The Best Music Of 2005?
This past Tuesday, December 27, at about five minutes before the noon deadline, I filed my votes for the annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll. In doing so, I realized three things:
1) I am still such a whitey. I do listen to hip-hop, jazz, R&B, blues, African, South American and other world music. Honestly. I just don’t follow any of it closely enough that it shows up in my annual Top 10s.
2) For the first time in my life, I’ve chosen for my Top 10 albums more solo artists and/or singer-songwriters than groups. A sign of my age? Or of how rarely I’m moved by new bands? Or is that one and the same thing?
3) I may no longer qualify as a well-informed music critic. As I scanned the Best of 2005 Lists in other media – Mojo, L, the Rough Trade store, pitchforkmedia, even those listed by other iJamming! pubbers in our Records of The Year thread – I felt ashamed not to own so many apparently great albums. A full list of all the hip records I didn’t hear this year would fill several critics’ top 10 lists, and so I will spare myself the embarrassment of telling you what I don’t know. However, that being said, I do feel I still qualify as a well-informed music fan, and I’m busy (legally) downloading relatively new music even as I type. As always, then, the first month of the New Year will be spent catching up on those records that I missed in the old year. And isn’t that what these annual Best-of Lists are really for? To help educate – and hopefully entertain – our fellow music fans?
Here then, are my votes as cast (in stone now) for the 2005 Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll.
ALBUMS. Points add up to 100
1. Neil Young – Prairie Wind – Reprise (15)
2. Sinead O’Connor – Throw Down Your Arms – That’s why there’s vanilla and
3. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm – Vice (10)
4. Lemon Jelly – ’64-’95 – XL (12)
5. Tim Fite – Gone Ain’t Gone – Anti (8)
6. Apocalypse – Going Up IN The World – Cherry Red (10)
7. Tim Booth – Bone – Sanctuary (10)
8. Kevin Tihista – Home Demons Volume 1 – Parasol (10)
9. Snow And Voices – Snow and Voices – Bird Song (6)
10. The Kills – No Wow – Rough Trade (5)
SINGLES/SONGS. In no order.
1. Arctic Monkeys – Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts – Domino
2. The Warlocks – Surgery – Mute
3. Kate Bush – Bertie – Columbia
4. Engineers – Home – Echo
5. Punks Jump Up feat Tapper Zukie – Revolution Call – Unreleased
6. LCD Soundsystem – Daft Punk Is Playing At My House – DFA
7. Juan MacLean – Give Me Every Little Thing – DFA
8. Franz Ferninand – Do You Want To – Domino
9. Mercury Rev – Diamonds – V2
10. Chemical Brothers – Marvo Ging – Astralwerks
As you can probably see from the above, for all that I’m an indefatigable whitey, I do try and select different records from different genres and not duplicate singles and albums. As such, it’s not too hard for me to qualify my choices as Awards. Here comes the Best of 2005.
Best Reason To Respect Your Elders
Prairie Wind – Neil Young (Reprise)
At age 60, Young remains as prolific as ever, and on Prairie Wind, every bit as engaging. Though some have criticized it for overt sentimentality (the same people, perhaps, who preferred the overt politicizing of last year’s Greendale), Prairie Wind’s simplicity improves with every play, and its last three songs – ‘This Old Guitar,’ ‘He Was The King’ and ‘When God Made Me’ – confirm that on album as in life, Young saves the best for last.
Runner-Up: Van Morrison – Magic Time.
No album yet, though maybe that’s the point. Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys swept through the London-based, media-buzzed, drugged-up English indie scene like a clarion call to common sense (and teenage acne). Controversially giving away their music as MP3s resulted in sold-out shows, a second single debuting at number one and a new industry paradigm. By the end of the year, they were singing the bandwagon-deriding ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ to American audiences, in person. Meantime, their B-sides revealed the smartest working class lyrics this side of The Streets. Who says there’s no justice?
Best Original Album of Non-Originals
Throw Down Your Arms – Sinead O’Connor (Now That’s Why They Have Chocolate and Vanilla)
Having apparently given up writing her own material, Sinead did the next best thing – heading to Kingston to record a collection of Rastafarian anthems with Sly & Robbie as her rhythm section. The juxtaposition of Gaelic voice and Jamaican rhythms is a marriage made in musical heaven.
Best Buzz Band That Delivered The Goods
Silent Alarm – Bloc Party
Sometimes you have to believe the hype. The debut Bloc Party LP could so easily have been a disappointment, but there’s an urgency to this album’s music, a vitality to its lyrics and an energy to its grooves that makes Silent Alarm arguably the year’s best debut. The Remix Collection could win its own award, too.
Best Proof That the Sophomore Slump is a Mere Myth
You Could Have It So Much Better – Franz Ferdinand
Rather than deliberate and panic about making something bigger than their chart-busting, prize-winning debut, Franz Ferdinand went straight back in the studio and made something better.
Best Original Use of Old Samples
’64-’95 – Lemon Jelly
2005 was an Annus Miserablis for commercial electronic music (as nominations for Fatboy Slim and Daft Punk in the Grammy’s Best Electronic/Dance album category confirm). Except, perhaps for this: Lemon Jelly’s stunningly crafted reconstructions of samples spanning three decades of pop, rock and funk.
Best New Beck
Gone Ain’t Gone – Tim Fite
Traveling from country to hip-hop and back again, Brooklynite Fite was heralded as “Beck with balls,” or as “Beck meets Spearhead.” At least by me, he was. Others barely noticed him.
Best Self-Aggrandizing Use of Pazz & Jop Vote
Going Up In the World – Apocalypse (Cherry Red)
So what if it’s my own old band? If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. Back in 1982 and 1983 we believed passionately enough to make an album’s worth of great recordings. Over twenty years later, we finally assembled them into a proper running order, added a new recording of an old song constructed via E-mailed Garageband files with a co-writer I still haven’t seen for 20 years, and released an album that finally put the ghosts to rest.
Best Hold-Over from 2004
Bone – Tim Booth (Sanctuary)
The Brits forgot about this album in late 2004. The Americans barely noticed that it came out in January 2005. That’s more than a shame, as these are some of former James’ singer Tim Booth’s most inspired lyrics and innovative arrangements. Here is a man in love with life and yet in constant search for its meaning. Everything’s connected became my buzz-phrase of the year.
Runner-Up: Funeral – Arcade Fire
Best Unsung American Singer-Songwriter
Home Demons Vol 1 – Kevin Tihista (Parasol)
Tihista’s 2004 song cycle Wake Up Captain may have been more conventionally polished and acceptably ambitious, but this collection of roughly-hewn demos seems to better suit his style. With a voice seemingly stolen from Stephen Duffy (in our house, a theft to be proud of), and a seemingly endless ability to fall in and out of love – or at least to write poeticaly about the process – Tihista remains America’s most frustratingly close-kept secret. The 7-minute ‘Jim Henson’s Blues/’You’re Not Bad’ remains, minute for penny, the greatest 99c bargain to be found at iTunes all year.
Runner-Up: In Pursuit of Your Happiness – Mark Mulcahy
Best Angelic Female Voice of The Year
Snow & Voices – Snow & Voices (Bird Song)
It was a close call, but while Kate Bush’s comeback deservedly dominated the front covers, Los Angelean Lauri Kranz, under a group nom de plume, made an album of equally divine beauty. The ballad ‘Goodbye New York’ is the stand-out, but her (sole cover) version of ‘Go Your Own Way’ will have you rethinking your antipathy towards Stevie Nicks.
Runner-Up: Aerial – Kate Bush
Best Reason Not To Give Up On Old Heroes
As Is Now – Paul Weller (YepRoc)/Siberia – Echo & The Bunnymen (Cookin’ Vinyl)
A tie. Weller dug himself out of a lengthy trough with a ever-changing moody solo album that finally reestablishes our belief in his solo abilities. Echo & The Bunnymen, whose mellow collection Flowers was among my faves of 2003, returned to the mid-tempo, electric-guitar driven, modestly epic songs that served them so well back in… oh my Gosh, the 1980s.
Best New York Indie Dance Album
LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem (DFA)
James Murphy’s long-awaited debut group album had been so eagerly anticipated, and so overly pre-distributed, that when it failed to change the world upon release, it was easy to perceive as a failure. Truth is, though, that it’s is a mightily ambitious, constantly varied and mostly successful journey from dance to rock and back again. Still, as confirmed by opening song ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ (to which the rejoinder may now well be, “Who?”), much of it should have been released a year or two earlier.
Runner-Up: Let Us Never Speak of It Again – Out Hud
Best Heavenly Psychedelia
The Secret Migration – Mercury Rev (V2)
Blatantly grandiose and almost painfully repetitive it may be, but The Secret Migration is so enthusiastically enamored with life and love that I couldn’t help but be swept up in its tidal wave of emotion.
Runner-Up: Some Cities – Doves. The urban rejoinder to Mercury Rev’s rural charms.
Best Album For Bored Oasis Fans
Armed Love – The (International) Noise Conspiracy (Reprise)
They’re mods, they’re mad and they take no shit. They also write good hooks, keep the songs down to four minutes, and have Rick Rubin at the controls. For that we can just about forgive these Scandinavians their charmingly dated belief in the ‘Communist Moon.’
Best International Duo
No Wow – The Kills (Rough Trade)
The boy-girl thing is at the heart of great pop music. But as the White Stripes and The Raveonettes help demonstrate, it’s that much better when delivered by a boy-girl thing. Alison Mossheart and Jamie Vince are a microcosm of the great Anglo-American love-hate relationship – and No Wow sounds like it, so tense it’s constantly at the point of implosion. Or orgasm.