Favorite Things ~
B.J. Nilsen ~ Fade to White (Touch).
Amazingly, the first new CD I bought in 2005 turned out to be the finest. January’s door had just opened, and here was the perfect soundtrack, one that remained in my CD player until the final frost and returned with the first flakes. “Fade to White” is an apt title for this masterpiece of sampled snow and devastating drones, whipping winds and white-out conditions. As the white noise builds to a tumult, the listener can
easily imagine being snowed-in; the final icicle-thin pings sound like salvation. After 15 years of pseudonyms (Morthound, Hazard), B.J. Nilsen is finally recording under his own name; his timing could not have been better.
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Sigur Ros ~ Takk (Geffen).
Encased in an embossed jacket reminiscent of a Little Golden Book, “Takk” (“Thanks”) is a glorious, triumphant declaration of musical prowess, a solid statement in the wake of the disappointing “( ).” What sets this album apart from its predecessor is an unwavering focus on structure. “Takk” alternates between peak and trough, punctuating pensive passages with multiple musical climaxes. As the album progresses, the listener is tugged willingly into its invented, Hopelandic world: a world of bursting seeds, roaring waterfalls and hues of irrepressible green.
Bell Orchestre ~ Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light (Rough Trade).
A major late-season surprise from Richard Reed Parry of The Arcade Fire, this all-instrumental side project easily surpasses its parent. The band’s phonic tools include “frozen cymbals, faraway organ, typewriter, twinkles and tunnels,” which produce an effervescent effect when melded with the more traditional violin, trumpet and omnipresent bells. The album’s most elegant fancy is its construction; the music wraps around from back to front, so that it can be played in a loop. The sound of sunlight ricocheting through concrete churches, “Recording a Tap ” is the most confident debut in ages.
Death Cab for Cutie ~ Plans (Atlantic).
Let’s forget The O.C. for a moment; Ben Gibbard and company have been making beautiful music together for nearly a decade, long before this major-label release. “Plans” melds the wryness of previous Death Cab releases with the loose exuberance of The Postal Service, trolling
the edges of a broken relationship in search of salvageable debris. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” and “Someday You Will Be Loved” are the highlights of an album that manages to find perspective beneath its driftwood, blue glass buried in its sand.
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Venetian Snares ~ Rossz Csillig Alatt Szuletett (Planet Mu).
After 11 albums of unrelenting breakcore, Aaron Funk visited Budapest’s Royal Palace and began to wonder what life would be like as a pigeon. This thankfully inspired him to learn trumpet and violin and produce the album of his career, a head-on collision of classical strings and drill ‘n’ bass. After this, he went back to normal.
65daysofstatic ~ One Time For All Time (Monotreme).
The grandeur of post-rock is wedded to the drama of electronica on this second outing from next-big-thing 65daysofstatic; kind of like Linkin Park meets Explosions In the Sky, but without vocals. Great get-out-of-bed music & just plain fun.
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Various Artists ~ Enzeit Bunkertracks (Alfa Matrix).
The most comprehensive compendium of hard industrial music on the market, “Enzeit Bunkertracks” is a Pandora’s box of pure darkness, 60 tracks spread over four CDs, limited to just 1666 copies and well worth hoarding.
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Desormais ~ Dead Letters to Lost Friends (intr.version).
This third offering from Ohio’s Tony Boggs (Joshua Treble) and Montreal’s Mitchell Akiyama is easily the duo’s finest to date. Their adventures in abstraction are now nestled in a straw bed of tape loops, live drums and makeshift melodies. A few tracks are even reminiscent of instrumental Joy Division/New Order. Another worthy release from an always-dependable label; a hat-tip to Dessa for the sleeve’s evocative design.
Lokai ~ 7 Million (Mosz).
The combination of digitally processed guitar and field recordings is now a popular electronic subgenre. Austrian Stefan Nemeth (Radian) is one of the scene’s most accomplished magicians; his work here with Florian Kmet is consistently engaging, a crackling collection of static whispers and
sonic pings that rattles and hums for a few tracks before entering the 13-minute maelstrom of “Chuuk.” This sonic centerpiece is a slow-building drone that crashes into cacophony before descending into a drizzle of motor and creak. An experiment that works.
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Murcof ~ Remembranza (Leaf).
This is a pure October album, haunted, barren and spare. The empty spaces allow us to hear each individual sound: classical snippets, slamming doors, wooden clocks. A startling post-industrial document from Fernando Corona, timeless & brilliantly unnerving.
Also Worth Note
Franz Ferdinand ~ You Could Have It So Much Better (Domino/Epic). Best riffs of the year.
Depeche Mode ~ Playing the Angel (Sire/Reprise). A surprisingly confident electro comeback.
Lisa Gerrard & Jeff Rona ~ A Thousand Roads (Wide Blue Sky). Native American soundtrack.
Larsen ~ Play (Important). Italian experimentalists shift gears; gothic-tinged electronic landscapes.
Jacob Kirkegaard ~ Eldfall (Touch). Subterranean sound recordings; seismic valves and rumbles.
Sarah McLachlan ~ Bloom (Arista). Trance/techno remixes that in some cases top the originals.
Longwave ~ There’s a Fire (RCA). Better lyrics than Coldplay, but nowhere near the recognition.
Tuk ~ Proud Princess of a Brand New City (K-RAA-K)3. A Belgian waffle cone with sprinkles.
The Myriad ~ You Can’t Trust a Ladder (Floodgate Records). Christian band’s first big album.
Greg Davis & Sebastian Roux ~ Paquet Surprise (Carpark). Psychedelics meet the 21st century.
The Year in Books
Burton, The King’s English. Adventures in bookselling from an independent store owner and bibliophile.
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love. A lost novel has a rippling effect on its author and the generations that follow.
Deng, Deng & Ajak, They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky. Three “lost boys” from Sudan trek across multiple nations to escape civil war.
David B., Epileptic. A brother’s struggle with seizure disorder, explored with fantastic art & prose.
David Maine, Fallen. The Alan Moore of religious re-imaginings turns a telescope to Cain and Abel.
Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A post-9/11 novel that strikes all the right chords; some surprising passages.
Emma Larkin, Finding George Orwell in Burma. Yes, Big Brother is still watching you; travels in a land of justifiable paranoia.
James Kakalios, The Physics of Superheroes. Written by a comic book geek who’s also a science freak, and very, very funny.
John Twelve Hawks, The Traveler. This year’s most cinematic novel, a science fiction adventure in the Matrix vein.
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. A narrow miss for the 2005 Man Booker Prize; tinged with inevitability & regret.
Top Ten Movies of the Year
Murderball: Quadriplegic rugby players grow into Olympic heroes.
Howl’s Moving Castle: A children’s fable that instills a sense of wonder.
Good Night, and Good Luck: “Those who don’t learn from history …”
A History of Violence: Incredibly realistic and shockingly visceral.
King Kong: A tender homage that updates and surpasses the original.
Batmam Begins: Celebrated resurrection of a long-dormant franchise.
Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride: A love story in the strangest of forms.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin: The best-scripted adult comedy in years.
Crash: Heavy-handed, but packed with volatility and relevance.
Sin City: The very definition of noir; cool as a vintage cigarette.
~ Takk and Happy New Year from Rich Allen ~