Godspeed You Black Emperor!
Despite this being their first album, and despite having such a crazy name, this group made a fairly big splash in independent circles with the release of their debut album last year. While it didn't hit mainstream, or even close to mainstream, it did make the year-end lists of several different artist picks from members of Belle and Sebastian to Mogwai, and even different electronic artists. Having such an interesting name, it would almost be a letdown if the group was fairly normal, and fortunately they aren't. Hailing from Canada, this 10 piece (yes, 10 people) group plays just about everything but the kitchen sink (although it might be in the mix somewhere as well).
The sound of the music ranges from ambient to steadily driving, but it keeps the same atmospheric, movie-soundtrack quality throughout. 3 different multi-pieced tracks cover over 60 minutes of time and move from sparse to heavily layered and back again. The album starts out with a bleak spoken-word sample before moving into some slow strings and then drifting off again before moving into another incarnation. Strings, light horns, bells, guitars, drums and tons of other instruments all combine in a very sweeping and somewhat dark, but always interesting motion. Add to that some of the coolest packaging I've seen in some time and it makes for one of the best albums of 1998 (and yet another album I missed hearing last year). Wow.