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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Dar Williams
My Better Self
Razor & Tie Records

Rating: 7/10 ?

October 20, 2005
There are plenty of "performers" in folk music; when it comes to the mantle "artist" - and the goodwill and prosperity deserved by that title - Dar Williams has earned the distinction. Her works are beyond acoustic strumming and busker philosophy, they are direct, poignant, character-driven and uncompromisingly unique. That should, indeed, say a lot to any detractors concerned with the sameness of the folk sound.

After more than a decade of releasing certifiably four-star folk albums with biting, unexpected (and often side-splitting) twists, the fact that Dar Williams can return with this heartfelt continuation - complete with a blue-tongued, devil-may-care cover - and perform every bit as consistently and lovingly as ever, is a welcome accomplishment. Though My Better Self has fewer moments, in number, to rival her very best, as her catalog grows, so do our chances to capture greatness as it sparks in the air.

On its surface, My Better Self is more mannered and MOR than her breakthrough album, Mortal City, with extended moments of lofty filler and pastoral treatments, but it marks an artist continuing her journey through time, history and sentiment. If this is a current chronicle of Dar Williams as a folk everywoman, then we know her numbness and distress are meant for solidarity.

At first, the album does not seem as passionate or sharp as her audience has grown accustomed to: her cover of Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" feels patently tame and inoffensive; "I"ll Miss You Till I Meet You" and "Echoes" are perplexingly plain placeholders and a duet with Ani DiFranco for Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" is faded in its effect. But when it comes to determining the album's core, it is found in the brokenness of "So Close to My Heart" which plays like a sincere eulogy for lost times.

Favorite moments will likely come from the fiery opener, "Teen for God" - which features the paranoid threat for unquestioned goodness, "God is watching" - as well as the spirited and slyly acidic "Empire" and fully energized "Beautiful Enemy", but this album is less about pluck and drive and more about inner disquiet. My Better Self is challenging insofar as it is grown, with adult concerns and unanswered feelings and dilemmas. It may be slower and more cautious than her previous catalog would suggest, but the feel of deliberation and despondence is more apparent.

After years of fighting the good fight, the world may have worn some on Dar Williams - she has not given up, but she has more to ponder. My Better Self will not force a dishonest smile among friends; it is about honestly admitting emotions that aren't always rosy, optimistic or easily expressed. Its numbness is fitting, its personal politics cut close in times of such uncertainty. Tenuous, uncomfortable feelings, nuanced phrases, guardedness and pointed discontent each sound relatable in her capable hands, marking Dar Williams as an ideal representative of the here and now.

Reviewed by Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other reviews by Sarah Peters



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