Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In Stores 2/27

Dave and I pick the books with most potential shipping to comic shops today!

Patrick's pick:

Rasl #1 - This is Jeff Smith’s first major post-Bone project, a comic book series about an art thief with the ability to traverse dimensions. Smith is undeniably one of the major cartooning talents actively working, making this a “can’t miss” comic.

Dave's Pick:

The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury #295 - I've been seeing a lot of hype about this new book from Archaia Studios Press by Brandon Thomas and Lee Ferguson. This is actually the first issue published, but Miranda couldn't very well have had many adventures if it began with number one, now could it? This five issue mini-series (at least for now) will bring the adventuress through issue 300!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Manga Monday: Antique Bakery

Antique Bakery (Volume 1)
Fumi Yoshinaga

It took awhile for me to get my hands on this book. I placed an order through Amazon.com in early December (since it's out of print through Barnes & Noble), then received a nice little e-mail in early February that they couldn't find a copy. Sigh. Especially frustrating since I saw a copy at a Borders in Minnesota when I went home to visit my family and I certainly would have picked it up then, had I not had an open order. Luckily enough, I was able to get a copy through a second-hand store on http://www.bn.com/, still wrapped in plastic and new, the scratch-and-sniff strawberry on the front unmolested.

I'd heard for awhile that this is a very good manga. And it's true. Antique Bakery is a yaoi manga, pretty light on elements you would usually associate with yaoi. There is a gay character. There is a short scene in a gay bar and there is talk of one talented baker's inexplicable ability to attract any man he desires. But the focus is on the delicious deserts served at the hot bakery that opened up in place of an old antique store, and the eccentric staff that works there. Actually, there's quite a bit of focus on the customers as well, from old high school friends who are beginning to rekindle a friendship, to middle-aged men sneaking away from their families to taste test pastries.
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I actually got some of the characters in this book confused with one another, as many of the young men look similar with, for instance, hairstyles that look alike. But those confusing moments that took me out of the moment were sparse and are easy to overlook in light of the beautiful, delicate art and engaging, refreshingly unique story. But in truth, Antique Bakery is kind of odd. It whimsically weaves stories between people's lives as they discover the cafe, what goes on in the kitchen, and past events in characters' lives. The story ventures where it will without really seeming to build toward anything. But it's a lot of fun and everything circles back to the bakery and the love of a well-crafted dessert.

Friday, February 22, 2008

X-Force #1

Craig Kyle, Christ Yost & Clayton Crain
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This is not a good comic. The first indicator should have been that the writers on this book are the same as those behind the dreadful New X-Men "Quest For Magick" arc. Kyle and Yost know how to tell a sloppy, uninteresting story while not even trying to touch on characterization. At least this time the art matches their talent and is equally underwhelming and laid out pretty dreadfully. It's dark and cold, ugly and brutal, and the suspense and fluidity that should be present in a comic like this is just not there. I'm actually offended that I was subjected to this.
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The story follows four X-Men who are recruited by Cyclops to do the dirty black ops work that the rest of the teams can not do publicly: Wolverine, X-23, Wolfsbane and Warpath. Together, they try to recover a device stolen by Purifiers, specifically Reverend Matthew Risman, that they would use to give power to the future sentinel Nimrod (or part of him, at least).
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There's buckets of blood and blades cutting through soldiers' various body parts, but it's impersonal and cold, like the colors and the overall art. This is clumsy storytelling, dull and drab and completely forgettable, the likes of which I would warn anyone from reading. As "eh" as the original X-Force book was, this is an insult to that title.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Picks of the Week: 2/20

Patrick and I once again pick the comics arriving in comic stores tomorrow with the most potential...

Patrick's pick:

Golgo 13 (Volume 13) - The final volume of this greatest hits series debuts in the direct market this week, although you may have been able to score a copy at a bookstore by now. The stories in this volume concern Duke Togo’s secret role in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, as well as a possible origin story, of which there are apparently several. I don’t know what I’m going to miss more, these books or Jog’s excellent commentary on them.

Dave's pick:

The Order (Volume 1): The Next Right Thing - I hear that this is one of the better superhero books out there right now, so I've been waiting for this collection of the first seven issues to come out for awhile now (and just in time for issue eight's arrival to stores). Written by Matt Fraction (Casanova, The Immortal Iron Fist), with art by Barry Kitson (Legion of Super-Heroes). Unfortunately the series is cancelled already, as of issue ten, but better late than never... The series follows a group of superpowered models and actors that are established as California's superteam under Tony Stark's 50-State Initiative.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Manga Monday: Azumanga Daioh

Azumanga Daioh Omnibus
Kiyohiko Azuma

Following my obsession with Yotsuba&!, I picked up this omnibus volume of creator Kiyohiko Azuma's debut work, which collects the entire series of stories told in the "yonkoma" format, or vertical four-panel comic strips. The Azumanga Daioh strips follow a group of Japanese high school girls who bond over academia, sports and cute animals over their stint in school together. It's a fun, cutesy comedy series with six students taking center stage, along with a few odd teachers. One girl excels at school, one's an airhead, one is really cool, but has a soft side...they're great characters, but don't exactly outgrow the model of the four-panel strip to become very well-rounded. Chiyo-chan seems to be the standout character of the bunch and is very much a prototype of sorts of the title character of Yotsuba&!. "Yonkoma" seems to work just like American comic strips, with either a joke of the day or a series of related strips over a period of time that focus on a vacation or an upcoming test that's got them all nervous. I was really pleased to find this collected edition of the series so soon after reading Yotsuba&!, and hope to see even more of these types of projects in the future. It seems to be a recent phenomena, but hopefully one that's proving successful enough to continue. Funny and sweet, Azumanga Daioh is certainly worth the $25 pricetag for the entire series of 677 pages.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tiny Titans #1

Art Baltazar & Franco

The newest DC superhero team launched this week in some of the cutest panels you've ever seen featuring your favorite superhero sidekicks. Tiny Titans is the latest effort from DC to draw in younger readership by featuring adorable characters adorably rendered in adorable little stories. ADORABLE! It's hard not to be drawn in by the cover and the bright, happy pages bursting from the shelves of the local comic shop's selection of bloody, dark, brooding covers. And these are some really fantastic designs for the characters in this incarnation. I particularly like Tiny Raven and Tiny Speedy. I'm not very familiar with the DC Universe, but I believe that some of these characters were introduced specifically for this comic, like Miss Martian...never heard of her before, but that could be my lack of DC knowledge speaking. This is a great concept when it comes down to it, the art reminding me a lot of James Kochalka and the back-up strips from Savage Dragon. Basically, this first comic of the series contains a bunch of little stories, one to five pages long each. And a fun maze for the little ones at the end. The stories, overall, are pretty basic. The girls play with Barbies and giggle about boys. The boys talk about their cool powers and pretend not to like the girls. Nothing extraordinary beyond the cute factor and a few neat ideas, like Wonder Girl's jumprope replacing the lasso. Overall, it's a fun, fresh take, and the immediate appeal is sure to draw in some curious readers. Honestly, I wish there were more books like this, and I hope some little kids fall in love with comics through this issue.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ClanDestine #1

Alan Davis

ClanDestine is a five issue mini-series written and pencilled by Alan Davis, who created the property for Marvel UK between stints on Excalibur in the 90's. The title follows the Destine family, where a pair of immortals had a litter of superpowered offspring who must keep their identities secret. For the most part, it doesn't seem like readers need to have read the original series to follow what's going on, but there are references to a member of the family who did something bad, and is now dead. I'm sure it was a major plot point for the original series, and understandable that it would be brought up, as he's the only family member not present, and he seems to have left some devastation in his wake. He's kind of like a black cloud hanging over the lot of them.

Two younger members of the clan seem to be the thrust of the story, Crimson Crusader and Imp, a mischievous pair in bright costumes whose role in the comic remind me quite a bit of Ultimate Spider-Man, and not just because Spider-Man plays a cameo at the beginning of the book. The kids go to school and are teased, and resist the temptation to show off and use their powers. They obviously don't fit in well, and have plenty of adventures with their superpowered brethren and battle equally powerful foes, a group of which have their eyes on the family, on Crimson Crusader and Imp in particular.

Nothing especially interesting occurred in this issue to make me need to get the next issue, but with the original Excalibur soming into the mix in the third issue, I'm going to keep following it nonetheless. Plus, each issue is brimming with fantastic Alan Davis art, so even if it tanks out with the issues to come, it'll still be worth it for the eye candy. Alan Davis was actually the first artist that I recognized whenever I saw his work, and it still stands out to this day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Picks of the Week: 2/13

Patrick and I pick the comics arriving in comic stores tomorrow with the most potential for awesomeness...

Patrick's pick:

Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure - Here’s the deal: This is an approximation of what would have been the 103rd issue of the original Fantastic Four series, had Jack Kirby not left the title. The artwork produced by Kirby for that issue has been assembled here, inked by Joe Sinnott, with a new script by Stan Lee. Also included is a reprint of Fantastic Four #108, drawn by John Buscema, which incorporates some of the artwork Kirby produced for issue 103 in a flashback sequence. Got that? No? Look, it’s essentially a new Fantastic Four comic book by frickin’ Jack Kirby. Just buy it.

I think there might be something of significance happening with the regular Fantastic Four book this month, too…

Dave's pick:

ClanDestine Classic Premiere HC - Alan Davis' original ClanDestine comics all collected under one cover, just in time for readers to get caught up for the relaunch. Should be a lot of fun.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Manga Monday: Nana

Nana (Volume 8)
Ai Yazawa

Volume eight of Nana picks up where its run in Shojo Beat left off, as the book takes a turn in a more mature direction. Things come to a head for Hachi and emotions run high as a huge event takes place that damages and changes the relationships of those involved. I knew that there was a big event coming up in the book that really shook things up, but honestly, I was not expecting what occurred and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Things will change and it's going to be interesting, if anything. Even the secondary characters of the story are intriguing at this point, like Shin and Reira, who have their own...dysfunctions. Anyways, all I know is that I've grown really attached to Nobu and the events leave him in a bad spot, while Hachi and Osaki's interesting relationship is more strained than ever. In the end, I'm just amazed, as usual, with Yazawa's storytelling prowess and consistently beautiful, soft art. I'm glad that these volumes are going to be coming out more frequently with its departure from Shojo Beat - I'm not sure I could take any more of a wait between volumes, the tension and suspense is just thicker than it's ever been!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Ms. Marvel #24

Brian Reed & Aaron Lopresti

Contains spoilers!

The four-issue story arc "Monster and Marvel" concluded with the latest issue of Ms. Marvel, which also marks the longest run on a Ms. Marvel title thus far. In this issue, Carol Danvers finds herself up against hordes of the brood on Monster Island. With the help of Machine Man, Arana, Sleepwalker and Agent Sum, the aliens are defeated, including the Brood Queen, whom Carol has a history with. During the beginning of the arc, it is revealed that Ms. Marvel had merged with an alien, Cru, from the debut arc of the series (and her powers have been acting strange since), and while attempting to separate herself from Carol, the alien reactivates Ms. Marvel's long-dormant powers from when she'd become Binary under the hands of the Brood.

It's been Carol's quest, since the series debut, to be the best that she can be as a superhero, pushing herself to her limits to be a real powerhouse like Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. During Brian Michael Bendis' House of M, she was a major figure along those ranks (in that reality), and she wants to discover that part of herself and become the type of hero she has the potential to become. A few pages before this issue ends, Carol sits in her shower, wondering over how she's behaved lately, how she's rash, cowardly, a killer... And then the shocking ending: Tony Stark tells Agent Sum that Carol Danvers has in fact been replaced by a skrull. I'm not sure how he came to the conclusion, or if he's correct, but after a little discussion with Patrick, it seemed like kind of a neat idea if she were a skrull. A skrull, perhaps so deeply conditioned to become Carol Danvers that she's unaware of what she is? It would explain why she's been having such an identity crisis lately. Or perhaps she just doesn't want to admit what she is, that maybe the skrull likes being Ms. Marvel? Either way, there's a lot of potential to this development that's pretty exciting. Even if it turns out to be a mistake on Tony's part, the coming confrontations are bound to be thrilling.

I have to say that I am really enjoying Ms. Marvel as a whole. I wasn't expecting much when I happened to pick up the debut issue, but it's been fairly consistent with some really great superhero stories. The supporting characters are a really rich addition to the title, particularly Arana, who Ms. Marvel sort of mentors, the hilarious Machine Man (coming off of Nextwave without feeling Ellis-light), and even the alien Cru, who was a great concept with a great design. I think that Carol Danvers is a pretty interesting character herself, and that probably has a lot to do with what makes the series really work for me. She's really appealing: thoughtful and insecure, motivated yet unsure of what she's doing a lot of the time, second-guessing herself and making mistakes...and she struggles with her duel identity constantly. I also really enjoy Aaron Lopresti's artwork on the book. I've been a fan of his for awhile (back from the Crossgen days), and I'm a bit upset that he's leaving the title with this issue. Adriana Melo comes on as new series regular next iss, with some pretty big shoes to fill in my eyes.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Killer (Volume 1) HC

Matz & Luc Jacamon

The Killer is a comic originally published in France from 1998 to 2003, earning praise for being a gritty noir comic. The artist, Luc Jacamon, has translated it for American audiences via Archaia Studios Press. The story follows an assassin as he waits patiently for a mark to appear across the street from where he's staked out. While he sits alone in a dark room, his mind wanders to past jobs, how he launched his career, and his reasons behind such a life. It's a pretty psychological look at a killer-for-hire, but it doesn't skimp on the action either. Eventually things come to a head at his stakeout and interesting developments occur, offering yet another side to this man whom readers can't help but root for, despite the horrible things he's done.

This comic is really a treat. It's dark and edgy with an interesting look into the mind of a monster. It has great art, a great story, and the quality of the packaging is second to none. This 128-page hardcover is offered at a hefty $19.99 pricetag, but I think it's well worth it, particularly since you can find it at Amazon for $13.50. This is a mean noir story a cut above most genre comics out there.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Picks of the Week: 2/6

Patrick and I pick the comics with most potential, shipping to comic shops today! But if you live in Milwaukee like I do, the stores will be closed due to the gazillion inches of snow we're expected to get...

Patrick's pick:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Released to bookstores some time ago, this picture book by Brian Selznick combines prose and silent, black and white comics to tell the story of a young boy’s discovery of an automation in early 20th century Paris. If your local comic book store ordered this from Diamond, it should show up there today. Winner of the 2008 Caldecott Medal.
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Dave's pick:
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ClanDestine #1 - Alan Davis returns to a book he created for Marvel UK immediately following his excellent run on the original Excalibur. From what I hear, many elements from Excalibur were present in the original ClanDestine as well, so hopefully that will make its way to the new series (the fact that Excalibur is guest-starring in issue #3 is a good sign). I'm very excited for this, more excited than I've been for a superhero comic in a long while. Alan Davis is pretty awesome.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Narcopolis #1

Jamie Delano & Jeremy Rock

Narcopolis is a new four issue mini-series from Avatar Press, written by Jamie Delano with art that I have to say I really enjoyed, courtesy of Jeremy Rock. The story follows Gray, a man living in a world where all citizens take "suck" drugs to remain docile and passive, and anybody not participating is flagged and investigated. It's a world run by the pleasure of its citizens (sex, drugs, tattoos, spending money, etc), discouraging free thought and inquiries into areas outside of Narcopolis. Indeed the beautiful Agent Love is sent to investigate Gray, immediately after which a group of citizens begin to rip themselves apart in a frenzy right in front of her, literally raining down on her aircraft. Despite some interesting ideas, I felt a lot of deja vu for Grant Morrison's Sea Guy. I did like this first issue though. Like I said before, the art was pretty fantastic, despite the flimsy excuses for eye candy (Gray was at the very least shirtless in pretty much every scene, which I have to admit that I didn't hate here). And the story is propelled by some really eclectic slang dialogue that somehow, I understood all the way through. I actually found it pretty fun to read. Narcopolis is a bloody, violent, sexy book, the kind that I usually find in bad taste, but I admit that I enjoyed every aspect here, despite myself.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Manga Monday: Sand Chronicles

Sand Chronicles (Volume 1)
Hinako Ashihara
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Contains spoilers!

I began reading Sand Chronicles in Shojo Beat, but dropped the magazine soon after Nana left the lineup, deciding that reading the anthology (to discard) and then buying the book, like is done in Japan, is just too expensive for me, particularly with my favorite shojo title leaving its pages. The one thing I missed and often thought about buying the magazine for since then, is Sand Chronicles, which I'd only read a few chapters of at the time. But the first volume has been released and I'm happy to share my time with these characters again. It was definitely worth the wait. While much of this volume was retreading what I'd already read, a little less than half wasn't. And really, I didn't mind revisiting events I'd previously read.
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Sand Chronicles follows a young girl, Ann, who moves to the rural village of Shimane after her mother's unsuccessful marriage falls apart in Tokyo. Accustomed to the city life, Ann finds the adjustment a difficult one, especially after tragedy falls in the form of her mother committing suicide. Her mother had had a harder time returning to Shimane than Ann ever realized and wasn't strong enough in the end to endure the trial. Following this event, Ann's few friends support her to no end, in which she finds the comfort to draw out of herself years later.
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This is really an emotional book once the opening chapters have unfolded. Many events really strike close to home for me, so perhaps the story speaks more to me than a typical reader, but I will admit to crying while reading this volume. Things are very subtle, very believable, and are masterfully paced through Ashihara's beautiful illustrations. While I did think that Honey and Clover was a good addition to Shojo Beat after Nana's departure (and most people will probably cite it as their favorite), I prefer Sand Chronicles to what little I've read of that title, and am thankful for Shojo Beat's hand in introducting me to the series.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Previews: April '08 Comics

Patrick and I take a look at the latest Previews catalog and highlight the good stuff shipping to comic stores this April!

Marvel

Dave: Clandestine #3 - I’m a huge fan of the original Excalibur run, so I’m thrilled that Alan Davis is returning to those characters with an adventure in his new mini-series.

Secret Invasion #1 - The big Marvel event gets into full-swing with the first of eight issues featuring invading skrulls.

Dark Horse

Dave: Gantz (Volume 1) - The extremely popular title from Japan makes its way to America, featuring a cast of characters brought back to life by a mysterious creature called Gantz, who has them do its bidding.

Creepy Archives HC - This is fun: a collection of stories from the legendary Creepy magazine from the early 60’s!

Fluffy HC - This is ridiculously adorable, and I must have it. The story of a cute little bunny who has a human daddy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight (Volume 2): No Future For You TP - The latest collection of Joss Whedon’s acclaimed series hit’s the stands in April, featuring rogue slayer Faith.

DC Comics

Patrick: DC is offering some good looking books this month: There are a lot of haters out there, but I think Frank Miller’s and Jim Lee’s All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder is a blast. The first nine issues are collected in a hardcover this June. I’m taking Sean Collins’ word that Geoff Johns’ work on Green Lantern is worth checking out, and you can do so with the paperback edition of Green Lantern: No Fear, collecting the first six issues of Johns’ relaunch of the title, in May. Green Lantern: Rebirth, which restored Hal Jordan to his status as Earth’s Green Lantern, is reoffered for an April release.

Dave: New Minx titles - Burnout and Water Baby both debut this month, with some pretty impressive preview art in Previews Catalog.

Image Comics

Dave: The Walking Dead - Not only does The Walking Dead reach the milestone 50th issue, but volume 8 if the collections, Made To Suffer also becomes available.

Aardvark Vanaheim

Patrick: Glamourpuss #1 - This should be…..interesting. Dave Sim’s first post-Cerebus project is “a parody of fashion magazines, a history of photo realism in comics (starting with Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby in 1946), and the strangest super-heroine comic book of all time!” It also features a woman named “Skanko.” Huh.

Archaia Studios Press

Dave: Gunnerkrigg Court (Volume 1): Orientation - The award-winning webcomic sees print courtesy of Archaia Studios Press. It’s an all-ages fantasy that takes place in a boarding school.

Fantagraphics

Patrick: Comic Arf - I adore this series of books, edited by Craig Yoe, ostensibly about the intersection of comics and fine art, but really just a series of books filled to bursting with stuff Yoe finds interesting, which is great. This volume, the fourth I believe, features work by Milt Gross, Art Spiegelman, Jaime Hernandez, Mike Mignola, and others.

Most Outrageous - This sounds very interesting. This new book by Bob Levin examines the story of Dwaine Tinsley, former cartoon editor for Hustler magazine, who created a series of cartoons, “Chester the Molester,” about a middle-aged man who lusted after pre-pubescent girls. Tinsley was then accused by his teenage daughter of sexually molesting her over the course of five years, and the story of his trial is recounted here by Levin, a gifted writer about “outsider” cartoonists. Should be a compelling read.

The Comics Journal #290 - Ordinarily, I wouldn’t highlight the new issue of The Comics Journal in one of these posts, but there are a couple of features slated for this issue that make it worth pointing out to those who don’t necessarily read every issue, including a roundtable discussion of David Michaelis’ controversial biography, Schulz and Peanuts, and an examination by Gary Groth of the work of Ralph Steadman.

:01 First Second Books

Dave: Three Shadows GN - From Cyril Pedrosa, this original graphic novel follows a family trying to elude death itself.

Hyperion Books

Patrick: Thoreau At Walden - I cannot imagine a more perfect match of cartoonist and subject than John Porcellino and Henry David Thoreau. This is the second cartoon biography put together by James Sturm’s Center for Cartoon Studies, and I’ve a feeling it’s going to be outstanding.

IDW Publishing

Dave: IDW publishes a few picture books under their new children’s imprint, Worthwhile Books. The first offerings are The Nicest Naughty Fairy and Tinyrannosaurus.

Touchstone

Patrick: Little Things: A Memoir In Slices - Jeffrey Brown’s new book doesn’t sound like too much of a departure from the talented cartoonist’s previous efforts, like Clumsy, so if you’re a fan you’ll want to get this, too.

Vertical

Patrick: Tezuka’s Dororo (Volume 1) - I mentioned this series when David and I discussed our most anticipated comics of 2008. Here’s the first volume.

Friday, February 01, 2008

My Favorite Music of 2007

2007 saw a sharp decline in album sales, an increase in electronic download sales (which did little to alleviate the industry's downward spiral), and few heavy-hitters releasing new music. As a former manager in the music department where I work, I still try to listen to new CDs that come out - anything that looks remotely appealing. A word of caution: I'm not very into avant garde music like what Radiohead is releasing, and have little interest in rap and boy bands. My tastes are a little stange, admittedly, and probably lean toward a blend of adult contemporary and alternative music. My favorite CD last year was Val Emmich's Sunlight Searchparty. The year before that, it was Madonna's Confessions on a Dancefloor. That's the kind of thing I liked then, and this is what I like now...

1. Wild Hope - Mandy Moore - Mandy Moore's latest CD boasts a mature sound that ventures into folk and country territory, songs she co-wrote with artists like Rachel Yamagata, Lori McKenna and The Weepies. A fantastic, subtle sound that didn't get the attention it deserved. Key tracks: Extraordinary, Most of Me, Looking Forward To Looking Back, Wild Hope, Nothing That You Are.

2. Alright, Still... - Lily Allen - An edgy blend of several types of music, Lily Allen took the music scene by storm this year just ahead of Amy Winehouse. Blunt and uncensored, Alright, Still... is a fun album with catchy hooks, sung through a British accent and a dirty mouth. Key tracks: Smile, LDN, Everything's Just Wonderful, Friday Night, Alfie.

3. Once OST - The soundtrack from the indie hit musical really made the movie what it was, hitting each scene with emotional resonance through the songs. Featuring the fantastic vocals of (mostly) Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová. Key tracks: Lies, Fallen From the Sky, Falling Slowly, If You Want Me, When Your Mind's Made Up.

4. One Cell in the Sea - A Fine Frenzy - New singer/songwriter Alison Sudol's debut CD is a string and piano-laden album of heartache and genius, complimented by the voice of a siren. Haunting and unforgettable. Key Tracks: Come On, Come Out, The Minnow & the Trout, You Picked Me, Liar, Liar, Lifesize.

5. The Story - Brandi Carlile - The Story was recorded almost entirely live by the guitarist/songwriter, boasting appearances from the likes of the Indigo Girls. This CD definitely has a country feel to it, but is reminiscent of Melissa Etheridge sometimes, and Bonnie Raitt others. Either way, the end product is a fantastic package. Key tracks: Late Morning Lullaby, The Story, Turnpentine, Have You Ever, Until I Die.

Singles that I really enjoyed this year include:

Umbrella - Mandy Moore. I prefer the toned-down, folksy remake to the original by Rihanna. Definitely worth seeking out, probably the best single of the past few years.

Gimme More - Britney Spears. Best dance song of the year.

Going To a Town - Rufus Wainwright. Release the Stars was close to making my list, so I have to tip my hat toward the best song on that CD, and probably the best by the artist to date.

Chick Habit - April March. Hip and retro, this single wowed me when it played during the credits of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (from Grindhouse), prompting me to immediately purchase the soundtrack.