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Top 10 Albums of 2005

“But Stan,” you, gentle reader, whine at me, “you have a Bachelor of Fine Arts that says you’re qualified to tell me the best and worst movies of the year. Clearly you know nothing about music, and you are furthermore a failure at life. Way to suck, dipshit.”

Yes, I could have made a list of the top 10 movies of 2005, but I’m not even convinced I saw 10 new movies this year; if I did, I certainly didn’t see 10 good ones. But I will say that I enjoyed Melinda & Melinda (not great, though), The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Rent, but I think one of my circles in hell will involve me watching Revenge of the Sith and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants on a continuous loop for the rest of eternity.

I flirted with the idea of reviewing books, to make me seem really smart and articulate; plus, I could have pretty much cribbed mini-reviews I wrote on a forum I frequent. However, I don’t think I read any books this year that were actually written in 2005, so that makes the whole thing kind of pointless.

I almost didn’t even do this list of albums, because I once again wasn’t sure until I looked over all the shit I downloaded—er, obtained legally through completely legitimate channels—that I had even heard 10 albums released in 2005. I’m a little behind the times, as my poor-man’s Steve Perry cut and Grizzly Adams Jr. beard will attest. But, much to my surprise, a lot of good material came out this year. Nothing to rival last year’s best album—and one of my favorites of all time—Kathryn Musilek‘s Every Window in My House, but a lot of good shit nonetheless. So, without further Apu…

  1. Ike Reilly Assassination – Junkie Faithful
    It really bums me out that so few people are aware of Ike Reilly. This album is filled with great, haunting melodies (“God and Money,” “Suffer for the Trust”), ballsy rockers (“Farm Girl”), and lyrics that range from disturbing (“Kara Dean”) to tragic (“Heroin,” “What a Day”). Reilly’s songwriting has matured since his first release, Salesmen & Racists (2001), which was great at the time but sounds weak compared to his newer material. His lyrics are less obscure and smart-assy and a little more world-weary and depressing; the music is simultaneously tighter and more textured. This really is a hell of a good album.
  2. Dressy Bessy – Electrified
    I downloaded this a bit before its release, and it was so damn good I ran out and bought it as soon as it came out, only to discover the track list had been hastily and poorly rearranged. I can tell the decision was hasty because the liner notes still lists them in the order in which my prerelease was arranged. It’s poor because the song transitions are jarring and a little incoherent, and they put the song that is clearly the closer (“Who’d Stop the Rain”) as song six (of 12), including its extended fade-out. To add insult to injury, after the new final song ends, “Who’d Stop the Rain” fades back in, then fades back out again.

    You’d think this kind of botching would ruin the entire album, but the songs are so fucking good, no matter what the order, that it had no real effect. Besides, I can still just listen to the prerelease ordering.

  3. Juliana Hatfield – Made in China
    This album convinced me that Juliana Hatfield will never repeat the sheer brilliance of 2000’s Beautiful Creature, but if all we’re going to get is material that’s slightly less brilliant, I can’t complain. This album is probably her angriest, which is kind of saying something, but I suppose she has reason to be angry: after attempting—on a modest scale—to “sell out” with last year’s In Exile Deo, and failing so spectacularly that she had to leave her longtime label Zoë Records, she’s created her own label and put out her own album filled with her own level of vitriol. Most “emo” bands should look into this album to see what real aggressive, painful, screaming (but not whining) emotion sounds like. Not just lyrically or vocally—the music itself matches her intensity every step of the way, making it a difficult but worthwhile listen.
  4. Calamine – What We Forgot to Remember
    Calamine quietly released an EP in 1999 that blew my mind (although I didn’t hear it until around 2002), then did the theme song for some show on Cartoon Network, then disappeared off the face of the planet until they announced last year that they were putting out a new album. It finally came out, and it was worth the wait. They’ve upped the ante from quiet, stripped-down rock to strange, sweeping soundscapes (amid quiet, slightly less stripped-down rock). The lyrics have gotten a little more despondent, and there are two great instrumentals (“Coney Island,” “Asleep in the Sun”).
  5. Doves – Some Cities
    I have no idea how to describe this album, aside from “totally awesome.” It’s like ’50s jazz, post-rock, and a drum machine had a threeway that somehow conceived a lovechild, a genetic freak of such awesomeness that the world was forever changed.
  6. Neva Dinova – The Hate Yourself Change
    I’m not usually a big “lyrics” guy, necessarily. I will dislike a song if they’re revoltingly stupid (“My Humps,” anyone?), but I’ll also sing along to any mediocre lyrics that have a good musical hook. But with Neva Dinova, it’s almost the opposite: the songs aren’t all that catchy, the style is drab, and the songs are kind of repetitive—but I love Jake Bellows’s lyrics. Plus, this is possibly the only album that can make a rousing, inspirational chorus out of “The world’s a shitty place / I can’t wait to die.”
  7. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Howl
    This was kind of an insane find. You know how a lot of country songs are really kind of depressing? And they’re somber, and the singer is soulful, and they’re specifically designed to make people weep while taking whiskey shots? This is the musical equivalent of waking up the next morning, naked, hungover, in the back of your pickup truck, a sticky residue of what was at one time vomit smeared across your chin, and you get really pissed off and join a Satanic cult. It’s so fucking good.
  8. Kaiser Chiefs – Employment
    This is a great straight-up rock album from a group I’ve never heard of before in my life.
  9. My Morning Jacket – Z
    I’ve listened to this several times, and I really like it (and, unlike some other albums, it doesn’t grow more irritating on each listen), but I haven’t fully asborbed it yet, which is probably why it’s near the bottom of the list
  10. Four Tet – Everything Ecstatic
    Usually I hate stuff like this—overly percussive, frenetic, anti-melodic, electronica garbage. Say what you will about the crap I listen to, but more often than not, this thumpa-thumpa-rat-a-tat-tat style of music is usually a more frustrating experience than entertaining. It can’t be background music because it’s too bombastic; it’s hard to sit and let it absorb you; and I can’t imagine anybody dancing to it, the way it changes tempos, skips beats, adds beats, and generally vomits all over the usual perception of rhythm.

    With that said, I really enjoyed this. I can’t really explain why, because on the surface it doesn’t seem all that different from what I hate. But I dunno, they’ve managed to combine elements I hate (73 drum machines thumping simultaneously) with what I enjoy (interesting chord progressions, actual—gasp!—melody lines). Four Tet wins.

Honorable Mentions for Totally Unnecessary but Nonetheless Good Releases

Brian Wilson – What I Really Want for Christmas – I really have no idea what compelled Brian Wilson to follow last year’s brilliant and triumphant Smile with a Christmas album that’s essentially a rerecording of the Beach Boys’ 1964 Christmas album. It’s well-done but unnecessary; mainly, it’s nice that Brian Wilson is making music again, and that he plans to continue pumping stuff out (next up: a “rock album” in the production style of Phil Spector; it should be weird).

Rhapsody – Symphony of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret – A “sequel” to the Italian “symphonic metal” band’s 1999 Symphony of Enchanted Lands, this ratchets up the mysticism and political wackiness of the Tolkien-inspired/-plagiarized universe found on the original album. Somehow, they managed to get Christopher Lee to narrate. He certainly lends a bit more gravitas than the lisping, slurring narrator on the 1999 album. The lyrical content, narration, and sound effects are still pretty ridiculous, but the music is great.

Honorable Mentions for Albums I Really Loved at First but Hate More and More Every Time I Listen to It

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – I loved this the first few times I heard it, but now that the new-car smell has worn off, all I keep thinking is, “Wow, when did Andy Dick start a band?” I don’t mean that as a compliment.

Metric – Live It OutOld World Underground, Where Are You Now? was a great, great album. At first, I thought this one lived up to it; on repeated listenings, it wears thin. Oh well.

Honorable Mentions for Albums I Really Want to Love but Am Held Up by Superficial Hatred (featuring bonus “mock people with speech impediments” rant)

Anything by the New Pornographers – I just hate lispers. That’s all there is to it. I know some lispers are born that way, some of them have bizarre, powerful illnesses as children that leave them with speech impediments, or they get hit in the mouth with a Wiffle ball or something. Whatever, it’s sad, but they really don’t have to sing songs. Lisping is the reason why I can’t stand emo (which, for some reason, features an overabundance of lisping singers).

So I really like the music of the New Pornographers. They’re a really great band—except for that fucking lisping lead singer. And a lot of their songs are sung by a female vocalist (why yes, I am too lazy to look up their names) who is great, so the mix makes them almost a tolerable band. But their album from this year, Twin Cinema, slid right off the top 10 because it’s almost—almost!—good enough to be the album of the year, but seriously? “Sing me Spanish techno / listenin’ too long / to one song” (and in the same song) “the hourglass spills its sand.” I mean, why not just write music to “Sally sells seashells by the seashore”? If he’s gonna have that ridiculous lisp, the least they could is write lyrics that don’t make it so prominent. It’s not like it’s a good aesthetic feature for the band.

Honorable Mention for an Album that I Want to Love Because Everyone Else Does, but I Just Don’t Get It

Sufjan Stevens – Come on, Feel the Illinoise! – The album title, and songs called “The Black Hawk War, Or, How To Demolish An Entire Civilization And Still Feel Good About Yourself In The Morning, Or, We Apologize For The Inconvenience But You’re Gonna Have To Leave Now, Or, ‘I Have Fought The Big Knives And Will Continue To Fight…'” and “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!” betray a sense of humor that…just isn’t anywhere to be found on the album. I think that’s really the root of my dislike. It’s full of slow, ponderous songs and (in general) trying-way-too-hard-to-be-clever lyrics that…it’s kind of annoying, but mostly just boring.

I really, really tried to like this album, but after awhile it just became unbearable. Alas…

Disqualified

Lushlife presents Kanye West vs. the Beach Boys – West Sounds – I don’t believe this was released commercially for fear of the legal hullabaloo that killed his Grey Album, but this mashup of Kanye West’s lyrics and Pet Sounds music is loopy, bizarre, and slightly awesome.

Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run – 30th anniversary reissue—the album’s still great, but the documentary and concert DVDs really make it worth the money.

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