Staff Picks (Part 5 of 5)

     

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    Rafael Martinez


    Little Brother
    : The Minstrel Show [Atlantic]

    The
    closest 2005 came to a classic hip-hop record, the trio from North
    Carolina expresses the ever-growing frustration many have with the
    growing emphasis of materialism and sexism hip-hop, all in the key of
    that soulful post-Native Tongue boom-bap.

     

    Common: Be [Geffen]

    Prematurely
    dubbed a classic before it even hit the shelves, Common got his
    Chi-town swagger back and proved an emcee can be resurrected twice.

     

    DJ Muggs vs. GZA: Grandmasters [Angeles]

    Easily one of the best post-Forever releases, the eldest Wu general links up with the beat-smith behind Cypress Hill to illustrate and elevate the art of lyricism. 

     

    DangerDoom: The Mouse and the Mask [Epitaph] MF Doom + Danger Mouse + Adult Swim = Freakin’ Awesome.

     

    Cage: Hell’s Winter [Def Jux]

    The
    original prince of drug rap is back with a provocative release, delving
    into (amongst other things) his abusive relationship with his
    heroin-addicted stepdad, with George Bush and with domestic politics,
    and he even serves up a piece of his New York State of Mind with El-P,
    Blockhead and DJ Shadow supplying the raw product.

     

    Kanye West: Late Registration [Roc-A-Fella]

    The most anticipated hip-hop album of the year delivered the production necessary to surpass his 2004 debut, The College Dropout, but
    failed to deliver the lyrical wit and braggadocio to match. Regardless,
    Mr. West still dropped the hottest line of year: “George Bush doesn’t
    care about black people.”

     

    Beanie Sigel: The B.Coming [Def Jam]

    Recorded prior to Beanie’s trial for attempted murder, The B.Coming paints
    a picture of a man boxed into utter hopelessness and staring down the
    face of barrel. Desperation and hunger drive Beanie to record the
    definitive album of his career and finally realize his potential.

     

    AZ: A.W.O.L. [Koch] A throwback to the ’95 golden era, A.W.O.L. won’t
    bring hip-hop back to the good ole days, but for just a moment AZ
    relights the torch and carries New York City on his back.

     

    Platinum Pied Pipers: Triple P [Ubiquity]

    Producer Wajeed steps out of the shadow of J-Dilla and Slum Village to mastermind an R&B version of The Chronic.
    With mostly unknowns lacing the vocals, Tiombe Lockhart shines, making
    her upcoming project with Wajeed a strong contender for Top 10 in ’06.

     

    The Game: The Documentary [Aftermath]

    With
    Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Just Blaze, Scott Storch, Hi-Tek, Needlz, Buckwild
    and Mike Elizondo providing production, even the hapless Tony Yayo
    could kill this album. Oh, wait, I take that back. G-Unot.


    Theo Schell-Lambert


    Sufjan Stevens
    : Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty]

    Graduating
    from Michigan-related words that are hard to say (“Taquahemon”) to
    Illinois-related words that are hard to say (“Casimir Pulaski”), Sufjan
    both re-kitsches the fifty-states project (“Come on! Feel the
    Illinoise”) and continues to write songs too pretty to write off as
    kitsch. I play “Decatur” wherever I go and judge people on their
    response.

     

    Kathleen Edwards: Back to Me [Zoe]

    Edwards’s countriest fans may argue for the superior merits of her ’03 debut, Failer, but the best tracks on Back to Me show her maturation as a penner of hooks. She’s Lucinda’s heiress, only she sings better. Don’t miss her live.

     

    Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary [Sub Pop]

    It doesn’t touch Funeral,
    so let’s not fool around with that argument, but “You Are a Runner and
    I Am My Father’s Son” should vie for Canadian Song of the Year. It’s
    about the drums, everybody. These Canadian bands wail on the skins like
    they just got conscripted.

     

    Feist: Let It Die [Interscope]

    Broken
    Social Scener and Peaches confidante Leslie Feist went out and made a
    soul-jazz album. Didn’t she listen to the teaches of Peaches? (Has
    anyone ever listened to the teaches of Peaches? Does Peaches honestly
    think that’s a realistic suggestion?) This one’s smart and sweet – an
    unlikely solution for aging boomers pining for Armatrading.

     

    Joe Lovano: Joyous Encounter [Blue Note/EMI]

    Another
    year, another excellent jazz album ignored. Playing the Redman and
    Mehldau this year is saxman Lovano. Turning to bop after years in more
    experimental outfits, Lovano brings an outsider’s touch to jazz’s
    marquee songbook. A crew of should-be-better-known sessioners ties
    things together.

     

    Eels: Blinking Lights and Other Revelations [Vagrant]

    Mark
    Everett has a knack for making the intimate sound fuzzy and foreign,
    but this one’s a veritable historical document, seeping sepia from
    every pore. Framing Everett’s childhood against a native Virginia
    cloaked in the Southern Gothic, it’s evocative, epochal and stubbornly
    inconsistent. Use it like you would a collection of short stories,
    keeping it close and dog-earing pages.

     

    New Pornographers: Twin Cinema [Matador]

    Neko
    Case and A.C. Newman make such good solo albums, it almost seems like
    cheating for them to keep recording together. That said, they often
    coast when in tandem; even the beloved Mass Romantic fell short of their hefty talent. Recorded since Newman came into his own on The Slow Wonder, Twin Cinema is the group’s strongest set so far.

     

    Dirty Projectors: The Getty Address [Western Vinyl]

    Avant-garde
    rock often toes the line between brilliance and chaos, and that’s
    rarely truer than on Dave Longstreth’s schizoid paean to Don Henley. A
    collage of gothic chamber music and seantific incantation linked up
    with indie-pop song skeletons, the album is atrocious to some (and when
    played live, a mess to all). But have patience and it takes shape.

     

    Prefuse 73: Surrounded by Silence [Warp]

    It’s
    easy to heap blame on Scott Herren for this messy, ambitious record. I
    dig the mess. There’s too much going on, tracks feel too personal,
    people are yelling, nobody’s quite comfortable. I understand if you
    think it’s a reckless showcase, but I think it’s the sound of folks
    bothering.

     

    Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine [Epic/Clean Slate]

    Does
    the Jon Brion debate even matter? Point is, the translucent chanteuse
    is back, and on either version, she’s still doing what she always did
    best: turning dull, happy days into eloquently sad ones.


    Ian McCarthy


    1. The Mountain Goats
    : The Sunset Tree [4AD]

    After
    fifteen years, forty releases and visits to (apparently) every city in
    the world, John Darnielle finally releases a cohesive record – a
    semiautobiographical road-trip journal of definitive beauty. Angst for
    the memories.

     

    2. Juelz Santana: What The Game’s Been Missing [Def Jam]

    This
    record would’ve still been number two if it were instrumental. The fact
    that Santana is an unstoppable crack-rap prophet/crack-pot poet made it
    a contender for number one.

     

    3. The Double: Loose in the Air [Matador]

    And the air will never be the same again.

     

    4. Aesop Rock: Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives [Def Jux]

    This
    EP contained more quality material than most full length rap records
    this year. It also breathed new life into Mr. Rock’s back catalogue
    with The Living Human Curiosity Sideshow, a career-spanning lyric book.

     

    5. Animal Collective: Feels [FatCat]

    The collective is destined to break out with this pop masterpiece.

     

    6. Paul Wall: The People’s Champ [Swishahouse/Asylum/Atlantic]

    This
    muthafucka is so ugly that his teeth ran away from his face, but each
    of his new shiny gold ones represents a million new fans.

     

    7. Phantom Buffalo: Shishimumu [Rough Trade]

    This was previously released as the Ponys’ Shishimumu a few years ago by Time-Lag Records. After signing to Rough Trade this year (and after a name change), Shishimumu continues to be a golden collection of indie-pop that still sounds current years after conception.

     

    8. Scaramanga: Cobra Commander [Sun Large]

    Scaramanga: Snake Eyes [Sun Large]

    Sir Menelek: Cyclops 4000: The Einstein Rosen Bridge [Sun Large]

    Three
    releases in one year by this former Kool Keith collaborator. Scaramanga
    is like a substitute teacher who is way cooler than old Professor Wu
    Tang.

     

    9. Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney: Superwolf [Drag City]

    Twisted narratives and musical integrity play like a long lost classic from the Harry Smith archives.

     

    10. Tapes N Tapes: The Loon [Ibid]

    11. Quasimoto: The Further Adventures of Lord Quas [Stones Throw]

    12. Gorillaz: Demon Days [Virgin]

    13. Devin Davis: Lonely People of the World Unite [Mousse]

    14. Modey Lemon: The Curious City [Birdman]

    15. Half Handed Cloud: Thy Is a Word & Feet Need Lamps [Asthmatic Kitty]

    16. Lucknow Pact: Youth Is for the Old [Hit in Yo Soul]

    17. Queens of the Stone Age: Lullabys to Paralyze [Ant Acid Audio]

    18. Dengue Fever: Escape From Dragon House [BRG]

    19. Qwel: Dark Day [Galapagos 4]


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