Alt Is Back!

The Hold Steady, "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night" (Frenchkiss).

50 Foot Wave, "Clara Bow" (Throwing Music/BMG).

Sleater-Kinney, "Entertain" (Sub Pop).

Fiona Apple, "Used to Love" (MP3).

Clem Snide, "Tiny European Cars" (spinART).

Antony and the Johnsons, "My Lady Story" (Secretly Canadian).

The Mountain Goats, "Song for Dennis Brown" (4AD).

Ida, "Late Blues" (Polyvinyl).

Low, "When I Go Deaf" (Sub Pop).

Spoon, "I Turn My Camera On" (Merge).

Of Montreal, "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games" (Polyvinyl).

Psychic Emperor, "Royal Brohams" (Imputor?).

Super Eagles, "Love's a Real Thing" (Luaka Bop; originally released 1972).

Green Labels, "Kwacha Ngwee" (Sharp Wood; originally released 1983).

Bembeya Jazz National, "Waraba" (Stern's African Classics; originally released 1970).

FannyPack, "You Gotta Know" (Tommy Boy).

M.I.A., "Ten Dollar" (XL).

Lady Sovereign, "Blah Blah Blah (Cadence Weapon Remix)" (MP3).

Dopplebanger, "Got It Twisted Sister (The Rapture vs. Mobb Deep)" (MP3).

Gorillaz, "Dirty Harry" (Virgin).

My first theme mix for this column—I'm so proud. Actually, that's probably overstating it some, certainly in the case of the three old African records that divide the mix's alt-rock beginning from its alt-rock-approved hip-hop-plus finish. (Two of those African tunes are from late-2004 releases: Green Labels is off the very nice Zambush Vol. 1, and Bembeya Jazz National is from a slighter-than- I'd-prefer two-CD singles comp; the Super Eagles track gives the main title to Luaka Bop's good-not-great new World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing collection.) Still, the concept that overrides all else is plain whatever the last eight songs are. Alt is back—who knew?

The answer: Most of you, probably. And me, too, if we're honest: Not only are two of my three favorite 2005 albums thus far—the Hold Steady's Separation Sunday and the Mountain Goats' The Sunset Tree, which are second and third—indie-indie-indie, whatever their hat tips to classic rock (the very Born to Run Hold Steady) or folk (the often solo-acoustic Mountain Goats, aka John Darnielle), the whole mix wouldn't sound at all out of place on KEXP. Normally, this isn't the kind of thing I go for, at least not so brazenly—I tend to like my rhythms more polymorphous and up front, and words tend to come to me in a secondary fashion if they reach me at all. But not only are Darnielle and THS's Craig Finn my two favorite lyricists right now, they're surrounded here by stuff that's pretty damn groove-minded for alt: Spoon's tongue-in-cheek rewrite of the Rolling Stones' cod-disco "Emotional Rescue," Fiona Apple's officially unreleased moody shuffle, Of Montreal (of all people!) focusing so hard on a knobby, hypnotic bass line that when the song opens up halfway through I keep expecting a big whoosh to show up, followed by the riff from Justus Köhncke's "Timecode."

As for my No. 1 thus far, that's here, too. M.I.A.'s Arular has engendered plenty of controversy, often among people who love music that's at least as criminally minded as Maya Arulpragasam's exhortations to terrorism and a hell of a lot less fun. I don't tune that out, but considering that Arular is the biggest knockout of a party record since U.S.E.'s debut, I'm pretty forgiving.

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