Top 10 Albums of 2005

Number 10.  –  Hotel – Moby

This is one of Moby’s most underrated works and I blame all of you guys because after this album was shit all over, he never used his lyrics in his future albums. Moby talked about how he got drifted away with his music ever since the release and subsequent random supersuccess of Play. Every album afterwards was more of a move that he felt like people wanted him to do, rather than something he actually felt like doing. In light of a revelation like that, it gives a new way to observe and understand Hotel, an album that always felt like a very un-Mobylike album despite the man’s previous record in switching genres. Hotel was, in the man’s words, an experiment in making a shiny, heavily produced anthemic rock album full of big hooks and big choruses that sounded like the work of a hitmaker – something he eventually admitted to have succeeded in too well as the album’s overly polished sound left it with no soul. Hotel is pretty much an album that’s less than the sum of its parts because it keeps clashing with its own elements. Good songwriting vs feeling out of character. Production that feels both a perfect fit and damaging to the overall experience. A frontman that’s good at what he does but who keeps tripping over boundaries on what he’s good at. Reading what Moby himself has talked about the album years after its release has caused me to listen to it with a new ear and while my feelings for the album haven’t much changed, it continues to be a baffling album: something that’s easy to enjoy while simultaneously sounding ever so slightly awkward and overtly plastic.

Number 9.  –  I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning – Bright Eyes

The hearts of thousands of skinny girls and boys belong to Mr. Oberst, and this was the first record he made that seemed to acknowledge that fact. I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning  came out before Oberst’s 25th birthday, but sounds like the sad advice of a much older man. From the storyteller opener of “At the Bottom of Everything” to the raucous fairytale ending of “Road to Joy” Oberst explores the many different avenues of folk music. Although it was released alongside of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (in-arguably the lesser of the two discs), I’m Wide Awake stands alone as the stand out of the entire Bright Eyes discography. As much as Bright Eyes is a one-man machine, this is the first album to give the feeling of a band as opposed to a moniker. Oberst solidifies himself as the glorified plagiarist that he is with this record. Stealing one of the world’s most memorable melodies (Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”) and entirely making it his own, was one of Oberst’s best career moves. Lyrically the album has the ability to impact the listener’s opinions of Oberst, from the aforementioned “Road to Joy” Oberst offers some of his most confessional poetry: “I could have been a famous singer/if I had someone else’s voice.” The heartbreaking “Lua” offers some veteran advice on poor decisions, “What’s so simple in the moonlight/by the morning never is.” And the centerfold, awkwardly quirky love song of “First Day of My Life” has Oberst at his best, “Yours was the first face that I saw/swear I was blind before I met you.”

Number 8.  –  Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness – Coheed & Cambria

Whoever came up with such a long ass title of an album needs a punch in the face because nobody know what’s Cohee & Cambria’s best album called. It seems that Coheed is one of those bands that you either hate or love, and peoples’ opinion of Claudio’s voice seem to overshadow the rest of the band’s material and neglect how Travis, Mic, and Josh contribute to Claudio’s creative vision and justify the group as a band and not a solo project.  The rhythm guitar on this album is jam-backed with tasty riffs and a great almost-metal, slightly out of control vibe.  Standout riffs and solos include those on the two singles, the intro to the second movement of the epic, the mid-section of the third movement and transition into “Jesse…”  and Travis and Claudio tossing solos back and forth on the closer is top-notch.  Mic and Josh rock out on this album, which I can tell not because they are given extensive solos, but because the band is always jamming and this is one of few albums I enjoying listening to loudly. There are a very select few moments when this is not the case, but for the most part, I can’t understand why people can’t tolerate his voice.  The raw energy and power that he captures when he sings is something I’ve had a difficult time finding matches of.  What also gets me is how many voices he can take on.  Throughout the album, he incorporates different tones into his vocal style. The intimate, pure voice that he sings Always & Never with contrasts with the anger he puts out on the following song, the near-screams heard ending Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood and Burial), and the detail with Wake Up.  Most notable is how he opens The Willing Well II: Fear Through The Eyes of Madness, showing range and both youth and maturity in his style.  However you may describe it, it is a unique, and personally, I find his one of the most interesting voices that I’ve ever heard.

Number 7.  –  LCD Soundsystem –
LCD Soundsystem

The concept of LCD Soundsystem is still in the process of forming and, compared to the later albums, the debut is somewhat LCD-lite. This isn’t really a slight on the album’s quality in itself but it does reflect on the debut’s relative lack of genuine LCD classics when compared to its older siblings. Generally the quality of the songs stays high throughout and in particular the more traditionally clubbing “Tribulations” and slackerlicious “Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up” are quite wonderful, but only the already-iconic “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” waves its flag high enough to be regarded as a true LCD Soundsystem classic. Namechecking, cowbells and jerky rhythms have never been so much fun. That isn’t to say that the debut lacks in all-time greats – they’re simply placed on the bonus disc available with most copies of the album. The second disc, containing the pre-album singles and their b-sides, is hardly just a plain old bonus disc: not only does it contain some essential LCD Soundsystem moments within, but it works excellently together with the main album, picking up where it left off and showcasing whole other sides of the band. Despite effectively being just a bonus disc, it’s essentially the second half of the debut and thus an integral part of the album, one that no LCD fan should go without. Roughly half of the bonus disc is actually stronger than anything on the main disc. Granted, on the flipside the bonus disc also contains “Tired” – a hamfisted attempt at a punk song and arguably the worst thing Murphy & co ever recorded – so it’s not all fantastic and such, but for most of its duration the second disc is a right treasure trove and a fantastic companion to the actual album. To the point that, in all honesty, it is a part of the album.

Number 6.  –  Glitter – Pasteboard

Rejoice! Shoegaze is still alive! Rejoice! A band from Japan knows how to handle the genre perfectly well! Rejoice! The music sounds fresh and breathtaking! And Rejoice… well, um… this is the only album that the band has released… Let’s bring out the tears bucket for another miss out coming form the shoegaze genre. Pasteboard’s glitter is a great 2005 release in shoegaze. While my familiarity with the genre is still a little bit in infancy, I enjoy listening to the genre from both Japan and Korea. Glitter contains vocals which slightly separates it from other shoegaze that focuses on more instrumental music. The nine songs are mainly hits with some songs like “flipper” using a much more pop indie style. Though when the band does focus on simplicity in their music with the instrumentals, those songs are the strongest on the album. While glitter isn’t the best shoegaze album, but it’s still very good. This is no doubt the most underrated albums I’ve ever encountered and since the whole world only focus on music that came from North America and Europe, it’s sad to see the East remains in that part of the world. I admit that I’m guilty for not checking out on more Japanese hidden gems, since nowadays it’s looked as soundtracks for anime, but damn it, once you listen to the opening track “Breakbeats” it take your breath away and beckons the listener to listen to the whole album and think about dreams and fantasy. It’s the whole point of shoegaze and if an album does that job well, it shows how good it is!

Number 5.  –  Lullabies to Paralyze –
Queens of the Stone Age

It’s sad to see that Nick Oliver is no longer the bass player of Queens of the Stone Age because it really changed the edge that the band once had. It’s one of the big reasons why Lullabies to Paralyze is a inferior to Songs of the Deaf. However, this album still rocks! With “Lullabies to Paralyze”, Queens of the Stone Age continued to evolve their riff-orientated signature song structure while adding a darker and spookier touch to their sound. The lyrics are loosely based on the Brothers Grimm folk and fairy tales, a rather different theme than the ones present in the first three albums. Rather than being a ‘Songs for the Deaf 2’, this album is actually a symbiosis between the experimental art rock of the acclaimed “Rated R” and the shadowy heaviness of Kyuss, Homme’s first band, stoner rock legends. The album starts off with the madrigal-like “This Lullaby” and then bursts into seven tight and intricately shaped songs that embrace fuzz-toned guitars mixed up with ghostly and eerie psychedelia. The succession of tracks converges to the apex of the entire album, the utterly scary and hypnotic seven-minute epic “Someone’s in the Wolf”, with its nauseous and seasick guitar licks and harrowing ambiance. Other notable songs: “Little Sister”, the album’s memorable main single, in which is included a totally efficient hazy-sounding guitar solo (as well as some great cowbell), “Burn The Witch”, which features ZZ Top’s front man, Billy Gibbons and his legendary signature bluesy riffing, “The Blood Is Love”, which begins with a circus-like pattern and then follows into a weighty and mesmerizing distorted feel and the addictive “Tangled Up In Plaid”. The instruments bleed together as one, into an impermeable blend of sensual vocals, perpetual drumming, pounding bass and fascinating guitar chops. In this meticulously threaded album we find Josh Homme’s true genius once again, who never ceases to amaze and reshape the contemporary rock scene. Although the flawless classic “Songs for the Deaf” would also be perfectly fit for the task, I definitely advocate “Lullabies to Paralyze” to anyone new to QOTSA or to anyone who just desires to listen to remarkable fresh and modern rock.

Number 4.  –  Before The Dawn Heals Us – M83

For the first time ever, M83 decides to add lyrics in their music and after a half a decade of shying away from their vocals, it’s almost like an angel’s voice has spoken directly to you. The music is so damn gorgeous that it can leave you to tears. This is the kind of album you choose to like in order to remain patient enough for it’s layered beauty to kick in. You can easily see it as cloying and saccharine rather than as a delicate romantic love song (albeit a love song that sounds like it takes place in outer space). “Don’t Save Us From The Flames” can come across as another dramatic over-use of electronics rather than the dynamic range of sound and tempo that I see. The jackhammer pace of the keyboards is offset by how quietly they are played during the vocals. That’s a neat effect, especially with the strong drums kicking in. “*” might seem like so much instrumental filler, but I hear a whirlwind of sound careening all over the place in dramatic fashion. “Teen Angst” is cinematic and ambitious. Just when it seems we are in for a mellow chill out for the concluding third of the album, we get ever increasing firework explosions followed by “Car Chase Terror!” which will scare the daylights out of you (Assuming you’ve bought into taking this whole musical journey like I have, otherwise you might start laughing hysterically at how truly awful this all is). This has some truly jaw dropping tracks. I still think this album is great but put up against the likes of Dead Cities and Saturdays = Youth, this clearly doesn’t match up. I still love it though and I would recommend it to anybody.

Number 3.  –  Robot Hive/Exodus – Clutch

Clutch definitely hit their peak in 2004 and 2005. Blast Tyrant is one of the great latter-day hard rock albums, pulling in many diverse elements to support an excellent work. I’m here to tell you: Robot Hive is a close second in the Clutch canon. In some ways, songs like Burning Beard and Gullah are a continuation of the anti-war allegory of BT. There’s a transition though as well. The full flowering of Neil Fallon’s alter-ego tent-revival wildman, first seen on the s/t, is in place, now supported by the Hammond Organ of new member Mick Schauer. Never Be Moved and 10,000 Witnesses are full on hard rock gospel exploits, and among the best songs Clutch has ever written. While it is excellent, it’s also a short and bright flame. It is difficult for established bands, and especially one as tight as Clutch, to add new members and have them stick. The Mick Schauer era would come to a close, and the revival would end. The last two tracks preface what would later follow on Beale Street and Strange Cousins. Heavy blues interpretations. Who’s Been Talking is a Willie Dixon Blues made famous by Howlin’ Wolf, and Gravel Road is a re-imagining of Memphis Willie B’s Brownsville Road. The album is undeniably Clutch: great guitar riffs, dense and humorous lyrics, and powerhouse drumming. Bluesy, hard rock hits its best here. Above all, this album is fun. That’s what it comes down to. This has what makes any album good, its enjoyable to listen to. What makes it great is that I keep wanting to listen to it, over and over again. Really one of my favorite albums.

Number 2.  –  Demon Days – Gorillaz

When someone thinks of a “viertual band” I’ll bet that they won’t think of Alvin and the Chipmunks, Jose and the Pussycats, Metalopacalypse, or any other cartoon mimicking as the world’s most popular band. They should be thinking of the Gorillaz because they are the most successful and most memorable out of all in the category that made anything special in the music industry. What made them successful to begin with is two famous albums they’ve released in the 2000’s their self-entitled debut album, “Gorillaz” and “Demon Days.” Picking Demon Days over their debut album was indeed a tough choice, but this album experiments with so many music genres like trip-hop, electronic, r&b, rock, blues, world, and reggae. You can decide what genre or category this album belongs, but remember it’s more than just one type of music. Just like their debut album, somehow made these combinations feel like a brand new science experiment. The main attraction of this album is the theme as it makes the listener, visualize the highlife and (like Radiohead’s “Kid A”) it sets the listener off in an imaginative journey while listening to the entire album. All the themes and ideas on this album have antecedents in Jamie Christopher Hewlett’s previous work, but surrounded by new collaborators, he’s able to present them in a fresh, new, and exciting way. I’m not a fan of having collaborations with different artists in albums, but in Demon Days, all the guests here knew what Gorillaz needed for Demon Days and gave it their all. After listening through this albums numerous of times, I find myself often whistling too many of the songs from Demon Days as they’re so catchy that they’ll stick in your head.

Number 1.  –  Illinois – Sufjan Stevens

Throughout the entire 2000’s if you were focusing on the current events, many of us, especially Americans, have been extremely paranoid about terrorism since 9/11 and was heavily into the subject of politics and terrorism. We still are today, but back then, everything was semiserious. Almost everywhere I turn there was nothing but negative liberal crap on TV, anti-Bush movement everywhere, anti-Iraq War debates/arguments. I’m not defending nor against the former president of the United States, but Mmmaaaaan, I do not want to go back in time and relive those movements because being an American already gave us a bad name and freedom of speech was taken way too far. I have doubts of my nationality once in my life because all Americans did was complain and point fingers at any republican either if they were for or against the former president, but there was one artist who didn’t fall in the hate-hype, but rather focused more on what’s important about being an American, for the right reasons. Sufjan Stevens was out to make an accomplishment by making 50 albums for each start of the United States of America. Hearing that, sounds very patriotic because if you know us Americans, many of us fight each other because of what state one is from, especially in sports. So far he released“Michigan” and “Illinois” and boy, his album “Illinois” already became a classic. What made “Illinois” so special and on the top of this list is that it was indeed a very VERY well crafted album that perfectly nails what Illinois should be remembered for, rather than mobs and Al Capone already given the state a bad reputation.

Stevens collected facts and anecdotes about the great state of Illinois, stringing them together in ambitious rhyme schemes and wrapping them in meticulous arrangements; from Chicago to Seer’s Tower, he made anything historical or significant about Illinois in a musical phenomenon. It not only takes those locations seriously, but also made stories of those who lived in the state such as his friends, family, religion, and experiences living there. This is truly an emotional album where all the stories that Stevens shares in this album was a wondrous & magical, but at times sad and emotional. It’s quite rare to see such album to have a great story going on. Listening to this album from beginning to end felt like it was a Broadway Play. I can’t imagine anything else when listening to Illinois but a stage play with each story that each song represents. You can just visualize actors going on stage singing and dancing to whatever the songs is playing and it executed perfectly because of its vast variety of moods! There are plenty of moments in this album that gets emotional, magical, powerful, joyful, romantic, and all kinds of emotions that fulfills the experience of such a great album. Even for some of the songs that have very weirdest titles ever, they were all references to many of the famous parts of Illinois like Superman (his origins), Casimir Pulaski Day, Christianity, ghost towns, and more. Never have I seen such brilliant lyrics in a large selection of songs in a single album. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a great folk album and Sufjan Steven’s “Illinois” should definitely be in the same league as to Don McLean’s “American Pie” & Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisted.”This album had a huge impact on me and it always reminds me how good it is to be an American and appreciate my nationality as it is a blessing. I thank, Sufjan Stevens for showing patriotism in an oddly fashion of music, but yet his goal in one day making all 50 albums for every State in America would be the most patriotic thing an American musician can possibly do.

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