While he has only experienced brushes with mainstream attention, Daniel Johnston's impact can be heard way beyond the underground. Without Johnston, who knows if there would have been Kurt Cobain, Beck or Bright Eyes? After a 30-year career of mostly lo-fi recordings, Johnston returns with his most realized effort, Is and Always Was. Produced by Jason Falkner, the album keeps Johnston's imperfections while making them accessible to those who dig more polished sounds. Johnston comes off more alive than ever — like he's been waiting forever for a chance to experiment with bigger sounds. His Beatles obsession shines on songs like "Without You" and "Light of Day," making clear that Lennon is a bigger influence on his songwriting than Sir Paul. The great thing about Johnston — and probably the biggest reason for his cult status — is that he's always genuine. Even when he's trying something different or working with new people, he never gets lost in the static. On the heartbreaking ballad "Mind Movies," he earnestly sings, "I sure can't simply disappear." With an album as good as this, we hope he never does. — Eddie Fleisher
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