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2005: Top Ten

It was an atypical year in many ways. I bought a lot of CDs in the middle of the year but almost none at the beginning or end. I got an iPod, and that has brought me closer to my music than ever before. I wrote very few reviews, and I don't really know why. And there was very little agonizing about this top ten list. In fact, I could have given you this exact same list about a month and a half ago. Believe me, that's strange.

Before we dive in, I'd like to give props to those albums that fell just a bit short, works by Fiona Apple, Spoon, Kathleen Edwards, Aimee Mann, The Hold Steady, and Common.

Ben Folds - Songs For Silverman
Read the review!

If you like Ben Folds in ballad mode, then this is the album for you. I do, and it is.



The Perceptionists - Black Dialogue

DJ Fakts One, Mr.Lif, and Akrobatic team up to make the year's most fun rap album. Mixing bravado (Blo!), social commentary (Memorial Day), romance (Love Letters) and humor (Career Finders) the CD is t…

2005: The Best Of The Rest

It's that time again. I'll be posting my top ten albums of the year this Friday! But in anticipation, here are some other noteworthy 2005 releases.

Also, check out what my pal Richard Nelson picked in similar categories on Highway 290 Revisited.

Guiltiest Pleasure:
The Click Five - Greetings From Imrie House
You know when you're eating chocolate chip cookies and don't know when to stop? The Click Five are like the last cookie that was one too many. The debut album from this mall-hopping, Boston-based power pop outfit is sugary and addictive, but also likely to give you a bit of an ache, be it in the tooth, stomach or head.





Best Soundtrack:
Various Artists - Walk The Line
The actors sing, and do a bang up job. Like the film, the idea isn't to exactly reproduce the originals, but to make us appreciate them in a new light. Mission Accomplished.







Best Compilation:
Various Artists - The Bootlegs Volume 1: Celbrating 35 Years At First Avenue
You don't have to live in M…

Heads Up!

Talking Heads finally got around to remastering their albums and have released the results as an 8-disc set called The Brick. The albums were remastered by Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison and feature expanded artwork, bonus tracks, and extra DVD content. This is heaven for a Heads enthusiast such as myself. But one quibble: For a band that always prided themselves on their artistic sensibilities, it seems ludicrous to put these albums out with no back artwork or side labels. It's all just white, making the albums indistinguishable from one another on the shelf.

That aside, I thought I'd guide you on a tour through the Talking Heads recorded career. It's a journey that spans 11 years, countless musicians, and 1 big suit.

87. Talking Heads - Talking Heads: '77 (1977)

In artistic terms this is a rough sketch for the larger masterpiece. It features the building blocks of the band's future structure: rhythm, live energy, strange lyrics and goofy singing. Though they came in…

Robbie Fulks - "Fountains Of Wayne Hotline"

Another from the curiosity department:

I came across this single on iTunes and was immediately intrigued. For one thing, Robbie Fulks appeared on my radar this year with Georgia Hard, a better than decent country throwback album. Also, who what Fountains Of Wayne fan could pass up that title?

Turns out it's basically a metasong, a song about writing a song. That's not especially rare, especially if you're a Weird Al Fan ("This Song Is Just Six Words Long" anyone?). What's so curious is that one can't tell if Fulks is paying tribute to FOW, or deriding them for being formulaic.

The song is broken into three parts. The first is a quiet verse wherein Fulks tells us he's tired of having zero success as a country music writer/performer and needs a new sound. So he calls the Fountains Of Wayne Hotline, a musical advice service. He speaks to Gerald, who tells him to spice up the second verse with a "radical dynamic shift" and a "full band …

86. The Magic Numbers - The Magic Numbers (2005)

Very few things in life can sustain the same level of excitement from beginning to end, and The Magic Numbers' debut album is no exception. Like a party that's loud, full and hoppin' from the get-go and then eventually dwindles down to a quiet few, the CD makes its statement early and then fades away.

Mornings Eleven is a helluva opener. It consists of two separate sections; the first makes you want to shake your ass, the second makes you want to swoon. Going from country-rock boogie to '50s doo-wop harmony, the two movements spend the song alternating back and forth, and it's effective enough to make the 5-and-a-half minute running time seem too short.

As the album continues that becomes a recurring theme. The songs are long, but rarely overstay their welcome. That's a tribute to Romeo Stodart's compositions, but another factor may be that the group consists of two sets of brothers and sisters (the Allman Brothers would be proud). I believe that familial syn…

Fountains Of Wayne - "Troubled Times"

I consider this the final installment of a sporadic episodic sequence, starting back in December with my thoughts on John Mayer's Home Life and continuing in March with the Robbers On High Street's The Price & Style. I never planned to use these song essays in an autobiographical manner, but essays and songs can be tricky like that.

When writing about Home Life, I wrote about how the song spoke to me exactly. The Price & Style found me interpreting non-specific lyrics to fit life experience. This time I want to ponder how a song's lyrics can suddenly become relevant. Take Fountains Of Wayne's Troubled Times, from their second album, Utopia Parkway. It's a lush, harmony-driven ballad that has always stood out on that album as a shoulda-been hit.

The song has a story, but unlike FOW's other work, it's not so easy to figure out. It can be impressionistic at times. The narrator regrets that things have gone sour with a certain someone in his life, someone…

85. The Click Five - Greetings From Imrie House (2005)

I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm not The Click Five's target market. They are currently touring the mall circuit and have opened for Ashlee Simpson, Aaron Carter, and Backstreet Boys, there are ads for their album on MTV, and the CD comes with a "collectable trading card" (I got the drummer). On the band's website, three of the five members declare "world domination" as one of their musical goals. Yes, The Click Five are unabashedly courting a teen audience. How much do you wanna bet they show up on an O.C. episode this season?

On one hand the Boston band seem to have what it takes. The members are all young, good-looking guys. They dress well and play their own instruments. All but one of the 11 songs on their debut mention the word "you" (some say The Beatles' early success was contingent upon their use of that pronoun, because teens thought they were singing directly to them). They are getting a ton of media attention, and the Best B…

Sound Bites

Though I've been buying music at an alarming clip this year, lately I just haven't encountered any discs that are screaming for a full length review. BUT, here are some brief thoughts on what's been spinning in my head.

80. Teenage Fanclub - Man-Made
The Scottish rockers' 7th album is not as immediately satisfying as their previous two (1997's Songs From Northern Britain and 2001's Howdy), but give it time and you'll find their gifts for gentle melody and harmony are just as sparkling as ever. This band is a real treasure.

Grade: A
Fave Song: Flowing



81. Michael Penn - Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947
Mr.Aimee Mann is not prolific or flashy, but he is a craftsman. His first album since 2000 (only the fifth in his 19 year career) is another solid effort. Unfortunately it's also just as unexciting as the rest of his catalog. This one attempts a theme around events that happened in the title year. I can't really follow it, and I'm puzzled as to why there are two …

79. Acceptance - Phantoms (2005)

With the wide diversity that now exists in popular music, I must admit that I feel a little guilty when I buy an album by a white male rock band. In fact, it seems almost quaint to still do the guitar-bass-drums-singing thing with no frills or stylistic ideals. As such, I rarely seek out straightforward rock albums.

I first heard Acceptance via iTunes' great "Free Download Of The Week" program, which is exactly what it sounds like. Acceptance was represented by the single Different, a piano-driven piece of passion. Though I dug the song, I felt I could not support another Coldplay clone, especially when the real thing isn't exciting me all that much lately.

But then on a whim I looked up Acceptance's debut album on Amazon.com and decided to take a listen. What a pleasant surprise to discover that the rest of the album has much more in common with Jimmy Eat World than it does with Travis. Indeed, a quick scan through the "thank yous" in the liner notes rev…

78. Vicious Vicious - Don't Look So Surprised (2005)

Don't Look So Surprised is one of the best break-up albums I've ever heard.

Through seven interconnected songs, the CD follows a doomed relationship between our narrator and a girl named Jenny. In the opener, It's A Serious Thing, the protagonist speaks directly to Jenny, telling her "it's time we forget about the days that you used to be mine." And then he spends the next 6 songs remembering.

2 Much Time On My Hands uses a laid-back seventies shuffle to tell the story of how they met, at a swimming pool party where she talks about "hot sex" with her ex-boyfriend. Still, they end up going to a drive-in movie and things begin to snowball. (My favorite part of this song is the repeated line "the cigarette refuses to burn," which seems like an echo of the Hopefuls' - Appelwick's other band - album title, The Fuses Refuse To Burn).

Here Come Tha Police is catchy and funky and expands our knowledge of the characters. We find out they are…

77. P.M. Dawn - Jesus Wept (1995)

In case you aren't a fan of bad television, let me tell you that P.M.Dawn were on the show Hit Me Baby One More Time last night. In this show, musical acts from the '80s and '90s perform two songs, a hit of their own and a hit from today. Then the studio audience votes on who was the best. P.M. Dawn managed to brush off competition from Missing Persons, Shannon, Animotion, and Juice Newton to win the favor of the voters.

In celebration I drug out my copy of P.M. Dawn's third album, Jesus Wept. Of all of their output, this CD intrigues me the most.

We know that P.M. Dawn came onto the scene with Set Adrift On Memory Bliss, a piece of dreamy pop that sampled Spandau Ballet's True. We also know that their second album was an even bigger success, with the ultra-melodic hits I'd Die Without You and Looking Through Patient Eyes. That makes Jesus Wept the classic "artistic statement" record, wherein, feeling assured of their commercial viability, the perf…

76. Black Eyed Peas - Monkey Business (2005)

After two listens to their new album, Monkey Business, I was ready to give Black Eyed Peas a black eyed review. After breaking through with their 2003 album Elephunk, the Peas seemed to have let the success corrupt their music. The follow-up seemed mindless, and even worse, boring.

But then something strange happened on my third listen. I was a little bit charmed by some of the songs.

What is a reviewer to do when he feels so conflicted? I decided to break the album's tracks into three categories to better articulate my feelings:

1) The Songs I Like

Pump It is a fun party tune set to the surf guitar and horns of Dick Dale. You've heard this song in Best Buy commercials. Don't Phunk With My Heart is the first single, and it does its job just fine, though I could live without the Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam lift from I Wonder If I Take You Home, especially since Kylie Minogue did it better on her last album. Don't Lie is a less-exciting sequel to Shut Up, from Elephunk. T…

75. Motion City Soundtrack - Commit This To Memory (2005)

Is emo over? Did someone forget to notify me? I only ask because I swear the other day I read the words "post-emo" somewhere. I thought we were still in the midst of it. Aren't bands like Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday, and My Chemical Romance still making waves? Isn't the Warped Tour still making the rounds?! Then again, Promise Ring, Blink-182, and The Get-Up Kids have all called it quits.

Ultimately, I guess it doesn't matter. Emo is probably the first pop music movement that no actual band would admit to being a part of. And that's a shame, because it's a good, non-trendy sound: harmony, keyboards, fast guitars, emotional lyrics. In fact those exact same words could be used to describe power pop, or the new new wave movement.

You could also use it to describe Motion City Soundtrack. And no matter what category you want to place it in, their second album is a corker!

Produced by Blink-182 singer/bassist Mark Hoppus, Commit This To Memory finds the middl…

Da na na na na na

I was born 28 years ago on this day! And in the way time works, that day was also a Saturday. I'd like to thank my mom and dad, especially my mom!

In celebration I present my Top 10 Favorite Birthday Songs:

10. Neil Diamond - Desiree (I know that in no way is this song about a birthday. It's really about Neil losing his virginity: "The time was right / The night was long". But the second verse begins, "Then came the 4th of June.")

9. 50 Cent -In Da Club (Okay, also not technically a birthday song. But since this was released, how can we get through a birthday without mentioning shorties, Bacardi, and not giving a fuck?)

8. Lesley Gore - It's My Party (Speaking of not giving a fuck: "I'll cry if I want to".)

7. Alice In Wonderland Soundtrack - The Unbirthday Song (A classic! I had this on a vinyl album of Disney's best movie songs and always asked my mom for unbirthday presents after listening to it).

6. Blur - Birthday (Droning Brit-pop for …

74. Weezer - Make Believe (2005)

It's not easy to admit that one of your favorite artists has made a bad album. Initially your hopes are so high, they will buoy you up for awhile. When you start to sink, you try to stay afloat by telling yourself that the album is one of those that takes time to reveal its charms, that in a few months you'll love it. But when that doesn't happen, you realize that you've been deep-sixed.

This was my experience with Weezer's last album, 2002's Maladroit. After releasing two stone-cold classics and one solid power-pop gem maybe the law of averages doomed the band to a let-down. Maladroit was unfocused and uninspired, musically and lyrically.

Thankfully,on Make Believe everything feels fresh again. There are several factors that might have contributed to this, but I've boiled it down to two main reasons:

1) It was produced by Rick Rubin. Can I just take a couple of moments to marvel at this guy's output? Consider that he has produced great work from LL Cool J…

73. Ben Folds - Songs For Silverman (2005)

What would all the Billy Joel fans do without Ben Folds? Aside from wearing out our copies of 52nd Street and The Stranger, we'd be completely bereft of piano-based pop storytelling.

Songs For Silverman is the official follow-up to 2001's Rockin' The Suburbs. In the 4 year interim Folds has kept busy with live album, a series of EPs, and collaborations (William Shatner, The Bens). Those projects were mildly satisfying, but I'm guessing this is what most of us were waiting for.

Folds' musical act has always been one of balancing the silly and the sublime. Even in the Ben Folds Five days straightforward ballads coexisted with irony-and-expletive-laden outbursts. I've always been a fan of the former more than the latter, and thankfully, SFS is ballad-heavy. You could call it maturity, or you could just call it keeping the tone consistent. Without exception, the 11 songs are built with the trademark Folds sound, lots of percussive piano, great melodies, and generous…

72. Ryan Lee - The Pride Before The Fall (2004)

I knew Ryan as a friend before I knew him as a songwriter / performer. Take my word for it, he's a warm, caring, funny, guy. He's easygoing and easy to talk to. But look at him scowling on the cover of his first full-length CD and take a listen to some of the mysterious, dramatic songs he writes and it seems like the work of a completely different person!

But that's what artists do. They take the troublesome stuff in their heads and get it out in their work. If I think of it that way, it's not such a jarring disconnect. And anyway, this should be all about the music, not my issues.

I've seen Ryan perform in a variety of settings: Solo shows in coffee shops, loud full-band shows in bars, and stuff in between. Thus I've heard many of his songs performed in drastically different ways. What's amazing is how great they all SOUND here, not just arrangement and performance wise, but also from a production and engineering standpoint.

I've always known Ryan was tal…

Shufflin' On Down

As I've stated before, one of my favorite iPod features is called "Shuffle Songs." It takes all of your songs and plays DJ. It makes strange choices, and sometimes gets fixated on a certain artist. And often it does not consider flow, and I mean AT ALL!

But sometimes wonderful things happen. As I've used the feature, I've found myself attempting to make mental connections between the songs. You know, lyrically, historically, geographically, thematically, etc. It has become sort of a game for me, so I thought I'd detail a recent example:

1. Prince - Movie Star. A great start is always impotant, and this funny, spoken-word b-side delivers.

2. Olympic Hopefuls - Stoned Again. The iPod wisely decides to stay local.

3. Johnny Cash - Hurt. Of course you know that Johnny mentions St.Paul in his song Big River?

4. Neil Diamond - The Boat That I Row. Johnny Cash was known as the Man In Black, and Neil pretended to be a black man in The Jazz Singer!

5. Henry Mancini - Mo…