Nationalistic 2005

The rest of the planet generated some good CDs this year, too.

Don't downgrade musicians just because they live somewhere other than Colorado. It's not their fault that their parents or guardians raised them in different states, or even foreign countries. Many of them would have objected if they'd been old enough to talk, no doubt, but by the time they'd mastered the art of conversation, it was too late. As for those outsiders happy where they are, well, there's no accounting for taste.

Even so, the list below, painstakingly compiled by many of your faithful Backbeat servants, features something for every taste. So set aside your preconceptions and check out the best of what the rest of the world has to offer.

Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno, IAO CHANT From the Cosmic Inferno (Ace Fu Records). The latest from musical madman Kawabata Makoto simultaneously offers less and more. There's just one song here: "OM Riff From the Cosmic Inferno." Yet the ditty is more than 51 minutes long, and Makoto and his psychedelicized brethren pack it with enough drones, grooves and uncategorizable miscellanea to fill a dozen ordinary discs. Heady stuff. -- Michael Roberts

Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now (Secretly Canadian). Why does Bird fly? Because behind his fey vocals and fondness for gender-bending melodrama, leader Antony Hegarty is a singular talent who consistently transforms impossible situations into surprising triumphs. Tracks like "For Today I Am a Boy" are emotionally resonant mini-opuses that regularly take wing. -- Roberts

APSCI, Thanks for Asking (Quannum Projects). We've all heard complaints that indie hip-hop, for all its good intentions, lacks the boom-bap! of the bitches-and-bling thing. Fortunately, APSCI provides a fine substitute: the singing, rapping and sheer presence of Dana Diaz-Tutaan, which serve as perfect counterpoints to wonderfully dense soundscapes and Raphael LaMotta's conscious rhyming. -- Roberts

Art of Flying, asifyouwerethesea (Discobolus). Like Ahab obsessed with that rascally whale, Art of Flying frontman Dave Costanza stares down the blowhole of seafaring mythology. Straight out of Questa, New Mexico, and with a refined taste for sad, psychedelic folk, AOF harpoons the beast with quiet, loving precision. Better yet, the unassuming trio makes it all seem effortless. -- John La Briola

Big Business, Head for the Shallow (Hydra Head). Heavy metal, from its name on down, has always been metaphoric. But simple comparisons to earth-moving machines or the applied physics of fucking don't do justice to this debut by Seattle's premier drum-and-bass metal act. So Big Business it is: a staggeringly humongous, inexorably bone-sucking specimen of rock monstrosity. -- Jason Heller

Vashti Bunyan, Lookaftering (DiCristina). A thirty-year gap between albums isn't much of a career plan. Then again, British folk chanteuse Vashti Bunyan always sounded more like a creature of the earth than of the music industry. Lookaftering reprises the sylvan charm and minimalist majesty of her 1970 classic, Just Another Diamond Day, and proves that Nick Drake and Nico had more in common than anyone ever knew. -- Heller

Cage, Hell's Winter (Def Jux). Hell's Winter is the rap equivalent of James Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces. Like the book, Cage's story is a harrowing account of struggles with substance abuse ("Peeranoia") and father figures ("Stripes"). When you hear Cage rap about helping his abusive Vietnam-vet father shoot up heroin, you'll feel like you're eavesdropping on a therapy session. -- James Mayo

Chris Liebing/Speedy J, Collabs 3000: Metalism (Novamute). Electro-dance albums that succeed in clubs often fail in settings that lack the requisite number of sweaty bodies -- and/or easy access to social lubricants. Not so Collabs 3000, in which Chris Liebing and Jochem "Speedy J" Paap balance pumping beats with quirky touches and intriguing arrangements that actually inspire repeated listens. -- Roberts

Common, Be (Geffen). With some help from Kanye West, Common has produced a record that's on the same level as Resurrection, his 1994 classic. Sounding at ease throughout, he displays an introspective maturity on the gospel-tinged "Faithful" and introduces a new generation to the Last Poets, who help him educate listeners about the sociological importance of "The Corner." -- Mayo

Ry Cooder, Ch´vez Ravine (Nonesuch). A tribute to the once-vibrant hillside later bulldozed to erect Dodger Stadium, Cooder's conceptual masterstroke combines baseball, UFOs, communism and J. Edgar Hoover. It also blends jazz, pop and every musical strain known to East L.A., showcasing pachuco boogie king Don Tosti and Chicano legends Ersi Arvizu and Little Willie G., whose "Muy Fifi" is muy excelente. -- La Briola

Edan, The Beauty and the Beat (Lewis Recordings). A seamless, heady mix of '60s psychedelia and old-school rap that sounds at times like a Brian Wilson remix of the Treacherous Three. The combination shouldn't work, but it succeeds because of Edan's experimental production style, which injects hip-hop with a much-needed sense of rejuvenated innocence. -- Mayo

The Evens, The Evens (Dischord). Minor Threat, Embrace and Fugazi helped engender hardcore, emo and post-hardcore, respectively. At the front of them all was Ian MacKaye, and while the debut by his new coed duo isn't about to jump-start a new genre, it's a tuneful yet edgy meditation on global and personal politics that, despite its sparseness, makes screamo sound like a squeak. -- Heller

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