T. Rex, ABBA or all three simultaneously; it is quite clear, however, that he wants mass appeal, a sort-of Feel Good HappyLand for the ears. But honestly, should we pretend we don't exist and are in Antarctica? Is "October Is Eternal" intended to be the soundtrack to a scary ride at DisneyLand? Can "The Party's Crashing Us" be any more grating?

One Be Lo, S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. (2005)   B+
Though I'm not the most fervent rap fan, this has to be one of the best albums of the genre I've heard in a long time - One Be Lo (formerly OneManArmy of Binary Star) should be regarded in the same way as Talib Kweli and Prince Paul. This album seemingly covers it all, and then some - it throws the skits away, uses samples with care, and the production work is top notch.

Out Hud, S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. (2002)   B-
Unabashedly noisy and frankly discombobulated, this is the best single work I've heard from Out Hud - it also has their two best tracks on it ("Dad, There's a Little Phrase Called Too Much Information" and "Hair Dude, You're Stepping on My Mystique"). Even at this point - early on - they're not sure when to end the songs, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Out Hud, Let Us Never Speak Of It Again (2005)   C
Dance album that's not as catchy as the stuff put out by their brothers in !!! (Chk-Chk-Chk) with that infectious groove of theirs as well as frontman Nic Offer's truly inane pronouncements. It's almost like Orbital's B-side material, technically sound but also not very long lasting - I kept waiting for the memorable loops and gentle shifts in sound to bring me 'into' the music, but they never formed.

Pedro the Lion, Achilles Heel (2004)   C+
I think it was because I disliked "Control" so much that I went into this expecting the worst; the lead singer's voice - and maybe it's just me - is a lot more subdued on this particular disc, and the instrumentals are given more prominence. I'm still a long way from giving them a glowing recommendation - the lyrics need a boost, for example - though I will be checking back with them in the future.

Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)   B+
This is the album that not only made Phair a coffee shop name-to-know, but is also regarded as one of the best indie efforts of the 90's. I'm very close to sharing that sentiment (I think it's a tad unfocused musically though certainly ballsy), and in particular am drawn to the disarming drollness of "Fuck and Run," the beauty of "Johnny Sunshine" and the hooky-heavy, straightforward rock of "Never Said." It gives you a little of everything, and I'm big on sampling.

Prefuse 73, Surrounded By Silence (2005)   C
Glitch-'em-up barrage with a wide array of collaborators - El-P to GZA to The Books - is not the most unpleasant electronic record, but parts simply flat line, like I'm listening to a broken radio. It's Kid606 and Matmos on an off-day.

The Quantic Soul Orchestra, Stampede (2003)   C+
Sometimes sounds like Jethro Tull, sometimes like Diana Ross - I admire the craft, and wouldn't mind it as background fodder if I were having a Belgian beer at, oh, Monk's Cafe, but to actually place in my CD player and give a listen to again doesn't seem to be in the cards.

The Rapture, Echoes (2003)   C
They generate a lot of noise and gusto, but it's all steam, really: the lyric sheet for all the songs could fit on the palm of your hand, and the few things they do say don't resonate. I'm not asking for Shakespeare's sonnets or William Blake or even Dylan, but you could give me more than this.

Ratatat, Ratatat (2004)   C-
"Seventeen Years" and "El Pico" are two fantastic opening tracks, but after that, it starts sucking wind. Why? I suppose they tried too hard to stick with the same formula, and the following eight tracks are only slight variations on the same basic sound.

Max Richter, The Blue Notebooks (2004)   B
Gorgeous - albeit a wee repetitive - album based on Kafka's The Blue Notebooks - Richter even taps Tilda Swinton to recite some choice bits of the text. It's lovely in a minimalistic way and not as depressing as someone like Ryuichi Sakamoto (thank your lucky stars).

RJD2, Dead Ringer (2002)   D
It's certainly not a dead ringer for either DJ Shadow or Kid Koala, let's just say that. You've got your uninspired beats to go with your uninspired rhymes and your side dish of obscure samples. Super droid R2D2 has more impressive bells and whistles.

Röyksopp, The Understanding (2005)   D+
Let me ask you this: does anybody really have to go back in time to try to recapture the same groove Orbital was doing back in the early 90's ("Alpha Male") or even Depeche Mode-era 80's ("Follow My Ruin")? At least with Annie and Fischerspooner you get a sense of humor with your robotic performance art.

The Rosebuds, Birds Make Good Neighbors (2005) [EP]   B
This is some astonishing stuff, with the outfit's versitility exhibited in the form of dream-pop ("Blue Bird"), a good old fashioned sing-a-long ("Shake Our Tree") or that plain-old catchy rock and roll we've come to know and love ("Hold Hands and Fight").

The Rosebuds, Unwind (2005) [EP]   B-
The centerpiece of this is the title song, which is so amazingly good you'd swear it was used in a commercial advertising some flashy silver car skidding along the surf. The rest sounds like kooky renditions of 60's songs dressed up in designer jeans and taken out on the town. Take it from me: they don't sound like this live (in concert, the Rosebuds like to shatter your skull open with noise), so find yourself a copy (or buy it from them when you see them ... and you should see them).

Safety Scissors, Tainted Lunch (2005)   D-
Casio plus off-key singing plus corny puns plus goofy sound effects like they use on bad early-morning radio programs? I know why they're called Safety Scissors - anything sharper and I'd stab them with it.

Saint Etienne, Asleep At The Wheels Of Steel (2002)   B-
Mellow, atmospheric mini album from the typically dance-oriented Brits; this suggests chill-out acts like K&D or even Thievery Corporation.

Scooter, The Stadium Techno Experience (2003)   D-
Really cheesy techno that sounds like it was scored for a soccer game - there's even simulated crowd noise in case you forgot what the point of making this was. "I say yes / you say no / baby let's roll?" Europeans party too damn much.

Sigur Rós, Takk... (2005)   B-
Clearly takes a nose-dive towards the end, where the album length (over an hour) starts to reveal the cracks in the chassis - I don't know about most listeners, but the shrieking/cooing/yelping and defiantly downbeat atmosphere stop being entrancing for me after a while and make me want to reach for, say, something with actual words. At the beginning, though, they are definitely some strong tracks, especially with the single "Glósóli."

Six Organs of Admittance, School of the Flower (2005)   D
I kept waiting for them to start going "OHM" to continue the whole 'spiritual' theme. Was it recorded in the woods? Was everyone wearing cloaks? Did the ladies shave their legs? Was there an active decision to, every so often, layer obnoxious screeching over the folk music? We have one Ghost and I'd prefer we didn't have another.

Sleater-Kinney, All Hands on the Bad One (2000)   C+
"Youth Decay" is a spurt of trembling fury about weight problems and "You're No Rock 'N Roll Fun" is infectious, but like "The Hot Rock," they're trying too hard to be Musicians (capital M required). It's like going to a Slayer concert and hearing nothing but Pink Floyd covers - you want "Reign In Blood," but they've got "Comfortably Numb."

Sleater-Kinney, Call the Doctor (1996)   B
Admirable - though gruff - early effort after their self-titled debut; there's plenty of energy in the playing, if not the refinement that would come in with later albums and with their top singles.

Sleater-Kinney, The Hot Rock (1999)   C
Easily the girls' worst moment, one that takes them away from what they started with "Call the Doctor" - it's trying for a more "pensive" sound that goes against their basic need to rock out.

Sleater-Kinney, One Beat (2002)   B+
The most helter-skelter I've heard Sleater-Kinney, like they wrote it fresh after breaking up with their significant others and wanted to tongue-lash them on record. It's also their most cohesive and addictive work, with "Oh!" and "Sympathy" stomping in the foreground.

Sleater-Kinney, The Woods (2005)   B-
I really like the fact that the older the ladies in Sleater-Kinney get the more confrontational they've become - though this album suffers once in a while from a lack of creativity, the level of energy compensates. Corin Tucker-Bangs and Carrie Brownstein know how to work together, don't they?

Smog, A River Ain't Too Much To Love (2005)   D+
If a metronome and a never-ending lullaby fell in love and reproduced, they would make this album. No, I'm sorry, the idea of a metronome and a lullaby putting their organs together is way too fascinating a mental image to describe this. Is not putting me to sleep too much to ask?

Snow Patrol, Final Straw (2003)   B-
With a name like "Snow Patrol," you'd think their music would be icy and unapproachable - which you could often say about their countrymen Arab Strap - but this outfit knows enough to keep from being too obvious. In fact, I'd say one of their faults is their trying too hard to get clever and overload their material - for example, one of their best songs is a stripped-down cover of the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" which turns the feisty original into something more delicate and romantic.

Spalding Rockwell, Kate (2004)   D
I'm not trying to rain on anyone's little shindig or anything like that, but the majority of bad-to-mediocre synth-driven music from the 80's is something we're trying to walk away from, not embrace in an 'ironic' fashion. We need less Soft Cell and Flock of Seagulls, more Talking Heads (in The Arcade Fire) and Jesus & Mary Chain (in the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club).

Spoon, Gimme Fiction (2005)   B-
Plenty of guitar shrieks and wry lyrics in the beginning before trailing off at the end with three seemingly interminable songs. They're still one of the finest indie rock bands working today, and flowing with talent, but they're going to have to try harder to surmount "Girls Can Tell."

Bruce Springsteen, Devils & Dust (2005)   B
Two of the biggest Bruce fans I know could not bring themselves to recommend this because both feel it's too depressing (one actually stopped it about half-way through); I can certainly understand where they're coming from (this isn't "Born to Run"), but I also belong in the camp that thinks "Streets of Philadelphia" is one of the greatest songs of the 90's. I'd even venture to say this is his best album since "Born in the U.S.A." - it's a sober account of failure and redemption told in bits and pieces, kissing your eyes when it's not making you cry. It will undoubtedly bring you down if you're not in the right frame of mind, but I happen to find the man inspiring.

Stereo Total, Do the Bambi (2005)   C
I'm a little baffled as to what the title refers to - is it a new dance? is it a new mixed drink? should I take it literally? (are they advocating deerfucking?) - but that could also be due to the constantly changing languages (French, German, English). Although songs like "Orange Mecanique" (with its revised Wendy/Walter Carlos Moog sound and reference to Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange") and "Cinemania" (name check!) are exactly my idea of musical fun, the album leaves me cold overall - it's too anamorphic and inconsistent (unlike "My Melody" - no matter how strange that disc got, it never totally derailed).

Stereo Total, My Melody (1999)   B
An overindulgent and often squawky album, it's also creative to a fault: catchy, musically all-over-the-map, hyperactive, silly/stupid ("In/Out" - a Gainsbourg cover!) and sometimes gorgeous ("Joe le Taxi"). Not to all tastes - I can only stand them in bits and pieces - but when they're at their best, it's very enjoyable listening.

The Stills, Logic Will Break Your Heart (2003)   B-
Above average indie rock - its most impressive moments ("Lola Stars and Stripes," "Changes Are No Good") compensate for its Interpol-esque stylized gloom (Interpol being but one of the bands they're modeled after) and some of the more tedious sections.

The Stooges, The Stooges (1969)   B-
Here's the problem: out of 35 minutes of album time, 10 of them are devoted to the abysmal "We Will Fall," an amazingly dull and monotonous song - it's so irritating it almost single-handedly ruins the album. That track aside, the rest of this is a punk goldmine, particularly the fuzzy "I Wanna Be Your Dog."

The Subjects, The Subjects (2005) [EP]   A-
This EP gives off the same blistering, couldn't-stop-us-if-you-tried feeling the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first release did; there are two brilliant moments on here: the constantly morphing "Hounds of War" and the chugging, Strokes-esque "Seems To Me." If what I'm reading is correct, the band consists of two teachers and two students - why can't any of the kids I know jam like this? Oh wait, I don't know how to play guitar....

Tegan and Sara, If It Was You (2002)   C-
To create a movie analogy, this is "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" compared to the more mature, more collegiate "So Jealous." What a difference two years make - not only did they hone their sound, they also must have had their hearts broken a few times.

Tegan and Sara, So Jealous (2004)   B
Solid pop album that has plenty of clever hooks and changes the pace up enough so as not to bore - it's a studiously crafted, purposely commercial but ultimately endearing work. What's especially important is that I got the sense that the songs came out of experience, not an ubiquitous songwriting factory.

They Might Be Giants, The Spine (2005)   B-
Music's answer to Bert & Ernie have made one of the better joke-pop records of late - certainly better than Weezer - starting with the cheeky "Experimental Film" and moving on to "Bastard Wants to Hit Me" and "Au Contraire." They really need to stop with the robot voices, though. I'm dead serious about that.

Thievery Corporation, Cosmic Game (2005)   C+
Has the same chill-out, ride-the-current vibe of their past records, only it's less startling this time around - not even the plethora of contributors can grant the album any kind of distinction. There are a few really nice contributions from David Byrne and the Flaming Lips, and it's better than "The Richest Man in Babylon," but never eased my mind like "The Mirror Conspiracy" or their exceptional remix work. Also, put the sitars away.

Thunderbirds Are Now!, Justamustache (2005)   C+
Although I don't generally like it when music critics compare every new band to every other band, these fellows can best be described as The Go! Team meets The Killers. They're not as good as either, but it's a nice effort - it has a lot of bounce although it doesn't always know when to let up (and is reticent to change gears every once in a while).

Tilly and the Wall, Wild Like Children (2004)   D+
... More like the children of Belle and Sebastian. Here's what I thought of this in a few sentences: After listening to the album the first time, I forgot to write a mini review for it. The next day, not remembering what the band sounded like, I listened to part of the album again and quickly turned it off to listen to something else. Sorry, Tilly.

Tokyo Sex Destruction, Black Noise Is the New Sound! (2004)   D
Standard issue garage rock: two or three minute tracks raced through like recording a album was all about finishing first. Hey guys, you left behind your good friends Songwriting and Originality!

Tsuji Ayano, Cover Girl (2004)   C+
Comprehension is an understandable problem when she's singing in Japanese, but when she gets the Engrish out, I want to scream, "No! Stop! Please!" There's a lot of ukulele and Tsuji's voice is delicate, but while I like simplicity, I find myself waiting for the big time orchestra to show up and really get the strings and horns going. Parts are fantastic, parts are country, parts are simply bleh.

22-20s, 22-20s (2004)   C
The chugging fury of "Such a Fool" is really the oddball moment of the album, which tries for introspection but is too busy putting on the poseur act. The blues-inspired slide guitar sections and painfully stupid lyrics are obvious deficits when the band isn't truly in the spirit of things (two hearty exceptions: "22 Days," "Shoot Your Gun"). And if you guys can't wake up for the thrill of it all, why should I?

Various, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Soundtrack (2004)   D+
Wes to himself: "Okay, now I know I did the BritRock thing in past movies ... but I've just got to get Mothersbaugh back, but then get Bowie, oh, oh, and this guy to sing Bowie in another language. I'm so precocious!" [he then stares at his image in the mirror for two hours]

Weezer, Make Believe (2005)   D
I guess the only real blessing to this odious little condemnation of Californian Living is that Rivers is more or less taking cheap shots at his core demographic: indie twentysomethings. Not even the sound of his discontent, however, provides enough of a distraction from the sound of the nails being slowly and meticulously pounded into his irony-lined casket.

The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan (2005)   D
Who am I to kvetch about experimentation, but when you go the direction Wilco did with "A Ghost is Born" and make me wonder whether it's so awful it's a joke or so awful it's supposed to be good, all that nasty thinking distracts me from the music itself ... which is awful, by the way. I do like Meg's advice in "Passive Manipulation" ... but as to what her brother (who's now a little bit more country than rock and roll) is getting at ... I haven't a clue.

The Who, Live At Leeds (1970 / 1995 Re-issue)   B+
Of all the bands I've ever wanted to see live ... these guys are up there, and this album proves it. Cuts through some of my favorites a little too quickly ("My Generation," for one), but still powerful.

Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)   B+
From the Animal Collective/Wilco school of cracking voices comes this band with a pretty remarkable debut, certainly one of the best albums of the year. It doesn't have the stand-out moments some other bands did on their first LPs (The Killers, Interpol, the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), but the sound is definitely consistent and leaves room to grow musically. It's addictive without being overpowering, emotional without being self-pitying and confident without the swagger.

The Wrens / The Five Mod Four, Split EP (2002) [EP]   C-
It doesn't take a person of insight or a lot of contemplation to realize this is not the best material by either outfit. The Wrens come off particularly listless, like it's a late night, it's snowing, their amps aren't working and they just want to go to bed.

Xiu Xiu, A Promise (2003)   C
Actually quite chilling when Jamie Stewart starts mumbling cryptic phrases into the microphone (like in the alcohol-induced "Ian Curtis Wishlist") or the group turns to minimalism, and less so when they dabble with shrill discord, like bored engineers playing with buttons. "Fabulous Muscles" (2004) showed the group looking for a more 'mainstream' sound, but it's also a much more accomplished - and consistent - work.

Live Acts Caught, or: Why Yes, I Do Leave My House At Times

  March 19, 2005: !!! (Chk-Chk-Chk), Haverford College, Haverford, PA

  March 20, 2005: M.I.A. with Hollertronix and Spank Rock, Ukrainian American Citizens Association, Philadelphia, PA

  May 1, 2005: MC Chris with Chromelodeon and Porktamer, The First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, PA

  June 1, 2005: Matthew Herbert, Jenny Arnau, Robert Stillman's Horses, Flying and The Subjects, Sin-é, New York City

  November 6, 2005: Nellie McKay with Bob Dorough, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA

Singles of the Year: !!!: "Take Ecstasy With Me," Animal Collective: "Grass," Antony & The Johnsons: "Hope There's Someone," Fiona Apple: "Red Red Red," Babyshambles: "Fuck Forever," Bedtime for Toys: "6 x 9," Brendan Benson: "Cold Hands (Warm Heart)," The Bravery: "No Rings on These Fingers," British Sea Power: "Like a Honeycomb," Broken Social Scene: "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)," Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: "Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood," Coldplay: "Speed of Sound," Editors: "Bullets," Giant Drag: "This Isn't It," Goldfrapp: "Number 1," The Harlem Shakes: "Sickos," Jack Johnson: "Good People," Junior Senior: "Itch U Can't Skratch," Kings of Leon: "Soft," LCD Soundsystem: "Tribulations," Louis XIV: "Finding Out True Love Is Blind," The Most Serene Republic: "Content Was Always My Favorite Colour," My Morning Jacket: "Wordless Chorus," The National: "Mr. November," The Research: "I Love You, But...," The Stag Party: "Rachel (My Dear)," The Subjects: "Hounds of War," Thievery Corporation with David Byrne: "The Heart's a Lonely Hunter," Wolf Parade: "I'll Believe Anything"