domingo, 31 de janeiro de 2010

Os Melhores Discos de 2005 - Pitchfork

And that's that for 2005. All that's left is for us to close out the year with our favorite part of this gig-- chirping at you about our favorite music. The year wasn't dominated by many overarching trends, but rather, a smattering of smaller themes: mewling, post-Modest Mouse/Arcade Fire vocalists, classic rock-influenced indie, trap-hop, psych-tinged ketamine house, continued cultural and genre cross-pollination, and a lot of love for our hometown, Chicago.

Our list includes a pair of self-released records, two singles collections, a mixtape, a genre comp, a DJ mix, and an unreleased collection of mp3-only demos, reflecting that the biggest sea changes in contemporary music aren't the sounds but the ways tracks are compiled and distributed to audiences, as well as the ease in which artists-- even ones without corporate backing-- can engage directly with an listeners. The slow decentralization of the music industry-- radio and video increasingly being supplanted by ezines, band and label sites, blogs, and boards-- helped bands such as Sleater-Kinney, Spoon, the New Pornographers, and others sell crazy amounts of records on indie labels, and assisted a large number of people in finding new, exciting acts.

50: Orthrelm

2005's most physically demanding record either impressed the shit out of you or put you to sleep. I say it was like a shot of cocaine in the arm of minimalism-- and fittingly, it came out the same year as Steve Reich's first new piece in years. Mick Barr and Josh Blair should probably be inducted into the Mad Chops Hall of Fame, and this record used as the entrance exam for Berklee School of Music. Yet, in spite of the inhuman riffs and patterns intricate enough to make even Georg Cantor proud, it's the hypnotic, Zen-calm of the thing that lingers longest. Over 45 minutes of dizzying runs, a million details begin to blur into just one. It's like catching a glimpse of every neuron in your brain at once, slipping into a coma and coming out of it able to see the rest of the world in slow motion. --Dominique Leone

49: Fiery Furnaces
[Rough Trade]

It's funny that the Family Friedberger will end 2005 with the reputation of being a "difficult" band, considering that they rang in the year with their most accessible record yet. Since most of the songs on EP were recorded with the intention of fitting onto a single, the more adventurous side of the Furnaces was forced to cram itself into bite-sized packages, creating an enticing pop tension. Nevertheless, the band found ways to stretch the boundaries of indie pop; the opening three-song suite, comprising a roughly 11-minute epic of sentimentalism gained and lost that, fused together, would be the among the best songs of the year. Elsewhere, the band escorts the listener through travelogues, tongue-twisters, and tropical-icy-lands, with deceptively nursery-rhymeish melodies and whimsical calliope keyboards. And okay, so I don't really hate you if you don't like it, but if there's no room in your heart for rock music this giddily adventurous, I do have a little bit of pity. --Rob Mitchum

48: Okkervil River
Black Sheep Boy

Without ever broaching the subject directly, Okkervil River's ragged third album may be the year's most accurate document of our Bushwhacked era. Calamitous and conflicted, Black Sheep Boy's lo-fi Americana-rock holds a sonic mirror up to the anger and confusion of a world muddied by the zealotry of terrorists, warmongers, and fools. More overtly, Black Sheep Boy is thematically built on a song of the same name by 1960s folkie Tim Hardin (and later covered by Scott Walker). Okkervil frontman Will Sheff's vocals embrace raw-throated anguish with the drunken abandon of Neil Young and the landlocked bluster of a wiser Bright Eyes, thirsting for real love, threatening throat-rending violence, and imagining what stones might dream. "Just pause and add your own intentions here," he screams midway through "All the Latest Toughs". It's a searing rocker about asking for proof, or else being led to the slaughter. --Marc Hogan

47: The Boy Least Likely To
The Best Party Ever
[Too Young to Die]

Childlike music saw a mini-boom this year as bands like Architecture in Helsinki, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Bearsuit reclaimed glockenspiels, recorders, and tinkling percussion for their own ramshackle ends. This ingénue aesthetic runs deepest for English duo The Boy Least Likely To, who on debut The Best Party Ever shed new light on monsters, tigers, spiders, and, oh my, adulthood. Many of the album's best songs beam with simple joy, but beneath the cartoonish playfulness lie deep-seated fears about the mortality of all things, from butterflies and cherry blossoms to the people we love the most. Amid shimmering synths and spring-day acoustic guitar, "Paper Cuts" brandishes a broken heart, while playground torch song "The Battle of the Boy Least Likely To" confesses a devastating loneliness. "I don't know when to hang on/ And when to let go," lyricist/singer Jof Owen half-whispers. Like the best children's authors, Owen and composer/multi-instrumentalist Pete Hobbs understand that kids feel as much hurt and sadness as grown-ups do. --Marc Hogan

46: Fiona Apple
Extraordinary Machine [Jon Brion Version]

This isn't about hipster cred: Fiona Apple's not actually cool; she's embarrassingly earnest. And we know it wasn't big bad Sony that kept this on the shelf: It was her prerogative. (Still wrong, though.) So there will be no Mike Elizondo smiting here; Dr. Jon Brion, he of the innumerable stringed weapons, simply coalesces with the Sad-Eyed Lady of the Slow Jams better than anyone else in the world. "Used to Love Him" was fine the way it was, all swishy bell tolls-- no drum machines. "O'Sailor" ought to be six-and-a-half minutes long. These songs, so stagy and irrepressible, need their languid drapery. All the heartquake in Apple's voice goes down better that way. --Sean Fennessey

45: M83
Before the Dawn Heals Us

Imagine M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzales explaining the album's devilish pulp cinema to his Tuesday night drinking buddies: "Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts was just baby steps. This time I'm blowing everything up, like Michael Bay did in Bad Boys 2. But, don't get me wrong, it'll be creepy-- like David Lynch being seduced by the twilight. And, of course, there'll be drama." Sounds audacious, eccentric, and even ridiculous, but it's Gonzales' conviction to the absurd that makes this hot purple dawn blaze so brightly. The meticulously grand instrumentation is shot into a super-melodramatic space rife with broken brains and disembodied voices. Unafraid to bring the bracing sounds and stories in his head into beatific being, Gonzales believes in his earth-on-fire visions so vividly that even the most outlandish charades gain an extraordinary credence. --Ryan Dombal

44: Vashti Bunyan
[Fat Cat]

Apparently time stopped for Vashti Bunyan in her three-decade stretch between albums-- Lookaftering sounds like it could have been issued right after 1970's Just Another Diamond Day. But that's because both albums exist out of time, in a place without genre or era. Of course, there are twinges of Nick Drake in Bunyan's sound, but her fine ribbon of a voice unfurls across the bed of guitars, recorders, glockenspiels, and Joanna Newsom's harp, and the results aren't really like anything-- folk or otherwise. Sharing some similarities with Kate Bush, her sound is one that she owns outright, a homespun idyll that's captivating whether she's searching for peace or wishing on a memory. --Johnny Loftus

43: Spoon
Gimme Fiction

Ever since Spoon moved past flattering imitations of he who is Frank and Black, Britt Daniel has whittled away at his songs, trying to see how far he can get with as little as possible. With Gimme Fiction, he pushes aside the jeweler's tools and lets it all hang out. This "hanging out" is relative, of course-- changes and drop-ins (cf. the "Taxman" riffs on "The Beast and Dragon, Adored") still happen with the precision that comes with hours practicing addition by subtraction. But there's something else here, too-- a swagger, a swing, and in the case of "I Turn My Camera On", a strut. Where tracks like the clap-happy "Sister Jack", the string-swooning "Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine", and the pensive mellotronic "They Never Got You" would be obvious high points on previous albums, they're all vying for space on a record that's full of the stuff. --David Raposa

42: My Morning Jacket

Evolution-infatuated careerists wise up: The re-defining statement is where it's at. A far cry from the Phishy populism some feared, Z welcomed us to the apotheosis of jam-rock, its once densely-reverbed square-dance squawk being purged in favor of compression and restraint. But that stripping down hardly left the band naked. Instead, Jim James' thrilling, echoing yowl pushes against the best dynamics of the year. Caravaggios of sound, "Gideon" and "Dondante" threw light off dark, soft off heavy, with equal doses of gusto and tenderness. Bouts of prismatic synths and haunted/haunting lyrics raised flags with veteran fans, but while Z seemed to mark a transformation of Mean Girls proportions, the ol' Louisville torch still flickered in the soaring "Anytime" and "What a Wonderful Man", which wailed on all fronts. So who said Southern Rock has to be bone-headed? The rag-headed dudes in MMJ may struggle with scissors, but they were the first 2005 band to make it to space. --Sam Ubl

41: Róisín Murphy
Ruby Blue

Matthew Herbert's dance records, composed under a prohibitively strict set of rules about sampling, sound vastly cooler than your standard 808s, 909s, and sampled bongos. But the focus on process obscures Herbert's real talent: showcasing the female vocal in a post-house context. Ruby Blue, a collaboration with Moloko singer Róisín Murphy, is Herbert's most complete statement to date, a string of dusky torch songs, slo-mo dance-floor grooves, and clattery glam pop. But it's Murphy who makes the album something of a mini-masterpiece. Leaving behind the mannerisms that sometimes marred Moloko, her jazz-tinged (but thankfully not "jazzy"), dark-chocolate-rich voice fully inhabits each of these songs in a way no sample ever could. Sublime. --Jess Harvell

40: Young Jeezy
Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101
[Def Jam]

Young Jeezy's lyrics read unimaginative and redundant, but their meaning goes worlds beyond words. Backlit by emphatic sibilation, Thug Motivation's fatuous punchlines became instant catchphrases-- even the album's windiest hustler bullshitting sounded revolutionary. Self-help gurus and stadium church sermonizers use similar oratory chops to brainwash, but Jeezy doesn't need an industry or a pulpit to rally a crowd. He offers inspiration by the truckload ("like the bread people") over cold steel beats. Thug Motivation's best tracks even flirted with poignance; at very least they were pithy. Coke, rap, academics: Whatever your hustle, "Sky's the Limit" exhorted, "get on your grind and get it." And respect the similes: A player in the game "like John Madden," Jeezy knows Money Talks... "like Charlie Sheen." Call it Trivial Pursuit. --Sam Ubl

39: Robyn

Who's that girl? You mean the former Swedish pre-teen pop star, turned fly-by-night trans-Atlantic Billboard baby, turned major label detritus, turned entrepreneurial pop polyglot? The one that's sick of the rules that said she couldn't rap or perform stripped-down rock ballads or sing about robots? The one that goes from telling a Nazi creep to piss up a rope to making her bad boy toy mittens and pie? The one that introduces her newest album with the best résumé ever ("Tetris" queen and Cosa Nostra consigliere!) and actually backs it up? Oh, she's just one of the best things that happened to music this year that folks on the wrong side of the Atlantic never heard. The manservant reading her curriculum vitae has the right idea: Please turn it the fuck up. And don't eat in her jacuzzi. --David Raposa

38: Devendra Banhart
Cripple Crow

If Devendra Banhart arrived in the new millennium with something of the prophet about him, anticipating the torrents of hippie-folk to come with a wild-eyed fervor, then 2005 might be the year he finally went up to the mountain. On Oh Me Oh My, he hunkered down in the densely canopied and lightless regions of the wilderness, raving. Nino Rojo and Rejoicing in the Hands found him on the outskirts, traversing clearings that let some air into his suffocating dirges. Cripple Crow represents a clean separation-- Banhart's body digs into the elegantly rootsy arrangements on the ground, but the music hangs somewhere high and remote in the cold, thin air, weirdly iconic. The meat of the vision has been revealed, and though its vaguely disturbing aspects are sometimes tough to swallow, they remain extremely palatable to chew over. --Brian Howe

37: Dominik Eulberg
Kreucht & Fleucht

Virtually any serviceable DJ mix is able to make tracks from disparate sources sound as though they belong together. But only the very best mixes can make their various tracks sound as if they were composed together, a feat Dominik Eulberg achieves on his brilliant double-disc mix Kreucht & Fleucht. Over the course of this set's two complementary halves, Eulberg provides a dazzling cross-sectional of inspired post-minimalist techno, joining crucial tracks from usual suspects like Michael Mayer, John Tejada, and Ricardo Villalobos (as Termiten) so seamlessly that each seems to be germinated from a single root system. On Kreucht he stays close to the ground, creeping through the shadowy digital underbrush of Dub Kult and Losoul, while Fleucht quickly soars via Steve Barnes' lithesome "Cosmic Sandwich" for the satellite's-eye perspective of these same fertile regions, territories worth frequent exploration whether by land or air. --Matthew Murphy

36: Keith Fullerton Whitman

How did he make this work? A series of rigorously focused single-instrument studies that seems to effortlessly telescope across the historical and technical spectrum of electronic music from Varese to Fennesz. But instead of being museum-grade mummy dust, this album is listenable as hell. You want to ride this ride again. If Whitman had just stuck to rippling, pointillist pools of piano and cycling moiré patterns of acoustic and electric guitar, he'd have made one of 2005's loveliest albums, easy. Instead, he also included the sneaky cathedral funk of his Farfisa track, and three compositions for Serge Modular Prototype that are as otherworldly as a Martian lawn sprinkler, and in the process, created one of 2005's best albums. --Drew Daniel

35: The Game
The Documentary

Before he became G-Unit's fallen angel, doling out disses by the bar-ful, the Game played messiah for a West Coast scene on life support. A diamond in the rough whose gruff voice lacked the magnetism to rely on club hooks, he meticulously spit powerful verses before deferring to a wisely chosen guest to bring the chorus home-- all while maintaining album cohesion. Although The Documentary perpetuated Game's factious mixtape persona, emotionally charged tracks like "Dreams", "Hate It or Love It", and "Like Father, Like Son" parlayed the urban pastoral, revealing another dimension to Dr. Dre's raw protégé. We wouldn't truly see the Game having fun until "300 Bars & Runnin'", but with G-Unit's embarrassingly simplistic 2005 releases, someone needed to sober up rap. --Adam Moerder

34: Silver Jews
Tanglewood Numbers
[Drag City]

In the runup to Tanglewood Numbers' release, David Berman began to address his horrendous recent drug meltdown in interviews that normally feature studio anecdotes and lessons about the thics of downloading. Reading the results was as painful as being confronted with a close relative's collapse. Whether Berman likes it or not, his pained disclosures are now part of this album; it's impossible to take the vicious punch of the record's opening couplet, or the raw lament of "K-Hole", or even the half-hidden desperation of "Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed" without genuinely worrying for the man talking to you. That said, it's also impossible to miss the intact precision of the trademark cracked similes, or the humor-- all three cited songs also happen to be hilarious-- or the welcome scrape and wail of Stephen Malkmus's guitar getting our guy's back. --Michael Idov

33: Bloc Party
Silent Alarm

Rising above their numerous de facto neo-post partners, these four skinny lads from London have a gift for urgent bursts of tidy treble. Thanks to not-so-brave spawns of Franz, the sound alone-- metal-scratch upstrokes, dexterous bottoms, alternating bass and snare pops-- isn't making indie kids pretend to dance anymore. So Bloc Party bolster their oft-tried attack with finely articulated pop songwriting, some lush balladry, and an emotional core. "Like Eating Glass" rips away shards of static as jittering hi-end duels raze maddening rhythms. Kele Okereke's blatant British wail aces the insistent anthems, his yelping delivery still steeped in a youthful vigor full of big ideas finding their form. The progressive "Pioneers" sums sweetly; "we will not be the last" isn't a copycat warning as much as a full-force mantra. --Ryan Dombal

32: Beanie Sigel
The B.Coming

The B. Coming is the sound of darkness closing in and hope slipping away. Beanie was always the guy in the Rocafella camp who could never quite relax; he didn't seem at home popping champagne in stretch limos, but he wouldn't think twice about leaping off a tour bus to stomp some fool out. Sigel recorded this album between being sentenced on a federal gun charge and starting his prison term, and his burly voice drips with an angry, regretful bitterness. The curled-lip gun-talk ferocity is still there: "Only clap from the neck up, I'd let the heck-lar plug 'em/ I don't think they make Kevlar skullies." But along with it, there's the sad, quiet understanding that he'll have to pay for his short fuse: "I do my dirt so my kids can see heaven on earth/ But the pain in my heart, it weighs heavy, it hurt." All the while, his producers reimagine post-Blueprint East Coast street-rap as sweeping, cinematic gutter-blues. --Tom Breihan

31: Konono No. 1
[Crammed Discs]

The band's unabridged name is Orchestre Tout Puissant Likembe Konono No. 1 de Mingiedi, the first part of which translates to "All-Mighty Likembe Orchestra." It's difficult to argue otherwise: Konono No. 1 is like nothing you've ever heard, unless you happened to catch them on the streets of Kinshasa performing their rudely amplified take on traditional Bazombo trance music with improvised microphones and hand-made speakers. Distorted thumb pianos blast jagged melodies, vocals are shouted through megaphones, and a percussion section whales on both scrap metal and actual drums. It's a startlingly funky sound that effortlessly-- indeed, accidentally-- launches traditional music into the avant-garde, and must be heard to be believed. --Joe Tangari

30: Franz Ferdinand
You Could Have It So Much Better

The snappy Scots went through their expected growing pains this year, and You Could Have It So Much Better is undeniably less immediate than their debut. Then again, listening back to Franz Ferdinand, you start to hear the strain of two or three exciting ideas stretched across a whole album. I'm not totally convinced by their balladry (Alex's love song to a Fiery Furnace on "Eleanor Put Your Boots Back On"), and the tempo shifts on "That Was Easy" are fussy the way smart lads showing off always are. But "Do You Want To" and the title track are as fist-pumpingly great as anything from the debut, and after a few listens, even the less immediate rockers start to sound catchy and strangely familiar, like the greatest Britpop B-sides collection you never heard. Plus, they're still one of the two or three rock bands in the charts that I'd actually want to have a beer with. --Jess Harvell

29: Serena Maneesh
Serena Maneesh

Make-out album of the year? Wobbly, riff-tastic, narcotic, Norwegian quintet Serena Maneesh pilot a Jesus & Mary Chain, Velvet Underground, MBV, and Spacemen 3 purple haze. The band is fronted by Emil Nikolaisen, who does for Loveless what Dungen-hero Gustav Ejstes did for late-1960s/early-70s pastoral acid-rocked psych. The best tracks allow time for cycling through blissful pop-noise dynamics and elevator musings, sprinkling in syrupy boy and/or girl harmonies when necessary. The shorter songs are stunners, too: Less than two minutes long, "Un-Deux"'s sugar swirl outshines shoegaze tracks four times its size. --Brandon Stosuy

28: Sunn O)))
Black One
[Southern Lord]

Metal for Morton Feldman fans? Pimping the signature soundwaves, Sunn 0)))'s sixth is the duo's darkest, heaviest, most exquisitely recorded wall-of-howl to date. For those turned off in the past, Black One occasionally chops drone into manageable chunks, offering unsheathed power chords and dank well rattles casting bite-sized gloom. Of course, more than a few doom mammoths remain, none more glorious than the 16-minute blood bath "Báthory Erzsébet", anchored with notorious mummified casket-in-hearse vocals of Xasthur architect, Malefic. Black Metalists should be equally pleased with the cameo by Wrest and an extended cover of Immortal's "Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)". Harsh noise guru John Wiese and ambient guitarist Oren Ambarchi also add details, but per usual, the Sunn 0))) solar system is powered by core members Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley. It's been well documented that the duo began as a self-proclaimed Earth cover band, but it's time to update the bio-- more than anything, Black One proves Anderson and O'Malley worthy of their own acolytes. --Brandon Stosuy

27: Jamie Lidell

Escaping the reductive seductions of his weird-core past-- harder, faster, grainier-- Jamie Lidell multiplied himself into a new polymorphism: blue-eyed soul devotee, self-sampling beatbox (if beatboxers imitated Merzbow, perhaps), multimedia showman. Onstage, he handily strips the title "performance artist" from lesser acts with more props-- his larynx-shredding, demon-exorcising blasts of naked funk and deadpan discomfort are more Marina Abramovic than Fischerspooner. Straighter than his recordings with Crisitan Vogel as Super_Collider, and nothing like his live shows whatsoever, Multiply is Sunday morning with tea and a kiss, complete with pretty much the whole Stax/Motown/etc. catalogues playing in the background. There are just enough glitches to make the Warp label stick, but the joint's really just about Jamie doing what he does best: splitting himself six ways at once-- until he comes crashing back together in the most unexpected harmony you've ever heard. --Philip Sherburne

26: The Decemberists
[Kill Rock Stars]

As the bullies, jocks, and corporate thugs grew ever more powerful this year, the Decemberists marched onward in their quest to make the world safe for pansies. Armed with the grandest melodies, swankiest arrangements, and silliest costumes of their career, Colin Meloy and his merry gentlemen and women delivered an album that could be adored far beyond the drama club. The love songs are straightforward and universal, the "Lust for Life" rip works despite the odds, and the anti-war protest succeeds without condescension. Even the nine-minute nautical one-act play doesn't suck. In 53 minutes, Meloy is a teenage prostitute, a disgraced athlete, a drowning lover, a government official trysting with a spy, and a vengeful seaman trapped in the belly of a whale. But most of all, he's a writer, a writer of fictions, and these are his most captivating stories yet. --Amy Phillips

25: Alan Braxe & Friends
The Upper Cuts

Remember dancepunk and how indie-America had suddenly come to party a few years ago? Well, this is the year they really wanted to dance, jamming to Annie, M.I.A., Vitalic, Optimo, Isolée, and Daft Punk associate Alan Braxe. Braxe first came to most indie folks' attention last year when "Rubicon" appeared on Erlend Øye's (now seemingly pretty damn seminal) DJ-Kicks set, but singles comp The Upper Cuts demonstrates why he was destined to cross over to the rock kids at some point anyway. Be it the classic house anthem "Music Sounds Better With You", the nostalgic, Avalanches-esque impressionist disco of "In Love With You", or any number of tracks produced with frequent partner Fred Falke, Braxe knows how to turn 80s MOR veneer into contemporary dancefloor heaven. No, I don't get the fake G-Funk track either, but everything else is just sparkling. --Dominique Leone

24: The Mountain Goats
The Sunset Tree

Stories of abuse can prick plenty of ears, but maturity is a more difficult sell. Imagine our surprise when the incisive John Darnielle silenced armchair dissectors with a full-blown autobiographical song cycle, and it came out all grown-up sounding. Stately and somber through the end, the juicier details take a back seat to elegiac centerpiece tracks like "Dinu Lupatti's Bones" or "Pale Green Things". There's hope in some moments, but the sole smile cracked comes from a tiny record player in "Dance Music" (in a sneaky pre-chorus deadpan, "so this is what the volume knob is for"). Is the same guy who birthed the doomed Alpha couple? Where's the venom? Save for the revenge fantasy of "The Lion's Teeth", the worst thing he can say is, "There's always gonna be a few things, maybe several things, that you're gonna find really difficult to forgive," on "Up the Wolves". But with the usual evocative lyrics (particularly on "Broom People") and the richest sonic palette since the Goats went high-fidelity or bust, The Sunset Tree is more a journey to find peace than a document of dark times. --Jason Crock

23: Ladytron
The Witching Hour

Ladytron used to be rather abstractly cool-- less a great band than an irresistible idea of one-- and filled their first two albums with tracks that hewed perfectly to their bandname, instrumentation, fashion, and appearance. What else would these four do if not coo about cracked LCDs over icy electro? On The Witching Hour, the ghost of Ladytron's brilliantly trashy cover of Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)" (not included here) hangs over the album: The song's the thing, and style is secondary. The stark Bauhaus (school, not band) lines of "Destroy Everything You Touch" and "International Dateline", the brave fragility of "Beauty", and the endless upward spiral of "All the Way" would still be there if the songs were played on an acoustic guitar, or by a jug band. This is what we all wanted Depeche Mode's comeback to be. --Michael Idov

22: Broadcast
Tender Buttons

Maybe every band should strip down to a duo for its third album: The change has left Broadcast sounding fresher and more purposeful than ever, and it's turned Tender Buttons into a minimalist wonder. Old synths buzzing and humming, vintage drum machines ticking time, Trish Keenan's voice swimming in old-fashioned reverb: The sounds could be otherworldly, but their raw bite-- and the big, empty room they're coming out of-- make it all feel like that "other world" is just the basement next door. Whether those pop-drone basics are lulling and soothing or kicking up touches of psychedelic snarl, this stuff feels pure, simple, and weighty, from the inside out: Like Young Marble Giants and Kraftwerk, these two are taking handfuls of warm, spare lines and making them feel like something fierce. And when was the last time you heard a saw-tooth wave swing like "Michael, A Grammar?" --Nitsuh Abebe

21: Bonnie "Prince" Billy & Matt Sweeney
[Drag City]

No matter your tastes, somewhere there's a Will Oldham record waiting just for you: Superwolf sees Oldham's Bonnie "Prince" Billy incarnation pairing with Chavez guitarist Matt Sweeney to crank out grim, skeletal gothic folk that's alternately absurd and heartbreaking. For the most part, Superwolf is so bare-boned it feels spontaneous, looping around a stark guitar melody or a bit of nonsensical wordplay, and eventually oozing into something so weird and beautiful it's almost hard to hear. Opener "My Home Is the Sea" neatly highlights Sweeney's penchant for scrappy guitar play, but "Bed Is for Sleeping" sees both artists at their most vulnerable, a gorgeous tangle of harmonized voices and see-through guitar. --Amanda Petrusich

20: The Hold Steady
Separation Sunday

"Tramps like us...and we like tramps." Taking the same liberties with the Bible as it takes with Born to Run, the Hold Steady weave an album-length "comeback story" about a Catholic girl named Holly (who a generation ago could have been Rosalita or Crazy Janey), full of Minneapolis landmarks and incidental characters: hoodrats, skatepunks, junkies, whores, the resurrected, and the redeemed-- all born to run to something they'll run from later on. But the Hold Steady's so stoked over its classic-rock touchstones-- Springsteen obviously, but also Meat Loaf, Thin Lizzy, Bob Seger, and Fleetwood Mac-- that the sound proves just as crucial to the story as Finn's lyrics. These aren't the likely sources shared around the indie scene-- most bands are still trying to cop some inspiration from postpunk-- and maybe that's the point. Separation Sunday is enormous guitar rock that tells an equally outsize urban epic. --Stephen M. Deusner

019: Sleater-Kinney
The Woods
[Sub Pop]

Upon the release of The Woods, much was made of Sleater-Kinney's increased debts to the classic rock of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Led Zeppelin. But though the album does indeed signal a transformation in the trio's approach, the influence of these ancestors is felt as much in the group's brash, authoritative swagger as in any musical specifics. From the wry, gritty fable of "The Fox" to the audacious 11-minute jam of "Let's Call It Love", The Woods features players without a hesitant bone in their bodies, confidently allowing their music to surge repeatedly from its banks into powerful, barely-contained metallic cascades. The lyrics of the harrowing "Jumpers" or the caustic "Modern Girl" craftily frame portraits of societal alienation. Never before have Sleater-Kinney sounded so in command of their resources, and on The Woods they're at their most effective in those moments when they simply allow Carrie Brownstein's molten guitar to carry their collective disaffection back and forth into the red. --Matthew Murphy

018: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
[Clap Your Hands Say Yeah]

Great artists redefine the limits of their chosen art forms. Brooklyn five-piece Clap Your Hands Say Yeah gleefully nudge the bounds of good rockness on this self-released debut, daring you to dislike their froggy Violent Femmes vox and childish instrumentation, their carnie-barking intros and endlessly incanted finales, their bizarre but inscrutable lyrics and, of course, their unignorable, instamockable moniker. Easy to lose amid all that (and the Bowie sightings) is the melodic pop songwriting justifying the band's quirks. "Details of the War", in its wafting Dylan-like grandeur, may be the best entry for non-indie ears, but the joyous synths of "My Yellow Country Teeth", the crackling surge of "Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away", and the melancholy post-Loveless jangle of "In This Home on Ice" all have their own rewards. It's a record about rebirth: moving to the city, finding a new face, falling in love, and picking up the pieces-- clapping your hands and saying, finally, wtf. --Marc Hogan

017: The Clientele
Strange Geometry

On their first two albums, the Clientele enjoyed a limitless supply of bewitching melodies, literate lyrics, and sopping psych guitars. Nothing's changed on Strange Geometry, and Alasdair MacLean seems even more insufferable and embittered: He gets dizzy, quotes Tom Verlaine on his MySpace, and stumbles around London intersections in a haze of desire and despair. The album's somewhere between a world-weary travel guide and an inebriated interior monologue. Even their best attempts at spiritual euphoria ("Spirit", "Step Into the Light") are overwhelmed by gnomic invocations of loss, silence and amnesia. But Geometry's not just music for seducing grad-school scribes. (Christ, even the string arranger was a philosophy teacher at the École normale supérieure.) It's also surprisingly warm and serene, as equally capable of soundtracking Sunday croquet tournaments as your next psychic breakdown. Still, there's really no point in offering praise. On "Since K Got Over Me", the Clientele malign even their own success: "I'm pretty tired of making lists/ It's just this emptiness I can't chase away." MacLean must've been a rock critic in another life. --Alex Linhardt

016: Love Is All
Nine Times That Same Song
[What's Your Rupture?]

A lot of today's rock bands seem caged by the blueprints of their own styles. "Dance band," "new wave revivalists," whatever; sometimes it feels like someone wrote three pages of a novel just so he could bind it in some lovely leather covers. The building blocks of this Swedish band's shouty pop, though, are too basic to even start wondering where they came from-- and tossing out all that stifling "style" triangulation leaves them free to blaze through a set of massively affecting songs. Moody slow burns, sax-squealing singalong, guitar-swinging boogie, joyous background shouts, and carefree heel-kicking: This is a short but thrilling run of happy neuroses and happy surprises, packed with text and wrapped in a lovable post-punk binding. Funny how most of the acts you could compare it to-- Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Life Without Buildings, early Psychedelic Furs-- have exactly that same quality: They're stylish, alright, but the style is all theirs. Doesn't that mean everything else they do will be just as great? --Nitsuh Abebe

015: Clipse
We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 2

Taking the year's best instrumentals and pushing them into coke rap's most malicious, take out the bottom/rise to the top, vaguely Monte Cristo depths, Clipse make good on that venom-in-jar dream of hard rap sanctifying the ugly, ghetto sublimation chic, etc. The duo (now foursome) didn't have the majors backing them á la Jeezy and Juelz, but they flow more literary with it than both, sniffs of which (we hope) brought people to their neighborhood Amadou for this Clinton Sparks-instigated re-up. Now, nobody wants to read another armchair cracker moralizing about all this shit, so I won't. But beyond their revenge-bent and sinister crackle, Clipse get me most because no one, not even Cam, is fucking with language as hard as these guys, cracking words open, letting them sprout then tangle: "Quite frankly I don't understand these claims/ You ain't know I was Pusha aka Brick James?/ You can't touch this, on all the fans lists of names/ and I hibernated immediate when Pusha hit fame/ I'm cold-blooded." If hell has no fury, maybe that's why. --Nick Sylvester

014: Vitalic
OK Cowboy

The singles were a gimme; between "La Rock 01", "Poney Part 1", and "Poney Part 2", there's always been ample evidence to build an airtight case for French techno wizard Pascal Arbez as a singles artist of A1 calibre. What was less evident up until the release of OK Cowboy was whether he could slow-heat and stretch his pummelling Formula 1 techno to fit the longform format. The answer, as it turned out, was that he didn't really need to; with the wonky, misshapen electronic of "Polkamatic", the dorky organs of "Wooo", and the quaint Walter/Wendyisms of "The Past", Arbez proved himself as adept in the bedroom as the airplane hangar. Rare is the techno producer who translates his bangers into longform keepers; rarer still is a record whose recipe calls for rubber bands, motor oil (high viscosity), Drano, broken glass (shards), and fingernail gunge (pref. Daft Punk's). --Mark Pytlik

013: Various Artists
Run the Road

Ha ha, remember grime? That late-nite p2p fight to stay tops on some fast-paced, viciously insider teen-scene, one that's thousands of miles away, hocked in new code daily with so many "key" players that the keyest of them's fantastic 679 debut, Kano's Home Sweet Home, somehow passed us by quicker than a Sheek Louch freestyle? This youthful genre's endless fountain of new means, possibly, endless rewards, but for how great some of these beats come, most grime kids still can't rhyme. The disillusion that followed from there, frankly, has been unfair-- so much of what we're hunting down, from what I can tell, is brute learning on the job, sometimes nothing serious at all. Which makes Run the Road invaluable not just as a one-stop-- all the cuts hit really hard, good rhymes, none of that grime&b shit-- but ideally as something of a standard bearer, a Now That's What I Call Music! we're not embarrassed to buy. Some people hacked at RtR because it was so out of date upon release-- some of these tracks are a few years old-- but run the numbers, that's probably why it's so damn great, too. --Nick Sylvester

012: New Pornographers
Twin Cinema

Yes, Twin Cinema is another fantastic guitar pop album from Canada's catchiest collective, and yes, centerpiece "Sing Me Spanish Techno" is classic pop gobbledy-gook. But Twin Cinema's staying power comes from its drama. Carl Newman's nod to "the hero's journey" shines through the poppy surface (and "wtf?" lyrics): you can hear the searching quality in his vocals on "Falling Through Your Clothes", or the ballads that get diva-like cameos from Neko Case, or when Dan Bejar's cracked yelp explores the hallucinatory "Jackie Dressed in Cobras". Or how about Newman's reunion with his long-lost niece Kathryn Calder, who showed up just in time to play back-up Neko? Introspection has ruined a lot of pop albums, but the New Pornos strike a perfect balance; they're grown-ups who keep getting older, but they still play music to make teenagers dance. --Chris Dahlen

011: Isolée
We Are Monster

Rajko Müller's debut album, Rest, was the first time microhouse really logged a bonafide dancefloor smash (the infectious, Brazilian-influenced "Beau Mot Plage"-- fiery like cachaça, it gave a new meaning to the word "caned" as it became ubiquitous throughout 2000's clubs and mix CDs). The five-years-later follow-up doesn't have the amphetaminized muscle to outperform the electrohouse hits of the day, instead opting to go bang in quieter, quirkier ways. Thanks to a few guitars and a general debt the mutant-disco revival, the crossover this time makes nice with indie kids looking for something more urgent than Boards of Canada's wan kaleidoscopism. But in the end this record's not about scenes or even particular sounds-- though Isolée's sounds are particularly peculiar here, even for him-- but rather about seeing what kind of transmogrifying powers a song can take on when it's slipped in a dance track's skin. With its four on the floor, We Are Monster is a beast with two backs. --Philip Sherburne

10: Wolf Parade
Apologies to the Queen Mary
[Sub Pop]

Wolf Parade might be 2005's most begrudged indie heroes: The Montreal group's debut was produced by Issac Brock, and a handful of loose associations with the Arcade Fire and Frog Eyes left the band buried in a pile of Modest Mouse comparisons and overblown Montreal-scene gab. Apologies to the Queen Mary is stranger and more complicated than its reputation admits, riddled with theremin and keyboards, and lyrically preoccupied with ghosts, machinery, and fuddled relationships, all powered by the mesmerizing tension between dueling songwriters Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner. The fist-pumping "Shine a Light" is apt fodder for house parties and road trips, but "I'll Believe in Anything" is the record's shining center, a gut-punchingly perfect portrait of shit gone awry. --Amanda Petrusich

09: Cam'ron
Purple Haze

Oh, Pitchfork, you're so December 2004! It's called deadlines, rabble-rousers, breathe out. Purple Haze, right now, remains as important and combustible a rap album as has been made this century. So much blood and ink has been spilt (though it has sold less than 700,000 copies to date) that it's easy to forget the virtuosity contained therein. Killa Cam posits himself a token, if flashy, street hustler, but his verbals say something else entirely. He's renaissance writer, global traveler, and comic genius. Hell, even the skits are still funny. Musically, a mostly undistinguished group of beatsmiths make outstanding use of their time and Cam obliges with stratospheric verses. On "Down and Out" he says, "Play razor tag, slice ya face, you're it." Thing is, no one's responded in kind yet. --Sean Fennessey

08: LCD Soundsystem
LCD Soundsystem

We may have heard many of these tracks more than a year before this LP's release, but there was something edifying about cramming the James Murphy catalog into one double-disc album. Retro/new wave/post-punk revivalists saw their significance evaporate when Murphy exposed indie kids to dance-rock without excessive hi-hats or leather jackets. From blatant Daft Punk name-droppage to affected disco-infiltrating meta commentary, Murphy's proactive style benefited most from its galvanizing impressionism; pleasure sensors go apeshit long before neurons notice there's no guitar part, and we're all the better for it. Really need no-strings-attached rock? Fine, "Never as Tired as When I'm Waking Up" is a suaver "Ten Years Gone", and "Great Release" pays its respects as a great fake-Eno track. Of course, by then you probably haven't even realized your Led Zep t-shirt's been replaced with a silk button-down. --Adam Moerder

07: Animal Collective
[Fat Cat]

It's a familiar indie template: the band that begins difficult and gradually takes on songwriting as they become more accomplished. Every kid loves the sound of his own noise but it takes something more to write a great tune, and some wait to try until they know what they're doing. You knew the first time you heard Feels that the band's audience would grow; fortunately, Animal Collective's more explosive and chaotic ideas can easily be grafted onto poppier flesh. They chant where others would croon, vomit childish screams where rock'n'roll tradition calls for an "Oh yeah!", and they're not afraid to write one long bridge leading nowhere. As they keep sounding like no other band around we'll allow them another rock record, especially if they continue to traffic in this degree of empathy. Even with its darker shadings Feels is at its most basic a pure expression of positivity from four guys trying their hardest to bring something beautiful into the world. --Mark Richardson

06: Deerhoof
The Runners Four
[Kill Rock Stars]

It's not in Deerhoof's DNA to be a pop band; their strange amalgam of octopus drumming, lyrical manga, and Siamese-twin acrobat guitars is far too unwieldy to be conveniently packed into mass-digestible form. Luckily, nobody bothered to tell them about this limitation, and as a result The Runners Four gives us 20 different misses at conventional songwriting, silly attempts at traditionalism that go fascinatingly awry in every way possible. All the noisy interludes and muso noodling of Deerhoof's previous work weren't so much discarded as assimilated, creating songs that give fleeting impressions of normalcy before shooting off down unpredictable alleyways, bursts of noise that give way to eerie, beautiful calms or absurdly tight rhythm-holding-the-band-hostage moments. Even in that alternate dimension critics love to cite, The Runners Four would be too weird for radio; on Earth-1, it's one of the year's most playfully dense, eminently relistenable calamities. --Rob Mitchum

05: Antony & the Johnsons
I Am a Bird Now
[Secretly Canadian]

In an eclectic musical era buzzing with grime, reggaeton, dancepunk, crunk, freak-folk, and Architecture in Helsinki, I am a Bird Now was the cool, palette-cleansing drink that washed away all traces of spicier curries. Quite simply, there was nothing else like it in 2005, and while I relished analyzing a smorgasbord of intricately plotted musical graphs this year, this album seemed to penetrate their spikes and shudders like a baseline. This is extraterrestrial, atmosphere-charging, just-realized-I'm-holding-my-breath music, and while purity is a sketchy value, it's physiologically difficult to perceive Antony's beautiful gender mutations, consecrated vibrato, and efflorescing cabaret pianos as anything but. Chrysalises birthed themselves like Russian dolls; bright winged things fluttered into dark rafters; and the greatest shock of all, it turned out that the second coming of Boy George is something we should've been hoping for all along. I Am a Bird Now played like raw sound achieving its Platonic ideal, making everything else seem like an interesting deviation. --Brian Howe

04: M.I.A.

Arular arrives after a long year of critical storm and stress. Dissenters painted Maya as a living, breathing Che t-shirt, a distressing signifier of the insidious commodification of Third World culture and rebellion. Had she hollered vague revolutionary sentiments over indigenous Sri Lankan folk, the pros/cons may well have flipped, but such a move wouldn't have made her any more or less authentic.
But M.I.A. is from the melting pot council estates of London, not a shanty in Sri Lanka, and Arular was her coming to terms with the contradiction of being a tagged terrorist's child living amongst those who'd done the tagging. If her politics are not necessarily poignant, it's because they are personal. While her inner clash spoke universally, the underlying music appealed to the universal ass. With hints both obvious (dancehall) and neglible (grime), her producers-- including Richard X, Diplo, and Steve Mackey-- merged the global urban beats that mingle in every major metropolis, group-thinking an album that expressed the diversity available to anyone with a modem. In both form and content, Arular exemplified the community that no longer has a base in any city or country but every city and country. --Peter Macia

03: Art Brut
Bang Bang Rock & Roll
[Fierce Panda]

When Art Brut issued their first single "Formed a Band", you'd have put good odds on these upstarts being merely a brilliant one-off and nothing more. A pinprick in the sides of their more overcooked colleagues, the track came with a wink and a sneer but felt like a complete manifesto rather than mere prologue. Yet on their debut full-length, the band nods to the earliest recordings from the Fall or Television Personalities, bucking the frankly odd notion that smart yet cynical meta-pop is inherently ephemeral.
Coming across like a triangulation of Jarvis Cocker, Jonathan Richman, and Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge (were he in on the joke), singer Eddie Argos wields charisma and one-liners in equal measure, disguising pointed pop-cult criticism as humor and vice versa. In the process, he's grabbed UK indie by the lapels and implored it to wake. the. fuck. up. and stop accepting post-punk hand-me-downs and tabloid fuck-ups as its heroes. With a punk-era clarion call-- go and form a band, do it yourself-- Art Brut scowled at (and even picked fights with) stuffed-shirt revivalists, wrote about sex as something other than groupie-baiting myth-making, and punctured the lie that avant-posturing is an appropriate substitute for just putting your head down and rocking out, and they (and we) had a hell of a good time in the process. --Scott Plagenhoef

02: Kanye West
Late Registration

Let's not get it twisted: Kanye West wasn't one of Barbara Walters' Ten Most Fascinating People of 2005 because he made a dazzlingly complex, precedent-smashing impressionist opus of a rap album; he's there because of seven words he said on a live telethon. That was a brave move, but it wasn't Kanye's first. Before he called out the president, he remade rap into what he always wanted it to be: a sunkissed sonic cathedral with room for conflicted political rants and coke-slanging memories and please-don't-die-grandma songs and chest-puffed bravado and Common and Paul Wall and swelling strings and cascading harps and burbling synths.
Co-producer Jon Brion lent West an expansively ecstatic lift that West had never had before, and West lent Brion a genially self-important strut that Brion had never had. Together, they crafted a cathedral of sonic details-- a gorgeous, tangled, heartfelt strings-and-samples masterpiece. --Tom Breihan

01: Sufjan Stevens
[Asthmatic Kitty]

Stories always feel more important when you tack them onto a map. Real places, people, and myths give us a way into a private story-- or cast the story in doubt. And while for years, the singer/songwriter tradition has assigned the mopiest songs to the lone acoustic guitar, a ballad can sound even sadder if you bring in a banjo and a choir. Sufjan Stevens' gift for crossing the grand with the intimate partly explains how Illinois landed at the top of this list: He wraps his stories in landmarks and footnotes, ornaments them with glorious countermelodies, and celebrates them like a Fourth of July parade.
We thought Stevens' breakthrough came two years ago on Michigan, but Illinois improves on it in every way: He takes more chances with humor and myth, the palette's richer, and the new drummer puts oomph behind Stevens' falsetto. It's still tempting to look for messages and slogans in his view of America, and to ask whether his gift for seeing us as we are comes with an urge to tell us how we should be. But Stevens insists that he's interested more than anything in singing about people, from beside a death bed, to inside the head of a serial killer, to someone tearing away his past in a van heading out of town. And he made a classic by empathizing with the loves and needs of those people, and watching them seek and wander while the landmarks on his map of Illinois stay fixed. --Chris Dahlen

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