3:46 PM: Top 25 Albums of 2005

Let's talk music in '05. Plenty of good albums came out this year, but the most hyped albums were a disappointment, for the most part... when an androgynous, balding thing moaning about domestic violence, spoiled Brooklyn kids aping David Byrne with a severe case of walking pneumonia, and Ms. Binks soundtracking the bollywood version of Episode I are considered among the year's most exciting releases, it's easy to give up on new music altogether. Fortunately, there were plenty of gems that fell through the cracks, and hopefully this list'll help you discover a few albums and bands that you've been missing out on.

If anyone would like me to ysi any of these albums, leave a comment, and I'll upload and link it asap. Hopefully the whole list'll be up today, so keep checking back if you wanna.

25. The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree

John Darnielle turns the spotlight on his own formative years on the Sunset Tree, and instead of losing his audience in his own neuroses, hits upon a series of universal (or at least relatable) emotions for anyone who’s spent their childhood and teenage years searching for the kind of serenity that rarely comes, and never stays.

For Adam B.,

The Sunset Tree

24. Ryan Adams - Jacksonville City Nights

This came out of nowhere...who knew Adams still had a solid country album in him? Tossed off and tongue-in-cheek...the only kind of album he should ever record.

Download Jacksonville City Nights here, broham.

23. Spoon - Gimme Fiction

Spoon takes their minimalist rock to it’s next logical step. Not the most groundbreaking or exciting album, but a necessary one, and a solid group of songs. Nice cover art, too.

22. Smog - A River Ain’t Too Much to Love

A graceful meditation on nature and mortality from one of the most earnest songwriters in American music. It takes a special talent to toss off a line like “Take me to the sweet valley, where you heart is covered in dew, dew, dew” without making me giggle.

21. Kanye West - Late Registration

It’s a little early for Kanye to take his victory lap, but while the last decade’s hip-hop legends struggled to cement their legacy the second time around (In My Lifetime, It Was Written, Labcabincalifornia, etc.), West’s brand of hip-hop has held up beautifully. More raps about the government giving black people AIDS and less about your grandma wasting away though, plz.

20. Broken Social Scene - s/t

BSS just want to jam, man. And it works, I guess. There’s plenty of middle of the road indie crap on here, but the songs that click (Ibi Dreams of Pavement, Superconnected, 7/4 (Shorelines), It’s All Gonna Break) really fuckin’ click, and prop up the whole. Nice to see the girls (BSS’s greatest strength) getting a little more time in the spotlight, as well.

19. LCD Soundsystem - s/t

Just like that BSS album right up there (^), about half this album’s a waste of time. But when you’ve got singles as great as Daft Punk is Playing at My House and Tribulations holding everything together, it’s hard to say anything negative about the album as a whole. If you aren’t sold on the album itself, the bonus disc that comes with it, a collection of LCD’s early singles (Losing My Edge, Yeah, etc.) might sell you on the band’s sound, as it takes the new stuff out back, tosses it in the wood chipper, and pisses on it’s morselized remains.

For Vivianerd,

LCD Soundsystem - s/t

and highlights from the bonus disc:

Losing My Edge

Beat Connection
Yeah (Pretentious Mix)
Yeah (Crass Version)

18. The National - Alligator

Alligator represents a phenomenal, if slightly bizarre, shift in direction for The National. Who knew these guys, who mined the catalogs of Cash, Haggard, and Ian Curtis for 2003's understated Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, fancied themselves as an early-era U2? They haven't completely abandoned their earthy Americana, but this one's cast in timeless, anthemic rock.

This doesn't fit in with the blurb, but there're some rockin' lyrics on here, all paranoid and self-defeating and melancholy, gives the rekkid some depth im(att's)o:

"Abel come on, give me the keys man/My mind's gone loose inside it's shell"

lol, someone got a little too drunk.

"I wish that I believed in fate/I wish I didn't sleep so late/I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders"

lol, shouldn't have taken all those steroids back in high school.

"Karen, put me in a chair/fuck me and make me a drink/No, this isn't me/Karen, believe me/you just haven't seen my good side yet"

lol, beaten to the punch by my boy Tennessee Williams. Joke's on me, that's my mama's name.

enough, let's keep this thing moving!:

17. The Decemberists - Picaresque

Leaked in December 2004, Picaresque was bound to lose some of it’s luster before the end of the year lists started popping up last month, but what remains after all the hype has subsided is the Decemberist’s most charming, accessible album yet. In order to expand their audience, the band had to sacrifice some of the density and complexity of their earlier compositions, a move that lost them more than a few loyal fans. Still, it’s a fair trade-off for an album full of memorable melodies. And those strings!

16. Animal Collective - Feels

Appropriately, the opening track on Feels is a question, and a rather synesthetic one: “Did you see the words?” Feels, like all the best Animal Collective, abounds with gleeful curiosity, excitedly asking questions (“can I tell you that you are the purple in me?”) and reveling in the absence of a clear response (musically and lyrically). Filling in the spaces, meanwhile, are the band’s trademark escapes-from-modern-society-into-nature-via-ambient-noise-and-animals-or-something, gorgeously spacious pieces that both operate well as background music and reward close listening. Their most varied and accessible album to date, Feels provides something for fans of Animal Collective’s noisy side, straight-up pop side, and even a bit for those alienated by the band altogether.

For my boy Chandler, Feels

15. M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us

Ambitious, cinematic, and perhaps a bit overreaching, M83's sophomore release has set the bar high for the neo-shoegazer movement. Before the Dawn Heals Us sounds like the soundtrack to some long lost sci-fi classic, and while several songs come across as failed experiments, never really going anywhere special, the highs of the album (Teen Angst, A Guitar and a Heart, Don’t Save Us From the Flames) reveal a band at the height of it’s powers, musically and thematically. There’s no way of telling what backdrop M83 will set their synths and swirling guitars against next, but whatever it is, I’ll be listening in.

14. Super Furry Animals - Love Kraft

La la la la la la la. Yeah! Hell yeah!

The Furries are back on a roll with Love Kraft, splitting songwriting and vocal duties between every member for the first time in their long career. The result is a quirky little record that features some of Gruff Rhys’ best work, while taking the band in a new, more eclectic (if somewhat chaotic) direction.

13. Akron/Family - s/t

I’m hesitant to try and explain Akron/Family’s freak-folky sound, as the actual compositions are secondary to the feelings they evoke. Druggy, impressionist lyrics ( The day breaks, it's broken/And time comes undone/Standing still's the sun) are backed by a collage of sounds, ranging from a subway car rushing by to horses galloping in time, all held together by a good old-fashioned acoustic gee-tar. This is the kind of music that creeps under your skin, and stays there long after you’ve put the CD back in it’s case.

For Robert,

Akron/Family s/t

12. Silver Jews - Tanglewood Numbers

On Tanglewood Numbers, Doug Berman’s last hurrah, he sings “There’s a place past the blues I never want to see again.” Berman’s spent plenty of time there the past few years, lost in k–hole after k-hole in a rented room at the farmer’s hotel, and thankfully for us, fought through it with enough left intact to share his experience with us. Berman sounds refreshed, and his lyrics are more profound than ever...on the album’s final track, he sings, “I saw God’s shadow on this world,” which seems appropriate, as he’s cast an equally vast shadow on the singer-songwriter genre.

11. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

Stevens is doing new things in a genre that’s been stale for decades, and, if nothing else, his states project is notable for it’s scope and proficiency. Has a gimmick like this ever been so flawlessly executed? Believe the hype, kind of.

10. Gorillaz - Demon Days

It’s getting easier and easier to take Damon Albarn for granted. Albarn’s the man behind the curtain in Gorillaz, pulling the levers, and turning away the spotlight on nearly every track in favor of a wide range of guest vocalists and DJs, who themselves have become as essential to the band’s sound as any permanent member. On Demon Days, he turns pop music upside down, cracks it open, and mixes in hip-hop, electronica, dance hall, spoken word, and anything else he can wrap his brain around, resulting in an album that’s truly unique.

9. Architecture in Helsinki - In Case We Die

What do you get when you lock a dozen or so Australian art-hippies in a studio with free (free! freeeee!) government money, power tools, tubas, synths, xylophones, and god knows what else along with as many Randy Newman, Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club and Smiths albums as they can carry? A lot of angry taxpayers, and a cute little indie pop record. Hey, it’s your money, mate...

8. Bright Eyes - I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

Yeah, I know, you hate Bright Eyes. And I understand. All things considered–his strangled-goat vocals, trite lyrics, disingenuous delivery, and the detached pose he throws at anyone who comes to see him perform live–he probably doesn’t deserve your time or money. Until now. I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning is a triumph of substance over style, a traditional folk album that’s as immediate as it is understated. Conor Oberst’s focuses his lyrical venom on American culture and our current situation in Iraq this time around, a much better fit for the now 24 year old songwriter than, say, that time in 9th grade when the Ohama Ford, Chevy, and Buick dealership owner’s son beat him up and stole his lunch money. Reconsider your aversion to all things Oberst just this once (I’m looking at you, Ian, Viviana, Conor)...you might be pleasantly surprised with what you hear.

7. Of Montreal - The Sunlandic Twins

Kevin Barnes likes to use big, impressive looking words in his lyrics. I think it might be because he feels his music is so simplistic and immediate, that the only way to get people to take the band seriously is to make obscure references to Italian poets and ancient Greek societies. He’s wrong, of course. The Sunlandic Twins hits a happy medium between the band’s syrupy, traditional pop leanings and a new focus on electronica influenced dance music that stays lodged in your head long after you’ve looked up “aesthete” in the dictionary.

6. Russian Futurists - Our Thickness

I’m so burnt out/I’m a shell now/It's the worst of lows/it's the first to go/it's the last to come back/when the sun melts the snow

Matt Hart’s doing a dozen different things on every track of Our Thickness - programming drum break beats, Casio-esque keyboard lines, synthesized strings, throwing a few horns in, looping samples of dogs barking and children laughing, shaking the tambourine, writing heartbreaking lyrics about loss and resigned apathy, etc. etc. etc. - and the end result is the best melancholy-bedroom-orchestral-pop album of the year. That this album exists at all is impressive. That it’s all the work of one man is awe-inspiring.

For Rob again,

The Russian Futurists - Our Thickness

5. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy (+ Black Sheep Boy Appendix)

It's such an icy feeling..

People like to hold up Will Sheff’s voice as the single drawback to this “otherwise” stellar record. True, it’s a wounded, wavering instrument that strains to reach tge high notes and trails off when the lows get too low, but I can’t imagine anyone else reading these gothic tales of pain, desperate love and crimes borne of passion. When the material demands, he wails like Conor Oberst; the difference being that Sheff sounds bitter and defiant, while Oberst usually sounds like he’s just found out he got a C on his history test.
“For Real” - arguably the album’s high point - is typical of the kind of smart wordplay and deft phrase-turning (that’s my word, I just made it up, you can’t use it) that separate Andrew Bird and the Decemberists from their less literate brethren, for better or worse. Banal words like “real” take on new color, serving as novel cornerstones for new plays on well-worn themes: “…and if you really want to see what really matters most to me, we can just take a real short drive. Just a drive into the dark stretch, long stretch of night, will really stretch this shaking mind.”
“Black” strikes a similar tone, fusing a power pop melody with fucking anguished subject matter. Even the more folksy Americana songs Okkervil River is known for have a nightmarish but frequently hopeful quality to them. This is a motherfucker of a record. FUCK. (I probably should've put this higher, now that I really think about it)

For Trizzle Dizzle,

Black Sheep Boy

4. My Morning Jacket - Z

Their life ends, and my life starts again

Finally, the Lynyrd Skynyrd comparisons and southern rock pigeonholing can stop, at least, once people like myself stop making reference to them. On Z, My Morning Jacket is a rock band that sounds like My Morning Jacket. Their previous efforts, while listenable, meandered and strayed for what felt like hours. I mean, if I wanted to hear southern-rock jam band bullshit, I’d pack up the car and head back to Bonnaroo. Z is a focused rock record on par with, dare I say it, Back In Black; two sides, five tracks each, shut the fuck up. The album’s mid-tempo, psychedelic opener, “Wordless Chorus” segues into the beautiful, cascading “It Beats For You” and by the time the chorus to “What a Wonderful Man” kicks in, it's clear that this isn’t the same band that made The Tennessee Fire, or even It Still Moves for that matter. The album never missteps, as it gains momentum with the balls-to-the-sack “Anytime” and the whirlwind solos of “Lay Low,” concluding with the epic (but still very concentrated) “Dondante.” If Z is the result of great producing, than MMJ is one phone call to Nigel Godrich (Ok Computer) away from recording the album of the decade.

3. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

Came from the bottom of the bottom, to the top of the pops

The New Pornographers’ first album, Mass Romantic, seemed the happiest of accidents: yet another indie-fied “supergroup” (“knock-off side project”), cobbled together, this time from some obscure Canadian bands, had somehow managed to create an assured, staggeringly unique pop album. Two albums later, they’ve proved the formula they’ve been tweaking ever since was no accident, and Twin Cinema has solidified their place as the premiere power-pop outfit of our time. This is the sound of songwriters and musicians at the top of their game, dominating their craft with a joy that’s clearly irrepressible.

2. M. Ward - Transistor Radio

Why burn your bridges, when you can blow your bridges up?

There's nobody making records quite like Matt Ward. Sounding like he was born approximately fifty years too late, yet maintaining a timeless quality, his music has become a rock in an industry that’s become increasingly unstable. His 2005 release, Transistor Radio, is an album in the truest sense of the word, beginning with an acoustic rendition of the Beach Boys’ “I Still Believe in You” and ending with his take on Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier." Tucked snugly in between is an exercise in eclecticism with folk, blues, soul, and country all twisted about, never failing to find their individual ways to the surface at just the right moment. It’s almost eerie the way every track seems to have a pulse of it’s own, knowing where it came from and why it’s there. The glory days of AM radio, which are given a nod both in the title of the album and choice lyrics throughout, couldn’t receive a more appropriate tribute.

1. Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs

From Star Search to the Philharmonic
He'll get you there with Hooked on Phonics
He's the one to know, doesn't matter if you blow, no, no, no!

When I first heard Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs, I thought the “Mysterious Production of Eggs” was some kind of cutesy nickname for his backing band. Surely it wasn’t just one person creating all of these sounds! I was wrong. Bird, who emerged from the remnants of the fuckin’ Squirrel Nut Zippers of all places, is a professor on the Mysterious Production of Eggs, schooling his listeners and peers on the finer points of lyrical wordplay, unorthodox song structures, looping/sampling, and even whistling. His delivery is so effortless and unassuming that it’s easy to take his talents for granted. In just under 45 minutes, he breezes through an assortment of styles, from folk to classical to rock and beyond, many times within the same song. Give MPoE a listen...you won’t hear anything quite like it again for a long time.

Download that shit right here, dog.

All right, that's all for now. Thank you for reading, or scrolling over, whichever method you prefer. Keep checking back in these next few weeks...the updates aren't going to be slowing down anytime soon, if I can help it.