Features | Lists

Top 50 Albums 2005

By The Staff

30 :: Joggers

With a Cape and a Cane

(Startime International)

I used to think that With a Cape and a Cane was akin to the worst kind of Christmas lunch. Rubbery turkey, one chipolata, too much stuffing. Then again, I used to think a lot of things that, in time, turned into other things – different things.

The thing is, first impressions are a bitch, and second impressions aren’t that much better, either. I think it was the fifth time I heard the Joggers’ sophomore effort that I came to the conclusion that it didn’t, like, suck. I said ‘I think’ because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m one of those music dweebs who just sits in front of the computer, iming random people for kicks, and listening to records continuously, waiting ardently for that moment where everything clicks, and the last five hours of time wastage were somehow worth it.

But along the same lines, I think that With a Cape and a Cane is such a monster of an album that it actually qualifies me to use such banal terms as “monster.” I said ‘I think’ because you never know. In five years, maybe, whilst ruffling my hands through a bargain bin, I’ll come across this CD and laugh at my abnormal inclination to enjoy it in less informed times. But screw that. I might not still listen to Something to Write Home About, but it doesn’t mean I’m forgetting the metaphysical maelstrom the Get Up Kids unleashed on me (or something like that). So I’m loving Cape for what it is: spastic, cocksure new wave jitters belched up from the indie rock beast™. Refreshingly consistent, there’s nary a weak track here, and where it does feel like the band is re-treading chartered melodic territory, the virtuoso guitar work of Ben Whiteside, loopy and convoluted, always ground the songs in their own charming idiosyncrasies. And whatever – if you have the balls to name the penultimate track on your album “Horny Ghost,” then you’re ok in my book.

Alan Baban

29 :: Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Matt Sweeney

Superwolf

(Drag City)

Peter Hepburn is one cognitively affecting guy, and he’s already positioned CMG behind this soft, bewitching album, despite his reluctance to review it “far too soon.” He was in the right, fer sure; Bonny albums are bloody marinade, difficult, spare, and ghastly canonical. To stumble over There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You (1993) or to stipple through the burnt Joya (1997) is something amounting to underestimating the fertility of an adolescent built on fairy tales and snuff films, something like taking one greasy limb for the Whole, one uncomfortable sex joke for the Full Libido. What I mean is that Peter was right, because listening to any Palace/Bonnie/Christian Name album is a process of endurance and longevity, conjuring the Oldham Dynasty with especial respect for Will’s formative years or Will’s hyperbolic curve of indie success. (Does anyone else sense him sliding closer and closer to that one transcendent statement but never touching it? He almost got there with I See A Darkness if that jogs anything…)

So, Superwolf is reliable. Like Hep ruminated, this “is Bonnie-era Oldham trying to channel Palace-era Oldham,” bleak and sinuous even with improved vocals and more immediate hooks. The deciding factor is the cloak-and-dagger presence of Sweeney, which—although Sweeney is credited with the music and Oldham only the vocals—seems dependent on the moroseness and black smirking despair Oldham’s been cultivating for over a decade. Then again, Superwolf would never carry such explicit violence, such sharp and shrieking harmonies, without Sweeney’s chortling guitar lancing the pus from pretty wittle melodies. “Goat and Ram” wouldn’t bust out power chords or a sizzlin’ solo had Oldham been left to conscious crescendo. “Rudy Foolish” wouldn’t sound so fucking rough if Sweeney hadn’t broken his vocal cords behind the drafty arrangement, or if Oldham had insisted on only a sensible amount of reverb. Plainly, “Bed Is For Sleeping” wouldn’t rule without math rock.

Equally indelible to this album is the “character” of Superwolf, which I’ve come to enjoy, perhaps too academically, as the stark animalism of both Sweeney and Oldham. There’s a smokier, buried side to Sweeney’s hard Chavez urges and then there’s a viscous, active side to the kind of despairing survivalism that Billy touched in, say, “Wolf Among Wolves.” Even the video for “I Gave You” swoops from Ol’ Beardy to a supine dead body, never flinching at the splashes of blood covering Oldham or his baseball bat. Whereas in earlier works, even videos, Oldham’s hirsute cheeks and wracked voice implied something dubious afoot, now the violence is palpable, the consequences floating on top of water like oil. Who knew that such primal release could be so touching and so secretively ebullient?

Then again, Billy’s always been sumpin’ of a pervert. First he bites ass and now he’s spanking ass. What’s next? Only time and your priest can tell you that.

Dom Sinacola

28 :: Okkervil River

Black Sheep Boy

(Jagjaguwar)

Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy is the album Conor Oberst has been attempting to make since Fevers & Mirrors, complete with exuberant, heart-wrenching guitar pop (“Black,” “The Latest Toughs”), devastating atmosfolk (“In A Radio Song,” “So Come Back, I Am Waiting”) and beer-sloshing country singalongs (“A Stone,” “Get Big”). Will Sheff and Co. write songs of pitch-perfect musical melancholia, and then fill them with wurlitzers, ambient noise, crystalline vibes, woozy brass, plodding pianos, the smell of cheap whiskey, barroom heartbreak, a delightfully skewed interpretation of Americana. Sheff’s overarching lyrical themes jigsaw nicely, and, even when at times it feels as though this “concept record” is really just some cutely recycled lyrical motifs, the entire affair exudes an easy-going sense of unity.

Not that the album is, itself, easy going: check the way Sheff lays into the “I’m down shouting names / At the flickerless screen / Going fucking insane” part of “A Stone,” the gut-punch howl that seals the deal on “For Real,” the mournful fade-to-black of “A Glow.” A lot has been written about Sheff’s interconnected lyrics, but to be honest, that’s very little of the appeal to Black Sheep Boy. A lyrics sheet can only impress so much, after all, and what remains after that appeal has faded to novelty is a collection of faultless songs, of triumphant bits of musicianship, of invasive melodies and incendiary crescendos. Sorry, Conor: overreaching emo-folk never sounded so good.

Clayton Purdom

27 :: Devin Davis

Lonely People of the World Unite!

(Mousse)

In Winter, blood vessels
Explode under vocal strain
Devin Davis sings

Perhaps eyeballs shoot
Out from under moppy hair
Gooey projectiles

A.C. Newman, you
Had better watch the fuck out
Power chord blossom.

Studio Tech Guy
Multi-Instrumentalist
D.I.Y Guru

Everyone went home
Devin Davis stayed behind
Free booth time, bonus

Loser with no friends
Makes demo tapes to impress
People, maybe girls

Willie Nelson, Nukes
Huge Spiders and Viking Babes
So likely no girls

But dorky Clayton
Writes gushing album review
Perspiring with praise

Low Combined Rating
But record in rotation
Perhaps Eternity

Lonely People of
The World Unite, a grower
Like things in nature

Aaron Newell

26 :: Deerhoof

The Runners Four

(Kill Rock Stars)

2005 could’ve packed up shop in July, and I probably wouldn’t even have noticed. Some web critic I make: what, did I forget that all of the great records come out in September and October? But the blockbusters we were all waiting for left me, pretty much entirely, cold: Broken Social Scene were a handful of really great songs under the gossamer of sterile production; the less said about Franz, the better; and we all know what I thought of Apologies to the Queen Mary. I felt gipped (it’s never too late to send more yuletide hate mail, guys).

So I was pleasantly surprised when this record came out in October and it was so good. Truthfully, I’d always been a little put off by Deerhoof’s blink-and-you-miss-it willful head-fuckery, and while critically I recognized the greatness of Apple O’ and Reveille, they also asked more of my patience than I was prepared to give it at times. It strikes me as funny, then, that The Runners Four, the departure record that is evidently alienating a few of the faithful, is easily the most accessible they’ve ever made. It should be no surprise: pop and rock deconstructionalists as deft as Deerhoof are necessarily keen students of the form; therefore when they sit down and actually write short pop songs not only are they stronger but they bear more willingness to buck convention than their contemporaries. “Running Thoughts” certainly benefits from the herky-jerky of their former albums, but the restrained vocal performance of Satomi Matsuzaki makes the odd, dissonant chords and the odd meter inviting as opposed to merely impressive. “O’Malley, Former Underdog” is a smartly crafted pop-song, crammed to the brim with great chord changes and melodies. In fact, this entire record is fit to burst with new ideas, which one could argue makes it the most adventurous of the band’s ouvre.

Christopher Alexander

25 :: Jamie Lidell

Multiply

(Warp)

I’m not sure if we were ready for this one. True, it’s difficult to pinion Lidell to his soul and writhing R&B primogenitors, because he’ll wriggle free, just as it may be superfluous to name-drop whatever said forebears remotely influenced Multiply’s chimes, or organs, or horn blats, or falsetto salivatings. Not that someone couldn’t. Chet Betz, a big—dude’s tall—proponent of Lidell’s lysergy and all around CMG shepherd, found a spot for this album as not only a Warp anomaly but also as a truly “neo”-soul record, as indebted to an electronic mobocracy as it is to live vocals and instrumentation.

Which means that Multiply, harvesting wide orbits and tiny moons, creating a suave void between Space and Time, is more divisive and less accessible than its obvious influences would suggest. Initially, the music’s exhausting, not Since I Left You (2000) obliterating, but seething with precisely cut samples and a holy mess of vocals. Lidell’s meticulous attention to detail is still a prominent highlight retained from his knob-bug days, but here, teased with an ostensibly straight-forward genre dedication, the modern shag of “The City” or the dubsonic sharts of smooth “What’s the Use” develop an otherworldly nervousness. For some, this could be cold and hard to reconcile with the “organic” flow of the album; for others, Multiply is fascinating, so much deeper than the glossy splendor of its first four durned likable tracks.

And then we have “Newme.” Shit is as tumultuous as an Avalanches cut, tagged with charred Live at the Apollo interjections and a heady spree of fast edits. But even with the song’s pace too wild to be biological, Lidell sounds like a natural. Maybe, ya know, we can’t handle that kind of procreation, that unlawful mix of man and machine, and maybe that’s why Multiply isn’t for this time, isn’t for us now, speaking in tongues until we can really pull it together later…

Prolificacy’s just a pain in the ass.

Dom Sinacola

24 :: Shugo Tokumaru

L.S.T.

(Compare Notes)

We just can’t yarr on enough about Shugo here, what with the autumnal genesis of L.S.T. falling feather light through sweaty 2005 hands spending this month a’culminating each definitive a’sshole opinion. OK…red-handed. But with a resounding medley of devotion and heart emoticons and unabashed claims of illegitimate love children coming from secret inner-circle CMG transcripts, the sophomore album from Tokyo’s endearing nebbish has aroused some of the loudest brass tacks publicity and commotion in our ranks since Akron/Family snuck up on us. Past the Glow’s fuzzy edges, where everybody has a crush on Sufjan and the Wolf Parade Float is running out of confetti, what, then, will be for dreamy Shugo T?

As Aaron’s already noted, a lot could happen. The rest of us should take responsibility and attest! Label interest, a spastic revitalization of a young North American fanbase; these things could happen, knock on wood, and no doubt Shugo deserves such. What’re really incredible are the thematic implications of L.S.T., how Shugo’s organizational methods operate on a logic only he can understand, assuming a full acceptance of dream-based imagery and never becoming irritating. “What could happen,” from song to song, passage to passage, becomes a promise. Sharing vital organs with his debut, L.S.T. exists on and moves fundamentally by an unpredictability cemented in phenomenal musicianship. Gleefully speaking, expect to be awed by moments of complete surprise. And then expect to feel a strange lurch in your groin akin to going too fast on a playground swing, and then expect to land, shake off the sand and social reservations, and cheer!

Because “Mizukagami” throws rocks and embellishes their thuds; THEN milks the echoes into an ethereal stream of one delicate guitar(?) after another; THEN warps into “Karte” through staccato funhouse mirrors. Because “Kiiro” can upend on a pair of egg shakers; because “Yukinohaka’s” harmonies are gorgeous and alien even rising as a natural piece of the change in time signature; because…“5 AM” is the shoegazer song your favorite slo-core group never wrote. So, go ahead. You can yell out loud because nothing this diminutive and elementally shocking will be so ignored in the dark hours after the fall of ’05. Shugo needs our rollicking chants and our Peter Pan handclaps. You believe in psychedelic muffin-pop imports, don’t you?

Dom Sinacola

23 :: Bright Eyes

I'm Wide Awake It's Morning

(Saddle Creek)

Whenever I tell people that I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning is my album of the year, they start laughing. I’m not a Conor freak, I didn’t watch the OC past season 1, and yes, I have heard Black Sheep Boy. And, granted, judging by the spoilt emo brat mantle Oberst seems all to ready to take up, and some, rather regrettable, tabloid-esque moments of madness (drunkenly abhorring the late John Peel at Glastonbury comes to mind), defending my decision is going to be considerably hard. But I’m Wide Awake is a heady triumph of substance over style, and heavy evidence to the man’s detractors that, when focused, Oberst can pen some awfully affecting music with only the vital ingredients of guitar and voice.

“Lua’s” ascension to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 may have been an indie milestone, but it was for the same good reasons that “First Day of My Life” and, later, “At the Bottom of Everything” (yeah, that’s Jim James on the chorus) would start getting repeat plays on radio: superb songwriting. Sure, the emotions may be extricated and enunciated to exaggeration’s limit, and Oberst’s voice still remains an acquired taste, but whereas this prodigious talent was previously veiled under overanxious production overdubs and overarching concept thematics, not a moment of these 45 minutes are wasted. He may nab Emmylou Harris for some moving guest duties, cheekily splicing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the imaginatively titled “Road to Joy,” but it is always Oberst’s crooked voice that permeates. It holds every other element in conductorial submission, spouting forth lyrics that may not dabble in any metatextual referencing, but strike home effectively in their simplicity.

Alan Baban

22 :: Decemberists

Picaresque

(Kill Rock Stars)

Here they come! On a wave of mirth and accolades and sum’ry cheer! Duchesses, constables, sultans, and admirals on down through the barrow boys and chimbley sweeps (though considerably outflanked by a small army of American college students and bloggers) all lined up to come praise the latest infanta engendered by Meloy and His Minions. With good reason, too: Picaresque presents a band much more assured and focused than they’d been heretofore. The hooks are stronger – exhibit A “We Both Go Down Together,” where brisk violins cleanse the palette for Meloy’s vaguely European composition. The songs are riskier, savage even: “Sixteen Military Wives” borrows liberally from northern soul, right on down to the horns, but the sun is blocked out by the vicious incision of American life during wartime. The band sounds looser, even the production is great: this is the Decemberists scrubbed, dressed and ready to present to its grandmother.

A word about the songwriting: Meloy’s pretensions have just as often been cloying as they have been affecting. For every song as wistful as “Here I Dreamed I Was an Architect” and as melancholy as “Leslie Ann Levine,” there’s also nonsense like “Legionnaire” and “The Chimbley Sweep,” that seem to rely solely on the author’s erudition and cleverness. (This is a contentious assertion, I’m aware.) When he renders pathos out of his fantastical subjects, though, he’s untouchable, and throughout Picaresque he pretty much nails it: “The Engine Driver” weds the story of a love-sick locomotovist-slash-failed novelist with a heartbreaking melody; “The Bagman’s Gambit” has a spare and dynamic arrangement that spells out the emotions underneath the career beaurocrat and his love for illicit homosexual encounters and perfidy. Even “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” the least nuanced pastiche the band’s attempted, has the good sense to be silly and a lot of fun. Besides, it’s fun to truck through the encyclopedia to catch all the references. Um. Honest.

Christopher Alexander

21 :: Angels of Light and Akron/Family

Akron/Family and Angels of Light

(Young God)

Open letter to every indie rock band everywhere: make more records like Akron/Family’s half of this split. Make music that is this jubilant and celebratory, this wide open to the world. Make music that demands the kind of attention this record does, music with the irresistable foot stomps and full-throated howling found here. Break out Led Zeppelin IV if you need to, or Dinosaur Jr, or smoke more weed, or do whatever it is you have to do, but please: rediscover electricity, rediscover your lap, and make music this FUN again.

Quite frankly, in the face of all of this, all Michael Gira (as Angels of Light, backed by Akron/Family) has to do is hold the fort. He does, with a Dylan cover thrown in for good measure, and the results are pleasant, but make no mistake: this record is the Akron/Family’s show. And WHAT a show: marvel at the mid-eastern guitar stomp of “Sparks!” feast your eyes on the extended work out of “Dylan Part II!” gaze as the late-Beatles period pastiche of “Awake” sets you up for the sucker punch of “Moment.” “Moment” boasts the best arrangement of any song you’ve likely heard this year: ear splitting noise gives way to the kind of half time beat and singalong you’d hear at a football match, going back into the noise to come out the other side into a Zep guitar riff (complete with Bonzo drumming) before stopping, suddenly but unimpeachably logically, into Beatle-esque acoustic guitars and group singalongs. That’s you doing the sommersaults all over your room, though.

Christopher Alexander