2005 was another strange year in music. I got to hear most of what I wanted to hear this year, but not all. These nine albums are chosen from what I heard. Considering 9 billion albums were released this year, these nine albums may not even come in the top million, but of the hundred or so albums I've heard this year, these are my top nine. Keeping to nine was extrememly tough this year, though. Making this list made me sweat.
If you have stumbled upon this and don't know who I am, I am a guy who is absorbed in the world of music. I listen to it a lot, I read about it a lot, and I think about it a lot. I am also a musician (who doesn't favor any particular instrument) and I have DJ'd for several years. So, while this list is just my opinion and nothing more, I am pretty well-informed.
I have included whether each album contains a parental advisory or not so you can find the version you so desire, if you are interested. Well, here is the list. I hope you enjoy it:
9. Project 86-...And the Rest Will Follow--Project 86 has finally been given (near) complete freedom to make the record they want to make, and without baggage. The thing is, vocalist, Andrew Schwab, can't seem to do this. If their last album, the rage-punk-experimental masterpiece, Song To Burn Your Bridges By(last year's #5), was a manifesto against the corporate music machine that stabbed Project in the back, this album is a manifesto both for and against the popular notion of Project 86. The opening line, "We once drew some lines in black/and now it's about time we took them back" is an immediate reference to the title of Project's second album, Drawing Black Lines. The song speaks of taking back something that was stolen and cutting off dead weight. In other words, Project is now back on track with fan favorite, DBL. ATRWF is heavy in DBL references, as if Schwab is haunted with that album's Gold-selling success. How does ATRWF do? Project drops the concept album thing, and adds, well, everything else. They still do the fist through the windshield, slam someone's face into the wall jam, but they have amped up the number of introspective ballads. This isn't "Project 86, Staind Edition", though. Project still keeps that dark, experimental edge they have always had that keeps them head and shoulders above their peers. They still have Schwab's unique, introspective lyrics and vocal delivery. This album is not as cohesive as the past three, but it is loaded with great songs. Project continues to push the envelope of what is possible in "Heavy" music, and music in general.
Parental Advisory: No
8. The Mars Volta-Frances the Mute--TMVs first album, De-Loused in the Comatorium, gave many people headaches. They sounded like Rush/At the Drive-In/Frank Zappa/and sounds of the Amazon Rainforest. However, that album had ten great songs, masterfully played, and reminiscent of another world. FTM is similar--it does take you to another world. It is dissimilar in that it is 80 minutes long, and only consists of five songs, one of which is 35 minutes long. There are songs buried in here, but they are trapped between walls of obnoxious, overindulgent noise. The thing is, when the songs burst out, they are incredible Latin-tinged grooves with crazy spinning guitar, ridiculously well-played drums, and Bjork-like vocals, sung by a man. This is really an album that requires patience and the right mood. If one can stand it, one is basically thrown into an apocalyptic (let's say right before an Asteroid hits) carnival-city, given GHB, and thrown into a street alley as the parade floats go by. Does that sound appealing? Well, sometimes some of the colors swirl together and look really cool, and sometimes the music coming from up on the balconies sounds like the greatest thing you've ever heard in your life. But then your head hurts again, and you can smell the garbage you're laying on top of. So, why is this on the list? Well, the music intermittently coming from the balconies is very, very good. Here's hoping the next album isn't so overindulgent, though.
Parental Advisory: No
7. Gorrilaz-Demon Days--Gorrilaz' hit single "Feel Good Inc." was as close to song of the summer as anything released this year. Featuring melonchaly vocals, lilting guitar, a phat beat, and a special rap-bonanza by De La Soul, "Feel Good Inc." had booties shaking all over America, enough to make this album platinum. However, a million people were surprised to find an album comprised not of party anthems, but a melancholy electro-organic reflection of life in post 9/11 America. There are no tracks on this album even close to high-key in comparison to Feel Good Inc. Sure, there are four more tracks featuring some sort of rapping, but these songs focus on feelings of loss. Subtle electronics naturally weave around actual instrumentation in creative ways--every song holds some time of a surprise. Thankfully, the album also ends on a high note, the repeated lines of "Turn yourself around to the sun", belted beautifully by the London Community Gospel Choir in an appearance that feels completely natural and earned--not intrusive. This is a slow burn, an album that defies expectations, beautifully captures the feelings that come with missing the good days, hating the demon ones, and looking forward to betters ones. Good stuff.
Parental Advisory: I don't think so.
6. System of a Down-Mezmorize/Hypnotize--This double album, released six months apart by these Armenian-American masters of the bizarre, is a monster. System has always been hard to peg--heavy, fast, insane, yet pop--undeniably pop, with harmonies between co-vocalists Serj Tankian (keyboard) and Darren Malakian (guitarist) that bring to mind Queen's classic "Bohemian Rhapsody". This time around, usual front man Tankian steps to the side to allow Malakian the spotlight, and for the most part, he shines. SOAD's songs here go through mind-bending time-changes and pop harmonies as before, but continuously add more musical elements and traditional Armenian sounds. SOAD picks up a momentum on Mezmorize's "BYOB" that seems unstoppable and don't falter until Hypnotize's ninth track "Viscinity of Obscenity." But, boy, do they falter, and the blame lies specifically on the lyrics. After pulling off twenty-plus tracks of A-Grade blending of political/cultural commentary and the bizzare, SOAD veers into three songs worth of some of the most bizarrely annoying schmaltz ever recorded. The plus side?--I'm talking about three songs out of twenty-three. Barring tracks (9-11(coincidence?)) of Hypnotize, SOAD come close to creating a modern masterpiece, a comment on current society that is musically exciting and unpredictable. We can only hope that the best is yet to come.
Parental Advisory: Yes
5. Sigur Ros-Takk--In the past three years Icelandic band Sigur Ros have grown in popularity but refused to compromise their sound. After viewing a tracklisting consisting of only two songs past the eight-minute mark, I was personally worried they would be dropping their signature alien landscapes and beautiful, unidentifiable noise, which often culminates in the most lovely Divine-like aspirations of song produced in modern times, in favor of something more savory to the tastes of the American public. What a fool I was. Sigur Ros drop none of the things that have endeared and imprinted themselves upon listeners around the world. Sigur Ros still manage to pull off the sound of icy dew-drops slowly running down the back of God, while at the same time chopping off most of the excess that sometimes pushed them into over-indulgence. Sigur Ros also ups the joy quotient by a million. The first half of the album bubbles with near unbearable, beautiful joy. It is only in the third quarter that they make slight missteps, taking track seven, Milano, into the eleven-minute range, when it should have ended at five, and track nine, Andvari, into seven, when only four are necessary. But, I'm complaining about eight minutes out of 65, and my, how the other 57 are beautiful. This is the kind of music that will change your life.
Parental Advisory: No
4. The Deftones-B-Sides and Rarities--The Deftones are not a band. After third album, White Pony, they ceased to exist as one, and simply became a mood, a feeling, an idea. Starting as a thrashing aggro-band, by album three Deftones had become an entity seperate from the world of music, creating a dark, creepy, beautiful, musical landscape matched and duplicated by no one. Then, they released their forth album, Self-Titled, and ruined everything. Okay, not necessarily ruined, but came back to earth, became human again. The soundscapeds were dialed back, and the rage dialed up to appease the small crowd of fans who complained that the critically acclaimed (and now landmark) White Pony was not "heavy" enough. Two years after Self-Titled, Deftones have yet to provide a follow-up album, instead giving us this fourteen-track collection of covers and unreleased songs, but... With this collection, Deftones provide all the evidence necessary to show why they have one of the most rabid, obsessed fan bases in the world. The Deftones are the absolute masters of atmospheric rock. Kicking off the album with Jawbox and Cocteau twins covers, the 'Tones then dive into a cover of their own dark masterpiece "Change", somehow creating a new version that is at once darker, more seductive, and mind-altering than the original. After masterfully covering songs by Skynyrd(!) and Helmet, they dive into the centerpiece of the album: a cover of Sade's "No Ordinary Love." What follows is five minutes and fourty-three seconds of absolute aural bliss on the highest, mind-bending scale. Get lost in this song and then suddenly look at a mirror to see what kind of expression you are making. Chances are, it will not be a face that can be shown on network television. For the remainder of the album, the 'Tones continue what they do best, creating a dark, post-apocalyptic ocean of violent unseen currents you don't ever want to leave. This is the dark, beautiful highway of rock, a world I can best compare to Portishead, not in style or sound, but in the way it takes over your very being.
Parental Advisory: Yes
3. My Morning Jacket-Z--Of the nine albums on this list, Z is certainly the hardest to talk about. What is it? I still can't figure it out. It's not that the lyrics are obscure or arcane-in many ways they make perfect sense. It's defining the music I can't do. What is it? I will now turn one of those phrases I usually hate: Imagine Mid-60s Who shaved off their rougher edges, moved to Hawai, bought 21st century synths, added lots of reverb to the vocals, a little drum machine, and then took a really warm, refreshing bath. That's pretty much all I can think of. This is a consistent, genre-defining, beautiful rock record.
Parental Advisory: No
2. Blindside-The Great Depression--Blindside is the Rodney Dangerfield of rock music. They don't get no respect outside of small circles (but circles still large and dedicated enough to launch this album into the Billboard top #200). Many of those fans were immediately surprised and offset by the music coming off this disc. Blindside had never released two albums that sounded remotely similar until 2004s About of Burning Fire, which sounded like a less focused (and not as good) version of 2002s "Silence". Many mainstream critics hailed "Silence" as a modern rock masterpiece, and it was, combining classic rock, modern rock, hardcore, and intelligent lyrics to create a sound far beyond "Nu-Metal". For album five, TGD, Blindside found themselves in a conundrum: Where to go next? Instead of trying to please everyone, Blindside simply opted to make the absolute best record they were capable of. Replacing chop-shows and fan-pleasing antics with great songs, TGD follows the theme of depression in modern society. Vocalist/lyricist, Christian Linskog, fresh from an African relief trip, is a man possessed. Over the course of the album, Lindskog explores the dichotomy between troubles in Africa and American Middle-Class depression. He vocalizes in his trademark sing/scream fashion. Unlike "screamo" bands, Lindskog doesn't "scream the verse and sing the chorus". He does whatever is necessary, whenever it is necessary. His band backs him with a combination of modern/classic rock sounds with elements of hardrock/tango/electronica/modern pop/the kitchen sink. Everything on the album works. The concept and sound flow solidly from each track to the next. Blindside even bests hardrock masters, System of A Down, this year. Blindside's album isn't quite as ambitious as SOADs, but it is cohesive and flawless, even to the end, where SOAD falters. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, works. When the electronics kick in, they serve the songs--the songs don't serve them. Even Lindskog's infrequent bad grammar comes off as endearing, where SOADs comes off as cloying. Don't get me wrong--SOAD's work this year is brilliant--there's a reason I gave it the six-spot. But this year, the best hardrock album was made by Blindside.
Parental Advisory: No
1. Coldplay-X & Y--Last year, I gave best album to The Cardigans' Long Gone Before Daylight. The response--shock, dismay, WTFs?, and joy. I know I am upping the WTF quotient even more this year. I'll be the first to admit, I am not a fan of Coldplay. Chris Martin and co. seem like the nicest people alive, but I have always found their music to be disappointingly boring. I want to like it, but I can't. Their songs always have a spark of brilliance, overcome by a huge shadow of repitive lack of ambition. This year, all that changed. I bought this album on a complete whim. It was on sale, and the single, "Speed of Sound", was beginning to grow on me. On first listen, I wanted my money back. Then, I listened to it again. The first thing that stood out to me were the synths: they're reminiscent of the stuff used by Marvin Gaye and Issac Hayes in the late 60s/early 70s, along with some of Brian Eno's stuff from the 80s. They've got a subtle urban grittiness to them, running beneath a beautiful, cavernous, cathedral-like wall of sound. Then, I noticed the guitars:instead of routinely playing the same part in a wash/rinse/repeat cycle, they change things up throughout the song. They many times come in unexpected, but always sound lovely. Then, I noticed the drums and bass:they aren't doing anything remarkable, but they are remarkably pleasant. Finally, I noticed Martin himself. His voice sounds like a good massage. His lyrics are broad--this is a turn off at first. Then I realize it--this album is brilliant. Coldplay have endeavered to create the most accessible, yet enjoyable album of all time. I think they may have done it. This is music your mother can listen to and enjoy, and your father, your sister, your brother, your boss, the guy down the street with a mohawk, your girlfriend, your dog, and the most important person--you. This doesn't mean the album is unambitious--I think in this case, the striving for accessibility has paid of in dividends. This album is universal in its appeal, but everyone will not like it. The New York times gave it a 2 out of 10. However, many publications gave it a 10, and I agree. This album is perfect. That's right, I said perfect. There are 13 beautiful pop songs here that any human being can identify with. I don't think this is as good as the stuff U2 put out in the mid-80s. U2 hit a political and historical nerve with their music that no one has hit since. But this is not that kind of music. U2's Unforgettable Fire has caused me to cry dozens of times. During my Katrina Aid-Work, just thinking of the opening chords of "Bad" sent me hiding, as I had enormous sobbing fits. I don't know if any song off of X & Y will ever make me cry, but it makes me happy, and it makes me feel like a member of the human race--not a subculture, not a particular color or gender--I mean it makes me feel like a member of a six-billion plus family. I don't know if Coldplay are ever going to interest me with any other piece of music they make, but I think if they break up today, they've still done something remarkable--
They've made my favorite album of the year.
Parental Advisory: No
But wait, there's more. Here are some brief comments on other noticeable releases:
Dredg-Catch Without Arms--Dredg creates some beautiful songs here, but they also falter. Their previous album was a unique work of art. The obtuse nature of the lyrics matched the theme of the album. Here, they attempt to turn their senseless lyrics into pop hooks, and it just doesn't work. That's okay, though, as for the most part, the music, including Gavin Haye's vocals, is still beautiful.
Iron and Wine/Calexico-In the Reins--I wish I didn't like this "trendy" EP, but I do. Seven songs of Southern ghosts mingling with the ghosts of the American West. It's beautiful.
Issac Hayes-Ultimate Issac Hayes--Issac Hayes is the man. His arrangements are unforgettable classics. This guy invented sounds that are commonly aped, even today. For any fan of classic R&B, you probably have all of this guy's stuff already, but if not, this 2-disc best of contains more than 30 tracks, including some of his ten-minute opuses, uncut. Sweet.
Demon Hunter-The Triptych--Demon Hunter stick to a proven metal formula. Three hard songs, ballad, repeat. But my oh my, how they can work in this formula. A new guitarist adds some sweet solos, and a new drummer adds a different, more driving rythym. If you like REALLY heavy pop-music, you can't do much better.
Stellastarr-Harmonies for the Haunted--This is a good band, capable of greatness. Imagine the New York sound of today with less repetitive high-hat, Robert Smith like vocals, U2-like guitar, and sweet female back-ups. Good, solid stuff, better than their debut.
The Cardigans-Super Extra Gravity--After putting out my favorite album of 04, The Cards put out an album I just "like". They did the lounge-tinged alubm, the dark, dancepop-tinged album, and the country-tinged album. This isn't really anything tinged, which isn't bad. The songs are all good, and this is probably one of the best pop records of the year. I just hope they strive for more on their next album.
Stuff I should have put on last year's list:
These Arms are Snakes-Oxeneers, or...--Crazy, technical hard rock, screaming madness, but somehow, and don't ask me how, high-brow.
TV on the Radio-Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes--Neo-crooning-electro-soul. Hard to define, but easy to love.
Silver Mountain Revelries-Pretty Little Lighting Paw-Atmospheric--Drone/chant rock from GYBE! members. Beautiful march past the city, the forest, and the graveyard to the river.
Greenday-American Idiot--I have always loathed this band, and the attitude of their music. Then, they make an album that reflects on the very culture they helped create. One of last years' best--could be important in the future
The Arcade Fire-Funeral--What to say that hasn't already been said. There's a reason everyone is loving this, and I can't tell you why. Listen to Laika-you either fall in love or get sick.
Biggest Dissapoinments of 2005:
The Mars Volta-Frances the Mute--I know it's on my top-nine, but, guys, would you please make an album with real songs on it next time?
MXPX-Panic--After the high standards Relient-K and Greenday set in punk-pop last year, this stuff just ain't cuttin it, guys. This music seems to come from some saccharine tour bus where people just do "rad" things, and then, for some reason, think other people want to hear about it in song. They promise in track one to "Shine the light in the darkest places" but they never ever do. What happened to the days when MXPX's music could be indentified with, even in a hokey way?
Wow, I feel like a tool. All nine of my favorites debuted in the top 200. But they ARE my favorites, and I've listened to a LOT of music this year, as always. I hope you enjoyed reading, or at least glossing over this.
So what do you think? Is this the dumbest list you've ever seen, or what? Disagree with it? Agree with it? Have any questions? Want to make your own list? If so (or maybe if you just want to humor me), please comment. I will not post for several days to allow this post priority, but I will read and respond to all comments ASAP, which basically means as soon as I post this and neurotically refresh the page.
Happy New Year! I hope you all have a great one! I won't quite be spending it alone, but I will be at home and happy.