Oh … now the list is getting good.
Quruli, TEAM ROCK
Quruli has always been a wildly eclectic band, but with TEAM ROCK, the then-trio reaches an apex where tunefulness and quirkiness co-exist peacefully.
Girl Talk, Feed the Animals
I’m not much of a hip-hop listener, and I’m nowhere near a fan. But the imaginative mash-ups of Girl Talk do such a tremendous job heightening their source material, it makes me almost want to explore hip-hop a lot deeper.
Sam Amidon, All Is Well
This album wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without Nico Muhly filling out Amidon’s unhurried delivery with gorgeous orchestration. Amidon takes traditional music and performs them so idiomatically, you could be forgiven for not recognizing it as folk music.
ACO matured incredibly with 1999’s absolute ego, and 2001’s Material found her going deeper into Björkian territory. The songs get more ethereal, the beats not yet disintegrating to the wisps on irony. She also does a cover of Kate Bush’s "This Woman’s Work" that proves Maxwell shouldn’t have touched that song with a 50-foot pole.
Eluvium, an accidental memory in case of death
Matthew Cooper is probably most at home creating long drones of fuzzy guitars, but it’s his piano work that catches my attention the most. He has an affinity for keyword works that comes through despite the fact piano is not his main instrument. The lack of perfection in his technique, obvious on "The Well-Meaning Professor", actually helps. Under seasoned hands, it wouldn’t sound as human.
The Arcade Fire, Funeral
Despite some early snarking — The Arcade Fire was better when it was called Neutral Milk Hotel, and David Byrne should not have changed his name to Win Butler — Funeral eventually broke down my resolve. Butler sings like his appendix is in constant peril, and the band does little to discourage him.
Kronos Quartet, Nuevo
Gustavo Santaolalla has something of a golden touch, having helmed influencial albums by Molotov, Café Tacvba and Juanes. It’s a touch that works wonders for Kronos Quartet. Nuevo pushed the ensemble to work in a studio setting far beyond what it had before, and it’s perhaps that experience which gave first violinist David Harrington the confidence to record Floodplain and You’ve Stolen My Heart in a similar fashion. It’s telling that the most experimental piece on the album was written by Café Tacvba.
There’s hardly a dead spot on this thoroughly-written album. This original line-up of ART-SCHOOL possessed a tangible chemistry that pushed the performances on LOVE/HATE to a level complementary to its writing. If I had listened to this album when it came out in December 2003, Shiina Ringo’s Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana may not have had a tight grip on the top spot of that year’s favorite list.
Hem, Rabbit Songs
Hem did an in-store performance at Waterloo Records, which introduced me to the band’s genteel, orchestral music. I don’t mind that the best song from Rabbit Songs, "Half Acre", has been reduced to a jingle for Liberty Mutual. I was just excited that Hem got some kind of national exposure.
Shiina Ringo, Shousou Strip
This album defies the random button. It’s impossible to understand Shousou Strip if it’s not played straight through from beginning to end. Shiina and producer Kameda Seiji sweat the details of this album, resulting in an epic work that goes to a lot of places — dirty blues, sweaty cock rock, punk-ish jazz, even a ballad obliterated by noise.