Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - No More Shall We Part: There was a time when people looked at you like you were completely crazy when you told them you liked Nick Cave. He's since become quite respectable. Avoid the prose. Stick with the songs.
24) The Strokes - Is This It: I'm going to sound like a typical rock critic here and say I liked the earlier EP, The Modern Age. While I can certainly see why people like this band, I can also hear why I don't. Where punk and hard rock were once determined to explode, the Strokes and many of the bands that have followed are determined to implode. It's not just semantics. It has to do with kicking ass.Radiohead - Amnesiac: I was once derided for not liking OK Computer enough. Now it seems weird that I liked Phil Selway's solo album more than most people. Fact is, this Kid A companion is quite swell. We can't blame the band for other people - Hello MOMA! - taking them so seriously and thereby forcing Thom Yorke to curtail smiling. He who pays the piper calls the tune, bro.
22) The White Stripes - White Blood Cells: OK, listen, I'm going to duck under this table here and let the rest of you fight this out. I have good friends who call these guys the third coming and other friends who hate everything about them. I'd like to keep both sets of friends. They're collectibles!The Shins - Oh, Inverted World: Yes, I've heard the comments. Yes, I'd like some cheese with this whine. But I interviewed James Mercer years ago and found him to be an agreeable lad. I'm pretty sure that music in the 2000s was made primarily to fracture whatever little cohesion we once had. The collective force of the 1960s generation has splattered to the wind. It has its pluses and minuses. We just can't agree which are which.
20) Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock Opera: These guys weren't getting anywhere with their joke tunes. So they figured they might as well get serious and make a "concept album" where the band sees everything through the legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Frontman Patterson Hood has decent ideas and a voice that cries home for mama, but the band is best when they turn the amps all the way up.Bob Dylan - Love and Theft: Released on September 11, because Bob is still a prophet no matter how many indifferent records he's made, Love and Theft is another album that divides the cult. It started an unforeseen Daniel Lanois backlash (Oh Mercy, huh?) that's completely uncalled for, since it ain't up to Mr. Lanois to write the freakin' words.
18) Ryan Adams - Gold: Another album released on September 11, Gold leads off with the now unnerving "New York, New York." Adams is another divisive character. (Did I not warn you there was a theme to this decade?) His detractors see him as an arrogant (even his fans give you that) human jukebox who mistakes a great album collection for a career. I'm somewhere in the middle. Give me more songs like "La Cienega Just Smiled," "When the Stars Go Blue" and "Harder Now That It's Over" and I'll forget about the seven albums of dull, overrated junk, ok?My Morning Jacket - At Dawn: By album number 2, some critics were already saying these guys were in it for the long haul. That wasn't me. Bands who loved reverb and the third Velvet Underground album didn't have much of a track record. Why would anyone think that would change?
16) Rufus Wainwright - Poses: I've heard the theory that if you take two talented, creative parents, you will likely get an exponentially talented child. Unfortunately, that doesn't bode well for those on the opposite end of the spectrum. Rufus, however, won the ovarian lottery, so to speak.Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions - Bavarian Fruit Bread: I had quite the unexciting interview with Ms. Sandoval around the release of this album. She refused to speak above a hushed mumble or to answer questions with more than an "I...don't...know...I...think...I...zzzzz." I hung up the phone to save money. I still like this album.
14) Spiritualized - Let It Come Down: Leader Jason Pierce does not work well with permanent band members, but he's got some 115 session musicians helping him out here. I guess he likes to give orders!Travis - The Invisible Band: Once Radiohead decided to corner the art-rock scene, someone had to shore up the pop market. Art is nice, but a good, hummable tune works even better.
12) Lucinda Williams - Essence: No album wants to be the one after a blockbuster. You have nowhere to go but down. Car Wheels On a Gravel Road received so many rave reviews that there weren't many words left for the follow-up. In blindfolded taste tests, this album does just fine.The Frames - For the Birds: Ireland loves it brooders. Doesn't seem to matter if it's Northern or Southern Ireland, the artists are serious folk. Van Morrison, Bono, Sinead O'Connor, that guy in the Waterboys, lousy weather and oppression will mess with you. Glen Hansard's gone on to be famous with the Swell Season, but I met him in Woodstock, NY at an open mic night! Only guy there with an acoustic guitar and a distortion pedal.
10) Tindersticks - Can Our Love...: Tindersticks are one of the only bands that can lead off with a track called "Dying Slowly" and have it considered a toe-tapper.Leonard Cohen - Ten New Songs: Always one with the snappy titles, Cohen returns with co-producer and co-writer Sharon Robinson shepherding him through the musical fields and landing pretty much where he'd been since I'm Your Man. With more great results. Can someone bottle this man's talents for future generations? These high end lo-fi recordings (or is that lo-end hi-fi?) just kill me.
8) Trembling Blue Stars - Alive to Every Smile: Robert Wratten doesn't get over things easily. His songs mostly concern his break-up with Annemari Davies, who was still in the band.Nicolai Dunger - Soul Rush: Not many musicians get away with comparisons to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks without getting their pretenses attacked. But this Swedish singer didn't go looking for those comparisons with this complex work. Yes, he worked with some jazz musicians (Oh, there's the hook!) but he also threw a pedal steel guitar into the middle of this thing.
6) Red House Painters - Old Ramon: Whether he performs as himself, Red House Painters or Sun Kil Moon, Mark Kozelek has a way of taking slowness and intensity and turning it into something worth listening to a thousand times. At nine minutes and 34 seconds, "Void" practically feels too short.Mark Kozelek - What's Next to the Moon: This is a particularly hilarious idea. Remove the powerchords and the Bon Scott leer from AC/DC songs and present them as acoustic ballads. How else would you perform something as sensitive as "Up To My Neck In You"?
4) Duncan Sheik - Phantom Moon: Sheik already saw his way out of the pop-rock woods. He teamed up with playwright Steven Sater and began flirting with the Great White Way. Here, he does it while dating Nick Drake.Liars - They Threw Us All In A Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top: In the olden days just having that Blast First label pedigree would guarantee a band a certain level of respect. With these guys it created art-school resentment. But you have to be pretty humorless to not - at least - enjoy the idea of songs like "Grown Men Don't Fall in the River, Just Like That," "Nothing Is Ever Lost or Can Be Lost My Science Friend" and "The Garden Was Crowded and Outside."
2) Loudon Wainwright III - Last Man On Earth: This title sounded sadly prophetic when the album dropped at the end of September. It's an album of deep personal crisis brought on by the death of Wainwright's mother. Tough living is what this perennial jokester needs to keep him focused. He may not like the process one bit, but he's still yielding better results than many of his contemporaries.The Pernice Brothers - The World Won't End: This title sounded like a bit of groundless optimism by year's end. (It was released in June.) But the band's melodic fortitude kept them moving forward. Joe Pernice has a job to do and it's up to him to do it, world crisis or not.