Nationalistic 2005

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

FantÔmas, Suspended Animation (Ipecac). Mind-boggling in scope and execution, Mike Patton's wickedly entertaining tour de force assaults the senses with a brutal mix of speed metal, film noir scores and cartoon sound effects. Everything and the kitchen sink, this claustrophobic long-player not only boasts members of Slayer and the Melvins, but finds Ipecac raising the bar of art music to new heights. -- La Briola

Felt, Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet (Rhymesayers). Writing songs that would make Ms. Bonet blush and Bill Cosby want to beat some ass, MCs Slug and Murs trade barbs on their favorite topic: women. The two display undeniable chemistry on tracks like "Woman Tonight" and "Marvin Gaye," built upon Ant's fatback beats. No grand statements here, just two rappers having fun. -- Mayo

Jason Forrest, Shamelessly Exciting (Sonig). During this playful exercise in mash-spastic excess, Forrest guides listeners through an aural assault featuring '70s-era Top 40 nods, beloved punk snippets and something called "Skyrocket Saturday," which suggests Seals and Crofts being mangled into a paste of Blood, Sweat and Tear-stained hooks. Exciting honors John Oswald's "Plunderphonics" while turning pop afterthought into an art form. -- La Briola

The Game, The Documentary (Aftermath/G-Unit/Interscope). Coming straight outta Compton, the Game single-handedly puts the West Coast back on the hip-hop map. Outstanding production from Dr. Dre ("Westside Story"), Havoc ("Don't Need Your Love") and Kanye ("Dreams"), as well as some vocal assistance from 50 Cent, makes this one of 2005's best-sounding records. -- Mayo

Gang of Four, Return the Gift (V2). Today's throbbing dance punk pales in comparison to what Leeds produced during the Thatcher era. Subversive and groundbreaking, Gang of Four's distinct, rubbery brand of sexless funk more than holds up after two decades. These new versions of old classics serve as a blueprint for every imitating upstart from Franz Ferdinand to the Futureheads. -- La Briola

Gris Gris, For the Season (Birdman). The Bay Area's nu-psychedelic scene may be overshadowed by the mighty Comets on Fire, but Gris Gris is on a way deeper trip. Akin to John Coltrane's Ascension as filtered through the webbing of Syd Barrett's brain, For the Season converts folk, noise and the human voice into one vast, primordial Om. -- Heller

The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday (Frenchkiss). The last thing you want is your rock band to be considered literate. It's a good thing, then, that the Hold Steady, just like all the truly smart kids throughout history, knows how to punch itself in the face and make dumb, even as it's spitting out some of the most deceptively cerebral lyrics and riffs since the Fall or Blue Öyster Cult. -- Heller

I Wayne, Lava Ground (VP Records). I Wayne's seductive, Smokey Robinson-like voice helped usher in the return of one-drop roots riddims, which ruled Jamaican dancehalls this year. On his fiery debut, the Jamaican native speaks out on the evils of prostitution ("Can't Satisfy Her") and critiques those of African descent who lighten their skin ("Bleacher"). -- Mayo

Leela James, A Change Is Gonna Come (Warner Bros.). On her forward-thinking, retro-sounding debut, this L.A. product puts heartfelt soul into tracks like "Music," in which she sings, "We can't go back to yesterday/But can we just put the thongs away?" Her stirring rendition of the Sam Cooke title track is a great alternative to R&B cheese. -- Mayo

Little Brother, The Minstrel Show (Atlantic). Much of Little Brother's major-label debut supplies entertainingly twisted takes on themes director Spike Lee fumbled in 2000's Bamboozled. But there's more to this Show than satire. MCs Phonte and Big Pooh are legit talents, and 9th Wonder, who's loaned his production acumen to Jay-Z and other marquee types, turns the studio into a funhouse. -- Roberts

Lords, Swords (Jade Tree). Lords rule. Swords kill. Put them together and you've got one murderously oppressive record. On its first full-length outing, this young Kentuckian trio can't seem to find any difference between the rabid savagery of Void and Venom, but doesn't mind decimating its laughable metalcore competition in the attempt. -- Heller

Magnolia Electric Co. , What Comes After the Blues (Secretly Canadian). Jason Molina, true to his hero, Will Oldham, likes to shift band lineups and toy with his name for the sake of sheer pretension. Luckily, Molina's music hasn't suffered a whit because of it. His first album as the leader of Magnolia Electric Co. is a full-bodied cup of ragged country rock that'll put grit between your teeth and a sliver in your heart. -- Heller

Shannon McNally, Geronimo (Back Porch). Shannon McNally's approach to Americana is as expansive as the country itself, encompassing rock, blues, soul, twang and plenty more. This eclectic mélange hangs together thanks to her sturdy/sassy voice and tell-it-like-it-is lyrics, such as the "Miracle Mile" confession that most of what passes for quality these days "sounds like bullshit to me." Amen. -- Roberts

M.I.A. , Arular (XL). Maya Arulpragasam, a Brit of Sri Lankan descent who wisely goes by M.I.A., specializes in party music, and a global audience is invited. Arular is a funky-fresh amalgam of dancehall and other rhythm-centric styles that's sonically spare but conceptually inclusive. "Pull Up the People" isn't just a title; it's a philosophy. -- Roberts

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