Friday, December 30, 2005

2005: A Year in Review, Part Three

This is the last installment of my top and bottom of 2005. I hope you enjoyed all of my little tidbits of wisdom. This isn’t an official announcement of my return to full-time blogging, but this is me saying that I do intend to post again. This is something I’ve missed greatly over the last several months, and maybe a few of you missed me. So, I guess this is a new start for me, and if you like what you read, please stay tuned for more updates.

Alright, enough of the sap. Time for the top.

6. Stars – Set Yourself on Fire
I got this album when it first came out and it didn’t really impress me all that much. In fact, I set it aside for several months without even touching it. A couple weeks ago I was browsing through my collection and came across the album. I threw it in and I was totally floored. Here I had this amazing album in my hands and didn’t even listen to it for months! What was I thinking? Sometimes I’m just dumb, and this is one of those cases. The highlight of the album, at least for me, comes at the end, with “Calendar Girl.” Not to be confused with the oldies song of the same name, this is a sweetly honest song that actually seems to hit home to me. I don’t know; there’s always there’s songs that speak to you deep down in your bones and you can’t figure out why. This is one of those. Anyway, the whole album is similarly beautiful, and you should listen to it.

5. Doves – Some Cities
I can’t help but love the latest Doves album. It’s not all that big of a departure from their previous endeavours, but Some Cities definitely builds firmly upon the foundation they have made for themselves. It’s a little more rock, less epic, but I think at this point they really can’t get any more epic than The Last Broadcast, and if they tried to improve upon that they’d just fail miserably. Indeed, even though I love the enormous sound they had been going with in the past, I think going the more direct rock route was a wise decision. “Black and White Town” is an obviously good choice of single. It’s catchy and it’s got a great beat. Some might consider a lot of the album to be filler, but I think that’s just because everything is of such equal caliber that it’s hard to distinguish between them. I don’t know, part of me thinks this should be lower on the list, but because I love Doves so much, it’s going to stay here.

4. The Most Serene Republic – Underwater Cinematographer
I am very surprised more people didn’t put this one on their lists. I guess maybe they just haven’t gotten big enough to get noticed by a lot of people, but this album is absolutely stellar. I mean, seriously. “Proposition 61” is ridiculously innovative, using clapping, snapping, and even beat box rather than your typical rock steady drums. These kids are already fantastic even at their debut, which almost makes me a little scared that their future records won’t hold up. I have my hopes, though. With vocals so reminiscent of Ben Gibbard that it’s scary, Underwater Cinematographer is a bit like Death Cab meets... well, at some points it’s a little like The Dismemberment Plan. I just love the mix of sounds they have achieved. I really think this is the beginning of something great, so check them out now so you can say later that you knew about them before everyone else. Hah.

3. Denison Witmer – Are You A Dreamer?
If you have a hard time sleeping, maybe you should pop this puppy in and curl up with your favourite stuffed animal. I don’t think I’ve listened to an album entirely about sleep that made me so happy. Every song is very strong and could easily stand on its own, with the highlights of the album being “Are You a Dreamer?” and “Everything But Sleep.” It’s really hard to narrow the best ones down, though, since all of them are fantastic. There are obvious Christian undertones which, as a fellow Christian, I appreciate, and with the success of other Christian artists who shall remain nameless (you know who I mean), this will doubtfully be an issue with the indie rock and folk scene. The material is especially good when he plays it live as a solo acoustic set. I highly recommend attending a show if he comes in your area. Are You A Dreamer? is a remarkably good album, just make sure you don’t fall asleep before the end.

2. Ladytron – The Witching Hour
Electronica at its finest. It doesn’t get any better than this. These darlings have gone a little darker for this release. It’s not quite the same upbeat feeling that previous albums have had. I sense a little bit of cynicism in the mix with The Witching Hour, but it just goes to show how innovative and flexible they can be with their sound. “Destroy Everything You Touch” is a very good single and it’s even a little epic in a way that I find is hard to accomplish in electronica without sounding cheesy. The sound isn’t cliché at all; in fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better electronica album this year (hence the high ranking). I love you, Ladytron. It’s as simple as that.

And now, your number one, which should come as no surprise...

1. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Like anyone didn’t see this one coming? I mean, seriously, how many times have I expressed my undying love and affection for this man? I don’t know how else I can phrase myself. Illinois is perhaps the best modern album I’ve ever heard, and I would never say that lightly. Sufjan simply compiles all of my favourite things about life and music and presents them in a beautifully wrapped package. He’s the best of both of my worlds, part Christian and part indie folk/rock. I don’t know how he does it. And while the 50 States project is idealistically ambitious, I figure he’s gotten this far in music and I don’t foresee him getting worse anytime soon. He’s on a roll, I guess. I think I love his music so much because he’s doing what I wish I could do but don’t have the resources to do so. I don’t know. I just think he’s amazing. I can’t put it into words how much I appreciate him and his music.

And with that, I am done! The list is compiled and complete. Another year of music behind us, with another fantastic year to look forward to. I’m already anticipating a couple albums coming out next year, including the latest from Belle and Sebastian. Being the law-unabiding citizen that I am, I managed to snag it on the internet already and... well, that’s another topic for another day. You’ll just have to wait until next year!

So, from myself to you, I bid you a very happy new year filled with all sorts of musical merriment. See you in 2006!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

2005: A Year in Review, Part Two

It’s day two of my mysterious return to the blogging world, and today I will bring you the first half of my top thirteen albums of the year. Let me just assure you now that I probably missed your favourite band or put a few up there you disagree with. Well, that’s just your bad luck. These are my favourites, not yours.

So here we go. Bottoms up.

13. Andrew Bird – Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs
Thank you to Mr. Bird for providing me with such a solid album to start off my list. The Mysterious Production of Eggs is classy and elegant. I am always a big fan of albums that incorporate other stringed instruments in with guitars. This album is a step above your average acoustic record. My only criticism would be that I tend to get a little bored with the album after a while, but other than that, I can’t really find much wrong with it. A very good way to begin the countdown.

12. Caribou – The Milk of Human Kindness
Caribou, or should I say Manitoba, is the brainchild of Dan Snaith, and once again, he does not disappoint. The Milk of Human Kindness covers quite a lot of ground in its short 40 minutes. It starts off with the quick, systematic “Yeti,” gets funky with “Lord Leopard,” mellows out for “Hello Hammerheads,” and finishes full circle with “Barnowl.” I think this is what I like so much about the album. It’s like taking a little trip. Not as much as other albums that shall be named later, but still, it stretches out from its boundaries. Another good album from Mr. Snaith.

11. Of MontrealThe Sunlandic Twins
Here’s another band who doesn’t really ever disappoint. Of Montreal has been making music for almost ten years, so they should know how it’s done, right? While The Sundlanic Twins isn’t exactly their best album ever made (I’m partial to Satanic Panic in the Attic, myself), it’s still a fantastic album, filled with their signature happy-go-lucky style. If you need something to wake you up in the morning, I highly recommend any one of their albums.

10. Coldplay – X&Y
Part of me feels bad for having put this album so far down on the list, but with so many good albums out this year, this is just where it fell in my spectrum. The thing I like so much about this album is that it feels like it’s the soundtrack to a trip through space. X&Y seems like such a departure from their previous albums. It’s got a lot more layers, more to listen to, a lot more attention to the details. It’s not just guitars and pianos. Now there’s synthesized sounds and a very open, spacey feel. It’s a very great direction for them to go in, to separate themselves from bands that have come along since they made it big that sound a lot like them. I like the change.

9. Kings of Leon – Aha Shake Heartbreak
Kings of Leon are an unusual choice for me, and I know more than one person who was pleasantly surprised to hear that I actually like them. I guess maybe they’re a little more rock than I tend to listen to, which is good because they add a little flavor to my iPod playlist. Aha Shake Heartbreak is a very fun rock album, with little ditties like “The Bucket,” with clever words and unusual melodies. I think this is a great album to take on the road with you sometime when you can roll down the windows.

8. Sigur Ros – Takk
This must have been the year for our solid favourites to come out with more solid albums. Sigur Ros rocks out a little more on this album without leaving behind any of their trademark sounds. One thing is noticeably different: the language. Opting out of the usual made up language of Hopelandic, Sigur Ros has gone with a straightforward Icelandic approach with Takk. It still sounds pretty sweet, it’s just easily translated. A good performance from a great band. Oh, and Columbus kids better be there when they come to town on February 14th!

7. Fischerspooner – Odyssey
I honestly hadn’t heard this album until yesterday. I’m totally serious. I saw it on a couple lists and thought I’d give it a shot and wow. I’m totally amazed by this album. Ever since I got it, I’ve been dancing around my bedroom. Odyssey incredible, exactly what I look for in electronic and dance music. It’s just fantastic. I don’t know why I never got it, probably just a lapse in memory, but ever since I heard the song “Never Win,” I’ve been dying to throw a dance party. Haha, so if you are ever in Ohio and want to have a Fischerspooner dance party, bring along a few lights and a copy of this album.

To save on space and keep you guys coming back for more, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow for the rest of my favourite albums of 2005. So sit tight, because I’m going to come back tomorrow. I promise.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

2005: A Year in Review, Part One

I have returned from oblivion to bring you a special update. I couldn't let 2005 end without putting my own two cents in about the best (and worst) albums of the year. Now a lot has happened since I fell off the face of the Earth, and a lot of albums have been released. Obviously I haven't taken the liberty to write about some of them, so maybe a few of my selections will be surprising to you. Nevertheless, I have attempted to compile a list spanning the entire twelve months of 2005, not just the last few months, so do pardon if I dig deep into the archives to pull out some you may have forgotten.

Alright, enough introduction. On with the show.

Well, let’s start with the best of the worst, my low five, the bottom feeders.

5. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Okay, hate me, all of you, but I really did give this album a shot. It's on my least favourite albums list not because it's a horrible record. The band is not inherently awful, but I believe the album has a very significant failure. It wears on me. The first time I listened to it, I really thought it was an album I'd grow to adore. Quite surprisingly, the exact opposite happened. The more I listened to it, the more I became annoyed by it. I find that it is a rather disorganized compilation of songs with very little substance holding them together. There doesn't seem to be a common thread, and therefore it loses my attention completely. It becomes irritating to me, and recently I thought I'd give them another shot since it had been a very long time since I had listened, but I still just couldn't enjoy it. So, I don't make any apologies for this one even though it may offend a few of you. It's just my opinion, so yeah... stuff it. Hah!

4. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods
This is another one of those albums that I almost feel bad about putting on the least favourites list, but I simply have to. Once again, we have a band that isn't terrible. They are actually quite talented musicians and I really respect them for that. My problem with them and this album is the vocals. If I could take the vocal tracks completely off the album and just listen to the instrumentals, I could easily see this album topping my list. They are phenomenal instrumentalists, I just can't stand the girl's voice. I think it's a waste that they're covering up this amazing music with a voice that lacks so much, in my opinion. It's disappointing, but maybe they will get better with time. I have hope for them, but right now, it's just not where I would want it to be.

3. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan
I’m simply going to say that I file this album under “what the heck were they thinking?!” I can’t even listen to it. It’s just bad. Very, very bad.

2. Weezer - Make Believe
As if it weren’t already painfully obvious, the days of Pinkerton and Blue are long over. The Green Album was okay, and yeah, Maladroit had its moments, but this... this is just a disgrace. I decided after only one listen that I would forget I ever heard it so as to keep the memory of when all things were better still alive. Seriously, how many seconds did it take them to come up with the words to “Beverly Hills”? The song is terrible, and sadly, it’s the perfect single because it is just so damn catchy. Heck, even I get it stuck in my head and sing it when I hear it on the radio and don’t feel compelled to change the station. I’m just going to forget this album came out. It’s as simple as that.

1. Death Cab for Cutie - Plans
Man, I am sorry to make Ben Gibbard a bottom feeder in this list, but I just have to do it. Any album that sounds like it was written entirely for the purpose of using in the background of episodes of The O.C. deserves to be at the bottom. Now I don't mean to take anything that Mr. Gibbard or his fellow bandmates have done personally, but I distinctly remember them assuring fans that they wouldn't change as a result of their new contract with Atlantic. I had high hopes, too, because they had yet to fail me. I was very let down by this album. Part of Death Cab's charm to me was that it... how do I put this? It was like they were raw and unrefined underneath, but covered smoothly and delicately by Ben's fantastic voice. Plans, while still graced by the croons of said Gibbard, is instead a thin, poppy album, obviously recorded in the most expensive of studios with the best of equipment. Congratulations to them for having had the opportunity to make it when many have failed, but Plans makes me wonder the loss integrity is the price to pay for fame and fortune.

Alright, I also didn't want to leave today's post without a positive note, so I'll also give the award for best album that transcended from 2004 to 2005...

The Arcade Fire - Funeral
So many albums come out these days that we often forget last year's favourite albums when this year's come along. This album defies this general rule, still making waves in spite of its age. It is still so fresh in our minds that I've seen some even listing it under the best albums of 2005. Although clerically an error, this may not be far from the truth. The album has still influenced music this year with the release of singles like "Rebellion (Lies)," and since the album is still a lot better than some of the other albums that came out this year, I could easily see the album being on lists two years in a row. To keep things orderly, however, I've chosen to keep them off the 2005 list and instead create a new award especially for them. So, congrats to them for not even having to come out with a new album this year because their last one was so good.

Tomorrow, I bring you my top however many I decide to put on my list. I haven't decided yet. We'll see what I come up with. Enjoy your Wednesday.