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Monday, December 19, 2005

Neal Block's Favorite Recordings of 2005

Neumu's Michael Goldberg writes: And the lists continue. Another longtime Neumu contributor with superb taste (actually, all Neumu writers have superb taste) is Neumu Contributing Editor Neal Block, who today offers up his fave albums of the year.

1. The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday (French Kiss): At the top of the heap two years in a row, Craig Finn's swaggering, staggering mix of the father, the son and the holy solo finds his characters getting religion, that religion getting mixed up, those mix-ups getting dangerous, and the plot getting way, way thicker. Boasting the best post-GBV live show around, the Hold Steady urge you to use your head, your heart, and your fists (raised, clenched, or otherwise) at all times.

2. Magnolia Electric Co., Trials and Errors (Secretly Canadian): Like you shave off your beard after a long, cold winter, Jason Molina did away with the Songs: Ohia moniker a few years back, simultaneously leaving behind the spare, minor-key song structure that dominated that band's sound. With MECo, Molina has embraced the extended jam and the promise of the epic; his bold new future is best heralded on this live record, which sees the band tapping their inner Crazy Horse, but never losing the introspection and sense of the desolate that made Songs: Ohia such a miserable joy to listen to.

3. Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run: 30th Anniversary Edition (Columbia): The record that made Bruce the Boss is given the royal treatment, but it's the songs — from the desperate growl of Springsteen's voice to the Phil Spector-worthy layers of instrumentation to the way you truly can picture Wendy's face at the end of "Born to Run" — that still make the album one of the best of this, or any, year.

4. The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema (Merge): Always good tide-me-overs until the next Destroyer album, New Pornographers records have, until now, been pretty catchy amusements; with Twin Cinema, they've somehow managed to use the same sound and same general philosophy to make something light years better — better melodies, better use of percussive keyboards, better band dynamic, better everything.

5. Silver Jews, Tanglewood Numbers (Drag City): Out of the dark and into the warm Nashville sunset comes David Berman's new musical express, a typically witty but atypically straightforward collection of songs that aren't really life-affirming per se, but somehow manage still to affirm life.

6. Okkervil River, Black Sheep Boy (Jagjaguwar): More murder balladry and vocab words from Austin's Will Sheff, this time loosely based on one of lost soul Tim Hardin's songs. Nobody does creepy like Sheff singing about killing folks and whatnot, but the album trades in excellent songwriting just as much as it does in really vivid, disturbing imagery.

7. The Evens, The Evens (Dischord): We've all seen the softer side of Ian MacKaye ("Guilty of Being White" was a real tear-jerker), but his work with Amy Farina in the Evens puts those Minor Threat waltzes and whispers to quiet shame. A soft record that still manages to be forceful.

8. John Vanderslice, Pixel Revolt (Barsuk): The V-man's softest and strongest and strangest release, equally interested in war and break-ups and analog production, but never stretching itself too thin.

9. Feist, Let It Die (Interscope): This album has more than two songs, but I can never get past "Mushaboom," the second track, easily the best single song of the year. Maybe the rest of the album is good, too, but I'll never know.

10. Neil Diamond, 12 Songs (Sony): To enjoy this semi-ridiculous album, you have to be over 50 or really, really into the myth of Neil Diamond. I am one of those.

The InsiderOne Daily Report appears on occasion.



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