2005, In My Humble Opinion
- Twin Cinema – New Pornographers
How do they do it?!? They start with an entire Brill Building’s worth of pop hooks and soaring harmonies. Add monster drumming and intellectual lyrics. And round it out with rocking guitar and keyboard play. All in one little Canadian band! The diversity of offerings and overall quality ofthis record is astounding. At certain points, like when the New Pornos start “Hey La Hey La”ing towards the end of “The Bleeding Heart Show,” it is pure musical rapture.
- Thunder, Lightning, Strike! – The Go! Team
A description here is tough. Largely instrumental, this album is like a collage of seventies and eighties TV theme songs (think “Rocky” or “The A-Team”) that somehow morph into modern electronica with horns and synths accompanied by a female rapper. Somehow, it works. You won’t find a more inspiring soundtrack for a nice run along the NYC skyline. “Get it together” also gets a nomination for “the best use of a recorder (the reed instrument) in a rock song”.
- Dimanche a Bamako – Amadou & Mariam
World music has never been my thing. So coming across this album by a blind Senegalese husband and wife (he plays guitar, she sings) was serendipitous. It is also an example of why I’m beginning to call my ipod “a cry for help.” Sung in French, it is a blues album, world music album, reggae album, and dance club mix all wrapped up in one. You’ll thank me later.
- You Should Have it So Much Better – Franz Ferdinand
The boys from Glasgow do it again! This time broadening the mix with bigger guitars and defter songwriting. The best tracks such as “The Fallen” and “What You Meant” are perfect mix of Pulp, Duran Duran, and arena rock riffs. But I particularly enjoy the departures from the formula such as ballads “Elenor Put Your Boots On” and “Walk Away” or the spirited jump-rock of “Evil and A Heathen” that recalls Adam Ant.
- Cold Roses / Jacksonville Nights (tie) – Ryan Adams
The prodigal son returns! Rock’s most prolific writer churned out four LP-length records in 2005. If Cold Roses, his Grateful Dead tribute, is any indication, we’re in for some great music the next fewyears. Jacksonville Nights, his first real return to pure alt-country since “Heartbreaker” is lovely too. Could he save classic rock radio? “Let It Ride,” “Dance All Night,” “The Hardest Part,” and “Beautiful Sorta” give me some hope. Is it the collaboration with backing band, the Cardinals? The breakup with Parker Posey? Whatever it is, we want more.
- Set Yourself on Fire – Stars
Although released in 2004, I only discovered it this year. The lyrical interplay between male vocalist Torquil Cambell and female vocalist Amy Millan throughout makes it a unique and special record about relationships. The orchestration is also superb –nice piano pieces and cellos and the like are added where it’s appropriate. But the Stars mostly trade in synthesizers and Smiths-influenced guitar licks. Millan, whose voice slays me, even gets to play torch singer in some numbers such as “Calendar Girl”, a Norah Jones-like ballad that closes the album.
- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
A goldmine of well-arranged, well-written songs for the indie set. Singer Alec Ounsworth nasally channels David Byrne.
- Bang Bang Rock N Roll – Art Brut
The hard thing about rock music these days – particularly the indie scene – is the self-importance and overbearing seriousness of it all. Turn that frown upside down with highly inventive and fun Art Brut. When Eddie Argos sarcastically announces “and this is my real singing voice, it’s not ironic” followed shortly thereafter with the predication that “we’re going to write the song that makes Palestine and Israel get along” you know you’re in for a treat. “Emily Kane,” a paean to a high school girlfriend with lyrical gems such as “I hope this song finds you fame; I want school kids on buses singing your name,” may be the best single of the year.
- Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
A classic alt rock album with a bunch of good songs. Musicianship in this band is exceptional – powerful vocals, strong drumming and great guitar solos. Almost like an indie rock version of Living Colour.
- The Odds of Winning – The Churchills
“I try to look away but I’m always so excited; A sexy Joan of Arc, before she was ignited.” So starts “Sucker for a Girl in Uniform” one of the many great pop songs on this Brooklyn band’s latest. Along with the Go! Team, this band accompanied me on many a run. If you like your rock saccharine-sweet, check out this quartet.
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- In the Reins (EP) – Calexico / Iron and Wine Two great tastes that taste great together. Nice combination of Calexico’s southwestern inspired instrumentation and Sam Beam’s songwriting abilities.
- Best Party Ever – Boy Least Likely To In the vein of Bright Eyes, but I like this one much more.
- Takk – Sigur Ros It’s a little obscure for some – the songs being in Icelandic and all. But it is beautiful songcraft. Seek out the video for “Glosoli” – it’s pretty inspired stuff.
- Out of Exile – Audioslave The only really great pure rock record this year. Bring it to the gym and turn it up to 11.
- Transistor Radio – M. Ward Quietly beautiful album. It’s a sort of folk tribute to the old days of radio.
- In Between Dreams – Jack Johnson Nice return to form. Mellow island rock for a Sunday morning.
- Woman King (EP) – Iron and Wine Another dark, gothic exploration by Sam Beam. There is something otherwordly in his delivery that always intrigues me.
- Howl Howl Gaff Gaff – Shout Out Louds Some great, great singles on this alt-rock album including, “The Comeback.”
Get Behind Me Satan – White Stripes Not my favorite of their stuff, butstill pretty darn good. I can’t wait for the Raconteurs, Jack’s project with long-time friend singer-songwriter Brendan Benson, coming out this year.
Best Live Shows
- Bob Mould – Irving Plaza Wow. The show that long time fans always dreamed of. Bob, at peace with himself, trots out the best of Husker Du and Sugar, plus new ones.
- The Who – Madison Square Garden Rolling Stone called this “the best Who concert in 25 years.” All I know is from the first chords of “I Can’t Explain” this show rocked.
- New Pornographers – Webster Hall This venue was filled with soaring harmonies and great musicianship. The whole crowd danced and sung along for this two-hour plus extravaganza.
- The Thermals– Knitting Factory Sometimes you a catch a punk pop band at exactly the right time. Great combination of earnestness and energy as they plowed through 3-minute polemics one after the other.
- Art Brut – Mercury Lounge Ditto the above. The odd assortment of characters in this band only enhanced the show.
- John Butler Trio – Webster Hall Missed these guys at Jazzfest earlier in the year, where they were all the buzz. Seeing John shred live made me understand why.
- Bobby Bare Jr. – Union Pool Bloodshot’s annual picnic at this Williamsburg joint is fast-becoming one of my favorite annual rituals. This time, Bobby used a stripped-down three piece outfit – drummer, saxophonist and himself. Great performer; always a delight.