Best Albums Of 2005: Staff Picks (Part 1 of 5)

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    Staff Picks Page 2Page 3, Page 4, Page 5

    Matthew Gasteier


    I could go on and on about how tragic it is that records like Late Registration, The Massacre, Thug Motivation, and The United State of Atlanta get
    all the attention while strong hip-hop records fell by the wayside this
    year. If you still think this is a weak year for the most popular genre
    in the world, check out One Self’s Children of Possibilities, Beanie Siegel’s The B.Coming, Roots Manuva’s Awfully Deep, Kano’s Home Sweet Home, Edan’s Beauty and the Beat, and the three significant achievements on this list.


    15. AZ: A.W.O.L. [Koch]
    After one legendary guest appearance, AZ seems destined to be
    forgotten. This record is way underrated, and that’s without the B-side
    of the year, “Game of Life” (download it right now).


    14. Isoleé: Wearemonster [Playhouse]
    House can be dull, and micro-house can be even duller. Isoleé proves
    ’em all wrong, though, with this instant classic in an instant genre.
    13. Sleater-Kinney: The Woods [Sub Pop]
    The kind of record that makes you believe you actually will get better as you get older. Damn, this thing fucking rocks.


    12. Vitalic: OK Cowboy [Pias]


    11. Z-Ro: Let the Truth Be Told [KMJ]
    Tragically underrated in an all-around weak year for hip-hop. After
    all the press for Mike Jones, Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Bun B, I guess
    there wasn’t room for the best rapper in Houston this year. This record
    will only grow in stature, believe me.


    10. M.I.A.: Arular [XL]
    I wanted this to be higher because it deserves it, but pop is pop,
    even when it’s this damn catchy. Great record. Still the future of pop


    9. Andrew Bird: The Mysterious Production of Eggs [Righteous Babe]
    Meeting somewhere between Beck’s mellower work and Rufus Wainright,
    Andrew Bird writes great songs and sings them greater. In a
    particularly strong year for singer-songwriters, his work stands out.


    8. Daedelus: Exquisite Corpse [Mush]
    Quiet, mournful and knowing, Daedelus’s quickly forgotten record was
    sadly neglected due to its shaggy appearance and strange non-cohesion.
    Play after 2 a.m. alone and afraid.


    7. John Legend: Get Lifted [Sony Urban Music/Columbia]
    Released a few days before the new year, so it’s eligible for a Grammy this year. Quite simply, the best R&B record since Voodoo.


    6. 13 & God: 13 & God [Anticon]
    A beautiful otherworldly record that puts a distinct perspective on
    pop, hip-hop and electronic, all while creating immediately accessible
    melodies. A rare down-tempo record that never seems conventional.


    5. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine (Jon Brion version) [Epic/Clean Slate]
    It may be officially released sometime next year in a finished
    version, but even these unmastered versions are light years ahead of
    the conventional disappointment Apple put out this fall. Stick “Parting
    Gift” – the one new song on the official release – on the disc in
    between “Better Version of Me” and “Oh Well” and it might be her best


    4. Bloc Party: Silent Alarm [Vice]
    It’s sad to penalize a record for being released too early, but I
    loved this record last December, and some of the passion is gone in our
    relationship. That said, I still put it on and remember what I loved
    about it. The best rock record of the year.


    3. GZA vs. Muggs: Grandmasters [Angeles]
    The best hip-hop record of the year is further proof that members of
    the Wu-Tang are making some of their best music while the rest of the
    world looks the other way. Close to perfect.


    2. The Books: Lost and Safe [Tomlab]
    When I reviewed this record eight or nine months ago, I had already
    fallen in love with it, but not nearly to the point I have since then.
    For people who thought their first two records were too weird, and for
    people who thought this record was too conventional, I urge you to give
    it another try and find the middle ground. Brief moments that amount to
    nothing more than tiny fragments of a finger snap


    1. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty]
    There are a lot of excuses made when someone picks the obvious
    record: I heard it before the hype (I didn’t). I’ve always known the
    artist had it in them (I hadn’t). There is a very personal reason for
    me to pick the record (there isn’t). But most of the time, these are
    just covering up the truth. Because, separate from the hype, away from
    message boards and music magazines and record stores, there is a place
    to go and listen to music that you love. I’ve taken Sufjan Stevens’s Illinois there
    more often than any other record this year, and I’ve loved it more,
    too. I’ve loved the quiet naïveté of “Casimir Pulaski Day,” the surging
    romance of “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!” and,
    more than anything, the brilliant Americana of “Chicago,” which weaves
    the country’s highways into escape routes for dying youth and future
    experiences. Illinois is a sprawling masterpiece, a work of art that is messy and overdone yet cohesive and somehow unpretentious.
    It’s quite easily my album of the year.


    Jack Booty


    The King Khan & BBQ Show: The King Khan & BBQ Show [Goner]


    A-Frames: Black Forest [Sub Pop]


    Dangerdoom: The Mouse and the Mask [Epitaph]


    Bonnie “Prince” Billy & Matt Sweeney: Superwolf [Drag City]


    LCD Soundsystem: LCD Soundsystem [DFA/Capitol]


    Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary [Sup Pop]


    Human Eye: Human Eye [In the Red]


    400 Blows: Angel’s Trumpets and Devil’s Trombones [Gold Standard]


    Lightning Bolt: Hypermagic Mountain [Load]


    Boris: Akuma No Uta [Southern Lord]


    Mike Krolak


    10. Stars: Set Yourself on Fire [Arts & Crafts]
    From the electronic glaze that coats these soaring tunes to the sex
    and death that makes up their core, this dark collection of complex pop
    music makes me so very happy/sad.


    9. Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary [Sub Pop]
    If by some supernatural power you’re able to resist the crashing
    drums of “You Are a Runner,” the infectious sing-along of “Dear Sons
    and Daughters ” and the thunderous clamor of “I’ll Believe in
    Anything,” well, you stay the hell away from my kids.


    8. Edan: Beauty and the Beat [Lewis]
    Psych-rock-flavored hip-hop full of old-school beats and wordplay
    that lead the underground by example instead of just whining about the
    status quo. More records should sound like this.


    7. The National: Alligator [Beggars Banquet]
    Oh, that voice, that haunting, haunting voice. Matt Berninger’s deep
    baritone is the perfect complement to these brooding, late-night rock
    ‘n’ roll songs delivered with more atmosphere than Jupiter.
    6. Daedelus: Exquisite Corpse [Mush]
    Sample-based music can be choppy and cold, but this record is like a
    warm, soft, breeze on an otherwise chilly day when you forgot to wear a
    jacket. Wonderful and welcoming like very few electronic records are.


    5. Feist: Let It Die [Interscope]
    You love this. Your friends love this. Your parents love this. The
    old lady who lives next door loves this. Know why? It’s fucking


    4. Bloc Party: Silent Alarm [Vice]
    Every time I think I’ve gotten sick of this record, I listen to it
    one more time and realize just how invigorating these tight, propellant
    songs really are. 


    3. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty]
    Can Sufjan be stopped? He seems incapable of writing a dud right now, and he’s refined and expanded his chamber-pop sound. Illinois is his finest hour yet – and he’s still got forty-eight states to go.


    2. The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema [Matador]
    The Pornographers left their strict power-pop comfort zone for an
    amalgam of rhythms and moods, and it paid off big-time. The catchiest
    songs of the year, hands down. I could listen to this for days on end.
    Actually, I have. 


    1. Andrew Bird: The Mysterious Production of Eggs [Righteous Babe]
    This record makes you laugh at the ridiculousness of life and then
    cry because you know it has to end someday. Bird teases beauty from
    every unlikely arrangement, elation from every pluck of the violin,
    meaning from every seemingly vapid word. The Mysterious Production of Eggs became a large fragment of 2005 for me. I can think of no greater compliment for a piece of music.


    Aaron Richter


    1. Mahjongg: Raydoncong 2005 [Cold Crush]
     – Or the best record you and everyone you know couldn’t care less about


    2. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah [Self-Released]
     – Or some record made by a band that has never ever heard of the Talking Heads


    3. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty]
     – Or Sufjan gets indulgent, preachy and longwinded, but it’s so good we don’t care


    4. Doveman: The Acrobat [Swim Slowly]
     – Or music to die to
    5. Broken Social Scene: Broken Social Scene [Arts & Crafts]
     – Or what happens when Canadians have studio equipment and too much time on their hands


    6. Akron/Family & Angels of Light: Akron/Family & Angels of Light [Young God]
     – Or we enjoy the Velvet Underground. Can you tell?


    7. Isolée: We Are Monster [Playhouse]
     – Or is this for real?


    8. Deerhoof: The Runners Four [Kill Rock Stars]
     – Or abstract pop grows up


    9. Mugison: Mugimama, Is This Monkey Music? [Ipecac]
     – Or what it must have been like listening to Mellow Gold when it was first released had there been no “Loser” single


    10. Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll [Fierce Panda]
     – Or how much snot is dripping from my nose?


    11. Bright Eyes: Digital Ash in a Digital Urn [Saddle Creek]
     – Or something that sounds less like everything else Conor Oberst has done


    12. Bloc Party: Silent Alarm [Vice]
     – Or a record some cool kids made


    13. The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema [Matador]
     – Or how to keep Canadians from telling jokes on stage


    14. Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better [Domino]
     – Or a record some cooler kids made


    15. Spoon: Gimme Fiction [Merge]
     – Or a record that will probably get you laid


    16. Bright Eyes: I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning [Saddle Creek]
     – Or something that sounds exactly like everything else Conor has done


    17. The Juan Maclean: Less Than Human [DFA/Astralwerks]
     – Or teaching white boys to dance since…


    18. LCD Soundsystem: LCD Soundsystem [DFA/Capitol]
     – Or I want James Murphy to be my father, and related stories


    19. Animal Collective: Feels [FatCat]
     – Or the sound of my head exploding


    20. Pelican: The Fire in our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw [Hydra Head]
     – Or the sound of everyone’s heads exploding 


    Jon Easley


    Animal Collective: Feels [FatCat]
    Rhythm, weirdness and hyper-sonic psychedelia


    Nirvana: Sliver: Best of the Box [Geffen]
    Rough and early cuts from the box set, and as essential as any Nirvana album.


    Silver Jews: Tanglewood Numbers [Drag City]
    With Stephen Malkmus on guitar, David Berman decides he’d like to rock. The negative multiplier of 2001’s somber and depressing Bright Flight.


    Love as Laughter: Laughter’s Fifth [Sub Pop]
    What dance-rock would sound like if it wasn’t so inexplicably cool to be Canadian right now.
    Okkervil River
    : Black Sheep Boy [Sub Pop]
    Main man Will Sheff is smarter than you and somehow improving as a singer-songwriter.


    Kevin Dolak


    The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday [French Kiss]
    By far the year’s most refreshing and innovative release. Craig Finn’s
    low-life odyssey swirls through religion, relationships, drugs and
    parties with a bar-rock background so hook-heavy it’d give Bob Pollard
    a hangover.


    Sufjan Stevens: Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty]
    For state number two: emotionally raw, heavily researched, brilliantly
    sprawling and meticulously detailed. And a surprising leap forward from
    2003’s exceptional Greetings from Michigan. It makes you wish he’ll do your state next.


    Animal Collective: Feels [FatCat]
    Each release from these four seems to be more accessible than its predecessor, and Feels may be the perfect introduction to their child-like logic and spastic tendencies. “Purple Bottle” has to be their best yet.


    Bloc Party: Silent Alarm [Vice]
    This band’s early promise finally manifested itself in this astonishing
    collection of tracks. Political without being preachy and poignant
    without being sappy, the record is endlessly listenable, and it
    provided an energetic soundtrack for the whole year.


    Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary [Sub Pop]
    Holy shit! Straightforward indie rock! Where the hell have you been? I
    haven’t heard anything like this since that last Modest Mouse record.


    Okkervil River: Black Sheep Boy [Sub Pop]
    On his band’s fourth LP, Will Sheff comes off like Conor Oberst’s truly fucked-up, world-weary older brother. Black Sheep Boy has Sheff’s somber reflections brushing elbows with casually bouncy pop about tearing out his enemies’ throats.


    Colleen: The Golden Morning Breaks [Leaf]
    Cecile Schott’s follow-up to Everyone Alive Wants Answers (2003)
    subtracted any sampling whatsoever, giving her new energy to produce
    exceptionally sparse, cryptic arrangements – without a laptop.


    New Pornographers: Twin Cinema [Matador]
    Carl Newman and friends cut back on the power-pop to prove that the
    best songs in his book may be the slower ones (“The Bleeding Heart
    Show”). And then they went and wrote some of their best power-pop songs
    so far (“Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “Use It”).


    Fiery Furnaces: EP/Rehearsing My Choir [Rough Trade]
    Another prolific year for the Friedbergers. On one end is their most
    accessible and digestible release so far, and on the other is the most
    multifaceted and emotionally honest. Not to mention that they pissed
    off most of the indie kids – aside from those who chose to listen to Rehearsing My Choir more than twice.


    Broken Social Scene: Broken Social Scene [Arts & Crafts]
    This was certainly unexpected. The record is so concentrated it’s
    hard to believe this band wrote songs like “Pacific Theme” just a few
    years back. But this was the perfect step for the band, which throws in
    a little of everything and everyone.


    The Rest:

    Antony and the Johnsons: I Am a Bird Now [Secretly Canadian]


    Dangerdoom: The Mouse and the Mask [Epitaph]


    The Double: Loose in the Air [Matador]


    Dungen: Ta Det Lugnt [Expanded] [Kemado]


    Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree [4AD]


    Silver Jews: Tanglewood Numbers [Drag City]


    Sleater-Kinney: The Woods [Sub Pop]


    Spoon: Gimmie Fiction [Merge]


    Voxtrot: Raised By Wolves EP [Cult Hero]


    Xiu Xiu: La Foret [5 Rue Christine]



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