System of a Down
written, brilliantly executed and flawlessly produced. Not
one bad song here.
surprises from Neil Fallon’s cavalcade of pure rock fury,
but that’s OK by me. The smoker you get, the player you are.
of the finest stoner metal bands out there, and (bonus!) they
just happen to hail from Albany, N.Y.
4. High on Fire
A splendid assault on the senses. Filthy, stupendous riffage
from the underworld.
Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw
the band says, they’re a “fucking triumphant band.” Primarily
instrumental, trance-inducing hooks make this one excellent
for heavy-bag work or sparring.
they’ve put out more live albums than Kiss, but this one is
a scorcher. All the hits, all original members, overwhelming
7. Corrosion of Conformity
the Arms of God
ain’t your big brother’s COC, but it’s great stuff nonetheless.
Pepper Keenan for Czar of Too Far, and bring back Reed Mullin
for God’s sake.
just a bunch of damn good grooves. Raitt has always been underrated
somehow, but she can sling the axe better than most.
9. Coheed and Cambria
Apollo, I’m Burning/Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes
wanted so badly to hate this band, but despite my best efforts
they crept into my psyche and make me feel like foraging for
God or victory or both.
10. Alice Cooper
God I hung on through the Epic years. This guitar-driven return
to the formula Alice hasn’t delivered since the mid-’70s makes
me want to weep in the bathroom with a razor. In a good way.
Killer band. Dick Wagner is out there somewhere, smiling.
which our divette of the sorrows unleashes an extraordinary
third album, a mélange of Bohemian angst, fervent singing,
remarkably eclectic production and lyrics of passion and intelligence.
A winner all around, and a stylish slap in the face to Apple’s
record company, which didn’t deem this commercial enough in
its first iteration.
2. Bettye Lavette
Got My Own Hell to Raise
years of connoisseur hits (read: uncommercial efforts) for
trophy labels like Atlantic and Motown, Detroit secularist
Lavette has released a collection of songs written by women
and recast them in her own, world-weary voice. Sparked by
Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow” and Fiona Apple’s “Sleep To
Dream,” this barbed-wire gem restores bluster and pride to
got into this toward the end of the year, thanks to a friend
who keeps his ear to more grounds than I do. It’s 11 songs
of tight structure and leaky, shredder guitar. It’s Britt
Daniels’ elliptical lyrics and purposeful guitar welded to
Jim Eno’s implacably swinging drums. It’s dark and beautiful
and catchy, particularly “I Turn My Camera On” and “Sister
4. Robert Plant and Strange Sensation
has lost the high notes but refined the approach, melding
mysticism and metal in this velvety, assured album. He is
a “mighty rearranger” of hard rock, giving Ray Charles his
due in “Brother Ray,” spreading the joy of his cool, young
band in “Shine It All Around” and refreshing whatever tradition
turns you on in “Tin Pan Valley.”
5. John Legend
guy’s got great chops, a well-developed sense of community,
and universal appeal. I haven’t separated the tunes in my
mind, but I know that whenever I listen to this, it raises
me up. I’d love to see John Legend preach in a church; he
does fine on disc.
6. Nine Inch Nails
is Trent Reznor’s most cohesive album. Sparked by the devil-disco
“Hand That Feeds,” this incorporates the orchestral efforts
Reznor first attempted in The Fragile, bracketing them
with successful stabs at funk and, of course, hard rock. It’s
an exciting, characteristically dark album by a great rock
dandy Americana record, despite a dud or two. Produced by
Johnny Cash reviver Rick Rubin, Diamond sounds fine here;
the record is smooth and confident and authoritative. And
in tunes like “Save Me a Saturday Night” and “Delirious Love”
(get the deluxe edition for the version with Brian Wilson),
Diamond has crafted pop you can’t get out of your head.
8. Franz Ferdinand
Could Have It So Much Better
Glasgow boys get it down on their second album, a slight improvement
on (and continuation of) their debut. I’d like “Do You Want
To” to go on forever, the hook’s so catchy. I’d also like
the album to be longer; nevertheless, this is pop as it should
9. Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane
At Carnegie Hall
Down, One Up
are the most important jazz reissues of the year, the Miles
Davis Cellar Door Sessions notwithstanding, because they resurrect
key groups of the ’50s and ’60s. The Monk date has the edge
in wit (Monk is the wittiest of jazz composers) but the Coltrane
Quartet’s improvisations are so deep and propulsive, they
leave you breathless.
like this more for concept than execution. It’s Cooder’s attempt
to craft a musical history of a Mexican neighborhood in Los
Angeles that was bulldozed to make way for Dodgers Stadium.
It’s intellectually brilliant, politically impeccable and
just rhythmic enough to engage.
Viking King of Sixth Avenue
single-disc overview is a perfect entry point into the musical
world of the man who came into the world as Louis Hardin in
1916 in Kansas. He died in 1999 in Germany having written
symphonies and songs, invented instruments and collaborated
with the sounds of ships and traffic in New York City.
2. Chris Whitley
stunning 15-year run of consistently compelling releases came
to a sad end last month when Whitley died.
3. Robert Wyatt & Friends
Royal Drury Lane
1974 concert marked Wyatt’s first and last performance after
his crippling fall the year before.
4. Kimberley Rew
in at under 31 minutes, it has everything a great album needs
in terms of diversity, continuity and commitment. Includes
the mortality-infused “Your Mother Was Born In That House”
and the title track, filled with its promise of romance preserved.
5. Amy Rigby
fifth album continues to offer glimpses into the rock &
roll heart of modern woman. There’s the euphoric “Dancing
With Joey Ramone” and the staggeringly honest “The Trouble
With Jeanie,” which finds a new window to look through at
the difficulties and surprises encountered in remarriage.
6. Bill Hicks
Oxford November 11, 1992
two-disc set affords a complete picture of one of the finest
comedian-social commentators of the past quarter-century.
7. The Incredible Casuals
disc comes 10 years after their last full official release;
these 15 songs are filled with the glory of blazing hooks
and the unstoppable wallop of Rikki Bates.
8. Pinetop Seven
vignettes filtered through an undulated dreamscape of carnivals,
midnight tidal pools and migrating birds.
9. Bill Frisell
one disc recorded on each coast, this two-CD set is a tour
through Frisell’s stew of jazz seasoned with folk, country
10. Various Artists
for What Ails You
Music of the Medicine Shows, 1926-1937, this will suffice
nicely until a time machine is invented.
good as Kanye says it is. Hiphop producers should study this
like a textbook.
. . . And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
you missed out on this one (as I suspect you did), put it
on your to-do list. The most expansive (and expensive, likely)
rock album of the year.
3. The Decemberists
band that gained the most ground in ’05. They finally solidified
a live lineup that kills, and this latest album was outstanding.
Their next one will be on Capitol, but don’t expect a Death
Cab-like disappointment from their major-label debut.
best band on this list, and the year’s heaviest record.
baby just swings. Impeccably recorded by second-stringer Mike
Elizondo—the kick drum resonates for entire measures, and
the smoke and whiskey on Apple’s voice is odorous—this Machine
has twice the oomph as the Jon Brion-produced variation
that leaked via the Internet this spring. (No offense to the
Brion version—it still would have made the Top 20.)
with personality and completely irresistible, Arular
features the hands-down coolest tune ever used to sell a Honda
Lights and Other Revelations
career record. This supposedly took seven or eight years to
move fully from concept to fruition, and it sounds like it.
Thirty-three songs over two discs, bound by a perceptible
but unintrusive theme, and featuring E’s best work yet.
8. Deadboy & the Elephantmen
Are Night Sky
one fell swoop, Dax Riggs and Tessie Brunet have laid waste
to the White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age, and just about
every other band you think is swell. You owe it to yourself
to track this down.
9. System of a Down
Mezmerize rattled the metal scene this spring simply by
being a new release from the most interesting metal band of
the day. (“B.Y.O.B.” is also the weirdest single of the year.)
System really made strides with this fall’s Hypnotize—it’s
not the “same album with different songs,” as Damon Malakian
would have us believe. It’s better.
10. Brazilian Girls
pussy, pussy, marijuana”—what else is there? When I go clubbing
in my living room, this is my shit.
Alternative to Love
is a rare perfect pop album, of the sort not many people are
making these days. It doesn’t take much work to like this
album; its hooks and harmonies catch you instantly, yet they
don’t wilt over time. Great upbeat in-the-car listening.
may draw on a lot of genres and geographic regions, from U.K.
grime to Brazilian funk, but she combines them in a way that
no one has before, and her producers add the sort of pop-culture
references that perk up Western ears, from the Rocky
theme song to video-game sound effects.
3. Devendra Banhart
may be a long-haired freak, and one who’s not afraid to indulge
his inner child in song. But at this point, there’s no denying
that Banhart is one of the best songwriters around, inside
the psychedelic folk scene or outside of it.
Mac McCaughan, who also plays in Superchunk (although they
are in some form of hiatus), is back in true form here. This
is some of his best material in years, from the uplifting
melodies to the poetically disaffected lyrics that indie kids
know and love him for.
5. New Pornographers
third album may not quite approach the giddiness and energy
of their first, Mass Romantic, and rumor has it that
singer Neko Case, busy with her solo career, is phoning in
her vocal parts these days. But the New Pornographers are
still one of the best pop bands around, and they have a wistfulness
that hits nostalgic 30-something indie-rock fans square in
pairing of Common, one of the most insightful hiphop lyricists
around, with hiphop wunderkind Kanye West, who builds his
productions on a foundation of ’70s soul samples, is a great
one. From “The Corner” to “Go,” this album goes down very
smooth, a welcome contrast to the more jarring beats that
have been popular in recent years.
7. Black Mountain
nothing modern about this album: It’s about as late ’60s-early
’70s retro as it gets. But Black Mountain’s culture-mining
is a druggy Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad blues-rock
version that’s not overdone yet. And they do it very well.
8. Sons and Daughters
liked this band since seeing them open up for Clinic at the
Pearl Street Nightclub last year. They sound like a Scottish
version of L.A. punk band X, with male-female vocals that
trade off each other stunningly well, a little bit of righteous
anger and a bristling energy.
9. Roots Manuva
won the Mercury prize in Britain, but doesn’t get much play
here in the States. Even in Britain, he’s too dark and cerebral
for mass appeal. I dig his dub-laden, trippy and haunted sound;
his authoritative vocals add weight to anything he raps over.
10. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
gave up on this guy a few years ago. He’s a drama queen, and
his most recent albums have suffered. Maybe I only like him
when he puts on his country-rock costume. But here, as on
his earlier more traditional country albums, he’s written
songs so good that you have to forget about the personality,
at least for the time being.