By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Jason Goodman, Hogpig
Unsane, Blood Run (Relapse): "I think they may have distorted every instrument and vocal on this record. Weird time signatures and questionable attempts at staying on key are rampant. It's just a tough sounding bunch of songs, but that's what you might expect from a band whose bass player has a machine gun tattooed on his arm."
Chris Holston, The Valentines
Kings of Leon, Aha Shake Heartbreak (RCA): "Aha Shake Heartbreak is a perfect reason why the Kings of Leon have been hyped by everyone for the past year. It seems every buzz band screws itself with a sophomore effort flop, but these boys have surpassed their debut album immensely. With singer Caleb Followill's Southern growl and early Stones-like guitar riffs, they have a true knack for making the simple sound extremely complex. Compared to the pigeonhole they are labeled into, this album is a definite mark of longevity."
Dangerdoom, The Mouse and the Mask (Epitaph): "We talked about it, and we thought the best album of 2005 was The Mouse and the Mask by Dangerdoom. We thought the concept was dope, and DJ Danger Mouse's production is ill from beginning to end, and MF Doom is always on point with rhymes. It's a complete album."
Daniel Huffman, Ghostcar, Day of the Double Agent
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Worn Copy (Paw Tracks): "For one, it overcame my temptation to hate it. Besides having some insanely addictive and contagious songs, it gives the world hope and shows us that you don't have to be a master musician in a deluxe studio to get your music out there. You can still make freakish, weird, progressive low-fidelity pop music in your bedroom and do all the drum sounds with your mouth. You can let your freak flag fly, and someone still might put your music on their label for all of the world to hear."
Robert Gomez, Latin Pimps
Headphones, Headphones (Suicide Squeeze): "Upon first listen of Headphones' debut I was completely floored. The lyrics are compelling, the melodies beautiful, the arrangements thoughtful, the execution flawless. Bazan is especially skilled in creating a full and interesting texture from just two instruments, keyboard and drumset. Ten songs plus one bonus track, all great."
Mara Lee Miller, Bosque Brown
Damien Jurado, On My Way to Absence (Secretly Canadian): "Maybe an obvious choice for me but truly an honest choice. Damien's voice is sincere as to who he is. The writing is void of witty pretension. This album is free of sounds popular for this year that will become tiresome the next. Many never escape the 'times,' and few possess the ability to do so...Damien does."
John Dufilho, The Deathray Davies, I Love Math
Salim Nourallah, Beautiful Noise (Western Vinyl): "With Beautiful Noise, Salim's ability to engineer and produce caught up with his songwriting and singing. It's scary how talented he has become."
McKenzie Smith, Midlake
Robert Gomez, Etherville (Basement Front): "Many people know Robert Gomez as an incredible jazz guitarist who fronts a very hip Latin group, Rob G. and the Latin Pimps. With his solo debut album, Etherville, he displays an even greater depth of musicianship in the forms of intelligent songwriting and beautiful melodies. Simply said, I love this record!"
Curtis Glenn Heath, The Theater Fire
Paul Wall, The People's Champ (Atlantic): "'Persistent musician nurtures a uniquely Texan sound...sales of independent releases force national record execs to take notice.' That was the formula for Bob Wills in the '30s with Western Swing, and Paul Wall follows suit in 2005 with Chopped and Screwed. What if Dallas musicians continued this maverick tradition of doing it our own way instead of waiting for major labels to come to town? Oh...and the songs on the album are pretty OK, too, if you're into that sort of thing."