Little Brother: The Minstrel Show [Atlantic]
closest 2005 came to a classic hip-hop record, the trio from North
Carolina expresses the ever-growing frustration many have with the
growing emphasis of materialism and sexism hip-hop, all in the key of
that soulful post-Native Tongue boom-bap.
Common: Be [Geffen]
dubbed a classic before it even hit the shelves, Common got his
Chi-town swagger back and proved an emcee can be resurrected twice.
DJ Muggs vs. GZA: Grandmasters [Angeles]
Easily one of the best post-Forever releases, the eldest Wu general links up with the beat-smith behind Cypress Hill to illustrate and elevate the art of lyricism.
DangerDoom: The Mouse and the Mask [Epitaph] MF Doom + Danger Mouse + Adult Swim = Freakin’ Awesome.
Cage: Hell’s Winter [Def Jux]
original prince of drug rap is back with a provocative release, delving
into (amongst other things) his abusive relationship with his
heroin-addicted stepdad, with George Bush and with domestic politics,
and he even serves up a piece of his New York State of Mind with El-P,
Blockhead and DJ Shadow supplying the raw product.
Kanye West: Late Registration [Roc-A-Fella]
The most anticipated hip-hop album of the year delivered the production necessary to surpass his 2004 debut, The College Dropout, but
failed to deliver the lyrical wit and braggadocio to match. Regardless,
Mr. West still dropped the hottest line of year: “George Bush doesn’t
care about black people.”
Beanie Sigel: The B.Coming [Def Jam]
Recorded prior to Beanie’s trial for attempted murder, The B.Coming paints
a picture of a man boxed into utter hopelessness and staring down the
face of barrel. Desperation and hunger drive Beanie to record the
definitive album of his career and finally realize his potential.
AZ: A.W.O.L. [Koch] A throwback to the ’95 golden era, A.W.O.L. won’t
bring hip-hop back to the good ole days, but for just a moment AZ
relights the torch and carries New York City on his back.
Platinum Pied Pipers: Triple P [Ubiquity]
Producer Wajeed steps out of the shadow of J-Dilla and Slum Village to mastermind an R&B version of The Chronic.
With mostly unknowns lacing the vocals, Tiombe Lockhart shines, making
her upcoming project with Wajeed a strong contender for Top 10 in ’06.
The Game: The Documentary [Aftermath]
Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Just Blaze, Scott Storch, Hi-Tek, Needlz, Buckwild
and Mike Elizondo providing production, even the hapless Tony Yayo
could kill this album. Oh, wait, I take that back. G-Unot.
Sufjan Stevens: Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty]
from Michigan-related words that are hard to say (“Taquahemon”) to
Illinois-related words that are hard to say (“Casimir Pulaski”), Sufjan
both re-kitsches the fifty-states project (“Come on! Feel the
Illinoise”) and continues to write songs too pretty to write off as
kitsch. I play “Decatur” wherever I go and judge people on their
Kathleen Edwards: Back to Me [Zoe]
Edwards’s countriest fans may argue for the superior merits of her ’03 debut, Failer, but the best tracks on Back to Me show her maturation as a penner of hooks. She’s Lucinda’s heiress, only she sings better. Don’t miss her live.
Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary [Sub Pop]
It doesn’t touch Funeral,
so let’s not fool around with that argument, but “You Are a Runner and
I Am My Father’s Son” should vie for Canadian Song of the Year. It’s
about the drums, everybody. These Canadian bands wail on the skins like
they just got conscripted.
Feist: Let It Die [Interscope]
Social Scener and Peaches confidante Leslie Feist went out and made a
soul-jazz album. Didn’t she listen to the teaches of Peaches? (Has
anyone ever listened to the teaches of Peaches? Does Peaches honestly
think that’s a realistic suggestion?) This one’s smart and sweet – an
unlikely solution for aging boomers pining for Armatrading.
Joe Lovano: Joyous Encounter [Blue Note/EMI]
year, another excellent jazz album ignored. Playing the Redman and
Mehldau this year is saxman Lovano. Turning to bop after years in more
experimental outfits, Lovano brings an outsider’s touch to jazz’s
marquee songbook. A crew of should-be-better-known sessioners ties
Eels: Blinking Lights and Other Revelations [Vagrant]
Everett has a knack for making the intimate sound fuzzy and foreign,
but this one’s a veritable historical document, seeping sepia from
every pore. Framing Everett’s childhood against a native Virginia
cloaked in the Southern Gothic, it’s evocative, epochal and stubbornly
inconsistent. Use it like you would a collection of short stories,
keeping it close and dog-earing pages.
New Pornographers: Twin Cinema [Matador]
Case and A.C. Newman make such good solo albums, it almost seems like
cheating for them to keep recording together. That said, they often
coast when in tandem; even the beloved Mass Romantic fell short of their hefty talent. Recorded since Newman came into his own on The Slow Wonder, Twin Cinema is the group’s strongest set so far.
Dirty Projectors: The Getty Address [Western Vinyl]
rock often toes the line between brilliance and chaos, and that’s
rarely truer than on Dave Longstreth’s schizoid paean to Don Henley. A
collage of gothic chamber music and seantific incantation linked up
with indie-pop song skeletons, the album is atrocious to some (and when
played live, a mess to all). But have patience and it takes shape.
Prefuse 73: Surrounded by Silence [Warp]
easy to heap blame on Scott Herren for this messy, ambitious record. I
dig the mess. There’s too much going on, tracks feel too personal,
people are yelling, nobody’s quite comfortable. I understand if you
think it’s a reckless showcase, but I think it’s the sound of folks
Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine [Epic/Clean Slate]
the Jon Brion debate even matter? Point is, the translucent chanteuse
is back, and on either version, she’s still doing what she always did
best: turning dull, happy days into eloquently sad ones.
1. The Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree [4AD]
fifteen years, forty releases and visits to (apparently) every city in
the world, John Darnielle finally releases a cohesive record – a
semiautobiographical road-trip journal of definitive beauty. Angst for
2. Juelz Santana: What The Game’s Been Missing [Def Jam]
record would’ve still been number two if it were instrumental. The fact
that Santana is an unstoppable crack-rap prophet/crack-pot poet made it
a contender for number one.
3. The Double: Loose in the Air [Matador]
And the air will never be the same again.
4. Aesop Rock: Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives [Def Jux]
EP contained more quality material than most full length rap records
this year. It also breathed new life into Mr. Rock’s back catalogue
with The Living Human Curiosity Sideshow, a career-spanning lyric book.
5. Animal Collective: Feels [FatCat]
The collective is destined to break out with this pop masterpiece.
6. Paul Wall: The People’s Champ [Swishahouse/Asylum/Atlantic]
muthafucka is so ugly that his teeth ran away from his face, but each
of his new shiny gold ones represents a million new fans.
7. Phantom Buffalo: Shishimumu [Rough Trade]
This was previously released as the Ponys’ Shishimumu a few years ago by Time-Lag Records. After signing to Rough Trade this year (and after a name change), Shishimumu continues to be a golden collection of indie-pop that still sounds current years after conception.
8. Scaramanga: Cobra Commander [Sun Large]
Scaramanga: Snake Eyes [Sun Large]
Sir Menelek: Cyclops 4000: The Einstein Rosen Bridge [Sun Large]
releases in one year by this former Kool Keith collaborator. Scaramanga
is like a substitute teacher who is way cooler than old Professor Wu
9. Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney: Superwolf [Drag City]
Twisted narratives and musical integrity play like a long lost classic from the Harry Smith archives.
10. Tapes N Tapes: The Loon [Ibid]
11. Quasimoto: The Further Adventures of Lord Quas [Stones Throw]
12. Gorillaz: Demon Days [Virgin]
13. Devin Davis: Lonely People of the World Unite [Mousse]
14. Modey Lemon: The Curious City [Birdman]
15. Half Handed Cloud: Thy Is a Word & Feet Need Lamps [Asthmatic Kitty]
16. Lucknow Pact: Youth Is for the Old [Hit in Yo Soul]
17. Queens of the Stone Age: Lullabys to Paralyze [Ant Acid Audio]
18. Dengue Fever: Escape From Dragon House [BRG]
19. Qwel: Dark Day [Galapagos 4]