Don't let anyone say 2005 was a crummy year for music. I coulda done a Top 50. But that takes too much time. Here's my Top 20 Albums of 2005, which probably changed more than NME's lineup right down to posting.
Elbow – Leaders of the Free World (V2) | Elbow's third album is not only the best thing they've ever done, it was the best thing I heard anyone do in 2005. Gorgeous melodies, inventive arrangements and musicianship, and some of the most heartfelt (without treacle) lyrics around. And Guy Garvey's amazing voice on top of it all. Album of the Year by a mile. Best songs: "Station Approach," "The Stops," "Mexican Standoff," "The Everthere."
Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock and Roll (Fierce Panda) | The year's most flat-out enjoyable record. The humor in singer Eddie Argos' lyrics hits you first ("I've seen her naked...TWICE!") but these are songs that are funny, not novelty rock. (Some may disagree.) And, as Argos sings on their manifesto "Formed a Band," this is not irony. "We're just talking to the kids!" The hits keep coming through all 12 tracks, from "My Little Brother" through "18,000 Lira."
New Pornographers - Twin Cinema (Matador) | Not as immediate and crammed with hooks as either The Electric Version or Mass Romantic, album number three for this mostly-Canadian supergroup seemed like a bit of a dud on arrival. Weeks of play, however, and songs constantly coming up on shuffle on the iPod, have proven Twin Cinema to be another batch of winning songs with perhaps the most staying power of them all. Dig new New breed: "Sing Me Spanish Techno," "These Are the Fables," "The Jessica Numbers."
Of Montreal - The Sunlandic Twins (Polyvinyl) I remember seeing Of Montreal back in 1999, playing with Ladybug Transistor. There were props and slide-flutes and other twee type things. I didn't like them. But somewhere down the line they transformed from utter whimsy into a band capable of filtering poppy, '60s-inspired melodies through Eno-esque new wave. I was hooked. One of 2005's earlier releases (well, April), The Sunlandic Twins has stayed with me for most of the year. Get some Sun:"Requiem for O.M.M.2," "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games)," "Forecast Fascist Future."
The Rakes - Capture/Release (V2) | These guys have, so far, been met mostly with shrugs in America (the record's not out yet here), dismissed as the latest post-punk whatever. There may be a little disco hi-hat in the drumming, but The Rakes are miles better than any of the others and actually remind me of Pink Flag-era Wire with a working-class attitude and an articulate grasp of late-20s ennui. "Might as well go out for a fifth night in a row" indeed. Capture/Release is genius from start-to-finish and has some of the year's best singles, too, including "Work Work Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)," "22 Grand Job," and "Strasbourg."
Field Music - Field Music (Memphis Industries) | Despite having ties to both the Futureheads (singer Andrew Moore used to be in them) and Maximo Park (they share a drummer), Sunderland, England's Field Music sound nothing like them. It's all delicate, sparse arrangements (not unlike Spoon), nods to '60s baroque pop, and a cut-the-fat approach to album making. Debut album of the year, rock division. Choice cuts: "If Only the Moon Were Up," "Shorter Shorter," "Got to Write a Letter"
LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem (DFA/Capitol) | When LCD Soundsystem's debut got two Grammy noms, I began to question my own taste for including this on my best-of list but no, dammit, this is a great album. It still sounds great after having it for nearly a year, and being played at every party, before every show, and on The O.C. It will be interesting to see what James Murphy does next. Killer jams: "Daft Punk is Playing in My House," "Tribulations," "Beat Connection"
My Morning Jacket - Z (ATO) | Like The Clientele, My Morning Jacket dare to drop one of their calling cards (the gallons of reverb), then drop a key band member and pull a 180 musically. The result being the best album they've ever done and the first one I've truly liked start-to-finish. And yet they still sound like My Morning Jacket, thanks in no small part to Jim James voice-of-heaven vocals. Prime cuts: "Wordless Chorus," "Into the Woods," "Anytime"
Richard Hawley - Coles Corner (Mute) | Third album's the charm for this former axeman for Longpigs and Pulp, who once again leaves indie stylings behind in favor of full-on crooner mode, a la Roy Orbison, Burt Bacharach, Marty Robbins, or even Morrissey. Even though it was written about Sheffield, England, Coles Corner makes a gorgeous soundtrack for NYC too, and sounds even better after midnight. Swoon: "The Ocean," "Hotel Room," "Born Under a Bad Sign," "Coles Corner"
Malcolm Middleton - Into the Woods (Chemikal Underground) | If you read the lyrics sheet, you may wonder about the state of mind of Arab Strap's Malcolm Middleton on his second solo album. For example, on "A Happy Medium" he sings, "Woke up again today/Realized I hate myself/My Brain is a disease." But Into the Woods is not a dreary exercise in woe-is-me-isms. Like so many before him, Middleton turns his pain, fear and doubts into something beautiful. Even those who have never had any time for Arab Strap should give this one a chance. Get into: "My Loneliness Shines," "You're Gonna Break My Heart," "A Happy Medium"
The other 10 after the jump...
The Magic Numbers - The Magic Numbers (Capitol) | Nothing new or innovative on The Magic Numbers' debut -- this is Classic Pop Songwriting -- but few do it as well and with as much genuine heart. What else would you expect from a band whose singer's name is Romeo? The Thrills wish they could write a song as good as: "Forever Lost," "Oh Sister," "Mornings Eleven," "Love Me Like You"
M.I.A. - Arular (XL) | I don't really listen to much hip hop anymore, apart from singles, and don't have time for grime (yes, I wrote that 'cause it rhymed), but there's no denying the youthful exuberance and invention of M.I.A.'s debut that is bursting with fresh sounds and ideas. Big pop hooks too, of course, else it wouldn't hook in a 30-something white dude like myself. Just try to resist: "Galang," "Sunshowers," "Bucky Done Gun," "Bingo"
Spoon - Gimme Fiction (Merge) | To me, Spoon are a lot like Super Furry Animals, in that they've been cranking out awesome album after awesome album and people don't even notice anymore. People did begin to notice, however, with Kill the Moonlight and the high expectations for Gimme Fiction may have caused a bit of a backlash. But arguments of their demise don't hold up when presented with strong evidence like: "The Two Sides Of Monsieur Valentine," "Sister Jack" and the funky "I Turn My Camera On."
The Shortwave Set - The Debt Collection (Independiente) | This London-based trio were one of 2005's most mysterious surprises, seemingly coming out of nowhere to deliver a classy, assured debut. Comparisons could be made to both Saint Etienne and Portishead (they are probably closer to the icy irony of Black Box Recorder, actually), but The Shortwave Set's cut-and-paste treatment of Tin Pan Alley instrumentation sounds pretty original to me. Tune into these: "Is it Any Wonder?," "Repeat to Fade," "Slingshot."
Super Furry Animals - Love Kraft (XL) | The 'Furries have been making great albums for so long, most people take it for granted. Love Kraft is a bit different that what we're used to, with no obvious singles and a bit more noodling. What they've made is a genuine album, brilliant as usual but one that doesn't really work when you try and pull it apart. But if you must pull it apart: "Ohio Heat," "Cloudberries," "Atomik Lust"
Clientele - Strange Geometry (Merge) | With their arpeggiated guitars, brushed drumming, wistful melodies, and generous washes of reverb, The Clientele make perfect music for anyone who finds romance in a rainy day. Strange Geometry, however, strips away some of the gauze to reveal their best album yet. McLean still sings about the rain, but the Clientele have finally come out from behind the clouds. Strange and beautiful: "Since K Got Over Me," "E.M.P.T.Y." and "Impossible."
Shout Out Louds - Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (Capitol) | Probably the most indie rock sounding thing on this year's list. Comprised of half the Swedish version of HHGG plus some highlights from more recent EPs and singles, the US introduction to Shout Out Louds comes out of the gate come the band's three best songs: "The Comeback," complete with endearingly cheesy keyboards; "Very Loud" with its slow build and Johnny Cash drumbeat; and the wistful yet rollicking "Oh, Sweetheart." Singer Adam Olenius continues to wear his heart on his sleeve through "Please Please Please," all the way to the epic closer, "Seagull." Great stuff.
Tom Vek - We Have Sound (Startime International) | Some magazine or website called Tom Vek a "one-man Bloc Party" and that's a nice opening statement, but he's actually better than that. We Have Sound is dark, moody, nervous, and groovy from the get-go. What cemented the album in this list was seeing him live and discovering that not only did these songs translate to a live band format, they got better. You just know his second album will be something else. Until then check out "C-C (You Set The Fire In Me)," "Nothing But Greenlights" and Single of the Year nominee "If You Want."
The Cribs - The New Fellas (Wichita) | I saw The Cribs four times in 2005
-- more than any other non-NYC band this year -- though it was more
happenstance than anything else. They always give it their all, and are
finally starting to get some attention over here. As well they should,
as their second album is nearly impossible to dislike, full of
shout-along choruses and loads of "whoa-ohs." Crib these: "Hey
Scenesters!," "Martell," "Mirror Kissers," "The Wrong Way to Be."
Mark Mulcahy - In Pursuit of Your Happiness (Mezzotint) | Former Miracle Legion frontman Mark Mulcahy is in possession of an amazing set of vocal chords, warm and comforting -- kind of like your favorite sweater your still wear despite the holes in the sleeve. That he is also a great songwriter complete the package. Like recent work by The Go Betweens, In Pursuit of Your Happiness works because he is making the album he wants to make, not one that is "best for his career." That it turns out to be "best OF his career" should come as no surprise. Pursue these: "I Have Patience," "Propstar," "Cookie Jar."
More records from 2005 that didn't make the Top 20 but I still really, really liked: The Wedding Present - Take Fountain; The Go-Betweens - Oceans Apart; Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger; British Sea Power - Open Season; Brakes - Give Blood; Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have it So Much Better; The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan; Babyshambles - Down in Albion; Cass McCombs - PREfection; Teenage Fanclub - Man-Made; Gorillaz - Demon Days; Bloc Party - Silent Alarm; Nada Surf - The Weight is a Gift; Kaiser Chiefs - Employment; Clor - Clor; Saint Etienne - Tales from Turnpike House; The High Dials - War of the Waking Phantoms; Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary; Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise; The Boy Least Likely To - The Best Party Ever; Boards of Canada - The Campfire Headphase; The Fall - Fall Heads Roll; The National - Alligator; King Creosote - KC Rules OK; Serena Maneesh - Serena Maneesh