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

Hype is the primary killer of surprise. It can be crippling to decent works of art that will suffer under the weight of unrealistic expectation. But for the wunderkind from Omaha, there is a rather graceful delivery of the goods. With his warbling voice, and a sound that deftly skirts the boundaries of alt-country and lo-fi pop. With “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,” he has finally moved beyond “teen oddity” and into the realm of the genuinely talented. Not unlike his spiritual brethren Will Oldham (aka Palace), his music is wonderful juxtaposition to the insipid commercialism that is popular music. While earlier efforts had moments of brilliance they were also scarred with a few pretentious clunkers. This is an album to be savored from start to stop, while driving on a sunny day to moping on a rainy one.

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American Music Club– Love Songs For Patriots (Merge)

10 years in the making. 10 long years, a handful of gorgeously dreary Mark Eitzel solo records, and a big void mostly filled by bands like Spain, Red House Painters when it comes to those desert island break-up records that just help you get through it. Eitzel and company are back though, and with “Love Songs” it is almost as if they hadn’t ever parted ways. This is a rock record through and through, guitars, drums and sweeping vocals that lift the music up from the lyrics which, if read by themselves, would make you weep. If this is your first whack at AMC you have a wonderful world to explore!

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Tom Waits – Real Gone (Anti-)

Waits is a real life living legend who couldn’t make an easy record if his life depended on it. But as we all know nothing good, or great for that matter, is ever easy. On “Real Gone” Waits recent junkyard symphony is in full swing, a cacophony of sounds accompanied by his trademark raspy howl. Gone are the days of lounge-lizard pristine piano ballads, but in its place is another sprawling epic about life’s loose ends – the little pieces that are usually left unnoticed. “Real Gone” is another jagged piece in a perfect puzzle.

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Elliot Smith – From The Basement On The Hill (Anti-)

Enough has been said the tragic and premature death of the finest modern folkie in years. Drugs, despair and success have taken yet another, but not before allowing him one last chance to put his sad pen to paper. The songs of “Basement” are often every bit as good as anything he has ever done: part rock anthem, part old-fashioned acoustic folk, part musical diary. What has always made Elliot Smith so good is ability to make even the most morbid songs seem uplifting and even hummable. With a sound as distinctive any in modern music, you can only wonder how long he would have been able to keep his songwriting fresh probing such a damaged soul. Unfortunately we won’t have that chance, but at least we have this one.
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Oldboy – Dir. Chan-wook Park (Min-sik Choi Ji-tae Yu Hye-jeong Kang Dae-han Ji Seung-Shin Lee)

There is a kind of discomforting cool that spills from even the earliest scenes in Oldboy. This a revenge thriller cut from the same cloth as Tarrantino’s best films – a kind of scattered, disjointed, puzzle that starts from the moment a drunk man awakes from a stupor to find himself locked in an innocuous motel room where for fifteen years he lives on dumplings and television where he eventually sees that he had been accused of killing his own wife. When finally released back into the world without explanation, he seeks nothing but revenge for the years that were taken from him and the family that has disappeared. Somewhere between “Memento” and “Kill Bill” exists this graphic, psychological exploration into the minds of a hunter and victim. I would be surprised if there is a better film released this year.