Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Top 10 Albums of the Year 2005

I feel like 2005 might be the weakest year for new albums from 00-10. This is a working thesis, but right now I'm keen to believe it. Nothing in my top 10 is an album I'm obsessed with or would consider an all-time classic, though everything is good. This is the year where my number 1 album back in 2005 isn't even in the top 10 any longer. Either are #2, 3, 4 and 5. 2005 was also the year I created an mix cd at the conclusion of every month, highlighting new music. Many of the albums the songs on those mixes have come from have long since been removed from my music library and would be forgotten entirely if not for these mix files on my computer. Regardless, here's another Top 10. I'm burnt out doing this - I'm sure the reviews are unreadable at this point.

10. Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter II
(Cash Money Records)
Rank in 2005: 8

I was obsessed with Cash Money for awhile in middle school. I repped Juvenile lyrics on my binder, the beacon of everything a middle schooler stood for. On Wednesdays, I tried to organize "White Tee Wednesdays" where my friends and I would rock white tees before it was cool, though they never bought into it. I would rap along to every Big Tymers single, pretend to push a nice whip, all of that. Cash Money was my joint and back then - we never foresaw what Lil Wayne was going to become. Apart from the plethora of mixtapes leading up to it (and maybe 1 or 2 after it), "Tha Carter II" shows Wayne at the apex of his abilities. Before the autotune became a regular occurence, this album shows Wayne looser in his raps, but still understandable. He's not just spitting random shit on two bottle of purp like "Tha Carter III" or lots of his freestyles. This is a coherent album, the songs work - whether he's telling a story of (more likely) doing the braggadocio rap. It's hard to not be memorized by some of his verses, by his confidence on this recording. Before he went over the top, "Tha Carter II" may have just proven the point that Wayne and millions of others were claiming at the time, that he might very well be "The Best Rapper Alive".

9. Sam Prekop - Who's Your New Professor
(Thrill Jockey)
Rank in 2005: 20

Back in 2004 and 2005, all the money I earned, I spent on music. This was life before bills, before rent, before groceries. I'd head to whatever store I felt like hitting up on release day and pick up a cd or two. Every week I'd have a list of about 5, which I would somehow wittle down. I'd had some Sea and Cake albums on my computer at one particular time ("Oui", "Nassau" and "One Bedroom") and though I never really listened to them, I decided that Sam Prekop's solo album was one that I was going to buy on that trip. (I'm unsure, but the other might have been Fiery Furnace's "Blueberry Boat" which I proceeded to listen to like what...4 times?) "Who's Your New Professor" is the sound of a pleasant record. Perfect in the springtime, perfect during the summer mornings, summer picnics in the yard, fitting in the misty fall. Prekop's voice is so likable, the smoothness of his music so enjoyable, upon hearing this record for the first time, I immediately fell in love with it. It was around this time that my mom and I got close and I accompanied her on some of her sales trips for work. The cd that I brought along that we both enjoyed a lot was this. Fond memories of driving to the beach with "Who's Your New Professor" just capturing the serenity of the Oregon Coastal passages, of being the right amount of pleasant and intelligent and interesting to appeal to both of our wildly different tastes. It's not the best album ever, but it's one that I come back to every so often and always enjoy.

8. Edan - Beauty And The Beat
Rank in 2005: 21

I view "Beauty And The Beat" in a unique light. On one hand, I recognize the album as an gigantic artistic triumph. Edan has taken all kind of obscure psychedelic and soul samples (and vocal snippets) and created tracks that hit hard. This doesn't sound much like any sort of hip hop that had existed prior. It's futuristic, rough and a huge mind-fuck. For that, this album is great. On the other hand, even though it's only 34 minutes, I usually get exhausted about halfway through the album and therefore can't quite consider it a masterpiece or an essential hip hop album or even my favorite hip hop album of 2005. Edan's rapping is good enough, his flow fast and sharp, his voice earnest and mean. Maybe it's just one of those albums where I have to be in the exact mood to listen to it. When that mood comes, this is one of the best albums of the past decade, that mood just comes rarely. When I listen to hip hop, my ignorant ass usually wants something it's familiar with. Something that will bump in my car or make me think back to the golden age, I don't want music that shreds my speakers like Hendrix. Whatever is the case, this is an album that should be in everyone's collection and deserves the recognition it gets as one of the best hip hop release of the 2000's.

7. Robyn - Robyn
Rank in 2005: N/A

Robyn's big comeback album in 2005 has since seemingly been reissued countless times. Some indie publications recognized the brilliant pop music contained within during 2005, the UK started to pay attention in 2006 when she gave vocals to the huge Kleerup track "With Every Heartbeat", which led to a reissue in 2007 and then finally there were added tracks, reshuffling of tracks, and an finally an American tour and success (in small part due to helping out Snoop with a "Sexual Eruption" remix and a sketch on The Daily Show), but she still hasn't really broken through to the mainstream in the states. It's a crime really. Every song on this album should concievably be a smash single. Sung with attittude, with heart, with hurt, this might very well be the single best pure pop album of the past decade. Excellent production, just a load of fun. Robyn's come a long way, and with more and more releases being added to her repetoire - she might even finally break through (again) like she deserves.

6. Mountains - Mountains
Rank in 2005: N/A

The music of the duo Mountains (Koen Holtkamp and Brendan Anderegg) always captivates me. Sometimes it puts in a rapturous state, I'm so smitten and in awe of the near-spiritual aura that their music can convey. Other times, it makes everything I'm doing better - from laundry to walking around to (and perhaps most often) going to bed. The samples they choose always seem to be just the right samples, the ambient, synth-based stuff they play is always reposeful, the guitar and strings are just so god damn pretty. And that is why they are good - they make really, truly pretty music - without being over the top on the emotional scale, trying to draw every aching filtered, twisted string. It's a music that speaks to your every day parade and it is really outstanding.

5. M. Ward - Transistor Radio
Rank in 2005: 16

I can say right now, in 2010 that I believe every M. Ward album to be good. Every M. Ward solo album that is. From his debut "Duet For Guitars #2" out through 2009's "Hold Time", Matt Ward has become one of the most consistently excellent musicians in music. While his side projects and general project seems to get more and more Starbucks-centric however, "Transistor Radio" his old-timey concept record from 2005 remains amazing. Opening with an acoustic, instrumental cover of The Beach Boys' "You Still Believe In Me" on through modern folk songs sounding like they are being filtered through a tin can during the dust bowl, "Transistor Radio" is a complete effort - one that stays strong throughout, holding with the theme, giving the listeners memorable folk songs, memorable guitar lines. It's mostly gentle, some songs have been recycled from past releases, but overall the album is a ridiculous success. "Here Comes The Sun Again" should be a folk classic, "Paul's Song" is a song that stays stuck in my head for days upon hearing, it's just a magical album that is truly hard to not enjoy.

4. Common - Be
(GOOD Music)
Rank in 2005: 11

"Be" will go down as the last good Common album. Released after the uneven (though oddly charming) mess "Electric Circus", this album was Common's most straight-forward release of his career. Eleven tracks, nine produced by Kanye, two produced by Dilla. His lyrics suffer on some songs, but on the whole, it's Common spitting decent enough rhymes over some of the best beats Kanye was offering at the time. The album-titled opening track is one of my favorite beats ever, was my cellphone ring for years and sets the stage. "The Corner", when it was released as a single announced Common back from the love ballads that had been dominating his rise to fame recently. From there, we get a mixture of uplifting (sometimes corny) rap, street-conscious stuff, fun stuff, whatever. It's a short album, it's sequenced properly and it's no frills. It's just solid hip hop through and through and in a genre that is often so bloated with bullshit recycled and terrible "new" ideas, "Be" was a breath of fresh air in 2005.

3. Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
(Arts & Crafts)
Rank in 2005: 6

If "You Forgot It In People" was an exercise in how to make a lot of musicians and a lot of noise sound coherent, even beautiful, then Broken Social Scene's self-titled followup is how to add even more musicians, making it's loud points way louder, making it sound less coherent and capturing the spirit of too many beers in the studio. "Broken Social Scene" is a glorious mess, mixing anthemic indie rock songs like "7/4 (Shoreline)" and "It's All Gonna Break" with somber, even depressing sounding numbers like "Bandwitch". Nothing sticks out quite like the previous album, but as a whole - it still sounds good. Turn up the speakers loud, rock out when you can, rest when you can, enjoy the sounds of this conglomeration of musicians. Some people slandered this album as garbage compared to the previous release and that could partially be true, but that's what makes it good. It just sounds like a good time, people wanting to get invovled, a million ideas bouncing off the wall and all being played at once. It works in its own right, which is remarkable in and of itself. But seriously, play it loud.

2. Richard Hawley - Coles Corner
Rank in 2005: N/A

For a long while I've considered this to be the best album of 2005 and one of the top 5 best albums of the entire decade. I cannot even count the number of late nights this album has kept me company since it's release. "Oh look, its midnight and I have to be up another hour or 2 - let's listen to Coles Corner"...and that would turn into 2 or 3 listens. The voice, it's so...alarming. So smooth, saturated with cheese, sleaze - the record doesn't really make sense if you have your lights on. The songwriting is top notch, the production is top notch, it's a great record that just doesn't hold my attention like it used to. "The Ocean" is likely one of the 10 best songs of the past decade, and there are a lot of other really strong tracks as well, but I find myself now not being quite as mesmerized by it as I used to be. A great album to listen to alone, not with people.

1. Eluvium - Talk Amongst The Trees
(Temporary Residence)
Rank in 2005: 17

I can't actually explain what it is about Matthew Robert Cooper's ambient albums that make me love them that much more than everyone not named Brian Eno. I've talked about his compositional skills, the humanity of his music, all of that - but let's be honest - this isn't truly that much different from the hundreds of other ambient artists out there, it is just somehow a lot better. I don't know how, I don't know why. He must have a really selective ear, he must have really specific visions that he has to conjure up when selecting music to put on an album, but the fact is that "Talk Amongst The Trees" might very well be my single favorite ambient album of all time. It just fucking gets me. And it does it every time. It could be the cover, it could be all the feedback, whatever. It's beautiful, haunting, and perfect. Is it actually more skilled or better than releases from the other masters of the genre? Probably not in any objective sense, and I can't really argue a subjective point either. This album was just made for me, that's all there is to it.

Bonus Comparison for Laughs: Top 20 Albums of 2005 in 2005:
1. Why? - Elephant Eyelash
2. Jesu - Jesu
3. Jack Rose - Kensington Blues
4. Sunn 0))) - Black One
5. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Jacksonville City Nights
6. Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
7. Animal Collective - Feels
8. Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter 2
9. Slim Thug - Already Platinum
10. The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
11. Common - Be
12. XXL - Ciautastico
13. Sigur Ros - Takk...
14. Birchville Cat Motel - Chi Vampires
15. Dalek - Absence
16. M.Ward - Transistor Radio
17. Eluvium - Talk Amongst the Trees
18. Lightning Bolt - Hypermagic Mountain
19. Brazilian Girls - Brazilian Girls
20. Sam Prekop - Who's Your New Professor