9 You Need: The Top 9 Albums of 2005

The Arts — By on January 9, 2006 at 2:12 pm

Why nine, you ask? Because The Man won’t let me have ten. And we like to be a little different here at ECR. And nine fits into your busy schedule a little better.

I would first like to announce that I did not hear every album released this year. So, if your favorite band that some “hip” website told you to like (The Decemberists, The Go! Team, Death From Above 1979) isn’t represented, take no offense. This list is one critic’s opinion.

So, without further ado:

9. The Go-Betweens- Oceans Apart (Yep Roc)
Robert Forster and Grant McLennan (The Go-Betweens) added another jewel to their collective crown in 2005 with Oceans Apart, the third record of Phase II of their decades-long career (the band broke up after 1988′s 16 Lover’s Lane, but re-grouped in 2000). The songs on Oceans Apart sound like they were written quickly & easily, lending the music an endearing gaiety… even with the undercurrents of melancholy that these Aussies have been toting along since they debuted back in 1982 with Send Me A Lullabye. It seems that as long as there’s a Republican president in office (think about the years), we can rely on continued doses of sophisticated pop from The ‘Tweens every couple of years. Thanks, Dubya.

8. The New Pornographers- Twin Cinema (Matador)
On their third album, this Vancouver pop conglomerate delivered their most accomplished set yet. Some of the sugar-high quality of their first two records was lost along the way, but the new New Pornographers trumps the old by increasing their scope and serving up a veritable (and varying) indie-pop smorgasbord. Credits are vague as usual, so it’s kind of hard to know who specifically to thank for outstanding tracks like “The Bones Of An Idol”, “Twin Cinema”, and “Spanish Techno.” But we do thank you Carl Newman, Dan Bejar, Neko Case, Nora O’Connor, and whoever else is providing the New Porn these days.

7. Cass McCombs- PREfection (Monitor)
Cass McCombs is a shadowy, mysterious, and seductive world to me. I have no idea where he’s from or what he and his backing band look like. The liner notes to PREfection only give us lyrics and inform us that it was recorded in Michigan, mixed in New York, and mastered at the famous Abbey Road studio in London. This leaves us only with the music- mostly a moody mope-rock cocktail that can recall Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure, or even (gasp!) A Flock Of Seagulls. This is a good thing. Put it on, soak it up, and mousse your hair into a messy thicket: it feels like 1983 all over again.

6. Of Montreal- The Sunlandic Twins (Polyvinyl)
He’s a survivor. It seems Kevin Barnes has outlasted all of the other members of the once-famed Elephant 6 Collective (a late 90′s indie rock crew that included such cool-yet-presently-defunct groups as The Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Beulah). His project Of Montreal has provided us with the year’s snappiest pop album. There’s always been something childlike about Barnes’ songcraft, and lyrics like “We make love like a pair of black wizards” don’t show any sign of that changing. Barnes even takes us out to the disco on “Wraith Pinned To The Mist & Other Games”; albeit a disco on acid where party people have “bizarre celebrations” and “pretend (they’re) in Antarctica.” Say what you will, but Of Montreal is always a heck of a trip.

5. Lucero- Nobody’s Darlings (East-West)
Some of the most potent and pure rock & roll came out of Memphis this year in the form of Lucero. On this, their fourth record, Ben Nichols & Co. sounded lean and mean with an assist from ace Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, who seems to have been brought in just to hit “record.” What this “plug in and play” philosophy lacks in dynamics it more than makes up for in the “rock out” department- Nobody’s Darlings smokes like a chimney. The one change-up that Lucero threw this year was “The War”, an acoustic tale of vet’s regrets that out-Nebraska-ed Springsteen’s subpar Devils & Dust. Boss, you’ve been bested.

4. The White Stripes- Get Behind Me Satan (V2)
In 2005, The White Stripes had the daunting task of trying to improve on their masterpiece, 2003′s Elephant. Get Behind Me Satan came this close, but begrudging Jack White for that is like begrudging The Stones for following up Sticky Fingers with Exile On Main Street (and after all, there are better reasons to hate The Stones). Satan was funky (“Take, Take, Take”), fun (“My Doorbell”), down-home (“Little Ghost”), and touching (“As Ugly As I Seem”). Now, we just need radio to realize what hundreds of thousands of fans already do: The White Stripes are the band of the decade.

3. Marah- If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry (Yep Roc)
The “Kids In Philly” returned in full force in ’05… even if they are now based in Brooklyn. Coming off a solid effort last year (20,000 Streets Under The Sky), Marah and its newly stabilized lineup released their fifth and near-best album. From the ramshackle-but-rollicking-good-fun of “The Closer” to an awesome untitled final track, If You Didn’t Laugh is the sound of a band rediscovering its strengths. All the hallmarks are here: Dave Bielanko’s ashy voice, Serge Bielanko’s harmonies, the street poetry lyrics, and the vibe… a marvelous blend of Motown, Springsteen, and The Replacements. Though nothing tops their live act, this album could impress anyone- even Stephen King (http://www.ew.com/ew/article/commentary/0,6115,1136236_4||472578_0_,00.html).

2. My Morning Jacket- Z (ATO)
With the help of Stone Roses producer John Leckie, My Morning Jacket shook off some of the reverb that pervaded their earlier albums like a sixth band member and delivered their best yet in 2005. “Off The Record” may have been the year’s most inexplicably catchy single with its “Hawaii Five-0″ guitar lick and sunny reggae feel. “What A Wonderful Man”, “Anytime”, and “Lay Low” rank as some of the best songs Jim James has ever written. Quite simply, Z distilled the Jackets’ usual Neil Young + Allman Brothers + Muppet vocals aesthetic into something that people will still be talking about in ten years.

1. Ryan Adams- Cold Roses (Lost Highway)
Ryan Adams finally arrived as a solo artist in 2005, with the help of The Cardinals. The press has been less-than-obsessed with him for the last two years or so (Adams was in every magazine but Swank in 2001) and in this newfound obscurity he was able to make the record that he’s been threatening to make since Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac back in ’97. There are no missteps on this two-disc extravaganza; just Adams and The Cards cranking out a stellar something that can only be called country rock, though thankfully it sounds nothing like The Eagles. The song list reads like some sort of instant greatest hits collection: “Magnolia Mountain”, “Sweet Illusions”, “Cold Roses”, “Beautiful Sorta”, “Easy Plateau.” Laugh if you will, but I’ve been waiting to say this all year: Cold Roses is the greatest double album since The Wall.

    3 Comments

  • Tatanka says:

    “Jacksonville City Nights” is a better overall album than “Cold Roses” – all killer, no filler, baby.

    And where is “Failer” by Kathleen Edwards?

    You should write the top 9 reasons why we should hate the Rolling Stones. Make sure that #7 is Ron Wood’s pants.

  • forart says:

    I certainly agree that Jacksonville City Nights is a far superior album in its depth and willingness to take chances. Of course all of these comments are extremely subjective and subject to personal tastes and aesthetics. (Another reason to hate the Rolling Stones – Drugs, while not FDA approved can adequately function as a preservative)
    There were other significant albums that could and should rank in a best of list if historical precedence and perspective are taken into account. Let’s mention the recently found Theolonious Monk/John Coltrane “At Carnegie Hall” album – a killer, for those on the left side I’d like to mention the Dangermouse and Mf Doom collaboration “The Man and the Mouse”, and for indie fans there’s Sufjan Stevens’ “Illinoise”.
    These things will always be disputed, but that’s what makes them such conversation pieces – “Everyone’s got an opinion”. I agree to disagree. Here’s to the same in 2006.

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