Picking their noise 

Our critics’ fave music of ’05

Ass-End Offend is one of the best bands in Missoula right now and their latest album, Unchecked Aggression (Wäntage USA), is a salty kernel of punk that dwarfs a lot of other records this year. The whole thing is just minutes long, but the barking vocals and fast-as-all-hell hoedown of songs like “Your American Dream is our Nightmare” last like the scar from a hot cow brand. (EF)

After stepping out from behind his “Lt. Eddie Diamond” mask (the alter ego issued him by local band Iron Lasso), crackerjack banjo player Lorenzo Gangi found his true identity this year. Gangi’s remarkable debut record, Fistful of Lonesome (Iron Lasso Enterprises), has received attention from folks so far off they’ve never even heard of the Old Post Pub. With gleaming banjo work from Gangi and a who’s-who roster of supporting artists (examples: Ian Flemming and Eric Uglum on guitar and “Nashville Star” finalist Matt Lindahl on vocals), this Missoulian successfully sticks his landing on the contemporary bluegrass map. (CK)

With a proficiency at electro-acoustic manipulation usually reserved for academics in university studios, Richard Devine brings the cerebral art of digital signal processing to the dance floor. Cautella (Sublight) is a testament to both his artistic ambition and penchant for rhythm. Sometimes using upward of a thousand samples in a single track, Devine’s complexity is fueled by an amazing amount of raw energy that often results in the stunned listener asking, “How the hell did he do that?” (AF)

Much has been made of The Decemberists’ various connections to Missoula, and rightfully so, but perhaps overshadowed in the local commotion is the fact that Picaresque (Kill Rock Stars) is one heck of an album from this intelligent, catchy, alt-rock outfit. From the beautiful acoustic delivery of “Eli, The Barrow Boy” to the radio-friendly, pop chops of “16 Military Wives,” “We Both Go Down Together” and “The Sporting Life,” it’s the band’s most complete and accessible album yet. The Decemberists’ big news at the end of the year was that they left Kill Rock Stars for industry giant Capitol Records, so it’ll be interesting to see if and how the change will influence their next effort. (SB)

Someone should launch an ad campaign warning kids of the addictive power of The Soviettes’ LP III (Fat Wreck Chords). For some (no naming names), this Ramones-styled, dark pop-punk induces feverish air guitar, jumping on beds and an obsessive need to hit repeat whenever the album ends. Critics have a lazy need to classify the 3/4 female band as “riot grrl.” Truth is, it’s a genderless rock album with perfectly edgy hooks and commanding vocals that intoxicate the brain. Excuse me while I press play again. (EF)

Seductively tickling the mind with clever displays of intellect, and so thoroughly pleasurable it could lead to an unseemly loss of self-control, Twin Cinema lures its audience into an irresistible orgy of power pop. The New Pornographers (Matador) cite a raft of plush, post-Beatles influences, from 10cc to the Moody Blues to Genesis. But don’t expect the languid, over-produced AOR of the ’70s. The Pornographers come at you with real fury, pounding the harmony right down into your heels. Puritans beware. Listen just once and The New Pornographers will surely become an obsessive preoccupation. (MG)

Foghorn Stringband has had an exciting 2005. The Portland quintet signed with Nettwerk Records, was chosen to represent the U.S. at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia (the first time our country has been invited to participate in the massive annual event) and released a much-applauded third album, Weiser Sunrise (Nettwerk). You’ll find no new-fangled widgets or gizmos on this record, just a frenzy of hillbilly wizardry. (CK)

If you were one of the unfortunates who missed The Duhks’ June show at The Other Side—which rivaled The Gourds as one of the venue’s best non-hip-hop events of the year—then salvage something by at least enjoying their self-titled album on Sugar Hill Records released at the beginning of the year. It’s not fair to pigeonhole this talented Canadian quintet as merely folk—on the feverishly upbeat “Gene’s Machine” they sound like an Irish pub band, and their arrangement of the traditional “Death Came a Knockin’” is a Motown-flavored, soul-filled rocker. (SB)

Winnipeg, Canada: home of icy winds, mosquito swarms, severe flooding and Venetian Snares, aka Aaron Funk—the most vicious and perverse beat masher ever to touch a laptop. As Venetian Snares, Funk’s output has been an unrelenting barrage of hacked-up drum loops, bowel-rattling bass and pornographic samples. Then he had an epiphany while gazing at the roof of a Hungarian cathedral and watching pigeons fly through the gray clouds—the musical result of this experience was the emotionally haunting, orchestral masterwork Rossz Csillag Allat Született (Planet Mu). Think cellos and breakcore can’t get along? Prepare to be pleasantly surprised. (AF)

It might be wise to wear a helmet while listening to U.S.S. Horsewhip…Wants You Dead (New Regard) because this is the most rambunctious album of the year. Gang vocals rising over hurricane guitar feel more like revolution than rendition, and James Burns’ gravelly sermons are unapologetic and contagious. Tired of whiny, affected “indie” rock that has no spine? This album has emotional yearning and beautifully innovative riffs—but it’s a barbaric album built for a rumble. (EF)

The Work Related Illness (Planet Mu) is Virus Syndicate’s first album, but it’s got the atmosphere and confidence of a veteran outfit. Producer Mark One and his band of Manchester hoods handle the U.K. grime sound with a casual yet cocksure swagger that puts 90 percent of American gangsta rap to shame. Cruising with a spliff while bumping this stuff makes for a top-notch evening. (AF)

Beck’s 2005 effort Guero (Interscope) could be a retrospective if the material on it wasn’t all fresh. The album starts off rollicking in Mellow Gold’s cardboard box breakdance stance but also mixes in Mutations’ straightforward songsmithing. And before concluding, Guero mixes One Foot in the Grave’s four-track basement blues with Midnight Vulture’s blips and beeps. And that’s just two tracks of 13. Guero is not a best-of album; by mining the past and melding it with the present, it manages to be a better-than album. (JW)

Fans still mourning the 2000 breakup of the funked-up New York City trio Soul Coughing had a chance to wipe away any tears when the band’s former frontman, Mike Doughty, finally released his first solo album, Haughty Melodic (ATO). It lacks the edge of Doughty’s former band—it’s actually simplistic pep-pop, replacing Soul Coughing’s signature bass lines and samples with a heavy dose of Doughty’s open-tuned acoustic strumming—but still features the singer’s patented rhythmic delivery. Fans of the old band with a tolerance for happy music will find this hard to pull out of the stereo. (SB)

There’s something intriguingly foreign about Last of the Juanitas’ album In the Dirt (Wäntage USA), and it isn’t that the first song is called “Baghdad.” Lana Rebel has rough intonation and a ghostly wail when she’s not belting her guts out. This is a roily, animalistic album with a heavy dirge of chords and crushing drums, adding up to a completely alien soundscape with an undertone of anxiety, a nightmarish anticipation coupled with thrilling riffs that can induce lots of headbanging. (EF)

Chances are you’ll never hear Saltlick’s self-released debut album, A Face Only A Mother Could Love (self-released). The album is out of stock at the band’s website and CD Baby, and there are currently no upcoming shows on their tour calendar. So, you’ll have to rip a copy from somebody who saw Saltlick “put the Oregon back into country” at Sean Kelly’s back in September. Self-described as “Steve Earle meets Pavement,” it took these dudes five years to make their first record. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear fans should hold their breath for number two. (CK)

Two Year Touqe’s The Midi West (CDB) is full of all kinds of trickery. Paul Copoc sings “she’s like candy to my teeth,” which sort of describes what it’s like to consume this album. It’s easy, silly and it makes you a kid again. But the pop riffs and lyrical sincerity have a disarming effect that leaves you open to the sadder, more nostalgic moments. It’s simple and good for the soul, in a way that’s hard to admit but harder to dispute. (EF)

Roots Manuva is easily one of the best producers and MCs working in hip-hop today. The South London-dwelling son of Jamaican immigrants has been recording music for years, but Awfully Deep (Big Dada) is the finest record of his career. The trademark deep, rootsy vibe that flavors his discs achieves a degree of quality here that’s often impeccable. There isn’t a single bad track on the album. Hip-hop, dub, reggae, dancehall, electronica and R&B intermingle on the best chill-out recording of the year. (AF)

Great rock does not require musical genius. It doesn’t hurt that Jack White has guitar god tendencies, but The White Stripes’ latest album, Get Behind Me Satan (V2), is no Berklee College of Music thesis. The album is heavy on the moxie and long on letting it all hang out; it feels slapped together with songs running together from track to track, closing notes mixed under the first strains of the next track. It’s a fitting conceit, since the hardest thing about listening to Get Behind Me Satan is not skipping ahead to hear what’s next. (JW)

The soundscapes and crushing buildups present on Gravenhurst’s Fires in Distant Buildings (Warp) only hint at his murder ballad-cum-acid folk beginnings. While retaining his eerie falsetto and creepy lyrical content, Gravenhurst’s latest record ventures into post-rock territory with the machete-wielding zeal of a jungle explorer. (AF)

Reviews by Skylar Browning, Adam Fangsrud, Erika Fredrickson, Matt Gibson, Caroline Keys and Jason Wiener.

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