Category Archives: BEST OF 2015

Best Of 2015: Reissues

Ork

MAGNET’s A.D. Amorosi picks the best reissues of the year

1 Various Artists Ork Records: New York, New York (Numero Group)
2 Bob Dylan The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12 (Columbia)
3 Alan Vega/Ben Vaughn/Alex Chilton Cubist Blues (Light In The Attic)
4 Alice Cooper The Studio Albums 1969-1983 (Rhino)
5 Lizzy Mercier Descloux Press Color (Light In The Attic)
6 Harmonia Complete Works (Groenland)
7 Syl Johnson The Complete Twinight Singles 45s (Numero Group)
8 The Velvet Underground Live At The Matrix (UMe)
9 Miles Davis Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4 (Columbia)
10 David Bowie Five Years: 1969-1973 (Rhino)

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MAGNET’s Top 25 Albums Of 2015

25. Chastity Belt | Time To Go Home (Hardly Art)
ChastityBelt Did you ever have That Hilarious Friend (you know the one—off color jokes at inappropriate moments, lampshade-on-head drunk antics, their life equals a four alarm Technicolor dumpster fire, etc.), only to find that one day they were all growed up, fully formed, with actual Things To Say? Chastity Belt, the Seattle all-girl quartet whose previous work was marked by songs about sex and partying (“Pussy Weed Beer”) when it wasn’t attempting an obnoxious inside caper of epic proportions (“Giant Vagina”), followed up on the punk-lite promise of its debut with a sophomore release that immediately vaulted the band into Voices Worth Hearing territory. Sophisticated and sultry (the title track, “Joke”), in possession of a fierce brand of interpersonal politics that mostly went missing on the debut (the sex-positive “Cool Slut,” the majestic “Drone,” which offhandedly skewers mansplainers everywhere: “He was just another man tryin’ to teach me something”), and featuring the kind of non-flash—but melodically brilliant and sonically stripped-down—guitar playing that grabs me every time, Time To Go Home shows a band in full command of its powers. This time around, they mean it, man. —Corey duBrowa

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24. Jason Isbell | Something More Than Free (Southeastern)
JasonIsbell Jason Isbell’s fifth solo album—and his second since kicking booze—has the bones of a fairly conventional singer/ songwriter outing. It’s nuanced, more prone to the soft than the loud dynamic, and decidedly more subtle and measured than 2013’s Southeastern. But it’s just that rocksolid, sober grounding that gives Something More Than Free its extraordinary heart and intestinal fortitude. It’s the not-always-pleasant sound of a lucid, intelligent, (daresay) God-fearing dude taking stock of the destruction his addiction has wrought, trying to make amends with those he hurt, and appreciate the here and now, all while acknowledging that he’s far from perfect and may yet stumble off the straight-and-narrow. Something rarely rocks out—the only obvious single is the mid-tempo “24 Frames,” in part about the perils of his former life, drink in hand (“When everything you built for show goes up in flames, in 24 frames”). That Isbell is mature beyond his years still holds true 15 years after he first hit the road with Drive-By Truckers. Now, at 36, he’s found an honest, hardearned groove that should carry him through to that inevitable midlife crisis. —Hobart Rowland

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23. Belle And Sebastian | Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance (Matador)
BelleAndSebastian There’s a devout sect of Belle And Sebastian devotees who still feel betrayed by the departure of founding members Stuart David and Isobel Campbell, who pine for the willful amateurism of, say, The Boy With The Arab Strap (coincidentally one of their weakest albums), and who were positively mortified by the relative professionalism of Dear Catastrophe Waitress (which was 12 fucking years ago). God only knows how they dealt with this then, B&S’ most unashamedly big, bold and brassy pop album yet. One can only imagine entire hordes of winsome bedsit romantics reduced to tears of apoplexy. And frankly, that’s their loss, as Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance is the band’s most consistent album in almost a decade. It’s the sound of a group rejuvenated, as intimate and heartfelt as ever, with all the old reference points intact (Velvets, Love, Nick Drake), but giddily embracing a kind of bastardized Euro-disco more often practiced by the likes of Saint Etienne and the Pet Shop Boys. And this, it should be pointed out, is a good thing. Vibrant and triumphant throughout, it’s a collective testament to frontman Stuart Murdoch’s unwavering faith in the redemptive powers of cheap pop music. —Neil Ferguson

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22. Björk | Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
Bjork Divorce albums are not rare. Dylan, Springsteen, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, George Jones and Tammy Wynette (separately), and Richard and Linda Thompson (together!) compacted the torment and tussle of committed love’s finality into neatly arranged, psychically discordant packages. Nothing, though, was ever neat about Björk. Why should her divorce be so? Veering from radiantly subtle to wrenchingly ham-fisted (sometimes within seconds of the other), the Icelandic chanteuse and electronic orchestrator turns a black light on the disintegration of her marriage to artist Matthew Barney with Vulnicura in the same way that Vespertine heralded that union of similarly disposed souls with neon brights. Bleak and cold, spacious and smothering, Vulnicura has a tactile shroud that you can almost touch, as Björk unites emotional unrest and physical distress in a manner that once made albums such as 1995’s Post blissfully sexual-sensual. A small team of vocalists and producers (Antony, Arca, Haxan Cloak, etc.) fill in dots on the testy treatises of “Stonemilker,” “History Of Touches,” “Lionsong” and the like. Yet, the gut-shot disgust of a marriage on its short heels is all Björk, alone at the end. Isn’t that what the closure of divorce truly tastes like anyway? —A.D. Amorosi

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21. Kurt Vile | b’lieve i’m goin down… (Matador)
KurtVile No one calls Steve Miller the space cowboy, but they might say it about Kurt Vile. His midnight rambles on this ho-humming tome of lowercase sapience could just as easily inspire a cult as lullaby a crib: One minute he’s hang-gliding into the valley of ashes, a certified badass pillboxer out for a night on the town; the next he’s rolling around on a furry carpet or turning on the couch, moving in on his cutie for a kiss on the mouth. Vile’s a fleeting thinker with a wild imagination, and he loses his head on the regular; a seasoned veteran of the War On Drugs, he occasionally finds himself in a “medication situation.” Don’t b’lieve it all—he’d also have you think he falls on his instruments and a dozen ear-burrowing songs walk out. (Seriously, “Pretty Pimpin”?) Halfway through one called “Kidding Around,” he interrupts some bullshit mysticism to question his own motives, and every music critic ever blushes: “What’s the meaning of this song? … I don’t care, it sounds so pretty/Its change is so sublime/What was the meaning of that last line?” Recently at the Fillmore, a crowd tried clapping along with his band the Violators; Vile ended that nonsense by shaking his head and saying, softly, “No.” Drugger, dreamer, drunkard, schemer; joker, smoker, midnight toker. All in a daze work. —Noah Bonaparte Pais

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20. Meg Baird | Don’t Weigh Down The Light (Drag City)
MegBaird I’d like to tell you how good the words are on Don’t Weigh Down The Light. After all, both on her own and through her associations with Espers and the Baird Sisters, Meg Baird has already proved herself to be strong writer and an astute selector and interpreter of other people’s songs. But every time I try to catch a few more lines, some aspect of the music distracts me. It could be her voice, which is often multi-tracked into harmonies that swerve and swoop like a flock of swallows. It might be the melodies, which unfold with an implacable patience that keeps you hanging on the next note. Maybe it’s the immaculate perfection of her sparse, but perfectly balanced arrangements, or the rich guitar tones. Put them all together and you have music so persuasive that surrender is inevitable. But, of course, the more you spin the more you hear, and behind the sensual pleasures of Baird’s elemental folk tunes are elegantly framed reflections upon the pain of parting and the joys of finding out what comes next. —Bill Meyer

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19. Godspeed You! Black Emperor | Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress (Constellation)
GodspeedYouBlackEmperor The reason Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress is one of the best albums of 2015 begins three minutes and 15 seconds or so into “Peasantry Or ‘Light! Inside Of Light!’” (the first of the record’s four tracks). After a few passes at the song’s thunderous chord progression, the band lowers the noise for the first of what will be several feedback-and-fuzzladen—but deliberately melodic—guitar lines. When that solo breaks through, the sensation is like a hot wire passing through the palm of the hand: arresting, jolting and jarringly intimate. When Sophie Trudeau’s violin begins to intertwine with that solo, the layers build again, like a tideswell, through the song’s slow fading conclusion. The rest of the album unrolls just this way—in slow, controlled surges and recessions. Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been recording stately, ambient post-rock since 1997, but Asunder, its fifth album, takes a turn toward compositional complexity that’s both surprisingly melodic and surprisingly mature, as if the birdsong at the heart of the noise had been there all along, and we’d only now begun to hear it. It’s sweeping, gorgeous stuff, like a film score for a half-remembered dream, or a static-filled radio transmission from the bottom of the ocean. —Eric Waggoner

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18. Destroyer | Poison Season (Merge)
Destroyer Dan Bejar has evolved from being a cranky, brilliant word guy to a sophisticated, brilliant bandleader, and the ch-ch-changes have been a joy to experience. 2011’s breakthrough Kaputt signaled the shift as it reveled in the smooth stylings (complete with sax solos) defined by Roxy Music’s Avalon. Poison Season has some of that same suave aesthetic, but it pushes in new and exciting directions, sometimes relying on classical string quartets, sometimes revving up into the rock ‘n’ soul territory of Bowie’s Young Americans or early Springsteen. In other hands, these decidedly unhip signifiers could seem ironic, but Bejar plays them straight, diving deeply. The words are pared back and cryptic, and he sings, rather than declaims them. It’s long been clear that Bejar is a chameleon who can write catchy pop songs (witness his trio of tunes on each New Pornographers album), but on Poison Season, he finds the sweet spot between crafting memorable hooks—“Dream Lover” is one of his catchiest—and leaving open spaces for the band to stretch out. The music says as much as the words; until recently, that would have been a shocking thing to say about a Destroyer album. —Steve Klinge

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17. Screaming Females | Rose Mountain (Don Giovanni)
ScreamingFemales In the wild—that is, onstage, their preferred habitat—Screaming Females are a force of nature. Driven by Marissa Paternoster’s intimidating guitar solos and inimitable gut-punch wail, the trio is frenetic, virtuosic, relentless. But while their first five full-lengths displayed steady growth in chops and confidence, they didn’t quite match the power of the band’s live performances. With Rose Mountain, they’re not even trying to replicate that sound or fury—which has freed them to write their best suite of songs yet and, just as importantly, leave some notes unplayed. Paternoster still sings and shreds like a boss, but she’s no longer fighting for sonic space with Jarrett Dougherty’s nimble drumming and Michael Abbate’s chunky bass lines. The result: The band’s never been more dynamic or versatile, deftly moving from the grungy “Empty Head” to the chugging “Ripe,” the classic pop of “Wishing Well,” and through the sinewy titular song and the prog riffage of “Triumph.” While there are delicate moments on Rose Mountain, it’s not pretty on the inside. Lyrically, the LP is rife with references to peeled skin, pinched nerves, needles and burial plots. Even guitar gods are human, with blisters and scars to show for it when they’re in top shape, and more serious damage when wrestling with health issues, as Paternoster has. It’s a reminder that while we can’t break up with our bodies, music is our best shot at transcendence. —M.J. Fine

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16. Richard Hawley | Hollow Meadows (Parlophone)
RichardHawley I’ve spent a lot of time in the U.K. over the years, but I’ve never been to Sheffield. Having also spent a lot of time with Richard Hawley’s eight solo records, maybe I don’t need to—they’re all named after places in and around those environs, and Hollow Meadows doesn’t deviate from this trend, taking its title from Auley Meadows, where his ancestors supposedly resided between the 14th and 17th centuries. What I do know of the place is its righteous antiquity—home of the world’s oldest soccer club (Sheffield F.C.), the birthplace of stainless steel. So, it’s hardly surprising that what we hear traces its roots to the ’50s-inspired hepcat rockabilly and classic BBC twilight pop we’ve come to expect from Hawley—vaguely melancholy martinis ‘n’ memories machines, rich with tremolo, melody and moodiness (“I Still Want You,” “Serenade Of Blue,” “Nothing Like A Friend”) even as they opine on age-old themes of busted romance, disappointments and The One That Got Away. I don’t know of anyone else who traffics in this kind of ancient and justified songcraft—tunes that remind you of a different, less complicated time, back before mobile phones ruled our every waking hour, when you could obsess over a piece of black vinyl spinning ’round for days or even weeks on end. —Corey duBrowa

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15. Blur | The Magic Whip (Warner Bros.)
Blur Despite having reformed six years ago to play occasional live gigs, the prospect of an entire album’s worth of new Blur material appearing any time soon seemed slim, to say the least. So, when the band announced the release of The Magic Whip earlier this year, apparently out of nowhere, it was nothing short of a minor miracle. Which would have been meaningless if this was a tired, hollow retread of past glories. But it most definitely is not. What it is is Blur’s most consistently great album in almost 20 years. It’s a thrilling reminder of just what the British Isles’ preeminent art-school fops can produce when they’re at the top of their game. It’s a joy to hear Graham Coxon—undisputedly the best guitarist of his generation—make a glorious racket once more. It’s a joy to hear him backed by one of the most criminally underrated rhythm sections of recent times once more; and it’s an utter joy to hear them all blend seamlessly with Damon Albarn’s unerring gift for melody and careworn melancholy. It’s an irresistible blend that’s smart, vibrant and frequently gorgeous, and it’s just great to have them together again. Who knows what the future holds? For now, it’s onward and upward. —Neil Ferguson

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14. Jim O’Rourke | Simple Songs (Drag City) 
JimORourke In a recent interview with BOMB magazine, Jim O’Rourke recalled having to justify to his father his habit of rewatching movies. “People put years of their lives into this; there’s so much in there,” he said. “How do you think you can understand years of someone’s life in two hours?” Simple Songs, his first album of songs in 14 years, clocks in at just 38 minutes, but it’s so densely packed with gradually revealed details that it needs to be taken in the same way: repeatedly, while paying close attention. Its eight far-from-simple songs are populated with grumpy ghosts, forgotten artists and vanished places, each in a different state of awareness of its ongoing disappearance. O’Rourke has jettisoned the broad humor and overt references of his earlier records for Drag City, and instead crafted icy meta-pop slick enough to give the characters nothing to hang onto as they recede into oblivion. But each time you watch them slide away, you’ll notice some new lick or line that draws you in, keeping you engaged with figures that are on their way out. Now that’s staying power. —Bill Meyer

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13. Ricked Wicky | Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair (Guided By Voices, Inc.)
RickedWicky Not that there’s anything wrong with Robert Pollard’s solo LPs, but his band-centric collaborations seem to invigorate him, and working with guitarist Nick Mitchell, drummer Kevin March and bassist Todd Tobias under the Ricked Wicky banner has brought out Pollard’s best. Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair, the third Ricked Wicky record of 2015—insert your own stale jab about prolificacy here; we’ll wait—is probably the most consistent. (The others are debut I Sell The Circus and followup King Heavy Metal.) Pollard’s typically fine pop, punk, psych and prog stylings are in full effect, and moments like the ultra-melodic “Poor Substitute,” where Pollard hilariously claims he’ll “never have the Midas touch,” rank with anything in his voluminous back catalog. (That was stale, but wasn’t a jab.) It’s to Mitchell’s credit that his songs, “Blind Side” and “Plastic Oceanic Getaway,” aren’t filler, but rather vital to the LP’s vibe and success, though thoughts do wander to how great they’d be if Pollard were singing them. Ricked Wicky isn’t Guided By Voices. It’s not Boston Spaceships. It’s not even the Keene Brothers. (Sorry, I indulged myself there.) But as someone smart once said about Pollard’s output, it’s all one thing—and that’s gold. —Matt Hickey

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12. Sleater-Kinney | No Cities To Love (Sub Pop)
SleaterKinney Sleater-Kinney did everything right with its comeback album, the trio’s first since 2005’s The Woods. Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss didn’t let anyone know they were working together, much less that they were recording. They woodshedded in Brownstein’s basement until they felt that they had something worthy of furthering— not repeating—their legacy, and they emerged with a loud beast of a record, one of the best of its storied career. It’s as heavy as The Woods, as charged as One Beat, and as catchy—at least at times—as Dig Me Out. But it sounds like none of them. And it was totally unexpected, which made it all the more thrilling. The trio had their own legacy to compete with—recently entombed with the Start Together boxed set, which contained a teaser of the new music—and they came out victorious: it’s a rare and beautiful thing to see a favorite band reunite and reignite, as if without pause. Although the backstory to No Cities is great, what counts is the current one: a fantastic album that grapples with rock ‘n’ roll, consumerism and desire; that pushes forward; that rocks hard. —Steve Klinge

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11. Low | Ones And Sixes (Sub Pop)
Low “Gentle… quiet… careful… measured… stable…” The ambiguous string of adjectives that opens Low’s 11th album reads like a decidedly facile caricature of the band’s initial slowcore aesthetic, a sound it has continually explored, expanded, refi ned and redefined over the past two decades. While a couple of those words might apply in moments, superficially, none of them re- fl ects the depth of what these indie mainstays have accomplished here: yet another astonishing release in a catalog full of them, and an especially striking divergence from the lulling, organic warmth of their last two records. Ones And Sixes feels familiar and assured, but at the same time raw, almost anxiously experimental. It stakes out newly arresting, starkly minimalist avenues, while also surveying much of what has come before: Drums And Guns’ bleak, digital churn; Trust’s stately versatility; the glacial expansiveness of their early days. The album also breaks new ground in terms of heaviness (the epic “Landslide,” whose dirge-y verses pilfer the punishing crunch of Sparhawk’s Retribution Gospel Choir) and poppiness (“Kid In The Corner,” whose opening seconds could practically be Taylor Swift). And while the spine-tingling beauty of Mimi Parker’s voice—featured here more than ever—is hardly a new angle in the band’s oeuvre, it will never, ever get old. —K. Ross Hoffman

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10. Carly Rae Jepsen | E*MO*TION (604/Schoolboy/Interscope)
CarlyRae Let’s be real: You are dead inside. You have been since the first Bush administration. You are a callous, unfeeling brute operating solely on instinct and day-old pizza. But you long to feel again, long to have hope and joy and life spring forth from your grizzled bosom like flowers on the first day of spring. But that record collection full of doom metal and musique concrète just ain’t gonna do it—you need emotion. Or rather, E*MO*TION. From the very first synth-horn stabs of album opener “Run Away With Me”—which are as epic and stirring as that moment in Star Trek IV when the whales are like, “Sure, we’ll save your planet, assholes”—Carly Rae Jepsen delivers a dance-pop feast steeped in big hooks, classic rhythms and brilliant sound design. It’s a record that can satisfy Tangerine Dream-worshipping audio nerds and normal, functioning human beings alike. Jepsen transcends her over-meme’d “Call Me Maybe” reputation to deliver a record that is soulful, funky and, quite frankly, fun as hell. Remember back when you stayed up all night singing along with Sheila E.? Totally the same vibe on tracks like “ Boy Problems,” “I Really Like You” and “I Didn’t Come Here To Dance.” Maybe you aren’t dead inside after all. —Sean L. Mahoney

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9. Deafheaven | New Bermuda (Anti-)
Deafheaven Deafheaven is by no means the first metal band to combine the delicate and the brutal, but by god, the group wins the prize for taking the most shit over it. Hard to say whether this is a byproduct of its notoriety after 2013’s Sunbather, that album’s pink album cover (really?), the band’s penchant for shoegaze or that metal purists didn’t appreciate the fact that us MAGNET nerds embraced Deafheaven as one of our own. New Bermuda is a brilliant record, but I’m here to tell you that it won’t change anyone’s opinion. The juxtapositions persist, with each song offering a pot of maggots at the end of the rainbow. Delicate piano and gorgeous guitar strumming inevitably meet obliteration from blast beats, fearsome walls of guitar sound, and vocals that could only be replicated by dropping a wasp nest and microphone into a mason jar and adding synapse-destroying amplifi cation. Still, there is evolution here, the deathgaze now mixed with more traditional metal elements, such as the whammy bar workout and closing chuga-chug riffage (think Metallica’s “Seek And Destroy”) on “Baby Blue.” The result is a more focused attack that all tribes—heshers and hipsters alike—should get behind. —Matt Ryan

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8. Sufjan Stevens | Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
SufjanStevens After a decade and a half of holding it down as indie’s resident maximalist (try finding a review of Illinois that doesn’t mention how many instruments he plays), Sufjan Stevens stripped it all back for the starkest, most understated and best album of his career. Accompanied throughout by little more than his own acoustic guitar, banjo, piano and the occasional synthesizer, Stevens attempts to reconcile the passing of his estranged late mother with remarkable candor and poise. All of Stevens’ strong suits are on full display here, most prominently his ability to imbue even the most minute details with uncannily mythic qualities—though they’re rendered all the more compelling this time around by the very evident fact that these are much more than just sad, whimsical stories about Flint, Mich., or an especially fateful “Casimir Pulaski Day.” He never gets lost in the subject matter, though, and as with all of his best work, Carrie & Lowell finds a compelling balance between the devastating emotional specifics of personal loss and the universal feelings of grief, sorrow and regret that accompany it. —Möhammad Choudhery

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7. The Libertines | Anthems For Doomed Youth (Harvest)
Libertines That the Libertines—returning to the spotlight after imploding more than a decade ago—managed to record a new album, let alone one as good as anything they’ve ever done, was one of 2015’s more improbable musical events. Particularly in light of Pete Doherty’s increasingly wayward behavior over the last 10 years, where he transformed himself into a smackaddled tabloid headline. This LP could have been titled Too Much Junkie Business and no one would have batted an eyelid. Instead, with an apparently smack-free Doherty on board, the Libertines returned triumphant. All the elements of old remain present and correct—the self-mythologizing; the ragged romanticism; the heroic, insular, unapologetically English world where references to the likes of Orwell, Orton and Owen abound—but this time with a more battle-scarred edge. There’s a sense of ruefulness throughout, a sense of wonder that they’ve made it through intact. They’ve reined in the more ramshackle elements of old, but retained their sense of purpose. Above all, it proves—if proof were needed— what a great lyrical and literate songwriting team Carl Barât and Doherty were and are, before the drugs soured everything, and what a resolutely unique vision they still possess. —Neil Ferguson

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6. Joanna Newsom | Divers (Drag City)
JoannaNewsom Has it really been nearly six years since Have One On Me? But it just stopped playing! (Have one on us, Samberg.) The time between Joanna Newsom engagements is more necessary—if not mandatory—than for any other active artist. She allowed a generous fortnight of examination and contemplation for every minute of music on her tripleLP opus, and still, some 70 months after its release, new shades of appreciation and meaning are leaking out of it—as they surely will be from this more direct, yet no-less-demanding successor. In the infancy of its understanding, a few things are readily apparent: that Divers—literal and figurative, profound and confounding, ancient and prescient—aces F. Scott Fitzgerald’s intelligence test; that the linear confines of a single-album format are no preclusion from going deeper than ever before; and that, in the time and space between this and her earthbound triptych, Newsom caught on to some seriously cosmic shit, her personal voyage logged as a space-time odyssey in which love is the true continuum. It’s contrition by attrition, a fiberoptic panoply of styles and contributors bundling together into a honeycomb of light, then untangling to reveal the dew-dropping spiderweb-strummer at its center, until the last pin-light is bent on this hot-dogging loon, caught there like a shard of mirror in the moon. —Noah Bonaparte Pais

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5. Royal Headache | High (What’s Your Rupture?)
RoyalHeadache The second LP from this Sydney, Australia quartet—its members are identified only as Shogun (vocals), Law (guitar), Joe (bass) and Shortty (drums)—can probably be found in the punk section down at ye olde record shoppe, and given the band’s barebones aesthetic, they might prefer it. But to slap that tag on High does it a bit of a disservice—it’s a varied, surprisingly nuanced effort that transcends that label’s limitations and the album’s less-than-pristine production. Speedier tempos dominate (“My Own Fantasy,” “Need You,” “Love Her If I Tried”), but the slow-burning soul strains that infuse “Wouldn’t You Know” and the catchy, Britpop feel of the title track and the chiming “Carolina” are equally thrilling. The bass line on the punishing “Garbage” is one for the ages (way to go, Joe!), as is the propulsive tune’s withering takedown of someone Shogun apparently doesn’t much care for: “You’re as low as they come/You’re not punk, you’re just scum.” That type of raw, cathartic emotion permeates High, and the effect is intoxicating. By the closing notes of the frantic “Electric Shock,” a blissed-out ode to numbing your senses, you’ll definitely feel like you’re on something, unless you’re dead inside. —Matt Hickey

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4. Courtney Barnett | Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (MOM + POP)
CourtneyBarnett “Put me on a pedestal, and I’ll only disappoint you,” warns Australian folk-rocker Courtney Barnett on a punk-chorded “Pedestrian At Best,” from this, her official debut disc. And her wry self-deprecation is a major part of the record’s winning charm. Like a latter-day Wreckless Eric, the Melbourne native sings in a thick local accent; spins her own deep-seated neuroses into charming anthems like “Dead Fox,” “Depreston” and “Boxing Day Blues”; and wields a keen observant wit, à la her careful study of an unsuspecting “Elevator Operator” that can rival the definitive Eric story-songs “Broken Doll,” “Good Conversation” and “Whole Wide World.” Perhaps she acquired her skill with detail at the popular hometown bar she tended until last year, when her career— and personal imprint Milk! Records—started to take off. But all it takes is one spin through the jagged-riffed “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party” (which anchors a singalong chorus on an ambivalent, almost dismissive “I wanna go out, but I wanna stay home”) to understand her visceral appeal. Like the best Seinfeld episodes, Barnett—with a casual shrug— has turned writing about everyday occurrences into some sort of high art. Go ahead and put her on that pedestal. —Tom Lanham

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3. Father John Misty | I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop)
FatherJohnMisty On one hand, J. Tillman’s second album as Father John Misty is junk food for the soul—as irresistibly self-destructive as a Wendy’s Baconator Double consumed atop the shaved pubis of your best friend’s drunk fiancée at 2 a.m. On the other, this sort of relentlessly stylized introspection hasn’t sounded so effortless since Beck’s Morning Phase. I Love You, Honeybear is a warts-and-all relationship album propelled by a near-theatrical baroque folk-pop expansiveness, Misty’s wicked sense of humor and some pretty outrageous reflections on the absurdity of 21st century mating rituals. “I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man, I mean like a goddamn marching band,” he coos with bemused detachment on “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment.” For Elton Johnish piano ballad “Bored In The USA,” Misty unleashes an absurd litany of self-pity, punctuated by priceless snippets like “They … keep my prescriptions filled, and now I can’t get off, but I can kind of deal.” And just as things get a wee bit too overwrought, Misty inserts a laugh track, as if to say, “Grow the fuck up, dude.” Indeed, on Honeybear, Misty’s wounded psyche is on display solely for our entertainment, and the ultimate punchline is the human condition. You’d cry if you weren’t laughing so hard. —Hobart Rowland

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2. Alabama Shakes | Sound & Color (ATO)
AlabamaShakes Alabama Shakes built a huge following with their classic rock debut, so revisiting that Hendrix-meets-Janis vibe on the follow-up would have been an easy path to world domination. Bravely, the band dispensed with the grainy, slavishly retro vibe of Boys & Girls in favor of bolder, decidedly weirder explorations on Sound & Color. Yes, there are still nods to the past in the irresistible Curtis Mayfield guitar bounce of “Don’t Wanna Fight” and the Zeppelin-ish “Gimme All Your Love.” More typical is the opening title track, its xylophone, warped strings and shuffling beat conjuring a dream (or drug) state, prophetically declaring that “A new world hangs/Outside the window/Beautiful and strange.” As the record unfolds, the “beautiful and strange” includes molasses funk, bedtime folk and a six-minute vision quest entitled “Gemini,” gently propelled by a ’lude-popping rhythm section, stargazing atmospherics and acid-drenched guitar. Here and elsewhere on the record, leader Brittany Howard, she of the Herculean pipes, is a model of slow-burn restraint, murmuring and cooing as often as she belts it to the rafters. Granted, this subtler approach will see fewer fists pumping in the arena, but anyone with a pair of headphones should have had Sound & Color in heavy rotation in 2015. —Matt Ryan

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1. Wilco | Star Wars (DBpM)
Wilco You could argue that Star Wars, the ninth album from now-more-or-less-venerable Wilco, is a softball choice for MAGNET’s album of the year. You could argue that there are numerous other, lesser-known bands whose work deserves a wider touting. You have a point. (You’re a little salty, but you have a point.) So, we’ll return to that criticism, promise. Hang tight. Before we do: Star Wars is a great record. Whether it’s also a Great Record is up for debate, as these claims always are. But looking over 2015, flipping through the pages here, we find some entries from brand-new(ish) acts, as well as semi-established bands and artists pushing their music in new directions, warming up for the kinds of pitches they’ve rarely or never thrown. In that context, Star Wars is notable not for how Wilco shifts gears on it, but for how comfortable its music feels, as form-fitting and as broken in as George Harrison’s proverbial Old Brown Shoe. It’s the sound of a band that, for this record anyway, found a pocket, and dropped into it happily.

When Jeff Tweedy and I spoke last year prior to the release of Sukierae (his collaboration with son Spencer under the Tweedy moniker), he reminded me in passing of something I knew, but had internalized so fully that I’d begun, I think, to forget it. Every “Wilco” that released an album up until 2007’s Sky Blue Sky consisted of a different lineup. That phenomenon has been noted often in the band’s press—particularly in the context of Wilco’s eclectic, constantly shifting musical aesthetic, which derives—and always has—from Tweedy’s voracious and indiscriminate musical fandom. The Wilco that had, as of summer 2014, released three albums, was the only iteration of the band to survive past a single full-length release.

That same Wilco stealth-released Star Wars this past July, without much press fanfare, as a free download via Wilco’s web site, wilcoworld.net. It’s a tactic the band had used once before, during the famously embattled production and release of 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. And Wilco has offered new releases in advance as online streams and single downloads several times between then and now. But the context here was radically different: The temporarily free release of Star Wars was the act of a band—and the web content and online promo copy freely acknowledged this—that’s been fortunate enough (and sufficiently supported by its fans) to be able to hand out a 33-minute record for nothing to anybody who was interested in checking it out, prior to the CD and vinyl release. It’s Wilco’s 21st birthday this year, but the fans were the ones who got the present.

Again, Star Wars is a great record. Is it Wilco’s best? I doubt you’d find many listeners making a case for it. It’s a slight affair, running just half an hour. Only one track, the icy, slowly swelling “You Satellite,” even breaks the four-minute mark. We have here a bunch of short, sharp, mostly pop songs, all of whose canvases are very small in comparison to the sprawling experimental compositions of which the band is equally capable. (The opening blast, angular 76-second instrumental “EKG,” might be a nod to fans who prefer the sharp edge of that particular arrow in the band’s quiver.) And though the songs are solid, taken one by one, they don’t break much new ground, or even cohere into a single album-length aesthetic, the way one often expects to read about in album-ofthe-year entries like these.

What it does accomplish, though, is something Wilco—this Wilco, the first Wilco to release multiple albums—hasn’t had the history to do until now. Brief as it is, Star Wars is the work of a band with enough shared experience to know what it can accomplish with its collective left hand, what it’s capable of when it pushes itself to its stylistic limit and even courts self-indulgence, and how the individual strengths of its members can be most promisingly juxtaposed. Seen through that lens, Star Wars is this Wilco’s fourth album. And having bounced around making experimental records full of noodly guitars, straight-up rock albums and eclectic blends of the two, Tweedy and Co. this year put out a collection of songs that, more than anything, shows off their stylistic sources and their capacity for paying homage to them—or internalizing and digesting those sources into their own collaborative work.

There are stomping fuzz-rockers (“Random Name Generator”), swoopy tone poems (“More…”) and soft-hearted romancers (“Where Do I Begin”). And then there are Tweedy’s vocal performances, which are among the high points on the record: Check the Neil Young phrasing on “Taste The Ceiling,” or the sloppy, laconic, marble-mouthed delivery of “The Joke Explained,” which sounds like the most fun Tweedy’s had singing lead in an album or two. Star Wars is something of a victory lap for a band that’s gone through lots of changes. But it’s also a record that reveals how carefully Wilco’s been paying attention to its own development. There are other albums, even other Wilco albums, as good as Star Wars. But this year there weren’t any as self-aware, or as rewarding in their survey of a single band’s long-game history.

And those other bands? The less established or widely known ones whose records you liked that deserved more press and a wider audience? Wilco had its favorites, too. And anyone who downloaded Star Wars shortly received a follow-up email sharing recommendations for other bands’ releases, albums for which we might fork over the dollars we’d saved on Wilco’s. In any profession, that’s called class. In the music business—trust us on this—it’s a level of generosity you see only rarely. Happy holidays. And happy hunting. —Eric Waggoner

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MAGNET’s #1 Album Of 2015: Wilco’s “Star Wars”

Wilco

You could argue that Star Wars, the ninth album from now-more-or-less-venerable Wilco, is a softball choice for MAGNET’s album of the year. You could argue that there are numerous other, lesser-known bands whose work deserves a wider touting. You have a point. (You’re a little salty, but you have a point.) So, we’ll return to that criticism, promise. Hang tight.

Before we do: Star Wars is a great record. Whether it’s also a Great Record is up for debate, as these claims always are. But looking over 2015, flipping through the pages here, we find some entries from brand-new(ish) acts, as well as semi-established bands and artists pushing their music in new directions, warming up for the kinds of pitches they’ve rarely or never thrown. In that context, Star Wars is notable not for how Wilco shifts gears on it, but for how comfortable its music feels, as form-fitting and as broken in as George Harrison’s proverbial Old Brown Shoe. It’s the sound of a band that, for this record anyway, found a pocket, and dropped into it happily.

When Jeff Tweedy and I spoke last year prior to the release of Sukierae (his collaboration with son Spencer under the Tweedy moniker), he reminded me in passing of something I knew, but had internalized so fully that I’d begun, I think, to forget it. Every “Wilco” that released an album up until 2007’s Sky Blue Sky consisted of a different lineup. That phenomenon has been noted often in the band’s press—particularly in the context of Wilco’s eclectic, constantly shifting musical aesthetic, which derives—and always has—from Tweedy’s voracious and indiscriminate musical fandom. The Wilco that had, as of summer 2014, released three albums, was the only iteration of the band to survive past a single full-length release.

That same Wilco stealth-released Star Wars this past July, without much press fanfare, as a free download via Wilco’s web site. It’s a tactic the band had used once before, during the famously embattled production and release of 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. And Wilco has offered new releases in advance as online streams and single downloads several times between then and now. But the context here was radically different: The temporarily free release of Star Wars was the act of a band—and the web content and online promo copy freely acknowledged this—that’s been fortunate enough (and sufficiently supported by its fans) to be able to hand out a 33-minute record for nothing to anybody who was interested in checking it out, prior to the CD and vinyl release. It’s Wilco’s 21st birthday this year, but the fans were the ones who got the present.

Again, Star Wars is a great record. Is it Wilco’s best? I doubt you’d find many listeners making a case for it. It’s a slight affair, running just half an hour. Only one track, the icy, slowly swelling “You Satellite,” even breaks the four-minute mark. We have here a bunch of short, sharp, mostly pop songs, all of whose canvases are very small in comparison to the sprawling experimental compositions of which the band is equally capable. (The opening blast, angular 76-second instrumental “EKG,” might be a nod to fans who prefer the sharp edge of that particular arrow in the band’s quiver.) And though the songs are solid, taken one by one, they don’t break much new ground, or even cohere into a single album-length aesthetic, the way one often expects to read about in album-ofthe-year entries like these.

What it does accomplish, though, is something Wilco—this Wilco, the first Wilco to release multiple albums—hasn’t had the history to do until now. Brief as it is, Star Wars is the work of a band with enough shared experience to know what it can accomplish with its collective left hand, what it’s capable of when it pushes itself to its stylistic limit and even courts self-indulgence, and how the individual strengths of its members can be most promisingly juxtaposed. Seen through that lens, Star Wars is this Wilco’s fourth album. And having bounced around making experimental records full of noodly guitars, straight-up rock albums and eclectic blends of the two, Tweedy and Co. this year put out a collection of songs that, more than anything, shows off their stylistic sources and their capacity for paying homage to them—or internalizing and digesting those sources into their own collaborative work.

There are stomping fuzz-rockers (“Random Name Generator”), swoopy tone poems (“More…”) and soft-hearted romancers (“Where Do I Begin”). And then there are Tweedy’s vocal performances, which are among the high points on the record: Check the Neil Young phrasing on “Taste The Ceiling,” or the sloppy, laconic, marble-mouthed delivery of “The Joke Explained,” which sounds like the most fun Tweedy’s had singing lead in an album or two. Star Wars is something of a victory lap for a band that’s gone through lots of changes. But it’s also a record that reveals how carefully Wilco’s been paying attention to its own development. There are other albums, even other Wilco albums, as good as Star Wars. But this year there weren’t any as self-aware, or as rewarding in their survey of a single band’s long-game history.

And those other bands? The less established or widely known ones whose records you liked that deserved more press and a wider audience? Wilco had its favorites, too. And anyone who downloaded Star Wars shortly received a follow-up email sharing recommendations for other bands’ releases, albums for which we might fork over the dollars we’d saved on Wilco’s. In any profession, that’s called class. In the music business—trust us on this—it’s a level of generosity you see only rarely. Happy holidays. And happy hunting. —Eric Waggoner

Posted in BEST OF 2015 | Comments closed

MAGNET’s #2 Album Of 2015: Alabama Shakes’ “Sound & Color”

AlabamaShakes

Alabama Shakes built a huge following with their classic rock debut, so revisiting that Hendrix-meets-Janis vibe on the follow-up would have been an easy path to world domination. Bravely, the band dispensed with the grainy, slavishly retro vibe of Boys & Girls in favor of bolder, decidedly weirder explorations on Sound & Color. Yes, there are still nods to the past in the irresistible Curtis Mayfield guitar bounce of “Don’t Wanna Fight” and the Zeppelin-ish “Gimme All Your Love.” More typical is the opening title track, its xylophone, warped strings and shuffling beat conjuring a dream (or drug) state, prophetically declaring that “A new world hangs/Outside the window/Beautiful and strange.” As the record unfolds, the “beautiful and strange” includes molasses funk, bedtime folk and a six-minute vision quest entitled “Gemini,” gently propelled by a ’lude-popping rhythm section, stargazing atmospherics and acid-drenched guitar. Here and elsewhere on the record, leader Brittany Howard, she of the Herculean pipes, is a model of slow-burn restraint, murmuring and cooing as often as she belts it to the rafters. Granted, this subtler approach will see fewer fists pumping in the arena, but anyone with a pair of headphones should have had Sound & Color in heavy rotation in 2015. —Matt Ryan

Posted in BEST OF 2015 | Comments closed

MAGNET’s #3 Album Of 2015: Father John Misty’s “I Love You, Honeybear”

FatherJohnMisty

On one hand, J. Tillman’s second album as Father John Misty is junk food for the soul—as irresistibly self-destructive as a Wendy’s Baconator Double consumed atop the shaved pubis of your best friend’s drunk fiancée at 2 a.m. On the other, this sort of relentlessly stylized introspection hasn’t sounded so effortless since Beck’s Morning Phase. I Love You, Honeybear is a warts-and-all relationship album propelled by a near-theatrical baroque folk-pop expansiveness, Misty’s wicked sense of humor and some pretty outrageous reflections on the absurdity of 21st century mating rituals. “I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man, I mean like a goddamn marching band,” he coos with bemused detachment on “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment.” For Elton Johnish piano ballad “Bored In The USA,” Misty unleashes an absurd litany of self-pity, punctuated by priceless snippets like “They … keep my prescriptions filled, and now I can’t get off, but I can kind of deal.” And just as things get a wee bit too overwrought, Misty inserts a laugh track, as if to say, “Grow the fuck up, dude.” Indeed, on Honeybear, Misty’s wounded psyche is on display solely for our entertainment, and the ultimate punchline is the human condition. You’d cry if you weren’t laughing so hard. —Hobart Rowland

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MAGNET’s #4 Album Of 2015: Courtney Barnett’s “Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit”

CourtneyBarnett

“Put me on a pedestal, and I’ll only disappoint you,” warns Australian folk-rocker Courtney Barnett on a punk-chorded “Pedestrian At Best,” from this, her official debut disc. And her wry self-deprecation is a major part of the record’s winning charm. Like a latter-day Wreckless Eric, the Melbourne native sings in a thick local accent; spins her own deep-seated neuroses into charming anthems like “Dead Fox,” “Depreston” and “Boxing Day Blues”; and wields a keen observant wit, à la her careful study of an unsuspecting “Elevator Operator” that can rival the definitive Eric story-songs “Broken Doll,” “Good Conversation” and “Whole Wide World.” Perhaps she acquired her skill with detail at the popular hometown bar she tended until last year, when her career— and personal imprint Milk! Records—started to take off. But all it takes is one spin through the jagged-riffed “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party” (which anchors a singalong chorus on an ambivalent, almost dismissive “I wanna go out, but I wanna stay home”) to understand her visceral appeal. Like the best Seinfeld episodes, Barnett—with a casual shrug— has turned writing about everyday occurrences into some sort of high art. Go ahead and put her on that pedestal. —Tom Lanham

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MAGNET’s #5 Album Of 2015: Royal Headache’s “High”

RoyalHeadache

The second LP from this Sydney, Australia quartet—its members are identified only as Shogun (vocals), Law (guitar), Joe (bass) and Shortty (drums)—can probably be found in the punk section down at ye olde record shoppe, and given the band‘s barebones aesthetic, they might prefer it. But to slap that tag on High does it a bit of a disservice—it’s a varied, surprisingly nuanced effort that transcends that label’s limitations and the album’s less-thanpristine production. Speedier tempos dominate (“My Own Fantasy,” “Need You,” “Love Her If I Tried”), but the slow-burning soul strains that infuse “Wouldn’t You Know” and the catchy, Britpop feel of the title track and the chiming “Carolina” are equally thrilling. The bass line on the punishing “Garbage” is one for the ages (way to go, Joe!), as is the propulsive tune’s withering takedown of someone Shogun apparently doesn’t much care for: “You’re as low as they come/You’re not punk, you’re just scum.” That type of raw, cathartic emotion permeates High, and the effect is intoxicating. By the closing notes of the frantic “Electric Shock,” a blissed-out ode to numbing your senses, you’ll definitely feel like you’re on something, unless you’re dead inside. —Matt Hickey

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MAGNET’s #6 Album Of 2015: Joanna Newsom’s “Divers”

JoannaNewsom

Has it really been nearly six years since Have One On Me? But it just stopped playing! (Have one on us, Samberg.) The time between Joanna Newsom engagements is more necessary—if not mandatory—than for any other active artist. She allowed a generous fortnight of examination and contemplation for every minute of music on her tripleLP opus, and still, some 70 months after its release, new shades of appreciation and meaning are leaking out of it—as they surely will be from this more direct, yet no-less-demanding successor. In the infancy of its understanding, a few things are readily apparent: that Divers—literal and figurative, profound and confounding, ancient and prescient—aces F. Scott Fitzgerald’s intelligence test; that the linear confines of a single-album format are no preclusion from going deeper than ever before; and that, in the time and space between this and her earthbound triptych, Newsom caught on to some seriously cosmic shit, her personal voyage logged as a space-time odyssey in which love is the true continuum. It’s contrition by attrition, a fiberoptic panoply of styles and contributors bundling together into a honeycomb of light, then untangling to reveal the dew-dropping spiderweb-strummer at its center, until the last pin-light is bent on this hot-dogging loon, caught there like a shard of mirror in the moon. —Noah Bonaparte Pais

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MAGNET’s #7 Album Of 2015: The Libertines’ “Anthems For Doomed Youth”

Libertines

That the Libertines—returning to the spotlight after imploding more than a decade ago—managed to record a new album, let alone one as good as anything they’ve ever done, was one of 2015’s more improbable musical events. Particularly in light of Pete Doherty’s increasingly wayward behavior over the last 10 years, where he transformed himself into a smackaddled tabloid headline. This LP could have been titled Too Much Junkie Business and no one would have batted an eyelid. Instead, with an apparently smack-free Doherty on board, the Libertines returned triumphant. All the elements of old remain present and correct—the self-mythologizing; the ragged romanticism; the heroic, insular, unapologetically English world where references to the likes of Orwell, Orton and Owen abound—but this time with a more battle-scarred edge. There’s a sense of ruefulness throughout, a sense of wonder that they’ve made it through intact. They’ve reined in the more ramshackle elements of old, but retained their sense of purpose. Above all, it proves—if proof were needed— what a great lyrical and literate songwriting team Carl Barât and Doherty were and are, before the drugs soured everything, and what a resolutely unique vision they still possess. —Neil Ferguson

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MAGNET’s #8 Album Of 2015: Sufjan Stevens’ “Carrie & Lowell”

SufjanStevens

After a decade and a half of holding it down as indie’s resident maximalist (try finding a review of Illinois that doesn’t mention how many instruments he plays), Sufjan Stevens stripped it all back for the starkest, most understated and best album of his career. Accompanied throughout by little more than his own acoustic guitar, banjo, piano and the occasional synthesizer, Stevens attempts to reconcile the passing of his estranged late mother with remarkable candor and poise. All of Stevens’ strong suits are on full display here, most prominently his ability to imbue even the most minute details with uncannily mythic qualities—though they’re rendered all the more compelling this time around by the very evident fact that these are much more than just sad, whimsical stories about Flint, Mich., or an especially fateful “Casimir Pulaski Day.” He never gets lost in the subject matter, though, and as with all of his best work, Carrie & Lowell finds a compelling balance between the devastating emotional specifics of personal loss and the universal feelings of grief, sorrow and regret that accompany it. —Möhammad Choudhery

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