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.
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.
- Holding Patterns Records of 2005. Comrade Lane writes a much better list than I do. To be honest, I’d be worried if he didn’t.
- PopMatters Picks: The Best Music of 2005. What it says on the tin, although I don’t really agree with that much of their list.
- Shelley reviews John A’s top twenty albums of the year. Scary Go Round’s indefatigable author shares his annual list of favourites with us.
- Warpspire: The best music of 2005. 9ruler Kyle Neath lists the best things he’s listened to over this year.
- Black Rim Glasses: My Year End Lists.
- Resist Media: Favorite Albums of 2005.
- 456 Berea Street: Favourite music albums of 2005.
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