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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

 

#2) Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

The story of how this album came to be, with Wilco getting dropped from their label, releasing it to the internet, getting picked up by a subsidiary of that same label and having it outsell their previous catalog several times over, is the stuff of legend now. However, it's easy to forget in this legend just how damn good this album is. Although Wilco and frontman Jeff Tweedy were one of the bands at the forefront of the supposed "alt-country" movement, they largely throw off those reins here, creating a heavily layered and lyrically dense (three years later, I still have no clue what an "American aquarium drinker" is) album that manages to encapsulate everything that was missing from music. Standout tracks here include "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart", which sounds in its opening measures like nothing so much as a carnival trying to wind itself up, and, well… you pick more tracks, since there's not a single wasted one on this album.


Monday, September 19, 2005

 

#3) Sam Roberts - We Were Born in a Flame (2004)

It's an interesting phenomenon that the genre of Americana has fallen to the side in recent years in the United States at the same time that its colder, more polite counterpart Canadiana, has shot to new heights in Canada. Leading the forefront of this movement in Canada is Sam Roberts, who burst onto the scene like a combination of Bruce Springsteen and Che Guevera.

It would be a mistake to label this album a concept album, although it does play like a soundtrack to a life in progress, and is filled with the kind of songs a budding rock star might write just before he hits it big. He's "too young to feel so old", "waiting for someone to blow up this town" and doesn't want "to be a dead end on the family tree", all signs of someone who knows he should be doing something important, but doesn't know exactly what.

For now, that's writing kickass rock songs, although saving the world is probably somewhere on his list. Roberts builds most of his songs around a deceptively simple bass line, borrowing at times from funk and reggae (as on his biggest hit here, Brother Down). Mostly though, it's just passionate, honest and straight-ahead catchy rock songs that carry the day. When he tells us in On the Run that he "would die for rock and roll", well, you start to worry that that's not an idle threat. After you're finished this album, you almost wonder what rock would do without him.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

 

#4) Radiohead - Hail to the Thief (2003)

It's become somewhat vogue to bash Radiohead over the course of their last few albums, oh say, since Kid A, when they went off the track of traditional rock into the recently uncharted territory of prog rock. Sure Thom Yorke is pretentious. Sure, the band is in danger of going up its own arse (they're British) musically. But you know what? They still frickin' rock. On 2003's Hail to the Thief, they made the most of their looping, complex compositions and often impenetrable lyrics to create a masterpiece. Like most heavily layered albums, it's extremely rewarding on successive listens, and it's rare I don't discover a new texture to go with their overarching melodies… but then it's probably boring pseudo-intellectual proclamations like from rock critics that turned you off Radiohead in the first place, right? OK, just listen to the crashing chorus of 2+2=5, or the thumping dance rock of Myxomatosis (and just forget about the fact that it's titled after a fatal disease in rabbits) and tell me Radiohead still doesn't know how to rock. In a half decade of rock that has been highlighted by every band copying ever other band, Radiohead stand alone in pushing envelopes.


     


 
 

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