Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What more appropriate way to start a music blog than with a summation of the previous year?

( Possibly by staging and filming a circle jerk over a moderate release, but that's out of the question. For now, at least.)

Top Ten Albums:
  1. 13 & God – 13 & God. Avant-garde hip-hop ensemble Themselves and lap-pop superstars The Notwist collaborate to create to make an album that utilizes the best aspects of both genres. Ridiculously dynamic, and seamlessly pairing subconscious-quick deliveries and beats with slick soundscapes, 13 & God take the year's title and earn a place in the pantheon of Important Albums.

  2. The Decemberists - Picaresque. As Jeph Jacques said, “Mariner's Revenge Song” alone guarantees this album's position on my list, but tasteful, inventive arrangements backing the best work of the most literate songwriter around make this one of the year's key releases.

  3. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy. Okkervil River is best known for their indie folk and alt-country work, which manages to be spine-shivering and uplifting, even as Will Sheff sings of brutal murder and war crimes. Black Sheep Boy takes a page from their high energy live show and rocks out a little bit more, and manages to get even darker. Even the dreams of stones sound beautiful.

  4. Why? - Elephant Eyelash. Ever the iconoclast, Why? has expanded his stage name to include the members of his new band instead of just himself. Rather than allowing the band to expand his sound, Yoni Wolf tethers the rest of them to his stream of consciousness, and changes, adapts and creates genres to suit the needs of each song, each sentence. The most creative album I heard this year.

  5. Anthony and the Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now. In an environment where “emotional” is increasingly associated with “whiny,” songwriters like Anthony Hegarty are increasingly welcome. His powerful, unique (and vibrato laden) voice could make songs about kittens and sunshine devastating; by turning his attention to concepts like death, gender, and confusion, however, he can block out all other noise and light from the room.

  6. Dälek - Absence. On the tenth day, darkness came into being, and had a flow like a river of shadows. He made the moon his drummer, and static into his orchestra, and toured like an advancing army. On occasion, he stops to light a candle in the shrine of Kevin Shields.

  7. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, Its Morning. Conor Oberst has finally grown arms long enough to reach where he can see. His most professional, cohesive, and powerful album to date ought to provide an appropriate closing to the career of Bright Eyes, and usher in the beginning of Oberst's real magnum opus.

  8. Xiu Xiu – La Foret. Xiu Xiu's worst album falls short by being (of all things) too conventional. That aside, the album moves through your ears like water to your lungs: unstoppable even at the verge of silence, occasionally violent, and, above all, deadly.

  9. Sigur Rós – Takk... I will never have a dream as beautiful as this album, and that breaks my heart.

  10. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary. Disappointing and a touch overhyped, Wolf Parade triumphs by being ultimately irresistible. “Shine A Light” has taken up permanent residence someplace in my head, and “You'll Believe In Anything” is a fine candidate for Song of the Year. Besides; this album is everyone's number ten this year; who am I to argue?

Honorable Mentions:

Too High Crap to Great Ratio Division: Cloud Cult - Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus. A mostly very solid album ruined by a good dozen tracks of filler, random tracks of silence, and songs split in half between two tracks. With some restraint and trimming, this would have been a Top 10.

Modern Reissues Don't Count, Damnit Division: Ten In the Swear Jar - Accordion Solo! ; Stars - Set Yourself on Fire ; The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike

Top EP's and Singles:

  1. Iron and Wine -The Woman King

  2. Explosions in the Sky - The Rescue

  3. Iron and Wine & Calexico - In the Reins

  4. Xiu Xiu/Devendra Banhart - The Body Breaks/Support Our Troops

  5. The Arcade Fire - Cold Wind 7”

Most Disappointing Album: Bright Eyes - Digital Ash In A Digital Urn. Until this year, the easiest criticism to lobby at any Bright Eyes release was that Oberst couldnt quite do what he was trying to. Along with that success comes this relative failure. To be honest, I was expecting a darker, more compelling, better written, and more original Postal Service to leave Ben Gibbard in the dust. Instead, we get an EP's worth of good songs surrounded by low quality filler, meandering songwriting, second-rate Gibbardisms (“I wish I had a parachute/cause I'm falling fast for you?” What the hell, Oberst?), and electronics by people who don't really like electronic.

Least Disappointing Album: Nine Inch Nails - With Teeth. By the time this came out, I was excited as hell, and just as nervous. By the end of the first track, I knew it was better than I was expecting it to be. It still wasn't as good as I sheepishly hoped, but it was quality enough to not lose (and even gain some) faith in Ol' Gloomy.

Top 25 Songs (Limit: one song per album, in approximate order):

Wolf Parade - “I'll Believe In Anything”
The Decemberists - “Mariner's Revenge Song”
Animal Collective - “The Purple Bottle”
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy + Matt Sweeny - “I Gave You”
13 & God - “Tin Strong”
Sufjan Stevens - “Casimir Polaski Day”
Why? - “Crushed Bones”
Anthony and the Johnsons - “Fistful of Love”
Sigur Rós - “Sæglópur”
Iron and Wine + Calexico - “16, Maybe Less”

Bright Eyes - “Easy/Lucky/Free”
Nine Inch Nails - “All the Love In the World”
Dälek - “Distorted Prose”
Xiu Xiu - “Pox”
Okkervil River - “For Real”
Bright Eyes - “Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)”
M83 - “Don't Save Us From the Flames”
Iron and Wine - “My Lady's House”
Crooked Fingers - “Islero”
Kind of Like Spitting - “Aubergine”

Pelican - “Aurora Borealis”
Explosions in the Sky - “Day Five”
Patrick Wolf - “Teignmouth”

CocoRosie - “South Second”
Stephen Malkmus - “Pencil Rot”

Best Concerts:

  1. Intonation Music Festival, 6/16-7, Union Park, Chicago, IL

  2. Crooked Fingers, Vera Deidre, Mark Waldoch – 11/20, Mad Planet, Milwaukee, WI

  3. The Decemberists, Okkervil River – 4/8, Barrymore Theater, Madison, WI

  4. Anthony and the Johnsons, CocoRosie – 10/7, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee, WI

  5. Say Hi to Your Mom, John Muther – 6/12, Our Basement, Milwaukee, WI

One Offs:

Best Video: Anthony and the Johnsons - “Hope There's Someone”

Best Album Art/Packaging: Sigur Rós – Takk...

Best Song Climax: 13 & God - “Superman On Ice”

Best Referencing That Went Over Target Audience's Head: Nine Inch Nails - “Getting Smaller”

Best Novelty Song Ever: North American Hallowe'en Prevention Initiative - “Do They Know Its Hallowe'een?”

Best Summation of Purpose: “I could have been a famous singer/If I had someone else's voice/But failure's always sounded better/let's fuck it up boys: make some noise.”

Best My Bloody Valentine tribute: Dälek - “Ever Somber”

Award For Efforts in Advancing Nerdkind: Colin Meloy

Worst Album Title: Lou Barlow - Em-oh! (Seriously; what the fuck, Lou.)

Best Musical Trend: Collaborations paying off. Supergroups are almost automatically linked with disappointment, no matter how promising the componant pieces. The one-two combo of Audioslave and Velvet Revolver had effectively destroyed it following the turn of the century. Fortunately, albums like Superwolf, 13 & God, In the Reins, and XXL are starting to turn that tide.

Worst Musical Trend: Return of the God Awful Single. In my opinion, the state of popular music has been in an upward trend since the turn of the century, and there hasn't been a truly loathsome single since “St. Anger” first hit rock radio waves. This year, Gwen Stefani, Jessica Simpson, and The Black Eyed Peas each earned medals of valor in the fight against decent music (and in the case of BEP, Services Rendered Above And Beyond The Call Of Duty Against All That Is Well And Good On This Earth). Pop music in 2006 has only to be simply “bad” to improve from this.


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