Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ben's Top 10 Albums of '05

1) Sleater-Kinney - The Woods

I have to put this album at #1 for a few reasons. First, it's the best album of Sleater-Kinney's already stellar career. Second, it shut up a lot of naysayers/made a lot of converts. Third, it was probably the album that I listened to the most this year; and, even after 100 listens, I was still left slack-jawed and grinning (and grinning with a slack-jaw is a very difficult thing). Every strength of Sleater-Kinney was intensified to the 10th degree on this record: the rhapsodic guitar interplay between Corin and Carrie, Janet's barnstorming backbeat, and Corin's voice - which had finally become a category 5, gale force surge of beauty.

2) Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

This album was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I'm still not a huge fan of Michigan or Seven Swans, but Illinois is an almost flawless album in my book. It is not a "library-card history" as someone has suggested, but, rather a collection of very intimate stories and memories spread across the geography and history of the prairie state. The songs that comprise this album alternate between sparkling minimalist pieces and tug-your-heartstrings anthems.
Rob summed up Illinois best when he told me "it's the album that seemed the most timeless."

3) Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary

As I stated in a previous story on this site, I had been waiting hungrily for Wolf Parade's debut since last February. Thankfully, this album lived up to all the promise of their two self-released EP's. Half of the songs on Apologies had already been released in different versions on those two EP's, but, the best songs on the album were still surprises: "You Are A Runner And I Am My Father's Son," "I'll Believe In Anything," and "This Heart's On Fire." Wolf Parade was unquestionably the best new band of 2005.

4) Animal Collective - Feels

Sung Tongs was a delightful surprise favorite for me last year, and Feels only compounded how mind-blowing this band has become. To my ears, Feels sounded more like their debut album Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, than last year's Sung Tongs - with it's hyperactive chanting, tinkling pianos, and tribal percussion. It goes without saying that no band, past or present, sounds anything like the Animal Collective. Also, "The Purple Bottle" was probably my most played song of the year after Wolf Parade's "I'll Believe In Anything."

5) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!

This album kinda came out of nowhere and became the soundtrack to my summer along with The Woods. While their influences may be obvious, their strain of synth-folk-pop/rock is relatively unique. The songs are all immaculately crafted gems that still hold up after intense scrutiny. I'm really looking forward to see what this band comes up with next. Extra props to "The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth" for reminding me of New Order's "Age of Consent." (Why has no one else noticed the subtle New Order influences on this album??)

6) Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now

This was a regrettedly late discovery for me. I'm not even sure how to articulate the grace and majesty of Antony's voice and music. There is no denying the androgyny in Antony's gently quivering voice - but it is a voice of unquestionable power and beauty. Antony's music evokes soul giants like Otis Redding, Nina Simone, and Sam Cooke, but, he still has contemporaries in Cat Power and Rufus Wainwright. You can not deny an album that begins with a line that may be the most universal human sentiment: "I hope there's someone to take care of me when I die."

7) Sigur Ros - Takk. . .

I felt that Sigur Ros had a fallen into a bit of a rut with 2002's ( ), but, Takk is brimming over with renewed vigor and vitality. Their music will still conjure up images of snow-covered vistas, untouched wilderness, elves, etc. However, Sigur Ros decided to get to the point a bit quicker on this album. Many of the songs are less than 5 minutes long - meaning that their patented climaxes and crescendoes come sooner rather than later. Even after three albums, Sigur Ros can still make my heart swell like no other.

8) Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Superwolf

I was anxiously awaiting the fruits of this collaboration and was handsomely rewarded. Matt Sweeney's fluid guitar playing - alternating between rippling and crunching - proved to be a perfect foil for Will Oldham's (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy) intimate and arcane stories. Will seems to have risen to the challenge of Matt's presence - he turns in some of the finest lyrics and vocal performances of his career.

9) New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

How does Carl Newman write so many perfect pop songs? I have never been a big fan of the New Porno's - I always felt they were a prime example of music that was sickeningly sweet, but, Twin Cinema is an album that is more than bearable from beginning to end. It definitely helps that this album contains a diversity of moods, tempos, and styles. Songs like "Use It," "Bleeding Heart Show," and "The Jessica Numbers" are equal part Beach Boys' harmonies and Bowie glam stomp.

10) Spoon - Gimme Fiction

Britt Daniel finally made an album that wasn't just wiry minimalism and hiccupy vocals. This album has huge, major-chord choruses! and ragged guitar solos! and a bonafide ballad! and loads of sass. Credit must be given to my girlfriend - who made me realize a good thing I had been missing.


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