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The ten finest albums of the semester

Joe Lattal | Friday, April 28, 2006

WVFI Station Manager Joe Lattal selects the Notre Dame Web radio’s choices for best albums of the semester, a list that highlights the top independent and mainstream discs that have been released this year.

The list was compiled from the best discs that arrived at the station in the past four months. While it includes several familiar faces, it also has its share of relatively new acts, some of whom have performed at Notre Dame.

Belle and Sebastian, “The Life Pursuit”

WVFI’s favorite group from Scotland just wrapped up a successful tour with Matador Records friends New Pornographers. Belle and Sebastian released “The Life Pursuit” just nine months after “Push the Barman to Open Old Wounds,” proving that they are as energetic as ever. But where does “Life Pursuit” rank among some of the band’s classics such as “The Boy With the Arab Strap” and “If You’re Feeling Sinister?” Every fan will disagree if this is their best, but what is certain is that this was the best CD to hit WVFI over the last four months.

Mates of State, “Bring it Back”

Having achieved great success with its last LP, Team Boo, the keyboard-drums duo has done it again. With this album, listeners are treated to a more mature Mates of State that is not afraid to venture forth from its staked claim on the pop map into a more varied territory. This feel good album is perfect for humming along on warm summer days with that special someone.

Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, “Rabbit Fur Coat”

Rilo Kiley fans anticipated what Jenny Lewis’s solo project would sound like, and the result was more than agreeable. Featuring Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Ben Gibbard (from Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service) and other talent, “Rabbit Fur Coat” is the complete package – full of more laidback, Rilo Kiley tunes, some upbeat material and the alt-country single of the year so far, “Rise Up With Fists!”

The album has been extremely popular and well-received and has stayed in WVFI’s top ten for nearly two months.

Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, “Dust of Retreat”

When Margot played Legends in September as the opening act for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the Indianapolis band immediately made a fan out of the 500 audience members. Since that performance, the band has earned numerous praises for its successful debut album. Not only did the band execute in the live setting, but the studio album also offers solid indie rock, adeptly combining several influences.

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, “Fear Is On Our Side”

Austin’s “I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness” debut CD climbed for eight straight weeks on CMJ’s Radio 200 chart. The opening track, “The Ghost,” sets the tone for the entire album. The music slowly swims through gentle chord progressions until the terrorizing rhythm guitars and percussion enter. The song drifts into a climactic chorus that escapes and returns liberally. Like the rest of the album, “The Ghost” is the most mysterious pop music listeners have heard since Interpol’s “Turn on the Bright Lights” and almost as strong.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Show Your Bones”

Karen O and the gang faced lots of pressure after the successful garage punk “Fever to Tell.” The New York band took a different direction with “Show Your Bones,” using a little bit more of a straight-edge sound.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs maintained punk credibility with rougher tracks like “Cheated Hearts” and “Mysteries,” but it featured more refined rock dimension, which comes out clearly in the single “Gold Lion” as well as other tracks such as “Phenomena” and “Way Out.” The risky move proved successful as the band added other styles to its songwriting besides going all out with screams and distortion.

Islands, “Return to the Sea”

After the explosion and subsequent dissolution of the Canadian Independent stars The Unicorns, two members continued on together to form Islands. While this new project is clearly influenced by the former band, it has a sound that is more mature and altogether its own. Including complex melodies with a sharp pop sensibility, a significantly darker overall tone and even a bit of hip-hop, this new formation is sure to please new and old fans alike.

Destroyer, “Destroyer’s Rubies”

Opening with an epic title track that clocks in just shy of ten minutes, Dan Bejar’s (aka Destroyer) latest effort, “Destroyer’s Rubies,” is a nearly flawless album. Combining jangly, meandering pop tunes with wonderfully spun and creatively clever lyrics, Bejar achieves greatness only hinted at on his previous discs.

Bejar, who is also a member of the critically acclaimed band New Pornographers, has been making solo projects through this moniker for several years and through several albums. “Rubies,” by far his most cohesive album, is easily one of the best discs of 2006 thus far.

The Strokes, “First Impressions of Earth”

The Strokes reaffirmed themselves with their latest album – possibly their strongest release ever – which came out in the first week of the year. Julian Casablancas’ vocals were clearer and more comprehensible than ever before, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. finally showed off their talent, bassist Nikolai Fraiture showed some personality, and Fabrizio Moretti’s percussion was heavier than ever.

With a more appropriate running time than their previous work and more diligent songwriting, the Strokes finally produced what fans have really been waiting for – a satisfying album from beginning to end.

Morrissey, “Ringleader of the Tormentors”

When Morrissey isn’t busy condemning entire nations or penning press releases, he actually makes fairly good music. “Ringleader” features more rocking tunes than Morrissey’s last release, “You Are the Quarry.” As always, his elegant voice shimmers whether he is pulling for romantic or aggressive effects. Morrissey’s undying eloquence makes the typical rock star look like Wesley Willis.