The Dears – No Cities Left (spinART)

Most great rock bands inevitably leave a trail of second-rate impostors in their wake. But because The Smiths were largely created in the image of their saintly singer Morrissey, whose voice and presence were so painfully unique, Smiths zealots were never really left with much to remind them of that handful of romantic, often perfectly melodramatic masterpieces. That is until The Dears came along. The second best album by a Montreal band in 2004, “No Cities Left” features a slate of smoky lounge-filled delicacies that allow singer Murray Lightburn to showcase vocals that exist somewhere between Smiths era Morrissey and the Tinderstick’s Stuart Staples. Accompanied by lyrics and music that create enough distance the albums lets us look beyond obvious comparison. This light will likely not go out for a few more years.

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Madvillain – Madvillainy (Matador)

Hip-hop, that far-reaching genre that tends to alienate most indie-rock loving purists, occasionally spits forth a band that manages to tickle the pickle of good old-fashioned rock fanatics. Madvillian is this years model. A sample-crazy, groove-obsessed, mishmash of comic book heroes and villains, mixed by Madlib and MF Doom, and featuring 20+ short tracks that alternate between traditional rap-like tracks and weird snippets from unidentifiable sources. More an odd mood piece than a record with a distinct beginning, middle and end, this is scrap book filled with addictive nuggets assembled by mad geniuses of a modern urban era.

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Million Dollar Baby – Dir. Clint Eastwood

Although maybe not the instantly “classic” movie some people have dubbed it, “Million Dollar Baby” is damn good. Clint is obviously an old master: a patient storyteller, who always plays it straight, with no funky special effects or flashy cinematography. The story focuses on an ambitious girl with the odd dream of becoming a boxing champion long past the age where it should be possible. Hilary Swank, proves the first time was not a fluke, creating a character as genuine and determined as almost any female character this year. Supported with a kind of quiet brilliance by Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood, the story soars to “Rocky-like” heights before throwing a devastating twist into an otherwise predictable plot. This is a film that will force an entire spectrum of emotions and one that will leave a lasting imprint.

Maria Full of Grace – Dir. Josh Marsden

In the ever-expanding genre of “drug” movies it is rare that you ever get to meet or see characters other than the dealers or the spiraling users. In the powerful “Maria Full of Grace,” you are confronted with three people who become involved in the drug trade as survival mechanism more than out of habit or means of power and riches. Maria, a poor Columbian girl, stuck in a dead end job in a flower factory, agrees to become a human mule swallowing 62 balloons of heroin that she will deliver for a few thousand dollars to New York. As perilous as this seems the incredible thing about this film is that the real story becomes about so much more. Filled with more a few perfect performances and some unexpected plot twists, this film is a real treasure that never finds a need to preach, but merely allows the story to speak affectingly for itself.

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Dios Malos – Dios (Startime International)

When you grow up the town that birthed the Beach Boys, it must be hard to escape the pull and power those timeless melodies. The members of Dios Malos have managed to channel the love into the finest psychedelic rock of the year. The debut album combines the bright and breezy beach music of their idols with sweeping Flaming Lips meets Mercury Rev epics that rise and fall like acid soaked waves falling across your consciousness. Almost every song on this impeccable and sticky masterpiece will have you humming or unknowingly lifting your lighter into the night and cheering for more. I can’t wait.

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