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For Against – Shade Side, Sunny Side (Words on Music)
This is just a fabulous work, one of the most unnerving and yet often resplendently gorgeous records I’ve heard in some time. Every time I play it, it unfolds new layers of feeling, unlocking new mysteries of the clash between head and heart, and digs in harder with the simple clarity of its musical force. Album of the year? So far it sure as hell is.
Sloan – Parallel Play (Yep Roc)
After the brilliance, weight, and superabundance of last year’s 30-song, 80-minute, career-defining opus and album of the year, Never Hear the End of It, the same jukebox-like array of power-pop, punk, glam, pop, ballads, and feisty indie rock remains, and there are enough bits and pieces of _Never_’s insane greatness to make its first cousin another enjoyable outing.
The Replacements – deluxe reissues of their first four LPs (Twin/Tone/Ryko/Rhino)
Replacing vanished CD issues from 1991 by original label Twin/Tone, The Replacements’ first four LPs 1981-1984 are properly reissued and given royal treatment—with overseeing and remastering from manager Peter Jesperson and surviving band members’ input on a slew of bonus tracks, lengthy liner notes, and scads of photos. Whether for original fans revisiting vital albums and scarfing up unknown songs like Dead Sea Scrolls, or new fans curious about the legend, all four discs are inarguably essential.
Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)
Oh, what a lustrous record! Seattle’s Death Cab mediates the distance between 2005’s Plans (which many found passive, but I found beautiful) and the greater tension of 2003’s widely admired Transatlanticism and 2001’s The Photo Album.
Willie Nelson – One Hell of a Ride box set (Legacy/SonyBMG)
What a bonanza! 100 songs over four discs, spanning 54 years of inspired, uninterrupted work (not too shabby for such a public pothead) from the guy that everyone in the country likes—other than the IRS and some overzealous lawmen.
Black Watch – Icing the Snow Queen (Eskimo)
Since John Andrew Fredrick’s L.A. foursome almost never tours and thus remains top secret, his motivation to continue making these things can only be that his records are unfailingly of the highest quality—for those who care about highly erudite, poetic words, finely-hewn guitar pop concoctions, and unpolished but fitting vocals.
The Effigies – Reside (Criminal IQ)
This Chicago punk-turned-post-punk band’s also revived 1980s-punk/indie era contemporaries have already proven that bands could regain bygone inspiration on LP in the ‘00s. But by picking up on 1986, not 1981, thus seizing their own post-punk thread never continued, The Effigies have no modern stylistic peers. And like Ink, it will take several plays before the layers of Reside’s smarts and subtleties become as apparent as its strident authority.
Secret Shine – All of the Stars (Clairecords/Tonevendor)
Any one of these 10 shoegaze songs is a mini-love affair, full of Jamie Gingell’s Ian Masters-like innocence and ruby-lullaby melodies; those guitars, guitars, guitars (even some string-bending/whammy bar action); and sense of wonder AWOL these days. All is star-bound, indeed.
The Libertines – Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (Libertines Music)
Just for the monumental opener, “Bad Memories Burn,” from 1988’s overwhelming Tilt-a-Whirl, the sardonically but in-truth-accurately-titled Greatest would be a must. That 20 other flavors of its awesome blueprint follow, is enough to crown this collective the great unknown band of their time; that Greatest is fittingly dedicated to my late pal BEN VOSS, whose tragic 1999 loss to leukemia remains haunting, and whose dream it was to release this collection himself, makes its arrival smell like 4000 marigolds. Best $13 you’ll spend all year.
The Wedding Present – El Rey (Manifesto)
This might incur diehards’ wrath, but this is The Wedding Present and David Gedge’s finest LP out of a good 25 of them (including numerous compilations and whatnot) in a respected 23-year career. What great lyrics!!!!!
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