Monday, January 02, 2006

I know what you're saying. Peter, how can you have a top albums list when you haven't reviewed all of them in print? Hold your horses. All good reviews come to those who wait. I promise all 30 will be out by EOM.

Kanye West: Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella, 2005). While no one reasonably expected a repeat of last year's brilliance, with even some predicting a sophomore jinx, there's no denying his greatness on effort two. Call this his Sticky Fingers to last year's Exile on Main Street. Where with the former one had to play through several times to immerse one's self in the underlying rage and his conceptualizing lyrics, here, simplicity rules the day. He's going straight for the hook and the mob. I particularly like the song where he pays tribute to his mom; nice to know he has some of his priorities straight. And then there's "Gold Digger," one of the top songs of the year. Unlike College Dropout, this is a record everyone will want to buy and play. It might even get airplay, too. After all, complexity may be good for the soul, but it don't pay the rent, or for the bitches out on the street. A

Sleater-Kinney: The Woods (Sub Pop, 2005). A Sleater-Kinney rock album? What is the world coming to? Actually, after a three-year absence they come up with an album so unexpectedly straight forward, Kurt Cobain would've been proud to rock with them. The credit goes to producer David Fridmann for convincing them to tinker with success. Tight, yet still retaining their signature raucousness, the results speak for themselves. Imagine what Zeppelin IV and Never Mind the Bollocks would sound like if they were to merge. Now just sit back and watch your ears bleed. A

Neil Young: Prairie Wind (Reprise, 2005). Coming on the heals of Greendale, just about anything would've sounded good. But give the man some credit. He not only manages to come up with his third incarnation of Harvest (Comes A Time and Harvest Moon make up the other two), he manages not to allow his politics - always left-leaning, but never more so than lately - to decimate the music; something that kept getting in his way on Greendale. While I prefer the beauty of Comes A Time, still among my favorites, there's no denying this is his best album in over a decade. In fact, not since '94s Sleeps With Angels has he recorded with such passion. Check out "When God Made Me," a blast at the religious right that's as good as it gets. Maybe Bush should look into possibly running for a third term? A-

Spoon: Gimmie Fiction (Merge, 2005). While I admit this is not the breakthrough masterpiece Kill the Moonlight was, it's hardly chopped liver, either. Truth is, it would've been a mistake for them to think they could've duplicated it. Here they trade the punk rock aesthetic for more conventional rock and roll grooves. They also do a pretty damn good job at borrowing (stealing?) from their contemporaries. From the opening track The Beast and Dragon, Adored, pure John Lennon from his Beatle days; to I Turn My Camera On, a Prince-like song if ever there was one; to Sister Jack, a flashback to the Who's Happy Jack, this is an album that's hard to resist. To those who might be disappointed it's not as pioneering as it's predecessor, get over yourselves. A-

Sufjan Stevens: Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty, 2005). Christians! All of a sudden the world is full of Christians. May be it's a sign of the times, or the inevitability of it all; after all T-Bone Burnette recorded his best music during the Reagan years! But before you paint Stevens as another profit bent on twisting your ear, know this: this is one believer who doesn't require his audience to follow him in order to consider himself successful. In deed, this album's inspiration lies in what it leaves out. It's inviting, never preachy. In "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.", Stevens' real talent - namely his empathy and compassion - emerges. Any one who can muster up sympathy for a serial killer and convince his listeners to join him, gets high marks from me. Then there's "Casimir Pulaski Day," a song about the death of his girlfriend from bone cancer that ends up becoming a test of his faith. Beautiful and poignant. And check out the title of track two: "The Black Hawk War, or, How To Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going To Have To Leave Now, or, I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue To Fight. . ." Any man this anal is a man after my own heart. A

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