Friday, December 30, 2005

The Best of 2005: Music

Well, it's that time of year again ...

I know it's customary for self-styled critics to deride the film/music/stage/art/etc. of the just-concluded year, but damned if 2005 wasn't, all in all, a pretty schweet year for popular music. So much so, in fact, that I can't really rank the following 12 records, although all were among my favorites.

A quick disclosure: There were a bunch of well-received CDs this year by artists I love but whose albums I never got around to hearing (i.e. Sleater-Kinney, the Rolling Stones, Stephen Malkmus).

Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now
This uber-elegiac chamber pop surely isn't to everyone's tastes; initially, Antony's quavering vocals, a sort of Aaron Neville-meets-Boy George (the latter of whom makes an appearance on the record, incidentally), nearly drove me into seizures. But this album, the group's second full-length effort, grows more seductive with successive listens.

Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine
Was Extraordinary Machine as amazing as the hype surrounding its long-delayed release suggested it would be? C'mon, get real. Nothing short of an album that performed magic tricks and fellatio could possibly have met the expectations of such oversized media buzz. Still, Little Miss Freaky did produce a mesmerizing collection of pungent, sharply observed songs of love gone awry.

The Deathray Davies, The Kick and the Snare
As the brains behind this Dallas-based outfit, John Dufilho is one of the best-kept secrets in rock. This album should have blown the whistle on that secret, but alas, it was not to be. Buoyed by sizzling guitars, playful horns and hooks so powerful you need smelling salts to recover, these tracks burst with tangy power-pop goodness.

Doves, Some Cities
A propulsive blend of ragged guitars and swirling keyboards that sprouts wings and flies into that rarefied air of rock anthems that don't suck. Such songs as "Black and White Town," Snowden" and the title tune reveal a band talented enough to reach the level of success heaped on peers like Coldplay and (gasp) Radiohead.

Eels, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
E, the nom de guerre of Eels mastermind Mark Oliver Everett, doesn't scrimp on weighty subject matter: life, death, love, breakup, self-identity, suicide, etc. In other words, this isn't the sort of band that'll show up on Tony Danza's morning talk show anytime soon. But Blinking Lights is -- get this -- the feel-good double-disc of 2005. Its universal themes, haunting melodies and unbridled humanity are just the remedy to all that ails you.

The Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, At Carnegie Hall
The backstory behind this record's release is almost as interesting as its music. Early this year, an administrator at the Library of Congress was moving around tape archives when he came across this long-lost recording from Nov. 29, 1957. Eureka! on this being unearthed. An essential jazz recording that spotlights two singular musicians at the height of their gifts.

The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema
Band frontman Carl Newman definitely comes from the more-is-more aesthetic, as demonstrated in this binge of power-pop hooks and songs that rifles through melodies the way Michael Jackson rifles through terminally ill children. "Use It" and "Sing Me Spanish Techno" are among the group's most infectious songs to date.

The Pernice Brothers, Discover a Lovelier You
The greatest album that no one (or few people, at any rate) heard in 2005. And that's a shame. If more ears had heard the achingly beautiful, impossibly ethereal pop of Joe Pernice and his chums, this mortal coil might just be entering the next level of consciousness. Or some such nonsense. "Gorgeous" is a difficult word to use without gagging, but it applies here.

Spoon, Gimme Fiction
For the life o' me, I just can't figure what is the secret sauce that makes this Austin band such a kick. With deceptively straightforward chord changes, bare-boned hooks and opaque lyrics, Spoon crafts meat-and-potatoes, albeit vaguely sinister, rock that shouldn't be quite as memorable as it is. Try to listen to a song like "I Summon You" and deny the inexplicable power of rock 'n roll. Go ahead. I double-dawg dare yah.

Sufjan Stevens, Illinois
It doesn't get much more ambitious than this multi-song suite inspired by the great state of Illinois. Occasionally too pretentious for its own good, you've still gotta marvel at the sheer magnitude of this brazen undertaking. And even better, this young singer-songwriter turns out some truly weird and wondrous songs, particularly "Chicago" and his musical sketch of killer clown John Wayne Gacy.

Kanye West, Late Registration
"I ain't sayin' she's a gold digger ..." That damned song, despite its tried-and-tried misogyny, was just the most radio-friendly (well, precluding the N-word, anyway) among many incandescent gems in this surprising versatile work of hip-hop. While all the genuflecting from music critics this year threatened to obscure West's actual work, there's no denying the allure of this record, co-produced by maestro Jon Brion.

The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan
Gritty, stripped-down tales that conjure up ancient sounds of blues, gospel and even country, almost every track on Get Behind Me Satan is a moody, evocative masterpiece. Judging by Jack White's lyrical concerns, the guy has had his heart trampled a couple hundred times as of late (just walk away, Renee), but give the guy his due. White is a tremendous songwriter, perhaps the Pete Townshend of his generation.

So there you have it. In early January, I'll get around to posting my favorite films. This being Oklahoma, some of the more celebrated flicks of the year have yet to hit the cinemplex.


At 12:42 AM, Anonymous TokenLiberal said...

Groovy selections -- always enjoyed by these eyes. We shared two in the Eels and Doves (kind of a wildlife theme there). I could have gone with Spoon and Thelonious Monk as well. But that Antony and his Johnson gives me the creeps.

At 9:35 AM, Anonymous trapped in the closet said...

Man, ask and ye shall receive. Which reminds me, Chase, isn’t it about time you had twin hookers delivered to some of your friends?

Kayne West? Really? Well, okie dokie.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger cakreiz said...

Chase- you need to weigh in on the Guitar Band discussion over at Left of Center. I'd be interested in your comments.

At 5:53 AM, Anonymous HiPath said...

White Stripes rule man

At 2:24 AM, Anonymous Virtual office in Singapore said...

By which aspects did you rate them and most of these songs are from rock genre.


Post a Comment

<< Home