Mum ~ Summer Make Good. “Will the summer make good for all our sins?” After the resignation of one of its lead vocalists, Mum retreated to a remote lighthouse in Galtarviti for inspiration. The result is their finest album to date, a treasure chest of creaks and anchors, kettles and coins. “Summer Makes Good” evokes wind-chapped faces, bulky, rain-drenched sweaters, tin cups clenched by a crackling fire. We hear whistles and chirps, violins and glockenspiels, a girls’ choir recorded in a cinema basement. All this and more are embedded in a spider’s web of skittery beats. The lyrics are crammed with unexpected juxtapositions, lending the project an otherworldly glow. Mysterious, beguiling and bold, the year’s finest offering.
aMute ~ A Hundred Day Trees. Imagine a toy box brimming with processed sounds: swirling guitar strings, pops and hisses, pulses and bells. Jerome Deuson’s sound skirts the corner of comprehension, inhabiting a Belgian netherworld of frozen slush and blackened bark, an enchanted glen where magical creatures romp and play while indecipherable shadows glide through the wood. Sweet and crystalline, like rock candy in a white paper bag.
Bjork ~ Medulla. Eschewing instrumentation for the delicate nuances of the human voice, Bjork recruited a number of notable collaborators for this adventurous, surprisingly accessible album. At times, Rahzel tricks the ear into imagining a band where none is present; and when the Icelandic Choir kicks in, we can conceive of no finer adornment. With “Medulla,” Bjork recovers the exuberant passion of her earlier works, finally dislodging the detritus of Lars Von Trier..
Efterklang ~ Tripper. Efterklang (roughly translated “reverberation” or “remembrance”) deservedly swept the Dutch music awards with this 2004 debut. Enlisting the aid of Iceland’s Amina String Quartet (Sigur Ros) and a choir from Greenland, Efterklang present a truly unique hybrid, one that references other bands without copying them. Trumpets, snares and laptop beats add to the mix, a heady sonic stew that alternately soothes and engages. A multi-faceted, well-rounded release.
Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy ~ Immortal Memory. Lisa Gerrard’s languid, multi-octave voice has been blessing us since the days of vinyl, and shows no sign of weakening. This time around, keyboardist Patrick Cassidy bathes the vocalist in layered synthetic tones that rise and fall like Galilean waves. The album creates an atmosphere of contemplation and intimacy, inviting listeners to leave their burdens on the sanctuary steps.
Sebastian Roux ~ Pillow. After a winter storm, the streets are still; one can hear ice crackling on power lines, whisps of snow dancing in sudden breezes. This Parisian album is a quiet symphony of clicks and drones, conjuring images of scarf-draped children gazing through frost-etched glass and leather-tongued skates yearning to be laced. Sedate, gossamer and precise, a cold-weather classic.
Patrik Torsson ~ Kolvateserenader. Life on an oil tanker - six months on shore, six at sea – was beginning to take a toll on Patrik Torsson. After five years he decided to take a break, to salvage the best of his sea experiences and preserve them in a sonic scrapbook. “Kolvateserenader” (“Hydrocarbon Serenades”) is the result, a salty, sumptuous combination of Swedish spoken word and electronic eccentricity. Barnacle-encrusted beats co-exist with the sounds of bells and buoys, hungry gulls and encroaching tides. As of this writing, no English translation has been made available, but Torsson’s accents and tones are as kind and inviting as a sailor’s seasoned pipe.
Run Level Zero ~ Walk the psycho[path]. Channeling the soul of Front Line Assembly, Swede Hans Akerman presents a beat-heavy blend of layered keyboards, distorted vocals and dramatic film samples. The engineering on this album is brilliant, containing both satellite-smooth surfaces and gear-stripping edges. Danceable and delicious, an energy drink for the industrial genre.
Various Artists ~ Solid Steel Presents Amon Tobin. 27 tracks recorded live in 63 Melbourne minutes make for the year’s finest mix album. Tobin ventures into funk and hip-hop, jazz and jungle, without ever losing his way. Confident, cohesive and comprehensive, a crate-digger’s delight.
Android Lust ~ Stripped and Stitched. One-woman band Shikhee continues to follow in Trent Reznor’s footsteps; this set of remixes and re-imaginings is the obvious heir to “Fixed.”
Pzychobitch, “Fitter Than You.”
Dresden Dolls, “Coin-Operated Boy.”
Telefon Tel Aviv, “My Week Beats Your Year.”
The Killers, “Mr. Brightside.”
Sia, “Breathe Me.”
Before Sunset: Simply beautiful, a snapshot of second chances.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Elegant tale of lovers holding on.
Hero (Chinese Version): The Oscar-nominated version, never released here.
Million Dollar Baby: Ascends into cheers, then descends into tears.
Kinsey: What America didn’t know about sex and was afraid to ask.
Finding Neverland: A celebration of friendship and imagination.
50 First Dates: Beneath the comedy, a sweet and tender story.
Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman: Bollywood ending cements it.
Hotel Rwanda: A horrifying story told without sensationalism.
Touching the Void: Difficult to watch but ultimately uplifting.
Paul Grushkin and Dennis King, Art of Modern Rock. A must for fans of alternative music, chock-full of color, creativity and coolness.
Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination. Connecting the dots between literature and the mind, madness and genius; a sparkling achievement.
David Maine, The Preservationist. Noah’s ark in literary form; less than reverent but deeply, sadly spiritual.
Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. An engaging, often hilarious British diatribe on the subject of punctuation.
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Nearly 900 pages of history and magic; curmudgeonly British wizards.
Paul Collins, Not Even Wrong. Touching memoir of a father and his autistic son; true-life “Curious Incident.”
Renee Altson, Stumbling Toward Faith. Betrayed by her family and church, but not by God.
Carl Hiassen, Skinny Dip. Cinematic, sardonic adventure; man thinks he’s drowned his wife, a champion swimmer.
Dave Eggers et al, editors, Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans. The best of McSweeney’s humor.
Henrik Drescher, Postal Séance. Letters to the dead, Nick Bantock-style. Some come back, unopened; others do not.
~ Rich Allen
~ Rich Allen