Personal Best

What the world needs now is a wholly subjective, occasionally snarky awards ceremony

Best Country Album Without All the Annoying Accents

Japancakes -- The Sleepy Strange (Kindercore)As much as I like to hear "steers" rhymed with "beers" and to discover 15 new ways to leave my lover, I prefer country without the corn und drawl. On its third album this Georgia band delivers Americana of a psychedelic, instrumental stripe, heavy on the pedal steel that sings rather than weeps, and on the fuzz organs that kick out the jams, cowfucker. Some people call it Krautrock because of the microcosmic variations on an endless drone, but I prefer to think of Japancakes as the sound of a cornfield: similar on the surface yet different upon closer inspection.

Finally Someone Asks the Important Questions Award

Local Group the Aislers Set: Past perfect pop songs.
Chihaya Kaminokawa
Local Group the Aislers Set: Past perfect pop songs.

Great Plains -- "Letter to a Fanzine" OK, so this song was originally written in 1986, but its main question still holds true: Why do punk rock guys go out with new wave girls? During its tenure, which was recently collected on the retrospective Length of Growth, 1981-89, Columbus' Great Plains asked this and other meaningful queries (like "What would Martin Luther King and Martin Luther talk about?") while playing a racket halfway between punk and new wave. Unfortunately, I get the feeling from the songs that the band didn't attract much attention, from new wave girls or otherwise.

Best Imitation of a Dead Junkie

Slumber Party -- Slumber Party (Kill Rock Stars)When Andy Warhol took over as manager for the Velvet Underground, he suggested that the group might be more commercially viable with a lead singer who was slightly more, well, attractive than Lou Reed. In fact, Warhol suggested the band be fronted by the tall, blond, junkie model from Germany, Nico, who sang in a tone so devoid of emotion that she appeared to be lacking a pulse. This all-girl quartet from Michigan resurrects Nico's plain-Jane-on-heroin singing style, imbuing it with the suggestion of sexual intimacy and a clean-then-fuzzy, spiraling guitar style swiped from the Velvets' Loaded. If exhuming the dead were always this much fun, I'd never put my shovel down.

Couldn't You Be a Little More Productive Award

Roland Alphonso -- Something Special: Ska Hot Shots (Heart Beat)The saxophone work of this Jamaican legend is featured on thousands of recordings, 20 of which are included here. These essential tracks -- culled from those made between 1958 and 1968, before and after Alphonso was in the Skatalites -- illustrate just how mellifluous his playing was. Reggae at that time was as much about jazz, R&B, and mento as it was about the shuffling guitar and heavy bass we now connect to the style. Alphonso was the master, blowing sweet, strong, or spy crazy (as on his version of the James Bond theme).

Barmy English Dude Award

The Clientele -- A Fading Summer (March)Not only is the lead singer named Alasdair, but he also sings in a wavering tone that goes falsetto at the drop of a crumpet. His lyrics indicate nothing more than that the stars, trees, and other elements of nature are decidedly fixed in orbit, while the band's guitars jangle so unobtrusively that you can barely hear them. And yet the album works, for some reason -- possibly because it's so endearingly fragile, like a nerdy kid with thick glasses, a calculus book, and high-water pants.

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