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New Buffalo

There have been some epic releases so far this year, including M83's Before the Dawn Heals Us and Ry Cooder's Chavez Ravine, which everyone should own. But 2005 has also been a year for perfect pop miniatures like Shivaree's Who's Got Trouble? and Coralie Clément's Bye Bye Beauté--and now, we can add New Buffalo's The Last Beautiful Day to the list. It's the kind of album that envelops the listener with its own fantastic reality; stepping into it is like exploring an infinite planet tucked away in the cluttered closet of some art-student nymph's studio loft, where you're as likely to encounter a stuffed animal as you are a crossbow.

New Buffalo's world isn't completely alien. There are touchstones, like the pastoral clubland of Beth Orton (who supplies guest vocals on "Inside"), the spare jangle of Blake Babies, the simmering torch music of Julie London. But none of this does justice to the lush soundscape that Australian Sally Seltmann conjures. She played most of the instruments and produced this album under the name New Buffalo. I'm in awe at how she managed to shape a sweeping melody for each of the 10 tracks on The Last Beautiful Day.

It's a distinct pleasure to bask in the sunlight of "Recovery," with its hopeful lyrics: "No more question marks/Sympathy cards/It's in the stars/Troubled times are clearing." The song leaves me no choice but to have hope--it's that effortlessly gorgeous. "While You're Away," meanwhile, is a tasty dessert of layered keyboards, each one carving a beautiful space for itself. And "On Sunday" is Sunday-morning music par excellence.

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