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2005: Music in Review

2005: Albums of the Year

Whatever I had in mind for 2005, it certainly wasn't this. This year's bumper crop of albums was so rich and diverse that I had no choice but to expand it to 50 albums for the first time in this page's existence. Maybe it's because I bought/downloaded so many, but this was some year. What will 2006 hold for us?

50. Annie - Anniemal
Release Date be Damned, Part I: this album from the Nordic sprite was the one album that I listened to constantly throughout the year, even though it was released last year everywhere but this stagnant music scene. With a selection of songs that shames all the Britneys and Kylies of the world, Annie’s self-written and self-produced offering is truly a masterpiece of 21st century pop music, a heady cocktail of catchy choruses and meaningful lyrics perfectly suited for the club, the car, your room, and maybe your heart.
49. Dungen - Ta Det Lugnt
Release Date Be Damned, Part II. Released some two years ago overseas, this Swedish psych-pop album is simply tops. You could be forgiven for mistaking Ta Det Lugnt for some ultra-obscure rock album from 1971: the production from godhead leader Gustav Ejstes is so perfect, the arrangements and instrumentation so spot-on (pan flute solos anyone?) , and the lyrics so ambiguous (being Swedish and all), that this album is an almost perfect collection of 70s rock. I hate most 70s rock, but Dungen's album is way too good to resist. Definitely not made for the iPod generation, this album requires front-to-back listening.
48. Super Furry Animals - Love Kraft
With the Super Furries, you can never be sure of a sure thing. Is the album title a reference to some kind of transport device full of love? An ode to Kraftwerk? Maybe even to a brand of cheese? On their seventh album, those wonky Welshmen take their most relaxed approached yet (yes, that's singer Gruff Rhys diving into a pool in Spain), and create the logical follow-up to Phantom Power: a more uniform sound, more catchy melodies, more lyrics about the current hellbent state of the world, more delicious puns ("Kiss me with apocalypse"). Their heady abandon is seemingly behind them, but they are still making amazing records.
47. The Kaiser Chiefs - Employment
Out of all the new bands that tried to pay tribute to Franz Ferdinand’s singular debut album, this Leeds quintet probably came the closest, with an unimpeachable track listing of modern anthems and drinking songs. Their addition of keyboards makes for a more fully fleshed high end, and after the fifth song, when they begin to play with the sound and song arrangements, it makes for an exciting and energetic finale to the album. And anytime you have an instant classic like “I Predict a Riot” on your album, you’re set.
46. New Order - Waiting For the Sirens Call
Mostly ditching the rock guitars of their 2001 comeback album Get Ready, New Order return to their dance anthems they used to craft with alarming regularity in the 80s. With a large number of young bands (Killers, Bravery) liberally borrowing from the boys’ sound, NO returns to show them how it’s done, with 11 songs that are - obviously - nowhere near as good as their classic singles, but miles above anything the new bands can do. Every song is packed with at least two enormous hooks, and Peter Hook, incidentally, remains the best melodic bassist of his, and this, generation.
45. Robyn - Robyn
Yes, this is 1997’s Robyn, who asked us if we knew what it took to do her right. Seems the record buyers didn’t, because she disappeared from North America, retreated back to her native Sweden and started releasing some killer dance albums. This, her debut for self-made record label Konichiwa, is a whip-smart and decadent trip though hip-hop and Eurodisco, anchored by her hilarious and meaningful lyrics. She provides the best musical moment of the year in “Be Mine”’s interlude, as she watches her ex with ‘that’ girl on his arms. It’s painful an album of this magnitude and wisdom is overlooked by the brainless pop consumers of this continent.
44. Blackalicious - The Craft
2002’s Blazing Arrow, I need not conceal, is possibly my favorite hip-hop album. Sure, the top of the list is cluttered with De La Soul, Tribe and the like, but on any given day, Blackalicious will rise to the zenith. This makes the prospect of a follow-up complicated and dreaded. Thankfully, Gab and Xcel don’t try to continue in the experimental vein, and instead hunker down with some fluid beats and Native Tongues flow. The highlights of this album are saved for near the end, where back-to-back "Black Diamonds and Pearls", and "Rise and Fall of Elliott Brown" take the album to R&B-delight heights unseen since Stevie Wonder in the 70s. Guest appearances from George Clinton, and some incredibly catchy choruses don’t hurt either.
43. Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine
Apple's last album, 1999's When the Pawn... (continues for another 87 words), set a record for some kind of excess in an album title. Her difficult third album was produced by Jon Brion, and was shelved for nearly two years. If you believe the stories, it's because of the record company's insistence on something commercial. Listening to the revamped version by frequent Dr. Dre collaborator Mike Elizondo, it's hard to see the complaints. Doubtlessly Elizondo adds some commercial punch to the more airy Brion production, but the strenght is in these songs: a defiant Fiona is what we need, and get on this album. Can't wait for the deluxe version with both productions side by side.
42. The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute
The Mars Volta's obsession with dead member Jeremy Ward continues: this album's bilingual lyrics are supposedly taken from Ward's diary, while the music is like a cauldron of fire. What’s more astounding: this album, or the fact that it can be played live? This is the very worst type of divisive album: you either love its intricate timing, virtuoso playing and bilingual lyrics, or despise the masturbatory arrogance of it all. Either way, it makes for an exciting, exhaustive and elaborate listen, with no expenses spared. You’d never think you would consider De-Loused in the Comatorium tame, but this will change your mind.
41. Audion - Suckfish
If the title, or the hypnotic cover art doesn't give it away, this album is all about sex. The fact that Suckfish is a collection of previously released 12''s and some new material does not distract from the fact that it is 70 minutes of alternately hard-driving and offbeat sounds. Detroit techno updated for the new century, and definitely best heard on a loud, strobe-light-drenched dance floor.
40. Vashti Bunyan - Lookaftering
Talk about taking your sweet time between albums. Shortly after her debut album Just Another Diamond Day was released in 1970, Bunyan decided to retire to get married, have kids and do some gardening. In the intervening time, the album became a cult classic, and following collaborations with Animal Collective and Devendra Banhart (both big fans), she decided to finally give us a followup - 35 years later. The backstory could overshadow this album, but in itself it is a triumph, a collection of short and sweet folk gems, all guitar, Bunyan's ghostly voice, and some timely flourishes of autoharp. The ugliest album cover of the year, but some of the best music.
39. Elbow - Leaders of the Free World
Two years ago, I proclaimed Elbow’s album better than Coldplay’s. Seems I have jumped the gun: that has only undeniably happened this year. With one band releasing a bloated, self-important album, the other continues to eschew the easy sell and made a rich and complex album. If Elbow will be remembered for anything, it will be for crafting for some of the most genuine, heartfelt ballads of the last decade. This album alone contains "The Stops", "An Imagined Affair", and "My Very Best". The title track here also breaks new ground, as Guy Carvey takes clear aim at current bunk buddies Bush/Blair with a pointedly political rocker.
38. Vitalic - OK Cowboy
In a year that saw Daft Punk bomb royally with the all-too-ironically titled Human After All, Pascal Arbez delivered our much-needed blast of French house, a thick mix centred around the three previously released singles "La Rock 1", "Poney Part 1" and "Poney Part 2". These songs were instant techno classics, and its remarkable how well they fit into the more album-oriented new songs to create a monstrous sequence of booming house. Chrome-plated, with pistons pumping and dangerously high speeds, OK Cowboy is the soundtrack to your Saturday night, or to your umpteenth speeding ticket.
37. Richie Hawtin - DE9: Transitions
Hawtin is a beacon from the future, a fountainhead of electronic music’s expansive progression, transmitting the sounds in his head into a mix that hopelessly defeats any sound system less than Dolby Surround. The conglomeration of over one hundred samples into a 96-minute DVD mix is truly stunning, especially hypnotic when watching the samples float in and out of the mix, as indicated by their names appearing and disappearing on your TV screen. Thankfully, Hawtin remembers to keep the human element in the mix, creating a journey with peaks and valleys, sensuality and power.
36. Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better
Don't let the ranking fool you: Franz has done it again! Not long after their debut swept the hearts of millions of indie aspirers, Franz reconvened in the studio and made it look too easy. With another batch of songs that improve on their debut, and (despite all criticism to the contrary) expand their sound and lyrical scope, these lovable Glaswegian pinups are quickly becoming the true flagbearers of the new dance-rock movement. Beatlesque ballads sit comfortably beside almost ridiculously good dance number that show that Franz means business. It’s getting better all the time.
35. Jamie Lidell - Multiply
Do you miss 60's soul released in new forms? Love the distinctive techno that Warp Records releases? Ever heard joyous soul samples spliced on top of hyperkinetic techno beats? Maybe you want to hear how soul and techno can interact in a flawless way, creating a sunny blast of experimental techno perfect to create that surreal beach party where people get confused and think two records are spinning at once? Do I have an album for you...
34. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane - At Carnegie Hall
Nevermind that this recording is over forty years old: this is the premier jazz find of the decade, a nearly perfect recording of two unquestionable jazz giants, performing live together some years before both would leave their giant footprints in the footpath of jazz history. It is like watching Coltrane develop his "sheets of sound" technique right before our eyes. Monk and Coltrane harmonizing awkwardly before both finds their style and take the music to an entirely new dimension. The dynamic interplay with drums and bass. This is jazz alchemy.
33. Boards of Canada - The Campfire Headphase
There was simply no way Boards of Canada would top Geogaddi. An album that dense, dark, and hypnotic will be a flag bearer for nightmare techno, and on Campfire Headphase, Boards instead give props to an instrument they have not used yet: the guitar. Guitars are all over this record, heavily processed and treated, or just left naked. The result is an encounter with the surreal, electronic and organic intermingling with eerie precision, and creating an atmosphere of warmth and flooding emotions. In spirit and design a fraternal twin of Music Has the Right to Children, Boards' new album is their first to not push their sound in a radical direction following their previous album: even then, a retrograde Boards album is way better than most IDM artists will ever make.
32. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning
Dangerously talented - and fragile - Conor Oberst returned earlier this year with two albums: the Postal Service digipop of Digital Ashes in a Digital Urn, and this country-tinged collection of bittersweet songs. Kudos to the experiments, but this is the real deal, a perfect encapsulation of his esteemable talents in songwriting and performance. Showing remarkable restraint, he mostly keeps his past emo-warbling to a minimum, and by enlisting Emmylou Harris to sing beautiful harmonies on four of the tracks, he's made the only country album worth listening to in 2005.
31. Isolee - We Are Monster
In a year when Daft Punk so terribly missed the mark, producers Vitalic and Isolee stepped up with the infusion of driving French-styled house we so need. Although Vitalic was closer to Daft Punk's sound, Isolee made the stranger, and more rewarding album. In spirit a mutant-disco album, the sounds are those of songs transmogrifying their structure when forced into a dance track's skin. Dark, urgent, and more amazing with each listen, this is dance music for S&M leather clubs.
30. Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary
This year’s torch holders for the Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse, produced by Isaac Brock, and hailing from the current hotbed of indie music (Montreal), this foursome and their debut album is one of the most important success stories of the year. Queen Mary is passionate, fiery music for the new generation, and the best Canadian indie rock album since, well, Funeral. Wolf Parade’s stature will only grow in future years if they continue their quirky instrumentation and passion for life and music.
29. Sigur Ros - Takk...
After an almost criminal misstep on their previous album Kissing Sausages (editor’s name), these Icelandic wood nymphs returned from where they were created - the Land of Song - and made a focused, more song-oriented album to everyone’s delight. Their sense of magical melodies are still intact, and the drama they balanced with restraint so well on their major label debut returns here. Another major change is Jonny's insistence on writing lyrics entirely in Icelandic instead of his innovative Hopelandish. As if we could tell. Takk... is a strange album in its reliance on recognizable song structures, but Sigur Ros prove that they can write songs as well as anyone, even if you can't understand the lyrics.
28. The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday
There's never anything wrong with a healthy dose of bar rock, and in this day and age, this is your best bet. Singer Craig Finn sounds like he's been living off cigarettes and whiskey for the last several years, and his band is apparently playing for their lives, but the homespun tales of desperation and redemption, playing with a fire missing from rock n' roll since the E Street Band entered the 80s, are some of the best pure rock tracks of the year. For all its quirks and eccentricities, this is a hell of a rock n' roll album.
27. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
These Canucks are too good to be true. On their third album, the alchemy which created an already-impressive list of pop gems over two albums is in full overdrive, incredibly, with a nearly negative result: overkill. The adage that too much of a good thing can kill you, is exactly what Twin Cinema is. A triple-layered chocolate cake, topped with a two-inch thick Nanaimo bar, whipped cream and molasses-thick chocolate sauce sounds oh, so delicious, but it’s best to eat it in small portions. So it should be with Twin Cinema: packed to the gills with amazing pop songs, but best ingested three or four songs at a time lest the melodies beat you senseless.
26. M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us
For all of its lumpy-throated beauty and drama, what Dead Cities, Red Skies & Lost Ghosts was missing was a good dose of furious live drums, as highlighted by this album. After his musical partner Nicholas Fromangeau left to pursue other interests, Anthony Gonzalez continued with the M83 name and made an even more dramatic album with near-emo ballads, chilling landscapes and urgent rock songs. The over-emotive and unbearable "Car Chase Terror" (when was that ever a good idea?) is off-set by the rest of the album's wiser thinking. The Blade Runner-esque cover art is really impressive as well.
25. Madonna - Confessions on a Dance Floor
It is ironic to see how much influence Madonna has, even when releasing the “worst” album of her career: after 2003’s American Life stiffed every way possible, it is interesting to see how much debt many new singers owe to that album’s political righteousness and acoustic caterwauling. Realizing that dark times need bright music, she stops trying to make political statements, and instead lets us dance our worries away. Much like disco offered a fun alternative to 70s stagflation and malaise, so Madonna’s new album offers the bright side to the dark, dark Bush administration. Suggestions this album is a return to her disco roots is questionable: disco preceded her fame by a good half-decade. Nevertheless, the seamless club production of Stuart Price, and some of her most convincing performances to date make this another essential Madonna album, one to cherish in hard times. But for the love of God, no more leotards in your videos...
24. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy and his DFA team are having some incredible years, being the producers du jour. After a huge body of production work and remixes in the previous calendar year, the DFA label’s flagship band LCD Soundsystem (fronted by Murphy himself) finally dropped their self-titled debut, and in effect this generation’s Substance. The new material is decent at best: the real reason to buy this is the second disc of LCD’s incredible earlier singles. Most of them clocking in at eight minutes plus, the disc is an embarrassment of modern dance/rock classics, and some of the finest songs of the past ten years, truly distinctive as a product of the Aughties, and future “singles of the decade”.
23. Doves - Some Cities
In this year of great third albums, Doves come into their own as one of Britain’s best bands, growing in tandem with Coldplay and Elbow, but outdoing them both. Their unique and winning combination of atmospheric guitars, sub-dance beats and melancholic lyrics focus in on their city of Manchester and romanticize the grimy city as their home. Neither as poppy as Last Broadcast, nor as wonderfully meandering as Lost Souls, Some Cities is the sound of Doves spreading their wings (sorry, I had to), and developing a fully-fledged original sound, with snatches of U2-like anthems, Detroit soul, and ethereal fogscapes.
22. Gorillaz - Demon Days
Remember last year, when this and Coldplay's new album were pushed back, and EMI's stocks fell a dozen percentage points? Coldplay may have sold more copies, but which of the two ended up on this list (don't scroll down, they're not there)? Cheerfully acknowledged by animator/creator Jamie Hewlett as ‘not even a real band’, this album transcends a mere Alburn/Danger Mouse collaboration thanks to the cartoon concept, and the ridiculously good songs. A vast improvement on 2001’s scattershot debut, some of the year’s best songs were contained on this album, and the guest list was impressive (Ike Turner, Shawn Ryder, MF Doom, Dennis Hopper for God‘s sake!) for a cartoon band. Surely the best strange side project to go platinum.
21. Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger
I declare Maximo Park to be the best newcomers to the indie rock scene from Britain. Unfairly lumped in with most Franz imitators, but in truth much better than all of them, MP creates tightly-wound, kinetic, and jagged short songs with Paul Banks’ inimitable Northern accent and smart lyrics fleshing out the almost mechanical precision of the rest of the band. It speaks volumes when a barely-over-two-minutes gem like “Kiss You Better” could be almost thrown away as the last song after the penultimate “Acrobat”, as afterthought, almost as if to say “we write songs so good, we can afford to tack this on as an after-thought.” With such natural ears for killer melodies, it’s hard to imagine they could do better than this, even though they probably will.
20. The Decemberists - Picaresque
For long a fixture on the indie circuit following two great albums for the Kill Rock Stars label, the Decemberists were finally picked up to EMI after the release of their third, and best, album. A hyper-literate, intelligent rock album for the kids who prefer the library to the playground, Picaresque is exactly the Quixotic journey its title implies, with an arcing narrative about seafaring and conquest on the high seas. The best indicator of this album is "The Mariner's Revenge Song", a nine-minute epic about a mariner sent by his dead mother to avenge her death. The literate lyrics are there, and thankfully for us, so are the catchy melodies.
19. Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock n' Roll
Every now and then, a band comes along with such tongue-in-cheek proclamations of brilliance and self-importance that its hard to take them seriously. Or is it hard to not take them seriously? For all their hilarious send-ups of modern art, teenage love, themselves, and their own musical exercise in general, Art Brut are really just an ordinary band with confidence and charisma to spare. Their music - without Eddie Argos’ mad ranting - is elementary indie rock, circa 2005, and when listened to endlessly it will create disdain. They’ve already “Formed a Band”; now let’s hear “Made a Second Album”.
18. Beck - Guero
Right after shagging two sisters in a threesome at the end of Midnite Vultures, Beck stopped being funny. Perhaps he was horrified by his actions, but Sea Change introduced a morbid Gordon Lightfoot-type country singer with death on the mind. With Spiritual (Dust) Brothers back in the saddle as producers, and still on a high after a marriage and new son, Beck is still singing about the Grim Reaper, with more upbeat and varied production. He’s become so good writing these types of songs that this was seen as mediocre when it's anything but.
17. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods
One of the most shocking albums of the year, this punk trio recruited Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann (who isn't even a fan of theirs), relocated to some remote New York woods, and destroyed their image of tight pop-punk rockers. Placing the corrosive “Fox” as the kick-off is likely them saying “if you don’t like this, stop listening” because their formerly crisp sound is replaced with guitars dipped in battery acid, powerhouse drumming from Janet Tucker, and banshee wailing from Carrie Brownstein in a fusion similar to Black Sabbath and Zeppelin jamming with Janis Joplin fronting. A genuinely thrilling visceral rush, with an especially jagged stab at today’s crop of young bands pretending (“where is the ‘fuck you’?/where is the black and blue?”), this album places S-K squarely into the upper echelon of all rock bands today.
16. Caribou - The Milk of Human Kindness
Three albums into his career, it’s obvious Dan Snaith won’t stop experimenting and pushing his boundaries. After a legal snafu forced a name change, he chose yet another Canadian stereotype and added a dash of hypnotic Krautrock to his psychedelic Up in Flames sound. More organic and folksy, but no less wild and varied, whatever he comes up with next is likely to be great - and completely different.
15. Common - Be
Electric Circus was roundly dissed and dismissed by all stripes of critics: am I wrong in enjoying its braveness and creativity? As if to please the people, Common got rid of the rock experiments and dense Prince R&B, recruited producer extraordinaire Kanye West for 82% of its tracks, and made the most focused and ultimately enjoyable album of his career. Nothing comes to close to Common Sense when he’s loose and confident, and here he’s untouchable.
15. Animal Collective - Feels
Animal Collective has been around for close to a decade, and they made their major-label (if Fat Cat is one) debut last year with the acclaimed Sung Tongs. If there's one way to describe this album, it is by saying it will remind you of why you love weird, experimental pop music in the first place. Countless listens will absorb this album into your brain, and when you sift through the wild arrangements and anarchic songwriting, you will find melodies as pure as the Beatles used to write. Feels is more rock-based than their previous album, and it is a challenging listen, but one worth taking over and over again.
14. Various Artists - Run the Road
In several years, when music historians are charting the progression of hip-hop, this compilation will be seen as the lynchpin release that pushed grime into public consciousness, and bred with the genre to create a steady progression of dirty, urgent and vital music before becoming bloated and obscure yet again. Who knows how this will sound down the road, but right now, this is one of the best rap compilations released. Ever. If you don’t like it now, you likely won’t when it becomes the mainstream sound (albeit in a watered-down version). Every track hits with the urgency of a freight train, and the tales of violence and poverty are real: it's nice to see that these grimy rappers still have a sense of humor about what they do.
13. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
This is what they mean by "do-it-yourself," Extreme Version. These Manhattan indie rockers set up their own label, printed their own CD’s, and distributed them across North America to the tune of some 20,000 sold. All this would be merely a nice story if the music they created wasn’t worthy of press. Thankfully, they back up their story with an album that is easily distinguishable from the crop of indie rock in recent years, mostly on the strength of singer Alec Ounsworth’s hybrid yelp-talk voice, and they unique anything-goes instrumentation. It might be too quirky for mainstream consumption, but this album is a gem of the current state of indie rock.
12. Antony & the Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now
Few albums in recent music had as much of an emotional impact on those who heard it as Antony Hegarty’s second album of hushed cabaret pop and torch balladeering. Most British rags were openly hostile to it winning the Mercury Prize, arguing about his American citizenship, but in all reality simply unable to fathom such a warm, redemptive and strange album beating out the easy commercialism of Hard-Fi and Coldplay. I Am A Bird Now is miles away from commercial radio, and for good reason: everything about this album demands late night, possibly candlelight, listening and reflection, to be absorbed in a complete listen. In addition to the soothing pianos and soft bass, Antony’s voice is the secret weapon, an androgynous, Nina Simone-like torch song, and truly one of the most distinctive around.
11. The Clientele - Strange Geometry
Playing like a collection of lost ballads from some treble-soaked era of the 1950’s that would sound better in a '47 Ford than current digital technology, the Clientele’s third album sparkles and smoulders with an intensity that Belle & Sebastian hasn’t reached for years. This album is full of lovely gems of laid-back ballads and driving up-tempo numbers, all driven by Alasdair Maclean’s dreamy voice, introspective lyrics, the band’s sophisticated arrangements, and clean production. Maclean has for long said that Belle & Sebastian is merely the Clientele on a bad day, and on this album, with stunners like "Since K Got Over Me", "E.M.P.T.Y" and "Spirit", they convincingly prove it.
10. Deerhoof - The Runners Four
One of the most fascinating things about this album is watching Deerhoof, a band notorious for their disregard towards conventional song structure, attempt to create conventional songs. For a couple of minutes they would succeed, before they randomly tear it apart and take off on an entirely different path altogether. Nearly an hour of schizo diversions and nearly-perfect pop songs make The Runners Four a disorienting, but wildly fun ride.
9. My Morning Jacket - Z
Unwilling to give these Kentuckians a chance because I'm not a fan of the fourth-generation Southern rock they played on their previous album, Z's psychedelic and melodic approach made the surprise that much more potent and pleasant. Giving the Flaming Lips a serious run for their money as America's leading psychedelic fun-house rock band, My Morning Jacket re-tool their sound with a bedrock of atmospherics to support Jim James' near-falsetto singing, and on "Lay Low" lock into a jam that reaches ecstatic levels. The year's most pleasant surprise, and sure to be an important stepping stone for this promising band.
8. Engineers - Engineers
Either ridiculously fitting or just ridiculous, Engineers’ band name likely makes you think of a math-rock outfit. However, the only outstanding feat of engineering on their debut album is their sound: Air and Spiritualized floating in zero gravity, constructing a space cathedral made of gossamer and stars. Swirling atmospherics and below-the-surface melodies that find their way into your brain and fuse to your nerves, resurfacing when you thought you'd gotten rid of it. We’ve heard this type of sound before, but rarely done so well. Who knows where they’ll go from here, but they’ve undoubtedly made a beautiful debut.
7. Goldfrapp - Supernature
Black Cherry will always be one of the great inexplicable second albums, a radical restructuring of Goldfrapp’s sound from jazzy Portishead-knockoffs to black-light electro-freaks. On their important third album, Goldfrapp continue in Black Cherry’s vein, only with better songs. Perhaps the album that benefitted the most from downloading this year: I was unwilling to shell out over thirty bucks for the import, but downloading it was worth anything. This album is truly the best electro-pop (or whatever) album of the year, eleven stunningly catchy and hypnotic songs with sex appeal and darkness oozing from every pore. There is something to be said about a band that can restructure their sound, and still create songs that are amazing, with minimalist techno and fantastically sticky melodies littered throughout. Endlessly melodic, and still only available as an import as of now, Supernature is indeed supernatural.
6. Ladytron - Witching Hour
With the relegation of electroclash to “monthly flavor” status, it is perhaps surprising that one of its supposed casualties would make such an enjoyable and crisp album. The magical third album that defines most bands is an increasing rarity, so it’s great to see Ladytron rally back to make their best: a dense, dynamic trip full of brilliant pop songs and magically dark atmospheric workouts. The element that elevates this album is more live instrumentation, especially on drums; this propulsive force gives these songs bite, and veiled references to night and "kisses on necks" might make this two-girl, two-boy combo vampires, but at least they’re also gifted songwriters with an ear for killer melodies.
5. System of a Down - Mezmerize
After lying nearly dormant since 2001’s epochal Toxicity (releasing the excellent odds n’ sods Steal This Album), these Armenian Angelinos returned with a double-header of supercharged art metal that made competition useless. It was perhaps a mistake to release 23 songs when Mezmerize was spoke so well for itself: the bar was set so ridiculously high that not even they could follow it with the warmed-over and weaker Hypnotize. Of course in no way is the second edition a bad album: some creative editing and better divying up of the songs would have made for two really good albums. But we'll take Mezmerize: any metal band that can create even one album this fierce, melodic, politically righteous, and just plain weird, deserves our respect. That they released one-and-a-half albums of such high standards - within six months, mind! - is just amazing. These guys are the real deal; the most successful and important hard rock band in the world, and their live show cannot be touched either.
4. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
The young bands who paid tribute to Gang of Four with spiky guitars and a political message were less in number than recent years. Possibly after listening to these Londoners’ debut album, they will give up trying to better it. Of course, in no way did Bloc Party even come close to improving of Go4’s enormous Entertainment! but they made a hell of a try at it: the lyrics are romantic and lukewarmly anti-Bush and -Blair, and the instrumentation is tightly locked in a militant interplay. The secret nuclear missile here, though, is Matt Tong’s furious drumming: he makes Keith Moon seem tame, and his playing is an undeniable visceral rush that adds brimstone to the album’s fire. Bonus: they released a song-by-song remix album that nearly improved on the original. A band to watch from here.
3. Spoon - Gimme Fiction
Indie’s (inexplicably) best-kept secret, Spoon is about a thousand times better than other indie rock bands paying tribute to the mop tops and the Who in the mainstream. Gimme Fiction continues the path they blazed with Kill the Moonlight: a low-key melodic sound driven by Britt Daniels’ unmistakable voice and adventurous lyricism. Here, Daniels unleashes his best Mick Jagger falsetto, writes about five instant classics, and the band explores some heavier grooves that make for an immediate impression but still a richly rewarding listen. How these guys aren’t platinum arena-rockers is way beyond me.
2. M.I.A. - Arular
Sri Lankan born, London based M.I.A. made waves last year on the Diplo-produced Piracy Funds Terrorism EP; in 2005 Maya Arulpragasam took the lyrics from that album, set them to new production from luminaries like Richard X, Cavemen, and herself, and created the album that best described the global village, and escalating political confusion, of the past twelve months. Thrilling electro hip-hop, bhangra beats, and dancehall toasting all were fused together with an urgent political message, delivered within a too-short 38 minutes. Its March release was more help than hindrance, as it has had time to soak in, and color the year in all shades of its pallete. An acquired taste, but then again, most classics are.
1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Full title: Sufjan Stevens Invites You to 'Come On Feel the Illinoise'. His ambitious project to record a concept album for all 50 states is a gimmick: he’s already promised no album for Texas, and mortality will ensure maybe a dozen albums tops. But if they continue to be as good as Greetings From Michigan, and especially this new offering, we are going to be blessed with several wonderful albums with a rich assortment of history. With song titles the length of paragraphs, a dizzying collision of instrumentation, and an embarrassment of melodies (some borrowed from Michigan for thematic purposes, no doubt) Sufjan offers one of the densest and most varied albums of the year, and it is his unflinching wide gaze over the national tales of the state ("Chicago") and the personal tales of loss ("John Wayne Gacy, Jr.", "Casimir Pulaski Day") that sets him apart from his contemporaries, and makes this album one of the finest of the decade.

Reissue of the Year
Kraftwerk, Minimum-Maximum
More effectively a live greatest hits album, this double dose of Kraftwerk live from their 2004 tour was such a solid treat that I was tempted to put it number 1 on the real albums list. These songs are close to three decades old: yet the icy chill of "The Model", the dizzying keyboards of "Man-Machine", the giddy rush of "Autobahn", the seamless Computer World suite, or the swirling "Musik Nonstop" were so ahead of their time that they sound like nothing out there today, and will be futuristic in another three decades time.

Honorable Mentions of the Year

Nine Inch Nails, With Teeth
Six years after the bloated career-mangler of The Fragile, Trent Reznor returns with plenty of what the title promises: the first side is packed with potential singles, while the second is full of the dense material he made in 1994.
Editors, The Back Room
The 80's post-punk movement is yielding some powerful hitters two decades after the fact. Editors can come across as more Interpol than Echo & the Bunnymen, but Interpol has yet to make a song as urgent and propulsive as Editors' trifecta of "Munich", "Blood" and "Bullets".
Amon Tobin, Splinter Cell 3: Chaos Theory
The (pioneer first ever) soundtrack to a Tom Clancy first-person shooter game, it just didn't have the same punch as Tobin's previous four masterpieces. Less soundtracks to games, more amazing material, please!
Serena Maneesh
A ripping slowcore wall-of-sound album that My Bloody Valentine used to make back in the day, this Norwegian band's debut is a thrilling battle between endless distorted guitars, unintelligable vocals and barely-there melodies. Hard to find, but worth it.
The Juan Maclean, Less Than Human
DFA's other major release of the year, the Juan Maclean plays techno that is more no-wave than LCD's discoified punk. More esoteric and melancholic, but no less qualified to get feet moving. Quibble: where's the magnificent title track?
Danger Doom, The Mouse and the Mask
A collaboration guaranteed to induce epilectic shocks and slobbering in all undie-rap fans, MF Doom and Danger Mouse came together in the studio and knocked out this kooky cartoon-obsessed rap album. It helps to have background knowledge of Aqua Teen Hunger Force before wading into this hilarious trip.
Paul McCartney, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
Teaming up with Nigel Godrich, and demanding no special treatment for his songs, the former Beatle makes good for all his sappy love songs with this mature, sombre, and haunting collection of wistful and mortal recollections on a life most extraordinary.
The Magic Numbers
Two sets of brother-sisters paying homage to Mamas and the Papas-style harmony-rock, with 50s and 60s folk tones. Overlong, but addictive.
Alan Braxe & Friends, The Upper Cuts
Braxe's resume stretches back to 1998's Stardust project. On this collection of past hits, we get an uncut dose of driving French techno and an undeniable bang for our buck.
The Game, The Documentary
Featuring a wish-list of producers (and amazing tracks) most young rappers would kill for, this Compton-raised kid turned to rap after getting shot, signed with Dr. Dre and became 50 Cent's possy only to get dumped within a few months. Though his raps are mediocre at best, the production is, again, amazing.

Disappointments of the Year

3. The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan
The increasingly crazy duo of Jack and Meg White return two albums into their commercial triumph, and release another cryptic and hard-to-get album. Eschewing proper use of guitars in favor of marimbas and pianos, this is a strange album, and one that likely demands more time and listening than I was able to give it this year.
2. Kanye West, Late Registration
Will Kanye never do wrong? For his second consecutive lacklustre album, he gets all the critics’ love and respect. He is brash, confident, and undeniably has the skills to back himself up. So how come he still hasn’t made a Great Album? Why can’t he get rid of the first-funny, then-irritating skits? Why don’t people comment on him throwing away a great Gil Scott-Heron sample on a too-short song? How “Hey Mama” is one degree away from being a wretched Black Eyed Peas song? The College Dropout is, in retrospect, a good (albeit scattershot) album, and Late Registration is an improvement on it, taking risks by getting Jon Brion to co-produce. Are we gonna get Greatness from Graduation, or do we have wait until Good Ass Job? He is getting better, but for me, he has yet to make a Great album. This is close, but not quite.
1. Coldplay, X&Y
Let’s get this out of the way: this ain’t Rush of Blood. Hard as they tried, Coldplay could not recreate that magical formula that made them the biggest English export to America since the Beatles. Of course, when the fortunes of an entire record company are on your shoulders, you want to create something safe that will sell. But this was overkill. Devoid of everything except soulless professionalism, X&Y lacked the timeless songs, heartfelt lyrics, and above all the infectious spirit that made Chris Martin and crew such a treasure to behold only two years ago. Now they have already made a claim to be bloated professionals in it to make a buck so Apple can get more dough for her pie. Definitely not the worst album released this year, but surely the most dishearteningly disappointing.

2005: Songs of the Year

Satellite radio took off this year (although I cannot confess to having access to it), so this list is mostly subjective and based on my whim at writing.
20. Kanye West ft. Jamie Foxx, "Gold Digger"
The most obvious gimmick of the year, Kanye shrewdly invested Oscar-winner Foxx to reprise the role that will forever define him: crooning as Ray Charles on this song about chicks who want your money. Haven't we heard these lyrics before? Kudos to Foxx West for making everyone forget they have.
19. Cage, "Hell's Winter"
A brutally unrelenting Def Jux single, produced by MIA wizard El-P is exactly what we needed in 2005. Easily the best track from the label in three years, recently acquired psycho-white boy Cage spouts his amazingly messed-up life story in three verses as raw guitar and impossible drum fills threaten to crumble everything into rubble. God, we miss you El-P!
18. The Bravery, "Fearless"
Standing with "An Honest Mistake" as the towering highlights of an otherwise mediocre debut, this unshakable song was written as a response to 9/11. Appropriately defiant, and with an amazing hook, this might prove the Bravery to be a one-trick pony, but at least the trick was worth it.
17. Spoon, "I Turn My Camera On"
Britt Daniels unleashes his best Prince falsetto on top of a shuffling beat, jagged guitars and sinister bass. You might think Mick Jagger on "Emotional Rescue", but the lyrics are anything but sweet.
16. Beck, "E-Pro"
Contrasted with My Morning Jacket's "Wordless Chorus", Beck proves a chorus with - get this - lyrics, is a thing of the past. Sagely lifting the monstrous beat from "So Whatcha Want" and adding a simple "na na na" chorus in lieu of words, Beck revolutionized music this year. Again.
15. Green Day, "Wake Me Up When September Ends"
American Idiot was about as subtle as a jackhammer, but this track was almost perfect, a simple paean to paternal loss and the resulting malaise, reformatted as the loss of innocence in grand world events happening now. Billie Joe's almost resigned vocals make this song heartbreaking in any context.
14. LCD Soundsystem, "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House
It's too bad Daft Punk's album wasn't so great, because this hilarious tribute to them sure is. James Murphy throws the coolest house party, with 15 trailers, the furniture in the garage, and a wild cowbell solo.
13. Roisin Murphy, "If We're In Love"
A collaboration between producer-extraordinarie Matthew Herbert, and the former Moloko singer was stretched into a solid album that just missed the cut on the big list. This was the best song, all off-kilter bossa nova and chilled trumpets highlighting Murphy's soulful crooning.
12. The Game ft. 50 Cent, "Hate It Or Love It"
Everything about this song screamed "classic" when it was released: the uplifting sample, the confident delivery of the Game, and a *shock* very good two verses from Fiddy. The utopia of rap lead by G-Unit that this song implied did not happen, but it does speak for 50's year when he runs circles around "rap's MVP."
11. Antony & the Johnsons, "Hope There's Someone"
The aura of AIDS and loss hangs heavy over this song, and some have likened the entrance of the band near the end as the sound of a soul escaping the body. Whatever you read into it, this funeral torch song is haunting, chilling, and comforting at the same time.
10. Mariah Carey, "We Belong Together"
The biggest success story of the year was Mariah climbing back to the top after a disasterous couple of years. This slow-burning ballad was the biggest song of the year (14 weeks at No. 1), and was perfectly suited to Mariah's strenghts. Her reward? The top-selling album of the year as well. Welcome back, I guess.
9. Yoshimoto, "Do What U Do (Trentemoller Remix)"
Anders Trentemoller tore down all kinds of boundaries this year, and this remix of Yoshimoto's plea to be treated with hard love was the highlight. Almost crunk-like techno beats with cascading sirens, James Bond guitars, and filtered vocals make this a club-burner.
8. Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone"
Such an easily identifiable formula, yet so undeniable. The more you hear it, the deeper it burrows into your brain, and the more you realize this is a hell of a song. Miss Independent finally makes good on those proclamations.
7. Gorillaz, "DARE"
Sure, "Feel Good Inc." was the bigger hit, but for my money, this is the highlight of the Gorillaz album. A towering disco beat, nonsense lyrics, and a defibrillated Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays fame shouting more nonsense. Few tracks entertained as much as this one did in 2005.
6. System of a Down, "B.Y.O.B."
A complete mindfuck, a more approriate title would have been A.D.H.D. Brutally hard speed metal riff segues into pop-radio "la la las" segues into Backstreet Boys chorus, repeat and ask best rhetorical question of the year. Yes, this was the year in 255 seconds.
5. Madonna, "Hung Up"
Only the second artist cleared to use an ABBA sample, Madonna and Stuart Price make the most of the irrepressible flute line, and create the most uptempo, hard-driving dance track of the year.
4. Franz Ferdinand, "Do You Want To"
No, it was not a fluke. For the first single from their new album, Franz pack as many movements and melodies as "Bohemian Rhapsody" had into a tight three-and-a-half minutes. Kinetic energy is the best way to define this track, and simply unstoppable.
3. Ciara ft. Ludacris, "Oh"
One of the most appropriate summer songs in years, this track was perfectly cooked up by Jazze Pha: a gigantic low end, whistling synths, and breathy cooing from Ciara. However, the highlight is Ludacris' flawless rap, stuttering barely in time, yet still the best thing he's done with music this year.
2. Armand Van Helden, "Hear My Name"
This is the stuff pop perfection is made of. Unstoppable beat, simple but mind-twisting bass, those seven little plinks, and of course the anonymously sexy female vocals. Who knows if this was on the radio: who cares? Pop Perfection!
1. New Order ft. Ana Matronic, "Jetstream"
Oh hey, no wonder! "Produced by Stuart Price and New Order". A breath of fresh air this past spring, this slice of perfect pop featured everything you would want from a great New Order track: a hot dance rhythm, Peter Hook's gossamer basslines, Barney's meaningfully simple lyrics, and a left hook on the chorus that knocks you out. In addition, we get Scissor Sister Ana with some harmonies to seal the deal: single of the year.

2005: The Lowlights

There will always be atrocities to the human race in terms of music. This year was certainly no exception. However, I am feeling a little more generous this year (and less organized), so I will keep it short and not so acidic.
Kevin Federline
I'm jumping the gun here. 2006 will be the year of K-Fed as he deludes himself. Don't worry K-Fed, you will have a very nice spot here on my page next year. Don't you worry, my boy. In the meantime, I NEVER do this, but please visit KevinFederline.com and support this up-and-coming talent. He's found "success" as a back-up dancer and choreographer. He's already ditched his black girlfriend and their two unfortunate bastard kids to impregnate his meal ticket, err, Britney Spears. He's squatting in the mansion of a flatlining celebrity while their spawn will soon be running around and possibly more to come. He stands to inherit tens of millions if their marriage falls apart. Wait, I'm sorry, WHEN their marriage falls apart (ETA 15 months from now). Now he wants to be a Vanilla Ice-esque rap star? People, let's make his other dreams come true.
Gwen Stefani, "Hollaback Girl"
The Neptunes are back in the limelight: unfortuntely it's for this terrible song that pays homage to Queen and pointless uses of the word "shit". If there was a single worse than this on the radio, I did not hear it. Sure, it's catchy: watch the 11-year old girls scoop it up! I'm not a nut, but there hasn't been so much utterly useless misuse of a dirty word on radio or TV since Eamon, and remember what happened to him? Of course, Gwen is already established in the music business, and what is really just pointless swearing to create a gimmick is seen by others as gleeful disobedience to the norm. Whatever, objectify those poor Japanese girls all you want, you racist. The only thing b-a-n-a-n-a-s about this song is that it was so successful. The 80's had Warrant's "Cherry Pie". The 90's had Limp Bizkit's "Nookie". The 00's have Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl". Yuck.
Live 8: Toronto
Oh my goodness, does Canada ever get it wrong here. Charity concerts like these are always tricky to take seriously: the undeniable sense of doing something right is strong leading up to the event, but is all but forgotten within a few days. A sprawling series of concerts held on July 2 in eight cities across the world, with hundreds of performances, with a goal to eradicate Africa’s debt and help their losing battle with AIDS. Participation in this event was mandatory for the world, and three billion people watched, either in person or on countless TV and internet feeds. The gimmick of a 20th anniversary of Live Aid was an added selling point, and the world eagerly awaited, and watched. So why was Toronto’s line-up such shit? Canada is a hotbed of great young bands, and while other cities showcased up and comers (Kaiser Chiefs, Keane, Kanye West) and established huge names (U2, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, etc.), Toronto got Bryan Adams. And BTO. And Celine Dion. And Simple fucking Plan. I know it’s all good that Canada actually put a concert together, but is it too much to ask for Arcade Fire, or Broken Social Scene, or Feist, or Stars, or Metric, or Wolf Parade, or Death From Above 1979, or any other good Canadian band to perform, let alone some other big names? The bloated white bread lineup really tarnished Canada’s reputation, and the entire event’s overall lack of a real African presence was lamentable. However, it’s still not right to boo a charity performer, even if she is appearing on satellite and is known as an over-emotive windbag (*cough* Celine *cough). One love, people! Let's forget the gimmick, the horrible line-up, and work seriously on helping the cradle of civilization out.
Tom Cruise and TomKat
He's not actually music-related, but he's fucking annoying. War of the Worlds sucked, and his Scientology spawn will be an abomination, due right around the time Mission: Impossible 3 is released in May. Keep your eyes glued to him! Maybe he'll fall off a really tall building while declaring his secret love for psychology.
Alanis Morrisette, Jagged Little Pill Acoustic
The idea that Alanis would revisit her once-in-a-lifetime, genre-defining, world-conquering, enormously influential, 30 million-selling debut (sorta) album, THEN remove the same thing that made it what it was, is a stab in the hearts of all the young girls (and some boys) who fell in love with that album and cherished it as a great work from an angry, articulate, and witty young woman in the first blushes of intellectuality. What made the album great in the first place was its righteous rage: the angry funk of “You Oughta Know”, the raw slap of “All I Really Want”, the perfect accompaniments to “Ironic” and “You Learn”. This acoustic version removes the anger, replaces it with vanilla accompaniment, and the once-seething vocals of a young Alanis are replaced with the contented crooning of old Alanis. The fifteen year old girls who connected with this album ten years ago are now twenty-something executive yuppies in business suits and second-hand SUV’s; that it was initially only sold in Starbucks just accentuates what a corporate and soulless exercise this all was. Thanks Alanis, for ruining a part of my youth.
Pussycat Dolls
Is there any reason for this band's existence? Aside from being a solo vehicle for Nicole Scheramalamadumdum? Or being some fucked-up lingerie commercial? Have you ever even seen the other five members of this "band" singing, let alone even carry a microphone on stage? Possibly the gravest offence of style of substance this year, these girls (they are no more) had a semi-minor hit with "Don't Cha" that little girls thought was an empowerment anthem, but was really just a bunch of sluts catcalling with no heat behind them. Now I really do not know why I mentioned them here and gave them some extra publicity.
Nickelback, All the Right Reasons
Is there any point and fun left in continuously bashing this band, Canada’s biggest-selling (but worst) export to the outside world? Can people still take pleasure in calling these guys cynical hacks, constantly churning out the same song with a different title to brainwashed zombies who don’t know any better? Is it easy to point out the hypocrisy of a band who leaves their small hick town behind for the big city, then goes back to said hick town to shoot “man, those were the good ol’ days” video? Does laughing at their fired and sued drummer feel good anymore? Or the fact they replaced him with 3 Doors Down’s drummer, a band just as faceless, and who sound exactly the same? Can we laugh and at the same time feel angry that the image of Canadian music they project to the American mainstream is of such abysmal and wretched quality that we must be laughingstock of the musical world? Can we still laugh at Chad Kroeger, his non-threatening bark, or his beyond-hilarious smile in their hypocritical video? Yes. Yes I can.
Black Eyed Peas
I’m not a malicious person, but if it was revealed that all four members of Black Eyed Peas had AIDS and would die tomorrow, I would have no problem with that. The laundry list of complaints against Black Eyed Peas is so long I’d need to establish a brand new website dedicated exclusively to bashing them. Is it better to just dismiss them with no words, or extract the poison with a huge bash? Here we go. It all goes back a couple of years when they recruited Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, and ditched their pleasant-if-useless conscious rap image in lieu of a sleek, over-produced sound on Elephunk. Hey, their album sales spiked enormously! They're on radio and MTV! They must have found a Midas formula!
Earlier this year, they released Monkey Business (if that doesn’t give it away...), equating their sound to monkeys throwing feces, and their whole existence to being a business. The album hit with the impact of an atom bomb, sending molten lava and debris for thousands of kilometres: all within earshot of any radio would be infected with the disease and brainwashed into buying the album. Ludicrous notion? Something must explain its extended top 10 stay on the Billboard charts. Simply put, this album and this band are wretched beasts, with absolutely no justification for their existence: two of the members are certifiably, utterly useless to the band’s sound, contributing nothing except minority appeal (one is black and looks a lot like Will.i.am or what's his name, the other is Filipino). The singles cannot be touched for their dismal lows: “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” continues their clever methods of disguising the word FUCK in their songs, creating a clean badass image 11-year olds can buy into while mildly upsetting their parents; however, “My Humps” is beyond words. Some words that do pop into mind while being subjected to it: wretched. Dismal. Putrid. Horrible. Disgusting. Absurd. Worthless. Shit. Fuck. Turn. This. Garbage. Off. And that's not even really for objectifying women: hey Fergie, whatever statement you wanted to make for women being successful in a formerly sausage-fest pop band is moot with this abomination of a "song". However, I do dig your outfits, it's nice of you to show off your body while being so concerned about how women are treated. You pissed your pants on stage?? Shit, you go girl!
I sincerely hope there is a special part of Hell for these fame-mongering greedy shits, to burn in eternity with murderers and drug dealers, because this commercial exploitation is a drug worse than crack. That America rewards and glorifies this retardation of talent and vision is truly a sick exercise, and a sad sign of our times. Civilization will have failed when the Black Eyed Peas are one of the biggest sellers in the world. They are? We have failed.

Well, that wraps up yet another year of music. Since I never get any anyway, I will not appeal for whoever made it this far to send their thoughts and opinions. See you in 2007!

Email: leftsun7@hotmail.com