Friday, December 09, 2005

Top Ten Albums of 2005

Here they are: My choices for the ten best albums of 2005. Don't forget to check out Paul Allen's list at PopLife, and remember, there's always a chance I'll make a few revisions before making the list final early in 2006.

1. Fiona Apple:
Extraordinary Machine
From the first spin of the Jon Brion version, there was little question in my mind that this record would make the top ten, but it has more than earned the top spot. Weeks have gone by when I've had a hard time listening to anything else. I know all the words (pity the poor person who rides in my car when this is playing). Apple has done something remarkable here, stripping down her sound and her previously inflated language and arriving at something that still communicates all the emotion she needs to convey. Catchy couplets, great beats--this record has it all. Which is why Fiona is the first artist to capture the crown for two different years of my top ten list.

2. Antony and the Johnsons: I am a Bird Now
The first song on this album will give you chills. Antony's story of gender confusion (in Britain, the statement "I am a bird" can be taken to mean both the creature that flies and a woman) is dramatic and bold, and he has the voice to match, a trembling instrument that unites the record amid multiple guests, including Boy George and Rufus Wainwright. Not everyone will enjoy this--"Fistful of Love" is probably the most accessible song and even it might throw people for a loop--but those who enjoy it will adore it.

3. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
In breadth and depth, this record outshines everything else on this list, and it's tough not to give Sufjan the top spot based on effort alone--so many lyrics that so specifically evoke something about Illinois, so many instruments both written into the music and then played by one person. The research for this album, which is the second of a proposed 50 (one for every state), was clearly voluminous. And the music itself is sheer beauty, so much of it that it can sometimes be hard to listen to the whole album in one sitting. But it all flows, and it pretty much all works, too. When you see this somewhere on every critic's list in the country (it's already number one on the editors' list), don't say I didn't warn you.

4. Bright Eyes: I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Conor Oberst had the audacity to release two new albums not in one year, but on one day this January. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn was good but uneven, but this album is flat-out great. He's found a folksy style that works with his odd voice, and even the partly stuttered storytelling he uses to open the album works better here than it did on Lifted. The final song, "Road to Joy," aping Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, is one of the year's true delights.

5. Martha Wainwright: Martha Wainwright
Apparently the Wainwright family is determined to dominate my CD shelves and my top ten lists for years to come. While the stunner on this album is the shocking and beautiful "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole," I think of it not in terms of songs but as a whole experience: haunting and lyrical and aflame with passion.

6. Garbage: Bleed Like Me
OK, this pick has none of the artsy cred of my first five, but it's still something special: a good, solid rock record that gets into your head and jangles around for months. I knew I loved this album when I was on a flight from D.C. to Chicago, equipped with my discman (I know, how retro of me) and several CDs, and I chose to plug my headphones into the armrest instead because United was featuring this album and I hadn't packed it.

7. Iron and Wine: Woman King EP AND Iron and Wine/Calexico: In the Reins
Releasing a six-song EP and a seven-song mini-album is about the same as releasing a full album, right? Mr. Consistency Sam Beam has made three solid records in the last two years, and as a result he finds himself at number seven on this list for the second year running. The EP is probably the better of the two, but in combination, these thirteen songs make a statement: Iron and Wine has the potential to be on this list for years to come.

8. Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better
An album that at first doesn't seem like an album at all, because every song could be on the radio. This is weird because it doesn't "build" to anything--it just keeps going strong for 13 songs. Folks who talk of a sophomore slump haven't actually listened to this record more than once or twice; it digs in and takes hold in a way their debut, for all its shiny songs and perfect beats, never did.

9. Aimee Mann: The Forgotten Arm
This wasn't supposed to be on this list. But as I listened to it again to pick a song for my possibly-to-be-produced compilation of the year, I found myself crying during the song "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas" and I knew I couldn't ignore that. This album tells the story of a relationship between a boxer, John, and his lover, Caroline. Like the last Aimee Mann record, Lost in Space, it dwells on addiction issues and the difficulty any two passionate people have in making it work with one another. And while some of the songs sound wispy at first, in the end the power of the album, when given a chance, is undeniable. For a lyrics person like myself, I guess there's no way to leave this album out of the top ten.

10. Sigur Ros: Takk
And yet, I can pick this album, sung in Norwegian, to follow Aimee Mann. I don't know what Jon Thor Birgisson is singing about, but I know that he sings with emotion and power. Those qualities come through in any language.


Richard said...

For posterity's sake, here is the list of all the albums I bought this year (through today), which has been running on the sidebar but will now be replaced by the top ten.

Bright Eyes: Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
Bright Eyes: I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Matt Pond PA: Winter Songs EP
Kathleen Edwards: Back to Me
Iron and Wine: Woman King EP
Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine (bootleg Jon Brion version)
Beck: Guero
The Bravery: The Bravery
Garbage: Bleed Like Me
Bruce Springsteen: Devils & Dust
Ben Folds: Songs for Silverman
Glen Phillips: Winter Pays for Summer
Martha Wainwright: Martha Wainwright
Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
The Decemberists: Picaresque
Aqualung: Strange and Beautiful
Morrissey: Live at Earls Court
LCD Soundsystem: LCD Soundsystem
Aimee Mann: The Forgotten Arm
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: Cold Roses
Weezer: Make Believe
Dave Matthews Band: Stand Up
Coldplay: X&Y
White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan
Foo Fighters: In Your Honor
Spoon: Gimme Fiction
New Pornographers: Twin Cinema
Fountains of Wayne: Out-of-State Plates
Death Cab for Cutie: Plans
Bob Dylan: No Direction Home--The Bootleg Series Volume 7
Bob Dylan: Live at the Gaslight 1962
Sigur Ros: Takk
Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
Antony and the Johnsons: I am a Bird Now
Iron and Wine/Calexico: In the Reins
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: Jacksonville City Nights
Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine
Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better
Melissa Etheridge: Greatest Hits--The Road Less Traveled
Matt Pond PA: Several Arrows Later
Wilco: Kicking Television--Live in Chicago

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Good list, Richard. Especially glad to see Aimee Mann on there. She made my list, as well, which you can see at my site.