Favorite Things ~
Zoar ~ Clouds Without Water.
The crowning achievement of this group’s young career. On their third album, Zoar is joined by such guests as Matt Johnson (The The), Brendan Perry (Dead Can Dance) and the Masai People of Lake Natron, Tanzania. Weighty issues are tackled here: the unobtainability of happiness through material pursuit, the horror of human disconnect, the finite nature of humanity. Because of the sheer variety of styles represented here, the album demands the listener’s attention, refusing to be played as background music. Reminiscent at times of Nicole Blackman, Elijah’s Mantle, and the Heavenly Voices compilations. Truly alternative music for alternative listeners.
E Nomine ~ Die Prophezeiung ~ Klassik Edition.
Teutonic, dramatic, majestic and magnificent. Imagine a collaboration between Enigma, Brainbug, Goethes Erben and the cast of Carmina Burana and you’re almost there. The Klassik edition, including the German Pop Orchestra, is the one to get; the disk is also available in Pop, DVD and Remastered Editions. German vocals, both male and female, are accented by bursts of Latin choirs. Lyrics are inspired by movies and mythology, and address the grand themes of life and death, sin and salvation, judgment and Armageddon. Absolutely stunning.
Postal Service ~ Give Up.
A side project conceived by members of Death Cab for Cutie and Dntel, greater than the sum of its parts. Despite the melancholy lyrics, a sunny disposition runs throughout the album, Thank the upbeat, eighties-style delivery, welded to a bed of light electronica. No other album could brighten one’s mood with such cleverness.
Rachel’s ~ Systems/Layers.
Originally conceived as a theatre piece, this album incorporates “love letters” from the band’s fans in the form of some mighty strange samples, which have been artfully integrated in the mix. Spoken words drift in and out of the haze of piano and stringed instruments. The album fits under the category of “modern classical,” yet is also recommended for fans of improvised jazz. A calm, confident, mature release.
Magnet ~ On Your Side.
A thoroughly British sensibility permeates this disk; wry lyrics are wedded to tender backbeats, gentle piano, swirling guitar and soaring strings. On a couple occasions an electronic influence works its way toward the fore. Somewhat similar to the softer, more accessible side of Radiohead, yet superior to their recent output.
Various Artists ~ Solid Steel Presents the Herbaliser.
Hands down, the mixtape of the year. A smooth blend of hip-hop, funk, soul and spoken samples, with a decidedly anti-war bent. As good as Coldcut’s “Journeys by DJ” and DJ Shadow’s “Brainfreeze,” and more consistent than the Herbaliser’s original material. The best driving music in recent memory.
Lamb ~ Between Darkness and Wonder.
While Lamb’s previous albums have been known for their standout tracks, this fourth release works best as a whole. The edge is still there, but the accessibility factor has been raised. Thank the exposure on “Six Feet Under!”
Calexico ~ Feast of Wire.
Mariachi music, tailor-made for border crossings. Americana and chill meet in the land of desperados, then kick back their boots for a long summer siesta.
Murder by Death ~ Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left Of Them?
The devil has come to town, and the saloon is full; nobody cares to stand against him. A concept album worth its execution, kind of like Tom Waits joining Godspeed! You Black Emperor.
Worm Is Green ~ Automagic.
The latest export from the land of Bjork and Mum. Broken beats, plaintive vocals and a narcotic-influenced cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
Evanescence, “Missing.” Please, please forgive me, but I won’t be home again.
The Innocence Mission, “Look For Me As You Go By.” Don’t see me only as I am, but see me how I long to be.
Sarah McLachlan, “Answer.” Cast me gently into morning, for the night has been unkind.
Lamb, “Till the Clouds Clear.” What you gonna do when the storm takes over?
Android Lust, “Unbeliever.” I feel afraid yet hopeful, and I don’t care – I want to believe it’s possible.
LOTR: The Return of the King. An elegant ending to an ambitious trilogy.
Lost in Translation. Bill Murray’s world-weary masterpiece – ennui on parade.
The Eye. Stylish Japanese “Sixth Sense” – style thriller, US remake coming.
Northfork. Original, elusive Lynchian parable. Deliberate, precise, gorgeous.
Whale Rider. New Zealand folk tale with universal appeal. No hobbits tho.
Thirteen. Written by a teenager, for teenagers, who couldn’t see it – “R.”
Winged Migration. A labor of love with remarkable results – documentary.
Big Fish. Tim Burton’s cotton candy fable. Overly sentimental but appealing.
The Station Agent. A painter, a hot dog vendor and a dwarf become friends.
Bend It Like Beckham. Culture-clash comedy wins with innocence & energy.
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis. The story of a young woman growing up in Tehran during the Islamic revolution, presented in graphic novel format. Perhaps the best example of this medium since Maus.
Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. When an autistic lad discovers someone has stuck a fork in the next-door neighbor’s dog, he feels inclined to investigate. He knows what means, but don’t give him a :/. A charming tale, smartly told.
Craig Thompson, Blankets. A 582-page original graphic novel. That’s right. And it’s damn good too. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy draws comic. Also recommended: Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Lost at Sea.
Adam Nicholson, God’s Secretaries. Beautifully written historical narrative about the origins of the King James Bible.
Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Earth From Above: 366 Days. Incredible photos, paired with eye-opening mini-essays on the state of the world.
Happy New Year from Rich Allen (RevRichA@aol.com)!