Dec 20, 2005

This is the fourth and final installment of via//chicago's 2005 year-end spectacular, the one in which I recap my favorite fifty albums of the year. I'm also digging the fact that this is the 300th post ever on the blog - not a huge milestone, but kinda cool nonetheless. Take a moment, peruse the list, throw a comment my way, and hopefully follow the links to check out something new to you. Click on the artist's name to visit their website, the album name for a good review (sometimes my very own - denoted with *), and the label's name for it's website.

Part IV: The Albums

50. Blackalicious - The Craft (Anti)

49. Archer Prewitt - Wilderness (Thrill Jockey)

48. Boards of Canada - The Campfire Headphase (Warp)

47. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (self-released)

46. Bonnie "Prince" Billy & Matt Sweeney - Superwolf (Drag City)

45. The Magic Numbers - The Magic Numbers (Capitol)

44. Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine (Sony)

43. Lightning Bolt - Hypermagic Mountain (Load)

42. The Game - The Documentary (Aftermath/Interscope)

41. Pelican - The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (Hydra Head)

40. Out Hud - Let Us Never Speak Of It Again (Kranky)

39. My Morning Jacket - Z (ATO/RCA)

38. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan (V2)

37. The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike (Sony)

36. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods (Sub Pop)

35. Sunn O))) - Black One (Southern Lord)

34. Animal Collective - Feels (Fat Cat)

33. Bright Eyes - Digital Ash In A Digital Urn (Saddle Creek)

32. DangerDoom - The Mouse and the Mask (Epitaph)

31. Engineers - Engineers (Echo)

30. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cold Roses (Lost Highway)

29. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema (Matador)

28. Sigur Ros - Takk (Geffen)

27. Dalek - Absence* (Ipecac)

26. Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow (Young God)

25. The Kills - No Wow* (Rough Trade)

24. Death Cab For Cutie - Plans (Atlantic)

23. Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better (Domino)

22. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Jacksonville City Nights (Lost Highway)

21. Kanye West - Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

20. Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger (Warp)
They don't have the boundary crossing sex appeal of The Killers nor do they have the immediate dance-ready style of Franz Ferdinand, but what Maximo Park does have is plenty of attitude. It takes a special band to bring something fresh to the post-punk revival table in 2005 and this band's punchy, off-kilter brand of guitar rock manages to do just that - and then some.
Recommended tracks: "Apply Some Pressure", "Graffiti", "Going Missing"

19. Babyshambles - Down In Albion (Rough Trade)
It isn't exactly the stuff that rock and roll dreams are made of - crack addiction, legal troubles, imploding one of the brightest bands of the decade - but it certainly makes for a compelling story (or tabloid reading). Between rehab, dating Kate Moss, and court time; Pete Doherty managed to enter the studio and craft yet another album full of beautiful disasters. Take the "shambles" in the band name very seriously - this is a shambolic mess that aims for the gut and hits you right in the face.
Recommended Tracks: "Fuck Forever", "Albion", "8 Dead Boys"

18. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning (Saddle Creek)
No, he's not ever going to live up to all of those "next Dylan" descriptions thrown at him by the national media. Yes, he's probably going to remain pretty damn frustrating at times. But once you move past all the hype and backlash, you can simply focus on the music and revel in the work of one of the most gifted songwriters alive. Whether he is morphing Beethoven into a cathartic rock moment or dueting with Emmylou Harris, Conor Oberst manages to crank out the kind of heartfelt songs that others can only dream about writing.
Recommended Tracks: "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)", "First Day of My Life", "Road To Joy"

17. Magnolia Electric Co. - Trials & Errors (Secretly Canadian)
Some might have thought it a risky move for Jason Molina to make his first official release under the Magnolia Electric Co name a live album, but this killer collection lays all fears to rest before the first track ends. Blending songs from both the Songs: Ohia era of his career and new tracks that featured on What Comes After the Blues (also 2005), this album manages to absolutely nail everything that Molina does right. Sometimes rocking, sometimes rolling, and sometimes just stumbling around aimlessly heartbroken - this set captures it all.
Recommended Tracks: "Dark Don't Hide It", "Ring the Bell", "Such Pretty Eyes For a Snake"

16. Spoon - Gimme Fiction (Merge)
It gets to be pretty predictable, doesn't it? Another Spoon album - another mind-blowing set of power-pop. Some might try and tell you that the band has fallen off since the last pair of albums, those people would be dead wrong. Just sit back and listen to the best white-boy funk since Beck got his Beezlebub haircut on with "I Turn My Camera On" or the gloriously catchy rock of "Sister Jack" and tell me they've lost a step. Not at all.
Recommended Tracks: "I Turn My Camera On", "Sister Jack", "My Mathematical Mind"

15. M83 - Before The Dawn Heals Us (Mute)
M83 on eleven. M83 times one thousand. M83 on crack. M83 goes widescreen. I heard all of these descriptions when it came to the new album - and damned it every one of them isn't 100% dead-on. Anthony Gonzalez tops the last album in a way that all of the Jerry Bruckheimers out there can love - bigger in every single way. More expansive and more cinematic suits this one just fine, let this soundtrack your own apocalypse. Besides, this deserved a spot just for that cover art alone.
Recommended Tracks: "Don't Save Us From the Flames", "Teen Angst", "Lower Your Eyelids to Die with the Sun"

14. Rachel Stevens - Come And Get It (Polydor)
Missing Britney and XTina this year? Forget 'em, and quick. While your favorite American pop princesses are fading into obscurity and irrelevancy, the British girls are taking over. Between Girls Aloud and former S Club 7 girl Rachel Stevens, the best pop being made right now is all on the other side of the pond. This is one of those few gems of a pop album that are consistently great from start to finish, well worth the trouble to track down.
Recommended Tracks: "Some Girls", "Negotiate With Love", "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)"

13. Gorillaz - Demon Days (Virgin)
If you expected the Gorillaz to be a one-time novelty act that was never heard from again after the surprisingly decent debut album, I'm fairly certain you weren't alone. What nobody expected, however, was for them to come back with an album that blew away not only the first album - but also everyone that listened to it. Damon Albran ropes in stellar guest appearances from De La Soul, MF Doom, Ike Turner, and even Dennis freakin' Hopper to put together one killer piece of plastic. If Graham never comes back to Blur, let's keep him on this side project forever.
Recommended Tracks: "Feel Good Inc.", "DARE", "Dirty Harry"

12. Akron/Family - Akron/Family (Young God)
They may share a record label with Devendra Banhart, but labelling these guys as "just another freak folk" band would be selling them far too short. Michael Gira was quick to realize just what a great find this band was, snatching them up to be the backing band for his Angels of Light project. On their debut, however, the band proved that they were pure genius in their own right - rolling and soaring through the twists and turns that would make the Animal Collective proud, all while maintaining a strong sense of songcraft.
Recommended Tracks: "Italy", "Running, Returning", "Shoes"

11. The National - Alligator (Beggar's Banquet)
You know that feeling at the end of the night when you've had a little bit too much to drink and you start reeling from all the things going wrong in your life? When you can practically hold the moment it all went wrong in your hands, but you still sit there grasping at dreams of glory that disappear into thin air? When you realize that you should probably just let it go and head off to bed, but you order another double instead? These guys do - and manage to make it sound absolutely beautiful.
Recommended Tracks: "Mr. November", "Abel", "Secret Meeting"

10. Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene (Arts & Crafts)
If it ain't one Canadian supergroup, it's another. As the New Pornographers started to reveal the first chinks in the armor, Broken Social Scene stepped up big time and proved that every word of blog hype was justified. This one certainly isn't as easily accesible as You Forgot It In People and it's obvious that the band probably spent more time and energy on production than Kanye West does, but none of this makes it any less of a thrilling ride. Repeated listens reveal the subtleties and layers buried within, the textbook definition of a initially disappointing album that grows into a truly great record.
Recommended Tracks: "Fire Eye'd Boy", "7/4 Shoreline", "It's All Gonna Break"

9. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy (Jagjaguwar)
Move over Colin Meloy, Will Sheff is the new thinking man's literary indie rocker. Alright - maybe not the best of comparisons, but the two bands do have quite a bit in common. Highly narrative lyrics and a masterful sense of drama are attributes of both bands, but in 2005 is was Sheff and Okkervil River that spun the better tale. Working a concept album loosely based on a single song, Sheff keeps this album flowing smoothly from start to finish - just like a good book it's something you won't be able to put down.
Recommended Tracks: "Black", "A Glow", "A Stone"

8. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem (DFA)
James Murphy built a steady reputation over the past several years through both his DFA label and the string of awesome singles released under the LCD Soundsystem moniker. The man became the uncontested king of disco-punk by the mid-point of 2004. Turns out the guy can crank out a pretty damn good full-length as well. The influences, as expected, are all over the map - The Beatles, Can, Brian Eno, on and on - but Murphy manages to blend them all into the perfect concoction to keep you dancing all night and recovering the next morning. Throwing in the classic singles as a bonus disc simply makes this the most essential party album of 2005.
Recommended Tracks: "Daft Punk is Playing at My House", "Disco Infiltrator", "Tribulations"

7. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois* (Ashmatic Kitty)
The reputation was initially gained by a crazy gimmick, yes, but Sufjan has managed to keep and slowly build that reputation through amazing albums and thrilling live shows. His 2005 trip through the Land of Lincoln was the most spectacular one yet, turning both historical figures and personal experiences into stunning and, at times, touching musical moments.
Recommended Tracks: "John Wayne Gacy Jr.", "Chicago", "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts"

6. M.I.A. - Arular (XL)
Early hype led to undeserved early backlash as nearly everyone seemed to be "so over" Maya before 2005 was out. Fine, let the haters leave the album alone so I can enjoy this gem in peace. A true melting pot of world influences, M.I.A. threw down rhymes and hooks over beats that would make even your grandmother hit the floor. Sri Lanka, Brooklyn, London, Kingston - it doesn't matter where you are, this album will fill floors and bob heads worldwide.
Recommended Tracks: "Galang", "Sunshowers", "Hombre"

5. Opeth - Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner)
I'm not a huge fan of metal - never have been, probably never will be a hardcore fan of the genre in any of its many formats. Not that I don't respect or even like some of it, I just don't have the time nor patience to wade through the seemingly countless metal albums that appear each year. That's why I thank the internet daily for introducing me to this album, one of the grandest musical statements of the year - metal or not. Don't let the cookie monster growls throw you off the trail, because you will miss out on one of the most varied, brutal, and exciting excursions that any band has taken in 2005.
Recommended Tracks: "The Grand Conjuration", "Reverie/Harlequin Forest", "Isolation Years"

4. Dungen - Ta Det Lungt (Kemado)
I have no clue what Gustav Ejstes is singing about on this album, nor do I really want to know. Because with music this gorgeous, language doesn't matter in the least. He could be singing about lollipops and walking his pet llama for all I know - but that doesn't stop this from being one of the most enjoyable listens of the year. The secret is Ejstes attention to detail and mastery of multiple instruments, as he twists and turns his way though wonderful riffs, solos, and interludes. Best described as Swedish psych-rock, this is one album you will want to grab if even the merest mention of "psych" excites you. Hell even if it doesn't this one might be worth exploring.
Recommended Tracks: "Ta Det Lungt", "Festival", "Lipsill"

3. Wolf Parade - Apologies To The Queen Mary (Sub Pop)
The four-song EP from earlier this year was the perfect teaser for this massively hyped band, delivering several killer tunes while whetting appetites for the Issac Brock produced full-length to come later. By the time the album dropped in the fall, people (myself included) were drooling like raing madmen for this one. And unlike many over-hyped indie rock albums, this one delivered tenfold. Comparisons to Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire are obvious if not somewhat accurate and lazy, but Wolf Parade brings to the table an enchanting sound of their own as they stomp, holler, and wildly careen through twelve tracks of fun indie rock. Yeah I said, "fun indie rock". It's been far too long, hasn't it?
Recommended Tracks: "Same Ghost Every Night", "This Heart's On Fire", "Shine A Light"

2. The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday* (Frenchkiss)
Junkies, burnouts, born-agains, slackers, hookers, swindlers, liars, cheaters, hoodlums, punks, hoodrats, losers, users, abusers - they're all here. Craig Finn leads his band through another batch of highly narrative indie-cum-classic rock, this time telling a loose story about several lost souls searching for a good time, redemption, a savior, or sometimes all three. This is probably what Bruce Springsteen would have sounded like if he'd grown up about a decade later and in suburban Minneapolis.
Recommended Tracks: "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "Stevie Nix", "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night"

1. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm (Vice)
It kicks off with one of the best opening tracks of the last five years, "Like Eating Glass", and never lets up. Bloc Party meshes obvious post-punk influences with youthful fervor and churns out the best album of the year. Slightly political, often times epic, and always engaging - these young Brits aim high on every single track. While they don't always hit the mark, just listening to them try is enjoyment enough. This album is the sound of one of the brightest and most talented bands in years just finding their footing and preparing to take off into the stratosphere. It helps that they have both one of the best rhythm sections in rock and a compelling lead singer that knows how to write songs that connect on a multitude of levels.
Recommended Tracks: "So Here We Are", "Like Eating Glass", "Banquet"