I’m feeling a bit nostalgic at the moment and finding it hard to believe that 2005 was 10 years ago. Overall, 2005 was a pretty good year for music and saw quite a few artists releasing some of their best work. So here’s my Top 10 for 2005. (In no particular order.)
“Come on Feel the Illinoise!” – Sufjan Stevens
Come on Feel the Illinoise! is a wordy, highly literate – just how many words and references can he throw in “Decatur”? – complex and musically ambitious album. It could easily fall under the weight of its own pretentiousness, but somehow it doesn’t. Managing to incorporate The Wall of Sound into a lo-fi record (particularly on the glorious “Chicago”, Stevens delivers not only the best album of his career but also one of the best of the 2000s. With a mix of folk, classical and even buzzing guitars (“The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”) Come on Feel the Illinoise! reveals something new with each subsequent listen.
“Aha Shake Heartbreak” – Kings of Leon
Before they went mainstream (and downhill), Kings of Leon were a white-hot, dirty rock n’ roll band. Aha Shake Heartbreak shows that version of the band at its best: a strange hybrid of Allman Brothers Southern-boogie played with Stooges-style anarchy. Caleb Followill’s voice was nearly indecipherable as he belted out tales of his dick getting soft from too much drinking and threatening to take people down in a cock-fight. Every song is a classic and is an album the Kings never bettered. (Note: I’m going with the US release date in 2005, not the UK edition which was released at the end of 2004.)
“The Woods” – Sleater-Kinney
If Sleater-Kinney hadn’t decided to return with this month’s No Cities to Love, The Woods would be a hell of a way to go out. The Woods is a dark, furious beast of a record that crushes anything in its path. Janet Weiss never pounded so hard – check out her rolls on the opener “The Fox”. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker both deserve more recognition as guitarists- their interlocking riffs and wild feedback on “What’s Mine Is Yours” is the stuff of legend. Even the slower moments are dazzling as evident on the surprisingly poppy “Modern Girl”. At the time, The Woods was more than a fitting coda to one of America’s best bands. Glad to have them back.
“Cold Roses” – Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Ryan Adams released two great albums (this one and Jacksonville City Nights) and one underwhelming one (29) in 2005. What sets Cold Roses apart from the other two is the lack of self-importance. On Cold Roses, Adams seems relaxed and embracing his inner American Beauty. The highlights are many: “Sweet Illusions” is breathtakingly gorgeous, “Let it Ride” makes Adam seem command of the world’s best bar band. And “Easy Plateau” might be the best Alt-Country song he ever recorded.
“Welcome to Jamrock” – Damian Marley
I’ve always thought that the musical children of Bob Marley rely too much on his name and music and have never carved out a career of their own. Damian Marley, however is the exception wisely choosing to infuse hip-hop (in his case, “toasting”) into his musical heritage. The title track is a vivid portrait of Jamaica’s dark underbelly where “people are dead at random”. The driving opening track “Confrontation” is a perfect showcase for Marley’s fast-paced vocal dexterity. The highlight is the Nas’ assisted “Road to Zion” who (naturally) gives an absolutely flawless verse.
“Silent Alarm” – Bloc Party
As far as debut albums go, Silent Alarm is a pretty good one. There’s a razor shape focus in the songwriting and delivery which is only amplified with the jagged guitars and dramatic drumming. The post-punk aggression in many of the songs makes the earnestness easier to swallow. Make no mistake, Silent Alarm is a political album but it’s the quieter and apolitical moments like the soft “So Here We Are” that are the most memorable.
“Z” – My Morning Jacket
Z found My Morning Jacket ditching their trademark reverb-heavy sound for a warmer vibe and deconstructing several different styles throughout. “Wordless Chorus” is psychedelic soul at its best: a showcase for Jim James’ to truly show his vocal shops during the outro. “Off the Record” is charged by a classic guitar riff, before sliding into a pseudo-reggae coda that reminiscent of both “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” and “Layla”. A landmark achievement for the band, Z is endlessly inventive and rewarding.
“Plans” – Death Cab For Cutie In the mid-2000’s, Death Cab For Cutie found themselves at a crossroads much like late 80’s R.E.M. Both acts received critical acclaim for their indie albums and questions arose what a major label debut would do to their sound. Plans unlike Document (which boasted a heavier sound for R.E.M.) isn’t a radical departure for Death Cab, but rather a summation of what they do best: weary mid-tempo ballads that mixed with a few rockers for good measure. Plans achieved a rare feat of bringing in new fans while also satisfying the old ones.
“Arular” – M.I.A.
Arular is what happens when Sandinista! meets hip-hop and eletroclash. Arular is a radical album on all fronts and is the first indication that not only does M.I.A. not shy away from controversy, but tends to thrive on it by writing songs about terrorism and snipers in Sri Lanka. Musically, the album is a barrage of sounds from all corners of the world mashed up together brilliantly. Bonus points for also sampling The Sanford and Son theme song. Not for the faint of heart, but a riveting record all the same.
“Late Registration” – Kanye West
Late Registration is probably remembered most for “Gold Digger” which was everywhere. But Late Registration is the album where West truly solidified his status as a visionary. Deciding to move away from the Soul-sample heavy sound of The College Drop-Out, West ups the ante by incorporating string sections and chamber music throughout Late Registration. Lyrically the template for his later works start here: biting social commentary mixed with boasting and self-deprecation. Easily one of West’s best works.