Thursday, December 08, 2005

My top 20 albums of 2005

Here are my favourite 20 albums of 2005:

1. New Pornographers: Twin Cinema
Make it 3 for 3 for these Vancouver rockers, with Twin Cinema being as good if not better than their debut, Mass Romantic. Every song on this CD is good if not excellent. It's hooky as hell and you can't help but sing along. Together with Toronto's Broken Social Scene and Montreal's Arcade Fire, Canadian music is alive and very well. Yep, best album of the year, with one of the very best songs of the year, "The Bones of an Idol."

2. Porcupine Tree: Dead Wing
While one of my current favourite bands, I wasn't expecting Porcupine Tree to out perform their outstanding release from 2002, In Absentia. And when the less than flattering reviews eventually came out for Dead Wing, my expectations dropped even further. Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Dead Wing is in fact a very good album. It's a fairly heavy and rocking album, with lots of Tool touches. "Shallow" and "Halo" are instant Porcupine Tree classics. As usual, it has Steve Wilson's wonderful melodies, arrangements and high production values. This is my selection for best prog rock album of 2005.

3. Josh Rouse: Nashville
Uber-talented singer/songwriter/performer Josh Rouse released his 6th album this year -- and what a stunningly well-crafted and beautiful album it is. Titled "Nashville," Rouse has very mildly dipped into the country music pool, giving him a fresh approach to his songs and arrangements. As usual, Rouse's lyrics are excellent, whether they be one line stingers or an entire story (such as the reflectional "Middle School Frown." His Smiths-esque/Morriseyesque track, "Winter in the Hamptons," is one of the best songs of 2005. Awesome.

4. Meshuggah: Catch 33
Mesghuggah offers the best metal and prog-metal album of 2005. Catch 33 is as crushingly brutal as it is inventive. The band maintains a dark and eerie tone throughout giving it a very characteristic and unique feel. Once again, Meshuggah jumps head first into crazy-complex arrangements with each band member often playing in different time signatures, sometimes with quasi-random melodic touches. The result is a very organic sounding CD that offers the listener something new with each listen. No other metal band compares; Meshuggah is the most important metal act around today. Track standouts: "In Death is Life/In Death is Death."

5. Doves: Some Cities
I think Doves are one of the great bands out there right now and their 2005 CD did nothing to change that impression in my mind. Solid from start to finish, Doves have once again crafted their distinct sound around great tracks. It’s a very British sounding album and slightly darker than their previous releases. "Almost Forgot Myself" is a personal favourite.

6. Mars Volta: Frances the Mute
The Mars Volta’s debut, De-Loused in the Comatorium, was my favourite album of 2003, so it's fair to say that I was very much looking forward to their sophomore release. While not as good as Comatorium, The Mars Volta’s second album is still solid enough to earn a spot in my top 10 while boosting them up in my mind as one of the best performance acts in the music business today. It’s schizoid Zeppelinesque and psychedelic prog-rock performed with virtuosic precision. This album is so involved, intricate and in your face that it’s literally exhausting to listen to. “Cassandra Geminni: Tarantism” is as wicked a track sequence as they come.

7. My Morning Jacket: Z
Dreamy alt-country My Morning Jacket have put out the best old-school rock ‘n roll album of the year with Z. They’ve cut back on the extreme reverb they’ve traditionally given to the vocal track, as well as pulling back on the country twang in favour of more rock. The result is arguably their most confident, consistent and focused album yet, if not their best release to date. While maintaining their own characteristic sound, there’s lots to find here: Dylan, The Band, The Who, Neil Young, and even Elton John and Michael Jackson. “Wordless chorus” starts off the CD off with a bang with its celebratory and rambunctious outro. I love this album.

8. Sigur Ros: Takk...
I take Sigur Ros so seriously that any album they put out automatically qualifies for top album consideration. Takk… is yet another solid and innovative release from these Icelandic post-rockers. On this album, however, they’ve (mostly) stayed away from their epic soundscapes in favour of tighter and shorter (and dare I say, more mainstream) tracks. The darkness has also been pulled out in favour of brighter tones created by xylophone and brass arrangements (and even a polka part). The mood of the album is absolutely joyous with an almost Christmassy feel.

9. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
Sufjan Stevens continues his journey across the 50 states, this time stopping in Illinois. And as usual, Stevens has put out another incredibly ambitious CD. This 22-track album has some beautifully folky touches with some wonderful instrumentation, notably some beautifully arranged horns and strings. Muscially, Stevens had brought in musical influences from as far and wide as Philip Glass and the Violent Femmes. And hey, who else can write a delicate and self-reflective song about John Wayne Gacy Jr?

10. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Oh, man this CD is good. It’s Bob Dylan meets Talking Heads meets Strokes meets Interpol meets Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Indeed, despite the heavy reliance on previous New York legends (particularly Talking Heads), these guys still manage to put out a sound that’s quite their own. I love albums that actually get better as the album progresses (an extreme rarity as most tracks on albums get worse as they trundle along). An excellent debut and I hope they keep it up with their following releases.

11. Kaiser Chiefs: Employment
“I predict a riot, I predict a riot!” Nuff said – one of the best tracks of the year on one of the best albums of the year.

12. Antony & The Johnsons: I Am A Bird Now
Yeah, I know – how predictable. But this album is good no matter how you slice it. It’s got emotional punch, soul, and courage. And it’s also got Rufus Wainwright, Boy George, Devendra Banhart and Lou Reed. One review of Antony put it perfectly: “This guy is channeling Boy George and Nina Simone.”

13. M.I.A.: Arular
This album is so good it almost makes we want to dance. Almost. So cheeky, so very cheeky: “Yea, what can I get for 10 dollar? Anything you want.”

14. Audioslave: Out of Exile
Okay, these guys are now officially a cool band. Their eponymous 2002 release sounded like Chris Cornell was using Rage Against the Machine as his back-up band. But with Out of Exile, these guys have hit their stride and found their own unique sound. Don’t get me wrong – there’s still vintage RATM and Soundgarden in there, but there’s now a burgeoning Audioslave sound. “Doesn’t Remind Me” is an instant rock classic, with “Your Time Has Come” and “Out of Exile” providing true rock power.

15. Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
I got into this album mostly because of the great track, “Banquet.” But once the CD grew on me I had to acknowledge that it was a very good album. Gotta love the Brit-rock. Be sure to check out "This Modern Love."

16. Opeth: Ghost Reveries
Swedish symphonic metal band Opeth have earned all the respect given to them, and once again they haven’t let their loyal fans down. It’s another solid effort highlighted by the title track. Darker, occultish themes in this one, so don’t be scared.

17. Supergrass: Road to Rouen
One of my favourite bands, these guys can do no wrong in my eyes. Following their frenetic last album, Life on Other Planets, Supergrass have released a chill-out CD. It’s a bit more laid back and more Zeppelinesque than they ever have been.

18. Oasis: Don't Believe the Truth
Yes, surprise, surprise. But credit where credit is due. Oasis have once again dipped deeply into the 60’s and 70’s bag, taking out lots of Dylan, T-Rex, and Kinks. And it’s sooooo good. If you haven’t heard this one, don’t miss out. Great tracks: “Turn up the Sun,” “Lyla,” and “Guess God Thinks I’m Abel.”

19. Queens of the Stone Age: Lullabies to Paralyze
QOTSA are to rock what Sigur Ros is to post-rock: today’s quintessential band for the genre. And hey, how can anyone not love what emerged from the ashes of Kyuss. Mmmm, “Tangled up in Plaid….” Solid and what you’d expect.

20. System of a Down: Mezmerize
Frank Zappa meets Slayer meets Rage Against the Machine meets Polka. System of a Down are probably the best metal act coming out of the United States today (which isn’t saying much). A fun CD. Gotta love the lyrics to “Violent Pornography” – who else but SOAD could pull that off.

Honourable Mention:
- Beck: Guero
- David Grey: Life in Slow Motion
- Blackfield: Blackfield

Top 5 Disappointments of 2005:
1. Coldplay: X&Y
2. Aimee Mann: The Forgotten Arm
3. White Stripes: Stand Behind Me Satan
4. Soundtrack Of Our Lives: Origin Vol. 1

As an aside, I've been browsing thru a bunch of 'best of' lists for 2005, and soooo many of them are listing Arcade Fire's Funeral. Sorry folks, but that was released in 2004, and if you were paying attention you would have noticed it on many 'best of' lists at the end of last year.


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1 comment:

Jones said...

Good picks. Mine were slightly different, but I liked your reviews. We both agree on Josh Rouse and Antony.