Ryan Adams
29
(Lost Highway)
If we pool our collective Ryan Adams purchases of 2005, we might just come up with one really fantastic album. Here’s to takin’ your time in ’06, Mr. Adams. Everybody’s waiting to hear that one album of which we all know you’re capable. In the meantime, we’ll still be buying the rest of it, and, hey, in the future we might even be talked into purchasing a live disc if it’s packed with all that great onstage banter-you were a kick in the pants at the Sandpoint Festival this summer.

The Elected
Sun, Sun, Sun
(SubPop)
What do you do when your position in one of indie rock’s most popular bands starts to feel a little stale? If you’re Rilo Kiley guitarist Blake Sennett, you try something new. Going strong since 2003, Sennett’s The Elected creates delightful pop drawing on influences from its native SoCal; from life on the road, to Hollywoodesque breakups to beachside bumming. Sennett’s crackly, boyish delivery keeps the album’s charm in tact, easily winning over its listeners along the way.

Espers
The Weed Tree
(Locust)
One listen to this Philadelphia band will tell you that they’re steeped in British folk. On the Weed Tree, Espers work their magic on a rather disparate batch of covers, hanging each in their stylistic foliage. They infuse the Irish folk staple “Black Is the Color” with an extra dash of melancholy, and give Blue Oyster Cult’s “Flaming Telepaths” an extended psychedelic treatment. RIYL: traveling minstrels, cavorting around the maypole, lamenting the sorrows of love in exquisite harmonies.

Film School
Film School
(Beggars)
Interpol-y, stellastarr*-y and Grandaddy-y, therefore Cure-y, Smiths-y and Echo and the Bunnymen-y, but overall less exciting-y, more boring-y and in general not worth your time-y.

Friends of Dean Martinez
Lost Horizon
(Aero Recordings)
Dean Martinez has some pretty chill friends. They’re more likely to give you a shot of realism than a shot of tequila, and will never get in fights at a party. They’d prefer to put the film you’re watching on mute, and then provide the drama through guitars, moogs and drums. They are inescapably atmospheric; imagine a kinder, gentler Mogwai with a southwestern flare. What they lack in direction they atone for with exquisite musicianship. Do you like friends like these? I do-on my stereo at least.

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan
Ramblin’ Man
(V2)
This vocal pairing strikes me as a match cooked up in some sonic heaven-erstwhile Belle & Sebastian song-waif Campbell and former Screaming Trees growler Lanegan compliment each other beautifully. With its road-weary, love-lorn covers-Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man” and the traditional “St. James Infirmary”-it’s thematically and stylistically very similar to Lanegan’s excellent solo work. Although slight (with only four modest songs), this EP should whet your appetite for the full-length disc, due to hit stores in February.

Jens Lekman
Oh You’re So Silent Jens
(Secretly Canadian)
Jens Lekman is a big star in his native Sweden, and has earned accolades comparing his quirky songs to acts like Belle & Sebastian and Morrissey. This 17-track album serves as an excellent introduction to his corpus, culling material from EPs he has released over the past three years. Lekman sings in a gentle, almost lounge-ish tenor, filling his songs with keyboards, strings and samples. Although given to maudlin sentiment, he is a highly gifted and clever lyricist. Lekman’s melodies don’t always sell themselves, but his charming mix of wit and melancholia does.

Ashlee Simpson
I Am Me
(Geffen)
Get ready for some serious shockin’-this sophomore disc is just not as good as its predecessor. Yes, investments in both were made, and yes, countless rock out sessions were spent with classics like “Autobiography” and “Pieces of Me,” and, yes, serious expectations were in place for their follow-up. But, dismay of dismays, besides lead off track “Boyfriend,” this one just…doesn’t…have it. Commence mass frowning. I’d be more disappointed, but I’ve still got that killer first disc for all my future teen pop needs.

Some Girls
Heaven’s Pregnant Teens
(Epitaph)
If I weren’t already in love with them for the obvious shock value of this great album title, I’d likely still have fallen head heels for this band. These are some serious hardcore boys with some serious hardcore resumes, playing some serious hardcore tunes, resulting in some serious hardcore fun. The resumes might include the likes of the Locust, the Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower and Head Wound City, but I’m pretty sure I like Girls the best. It starts in the ear, but it seldom stops short of going for the gut.

The Strokes
First Impressions of Earth
(RCA)
Scenesters beware, the Strokes are really f-in’ cool again. So cool, in fact, that the original naysayers have jumped back on their pathetic bandwagons to knock the band’s latest effort… but forget them. Nobody was prepared for this new, amped up, cleaner (no distortion on ol’ Julian) Strokes, but judging by one completely insane group of Seattlites at a recent promotional club show and solid sales in the album’s first week, the change has clearly been embraced. And, well, duh, because mindblowers like “Vision of Division,” “Heart in a Cage” and “Electricityscape” are too amazing to ignore. If there were any doubt in your mind after the release of Room on Fire as to the band’s future-prepare yourself-they’re here to stay. Is This It might have been the one to start it all, but First Impressions is undoubtedly the best Strokes work to date.

Rocky Votolato
Makers
(Barsuk)
I’ve always wanted an older brother, and I think if I could have my pick of any fella I might just choose Rocky Votolato. His music rocks my world, he seems pretty tight with little bro Cody (of Blood Brothers and Rocky-fronted Waxwing), and from what I can tell I’m pretty sure he is just one outstanding gentleman. Seattle-based Votolato just made a well-deserved switch over to Barsuk and his first release on the label is another dose of some of his best. It’s not strikingly different than recent work like Suicide Medicine-which is to say that it’s pretty damn incredible on every level that matters.

Various Skaters/Spirit Skate Shop
Episode 5 DVD
(self released)
You could call this a way-cool local skate vid-but it’s a way cool skate vid, period. Spokane never looked so fun, and skate-able as it has in the fifth anniversary Spirit Skate Shop release. Anyone looking for street skate talent in this town could point to this document a “exhibit A.” Some great work here by Josh Mohs, Ray kimbrough, Bobby Dodd and others. My favorite part: skater does a trick in Riverfront Part and then unintentionally donates his board to the Spokane River. Priceless.