Top 50 Albums of 2005


50. Mount Eerie No Flashlight
49. Tori Amos
The Beekeeper
48. Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene
47. Hood
Outside Closer
46. Wolf Parade
Apologies to the Queen Mary
45. Spoon
Gimme Fiction
44. Kanye West
Late Registration
43. Voxtrot
Raised by Wolves EP
42. Madonna
Confessions on a Dance Floor
41. Robyn

40. Patrick Wolf
Wind in the Wires
39. Hanne Hukkelberg
Little Things
38. XXL
37. Missy Elliott
The Cookbook
36. Melodium
La Tête Qui Flotte
35. Wilco
Kicking Television (Live in Chicago)
34. Lightning Bolt Hypermagic Mountain
33. Deerhoof
Green Cosmos EP
32. Eluvium
Talk Amongst the Trees
31. The Joggers
With a Cape and a Cane

30. Six Organs of Admittance School
of the Flower
29. Andrew Bird
The Mysterious Production of Eggs
28. Art Brut
Bang Bang Rock & Roll
27. Gang Gang Dance
God’s Money
26. The Books
Lost & Safe
25. Alog
24. Akron/Family
23. My Morning Jacket
22. Emiliana Torrini
Fisherman's Woman
21. Antony & The Johnsons
I Am A Bird Now

20. Death Cab for Cutie Plans

I have little defense for Death Cab against the haters. Accusations of triteness, oversentimentality, unevenness -- all true. So, uh, yeah, no defense. But let me go on the offense and say, probably contentiously, that few songwriters know how to pair a melody with lyrics like Ben Gibbard. Yup, I said it, what you gonna do about it? Deny that the melodies to, say, "Soul Meets Body" or "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" are almost intractably perfect? Yeah, I didn't think so.

19. The New Pornographers Twin Cinema

So, uh, what's with the lyrics here? Anybody know? I'm not sure what to make of "So heads down, thumbs up/Four beats from soft and get set to exercise your right/Use it tonight" or "The perception, it is wrong, mile after mile/The phantom taste drinking wine from your heels." I'm not sure I want to, either. Frankly, I think the wham-bam yay-hooray power pop is much better suited to the one-line epiphanies of Mass Romantic or the ecstatic "hey la, hey la" jam at the end of "The Bleeding Heart Show." For this reason, I'm not putting Twin Cinema as high as other fans might; the lyrics seem too often arbitarily ambiguous to qualify it as truly great. I still like their debut better. But lyrics aside, the music really is power pop perfection. Catchy but harmonically unpredictable, rhythmic hiccups, sugar pop riffs, and the best drumming this side of splenda make this album a pop affecionado's dream.

18. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!

"You will pay for your excessive charm." Indeed, CYHSY! You shall be damned for your accessible bubblegum riffs! Your ridiculously mature instrumental arrangements and pristine production are to be punished! Overhype backlash will cast you into the nether regions where only anti-anti-anti-anti-anti-hipsters reside! For only in these regions does everyone sing like you sing, and it is only appropriate that you should be subjected to this funny, nihilistic, non-self-conscious voice that you (and Pitchfork, those bastards) have forced upon us all...

17. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra... - Horses in the Sky

People seem to be getting weary of political albums these days, and this is perhaps the only explanation I can come up with for the widespread overlooking of this album as one of the best this year. Sounding something like a mix of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Leonard Cohen, and Neutral Milk Hotel, Horses in the Sky is a post-rock masterpiece loaded with melancholy, grit, anger, and a little bit of blind faith about the imminent apocalypse. Some may be turned off by the whole played-out "rock symphony" thing, but it can't be denied that Silver Mt. Zion pulls it off here with gripping resignation.

16. Grizzly Bear Horn of Plenty (+ The Remixes)

Horn of Plenty is an odd specimen. Distant acoustic guitar, clattering percussive noise, reverb-soaked vocals and dreamy floating “ohs” and “ahs” quietly combine to effectually simulate what it must feel like to be suspended in a clear vat of viscous green jelly while your blurry friends and lovers talk to each other about you on the other side of the glass. As the album progresses, the atmospherics slowly build a muddy haze somewhere between your ears, producing the musical equivalent of mental novocaine. Yeah, it’s pretty cool – and it demonstrates an enormous amount of potential for the future of this new band.

15. Okkervil River Black Sheep Boy

I've heard this described as "alt-country emo" on more than one year-end list, each of which basically goes on to apologize for the "emo" half. Not sure if that's necessary, because first of all, I hear little strictly emo influence on this album. Folk-tinged rock that explores myths and longings of hope, frustration, infatuation, and alienation through choked and wonderfully cohesive lyrics, yes. Chris Carraba, no. Whatever. Screw the comparisons; the oh-so-RAWK ups and downs of this album are alone enough to sustain it, the fine-tuned fairy tales and failure and misfortune are what make Black Sheep Boy great.

14. M.I.A. Arular

Indelibly weird yet undeniably stylish, this album is probably hip-hop's biggest breath of fresh air in several years (and that includes Kanye and Dizzee). Arular grates at times -- the timbres of the synths and M.I.A.'s double-panned nasal voice can be a lot much -- and hell, it even sucks occasionally (all I have to say is "Amazon"), but it's worthy of the hype and praise, especially considering booty jams -- nay, booty STATEMENTS -- like "Sunshowers," "10$," and "Galang".

13. Björk Drawing Restraint 9

Björk, Björk, Björk... will you ever cease to challenge your listeners? Will you ever spoonfeed us what we want to hear, how we want to hear it? Will you ever forget about dissonant cluster brass choruses and extraterrestrial pearl drops? No? Good, I was hoping not. Drawing Restraint 9 is the most difficult listen of any of Björk's releases (including Medúlla), especially considering it's mostly instrumental, but it's also one of the most forcefully forward-thinking avant-pop/classical hybrids I've ever heard. I would hardly agree with the faux-Björkism that "Everything is music!" but this is further proof that, for Björk, music is everything.

12. Venetian Snares Rossz Csillag Allat Született

One of my favorite album moments from this year is the alternately goofy and vastly bleak, tense intro to "Masodik Galamb." A woman wonders aloud, "Why am I frightened so easily? Pigeon, why can you scare me? Am I not part of your life anymore? Am I not welcome anymore?" Strings plead, the silences pull taut. And then Aaron lays down the Funk. Rossz is by no means perfect -- far from it, in fact -- but there are enough OMG!-moments such as this (or the entirety of "Hajnal") that keeps me coming back to the classical string samples, relentless drill and bass, and harsh realities of this doom-laden thwap! in the skull.

11. M83 Before the Dawn Heals Us

Tongue-in-cheek bombast, check. Imperfect, check. Takes itself too seriously (i.e. just seriously enough), check. Uncompromising, check. Turning days into nights and nights into stars, check. Wide-eyed splendor, check. WOW!, check. Sparkle candy, check. Sonic color washes, check. Bursts of light in midnight dark, check. Film soundtrack drama, check. Leather jacket and motorcycle, check. Fuzz killers, check. Spazz!, check. Synths, guitars, drums, but mostly all human, check. Engorging the atmosphere with juicy possibility, check.

10. Iron & Wine Woman King EP

What can one ever say about Iron & Wine? "Sam Beam is an ill fucking songster," "he matures so much with every record," "he just keeps topping himself," "how doesn't the man ever release anything bad?," etc. The moving Woman King EP is a humble, simple folk-pop homage to the more worshipped and complex gender. Almost every song on here is as good or better than the best on Our Endless Numbered Days. Sam Beam, you are astonishing (i.e. ridiculous), you know that?

9. Animal Collective Feels

Wow, yeah, I really did hate Animal Collective for a while there. What the hell did they think they were doing, yelping and beating and stuttering and droning their way into indie kids' hearts, oh how pointlessly pretentious! how blatantly irritating! annoying! boring! unfulfilling! the whole shtick seemed. Then I heard the stunning "The Purple Bottle" - "Bees" - "Banshee Beat" trifecta of Feels. Umm, holy shit... these guys are genuinely having fun! A lot of fun, and it is a trip-and-a-half. It is goofy. It is smart. It is, for lack of more exacting words, fucking cool. Just listen to the chorus of "Bees," the cascading zither and the fairy tale falsetto choir and shimmer drops and the bees the bees the bees the bees rrrwwrrwwrrrwrrrrwwwrrr. How fucking hip are these guys to make such a sweet enchanted pastel psychedelic cloud easter egg giggle ripple glitter marshmallow Valentine's Day card? With rabbits! And gumdrops!!

8. Vitalic OK Cowboy

Let me just put aside the fact that the centerpiece of this album, "La Rock 01," is probably one of the most fantastic dance floor highs of, well, EVER – a thumping neon injection of strobe-light adrenaline and sweat which will send you into utter Dionysian ecstacy.... Yeah, even aside from THAT, OK Cowboy is probably one of the most consistently impressive techno albums I've ever heard. Of course, it's at its best with the electrotrash schadenfreude stiletto-stomp of “My Friend Dario,” or the mechanical bull get-down grinds of "Poney" (both parts!) and "Newman," but the spacey Air-like interludes such as "The Past" and "Trahison" make even those cigarette-stained walks between the bull and the neon-lit bar worth paying attention to.

7. Sufjan Stevens Illinois

I will probably never say that any Sufjan album, existing or in the future, is better than Greetings from Michigan. I have a ridiculously romantic attachment to both Sufjan himself and that sprawling but fragile diary of his. By the way, why does no one talk about how hott Sufjan is anymore? Is his music really that good to forget that he is the cutest thing hipsters have had to worship since Karen O? And why do people magically disregard Enjoy Your Rabbit as though it never happened? Sorry for the digressions, but really there isn't anything left to say about Illinois. Carefully crafted orchestrations, profoundly touching narratives, "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and "Casmir Pulaski Day" and "Palisades of Wasps," etc etc etc... it made me seriously consider giving up Michigan as Sufjan's #1. Didn't happen. But I considered.

6. Deerhoof The Runners Four

Before The Runners Four, Deerhoof was one of the foremost anti-rock rock bands of the decade (see: "Dog on the Sidewalk," "Come See the Duck!" BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM). With The Runners Four, Deerhoof becomes the foremost, and perhaps only, anti-anti-rock band of the decade. (Does this make it a rock band then? sort of. I think.) Watch "The Four" clean up, watch Greg and Satomi play "nice," watch them lay down 20 (twenty?!) songs, watch some fans shrug and walk away. Watch music academicians and rock geeks go nuts. The quirky meter shifts! The harmonic puns! The goofy riffs! The cleverness! The elegance and the irony! The simplicity and the unpredictability! The depth and the shallowness! The double-meaning and non-meaning! The sincerity and the parody! I'll say it now: The Runners Four is indeed the most remarkable postmodern musical statement of the new century so far. Whether or not all of these songs really stick (many do, several don't) is beside the point: this is some important shit. This album will be analyzed and interpreted for years to come, and with good reason. It's indie rock's weird Library of Babel.

5. Xiu Xiu La Forêt

Haunted house. Doll house. Children laughing. Baby screaming. Shhhhh. Quiet. Screech, shout. Baby vomit. Bloody vomit. Don't cry. Blood is fun. Baby drink blood. Baby laugh! Yeah, it's really hard for me to describe why I like Xiu Xiu's La Forêt. Maybe because it's so uncompromisingly terrifying and miserable that it's actually kind of twistedly funny. Maybe because it juggles different approaches to the music so deftly, switching from bouncy horror-pop to breathing noise experiments with astounding believability. Or maybe it's just because Jamie Stewart actually gets away with that hilarious/sickening/disturbing retch halfway through “Yellow Raspberry.”

(Or maybe it’s just because Xiu Xiu is fucking awesome.)

4. Roisin Murphy Ruby Blue

First things first: Producer of the Year award, right here folks. Matthew Herbert. Like, wow. There are no words. But let me try: this is what groovy, I mean really groovy pop should sound like. Energetic melodic lines that get better with each repetition. Exciting and varied textures that use strange and enticing noises for percussion. Uncanny melding of acoustic and electric backgrounds that doesn’t sound chintzy in the least. Masterful and unforced appropriating and criss-crossing of disparate musical styles such as jazz, R&B, rock, cabaret, and hip-hop. And one hell of a diva to back it all up. I will best remember the music of early-mid 2005 for the great amount of strong, solid, mature pop music put out, and if there’s any musical signpost that I will remember that time for, it is this sexy and slinky treat of an album.

3. Sigur Ros Takk

Sigur Ros took the "post-" out of their usual "post-rock" this past year. Some were dismayed by the result, but I think it’s resulted in their most focused and mature release yet. They create and sustain tension and release like gangbusters here, making for Glorious-with-a-capital-G moments at least once (usually more) every song. e.g.: "Hoppípola" and "Glosoli" are the almost continuously euphoric, "Saeglopur" (Sigur Ros's first "pop" song -- and yes, it really is amazing) brilliantly builds up one of the most intense music-gasms of the decade, and the end of "Andvari" is the most achingly, almost painfully beautiful post-coital cigarette I’ve heard. Who needs ecstacy when you have Sigur Ros?

After all, this album is, essentially, all about beautiful moments. Sustained, genuine, welcoming, Takk is a smiling face, a loved one. The title means "Thanks" in Icelandic, and the more I listen to it, the more I realize how true the title is to the spirit of the music. For once, Jonsi and the boys don't ask all that much of their listeners, they just want us to sit back and take in all the beauty they have to offer. Takk is proof that Sigur Ros have more beautiful moments than they know what to do with – and it feels so. fucking. good. Thank YOU, Sigur Ros.

2. Fiona Apple Extraordinary Machine

To get out of the way my feelings on the whole producer fiasco surrounding this thing, I’ma turn it over to a much better writer than myself, Matt Perpetua of www.fluxblog.org, because he basically says it all right here:

“It's so unfortunate that the critical reaction to Extraordinary Machine ended up getting so badly muddled by a debate over the relative merits of the Jon Brion and Mike Elizondo versions. I maintain that the final product is better by far, but in any case, the basic quality of these songs remains the same, and the best record of 2005 ends up getting screwed over by vote-splitting. I'm sure that in the future, this album will earn the reputation that it deserves, but it absolutely vexes me to see it get passed over by many of my peers in favor of flimsy hackwork in the meantime. I suspect part of it is due to Apple's subject matter. Writing brilliantly on the topic of love is hardly a fashionable thing….”

Word. So enough about that. Extraordinary Machine is easily one of the very best of 2005. Hell, it's one of the best singer-songwriter albums released this decade so far. It's proof that the piano is not tired out as a pop instrument, and that it does not have to be reduced to Rufus-isms to stay palatable. It also has the rare quality of being classically informed music-wise without turning out cliché or campy.

And then there's the lyrics, of which I can't even begin to describe how wonderful (and underrated) they are. The parallels to Tori's best 90's material are sort of amazing.
The fearlessness of putting out there delicious similes and metaphors that, while occasionally coming off cringe-worthy, much more often are indelibly precise, each a fingernail to the jugular. See the duality of being both incredibly aggressive and even more fragile because of it. The ability to articulate just what it feels like to be vulnerable, angry, and downright wronged by people (see: men) and circumstances surrounding them. And as Matt pointed out, how great is it that almost every song on the album is about (or rather, "not about") love? Especially when love is such a plus en vogue topic in the reactionary (see: scared of emo) world of popular music, which these days seems far more enamored with sex and personal or political alienation than with, you know, actual enamorment. So, take my word: This album is poised, fearless, and for the first time in Fiona’s career, bites as much as it barks.

1. The National Alligator

In case you can’t tell by now, I am, at heart, an indie rock man. (I will pause for the groans to subside). Now, great indie rock has a funny way of getting under your skin. Like Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights or The Wrens’ The Meadowlands, you can listen to it from a distance, poking around at the obvious musical influences and nodding along to the youthful (even if somewhat unoriginal) grooves, all the while both appreciating and chuckling at the lyrics: how sad and twisted and twenty-four! Still, you can sympathize, you’ve been there, sure. And maybe you’ll listen to it again and it will ring a little closer to home this time, and the intrigue will keep you going, even if the music still bores you. And then – and then – there comes that one-liner that sticks to the center of your sternum. You don’t even know how it got there in the first place, but it won’t go away. And you’ll listen to the rest of the banalities, and they too will stick, and the melodies inevitably shake you to your core, they resonate throughout your past and present existence hundred-fold, and best of all you know that it equally resonates with the past of this other earnest person offering you all they can muster.

“I’m a birthday candle in a circle of black girls”
“I have weird memories of you”
“You were right about the end, it didn't make a difference”
“We’re the heirs to this glimmering world”
“Break my arms around the one I love”
“All the most important people in New York are nineteen”
“I’ll put on an argyle sweater and put on a smile”
“Didn't anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room?”

Of course, all this probably doesn’t say much to the person who hasn’t listened to Alligator. They won’t have heard Matthew Berninger’s deceptively and masterfully nuanced vocal delivery, nor his captivating sad clown baritone drawl. They also won’t have heard the propelling (and nearly perfect) rhythm section. Or the Cure-like underdog anthems and country-tinged bedroom ballads. Or the poeticism of twentysomethingness, dusty apartments, insecure late-afternoons, crowded bars and belligerent drunken caprices. I know, I know, it all sounds sort of trite on paper, but doesn’t all great indie rock?


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