Rich Allen   PoOPlist 2006


Rev. Rich Allen Favorite Things ~ ALBUMS

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Leafcutter John ~ The Forest and the Sea (Staubgold). Two travelers become lost in the woods, are surrounded by night creatures, and wake up with wings. At least that’s what seems to be happening in this Grimm and unsettling tale. The music is bracketed by field recordings: boots crunching on leaves, waves lapping against forsaken cliffs, a horse galloping past hidden alcoves. “The Forest and the Sea” is as mysterious as a Gypsy caravan and as tantalizing as a gingerbread house; its inventive spirit makes it the year’s top album.

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Belong ~ October Language (Carpark). “October Language” is grain and gauze, the sound of systems failing and things falling apart. The master tapes escaped New Orleans just before Katrina, and this scarred symphony, released soon afterwards, became its elegiac witness. One can almost hear the phone lines failing, the circuits sputtering, the levees beginning to break. This duo spots sparkling shards beneath the debris, dredges beauty from the Bayou’s drenched decay, and returns a sense of regality to its residents.

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Wixel ~ Heart (Collectief Debonair). Easily the year’s best kept secret, Belgium’s “Heart” is Wim Maesschalek’s labor of lost love, a heartbroken, electronic treasure. Strings are plucked by a shipwrecked troubadour; bells tumble in the surf; white noise washes ashore like the unbidden madness of sorrow. Every few minutes, the instruments converge for consolation. The listening experience is fragile and intimate, akin to cradling a broken baby bird. The handpainted tour EP, “Herfst,” makes a wonderful companion piece; details at

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iLiKETRAiNS ~ Progress - Reform (Fierce Panda Records). What’s not to like about iLiKETRAiNS? They dress in British Rail uniforms, create low-budget stopgap animation videos, and write songs about historical figures: failed expeditionist Captain Scott, chessmaster Bobby Fischer, railroad tyrant Richard Beeching. Their songs start as silent as snow and climb to cacophony; their vocalist channels Michael Gira, and their sense of choral drama rivals that of Roger Waters. If this mini-LP (7 songs) had been any longer, it would have topped the chart.

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Yndi Halda ~ Enjoy Eternal Bliss (Big Scary Monsters/Burnt Toast Vinyl). Only four songs, but over an hour long, “Enjoy Eternal Bliss” rounds out last year’s self-produced EP, a layer cake of guitars with violin filling and glockenspiel glaze. Music for mountain peaks and outstretched hands.

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Underoath ~ Define the Great Line (Tooth & Nail). Most Christian acts are lesser versions of their counterparts in the secular world; Underoath is different. “Define the Great Line” is a remarkable step forward for this veteran hardcore band: an uncompromisingly heavy, richly textured, emotionally charged opus of spiritual striving and secular rage. Freaking amazing.

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Under Byen ~ Samme Stof Som Stof (Paper Bag Records). Under Byen (“Under the City”) hails from Denmark, but begs the exclamation, “I can’t believe it’s not Bjork!” Vocalist Henriette Sennenvaldt shares the same quirky intonations as the Icelandic singer, and is backed by tuba, bowed saw, and (shades of Portishead!) theremin. “Samme Stof Som Stof” (“Same Stuff as Fabric”) alternates between tender and triumphant and slowly reveals its own, distinctly Scandinavian identity.

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Anathallo ~ The Floating World (Nettwerk). Anathallo (“renew, regenerate, bring forth”) is another Christian band that refuses to be pigeonholed. “The Floating World” is based on a Japanese fable about an adopted dog whose murder brings about a mini-apocalypse. The music is thick and evocative, with theatrical elements. Anathallo’s live show is incredibly entertaining, a tutorial in synchronized exuberance that features xylophones, step dancing and balloons. Of special note is the album’s elaborate packaging, a die-cut sleeve connected to a generously comprehensive booklet.

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Ef ~ Give Me Beauty … Or Give Me Death! (And the Sound). Sweden’s Ef scores with this post-rock opus, which features occasional male and female vocals as well as the requisite wall of sound. Similar to Explosions in the Sky: a little bit of hurt with a whole lot of healing.

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aMute ~ A Sea Horse Limbo (intr.version). Brussels artist Jerome Deuson continues to evolve with this sophomore effort. The addition of vocalists (most notably, Avia Gardner’s Jenna Robertson) and a live drummer demonstrates his passion for expansion. The sound is still electronic, but now includes subtle post-rock elements, which come to the fore in the feedback-laden live show: the shape of things to come? Check out more of the aMute family on Jerome’s new music label, Stilll!

Also Worth Note
Kira Kira ~ Skotta (Smekkleysa). Yet another delightfully off-kilter Icelandic wonder.
Blueneck ~ Scars of the Midwest (Don’t Touch). More epic sounds from Great Britain.
Ryan Teague ~ Coins and Crosses (Type). A holy hybrid; music for modern monasteries.
Sufjan Stevens ~ Songs for Christmas (Asthmatic Kitty). Better than frankincense & myrrh.
Johann Johannson ~ IBM 1401, A User’s Manual (4AD). Music from a dying machine.
Mono ~ You Are There (Temporary Residence). Sad, sprawling Japanese soundscapes.
Helios ~ Eingya (Type). Piano wunderkind adds electronic instruments to his repertoire.
Greg Haines ~ Slumber Tides (Miasmah). Only 18, and already drawing popular notice.
Tim Hecker ~ Harmony in Ultraviolet (Kranky). The granddaddy of tuneful tinsel.
Machinefabriek ~ Marijn (Lampse). The sound of gears and nuts cracking loose.

Songs ~ Vocal
Bruce Springsteen, O Mary Don’t You Weep
Snow Patrol, Chasing Cars
Murder by Death, The Big Sleep
iLiKETRAiNS, Terra Nova
Sol Seppy, Enter 1

Songs ~ Instrumental
Paavoharju, Yllaan on aamu, korennot ja kesa
Yndi Halda, Illuminate my heart, my darling!
Wixel, Distraction
Mogwai, Friend of the Night
Max and Harvey, Sleep

The Year in Books
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. A Holocaust novel about art, friendship and love, narrated by Death.
Marilyn Johnson, The Dead Beat. How to sum up a life: a surprisingly funny history of obituary writing.
Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotter’s Guide. When clouds gaze down on us, what do they tell each other we look like?
Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu. Short stories set against the backdrop of Jonathan Norrell & Mr. Strange.
John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things. A modern fairy tale about the lessons of classic fairy tales.
Rachel Cohn and David Levinthan, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. A young adult novel that features – and showcases – a running soundtrack.
Lynne Cox, Grayson. The perfect beach book, a slim tome about swimming with a baby whale.
Cormac McCarthy, The Road. A bleak and bitter vision of a father and son adrift in a post-apocalyptic world.
Keith Donahue, The Stolen Child. While a fairy falters in the human world, a human thrives in the fairy world.
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. An incredible debut that comes to a shocking and sudden end.

Top 4 Movies of the Year
United 93: A total triumph from every angle and in every category.
Pan’s Labyrinth: Returning the fairy tale genre to its horrific roots.
The Prestige: How far would you go in your pursuit of vengeance?
The Descent (British Version): Do you like scary movies? See this.

~ Rich Allen