Thursday, December 08, 2005

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 tight and enjoyable throughout.

The Wallflowers - Rebel, Sweetheart
Read the review!
CD #: 36
Another solid effort filled with memorable melodies and lyrics. The hipsters aren't likely to catch on, nor is the mainstream public. But rest easy Jakob, I'm listening.

Erasure - Nightbird

An unlikely story. Who would have guessed that in a year where synth bands like New Order and Depeche Mode put out new work, the lightweights of the movement would produce the best record? Showing little interest in modernizing their sound, Andy and Vince give us 11 songs that sound like the could be the soundtracks to important moments in '80s teen flicks. And yes, that's a good thing.

Atmosphere - You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having

Slug and Ant had a busy year with their label (Rhymesayers) and side project (Felt) but the duo still found time to build on past successes with this disc. Ant's beats are varied and soulful and Slug tackles his demons: girls (Smart Went Crazy), family (Little Man), addiction (Pour Me Another) and tragedy (That Night). And though the title is likely ironic, the album isn't a drag at all. I swear it isn't the white rapper thing, but Slug reminds me of Eminem, albeit a less crass and psychotic version.

The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
Whatever it was that prevented me from going as gaga over their last album as everyone else did is gone now. Though early reports that the album was slower and more introspective had me worried, it's "slow songs" like These Are The Fables and The Bleeding Heart Show that I find the most thrilling. But I still can't figure out the lyrics.

Vicious Vicious - Don't Look So Surprised
Read the review!

I can handle a year without a new Hopefuls disc if the solo members put out work this good in the meantime. Just barely more than an EP, these seven songs tell a sad story of a relationship that was doomed from the start.

Nada Surf - The Weight Is A Gift

Maybe Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla shouldn't have done such a good job of producing this album, since it's actually better than his own band's latest. Here, Nada Surf finally fulfill their power pop promise on songs like Concrete Bed and Always Love. The only flaw in the album is the extended time on the end of the final track. Why do bands continue to do this?!

Motion City Soundtrack - Commit This To Memory
Read the review!

Was it slavish of me to buy this CD and then promptly follow the directive given in the title? Maybe, but I have no regrets.

Glen Phillips - Winter Pays For Summer
Read the review!

This CD is a lot like my year: A little bit of the unexpected, a little bit of the familiar, thrilling in places and slow in others, but always benefiting from the presence of good friends. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

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 Minneapolis to appreciate the music recorded at the city's most famous venue. Sure, seven local artists (including Husker Du, Jayhawks, and The Replacements) appear, but there's a wide variety of other interesting artists such as Patti Smith, Ween, Richard Thompson, and Old 97's. Highlights include an audience participation version of Joe Jackson's timeless Is She Really Going Out With Him? and The Suburbs' Every Night's A Friday Night (In Hell).

Greatest Greatest Hits:
The Roots - Home Grown! A Beginner's Guide To Understanding The Roots, Volume One
A strange greatest hits collection from a band that only has a couple of them anyway. You Got Me is here, but in its original Jill Scott form. It's surrounded by a few recognizable album tracks and some stuff that has never before been released. It's not necessarily the best of their work, but it definitely lives up to its title; if you want to know what The Roots are about, it's all right here.

Best Cover Art:
Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings - Naturally
Nothing really stood out this year, but this retro cover represents the music as well as any cover possibly could. And that's the idea, right? The fake liner notes essay is an added bonus.

Best Cover Version:
Halloween Alaska, I Can't Live Without My Radio
Local "super" group and OC favorites take the first 41 seconds of the LL Cool J classic and turn it into a 3 minute electronic mediation.

Best Album Title:
Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams
While it's not especially original or clever, the title does describe how my life felt in 2005.

Best Live Album:
Morrissey - Live At Earls Court
Focusing mostly on his latest album (which I don't have), Moz sounds worthy of his cult worshipers. He also includes a Patti Smith cover (Redondo Beach), some Smiths' classics and endearingly brief song introductions. The best moment comes in Bigmouth Strikes Again, wherein Joan Of Arc's walkman has become an iPod.

Best Reissue:
Elton John - Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy
Okay, I already own three versions of this album (vinyl, CD, SACD) but I had to buy this anyway. Why? Well, you're always looking for excuses to buy your favorite albums again, but in this case it's a really good excuse. Not only does the packaging exactly reproduce the original LP (down to a miniature comic book and poster) but it includes a second disc with the entire album performed live in 1975 (the year of its release). It sounds magnificent, even if Elton sounds terrified. Note: Isn't it weird that this came out the same year as Springsteen's Born To Run? It seems like they're from two completely different eras.