Top Ten Albums of 2005

So, it’s December 1st, and the year is all but over. In my neverending pretention, here is my top ten favorite albums of the past year. It’s not really a list of the “Best”, but likely most of these will make “Best Of” lists in magazines and such. In order, and this is very long, my top ten…

10. Madonna – Confessions On A Dance Floor: I already put most of my thoughts about this album in an earlier blog. What surprises me most about this album is how much various songs will get stuck in my head. While this is largely a four-to-the-floor club album, Madonna & Co. didn’t forget about writing actual songs. So many songs are able to be hummed along to. Yet, the album has an almost seamless flow to it. And, there’s no filler to any of the songs. I’ve really noticed that every song gets going without any drawn out prelude. Because of all this, largely Confessions is an achievement. It would be so easy for this album to have a sameness to each song, yet Madonna escaped that trap. The only duff song in the bunch is “Push”, and I agree that “Isaac” is “Frozen Part II”. “Future Lovers” is still the highlight to my ears. I’m impressed by Madonna’s vocal performance, which sounds so assured after the 1:30 mark (where the bass finally kicks in). I’ve heard a lot of electronic music, trust me that Confessions is excellent.

9. Gorillaz – Demon Days: When will Damon Albarn be hailed as the musical genius he so clearly is? Demon Days is easily better than the first album. Nearly every track on this album is filled with melodic keyboards, fun creative beats, and interesting lyrics. Each song jumps out of the speakers. Listen to the acoustic guitar break on “Last Living Souls” or the crazy piano section in “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead”, courtesy of Ike Turner. The album highlights are seemingly endless. The children’s choir throughout “Dirty Hairy”, and somehow they shoehorn a rap into it. The bit in “All Alone” where it gets all pretty with what sounds like robotic birds and Martina Topley-Bird singing (coincidence?). “Dare” has so much going on in it, I don’t know where to start. How about the incomparable Shaun Ryder on vocals? Or the pristine production by Danger Mouse? Going the choir route is very easy to garner emotion, but “Don’t Get Lost In Heaven” and “Demon Days” is a very moving ending to the album. Damon Albarn is a true artist. He takes everything seriously, even his little “cartoon” band. He demands a lot more respect than I think he gets. This album is further proof. And, one final point: Listen to how much he does with his vocals throughout the album.

8. Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom – The Days Of Mars: This is ‘alone on a quiet Sunday’ type stuff, and not for everyone. Intricate, beautiful, affecting. The Vangelis comparisons are appropriate, and I also think they could be compared to Phillip Glass as well. It’s high praise to be compared to such artists. Their music is a work of art and should be appreciated as such. I find listening to the album to be meditative. The DFA have done a lot this past year, and as much as I liked the discs by LCD Soundsystem (which has grown on me greatly) and The Juan MacLean (which almost made this list), The Days Of Mars is The DFA & Friends artistic album. I appreciate this more.

7. M.I.A. – Arular: An album that is better than its hype. This is the driving in the summer with the windows down album. It’s a blast and M.I.A. sounds like she’s out for blood or sex… or both. Arular is one of those debut albums that is so strong and assured, I fear M.I.A. will never come close again. M.I.A. has a charisma few women rappers can ever hope to have. Through the socio-political sentiments of “Pull Up The People”, to the anarchist thoughts of the “Freedom” skit, to the sexual come-ons of “Hombre” or “10 Dollar”, Arular is a mental rush. Listen to the mixture of call-to-arms lyrics and sexual sighs in “Bucky Done Gun”.Then there’s how easily M.I.A. covers various musical styles. She’s a Sri-Lankan Brit, and the influence of ethnic diversity is all over Arular. The Middle Eastern influences in “Hombre”, the African influences in “Amazon”, and the Caribbean influences in “Sunshowers”. All this spread over a rap/dance CD. The beats are constantly interesting and hit hard and the synths make the album sound electric. She’s been compared to Missy Elliot and Timbaland, and she even name checks them on “Fire Fire”. Yet, I think M.I.A. resembles them little, and frankly is better.

6. Martha Wainwright – Martha Wainwright: If I wanted a song to represent the first half of 2005, “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” will do. That Martha Wainwright is a talented singer-songwriter comes as no surprise, considering the family she is from. Again, this isn’t a list of the “Best” albums of 2005, just my favorite. I took much of this album to heart. She spoke to me when I needed someone who understood. Not to say this wouldn’t make a “Best Of” list. Her voice has a lot of range to it, from angry and bitter on “Ball & Chain”, to gorgeous and moving on “Wither I Must Wander”. As a songwriter, she can go from a rocker like “G.P.T.” to a ballad like “Don’t Forget”. And, “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole”. A song written with such suspense, delivered with a vocal so passionate and uninhibited. An artist willing to bare their soul as Wainwright does is someone to treasure.

5. Goldfrapp – Supernatural: 2005’s album to fuck to. This sounds like the soundtrack to a decadent orgy. I never thought that woman singing on those early Orbital and Tricky tracks would turn into an S&M sex goddess. But, nevermind Alison Goldfrapp’s seductive vocals and lyrics. Her partner, Will Gregory, is also a music score writer, and it shows in the layers in the song writing. If you really listen there’s just so much going on in each song. With both production, song writing, and vocals, Goldfrapp have raised the bar high on this album. On every front. The disco abandon of “Ride A White Horse” and “Fly Me Away”. There is the orchestral beauty of “Let It Take You” and the pop-opera of “You Never Know”, the likes of which Goldfrapp perfected on Felt Mountain. “Time Out From The World” sounds like it will float you on a cloud. There’s only one “rock” album by strict definition on my list, but Goldfrapp make their keyboards rock. Listen to “Lovely 2 CU” or “Koko” and you’ll hear what I mean. Yes, songs like “Koko” and “Number 1” put their Gary Numan influence on full display, but that doesn’t take away from how great these songs are. The first track, “Ooh La La”, is a perfect mission statement for Supernatural. Listen to how the beat evolves over the first minute, until it finally pumps into high gear. Such is the whole album.

4. Royksopp – The Understanding: Epic. Their first album, Melody AM, does nothing to prepare you for hearing this. From huge techno epics like “Triumphant” and “Alpha Male”, to pumping dance tracks like “Only This Moment”, “Follow My Ruin”, and “Beautiful Day Without You”, to emotional breakbeat tracks like “49 Percent”, “What Else Is There?”, and “Someone Like Me” they do no wrong. As an electronic act, Royksopp’s ability to cover so many moods so well on The Understanding is relatively unparalleled in my experience. The album is flawless from beginning to end. I would compare the album to UNKLE’s Never, Never Land, but The Understanding is better crafted and more enjoyable. And, with Royksopp’s production on fellow Norwegian Annie’s album (See #2), clearly they’re a master at pop as well. Being part Norwegian, I feel a lot of pride this year. Great cover, too.

3. Sleater-Kinney – The Woods: This is the only rock album on this list, and maybe the reason is because it’s so far and above anything else I’ve heard recently. Yes, this is Sleater-Kinney’s “maturity record”. But, that usually means boring. These songs are filled with passion. From the raw intensity of album opener “The Fox”, you know Sleater-Kinney aren’t fucking around. The clear album highlights are “What’s Mine Is Yours” and “Let’s Call It Love”. Both songs are a startling departure for them. “What’s Mine Is Yours” begins normal enough, but in the middle there is a sudden roaring guitar solo from Carrie Brownstein. “Let’s Call It Love” is an 11 minute swirling freak-out. Yet, when you listen to these two songs, it is clear Sleater-Kinney are not creating wank for wanking sake. There’s so much passion in the songs, you can hear this is coming from an emotional place. “Let’s Call It Love” segues without pause into final song “Night Light”, which with it’s pleading vocal and down turning chords ends things on a moving, melancholy note. Sleater-Kinney haven’t forgotten to write great songs. As powerful as songs like “Wilderness” and “Jumper” are, they’re also very melodic, which shows how far Sleater-Kinney have truly come from their punk grrrl roots. It’s been an evolution on all on their own terms. There’s still room for social commentary, as on “Modern Girl” and the raging “Entertain”. In my opinion, no rock album comes close to the breadth of emotion, talent, and sheer rock ‘n’ roll power that Sleater-Kinney has with The Woods.

2. Annie – Anniemal: Pop is not a dirty word. Not when it sounds this good. Pop music normally doesn’t deserve production and beats this good. But, Annie does because she has charisma to spare. If you’re a guy, you’ll likely fall a little in love with her. I admit I have been seduced. She’ll play hard to get (Chewing Gum), she’ll chew you out (Always Too Late), she’ll shyly hit on you (Heartbeat), she’ll slyly hint how good she is in bed (Anniemal), and she’ll tell you how in love she is (Greatest Hit). Her singing makes you listen to the lyrics, and it’s rare that lyrics matter in pop songs. There’s more to her voice than I think we’ve seen yet, judging from “Wedding” (where yes, finally, she wants to marry you) from Annie’s DJ Kicks CD. Partnered with the production talents of Richard X and Royksopp, it’s no wonder Anniemal sounds so fantastic. I think “Chewing Gum”, rather than “Heartbeat”, is the perfect pop song. I wasn’t too impressed with “Heartbeat” at first. But wouldn’t you know it, the song got lodged in my head at some point too. The whole album has. Artistically, the album is phenomenal. Listen to the sparkling disco of “Greatest Hit”, or the complexity in the beat structure of “Heartbeat”, or the acid house mid-section in “Come Together”. I defy anyone to name a better pop album to come out in the last ten years.

1. Ladytron – Witching Hour: Hands down, my favorite album of this year. I listened to it non-stop for a week after I bought it. Literally, I listened to nothing else. I already have a blog about the album, but here are some more thoughts. It’s about as perfect of a sound to my ears as modern music could have. Keyboards, beats, guitars, and a female singer. Personally, I like their reliance on Helen Marnie, rather than Mira Aroyo. Marnie’s voice is much more front and center on this album and adds a lot of emotion to the music. Mira Aroyo’s disaffected vocals would get boring through a whole album. Another thing I noticed, listening to the album more, are the lyrics: “If I give you sugar will you give me, something elusive and temporary”, “You put the end in weekend”, and “The traffic won’t know, the traffic is slow and thoughtless” are but three favorites of mine. In my ten “Desert Island Discs”, this would make the cut.

Biggest Surprise: Franz Ferdinand – You Could Have It So Much Better: Never would guess that they were capable of slow songs. Maybe they will have a lasting career.

Biggest Disappointment: Dandy Warhols – Odditorium & blah blah blah: Proof that I am not biased in my opinions. This album really does suck.

Cooler Than Thou: You Say Party! We Say Die! – Hit The Floor: Pretty Girls Make Graves, Le Tigre, and the B52’s wrapped into one. Try and find it.

As Good As They All Said: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – S/T: Sure, I feel like I’m listening to the Talking Heads. Not a bad thing.

Guilty Pleasure: Kasabian – S/T: Sounds so much like The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis, and Primal Scream I should hate it. Yet I love it so and hate myself for it.

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