Meredith Bragg + The Terminals, The Departures EP (The Kora Records)

Meredith Bragg + The Terminals - The Departures EP Meredith Bragg + The Terminals
The Departures EP
The Kora Records
By: Kerry M

Ben Gibbard had better watch his back. For better or worse, Meredith Bragg & The Terminals clearly have him and his Death Cab Postal Service in their sights. Following closely on the heels of their well-received debut, Volume 1, The Departures EP reveals a more confident Bragg and an even more refined emulation of the Death Cab For Cutie song craft. In fact, several lyrics from The Departures EP could have easily been swiped from old Ben's Hello Kitty stickered Moleskine notebook and might very well be mistaken for Death Cab b-sides by an unsuspecting iPod shuffle listener vacantly staring out the window of a lonely intercity bus.

As obvious as the influences on their sleeves, the tracks from The Departures EP deal frankly and openly with the process of departing and moving on. Empty Beds, with its catchy YMG-like strumming, colorful vibes and orchestral chorus of “what will I do for christmas?” laments the next steps taken following the end of a relationship, while Postcard from Boston employs fragile finger-picking, cello and hushed percussion to accompany an imagined late night phone call full of longing. Talk Me Down, a slightly turbulent track of tumult, ebbs and flows with varied instrumentation and timing changes that seem to mirror the ups and downs of the relationship as Bragg urges his interlocutor not to be rash in departing too soon following an apparent lovers’ quarrel. Meanwhile, Let's Start Over with its Kronos Quartet cello and Gibbardesque lyrical stylings of “I don't know what is worse, living once or in reverse” could probably pass for a clever Postal Service + Kronos Quartet mashup if served up as such by a sneaky mp3blog.

Though he's clearly becoming more vocally assured and comfortable with his songwriting talents, as well as those of his bandmates, Bragg's lyrical delivery remains decidedly derivative throughout much of the EP. The final track, a cover of Jason Molina's Two Blue Lights, proves that Mr. Bragg is capable of much more than impressive impressions of Ben and Elliott and would do well to plan a stylistic departure for himself and the Terminals. It would be quite a shame to squander such talent and potential by perpetuating the unfortunate label of being “that band that sounds like Death Cab.”

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To Buy the EP, visit the Kora Records Store.

The Strokes, First Impressions Of Earth (RCA)

The Strokes - First Impressions Of Earth The Strokes
First Impressions Of Earth
By: Eric Greenwood

As derivative as Is This It was, The Strokes still managed to define themselves on their own terms. To this day, the haters lash out at the band as venomously as they did in the beginning, citing everything from the band's privileged background to the sheer luck of picking out the right clothes, but the backlash only becomes hollower as The Strokes refuse to sink under the pressure of sustaining their own hype.

Fist Impressions of Earth will not spark a cultural ripple like Is This It did. Rarely do bands get the chance to be in the right place at the right time twice in a career. Room on Fire may have suffered from too much sameness, but a lateral step is always better than a backwards one. The Strokes knew that this third record would either prove their detractors right or cement their status as a rock band that matters, and they step up to the challenge with a ballsy batch of rock songs.

The lackadaisical, muted chugging that opens "You Only Live Once" is misleading as far as what this album does to The Strokes' core sound, but it offers a familiar musical palette to ease fans in to what is to come. Julian Casablancas sounds typically full of himself, but his raggedy grumble is in top form. He may not have much to say in terms of substantive lyrics (see "Ask Me Anything"), but the way he delivers his lines makes up for any lack of poetic sensibility. And, let's face it, nobody is listening to The Strokes for the lyrics, anyway.

The real changes begin with the first single, "Juicebox", in which the increasingly taut rhythm section does its best "Peter Gun Theme" impression while Casablancas belligerently snarls "whyyyy won't you come over here-uhhhhh" over the most aggressive dueling guitars the band has ever employed. It's a weird, schizophrenic song, running through Strokes' specific indie jangle and recessive, emotive tangents, which allow Casablancas to prove that he has a range outside of miming Jim Morrison's baritone.

Thankfully, Gordon Raphael was replaced as producer to allow the band to rock outside of a tinny megaphone. The Strokes match their innate catchiness with a new found intensity that makes First Impressions of Earth sound like a band hungry for blood and not one that's content to make niche music for white dudes with afros and girls jeans and distressed baseball sleeves.

Top 20 Albums Of The Year, 2005 (Various)

Top 20 Albums Of The Year - 2005 Top 20 Albums Of The Year
By: Eric Greenwood

1. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm (Vice)

I didn’t want to like this record as much as I did because the whole art school, post-punk, Gang of Four rip-off guitar show has grown hackneyed, but the melodies stick with you and mean something. And your favorite record should be the one you listened to the most. Well, this is it.

2. LCD Sound System, LCD Sound System (DFA)

James Murphy listens to good music. It’s obvious because he rips off everything under the sun, especially The Fall. Mark E. Smith has a lawsuit on his hands if he wants it-uh. This album still kills.

3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Self-released)

I was a much bigger fan of this album before I saw the band perform on Conan O’brien. My suspicions that the singer was a snotty, self-obsessed indie prick were confirmed. Still, if you can get past his nasally whine, which sounds like an emaciated David Byrne being stabbed with a hot poker, his band comes up with some unforgettable songs on this impossibly catchy debut.

4. Spoon, Gimme Fiction (Merge)

Britt Daniel is a bad ass. This is Spoon’s most focused, soulful, and minimal record to date, but you would never know that if you only listened to it once. The songs don’t jump out of the speakers the way they did on **Kill the Moonlight** or even on **Girls Can Tell**, but, trust me, this album is just as good, if not better.

5. Bright Eyes, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning (Saddle Creek)

Yes, Conor Oberst is a sniveling little emo twat, but I must admit the guy’s got a way with words. This is an intimate folk record that pierces through the bullshit just the way it should. He’s writing at the top of his game, losing the cryptic diary drama of his early work for songs that pack more than an emotional punch for fourteen-year-old girls.

6. Beck, Guero (Geffen)

This may be Beck’s most “mature” record to date, but the insanity of his lyrics hasn’t tapered a bit. Nor has his propensity for a relentless barrage of beats and grooves. It’s not as overtly showy as Odelay, but it grows more substantive each time you play it.

7. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine (Sony)

Fiona Apple just has one of those voices that makes me want to listen to what she has to say. On her third record, she’s actually old enough to sell the angst in her voice, and now she can control it without relying on all that teenage, hyperbolic drama.

8. Kings of Leon, Aha Shake Heartbreak (RCA)

So this calculatedly bumpkin band of fashion-spread, post-Strokes wannabes can actually write decent tunes. Not only that, but the tunes have presence beyond surface melodies. I was completely caught off guard by this record.

9. Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary (Sub Pop)

Obnoxiously indie in its aesthetic, Wolf Parade filters its perverted version of glam through a broken four-track’s hiss with more than a tip of the hat to Black Francis and David Bowie.

10. The Life and Times, Suburban Hymns (DeSoto)

Ex-Shiner frontman Allen Epley’s second act may not rock with as much muscle, but his raspy falsetto is still best in (math) rock. Overlooked and underdogged by default, Suburban Hymns' majestic melodies aren't easily forgotten.

11. Kanye West, Late Registration (Roc-a-fella)

With a glossier sheen than his debut, Kanye West strikes again with another killer batch of tunes. Jon Brion adds a classy edge to West's inherent crudeness, but the paring works, as "Gold Digger" should easily rank as single of the year.

12. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty)

Mini-folk orchestra is an oxymoron to be sure, but Sufjan Stevens creates them effortlessly, as he weaves his tainted historical narratives with a delicately soulful falsetto. Slightly more optimistic than its predecessors, Illinois furthers the same formula with equally engaging and heart-rending results.

13. The Rosebuds, Birds Make Good Neighbors (Merge)

There's something to be said for a good hook. When that chord progression is just right, you can feel how good the song is going to be before it even hits the chorus. The Rosebuds pull back on the energy, while adding some darker hues, and the result is a more expansive and nuanced musical flow. The songs feel distant and melancholy, but the hooks save them from any accusations of indulgent wallowing.

14. Deerhoof, The Runner's Four (Kill Rock Stars)

Throttling back some of the playfulness of its earlier work, Deerhoof returns with another batch of giddy, schizoid pop, but this time things are more spread out. Thematically, the band is as bizarre as ever, but the beats per minute seem to have halved. That doesn't stop the band from experimenting, however, as The Runner's Four glistens with boy/girl vocals trade-offs and snaky riffs.

15. The Wedding Present, Take Fountain (Manifesto/Scorpitones))

David Gedge writes exquisite pop songs regardless of the name on the sleeve. And even though the return of The Wedding Present may not have been as raucous as some of us would have liked, it's still a luxury just to have this man sing through his flailing relationships with a permanently warbled cadence.

16. My Dad Is Dead, A Divided House (Unhinged)

As dramatic as they seem, Mark Edwards' deadpan tales of woe never crossed the line into the emotional bedwetting party introduced to the world via emo. No, his version of pain is more cerebral and stoic. This album languished under the radar, just like the bulk of his career. All the same and more of it, this album still hits you where it hurts.

17. M83, Before the Dawn Heals Us (Mute)

With the addition of vocals M83 has much more focus, which is a diplomatic way of saying you can tell one song from the next. The cinematic layering of synthesizers ebbs and flows with actual goals, as opposed to the drifting, transient nature of Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. The debt to My Bloody Valentine notwithstanding, Anthony Gonzalez surges ahead with his ghostly vision and an arsenal of soundscapes that actually serve an end.

18. Broadcast, Tender Buttons (Warp)

With a noticeably scaled-down sound Broadcast wiggles away from expectation and turns out its most puzzling yet rewarding record to date. Upon first listen, the record feels half-baked, unfinished with ideas sprouting in unexpected tangents. But the streamlined synths and gossamer vocals shake off any preconceived notion of a Broadcast record and open up doors for experimentation that would have previously been impossible.

19. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Matt Sweeny, Superwolf (Drag City)

Will Oldham's warbling rarely has anything stronger than a clumsily strummed guitar to back it up. With Matt Sweeny on board on guitar, he provides Oldham with a much huskier foundation. Oldham mines familiar terrain with songs that wouldn't sound out of place on I See A Darkness, but the extra grit in guitar adds a level of intensity only known in Oldham's world in rare live incarnations.

20. Sleater-Kinney, The Woods (Sub Pop)

Sleater-Kinney bristles with energy and raucous noise on the most thunderous album of its career. Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein trade whopping, fuzzed-out licks like they're been listening to nothing but Jimi Hendrix for years. Cranky indie pop takes a back seat to redlining rock.