THE 10 BEST ALBUMS OF 2005
(Actually just my 10 favorite, but I get more Google hits this way, plus it’s so controversial!)
10. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods
I mistakenly purchased this album thinking it was the soundtrack to the musical Into the Woods, and after a couple tracks of saying to myself “Little Red Riding Hood sounds fucking pissed,” I realized that it was actually just a band of angry chicks. The name Sleater-Kinney is derived from the ancient Gaelic for the words “lyre” and “yelling” according to a Wikipedia article that I just made up; The Woods is the band's major-label debut, which is probably a good move for them, given that it's also their seventh LP and they ain’t exactly household names, unless your house is made of music blogs. The album’s pretty much straight-up rock; “Entertain" is quite entertaining and "Modern Girl" is quite modern girling, and there’s really no rotten egg in this dozen (actually ten tracks, it’s a stupid baker). I’ll be damned if they don’t sound like Rush at times (I’m not joking, listen to that bridge in “Wilderness”), only difference is they’re actually females, not just mistaken for females, and only 30% of their songs are about dragons as opposed to Rush’s 100%.
9. Fiery Furnaces - EP
Still running on indie fumes from last year’s 76-minute patience-tester Blueberry Boat, The Fiery Furnaces released EP in January ‘05, an EP only in the sense that a 100-minute Scorsese movie could be called a short film. I decided to give these Icy Air Conditioners one more shot, and I was rewarded…in the form of music! “Tropical-Iceland” and “Sweet Spots” are undoubtedly the group’s strongest songs to date, effectively bottling their synthesizer whimsy and Futureheads-esque vocal crap (suck on that adjective, journalists) into bite-sized chunks instead of albums that would test the patience of Sonic Youth. The lyrical spectrum on EP spans from pretty serious (“He beat me he banged me, he swore he would hang me, and I wish I was single again”) to extremely serious (“I’ve seen enough stray ponies and puffins to get me through to the end of May”), but the record’s constant circus atmosphere prevents anything from being taken at face value. Expect plenty more output from the Watery Water Softeners in the coming years, as the Friedbergers appear to be closing in on Robert Pollard’s ability to release albums that are somehow longer than the amount of time that had passed since the previous album.
8. Junior Senior - hey hey my my yo yo
Junior Senior’s declaration “Put on your pants, ‘cause you just might want to dance” autobiographizes this group with comical accuracy, not just because you might want to dance to this album and have pants on while doing so, but because it’s exactly the kind of obstinate, in-your-face naivety that’ll wear down any resolve you might have to not like these guys. hey hey my my yo yo—an improvement on the Neil Young lyric—is chock full of single-worthy pop freak-outs, though the thundering gayness of Junior Senior’s debut album has been supplanted here with just general absurdity. The duo purchased the Madonna “Lucky Star” synthesizer when The 80s had a garage sale (The Darkness bought a genre there), putting it to good use on “itch u can’t skratch,” and the gals from Le Tigre sound uncharacteristically not pissed as guest vocalists on “we r the handclaps,” the album’s catchiest song. No, this record won’t bring about a new world order, or at least one that’s not based on dancing, but come on, if “no no no’s” doesn’t charm the pants off of you, then loosen your fucking pants, you fucking motherfucker.
7. Beck - Guero
After spending 2003’s Sea Change lamenting his lost turntables and microphone, Beck reunited with them on 2005’s Guero and got back to his roots: mumbling nonsensical phrases over catchy Dust Brothers beats. Some critics took their obligatory shots at Guero, bringing up the usual new album critic clichés and calling the cd derivative, which is true, but Odelay wasn’t?? Dude, it’s Beck. His job is to whirl out easily likable hip-hoppy/rocky songs by the single, not to be some new millennial Dylan with sporadic break dancing in place of harmonica playing. It’s true, on Guero, Beck fails to travel back in time and invent the Delta Blues, and for that he should be held accountable. But in the meantime, take a spin through “Girl,” “Missing,” and “Earthquake Weather,” and if you keep the derivative complaints quiet enough, you might catch something you enjoy. In fact, “Que Onda Guero” has been stuck in my head since I first heard it last May; good thing I didn’t make the list back then, or I’d have had a commercial album at #1! Unlike some people, I’m not a loser, baby.
6. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
You can practically taste the tea and crumpet crumbs spewing from the mouth of Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, whose bloody brill-yant vocal chops on 2005’s Silent Alarm earned the singer distinction alongside Lennox Lewis as England’s only other famous black man (Don Cheadle will have to play him if there’s a movie). The immediate public embrace and subsequent hipster backlash that accompanied Silent Alarm reminded me of the Hot Fuss days, but the Killers comparison ends there. Try as dem cri’ic blokes may to toss of Bloc Party’s debut as a couple of singles padded by filler and image—precisely what’s got them (American) Killers in the limelight—the fact remains that this album’s got at least ten ace songs and a right blimey pace (save two sort of ballady things) that makes it an easy listen for even the cleverest of chimney sweeps. It’s a straightforward rock record, but does that mean it counts less? Blimey, these blokes’s’ right knickers, n’iff you don’t agree, then bollocks, I’ll continue to say British things.
5. White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan
Hey, you peppermint-colored assholes, stop making good records. If you’d quit after White Blood Cells, that album would have been remembered forever as some seminal modern classic, frequenting every magazine’s all-time top anything lists and stockpiling myth for decades. Instead, you embarrassed those of us who fell in love with “Fell in Love With a Girl” by effortlessly releasing two even better albums in four years. Well, “effortlessly” might not be the right word, they were on the cover of Spin a record eight billion times in 2003. On Get Behind Me Satan, Jack White tries a bunch of new stuff to go with his gushing homages to all old, vaguely southern music, and there’s not a clunker in the pack of thirteen, plus the more indulgent White gets—”Take, Take, Take,” “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”—the better the songs get. Also, you know what, rest of world? I don’t even have a problem with Meg White’s drumming. Does it really distract people that much, or do they just need that extra layer of cynicism between themselves and a popular band? Get behind them, hype, cause the White Stripes are still batting 1.000 after five albums.
4. Art Brut – Bang Bang Rock And Roll
Art Brut has that irritating Ben Folds habit of not wasting any songs (getting my money’s worth?? Boo!) or throwing away a single lyric (double boo!!) Just about every line on Bang Bang Rock And Roll functions equally well as a celebratory rock declaration and an ironic slap in the face of every self-righteous buzz band, all lined up in a row “Three Stooges” style. On “Formed a Band,” the singer proclaims, “Yes, this is my singing voice, it’s not irony, it’s not rock and roll, we’re just talking to the kids!” He embraces the very sentiment he’s mocking, all wrapped up in a song about rock n’ roll itself that is, itself, a solid rock n’ roll song. It’s roasted irony served on a bed of irony in ironic sauce. The pathetic narrators portrayed in “Emily Kane” and “Good Weekend” are laugh-out loud funny, but don’t miss the impotence lamenting in the deceptively touching “Rusted Guns of Milan,” or the album’s final lyric, “There’s no shame in giving up,” delivered a second before the music abruptly stops. This album is like sweet, sweet candy to my Belle & Sebastian / Ramones loving ears, and when I take that candy out of my ears and eat it, it is tasty.
3. Kanye West - Late Registration
No, this isn’t my affirmative action inclusion on the list, Late Registration is just a flat-out tremendous album. And besides, I hired Frozone as my VP of Sales, so I met those requirements anyway. Music nerds chronically over-intellectualize rap in order to defend its inclusion in their record collections, but when Kanye whips out darkly humorous lines like “When our heroes and heroines got hooked on heroin / Crack raised the murder rate in DC and Maryland / We invested in that it’s like we got Merril-Lynched / And we been hangin from the same tree ever since,” no real defense of the genre is necessary. West blends the tragic with the tragically funny to the point where you can’t choose how to react and just have to accept it; on the particularly emotional “Roses,” West asks “If Magic Johnson got a cure for AIDS / And all the broke muthafuckers past away / You tellin me if my gran was in the NBA / Right now she’d be ok?” The four singles, especially “Heard ‘em Say” (what a voice on Adam Levine, eh?) are as good as most rappers’ top four singles in their careers, to say nothing of the awesome “We Major,” which sounds like a Sonic the Hedgehog level, “Crack Music,” a candidate for a future Kidz Bop, and, of course, a bunch of skits to fuck up your iTunes. Sophomore slump? No Kan-way!
2. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
People were quick to point out the David Byrne influence in the alcohol n’ helium vocals on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but let’s not disregard that white elephant—the singer deserves a “Yorkie” award for out-Thom-Yorking Thom Yorke. It’s not a slight to the group that their warbled lyrics are secondary to the album’s overall sound, which is half unexpectedly epic, half just plain old whiny, whiny fun. “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” is the standout, though it ain’t getting on the radio with that 6-minute length or that dumbass title or that any other aspect about it. The opening song (song?) is a must-skip, and the repetition of “child stars” in the closing track is taking up most of my hard drive, but the rest of this album is an absolute blast, from the initial “what the hell is that noise?” when the vocals chime in on track two to the towering “what the hell is that noise and why am I now addicted to it?” on the album’s best song, “In This Home on Ice.” Clap Your Hands is a refreshingly unique and captivating cd, but be wary of listening to it around non-indie-initiates, cause when they ask “what the hell is this?” you probably won’t be able to answer.
1. Spinto Band – Nice and Nicely Done
I’ve heard a lot of albums in my lifetime—I used to own sixteen Jethro Tull cds (funny…joke, right…?)—but of all those cds and mp3s and Fat Boys Pocket Rockers, I’d say no more than four, maybe five albums have honestly “changed my life.” Spinto Band’s Nice and Nicely Done isn’t one of them, but my point is, given that extraordinarily low percentage, I don’t listen to new albums anymore expecting them—or even wanting them—to alter my existence. I want something I can blast on my way to work that I’ll never get tired of listening to, with songs that don’t force me to machete through thick feedback or overwrought poetry to hear a goddamn melody. Whenever I’m tired of new music or just bored in general, the Spinto album will smile and smash a bottle over its head to cheer me up Belushi style. Pick a track. “Oh Mandy,” “Trust vs. Mistrust,” and “Crack the Whip” should get their own XM Station and just being playing constantly, “Brown Boxes” and “Mountains” bring a colorful, snickering sense of humor into play, and “So Kind, Stacey” and “Did I Tell You” could pass as stunt doubles for love songs. As much as I want these guys to get famous, and I’m sure they will, it’s refreshing to see a band clearly having fun and being able to release a song like “Japan is an Island” without Pitchfork and NME dumping opinions on every lyric. This wasn’t even a difficult #1 choice for me, I’ve listened to this cd three times as much as any of the others on this list. Before you go listen to it and say “yeah, it’s good, but it’s not the BEST album blah blah blah doodoo pants,” think of how often you really feel like listening to monumental strings and soul-stirring poetry and how much more frequently your gut just yearns for something that goes “ding” a lot and makes you happy. You think I’m an idiot? I don’t see your name on the top of the list, fatty. Unless your name is Ten. Then I apologize. I apologize that you have such a stupid name!!! HA.
Seriously, though, thanks for reading.
For other 2005 Best Albums lists, check out Pitchfork, Spin, Rolling Stone, Amazon, NME, and my buddy Rick's List. A detailed Colbert-like explanation of why I differed from these lists is coming up later this week, but for now, I'd love to hear feedback on mine.
For information on how to make your own Top Ten Albums list, check out this article.