Top 5 of 2005

I didn’t buy too much music this year, so this is a top five rather than a top ten; that way I actually have to make some choices. British Sea Power’s second album, Open Season, has some great moments but didn’t make the cut because of its inconsistency: when it’s great, it’s really great, but it’s less than wonderful a bit too often. Takk…, the latest Sigur Rós release, has the same ethereal beauty as their previous albums, but look too hard at it and you realise there isn’t really anything there. One possibly unfortunate exclusion is Held on the Tips of Fingers, the Mercury-nominated second album from jazz group Polar Bear. I bought their excellent first effort, Dim Lit, but haven’t picked up the more recent one yet; if I had, it might well have made its way onto the list. Ah well. Leaving the best of the rest aside, here are my picks of the year, in reverse order.

The National, Alligator

PopMatters reviewed this twice: the acerbic first review is very harsh, but the second lines up fairly well with my experience. My first listen-through was underwhelming, and the album didn’t really cross my mind for a week or so. Then I stumbled across it again, and suddenly it clicked. The variety of styles is what makes the record: get stuck in any one of them for too long and I suspect you’d get bored, but the shifting approaches give it an enjoyable freshness of perspective. As Mark Horan puts it, “an excellent batch of melodic, well-executed songs with a lot of subtext lurking just beneath the surface.”

Richmond Fontaine, The Fitzgerald

I bought this on the recommendation of Uncut magazine, and haven’t regretted it for a moment. This interview with Willy Vlautin gives some of the background to the making of the album, written during a two-week stay in the The Fitzgerald Casino hotel. One impressive quality is the sparseness of the arrangements, and how despite this—or perhaps because of it—it’s powerful and affecting, with outstanding songs like ‘Welhorn Yards’ and ‘Exit 194b’. The Fitzgerald is quietly spellbinding: I’d have rated it higher but for the fact that it can be intensely depressing, so I don’t listen to it as often as some of the others listed here.

Roots Manuva, Awfully Deep

Existential hip-hop with a large dollop of Ginsberg, Stockwell’s finest has fashioned a record of echoes: rhythm and word trace the inside of the skull in a spiritual dialectic. Personal favourite ‘A Haunting’ opens with a sound like the ripping of an electronic curtain, and a cold shudder goes through the song. Muted trumpets herald rippling words that wind through rhythmic drumbeats with quiet certainty. “With synchronicity / Gold-skinned paraphrase / Mystic maze of sonic mathematics / The acrobatics on a tightrope that near-broke the spine / Time for time / Line for line / Random as the wind chime.” As always, the BBC provides additional insight.

Bloc Party, Silent Alarm

Bands suffer from being overhyped, and Bloc Party are no exception. However, the ravages of the NME’s adoration aren’t sufficient to erase the fact that this is a superb album. When I first heard it, I was blown away, but after a few listens I became jaded: it felt like a mediocre piece of work held together by technical virtuosity. It took some months before I began to properly appreciate it again. It needs to be listened to at a reasonable volume, or you’ll lose the immersive effect of their trademark sound: straining vocals wrapped tight around taut guitar lines. ‘Like Eating Glass’ and ‘Banquet’ are the obvious examples, but to my mind ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ is the pinnacle of this approach. However, the looser melody of ‘So Here We Are’ shows that Bloc Party have more than one trick, the words floating on a guitar sound that doesn’t quite shimmer, but ripples alluringly.

The Arcade Fire, Funeral

Although technically a 2004 release, the Arcade Fire’s debut reached these shores in early 2005 and has stayed at the top of this list throughout the year. There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said about Funeral; I’ve heard it described as a concept album, and that’s not too far from the truth. Their Wikipedia entry has a number of excellent links if you want to read up on them. I saw them live in May, at the Bristol Academy, and was entranced: the sheer passion of the band is incredible. These people believe in their music, and their music is as beautiful as it is tragic. A masterpiece; I can’t wait for the next album.

Alternative voices

This is the time of year when everyone breaks out their “Best Of” lists, so now you’ve read mine, here are some links to a few more. The list may grow somewhat over the next few days; keep your eyes peeled.

A final note: if you see any huge omissions from my list, anything I’ve not mentioned, tell me in the comments—I’m always open to expanding my musical horizons. Maybe in 2006 I’ll find a bit more time for browsing, buying and listening. Here’s hoping…

Last updated 13th Jan 2009

4 responses

I’ve only heard the Polar Bear album when I worked at HMV. It was very very good, but I have excluded from the list (like a few others) because I don’t possess the record itself. (Like the roots manuuva record too)

No problems from me about your choices. Indeed three of your top five will probably make my own list. What we should both do is top albums of the year we listened to year after, because of best of lists.

Last year I missed a host of records of my best of 2004 list ( Futureheads, Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies etc.

Expect my list shortly.

~ Tom

Hey There,
I posted a list of my own favorite albums of 2005 on my blog (, with about 30 or so items, and some of them may be to your liking. I listed Bell Orchestre, which features members of the Arcade Fire. Perhaps there will be some things you haven’t heard and may want to check out?


~ beth

I’ve added both of you to the list, along with a few more 9rulers who brought their own lists to my attention. Cheers.

~ Benedict

Fishy, while you certainly can’t see him in concert anymore, I suggest you find a Nick Drake album and give it a listen.

~ zbobet2012