Category Archives: year end

Favorite albums of 2005

If you paid any attention to my favorite songs post, it was a pretty clear indicator of how my favorite albums would play out (although I think Peter at *tmwsiy figured me out). Again, I hesitate to use the word “best”; it just feels too close-ended and objective.

A quick note: After wrestling with these rankings, I decided that anything beyond the top 15 is quite arbitrary. That said, my 14th favorite album might be my favorite album on any given day. The rankings are more of a way to indicate which albums drew most of my attention and gave me the most listening joy.

Please, discuss, criticize, laugh. But I recall John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity: “How can it be bullshit to state a personal preference?”

15 (tie). John Vanderslice – Pixel Revolt; Low – The Great Destroyer
Comment: OK, I’m cheating. It was impossible to leave either of these off my favorites list. Both are enthralling and thoughtful. Vanderslice always is engaging, and Low took a more accessible approach than albums past without losing any credibility.
Favorite tracks: Continuation off Pixel Revolt; Cue the Strings off The Great Destroyer.

14. Blackalicious – The Craft
Comment: It’s surprising (no, more disappointing) that this is the only hip-hop release on this list. These guys deliver what you come to expect: tight production and a verbal barrage.
Favorite track: Rhythm Sticks.

13. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – s/t
Comment: It’s almost amusing that some people who surf mp3 blogs daily find these guys overhyped or overrated or over-whatever. How fast the backlash! Whatever, this is a great album, and the band deserves praise for its DIY ethos.
Favorite track: In This Home on Ice.

12. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary
Comment: I was way late to this party, but I’m glad I finally showed up. Even when all the buzz dies down (has it? will it?), this still stands up as an excellent album.
Favorite track: Modern World.

11. Brendan Benson – The Alternative to Love
Comment: There is something about the singer/songwriter format I just love: the solitude, the desperation, the honesty. I think Brendan Benson encapsulates it all, with absurdly catchy melodies, to boot.
Favorite track: Alternative to Love.

10. The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree
Comment: I’m hard-pressed to think of an album that gripped me as quickly as this one. I was taken aback by John Darnielle’s forceful enunciation, which made The Sunset Tree impossible to ignore.
Favorite track: This Year.

9. Radar Bros. – Fallen Leaf Pages
Comment: Radar Bros. don’t seem to be blogged about much – as if that is some measuring stick of popularity – but Fallen Leaf Pages is a grand, sweeping piece of beauty. It’s an album that forces you to slow down before you can appreciate it.
Favorite track: Is That Blood.

8. Nada Surf – The Weight is a Gift
Comment: I was surprised that I barely considered any tracks from this album for my favorite songs list. But The Weight seems more a product of the sum of its parts. Taken as a whole, the writing is earnest – and sometimes borders on corny, but never really crosses that line.
Favorite track: Always Love.

7. The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
Comment: Really, is there a bad song on this album? Catchy hooks, strong arrangements, Neko Case. What more do you need?
Favorite track: Use It.

6. Rogue Wave – Descended Like Vultures
Comment: Out of the Shadow was good, but Descended … whew, we’re tapping into some serious potential here.
Favorite track: Publish My Love.

5. Spoon – Gimme Fiction
Comment: If I’ve learned anything since starting this blog, it’s that my listening habits depend on albums like this: four-minute snapshots of a little guts and gusto with nary a hint of pretension.
Favorite track: My Mathematical Mind.

4. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
Comment: Could this go down as one of the greatest debuts in recent memory? (By the way, drummer Matt Tong is crazy good. Like, amazing.)
Favorite track: Like Eating Glass.

3. Elbow – Leaders of the Free World
Comment: Why is it that Elbow seems to be ignored in the blogging circles? There’s a bit of everything here: great writing, tight instrumentation, political statements. They deserve a lot more credit.
Favorite track: Mexican Standoff.

2. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Comment: Admission: I didn’t want to like Sufjan. I resisted. The hype was overkill. And, well, I like him. For some reason, I’m able to put up with the ambitious pretension (come on, the song titles are like a paragraph long) if only because he’s got the talent to justify it.
Favorite track: Chicago.

1. The National – Alligator
Comment: Two songs in the top 5 of my favorite songs list, including No. 1. Was it obvious? There’s something mysterious and attractive about this album. Matt Berninger’s baritone voice is brooding and pensive, underpinning the somewhat cryptic lyrics. I’m not sure I’ve come across an album in the past five years or so that pulls me in so many different directions in terms of its moodiness and thoughtfulness. When an album gets under my skin like that, I’m sure of its greatness.
Favorite track: Looking for Astronauts.

The best of the rest (in no particular order):
DJ Z-Trip – Shifting Gears
The Rosebuds – Birds Make Good Neighbors
Queens of the Stone Age – Lullabies to Paralyze
Shout Out Louds – Howl Howl Gaff Gaff
Tim Fite – Gone Ain’t Gone
Kaiser Chiefs – Employment
Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
The Kingsbury Manx – The Fast Rise and Fall of the South
Kings of Leon – Aha Shake Heartbreak
The Decemberists – Picaresque
Foo Fighters – In Your Honor (Disc 1)
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Howl
Dios (Malos) – s/t
… And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Worlds Apart

Albums I need more time with:
Danger Doom – The Mouse and the Mask
My Morning Jacket – Z
The Clientele – Strange Geometry
Kanye West – Late Registration
Fruit Bats – Spelled in Bones

Glaring omissions (or, albums I need to listen to):
Stars – Set Yourself on Fire
Broken Social Scene – s/t
Tapes N’ Tapes – The Loon
The Spinto Band – Nice and Nicely Done

Favorite songs of 2005

If it’s true we’ve become an iPod nation, then I’m guilty of sometimes forsaking a full album to skip from song to song. It’s the beauty and the curse of the iPod. Although I’m a tad uncomfortable with a ranking system because I just know I’m missing a song (or five), these were my favorites (saying “best” is just too objective) for the year:

20. Brendan Benson – Alternative to Love
Spiel: Say what you will about his writing: it’s trite, elementary, whatever. I find it endearing, and I think this is one my favorite Brendan Benson songs.
Favorite line: “Maybe this time I could stay / and let myself get carried away”

19. The Rosebuds – Hold Hands and Fight
Spiel: This is three-minute pop bliss with deceptively deep lyrics.
Favorite line: “I have told myself, I know / a thousand ways to leave this place.”

18. The Kingsbury Manx – What a Shame
Spiel: Such a beautiful song – until you read the recording notes: ” … about two people who realize they are totally bored with each other.” Ah, but that shot of depression adds to its aura.
Favorite line: “I feel so sedated, said me / like I told you, said she / it’s not what lives are supposed to be.”

17. Radar Bros. – Is That Blood
Spiel: This song is like running underwater – the guitars and melodies just feel suspended and stuck in time.
Favorite line: “Kind and ordinary / with a smile, we will forgive the ones we killed.”

16. Bloc Party – Like Eating Glass
Spiel: What a way to open one of the year’s great albums. The rhythm section is unparalleled.
Favorite line: “We’ve got crosses on our eyes / been walking into the walls again”

15. Death Cab for Cutie – Different Names for the Same Thing
Spiel: This song — like the album — grew on me. I love the drunken, piano-lounge feel to the opening, which is outdone only by the absolute reversal in rhythm and texture of the song’s second half.
Favorite line: “And I knew no words to share it with anyone / the boundaries of language I quietly cursed.”

14. Fruit Bats – Traveler’s Song
Spiel: My favorite line in this song could be the best of the year. It almost seems too simple.
Favorite line: “God’s not better than us, just bigger is all.”

13. Sun Kil Moon – Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
Spiel: I know. Technically, this is a cover. But Mark Kozelek’s reworking of it offers a whole new appreciation for what really was a great song to begin with. This might as well be an entirely different song.
(Not including a favorite line, seeing as how the song wasn’t Kozelek’s)

12. Low – Cue the Strings
Spiel: This song builds and builds yet never really boils over — just a constant crescendo that keeps you gripping for more.
Favorite line: “So what, pray tell / will save you now? / here comes that cold sunrise”

11. The Mountain Goats – Dance Music
Spiel: Was there a more personal and intimate song than this?
Favorite line: “There’s only one place this road ever ends up / and I don’t wanna die alone.”

10. Wolf Parade – Modern World
Spiel: I think I initially overlooked this song because I was so hung up on You Are a Runner. What a great change of pace after the album’s stunning opener. (And the tuning change at about the 1:24 mark blows me away.)
Favorite line: “Modern world I’m not pleased to meet you / you just bring me down.”

9. The New Pornographers – Use It
Spiel: Picking a favorite song off Twin Cinema is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. Nonetheless, the arrangement on this song is evidence of a band oozing with chemistry and talent.
Favorite line: “Two sips from the cup of human kindness /and im shit faced, just laid to waste”

8. Spoon – My Mathematical Mind
Spiel: Love the open-ended feel of the music, and jam-ish sort of feel to it.
Favorite line: “I’m looking through you / you know who you are”

7. Elbow – Station Approach
Spiel: It’s real simple: The 2:49 mark of this song is magic.
Favorite line: “I never know what I want but I know when I’m low that I / I need to be in the town where they know what I’m like and don’t mind”

6. Sufjan Stevens – Chicago
Spiel: The imagination and imagery of his writing takes hold here. Kinda like reading a book.
Favorite line: “I made a lot of mistakes / in my mind, in my mind”

5. The Mountain Goats – This Year
Spiel: The confidence born from exasperation in this song is downright inspiring. And are those hand claps? Jesus, I love hand claps.
Favorite line: “My broken house behind me and good things ahead / a girl named Kathy wants a little of my time / six cylinders underneath the hood crashing and kicking / aaaahaaaa, listen to the engine wind.”

4. The National – Abel
Spiel: Could have vied for top song of the year. This track just explodes with intensity.
Favorite line: “I see water on the bridge / Well, you better hold my hand through this / Turn around, turn around, take me back /I can’t calm down”

3. Elbow – Mexican Standoff
Spiel: More hand claps! And the guitar layering on top of this focused drum beat almost makes you forget to ask what the hell Guy Garvey is singing about.
Favorite line: “Your sweet reassurances don’t change the fact / That he’s better looking than me / Yet he’d look ideal ‘neath the wheels of a car”

2. Rogue Wave – Publish My Love
Spiel: I’ve read reviews comparing Rogue Wave to Sunny Day Real Estate, and this song might be the first hint of that. The sound is unabashedly huge and the production is bright and brilliant.
Favorite line: “Just stand there / you could never make me go through it”

1. The National – Looking for Astronauts
Spiel: From the get-go, I liked this song purely for aesthetic reasons. Then I listened to an interview with frontman Matt Berninger, who explained that he wrote the song during a break from his relationship. His girlfriend said something about never being quite satisfied, that there’s always a chance you’ll go out there and find an astronaut. In other words, find something better. Berninger wrote the song as a metaphor for “potentially walking away from something great.” That just added new depth and meaning to which I could relate from my own experiences. And that, to me, is what makes a song great.
Favorite line: “But that’s how we like it, and that’s all we want / something to cry for, and something to hunt”