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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
+ The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls Together
+ The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
+ Dudley Perkins - Expressions
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Jay Bennett & Edward Burch
The Palace At 4AM (Part I)

Of all of the fallout from the chaos surrounding the release of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the only thing that concerns a longtime fan like me is Jay Bennett's departure from the band. From the first time I saw Wilco in concert, it was obvious that he was going to be the musical muscle that allowed Jeff Tweedy to pursue nearly any artistic direction he chose. In his contributions to Wilco's last few albums — and especially the two Mermaid Avenue collaborations with Billy Bragg — Bennett seemed almost a co-leader of the band. However, it turned out that Wilco weren't a democracy, and so last year, following the completion of YHF, Bennett left to follow his own muse, leaving Wilco to — well, we'll find out soon enough, I guess.

For now, here's the first post-Wilco flowering of Jay Bennett's muse: The Palace at 4am (Part I), a collaboration with another multi-instrumentalist, Edward Burch. Surprise, surprise, the music here isn't so different from the ornate pop territory that Wilco pursued with Summerteeth. As a matter of fact, assuming that this was written and recorded after YHF, it's musically a bit of a retrenchment. Wilco fans who think that Tweedy's gone too far towards the ozone will find a lot to like.

I know it isn't really fair to compare this album to Wilco's, but certainly Bennett & Burch aren't shying away from that: not only are there a couple of songs from the seemingly endless Woody Guthrie lyrical cache from which the Mermaid Avenue songs were created (including the somber, stately "No Church Tonight"), there are two Tweedy/Bennett songs here, both of which also show up on the already infamous YHF demos. This invites a bit of compare-and-contrast. One of the songs, the pop-rocking "Shaking Sugar," is nearly identical to the YHF demos (where it's titled "Alone"), only with a cool guitar hook, while the other, "Venus Stopped the Train," is completely different.

On the demos, "Venus Stopped the Train" is a gorgeous, sparse piano ballad; here, it gets the full-on chamber-pop treatment. It's a bit too much actually, and the melody gets lost in the clutter. Or maybe the melody gets lost in the singing, which really is my only quibble with this disc: neither Bennett or Burch is that distinctive a lead singer, and all of the studio wizardry in the world can't hide that fact. The vocals cause even the best songs — "Puzzle Heart," "C.T.M." and the otherwise near-perfect "Drinking on Your Dime" — to suffer. Too bad, because in all other respects this could have been one of the records of the year, instead of an interesting footnote to one of the records of the year.

by Jim Connelly

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