Nationalistic 2005

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

Ennio Morricone, Crime and Dissonance (Ipecac). This two-discer from insanely prolific composer Ennio Morricone cherry-picks the maestro's obscure foreign scores from 1969 to 1974. Drawing on a musical lexicon that includes ghostly vocal choruses, church organs, clattering percussion and plenty of audible heavy petting, Morricone discovers places that the acid-gobbling Miles Davis couldn't find with a map. -- La Briola

Pilotdrift, Water Sphere (Good Records). With arguably the year's most ambitious offering, Texarkana's Pilotdrift takes the clouds by storm, lifting listeners to dizzying heights normally reserved for the Flaming Lips, Queen and composer John Barry, of James Bond soundtrack fame. With music this rich and dramatic, the first band signed to the Polyphonic Spree's Good Records goes yard with its first at-bat. -- La Briola

Platinum Pied Pipers, Triple P (Ubiquity Records). On Triple P, Detroit-raised producers Saadiq and Waajeed assemble a cast of talented artists to flesh out their vision of progressive soul music. One listen to the disc's takes on rap ("Act Like You Know," with Jay Dee), motor-booty funk ("Deep Inside," with SA-RA Creative Partners) or space-age jazz ("One Minute More," with Tiombe Lockhart) and you'll find yourself getting down with the PPP. -- Mayo

Red Sparowes, At the Soundless Dawn (Neurot). Featuring members and associates of such abrasively unnerving acts as Neurosis, Isis, Angel Hair and the VSS, Red Sparowes could easily have wound up being the sonic equivalent of a collapsing star. Instead, At the Soundless Dawn is a fugue of droning ambience and dreamy oblivion that mesmerizes rather than maims. -- Heller

Terry Reid, Superlungs (Astralwerks). If Robert Plant ever has nightmares of Terry Reid wearing a bigger codpiece, there's good reason: Reid had the pipes, 'tude and tenacity to lead Led Zeppelin in a direction beyond cuddly hobbits. An exceptional collection of reissued hits and rarities, Superlungs finds Donovan's old drinking buddy (and one of Cheap Trick's main influences) earning more than a bloody asterisk in the book of British rock. -- La Briola

Beanie Sigel, The B. Coming (Roc-A-Fella). Facing federal gun and drug charges as well as accusations that he was complicit in a murder, Beans sought refuge from his ghetto pain by imbibing '70s soul. Today the murder beef is behind him, but his time in jail limited his ability to properly promote his best record, which features a "Purple Rain" that has nothing to do with Prince. -- Mayo

Six Organs of Admittance, School of the Flower (Drag City). Ben Chasny either grew up in the Catholic church or in a satanic cult. Regardless, the latest release from his Six Organs of Admittance evokes awe, trembling and an almost religious mystery. As conversant with John Fahey's The Yellow Princess as it is with John McLaughlin's Extrapolation, the disc thankfully embeds some comforting psych-folk songcraft in its chanting, incense-steeped eeriness. -- Heller

Supergrass, Road to Rouen (Capitol). Pucker up, Beatles fans. What begins as a pastoral venture into the land of Humpty Dumpty winds up with brassy pageantry and a psychedelic twist on string quartets. After a disappointing greatest-hits album, Supergrass delivers the goods this go-round, turning lush pop arrangements into a jaw-dropping screed of middle-aged angst. If you think you'll be 21 forever, think again. -- La Briola

System of a Down, Mezmerize/Hypnotize (American/Columbia). This hard-rock double-header isn't 2005's biggest bargain; the songs on these discs, which were released six months apart, could (and should) have been squeezed onto a single CD. Then again, the thrilling inventiveness that Daron Malakian and company bring to the material undermines value-based complaints. Punishing, political and, against all odds, popular. That's an unassailable combination. -- Roberts

Tarantula AD, Book of Sand (Kemado). Despite millennia of conditioning by Western culture, human beings often create the greatest art by making no fucking sense whatsoever. Case in point: Tarantula AD's Book of Sand, an utter babble of prog, classical, post-hardcore, piano ballads, pizzicato fiddles, bird sounds and celestial voices. Oh, and total rock. Stravinsky meets Cerberus Shoal? The end must be nigh. Bring it on. -- Heller

Chad Van Gaalen, Infiniheart (Sub Pop). Chad Van Gaalen crafts the kind of haunting melodies that one might expect from a guy who spends too much time brooding in a hooded parka, not an exotic-instrument builder from Calgary. Van Gallen's prolific phobias range from underground blood machines to being killed in his sleep. But cabin fever this compelling and tenderhearted rewards a close listen. -- La Briola

David S. Ware, Live in the World (Thirsty Ear). Somewhere along the way, many exploratory-jazz artists stopped testing the genre's boundaries for an entirely defensible reason: They want to eat on a regular basis. But for saxophonist David Ware, creative satisfaction apparently trumps a full belly. His latest consists of three in-concert performances that are as challenging as they are exhilarating. -- Roberts

Kanye West, Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella Records). In the beginning, Mr. West's well-documented egomania was at least partly a pose -- the instinctive reaction of a born geek desperately trying to keep up with the cool kids. Now, though, he's the pacesetter, and deservedly so. Commercially savvy, artistically sophisticated and entirely of the moment, Late Registration is right on time. -- Roberts

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