Sunday night, sitting in a hotel in NYC. No better time for this:
The following are the records I listened to the most during 2005, plus short descriptions on each. It is not ranked in any way, shape or form. I tried to think about how to do that, but quickly realized that “ranking” them is quite a ridiculous endeavor. You can’t really have ONE album per year that you loved more than others. Well, maybe you can, but this is my blog.
My point: I listened to all these albums a hell of a lot and loved all of them equally. I will add this: this was a marvelous year for full-length albums. Dare I say that it reaffirmed my faith in the full-length album. In looking at last year’s list and even 2003, I’m very comfortable saying that 2005 cleaned their clocks. Here goes:
Teenage Fanclub, Man-Made — consider this my second-to-last entry for my favorite bands of the 1990’s. This band means a LOT to me for reasons I’m not getting into here. It was great to get a new full-length from them in 2005 and it certainly didn’t disappoint. While not nearly as biting as “Bandwagonesque” and not as beautiful as the stellar “Songs From Northern Britain,” this work showcases a slighty more…..aged version of the band. The songs linger more, filled with richer instrumentaion, softer vocals and various other random noises – but the songs are equally as catchy as any they’ve done. “Cells” is one of the best songs they’ve ever penned.
Spoon, Gimme Fiction — Spoon have taken the baton from Pavement (’90s) and are now my favorite indie-rock band of the decade. Gimme Fiction was par for the course for Spoon – they find a way to sound different from any other band when all they’re really doing is playing great rock music. So what is it? Is it the dull, pounding drums that feel like they’re doing the singing? Is it the methodical, unique voice of Britt Daneil? I don’t know. It’s something. I still get really excited when I play the beautiful “I Summon You.”
Neil Diamond, 12 Songs — Normal, mainstream music listeners see this and they think, “oh, Jeff’s just trying to be hip by not being hip.” This is not the case. As mentioned last week, I am a big, big fan of Neil Diamond’s ’60s-era output. I’m not quite sure what happened to him after, say, 1975, but when I heard that Rick Rubin took the helm as producer for “12 Songs,” I knew it could be good. But it wasn’t. It was great. Stipped down and showcasing only the bare essentials via voice and guitar (with some various instruments sprinkled in here and there), Rubin exposes Diamond for what he is – or was – a truly great songwriter. I would even make an arguement that this is Diamond’s best pure album of his entire career. Oh sure, he’s had his stunning moments on albums, but not entire albums. This thing, from front to back, is spectacular. I still can’t believe I’m saying it.
Healthy White Baby, Healthy White Baby — AllMusic says this is a “rocking garage punk stomp,” but I disagree vehemently with that assertion. There is nothing garage about this band – they know exactly what they’re doing and they’re talented musicians, having been in two very good bands previously, The Blacks and Blue Mountain. Danny Black’s voice, as it has historically, carries the work – he’s Frank Sinatra trapped in the body of a very talented rock singer. This album burns.
Aimee Mann, The Forgotten Arm — First off, I don’t like anything Aimee Mann has ever done. Seriously. Nothing. You can’t name a single song by Mann that I enjoy. So when my friend Dave told me I should give this a listen, I was all like “whatever, dude.” A glutton for punishment, I downloaded it and when I heard the passion in “I Can’t Help You Anymore” and the yearning of “Dear John” I nearly pooped myself. These are terrific songs and they do not feel at all like the typical bum-you-out Aimee Mann. This is a focused, tight, richly played concept album about a Vietnam veteran who’s also a junkie/amatuer boxer. The vet returns home from the war a very different man, as sung from the perspective of his girlfriend. The album just oozes fire, rapture, resentment and sentiment. And it’s really damn good. I still hate everything else she’s done.
Son Volt, Okemah & The Melody Of Riot — “Riot” is the key word here. The alt-country scare of the 1990s has had its ass swiftly (and finally) kicked out the moving car door. Jay Farrar and his new “gang of hungry” released Son Volt’s first album since 1998 this year and there is not a fiddle or a banjo to be found (not that it was ever that prevalent in the first place), only straight-ahead, well-written, borderline angry songs. Relatively speaking. Their show back in October was so raucous and so good that the timeless “Windfall” felt like it didn’t even belong in the set. That’s how good the new Son Volt record is.
The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema — Delicious and tasty! That’s the only way to describe this sweetcake of an album. It’s like having four bowls of Fruity Pebbles, man! Yeah, it helps that co-singer Neko Case is the girl that all the indie-rock boys want to marry, but she backs it up. The rest of the band provides equal sharpness. Just listening to the title track is enough to make the laziest son-of-a-bitch get off his ass and boogie. Yum.
Johnny Society, Coming To Get You — This is a last minute insertion. For the past few months I’ve been self-lamenting the fact that I can’t seem to find and/or get excited about any new bands lately. That maybe I’d even become jaded. So I’m paging through the new issue of Harp when I come across the review of this band Johnny Society and as I’m reading it, I’m thinking the review has got to be written by a band member’s mom, because I’ve never seen such a rave review like this one!. Then I go to my old friend and trusted source, the All-Music Guide and they, too, are simply apeshit about this band. It’s enough for me. I buy “Coming To Get You” from ITunes and —– HOLY SHIT ALERT! ——HOLY SHIT ALERT! This is the best thing I’ve heard in some time. It’s a band that makes rock music sound adventurous and fresh again. I could go on forever on this – versatile, powerful, dominating, whatever. This is what My Morning Jacket would probably sound like if they weren’t so damned stoned all the time. These guys just have it. The best news: they have three other albums I’ve yet to hear, which, according to All-Music, are just as good. Damn baby! I’ve got a train to hitch onto. I’ll let AllMusic make the final quote, though: “The New York City trio, simply put, is one of the most phenomenally talented rock & roll bands in the world.”
Anders Parker, The Wounded Astronaut (EP) — It’s simple. This is my favorite artist of the decade thus far and the most criminally overlooked artist since Alex Chilton/Big Star. It truly is a crushing blow to my soul that more people don’t know this artist who has more talent in his left foot than 90% of what you’re hearing on the radio today. Oh, it’s not like it’s “different music” either. It’s pretty straightforward stuff, people. He’s just got something that others don’t, namely a very distinct voice and a stunning (STUNNING) ability to…..take you there. This isn’t a full-length album, just a six-song EP of tunes that didn’t make 2004’s “Tell It To The Dust” (one of my faves from last year). But all you need to do is hear the title track and you’ll get it. It personifies Parker to a T – gentle, bruising, moving and great.
Other bands who made great albums who came really, really, really close to getting on my list:
Nada Surf – The Weight Is A Gift (just haven’t listened to it enough yet)
Rogue Wave – Descended Like Vultures (thanks Dan)
Kathleen Edwards – Back To Me (“Copied Keys” alone almost got this to the list)
Ruchard Buckner & Jon Langford: Sir Dark Invader vs. The Fanglord (bizarre combination, but really worked!)
Wilco – Kicking Television (live album, so it can’t be on the list, but a really sharp recording)
Mark Miller – Mark Miller
I’m pretty sure I missed some. All in all, a very, very good year. Now I’m
going to dial up the Ipod and listen to one song from each of my faves before it’s lights out and onto another week of non-stop keyboard-pounding.