10. Eluvium: Talk Amongst the Trees [Temporary Residence]
mornings: water, an ibuprofen breakfast, and waves and waves of Matthew
Cooper’s guitar that have been processed into an unrecognizable climax.
Kills any lingering hangover situation, but early enough to enjoy the
rest of these Zeppelin-length epic pieces.
9. Ghislain Poirier: Breakupdown [Chocolate Industries]
arrangement of laser squeals and stitched-together mini-symphonies is
startlingly abrasive and shattering, even upon first listen. His
technical prowess provided a fitting soundtrack for 2005. Christ, the
techy, bleep-heavy beats on this album are dope.
8. Various Artists: Run the Road [Vice]
London-bred emcees over scraping, dub-heavy beats. They call out their
peers into the street or onto the dance floor, rattling off verses at
head-splitting speed. Sharp, striking and criminally above the beats
and rhymes put out in the United States in 2005.
7. Bloc Party: Silent Alarm [Vice]
at dizzying, confident speeds, with energy surging in each moment. By
the time this storm of great hooks, drums and frantic vocals blows into
the last track, it’s as if a train has whirled by – a big ol’ English
train with side panels that say “We’ve beaten you again.”
6. Boards of Canada: The Campfire Headphase [Warp]
a marketing campaign for vintage synths and warbled tape reels, Boards’
latest also travels into sparse application of guitars and such. The
results are stunning: electronic pieces that are warm enough to bake
pies in. Mmm, that’s some delicious shit. Let’s have another.
5. M.I.A.: Arular [XL]
Sri Lankan Londoner’s back story is only part of this compelling force.
Whether it was her homemade demo’s beats, her homemade wardrobe, or her
obviously homemade dance routines, Maya Arulpragasm plowed into this
year’s elitist indie in-crowd with unstoppable momentum.
4. Four Tet: Everything Ecstatic [Domino]
drums, and more drums. Kieran Hebden sheds the unfortunate genre name
he’s been branded with and unloads a closet full of acid-washed beats –
some soul, some pop, all good.
3. Dr. Dog: Easy Beat [National Parking]
drunk swampy psyche rock, with a blunted snare that sounds as if it
were recorded on a screened-in porch. In fact, this is the kind of shit
I would listen to on my porch, with a pipe and a glass of lemonade.
Then I would chase little bastard kids off my property. “Get off my
property,” I’d say. “This isn’t a park,” I’d say next.
2. Clue to Kalo: One Way, It’s Every Way [Mush]
Aussie Mark Mitchell’s explorations of the Byrds and bedroom electronica culminate in One Way,
and the results are metaphorical and filled with superlatives, like a
‘best of’ list compiled on deadline by an individual who instead wishes
to be out gorging himself (himself, myself, whoever) on delicious
ice-cold beers. Mitchell’s romps are through dimly lit, dampened fields
at dawn, layered to great extent with vocals upon sunny vocals, guitar,
thick organ chords, and occasional programmed beers. I mean “beats.”
1. Stars: Set Yourself on Fire [Arts & Crafts]
There are little musical ideas that pop in on Set Yourself on Fire and
never return. Then there are items that pop in on these elaborately
gorgeous songs that resonate for the album’s length, so that moments in
“Your Ex-Lover is Dead” stay with each subsequent track, never failing
to remind us in “Ageless Beauty” or “One More Night” that another
listen is imperative: There isn’t a cymbal to be missed. Delicate,
1. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty]
were albums this year that rocked harder, albums that made me happier,
albums I listened to more often. But when it comes down to it, none of
them had nearly the emotional impact on me that Illinois had.
It doesn’t matter that I’m not from the state in question, because
Sufjan Stevens is a true universalist, using his subject matter to
focus his profound observations on the human condition. It’s a minor
miracle that such an ambitious album feels so simple, so whole.
2. Feist: Let It Die [Interscope]
her bandmates in Broken Social Scene orchestrate passion in huge,
sloppy strokes, Leslie Feist strips her songs to their barest elements,
dressing them up just so much that they don’t get cold when they go
out. If Feist weren’t such an excellent songwriter, if she were any
less charismatic a singer, Let It Die‘s stylistic grab-bag
might be a scattered mess. Instead each song shines in its own way,
from the title track’s torchy heartbreak to the delirious pop bliss of
“Mushaboom.” This was a great year for female singer-songwriter albums,
and Feist released the best of them all. Let It Die is easily the album I listened to most this year.
3. Common: Be [Geffen]
in this age of bling and bloat, a concise album of straightforward
rhymes and classy beats will stand out by default. But even out of
context, Be is a quiet marvel of a record. Common spins his
empathetic street-prophet yarns with a burnished flow that oozes
sincerity, and Kanye West serves up some of the freshest productions of
his career. The horns kick in on “Real People” like they’re testifying,
and when guest vocalists John Legend and Bilal launch into the sublime
duet at the end of “Faithful,” the heavens crack open for just a
moment. Be isn’t revolutionary, and yet it still feels like a hip-hop classic.
4. Andrew Bird: The Mysterious Production of Eggs [Righteous Babe]
The Mysterious Production of Eggs is
an album composed of tiny details: the way Bird’s whistling hangs in
the background on “Sovay,” the elegant a cappella motet in “A Nervous
Tic Motion of the Head to the Left,” the subtle violin layering
throughout. Though they could easily float by unnoticed, take one away
and the album’s effect wouldn’t be the same. Bird’s songs are wildly
unconventional, but they sound comfortable and eerily familiar. A lot
of that is his voice, a flexible and world-weary croon with the same
emotional depth as the album itself.
5. Cephalic Carnage: Anomalies [Relapse]
metal bands aren’t noted for their subtlety. So how is it that this
fourth platter of skull-crushery from Denver’s kings of hydro-grind
keeps spewing out new ideas with each listen? The band masters every
genre cliché, throws ’em all in a meat grinder and churns out twelve
molten lumps of metallic blutwurst, flecked with chunks of hash. For a
quintet of avowed pot enthusiasts (Exhibit A: lyrics of “Kill For
Weed”), it’s amazing how controlled Cephalic Carnage sounds on Anomalies,
like they could unleash a bowel-loosening doom riff or a blazing
melodic chorus at any moment and it would still sound right. And they
6. Fall of Troy: Döppelganger [Equal Vision]
hear all the same faults in this record I did when I first heard it –
the passionless vocals, insipid emo lyrics and insistence on doing
something novel in every single measure – but after many months, the
thing is still welded in to my CD player. Fall of Troy is a very young
band, neither wedded to hardcore tradition nor jaded enough to think
that their prog-rock and emo influences aren’t cool. As a result, Doppelganger‘s über-complex screamo is joyous and virtuosic. Don’t believe the album title. Fall of Troy sounds like nobody else.
7. Bad Dudes: Bad Dudes [Brain Burger]
if it can’t compare to their raucous live show, the debut CD by the Bad
Dudes (best band in Los Angeles, hands down) is fucking rad. Its
impeccably composed new-wave video-game soundtracks are stuffed to the
gills with hooks and harmonized fills, often delivered in hyperspeed
bursts of syncopated fury. The album is expertly paced, too,
alternating instrumental and vocal songs, slower and faster material,
and wisely intermingling the many perfect tracks with the merely
brilliant ones. At thirty-one minutes Bad Dudes is about seven
hours too short. Make sure you’ve stretched and warmed up your voice
before spinning it, ’cause you’re gonna want to jump around and yell.
8. The Books: Lost and Safe [Tomlab]
Listen to Lost and Safe at
high volumes. Let it saturate your consciousness. Stop talking. Note
how it seems more robotic than their previous albums. Note how it seems
just as human as their previous albums. Think about what an achievement
this is. Put “Smells Like Content” in the middle of every single mix
you make this year. Wake up to this album every day. Go to sleep to it
every night. If significant others do not enjoy it, dump them. Don’t
explain why – they won’t understand. This album could be your life.
9. DangerDoom: DangerDoom [Epitaph]
the rest of the indie hip-hop world raps about consciousness,
relationships and politics, MF Doom prefers oddball wordplay (“sing a
song of slap-happy crappiness/ he came to blow like it was strapped to
his nappy chest”), non-sequiturs and shaggy-dog stories. DJ Danger
Mouse is the perfect foil, wrapping Doom’s blunted flow in funky
shag-carpet beats. And in a bizarre coup, the skits that feature
characters from the Adult Swim Network never get tired. If there’s a
loopier hip-hop album in existence, I don’t know if I could handle it.
10. Thunderbirds Are Now!: Justamustache [French Kiss]
Party might be weightier, Q and Not U smarter and the Futureheads more
lovable, but Thunderbirds Are Now! is the most fun of the danceable
post-punk bands that’ve sprung up over the last few years. There’s just
no denying the sloppy hooks that barb every Technicolor song on Justamustache.
If momentum were currency, these guys could buy out Bill Gates and
still have enough to send a case of Cristal to every member of Broken
Social Scene and the Wu-Tang Clan.
11. Mark Dresser/Denman Maroney: Time Changes [Cryptogramophone]
rare for an instrumental album to be so complex and so simply beautiful
at the same time. As the title implies, Time Changes is all about
rhythm, with tricky time signatures rubbing against each other like
shifting tectonic plates. But there’s not a whiff of academia in these
off-kilter compositions. Mark Dresser’s contrabass is a living thing,
throbbing and pouncing around Denman Maroney’s prickly piano excursions
and Michael Sarin’s understated percussion. And when Alexandra Montano
joins the fray with her sublime wordless vocals, Time Changes moves
from merely wonderful to positively rapturous.
12. The Red Chord: Clients [Metal Blade]
Red Chord play a grinding amalgam of death metal and hardcore that
somehow never oppresses the ears like so many out-and-out brutal bands
do. Clients was the most plainly ferocious album in my entire
CD collection until I read the lyrics sheet and realized that the
vocalist was saying silly shit like “I’m not a Democrat/ I’m a
conversationalist/ If your aunt had balls/ she’d be your uncle.” Now
it’s the silliest, most ferocious album in my collection.
13. Ani DiFranco: Knuckle Down (Righteous Babe)
For her fourteenth album, Ani DiFranco finds the perfect middle ground between the indulgence of Revelling:Reckoning (2001) and the stripped-down songcraft of Educated Guess (2004). Knuckle Down is
an album of stillness and reflection – DiFranco means it when she muses
“I think I communicate best now, the less I say” on the title track –
but whatever it lacks in verve, it more than makes up for with a
crystalline set of DiFranco’s most memorable tunes in years, elegantly
packaged by producer Joe Henry. Fifteen years after she started paving
her own way, DiFranco still can’t be touched.
14. Barbez: Insignificance [Important]
the distance in between the Russian gulag, Weimar-era Germany and
Brooklyn’s loft scene, Barbez’s third album of disturbing art rock
trickles and creaks and explodes in slow motion. With a singer as
artfully deranged as Ksenia Vidyaykina, Insignificance doesn’t really need a marimba or theremin or modified Palm Pilot to deepen its weirdness. But it’s got ’em anyway.
15. Between the Buried and Me: Alaska [Victory]
the Buried and Me’s hyper-technical blend of every single metal genre
is so tightly composed that it may as well be modern classical music.
You can’t headbang to Between the Buried and Me, and you don’t really
want to, otherwise you might miss something. The band’s third disc
piles on the jagged riffs and ludicrously well-rehearsed tempo changes,
even adding some keyboards and acoustic passages to differentiate it
from the last two. And if you’re scared of blast-beats and death metal
growling, be patient – there’s a melodic sweep-picking solo or emo
chorus right around the corner, just for you.
1. Common: Be [Geffen]
so there are songs on this album I listened to twice and never again,
and I wish the two Dilla beats were more rugged (why “The Movement” was
put on a video-game soundtrack instead of this album I’ll never know).
But Common has a way of inspiring you and making his songs a part of
your everyday life that is refreshing, especially coming from a hip-hop
world obsessed with telling you about everything you’ll never have.
Hip-hop got one of its favorite emcees back. Pretty much everyone I
know bought this and bumped it everywhere they went this summer.
2. Kanye West: Late Registration [Roc-A-Fella]
got criticisms, and I was asked more than once to stick up for the
record track by track. That’s difficult, but the ambition of this
project overrides its faults. Kanye goes big and he doesn’t apologize
for it, and the production value (courtesy of Jon Brion) may be higher
than on any hip-hop album ever made (play one of these loop records
next to this and it just sounds silly). This is Kanye upping the ante
for musicianship in hip-hop – every track is plush and full and hits in
all the right places (listen to “We Major” and tell me I’m wrong). He
crafts rhymes based around the beat, which gives him an automatic
advantage over eighty percent of the rappers out there today, and he
drops some of the funniest lines all year (first verse on “Gone” still
makes me laugh in three different places). And even when he says stupid
shit (“I know the government administers AIDS”) he finds ways to make
other points relevant (maybe if his grandmother was in the NBA she
wouldn’t be on life support). Yeah, he’s arrogant as fuck, but he
convinced everyone you know to buy the most important hip-hop album all
year. And, honestly, who would you rather the kids were bumping: Kanye
3. Platinum Pied Pipers: Triple P [Ubiquity]
thought about making this my number one, and I still think a case can
be made. Waajeed is a beast on the MPC, and nobody came harder with the
drums than he did on this record. He takes rugged backdrops and throws
singers over top of that to create a sound all his own. Tiombe Lockhart
is one of the most talented and interesting singers working today, and
Georgia Ann is set to make noise over at Stones Throw. If you told me
one of the illest songs I’d hear all year featured a white girl rapping
about “Detroit Winter,” I would have laughed in your face, but that
piano alone will give you the chills. The joint with Sa-Ra makes dance
floors happy, and “Stay With Me” keeps beds warm. Highly underrated and
heavily recommended. If you still have doubts, see Waajeed and Saadiq
and their band live and you’ll come away a believer. Trust.
4. Edan: Beauty and the Beat [Lewis]
With Beauty and the Beat
Edan’s built a whole new machine combining Brit mod-rock chops with
Cold Chillin’-sounding raps. This is easily some of the most innovative
use of samples you’ll hear all year, and if you can get over Edan’s
over-accented delivery you’re in for a real treat. Either way there is
no denying the creativity behind this tightly wrapped package, from the
cover art, to well chosen guest appearances, to seamless segues between
5. Gilles Peterson Presents BBC Sessions Vol. 1 [RRM]
Peterson has the world’s most influential radio show, but for some
reason the BBC doesn’t archive it (Giant Step does). So to have on CD
some of the very best live sessions from Beck, Bjork, the Roots,
Common, Matthew Herbert, Roots Manuva and N.E.R.D is a real blessing.
The real highlights are provided by Jazzmine Sullivan, Beth Gibbons and
a crowd-pleasing version of Pharrell’s “Frontin’ ” by Jamie Cullum.
Production/recording quality, sequencing and song selection are all
6. David Axelrod: The Edge: David Axelrod at Capitol 19661970 [Blue Note]
fantastic and well-deserved reissue of some classic Axelrod gems –
heavily sampled (Madlib, Diamond, Dr. Dre) for his full drums and
cinematic soundscapes. This collects some of the best tracks from his
infamous Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience
albums and puts them together with some of his work with other artists,
such as Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley. The word “genius” gets
abused, but after listening to this comp, that’s the word that comes
immediately to mind. Amazing.
7. Andrew Bird: Mysterious Production of Eggs [Righteous Babe]
can’t say it any better than this: “His beginnings as a violinist long
behind him, Chicago-born Andrew Bird has been sculpting ever more
complex and convincing musical worlds since his first album in 1997. On
his fifth release, Bird offers up no answers to the mysteries in the
world around us but does take on the thornier elements with poetic
verve. The instrumentation is bracingly inventive, but never for mere
shenanigans or showmanship. The songs are each a perfectly formed
vignette. And he’s a world-class whistler; not the loud summoning
blast, but the supple and nuanced vibrato-laced melodicism of a master.
There is no shortage of utterly riveting songs here. They work their
magic on their own believable terms, without a hint of cloying
nostalgia or riff-fueled seduction.” ~ David Greenberger
8. Sam Prekop: Who’s Your New Professor? [Thrill Jockey]
fine wine for audiophiles. This isn’t a whole lot different than what
Prekop does with his band Sea & Cake, but there is a subtle jazz
element that makes me favor this over some of the band’s excellent
work. When I was riding trains through Europe this record won every
9. P-Love: All Up in Your Mind [Ninja Tune]
great little bedroom-instrumental record that sounds great in your
bedroom. Paolo Kapunan is a one-man army, playing and arranging almost
everything on this record himself. Respect due.
10. Maspyke: Static [ABB Soul]
you told me this album was made in 1995 and just now surfaced, I
wouldn’t be surprised. These cats do the throwback thing a lot more
thorough than most (including much-hyped labelmates) by sticking to the
basics: one deejay, two emcees, beats, rhymes, punch lines, hooks and a
steady bounce. You’re not going to hear me complaining.
11. White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan [V2]
12. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine (Jon Brion version) [Epic/Clean Slate]
13. Koushik: Be There [Stones Throw]
14. Damian Marley: Welcome to Jamrock [Universal]
15. LCD Soundsystem: LCD Soundsystem [DFA/Capitol]
16. M.I.A.: Arular [XL]
17. Prefuse 73: Surrounded by Silence [Warp]
18. Blockhead: Downtown Science [Ninja Tune]
19. Ohmega Watts: The Find [Ubiquity]
1. Kanye West “Late” [Roc-A-Fella]
2. White Stripes “Denial Twist” [V2]
3. Madlib/Quasimoto “Raw Addict 2” [Stones Throw]
4. Spacek/Dilla “Dollar” [Sound in Color]
5. Damian Marley “Welcome to Jamrock” [Universal]
6. M.I.A. “Galang” [XL]
7. Lil’ Kim “Lighters Up” [Atlantic]
8. Young Jeezy w/Jay-Z “Go Crazy” (Remix) [Def Jam]
9. Waajeed “Funk in the Hole” (Bling47 Roy Ayers Remix) [Rapster]
10. Amerie “1 Thing” [Sony Urban Music/Columbia]
11. Jneiro Jarel “Big Bounce Theory” [Rope-A-Dope]
12. Rich Medina featuring Sy Smith “Can’t Hold Back” [Kindred Spirits]
13. M.E.D./Madlib “Nightlife” [Stones Throw]
14. Radio City “The Hop” [Ubiquity]
15. LCD Soundsystem “Tribulations” [DFA/Capitol]
Orange Juice: The Glasgow School [Domino]
I’m cheating, considering that The Glasgow School is
a compilation of previously released songs and not a re-release. But
it’s taking the place of both obviously perfect Stooges reissues. And
it deserves mention because Edwyn Collins, despite having one of the
eeriest voices this side of Christopher Walken, can make me swoon like
no other with songs such as “Louise Louise,” “Lovesick” and
Dungen: Ta Det Lugnt [Expanded] [Kemado]
this been released in 2005, it would have topped my list. The extra
material is a perfect continuation of the original album (released in
2004 by Subliminal Sounds): catchy but not poppy, unafraid to rock out
but agreeable at any time of day. And Swedish.
The Mirrors: A Green Dream [Birdman]
Greg Ashley was off releasing a new album with his band the Gris Gris
and producing the debut for the Time Flys, Birdman Records re-released A Green Dream,
which was released on vinyl in 2001 by Ashley’s former band, the
Mirrors. The concept was the same as the Gris Gris’s – same style of
retro psych-rock – but the Mirrors were a little rawer, a little
dreamier, a little more Texan, and a lot less legal.
Psychic Paramount: Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural [No Quarter]
appeared to receive absolutely no press, and it may be partially due to
its lack of accessibility. Combining five songs (or blocks of thrashing
noise) that blend together in an unyielding wall of guitar that goes
forward and backward and forward again, the Psychic Paramount will make
your ears bleed as long as you’ll let them.
Clearlake: Wonder if the Snow Will Settle [Domino]
of the best bands to emerge from Britain, Clearlake boasts a vocalist
with a beautifully thick voice and an EP that’s packed with more
Christmas than the Chipmunks ever could have striven for.
Iron and Wine: Woman King [Sub Pop]
More Southern than anything Sam Beam’s released on his own and more tasteful than anything your boyfriend ever wrote for you.
1. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine [Epic]
Jon Brion’s version flows more fluidly than Mike Elizondo’s and adds a
playful, theatrical touch that’s not on the officially released album.
But Elizondo’s stripped-down production only shows that Apple’s great
songwriting ability is strong enough to make her stand out regardless
of who works with her. I look forward to her next release, due in 2012.
2. Constantines: Tournament of Hearts [Sub Pop]
of few bands that sounds flawless both live and on record. I have to
stop whatever I’m doing when I put on a Constantines record. Aggressive
but less punk than 2003’s Shine a Light, this is the album that
displays Bryan Webb’s voice at its best: a commanding bark with an
inexplicably soft, comforting feel that adapts perfectly to the most
intense or melodic songs. I’ve listened to this album more than any
other on my list this year.
3. Langhorne Slim: When the Sun’s Gone Down [Narnack]
who claims to hate country music should listen to this. More punk than
any band calling itself punk at the moment, Slim and his guitar have
more energy than most children and four-piece bands can hope to. Every
song is a standout – and great to sing along to.
4. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty]
I have a difficult time listening to Illinois straight
through because of its length and my need to be in the right mood, but
every time I hear one of these tracks, I fall in love with Stevens all
over again. And, no, it’s not just because he’s fucking gorgeous.
5. Caribou: The Milk of Human Kindness [Domino]
This is why the drums are my favorite instrument.
6. 13 & God: 13 & God [Anticon]
Anticon releases all sorts of goodies, but alongside Odd Nosdam’s Burner (also released this year) and Clouddead’s Ten (2004),
this is probably one of the label’s best. It’s a great blend of
electronic music and hip-hop (not to mention unmistakable Doseone
vocals) for anyone not deeply into either genre, and it’s a record to
listen to in one sitting, chilling through its entirety.
7. The Gris Gris: For the Season [Birdman]
Though not quite as addictive as the band’s 2004 self-titled debut, For the Season offers
more experimentation and is more “psych” than “rock.” “Year Zero” is
one of the best droning messes to come out all year. And who wouldn’t
want to turn “Down with Jesus” into a sing-along?
8. Devendra Banhart: Cripple Crow [XL]
little long, but it nearly sounds authentic as a 1960s folk album that
incorporates perfect amounts of soul and Spanish folk. And it’s less
pretentious than a Banhart record should be, making it the perfect
place to start for anyone looking to get into the bearded one’s music.
9. Common: Be [Geffen]
not a hip-hop devotee (I really only started liking it this year), but
this grabbed me from first listen because of the way it blends classic
soul and jazz into its beats. My favorite part of this record is that
while all the refined fans are analyzing production differences between
Common’s albums, I can sit and admire how soothing and smooth his voice
is, simply because it’s there for the taking.
10. Ris Paul Ric: Purple Blaze [Academy Fight Song]
always ignored Q and Not U out of laziness, but now that Chris Paul
Richards has an album of his own, I can admire him as he impersonates
Michael Jackson and shows how he fucks things up with an acoustic
guitar in his bedroom. (No, “acoustic guitar” is not a metaphor for
11. Degenerate Art Ensemble: The Bastress [Tellous]
The Bastress isn’t
just on the list because two of its best songs were written by members
of Seattle’s Dead Science (who moonlight in Degenerate Art Ensemble and
own a small piece of my heart). It’s on here because the band is
ever-evolving and because Haruko Nishimura’s frantic cries are a prime
match for the experimental jazz-punk the group throws at you.
12. AK-Momo: Return to N.Y. [Exergy]
the list had to include a pick for “raunchiest album of the year.” It’s
lounge-y and dirty and it features a female vocalist whose voice
resembles Joanna Newsom or Kate Bush at her highest soprano. I’m in awe.
13. The Books: Lost and Safe [Tomlab]
from Matmos, the Books’ combination of acoustic guitar and
god-knows-what-else is untouched by any other band. “It Never Changes
to Stop” makes me stop what I’m doing to listen regardless of where I
14. The Time Flys: Fly [Birdman]
overlooked, and something that should be heard by those who adopted the
Beautiful New Born Children as their favorite garage-rock band of 2005.
This is the album that the Exploding Hearts could have made if they
were still around and recruited Greg Ashley to produce a record that’s
rawer, faster, and more repetitive than anything else they’d done
15. Deerhoof: The Runners Four [Kill Rock Stars]
A great drummer, a tiny singer and more fearlessness than most bands have. Deerhoof may be the Perfect Band.
Staff Picks Page 1, Page 2, Page 4, Page 5
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