Tuesday, December 20, 2005

2005 Recap, Part 3, Albums of the Year

Here we go, the coup de gras of year-end recaps, the top 10 albums. I had a lot of trouble this year and there were a lot of excellent albums that got left off, but I like what I've come up with, and I hope you do too.

1) The Decemberists - Picaresque - I'd never been a big fan of the Decemberists in the past as I'd always felt like there was something missing in their music. Certain songs would hit, but so many of them seemed incomplete. Well, apparently they read my mind and filled in all the pieces because this is a complete and brilliant album. The band's sound has gradually evolved over the last few years peaking with Picaresque. It's got it all: catchy pop songs ("The Sporting Life," "Sixteen Military Wives"), heartwrenching ballads ("On The Bus Mall," "Of Angels and Angles") and an amazing epic ("Mariner's Revenge Song") that brings it all home. Colin Meloy's lyrics have always been the strong point of The Decemberists and adding them to a collection of songs so strong makes this an impossible album to beat this year.

2) The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema - I've found that it's pretty rare these days that one of my favorite bands actually releases an album that lives up to my expectations, but to exceed them and blow them out of the water is a phenomenon that occurs only once every few years. The New Pornographers made two albums of delicious pop diddies (Mass Romantic, The Electric Version), but with this album they added the one element that had been noticeably absent from those two, emotion. In the past, the band seemed to be exactly what they were, a collection of musicians who would get together every couple of years to have fun and write some catchy tunes. Well, this time around they sound like a real band and all the pieces gel just right. Now don't get me wrong, the pop is still there on the title track and songs like "Use It" and "Sing Me Spanish Techno," but never before have the New Pornographers been able to give me chills like they do on "The Bleeding Heart Show." And having Neko Case sing the ballads, including the unbelievable "These Are the Fables," instead of the decided pop hits was a brilliant change of pace move by my boy Carl Newman.

3) Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary

4) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - I'm not sure exactly what these guys were doing putting such an atrocious song as "Clap Your Hands"at the start of the album, but I beg you all, just skip to the next track and you'll understand what the buzz behind these guys is all about. Every song after that, from the "true" opener "Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away" to one of the year's best songs "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth," to "In This Home On Ice" at the end of the album, is sheer indie pop brilliance. The influences are clear, Talking Heads, David Bowie, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc., but these guys write such catchy and off-beat songs that it doesn't matter. My only concern is that Alec Ounsworth's head gets too big before the next album comes around and the band implodes on itself, but for the moment, feel free to get up, dance and, ahem, clap your hands.

5) The National - Alligator

6) The Clientele - Strange Geometry

7) M.I.A. - Arular

8) M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us - 2003's Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts had some excellent moments and set a dark, intense mood, but at times I felt a distance between myself and the music. Two years later, after losing partner Nicolas Fromageau, Anthony Gonzalez returns with an album that builds on his previous work, adding more guitars, more sonic layers and a newfound pop sensability that makes this album much easier to digest. The mood is still dark, but there are more vocal samples smattered throughout the album which keep things interesting, plus "Don't Save Us From the Flames" and "Teen Angst" are amazing singles which stand out, yet don't take away from their surrounding tracks. The electronic My Bloody Valentine comparisons are still valid and I can't wait to see where Gonzalez goes next.

9) Sufjan Stevens - Illinois - There is one reason that this album is not higher on this list than it currently is, and that is that Sufjan needs to learn that sometimes less is more. This album runs through a bevy of emotions and broadens his range much farther than he's ever gone for the first sixteen tracks. Then, right around track 17, this album starts into a distinct tailspin and there is nothing in those last six songs that even touches what the first sixteen brought. That is not to say that I don't like this album, because I do, it is fantastic. Songs like "Casimir Pulaski Day" and "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." tug on your heartstrings while "Chicago" and "Come On! Feel The Illinoise!" are exceptional pop songs. My favorite song though, is "Decatur," a simple tune featuring Sufjan singing over a banjo, acoustic guitar and accordion in which he includes every possible word that remotely rhymes with Decatur (alligator, operator, aviator, debater, emancipator, congratulate her, etc.).

10 (tie) Stars - Set Yourself on Fire & Vitalic - OK Cowboy


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