Tuesday, December 06, 2005

MARK'S TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2005

Every year my boyfriend and our friends put together their top ten albums and top ten films. Here's Mark's Top Ten Albums of 2005. Enjoy.

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MARK'S TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2005

10. You Could Have It So Much Better - Franz Ferdinand

It's curious that hipster critics so quickly pounce on labels for not giving their artists "room to grow", yet when a band sticks to a musical formula for more than one album the intelligentsia throw a fit! This Scottish band's sophomore album peaks-and-valleys after 4 strong songs, but as a whole it contains the most concise songwriting of the year.

The sloganeering album cover gives the music a face and Alex Kappranos' decision to print his lyrics on mock notebook paper personalizes their meaning (argument's #1 and #2 for not relying on your iPods.).


9. Twin Cinema - The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers (bad name) perpetually curse themselves with bad album covers, bad album titles, and nonsensical-to-bad lyrics: "Roll with your vertigo stomp/Now you're clear but gone/You've been cleared of every charge/Understand?" No, not really. Not AT ALL in fact, but a good song is a good song is a good song. And for 3 full albums now, most of A.C. Newman and Dan Bejar's good songs have been great.


8. Demon Days - Gorillaz

Damon Albarn is finally a bonafide superstar. Trouble is, nobody knows his face. After forever trying to achieve Top 10 success - across the ocean - with Blur, Mr. Albarn took up this playful beat-driven/sample-heavy side project with cartoonist Jamie Hewlett. The funny thing is that Damon sounds more at home in this hidden environment that he ever did in the 94'-95' salad days of Britpop. "El Manana" has the pleasure of an easy Blur ballad while still staying loyal to the Gorillaz' kitchen sink philosophy. To add perplexity to their popularity, you could argue that Gorillaz' music is exponentially more challenging that Blur's ever was (Both Demon Days and Blur's Think Tank are musically inspired by Albarn's exposure too, and collaborations with, African musicians). Maybe labels and artists really can't ever have their fingers on the pulse of the music-buying youth after all. Is this wicked irony or the future of pop music?


7. Before The Dawn Heals Us - M83

Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez is hopelessly romantic and unashamed of his melodramatic musical tendencies. He's also unhindered by his lack of instrumental talent (I could play the drums on this album). Gonzalez is still playing with familiar chord structures and continues to wear his influences on his sleeve, but it's charming because it's honest. The album gets by on emotion where it lacks in originality. These 15 songs represent a snapshot in the mind of a man who has just been in a fatal car wreck with his true love. Death is inescapable and near. It takes a man untouched by cynicism to approach this topic this way. I'm glad we still have ar


6. Tanglewood Numbers - Silver Jews

Front-and-center on the cover of David Berman's (Silver Jews) 5th album are the busts of the assassinated Kennedy brothers and the assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King. They are framed by liquor bottles, a cash register that reads $1.35, a picture of two black men, and a wrapped box with a label that reads "Black & White". It's up to each viewer to decipher this. Berman's songs mimic the same philosophy. Full of color, wit, humor and details, Berman writes about subjects that are familiar and universal, yet the meanings are personal. And unlike some of the lyrically remarkable songs in the past, none of these songs fail the feet. The album ends in a gospel style rave-up with the spiritual refrain "I saw God's shadow on this world". It's bookended at the beginning with an "I love you to the max!" refrain. I know what I want this to mean, but I don't want to tell you.



5. Get Behind Me Satan - The White Stripes

It's no secret that Jack White quite often airs frustrations with females in song. The White Stripes are 5 albums in now, and the subject's remained the same. But hey, why quit if you're still getting mileage out of it? In my view, the roads keep getting wider and the songs keep getting better. In fact, Mr. White may be obsessing about love too much, because his lyrics are now magnifying the smallest details. On "The Denial Twist" he sings: "If you think that a kiss is all in the lips/C'mon, you got it all wrong, man" and on "Instinct Blues" he just can't get how something so easy (loving) is so difficult for a woman to grasp: "Well, the crickets get it/And the ants get it/I bet you the pigs get it...And every bird and bug in the jungle, too/And everything in the ocean blue/They just happen to know exactly what to do/So why don't you?"


4. Make Believe - Weezer

Rivers Cuomo's career goal has been to purify the pop song. Strip away the ego, the intellectualism, the "high-art". Plaintive lyrics, a direct melody, a perfect bridge and a song title that is self-explanatory ("Hold Me", "The Damage In Your Heart", "My Best Friend"). That's all that is necessary. Rock critic Chuck Eddy started this theory in the 80's. He believed that any good song should reveal itself on the first listen. Cuomo has achieved this with Make Believe, but what he and Eddy don't know is that good songs reveal themselves as great when they stand up to repeated listening. That's my theory, and the songs on Make Believe are the proof.


3. The Sunset Tree - The Mountain Goats

John Darnielle achieves transcendence by way of forgiveness on The Sunset Tree. You can hear it happening on record. That's what makes the album so unique. His stepfather was a brute to him until he passed away in 2004. Darnielle graciously writes in the liner notes: "May the peace that eluded you in life be yours now." To set aside the pain he suffered to recognize and sympathize with the pain of his stepfather shows a selflessness that is sorely lacking in these cynical times. From song #1 to song #13 we get glimpses into the relationship both men shared. John Darnielle's songwriting style has always been instinctual and improvisatory. This style merges well with the subject of his songs and as result Darneille finds the shelter of spirituality and the power of forgiveness.


2. Separation Sunday - The Hold Steady

The album cover to Separation Sunday depicts a "crossroads" of sorts. It's an appropriate image, because each character on the album spends time in that place. By the end of this immensely entertaining album our hero (Halleluiah is her name) achieves salvation by returning to a spirituality she had once rejected. Lead Singer/Songwriter Craig Finn describes himself as a "lapsed Catholic", but he doesn't piss on religion the way most indie hipsters seem too. It's refreshing. He's an "independent" with an open mind, a "scenester" with perspective, an "intellectual" who's actually educated. Add these up, and you get a worldly man with a grasp for compassion. Each song bristles with literate, lyrical wit (puns aplently, references abound) and the band's musical heft carries the concept along. The first words spoken on the album are:

"she said always remember/ never to trust me/ she said that the first night she met me/ she said there's gonna be a time/ when i'm gonna have to go/ with whoever's gonna get me the highest."

This holds literal drug-related meaning for the strung-out Halleluiah, but it also foreshadows where she'll be by albums end:

"Halleluiah came to in the confession booth/Infested with infection/Smiling on an abscessed tooth/...,"Lord, what do you prescribe?"


ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

Rehearsing My Choir - The Fiery Furnaces

"Faster Hammers, Faster Hammers!" Those are the first words sung by Olga Sarantos - the grandmother of Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger - as her grandson pounds the piano alongside her. The meaning is two-fold. By "hammers" she means the steel arms of a 1940's train: churning, burning and turning the wheels that will carry her back to her boyfriend's arms. But she also means the "hammers" underneath the piano lid that are driving her train of thought, sprouting up memories that her grandchildren have asked her to share. By making his grandmother the focus of the album, Matthew Friedburger reaches across two generations of tradition to connect with his musical family.

"Listen to the tune I'm playing now kids/Does it make you sad/Does it remind you of when?", the grandmother laments as the piano slows, empathizing with her sadness. And Matthew continues this trend throughout the album. His music is interpretive. The rhythms shift on a dime, and it's somewhat jarring, but we're not talking eccentricity for the sake of difficulty here. His intentions are sincere and constructive. Like a child he wants to add color and give life to the stories he hears.

Meanwhile, sister Eleanor draws parallels between her own romantic flights and her grandmother's. Throughout the album, they share the vocal duties, trading back and forth. You get lost in the shuffle: Which one dated Jimmy? Which one created a witches brew to curse their ex? Whose sister drinks too much? Do they both slave away for their men? We know which one directed a choir, but did the other one too? These are family secrets, and likely somewhat fictional, but it's all in the family.


Singles of 2005

* "Helena" - My Chemical Romance
* "Dance, Dance" - Fall Out Boy
* "Stay Fly" - Three 6 Mafia
* "Since You've Been Gone"/"Behind These Hazel Eyes" - Kelly Clarkson
* "The Bucket" - Kings of Leon
* "Number One Spot" - Ludacris
* "Hollaback Girl"/"Cool" - Gwen Stefani
* "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" - U2
* "Speed of Sound" - Coldplay
* "Dare" - Gorillaz
* "Best of You" - Foo Fighters
* "Little Sister" - Queens of the Stone Age
* "My Doorbell" - The White Stripes
* "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" - LCD Soundsystem
* "Outta Control" - 50 Cent

Duds/Unimpressed/Boring

* The Milk of Human Kindness - Caribou
* Picaresque - The Decemberists
* Worlds Apart - ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead
* Beauty and the Beat - Edan
* Be - Common
* Black Dialogue - The Perceptionists
* The Woods - Sleater-Kinney

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