Saturday, December 31, 2005

Best of 2005: Music

This is the first in a series of three articles that will cover my favorite stuff of 2005, following this will be TV and then film. So, this post will cover my top 10 albums of 2005. In terms of new music, this was actually a really strong year. I know most top ten lists are supposed to say it was a weak year, but looking at this year's crop of stuff, there were another ten strong albums I could have thrown on here.

10. Sufjan Stevens - Come on, Feel the Illinoise!: This album was a big hit in blog circles and after listening to it, it's easy to see why. It's a 75 minute album that functions like a suite more than a collection of songs, with some themes returning in different songs and everything building to a great finale. It's such an ambitious work, with a lot of eclectic instrumentation and songs that vary from exclamatory marches to the quiet darkness of 'John Wayne Gacy Jr.' I've only listened to this a few times, but each time I like it more.

Standout Track: They Are Night Zombies

9. Rachel Stevens - Come and Get It: This is an unashamedly pop album, with each song serving as a potential top radio hit. It all sounds contemporary but at the same time crosses into 70s glam rock and 80s synth pop. Much like Gwen Stefani's solo stuff, it sounds like your idealized memory of what 80s pop is like, rather than the real thing. It's catchy, glossy and always fun to listen to.

Standout Track: I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)

8. Depeche Mode - Playing the Angel: Much like Morrissey's 'You Are the Quarry,' this album takes everything you loved about the group in the 80s and updates it to today with a standout album. I would actually consider this their best album, with a really dark, forboding feel. Right from the first track it's clear that this is a bit of an update for Depeche, and on 'John the Revelator,' things go off in a techno gospel direction. 'Precious' sounds like the lost Depeche single from the 'Enjoy the Silence' era. It's a very moody, atmospheric album, top notch listening.

Standout Track: John the Revelator

7. Bob Mould - Body of Song: This is basically a rock album, but with some great techno flourishes at time. The thing I love about good techno music is the way it's primarily based around loops, adding and subtracting elements as the song progresses. So much of contemporary rock seems to be about having everything at 11 all the time, with drums going to excess and the singer screaming. This music, like Depeche Mode, is pretty dark at times, but it's never ugly. Mould has fantastic guitar work and really catchy songs, like the anthemic 'Paralyzed' or 'Circles.' However, the top track is definitely the vocoder backed '(Shine Your) Light Love Hope.'

Standout Track: (Shine Your) Light Love Hope

6. Gorillaz - Demon Dayz: I loved the first Gorillaz album, but I was a bit concerned when I heard that Dan the Automator wasn't going to be producing this one. However, Danger Mouse has made an album that's much darker than the original and equally good. The album uses hip-hop style beats with a lot of elements that are more typically rock, a combination that works really well on the single, 'Feel Good Inc.' which has a fantastic rock chorus (that's remarkably similar to U2's 'Staring at the Sun') but also some excellent rapping, such that it really is the best of both worlds. 'Dare' is ridiculously catchy and 'White Light' is another highlight. However, the best part of the album for me is the closing suite of songs that starts with a bizarre Dennis Hopper narrated story and builds up to a chorus backed finale on the title track.

Standout Track: Feel Good Inc.

5. Doves - Some Cities: Doves' Last Broadcast is one of my favorite albums of all time and this was definitely a worthy followup. Doves are great at doing exhilirating rock songs and 'Black and White Town' and 'Sky Starts Falling' are full of energy and life. 'The Storm' has a very cool trip hop feel, it's something I'd love to use in a film. The best track by far is 'Snowden' which has some of the most beautiful guitar work I've ever heard.

Standout Track: Snowden

4. Moby - Hotel: This was a really hated album, but listening to this thing, I think it's brilliant. Moby moves towards a more rock sound, but keeps the structural principles of dance music, meaning that rather than lyrics providing the base of the music, it's the actual music. So, a track like 'Beautiful' or 'Raining Again' may have very simple structures, but the way they build to the chorus is incredibly rewarding, particularly the driving build on the latter. I guess what this album does is combine the sound of indie rock and techno with the songwriting style of stadium rock, building anthems around loops and dark guitar. I think it works wonderfully.

Standout Track: Raining Again

3. Annie - Anniemal: One of the best pop albums of all time, every track has a gorgeous sheen, backed by perfect production. Annie's voice isn't that strong, but within the synth and bass environment of the songs, it works perfectly, the whispiness floating over the instruments, whether on the goofy fun 'Chewing Gum' or melancholy 'My Best Friend.' However, the standout track is 'Heartbeat,' which uses a driving bass to represent her racing heart over the course of a night at a party. Lyrically, it's surprisingly nuanced and on the whole, it's a perfect pop song.

Standout Track: Heartbeat

2. United State of Electronica - U.S.E: A fusion of Daft Punk style vocoder techno and Polyphonic Spree style anthemic songs, this is basically the perfect band for me. The songs take the same anthemic style of The Spree, but with a more party feel than the psuedo-religiousness of The Spree. The opening track states that "It Is On" and indeed it is right from there. Every track is catchy and layered with great instrumentals. There's also a nice variation between tracks, most notably on the very disco 'Night Shift.' If this album doesn't make you happy, something is wrong with you.

Standout Track: Emerald City

1. The Raveonettes - Pretty in Black: Once again, a fusion of retro and modern to create something new. Listening to this album the first time, I was struck by how 50s it sounded, but a couple more listening revealed that this was much more than 50s pastiche, it's updating the sounds of 50s rock and 60s girl group music into something darker and contemporary. There's two really strong rockers 'You Say, You Lie' and 'Twilight,' which takes the Twilight Zone theme song as its bass line. Then there's ballads, 'Here Comes Mary' and 'Ode to L.A.,' the latter which features gorgeous ethereal vocals. However, the two highlights of the album are 'Sleepwalking' and 'Uncertain Times.' 'Sleepwalking' has a slo-mo chorus, which then breaks into a hyper rocking verse, combining the best of their rock and ballad stuff. 'Uncertain Times' is incredibly beautiful, with a reckless abandon. It's one of the best tracks of the year and this is by far the best album of the year.

Standout Track: Uncertain Times

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like your list. Some really good albums there. Have you heard M.I.A.? It's really really good, and I think you might like it.